Some of the Women in My Novels

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Heather Fitch and Melinda Overstreet are nothing like my wife. I think, if anything, they are conglomerations of all the girls I wished I could date back in school but never had the nerve to ask out. The real-life girls probably weren’t as together as Heather and Melinda, but in my young, immature mind, I didn’t realize that. “Gosh! She looks perfect so surely she is!!”

So, if there’s a maturity in my thinking that comes out in the books, Sonya Kiel (in A Star Falls on Oklahoma) is probably in a line with Heather in Melinda in that she looks perfect, but hopefully is a little more realistic with her flaws. But she’s also a fantasy in that I see these young starlets and “influencers” in the news that are certainly outwardly pretty, but as I read about their constant break-ups and melt-downs, I can’t help but think that, in the long run, they would have been better off—especially spiritually—to have never been “discovered” and stayed in their home town somewhere, involved in a local church, etc. (No, I’m not saying, “Barefoot and pregnant”. I’m saying, “Married, single, profesional, homemaker, whatever, but not famous.“) But I can see where, if you’re 22 years old and the world is throwing millions of dollars and lots of adoration at you, it would be nigh-impossible to turn that down or keep any semblance of your head in the game.

Then, the secondary problem within this is all the young people who are being influenced by these influencers and thinking that’s the way their life should be. Of course, it’s all portrayed in the media as so fun and glamorous (even the pics of some 40-something star stumbling drunk out of a bachelor party), which just adds to the problem. I have no idea what to do about the problem in a world-wide sense … short of another flood, but we know that’s not going to happen. Though, personally, I haven’t seen a rainbow since last summer.

About that “Noah” book

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Some Thoughts on “Noah”

If you have read all or part of my new novel Noah (available here), you probably have some questions. Let me go ahead and try to answer some of them now. If you have additional questions, please write to me and I will try my best to answer them and work them into a blog. (Though I won’t mention you by name, just the usual “D.B. from Des Moines asks … “)

How are they so technologically advanced?

When most of us think about the pre-flood world, the first images that come to mind were probably put there by either Sunday School or elementary textbooks. For the former, it’s this picture of a dude in a full-length robe, probably holding a shepherd’s crook, and with a beard that’s long enough to tuck into his belt like Gandalf. For the latter, it’s a picture of a swarthy fellow with a thick brow and “tools” that consist of a club and maybe a rock.

But there are some realities that ought to be addressed, one of which I will (probably/maybe) get to later but suffice to say now that we have almost no record of life before the flood. The answer I want to propose right now, though, is that I don’t think either of the above pictures is correct. Even if they were basically agrarian, a farmer or rancher who lives for 900+ years is going to discover some short-cuts and he’s not going to be doing the job the same way he did it eight centuries before.

And that’s not all! I firmly believe, as proposed by Noah in the novel, that ancient man was way more intelligent than us. Before the inbreeding, before the diseases, and—most importantly—before the degradation of compounding sin, I think mankind could think circles around us. Oh, we have great inventors now and an incredible store of knowledge that has been recorded from experience, but I think they were just smarter than us.

Imagine, then, if Leonardo da Vinci, instead of inventing for 50+ years, had had 800+ years to come up with things! And what if he had had the favor of the powers that be and could have experimented with and manufactured those wonderful things he drew? I don’t think it’s any stretch at all to think that the technology in Noah’s day was at least on a par with ours, if not far beyond.

Doesn’t Your Book Have Way too Many People in It?

Maybe you have never thought about this, but another oft-assumed feature of antediluvian life is that the world was sparsely populated. But look back in Genesis 5. With every person listed there, after having the child that is the focus of the tree, it mentions something like, “After he became the father of Enoch, Jared lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters.” If we take the grammar literally there, it means that Jared had at least five children. (Enoch, then sons plural and daughters, plural.) It says that for every single generation.

So if every person on the planet averaged five children, the population of the planet in Noah’s day could be well into the millions. “But some of them would have died! Or not had children at all!” you object. True. But look again at that genealogy.  Enoch is the youngest to have a child, at the age of 65. Noah is the oldest to have a child, at the age of 500. Now, it doesn’t tell us anything about how old their wives were, so maybe Noah’s wife is considerably younger than him. Still, if the average “gestational range” for humans was even just a couple hundred years, you know there are going to be families who have ten and twenty—or even fifty—children. If it works out that the average person has only ten children apiece, then the population in Noah’s day could be in the billions.

[I’m not saying there absolutely were that many people, but I am saying it is mathematically possible, so I went with that possibility for my work of fiction.]

Now, imagine that an inventor like a da Vinci gets to not only live and invent for 800+ years, but also gets to overlap and even mentor an Edison and a Tesla. What wonders would they come up with?!?!

The Bible doesn’t mention anything like this!

Why would it? The issue at stake in the Biblical account is man’s depravity. Maybe that was in a simple, agrarian society where Noah’s boat is the greatest and most astounding thing ever seen. Or maybe it’s in a technological world where a guy building an old-fashioned wooden boat is kind of a curiosity. To not tell us which is not exactly out of “character” for the Bible because the key issue throughout is man’s relationship with his creator God.

I do not believe technology is evil. Any more than any tool from a hammer to a computer is evil; they are just tools. But I have noticed that, the more sophisticated we think we are getting, the less we think we need God. So I placed the story of Noah in a world not too dissimilar from our own, where we seem to be more and more under the impression that we have outgrown God.

Okay, So Where is All that Stuff?

If a flood of the type the Bible describes happened (and I believe it did), there would be nothing left of the civilization(s) before said deluge. Everything would be wiped out. Those “fountains of the deep” that Genesis told us broke forth? That might not be water, but lava. Psalms speaks of the mountains rising up and the water flowing away. Such a thing would scour the country-side clean. Buildings, roads, books, you name it: they would all be gone.

Why haven’t we found any graves, though? One, that’s assuming they took care of their dead before the flood the way we take care of them now. Two, even if they did bury them much as we do now, with all the turmoil and layer upon layer of ash and silt, who knows how deep such graves might be now? If they cremated … you get the picture.

But over all …

Please remember that: this is a work of fiction. I took the Biblical account, which I believe, and ran with it, Maybe I ran crazy. Still, that’s the point of fiction: sometimes it shows us ourselves and sometimes it shows us what might be—for good or ill—but it’s not an exact replication of what is or was.

Remake Star Wars? I Don’t Think So

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Just saw The Incredibles 2, a fantastic movie, and can’t help but think of how much better the Star Wars universe would be now if The Force Awakens had been directed by Brad Bird like George Lucas wanted. As strange as that may sound, it’s not as ludicrous as this …


Crowd-Sourced Remakes

There is a petition going around on the internet, supposedly enhanced by the idea that the signatories will pitch in their own money, attempting to get Disney to let them—the signatories—remake Star Wars – The Last Jedi.

Leaving aside the absurdity of Disney (or any studio) allowing that to happen for any amount of money, can you imagine just how bad that movie would be?!? Probably not. I’m not sure the human mind is capable of conceiving such a disaster.

It all stems from the fact that there are a lot of Star Wars fans who didn’t like The Last Jedi. Having many years to practice being unhinged, they have decided that they not only don’t like it, it was awful, terrible, horrible, and everyone associated with it except Mark Hamill should be taken out and shot—preferably in a non-vital organ so that their deaths will be slow and painful.

OK, I get not liking the movie. There are a lot of movies I haven’t liked. And, truthfully, The Last Jedi is my least favorite of the 10 Star Wars theatrically-released movies so far. But I have only ever walked out of one movie in my life (Star Trek 10—The Search for a Plot) and that was because the projector broke and they gave us all our money back.

Now, don’t get the idea that I am just a casual fan of Star Wars. I have movies I-VII (plus Rogue One) on DVD & Blu-Ray, I have read about 75% of the novels, have hundreds of the comic books, and am frequently seen in Star Wars T-shirts. I do well at Star Wars trivia, I’ve seen Rebels and most of Clone Wars, I have the Lego Millennium Falcon, I had a dog named Obi … and you get the point. It would not be a stretch to say I love Star Wars.

But I wasn’t crazy about The Last Jedi. I thought it had a lot of great moments, but—for me—they added up to an unsatisfying whole. So, while it’s been out on disk for a while now, I still haven’t bought a copy. Don’t know if I will (but it’s probable). Part of me is thinking maybe TLJ will be rescued by Episode IX*, but then I remember that IX is being directed by JJ Abrams, who is notorious for bringing projects to an unsatisfying conclusion (see Lost, or, well, everything else he’s made). So counting on Abrams to bring it all home is like that moment when your favorite team sends in that reliever who seems as likely to blow the 8 run lead as to hold it.

Having established my bona fides as a Star Wars fan, and expressed my own displeasure with TLJ, what I don’t understand are those people who hate TLJ. I mean, absolutely hate it. Some of them are so clearly unhinged as to declare that a movie (A MOVIE!!) has now ruined their childhood, but even some of the moderately hinged ones appear to be frothing at the mouth as they type out screeds against a film that is apparently the worst thing they have ever seen. (I would say that they are typing these words from their parents’ basement, but that may not be true. They may well be typing them from their law office, their comfortable summer bungalow, or even the RV behind their parents’ house where they sometimes attempt to bring chicks who they have met at the local comic book store.**)

Seriously, how do you let a movie ruin your life? Even if IX is worse than VIII, I will still happily—joyfully even—watch I-VI plus Rogue and Solo. I will even continue to play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit with my family because I have one edition that covers episodes IV-VI and another that covers I-VI (the only movies I will ever think of as true canon) and while I’ll watch the other four (and probably five, once IX is out), it’s not going to diminish my life in any way if they aren’t as enjoyable as the first six. Even if Rian Johnson’s planned trilogy*** doesn’t come up to snuff, and even if those miscreants responsible for Game of Porn make a Star Wars trilogy as abominable as their TV show, it won’t diminish the fact that I will still love I-VI.

Now, back to my opening statement: this remake the dreamers think they can persuade Disney to let them do, would just be awful because—trite though it may have become—too many cooks do spoil the broth. Would everyone who contributes to the cause be allowed a vote on whether Poe’s X-wing gets blown up or not, or whether Kylo and Rey get together? If not, why not? Will the person who started the crowd-fund be the director, or have a say in the hiring of one, or is there a committee in charge? Who selects them? And why would I think they would be any better at telling a story than Abrams, Johnson or that guy on the corner who thinks he’s directing a movie when he waves at traffic?

In short, as many faults as I personally found in TLJ, I am confident that this proposed remake would be infinitely worse.

* Some of you may not remember, but way back in 1980 there were people (a minority, but they existed) who claimed that Empire Strikes Back had ruined the saga because Han was frozen and the rebellion was losing and, surely, Darth Vader had just lied to Luke.

** This is, of course, said in jest as there are [almost] no chicks at comic book stores.

*** I’m not as down on this idea as some fans are. As I understand it, Johnson’s planned trilogy will be set somewhere else in the Star Wars universe, or, at least, not concern the Skywalker family. It could be that, given his own story to tell and not having to fit it into some committee’s paint-by-numbers plan, it will be better that TLJ because it will be solely his. Plus, I look at Rogue One and Solo and a clear takeaway for me is that the movies are better the less JJ Abrams has to do with them.

Tuttle’s the Comic Strip

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There’s a new website for “Tuttle’s”, the award-submitted comic strip drawn by Samuel B. White!

The web site that used to host my comic strip “Tuttle’s” is gone but (maybe) not forgotten. Enjoy new ‘toons 4 days a week!

[Click on the 'toon then, depending your device, you may have to click it again to actually read the strip.]

Is Amazon the Problem Or Is It Just There?

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The American mall, that symbol of the 1980s, is going away. People who once took haunting photographs of failing Detroit, have now moved on to taking haunting photographs of semi-abandoned shopping malls. (Here’s hoping they next move on to taking pictures of the offices of congresspersons who have been voted out of office.)

People, some of whom are actually writers—a subset within that who are even good writers—have written articles to lament the disappearance of these malls. Somewhere in the article, and in most other articles about the state of the American retail front, there will be a statement or two blaming the problem on the behemoth known as Amazon.

 Can I offer another side to this argument?

 It’s not Amazon’s fault.

 No, I’m not saying Amazon is perfect. Neither am I saying that I’m happy these other companies are going out of business (and putting my friends and neighbors out of work). I’m just saying that if it hadn’t been Amazon, it would have been someone else. (For grins, look up an international company called AliBaba and then tell me Amazon’s the problem.)

Go back 80 to 100 years and look at the American neighborhood. Every neighborhood had one (or sometimes more than one) grocery store. It was about the size of our modern convenience store, but it had groceries and sometimes a few sundries. But then came super-markets, which drove the little stores out of business (and I’m sure there were articles in the paper then saying this was the apocalypse for American retail). Service stations got replaced by convenience stores, photo developers got replaced by digital cameras and personal printers, and newspapers are getting replaced by the web. And one of these days, something will probably replace Wal-Mart and Amazon—whether something bigger and less personal or smaller and more friendly, I have no idea (but it will be interesting to see).

 For anyone sitting here thinking, “Amazon’s too big to go away”, that was probably said about the above-mentioned industries. The thing is: things change. Right now, Amazon (Bezos) has been the beneficiary of spotting the change and jumping on it at the right time. He might continue doing that for the rest of his life, but the odds are that one of these days Amazon/Bezos will miss some indicator someone else saw and another company or industry will jump to the fore. Amazon will lay people off or Wal-Mart will close stores or Love’s will shutter some convenience stores. Yes, it will be hard on some people, and I’m not trying to discount that, but it’s not necessarily anything sinister.

 It’s Not Amazon’s fault.

 It’s just the way the world is.

Doomsday Houses and Gullible Buyers

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Not all that far from Dallas, someone has erected a very large, very ornate fountain. Right now, it looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s not exactly nowhere, but it is Fannin county, which isn’t a well-known county* to people who don’t currently live there.

The fountain, according to this article (here
) is the first step in a planned development for people who want to spend a whole lot of money to ride out an apocalypse.  And I mean a lot of money. The builders of the complex expect to spend $330 million on this place, then sell individual lots/bunkers to rich people who think they’ll be able to use it when disaster hits. As the article states, there are other places like this going up all over, including one in Kansas you may have seen on the news recently where they have taken over an old missile silo and are breaking it up into high-end bunkers, complete with butlers and chefs.

Now, I’m all for capitalism, but I think PT Barnum had these particular capitalists in mind when he said, “The circus doesn’t open until tonight, kid.” Wait, the Barnum quote I meant to insert here was, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

I’m not addressing this from a religious or metaphysical standpoint (though I may later on in this paper if what first drove me to write this blog doesn’t generate enough words), but merely from a practical standpoint. The above-referenced bunker-condos are located near the town of Ector, TX, which if Google maps is any indication, lays across the countryside about 71.8 miles from Dallas, less from such northeastern suburbs as Plano or Garland, but still at least half an hour away.

So let’s say you’re a Dallas millionaire, living in one of those tony areas like Highland Park or a motel on Harry Hines, and the early warning sirens go off. Let me be frank: you are not going to get to your bunker in or near Ector before the bomb lands even if you have a helicopter. For one thing, all the other rich people are going to have their helicopters in the air and you’re probably going to collide somewhere over Richardson and then fry in the radiation while plummeting to the ground.

That silo in Kansas? It’s not near anything, let alone a big city. If the word comes down that a bomb is also coming down, you’re cooked before the chef can fix you anything. If you have to drive to one of these places … well, let’s just say the only way they’re going to protect you is if you’re already there when whatever the disaster is happens.

Some of my thinking is because I was in high school in the 1980s. Back then, we were sure the Russians were going to nuke us at any moment. Being in Abilene, Texas, as we were, with Dyess Air Force Base just outside town, we all assumed that—in the event of nuclear war—we were all going to be baked to a crisp in the first volley. In fact, we were told in school as if it were fact (and why not?) that if the early warning sirens ever went off, we had 26 minutes before the nuclear blast gave us all instant and irreversible suntans.

Pardon me for being skeptical that this will work out. Not only are such events notoriously hard to predict, when/if one does come, I still think it will be so sudden that most preparation will have been for naught. The only people those bunkers will save will be the people who happened to be there the day the disaster hits because they go out there a couple times a year anyway just to see the hole they threw their money down. (These people will then, of course, brag to the 3 other survivors about how they knew something was coming and how it was their wits that allowed them to survive when the hoi peloi have all passed deservedly away.)

Speaking of which (I’m expanding on the parenthetical statement from the last paragraph), many of these facilities also offer DNA storage  in case (I’m not kidding) someone in the future has the technology to clone you. Really, it’s probably just so they’ll have a DNA sample with which to identify your charred remains from amongst the helicopter wreckage.

The literature and sales pitches are designed to make one think that, with the purchase of one of these plots (I use that word intentionally), the purchaser has secured some sort of long-term security for themselves and/or their families. The reality is that the only people securing anything like near-long-term security are the people selling these places. They’ll make their money and retire to some place where they can live comfortably, comfortable in the comfortable idea that they will remain comfortable until either they die a natural death or the apocalypse comes and everyone else dies with them.

Honestly, I think the real purpose of owning a space in one of these places is for the same reason you’d buy that house in California with a life-size statue of the Airwolf helicopter on the roof: so you can tell your friends. It’s not going to save your life, it’s not going to prolong your life, but you can tell your friends—especially those who don’t have a doomsday bunker—that you have a hidey-hole you will no way in hole ever get to use for its intended purpose.

Finally, do I have a moral or spiritual objection to this whole concept? After all, wasn’t Noah the ultimate doomsday prepper? Yes, but with one crucial difference from all the other ones: God told him to do it! Now, I know there are probably people in these modern locations who claim God is telling them to do this, but until the animals start showing up at their door by twos (or 7s, in the case of hooved, edible animals [go read Genesis]), I’m going to think they’re just kooks.

My spiritual objection to this concept is one that I think we all battle, though we don’t have the money to do it on the scale of these doomers: the idea that with the right materials we can save ourselves. We can’t. Even if you ride out the volcano, you’ll still die. Just as dead as the homeless person who died in an old refrigerator box under a freeway on a cold night. To buy a spot in any of these places, you better have a good credit rating; but all that really matters is whether Jesus is your Lord and Savior. All the rest is just cardboard.

* Why is anything in Texas named after Fannin?!? His incompetence cost the lives of several hundred Texans and lost the town of Goliad.

Are Millenials Really Leaving the Church?

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It’s happening again.

There’s another article going ‘round the internet—especially on Facebook—about how millenials are leaving the church in droves. I would go to all the trouble of looking it up and providing a link to it … but I’m not going to. The reality, as I’ve written before (see here), is that this article gets written at least once a year by some well-meaning person who thinks they’ve discovered something no one else has noticed or tried to address.

Now, to answer the question of the headline, “Yes.” Millenials are leaving the church. So are a lot of other demographics (see here). It is not a new phenomena. And no, I am not dismissing it as something that shouldn’t trouble us.

First off, I just want to make fun of all these people who think they’re the first person to write about this topic when they’re only about the millionth person (give or take) to write about it. [Insert pithy joke here.]

But secondly, I would like to address the concept in a somewhat serious way.

Remember back in 1 Kings 19, when Elijah was having his pity party following his participation in God’s incredible victory over the prophets of Baal? From Elijah’s perspective, it seemed like he was the only person faithful to God in the whole country. God tells him, though, that he (God) has 7000 people in Israel who have not bowed down to Baal, who are still faithful servants of God.

There are many lessons to be learned from this passage, but one of the ones I am frequently reminded of is that the number of people who follow God, compared to their surrounding culture, is often (maybe always) going to be pretty small. This isn’t to say we should stop evangelizing or working on faithfully tending to the people God has loaned us, but when we look around and see that many people have abandoned God, or are abandoning him right now, and that some of these people are folks who “should know better” we shouldn’t be surprised.

I’ve also read The Book, so I know for a fact that the church’s role in influencing the culture will diminish. I can wish it were not so, but I might as well wish the sun would stop setting or the politicians would stop lying.

If you go back and read one of the articles about why the millenials are leaving the church (or, go back further and read one of the ones about why Gen-X is leaving the church, or further back to why the baby boomers are leaving the church)—it doesn’t matter which article, they’re all about the same—you will find good and sometimes valid points: the music isn’t to our tastes, they aren’t taking care of the poor; there aren’t any millenials (or whoever the age group du jour is) in leadership positions, and on.

The thing is, though, for every one of the objections made that’s leading the group to exit the church en masse (I think that’s French for “a whole passel of ‘em”), with very little searching they could find a church in their town that addresses that very issue. Maybe not all of the issues on the list, but most people have one issue that’s the big, driving, force for them and—if that issue is addressed—they could put up with weaknesses in the other areas.

Just kidding.

Yes, there are other churches in their town that address those needs/wants/weaknesses, what I’m kidding about is that if they found one that addressed the most important one to them they could put up with the other areas. We’re not wired that way. When satisfied in one area, we quickly begin looking for other areas in which to be dissatisfied. Millenials appear to be more afflicted with this mentality than previous generations, but that may just be because they not only are afflicted, they want to make sure they take a selfie of themselves being afflicted.

The sad reality is that most of these millenials (and other people) who are leaving the church for whatever reason are not looking for another church that fits that bill, they’re just leaving. Some do find another church for a while, but—as stated above—they’ll soon find something that new church is doing wrong and leave it. Some will church hop for a while, and a rare one will even eventually light somewhere and stay, but most hoppers will either keep hopping or hop until they decide they’d rather just stay home. A little of this we can lay at the feet of denominationalism (“I’ve tried every Baptist church in this town and none of them met my needs!” [insert whatever denomination you want in there]), but not much.

Mostly, they’re not going to church because they just don’t want to go to church. They want to sleep in or play golf or they just don’t really see any value-added to their life by church, so they drift away and most don’t come back. (Some do. They hit middle age and realize they miss the church and they come back, which is great, but then they’re often a little depressed because their kids—who didn’t grow up in church—see no value at all in church.) And once away from the church, even if a “new” one comes to town that addresses the objections that led them to leave, they’re already in the habit of not going and aren’t coming back.

So, with all this said, why? Why aren’t they coming back? “You knucklehead!,” you say to me, “The dude just wrote an article listing 12 reasons why they’re leaving!”

Yes, but I just have my own doubts that any of those reasons are the real, the “meta reason” people are leaving.

The first one that comes to my mind is that we have an enemy who is actively pulling them away. He may use narcissism, he may use family dynamics, he might just use the allure of worshiping at St. Mattress … one of his more successful tricks lately is to convince people he doesn’t exist. Am I saying that pulling someone out of church can be equated with ruining their soul? No, but church is one of (one of!!) the tools God has established for the edification and equipping of the saints, so it’s to Satan’s advantage to separate us from it.

The second reason, which is tied on a micro-level to the first and—I believe—is the real, the meta reason, is that these people who are leaving the church have finally realized that the only church worth being a part of is one with standards and they don’t want that!! We live in a post-morality culture and here’s this group of people who gather in this old building, sing old songs (let’s face it: in our culture, any song more than a year old is an “oldie”), and proclaim that, “Yes! There is a God and yes he has standards!” The Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Pentacostals, et. al. may disagree on some of the finer points, but they/we all agree that God has established some standards that, even accounting for grace, we are behooved to try and walk in.

My third meta reason—which I know is really stretching the definition of “meta”—is that maybe one of the church’s problems with losing people—millenials, Gen-Xers, boomers, flappers, etc.—is that we have church all wrong to begin with. I’ll go into this in another blog, if I remember to, but maybe the church’s biggest problem is that we’re doing it all wrong!

Addendumsome of my earlier snarkiness aside, I think maybe the reason this article gets written every year is that every generation–and sub-generation–has to come to this idea on their/our own.

The Case for a Safe Space

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“Safe spaces” are in the news lately. Often, outside the places where they are being held, they are derided as a method of coddling “snowflakes”, i.e. college kids who are biological adults but seem to have the emotional maturity of a stunted Chihuahua.

I have to admit: I have done my share of chuckling at and deriding of these snowflakes.

What if I told you, though (or told me, since I’m the one deriding and chuckling), that the concept of a safe space is Biblical. Not only that, but it was pretty much commanded of his followers by none other than Jesus himself?

First off, though, get the idea of the college safe space out of your mind. I’m not talking—nor was Jesus—about a room with coloring books, zen tangles, or a giant ball pit. These things can all be fun and may even have their place in entertainment or relaxation, but they have nothing to do with the kind of “safe space” Jesus was talking about.

OK, so what was Jesus talking about?

Matthew 6:5-7 - But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (English Standard Version)

Specifically, Jesus was contrasting this attitude with that of the outwardly pious person who prays loudly in public so as to draw attention to their own piety. Jesus didn’t want his followers to do that. He wanted them to get off by themselves and just be alone with God. 

The King James Version has it that we should go into our “closet”. This wouldn’t work for most of us these days because our closets are full. I think the idea was/is, though, to go to a place away from worldly distractions. NO TV, no radio, no phone—I said, “NO phone!”—and just pray, and listen. Maybe take your Bible in there with you and meditate (more on that in a moment). A paper Bible, printed and bound and not one on your phone. A Bible that serves no other purpose than that of being a Bible.

Those of us making fun of the snowflakes are deriding them for pretending to be adults while being “traumatized” by an election, or the prospect of an election, or a professor who espoused an idea they “weren’t emotionally prepared to handle”. So the campuses we’re laughing at have set-up spaces where said snowflakes can go and color in books or listen to soothing music (I say we play some Pink Floyd for them, myself) and, basically, ignore whatever it was that was bothering them. Sometimes it’s said that these safe spaces are provided so that the snowflakes may “process” what’s going on—which isn’t the worst idea—but unless such processing involves giving someone the strength of character to get back out there and “get on the horse”, it’s actually just making the problem worse.

The safe space Jesus is advocating, commanding maybe, is a place where we go for petition, for redress, for the kind of spiritual warfare he engaged in in Gethsemane that led him to break out in a sweat! And remember what Jesus prayed for in that garden? OK, he prayed for several things, but one of the things that Jesus prayed for was for his father to take the cup away from him. Jesus knew what he was about to face. He wasn’t looking forward to a scourging or crucifixion any more than you or I would. And he really wasn’t looking forward to the separation between himself and his father that he knew taking on all the sins of the world would bring about.

It’s easy, then, to say that God ignored his prayer because God clearly didn’t take the cup away, right? Well, God didn’t take the cup away, but look at how he answered Jesus’s prayer:  “Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening him.” (New King James Version) God’s answer to the prayer wasn’t to take the cup away, but to give Jesus the strength to drink it.

See, that’s the kind of safe space I need to retreat to now and then. When stuff bugs me—elections, slights, attacks, bad food, etc.—I need to take to my safe space and pray. When good stuff happens—elections, praise, good food, etc.—I need to get to my safe space and pray. Sure, there is a place and necessity for saying “sentence prayers” throughout the day, for praying before or after meals or just when I wake up or right when I’m about to go to sleep.

But I also need a place—a place that’s partly physical (which helps) but is mostly mental—where I get away. I don’t just turn off the phone, I leave it somewhere else. There is no place in my life where things are completely silent—I’m always hearing cars, AC units, distant dogs—but I need to get to a place that’s as distraction-free as is reasonably possible. I need to get down on my knees (why? Because it’s uncomfortable and I’m less likely to go to sleep) and I need to talk to God. That’s my safe space. It may or may not be safe from the world—even in my back bedroom, there’s the possibility that a tree limb, a plane or a drunken politician could fall from the sky and shatter my roof and, thus, me.

In there, I will be safe with God. I can tell him anything! 

Here’s where it might get rough, though: am I willing to let him tell me anything? When the apostle Paul tells us to put on the armor of God, the first item he mentions is the “belt of truth” (Ephesians 6). Most of us pride ourselves on being truth-tellers, especially if it’s difficult, but are we truth-hearers (especially when it’s difficult)? How do we react when a fellow human comes up and tells us an unpleasant truth? (“You know, getting fired was mostly your own fault.”) How will we react if God tells us an unpleasant truth? (“Yes, I can see that your marriage sucks, and I will help you with that, but will you first acknowledge that the suck starts with you?”)

Some of these safe places in our culture include meditation. Some public schools are teaching meditation to children. Before someone can assume that I am going to have a negative knee-jerk reaction to public school meditation, let me assure that meditation is Biblical.

Most of the meditation being taught in schools (and some churches), however, is not.

Biblical meditation is, most often, a concentration on the written word of God. (See Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; and 119) Otherwise, it is a meditation on the character of God (Psalm 63:6, 77:3) and the works of God (Psalm 77:12, 143:5). This is not a process of emptying oneself so that “something” may come in, but of emptying oneself and then actively allowing God to fill you back up with himself. It is concentrating on a Scripture passage, a single verse or concept. Turning it back and forth in your mind and inside out. Looking at it from every side and maybe even memorizing the verse. It’s getting to know the character and power of God through the ways he has revealed himself to us.

Sometimes, this is calming. Sometimes, these closets of prayer will help you to sleep better or have a more productive day at work or give you the fortitude to withstand something harsh or unpleasant.

Sometimes, though, this safe space with God will leave you wrung out, exhausted, or agitated. Sometimes with righteous indignation, and sometimes with hard-fought chastisement. Some days, I crawl from my safe space into my bed and sleep like a log, but other days? I crawl from my safe place into bed desiring sleep, only to find it won’t come because the verse, the passage, the concept or the challenge still has a hold on me and I won’t be able to rest until I have turned it over to God (and, I’m convinced, sometimes he doesn’t let me turn it over to him until he’s sure I’ve finally grasped whatever it is he’s trying to tell me). On days like that (usually nights) the safe place can feel like the most dangerous place in the world and make you wish you had never entered.

Just back up a few paragraphs and remind yourself that the safety is with God, which is the only safety that really matters, anyway. His plan may not be to take the cup from you, but to give you the strength to drink it.

Don’t worry: it’s safe.

Let’s All Go to the Movies … or Not

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Speaking of decline, fewer people are going to the movies than in years past. Some people blame this on the quality of movies produced (“Nothing but sequels and remakes! Doesn’t Hollywood have any original ideas?”). This may be a factor, but if you look back at Hollywood’s glory years, you’ll find that they produced some pretty lousy movies back then, too.

And they still produce some good ones now. I don’t usually agree with the Awards voters, but the fact that those voters selected this movie and I preferred that movie just tells me there are still movies out there that appeal to people.

A large part of Hollywood’s problem is just culture. Those pictures they love to show us of a movie theater crowd from the 1940s where all the men are in suits and ties and all the women in dresses and the theater is full, what else did those people have to do on a Saturday or Sunday night after it got dark? No TV, maybe some high school sports or a dance, or sit at home and listen to the radio. Plus, there weren’t that many theaters in town, so everyone who wanted to go to the movies was crammed into one or two theaters instead of being distributed over two 16 theater multiplexes (making it easier to take a picture of a crowded theater).

Personally, though, I think Hollywood’s biggest problem with declining theater attendance is all about TV.

And I don’t mean the quality of the TV programming. If the movies Hollywood turns out are a swamp (and I don’t think it is; as stated earlier I think there are still some good movies coming out), TV is the stagnant, vermin-infested cesspool the swamp drains into. 200 channels and, at any given time, it’s nigh-impossible to find something you want to watch.

No, the problem Hollywood is having with TV is with the units themselves. I have a family of four, so if we want to go to a movie—even a matinee—we’re out at least $25. Evening movie it’s almost $40, and if we want to see something in IMAX or some other fancy format like that, we’re talking $60 before popcorn. Throw in popcorn and a drink, and we’re closing in on $100.

Or …

We can wait three months (sometimes less) and check out the BluRay copy of the movie for less than three dollars, watch it from our comfortable couch on a large, HD-TV, and we don’t have to worry about unclean restrooms or (you may have seen this news story in your town) bed bugs. Now, personally, I hate pausing movies for a restroom or snack break, but sometimes I give in to popular demand and do so, in which case we can pick up right where we left off. At the theater, if you gotta go, you gotta miss something.

Don’t get me wrong: I love going to the movie theater. It’s an event. A two-story screen has advantages over even a 62 inch HD-UD-UpYours-Whatever, but the cost has led me (and my family) to ask of every movie that comes out that we are at all intrigued by, “Will this lose anything on the ‘small’ screen?” And the truth is, even with the movies I have really enjoyed, the large screen spectacle is rarely enough to make me feel like a $25 outlay is worth it for something I’ll see in a couple months for $3.

Political Debates are Lousy Theater

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Watching the political debates, what little I could stomach, anyway, made me think about what I knew was coming:

– Everyone who already supported him was going to say he won.

– Everyone who already supported her would say she won.

– Almost no minds would be changed.

– The media would spin it the way they were going to spin it no matter what happened within the debate itself.

It’s interesting to be a Tuesday morning reader of this stuff, especially to read comments or headlines like, “Trump unquestionably won” or “Clinton the undeniable victor” … sometimes on the same front page of the same newspaper (do they still print those) or web site.

Not like sports.

We may argue that the referee blew the call and the ball was definitely in the air before the buzzer, or that the umpire should have called that ball a homerun, but the outcome is what it is. This team won and that team lost.

In the real sports, I mean, not those genned-up, fake ones, like pro wrestling or the NFL.

Somewhere, there is probably someone who has created a metric that tells who won a debate, but it hasn’t caught on, and probably won’t. Our debates aren’t even debates. Whoever you thought won the most recent presidential debate (and I’m thinking it was probably Jill Stein, for getting kicked off campus before it even started), neither one of the participants would have even qualified for a high F in a debate class.

It’s theatre. It’s Show. It’s a chance to pretend that the candidates are knowledgeable, acceptable potential leaders of the country. It’s a chance for the media to act like they care about both sides of the issue(s).

It is, in this most recent case, anyway, a ratings bonanza.