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.

God said, “No.”

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I had always wanted to be a writer, practically from the first time I learned that one could take those letters we were being taught and shape them into words, which could be gathered together into sentences with which to create stories someone would want to read.

So I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. And I read and I read and I studied how those who wrote the things I liked to read wrote. Why does this sentence work? Why was this detail revealed here and not elsewhere? Besides teachers and profs, my instructors were L’Amour and Lewis, Christie and Faulkner, Hillerman and Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Tolkien, and hundreds more.

And I prayed.

I prayed for over 40 years that God would use my writings for his glory and the support of my family. And God said, “No.”

With my last work, “The Last Valley” trilogy, I prayed and researched and wrote my best work, each sentence carefully chosen to advance the story and convey the message that I thought God had given me. I worked to pour layer after layer of heart and metaphor into the tale in hopes that I had finally written what the best thing I had ever written.

God said, “No.”

I put out fleece and the answer God gave me was, “No.”

There was a time when–one month of March and one month only–I sold over 200 copies of my books. I prayed that was the start I had been praying for, but it was a sales height never reached again, apparently a fluke. Two years later, after constant prayer that I would be the writer that I was supposed to be and that my books would “take off”, I was selling 3-5 books a month. I advertised, I used social media, I even tried eschewing those things and “leaving it in God’s hands”.

So I put out fleece. I prayed from the beginning of the year that during March I would sell 100 books. If I didn’t, I would accept that God did not want me to be a writer.

Boy, did God say, “No!”

In March, I sold 4 books. Not 100. Not 10. 4.

I am no longer a writer. Maybe I never was. Not a good one, anyway. I wanted to be a writer, a novelist. Maybe I was good but …

But God said, “No.”

Real Life Volcanic Eruption Kills Everyone – Details at 11

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The San Andreas fault. Mount St. Helens. The entirety of the Pacific Rim. You don’t have to look very far to see stories of pending alarm about forthcoming earthquakes and/or volcanos. Heck, even Oklahoma is being beset by earthquakes (which may or may not be related to fracking, depending on who is telling the tale).

Some of these stories are clearly being told by kooks. If their avatar isn’t wearing a tin-foil hat, it’s a picture of either Scully or Mulder.

Others, though, are quite serious. Something is going on beneath the crust of the earth. You can find no shortage of scientists ready to quickly point out that something is always going on beneath the surface of the earth, but there are experts a-plenty, with smart initials tagging along behind their names, who are trying to tell anyone who is listening/reading that our “doom is impending!”

While I have a late uncle who was head of the geology department at the University of Houston, I rarely understood what he was talking about if the subject strayed away from guns other than the one time he told me there was no such thing as a dead volcano, only a dormant one. So I don’t claim to have special knowledge about what might or might not be coming, but I do wonder about the aftermath if it does come.

If you want something to be nervous about, all you need to do is Google the words “Yellowstone volcano”. You’ll find thousands of articles, from kooks on the fringe to PhD’s on the faculty, which will tell you about the cauldron that is bubbling between one of our beloved national parks. Some will tell you that it’s been bubbling for a long time, and will keep bubbling for a longer time, and there’s nothing to be alarmed about.

Some will tell you—some really intelligent people, even—that, if the Yellowstone volcano were to erupt, that would be the end of North America. The shocks and aftershocks would be terrifying, but the ash cloud would cover the entire continent, choking out all life from Mexico north.

And there’s nothing we can do about it.

My family, sitting on the edge of a dormant volcano (Capulin, NM)

So even if they’re right, there’s no need to panic or “take steps” beyond any religious needs you feel you need to meet, because if it goes, we go, too. Even if you’re reading this from Capetown [yeah, right, sure you are], the resultant ash cloud will disrupt the entire world to the point that life will not be the same for anyone who survives.

Will anyone survive? Within some of those writings by writers—I won’t call them kooks to their faces but I might think it behind my hand—one can find the idea that the Yellowstone volcano is how God will choose to bring about the apocalypse. I guess they could be right.

I believe in God, the God of the Bible, and I believe in the end of the world. I just don’t know when it’s coming (and neither does anyone else on this planet). I am confident, though, that if the Yellowstone volcano erupts, and if God still has plans for mankind, he will provide a way for some or all of the inhabitants of this blue ball to go on.

“The Last Valley”, my trilogy of novels that is available on Kindle and Nook and in paperback, postulates what life might be like under just such a scenario.

In “Ashes to Ashes”, the volcano has blown, the ash has covered the continent. In a little valley just off the Continental Divide, the capricious winds have allowed life to be livable for the three score people who were in that valley when the ash hit. They are cut off from the outside world and, indeed, have no idea if the outside world even exists anymore. While many of the survivors think that they are, at best, engaged in a holding action as they await their demise, 18 year old Josh and his younger sister Claire are determined to carve a life out of the ash.

“Crazy on the Mountain” finds Josh and Claire leading the village of Overstreet into a fairly hopeful future, but still with no contact from the outside. Until, that is, Deanna Pembleton shows up. Bedragged and clearly wrestling with some demons, Deanna tells them of another town where people survive but are in need of help. So Josh and his bride set out to help Deanna, in spite of everything that would seem like better sense.

Finally, in “Book of Tales”, we find the story of Jerry and what is going on in what’s left of the outside world. War, famine, plague … it’s not pretty. But there are a few people with hope, still. Hope for a future that involves more than just ash.

Find them all, along with handy links for ordering them (and 24 other novels), at www.garisonfitch.com!

Why I Prefer the Prequels to Episode 7

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OK, I know my title is already causing some readers to object and/or question my sanity. I realized that when I wrote it. I didn’t want to write some cutesy blog where-in I bury the lead somewhere near the bottom. So, just in case there’s some doubt, let me assure you that: 

–yes, I really do prefer the prequels to episode 7; and

–yes, I am talking about the “Star Wars” movies.

In our culture, saying you like something over something else—especially when discussing anything even vaguely art-related like movies, books, paintings or music—far too many people assume that what’s really being said is, “I like that one and hate this one.” So no, I didn’t hate Star Wars 7 (sometimes called “The Force Awakens”). I even saw it in the theater three times and I liked it more each time. Overall, though, I think my opinion of it is best summed-up by someone I overheard while exiting the theater following my second viewing, “Well, that was the seventh-best Star Wars movie I’ve ever seen.”

I am not here to bury or praise Caesar, or SW7, for that matter. I might get to what I liked and didn’t like about it—depending on how I’m feeling in a few minutes—but my first focus is to give some basic reasons why I liked the prequels. [Notice: there’s an assumption here that the original trilogy is almost universally liked. Of course, some people don’t like it at all but, among us die-hard StarWarsians, the original trilogy is very well thought of. I find this interesting because, from about 1984-1998 I frequently read articles by people who didn’t like “Return of the Jedi”. Then, they had something else to throw aspersions at, so “Jedi” fell into good graces and poor Richard Marquand finally got to rest easy in his grave.]

But I liked the prequels. I even (this will make some more heads explode and I don’t really care because I doubt their loss will negatively affect the gene pool in any way) liked Jar-Jar Binks. I didn’t want more of him, but I thought he did what he was supposed to do: provide some slap-stick and comic relief for the kids. I remember when my children first saw The Phantom Menace. They were enthralled with all of it, but got a special kick out of this goofy, gangly, funny-talking Gungan. Was he Shakesperean? Of course not. But for my money, he was far less annoying than C3PO is in any given appearance of the golden droid.

Which isn’t to say I ever wanted to do bodily damage to good ol’ 3PO. He’s funny, he’s occasionally helpful, but he is always rather prissy, like an upbeat Marvin. R2D2 is cool, of course, and I think it’s clear that the movies generally hold him back. (Was this the real reason he has such a limited role in 7? The fear that he would take over?)

People complain about the politics of the prequels; namely: there’s too much politics in the prequels. I never have shared that complaint. Were the debates in the Senate as interesting as, say, watching Darth Maul get de-lowerhalfatated? No, but they weren’t supposed to be. George Lucas had created this grand saga about a whole galaxy and the politics of that galaxy informed the action. Back when Governor Tarkin said the Emperor had dissolved the Senate, we all wondered what the Senate was—how did it operate? if it existed at all, how does a ruler disperse with it and still keep things together? didn’t those who were disbanded object? And then, when we saw the Emperor in “Jedi” (and glimpsed his hologram in “Empire”), we wondered, “How’d that creepy-looking freak get to be in charge?!” We’d heard rumors about Obi-Wan fighting Darth Vader on the edge of a volcano, but what happened to that old dude?

And, as I watch through the prequels (and read the books about George’s early drafts of all of the 6 original movies), I see an overarching story, with themes that rhyme (Eps 5&2 rhyme, then 6&1, then 3&4 tie up the poem) and the decades-long story of a galaxy’s change-everything war told through the eyes of a single family (and their droids).

I even like the dialogue in the prequels. Where some people complain—to the point of seemingly giving themselves bowel problems—about the dialogue between Anakin and Padme, I am impressed as a writer with what Lucas attempted. It’s just the typical story of the girl from the right side of the tracks who’s falling for the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks/galaxy. Do people really talk like that? No, but that’s the point: this isn’t southern California. These are a royal and a knight on a far off world. They’re not supposed to talk like the people you live next to! Did Lucas perfectly capture what he was going for there? Maybe not fully, but that brings me to a point where I have to mention 7.

Some of the things I have just mentioned that I liked in the prequels, I find missing in 7. Now, maybe, when 8 & 9 are out I’ll look back at 7 and see that it wasn’t just the world’s longest trailer, but was actually a quality launch-point for an inventive and well-told trilogy. Right now, though, I’m looking back at the prequels and seeing that Lucas tried (and, for me, succeeded) in both filling in a back-story and staying true to an incredible vision and I compare that to 7, which strikes me as the best …

I keep thinking back to a friend I had back in elementary school who lived down the street. He came from a rough home (pretty sure there was some abuse there) and loved to find solace by escaping into Star Trek, Space 1999, etc. When Star Wars came out, it became his world for several years. We both had a few action figures (which would be worth nothing now because we played with them ‘til they fell apart) and he had this idea of taking an 8mm movie camera and making a stop-motion version of “Star Wars” with our figures. Not a new story. He was mapping out how to create every scene from what would later be called “A New Hope”. It was going to be nothing more than a remake, a tribute, with no originality at all—at least as far as story went.

We went our separate ways in junior high, but it dawned on me while watching 7 that maybe my friend finally got his wish because someone went and made the best fan-boy copy-movie ever. With millions of dollars and the world’s best special effects guys (apparently), they went out and created a really beautiful tribute to (mostly) “A New Hope” with nods to “Empire” and “Jedi” thrown in. Even the official magazines of the movie tell of how the director and co-writer of the movie walked around NYC and Paris, talking about the movie and I picture one of them saying, “Remember that scene with the mynoks in ‘Empire’?” and then the other guy says, “Yeah! Let’s make the mynock bigger and put it on the front of the ship!” And on and on they went until they had created a visually stunning but creatively rehashed movie. Instead of continuing the poetry, if I may mix metaphors, it seems more like they’re just a really good cover band that just can’t quite capture the magic of the original song.

It’s making millions of dollars. Billions, even. People love it. “Rey” will probably jump up to the top 10 of names for little girls and “Finn” will be in the top 20 for boys and the percentage of people naming their sons “Poe” will jump from .000001 to .000002 overnight.

But I still like the prequels better than 7. When Obi-Wan says that what they’re going to do with the obvious trap is spring it (right after what gets my vote for the best space-battle ever filmed), I get a smile just thinking about it. As the pod-race goes on a little too long, I still crank up the sound to feel that thump-thump-thump noise in my chest. As the Jedi prove to be far more vulnerable than we had thought on Geonosis, I wonder why we’re surprised when Obi-Wan told us long ago that the Jedi were all but extinct—they had to have lost somewhere along the line and lost big.

I think it comes down to the fact that George Lucas’s vision caught my imagination, through all six movies but, to re-use my metaphor from earlier, the work of this cover band is good for a cover band, but it’s not really the way I want to hear the song.

In case you’re curious—and I can’t imagine why you would be, but since you’ve read this far—the “Star Wars” movies arranged in order of my preference would be 4-5-3-2-6-1-7. The order I usually watch them is still 4-5-6-1-2-3 (and then 4-5-6 again) though there’s something to be said for the idea of watching them 4-5-1-2-3-6, as if 1-2-3 are Anakin flashing back to what led him to that moment where he hacked off his son’s hand.

Can There Be “Christian Science Fiction”?

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The old trope says there’s no such thing as a dumb question, but obviously that’s not true.  Questions like the above and “Will government intervention actually lower the cost of college (or anything)?” are patently stupid questions.

Yet, we ask them often, mainly in the hopes of starting an argument.  I mean, that has to be the answer, right?  Because to pretend the answer to our dumb question is not self-evident is to be even dumber than our question.

For starters, let’s look at the last word in our headline question: “fiction”.  What is fiction?  According to Merriam-Webster, fiction is defined as “written stories about people and events that are not real, literature that tells stories which are imagined by the writer, or something that is not true.”  Examples of fiction might include “Gone with the Wind”, “Catcher in the Rye” or the Affordable Care Act.

Fiction, then, can be set in any world, in any world-view.  Want to write a story set in the mythical world of Candy Land?  Go ahead.  Want to envision a world where the sky is plaid with floating cans of aerosol cheese the only sentient life?  You can do that, too.

The thing is, there really are no rules for fiction, per se.  There are rules for writing … sort of.  If you want to write something and have it graded for school, it needs to conform to the grammar and spelling rules your school subscribes to.  If you want to write something for publication in a magazine, check with that magazine to find out what rules they enforce.  Even if you were to try and write sports articles for the website SB Nation—where there are no rules concerning grammar, spelling or coherence—there are vague guidelines (I assume without evidence) stating the article needs to be about sports.

Now, in front of the word “fiction” we (mankind) often attach like a spavined horse unwillingly dragging a rattletrap wagon loaded with carcasses to the butcher (where the horse, too, will be executed) certain qualifying words.  “Western” fiction, “romantic” fiction, “pulp” fiction and, yes, “science fiction.”

These words rarely mean what any rational person would think they mean.  While “western fiction” conjures up in the mind images of cowboys, Indians and log forts in lands where there are no trees, it is often interchangeable with “frontier fiction” and can be set in the forests of Maine or on the beaches of Barbados.

The term “science fiction” might lead one to think that writings falling under that general heading are based in science.  Oh how innocent you are, little blacksmith!  Among the aficionados of science fiction, one of the favorite pastimes is the casting of aspersions on anyone who deviates from orthodoxy in the slightest way.

What is the orthodoxy from which people stray?  Each aficionado has their own definition.

See, for most of us, “science fiction” describes a wide variety of “fiction”.  (Remembering, of course, that the word “fiction” means “they made it up.”)  Most of us luddites consider science fiction to contain Stars Trek, War and Gate, as well as Captain Midnight, the works of Poul Anderson, and that episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” where they dream about the walnuts.

Not the aficionado.  The thing the science fiction aficionado loves best about science fiction is arguing what’s in and what’s out.  One aficionado considers “Star Wars” to be science fiction because they hold a very broad definition which includes “anything in space” while another considers “Star Wars” to be space opera and most definitely not science fiction because there’s no scientific basis for X-wing fighters to make a sound in the vacuum of space.  Still another likes to argue that “The X-Files” was science fiction because they pretended to use science even though they never went to space.

However, I have tried to argue that the greatest science fiction show ever on television was “Quincy, M.E.” because it was “fiction” that used and highlighted “science” and have found that his idea generally makes the aficionados collective heads explode.  (In fact, the only person I have ever unfriended on Facebook was this knucklehead who’s only apparent joy in life was belittling everyone who didn’t subscribe to his exact take on what did or not constitute science fiction and I’m pretty sure he would have physically accosted me over my Quincy take had we not been in separate states. [I was in Texas, he was in Denial.])

This all being said—for no easily discernible reason—of course there can be Christian science fiction.  Fiction is a story someone made up.  To be at all palatable, it has to be set in some sort of setting.  That could be the above-referenced plaid-sky planet, a world where there are no deities or a world (or universe) where there is a deity.  Christian science fiction would, therefore, simply be a science fiction story that—in some way—subscribed to Christian tenets.

The funny (as in the sense of “ironic” rather than “ha-ha”) thing is that those who argue most vociferously against Christian science fiction are often the same people who will argue that the point of science fiction is to explore the possible and impossible, to speculate on what is or might be or never was.  In other words, they want limitless creativity … with limits.

Some will argue Christian science fiction is possible, there’s just never been any good Christian science fiction.  I’ll not deny that there has been bad Christian science fiction—by someone’s rubric—just as there has been bad agnostic or atheistic science fiction.  When I hear this argument being made (or that there are no more good westerns, romances, or military thrillers) I generally tune out because the speaker has already revealed their bias and their willingness to be dissuaded is not worth my effort.

What Was the “Reason for the Season”, Again?

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Fill in the blank, “__________ is the reason for the season.”
We’ve been conditioned by lapel pins, T-shirts and bumper stickers to say that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But what if that’s wrong?
Now, it came about because people who celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ perceived that the holiday was getting drowned out by all the trappings: gift-giving, shopping, eating, decorations, Santa, etc. So they wanted to remind themselves, and everyone else, that the reason Christians celebrate Christmas is because we’re celebrating the birth of the Son of God.
Leaving aside arguments about whether Jesus were born on December 25th or not (my response: who cares?), I’d like to think that we Christians can come together in joy over the fact that the Son of God was born. Born, lived, died, rose again … that’s big stuff!
Still, we’ve got this holiday—a whole holiday season—during which we celebrate that birth and it is annoying to see someone proclaim that “Christmas is about giving” or even “Christmas is about family” in such a way that they never even mention the Son of God. So we rebel against the commercialism or take down all decorations that don’t have the nativity depicted in/on them and tell people that Jesus—as opposed to gifts, shopping, eating or anything else—is the reason for the season.
But then again, maybe he’s not.
Recall with me, if you will, one of the greatest of all Christmas stories. Jesus is traveling through Jericho, great crowds have gathered to see him, but one guy who desires to see the Lord can’t because of his height. So Little Z climbs up in a sycamore to get a look at the Master and what does Jesus do? Rather than just trying to avoid eye contact with the nut (ha!) in the tree, he stops and says, “Zacchaeus, you come down. I want to eat at your house today!”
Being such a well-known Christmas story, you probably remember what happened next. Zacchaeus takes Jesus home, they eat lunch (or, as it’s called in some cultures, “lunch”), and Little Z is so struck by the Lord and overwhelmed with love for him, that he vows to pay back everyone he has cheated.
Isn’t that a great Christmas story? What? You didn’t know it was a Christmas story? Well, let me point you to the verse where Jesus tells Little Z not just why he came to his house, but why he came to earth:
Luke 19:10
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (NIV)
You see, Jesus isn’t the reason for the season: you are! He didn’t come because he had a cool song he wanted Isaac Watts to write (“Joy to the World”), he came because he wanted to find you! So, this Christmas, I encourage you not to focus on a little baby in a manger, but the full-grown Son of God who came to find and save you!
Merry (late) Christmas!