Archives For creativity

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.

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?

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?

There Goes Tacos

randomlychad  —  March 12, 2015 — 2 Comments

So inspiration comes in a variety of forms and from many places. Today, I was playing Words with Friends with my friend, , and apparently played tiles in a spot he coveted for his own nefarious ends. Apparently, in Ricky-land, there’s a rule which states “whoever plays ‘taco(s)’ wins.” I thwarted his plans by playing the word “card.” In chat, he told me “there goes tacos!” What follows is a silly little piece inspired by this exchange.

“There goes tacos,” he said with a resigned shrug. It’s as if he’d hit the very rock bottom of what this day had to offer, and then someone went and knocked a hole in the bottom. What he wouldn’t give for a taco, and there it was–Taco Ricky’s–going up in flames.

How had it come to this?

His day began with an eviction notice. Then he had a flat tire, and was late to work (again). Then the boss, calling him into his office, said, “Sorry, Tom, you’re RIFed.” Because of where they were in the pay cycle his severance wouldn’t be available for a week. All he had was the money in his wallet (which wasn’t much).

There was enough for some beer. And Taco Ricky’s. The best tacos in all of Sandoval County. Taco Ricky’s was really just a roadside food stand, but man! No one made tacos like Ricardo “Ricky” Montalbob. Not no one, not nowhere.

Without any prospects, and nowhere to lay his head, Tom headed to White’s Blue Dragon (his favorite bar). He knew the bartender there, and hoped he could run a tab.

Tom had a few too many, and then got hungry. Arriving at Taco Ricky’s, he misjudged his speed, distance, and proximity to the taco shack. Tom crashed into it, rupturing the propane tanks which served to power the stoves inside.

Fortunately, “Ricky” himself was not inside (Tom forgot the stand closed early on Thursdays). Other than a flat tire, and some scrapes, neither Tom nor his car were hurt.

But the tacos were dead.

When the police arrived, they found Tom sitting on the curb bawling his eyes out.

“There goes tacos,” he blubbered. “What a winning day.”

The arresting officer replied, “Nobody wins when tacos die.”

The story of Ehud in Judges chapter three is a short, probably familiar, one. What follows is a poetic retelling of the events of that chapter.

After Othniel, all Israel sinned–
handed over into the hands of their enemies (again)
When 18 years had gone by,
with one voice they cried
(in wailings not to be denied):
Restore, renew, revive
Deliver us once more–
do not ignore our pleading
God had a plan:
Raising up Ehud, a left-handed man
Who by the word crafted a sword,
Strapping it to his right thigh
Eglon the king’s time was nigh
Bringing tribute to the king,
Ehud left, but returned again
With a word from the Lord
(sharper than the two-edged sword)
Locking the chamber, not knowing his danger,
Eglon arose with expectant ear
Not at all knowing his end drew near
Reaching over, with nary a swagger,
Ehud unleashed his mighty dagger
Plunging it into the belly of the king
In it went, past the hilt, sinking
Past layers of blubber
Eglon was done, his bell rung
And out of his belly came the dung
Falling upon the floor
Ehud escaped, the king’s servants
Waiting, anxious, outside the chamber door
After some time passed, and then some more
Unlocking the portal, upon entering
What did they see?
But the slumped Eglon, cooling upon the tile,
Blood and excrement mixt all the while
Whilst the Lord, through Ehud, gave the victory
10,000 Moabites slain, Israel now free

What I love about the Old Testament is that it is full of stories like this one. Stories of regular people used of God at just the right time. What I also love is that there are layers upon layers of meaning. For instance, the account here gives us enough to go on. Just as telling is what it doesn’t say. The events described have been going on for eighteen years. Likely, as Josephus says, this is not Ehud’s first rodeo; he has been there before. To be able to hide the sword as he does folks would have already had to know he was left handed (else his ruse wouldn’t have worked). Moreover, to get a private audience with the king he had to have been someone known, i.e. a trusted entity. Ehud was known to Eglon and his court.

Beyond the mere happenstance, the events themselves, scholars have used the phrase “types and shadows” to describe much of the Old Testament. Types of Christ, of sin, and shadows of things to come. For instance, in the story of Ehud, what is he called in verse five?

Deliverer.

Who else do we know by that name–deliverer? Jesus, of course.

In this passage, Ehud is a type of Christ. What does he do? In verse twenty-one, he puts to death Eglon–that is to say, sin. Eighteen years the Children of Israel lived under the oppressive yolk of Eglon, finally crying out to the Father. God raises up a deliverer to put an end to the oppression. Judgment came by way of an eighteen inch sword.

In Revelation 19:15, it is said of the Lord Jesus that “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” (ESV)

The sword is also symbolic, for now in the church age God has put to death sin once and for all in the body of the Lord Jesus, e.g., He is our Ehud. Yet, we have to want to be free. Like the Children of Israel, we often turn away, cry out for deliverance.

God always answers. Now, however, instead of putting to death the enemy outside (for whom He call us to pray), He calls us to look inward–in a way handing us a blade called candor, asking us to plunge into our own bellies, our own hearts. To get to the freedom offered us in His grace we must take that painful look inside ourselves at the ugliness which often lay within, exposing it to the light. This is why Jesus counsels us to remove the log from our own eyes before we take our brothers and sisters to task for the specks in theirs.

What is God asking you to look at today? Are you avoiding it? Denying it? Do you want to be free? In light of verses 21-22 (“Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly. The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out”), is there anywhere in your life where the sword called truth needs to penetrate that the filth may come out?