“Humankind cannot bear very much reality” Frank Redman’s ELIJAH

I don’t know exactly where to begin this review, which angle to take. I’m reeling. My wife and teenager have been commending Frank Redman‘s  ELIJAH: A SUSPENSE NOVEL to me for weeks now, and I finally read it. In short, I can say it was amazing, entertaining, chilling, and a punch in the gut in ways for which I was not prepared.  Apparently, I am not alone in this regard.  My wife remarked to me that with the internet’s instant access to so much information, when one writes about a book, a review is not sufficient.  Rather, an encounter would better describe it, where one meets the author, reads the background and influences, and embraces the story and its characters.  It certainly is true for our experience with Frank Redman and ELIJAH.

Frank Redman is a brand new author, whose own journey in the writing profession sounds like something out of a movie.  It’s his debut book, so I was thinking it might be something like early C.S. Lewis with a few twists in the manner of Dean Koontz, but it’s that and more.

By the time I got to the end of ELIJAH, I’d say it’s better than the early C.S. Lewis. This story has the mystique, chilling suspense, and humor of a Christian “Twin Peaks” or a more tightly written THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.   It takes you into levels of evil that many of us would rather not know at all, but far too many people actually live through. Many writers depict such evil and either glorify it or give it a worldly punishment, but few provide a sense of hope that there is something better, that victims can still find happiness and holiness. Frank Redman is one of those few writers, and ELIJAH  is a book with a message that needs to be read.

St. Augustine says a work of perfect logic may be true but if it’s boring to read, it won’t do any good, and people are more willing to read and believe something that’s eloquent. The same is true of literature and movies: it doesn’t matter how true it is or how artistically “well crafted” it is. If it doesn’t draw people in, nobody will read it. HAMLET may have psychological and moral depth, but it’s basically a story about murder, ghosts and revenge.   ELIJAH has it all.  It immediately drew me in with the supernatural and suspense, has great depth in the character’s dealings with his horrid past, as well as fantastically funny insights with well-crafted characters who open your eyes to the devastating horrors that are hidden in daily life.   The reality of evil is tangible, but it’s tempered with hope and perseverance.


At times, the story of an author can sometimes be as compelling as the book the author wrote. This can be an advantage in attracting readers, as it is what led us to Frank Redman and ELIJAH. My wife and I both became Dean Koontz fans a little over a year ago. She noticed that Koontz has referred a few times to his friend Frank Redman (he dedicated SAINT ODD to him and said Frank’s struggle with brain cancer inspired ASHLEY BELL).

This book is dedicated to Frank Redman, who has more than once reminded me of Odd Thomas

Through a series of events that I’ll leave Frank Redman to tell, he began a mentorship with Dean Koontz.  Koontz had read some of his writing, saw potential, and agreed to mentor Frank. Then, on the same day that I had my descending aorta surgery, Frank was diagnosed with an extremely rare and extremely lethal brain cancer–most people diagnosed with it are only diagnosed with it posthumously, and if they are diagnosed while alive, they die in days or weeks. Frank is still alive nearly 4 years later.  So, with a sense of urgency, I set aside the few dozen “in progress” books I’ve been working on reading for years to read ELIJAH, reading late into the night, and enjoying it more and more with each swipe of the screen.


People don’t want to acknowledge the reality or enormity of Evil in the world.  It’s often hidden, and when it’s revealed, it can be nauseating, horrifying, and seemingly unfathomable.  The desire to stick one’s head in the sand is understandable, but unadvised.  Even less do people want to acknowledge the reality and enormity of God’s grace.  Redman’s ELIJAH addresses both supernatural phenomenon and their implications in our reality, in an engaging, fast-paced, thriller that will leave you reeling and pondering for weeks.

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_Riverdale_ Challenges Obama’s Rhetoric

I haven’t been blogging much lately, both because of doing more micro-blogging on Facebook and saving my “big writing energies” to focus on my many ongoing major projects.

However, one of my raisons d’etre popped up the other day and I had to mention it.  A very pro-life episode of the CW’s new show _Riverdale_ seems to have gone under everyone’s radar (Ep. 8 “The Outsiders”).  Produced by Greg Berlanti of _Gotham_, _Arrow_, _Flash_, etc., it does to Archie Comics what Berlanti’s other shows do to the DC characters: essentially _Twin Peaks_ meets _Dawson’s Creek_ with the characters from “Archie.”  Not knowing much about the characters other than their status as cultural archetypes, and intrigued by the premise, I started watching the show and read up on the characters to know what was going on.

Cut ahead to episode 8.  There is a teen pregnancy central to the storyline.  I was annoyed at first by the story where the girl was sent up to a stereotypical “home for troubled teens” run by nuns who are depicted as a mix of traditional habit-wearing nuns and the kind Dean Koontz described as “social workers who don’t date.”  Compare to the similar plotline on last year’s _X-Files_ revival.  In the first several episodes, the girl’s mother (played by Madchen Amick of _Twin Peaks_ fame, who will also be reprising the role of Shelley Johnson in next month’s “Season 3”) has been shown to be obsessed with social standing and a hypocritical veneer of righteousness while being very cold and strict towards her daughters.  The pregnant daughter has been shown as angry at her parents for sending her away to “that place,” but when her mother softens and offers an olive branch, she asks about her father.

The word “abortion” is never used, to great effect.  The girl tells her mother that before sending her away, her father offered to pay for her to “see a doctor.”  The mother confronts her husband, recalling how he paid for her to have an abortion when they were teenagers and aghast that he would do the same to their daughter (again, the word is never used–perhaps to avoid “controversy” yet effectively showing the horror/pain at even referring to it by name).

The father practically quotes Barack Obama verbatim and says, “I didn’t want her punished for her mistake.”
“Get out. . . . Get out before I do something we’ll both regret.”

“I thank God…”

When we tried brick-and-mortar school, one of the things that frustrated me, especially with Catholic school, was the competitiveness of it all. We teach humility and self-mortification. We teach the parable of the publican and the Pharisee. Then our kids go to school, where they are told to worry about “success,” compete with their peers, get “good grades,” etc. But don’t bully anyone and make them feel small.  Then we take activities that should be “fun” and make *those* about pride and competition. Really, all “success” comes from “privilege,” but we needn’t be negative about it.Back when Rush Limbaugh was starting out, he’d say, “I have talent on loan from God.” It was intended to sound arrogant while making a point: we *all* have talent on loan from God. I was privileged to have a stay at home mom and a schoolteacher father. I was privileged to have Marfan syndrome.

Yet people put on airs and insist they’re better than everyone else because we have “better jobs,” or “better degrees” or enough money (or time) to “eat healthy,” etc. There’s an _Andy Griffith_ where Opie gets in trouble for not contributing to the school’s fundraiser “for the poor” and it turns out he’s saving money to buy a coat for a little girl in his class who can’t afford one.  Another time, he wants a job for spending money and finds out the other kid trying for the same job is helping support his disabled father.  We find it so much easier to be charitable to the “Other.”


We give awards for being healthy or rich or putting ourselves above others, or for the easy philanthropy of voter drives and blood drives and fundraising. We do not recognize the kid with CF who finished the school year at all in spite of weeks in the hospital. We do not recognize the girl who dropped out of school to have a baby instead of having an abortion. We do not recognize the kid who falls asleep in class and doesn’t finish his homework because he’s working FT after school to help support his family. And, of course, if you can’t afford the money for the “award” or the “proper” clothes,


Do we have the false thankfulness of the Pharisee or the true thankfulness of a child?

So, you don’ t like your priest?

Is it because he refused to visit sick people, saying, “Come to me
when you’re healthy?”
Is it because he said that “working weekends” entitled him to play golf Monday through Friday?
Is it because he had a gigantic pornography stash in the rectory?
Is it because he had magazines like _America_ in the rectory?
Is it because he was hanging out in hot tubs with married women?
Is it because he expressed hope for the death of St. John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI so he’d get the pope who would “allow” [insert liberal litany here]?
Is it because he told parishioners to not help the poor and instead to refer them to charities?
Is it because he insults people with disabilities?
Is it because he insults laity who want adoration and other devotions?
Is it because he tells you in confession that a sin isn’t a sin anymore, that it’s OK and/or you need a psychologist?
Is it because he does the exact opposite and practically refuses absolution because you’re such a horrible sinner?
Is it because he treated his parishioners so badly that someone wouldn’t receive last Rites if he was the priest, and then he mocked the person for it from the pulpit, without so much as a “maybe I should treat people better”?

I could go on, but now it’s time to ask:

Or is it because you don’t like him enforcing canon law?
Maybe you just don’t like his personality?
Or he’s so busy being a priest that he doesn’t have the time for socializing that you expect?

“God wants me to forgive THEM?!”

To see people holding on to grudges breaks my heart.

Be angry but do not sin;u do not let the sun set on your anger,*27and do not leave room for the devil.v28The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, doing honest work* with his [own] hands, so that he may have something to share with one in need.w29No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.x30And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.*31All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.y32[And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.zBe angry but do not sin;u do not let the sun set on your anger,*27and do not leave room for the devil.v28The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, doing honest work* with his [own] hands, so that he may have something to share with one in need.w29No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.x30And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.*31All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.y32[And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. 

(Ephesians 4:26-32).

Then there’s this:

21n Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?”22* Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.23o That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants.24* When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.25Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt.26

We must forgive if we want God to forgive us. Our Dear Lord makes this point many tmes:

* At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’27Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.28When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount.* He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’29Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’30But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.31Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair.32His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.33p Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’34Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.*35* q So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

(Matthew 18:21-35).

“That’s a lot of times!” said Junior Asparagus.

In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.*8Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

The Lord’s Prayer.9* “This is how you are to pray:c

Our Father in heaven,*

hallowed be your name,

10your kingdom come,*

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.d

11* e Give us today our daily bread;

12and forgive us our debts,*

as we forgive our debtors;f

13and do not subject us to the final test,*

but deliver us from the evil one.g

14* If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.h15But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

Matthew 6:5-14).

“This is hard teaching,” the disciples said when Jesus first proclaimed the Eucharist (John 6:20), and certainly it applies to our duty to forgive, as well.

“Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Luke 5:23)

I think for many Christians it is easier to “babble like the pagans” then say “rise up and walk,” than it is for them to say “I forgive you” or even “Please forgive me.”

In both the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom and the Divine Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great, we pray for forgiveness *immediately* before receiving Communion–are we not already forgiven?  If we’re going to communion, we should be confident that we’re not conscious of any mortal sins.  When we wake up, when we pray Morning Prayer, when we pray before Mass, and at the beginning of the Liturgy, we pray for forgiveness of our venial sins.  Why does the Liturgy call us to repent one last time before going to Communion?

Well, are we recollected?  I know I rarely am.  I get distracted.  I think about my kids behavior and I start getting angry.  Odds are there’s someone there I’m not getting along with–maybe even a member of the clergy or one of the lay ministers–and I think about that  in a non-prayerful manner.  Maybe I think inappropriate-for-the-situation thoughts about my wife.  Maybe there’s a woman who’s immodestly dressed, and I sin by either thinking lustfully or angrily.

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”–so much so that we can’t even make it through the very Divine Liturgy without sinning! And our Fathers in the faith were so wise that they built it into the Liturgy!

The Lord reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount that thinking sinfully is bad, too.  In the Byzantine version of the Confiteounforgiveness. r, it says that Christ “came to save sinners, of whom I am the greatest.”  I was shown in April 2013 that this is not just pious language.  Each of us is the greatest of sinners because if we’re thinking about it, and not doing it, we’re still entertaining the sin in our hearts *and being slothful about sinning*.

15“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot.* I wish you were either cold or hot.16* So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16).

Those words kept coming to me.

I got to see what a repulsive person I would be if I actually the kinds of things I used to think. I surrendered my will to God, and He freed me from a lot of the temptations that used to plague me.
As I started to regain consciousness, I laid in bed thinking of “seventy times seven” but thinking it was “seventy times seventy,” and forgetting whether that was the number of times I was supposed to forgive or ask forgiveness. I tried individually praying for forgiveness to and from every person I could thinkin of. Then I thought how that seemed impossible, so I just started praying the Jesus Prayer and the Our Father over and over, nonstop, till I “came out of it.” I’m not sinless, by any means, but the experience freed me from a lot of bad habits and chronic temptations, and I was largely freed from judgementalism and unforgiveness. Behaviors that used to make me angry now make me sad.

On “Belief” and “Believing”

“It’s that time of year . . . ”
If you tell me you’re going to go win a marathon, and I say, “I believe in you,” what am I saying?
Am I saying, “Yes, I do believe you’re real.  You go on existing”?
Or am I saying, “I have confidence that you can achieve this difficult feat”?

Why do we do the same with God?

Scripture takes for granted that God exists.  Belief in God is, rather, about confidence that He would do what He says.

This problem is compounded by the “Santa Claus” question.  My kids were smarter than I was.  They could tell from all the disparate accounts–even in Rankin and Bass specials–that something was amiss in the pop culture narrative.  My wife always worried about people who equate “belief in God” with “belief in Santa,” so we told them the truth from the beginning: St. Nicholas is a real person who lived on earth, and performed many acts of charity and many miracles in his earthly and heavenly lives.

He saved three girls who were going to be sold into slavery by tossing three bags of money into their home at night to pay off their father’s debts.  For this, he is the patron saint of pawnbrokers (the pawn broker symbol is the three bags of coins from St. Nicholas).

He is said to have miraculously flown to a sinking ship.  Thus he is associated with flight and is a patron of sailors.

In the middle ages, people would commemorate his feast by anonymously giving to the poor and saying the gifts were from St. Nicholas.

Ironically, Protestants who thought devotion to Saints was “too pagan” changed it to the Christ Child bringing gifts of Christmas (Krist Kinder, or Kris Kringle), or else the very pagan figure of Father Christmas, all of which got merged in the US to the figure of “Santa Claus,” greed and commercialism personified in the guise of generosity.

Contrary to Peter Pan, simply insisting you believe doesn’t make something happen-that’s Gnosticism. Something is either real, or it isn’t.  You can “believe” the Earth is flat, or that the moon is made of green cheese.  Insisting otherwise isn’t going to change the facts of what the earth and the moon really are.

You can “believe” that God doesn’t exist.  You can “believe” God exists.  However, your belief has no bearing on reality.  Either He does, or He doesn’t.  Belief if it applies to questions of objective truth at all, applies to our assent to the truth, not to whether it *is* true.

“What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do: Truth Himself speaks truly, else there’s nothing true.”

It annoys me when we say things like, “For us, the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ” or “We believe that Mary was preserved from all stain of sin from the moment of her conception,” and mean, “For us, Santa Claus is a magical being who lives at the North Pole,” or “We believe that the Easter Bunny brings eggs.”

Yes, it is “for” us, teleologically speaking, but it is not “for us” versus “for you.”  The Eucharist *is* the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.  It’s not “just a symbol.”  It doesn’t *stop* being the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ because you think otherwise.

The Immaculate Conception is a question of historical reality.  I can believe or not believe in the testimony, the evidence and the logical arguments that Mary was preserved from all stain of sin.  It does not cease to be an historical fact if I choose not to “believe it.”  Similarly, my belief doesn’t make it real if it didn’t actually occur.

 

“Doesn’t She Look Tired”: Evita, Doctor Who and the power of Words

On the new Doctor Who, there was a character called “Harriet Jones,” known for her running joke, introducing herself as “Harriet Jones, Minister of Parliament,” etc., which is usually answered with, “Yes, I/we know who you are.”  In the first appearance of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, he thwarts an alien invasion with minimal violence and convinces the would-be invaders to leave, but Harriet, now “Harriet Jones, Prime Minister,” has been working on a secret weapon to defend earth and wants to prove earth can defend itself without the Doctor.  In spite of the treaty he just negotiated, she destroys the fleeing ship with her weapon, after the Doctor threatens her by saying that he’s powerful enough to take her down with six words.  After she defies him and fires the weapon, destroying the fleeing aliens, he leans in the ear of her closest advisor and asks, “Don’t you think she looks tired?”

One of the reasons Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were a successful team was their contrasts: ALW was always a believer to some extent; Rice was an agnostic, and so on. Rice developed an admiration for Eva Peron in the early ’70s and wanted to write a musical about her. ALW resisted for several years, till he saw her story as a modern tragedy of the cost of fame.  While Lloyd-Webber has never been a lyricist, he usually collaborates on the “book” (play) of his shows, and on the basic idea behind a song.

So with Evita, who was known as the “Rainbow of Argentina,” he thought about Judy Garland.  He had attended one of her final concerts when he was younger, and he reflected on how pathetic she was–how she could barely sing, how broken she looked, and how people were literally throwing money on the stage.

Lloyd Webber worked in an “Over the Rainbow” theme to Evita (he’d later acquire the rights to Wizard of Oz and turn it into a sung through musical with his own new songs added to the classic movie tunes.   In “Eva Beware of the City,” she says, “Birds fly out of here, so why, o why the h— can’t I?”   In the song “Rainbow Tour,” Eva’s visit to France end when “She suddenly seemed to lose interest; she looked tired.”

It only takes a few words to destroy someone’s reputation.