Archives For confession

 

Photo Credit: “PAIN Knuckle Tattoo 11-23-09 — IMG_9893″, © 2009 Steven Depolo, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

 
There is nothing quite like pain to bring us up short. When it hurts just to breathe, how do we take that next breath? The body knows–even if the receptors in the brain are flaring up like an electrified pin cushion. We would term this bad pain. Certainly unwanted pain. 
You see, I’ve been on a journey to work my way up to a 300 lb bench press. With only a couple of months to go, I recently took a tumble, hurting my back. This is has hindered the forward momentum I had laboriously, by the sweat of my brow, built. Only fifty pounds away from my goal, I’ve had to stop. You see, when one is working out, there are good and satisfying pains of the workout (soreness), there are the pains one pushes through.

And as I alluded to above, there are the pains that quite literally take one’s breath away. We would (as I said above) call this bad pain. The thing is, pain just is. It’s a warning system to let us know when things aren’t right. In these cases, it’s a voice which must be heeded. Or else we risk adding injury to injury.

Author Jim Butcher says there’s one thing we often forget about pain; namely, that it’s for the living. The dead don’t feel it. That we feel pain means, quite bluntly, that we are still alive. Philip Yancey would remind us to look to the leper, whose deadened nerve endings deny the necessary warnings which pain brings…

I’m not going to lie: pain isn’t fun. And the season of recovery, where I must sacrifice some of the progress of made, is frustrating. But it is necessary.

There is something to be said for slowing down. I’ve been able to read more, watch some movies, rest.

Pain let me know that it was time for a reset.

What has pain taught you?

“Isn’t there enough real horror in the world? Why do we need horror stories?” I have been asked these, and other, questions. In fact, I was once on the receiving of a fundagelical intervention because I had the temerity to read the Harry Potter books. In some circles (yes, folks, they’re still out there!), somehow the Old Testament command, “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” has come to mean “thou shalt not read the exploits of a certain boy wizard.” Never mind that it’s fantasy, never mind the fact that the stories are rife with not only biblical–dare I say Christian–themes. The books start with a mother giving her life for her only son. There is sacrifice, honor, loyalty, facing adversity, standing up against the odds. I could go on.

And we’re worried about fantasy depictions of magic? Talk about straining at gnats! But I digress. Yes, there is real horror in the world–rapes, murders, war, torture, sex slavery, racism, and on and on and on. The thing is: horror stories don’t add to the horror in the world; rather, they give us a vicarious outlet for processing those real horrors we experience in life (or see in technicolor on YouTube). The horror story, because it’s a story, gives a safe place to feel our fears. We can put on a movie, or curl up with a book, in the safety and comfort our own homes. If it’s too much, we turn off the movie, or put the book down. We are never really in danger, but the stories remind us of the one fact we seem to almost willingly want to forget: the world is not a safe place. We, especially we in the West, crave nothing so much as safety and comfort. And we become quite wroth when anything threatens that delicate equilibrium. We don’t like to be made to feel uncomfortable. But this is exactly why I both read, and write, horror stories. It’s when I’m feeling the most safe and comfortable that world is most apt to collide head on with me (or I with it). The horror story is a necessary tonic; it reminds us that things aren’t always good, that sometimes things don’t work out for the best in this world. Young men die (I just lost a coworker who was only forty-nine!), while greedy grow old. Babies are born crack-addicted, or with AIDS. Praying grandmothers, serving with all their strength husbands suffering from strokes and with dementia, die before their ill spouses…

It doesn’t make any sense. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

The horror story comes along, telling us, “Yes, this world is a wilder, weirder, darker, more mysterious place than you can possible imagine.” But you can survive. You will face obstacles you never dreamed of, and will overcome them. The thing is we have to be willing to be made to feel uncomfortable. I find that not many are. We eschew that which makes us feel uncomfortable. Instead of facing our fears, we often give in them labelling it wisdom. Whoever said this world is a safe place?

Now I’m not here suggesting that the horror story be all that we read; rather that we make it a practice to step outside our comfort zones. It may feel uncomfortable and awkward at first, but I think it’s ultimately rewarding. Beyond that, there is precious little other fiction where the veil betwixt the natural and supernatural is so thin–is rent in twain. Horror, and all fantasy fiction for that matter, treats the supernatural as de rigueur–as a matter of fact. Because we, at least those of us who call ourselves christians, live in those two worlds all the time everyday. To us, the supernatural is real. To the writer of fiction, while it might not be real, it at least reflects a worldview much closer to our own; namely, that there are forces which lie outside the realm of physics and rationality. Which can’t be neatly categorized or explained. Supernatural/horror/fantasy fiction, done right, allows for the most of epic of confrontations between good and evil with a capital “E.” In this way, we come nearer in approach to a biblical worldview than we would say a Tom Clancy, or a Lee Child, novel. In those, man is the architect of the evil depicted upon the story’s stage; in Tolkien, there is Sauron. In Harry Potter, Voldemort. In King’s The Stand, there is Flagg. Each of these, whether the author intended or no, comes closer to depicting the world as it is; namely, that there is an enemy, Satan, who is the author of evil. That there is in fact a transcendent evil originating outside our species.

This is why I both read, and write, horror stories.

Beyond that, these stories make us feel something–even if it’s revulsion. They are visceral, and as such can’t be ignored. Like a roller coaster, there are chills and thrills, but ultimately the ride comes to an end, and we get off. Hopefully, we take enough with us to counteract the effects of world which seeks to lull us to sleep, to pull the wool over our eyes. This is why I read and write horror stories.

How about you? Do you read horror stories?

This isn’t a story I want to tell; rather, it’s one I have to tell. It may seem to meander some as I set it stage, but every word represents the truth as I understand it. 

First, the distant past. It would seem that seventy some years ago, my paternal grandparents split up because my grandfather was abusive (they had two daughters at this point). Later on, they tried to reconcile, and my dad was the result. Sadly, the marriage didn’t last, and my dad was forbidden from knowing his dad (or his dad’s side of the family). I’m told he saw him for the last time at the age of twelve. Fast forward to the early fifties, and as they were playing my dad and his sisters found out their mother was remarrying that very morning. I’m given to understand that neither my aunts, nor my dad, had any idea about the nuptials.

Not too long thereafter, at the age of fifteen, my aunt came down with a case of the pregnants. My understanding is that, at some time after their wedding, my step grandfather began touching his step kids. For instance, kids being kids they would have the radio on at night; because it was ostensibly loud, dad would come into the room to turn it down. Apparently, the radio’s knob isn’t what he fiddled with. It was, again, at this time that my aunt got pregnant and moved out. 

As is so often the case, no one talked about it at the time; it was much, much later that folks began to compare stories. There were other things, too: this same man would stay up late watching “snow” on the television. He also apparently jabbed babies in the back of the hand with his fork should they dare reach across his plate at the dinner table… By the time I was born, he was older, nearing retirement age. Perhaps he had beaten whatever demons afflicted him? Who knows? What I heard is that despite what my parents knew about the man, I was left there as a toddler (my grandmother was home). When my mom picked me up, she smelled a funny smell. In fact, she called my cousin, stating that “his sweet baby face smells like semen.” Whether this is true, or not, I’ve no idea; it is however entirely consistent with the man’s character.
Blessedly, I have entirely no memories of this incident. What I can tell you is that, as I briefly sketched out above, it’s not the only such story to swirl around this man. In fact, upon her deathbed, my grandmother threw her hospital tray at him, inviting him to “Go to Hell!” Apparently, she could no longer ignore the the reports she heard, and wanted to clear her conscience in light of her impending demise.

Ladies and gentlemen, abuse is cyclical. Growing up, my dad was distant. Sarcastic and cutting when he was present, but all the awhile emotionally unavailable. He was long gone before he ever left our family. I can’t say with any certainty what he went through as a child; he’s never spoken to me of it. In fact, we don’t speak at all.

That is the legacy of abuse. It destroys families and shatters lives.

Like the popular Taylor Swift song, Blank Space, things have been quiet around here. Time was I enjoyed writing something everyday, but somewhere along the way lost the joy of it.

I forgot that the work was its own reward. It’s not about the comments, or the shares, the social media interactions, or the stats.

It’s about the work.

The sheer joy of creating something which yesterday did not exist. In Tolkien’s phrase, we are “sub-creators”–we create because we are made in the image of a creative God. He didn’t create for applause, but rather because it is his nature to do so. What do you think he meant in declaring creation “good?” Doing the work gave him, the most self-fulfilling being, immense pleasure.

That should be a clue to those of us who are compelled to create works of art (whatever form those works take). Don’t get get sidetracked by applause, acclaim, by being known–keep working, keep creating. It’s not about the glory, but about making the best art we can, and finding joy in the doing.

The work is its own reward. Let’s not forget this.

House of Cards has taken the traditional TV model by the lapels of its finely pressed suit and has given it a run for its money. It is the Game of Thrones of political drama. People subscribe to Netflix just for House of Cards.

There are numerous reasons for this. Chief among them are:

Kevin Spacey. There’s no doubting the man’s acting chops. He brings gravitas, strength, and ferocity to his portrayal of Frank Underwood.

Robin Wright. A similarly gifted actress, first seen in The Princess Bride, and easily Spacey’s equal in this.

David Fincher. Director, auteur, helmer of some of the most engrossing, if dark, movies in history: Se7en, The Social Network, Gone Girl, and others.

Not to mention that the show, while based upon an earlier British miniseries, is written by Washington insider Beau Willimon.

While that pedigree–the quality of the show’s writing, acting, production, and direction gets people in the door (so to speak)–lends the show a great deal of credibility, it’s not why I continue to watch. Sure, the quality of the performances got me hooked–no doubt. But I keep watching because it’s a human story.

It’s my story.

It’s your story.

Quite honestly, how many among us would be immune to the intoxicating allure of power continuously dangled in front of our noses? As the saying goes, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Within the construct of the the show, the catalyst which sets events in motion is a promise denied. Frank is promised an auspicious position, but is told things have changed. The sense of betrayal causes him (and his wife, Claire) to throw off all previous loyalties in pursuit of power. This, of course, leads to all manner of dark and dangerous places.

The thing is, and this is the show’s genius, who among us (though the particulars are different) hasn’t felt betrayed? Who hasn’t felt, like Frank, of casting off allegiances and getting what’s due us? While we deplore his actions, we gobble them up because he gives us a guilt-free means of vicariously living through him. So this is what it’s like, we ask ourselves? This is what it’s like to get what we (feel) we deserve.

Which proves–if we’re honest–that we all have an inner “Frank Underwood,” that black dog of our souls who:

Looks out for #1

Uses others to get what we want

Stops at nothing in pursuit of our ends

Which just shows our continuing need for Jesus, and the new life only he can give.

If we’ve hated in our hearts… He died for that.

If we’ve sought revenge… He died for that, too.

In short, if we’re human we’re flawed, marred by sin, in need of a Savior. The very one who, within the show, that Underwood denies is the one who can set us on the path to a true and lasting life. The presidency–power–is but a drop in the bucket in light of eternity.

Choose you this day. Who will you serve? Yourself, your inner “Frank,” or the One Who died that you might truly live?