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Violent Media and Common Sense

I have read many of Lee Child’s novel about his character, Jack Reacher. I was a bit perplexed that Tom Cruise chose to portray Jack Reacher in the recent film based on the book. In my mind, Jack is a tall, muscular guy more on the level of the Rock rather than the smaller Tom Cruise. My daughter wanted to see the show so we went and it was right on the money! Tom Cruise captured the personality and quirks of Jack Reacher. I would pay to see him in other movies as Jack Reacher. During the movie, there was a protracted and very well done car chase scene. I was gripping my seat, gritting my teeth and grunting with each collision. Great chase scene!

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After the movie I was almost out of the parking lot when my daughter screamed, “Dad, slow down! You’re not Jack Reacher!” I stopped in dismay. I had been gunning my car engine and trying to outrace the other cars leaving the parking lot. I had been driving like Jack Reacher and never realized it! This has happened to me many times before. I watch a television show, a movie, or read a book and find myself acting out the emotions or behavior I just encountered in that fictional setting. One time, after losing a domino game to my wife and her mother, I let lose with a casual string of curse words, including the F bomb that would have made a rap artist blush. Where did that come from? I realized I had spent all day with two of my medical colleagues whose language was mostly such curse words and without realizing it, MY BEHAVIOR WAS CHANGED!

In recent interviews about violent video games and their effect on players, I have been astounded at the denial by the video gaming industry that playing such games has NO effect on behavior. Not even a little. Not even a smidgen. Nothing! Walk away from five hours of Grand Theft Auto and you don’t drive any differently; you don’t feel aggressive or violent. There is NO EFFECT on behavior. And before you get mad at me, video game industry read ALL of what I have to say!

25 years worth of studies have proven differently, but still those studies are all wrong! Ideas do NOT have consequences! I can walk away from anything and not be effected by my participation in that thing. The mind is NOT influenced by ideas.

What? I found it interesting on a recent radio talk show this claim was made. One of the hosts maintained that playing a first person shooter game based on Columbine in which the player can kill innocent school students was just “adult art” and would have no effect on behavior. But, the show also had at least 15 advertisements during the thirty minutes. They were breaking away from me every 6 minutes for 3 minutes of ads. Advertisement! You know, advertisement —  where an idea is put into someone’s head to CHANGE their behavior and make them want to drop what their doing and go buy that item RIGHT NOW! Why did companies spend millions of dollars per minute for recent Super Bowl ads? Because ideas DO have consequences. What we see, what we hear, what we do does effect our thinking and can change behavior. If this were NOT so, then companies would never spend 2 million dollars for a 30 second television ad.

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What we have here is a failure in common sense. It is the height of rationalization and shows that when we don’t want to believe the truth, we will embrace the lie as long as it supports our position. Common sense clearly should show us that what we hear, what we see, what we experience will have an effect on our behavior. It has been that way since man first looked up at the stars and wondered who made them. It will always be that way as long as we communicate ideas in some way.

This conclusion does not mean that violent video games cause someone to kill. There are many reasons people kill and there is some meager evidence that those individuals may use first person shooter games for practice, but we CANNOT BLAME the video game industry for such killings. This is the problem we face. Placing the blame. Again, an appeal to common sense would prove that violent content has been around for centuries. I grew up on comic books that were felt to be subversive in the 1970s. We played cowboys and indians and if some kid shot an “indian” today they would be censored by the PC police. We watched gory live footage on television from the Vietnam War. Violence in our society has always been there and has been used to capture our attention either for a news program or a magazine or a television show or a movie. Why? MONEY! That’s right. Violence, like sex, sells. It gets our attention and in our macabre fascination with death and violence, we stare slack jawed into the abyss.

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So, here’s some common sense. If you play violent video games for hours on end, it WILL effect your behavior and to deny that is lying to yourself. Admitting it means you have used good sense to prevent yourself from acting out. Being aware that what we put into our minds effects our thoughts and behavior means we have the capacity to use reason and discernment before making decisions. This is, again, common sense. Until we accept the fact that our choices are a direct result of how we think and how we think can be effected by external stimulus we can never begin to realize that we are not victims, we are choosers of our actions and WE ALONE are responsible for the consequences of our actions. In fact, it is the victim climate of our culture that makes the  gaming industry afraid to use common sense when admitting gaming effects behavior. In our sue happy culture, if the gaming industry were to admit what we intuitively know is true, some lawyer will happily sue them all for these killings. And, that is common sense!

Rope Bridges, Hippos, and Crocs, Oh My!

I can’t sleep!

My back is acting up thanks to the trip to Nashville for Hutchmoot 2012 and having to sleep in two different beds from my own. So, my doctor put me on a 12 day steroid dose pack because I am traveling. Again. One week of work in my “day job” as a radiologist and then I was off this past Saturday to work with my co-author, Mark Sutton, on an upcoming update to our depression book.

But, the steroids may make my back better, but they keep me wide awake every night! I don’t mean restless and cat napping. Wide awake! The entire night!

So, I’m sitting here in my hotel room in Orlando at midnight wondering when the Tylenol PM is going to kick in! So, I thought I would share a profound event from my day. I decided that on Wednesday morning, since Mark would be prepping for a class to teach tonight and would be unavailable for writing that I would do something fun. Just for me.

I had seen the ads on the internet for months so I took a chance and, yes, they had an opening on Walt Disney World’s Wild Africa Trek. This is a three hour tour behind the scenes on the Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney Animal Kingdom. It involves a great deal of walking through narrow trails in the wooded areas around the animal’s homes. And, it involved climbing, leaning over a cliff or two, and crossing creaky rope bridges. I was thrilled! After all, what is a bad back compared to almost getting eaten by crocodiles.

I showed up at 1015 after taking care of bathroom duties (No restroom for 2 hours) and was zipped and tied into a harness by Devin and Eleanor (later switching to Elly as we got to know her!). Now, here is how it works. We follow our guides through winding, narrow trails in the jungle areas to a “cliff” overlooking animals. We’re clipped into a tether so we can “lean” out over the cliff to the animals below.

I must admit, even though the hippos are herbivores, watching the two hippos chomp down on cucumbers, melon, and bananas thrown to them by our guides gave me the heebie jeebies. Those molars and tusks looked rather dangerous. I guess the highlight of that little venture was when “Nacho” marked his territory with a “dung shower”. Yeah, it is what it is.

Next we arrived at the crocodile enclosure. Here, we had to cross two rope bridges complete with broken boards and holes in the side. Not to worry. We’re tethered in! But, I still felt a little creeped out as I passed over the 23 or so crocs napping just 15 feet below. Then, we were tethered on the “cliff” and just six feet below my leaning body was a huge croc as big as a banana boat! Not to worry! They only eat once a week. But, I was informed that if I fell in, they would bite me, kill me, and then hide my body for a snack later on!

After this perilous but thrilling part of the journey, we were loaded onto our own small open bed truck to drive around the savannah. We stopped and had ample opportunities to take pictures of giraffes, wildebeest, antelope, elephants, ostriches, rhinos, cheetahs, lions, and warthogs. The highlight of the day was arriving at our own private pavilion overlooking the entire savannah while we had lunch. It was so refreshing to sit down in a cool breeze and look out over the animals in the savannah. A great and wonderful adventure that I would highly recommend to anyone.

But, no journey is without its lessons. So, I want to share some of what I learned from this adventure.

Dung Showers — No matter how hard we try in life, there are times when we end up producing a “dung shower”. Nacho, the hippo expelled large quantities of his “refuse” and then would twirl his little tail around like a propeller slinging it in a wide arc to mark his territory. Whenever another male hippos would show up, they knew Nacho had been here!

I thought about how many times we get upset, arrogant, self-righteous, or downright indignant and we have our own “dung showers”. Of course, at the time, we don’t see what we did as “dung”. What we did was justified, righteous “anger”. The affect is just the same. The words, the demeanor, the ill spirit we leave behind among those who are showered is just as lasting. They will remember our outbursts and wicked behavior. In fact, I’m coining a new phrase, using myself. “Yeah, that Bruce Hennigan just hit me with a dung shower. The jerk!”

We mark our territories whether we intend to or not. Or words and actions have consequences and in a world where Christianity is increasingly condemned and looked down upon, it is up to us to find better ways to “mark our territories”. Perhaps with something other than dung? Like, love, understanding, compassion, mercy, empathy, kindness, and so on. So, tomorrow, don’t hit anyone else with a “dung shower”. Instead, shower them with kindness. It’s a much better mark to leave behind!

Rope Bridges Sway — There is definitely a difference between solid ground and a swaying rope bridge. I found out the hard way that if you lean over the side to take a picture of a crocodile the other side of the bridge will move AWAY from you! In fact, you sway DOWN toward the croc! This throws you off balance and you are teetering on the brink of a crocodile snack.

But, solid ground doesn’t shift under your feet. Walking through the jungle up and down slopes, roots in the soil gave me enough traction to keep from slipping. There are no roots on a rope bridge. In fact, our roots do more than nourish us. They steady us. They give us purchase on the shifting ground around us.

Our culture is filled with lies. “What is the lie?” is the question I ask myself often when I am feeling down, depressed, or stressed out. Like the rope bridge, when we lean into the lie, we teeter on the edge of disaster. Instead, we need to rely on our rooted, solid stance on solid ground. All else is shifting sand, as the song says. In today’s postmodern culture, we tend to compartmentalize the world and think that all is NOT related. But it is. We cannot walk on a swaying rope bridge and act like we’re on solid ground. The TRUTH is there is only one way. One solid ground.

Don’t buy into Satan’s lies and his swaying rope bridges. Instead, rely on the solid ground in which we are rooted in Christ; the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Standing on the Brink — I have a picture of my feet at the edge of the cliff that dropped directly down to a sleeping crocodile. He was only about six feet below me. The only way I could get the picture was to lean forward. My harness was attached to a bungie like rope behind me so I could feel the elastic pulling me back away from the cliff. But, I really wanted to get that picture. Suddenly, I lurched forward and for an almost infinite moment, I was falling to my death. I picture over two dozen crocodiles waking up and tearing away bits and pieces of me to hide away in their little pond for a midnight snack. And, there is a lot of me to go around.

Turns out, Devin had tapped me on the shoulder to get me to turn around so he could take a picture of me with the crocs in the background. As far as he was concerned, I was never in danger. But, my imagination took that little lurch and pushed me straight into one of those old Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies where the bad guys feed the crocs.

Lesson learned: God has us on a tether. We have a path to walk that is straight and narrow. But, true to our nature, we like to wander to the edge of that path to check out that exotic odor, or that enticing flower, or that alluring seduction. And, when we reach the edge of the cliff, we have this false sense of security that we are still within God’s will. We feel the tug of the tether and yet, we lean further and further over the pit. There, waiting below, disguised in his lies is Satan. He has his mouth open, his eyes gleaming, just waiting to tear us apart!

And then, God taps us on the shoulder. He awakens us from our trance and we lurch with the unexpected realization that we had almost gotten taken in by Satan again. Again! When will ever learn? Be mindful of the tether. It is there for a reason; a connection to God through His Holy Spirit who holds us back from oblivion because God loves us. Thank you God for a tap on the shoulder.

Hutchmoot 2012 Day 2 — Part 1 Into the Shadows!

Friday at Hutchmoot. First full day.

Sean and I made it for breakfast and sat once again under the tent outside in the cool morning air. We both sipped lattes from the most excellent coffee cart upstairs. What should we do? There were multiple sessions to choose from. Frankly, my first choice seemed untenable to me now. “Recovery Through Song” would feature Eric Peters, Jason Gray, and Andy O’Senga talk about emotional issues like depression and how song helped them cope. I was sliding into depression even as I sipped my coffee. I know it was silly. So I had just lost the remainder of my contracted books with one publisher the afternoon before. So what? My plans over the past 12 years would come to a stop unless I could somehow get my second book onto the New York Times Bestseller list. Unlikely in this age of crazy quilt marketing. How do you market “Christian speculative fiction” to Christian book stores? Horror, science fiction and fantasy get lost amongst the Amish romances and the female lead thrillers — all good books but not likely to attract the demographic that liked speculative fiction.

There was  glimmer of hope for me. Just weeks before I had been led by God to walk into a meeting room at the International Christian Retail Show, the largest Christian artistic trade show of the year. There, in a matter of breath taking moments I had been offered a new book series deal that I cannot talk about in detail. But, guess what the subject of that book deal would be. Depression! Man was I going to nail that book now! I had the biggest opportunity in 12 years to really give into the raging beast that was growing darker by the moment within my crushed heart. Want to know more about depression? Give me a few more hours and you’ll see it raw and bloody before you.That was why I really DIDN’T want to hear a session on recovery. It might give me hope! And hope was my enemy right now. I wanted the deep, dark shadows to swallow me; I wanted to wallow in the pain and loss; I wanted the sweet, sweet oblivion of not caring a whit about the next breath I would take; I wanted the darkness to take me again as it had in 1995.

There is a difference now from then. My son. Sean was there gently encouraging me; never nagging or telling me to “just get over it”. He just loved me. And, my friends, that is what I needed most in that hour. So, I followed him to the session on recovery.

First, let me tell you that I cried through most of the session. When Jason Gray shared the night he couldn’t get that beam in the attic off his mind, I was almost breathless with anxiety. There was that beam up there, he said. And, I kept planning exactly how I would put the extension cord over it and how to tie the knot. For hours he could not get that off his mind. Would anyone miss me when I’m gone? That lie!

That lie! It all came flooding back to me. My first session with my counselor. The day I dreaded asking someone for help after six weeks of helpless struggling with my depression. He very simply said, “Bruce, what is the lie?” Simple. Elegant. Like Jason, I had bought into a lie. My life is worth something. You know why? Because God loved me enough to become flesh and to suffer and die to bring me back into a connection with Him. And, God does not lie. Who is the father of lies? Satan. Lucifer. The Master of this Realm. The Leader of the fallen angels. And, he was alive and well in my personal space, sticking out his forked tongue and laughing at me and goading me and lying to me. It all washed over me like a cold shower. I had never once considered a beam in the attic. I had never gotten so depressed that death seemed the only release. That would be cheating. Rather, I had wallowed in the pain until I realized that this pain came from the lies. I looked up through tears and listened as Jason said, “How did I become my pain?” and later, “Wisdom can come only through pain.”

Okay, God, I get it. I still have Hope. It never left me. I was the one who walked away into the shadows. I’m coming back into Your light. Eric Peters talked then and tore me asunder with his song, “Voices”.

 Voices, when I listen to the voices

Every shroud of anger is sorrow in disguise
The voices, when I believe the voices
That convince me I am worthless, bent on my demise

Hear, oh hear the saints’ and angels’ voices

Everything about my weakness that is strong
Everything about the heart that could go wrong
Every hope that ever lived there but has since flown
I’m finding again, finding again

In the garden, when we lived inside the garden
Creatures bright and shining, we were, dust brought to life
In the silence, when we lean into the silence
We choose the things that hate us most, and rest upon the lies

Everything about my weakness that is strong
Everything about the heart that could go wrong
Every hope that ever lived there but has since flown
I’m finding again, finding again

We choose to love the things that hate us most

Everything about our weakness that is strong
Everything about our heart that has gone wrong
Every light that ever shone in darkened halls
Is shining again, I’m finding again

Oh, the voices
When I listen to the voices
I listen to the voices
Of the saints and angels

We choose to love the things we hate us most and rest upon the lies!

By now, I am reeling, dizzy, sweating, awash in God’s merciful truth. And, this was the first session of the first full day! As I stumbled out of “Recovery Through Song” I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the following.

My dream of becoming a bestselling Christian fiction author was now put on hold. Sure, my second book of “The Jonathan Steel Chronicles” would be coming out within the month and I would do whatever it took to promote it. But, as far as my daily writing, right now and for the short term forseeable future I had to focus unflinchingly, unfailingly, without distraction on the update to my depression book. This is what God was telling me. There is an epidemic in this country of stress, anxiety, and depression. God had laid in my lap the most awesome opportunity to write a new book on depression fueled by my own personal struggles, my own wisdom garnered in the valley of the shadow of death, my own walk with God. I heard the TRUTH and guess what, the TRUTH set me free!

If you want to know more about Eric Peters’ excellent album, “Birds of Relocation” check out this link.

If you want to know more about “Conquering Depression” go to this link.

I still have a limited number of promotional copies of my first book, “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye” and you can get a FREE book for no obligation by filling in the info below. I’ll send it to you FREE!

 

 

The Pen Can Be a Mighty Sword — With Two Edges!

Heading into the weekend I can say this past week was a lot of work. I just finished up one of my final drafts for the fourth book in the Jonathan Steel Chronicles. “The 10th Demon: Children of the Bloodstone” will not be out until October, 2014. And, I have until the end of the year to finish the book. But, my schedule between now and the end of the year is getting busier than ever.

I have the launch of my second book, “The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon” in October. I have a potential new book series proposal to finish by the end of October. And, there is the ever present social media I MUST work on every week to promote my second book.

This past week, I posted a blog on Just the Write Charisma about agents and created a tiny firestorm that whirled around me for a couple of days. I was amazed at who actually reads these blogs. Something I said about one of my former colleagues in a very generic, nonspecific fashion was read by that colleague and even though we have not communicated in 7 years, that colleague was quick to email me with reminders that my memory is NOT what it used to be.

Wow! I had no idea this person was even reading my blogs. Which points out some interesting thing about social media.

You Never Know Who’s Reading

In my every present paranoia and basic insecurity, I assume that maybe 1 1/2 people read my blog and then only because they just happen upon it. After all, we waste a lot of our life reading things we wish we would have never read moments after we read it. As one of my good friend said the other night: “That’s 5 minutes of my life I’ll never get back!”

I try to make my blog entries marginally interesting. I am a storyteller and I have lots of stories to tell. However, it is difficult to tell a story with a moral or an illustrative point without mentioning the people involved. And, no matter how you veil that person with “dramatic license” somewhere, somehow that person will find out. So, lesson learned. Be careful what you write. Be careful what you say and how you say it. In fact, don’t say it unless it is vitally important that it be said! You might want to contact that person and make sure it is okay to share said story.

Who Are We Answerable To?

Life self-publishing, the blogger is answerable to no one but himself. Unless, of course, said person is part of a larger multi-person blog. In some ways this can be liberating. You can say whatever you want! But, the flip side of that is the danger of very little, if any, self-editing. We have discovered one of the downsides to the Internet is the instantaneous availability of information — whether or not that information is accurate! Lives can be destroyed in literally a heartbeat — the time it takes to hit “Enter”. Commenters form some degree of restraint. Their comments are often a measure of the many ways in which the contents of the blog are taken and understood. Years ago, my wife gave me some valuable advice. Whenever I would get mad and write a letter or an angry email, she would advise I wait 48 hours to send it. Give me some time to cool off and see if the substance of my communication is too emotional without enough substance. Good advice. I wish I had listened to it the other day!

What is Truth?

In today’s relativistic culture, truth is seen as temporary and circumstantial. There is no one truth. And that is a true statement! (Sorry, the apologist in me came out!) I have gone to snopes.com many times to stop a rumor or an urban legend in its tracks. As Christians we must realize we serve one Truth. And, the Truth cannot be found. The Truth finds us. Christianity is the one religion where God comes to us; came to us; and continues to come to us. We cannot claim any credit for our “conversion”. God became flesh and dwelled among us. True, God draws us to Himself in ways that are many and varied. But, He is one God. We must always then be purveyors of the Truth. Check our facts. Exhaust our sources. Never pass on groundless rumors and falsehoods. For the Father of Lies is Satan, not God. And there is one certainty: we cannot find Truth — Truth finds us!

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