Friday, May 30, 2008

When Sidekicks Grow Up - and How!

I got an e-mail today to become someone's Friend on Facebook. I am so much of a loner - think Batman, not Psycho - that I distrust these. They involve signing in to "talk" to someone whom you have met only once and wants to be electronically connected to you.

I stink at small talk. My relationships with very lovely women has suffered greatly because of this. I mean, a man can only be SO interested in "cute" items that are - *gasp* on SALE!

Where was I? Ah, yes. My mystery friend.

Turns out it was Robin. If I'm Batman, it was Robin.

A young man I lived with, mentored, listened to and helped get through a tough time of his life for over a year.

You see, nearly a decade ago, I was a House Father to four young boys. It was my first real ministry experience and I was the very first "house dad" for this Boarding School home for The Neighborhood School in Memphis (a private school ministering to "At-Risk" children of the inner city). I recall saying I'd do it for 90 days to help them out -just to give them time to get someone who was really qualified.

I ended up doing it for 15 months.

It was the hardest thing I ever did.

It was also the greatest thing I ever did.

Two of the children were diagnosed with ADD, one of whom was failing first grade. By having him stay with me and the other three boys, he went from bottom of his class to the top in two weeks. Seems all he needed was a good schedule to stabilize his mind. That's just one success story.

The other success story was this young man I will continue to refer to as "Robin." He was being teased and struggling to be good in a yard full of mean kids. He often would fall down and simply cry. Though he was good sized, his heart was broken. I understood that. His grandmother was doing the best she could to raise him, but he needed more.

That's where I came in. I knew he just needed time and freedom to grow.

I ended up playing roles I never would have imagined (Art teacher, Chess teacher, Cub Scout leader...). I ended up asking God for every bit of wisdom and praying nightly for the children to be safe, to know Jesus and to see His love. I was nervous, but I also saw what an honor it was.

God does not give His most delicate children to just anyone.

Later I saw a sign at a church that said, "God does not call the Qualified. He qualifies the Called."

He sure does.

And now?

My sidekick is a young man. He's in college - playing FOOTBALL! The same kid who couldn't take teasing on the playground is now pounding the ground and hitting hard other big boys.

Real hard, I suspect.

Yeah, baby.

I can't take all the credit for it. God put a lot of helpers in his path. I just remember how much I loved the boy. He had the right heart and loved squirrels and snacks and was always, always grateful.

He was one of my "Squadron", one of my "Gabriel's Angels". (Yeah, we thought it was cool, too.)

He even opened my eyes to a certain mystery in scripture by questions he asked at bedtime. I can't go into it now, but when I put the same question to a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton college, he reached behind him and pulled out a paper on the very subject published by a guy with a doctorate. Wow! "Out of the mouths of babes" indeed!

So my boy wonder, has gone on to college.

There an old Teen Titans Annual with a cool George Perez/Pablo Marcos drawing of Robin - he looks like a swashbuckler with poppin' biceps and emerald green gauntlets. He's confronting this fat mob boss and his "girlfriend" says, "THAT'S Robin? I thought he was a boy - but he's a MAN!"

Yeah, girl. Robin's a Man.

And now he wants to me to be his Friend.

What an honor.

Thank you, Jesus.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Terminators for Jesus

"I'll be back."

Ahnold said that and we, the audience, erupted in laughter. We knew what was about to happen to the hapless desk sergeant busy filling out paperwork.

We were also glad he became the hero in the sequels. I don't know what everyone's problem is, but Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines rocked, IMNSHO.

When I am teaching in the jail, I remind the men that being a Christian does not mean being a doormat. When Jesus said, "Turn the other cheek," He meant letting the blow run off of your face. In other words, be a Terminator of truth and goodness. Don't let what some fool does or says ruin your day. God will judge. Trust that.

And Jesus we are told, trusted His Father as the Righteous Judge, even so far as letting Himself be killed by unrighteous men. Wow. God's raising Him from the dead was His holy justification of the sinlessness of Christ. Seriously. In other words, Jesus had no sin - and sin brings death, right, according to the Bible? So if you kill a man who had no sin - what happens?

God fixes it. And uses it to justify any one who puts their faith in Him.

I usually don't dash right into theology, but recently I've had hours of physical, mental and spiritual warfare and I'm here to tell you, dear reader - if you have accepted Jesus as the ONLY payment and trust Him to have earned your place in heaven, you can calm down.

Nothing should ever bother you again.

Strange how few Christ-followers think that. They act like God can't do it without them.

Bwahahahahahahahaha! *snort*

Oh - I hope so! I really do! Did you know Muslims are coming to Christ by direct revelation? True. Go read about it here - he is called "The Man in White" - Isa al Masih.)

Yeah. Jesus - he's sort of hard to stop, ain't he?

So every time you see a hero rise up from the dead in a movie, whether Lord of the Rings or The Bourne Identity or E.T. or Highlander, keep in mind this:

Anyone who can do that is unstoppable.

There's a reason people don't want to become Christians. It has nothing to do with reason or logic or politics.

Its that Jesus Christ scares the Hell out of people. Literally, I mean.

"What do you want with us?! We know who you are, son of God!"

The demons were terrified of Him.

"Who is this man, that even the wind and the waves obey him?!"

The disciples were terrified of Him.

"Have nothing to do with that righteous man - I suffered terribly in a dream today because of him!"

Even Pontius Pilate's wife - the original "desperate housewife" - was afraid of Him.

And Christians - they invite Him into their very heart. They want Him to live inside of them!

'Cause they know that they may lose a battle, but they have already won the war. They are unstoppable in love and good deeds, 'cause they have a new Lord running their lives.

"Though a righteous man may fall seven times, the Lord will raise him up."

I like that. I like the idea of being a Terminator for Jesus.

"I'll be back."

Amen, Ahnold. Amen.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Laid Out and Loving It? Not So Much.

We just had the most beautiful weekend here in Wheaton-land. Had a great Saturday, took my landlady around to garden shops, great weather and then we got to go see the Last Indiana Jones movie (yes?) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

It rocked. We loved it.

Then Sunday at church. Messages on following Christ and heaven. I am soooo blessed to have Dr. Richard Schultz of Wheaton College, prof. of Old Testament theology teach my adult community class. He's vibrant, funny and KNOWS his material. I walked out grinning.

The other lesson wasn't bad, but it needed pepper, salt, ketchup and lots of Mozzarella cheese to make it worth chewing. I won't criticize here, but some people have the gift of teaching. Others have the gift of leadership. They are not the same.

Later that day, I helped my next door neighbor put in some sheets of plywood over his now-banished hot tub for safety's sake and ate some delicious Bratwursts with him, his wife and two precious boys.

I also got a good dose of pollen and the beautiful fragrance of lilacs. The wind was gusting, you see.

In 12 hours, I was talking like a Mafiaso hit man. I was suffering. We called another friend and had them return the window unit air conditioner we had loaned them months ago to give my dusty room a simple form of an air purifier. It ran all night and helped immensely.

But now I have a cold. Stupid, eh?

I also had lots of strange dreams of being back in the dark: dreams of my life, dreams of dealing with men of another race who flicked switchblades and cared nothing for you, dreams of avoiding being "trapped" by those more cunning than myself. Not actual events, but the very emotions and fears: like a psychedelic grade B thriller - or horror movie with no redemption, just death in the end.

It was pretty awful. I woke up several times just to swallow water for my parched throat.

No one wants to be sick. No one wants to be helpless. No one wants to be reminded of how useless you were or could be again.

But I needed the reminder I think. I needed to know that there is one reason I understand what I understand today about God. The very reason a pastor is willing to ordain me as I perform my jail ministry. The reason I am permitted to write and be cared for even as I serve a minor function of being a lady's driver and house help.

I was dead and in darkness, and Jesus saved me.

I was pursuing the very things that would kill me and He stopped me.

I don't want to be sick. But I'd rather be sick than dead.

Sometimes it takes seeing our helplessness to cry out to Him. To get real about our 'helpless estate' as it were. I think I understand that once again.

Our lesson for tonight - which I will not be teaching - is found in Mark 9:1-13. Go to http://openarmsfellowship.blogspot.com and read it. I think the "taste death" Jesus is talking about is the death of our ego, not our physical bodies. Seeing as how God Himself has to correct their false assumptions is enough to convince me.

Jesus took them to the top -and laid them out.

If you feel "laid out" today, don't be angry.

God just wants you to look up.

Friday, May 23, 2008

My Infamy Made Public

I did it.

Yesterday I went to the Comcast studio to be met by the gracious Maria Goldstein to be interviewed for her program, Voices in the Wilderness.

Aired on the Public Access channel in Chicagoland (Chicago 26, IIRC), Maria has a simple 30 minute interview with her guests, asking how Jesus Christ changed their life and called them to repentance.

Repentance is a very dangerous word in America. I know. I refused to do it for years.

But the fact is repentance is necessary to be real. To be honest with God about your rejection of Him. Its an old word, and it is the right word.

Repentance without faith leads to legalism. Belief without repentance leads to liberalism.

I recounted my Christian upbringing and my efforts to "be good", my college scholarships and my candidacy for Mensa. Baptised at 13, I did not surrender and admit I was wrong until I was 31 - after a divorce, $25,000 of unsecured debt (that's credit cards, student loans, etc.), and being fired from a job for lying about a package I was to send. Unemployed, I decided to go back to church.

After a few weeks I had a meeting with the senior pastor who lovingly and kindly explained that all my righteous deeds were like 'filthy rags'. I couldn't fix myself by going to church. I needed Christ.

"All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away."

Days later, I told my then-girlfriend we weren't going to sleep together anymore. She got up and slammed the door behind her as she left.

Repentance is NOT a popular action, I found out.

Furious, I told God off. Yelling at the top of my lungs.

Then He answered me and showed me my sins. Ten years of disobedience was downloaded into my brain in 2.5 seconds.

I fell on my knees and asked Him to forgive me. Immediately it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. I went from stark terror to bliss in a moment. Awestruck, I said, "That's what those Baptists mean by being 'born again'!"

Everyone noticed the change. Blew them away. Even my ex-wife.

I have stumbled, fallen and gotten back up several times since then, but the elements are the same for all true Believers in Christ. It is a timeless truth.

I understand the apostle Paul and Job and Peter and Moses and anyone who was royally screwed up and hurting and angry and bitter and THEN met the Living God.

Repentance is an old word. It is the right word. You see, I had to admit I was wrong - before God and now, before the World.

Oh sure, its Public Access - like 6 people will watch it. But they will know. And I'll be sure its up on YouTube - and then the HOWLS will begin.

You see, we think GOD should apologize for not having the world the way we want it.

I'm afraid not.

God made it perfect and then we demanded control.

Perfectionism, demanding our 'rights' and smoldering anger at 'them folks', should alert even the dullest fool that they imagine themselves as Lord Judge Omnipotent.

I thought I was. I'm not. But even better, I don't have to save you, either. That's Jesus' job.

Your job is to repent and believe. His job is to save you the moment you admit you are wrong and need Him.

Its the easiest religion in the world. And the hardest. Because it is not based on you and your goodness but on God and His grace.

And the only thing that damns us is our pride.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Homeless Hero

This is going to be a short one, 'cause I have to leave in 30 minutes to help at a church from Midnight to 3 a.m. making lunches for the homeless.

Now don't get all misty-eyed on me. I would be there except for the grace of God. You too, if you think about it.

What makes me laugh is how much space is in so many homes in America. The reason the homeless are homeless is because - DUH! - no one wants them in their HOMES!

"Hi, I'm Frank. I smell like urine and I have deep emotional problems. 'Can I stay in your home?"

Ain't gonna happen. Sad, but true.

And since I went to the movies today, I saw the latest trailer for Hancock - the wrecking-ball, loose cannon homeless superhero. I was HOWLING! (What can I say - I like Will Smith and I have Gamed long enough with these types of Players that this is a movie that BEGGED to be made).





And that brings up a point: should heroes have a home?

I mean, any personal relationship with a superhuman is going to get messy when you are Invulnerable and your spouse isn't. Or even if he or she is just as tough as you, who says the home will stay intact - metaphorically or physically speaking? Remember Pixar's The Incredibles?

But one superhuman didn't worry about it at all.

"Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the son of Man has no place to lay his head."

Jesus was homeless. Difference was, people wanted Him to come in and eat with them. Why?

Because He loved them.

Because He healed them, physically, mentally, spiritually. Jesus did not come here to get cosey but to give us a home in heaven.

"In my Father's house are MANY rooms... I go to prepare a place for you. if it were not so, I would have told you."

He gave up His comfort to save us. He was the Homeless Hero of all time.

"One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him...leaning back against Jesus, he asked..."

That's a very intimate image. Jesus had no place to lay His head, but others could rest on Him.

Rest today in the One who loved you.

And when you see a homeless man, think of your blessings. But think most of all, someone will care if you don't come home tonight.

That's the true tragedy of homelessness. No one wants you and no one would care if you never showed up again.

"I tell you my friends, USE unrighteous mammon to make friends here, so that you will be welcomed in the heavenly places!"

Give a burger and a hug to a homeless guy today. Pray for them.

Jesus would be proud of you if you did.

'Cause one day soon, He might decide it'll be you needing the charity.

Think Trading Places, bro. Trading Places.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Crisis at Crusader Citadel - A V&V fanboy remembers

I recently purchased "Crisis at Crusader Citadel" at a Hobby Shop for $3.

Its over 25 years old - and I am a kid again reading it.

For those who don't know, this was a starter adventure for kids who played Villains and Vigilantes, a venerable yet beloved superhero RPG put out in the early 80's. V&V, as we called it, was fun: you randomly rolled for superpowers, ditched a few you thought unwise, calculated some hit points, created a name and in minutes you were a superhero.

Sure the game had its flaws, but it had such good creative freedom and opportunities that you couldn't help but love it. It was created for artists and writers, not accountants. Jeff Dee and Jack Herman wrote the rules and said, in so many words, "Your [hero] is Good. Neutral is for non-sentients and robots. Evil is for the bad guys."

Oh, how I loved that oasis of morality in the aftermath of the standard AD&D party! "I'm playing a Chaotic neutral thief. May I join your party so I can lie and steal from the Paladin?" "Sure! 'Cause everyone knows, being Lawful Good means being accepting to selfish and greedy players!"

Argh! Where was I? Oh, yeah. The module. It was cool.

I skimmed it, older now, reading what I did not read thoroughly before as an eager 17 year old, and I was amazed at how well it captured the comic book feel of the early 80s. I also caught some "Sleight of Hand". I suggest you look at Manta-Man's powers, level and Intelligence score. Uh-huh.... that ain't possible by the rules, Jeff and Jack.

But I thought the character was cool. Very cool. How can Flying-squirrel Wings and a Lightning Control Device be cool? Well, it can be. Just look at the pic, read the origin and say "Yeah. I can see it."

And then, darnedest thing, I began thinking: "Whatever happened to the Crusaders?"

Answer: they faded away.

Oh, Jeff and Jack made a brief attempt at a comic for them in the 80's, but it was WAAAY below par. Strangely, Jeff's work suffered as he grew older. It became rigid and stiff. It lost its wild and over-the-top edge.

Later on, I discovered Jeff Dee was an atheist. And not your average one, either. A devout, call-in radio show "I'll show you how foolish this faith stuff is" atheist. The anti-evangelist.

Was it overnight, this change? No. We who are creative saw it happen right before our eyes.

Crisis at Crusader Citadel as I said was the intro module. Everyone played it to test out their new Player Characters - or PCs for short. In there, there is even a phone number to call to reach these heroes: 1-800-CRU-SADE. It was in EVERY boxed set.

Know what happens when you call that number today?

You get Pastor Greg Laurie's church in California. How about that?

Know what happened when you called that number WAAAYYY back in the 1980's? I don't.

But I have a guess: you got Billy Graham's Organization or something like it. That's right. You would call for free someone who'd want you to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. An evangelist.

Of course, I don't think it was intentional.

Except, ironically, Jeff lived in a suburb of Chicago and the Billy Graham Telephone Ministry has a location in Wheaton, another suburb of Chicago. And the main headquarters of this evangelistic organization is north of us in Minnesota. In other words, it wouldn't be hard to discover what happens when you call that number.

Still, I think it was an unconscious decision. Jeff had more that one source of inspiration. Maybe his dad was a pastor, I dunno. But here's the kicker - as time went on, the flavor of the adventures changed.

Guess what the last adventure published was about? Or should I say the last few adventures published were about?

The evil of religion. The Devil himself.

In angry response to the Moral Majority, Fantasy Games Unlimited began publishing the most anti-faith books one could imagine. The opposite end of the spectrum. If you hated "religious folk", you had a friend in them.

What happened? Why did such talented writers and artists grow in their hatred of Christianity?

The same reason we all can we aren't careful.

I'll call it the Crisis of Lordship. We are asked to place our faith in Christ.

We instead put our faith in people or ourself. The elders and deacons, the pastor and petitioners who show up. And they can royally mess things up.

Its endemic, and every generation to say, "No - follow Jesus, not the pastor, not the priest. Trust Him -we're only beggars leading other beggars to bread!"

There was a Crisis at Crusader Citadel for Jeff Dee: but the citadel was his heart, not his head.

He got angry, and slowly and surely his art died. Look at his early work and then look at his later.

No, I'm not being harsh. Compare the following covers:

This is Jeff's work in 1980. The front cover of V&V 2nd edition.

The inside has other great poses and dynamic anatomy. Jeff knew his forms. His work in TSR products was just as good or better.

We were wowed. Many of us bought the rules simply because of his art!




Now look at his latest venture, Living Legends.

No action except that which I can find in any contemporary church's praise and worship team.

*sigh*

As a Writer and Artist, there has been no greater personal loss in my estimation than the loss of Jeff Dee to the Dark One. Oh, he would spit and argue with me on that, but Rationalism is the box of a strict Materialist. He's still admired, but not for his later work. (I didn't buy those later published adventures. I couldn't. Soon, FGU stopped producing them. Thank God.)

I wish Jeff understood. I wish someone had told him how much power and love is in Christ. How superheroes are a Biblical archetype, not merely a Greek fantasy.

I wish he understood his greatest art was done when he was closest to the Truth. From Handel's Messiah to the Michaelangelo's Pieta, I think God is nearest our hearts when our art honors Him.

God bless Jeff Dee, my old friend who gave me such goodness before the darkness set in. Who knows how many people he accidentally brought to Christ by having 1-800-CRUSADE in our first adventure?

And may you who simply desire the truth and love find both in Christ today.

Amen.

Writers & Artists, Pt. 3

I haven't heard from my editor at Zondervan, but I have heard from everyone in my Sunday School class (they call them Adult Communities now, but I ain't into that. Sue me.)

You see, I've been working like a slow perfectionist for some 8 years now on a novel called The Future King. Its an timeless idea that I am using: men on a secret mission find out they are being used for another purpose entirely. They thought the mission was about one thing, but it's not.

The ironic twist is that God is Prime Mover. If it were a movie, you'd see the providential actions layered one upon another.

I love my heroes, my characters. I am their mother, their father. I sit in the seat of the "One Who Knows" and I orchestrate the events of their lives. I know what will eventually happen because of their essential character.

But how they actually respond or talk at the very point of conflict, I do NOT know.

Its fun, this Knowing Yet Discovering. This Control Yet Creative Input I "hear" as I let my creations dialogue and struggle.

There's a funny thing about Art, about Creating for us creatures who create.

We do it well when we listen well, observe well and then seek to reproduce it.

But at the very moment of creating, you have to "let go" - let your hand or mouth or feet do the work freely. You cannot manage every stroke, every motion, every thought or word. You have to be filled with passion, with desire to give birth. And in that desire and impartation of life, you release the object into a realm of admirers and antagonists. Of constructive and destructive criticism. Of friends and foes.

So you have to be courageous and faithful, driven and definitive.

You are releasing your heart's song into the world. It can be beautiful, haunting, cruel, rapacious, lyrical, logical, vicious or vapid. Great artists give foreshadowing in their choice of words, their selection of scenes - or if not a writer - in the color palette chosen, the medium selected.

And I wonder what God was telling us when he created us naked and unashamed in the Garden of Eden. Where Adam, not God, named all the animals. Where pain did not exist, nor sin, but God walked with us in the cool of the day. There was, we are told, not even rain, but rather mists to water the plants coming up from the ground (like underground sprinkler systems).

Why did the Author of Creation permit us to disobey? Out of love.

Why did He shield us from eating from the Tree of Life? Love, again.

Why did He Himself pay the cost to redeem us? Love. Crazy die-for-you love.

This took me nearly 12 years to accept, but I have realized something: when you love someone you NEVER try to control them, but you ALWAYS tell them the truth. You warn them.

But you can not convince someone who calls you a liar that you love them until they see you sacrifice your best for them.

In other words, the Artist who becomes a Writer still must become the Actor.

When we decided that the God who cared for us was "holding out" on our personal deification and supernatural edification, we accepted the offer of Evil.

And He who loved us responded with protecting us from a Corrupted Immortality.

Too heavy? Read Genesis 3 again.

Immortal ingrates who listen to the Serpent. I think that part still lives in us.

Now its time for us to Create a New Story. To listen to the Writer and Artist of Creation.

I have a lot of friends who want to see the publication of my novel. That I would finish it.

I think I'm scared of what will happen. The backlash. The arguments. Or even worse, a big "Ho-hum" because of my naivete' in how I write.

But when I think of the Story of God, I see His fearless love in letting His creation go awry. And then the beautiful story of Redemption as He enters in to save His people.

And I guess what I'm saying is, I know Him better. I admire God as a Person all the more.

I mean that. You ever think of God as a Person, not as a distant and aloof deity who doesn't fix what hurts us?

"All who call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved."

I guess the Artist, Writer and Actor of Creation merely wants us to ask.

I think we need to admit that we want a new story. And we want to escape the "Now 80% Off" rack.

The Writer is either Him or you.

I think the Story is too big for me to write.

I am glad I have a bit part.

May you find Him as well.

Amen.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Writers & Artists, Pt. 2

Oh, Chaim. Chaim, Chaim, Chaim...

I just finished reading The Gift of Asher Lev.

It ended as I suspected it would -with a twist of knife in the end. Beauty and pathos.

Alienation wins. Asher gives his very best to his community, but still he cannot be a part of them.

I was saddened. It is so true to how often life emerges in the world. How supernatural MUST be any victory over the bitterness and selfishness of men.

In fact, it too is like the suffering Messiah.

Asher is struggling internally with ghosts and visions of everything from Pablo Picasso to the Rebbe (blessed be his name), and in the end, cannot see the Way Out.

Thus, he gives his best - but because of one person, he withdraws. He cannot stand in the face of fear, of evil. Of unjust criticism.

It would take a miracle to rescue Asher from this ending. It is a completely human ending and that is its tragic beauty and failing.

As a follower of Christ, the Anointed One, I see both the Tragedy of the crucifixion and the Comedy of the resurrection. Mark those words: Tragedy of the crucifixion and Comedy of the resurrection.

Chaim, honest and faithful to his Judaism, cannot see this comedy. How can he? Neither can many Christians, either.

Before you get too confused, let me explain something about Drama, about one thing I was taught as the essential difference between Shakespeare's Comedies and his Tragedies.

They have all the same elements: mistaken identities, miscommunication, misinformation, anger and conflict between outside parties over the protagonists, etc.

"The only difference," said one teacher to me two decades ago, "is how they end."

I sat there stunned as I realized that instructor was right. Every joke I ever told, every punchline or bit of comedy had a "zinger" at the end, a bit of hidden information. The closer to the end the punchline is, the funnier it is. The LAST bit of revelation changes the WHOLE thing perspective.

I'll tell one so you can see for yourself. (We love superheroes, so here goes.)

__________________________________________________

A guy walks into a fancy rooftop bar in New York City. He starts talking about the winds that funnel up between the skyscrapers and how on some really hot days, because the buildings are so tightly packed, a man who jumps off a building won't even reach the ground. The winds will just shoot him back to the top.

"Bull!" says another customer. "Let's see it!"

"Alright, alright!" slurs the first man, "I'll show you." He teeters to the edge of the rooftop and jumps off. Everyone screams, but two seconds later, he is flung back up onto the roof!

As he stands there wobbling, the second guy says "That's the most AMAZING thing I have EVER seen!"

"Tol'ja!" slurs the first.

"Do it again!"

He does it again. The customers are amazed.

"Let me try!" says the second man. "Sure, g'head," says the first.

The guy jumps off the building, falls thirty-two stories straight to the pavement and goes splat.

The crowd is totally shocked. People faint.

The manager of the bar comes rushing out, looks down and looks at the staggering drunk still standing there.

Shaking his head, he growls, "You are one mean drunk, Superman!"

________________________________________

That's comedy. The end explains it all.

Granted this one is cruel, but the point is made: the ending changes everything. In this case, it is TWICE as funny because Superman is known for his good deeds and compassion. Why is he drunk? And why is he getting people killed? But of course, he has the power and ability to do this, 'cause he is Superman.

And that brings me to the painful truth of why Chaim ended The Gift of Asher Lev with Asher remaining an outcast to his community, though they love him. Though the Rebbe affirms him. Though Asher himself admits to his selfish need to create and how it is perhaps his undoing.

It would take a miracle to get Asher to not protect his self, his art, his joys. It would take love beyond the natural - what man does not naturally love his children, his wife?

But he is powerless. To die - to die completely to self - that is not possible.

"With man, this is impossible, but not with God. With God, all things are possible!"

Jesus said this, after His disciples asked him how can any man enter the Kingdom of Heaven when a good man, a rich young ruler, who observed Torah, could not.

Isaiah also writes of our lack of true perfection in love and righteousness:

"There is no one righteous, no -not even one."

What keeps Asher from his community? His natural loves. His gifts that bring him joy. Ironic and painful, isn't it?

But, as Asher saw dimly, the truth is there in Abraham willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. In his wife who learned a Christian song about Jesus in paradise. Chaim gets SOOO close to seeing the parallels between Father Abraham and Father God sacrificing their sons. But whereas Abraham was indeed willing, God would not permit him to follow through. No - he would never have a man do what He Himself for His Name would do.

Abraham was willing to give up what was most precious to him. His son, his only son - because he knew he came from God, and God had the right to ask for that miracle child.

But in that act of loving God MORE that his own natural son, he became our Father of Faith. He trusted God more than his own eyes, his own loves, his own flesh.

That was the test. And passing it, his sacrifice was provided for. Abraham even prophesied this BEFORE the test was completed.

"My father?"

"Yes, my son?"

"Here is the wood and fire, but where is the offering?"

"God will provide, my son."

Abraham could never doubt the character of God.

And so, this is the Tragedy and the Comedy in a nutshell:

God has suffered more than any of us.

His priceless gift was His perfect Son, born a Jew who observed all the Law.

He came to redeem His community from fear, anxiety, depression, darkness. As Asher Lev radically opened his closed community to the world through art and beauty, so Y'shua brought light into the rigid formalism of the Pharisees.

But after years of living in a cultural box - or, as Asher's wife lived, in a dark apartment during Nazi occupation - coming into the light is too terrifying for those accustomed to darkness, to boundaries.

Grace permits us to roam freely, to love lawfully.

Because it has been paid for by Another.

That's the joke. No matter what, I'm paid for.

I cannot save myself. I've tried, and I've failed miserably. Added to that, I cannot even sanctify myself - act more like Jesus, more loving - unless I accept that He has paid.

As I said, the Tragedy turns into Comedy on the last fact given.

The Tragedy of the Faithful turns into the Comedy of the Redeemed at this point.

It is also seen in Psalm 130.

"He Himself will redeem Israel (God's people) from all their iniquities."

The word is all not some.

If that is true, and the Word cannot be broken, we must laugh, those who have accepted Y'shua as the Meshiach.

A Jew has saved us goyim by observing Torah and dying. But even better, He is alive.

Tragedy became Comedy on Easter.

"Caught any fish?"

"No."

"Throw your net on the other side - you'll get some."


And He, the Nazarene is laughing. With tears down His cheeks, maybe, but He is laughing.

"Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy, my burden - it is light."

May this day you give the burden of your redemption to Y'shua the Meshiach.

Sholom aleichem.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Writers & Artists, Pt. 1

Happy 60th Birthday Israel!

I am reading the most incredible book I have ever read, The Gift of Asher Lev - the "sequel" to My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok.

I cannot put it down. It is not bright, cheerful, action-packed or glitzy. It is the story of a middle-aged artist who has been ostracized from his religious community but has returned for the funeral of his uncle, a joyous man who has secretly been an admirer of his.

This is only one of the books written by Chaim Potok about the Hasidic Jews and their community. There is much to admire and respect in their lifestyle - hedonistic, it ain't.

And with such disciplines that govern every part of their life, there is safety, community, incredible scholarship and brilliance in academic fields, even, Thank God, success financially so we should have enough to eat, Thank God.

Heh. Sorry. That was too easy to write.

Chaim is my new best friend. I love his silences and observations, the first person narrative that makes the reader walk WITH Asher in his quiet sentences, his observant eyes and then, just when you think you can take it no more - "How does this man write so WELL?" he throws in dialogue and examinations that only an artist of great talent would truly appreciate. He tosses in French and great painters and you can smell and feel the paint as Asher reminisces about his dead master, a Jew who "did not return to Torah", Jacob Kahn.

But the Rebbe (Blessed be his name) knew Jacob Kahn - as a young painter who rescued French Jews from the Nazis at the end of World War II. Who had shielded Asher's future wife by hiding her in an abandoned apartment in darkness for two full years.

As I said, you gotta read this. Potok unravels this story patiently, page by page. You know these people. I found myself at one point crying uncontrollably, I felt so directly the fear and terror of this little girl who as an adult could not sleep without the light on.

I wept at the misery and shock and damage that had been done to her. I wept not for the crimes of the Holocaust - those simply enrage me.

No, I wept for the girl who had to live in terror and still kept saying, at the age of 50 "The Master of the Universe has a plan, doesn't he, Asher? Yes - He has a plan."

God damn such villainy. (Yes, I avoid profaning the Name like all Christians should, but that statement is true, real and accurate. Taste the pain for a moment before ignoring it.)

Hell is a doctrine I accept and understand for such men. So did Jesus:

"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who belong to Me to sin, it would be better for a millstone to be wrapped around his neck and to be thrown into the sea."

Forgive me. I am upset.

If want to understand why the U.S. will support and continue to support Israel, and why I, an Evangelical Presbyterian Pentecostal Fundamentalist Compassionate Conservative Christian will back that up 100% and say "Feh!" to anything less is because of the Holocaust and those who's skin was used as lamps.

What truly makes me weep is that Y'shua the Meschach is still hidden from so many.

But there, in the crucifixion, we all see - even Chaim Potok sees - brutality to the Jews and their King.

Do you know what is wrong with the way we teach Christianity? The whole New Testament?

It is written by Jews for Jewish believers in the Messiah, save one book. It is written for them to accept suffering in this world for the world to come. It is written so they will KNOW the Messiah who NOW reigns victorious in those who know Him and who suffer for His Name's sake.

That is, Chaim Potok should be writing about the Messiah, not the guy writing "Your Best Life NOW!"

Feh. I hope not!

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!"

Chaim, I love you. You have written about an artist who has challenged his community to see the grace of Art in all its beauty, not as profane, but as illuminating, even redemptive. Asher Lev, as a protagonist, steps beyond the conservatism and rules to pluck beauty to place in the middle of his dark suited fellowship of communal Jews.

Even the Rebbe sees this. The late Uncle saw it.

Do you know why we need Art? Because beauty and truth belong to God.

But do you know why good Art and good Writing is dangerous?

Because so often men refuse to give credit where credit is due.

"For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened."

That, thankfully, is not a failing of the Landover Jews in his novels. They credit God with everything. Maybe too much.

Thank God for Asher Lev. Torah observant, yet creative, obeying the commands yet not worhipping rules, placing love and wisdom above legalities. There is none like him.

Except the King of the Jews.

Sholom aleichem.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My 4th Dimension - Strewth

You might as well know that I am one of those geeks who grew up more comfortable in a library than a football field. Though I don't look like it - blessed with some height and a barrel chest, I was most at home during my halcyon days of summer in North Mississippi - deep in the musty shelves of the old public library of Southaven.

John Grisham (A Time to Kill, The Firm, etc.) must have gone to that library, but being seven years my senior, I never knew him.

I can still smell those dusty books and hear the old dinosaur of an air conditioner blow sweet relief over my face and my mother's as we escaped from the stifling Delta heat into the military green sheet-metal building.

Its all gone now. They built a far more beautiful and luxurious one on the other side of town, away from the Elementary School and the Military Surplus store. (It was North Mississippi. You have to have lived there to understand the community layout. I saw more guns by the age of seven than I had comics. I kid you not.)

But I digress. I loved libraries and their sacred spaces. Bullies couldn't come in or were inevitably asked to leave. It was a haven for my mind, and I guess, now looking back, my wounded heart.

I loved to dream of other worlds and heroes on far flung planets. I loved the stories that logically progressed from one seminal discovery to a massive cultural overthrow. Isaac Asimov was a master of this. I also swallowed down big gulpfuls of Roger Zelazny and Clifford D. Simak (and him all because I liked werewolves - so I read The Werewolf Principle. Wow. Talk about mind-bending for a thirteen year old boy in a small town! I'm STILL must be recovering from it, 'cause I HAD to put alien "werewolves" in my novel, a work in progress).

I owe these atheists and futurists a great debt.

Yes. You read that correctly. They permitted me to think outside the box and chase down all the logical implications a major scientific discovery or invention could have on mankind: sociological, political, psychological.

I romped among dimensions and alternate futures with gentle aliens and humans who were inhumane. My imagination and creativity were sparked, and I fell in love with a hopeful future.

And then every night, we would read the Bible. No, it wasn't King James and grim. More often than not, I read or my mother did. My dad was not as interested, but he did read it. And I saw in its pages - perhaps like Isaac Asimov did, or Stan Lee did, that God liked heroes and did promise them a future. But there was always a problem.

God had to empower the hero Himself. God was always getting the credit and on top of that, He acted like He owned everything, knew everything and was in control of everything. The book of Revelations did NOT sound hopeful.

Yeah. Thirteen year olds don't dig that. Asimov, along with Einstein and many others - Freud, Feynman, etc. became disenchanted with their faith. The Master of the Universe seemed cold and distant. The evil of the Holocaust destroyed the faith of many. Bullies and abuse did mine quite a number.

I see this pain, this hope that if God won't fix it, we must. Many children start out by believing in God, but as the pain of the world becomes apparent to them and their frailty, they despair. The turn to find answers in science or rationalism or fantasy or worse things.

But there is a dimension we simply do not understand. What radical mystics like the apostle Paul called the inner man. "Radical mystics?" you may spurt. Yeah. Radical in belief and action, but all because they first commune with God - deeply.

We need strength and truth to face the lies and attacks of the world. We don't need everything ELSE to be easier (sadly, the hope of far too many) but rather that we have something greater inside to Push Back with.

"You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free."

Jesus said that. (Its also, ironically enough, inscribed on the floor of the entrance foyer to the C.I.A. Go figure.)

I thought about how much strength I get from Jesus by prayer, by reading His gospels. It is so very counter-intuitive, many feel Jesus was an idealist or insane. In fact, He knew what our problem was. We have believed the Lie.

"It is everywhere, Neo. It is the lie that has been pulled down over your very eyes."
- Morpheus in The Matrix.

The way to counter the power of the Lie is to go deeper than what we see. To destroy the spell cast on our hearts and minds: "All you see and touch and smell and feel is real. Anything else is LESS real."

That is the Lie. The truth is that what motivates us, what strengthens us, is MORE real. Even these words have more impact on you I hope than just the glowing display few inches in front of you.

What causes man to wage war or make sacrifices? Is it not the "less real" things of heart and mind?

And so, this "spiritual dimension" I thought should have a name. It is often referred to by evangelists and spiritists and shamans, and I do not equate the three as one, but rather they are arguing all about the same arena of effect: the inner person, the spiritual man or soul.

I call it "strewth". It's my fourth dimension.

We have height, length & width (or depth) and it seemed to me that it should have a "th" at the end to identify it. Then I thought about how much invisible force is there inside us - what we call our will or character strength, and how vital it was to have integrity at that level, even if wrong. (Mistaken people can move really far on the wrong path, you know.)

So I blended "strength" and "truth" to make "streuth" or, less elitist, "strewth".

I also remembered a Shakespearian contraction making "God's Truth" into "'S'truth", so I was even more pleased with myself.

What purpose does this have, to invent a new word to describe a spiritual dimension?

I don't know other than I had to.

I am creating a SF Christian fantasy about an intergalactic knighthood who's armor and weaponry come from sub-space - a quantum-level pocket dimension. And I thought "These guys would have to have some descriptor for how their armor and other things work in a fourth dimension. In fact, they'd just assume it as an invisible but vital aspect of life. Even trying to find ways, like we have, of working with it or using its properties to empower themselves."

So I came up with strewth. A fourth physical dimension that mystics (like my knights) also "strengthen" by prayer - like we strengthen our arms or legs by working out.

Sound confusing? It shouldn't be, but it is.

If I could go back in time and talk to that young boy again, I'd tell him that God is in charge. He is working everything out. But He's doing it where its the hardest to see yet makes the greatest impact.

He's working beyond the sub-molecular level. He's working in sub-space and even deeper.

He's willing to make HIM a hero. To give him a sacred place no one can ever touch again.

And to have the strength to not be afraid, to face those bullies, all he has to do is ask.

"If you - being evil - know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?"

Thank you, Jesus.

He understands us and the very things we are missing.

"I tell you the truth - you must be born again to see the Kingdom of Heaven."

That's what you and I need. A new birth from God. An imparting of His strength and His Spirit.

Confession, by the way, isn't groveling, its just admitting we're wrong, hurting and in need.

Go get the hope and strength you always longed for. From God. From Jesus.

Amen, brother. Amen.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Heroes Who Quit and Why, Final

Larry Norman was the granddad of Christian rock. He wrote an amazing article about his life experiences in Christian rock. Its effectively a 7-page biography any Christian artist - musical or otherwise - should read. Larry knew why he was here, what his life was about.

There is only one legitimate reason for a Hero to leave, after all is said and done.

His job is finished. He's accomplished his task.

He's shone brightly: he's rescued the foolish, he's taught the listening; and then, when all that can be done is done, he leaves.

It is lonely being a Hero. You arrive only to leave.

Do you remember the "Lonely Man" theme from the old Incredible Hulk TV series?

It haunted me. I understood that loneliness as an artistic young boy. There is something primal in all of us. We want community. We want fellowship and people who understand us.

That may be the very reason heroism is rare. It casts you out from your community to serve others. It makes you an alien to your own family and friends.

But then, if you realize that - whether you are serving overseas or in a soup kitchen or the local homeless shelter, visiting the wounded, the dying, the lost, then you KNOW why you are there as well.

"The son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost."

Jesus said that. Ever wonder why He left, since there were so many more that were still lost, hurting and clueless to what life was really about?

Because His work was finished. "I have accomplished that which the Father sent Me to do."

He had healed, taught, loved, challenged. He had discipled His men.

Then He paid for His followers by dying for them. Willingly. Intentionally.

"No one takes My life from Me. I lay it down of my own accord."

"I have the power to lay it down and the power to take it up again. This commandment I received from my Father."

Wow. Jesus was the Hero of Heroes. He had a script and He followed it - even the very part where He had to die so He could be resurrected.

But just as He was going to do this, He assured His disciples it was a good thing, this leaving.

"It is to your benefit that I go away. For the Father will send you another Helper, the Holy Spirit..."

When Christians say they have been 'born again', they mean they have something another person does not have: Jesus Christ's spirit living inside them. They have a power or insight or ability they DID NOT have before.

So Jesus did His work so He could give birth to heroes. To give them something they could not have on their own. God's power. God's spirit. God's wisdom. And a truly heroic Christian will often stop and ask for God to grant them empowerment, wisdom and discernment. It takes CONSTANT humility to do this. It ain't natural, but I have seen it work again and again in my life. In fact, my only areas of grief as a Christian are when I ignored this gentle Voice speaking to my intuition, my gut and guiding me.

You can, unfortunately, quench this. But a Wise Man does not. ;)

And then, because you are following the Hero of Heroes, it is sometimes time to call it a day.

The job has been done; the message delivered; the love sent.

Elijah handled his mantle to Elisha. Jesus handed His to 12 men (Paul was the true replacement for Judas, IMNSHO). They went on to bring power and healing and love to the pagan Roman Empire. They changed the world.

So, it's time to leave. The lady has been rescued; the villains routed; the hurt have been bandaged.

We love heroes who stand up and fight for the truth - creatively, compassionately, consistently.

But they only arrive to leave.

One day we will all sit at the table together. The Vikings had part of it right, actually. There will be feasting and joy in heaven, glorifying not ourselves but the Lord of Light who granted us victories.

"Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with few things - I will put you in charge of MANY things! Come and share your Master's happiness!"

Well done, Larry. Well done.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Heroes Who Quit and Why: Part 2

I think my last blog when on too long. Lemme sum up:

1) Heroes get worn out - though it is preventable by refreshment and re-focusing
2) Heroes get tired of "gazing in the dark Abyss". They want evil to go away.

Now, I'm gonna ramble a bit, but I have in the back of my mind some issues I have dealt with a pastor, teacher and caregiver.

You begin to think: why do I have to do this for the love of God?

Only one reason will suffice. You do it out of love. A love for God.

Many people have the mistaken idea Jesus taught us to "love our neighbor as ourselves" as a Primary teaching.

Nope. It was Secondary. The Primary was to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength." The second is LIKE it: "Love your neighbor as you love yourself."

Note that. You will not be able to love if you do not know and experience love first. You can't give what you ain't got.

And Heroes need love to keep going. Unconditional and powerful love. Sounds dumb, doesn't it? It isn't.

Love, by the way, is NOT a romantic feeling or brief liaison. It is best defined not as an emotion, but as an act of the will. Something you DO, including speaking encouraging words, counts as acts of love. There are several "Love languages", says Gary Smalley. We're all wired to express or receive love in certain ways. (Book link)

And Heroes are people who fight back cruelty and injustice and all that is dark or cynical and cruel by bringing love and light into the situation, restoring hope, defending the weak, and more.

But after a season, they quit. And here is the ultimate reason why:

The no longer love doing what they were doing.

They did it too long or on too little resources.

They were not fed, encouraged or strengthened by another. They are drained dry and then, when it is the right time, the Enemy of Man strikes.

Keep the Supply Lines Going
The principle is simple: stop an army's supply lines, and you stop an army.

So Heroes will often quit for needing love - or at least some false perception of love. Suddenly it makes the reason preachers and or politicians get found in hotel rooms with prostitutes understandable, huh?

Now I don't mean justifiable. I mean understandable. Why divorces happen. Why a spouse who spends 60 hours a week taking care of the family suddenly up and leaves "for no reason." Why employees quit "good paying jobs."

There's a reason alright. There's always a reason.

We need love to keep going. We need lots of it. We need, in fact, an inexhaustible supply.

"You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength."

How can we, unless He first loves us? Strangely, that is precisely the answer John gives:

"In this is love: not that we loved God, but He loved us and sent His son to die for us."

Or as Paul said: "But God demonstrates His love for us in this: that while we still sinners (utterly disobedient), Christ died for us."

Theologians call this beautiful action "penal substitution." Out of love, God paid for ALL of our sins first. This removes the barrier and enables Him to love on us without hypocrisy.

We become enabled, empowered by this love. We have an unlimited resource. An eternal fountain. Yes, we are getting mystical.

But its either that or getting cynical.

And cynicism is only good in small doses. A meal of it will kill you.

So what "meal" shall we have? The fluffy, "let's just all LUV one another" meal of empty-headed positivism, with no basis in actual fact? No.

The meal we shall eat is "real food and drink": it is the blood of Christ, shed for our sins. The hero of heroes, the loving Lord of Sacrifice. A real crucifixion, a real burial, a real resurrection, and therefore, a real justification.

He paid for it and wisely laughs at us. To co-opt another famous phrase, perhaps Jesus would say: "Eat, drink and be merry with MY blood!"

"Apart from Me, you can do nothing!"

Jesus knew what He was doing: He was enabling angry, bitter, wounded people the opportunity to experience unconditional love. He has paid - but the secret even most Christ-followers don't get is that He wants you to draw your love from Him d a i l y.

"Give us this day our daily bread..."

That bread is not only our physical needs, but our emotional, mental and spiritual needs.

Jesus knows this. He invites us to feast on His power.

And thankfully, He is a Hero who will never quit.

"If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself."

Wow.

Go feed on Jesus, hero. And be sure to Super-Size it.

:D

Friday, May 9, 2008

Heroes Who Quit and Why

There's an old saying, a very common ideology that states "You can't have good without evil." Its echoed in the Yin-Yang concept of Light and Dark and there are even songs about this seeming duality in our present world (or at least the presence of the two side-by-side), "Every Rose Has Its Thorns" by Guns-N-Roses for example. :)

Good things happen and bad things happen, certainly. But I think there is a false dichotomy in the phrase "You cannot have good without evil." It sounds a bit like evil is necessary, a vital component that, if taken out, would result in a dull, boring, monotonous, Republican-filled, middle-class white America meets The Stepford Wives scenario. You gotta shake things up, keep violence and energy in a system or it will become stagnant.

*gasp*

I think that's a load of hooey. I think we've defined "good" as "good for me" - a bit of an Epicurian philosophy and it smacks of egoism.

I understand what people are trying to say, but they're unintentionally affirming raw competition, ego and pride - all these things that come forth in "me first" actions. When C. S. Lewis wrote about this endemic human vice, "Pride is essentially competitive. We say a man is proud of being rich or clever or good looking, but really we are saying he is proud of being richer or cleverer or better-looking than another person."

It is the vice that turned an angel into a demon. Racism is based on it (I'm a better race than you). Materialism is based on it (I own more than you or them or my parents). So are so many other "ism's" you can name; it makes a thing or quality an idol, a god to be served.

May I state what I believe to be true?

You cannot have heroes without evil.

You see, I can have a very good day of loving a friend, making supper and walking a dog or painting a picture, playing with the cat or shopping for new clothes. Those are good things within their legitimate scope -I obviously do not mean "torture" when I say "play with the cat", though he may disagree on some occasions. ;)

But none of those things make me confront darkness per se. While an argument can be made of how the internal darkness of my soul may be revealed through those actions, they still do not merit any special mention for the very commonality and ease of their practice.

But if I saved a friend's life, bought food for a starving family with my last bit of money, walked a vicious dog away from a little girl, painted a widow's dilapidated house, played with a runt kitten and gave it a new home or helped a stroke victim shop for clothes in a confusing department store, then you might commend me. You may call those actions "heroic" or just "good Christian behavior". In either case, my energy was used for the benefit of another, and I would be pleased by your praise.

Yet none of that behavior would be possible if we did not live in a Fallen world. A world that stomps on the weak, the poor and the needy.

So the poor need an Advocate. The weak need a Protector. The lost need a Guide. The proud do not admit to such needs. They scorn the weaker, the lesser, the naive. They "eat them for lunch" and "clean their clock."

We need heroes. We need helpers. We need people of integrity who think of others.

But there is a price.

Mortal heroes need help too. They must admit their Needs (note the capital "N" - this is to separate it from their wants or desires.) They must go to the One who will love them as the world attacks them.

Or quit.

What Kills Heroism
"Compassion fatigue" is the latest term. Its when everyone is draining resources and not supplying anything in return. You run out of compassion because you have been drained dry.

Its simple really: in Deep Sea diving, do you know how they plumb into the greatest depths of the ocean and not implode from the great forces crushing upon them (we are talking hundreds to thousands of pounds per square inch)?

By increasing the internal pressure of the bathysphere.

There are monsters in the deep who have never seen the light of day - nor could they survive such a journey. And to meet them, to see them or capture them, you must be well-protected and pressurized.

If not, they feast on you. Or what's left of you.

Why do heroes quit? I submit two reasons, one is convicting, the other is comforting.

1) They forgot where their strength comes from -and thus get beaten up and abused for their lack of wisdom in refreshing themselves.
2) They forgot they were chosen to be heroes. It is their true calling and identity. They are not "Normal". They never will be.

Amazing Spider-Man #50
"Spider-Man Quits!" - and we buy the issue saying it can't be!

And of course it can't. Because face it, True Believer, the Powers that Be decided Peter Parker, should be the Amazing Spider-man, not the other way round. In the practical world of business, we know it ain't possible, because Stan Lee and Marvel still had to sell comics, and make cash, and no kid in the world wants to read about the time Peter Parker went to get his clothes washed -unless its about him accidentally washing his Spider-Man uniform with his whites and getting them all pinkish!

In other words, we love Spider-man. 'Cause he's a cool, powerful, altruistic hero - who struggles like us! And the problem is, he's always fighting the bad guys.

That gets old after awhile. So, logically, he TRIES to quit.

But he can't. 'Cause Peter Parker is a hero. Whether he knows his calling or not.

It's too late for him to say no. He's been empowered and has a heart to protect and serve. He still remembers how he failed his Uncle Ben and refuses to go back to being that selfish child.

Heroes really don't want to quit. They just wish the fighting would end. But that's not in their control.

So they have to admit they need help. They also have to admit they are, no matter what, heroes.

And when Spider-man was asked issue after issue "Why are you doing this? Why are you risking your life?" He'd always reply:

"Might as well. Can't dance!"

I love that. Just love it.

He's saying "Look - it's my job. I really don't have anything else to do. And frankly, I can do it well. I can't pretend nothing's wrong. I did that before. It didn't work out so well."

And then he hides his fear with flippancy. Of course he's afraid. He ain't bulletproof, he's just fast. He can be killed doing this sort of thing.

You most certainly can have good without evil. But you can't have heroism.

And you can't have heroism without conquering fear.

It is written that "Perfect love casts out all fear." So heroes, listen up: let God love on you today. Let Him and His love conquer your fears.

I know a man who never quit and got killed because of it.

But in the next chapter, He got better. Much better.

So will you. So will you.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

To Be A Lantern

Today is my "Off" Day. As a simple caregiver (think "Driving Miss Daisy" not "Magnolia"), I get to run around on my own schedule sans duties only one day a week -Thursday.

And so I've got to do something worthwhile on that day.

I play. I try to feed my creativity and do really fun stuff. I have learned over time that it refreshes my soul so much, I am a joy to be around. And so what do I do?

I make stuff. Superhero stuff. In this case, a Green Lantern Power Battery.

Explanation
You see, when I was a kid, I'd look at my fictional heroes and say "Wow! It'd be SOOOO cool to have one of those." Now I that am a man, I can make my own.

Green Lantern is cool. In fact, I read somewhere that someone said he has the best superhero costume design of all time. That's high praise.

Some heroes were always cool but had bad writers, or they just didn't explore the right things about their character they should have, and the lazy writing showed. Let me give you an example or two, you non-comic-book geek you:

Daredevil was a "poor man's Spider-Man" in the eyes of many. Back in 1981, his comic had dropped to bi-monthly - once every two months.

Then some guy named Frank Miller got a hold of it. Wow. In one year it was the hottest-selling comic on the stands. The movie was bad, but that wasn't Miller's fault.

This is the same guy who wrote The Dark Knight and Batman: Year One, both of which were seminal in getting Batman to the big screen as he always should have been: not as campy comic relief, but as a Dark Avenger of the Night.

So he made Daredevil cool. He made Batman hotter than hot. Why do you think Tim Burton got to make that film at all? ;)

So a good writer can make or break a cool concept. Enter Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern.

Jordan was a test pilot (think of "The Right Stuff" and Chuck Yeager) who was chosen by a dying alien to receive the most powerful weapon in the universe: a ring that could create anything the user desired based on their courage and strength of will. Jordan, as a fearless test pilot, was a prime candidate. He gets a new uniform, the ring and power battery to "re-charge" the ring every 24 hours. He also gets the coolest oath to recite:

"In brightest day,
In blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight,
Let all who worship evil's might,
Beware my power -
Green Lantern's Light
!"

Is that cool, or what?

He later realizes he is only one of 3,600 others who police the universe: they are ALL "Green Lanterns", though some are humanoid, some are extremely alien and some are just flat-out weird. But it does not matter: they are bound by one common goal - to fight evil and to be fearless in doing so.

How cool is that for a boy to read?

Now if I told you what they did to this character from 1994 - 2004, you would weep. He becomes villainous, psychotic and changes identities three separate times. I cannot bear to tell you how bad it was. Just can't. It was awful. Grown men are ashamed to talk about it.

But then a miracle occurred. Right after Lord of the Rings came out in December 2001, suddenly the higher-ups in DC comics decided having a ring-bearing superhero with immense power was not so dumb after all. They got a good writer who justified all the aberrant behavior by explaining a mysterious piece of Green lantern lore: the ring would never work on anything yellow. Why? Well, something was wrong with the Main Power Battery on Oa; it was called "a necessary impurity."

Well, the "necessary impurity" turned out to be a demon - called the "Parallax entity". It had possessed our hero and in his internal struggle with it, he'd done some God-awful things.

But the creature was fought, the hero resurrected, and the once destroyed Green Lantern Corps was returned to its glory. Even more so - now they wanted twice as many Lanterns - 7,200 - AND they found that with training, they could overcome the ring's weakness against yellow. It only stops rookie "GLs" these days.

But now the rings can store only so much energy -or at least this limit was not shown before. They function just like your cell phone -they can give you data, and you can communicate through them, and you can do whatever you want - but you have to recharge them when they are low on power.

And for that, you need a Green Lantern Power Battery. Like the one I am making.

Conclusion
So I am jazzed to see my old hero restored. I even found a creative way to make my own Green Lantern ring out of brass washers and D-rings (go to http://theleagueofheroes.yuku.com ). Nnow I've got to finish up by making a Power Battery.

'Cause let's face it: no matter how tough you are, no matter how heroic you want to be, you have to recharge periodically.

And yes, as a Christian, I smile at the similarities.

I know the One who recharges me. The Light I go to and recite my oath on a daily basis.

The parallels are obvious. I suspect the creator of the modern-day GL had some of the following resting in his heart when he created this superhero, whether he realized it or not.

Join me as we recite our Oath to be a Light:


Our Father,
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name,
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On Earth as it is in Heaven,
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts
As we have forgiven others.

And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil,
For thine is the Kingdom,
And the Power
And the Glory,
Forever.

Amen.


And if you'll stop thinking "religion" and think "relationship", you will see how cool that is.

God is your Father.

A "Father of Lights" we are told.

Now go outside and be a lantern in a dark world - by playing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Iron Man at McDonald's -or How I Went from "McGriddle McFly" to "McManly" in 1.5 minutes

Tony Trendl is to blame. If you are reading this, blame the man I call a "Writer of Writers" who set me up with a place to publicly announce my life. In the self-important world of Internet, I hope to rank near the top. ;)

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008
8:33 a.m.
McDonald's at County Farm and Roosevelt in Wheaton
(some 1000 yards from DuPage County Jail)

I had Drama this morning (with a capital "D") after I dropped Nancy off at work.

I was praying when I was heading back, not knowing what to do with my day, when I gathered the Lord was wanting me to go get some breakfast at McD's. Now, I don't know about you, but I NEVER argue with such a Divine Appointment, especially when I know I will be enjoying some crispy hash browns. ;)

So I pull into McDonald's on this dreary morning, listening to Red Rain by Peter Gabriel after I shut the car off. It was overcast with a constant smattering of rain, so I take a moment to read my Bible, and land upon Daniel Chapter 2: how Daniel had saved the wise men of Babylon by asking God for the answer to King Nebuchednezzar's strange dream. In the story, Daniel gets lifted up because he has so much wisdom and that as a gift from God. I thought, "Cool! God delivers us by His wisdom. I gotta keep that in mind."

So I grab my notebooked copy of the Villains and Vigilantes RPG , and head inside to eat and to fiddle with some superhero concepts for a bit before I go home and do some serious writing.

The restaurant was filled with older men, retirees and a couple of ladies. There were also two guys working on delivering a bin full of large envelopes. The big tall silver-headed guy (the Boss) is telling the other guy - I'll call Motorcycle Man for his tattoos and pierced ears, bald head and handlebar mustache - where all these places are, going down the list as he thumbs through the packages. "Oh. Couriers. I used to do that," I thought. Strange he's doing it here, in McDonald's though. I usually did it at the office before I went out.

I go up to order and just as I do so, there is a huge "POW!" behind me. Everyone in the restaurant turns, and the Boss, as he was moving his hand, accidentally had slammed a beautiful cobalt blue, swirled glass lamp sconce above him into the strong plate glass, shattering the sonce instantly. It sounded like a rifle shot.

He said, "Those things happen," and went RIGHT back to telling the guy how to do his route.

On the line, the employees were horrified - this was a newly redesigned McDonald's, less than a year old - and got the manager. He was a short Hispanic guy, about 5'4" - 5'5" and 200 lbs. We'll call him Pablo.

Now these guys are acting like they broke a lightbulb, NOT a $50-100 light sconce.

When I was handed my order, I turned around and saw the grim faces of the elderly men behind me, coming up for re-fills on their coffee: men who had been born in the Depression, who had seen friends die in wars. They ain't too keen on this casual savoir faire behavior. It ain't THEIR light sconce.

I go and sit down just on the other side of Motorcycle Man and his Boss, in the area where they have benches with short coffee-house style tables. I am getting more and more amazed at how cavalier these guys are acting. Don't they realize what they've done? Are they THAT irresponsible? I am listening - are they couriers FOR McDonald's and thus will take responsibility later? Like out of their paychecks?

Oh no. They're not. They just move aside as employees come out and clean up after them.

Pablo the manager comes over and speaks with them. You know how the conversation went, don't you?

"It was an accident, and you want me to pay?"

"Yes - my manager will make me pay. I have to answer to him for what happens here."

Motorcycle Man and Boss begin their 'correcting' of this assumption that they are 'at fault'.

472 lbs of talkback to a guy 10" shorter than them.

Yeah. Me too.

I stood up and told them "Hey! You BROKE it. You're responsible!" And boy, did they not like it - now they have a fight on two fronts. Motorcycle Man points at me and tells me to stay out of it. "Just drink your coffee! This is none of your business!"

Fair enough - IF they had shown ANY responsibility two minutes earlier. Da Boss also puts up all shields and tells me to stand down, "You need sit down!"

"You need to be careful, sir."

"Did he just threaten me?" Boss-man to Motorcycle Man.

"Yeah, he just threatened you," Motorcycle Man in his court.

Ah well. I work in the jail. I know how to take my stand.

"No, I'm not threatening you. You need to take responsibility for what you did."

"I'm giving him my information!"

Good. I stand for another second until they give the manager their full attention.

To their credit, and mine, I sit back down watching as they continue talking about their route. Boss man sends off guy with packages, glass is cleaned up, and I watch as he writes down his information and gives it to the manager.

No further incident.

Except...

Pablo the manager comes by and apologizes to me for the situation. He just had the responsibility, is all. I tell him, it's O.K. They should take care of what they did.

And after I calm down a bit and try to talk to the Lord about it, I get up to leave.

Jim, a man at a booth just five feet from me catches my eye and chats with me. As a visitor who's an official in county government in Colorado, he's got that weathered Western look, a good smile and clear blue eyes. He's very sympathetic. In fact, he's waiting to drive a diabetic friend who works in DuPage County to the doctor.

"You think you are going to just come in and relax with a cup of coffee and something happens."

Yeah, I agreed. I end up admitting I understood their shame and reaction, but the very cavalier response shocked me. He too was surprised. Chicago boys, we agreed: Conflict coming - SHIELDS UP!

I joked that I knew the sheriff - or rather the sheriff knew me since I was a volunteer teacher at the jail. When he asked what I taught, I told him the Bible and how much grace is in Christ and how God loves us. He told me about Muslims coming to psychiatrists at this friend's office and getting a lot of help. He may have been checking my bigotry meter, but I just went on about God's love and freedom from guilt in Christ and how the law doesn't make us good, but grace empowers.

Jim had that in spades, I think. He was very gracious. Though I don't know if he was a Believer - I doubt it - he knew people. And he knew grace. And it settled my heart. I HATE conflict.

I hate bullies and irresponsible men, too.

So the question arises: should I have faced off with those guys?

Yes - but only at that point I mentioned: when they refused to admit their destructive and disruptive behavior and began talking back to the manager as a tag-team.

Was it handled properly enough to end well?

Yes - because though the men failed in one action, they did move forward to restitution. That raised them a notch in my eyes.

Was it necessary for me to "pitch in" and defend the manager?

Yes.

God sent me there.

And my name is Justice.

Monday, May 5, 2008

"Voices in the Wilderness" - Public Access TV

Well, they say pride cometh before a fall, and since Jesus knows how quick I can step off a cliff, so He takes his good time before letting me speak publicly.

I invariably put my foot in my mouth. Still haven't learned to serve other by speaking only what the Lord wants me to say.

However, he IS pretty gracious. ;) So I'm going to have a chance to speak on Chicagoland public access TV.

Maria Goldstein, host of "Voices in the Wilderness" has asked me to come in and tell how I came to Christ and how He radically changed my life.

Cool beans.

Here's some info about her program:

Voices in the Wilderness

Format: Interview

Audience: Everyone


Voices In The Wilderness is a public access cable program that airs every Saturday (each show/interview runs for the entire month) at 5:00 P.M. in the following areas below.

Comcast Channel 35: Arlington Heights, Bartlett, Des Plaines, Glenview, Golf, Hanover Park, Mt. Prospect, Park Ridge, Prospect Heights, Northbrook, Schaumburg, Skokie, Streamwood, and

Comcast Channel 19: Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Niles, Palatine, Rolling Meadows and Wilmette

NCTV Channel 17: Naperville at 10:30 A.M. every Monday (each show/interview runs for the entire month).

CANTV Channel 36: The City of Chicago . Voices runs two-three times per month in Chicago.


Channel 23 Hibbing , MN : Monday at 8:30 P.M , Wednesday at 10:30 A.M. and Thursday at 4:30 A.M.


Purpose of Program:

Voices in the Wilderness is an interview format TV ministry. We interview real people who have been transformed by their faith and who want to share their story, message, or vision, so that others can be encouraged, enlightened and inspired to make a positive impact in their families, communities, country and the world. John the Baptist was a voice with a message for his generation. I believe that our guests are messengers to this generation.


Quotes from Amplified Version of the Bible:

Mark 1:3 A voice of one crying in the wilderness (shouting in the desert), prepare the way of the Lord, make His beaten tracks straight (level and passable).

Isaiah 40:3 A voice of one who cries: Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord (clear away the obstacles) make straight and smooth in the desert a highway for our God.

Light Warrior: short story by Justice Carmon

Light Warrior
short story by Justice Carmon

When Brian discovers that a classmate has a connection to his favorite comic, he decides to get to the bottom of things.


Light Warrior
Brian plopped down in his cafeteria seat, avoiding the kids sitting at the other end of the table. Summer school lunch periods were shorter, and all they wanted to do was talk, talk, talk. He, on the other hand, had something better to do: peruse the latest issue of Light Warrior: Hero From X-Dimension.

Brian had been careful to hide the issue from curious eyes. A teacher might confiscate it. Other kids might make fun of him, or worse, paw through the pristine comic, destroying its value.

Light Warrior—or L.W., as his friends called him—was awesome this issue. After being knocked unconscious and captured by the Allies of Infamy, he was in an intermediate dimension that enabled him to be in two places at once. He could navigate his home dimension and the villain's lair simultaneously. As his friends helped L.W. battle creatures of the Y-Dimension, they were beginning to learn the secret of his powers.

see Focus on the Family's Clubhouse Magazine for more

The Last Magi: book by Justice Carmon

The Last Magi
by Justice Carmon
In 5 B.C. in Judea under the reign of King Herod the Great, wise men known as "magi" came to worship the King of all, born of the Jews, for they had followed His star across the heavens. But following a star "across the heavens" means one thing if you are from the Earth. And quite another if you are not.

Available on Lulu: The Last Magi by Justice Carmon (Book) in Science Fiction & Fantasy
Paperback book $8.00
Download $5.00
Printed: 70 pages, 4.25" x 6.88", perfect binding, black and white interior ink
(379 kb)
Download: 1 documents, 379 KB


Keywords:
Fantasy
fiction
space
Magi
nativity
superhero
boys
adventure
christmas
sf
christian science fiction
Listed in:
Science Fiction & Fantasy