Imagination for Resistance: An Incomplete Pseudo-Syllabus

My goodness, friends, it has been a good while since I last posted. And much has happened. Here we are in a new year with a new president and administration. And like everyone else, I have thoughts, opinions, and furious tirades. And we may get to those in the coming months. But today, I have some cool news.

If you check out the side menu to the right of this post, you’ll find… wait for it… a subscription box!!! That’s right folks! You can now subscribe to Noggin Squall and get the latest posts sent right to your inbox! Exciting stuff. Go get yourself subscribed.

As I look towards 2017, I am not filled with much optimism. I do not have any inspiring words about new beginnings, resolutions, or existential sentiments about what the future may hold. No, dear readers, I have some concerns.

The Trump administration has sat in the White House for several weeks now, and in that span, released a list of the federal agencies which the Trump administration is hoping to defund. At the top of the list are the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (the entity that funds PBS and NPR). And as recently as February 3 (the Friday prior to this post going live), the new Chairmen of the Federal Communication Commission Ajit Pai halted investigations concerning net neutrality violations on the part of AT&T and Verizon.

From where I sit, these are signs of an administration that is determined to impede the masses’ access to information, free educational resources, and the means for each individual to think for his or herself. Such announced intentions on the part of an administration that insist we swallow “alternative facts” is disconcerting at best. Or perhaps they are the textbook motions of fascists undermining the average citizen’s ability to see through the bullshit. Call me paranoid. Call me a conspiracy theorist. Call me a crazed, sore loser of a liberal (this last one would make my liberal friends smirk, I’m sure).

In light of this potential disempowering of the 99%, Noggin Squall will largely be concerned with sharing the resources that help us see the world differently. A public composed of individuals capable of seeing the world beyond political polarities is threatening to those who walk the halls of power. To put a finer point on it: Imagination breeds Resistance.

With that in mind, I would like to introduce you all to…

Imagination for Resistance: An Incomplete Pseudo-Syllabus

Over the course of this year, I will be interacting with books, films, and people that (I hope) will prompt us to expand our perceptions, feed our imaginations, and appreciate how folks from the margins have interpreted their context and experience through genre. If you’ve taken a college course, you’ll soon realize that the syllabus I am assembling is flexible, incomplete, and not necessarily a true syllabus. C’est la vie. But let me take a crack at it.

Purpose: To provide fodder for the imagination through alternative perspectives. Let’s learn together to think critically, creatively, and passionately.

Textbooks: These texts are divided into two sections. First are sci-fi/fantasy books written by folks who are not white men. And the second section are different theologies within the Christian Tradition that are largely outside the mainstream theologies of Protestant churches.

Section 1:

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, 2012; science-fiction from a Muslim perspective.

God’s War: Bel Dame Apocrypha by Kameron Hurley, 2011; science-fiction from a feminist perspective.

King Maker by Maurice Broaddus, 2010; fantasy from a black perspective. (Specifically, this is retelling of the Arthurian legend in the context of inner-city Indianapolis).

The Book of the New Sun and Urth of the New Sun, both by Gene Wolfe, 1994/1997; (while Wolfe is another white male fantasy author, he is phenomenal. I’m compelled to include him because his perspective as a convert to Catholicism informs arguably one of the most well-crafted works of sci-fi/fantasy in existence).

Section 2:

The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel by John Howard Yoder; 1985.

A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation by Gustavo Gutierrez; 1971.

Heart of the Cross: A Postcolonial Christology by Wonhee Anne Joh; 2006.

There’ll be some films and books beyond this list. Some posts will be specifically designated as Imagination for Resistance, while others will be Minor Spoilers or Slice of Life, Salt of the Earth. Yet I hope all of my posts will be that imagination fodder.

If any of you have any suggestions, reflections, or comments, I would appreciate hearing them all. I will be reading these books throughout the year, and then some.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Maurice Broaddus’ Buffalo Soldier is being released in April of this year, and it is his take on the steampunk genre. Sound intriguing? I think so too.

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Let’s Be Done with One Night Stands: Christmas and Our Divine Love Affair

Confession: I am a Christmas music junky. Halfway through November, I begin to patiently wait for Black Friday when it becomes socially acceptable to blare the season’s tunes ad nauseam for a month, including the occasional Hanukah jam (shout out to those Maccabees). I really love Christmas music, whether it be cheesy crooner songs about being snowed in with a lovely companion, or the richer, more vibrant hymns, like “O Holy Night.” If there is one thing that causes me to stumble through contemplating the sober Advent season, it is all that cheery Christmas music.

So imagine my disappointment as I climbed into my truck to leave my in-laws’ house at 10:34pm on Christmas Day: I turned on what had been my Christmas radio station for over thirty days, only to hear a late 80’s pop song that wasn’t WHAM!’s “Last Christmas.” That’s right, folks. December 25 wasn’t even officially over and the radio had moved on to its normal programming. How quickly we rush past Christmas…

It is almost as if the Advent season acts as four weeks of pent-up, Yuletide foreplay in which we try to open presents early (but not too early!) because we just can’t wait for Christmas morning! Then comes the climax of Christmas morning and with a flurry of wrapping paper and spilt coffee, it is all over and all we want to do is go to sleep. As my dear Grammy used to say every December 25 around 7:30am, “You wait this long, and it’s all over in 20 minutes.”

Our one night stand with Christmas is sad. For those churches in the Christian tradition that abide by the Western liturgical Church calendar, there are 12 Days of Christmas (go on, sing it to yourself). Christmas morning is only the beginning of a longer celebration. After all, if we’ve spent Advent waiting in contemplation and anticipation, why burn up all of Christmas in a half hour?

Not only does the Christian Tradition celebrate Christmas for twelve days, but Advent marks the beginning to the Church calendar. That’s right–Christian New Year begins with contemplation and longing for four weeks. Yet Christmas marks the end of that anticipation and the new beginning of God’s indwelling in Creation, physically present in the Cosmos in the person of Jesus Christ!

Christmas isn’t a one night stand with prolonged waiting and climactic release. Christmas is the beginning of a year long love affair with the Divine! And that love affair brings with it the stillness of Lent, the pain of Good Friday, the joy of life and reunion at Easter, and the invigoration and passion of Pentecost! The incredible beauty of the Church calendar is that it encompasses the rhythms of our relationship with God. Not only that, the rhythm is a seasonal glimmer and reminder of all the redemptive work that is soaking and permeating all of Creation, from planet Earth to the farthest unknown reaches of the universe and beyond.

Yet if this rhythm is a reminder of God’s redemptive work in history, why do we experience or witness so much pain, suffering, grief, and horror? Is this rhythm detached from the way the world is? Is God good or is the rhythm a lie?

For those of us of the Christian faith, I think the Church calendar from Advent through the Ordinary Time is structured to remind that God is good, and that God is at work. It isn’t there for us to evaluate if God is fulfilling His promise, but to prompt us to return to the movements of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that occur in spite of the trials and tribulations of our lives and times.

Maybe Advent introduces us to these essences over four weeks not because Christmas means the end of anticipation. Maybe Advent walks us through Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love because Advent is a summation of the rhythm that we move to, well beyond the season of Christmas. It is a prologue for the whole of the Western Church calendar!

Christmas is only the start of our journey with Christ. Nurture the Divine love affair.

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Advent(ure) Thoughts: I Wanna Know What Love Is

It’s almost here. In fact, by the time you read this, Christmas Day may already be upon us! (Is this week a double feature? Mayhaps!) And now our Advent(ure) of the last several weeks is near its conclusion. On the fourth Sunday of Advent, if your tradition adheres to the church calendar and practices Advent, you and your community lit the last candle. It was probably purple, and it is sometimes referred to as the Angel candle and it is for Love. From Hope to Peace, Peace to Joy, and now from Joy to Love.

I have stumbled through several ideas and partial drafts for this final edition of Advent(ure) Thoughts. What can I say of the Love of God regarding Christmas? We cling to Hope in desperation. We let Peace settle in our guts. And it seems that Joy gives us cause to celebrate. Then what of Love? Do we speak of the Incarnation? Do we speak of the Divine loving the created so much that God poured God’s self into humanity and mortality to be in community and fellowship with the created, only to be executed by it? Or offered up as an atoning sacrifice? To go there in the last week of Advent seems to me like jumping the gun.

After all, Advent is about the waiting. So what of Love in the waiting?

In Matthew 1:18, Joseph is planning to dismiss Mary in private. As far as Joseph is concerned, the woman he is supposed to marry is suddenly pregnant with someone else’s baby. Yet since a public dismissal may very well lead to Mary’s execution under Jewish law, Joseph decides to protect her from such a fate.

And then he has a dream. He has a dream where God’s plan is laid out before Joseph. The angel in the dream makes it clear that Mary hasn’t been sleeping around.  “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (1:20). And now I only have questions. Did Joseph publicly claim the unborn child as his own, even though he and Mary weren’t yet married? Did he attempt to explain to everyone he knew “It’s not what you think. That’s God’s baby?” Surely Joseph and Mary hadn’t dodged the rumor mill entirely. How much scandal was Joseph being called to immersed in? Whatever the case though, Joseph is in deep and now will only press deeper into his love for Mary.

How much of the Love of Advent is reflective of Joseph’s love for Mary? “Joseph, just wait and see how I will deliver on my promise!” says God. “Your love for Mary pales in comparison to my love for my people!”

What if the Love of Advent is anticipating what Love is in store in Christ through examining, pondering, and cherishing the Love we already experience? I don’t know about you, but I often experience Love far more directly from my wife, parents, sister, or friends than I do from God. But when the Love of God is made known to me in ways that are unconventional and unexpected, sometimes to the extent of seeming supernatural, it’s overwhelming.

So maybe that’s what Love in Advent is about: Anticipating God pouring out Love in a way we can only remotely fathom.

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Advent(ure) Thoughts: On Joy (or)The Simpsons Meet Santa’s Little Helper

Tis the season for Christmas movies and television galore! Whether it be How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Jingle All the Way, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart, many of us have our seasonal staples and classics that we burn through between Black Friday and New Year’s Day. But have you ever noticed that these films and television specials are often more like Advent stories building up to Christmas? They all bear the weight of anticipating that glorious Christmas morning, and the characters inevitably suffer many trials as they move closer and closer. Ever notice Christmas Vacation uses an Advent calendar to mark off the days until Christmas amidst the hijinks and mishaps of the Griswold Family Christmas? Surely Ralphie’s wait and anguish over that Red Rider BB gun in A Christmas Story is riddled with the hope that he will unwrap it, the peace that he can be okay without it, and the joy of finally getting to nearly shooting his eye out in the back yard. Of course, the Love is the family gathering around a peking duck for Christmas dinner while being serenaded with some heavily accented carols. But let’s not rush to Love yet. This is a time for Joy. Go light your Shepherd candle for Joy. It’s probably the pink one.

On December 17, 1989, the world was introduced to one of it’s new favorite television families in an episode call “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” The inaugural episode of The Simpsons tells the tale of a family who, like many, are financially cramped during the holiday season. Marge has scrimped and saved for gifts, while Homer anxiously awaits his Christmas bonus. However, the bonus never comes thanks to his boss Mr. Burns, and Marge must use all of her savings to have an unfinished tattoo removed from her 10 year old son, Bart. Lacking the heart to tell Marge that he will not receive his bonus, Homer becomes a mall Santa to earn some extra cash, only to make it out with $13 (after taxes, social security, costume costs, and Santa lessons). Homer’s last thread of hope of giving his family a Merry Christmas leads him and Bart to the race track where they bet it all on the promising grey hound, Santa’s Little Helper. The race is highly contested by all racers, except Santa’s Little Helper who comes in an embarrassing dead last. Homer and Bart are left with nothing. And yet they end up taking Santa’s Little Helper home. And inadvertently, they save Christmas! Marge describes it as the greatest gift because the dog is “something that can share our love, and frighten prowlers.” It is a touching scene. And it has something to teach us about the Joy of Advent.

As does Mary the Mother of Jesus. The Magnificat of Mary can be found in Luke 1:46-55. The mother of Jesus sings this wonderful song that proclaims the wonders of who God is and what God is doing in this miracle.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;

for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant…

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,

and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.”


Mary’s whole song overflows with the Joy of the unexpectedness of God’s ways. Because God being born as a baby, into poverty, to a single teenage mom is exactly that: unexpected. The God of the Most High becomes human through the lowly.

And it is this inversion of our expectations that should cause us great Joy. The Joy of Advent follows the Peace that comes from Hope, because the Joy should take us off guard. In Peace, we find ourselves susceptible to the unexpected. In the Peace of God’s promise, we are overcome with Joy when we realize that this Hope is coming from what the world desires to cast aside. Even Joseph desired to divorce Mary, albeit in secret, and needed the assurance of God to see the Joy in what was happening inside the woman he loved.

The Joy of Advent lies in that God is providing for the whole of the cosmos out of the lowliest of circumstances, much like the Joy the financially-broke Simpsons find in a race dog that can’t finish a race. If you’re a fan of the series, you know that Santa’s Little Helper is there to stay, and that the joy he brings to Bart, Lisa, and rest of the family is persistent. The Joy of Advent is persistent. And out of that Joy, we soon find Love. But that is for next week.

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Advent(ure) Thoughts/Minor Spoilers: The Peace of Dr. Strange

I know I am several weeks behind the film critics’ reviews on this one, but this past week I finally saw the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe… Dr. Strange. And it was good; easily one of my favorite films in the MCU, besides Guardians of the Galaxy, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Yes, this post running double duty as… Advent(ure) Thoughts/ Minor Spoilers!

Dr. Stephen Strange is one of the world’s most talented neurosurgeons, and he knows it. The esteemed doctor lives the life of a New York City socialite, while having the privilege to pick and choose which patients to operate on. The result is that Dr. Strange has a perfect record because he never takes on patients that he believes he can’t successfully stitch up. Most importantly, the man cherishes his hands. His hands are what have made him the legendary surgeon we are introduced to in the film. But, when a car accident, brought about by his own hubris, results in severe, irreversible nerve damage to his hands, the reality sets in that he will never be able to perform surgery again. Strange exhausts every experimental treatment he can find. When he is unable to requisition the funds for these treatments, Strange embarks on a mystical journey to Nepal in search of an ancient miracle cure. Instead, he finds himself caught on a journey into deep mysticism, multiple realities, and immersed a war that threatens an entire multi-verse. Cool, trippy stuff.

Strange’s hands are the tools of his profession, the vessel of his prestige, and the fount of his pride. Once they are damaged, his whole life is thrown into uncertainty and chaos. The Doctor’s journey is to find peace. And at the outset, it seems the only thing that will bring him peace is reestablishing his identity as a supreme surgeon. But under the tutelage of Tilda Swinton’s superbly acted, Ancient One, Strange finds peace as he grows into the Sorcerer Supreme.

The second Sunday of Advent (by the time this is posted, it will have been two Sundays ago) is commemorated with the lighting of the Bethlehem Candle, or the candle of Peace. For those of you keeping track at home, we are in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary, and the Old Testament passage for Second Advent is Isaiah 1:1-10. If you’ve ever seen those cheesy water-colors in the church office of lions and lambs having a cuddle in the grass, that image is derived from Isaiah 1. Personally, my favorite bit is about a toddler playing with over the den of an asp or cobra. It’s loaded with connotations of the serpent in Genesis 3. Not only that, in antiquity, the “asp” was associated with the power and royalty of Egypt, from whom God liberated the Israelites. A Hebrew baby will play carefree in presence of those who oppressed and enslaved his or her ancestors. Crazy. And the crazy continues as the passage closes… “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.”

My last Adent(ure) Thought elaborated on why Hope was the first essence we take with us on the Advent journey, moving towards Christmas and the birth of Jesus. So why is Peace the next essence on the journey? I think it is because it is only through internalizing the Hope of Christ that we find Peace. If Hope is what spurns us forward with each weary step, then it is Peace that allows us to take those steps with composure and a sense of serenity. Isaiah’s image of peace should feed Hope, as it was intended to feed the Hope of God’s people in the face of impending exile. As Hope is fed, perhaps peace grows out of it. Not the cosmic Peace of reconciliation between oppressed and oppressor as witnessed in Isaiah, necessarily, but maybe it’s the inner peace of recognizing ourselves reconciled to God in and through Christ.
Dr. Stephen Strange only really starts to find the peace to his chaos when he becomes oriented outside of himself. While training and studying under the Ancient One, Strange’s world expands beyond his profession and prestige, beyond his hands. It becomes oriented to the needs and hurts of the cosmos. Spoiler alert: his hands are never restored to what they were. Yet he is more at peace than he was at the film’s start.

Perhaps this is what Paul means in his letter to the Philippians when he encourages them with “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7).

Take Hope. Go in Peace.

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Advent(ure) Thoughts: “It’s Dangerous to Go Alone! Take This.”

Ah! Advent! No longer Thanksgiving, but not yet Christmas. And the “not yet Christmas” part is important because Advent is about the anticipation of Christmas. It is about the waiting and anticipating of the birth of God enfleshed in Christ. It is looking forward to that point in the church calendar when the Creator burst into Creation as never before and in a way no one could predict. But let’s not jump ahead to stables and shepherds and angels. The anticipation comes with reflection and preparation. Over the next four weeks, I’d like to share some of my own reflections on this season in a series I like to call Advent(ure) Thoughts.

While some of us sit in contemplative anticipation of the birth of Christ, many youngsters (and some not-so-youngsters) anticipate something a little different this time of year: presents. And I have little doubt that video games are at the top of many of those Christmas lists (Confession: it’s on mine).

I have a love/hate relationship with video games. At best, they’ve been an elaborate, immersive medium through which I’ve experienced some wonderfully crafted narratives. At not-so-best, I’ve abused them as an escape from the responsibilities and pressures of reality. I’m sure I am not alone in this nerd-related tension.

I still remember the first video game I ever played. It wasn’t Pac-Man, or Duck Hunt. No, friends, the first time I fit my palms around the sharp corners of an NES controller, I the_legend_of_zelda_-_golden_catridgeventured into the land Hyrule with the lustrous, gold cartridge of The Legend of Zelda (circa 1986!). The one that started it all! It remains one of my favorite games of all time.

Here’s opening to the game.

If you didn’t pick up on it, that old man just gave the hero, Link, a wooden sword. A wooden sword!? How reassuring is that? “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.” Not only are you, the player, still alone but you have a wooden to sword to fend off “danger.” Fabulous…

I once had a friend explain Advent to me this way: “Advent is to Christmas as Lent is to Easter.”  It is about longing to see what God will do. The Advent wreath, given to us from the Lutheran tradition, marks each Sunday until Christmas with a candle that signifies a different element of the Advent journey (dare I say… the Advent-ure?). This past Sunday marks the lighting of the Prophet Candle, or the Candle of Hope.

The prophets in the Old Testament often wrote of hope. Not only that, they wrote of hope in the bleakest of circumstances. Most scholars agree that the Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem in 586BCE. A whole people group became displaced and dispersed into a strange land that is not their own. Israel no longer resided in the Promised Land. The people of God were no longer home. Yet, the prophets write about Hope. Isaiah is the prophet most often quoted this time of year.

“and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.”
-Isaiah 2:4 (ESV)

Naive words for a man who has witnessed, and will continue to witness, the conquest of his people and the destruction of his home. How can Isaiah speak of the absence of war when war is consuming the prophet’s world?

I think it is because true hope, the hope we cling to with fathomless desperation, is often naive. And that is why hope can get you laughed at, or scoffed at.

But Hope is the first candle for a reason. Hope moves us forward. It keeps us lifting our heads off of the pavement and brushing the dirt from our knees.

Henri Nouwen, in The Wounded Healer, writes “Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory” (77).

When we look towards Christmas and the birth of Christ because, first and foremost, there is the Hope of the world. The Hope for change. The Hope for the whole of the Cosmos to be as it was intended to be.

The funny thing about that wooden sword in The Legend of Zelda is that it’s your primary weapon for most of the game. Fighting monsters in a strange land with a wooden sword is ridiculous. Yet, when that is all you have, it becomes everything. It becomes the most important tool in your pack to persevere on your adventure. It becomes hope. You say to yourself, “If I have this, maybe I can still make it.”

It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.

Take Hope.

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Things that Must be Said

This week, many of us will sit down with our families and consume copious amounts of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pie. With the 2016 presidential election only 3 weeks behind us, there is a great likelihood that the Thanksgiving family gathering will be tense at best or, at worst, ridden with hateful words and divisive political talk. Maybe I should edit my previous post to be “On Thanksgiving Day, Hug a Family Member Who Voted Differently from You” and post that.

No. There are things that must be said.  If this post seems disjointed and disconnected, it is because each of these things deserve their own post.  Still, these things must be said.

First and foremost, it is contrary to the Reign and work of God for ANYONE to live in fear. Christians, regardless of political affiliation or whose box they checked on a ballot, are mandated to advocate for those who experience fear in the face of oppression. This is the case whether they be illegal immigrants, people of color, low-income anglos, LGTBQ individuals, adherents of a religion different than yours, or women. When we ignore the fear of our neighbor, we ignore Christ. According to the gospel writer of Matthew, our Lord said “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45).

It must be said.

Rest assured, Church, the prospect of a US president being advised by Steve Bannon should fill us with unease. Gatherings held by the likes of the National Policy Institute with speeches like that of Richard Spender should set righteous anger in the heart of God’s Church. And when we look to our Muslim or Jewish neighbor and see their fear, we need to feel that. We need to empathize with that. We need to inhabit that fear with them, and then fight for hope. We should be advocating for the protection of our brothers and sisters of color. We should defend the dignity of advocate-notesthe LGBTQ community. We should stand firm in the face of rubber bullets and tear gas with those who protesting non-violently against the Dakota Access Pipe Line. When the cities are no longer sanctuary cities, our churches must be sanctuary churches. We should fight for the safety and equality of women. Pastors, how will the young women in your pews ever feel empowered to press into their gifts for pastoral leadership if you do not lift them up into leadership roles, including preaching and teaching?

It must be said.

Here I am drawing the line: If you believe that you have more in common with a non-Christian because of the color of their skin or the language they speak than with the dark-skinned brother or sister in Christ facing deportation, you have failed to grasp what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

It must be said.

If you are as puzzled, and at moments infuriated, as I am by the record turn-out of white evangelicals who voted for a man who is one court case shy of being a registered sex-offender, then lay aside your political ideology. Lay aside your political ideology and take up the Cross and the Incarnation. We are commissioned to be live in community and suffer along side all those who we call neighbor.

It must be said.

Make no mistake.

The desires and agenda of the Alt-Right is Anti-Christ: It is a movement whose rhetoric reflect that it is in opposition to the work of the God who, in Jesus Christ, entered into God’s own Creation, to be executed at the hands of a “superior” people, only to be resurrected on the third day.


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On November 9, Hug Somebody

Why, hello November. When did you show up? October feels like a blur. I’ve been busy. Work, school, and what not. My posts haven’t been as timely as I would have liked, but such is life. As many of you are aware, we are several days away from the infamous election day. Soon the mantras, chants, and verbal challenges of the season will come to an end. “Trump for President!” “Clinton for President!” “Never Trump!” “Never Clinton!” “Break the system with Johnson or Stein!” “A third party vote is a waste!” “Wait, who’s Evan McMullin?!”

So much to keep track of. So many divisive issues. So many scandals. A media mish-mash of he-said-she-said political debate and slander. Tis the season. I’m not here today to add my two cents to the political discussion. I’ll vote on Tuesday. I won’t share with you for who. Someone will be elected president. And life will continue on with challenges, old and new.

But I want to offer one very cheesy idea for November 9, 2016. Hug someone who did not vote as you did. Seriously. Once you’ve watched the poll results get broadcasted into the darkness of Tuesday night, have a good cheer, sigh, cry or what have you. Get some warm milk, hot tea, glass of wine or whatever suits your mood. Then go to bed. Do your best to get a good night’s rest. And on Wednesday November 9, hug someone who did not vote for the same candidate as you did. Do not apologize for the loss of his or her candidate (because you’re not sorry. Don’t be a disingenuous ass). Do not hug the person and whisper “You’ve doomed us all.” Just hug the person. Start with the hug. If you feel gutsy, maybe offer to buy him or her coffee, then ask how the family is, or how is working treating him or her. Maybe ask about their hopes and dreams. And leave the election out of it. Not forever. The political discussions have their place.

But on November 9, 2016, remember the humanity of those who did not vote as you did. That person is still bears the imago dei, the image of God. They are still people cherished by the Creator. They are not monsters, regardless of who they voted for.

Aren’t we all hurting? Aren’t we all concerned with the state of of world? Don’t we all vote according to our conscience? Let us remember that even if you find the voting decision of another person heinous and beyond logic, that person may think the same of you.

You have needs that you thought this candidate would meet in some fashion, whether directly or indirectly. And so does your neighbor. Because that “short-sighted fool who voted for [candidate]” is your neighbor. That person is my neighbor. What are your neighbor’s needs? How can you help? How can I help? But we need to bridge the divide. We need to heal the animosity and the hurt feelings. We need to share our fears. Because our fear is not “If Trump is elected,” or “If Clinton is elected.” Our fears our for family and friends. They are for our livelihood and provision. They are for the safety and security of ourselves and those we care for. What if we feared for the wellbeing of those who disagree with us? What if we had mercy?

Jesus was asked by an expert of the Law “Who is my neighbor?” There’s a great story there in Luke 10:25-37. Maybe read that with breakfast on Wednesday, November 9, 2016.

Then go hug someone who voted differently than you.

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God Damned Tragedies: A Conclusion

My wife edits most of my blogs posts. And she’s really good at it. Sometimes there’s tension over what qualifies as proper sentence structure or what is permissible as poetic license and voice. But she is talented and helps my writing be more concise. Any errors you find are probably because I didn’t take her advice.
Once in a while, she’ll ask me about something I’ve written several days after she read it. And those are the days when I feel like I’ve written something intriguing enough because it is still on her mind. I cherish that.
A couple days after she edited my previous post, she asked me how the Cthulhu Mythos ends. “It doesn’t,” I said. “What do you mean it doesn’t end?” “Well, it’s perpetually the present. The mythos is about living in the shadow of impending doom and horror. There’s no end. Just living in fear.” “Well that’s awful.” “Yep.”
My two posts on horror were tricky to write. Some of my readers may have had concerns as I encouraged Christian writers to engage with a genre that can produce some very disturbing material, and it can be overly preoccupied with the power of evil. I am aware, and that is why this series has grown from four parts into six. “Why Christians Should Write Genre Fiction” has turned out to be meatier subject than even I anticipated. If Christians are to write genre fiction, including genres that I haven’t endorsed in this series, what should set their work apart from the rest of the genre they inhabit?
The majority of Christians throughout history have affirmed the coming of an eschaton. From the greek adjective ἔσχᾰτος, meaning last, eschaton refers to the “last day,” or the culmination of the divine plan. As with any doctrine in the Christian tradition, theologians and scholars have asserted different eschatologies (theologies concerning the end times). Despite the differences of opinion, the gist of Christian eschatology is that the course of history is inevitably moving toward’s God’s final purpose, God’s τέλος. Through some mystery, all of the cosmos is recreated and emerges as all that God has desired for it all along. This is epitomized in Revelation 21 where the author writes that “the home of God is among mortals… Death will be no more. Mourning and crying will be no more.” God’s purpose, the eschatological hope of the Jesus story, is that it ends with the happiest of endings.
Our experience on planet Earth does not lend itself to believing in happy endings. When we turn on the news, many stories do not appear to have happy endings. Our world seems to be hurtling at a break-neck pace towards catastrophic tragedy, with pervasive tragedies along the way.
The playwright William Shakespeare was predominantly known for his comedies and for his tragedies. In their classical origins, tragedies ended with death while comedies ended with weddings. What a distinction! Within the realm of classical theater, the wedding is what stands in direct opposition to death. Jesus used wedding imagery frequently in the Gospels to illustrate the eschaton (check out Matthew 22). To say that the course of history in the Christian Tradition ends as a comedy is to say it ends in a giant wedding celebration. But that is not how we experience our world. We experience tragedy. We experience death in it’s emotional, spiritual, and physical manifestations. Yet, the resurrection of Christ is our glimpse of hope. It is the assurance that the great terror of mysterious death is defeated. The resurrection of Christ reminds us that the eschatological hope is that history ends as a comedy.
So how should Christian authors write? Should we write only happy endings that are void of loss or death? Should we write with a naïvety about our human experience? Not at all. If anything, I worry too many Christians do not take seriously the experience of tragedy in the world. With few exceptions (looking at you, Tolkien), we aren’t inclined to tell stories where evil appears insurmountable. But isn’t that how we experience various seasons of life? Aren’t there periods when the persistence of evil has us believing that history will end in tragedy?
Let’s write that. Write about the bleakest moments of human existence. And then pencil in at least a glimmer of hope. The issue that Christians should take with horror stories (and any story for that matter) isn’t that terror is experienced amidst the story, but that evil is often victorious, or its defeat is tenuous. When we write genre fiction, we should write an ending that is hopeful. Maybe it’s a happy ending that was costly, or maybe there is an ambiguity that shimmers faintly with hope.
In Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, God damned tragedies. God insisted that death and pain would not have the final word. If the eschatological hope that we as Christians cling to, sometimes desperately and foolishly, is that God is writing a comedy, then may we write all genres as comedies. But write them honestly. Write them with all the pain, all the tension, and all the tears, and all the laughter and joy of reality.

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The Life and Times of Jacob Travlers: Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Begins with a Single Step

“You don’t have to leave tonight,” said Esau. Jacob shifted the straps of his pack on his shoulders and adjusted his scarf as a chill wind rose. Margaret hustled and bustled about the kitchen, lighting candles whose glow melded into the orange of the setting sun. She was gathering biscuits, hard cheese, and a skin of wine.
Jacob reached for the door. “No. If I’m going to make this boat, I need to find a ride out of town as daybreak.”
“Right,” said Esau. “I’m, I’m sorry it worked out this way.” Jacob noticed that Margaret had stopped her bustling. He thought he heard a sniffle. Maybe she had a cold.
“I’m not sure if I’m sorry yet,” returned Jacob. “Who know’s what traveling with Uncle will be like.” Esau only nodded. Margaret had joined them at the door, her hands clenched around a sack and wine skin.
“Thank you for letting me stay as long as you did,” said Jacob. “I know this house has felt rather cramped.” He opened the door into the dusky evening.
She lifted her eyes Jacob’s for the first time since that morning. They were were pink and puffy and damp. She sniffled again. “I promise I will miss you, Jacob. Like a brother.” Her arms extended with a jerk, offering him the sack and wine skin.
He embraced his brother and sister-in-law, then turned to the path into town. “I love you both.” And Jacob Travlers started to walk.
He walked as the sun dipped into the east at his back. The cold night air morphed damp patches of mud and slush into ice. Jacob walked with care. He slipped once or twice, but caught himself on gracious branches, which bowed before him under the weight of snow.
Norshire was dark when he entered the village. Everyone was asleep. The night before had been bathed in blizzard and the townspeople must have spent their whole day clearing the streets and salvaging caved-in sheds. The darkened windows of the Drunken Dragon were a far cry from the hustle and bustle behind warm panes, persevering through the storm the previous night. Jacob knocked on the tavern door.  After a moment he knocked again. He raised his fist to knock a third time when he heard Everette Thor’s thick stomping feet thundering across the floor. The locks of the door clicked and Thor threw the door open.
“We are closed! You ingrates emptied every barrel of ale and every sack of flour, you bastards!” Thor then realized who was standing before him and raised an eyebrow.
“Hello!” chimed Jacob.
“Master Travlers. Why are you here?” His eyes widened. “She kicked you out! That icy witch threw you out!”
Jacob shrugged. “If you give me a bed, I’ll tell you the story.” At that, Thor stepped aside and swept a welcoming hand to the interior.
“Well, I have no food or beer. But I have beds. Come, Master Travlers. Let us fellowship as paupers.”
Jacob relayed the events of the day. Thor read Malachi’s letter, accompanied by a dim harmony of hums and grunts and exhales. He could not spare a horse to Jacob for a prompt morning gallop to Nor’Haven, but given Jacob’s lack of experience on horseback it wouldn’t have been worth the trouble. Jacob was in luck, said Thor, because the fellow who had rode into town, to deliver mail throughout the village, was the Dragon’s only other guest. He had gone to bed before sundown to rest well before his journey south. “For a copper piece or two, I’ll bet he’ll take you. His cart and horse are in the village stable. He’ll be leaving town at dawn so you best be awake by then.” Jacob nodded then felt exhaustion fog his mind. Jacob had not noticed how tired he was while amidst all the letters and packing and goodbyes of the day. But, having spent the previous night snowed in at the Dragon listening to stories, Jacob hadn’t slept since the previous morning. “I’ll take that bed now, Master Thor.”
The following morning, Jacob awoke to the knocking on the bedroom door. “Best be moving, Master Travlers! Your carriage should be leaving soon.” Jacob rubbed sleep from his eyes, gathered his things, and marched through the still chill of early morning to the village stables. A man with graying hair and a thin face under a fury cap was tightening the reins of his horse and double checking the cart. He agreed to take Jacob to Nor’Haven and if all went well, Jacob would be there before the departure of the Queen’s Splendor. Jacob loaded his pack into the cart and took a seat next to the fur-capped man. And the cart left Norshire. And Jacob left home.

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