Category Archives: Culture Wars

“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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“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.

TF movie voice actors mashup

I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time.  I often imagine the characters being dubbed by lines from their other famous roles, or else see the Transformers talking when I hear them in other shows or movies, between  live action stars (e.g., Robert Stack of Unsolved Mysteries, Lionel Stander of Hart to Hart, Judd Nelson of Breakfast Club, Orson Wells of Citizen Kane, Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek) or the prolific and easily recognized voice actors like Frank Welker (always Fred on Scooby-Doo  and Scooby himself since the death of Don Messick), Peter Cullen (Eeyore and many other Disney roles, not to mention TF’s direct competitors Gobots and Voltron), Scatman Crothers (Hong Kong Phooey), Casey Kasem (Shaggy), Susan Blu (the caller on Magic School Bus and many other roles) etc.  If I had the time to waste, I’d redub the movie, but here instead are some clips with quotes or paraphrases as captions).

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[On seeing Unicron] Cliffjumper: “Zoinks!” Jazz: “Let me check my _Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu!_”

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“Thanks for rememberin’ me!”

 

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“I have an idea, gang.  Let’s split up and look for clues!”

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“Scooby Dooby Dooo!”

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“COBRAAA!”

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“Perhaps *you* can help stop a Decepticon!”

 

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“Hello? Is this the Magic School Bus?  I  don’t think this episode is very accurate.”

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“From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe, comes a legend: the legend of Voltron, Defender of the Universe!”

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“Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”

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“I have been, and always shall be, your enemy!  Live long and prosper, not!”


 

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Kup: “This is my Boss, Rodimus Prime: Self-Made Autobot Leader.  He’s quite a guy!”

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“Rosebud?”

 

On Reading “Bad Books”

A question: you have a series of hugely popular books and movies. Some people say they’re demonic. Others say they’re deeply Christian. Some in the first group have actually read them and claim the seemingly Christian symbolism is meant to steer people away from Christ rather than lead them to Him.
While this is specifically inspired by the perpetual Harry Potter controversy, reignited by recent sequels and locally by a parish study, it should be noted that it could apply to lots of contemporary literature, not to mention anything that was on the Index, from Machiavelli to the King James translation to Marx to Victor Hugo.
Now, among readers, you have several sets of people:
1) Those who are not well formed and have no interest in the books or the genre, no reason to read them, and very little need to discuss them. Fine. If that’s the case, go on your merry way and live and let live.
2) Those who are well formed, *do* have interest in the books or genre, *do* encounter lots of people who have interest in them, and can read and analyze and discuss them intelligently. (Noting that, even when the Index was in force, people in this group were permitted to read books on the Index, and noting that many books that were on the Index are considered acceptable today)
3) Those who are students or children of people in Group 2. (Noting that, even when the Index was in force, people in this group under guidance of Group 2 could read the books on the Index).
4) Those who are poorly formed and otherwise weak in the area the books deal with, whom any reasonable Catholic would say probably shouldn’t read the books.
5) Those who are not Catholic or even Christian.
6) Those who are convinced the books are evil and want to condemn them.
If someone in Group 6 encounters someone in Group 2, is there really any point in crying, “You shouldn’t read this book!  It’s evil!” Or condemning Group 2 for trying to educate Groups 3, 4 and 5?
If the person in Group 6 confronts the person in Group 5 with his or her concerns, it’s like when a Baptist randomly shows up at your door and tells you you’re going to Hell.  Why would an atheist care?  So why would someone who is already a non Christian care if a book is going to steer him away from Christ?

Didn’t St. Francis de Sales say something about honey and vinegar?

*However*, let’s say that the person in Group 2 encounters someone in Group d5, and says, “Hey!  Those books you love!  I like them too!  Let’s talk about them!”  Then the person in Group 3 helps the person in Group 5 see how the books point to Christ.  This is how J.R. R. Tolkien influenced the conversion of C. S. Lewis.  Lewis had rejected the notion that “everyone else in the world is a sinner going to Hell for not believing in the true God.”  Tolkien taught him how all religions, not just Judaism, point to Christianity.  He showed Lewis how Christ was the historical fulfillment of all those pagan myths Lewis loved, which was a more satisfying explanation than “Those myths are all lies of demons.”

So the person in Group 2 thinks that the books have merit for fellow Christians if read with guidance.  The person in Group 6 thinks they have no merit, but if Group 6 could get a lot more leverage in dealing with Groups 3 and 5 if he at least adopts the approach of Group 2.

“Joy of Love”–What’s missing

The media are abuzz with Pope Francis’s long-anticipated Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation _Amoris Laetitia_, and from what I’ve seen on Facebook, the following Bingo game could be quickly won:

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I’ve read the first three chapters, and I’ve read that, like every other document from Pope Francis, the several assurances of orthodoxy in the first few chapters are followed up by a buried lied of “freedom of conscience” somewhere in the middle.

Let’s set aside that “freedom of conscience” and “Let’s adopt a new tone instead of authoritarianism” has been said over and over since  Vatican II.  Let’s set aside that some of the same people who, almost 20 years ago, were having conniptions over a very similar, but more more succinct, document from Rembert Weakland are now saying, “Let’s celebrate!  The Pope didn’t change doctrine!”

As usual, I sympathize, though don’t entirely agree with, the Pope’s critics from the “Right.”  My reaction thus far is really disappointment.  The document is the epitome of lukewarm.  It’s so insipid and boring I was outraged by the waste of time.  It really adds nothing to what previous documents have already said on any of the subjects at play.

When it comes to marriage and family issues, there are four groups of people:

1) Those who want a clear-cut, black and white moral code.

2) Those who “freedom of conscience” *from* the Church.

3) Those who simply don’t care.

4) Those who want to follow the Church but are struggling with difficult situations.

Group #2 are the only ones who have any cause for celebration in this document, and they are celebrating.  However, from what I’ve read directly or seen quoted, it *really* doesn’t say anything that isn’t somewhere in the post-Vatican II magisterium already.

Ostensibly, the whole point of the Synod was to address group 4, but so far it seems to be more of the same:

Yes, extreme circumstances may mitigate culpability.  However, this seems addressed in a way that’s more about alleviating the responsibility of pastors than providing mercy to those who struggle.  Emphasizing lack of culpability works out to the same as emphasizing sin in a punitive manner: both escape the Biblical responsibility of the clergy to help those who are in need.

This has always been my problem with group 2, the so-called “liberals” or “progressives”: too often, I’ve seen Acts of the Apostles cited by liberals to support socialism or communism rather than Christian community.

The Pope says we should “admire” and “be supportive” of families with disabled parents or children, single mothers, and so forth.  But “being supportive” is very different from “supporting”.  He mentions civic responsibility, but not clerical responsibility.

Instead, it’s the cop-out of “personal conscience.”  So much easier to say, “You’re not really responsible for the sins you commit out of  desperation” than to say, “We’re going to try to provide you with practical help so you don’t have to be put in a situation of desperation.”

 

Judge a Movie on Its Own Terms.

Hollywood makes polemical movies all the time.  When they’re liberal, everyone says, “Great movie.”  When they’re Christian and/or politically conservative, suddenly they’re “preachy.”  When a “Christian” movie has bad theology (_Noah_), Christian critics (rightly) complain. When a “Christian” movie has theology, it’s “Bible thumping” or “boring” or “unrealistic.”  When a movie has language, sex & violence, Christian critics complain.  When it has none of those, it’s too unrealistic or insipid.  . . .

Meanwhile, Hollywood has taken its agenda full-steam the past 8 years and has gone beyond brainwashing to using its economic might to strongarm elected officials.

Seeing on the horizon what the late Justice Antonin Scalia predicted last summer, several states have recently drafted legislation trying to back up the First Amendment protection of religion.  Bills that say, for example, that ministers cannot be forced to participate in weddings that go against their faith, or that religious organizations cannot be forced to hire people who do not practice their faith, have been cast by the media as “anti-LGBT hate laws,” and the consistent, age old principle that marriage is between a man and a woman for the sake of procreation is now being cast as equivalent to some Christians’ previous justifications of opposing miscegenation and supporting slavery.

So, Disney headlined a list of major corporations that threatened to boycott the entire state of Georgia if Gov. Nathan Deal signed its religious freedom bill.  Whatever happened to “big business” being supposedly “conservative”?  I know people who still cling to the myth that “Republicans are the party of the Rich,” even while Hollywood elites are using their money to pressure elected officials and manipulate the Democratic Primary itself (with those “superdelegates”).

So, speaking of “super” people, while Disney made headlines, Warner was another company behind the threatened boycott.  Last month, I bought a restaurant.com deal that came with 2 emovie tickets that expired March 31.  I saved them for Easter break.  I hoped the opportunity would come up for a “date,” or else I’d planned to see _Batman v. Superman_ and let my wife see whatever she wanted, as we did when the kids were really little.  Instead, I decided I didn’t want to see _Dawn of Justice_ in the theatre because I’d rather watch it when I can fast forward or multitask through the violence.  I didn’t want to see _Zootopia_ because I don’t want to give Disney any money, and as with most “kids” movie trailers, I was uncomfortable with some of the jokes they highlweighted.

 

So that left _God’s Not Dead 2″ and “Miracles from Heaven.”  Since I’d put it off so long, we had to go together and bring the kids.  We also had some fantastic news on a few fronts this week, and a bit of family celebration was in order.

Since we saw the first one, and all the kids enjoyed it and paid attention (which is unusual for them with live action movies that aren’t in the superhero, sci-fi or musical genres), we figured #GodsNotDead2 was “safe.”  We’re glad we went, and glad we spent the money on the extra tickets, instead of spending it on Disney.

1) ok, it’s not “high cinema.”  It doesn’t pretend to be.  It has its place.
2) As Eliot said, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”  As a character in _Twin Peaks_ says, voicing David Lynch’s Eliotic formalism, “This is a formica table.” Much of what makes the pilot and first season of _Twin Peaks_ “quirky” and “strange” is that it’s not.  I was struck, rewatching the series a few years ago, by a scene where Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman are in the hospital to interview a suspect, and the sheriff tries to adjust a rolling desk chair to his height, and he struggles with it.  It’s funny to watch.  It disturbs our sense of narrative structure, so we call it weird, but it’s actually *real*.  It’s what really happens to real people.  People in movies toss ropes across ravines and catch them perfectly.  I toss a dog leash across the room to one of my kids, and it falls in the middle between us.  If the latter happens in a movie, though, we call it “unrealistic,” and depending upon what amounts to a biased perspective, that may or may not be “artistic.”

So with both _God’s Not Dead_ movies and similar Christian films.  They might be unrealistic from a fiction-writer’s or a cynic’s perspective.  They might not do the best job of depicting their characters, but they do reflect the real experiences of real people.  I read an article yesterday that looked back on the first movie and said it’s unrealistic for a freshman to take on a college professor. *I* did.  This movie is about a teacher.  I know several educators, myself included, who have had incidents in their careers like what happens in the movie.

So view them as quasi-documentaries of us weirdos who do think our faith should be more than just 1 hour on Sundays and should impact other parts of our lives.

3) Maybe they will attract or convince non-Christians to convert.  Maybe they’ll provide fodder for cynical non-Christians to mock or deride Christianity (but so wouldec, for example, an honset adaptation of _Narnia_).

But that’s not the audience.

Sometimes the choir *does* need to be preached to.  When we face challenges in the workplace or the classroom, we need to be prepared to give an account of what we believe in.

Action Movies tell us that one guy can take down a group of terrorists, aliens or supervillains.  Romantic movies tell us that it’s simple for the guy to get the girl or vice versa.  Dinosaurs, zombies, vampires, or people who get superpowers instead of cancer from radiation run amok, and that’s fine.  But when a  movie tells us that a Christian can stand up and witness his or her faith in public and win the challenge, suddenly that’s escapist and unrealistic.

I appreciate the critique.  I appreciate the call for movies that do what the works of O’Connor, Tolkien, etc., do.  But we also need the cinematic equivalents of C. S. Lewis and A. J. Cronin. So I don’t get the absolute vitriol directed at this genre by Christian critics, especially the ones whom I otherwise respect.

The goal of the movie is to encourage its intended audience, and I think it achieves that goal.  I came out not only strengthened and encouraged but also having learned a few things.

Meanwhile, there’s the wider economic front looming in the culture wars.

Hollywood has now made its complete contempt for Christianity public with this campaign against Christian freedom.  We’re told we’re paranoid and backwards and hateful and ignorant and accused of violating every principle of the Inverted Natural Law for saying that bathrooms should be about plumbing, and that having gender-assigned bathrooms and locker rooms is about people’s privacy and safety.  If a feminist complains about ogling, she’s speaking out for human rights.  If a Christian does so, she’s being outmoded and bigoted.

By pressuring governors not to protect ministers, they’re saying–by implication or even overtly–that they *do* plan to go after ministers and churches directly.

And we want to give these people our money *why*?

If you go to the movies this weekend, see _God’s Not Dead 2_ or _Miracles from Heaven_.  Better yet, put the money in the collection basket.

Yay! A party!

There are three equal and seemingly contraditory critiques I frequently make of our system:
1) The fact that the media and the mysterious “Party bosses” basically pick candidates (e.g., everyone knew in 2007 that 2008 would be Obama v. McCain).
2) The fact that we don’t use the party system and the electoral college the way they were intended.  Parties were originally literally “parties”: people would gather at salons to discuss politics.  Candidates would go to those meetings, and people would vote based upon character and knowing the candidates. Since it was impossible for everyone in the country, even then, to personally meet even the candidates for US Senate, much less President, Senators were elected by state legislatures and Presidents by the electoral college.  We’re also supposed to be “parties” in the sense of emphasizing common cause.
3) That Socrates said democracy can only work by conscription.
Let’s put all those together.

We live in an age when anyone can talk to anyone through email or social media.  Delegates should not be mysterious figures but people we know.  Voters should have to join the parties they want to support and meet the delegates who will represent them.

Imagine if candidates did old-fashioned door-to-door canvassing, or its online equivalent (not these annoying spam messages).

Most importantly, imagine if, instead of sniping at each other with negative campaining and “debates,” candidates had to focus on their credentials and their positions.  What if all voting was based upon ISidewith.com and a simple resume?  And then, what if the primary gave options for where you’d like a candidate to serve, so for example, Ben Carson as Surgeon General or Secretary of HHS; Carly Fiorina as Secretary of the Treasury; and so on. People would choose the candidates they felt were truly best qualified and best representing them, while also voting or the cabinet roles.  Then, when the general election comes along, it would be a unified alliance versus a bitter, divided group of factions reluctantly voting for the “lesser evil.”