A Life In Faith – Surviving The End

(My faith is an important part of my life.  I do not set up my life or my beliefs as anything other than my understanding of the Divine.  If they shine some tiny light on your journey then I will be happy for us both. YMMV)

(Warning – the following topic makes me cranky.  You have been warned)

Well, I’ve done it again.

In fact, so far I’ve done it several times just this year.

Survived another prediction of the end times/rapture/whatever. Honestly, I’ve lost track of how many of these have come and gone. It’s around a dozen, maybe more. All of them have come with various levels of “support” and, sadly, media coverage. None of them have been true.

Not. One. Of. Them.

None.

I am truly tired of people making my faith look foolish (this isn’t the only way this is happening. But for today, I’ll stick to just this one.) From a media point of view, it’s a fun story. And an easy one. Plenty of sizzle (the END OF THE WORLD!!), plenty of people willing to talk about it, and a concept that “affects” everyone. (There’s just one problem.)

It’s all rubbish.

Complete and utter nonsense. Here are a few things that don’t play for me.

  1. The Rapture – This is not a universal Christian belief. The word doesn’t appear in scripture (in this sense). A certain amount of interpreting various bits of scripture is required to build a foundation for the concept. Does that mean it won’t happen? No, but I’m agnostic on the subject. Especially in light of #(4)
  2. Scripture Code – There is an even smaller group of Christians that believe that woven in the words of the Bible is a secret code. A secret code that only a few people can figure out. It’s an elitist approach to scripture that’s at odds with all of the obvious teaching of the Gospel. Jesus doesn’t whisper secrets to an elite few, he tells them to go out into all the world. And why would God put “Easter eggs” into it? Making sure we’re not losing the meaning as it moves from language to language is a full-time job. So naturally, because He loves us and wants us to live the way He wants, important pieces of information are hidden in the text. This requires an understanding of the Divine as a game player. And one who plays favorites. Which is inconsistent with the Gospel.
  3. Bad Science – One “prophecy” this year required the planet Nibiru. Never heard of it? Not surprising, since there is no evidence it exists. An even smaller group of people have latched onto this “Planet X”, an enormous planetary object that will supposedly strike (and destroy) the Earth. First discussed in 1995 by a person who claimed to be able to speak with extraterrestrials through an implant in her head, science utterly rejects its existence. An object that big would create disruptions to all the other objects in our solar system, making it easy to identify. There’s no evidence of anything of the sort. No evidence at all.

Oh, and Nibiru was supposed to hit in 2003 AND 2012.

Oops.

  1. Jesus didn’t know, so how do you? – According to Matthew 24:36

“But about that day or hour, no one knows. Not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (NIV)

The Rapture is always associated, to some degree, with the Second Coming. And no code breaking is required to figure out that we aren’t supposed to know. I Thessalonians (5:2) reinforces that idea that we won’t know.

Unless you’re one of the “special” people who have secret knowledge.

The whole thing aggravates me. That it has come to be treated like a mainstream Christian belief aggravates me. That more Christians and our leaders don’t make clear what an out of left field belief system this is aggravates me.

This is the belief of a tiny fraction of the population. Beyond the broader question of the Rapture, the rest is a threadbare cloth of bad theology and worse science.

The best thing for all of us, believers and non-believers, is to stop giving this foolishness an audience.

Because it’s rubbish.

Don’t waste your time thinking about this kind of stuff. It distracts from what our life in faith is supposed to be about. Loving God, loving one another, caring for those in need. If you’re busy doing that, it makes no difference when or if the world comes to an end.

Peace

J

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What I’m Reading – Voices of the Foreign Legion

Voices of the Foreign Legion by Adrian Gilbert (2017) – A clear-eyed view of the legendary fighting corps from the men who have been part of the Legion Etrangere.

The movies have offered a romantic image of the French Foreign Legion.  Men escaping their past or looking for adventure who enlist to serve in distant lands.  The banter is usually cheery and devil may care.  Costumed in the iconic white kepi, it usually all looks rather fun.

The stories told here in the words of legionnaires from their journals, letters, books, and interviews offer a very different view.  Yes, men enlist for many reasons and bring many secrets with them.  The life of a recruit lacks anything and everything that might be considered romantic or fun.  The lives of the seasoned veterans make no promises to be any better.

The Legion was created for two reasons.  First, French law forbade that citizens conscripted into the military serving outside France.  Second, France had a colonial empire that needed defending.  So they created a legion of volunteers from many nations (including France) to fight in places like Algeria, Djibouti, and Indo-China.

And fight the Legion has.

There are parts of the legend that are true.  The bravery, endurance and on the field of combat discipline of this military corps can stand beside any other on the planet.  Equally true is the violence and lack of traditional military discipline away from battle.  They are compromises that the Foreign Legion has made to create the unit that was needed in its time and place.

What really stood out for me is the uncompromised honesty about their beloved Legion from the legionnaires.  They are critical of mistakes and of institutional shortcomings.  But they have found something to devote themselves too in this sometimes dysfunctional brotherhood as well.  Stories of the hellish training, the brutal internal disciplines, even leaders that they believed to be mentally ill.  Through it all, they found something, unlike anything they had known before.  The reader may not understand why someone would choose to live this life, but you can not help but feel the passion and devotion of those who have served France for over a century.

There was one small disappointment for me.  The cover of the book offers this title: “Voices of The Foreign Legion – The History of the World’s Most Famous Fighting Corps” while the title page reads: “Voices of The Foreign Legion – The French Foreign Legion in Its Own Words”.  The book is absolutely the second title.  While there are a couple quick touches of the history and context surrounding the battles described, you will be left with a gaping hole in so far as the history of the Legion.  An opening chapter that provided the origin story of the unit and some further development of the socio-political history surrounding the Legion would make this book truly complete.

As it stands, it is still a stirring, disturbing and brutally honest look at one of the early elite military units.

Rating – **** Recommended

Writing – How to Torture A Writer

Over the years, there is an accusation (quite just, I assure you) that I have an evil sense of humor.  It’s not so much that I am constantly torturing people with puns, Dad jokes and other snarky forms of humor.  It’s more that I seem such a normal, even boring sort of person. So, when my “evil” side comes out it takes people by surprise.

So in an attempt to keep the books balanced (while adding to my evil reputation at the same time), I offer you the simple way to torture a writer.  You might think I’m going to suggest non-standard English or the use of poor grammar.  This is more likely to infuriate them rather than torture them.  No, I offer up something much more insidious.  Something that will send them spiraling into the realm of self-doubt and pain.

Ask them who their favorite author is.

 

Not authors, ask for one. Top three tops.  Someone they love and read over and over.  I am willing to lay down cash money (at least a dime or so) that their response 

will be something along the lines of:

“Wow, that’s hard.”

I have never met or even heard of a writer who only has one favorite author.  Most of us are voracious readers.  That has resulted in a long list of writers whose work we love and a longer list of authors whose work we enjoy.  Their brain will all but lock up trying to answer your question.

The downside of this is that you will be pummelled with this long list, with explanations of why this one is included, or how only some of that author’s output makes the cut.  It could go on for hours.  You could start getting e-mails and texts with further additions that they forgot before.

You’ll also end up with some great new reading ideas.  So there is a payoff.

It seems only fair that I offer up at least a short list of my own at this point.

  • Ray Bradbury – A brilliant storyteller, masterful writer and able to weave elements of both science fiction and horror together.
  • Isaac Asimov – Prolific barely scratches the surface.  Science, Science Fiction, Mysteries.  Detailed without becoming obscure, a great storyteller.
  • Robert A. Heinlein – a controversial pick in parts of the Sci-Fi world, but a brilliant storyteller, visionary and social commentator.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald – a relative newcomer to the list.  I read a short story collection of his and, after many years delay, “The Great Gatsby”.  What a brilliant writer.
  • Malcolm Boyd – I was introduced to his writings on faith and struggle as a teen by one of the most important men in my life, Fr. Ralph Darling.  Boyd took my juvenile understanding of what faith, religion, and Christ meant, blew them into tiny little pieces, and then gave me an idea of how I might put them back together again.
  • Rex Stout – His Nero Wolfe stories are perfect mysteries with brilliantly conceived characters.  All done in a concise format.  I’m also jealous of his ability to create the stories quickly and requiring few changes.
  • Spider Robinson – A brilliant storyteller with a sharp eye for character and a sly sense of humor.  If I had to choose one fictional universe to spend the rest of my life, it would at Callahan’s.  Nothing else is close.
  • C.S. Lewis – Next to Boyd, the author with the greatest impact on my life in faith.  A careful storyteller who confronts a wide range of spiritual concepts.

Then I would start discussing genres and authors whose work I enjoy (Mysteries – A.C. Doyle’s Holmes, Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee books, Janet Evanovich – but only the ones she wrote solo, the co-wrote stuff is awful…), plus authors that have a book or two I liked (Parke Godwin’s “Waiting for the Galactic Bus” and “The Snake Oil Wars)…well, you get the picture.

Just be warned.  Once you get us started, it’s hard to get a writer to stop.

Peace

JD

What I’m Reading – Robin Hood

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire by Howard Pyle (1883)  A collation of the various stories and ballads of the legendary outlaw, altered to bring some storytelling cohesion to them all and adapted for children.

Pyle was a successful illustrator and children’s author of the day.  Most of the images of the outlaw who robs the rich and gives to the poor comes from this version of the stories.  The character in the original ballads, some of which date back to the 1400s, sometimes have a different view.  In those stories, Robin in a crook and murderer many times over.  This book solidified the growing trend to make him more heroic.  Elsewhere he is either noble born, or a yeoman, and his reasons for retreating to Sherwood Forest vary as well.

All the familiar characters are here, Robin, Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Alan-a-Dale, Maid Marian, the Sheriff of Nottingham and more.  The stories move right along and there are plenty of adventures.  Most of which are not part of the common canon that most of us came to know growing up.  Pyle created his own version of “old English” speaking which got in the way for men periodically.  Beyond that, the stories are just a joy.  Robin Hood remains a perfect childhood hero.  He and his friends run off into the woods to lead a “merry” life, without a care or responsibility.  In fact, when Little John has a chore to do for the band, he gets distracted by the idea of having some fun.  All of the characters are filled with an unending confidence in their ability to do all things and defeat all comers.  That they often end up on their backsides is part of the fun.

This was Howard Pyle’s first novel and it was a success from the beginning.  Pyle is an interesting guy who is largely forgotten today.  He was a popular teacher with students  like N.C. Wyeth.  He wrote several other books, including a four volume telling of the King Arthur tales.  It was also his work that set our modern idea of how pirates dress.  Most of what we see in characters like Captain Jack Sparrow would be unwieldy and absurd on a sailing ship.  It was Pyle who created the image and it has stuck over the years.

You will find many different versions available from hardcover collector editions to simple e-book versions.

Short Stories – Richmond Noir

This post is part of a year-long series about short stories.  Read about my “Year of the Short Story” HERE.

Richmond Noir – edited by Andrew Blosson, Brian Castleberry and Tom De Haven (2010) – This is a wonderful collection of short stories done in the noir style.  As Tom Robbins (author of among others “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”.  Robbins grew up in Richmond and has a story in the collection) says in his foreword, when he thinks of Richmond he thinks of alleys.  “…my memories of Richmond’s noir.  Which is to say, colored with seamy urban romance and suave big-city vice, the twin elements most responsible for the seductive throb at the murky heart of noir“.

The stories feature well-known locations in Richmond, Hollywood Cemetery, Belle Isle, Church Hill, Shockoe Slip, Jackson Ward, the West End and more.  They are then broken down into four categories – Nevermore, Numbers, Neurosis and Nonsuch.  While a relatively small city (the greater Richmond population is around a million souls), the authors realize that it offers a rich lode of concepts, history, and people for their creative exercise.  State Capitol, the heart of rebellions of both white and black residents, with plenty of anger, angst and the kind of political chicanery that would do Chinatown proud, this is Richmond.

The stories (with the part of the city they’re set in):

  • The Rose Red Vial (Museum District) Pir Rothenberg
  • Homework (East End)  David L. Robbins
  • Gaia (Providence Park) Mina Beverly
  • Texas Beach (Texas Beach) Dennis Danvers
  • The Battle of Belle Isle (Belle Isle) Clay McLeod Chapman
  • A Late-Night Fishing Trip (Oregon Hill) X.C. Atkins
  • The Heart is a Strange Muscle (Church Hill) Laura Browder
  • The Fall Lines (Shockoe Slip) Dean King
  • Playing with DaBlonde (Manchester)Tom De Haven
  • Midnight at the Oasis (Jefferson Davis Highway) Anne Thomas Soffee
  • Untitled (Jackson Ward) Meagan J. Saunders
  • Marco’s Broken English (West End) Conrad Ashley Persons
  • The Thirteenth Floor (Monroe Park) Howard Owen
  • Mr. Not (Devil’s Half Acre) Hermine Pinson
  • The Apprentice (Hollywood Cemetery) Clint McCown

All of the stories are amazing.  A couple really stood out for me:

  • Untitled by Meagan Saunders – I think any creative person would understand the struggle to push past our demons and create.
  • The Thirteenth Floor by Howard Owen – A classic noir mystery set in a classic building in Richmond.
  • The Red Vial by Pir Rothenberg – Had to have a Poe connection somewhere and I can’t resist the story.
  • The Battle of Belle Isle – Clay McLeod Chapman – The James River figures in several of the stories.  This one is a tale of love and dedication in the midst of loss.

Honestly, there is not a weak story in the bunch.  Richmond deserves no less.  There are collections for a wide range of other cities including both Pittsburgh and Buffalo, so I’ll have to track those down.

If you’ve never been to Richmond this book could serve as an interesting introduction to the city.  If you know RVA you’ll love the local feel.  And if you’re a fan of noir, this is a great addition to your library.

Writing – The Books Of My Childhood

The first books I remember reading were The Bobbsey Twins. I have no idea why I got started with these stories of English children. My parents are gone so I can’t ask them. But the memory is clear. The adventures of children with whom I have almost nothing in common were a staple of my reading.

The Bobbsey Twins were actually two sets of fraternal twins, Nan and Bert and their younger siblings, Freddie and Flossie.  The first story was written in 1904 and new stories continued till 1979.  The family would explore different places and portions of the lives of an upper middle-class family.  There was a mom, a dad, a cook, a handyman, two dogs, a cat, and a duck.  Quite the fun group.

The Bobbsey Twin stories along with the next two entries on my list are all creations of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. While credited to a single author, the name was a pseudonym for teams of writers who cranked out adventure after adventure for a range of book series.  I owe a great deal to those unknown writers.

The twins were followed by the books that launched my love of mysteries and science fiction. Both the Hardy Boys mystery series and the adventures of Tom Swift books arrived in the mail, two slim volumes at a time. I read them again and again. Tom Swift arrived later, around the time that I was ready to move on to the next phase of my reading life.

The titles I remember next were “Ben and Me” by Robert Lawson, the story of a mouse who makes friends with Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. Amos would ride along in Franklin’s hat and share his adventures. As much as anything, that book probably helped launch my love of history. It’s a simple, child’s view of history, but it caught my attention.

The other was “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George. The story of a 14-year-old boy who runs away from his crowded family apartment in NYC. It’s a wonderful adventure story of courage and using your brains to survive. I read the book several times. It also introduced me to the disappointment of a beloved book translated to the big screen. The movie version is a vast disappointment.

IIf Tom Swift introduced me to science fiction, then the Tripod Trilogy by John Christopher sealed the deal. I discovered these in junior high school, so they are, in many ways, the last books of childhood. Whereas Tom Swift was just the Hardy Boys in space, these books took me to a post-apocalyptic world that was unlike anything I’d ever encountered. They changed my reading patterns forever.

From that beginning began a lifetime of reading.  I continue to explore the genres I found at the beginning, but I am also always looking for something new to try.

Nan and Bert, I believe. If memory serves Flossie had blonde curls.

Peace

JD

A Life In Faith – Make a Joyful Noise

(My faith is an important part of my life.  I do not set up my life or my beliefs as anything other than my understanding of the Divine.  If they shine some tiny light on your journey then I will be happy for us both. YMMV)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
    let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
    to judge the earth.

Psalm 98:4-9  (NRSV)

This is one of my favorite “rattle their cages”, iconoclastic, push back against tradition, rigor mortis passages from Scripture.

Bet you never thought of it that way, did you?

I come from a tradition with a love of doing worship well. Since how we worship is central to how we define ourselves, I understand. But it’s a short step to carving everything in stone and maintaining that nothing is allowed to change. We’re not alone in that, we’re not the worst about it either. There is a false security in proclaiming that we have perfected worship or theology or whatever. It’s the source of the “Frozen Chosen” vs “Happy Clappy” nonsense. It’s wrong and we need to stop.

Which brings us to Psalm 98:4

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; make a loud noise and rejoice…:

It goes on to describe everything from music to the roaring of the sea. All of it is placed in the frame of joy. Not beauty or perfection, not classical forms or tradition. It says to make a noise. A loud noise, no less. Most of the churches I grew up in would have looked askance at making loud noises. As a child, I was largely discouraged from making any noise. It’s one reason why churches seem to be so uptight. Orderly, yes. Joyful noise? Not so much.

I’m not advocating for chaotic noise. The passage is clear. The noise is to be joyful and directed at God. That provides a lot of room to shake the dust off the cage bars. It’s an opportunity for some improvisation and spontaneity. There might even be an occasional surprise. The church could use all of the above.

At my current church home, there’s one section of the worship that has become the de facto “families with small children zone”. It’s something that came into existence spontaneously, I’m told. And it’s known for the joyful noises that sometimes erupt there. Giggles and shouts of joy that are just part of our worship. As they should be.

For adults and children, that freedom should be part of worship. And it should always be welcome. Stop worrying about “getting it right.”

Make a joyful noise.

Photo by Hangchen Li

This is a personal favorite and expresses my idea of all the world making a joyful noise.

Peace

J