Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Back for Good

I recently heard an excellent sermon in which the pastor affirmed good memories, but not foolish nostalgia. He affirmed looking ahead, but not in vain expectations. He said it this way [paraphrased]:
"We, like the Israelites, are commanded by God to remember the past - and how we were delivered by His hand and cared for by His providence. But we are not to go back, to the lands of Egypt, to the places where we were enslaved, mistreated and paint them as better than they were.
"We are commanded to look ahead, to the Promised Land, the places of provision and kindness and safety He promises us. But we are not to jump ahead, trying to skip the steps of obedience that train us and humble us. We are not ready - yet.
"We are to look back - but not go back. We are to look ahead - but not jump ahead.
"God is sovereign and powerful. You are right where you need to be."

This has been a very hard year in many ways and very victorious in others. I have been accepted by people I have fought with and rejected by people I cherished.

Like so many of my middle-aged group, I've gotten on Facebook to remember "simpler, better times" of my childhood along with others from my hometown in North Mississippi.

One of the FB leaders asked what do we [individually] miss most about those formative years of our growing suburb, besides the people themselves.

I thought for a second and then realized it was not a thing but the entire environment: something you could never recover.

I wrote the following.

I imagine every community goes through three stages of growth - just like a person does.
Those early years of Southaven were OUR early years and I agree completely that the years between 1969-1985 were great. Weird, but as much I try to detach, I still see several elements that made it a good small town with enough amenities and community to shelter and nurture without becoming too commercial or insulated.
I think the generation that was raising us was glad Viet Nam was over and certainly remembered WW2 and Korea. Their values shaped ours. We had 4 channels of TV not 40 and plenty of areas to explore.
What would I have back? $1.50 Tuesday night movies at the Southaven 6? Southland Mall? The Garden Shop at Hwy 51 where all the moms bought plants for their husbands to put in the yard? Riding by that place with the sprinklers throwing water all over me after a hot bike ride back from the Southland Mall on a Saturday evening with the sun the color of melted orange sherbert? With my parents utterly satisfied that I was wise enough to not get run over nor in need of a cell phone?
Do I miss the neighborhood dogs we kids knew by name or is it the isolated man with mental difficulties who'd stand in his yard with a 'wife-beater' t-shirt and slacks every day at 3:30 to watch us come home by bus?
Do I miss running inside to catch Star Trek at 3:30 or the Halloween where everyone but the old lady in the pink house gave us candy?
I'll tell you what I miss:
I miss the adventure of those years. They were not 'exciting' - our parents had a strong hand in making sure they were not, in many cases.
But they were adventurous. We explored. We made friends. We made enemies. We romped and stomped and poked dead things with a stick. We imagined that the glow from Memphis in the north was The Promised Land because Graceland was there.
We imagined that the sun set down in the True West of Myth because the road stopped and the gravel began and the treeline made a perfect horizon for a June sunset.
We imagined that one day we'd fly out of Memphis International Airport and become famous, like Elvis did, or one day eat at the rotating restaurant at the top of UP Building.
We imagined we were Luke Skywalker and that our bikes were our X-Wings. We played with Legos, paper footballs and old gunstocks.
We imagined we were in a great adventure and we'd go amazing places.
I think I miss that.

We should never fear having nostalgia or wistful memories of our childhood.

But we should fear treating them as an impossible magic trick that cannot be replicated. It is in our power to focus on the good not the terrible and to learn without regret.

For we are still children of a Great Father, if we have truly asked to become His.

There is more wonder coming.

And more adventures.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Gravity - A Heavenly Review

I saw Gravity yesterday at the Studio Movie Grill in Wheaton for six bucks. Yes sir, I wanted to see the film that had gotten a 97% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, but I wasn’t risking any big money ya understand! ;)

Afterwards, I walked out saying “That was the best six dollars I have EVER spent!” I saw all the human and emotional reasons the critics would’ve loved it for – especially the visual messages about space exploration, human achievement, the brevity of life, and more.

It is a beautiful film because of the huge amount of special effects – it is set 99% in space - but the budget is ameliorated by having only two principals on screen for 99.5% of the movie: George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. This means you spend a LOT of time listening to their dialogues and monologues.

So it is Character-Driven. You like these people. You want them to live, to survive the Tragedy They Are Innocent Victims Of.

The Story
Clooney and Bullock play two astronauts finishing a long mission aboard the Discovery space shuttle: he’s the vet and she’s the rookie mission specialist.

Tragedy hits when a Russian satellite hits another satellite in high orbit. But wait, it gets worse – that SIMPLE event begins a cascade of OTHER satellites crashing into each other.

This means that our heroes are on their way to being hit by fragments of several dead satellites traveling 10 times faster than a bullet.

And then, of course, it is compounded: since the astronauts are orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes, they have to go through the SAME nightmare again and again. That is the secret ingredient that keeps the clock ticking and the suspense building. The viewer feels like he or she is watching a brutal baseball game, where the batter gets beaned and heads to first base - only to find every baseman between him and home has a bat to smack him with as soon as he gets close.

I found myself, jaded geek that I am, cringing and covering my mouth as this juggernaut of debris came bursting through the spacecraft. It was a visceral thrill let me tell you.

Now if that isn’t good enough, Gravity takes the “coming up for air moments” and uses them wisely..

Gravity visually taps into much of our hopes and dreams and beliefs and even myths of humanity. But not all at once, and not at first. As I said, the touches happen in the quieter moments, then slowly build, with one cinematographer’s touch here, another there and finally, in the last ten minutes, a cascade of visual choices that are perfectly in line with the story – logical, fair and believable – but also evoke images from mythical epics, everything from The Fall of Lucifer and His Angels [or The Fall of Icarus] to The Rise of Man.

Some of the iconography is obvious – from the placement of the Russian Orthodox icon in a Soyuz command module to the statue of Buddha in its Chinese counterpart – and how one capsule is a precursor to being saved by another. The filmmaker is making a statement beyond multi-culturalism to saying what he believes is a better way to be rescued or to live, as one craft preceds the other in “saving the day.”

But biggest image of all is found in the Christ-likeness in action of the principals, and their unexpected return later in the film. This is beyond iconography and philosophy and theology: this is an act of love. Right there. On screen.

And that is what marks the film as powerful and epic in and of itself: the film is about the human story of salvation. Unintentionally, perhaps, but it is there. Our fall. Our hopes and dreams. Our willingness to survive and live. Our gratitude to those who save us.

Now if at this point you are mystified, don’t fret. My observations are given through eyes and a heart opened by Christ. I know I see imperfectly, but I can’t help but see it and enjoy it.

So after all is said and done, the success of Gravity lies not in its excellent special effects, its visual beauty and thrilling action sequences, the great acting of its principals [Academy Award nominations for sure] but rather in that we the viewers get a chance to see, once again, Christ saves – and those who want to save others must be cast into His likeness, as happened in this film

Go see Gravity. You’ll enjoy it. You may not share my effusiveness or my observations. You may merely like it as a thriller set in space. Fair enough.

But I truly think you will enjoy it.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Man of Steel

The handcuffs are for show.
I went on the opening night of Man of Steel, the reboot of the Superman franchise done by Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer and Zach Snyder. I won't educate you on those men. There are other sites for that.

I was stunned at how far they took the Superman mythos and how well-executed the villains were. How it touched on many open nerves of our culture, from the illegal immigration controversy, to birth identity, and hiding to fit in socially, to the very things we fear the misuse of, but still desire: an uncensored media and a strong military. I credit Christopher Nolan for all that.

For the great emotional bylines and other characterizations, I credit David S. Goyer. I am probably wrong, but this film has JUST enough DC comics easter eggs to make a fanboy grin in the movie theater, and I think he brought them in.

Zach Snyder brought us the lowered palette, and powerful, scary action sequences. There is spectacle and loads of it. You will fear this General Zod and his crew, I guarantee it.

I was expecting a pretty good critical review for the film. Say somewhere north of 85%. With its smart writing, daring re-interpretations and excellent use of the science fiction basis of Superman, it made me see Superman in a different light—and how dark Krypton was to end in a self-imposed genocide from short-sightedness and what kind of beings they must have been—and the contrast with the fears of Pa and Ma Kent who found this alien boy.

The critics came back with barely a 57% approval. I was so shocked, it silenced me.

Did we see the same film? If we did, what did they hate?

The director for one. It did not matter what Snyder did, they already had decided he was unworthy. I will admit, I too feared greatly because I do NOT like his vision, though it has some good elements. Watchman was watchable, and 300 was iconic, but Sucker Punch, which I have not even seen was panned by all.

But his energy is tamed and directed by the demands of a great script and a world-class producer-director-writer—and the result is creative, powerful, eye-popping super sci-fi heroism with a soundtrack that sounds like Jimi Hendrix does Brahms. It is chocolate-covered bacon for your ears, sinfully fattening and woefully addictive.




What They Hated
But I think the biggest hate was for Snyder and Crew, who, with DC's permission and foreknowledge, allowed Superman to do something that he has never done before.

He kills.

"Superman is supposed to be better than a normal man; he's not supposed to do that!" is the refrain.

Here's how it happened: in the climactic end battle, General Zod says Superman took from him his soul and REASON to live by stopping him from re-making Krypton on Earth and sending all the remaining Kryptonians to the Phantom Zone. A huge brawl ensues that causes billions of dollars in collateral damage and endangers thousands of lives. Finally, Kal-El wrestles him to his knees in a train station. Zod then begins using his heat vision at full power, about to vengefully incinerate a trapped family unit in his sight.

Kal-El grabs him in a headlock and begs him to stop. Zod refuses, and continues to try to burn said family unit. With little other recourse available, Kal-El gives a sharp twist, snapping Zod's neck. Having killed the last standing Kryptonian, Kal-El lays down Zod's lifeless body and wails in true grief. Lois steps over to comfort him, acknowledging his pain at having to do something horrible to save lives.

But like the Roman Catholics who want to perpetrate the eternal virginity of Mary, an unbelieving outcry has arisen from certain fanboys against a Superman who kills. It cannot be conscienced.

They believe it makes him a lesser man morally. That it was an unnecessary action, rammed into the character to make him "more dark and appealing" to the new generation.

I've seen that in cheap upgrades of other heroes, so I sympathize.

That is not the case, here.

Here's why:

1) Zod has been struggling to turn Earth into Krypton. This would kill everyone on Earth. We call this act "attempted genocide." Of 6 billion sentient beings.

2) To even defeat all the other Kryptonians a wormhole had to be opened over Metropolis leading to the Phantom Zone - hey, that sounds familiar, doesn't it? - but it cost good men their lives as they eliminated a vastly superior force. NO OTHER METHOD COULD STOP THESE INVADERS. They are superfast, superstrong and bulletproof. Steel is like tissue to them. They were invincible—invulnerable to all our weapons.

3) There are now two Kryptonians left—one who loves his adopted world, and one who is still trying to murder humans out of a sense of heartless grief. If he is victorious, city after city will fall under his might. There is no cage, no material, no appeal that will stop him. If Superman/Kal-El fails to end his threat—say he gets knocked out—hundreds, if not thousands, will die. Zod has no mercy. He will gladly kill Kal-El to restore Kryptonians to life and dominance.

4) So as The Last Answer to the Kryptonian Killing Machine, Kal-El snaps General Zod's neck. For this, Mark Waid, a writer I usually appreciate, began screaming in the theater. And so did thousands of fans.

Not to be too callous, but I think they are nuts.

And frankly, they want Peter Pan, not Superman. They wanted a children's story, not a heroic fantasy.

They wanted a nice large cup of hot chocolate and got finely ground coffee instead.

Superman did not lose his moral code or cast it aside like so many shallow thinkers believe.

He applied it—and in so doing, demonstrated that his love for humanity is as absolute as his hatred for evil.

Doesn't that sound familiar?

It should.

If not, try reading that last book in the Bible. It clarifies things.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Root of God's Love

Dr. Jerry Root, world-renowned C.S. Lewis scholar, speaks winsomely and amazingly on the love of God for us.

View it on YouTube - Jerry Root, Westmont College Chapel, Feb 14, 2011


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Comics Should Be Good - Storytelling

By Scott Clark & Dave Beaty
On the the Monkey House Games forum I shared that Scott Clark, one of the early creators at Image comics passed away recently. It was a big lost to a friend of mine, because Scott had helped him get into the Big Leagues, inking for DC and such. [see awesome image to the right]

Now Scott Clark had talent and skill and treated his buds right. Personally, I liked some of his work, some of Jim Lee's work and very little of the other Image creators. Many times, their work was all pretty girls and big guns and frankly, was missing real depth of story and characterization. And frankly, after they did a four year raping of the industry, no one wanted to collect comics anymore because of the multi-cover, super gloss, ultra-ridiculous content of so many books they put out.

Another poster called it what it was: The Dark Ages of comics. Storytelling went to hell as wallets were fattened on empty promises, cookie-cutter art and pinups.

There's "Hey!", "Hot!"
"HAWT!" & "Huh??!"
"Huh??!" :P
Again, I have nothing personal against these guys - they have some very admirable qualities and technical skills. But good comics are good stories, with stunning moments of writing, of art.

The motive behind your storytelling is almost as important as the tale you actually tell. We can smell a shyster, a pro who's offering you the ice cream of sexy babes and hot action to get you to pay for a trip in his unmarked white van with the tear-stained mattress inside.

This is not just my opinion; these young creatives nearly undid an industry as they soul-raped the myths we grew up with and offered something half as thought-out as the hot new replacement. Their temporary success was like what recently happened in the housing boom. All who invested ended up with unsellable property.

Their creations are all-but-gone; and if they are not extinct, they are still less than 1% of the market they thought to beat. They are forgettable mutants with extra ammo packets. [One could hope they all decided mass suicide was necessary to save the Earth's original heroes and finally did something anatomically correct and noble in the same breath.]

Good Artists Know their Calling
If you are going to draw, draw. But comics, as visual as they are, can survive fairly weak art with a good storyteller. There are usually three people working to make the page appealing - the penciller, the inker, the colorist. There is only one writer, 95% of the time. If he or she fails, no one can pick you up, except the editor.

I think that may be why so many editors jumped in to take fuller control of more storylines. They have a plethora of good artists, but only a few writers they trust. Story is king, baby. Even the artist, who tells the visual part of the story must obey the rules of storytelling.

And frankly, many FINE illustrators do NOT know how to tell a clear story - how to show what is necessary for clarity to the reader. They draw interesting angles and fabulous figures in great poses and you end up saying "What was this guy doing when he was reading comics? Did he think pacing, environment, structure, backgrounds, and close-ups were for sissys or something? Did he honestly think because he could draw well, he knew how to tell a story on a page in 6 panels?"

We Needed Top Gun Because Pilots Forgot Dog fighting
Did you know that in the 1960's the US found their air combat kill ratio in Viet Nam dropping so badly that they formed a school to RE-TEACH the art of aerial combat? That's why Top Gun was formed in 1969.

They thought fire-and-forget missiles would replace the art of dog fighting. They were wrong.

That's where we are today. We've forgotten good storytelling.

I want show you something nearly 30 years old by Frank Miller, artist turned writer. I was mesmerized by its pacing and power and realized as I re-read it - the art is so simple, so iconic, a 12-year old could have done it. But THAT made it work all the more. The simplicity WAS the power.

Here it is, from The Dark Knight Returns, vol. 2, pg. 47:

Now we've got SIXTEEN panels of story here, starting with a psychiatrist laying the blame for Two-Face's crimes all on Batman before we "cut" to ANOTHER ancient foe of Batman being visited at Arkham Asylum by a child-man in a pastel sweater.

But is he a sweet misguided soul? No, he's a bomb maker being commissioned by Two Face, so, out of loyalty, he visits the Joker. You understand the horrific irony here? The satire Miller is laying out visually? Our natural sympathies are being played with, and hard.

Cartooning is GOOD
Miller uses the clear-cut visual language of a cartoonist to keep the identities separate, even as the actual words belie their innocence: it adds up to make everything MORE impactful than if a serious or realistic figures had been used.

Another reason it is fitting for this particular book: Batman, Superman, James Gordon, Robin, Wonder Woman - these ARE well-known characters. They are ICONS. So by leaving out details but keeping the signature parts, the reader is treated as a knowledgeable adult, able to fill in the missing gaps.

The reader is "in" on the joke - and in the arched eyebrow with a long drag of a cigarette, Frank Miller's Jack Nicholson-esque Joker confirms our suspicions that his reason is perfectly clear, his evil is as strong and vibrant as ever. His calmness terrifies us.

Miller knew his craft, and we loved him for it. In my opinion, the original ending to the The Dark Knight Returns stands as one of the finest in mythic storytelling.

I think we need more storytelling like that.

I hope you agree and vote with your wallet.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sexual Economics for the Bankrupt

Alright. I had a chance to talk to the pastor that I mentioned in last week's blog, and we got on the same page. In fact, he made a valid observation that I would have made if I were not so reactionary.

We talked again this week about sexual habits of the 20-something age group and we covered some wisdom of what can wound us and what is wise in the sexual arena. Previous wisdom I had said YEARS earlier on a forum came back to me [yeah, I forget], and we smashed a couple of all-too-common misconceptions about sex before marriage.

Sex bonds us to a person emotionally. That, in the right order, is good. In the wrong order, is bad.

Here are non-preachy lessons learned from pre-marital sex, born out by honest humans, whether married or not, Christian or not.

1) Beware the Soul Super Glue Syndrome: sex bonds you to a person due to the factor of physical intimacy. It is an instant bonding agent, like when you spill super-glue on your fingers. No matter what, trying to UN-bond is going to be painful. That's why breaking up with someone you have not slept with is sad, but bearable - and breaking up with someone you've slept with creates a black hole in your heart.

And if it does NOT create a black hole in your heart, I would SERIOUSLY suggest getting counseling - because, as the man said, "You got issues."

2) Beware the Enjoy Now/Pay Later, Credit Plan: even if you are engaged to be married, you are NOT married - and in the pastor's personal experience, 20% of couples he knew did not get married, though engaged. You are driving a car, making a deal, a bet even, that is NOT guaranteed. Sex does NOT create a covenant - it creates a BOND - and those are two different things. You are not trusting God - or not trusting your partner.

3) Patience is a Virtue - and Both of You Want Trust: let's be frank here: if you cannot say no and wait a few months [being engaged for years is probably not a true engagement, folks - esp. if you are having sex. It's just procrastination or a counterfeit - take your pick], or your partner cannot, then you ARE going to have some problems down the line when another attractive person appears.

You see, for some crazy reason, we think marriage ENDS temptation. In no uncertain terms - it does not! It is a a crucible of love that is sometimes cool, sometimes hot and often under attack. You have to feed and protect your marriage, and if you have a partner who cannot be trusted with sexual self-control, you have the perfect recipe for pain - 'cause sex is everywhere - whether it's porn [crack cocaine for the eyes I call it] or just a saucy girl who thinks your man is cute. And is SOOOOO sympathetic...

So we agreed that sex before marraige was fraught with danger and had some serious backlash. We agreed that God's Biblical command to keep the marriage bed pure was for our own good - and if you have ever thought of committing suicide after breaking up with someone you got sexually intimate with, you understand PRECISELY what I am saying. You learned, the hard way, God is right. We don't want to go too far.

But what about lots of kissing? How far is too far?

So we all took a little anonymous test to check of what we though what was acceptable to do in the 'romantic' arena, and what was going "too far."

Some were obvious. Others - a matter of context or opinion. But in the end, we agreed that we should probably treat the opposite sex like we treat our family members - like we treat our brothers and sisters

That way, if we do not marry, we have fond memories and self-respect. Not the anger and loathing and self-hatred that follows so many broken relationships. Or deathly silence, as it may be.

It was a good lesson. The young pastor showed even more wisdom and compassion when we spoke afterwards when I told him what hurt me about the barefoot and pregnant comment.

I realized that I was reacting to a liberal straw man ALL of his group had heard. He was just trying to communicate honestly with them. We both laughed about how dysfunctional about every family in the Bible was - but God used them anyway. He pointed out that the household economy, run by women, is truly the FIRST economy in any civilization.

I wished he had been my pastor, 25 years ago. I would have been wiser.

I would have been less wounded.

May it be so for you, my reader.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Barefoot & Pregnant, Re-thought

I am making an intentional effort to listen to the "other side" of the aisle, the emotionally appealing, righteously calling human voices that say they are hurting, and something should be done about it.

I am trying to make sure that I am not overlooking their pain and desires, categorizing them and/or demonizing them. Trivializing their hopes, their fears, their desires for significance. To keep my heart tender and not bash them with the Bible. To be truly compassionate.

It ain't working.

I am running into too many that believe man is better than God, the Church is to blame for their moral and ethical failures as they chew upon all the Snickers bars of empty promises of the world.

I feel a Dennis Miller rant coming on. Let me share what is setting it off.

Sexual Economics
Yesterday, I visited the 20-somethings in a non-religious church service that turned out to be about sex and sexual economics. It was enlightening, and informative.This sociologist pointed out that the Power of Women in the Marriage Contract is badly diminished. By making more money, waiting until AFTER a career starts to marry and thus, offering to have sex without risk [due to birth control pill], they have become undervalued.

As one saying goes, about living with a girl and having sex with her, "Why buy the whole loaf when you can get it one slice at a time for free?"

So we men have REGRESSED into having harems - multiple women for our pleasure. We just do it one woman at a time - we are sequential monogamists. Women, therefore, are now in competition: and whoever offers her body at the cheapest price is the most sought. And used, sadly.

Even worse, men in this equation are less and less desirable. Their need to provide is diminished, to be responsible, so they become duller and duller drones for the Queen Bee.

Now that is my assessment of what this sociologist said on this DVD. His name is Mark Regnerus, and here is the article for Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/february/sexeconomics.html

Here is a video to explain his POV:

So what set off my desire to rant?

The entire "DUHHHHH!!" aspect of this concept. So many messages are sent at us that tell us "ancient wisdom" and "conservative views" was a bunch of old nasty crap, unworthy of consideration. That our grandparents getting married at 17 and having a bunch of kids was creepy or sick.

Well, turns out, they were onto something. Their system worked better, biologically, socially, and often, economically.

Worse, when I tried to affirm the truth of this, the pastor responded, "We aren't trying to suggest that women should go back to being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen."

He showed his own immaturity in saying that. Maybe I sounded condescending, but it was an insulting straw man flung at my comment to assure those attending youths MAYBE the ancient wisdom was valid today, but we had a lot of things wrong. We WANTED women to kow-tow to men.

Yeah, right.

Because friend, no woman I have ever known, old school, and highly conservative, was ever like that.

So I let it pass.

Later, as I went to congratulate him on the video and its wisdom, he said "We cannot turn back the clock. We are here."

That's when I got fed up. We can "turn back the clock" on climate change, live greener, and eat organic, but we can't "turn back the clock" on sexual stupidity?

He was telling me I was being unrealistic.

And that pisses me off, because the Jewish God I know has a way of changing reality.

Here is my answer to the Barefoot, and Pregnant Woman in the Kitchen:


For few women can kick off their shoes, stay at home, and work in their very own kitchen, exploring culinary delights, safe, secure and pregnant - granting their home food, comfort, sustenance and even a precious legacy.

You demanded the right man marry you to grant you the most freedom and security. Blessed are you.

And to those hard working women out in the labor force?

May you get MORE time to stay at home, with your shoes off, making whatever you like in your kitchen.

May your man pay for it, and love you DEARLY for it.


Friday, February 8, 2013

A Lesbian for Christ

Read this article from Christianity Today. It even has a transgendered Presbyterian minister in it.


Then you may want to read your Bible.

And pray.

[LATE EDIT: I've added the full article below for ease of access and archival purposes]
My Train Wreck Conversion

The word Jesus stuck in my throat like an elephant tusk; no matter how hard I choked, I couldn't hack it out. Those who professed the name commanded my pity and wrath. As a university professor, I tired of students who seemed to believe that "knowing Jesus" meant knowing little else. Christians in particular were bad readers, always seizing opportunities to insert a Bible verse into a conversation with the same point as a punctuation mark: to end it rather than deepen it.

Stupid. Pointless. Menacing. That's what I thought of Christians and their god Jesus, who in paintings looked as powerful as a Breck Shampoo commercial model.

As a professor of English and women's studies, on the track to becoming a tenured radical, I cared about morality, justice, and compassion. Fervent for the worldviews of Freud, Hegel, Marx, and Darwin, I strove to stand with the disempowered. I valued morality. And I probably could have stomached Jesus and his band of warriors if it weren't for how other cultural forces buttressed the Christian Right. Pat Robertson's quip from the 1992 Republican National Convention pushed me over the edge: "Feminism," he sneered, "encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians." Indeed. The surround sound of Christian dogma comingling with Republican politics demanded my attention.

After my tenure book was published, I used my post to advance the understandable allegiances of a leftist lesbian professor. My life was happy, meaningful, and full. My partner and I shared many vital interests: AIDs activism, children's health and literacy, Golden Retriever rescue, our Unitarian Universalist church, to name a few. Even if you believed the ghost stories promulgated by Robertson and his ilk, it was hard to argue that my partner and I were anything but good citizens and caregivers. The GLBT community values hospitality and applies it with skill, sacrifice, and integrity.

I began researching the Religious Right and their politics of hatred against queers like me. To do this, I would need to read the one book that had, in my estimation, gotten so many people off track: the Bible. While on the lookout for some Bible scholar to aid me in my research, I launched my first attack on the unholy trinity of Jesus, Republican politics, and patriarchy, in the form of an article in the local newspaper about Promise Keepers. It was 1997.

I was a broken mess. I did not want to lose everything that I loved. But the voice of God sang a sanguine love song in the rubble of my world.
The article generated many rejoinders, so many that I kept a Xerox box on each side of my desk: one for hate mail, one for fan mail. But one letter I received defied my filing system. It was from the pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. It was a kind and inquiring letter. Ken Smith encouraged me to explore the kind of questions I admire: How did you arrive at your interpretations? How do you know you are right? Do you believe in God? Ken didn't argue with my article; rather, he asked me to defend the presuppositions that undergirded it. I didn't know how to respond to it, so I threw it away.

Later that night, I fished it out of the recycling bin and put it back on my desk, where it stared at me for a week, confronting me with the worldview divide that demanded a response. As a postmodern intellectual, I operated from a historical materialist worldview, but Christianity is a supernatural worldview. Ken's letter punctured the integrity of my research project without him knowing it.

Friends with the Enemy

With the letter, Ken initiated two years of bringing the church to me, a heathen. Oh, I had seen my share of Bible verses on placards at Gay Pride marches. That Christians who mocked me on Gay Pride Day were happy that I and everyone I loved were going to hell was clear as blue sky. That is not what Ken did. He did not mock. He engaged. So when his letter invited me to get together for dinner, I accepted. My motives at the time were straightforward: Surely this will be good for my research.

Something else happened. Ken and his wife, Floy, and I became friends. They entered my world. They met my friends. We did book exchanges. We talked openly about sexuality and politics. They did not act as if such conversations were polluting them. They did not treat me like a blank slate. When we ate together, Ken prayed in a way I had never heard before. His prayers were intimate. Vulnerable. He repented of his sin in front of me. He thanked God for all things. Ken's God was holy and firm, yet full of mercy. And because Ken and Floy did not invite me to church, I knew it was safe to be friends.

I started reading the Bible. I read the way a glutton devours. I read it many times that first year in multiple translations. At a dinner gathering my partner and I were hosting, my transgendered friend J cornered me in the kitchen. She put her large hand over mine. "This Bible reading is changing you, Rosaria," she warned.
With tremors, I whispered, "J, what if it is true? What if Jesus is a real and risen Lord? What if we are all in trouble?"

J exhaled deeply. "Rosaria," she said, "I was a Presbyterian minister for 15 years. I prayed that God would heal me, but he didn't. If you want, I will pray for you."

I continued reading the Bible, all the while fighting the idea that it was inspired. But the Bible got to be bigger inside me than I. It overflowed into my world. I fought against it with all my might. Then, one Sunday morning, I rose from the bed of my lesbian lover, and an hour later sat in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. Conspicuous with my butch haircut, I reminded myself that I came to meet God, not fit in. The image that came in like waves, of me and everyone I loved suffering in hell, vomited into my consciousness and gripped me in its teeth.

I fought with everything I had.

I did not want this.

I did not ask for this.

I counted the costs. And I did not like the math on the other side of the equal sign.

But God's promises rolled in like sets of waves into my world. One Lord's Day, Ken preached on John 7:17: "If anyone wills to do [God's] will, he shall know concerning the doctrine" (NKJV). This verse exposed the quicksand in which my feet were stuck. I was a thinker. I was paid to read books and write about them. I expected that in all areas of life, understanding came before obedience. And I wanted God to show me, on my terms, why homosexuality was a sin. I wanted to be the judge, not one being judged.

But the verse promised understanding after obedience. I wrestled with the question: Did I really want to understand homosexuality from God's point of view, or did I just want to argue with him? I prayed that night that God would give me the willingness to obey before I understood. I prayed long into the unfolding of day. When I looked in the mirror, I looked the same. But when I looked into my heart through the lens of the Bible, I wondered, Am I a lesbian, or has this all been a case of mistaken identity? If Jesus could split the world asunder, divide marrow from soul, could he make my true identity prevail? Who am I? Who will God have me to be?

Then, one ordinary day, I came to Jesus, openhanded and naked. In this war of worldviews, Ken was there. Floy was there. The church that had been praying for me for years was there. Jesus triumphed. And I was a broken mess. Conversion was a train wreck. I did not want to lose everything that I loved. But the voice of God sang a sanguine love song in the rubble of my world. I weakly believed that if Jesus could conquer death, he could make right my world. I drank, tentatively at first, then passionately, of the solace of the Holy Spirit. I rested in private peace, then community, and today in the shelter of a covenant family, where one calls me "wife" and many call me "mother."

I have not forgotten the blood Jesus surrendered for this life.

And my former life lurks in the edges of my heart, shiny and still like a knife.

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield is the author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Crown & Covenant). She lives with her family in Durham, North Carolina, where her husband pastors the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Durham.

All testimonies are inspiring; when a hurting human being realizes the power and lordship of Jesus Christ, the transformation of their heart and mind is just amazing.

We all need saving.

Jesus is that Savior because He is the Lord of All.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Story, Part 2

Christ in the Desert
I saw this in Moscow by Russian painter I.N. Kramskoi (1837-1887)
So while I am reading Donald Miller's fine semi-autobiography, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, I got to give a brief introduction to the prophet Isaiah in my Sunday school class and watch the Super Bowl XLVII the following week.

Also, my niece had to be rushed to the hospital for a C-section and, on the same day I found out later, a dear elder friend I know from serving at the Billy Graham Center had a stroke, a godly man I have known for a decade.

I attended the funeral for a pastor dad of a fellow Christian artist and had to buy groceries for my landlady's daughter who is estranged from her husband. It was emotionally exhausting.

It was story after story after story. The ones on paper and on film helped me realize this world is no safe place. We don't expect to avoid trouble and heartbreak, but we do want a positive outcome.

We want to win.

An online bud recently shared how he was teaching his little girl to play role-playing games - she likes Disney Princess characters - to exercise her imagination. He has kept the dice rolling out of it until now as to not confuse her. However, now when she rolls - secretly under the table - she announces that she has a "20" over and over again.

He does not want to hurt her feelings, but he's PRETTY sure she is fudging the rolls.

We want to win.

In giving my intro to Isaiah, the teacher had given me the question "Who is Isaiah?" and 3-4 minutes to speak. He knew there was not much data on Isaiah, and it should not take long.

He forgot my proclivity to expand. I found out a LOT about Isaiah by inference. How the man who was ashamed to see God and humiliated by his sins in Isaiah 6, was bold enough to stand beside his king when Jerusalem was surrounded and declare the utter destruction of the Assyrian king's armies. [2 Kings 19]

He asked me to sit down before I was finished. He was right, of course, but I was humiliated.

We want to win.

We want our stories to come out good every time: that the person we love will live and not die of cancer, that the pastor will live another 20 years, that she will say yes, that he will come home, that your friends will forgive, that your spouse will say "Don't go."

We want to win.

But as Dr. Bruce Banner so aptly says in Marvels' The Avengers, "Yeah... well, I don't always get what I want." His story is so bad, you understand immediately. You empathize.

I will tell you a common secret: here, in this world, you do not always get what you want.

But in Christ you do.

The drama is for now, but not forever.

You and I cannot defeat death. Christ did. You and I cannot heal the sick, raise the dead, give sight to the blind - but Christ did.

It is a galactic scale story. Here is just the opening act. Here the effects are only temporary. Here it is a challenge to simply get out of bed some days.

But in Him - and yes, I have felt His power - there is eternity. A story that never ends. In film classes, they say if you are good enough, you can have a very long climax to a film - say fifteen to twenty pages - and no one will be upset. But as soon as the climax is over, end the film.

I think we are living something like that here on Earth.

I also think heaven will be like that - a crazy super-climax. A never-ending stacking of glory upon glory. It just will not end.

The famed C. S. Lewis said something like this, concerning "Aslan's Kingdom" [i.e. heaven] in The Last Battle:

"All [the children's] life in this world and all their adventures... had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning
Chapter One of the Great Story
which no one on earth has read:
which goes on for ever:
in which every chapter is better
than the one before

I can see that happening. With no decay, no evil, no sin, it can be like that. We are promised it will be greater than we can imagine. A story that gets better every day, with each chapter BETTER than the one before?


I hope you make it to Aslan's Kingdom.

I want you to win.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Story, Part 1

I am reading Donald Miller's semi-autobiography A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and he has answered some deep questions about human nature that honestly work, intuitively and scripturally.

The book is once again, a peek into the mind of Don and in this episode [novel], Don has been persuaded to have a movie made of his first book, Blue Like Jazz. It has an immediate difficulty: there is no real plot in it and the filmmakers have to make up one to have a film people will pay to see.

In the process of letting these Indy filmmakers live at his home and getting retrospective about his life, Don realizes he isn't living a very good story.

He is confirmed in this by attending a seminar by the infamous Robert McKee who has written a must-read book for all novelists and screenwriters called Story. After the seminar, Don confesses to his bud Jordan that he really doesn't understand what a story is, essentially. His buddy replies succinctly while watching Seinfeld:
"A story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it."
Don stops and asks him to repeat what he said.

"A character...," replies Don, scribbling in his journal.

"Who wants something-," replies his bud patiently.

"And overcomes conflict..." says Don.

"...to get it." finishes his friend.

Don looks at it and is impressed. It is the true essence of a story. Any story. Without conflict, you got nothing. Without a goal, you got nothing.

Later, when Don meets up with a married bud who's in distress. His13 year old daughter is dating a slouch and beginning to smoke. He doesn't know what to do.

Don replies, "It sounds like she isn't living a very good story."

"What do you mean by that?" asks his friend.

Don shares that we all like stories, and we need them to make sense of life. We need conflict to help define us and grow. Otherwise, we have no meaning.

His friend thinks about it and realizes as head of the family, they are not living a very good story, either. He thanks Don and leaves.

When Don sees him months later, he finds out that his friend's family is now involved in building orphanages in Mexico. Even though it is a financial strain, it has put meaning back into their family. It has renewed his marriage with his wife.

"And your daughter?" asked Don.

She broke up with her boyfriend last week. She's living a better story, said the father with a smile.

"She wasn't a bad kid. She just needed a better story."


I highly recommend A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller.

[to be continued]

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Christians & Gun Control - Our Responsibility

This will be the most controversial post I have ever attempted to write, as a non-firearm carrying Christian who has grown up amongst firearms. We had four rifles on our living room wall plus a .41 revolver with a 13-inch barrel, all because my dad was a gunsmith and had buds who were gunsmiths.

So I am not afraid of guns, but I certainly respect them and the power they have. You can go hunting, you can go target shooting [always fun] - and you can protect others with them [salutes out to our soldiers and law-enforcement officers].

You can also murder innocents with them.

In superhero genre, the first 'power' that must be given to any vigilante who fights crime is the ability to deal with the bullets from the bad guys. Superman is flat-out invulnerable. Wonder Woman has bullet-bouncing bracelets. Batman ["He Who Does Not Shiv"] just uses his awesome skills to disarm and take down the bad guys before they can even pull the trigger.

OKies, they get one shot..

Spider-man can dodge bullets - heck, even machine gun fire - and Captain America has an indestructible shield made of a fictional "vibranium alloy."

Guns are not used by superheroes. Bows, batarangs and laser vision? Sure! But guns? Only in the dark alleys of pulp-ish, morally ambiguous, fiction are they permitted.

"Yessir, we're a LAW-ABIDING town, here!"
Guns belong to criminals, to thieves, to gangsters. Yes, we have the Punisher, the Comedian and other morally ambiguous, I-don't-mind-killing-the-bad-guy types, but they are simply not mainstream. They are not what mothers want their boys and girls to read.

We do not want to connect heroism and good morals to using lethal weapons. We don't want little Johnny thinking that the solution to fighting evil is shooting them in the face.

That fantasy is for adults only--but it is our fantasy, folks. Before you balk, please count the $$$$ poured into films and video games with protagonists who are well-armed shooters. From Call of Duty and HALO to The Expendables and Die Hard Umpteen, we do have a fantasy of shooting the living crap out of evil, "irredeemably bad" bad guys.

Why so hypocritical? Well, I think the reason is obvious: guns and lethality do not belong in the hearts and minds of children. Adults, who must run the world, realize that there may come a time for force - but let us avoid it as much as possible. Let us live and let live.

But if the evil bastard wants my homeland, my daughter, my wife for his sick pleasure - well, we do have an answer - and we only need to say it once.

I do not have the time to argue with all the policies and deaths in wars all over the world due to guns.

Let us agree we would ALL like to see people live, live in safety and treat others with kindness and respect, if not love. We know that don't happen, all the time, don't we, bunky?

So we will still see little boys play at being soldiers and at being Supermen, and grown men with PTSD weep over the loss of youthful innocence coming back from war.

When you want to be good, you want to fight evil. The problem is, evil men make you suffer for both action and inaction.

We will weep either way: for having to shoot a human being, made in the image of God - or for being unable to stop that human being from shooting others, made in the image of God.

I imagine the road to recovery is easier for those who have had to shoot to save lives than for those who have to simply endure the deaths of their loved ones. They were able to act and save lives. But I could be wrong: that action is optional and the second is eventual. You will lose loved ones to death; it is inevitable. Shooting other human beings is not. I hope no one needs me to explain that statement. If so, you may need a mental health professional's guidance. Like, right away.

So what is a Christian response to bearing arms?
Should they carry guns and be prepared to shoot people? Isn't that totally contradictory to "Loving your enemies?" and "Turning the other cheek?" Did not Jesus say His Kingdom was not of this world, and so we should not take up arms in His Name?

That is the basic pacifist response, used by Mennonites if I remember correctly. Let me go ahead and tip my hand: it is smugly irresponsible self-righteousness.

You end up being a perpetually naive sheep and never a shepherd. No one can come to you for protection or aid in a situation of violence. The self-rightness you feel by being non-violent is really an abdication of a moral responsibility to guard others. Christ is Commander of the Armies of the Lord as well as the Great Shepherd.

Even a sheep dog has fangs and can run down wolves. And let me show you a relevant passage from the Gospel of Luke, and try to do it justice [pardon the pun], because it has bothered theologians for centuries.

Luke 22:31-40, J. B. Phillips translation
24 And then a dispute arose among them as to who should be considered the most important.
25-30 But Jesus said to them, “Among the heathen it is their kings who lord it over them, and their rulers are given the title of ‘benefactors.’ But it must not be so with you! Your greatest man must become like a junior and your leader must be a servant. Who is the greater, the man who sits down to dinner or the man who serves him? Obviously, the man who sits down to dinner—yet I am the one who is the servant among you. But you are the men who have stood by me in all that I have gone through, and as surely as my Father has given me my kingdom, so I give you the right to eat and drink at my table in that kingdom. Yes, you will sit on thrones and rule the twelve tribes of Israel!
The personal warning to Simon
31-32 “Oh Simon, Simon, do you know that Satan has asked to have you all to sift like wheat?—but I have prayed for you that you may not lose your faith. Yes, when you have turned back to me, you must strengthen these brothers of yours.”
33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison or even to die with you!”
34 “I tell you, Peter,” returned Jesus, “before the cock crows today you will deny three times that you know me!”
Jesus tells his disciples that the crisis has arrived
35 Then he continued to tell all, “That time when I sent you out without any purse or wallet or shoes—did you find you needed anything?” “No, not a thing,” they replied.
36-37 “But now,” Jesus continued, “if you have a purse or wallet, take it with you, and if you have no sword, sell your coat and buy one! For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me—‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’. So comes the end of what they wrote about me.”
38 Then the disciples said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.”     And Jesus returned, “That is enough.”
39-40 Then he went out of the city and up on to the Mount of Olives, as he had often done before, with the disciples following him. And when he reached his usual place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not have to face temptation!
O.K., if you read all that, you may see the following. Let me show it to you, as this is getting long and I am lazy:

1) The young disciples were all about how AWESOME they were going to be. Jesus sees their immaturity and over-confidence.

2) Jesus has to pray for Peter, who ends up being the only disciple to use a sword when Christ is arrested. Peter ain't right in using the sword, as you recall and Jesus has to heal its unwise use.

3) Jesus warns His boys it will be bad - and everyone should get prepared for evil opposition. They should get a sword, even if they have to sell vital clothing to get one! This is the 1st century equivalent of buying a handgun, no two ways about it.

4) Jesus prays for His men - and tells them to pray that they may not have to "face temptation!" What temptation? The temptation to use force to win their spiritual battles, I think. They are young and eager to fight - but not to "die for others." And I mean "dying" by humble, ego-destroying service that kills your pride, wastes your time, and keeps you under greater authority.

So what do we Christ-followers need to do?

We need to be prepared. We need to be willing to serve and terrifically unwilling to hurt. We need to recognize that evil does exist and if the law gives us the right and responsibility to bear arms, we need to accept that cost and treat it as a sacred right. We need to not let the next generation believe that evil is in an item, but in the hand that is behind the item. [One of my longstanding problems with Lord of the Rings was that the ring itself was 'evil.' Even if that was not Tolkien's intent--Sauron's essence is in it--we tend to make objects morally powerful beyond their means. We blame them all too often.]

I am not as militant as I may sound; I have not bought a firearm in my entire life. I have owned a few, handed down to me. I am a pretty good shot and that is with a severe handicap in vision. I have a good knowledge of firearm safety and was taught by a former Marine to treat every gun as if loaded and able to fire.

I would hate to see the day in which I had to pull a trigger and put a bullet into the body of another human being. I am nearly crying right now as I type this. How horrible that would be.

But what gets me past my emotional response and loathing is my honest God-given responsibility to protect and defend weaker human beings. I once had to kill - by my own hand - a pathetic animal that lay mortally wounded and suffering. I wept as I did what was necessary.

In the same way, we must be ready to bear arms. Not that we should ever want to use them, God forbid such a heart! -but because the day that we should use them may come upon us - and we must not be unprepared.

Jesus did not arm all of His disciples - with two swords He said "It was enough." - and He may have just been cutting their eagerness off by shutting down the conversation [i.e. "Enough of that kind of talk, guys!"] But He did say those who had none should sell what they had to sell and get one, as darker times were about to descend.

Am I saying that we are in the same situation? That we must go and arm ourselves?

Friend, you must ask God for that. I will say, if you are not armed, are you being wise and keeping others in your care safe? Can you be relied upon if someone began harming others in front of you?

I will also add this: three greater tragedies were prevented in these past few years by those who WERE armed and were able to meet the wicked and perverse with the same force they were using on innocents.

From Ann Coulter's Opinion on The Daily Caller: [ http://dailycaller.com/2012/12/19/we-know-how-to-stop-school-shootings/2/ ] we gather these examples:
"In addition to the Portland mall case, here are a few more examples excluded by the Mother Jones methodology:

– Mayan Palace Theater, San Antonio, Texas, this week: Jesus Manuel Garcia shoots at a movie theater, a police car and bystanders from the nearby China Garden restaurant; as he enters the movie theater, guns blazing, an armed off-duty cop shoots Garcia four times, stopping the attack. Total dead: Zero.

– Winnemucca, Nev., 2008: Ernesto Villagomez opens fire in a crowded restaurant; concealed-carry permit-holder shoots him dead. Total dead: Two. (I’m excluding the shooters’ deaths in these examples.)

– Appalachian School of Law, 2002: Crazed immigrant shoots the dean and a professor, then begins shooting students; as he goes for more ammunition, two armed students point their guns at him, allowing a third to tackle him. Total dead: Three.

– Santee, Calif., 2001: Student begins shooting his classmates — as well as the “trained campus supervisor”; an off-duty cop who happened to be bringing his daughter to school that day points his gun at the shooter, holding him until more police arrive. Total dead: Two.

– Pearl High School, Mississippi, 1997: After shooting several people at his high school, student heads for the junior high school; assistant principal Joel Myrick retrieves a .45 pistol from his car and points it at the gunman’s head, ending the murder spree. Total dead: Two.

– Edinboro, Pa., 1998: A student shoots up a junior high school dance being held at a restaurant; restaurant owner pulls out his shotgun and stops the gunman. Total dead: One.

"By contrast, the shootings in gun-free zones invariably result in far higher casualty figures — Sikh temple, Oak Creek, Wis. (six dead); Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va. (32 dead); Columbine High School, Columbine, Colo. (12 dead); Amish school, Lancaster County, Pa. (five little girls killed); public school, Craighead County, Ark. (five killed, including four little girls)."

[end of Ann Coulter quote]

What happened? Those who were unprepared lost their lives and their futures due to an all-too-common assumption. That simply saying "No" to wicked souls - by passing some law - is effective in preventing this  brand of cowardice. It is not. We have to be ready to respond.

As the T-shirt said in the mall I frequent:

"The Last Thing
on Earth
I Want to Do
s Hurt You - "

" - But It Is  
On the List."

I think our Lord wants us to keep violence as the last thing a Christ-follower would ever do when facing evil. But because of our baser human natures and the damage one person who is maddened can do, it has to remain on the list.

May God not let us be so tested anytime soon.