Advertisements

Blog Archives

Our Darkness, His Light

I noticed the decrease in the noise coming from outside our airplane. We were about 45 minutes into a 2 hour flight. It was far too early for the airplane to be slowing down for its descent. Along with the change in sound level, I noticed a queasiness in my stomach. I glanced out the window at the cloud level beneath us. Perhaps it was just turbulence. We were supposed to fly over a cold front moving through Alabama toward our departure city, Atlanta. I continued to read my book and noticed the persistence of the queasiness. I am prone to motion sickness and after ten or fifteen minutes I decided there was something not quite right about the motion of our airplane. I glanced across the aisle at my wife. She was asleep as usual. I could never sleep on a flight. I don’t like flying at all. I never have.

 

“When it’s your time to go, it doesn’t matter if you are in an airplane or not.” I’ve been told. But what if it’s the pilot’s “time to go”? My father passed away in October, 2012 at the age of 98 and he steadfastly refused to fly. Why? Because in the event of a crash he didn’t want “to wake up dead.” Hmmm!

Emergency Landing Rock Bands

The intercom crackled and this is what the pilot said. “Well, we are on descent for a landing in Birmingham.” Our destination was Shreveport, Louisiana — not Birmingham! “Just to let you know we have lost one of our two engines and we cannot get it restarted. There is no need for alarm because we can fly perfectly well with only one engine. But, we are making an unscheduled landing in Birmingham for safety’s sake and to check out the engine. We’ll be on the ground in ten minutes.”

 

On the ground in ten minutes. Not necessarily the best choice of words! My heart skipped a few beats and I reached across the aisle and grabbed my wife’s hand. She was wide awake now having heard the entire message. We looked at each other wordlessly. What can you say? We could very well die. If the other engine failed, we became a flying brick — very little chance of gliding to a safe landing. So, we prayed. It was all I could think to do.

 

Curiously, I was not panicky. I should have been. I was a bit nervous, but that sickening feeling of impending doom never settled in. There was nothing I could do. I was at the mercy of the pilots and their skill level. The flight attendant merely smiled at us. It was a forced smile hiding her own nervousness. As she bustled down the aisle to make sure we were all belted in, the smile never broke. She had made a connection with my wife who is always gregarious and reaching out to other people to know more about them. She put a hand on my wife’s shoulder. “I knew something happened a few minutes ago. But, we are going to be fine.”

 

We landed without difficulty just like any ordinary landing except for the firetrucks racing down the runway keeping pace with our airplane. We all applauded at the landing and then fell silent at the sight of men clad in silver hazmat suits waiting at the gate. We pulled up to the exit ramp and the flight attendant immediately opened the door. But, the jetway stayed retracted.

 

“We will sit right here for a few minutes.” The pilot assured us over the intercom. “While the mechanics check out the engine. We’ll let you know in a few moments whether you will be deplaned or if we can get the engine fixed and take off again.”

 

Take off again? No way! I wanted OFF that airplane. It only took about 5 minutes and the jetway pulled up to the doorway. In the meantime, the flight attendant said over the intercom, “Don’t be alarmed at the fire trucks and the fire men. This is standard procedure whenever there is a engine, uh, engine, uh, malfunction.” The unspoken word was ‘fire’. She kept her cool and never uttered it.

 

We left the airplane and hurried into the Birmingham terminal. I glanced out the window at our aircraft. The right engine looked perfectly normal — no smoke or fire. My wife and I settled into some seats to await our fate.

 

Here is where things got very interesting. I am a people watcher. I love to see how people respond in unusual situations. What transpired over the next 4 hours did not disappoint me. The lady sitting next to me settled in beside my wife and they instantly struck up a conversation. I wandered down to the restroom to relieve myself and wash my face.

 

It took about an hour but the decision was made that a new airplane was being flown from Atlanta to take us on to Shreveport. We landed at 130 PM and we were told the airplane would land about 320 PM. A short, dumpy man sitting next to me began to mumble. “They are liars. Consummate liars. All of them. Don’t believe a word they say. If they are breathing they’re lying!” These comments returned every time there was an announcement. Mr. Grumpy continued to spew forth his vile pessimism endlessly for four hours. Over and over, he called everyone in earshot a liar. As time passed, he added curse words to his mantra. He called up the airline on his cell phone while announcements were being made overhead to chew out some hapless airline employee on the other end of the line. I finally had to get up and walk away.

 

Eventually we had a departure time of 4 o’clock and my wife and I and her new friend walked down the terminal to find some lunch. We settled down for an hour and my wife and her friend soon exchanged life stories.

 

Here is my first observation.

 

Women have an unlimited capacity for bonding together, even between total strangers. My wife and Vicky took only about 5 minutes to establish a level of friendly intimacy it would take a man and his friend to discover in a life time. Meanwhile, the men in the waiting room were either cursing or talking to their business destination about being late, or in one case, talking to a wife to make sure their life insurance was up to date. Business as usual for us, guys. No mawkish emotionalizing on our part UNLESS it was to ream out the airline for delaying our arrival at our destination. Men, we could learn a thing or two from our wives.

 

After returning to the gate area, I was amazed as I watched three men come to the desk and request some kind of refund or remuneration for the inconvenience of our our delay. Each time, the person was told that giving out cash or vouchers was not the policy of the airline when there was an equipment malfunction. All of these men went away angry and soon our waiting area was host to “twelve angry men”. However, Mr. Grumpy still took the prize. Our new airplane landed at 4 o’clock and we had a new departure time of 4:20 PM. We would be arriving in Shreveport about 5:30 PM four hours later than our scheduled arrival time. I went to the restroom and while standing at the urinal noticed that Mr. Grumpy had arrived at the urinal next to mine. He was still complaining and cursing as he emptied his bladder. I felt sorry for his body parts — they could not walk away from his complaining. But, at least he had one inseparable friend he could complain to who would never talk back!

 

Here is my second observation.

 

My wife and I were on a flight from Atlanta to Shreveport when one of the two engines malfunctioned. We could have died. But, the two pilots managed to land us safely in Birmingham. Our inconvenience ended up being a four hour delay. I would say that is more than adequate payment in exchange for our lives! Instead of being grateful we were alive, some of us were demanding money in exchange for inconvenience and others were calling the people who saved our lives “liars” and other names I shall not repeat in mixed company. I leaned over to my wife and said, “Instead of complaining we should all be grateful we arrived safely without incident and we have a flight home on the same day!” Funny how things can change if you have the right attitude!

 

We loaded up on the new airplane and settled into the same seats. My wife’s new friend sat beside me and asked if I had heard the complaints of “Mr. Grumpy”. Seemed everyone had. He was way back behind us safely belted into his seat and I felt sorry for those who were around him for the duration of our flight home. We had a new crew and the same flight attendant. Just before boarding, I had watched the senior pilot take his bags and walk down the terminal. I wanted to run up to him and thank him for landing us safely. In retrospect, I should have. Instead, all he heard were strident voices of complaining and cursing. The man saved our lives!

pilot

After we took off, the flight attendant was delivering drinks and paused to speak to my wife. She told us they had put her on another flight but without a flight attendant, we would not have been able to fly home, even with a new crew. She insisted on finishing out our flight to make us feel more comfortable. She shared all of this with my wife. My wife thanked her for smiling and trying her best to make us feel safe. It was then the flight attendant delivered the bomb shell. She told us she had been flying with the two pilots on our original flight for a long time. And, then she told my wife that those two pilots had just completed training the day before on a flight simulator in, guess what emergency? You got it! They had just trained in the emergent scenario of landing an airplane with only one engine! My wife glanced at me and I got all weepy and wiggly inside. God was in control! This wasn’t a random series of events at all. She smiled at the flight attendant and said “That was God.” The flight attendant nodded. “Yes, I agree.”

 

Here is my third observation.

 

And, here my foundational beliefs do bias my conclusions. I recently posted on Speculative Faith and I was not received kindly by some of the commenters. One commenter said that we place too much emphasis on sharing the Truth with a capital T as Christians. That sometimes creating something of beauty is just that. Just go with it! Another commenter said my devotion to defending the truthfulness of the Christian faith was tantamount to being a “talking head”. Hmmm. Maybe all this God talk is overdoing it. Why don’t we just sit back and enjoy the ride?

 

Let me state unequivocally that everything I believe, everything I cling to, every rational shred of intellect, every emotional feeling of pain or love comes from my absolutely unshakable conviction that there is a God who brought this universe into existence and has designed it and built it for His glory and that He has invited us to be a part of a grand and wondrous Story that is unfolding from the very beginning of time and space until the end of it all. And that God, the triune God of the Bible, can be known, can become a companion that dwells in our laughter and in our light and is always there in our darkest moments even when we choose to be Mr. Grumpy or seek some type of material compensation to salve our tortured souls. It is a sad commentary on our central pride and arrogance that it takes a terrible crisis to make us stop and examine what is real and what is truly meaningful in our lives and that is not hubris or things — rather it is people and souls and time spent in the glow of God’s created beings — our companions on this journey toward forever — that will last beyond this universe into eternity. And, when we arrive at that conclusion and we finally see dimly with God’s eyes this terrible and wonderful Plan that is unfolding around us then we find true joy and true peace. For ultimately God will show us always that He and He alone is in control. He is God and I am not. I’ve seen His job and I don’t want it! Like our stalwart pilot who walked away lonely but triumphant his ears filled with jeers and curses — God endures our grumpiness and our demands for the material and our arrogance and our ego and loves us still and continues to deliver us from the enemy. His amazing love is truly unconditional!

 faith

Someone once said that faith is walking to the edge of your circle of light and taking one more step into the darkness. I disagree. Faith is knowing that beyond the failing light of our lives there is more than living and dying in the darkness — for God is there also waiting for us with an open hand to take us safely through the darkness into the ultimate Light of His love and glory. And that step we take, that hand we reach out can only happen because we have seen the evidence of His power and His plan and His love. Faith is acting upon that knowledge and being willing to put aside our own selfish point of view and see the world, the universe, eternity from God’s perspective. When we do we realize that our darkness is His light!

 

 

Advertisements

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God!

This fall, my wife and I will be traveling to New Zealand for almost three weeks to visit with friends. I found this timelapsed video and it is amazing! How can we look upon the beauty of our world; of our universe; of the heavens and not see God?

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/62980495″>New Zealand Landscapes Timelapse Volume Two</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user11743321″>Bevan Percival</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

Why, why, why do I Write?

journalI am a published author.

It is a dream I have had since I was 13.

My first published work didn’t occur until I was 40.

But, during the intervening years I wrote over 100 plays performed by the drama team at my church.

Now, I have two fiction books published by Realms.

I have a book on depression that has been in circulation since 2001.

There is a possibility my co-author and I will have a new book deal today and possibly a book series to write.

I have tasted rejection too many times to remember. I have a framed letter of rejection signed by Isaac Asimov from a story I submitted to his magazine in 1973.

I have self-published two books.

I have been “released” by my latest publisher.

I have been through two agents and I am now no my third agent.

I have been duped, hornswaggled, conned, ripped off, and taken advantage of by more publishing schemes than I can remember.

But, I still have my day job and I plan on keeping it.

DSC01144

So, I am sitting here on the balcony of a condo overlooking the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico wondering why I keep doing this. Below me, an eager, fresh faced kid has scrawled in the white sand “Don loves Joanne” with the word “loves” represented by the image of a heart pierced by an arrow. Beside those huge words is a fading admonition from another love stricken person, “Bye Retta”. The letters are barely visible having been filled in by the fierce winds of the last three days.

I am very much aware that my work as a writer is much like the latter. It will fade with time and no one will remember a word I have written after I am long gone. Although I am thinking positively, there is the distinct possibility that every word I have ever written will be gone shortly after I am gone. My name may never grace the halls of fame along with Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury or Mark Twain.

Why do I keep writing, then? Why do I lose sleep at night constructing the latest story. Why do I watch people and try to discern what makes them tick so I can create a new character? Why do I sit in misery trying to plan my next step now that I have been “released” by my publisher? Why, why, why?

Reason #1 — I realized early in my life that God had given me a gift, or a curse, however you look at it. I can’t not write. And here is the thrust of what God has shown me. I have NEVER been able to be successful as an author by writing the story that I wanted to write. I have only been successful when I wrote the Story that God wants me to write. This has required me to redefine the word “successful”. It’s not about money. It’s not about fame. It has to do with Reason #2.

Reason #2 — At the recent Platform conference, I was pleased to hear over and over again that if a person focuses on changing people’s lives, they will be successful. Touching one person’s life in a positive way can NEVER be reduced to a dollar figure. My good friend Chan told me once, “I don’t always get to be the closer. But, I will put a rock in their shoe.” There are times I get immediate feedback from something I have written and I learn that someone’s life has been altered in a good way. But, I will never see the end result of that tiny alteration. Only God knows how that ripple will change a person’s life way down the line. With our depression book alone, Mark Sutton and I have received countless emails telling us the book “saved my life”. You cannot put an earthly value on that! It has eternal value only. And, my friend, when I realize this, I can only rejoice that God has used something that came out of my brain to change the course of someone’s life. But, that “something” didn’t happen in a vacuum and that brings me to Reason #3.

Reason #3 — Every successful endeavor that has occurred in my life was totally unplanned. In fact, the plans I had for my life have never come true. But, the plans that God has for my life have come true. Over and over and over. Time and time again, doors opened; windows opened; opportunities fell into my lap; “coincidences” happened. And, when I followed the voice of God, my endeavors have always been a success. I never planned on having depression. God turned my experience into a book that has changed lives. I never planned on writing drama. God took those stories and changed people’s lives. I never planned on having such deep doubts about Christianity that I would become an apologist. God has taken my teaching and has changed lives.

Why do I write? Because it is God’s mission for my life. And, as long as I seek to be a part of the Work that God has for me to do Today, then I will continue to be “successful”. Successful, not in the world’s view, but in God’s view. I have always said that a person should seek to be involved in something that will outlast his life; something that will have eternal consequences. I am hoping that one day, when I am sitting at the feet of Jesus in the Beyond someone will put a hand on my shoulder and thank for me that play I wrote or that book I wrote or that blog post. And, there is no earthly reward to even begin to compare to that!

Tell me — Why Do You Write? Why Do You Indulge in Your Passion?

The Shape of Story; The Shape of Truth!

Let me tell you a story filled with horror and fright. This is a true story. It happened to me.

darkroomI am a radiologist, a doctor who interprets Xrays, CAT scans, MRIs, etc. Years ago, in the old school days, Xrays were images exposed on regular film. Now, images are captured digitally and sent to a hires computer screen. To develop these films, each Radiology department had a dark room. On one side of the front wall of the darkroom was a huge Xray film developing unit the size of a short refrigerator. It went through the wall and the other side, enclosed in darkness, was where the exposed films were fed for development. These huge, hot, throbbing machines churned out spent silver and hot water. The result was a viscous, shiny black goo that was poured into a special drain cut in the floor of the darkroom.

I came to work one day at a radiology department (I will not say where — at that time I worked at over six different locations) to find the “light” room in disarray. The “light” room was where the technologists worked and was called that because the room had a door that led into the “dark” room. Go figure. It seemed that sometime during the night, the developing machine had malfunctioned. The floor was covered in black, icky goo glistening and burbling like some vast living alien being. Fortunately, there was a backup developer in surgery for running Xrays taken during surgery. The stench was unbelievable! It was as if a thousand dying vultures had plunged into the dark cave of the dark room and had putrified into a morass of black ichor.

To get into the dark room, there was a rotating door of black and brown panels. When the door was open, you could go in. If it was closed, someone was inside. And, since there was room for only two people in the darkroom, you didn’t want to go in. There was a deep throated rumble as the door rotated and exposed our “biorad” tech guy clad in a surgical mask, bouffant surgical cap and a yellow biohazard apron. He was gagging as he emerged into the light room and he leaned over the sink and retched. I looked back at the yawning black mouth of the darkroom door. I recognized this stench. I had been involved in my share of autopsies as a medical student. It was the stink of human decomposition.

“What did you find in there?” I asked the man.

His face was pale and sweaty as he pulled off his mask. “Something is wedged in the drain pipe. Something big.”

My heart raced and he placed the mask back over his face. “I’ve almost got it out.” He bravely stormed the doorway and cycled out of sight. I went to my office and began my day of reading films. An hour or so later, biorad guy knocked on my door. I knew he was there because the stench preceded him. He was carrying a large, black bucket.

“Dr. Hennigan, what do you think this is?” He sat the bucket at my feet.

My heart raced as I examined the shiny, black mass glistening in the bucket. The pebbly surface and contour matched only one thing. A liver.

“It looks . . . organic.” I managed to say. How had someone’s liver ended up in the drain pipe of a hospital dark room? Instantly, my imagination began to run wild. Someone had to have removed this liver from a living, or possibly, dead human being. Why had they done so? Was this heinous killer caught in the act and had to duck into our dark room and try and dispose of the liver? Why on earth would anyone do such a thing?

Biorad wiped his mouth with the back of his gloved hand. “What should I do with it? It looks like an organ.”

“Yes, it does.” I slowly rolled my desk chair back from the thing. “Why don’t you take it to the lab and get someone in pathology to look at it. It might be a specimen from . . .”

“Surgery?” Biorad said. “Maybe someone dropped it in the dark room and . . .” He stopped because he knew how stupid it sounded. But, the thing before us was beyond stupid; it was horrifically real.

“Pathology.” I nodded.

Biorad picked up the bucket and left my office. I tried to push the image and the smell from my memory without much success. I was relieved when my day was finally done and I could leave the lingering odor that filled the hallway with the memory of death.

I did not return to that hospital for several days. When I returned, the light room was pristine and the developer was humming along. The head of the department came to my office to discuss a procedure to be done on a patient and I stopped her before she could leave the room. “What ever happened with the thing we found in the drain?”

Her face paled and she smiled weakly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I blinked and laughed. “Last week. The dark room flooded. We found something in the drain. It looked like a liver.”

She shook her head and looked away. “There was nothing in the drain but some thickened silver halide.

I stood up and took her by the shoulders, turning her face toward me. “I know what I saw. I told our biorad guy to take it to pathology. Did he?”

She swallowed. “He never should have done that.”

“Why?”

“I can’t tell you. If I do, I’ll be fired automatically. Just drop it, Dr. Hennigan. Just drop it.” She pulled away from me and disappeared from my office.

A few months before, a serial killer had struck in our area. Just a year before that, a prominent physician had been accused of killing his wife. He always maintained someone broke into his house. I can’t prove it, but as I slumped into my chair I was convinced this mysterious killer had struck again. And, to escape negative publicity, this hospital in a small town at which I was moonlighting would never reveal the fact that someone under its care had died a horrific and painful death and a ghoulish fiend had taken that victim’s liver and instead of eating it with fave beans, had stuffed it into a drain in a lonely, dank dark room.

 

Story. It is how we communicate. This is a true story. I have not embellished it in any way. What I did was to give it context and setting. Against the backdrop of recent events, the story took on a menacing and horrific tone. No matter what my intent in telling this story, I had to convey information in a specific format. A beginning, a middle, and an end.

isaacnewtonThe scientific method developed out of Augustine’s method for exegesis of scripture. He developed the method to provide a concrete and rational approach to the interpretation of scripture. Centuries later, Isaac Newton took the same set of principles and applied them to scientific inquiry. First, you have an idea; a notion; a suspicion on how something works. Next, you devise a way to test your idea through experimentation. Lastly, you take the data you have acquired and analyze it to determine one of two possible outcomes. Either the data supports your idea or it fails to support the idea. If it supports the “hypothesis” then a new “law” is in the making. If it does not, the scientist returns to the drawing board and revisits the original “idea” or hypothesis. In scientific inquiry, just as in story, there is a beginning (hypothesis), a middle (data acquisition), and an end (conclusion).

Story is everywhere. In fact, I would assert that story is the ONLY way as human beings we have to communicate. We are verbal beings, even when what we say is written or painted or sung or played upon an instrument. We take our innermost “ideas” and we transmit them in such a way that we communicate with others. To that, we must couch those ideas in the form of a story. Story is all around us. Story is how we communicate. Story is Life!

There are challenges to the Christian faith that consist of claims that the “story” of Jesus is borrowed from myths and legends of the day about other “gods”. Such claims may have some legitimacy. But, how can we convey the facts about an event without, in some way, using language and elements that have already been used in story after story after story since the dawn of mankind? As a writer, I can tell you that every story that can be told has been told. Most stories can be reduced to basic elements of at best two dozen basic stories. No matter what kind of story we choose to convey a truthful event, there can ALWAYS be claimed that we took elements of other stories to fabricate this story. Nothing is original! It has all happened in one form or another before. Just because it is a story, does not mean it is not truth!

What we do as human beings is to embellish the story; to strengthen the story; to enhance the story to give it context and gravitas and emotional heft. Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite essays of all time by Walter Wangerin, Jr. He tells the story of the “the shaper” the meaning of the ancient English word, scop, used for the poet of the day. In this essay, he talks about how the clan has had a battle in which one of its own has perished. The clan returns to its mead hall, tired and broken by the day’s events. And then, the storyteller, the “shaper” takes the day’s events and . . .

 

pet

The battle had been bloody enough to make a red mud of the earth beneath their feet; and one of their number had died; and now they’ve returned to the mead hall, exhausted, hungry, aggrieved.

They eat in silence. They drink that oldest of human drinks, a wine made of fermented honey. Their sadness deepens to a maudlin despair….

And just then the singer strikes a chord on his harp.

Every listens.

The singer develops the chord into melody. A familiar melody, in fact. One everyone has heard since childhood, and therefore one that carries profound, unutterable associations: parental comfort, an assurance of the divine. The singer sings familiar verses, and all the people nod: there is the weight of meaning in these verses. They remember. They remember and re-experience them now.

But then the singer begins to weave new words into the familiar verses: the details of today’s grim battle; the name of the comrade who fell; the deeds he did in falling, all of which, fetching up in the experience of this song, find place within the precincts of the divine; all of which are no longer senseless, but do bear now the weight of genuine purpose and meaning. And the people nod. And the dead ascends into the Valhalla of heroes. It is well. Chaos is cosmos. Desolation is now heavy with purpose. The day has taken shape in the singer’s song–

–and ever thereafter, it is the spiritual, artistic shape which is remembered as the truth of that day, not the cold, undecipherable, purely empirical fact.

We take “purely empirical fact” and shape it into song; story; poetry; painting; music; art; and yes, scientific discovery. We give it life! It resonates within our souls; our hearts; our minds! And, here is the point I would like to make as I follow up on yesterday’s post about Ray Bradbury.

Humanity will always have to utilize Story to communicate; to give meaning and life to the events that swirl around us; to answer the “why” not just the “how” for those empirical facts. And, in order to use Story, we must use our imagination. And, in order to use our imagination, we must ALWAYS have the ability and the freedom and the capacity to seek after God. Remove God from the human awareness and you remove imagination. The supernatural is ESSENTIAL for the continuation of the human race. This was addressed years ago by a prominent atheist who said that whether we believe in God or not, we have to at least believe in a “noble lie” for humanity to continue to thrive.

The “noble lie” for me is the Truth, the Life, and the Way! And, His Story is the Greatest Story Ever Told!

parableDon’t forget to come by the LifeWay in Shreveport this coming Saturday, January 5th from noon to 2 PM for my book signing. I will be signing “The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon”, “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye”, and “Conquering Depression: A 30 Day Plan to Finding Happiness”. Come and buy some books if none of these interest you. Come and share your Story! Free tee shirts!!!!

 

God is in Control

There is a haunting appeal to contemplating the unknown. Since the dawn of mankind, we have turned our faces towards the heavens and searched the brilliant stars and the shining moon for answers. Who are we? Where did we come from? What is our purpose? What will happen to us after death? Is this all there is to life?

My daughter insists she has seen an angel. When we drive into our gated community, go up the slight hill and around the curve beside the large pond, she always points to a certain tree growing at the edge of the water.

“He was right there, Dad. Really, he was.” She describes a lanky, thin man with a beard and long hair wearing jeans and a simple tee shirt. She saw him as we passed but in looking back, he was gone. There and gone. A brief encounter with the unknown. At that time in her life, she needed this encounter. Struggling with her epilepsy and the terrible toll it had taken on her life as a high school student, she needed to know that God was still in control.

I did not see the angel. But then, the visitation was not for me. It was for her. A quiet message of reassurance that God is watching. We may not understand why life happens as it does, but we must cling to the assurance that God is in control. All I have to do is look up at the universe wheeling and spinning around our little oasis of life and know that God is in control. He is holding it all together and directing the path of each star, each galaxy, yes, each atom.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:15-20

I received a lovely email from a reader of “The 13th Demon”. I know the book seems to be a frightening and potentially horrific tale, but it is only in our terror that we see the power of God and His incredibly redemptive acts. In my book, I give a major character an affliction. I don’t want to say more than that for fear of spoiling a reader’s experience. The author of the email loved the book, particularly the story of the caterpillar. But, she didn’t like the fact I had used her affliction as that of one of the characters.

I saw in her email a hint of the pain and struggle of anyone who wakes up each day with a chronic illness. I see it in my daughter, who at 24 has just now begun to awaken to the possibility she can have her own life. She has started back to community college and is actually looking forward to holding a job and having an independent life. My wife and I marvel at the sudden change and not a day passes that I don’t look over my shoulder for the oncoming train. To my email fan, I sent commendation for her bravery and her honesty. I am all too aware of the toll such disease takes on a life. But, God is in control.

In the days to come, I will share more information about the nature of God’s messengers, angels. The power and presence of these creations of God are at the center of my books and to grow in understanding of these creatures is to get a glimpse of the unknown; a passing glimmer of God’s grace; a tall figure of reassurance standing by the road of life.

Of Caterpillars and Death: “Oh, my!”

Steel looked away. “I feel like I’ve only lived for two years, Claire. I can’t remember most of my life. I’m not ready to die.”

He felt her hand on his cheek. “Silly, I don’t want to die, either. I said I’m not afraid to die. Imagine you’re a caterpillar.”

Steel raised an eyebrow. “A caterpillar?”

“Just go with it, Jonathan. Your whole life is spent crawling along a leaf and eating. That’s all you do. You have no appreciation of where the leaf is. You have no idea of how far you are from the ground if you were to fall. You never see the bird that swoops down to devour you. Your appreciation of the universe is limited. And then, one day you feel this horrible sensation of dread. You feel a change coming. You’re going to die. You dread it. You fear it. You go on eating and crawling pretending it’s not going to happen. It happens. You spin yourself into a cocoon of death and know no more.” Claire’s eyes were wide with emotion. The night air grew still and close, thick with humidity. Time seemed to slow.

“And, then Jonathan, you awaken. Your body stirs and you realize you’re no longer dead. Your cocoon falls away and you spread out huge, luminous wings. You crawl away from your death shroud and you take to the air! You’re no longer a caterpillar. You’re a butterfly! You fly through trees and fields of flowers. You see the sun and the stars. An entire universe you never could have imagined is yours to appreciate. And suddenly, you spy a caterpillar crawling along its leaf. You watch your former self and you wonder how you could have ever wanted to stay like that.”

“That is death, Jonathan. We’re fat, clumsy caterpillars waiting for the day of metamorphosis. We fear the cocoon. But, when we emerge on the other side, we’ll look back from God’s eternal perspective and wonder how we could ever have wanted to stay like this.”

I’ve been overwhelmed at the response to this one passage in “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye”. Some say it is “profound”. Others say it is “comforting”. But, why?

Just yesterday, we learned from a very moving testimonial to the life of Steve Jobs by his sister that his last words were “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” What did he see? Did he emerge from a cocoon and see his new form as a “butterfly” free from the confines of this earthly shape? Or, did he see the Creator in all of His splendor, majesty, and grace? No one can say for sure. But, he did see something.

This weekend, I also watched “The Captains”, a documentary by William Shatner interviewing all five actors who have played a captain of a starship in the Star Trek franchise. The most odd person was Avery Brooks who spoke in lilting metaphors and piano riffs and made very little sense whatsoever. The most concrete was Shatner himself, taking every opportunity to tell his own story of his life and how it was affected by his stent as “Captain Kirk”. But, what was most disturbing, most troubling was the answers he elicited from those he interviewed about God and what happens after death. Most answered, “I don’t know.” And, Shatner’s answer was his final lines as Captain Kirk in the ill fated “Generations” Star Trek movie that bridged the gap between the classic Star Trek universe and the Next Generation universe. As Captain Kirk lay dying his final words were, much like Steve Jobs’, “Oh, my!” I guess Shatner was expressing his desire that he hoped something was out there and whatever it is, he will be surprised.

Recently, the Discover channel premiered a show “Curiosity” and the opening episode answered the question, “Did God make the universe?” The physicists and cosmologists on the show were emphatic. There is no God. We don’t need God. The universe made itself. Even Stephen Hawking proclaimed there is no God and heaven is a “fairy tale”.

How then to put all of this together? I would say that each and every person listed above is nothing but a fat, clumsy caterpillar. Of course from our limited perspective, we can say there is no God; no transcendence; no afterlife. After all, what is our greatest desire? As a caterpillar it is to eat more leaves. In fact, give me a rain forest of leaves without predators and all of eternity to eat leaves! Wouldn’t that be the best existence? And, to defend such a Choice, for it is ultimately a choice; a worldview; a personal decision what to believe; yes to defend such a Choice we must say there is no butterfly! There is nothing beyond the cocoon. That makes all of THIS more important; more desirous; more under MY control. For the butterfly lies beyond my control in another dimension of reality that many would called the realm of “fairy tales”.

 Steve Jobs triumphed the adage, “Think Different”. It is time for us to think different; think beyond the leaves and the clumsy state of existence and realize there is something beyond us; something that brought all of THIS into existence and something that has prepared an existence as fantastic and unimaginable as a butterfly is for a caterpillar. We are destined for that far country where we will fall at the feet of our Savior and say “Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow!”

ResAliens — A Website Review Day 1

It was September, 1966 and I was sitting in front of our new color television set, a short, stocky kid on the soft side of puberty waiting breathlessly for this new show that promised to deliver what Lost in Space had so squandered: real, hard edged science fiction. The opening scene came and left me breathless. The stars filled the screen and a swooshing space ship flew past to the words: “Space, the final frontier . . .” By the end of that episode, the one about Doctor McCoy and the salt vampire, I was thrilled beyond words. Here was a real, honest to God science fiction television show that was gritty, adult oriented and had some pretty scary, but believable monsters.

I was reminded of that day and the feelings evoked in my young mind and heart when I began to read some of the stories on the website, Residential Aliens. Good, old fashioned science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. A combination of Star Trek, Twilight Zone, and Outer Limits with a good portion of Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man thrown in.

Where does the name, ResAliens, come from. Here from the website is the explanation:

ResAliens is short for Residential Aliens. A resident alien is, of course, a foreigner who is residing temporarily in a country not her own – an expatriate of sorts. Believers in heaven (or a “coming new age”) often consider themselves to be simply passing through this world on their way to a better land. The idea is that, although we’re currently inhabitants of earth, we’re really citizens of heaven and thus pilgrims, or aliens, on this planet. 

The editor of ResAliens, Lyn Perry, defines his scope of publishing in his guidelines:

“In that I am a believer and follower of Christ, yes. The authors and audience, however, may or may not come from a position of faith. But what I think you’ll find here is a collection of quality stories with a moral or spiritual thread that appeals to the broad and varied interests of fans of speculative fiction.

In fact, we accept stories from people of all walks of faith or from none. From my submission guidelines: “I’m looking for quality speculative fiction with a spiritual foundation. Submissions need not be religious in nature. However, we are looking for engaging stories that are truthful to the human experience while offering the reader something of the eternal.”

I downloaded the Collection Issue 5.5 and spot read some of the stories. I also read “Some Assembly Required” and “Snow Angels” to get a taste of the type of fiction you can find on this site.

Today, on day one, I want to discuss the website content. Then, for the next two days, I’ll review the stories I read listed in the paragraph above.

ResAliens is not just another pretty site. It publishes short stories and the author gets PAID for the story! That ‘s right! You can actually get published and get some cold hard cash. Here are the guidelines and payment options:

ResAliens accepts…
+ Flash Fiction (900 to 1500 words)
+ Short Stories (1500 to 6000 words, firm; 7k to 9k stories are too long)
+ Query First: Serials (2 to 4 episodic installments; up to 20k words)
+ Query First: Poetry/Verse (Limited! Note: This is a very hard sell.)
+ Query First: Artwork/Artist Interview. Email: lyn at resaliens dot com.

We Pay…
We offer a one-time payment of $5 per story or artist interview upon acceptance via PayPal (or $4 via USPS), with the option to waive this payment. We’ll also provide a link to your website and/or project page in your Author or Artist Bio. Upon acceptance, your story will appear in an electronic issue, including but not limited to this online venue.

I counted 86 authors and there are short biographies of each author. If you lie one of the archived stories, you can find out what other works these authors have available. There are also some free downloadable anthologies and a store front for buying more of the site’s work.

Here is ResAliens’ Facebook page:

There is also a discussion forum, a Facebook page, a Storefront, and a Twitter feed.

What kind of fiction can you expect? Here is Lyn Perry’s own words:

Combining spec fic and spirituality, and wanting to contribute to faith-informed genre fiction, ResAliens Press offers fans of science fiction, fantasy, and spiritual & supernatural thriller a quality venue in which to share their passion.

After sampling some of the stories, this idea excites me to no end. Here, in one place are dozens of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative stories with a spiritual center. These are stories that push the edge of inspirational fiction and yet, provide the reassurance that there will be a spiritual focus somewhere in the story. Check out the site! Read some of the free stories.

Tomorrow, I will review the story “Some Assembly Required” by T. M. Hunter.

Web site link    http://www.resaliens.com/

Editor’s blog – http://residentialaliens.blogspot.com/

Editor Lyn Perry’s personal blog – http://blogginoutloud.blogspot.com/

CSFF Participants’ links

 Noah Arsenault
Brandon Barr
Thomas Clayton Booher
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
CSFF Blog Tour
Carol Bruce Collett
D. G. D. Davidson
Dean Hardy
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Lyn Perry
Sarah Sawyer
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler

What is your God like?

I can’t help but wonder . . . perhaps no new C. S. Lewis has surfaced in the past fifty years for the very reason that so few writers are starting with the known and speculating from there.

Rebecca LuElla Miller

In the past few days, I have been following two posts: one at www.mikeduran.com about “glorifying God” in our writing. And, then at www.speculativefaith.com a post about how we portray God in our writing. Both of these posts are pale mirror images of each other for they reflect our imperfect human concept of Truth and God.

As a Christian, I believe my job is to do all to further the kingdom of God. If that is glorifying God, then sobeit. Several of the comments in both posts were disturbing to me. One commenter said the God of the Old Testament commanded us to bash babies heads in. I was appalled. Did I get this wrong? Have I read the Bible and missed that portrayal of God? I don’t think so.

So, this brings up a really good point. We all see God through the lens of our experiences of God. God reveals himself in two ways. He reveals himself through his creation as Paul talked about in Romans 1. But, God has also revealed himself through the scriptures and ultimately, through the incarnation. If our experience of God is more “natural” we may be in danger of worshipping the creation; of making the earth and nature into a demigod. If our experience of God is only from the Old Testament, we may draw the conclusion, right or wrong that God is a hideous monster filled only with jealousy and wrath.

If we experience God only through Jesus, we miss out on the mystery and majesty of the trinity. We must synthesize and merge all concepts of God into our experience.

In our postmodern culture, truth is relative and as a Christian writer, I might find myself asking the question “Can truth be known?” This question implies there may not be such a thing as absolute truth. However, in light of the revealed God in scripture and in nature, truth exists. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. And, no one comes to the Father except through me.” That statement is pretty absolute. There doesn’t seem to be any wiggle room. So, if we have truly experienced the God of the Bible, then as writers and Christians we do not ask a question. We make a statement with our writing and our lives. “Truth can be known.”

I was reading these comments in both of these posts because I wanted to be encouraged. Instead I was greatly distressed and depressed. A standard of communication and writing was established. The standard raised here is one I don’t believe anyone writing today can ever meet. Perhaps it is because we are so steeped in postmodernism that we cannot connect with that foundation of reality that drove Lewis and Tolkien and the other excellent authors of the past century mentioned in these comments.

But, we must TRY. Our culture is increasingly post-Christian and we as Christian authors have the onerous duty of trying to reveal truth to a godless, truthless society. It is hard enough to try and meet the standards of these authors. We will fail. But, we must try. We must strive for excellence and quality. And, we must know the God of the scriptures. We will never agree on our knowledge of God for each of us experiences God in unique ways. But, we can respect the Word of God as the revealed Truth as best as any man or woman could have written it.

I just finished Paul Copan’s book “Is God a Moral Monster?” and listened to an excellent podcast, “Straight Thinking” over on reasons.org featuring an interview with Copans. He made the point that much of the depiction of the God of the Old Testament (who commands us to bash in babies’ heads????) is linked to the literary style of writing at the time. Ah, the literary style?

So, even our Old Testament is subject to the same problems we are talking about in these comments. It is written by man, inspired by God, and we must filter the “knowledge” of the authors through their cultural and geopolitical situation at the time of the writing and take the “monstrous” God of the Old Testament with a grain of salt.

I would rather remember the passage where Moses pleaded with God to show Himself. Here, in Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s “The Book of God” is one human’s interpretation of that scripture:

Now, Moses closed his mouth and lowered his hands and turned his face aside. His hair was like smoke. His brow concealed a difficult thought.

Finally, he whispered, “I pray you, O Lord, show me your glory.”

Straightway the wind died. The yellow air stood still. The mountain hushed, as between the heaves of storm.

All at once the Lord God lifted his prophet bodily and set him down in the cleft of the rock. He covered Moses with his hand — that he might not, by the direct sight of the Holy God, die. Then the glory of the Lord began to pass that crack in the mountain, crying, “The Lord! The Lord!”

Only when he was going away did God remove his hand, and Moses saw the back of him.

But while it went, his glory proclaimed: The Lord, merciful, gracious, slow to anger — a God abounding in love. Forgiving iniquity, blotting out sin, but by no means clearing the guilty —

And Moses, as soon as he saw such majesty, bowed his head and worshiped.

Moses started from the “known”, he saw the back of our God and he wrote about his experience. This is the God I know. This is the God I worship. This is the God I write about!

%d bloggers like this: