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Father of Steel!

My father passed away in October, 2012 at the age of 98. This will be my first Father’s Day without him. I just recently had a birthday reaching the venerable age of 58. 58! When did that happen? But, this birthday was bittersweet because I was born on my father’s 41st birthday. This was my father’s first birthday without him. He would have been 99. So, birthday and Father’s Day have always had a very special meaning for me. They arrive almost simultaneously each year and in the past, this has meant a blow out party mainly focused on my father. At 98, his last birthday should be properly celebrated! This year, no celebration.

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To say I am sad is an understatement. To say I am wistful is a given. But, I want to talk about something entirely different. Movie critics. Now that we have the internet, movie critics are coming out of our pores! If you want to see a movie and want to search diligently, you can find a positive review somewhere, even if the movie is horrendous. Conversely, the “mainstream” critics seem to have an unspoken agreement and routinely pan or praise movies in tandem. Case in point was “Star Trek Into Darkness”. Most of the mainstream critics praised the movie. And yet, according to detractors, this movie has NOT met the financial goals of the studios. Great reviews; poor box office returns. Certainly not on the same scale as “After Earth” which was universally panned by mainstream critics and fanboy critics.

What is interesting is that both of these movies touch on fathers. In After Earth, the father son relationship is at the center of the story. In Star Trek, it is the fatherly relationship between Kirk and Pike that drives Kirk to become the man he must become in order to be an effective captain to his crew. I have not seen After Earth. I will not see After Earth. But, I have seen Star Trek Into Darkness 4 times. Okay, so I’m a Trekker. I have been since I watched the very first televised episode on network television way back in 1966.

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Yesterday, my daughter and I went to see “Man of Steel”. I checked out the mainstream critics. They were unimpressed with the movie calling it “dour”, “deadpan”, “lacking chemistry”, “tedious”, and “boring”. Even the fanboy/geek sights were unimpressed. Not on the scale of “After Earth” but for a movie with this much anticipation, the criticism was worrisome. I went into the movie expecting to be disappointed. I was not.

First, let me say that this movie has so much emotion, I cried at least three times. Yes, I am a man. And, yes, I cry sometimes at movies. It has to be a really, really effective movie to make me cry. I am a writer. I am getting older. I have seen every movie trope there is. It takes a lot to impress me. It takes a lot to make me cry. Both Star Trek movies made me cry at very unexpected times. I did NOT see those moments coming and for me, that is the best “thumbs up” a movie can get from Bruce Hennigan.

In “Man of Steel”, I was so moved by key scenes. The artists behind this movie were brilliant in their use of flashbacks and set pieces that spoke volumes without a single word being uttered. Watch for the “rebellion” scene in the truck between Clark and Jonathan Kent. I dare you to NOT hold your breath! Don’t miss the simple, quiet flashback at the end of the story where not a word is uttered but the scene beneath a clothesline is the single most moving moment in a movie I have experienced in years!

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Secondly, this movie was a believable story. I had the privilege of experiencing the first Superman movie in the theaters. I was amazed that a man could fly. Christopher Reeves nailed the character of Superman and the Kent farm scenes were beautifully filmed and moving. But, all of these films were filled with campy, tongue in cheek moments. The assumption was while you may believe a man can fly, Superman could never really exist in our world. He is a comic book character. The reason “Man of Steel” has been labeled as “dour” and “boring” is because it dares to tell a story that is REAL. I believed that Clark Kent could have existed and that somewhere out there he waits to put on the cape and save the world. This movie was never as dark as the Batman movies. But, it carried a serious tone that just worked. Period. Was it filled with comedic moments? No. Was it moving and satisfying as a cohesive, believable story? You bet you!

Third, this movie was about a father and a son. For the first time in all the years I have read comics and watched movies, Jor-El was a real character filled with bravado and idealism and a love for his son that transcended the world in which he lived. Jor-El fought for his son’s future. Jor-El was a true father — wise, strong, and willing to fight for what he believed even if it cost him his life. Russell Crowe has never been better. Jonathan Kent as played by Kevin Costner was perfect. His conflicted fatherhood was obvious — torn between protecting his son from the ridicule of a world that saw him as different with the desire to let his son beat the crap out of a bunch of bullies. Jonathan Kent’s soft spoken, spare words of wisdom were just right. And that scene — oh that scene in the truck. Wait for it and I dare you to not be moved!

Which brings me back to my own father. Experiencing “Man of Steel” brought back so many memories of my father. Like Clark, I grew up on a farm. Like Jonathan Kent, my father was a man of few words to me. He spoke eloquently from the pulpit and sang wondrous songs and was a true ham when it came to showmanship. But, his relationship with me was at best tentative in my early years. Like Clark, I rebelled against my father and the most painful moment of my teenage years was the day I made him cry because of my behavior. In my mind’s eye, I see my father standing on the edge of eternity, with so many years of life behind him and now facing the brink of darkness and he nods at me as if to say, “I hope I taught you well, son. Go change the world.”

One last note. There has been a huge swell of interest in the possibility that Superman in “Man of Steel” was deliberately patterned after Jesus. In fact, I read where the movie studio was hoping that Christians would think this also and go see the movie. But, as usual, the media, the internet movie critics, and the Hollywood “story” machine just don’t get it. Clark Kent, Kal-El is mortal. He is a man of flesh and is given in to temptation and the desire to do harm to others. The telling final battle between Superman and Zod define it all and Superman’s inevitable solution is very, very human.

Let me be very clear here. Jesus Christ was a real person not a comic book character. He existed and history does not dispute this. Some think that Jesus was the product of our imagination; our desire as a primitive people to create transcendent heroes to give meaning to our paltry lives. No, that would be true of Superman, but never of Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, we see elements of the character of Jesus in Clark Kent. But, that is true of any human being. Each of us has the capacity and the desire for altruism, for forgiveness, for love, and yes, for self sacrifice. That does not make anyone of us Jesus. It does mean that those characteristics are there for a reason. We are made in the image of God. God who is creator, sustainer, lover of humanity, and capable of great sacrifice. And yes, capable of the gentle, and sometimes harsh hand of fatherly discipline. Jesus was God in man form. The attributes we see in “Christ” figures are very poor reflections of the true character of Christ. He was without wrong doing. He was without failure. His every word and deed were carefully planned and thought out. His life was the ultimate Story that gives our lives meaning. This cannot be said of Superman.

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What we see in Superman and the Doctor and a myriad of “super heroes” is our need for a savior. Can someone please save us? Please? Save us from what, you ask? Ourselves!

For this father’s day, go see “Man of Steel”. For the day after, seek the true Father Son relationship in the person of Jesus Christ. Find your Savior!

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All That Is NOT SO must Go!

ray2In 2008 I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to meet my all time favorite writer, Ray Bradbury. If you have not read stories by this giant of science fiction and fantasy literature, then you have missed out on a life changing experience. Ray Bradbury passed away in 2012 and his loss was a tiny tremor in the tumult of this past year. For you see, as forward thinking and progressive as Mr. Bradbury was, he hesitated to embrace many forms of modern technology. He refused to fly. He would only travel by train or boat. He would not allow any of his works to be translated into electronic form. You will not find any of his stories as ebooks! Why? Go read Fahrenheit 451 and you might catch a glimmer of the reason. Stories, to Bradbury, belonged inside people! Story is Life!

As we enter 2013, I am depressed at the negative tone of many of my favorite blogs. Who can blame us? If you are a Christian, then 2012 was a year of blow after blow to the Christian lifestyle. And, I don’t need to spend time listing those developments here. Others have done it well. But, there is one concept I want to explore as we enter a new year.

In this past year, scientists have mounted a campaign against God. Not surprising. This happens with regularity. But, this past year the attack was imbedded in such books as “A Universe From Nothing” by Lawrence Krauss or Richard Dawkins’ atheist children’s book “The Magic of Reality”. And, that venerable icon of science for children, Bill Nye, the Science Guy attacked creationism in public and on internet based video. The year ended with the American Atheists’ huge billboard on Times Square asking people to “Dump the Myth”.

Back in the 1950‘s, Ray Bradbury wrote a series of short stories that resonate with today’s headlines. Now, remember, he was an advocate of science. He helped develop ideas for many of Walt Disney’s animated shorts about space travel. He was involved in the design of “Future World” at EPCOT. But, he had cautionary words for us about the danger of the supremacy of science as a philosophy. As a philosophy, this is known as scientism or materialism or naturalism. Nature is all that is. If we cannot sense it with our scientific machines, then it cannot exist. NOTHING in the supernatural realm can be even considered as possible.

martian chroniclesIn “The Martian Chronicles”, Bradbury created a character who had escaped to Mars and built a house of “Usher” to resurrect the creations of imagination. It seemed that on Earth such imaginative works had been outlawed. Look at this passage from “Usher II” in the Martian Chronicles:

They passed a law. Oh, it started very small. In 1999 it was a grain of sand. They began by controlling books, cartoons, and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressures; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves.

Every man, they said, must face reality. Must face the Here and Now! Everything that was not so must go. All the beautiful literary lies and flights of fancy must be shot in mid-air! So they lined them up against a library wall one Sunday morning thirty years ago, they lined them up in 2006; they lined them up, . . . and shot them down, and burned the paper castles and fairy frogs and old kings and the people who lived happily every after . . . and Once Upon a Time became No More!

 

In another story from that book, “The Million Year Picnic”, a family has escaped the self destruction of Earth and has made it to Mars to rebuild a new life. Here is what a father told his children about Earth:

Life on Earth never settled down to doing anything very good. Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets, emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines.Wars got bigger and bigger and finally killed Earth.

 

But, the most powerful story, and more than likely a precursor to “Fahrenheit 451” was “The Exiles” from “The Illustrated Man”. In this story, the authors of science fiction, horror and fantasy have found exile on Mars from a world in which their works have been burned and now, a rocket from Earth approaches. In this scene, Edgar Allen Poe is waiting for the rocket men to land so he can defeat them.illustrated_man

 

They won’t be prepared for us, at least. They haven’t the imagination. Those clean young rocket men with their antiseptic bloomers and fish-bowl helmets, with their new religion. About their necks, on gold chains, scalpels. Upon their heads, a diadem of microscopes. In their holy fingers, steaming incense urns which in reality are only germicidal ovens for steaming out superstition. The names of Poe; Bierce, Hawthorne, Blackwood — blasphemy to their clean lips.”

How did this happen and how did Poe come to reside on Mars?

On Earth, a century ago, in the year 2020 they outlawed our books. Oh, what a horrible thing — to destroy our literary creations that way! It summoned us out of — what? Death? The Beyond? . . . the only saving thing we could do was wait out the century here on Mars, hoping Earth might overweight itself with these scientists and their doubtings; but now they’re coming to clean us out . . . “

And, lest you think that Bradbury was not aware of the war on Christmas look at this scene of a wasted, near dead Santa Claus:

They took him, a skeleton thought, and clothed him in centuries of pink flesh and snow beard and red velvet suit and black boot, made him reindeers, tinsel, holly. And, after centuries of manufacturing him they drowned him in a vat of Lysol, you might say.

What must it be like on Earth? . . . Without Christmas? . . . nothing but snow and wind and the lonely, factual people.

Ah, the power of Story. I will address this in upcoming posts. For now, we must stop and revel in the sheer power of Story to transform humanity. Bradbury did it with these short tales. Bradbury cautioned us that if we allow our imagination to die, then we will die as a people. And, imagination is built upon the foundation of the possibility of the supernatural. Eliminate the supernatural, and you MUST eliminate imagination; burn it out of the brain; cauterize it from the human thought patterns; outlaw it from public and private expression.

Don’t miss this. Bradbury talked of it and he was on the side of science. Science is a tool! It is NOT a way of life. And, if we allow Science to become a way of life, we will see the death of imagination; the death of superstition; the death of the supernatural; the death of Story; the death of God! There is no other path.

Adolf Hitler built his world upon the foundation of naturalism. And, he tried to purge the world of superstition in the ovens of Auschwitz. We cannot forget this. We must remember that to kill Story is to kill what makes us humans. And, one Man used Story to change the world. These stories were called parables.

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So, this coming Sunday, January 5th, I will be signing copies of my three books at our local LifeWay in Shreveport, Louisiana from noon to 2 PM. Of course, I would like for you to come. I will be giving away tee shirts. But, here is my request. Go to a book store. Any book store this coming Saturday. Go and find a book that fuels your imagination. There are wonderful books for all ages and for men and women in the realm of Christian fiction at a LifeWay and if you come to my LifeWay, I can point you to many good Stories.

Go out this Saturday and let’s show the world that as followers of Christ, we recognize the importance the power of Story. This Saturday, wherever you are, go into a book store and buy a book and when you check out, look the person behind the counter in the eye and say, “Story Is Life”!

 

The Lesson of the Gumdrop Tree

gumdroptreeWhen I was six years old, my mother presented me with the gumdrop tree. It was a shiny, clear plastic tree with sharp points on the tips of its branches. My job, my mother told me, was to put a gum drop on every bare branch. And, I couldn’t eat any gumdrops until I was done!

For a six year old, this was a grave temptation. I placed the gum drops one by one one each tiny plastic tipped branch until they were all covered. My mother was so proud of me, she allowed me to have a few spare gumdrops. Now, she told me, I could eat two gumdrops a day until Christmas.

Every year, we took out that gumdrop tree. Somewhere in the misty memories of my childhood, there is a buried memory of the first Christmas we did not pull out the gumdrop tree. By then, it was probably broken and, no doubt, my mother couldn’t find another one like it.

This is my first Christmas without either of my parents. My father passed away in October and it has fallen to me to become the “leader” of my family. I am the youngest, and yet my two sisters feel I should take the lead. You see, my entire family gets together on Christmas Eve, all 65 or so of us. My parents’ children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren! So, this year, I decided to bring back one of my mother’s traditions. I went online and found the gumdrop tree! I ordered it and it arrived this past Thursday. When I took it out of the box, I was stunned at how little it was. I remembered it being much larger!

I sat at my dining room table while my son and daughter, now both grown, watched me put gumdrops on the tree. I told them the story of the gumdrop tree. And, this afternoon, my family had a Christmas Adam party. What is a Christmas Adam party? Adam came before Eve, so today is Christmas Adam . . . (crickets chirping).

Tonight, I placed the gumdrop tree on the table next to all of the candy and goodies we always bring at this time of year. As the young kids came running it, they were drawn to the gumdrop tree. They were fascinated by the candy hanging from the clear branches. I watched in utter amazement as they devoured many of the gumdrops. I was ecstatic! The gumdrop tree was a hit.

At the appropriate time, I asked everyone to pay attention. I told them that from now on our family would be meeting on the Sunday before Christmas so that each individual family could develop their own Christmas Eve traditions. Then, I told them this:

My mother and father loved everyone they met. No matter how unlovable or unlikeable, they accepted every person unconditionally. It was amazing to watch them. They forgave the unforgivable; they hugged the unembraceable; they welcomed the outcasts. I told them of my mother’s tradition of the gumdrop tree. I held up a gumdrop. It is hard and crusty on the outside but soft and gooey on the inside. My mother and father looked at a person, and no matter how hard and crusty they were on the outside, they saw the goodness within. It was because of their love for Jesus. The love of Jesus poured forth from them continually. I asked each person as they left that day to eat a gumdrop and remember the unconditional love my mother and father showed everyone. Let’s just say the gumdrop was a hit. I hope that the idea that Jesus’ love can transform your life was a hit also!

Just a few housekeeping notes before I wish everyone a Merry Christmas. If you are in the Shreveport area, I will be signing books at our local LifeWay store on Saturday, January 5th at 12 PM to 2 PM. I assured them I would get as many people as possible to come to the store that day. So, save up your gift cards and your money and come to LifeWay on Youree Drive on Saturday, January 5th. You don’t have to buy any one of my three books, but I would be very pleased if you did. Let’s support our local Christian Book Store after Christmas!

Now, to Amy, my newest best fan, here are some pictures from my book signing in Austin on the 8th. Enjoy and my family wishes you and yours the Merriest of Christmases! And, I hope to see you on January 5th!

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Okay, so I'm a Dork! But, Amy isn't a Dork. She is a faithful fan. Thanks, Amy!

Okay, so I’m a Dork! But, Amy isn’t a Dork. She is a faithful fan. Thanks, Amy!

My wife keeps me centered and level headed.

My wife keeps me centered and level headed.

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My son, Sean, and his wonderful wife, Jennifer. She keeps him centered and level headed, too!

Evil Crouches at Your Door!

Sad-Baby-FaceLet’s call him Ben. Ben was small, frail, about 4 years old. He had tousled blonde hair and pale blue eyes and translucent skin with dark blue veins visible just under the surface. In the brief time I took care of Ben, he never said a word. He never uttered a sound. I was a junior medical student charged with caring for Ben on the pediatric wards. His parents were stiff and silent on what had happened to Ben. They just found him in his bed still, quiet, and motionless save for the occasional blinking of his eyes and the rise and fall of his chest.

It was the late 1970’s and a new machine called a CAT scan was available at another hospital in our city. I traveled with Ben in the ambulance to a huge, brightly lit room. Against the far wall was a monstrosity of a machine with U shaped arms that spun and slid like some 1930’s science fiction machination. Ben was so tiny in the center of this huge machine. It would take 30 minutes to image his brain but there would be no problem with Ben holding still. Ben did not move. Today, that same scan would take 2 seconds.

As I watched the images slowly appear on a monitor, the radiologist sat beside me and sighed. He pointed to the white rim of Ben’s skull. He touched the dusty screen over a white blob in the center of Ben’s brain. Blood. Fractures. I was sick to my stomach.

Later after bringing in the police, the parents admitted to placing Ben’s head in the window sill and repeatedly closing the window on his head to get him to stop crying. Ben died in my arms, unloved, rejected, but not alone.

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I have looked evil in the face. Evil is real. It is not a quirk of the synapses. It is not a chemical imbalance. It is not an environmentally produced “disorder”. It is an entity. I saw it lurking behind the feigned tears of Ben’s parents. I saw it in the manic face of a young girl I am convinced was possessed by that evil. I saw it in the relentless stare of a patient who vowed to kill me and eat my liver. I felt its caress on a lonely night in a bed and breakfast in Austin, Texas when I was trying to finish my book about the influence of these evil forces on our world.

I saw it last week. I saw it many times this past year. Last night, my best friend Mark Riser gave me a book for Christmas on theology. I randomly opened it and read a paragraph. It was not a random sampling it turns out. Basically the section was on evil and there was a thought placed there for me to ponder. Maybe our culture is more fascinated with evil than ever in order to pull our attention to the big acts of evil so we do not notice the insidious, quiet, tiny touches of evil as it infiltrates our lives.

The big evil last week was the killing of over two dozen innocent people including children. But that “big evil” came at the expense of dozens of tiny caresses of evil. “He was a quiet, thoughtful person.” “He was so nice.” “I can’t imagine why he did this.” You hear these kind of statements all the time when such a tragedy occurs.

Jay Strack, a motivational speaker back in the mid 1990’s once said when he went scuba diving, it wasn’t the sharks he feared. Rather, it was the multitude of minnows that can nibble you to death. We focus on the “big evil” and miss the accumulating influence of a thousand tiny evils that poke and prod and erode and puncture so much so that one day we find ourselves being bled to death; our resolve, our compassion, our mercy gone and we snap. The big evil takes us and we smash a tiny boy’s head in the window sill or rip a sink out of the wall or take up a gun and kill.

Don’t miss this. Each of us is totally and completely capable of carrying out the kind of “mindless, senseless” violence we saw last week. Don’t think for a moment that you or I are above it. We aren’t. We are imperfect, broken souls on a journey toward forgiveness; love; completion; release. Why are we such broken creatures? Why can we not pull ourselves up out of the muck; above these base emotions and actions?

Jesus of Nazareth had many things to say about evil and here are just three:

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.

But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’”

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

Jesus seems to be saying that evil originates in our hearts and minds. WE are the source of evil! How is this possible? If evil is real then how can it also be in us and yet not come from us? Ah, this is the mystery of all time. Our scientific culture wants to assert that we are but highly evolved animals; that we have no true spiritual side; that we do not have a thing called the soul. Such talk is of the supernatural and the supernatural does not exist. It is but a figment of our imagination.

But, Jesus seems to be saying that there is something within us that quickens at the sight of art and beauty; that resonates to the sound of music; that seeks and connects with that most abstract of things, love. And, because we are broken; ruined by this disconnect with the divine; we allow evil to take the place of good; to let darkness rule instead of light. There are only two choices — dark or light — good or evil. One will prevail in our hearts and mind and will rule the day. It is simple, Jesus taught. How then do we push the evil into the dark, powerless corners of our live so that good prevails? One more word from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth:

 “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.”

Ah, we can fight the urges; suppress the evil impulses; push the destructive thoughts away but if we DO NOT have something positive to fill the void, then the evil will return more powerful and more controlling than ever. Look at history. Those who started down the path of evil; those who allowed the minnows to nibble away at their conscience; slowly, inexorably drowned in the sea of evil and became hardened; solidified by evil. For them, there is little hope of return to good; to return to sanity; to return to a world filled with light. Think of the Nazi holocaust, how insidiously a nation desiring to merely rebuild from the ashes of World War I became an engine of worldwide destruction and the killing machine of the Holocaust. Think of Stalin, ruler of Russia desiring to rebuild his country after the devastation of World War II deciding to quietly eliminate a few political enemies for the good of the state. Estimates are that he probably had between 50 and 100 million of his own people executed! There are dozens of such stories just from the twentieth century alone. And, no sane person would ever disagree that Adolph Hitler was evil.

I have no answer for why the events of last week took place. But, our actions should be to reach out in love, compassion, mercy and prayer to the families of the victims and the perpetrator. And, in our response we have once again turned to God. Where was God in the midst of this tragedy? Right where we left Him, out in the darkness; away in the shadows; escorted out of the picture by our culture for we do not need Him in our world of materialism, naturalism, and the promise of answers to all our quandaries from science.

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What we cannot solve with our equations and our theories is the mystery of the human heart and the human soul. Jesus solved that problem. He taught that the heart must change and can only change through a realization that He is the Light. This season whether you believe in God or not; whether you worship the baby born in a manager or believe it is all a myth; seek to fill your heart with the Light of the Love that Jesus showed to us. And, when you do, you will find peace and goodwill toward all men.

 

 

Just Another Plankeye!

I was interviewed on Nightwatch Radio Tuesday evening. Todd and Hugh and Johnny and I had a great time talking about monsters and movies and comic books. Eventually, the subject of religion came up. After all, I am a Christian and my Christian fiction book, “The 12th Demon” was the subject of the interview. I found it interesting to hear the usual attitudes towards average “Christians” from Todd. And, I can’t blame him! That reputation is well earned. Todd was very gracious in his comments and I had to agree with him. As a Southern Baptist, I can talk about Southern Baptists. But, my comments on today’s blog go beyond my denomination to all denominations of the Christian church.

You see, the accusations that are always aimed at us are universally recognized. They are represented by such words as judgmental, arrogant, holy roller, Bible thumper, and so on and so on until the “H” word is finally uttered. HYPOCRITE! As an apologist, one who defends the truthfulness of the Christian faith, I can’t possibly count all of the times I have heard the number one objection to someone becoming a Christian: “All of you Christians are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites!”

HypocriteI’m in the middle of examining the teachings of a simple carpenter; focusing on his words of wisdom and trying not to focus on his “religious” claims. As I stated in earlier posts, no matter what our station in life I think we can all agree that these teachings of Jesus of Nazareth can be applied to every human being. And, the world would be a much better place if we did. So, just what is a hypocrite? Here is a definition of hypocrisy:

“the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform. ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French ypocrisie, via ecclesiastical Latin, from Greek hupokrisis ‘acting of a theatrical part,’ from hupokrinesthai ‘play a part, pretend,’”

 

Anyone who claims to have certain moral standards OR to adhere to certain beliefs and then acts in the opposite manner is a hypocrite. Interesting. Nowhere in that definition does it say: “A person professing Christianity who acts in a manner contrary to the teachings of Christ.”

Although I would certainly say that the above statement would be consistent with a hypocrite, hypocrisy is NOT CONFINED to religion. In fact, I would claim that every single human being on the face of the planet is a hypocrite. We all espouse a high system of behavior or beliefs but we routinely violate those principles with our actions. A simple example would be the claim that I do not lie. Yet, when my wife asks me “Does this dress make me look fat?” I wisely choose to be a hypocrite rather than to become a fool!

What did Jesus have to say about this? Or did he even address it? After all, he was a religious person. And, in the minds of most people if you are religious then by default you are a hypocrite. Was Jesus a hypocrite? Let’s see what Jesus had to say as recorded by his disciple Matthew.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”

 

On and on, Jesus used the word, hypocrite. And, here is what is interesting. Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders of the day! He was calling them hypocrites because their behavior and their religious claims were totally at odds. In fact, it was because of these kind of statements that angered the religious leaders that contributed to his death.

It would be very easy to apply these teachings to those of us who practice religion in the 21st century. But, I believe the lessons of Jesus of Nazareth cut both ways. In fact, I would say that his accusations of religious hypocrisy also could apply to our behavior towards one another in general. Look at the specific truth in each of the above statements:

First, we crave recognition for actions that should best be kept to ourselves. When we pray, it should not be for recognition but a private affair between us and God. When we give to those in need, it should not be for recognition but because it is the right thing to do.

Second, we want to tell someone what they “should” do but we fail to stop and look at our own behavior first. What set of circumstances gives us the right to tell others what they should be doing? Frankly, we should practice what we preach!

Third, we set up rules and regulations, just as the Pharisees did, and then follow them to the letter disregarding the necessity for us to ALSO show mercy and forgiveness. Rules are important but never more important than the needs of the one person they are going to hurt or destroy.

Fourth, on the outside, we often appear perfect, polished, poised, collected, in control but more often than not inside we are dying. We are often the walking dead; filled with regret, shame, doubt, fear, suppressed anger, and the like. This one category alone describes almost all of us and we are all hypocrites in this respect. What if we lived in a world where we were honest about our faults and our doubts and our shortcomings? What if we lived in a world where we truly had to rely on each other to get through the day? What if we lived in the kind of world that Jesus longed for us to have — a world of mutual respect, kindness, mercy, openness, giving, and compassion?

Fifth, you don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate these realities. In fact, when we call other people hypocrites, we are ourselves becoming a hypocrite, setting ourselves up as morally superior when in fact, through our judgmental, arrogant attitudes we have just become a hypocrite!

helping-handThis Christmas season, let’s listen to the teachings of Christ. Let’s look at each other through his eyes and see the person within that may be hurting or in need of just a little love and compassion. That could be the greatest gift we could give to someone this holiday season!

Are We All Equal?

There were only two women in my medical school class of 100 students. Back in the late seventies, women doctors were few and far between. It was a time of women’s “liberation”. Frankly, I didn’t get why women were not treated “equally”. My mother and father had set an example for me. My mother was a working woman back in the 1950’s and 1960’s right up to her retirement as a school bus driver in the mid 1970’s. My father shared the job of cooking and cleaning. Every Saturday morning, he swept the entire house of all the dirt and dust of the prior week. I never heard him say anything about “women’s work”. Both of my sisters were career women even after they married and had children. I guess I was fortunate that my parents taught me that we are all equal in the eyes of God no matter what our gender, religion, race, or stature in life.

That particular belief did not come from a political point of view. It came from our devotion to the teachings of Christ. As I mentioned two posts ago, I want to look at the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in this Christmas season and focus on those teachings without focusing on the religious claims about Jesus. I maintain that Jesus of Nazareth taught us powerful lessons that transcend culture and religion; lessons that even an atheist or agnostic can live with. In fact, Jesus taught us powerful lessons that everyone should apply to our lives.

Stop for a moment and consider the status of women in first century Palestine. Among the Roman culture, women were considered objects of sexual conquest and were often the center of many pagan religious practices. In the Jewish culture of Jesus of Nazareth, women were very low in status. They were little better than possessions. A man could divorce a women just be stating it was so. Women who had serious illnesses were considered “unclean” and “untouchable”. If a women was caught in the act of adultery, she could be stoned — forget about the man’s transgressions! The testimony of a woman was useless and never to be taken as truthful.

However, we see an entirely different attitude toward women in four encounters Jesus had with a woman of his time. Each encounter is a teaching moment for us all to understand.Woman-at-the-Well-5001

First, Jesus met a woman at a well. This woman had been married many times and was considered an adulterer. She came to the well in the heat of the day hoping no one would be there to make fun of her. She was also a Samaritan, considered lower than low; the most undesirable of the undesirables by any good Jew of the day. She met Jesus of Nazareth that day. He did the unthinkable and SPOKE to her! He told her all about herself. He told her that the water she drank from this well was temporary but that she should seek the water of spiritual fulfillment.

Here, Jesus illustrates one of the first of many very powerful lessons that all people are of equal value and of equal worth.

Second, Jesus was dining with a religious leader of the day. A woman appears suddenly at the door. She ignores the ridicule and chiding of the religious leaders and comes to Jesus. She produces a vial of expensive fragrance, pours it on Jesus’ feet and his head and washes his feet with her tears and her hair. While the rest of the men present ridicule the woman’s actions, Jesus accepts them as a gift and says that wherever and whenever his teachings are told down through the ages, this woman’s devotion will be remembered.

Third, is the most beautiful account of the woman caught in the act of adultery. We know from the account that this was a setup to trap Jesus; a trap set by the religious leaders of the day. Jesus literally disarmed the men ready to stone the woman with one of the most powerful statements in history, “Let he who is among you that is without sin cast the first stone.” Then, Jesus does not condemn the woman but tells her she is free and to “go and sin no more”; that is don’t allow yourself to get into the situation you were just in that almost led to your death. Learn from this and CHANGE your life for the better.

Fourth, it is very interesting that the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection tell us that the first people he appeared to were women! A woman’s testimony was worthless! If the story of the resurrection were false; that is, fabricated by men. they certainly would NOT have used women as the first line of testimony to the resurrection. Whether you believe this fact or not, the idea that Jesus would appear to women first is significant. His acknowledgement of women’s worth for its time was astonishing.

We see in these few examples (and there are many more) that Jesus of Nazareth disregarded a person’s race (Samaritan), gender(female), and ethnic background (again, Samaritan). In fact, Jesus had harsh words for the religious leaders of the day calling them hypocrites (More on this later!). Jesus seems to be teaching that we are all equal in his eyes. Amazing, isn’t it? Don’t believe me? Look at this statement from a letter Paul wrote to the church in Galatia:

 

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).

 

Where did we go wrong? How did mankind continue to claim to be followers of Christ in western culture and still embrace the bigotry of race and slavery and the sexism against women? Because we are man; we are broken; we listen but we do not learn. Even our founding fathers ignored their own words from the Declaration of Independence when it came to slavery:

We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.

It has only been in the last forty years that we have finally given race and sex a fair deal. But, Jesus taught this fairness two thousand years ago!

What have I learned from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth that I think all men and women should embrace:

Each person is unique and worthy.

No person is better than another.

No person is greater than another.

One should NEVER be looked down upon because of a difference in race, gender, religious beliefs, or stature in life.

We should look upon EVERYONE with respect as our equal.

Once again, Jesus of Nazareth has taught us to do the HARD thing because it is the RIGHT thing to do!

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!

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