thomascovenant1-6

These days, there’s one name which readily comes to the tongue with regards to adult fantasy: George R.R. Martin. It’s no wonder. First, his book series–A Song of Ice and Fire–took the nineties by storm; then came the HBO series, Game of Thrones, which is a cultural juggernaut. Fantasy as a genre goes back much further, of course. Just how far do we go back? Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Beowulf? Certainly not children’s stories. For brevity’s sake, let’s here confine ourselves to select works of the past sixty (or so) years.

Now in a sense all fiction is fantasy, as it’s all made up. But we shall here confine ourselves to what is contemporaneously termed adult fantasy. As I said above, George R.R. Martin is the name du jour in adult fantasy (there are others: Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, the late Terry Pratchett), but Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (though it evolved from a children’s work, The Hobbit) certainly qualifies. As does Stephen R. Donaldson’s excellent Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

And it is about Thomas Covenant that I wish to talk today. Coming on the heels of the release of Terry Brooks’s The Sword of Shannara, Donaldson’s book ushered in a era of renewed interest in, and popularity of, adult fantasy. We’re talking 1977 here, folks–the year of Star Wars–and Donaldson wrote about about dyspeptic former writer turned leper who awakes in a mysterious world known as the Land. Unlike, for instance, Aragorn son of Arathorn, Covenant is no hero. He is a deeply conflicted man at odds with both himself and the world around him. At one time, he knew his place (knew who he was in relation to himself, others, and the world around him): he was a husband, successful writer, and father to an infant son.

Then he contracted leprosy, and his world imploded. Taught at the leprosarium in Louisiana to do a V.S.E. (“Visual Surveillance of Extremities”), Covenant built a new reality. Then the bottom dropped out again when his wife, Joan, left him citing contagion. Cut off from life, from those he loves, from others on his farm outside a small New Mexico town, he becomes embittered. V.S.E. becomes his life.

Leprosy is his only reality. And so little do others want him to be around that someone has paid his utility bills in advance. No one wants any contact with Thomas Covenant. Then it happens: he deliberately heads into town to pay his phone bill, only to find that it, too, has been paid. Enraged, he leaves the Bell office only to swoon in front of an advancing car.

The he awakes in the Land. He of course disbelieves all that he sees around him, chalking it up to a fever dream.

Reality, as it so often does to us, has gobsmacked him. He is in denial. All of his carefully constructed realities have gone whoosh! with the wind. With a name like Thomas Covenant, he is contractually obligated to doubt! And doubt he does–forcefully and actively. To the point where he, and bear in this is well before it became de rigueur to pen tales about antiheroes, does despicable things because “none of this is real.” His only reality, as stated above, is his sickly flesh. As he says, “dead nerves don’t regenerate.”

But in the Land, they do.

I don’t want to allegorize, but instead make an application to our real world: the Bible says that we are dead in our trespasses and sins until Christ makes us alive. And are we not like Thomas Covenant, holding onto our unreality–because there’s no such thing as a free lunch? It seems to good to be true. Dead things can’t live again. So we hold onto our sin, because it’s all we know. Moreover, even after coming to Christ, how long and hard do we work to hold onto our carefully crafted selves, and our comfortable lives? God comes in, has a work for us, and we like Covenant figuratively put our heads in the sand, saying “La, la, la can’t hear you, God.”

Allow me to circle back around here; what I believe The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to be about is simply calling. And he gets himself into the most trouble by stubbornly denying that calling.

How very much like us. “There’s no way God could use me,” we often say. Like Thomas Covenant himself, God doesn’t call the equipped–He equips the called. In Covenant’s world, he has the wild magic, bound up as it is in his white gold ring (symbolic of commitment, purity, purpose); we in ours have the Holy Spirit–the very mind of Christ available to us. “We are more than conquerors,” as the Bible says. Yet why is it that we don’t live in that place? Because, like Covenant, doubt.

Friends, it’s time stop denying, and embrace the calling placed upon you. If it feels too large–good! Because it is.

But you’re not on this journey alone.

The very Creator walks with you. Lean into Him today.

And read The Chronicle of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. I guarantee the books, with the questions of life, faith, calling it poses, will hit you where you live.

Facing Down Fear

randomlychad  —  April 9, 2015 — 2 Comments

Lately, when I sit down to write, soul seizes up inside; I sit there numb, not knowing what to say. I have stories, and paths to take them down.
 
 But I’m not sure. And I second guess myself into inactivity. I sit there, hoping to show up, have the words come, and instead surf the Internet, or game the time away. When it’s finally quiet at night, when there is time to think, instead of working I watch T.V.
 
 Because I’m afraid. Afraid of where the stories will take me, afraid of investing so much of myself into something no one will likely ever read, afraid of rejection, of my work being scorned. None of the accolades, or encouragements, I’ve received in times gone by seem to count for much these days.
 
 I want to break, as Jim Morrison sang, on through to the other side. The only way I know how is to make myself work.
 
 And the only way to do that is face my fears. Practically speaking, this means imposing a deadline. I’m putting it out here, friends and readers, so that you may hold me accountable:
 
 By hook, or by crook, I will have a book of short stories done in two month’s time. You heard it hear first.
 
 Though it drive me crazy, “so let it be written, so let it be done.” And please don’t hesitate to ask me how the writing’s going.
 
 Thanks!
 
 
 

In the history of advertising, there are successful slogans (“Here’s to the crazy ones!), and not so successful ones:

This, from Mucinex:

“Hey, you, Phlegmwad! Loosen up!”

As you can imagine, this didn’t play well in Peoria (or anywhere for that matter).

This one, from Metamucil:

“We’ve got the fiber if you’ve got the chyme.”

Despite it being altogether alimentary no one knows just what the heck “chyme” is.

The makers of Pop Rocks actually almost came to market with a laxative; their slogan? “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.” They were of course promptly sued by Alka-Seltzer, who were granted an injunction, and all rights to “Poop Rocks.”

In an attempt to broaden its appeal to the hip-hop crowd, Ex-Lax launched its “Drop it like it’s hot” campaign. As you can imagine, this didn’t really come out all right in the end.

Viagra nearly came to market with “Are your boys feeling blue? Don’t take the red pill–pop the blue one, it’s not hard at all.” This wasn’t quite the message they were intending to convey.

How about? What failed slogans have you seen?


 
 “What would Jesus do?” is a good question to ask, but it’s the wrong place to start. It’s not as if we can phone him up, and go “Say, Jesus, what you do about xxx?” Last I heard, he doesn’t usually answer with an audiible voice (and those that claim to here one oftentimes end up in confining circumstances). Sure, we can pray, asking him for wisdom, and he being wisdom, will give it.
 
 But the right question, the more appropriate question, is “What did Jesus do?” And for that, we have the Bible, which contains a record of his words and actions while on earth. Many of those words, and actions, earned him the following appellations:
 
 Wine-bibber (alcoholic)
 
 Glutton (overeater)
 
 Friend of sinners (he hung out with the the riff-raff, those despised the religious leaders of the day)
 
 Telling, he reserved his harshest rebukes for the religious elite, and was gentlest with the sinners–in one case, allowing a woman to anoint him with nard, all the while weeping on, and kissing, his feet; in another, telling a woman, “Go, and sin no more”. Those in the know, the ones who claimed to know God, and speak for him, were scandalized. They couldn’t believe he didn’t know the nard-spilling-woman was a, gulp, sinner. Because if he did…
 
 He knew.
 
 He knew, and he didn’t care what people thought of him and his friendship with sinners. As he himself said, he didn’t come for the well, but to call sinners to repentance.
 
 When’s the last time you or I came out of our holy huddle long enough to even approach being termed a “friend of sinners?” Tick-tick-tick. I’ll venture it’s been a great while (if it’s happened at all). The point is, if Jesus walked among us now in the flesh, he would likely do something which greatly scandalizes our carefully honed religious sensibilities. For instance, he would probably (based upon what we know of him from Scripture) setup shop in the Castro (the gay district in San Francisco), making friends as he went. He might even do some carpentry for the folks as well.
 
 Because every interaction is an opportunity to the share the message of his love. Nothing about what he did (or would do) is a tacit endorsement of the lives of those around him. Rather, he came to give life, and that more abundantly.
 
 So WWJD about teh gays?
 
 He would love them.
 
 Can we say the same?
 
 
 

The day started beautifully: the sun was shining, birds were chirping… Who am I kidding? It was before 5AM, my bladder was full to bursting, and I was too tired to get up. But I finally did, taking my thyroid pill as I passed into the facilities to do my business. I don’t know why–maybe because I’m somewhere between groggy and downright sleep-deprived all the time–but I thought it would be a good idea to go back to bed. I mean it’s a day off here, and all, you know? Sleep in a little bit, right?

I tried, but quarter to six nature came knocking again. Oh, for a bladder of greater capacity, or you know an extra kidney, you know? Most everyone else has two, but I came into the world with just one. Thanks, God! (I know it’s not Your fault, that it’s a fallen world, and all. But Your Word says that You knit me together in my mother’s womb, right? Did You, I don’t know, maybe miss a stitch? No, that’s crazy talk! You, in your sovereignty, knew I only needed one. And I’m thankful for it–because it works. My cup runneth over).

So, quarter to six I’m up again taking care of business. I get my daughter up so she can get herself ready for school. I head back to my bedroom so I can start the day with God by reading His Word. It’s been a hard slog because I’m in Jeremiah now, and let me tell you they don’t call him the weeping prophet for nothing. It’s nothing but doom and gloom for His kids, the children of Israel. It’s rough stuff.

What isn’t rough is my lovely wife offering to bring me coffee in bed. Ah, delicious brown juice of the bean, tis like Ambrosia to me. I sip, and sip again, and seems right with the world.

Until I hear a scream emanating from the upstairs bathroom. It seems my precious, precocious sweetie of an eight-year-old managed to overflow the toilet. I put my coffee down on the nightstand, and hightail it (in my skivvies, no less) to the bathroom. Opening the door, I’m greeted by a laminate floor awash in water.

Diarrhea water. Wading in, I grab the plunger and go to town. Getting the water to go down, I notice the handle is stuck, and jiggle it back to its fully upright and locked position. Now begins the fun of mopping up the sopping mess.

Did I mention that there isn’t a mop in the world big enough to deal the miasma I found myself standing in? No? Well fortunately for me my kids left a pile of dirty clothes in the bathroom; with those, about three bath towels, and ten minutes, I was able to soak up all the standing water.

Success!

Not so fast.

Coming downstairs, I found this sign:

Now isn’t that special? The water, as it is wont to do, found its way through the seemingly watertight laminate flooring down through some minute cracks and into the overhead exhaust fan.

In the downstairs bathroom!

Yay! Lucky me!

Could this day get any worse?

Turns out that, yes–yes, it could. How, you ask?

After getting my cleaning up the messes, and getting my daughter to school (she was almost, but not quite, late), I came back home to take a brief rest before heading out to the gym (my wife was out running errands). Ah, I thought, this day can only get better. Well, um, uh…

Did I mention that I’m behind on my laundry, and that I have clean shorts to workout in? So what’s an enterprising man to do under such circumstances? Grab a pair of swimming trunks, right? Seemed like a good idea at the time.

So there I am, sipping my coffee, sitting on the couch catching up on last night’s Better Call Saul. Ten minutes go by in a blink, and I realize I better get to the gym to get my cardio in before my bride returned home. Grabbing my coffee, a water bottle, my phone, and headphones, I head out the door. Now because the bottom lock on my front door is a little sticky, we always lock it before closing the door.

So I did.

No big deal, right? I mean the keys are in my pocket, right, like always?

Um, yeah. Not so much.

Getting out the car, it dawns on me: I’m still wearing swimming trunks! Trunks with one (count it: one!) pocket. And in it is one thing: my wallet.

My keys are inside, and I’m locked out! No big deal, I tell myself. My wife will be home soon. Just in case, I call her.

I get her voicemail.

I text her. As the song says, “No reply at all.” Her phone, kept on silent as always, is likely resting in the deepest recesses of her purse. I keep my cool. Checking out my front door, I decide there’s too much sun. Heading the back gate, I unlock it, and go into my backyard. There’s at least some shade on the patio. Sitting down down on the bench, I’m prepared (as I’m sure God intended) to contemplate the error of my ways. That is, I would be, were I not immediately assaulted by my son’s dog, Mongrel Molly, the wonderhound. This is the same dog who once headbutted me whilst putting out her food.

I tried to play it cool and aloof, but finally caved and gave her some good scratches while finishing Better Call Saul on my phone. At least it hasn’t gotten too hot here in Phoenix yet. But what is yonder call? It is the siren song of that second pint of coffee knocking on the walls of my bladder…

Have you ever had a day like that?

PS After my wife returned home, having finally received my plaintive whiny pleading text messages after she rolled into the driveway, the day only got better. By better I mean that how could I possibly follow up my morning by anything other than a trip to the dentist? Because, of course, right?

Did you see that $1100 I left lying around? You didn’t? Oh, that’s right! Silly me! I don’t have it. That’s what the dentist told me I needed–$1100 worth of work. You may see at a freeway on ramp, or on your local street corner, with a sign:

“WILL WORK FOR DENTISTRY”