Archives For Culture

Cover art for The Day the Angels Fell

I want to tell you about a book. A beautiful, wonderful, terrible, moving, life-altering little book. What I mean by that is, upon finishing it, I (an avid reader) couldn’t find another volume in my library which I felt could even begin to come near to the experience I’d just lived through.

 
Picture if you will the following scene:
 
You are in a dusty tent in the near middle east. The air is close, scorching your throat as you try to breathe in great, gulping gasps. Your sweat-soaked clothes cling to your body like a wetsuit; you’re not sure you’ll even be able to peel them off. The tanned animal hides, sweaty bodies, the remains of a lunch hastily eaten add a piquant bouquet to the cloistered air.
 
Like Saul of old, you’re there on a mission; namely, to ask the favor of a witch. But it’s not the shade of Samuel you’re there to raise; no, it’s someone much more recently dead.
 
You ask the witch there, in Endor, to raise up the shade of Madeleine L’Engle, late author of A Wrinkle in Time (and many others). You have a request of her; something you feel only she can do. You want her to rewrite Stephen King’s Pet Sematary.
 
But not as a horror story; yes, it’s still a book about death, and the lengths which we’ll go to try to get around, behind, beyond it. Now, however, it’s thesis isn’t necessarily that “sometimes dead is better,” but rather that death is a gift to be embraced.
 
You have traveled halfway around the world, and are now presently standing in this stifling tent, because you believe that L’Engle is the only one who, as one of (if the the most) preeminent young adult authors of the 20th century, can turn a story of horrific death, loss, and pain into a tale of blazing light, probing the darkest reaches of the heart.
 
She agrees.
 
——————
 
The foregoing is fiction; Madeleine L’Engle is still, sadly, dead. That said, there is a voice working today, and I swear he channeled L’Engle (with just a dollop of Stephen King) in his book, The Day the Angels Fell. This is the volume I alluded to above. It’s the book that, upon finishing, left me reeling, unable to find anything suitable to read in its wake.
 
Who is this genius author? None other than Shawn Smucker. His book, The Day the Angels Fell, releases on September 5th. I would be very sad if you didn’t pick a up copy or three.
 
Find it on Amazon here:

The following post comes courtesy of Grace Hill Media in sunny Southern California. As the genre, and responsible parenting/consumption of media are near to my heart, it was a no-brainer to feature their byline here.

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Lessons For Christians From Horror Movies

The popularity of horror films continue to grow, especially among teens and young adults, who flock to movie theaters on opening weekend.  This Friday, August 11, for example, the movie “Annabelle: Creation,” about a possessed doll hits theaters nationwide.  It seems difficult to believe that any movie created to frighten and give us nightmares might have a meaningful spiritual lesson for Christians.  And yet, anyone who has been brave enough to watch “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” written by Scott Derrickson, a Christian filmmaker, knows full well that horror movies can serve us with cautionary messages and, might just inspire the audience to head to their nearest church pew.
To be clear, not all horror films are the same. The genre has different versions.  
There’s no takeaway from “slasher” or disturbing “torture” movies meant to provide nothing but shock.  However, there are horror movies that depict spiritual warfare (which we know to be real) and the battle between good and evil. These supernatural films, oftentimes written and produced by Christians and based on real-life events, are filled with lessons about something we as people of faith have stopped discussing in an increasingly distracted secular world – that evil is real.

Here are a few other lessons from supernatural horror films:
1) Exorcisms are also real.  Although incredibly rare, people can get possessed by evil.  “The Exorcist” is based on a real-life possession of a young boy, and “Annabelle: Creation” is about a possessed girl.  

2) God will always defeat evil. No matter how powerful the enemy may be, God will always come out on top.  In the Bible, one of the most powerful miracles that Jesus performed was The Miracle of the Gadarene Swine in which Jesus cast unclean spirits out of a man.  In real-life and in all supernatural films that have a faith message including “The Conjuring” and “The Rite,” evil will always be vanquished.

3) Ouija Boards are a big no.  Perhaps one of the strongest and most valuable lessons to come from supernatural horror movies (which just as true in real life) is that those who become plagued or possessed by evil may have inadvertently invited those spirits or demon to come into their lives.  This is done through certain “gateways” that many priests and Christian leaders warn us about.  Christians, especially Christian parents must teach kids and teens to stay away from Ouija boards, tarot cards, fortune telling, or any sort divination.  These are all means in which evil can take hold of our lives.  In the second “Conjuring” movie the character becomes possessed after playing with a Ouija board.  This was based on a true person and event.
 
4) Prayer is the most powerful thing in the world.  Prayers protect and deliver us from evil.  In horror movies, those who are plagued by evil must often turn to a person of great faith or priest to help them.  That Christian leader is always portrayed as someone who believes prayer to be of utmost importance and is shown onscreen praying to God throughout the film.

5) Faith is the most important thing in the world.  Believing in God and being baptized in the Christian community protects and strengthens us.  It is a natural defense again evil.  In times of weakness, we must lean on our faith and turn to God.  The upcoming movie, “Annabelle: Creation,” is a cautionary tale that depicts what happens when one turns away from God and succumbs to temptation during a period of grief and weakness as opposed to leaning on God for grace and healing.  

All movies, including horror movies tell stories.  In the last century, before we had television and films, parents told stories and tales that were meant to alarm and even frighten children and youth from a certain place or course of action.

Now these stories, meant to be lessons, are brought to life onscreen, complete with sound effects and make-up.  They are terrifying and they should be – evil is something to stay away from.  But for Christians, there is a stronger message, one that should always comfort and strengthen us – that we have a savior and that he will always come to protect and fight for those of us in need.
 

Photo Credit: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Oh, the things you’ll see!”, © 2011 Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Relax. No, I don’t have cancer, but it runs in my family. I’ve lost both a grandmother, and an uncle, to it. Because of this, despite not yet being fifty, I’m supposed to get an annual colonoscopy.

I’ve yet to have one.

The reason for this is simple, stupid, but nevertheless true: I’ve had a flexible sigmoidoscopy. What’s that, you ask?

A sigmoidoscopy is colonoscopy’s younger sibling (or maybe its second cousin, twice removed). All of the prep work is the same; meaning no food beginning 12-24 hours prior, stool softeners, and that lovely Cascara, which is like drinking chalk-flavored Gatorade.

In case you missed that, one’s mission–whether one accepts it, or not–is to self-induce diarrhea in advanced of undergoing the procedure. On purpose.

People died of diarrhea during the Civil War!

In any case, while the preparations are similar, there is one crucial difference between the flex sig and a full colonoscopy; namely, that a colonoscopy is done under general anesthesia, whereas the sigmoidoscopy is done fully awake.

Yes, you read that right: it’s done entirely conscious. And while both are out patient procedures, the former is usually done in a hospital, while the latter can be done in one’s doctor’s office.

If my understanding is correct, the prevailing medical thought is that because the flexible sigmoidoscopy doesn’t go as far into the colon, it’s less a pain in the butt, and can consequently be done awake.

Let that sink in.

One reports to one’s doctor’s office, after having quite literally crapped one’s guts out, to lie prone upon a table, in a too-cold room, with nothing but a paper gown on to ward off the chill. The doctor enters, with a nurse, because like the boy and girl scouts this requires two-deep leadership (it wouldn’t do to have anything untoward occur). And then, without so much as a by-your-leave (or even dinner), lube is lugubriously applied to a region reserved as an exit only zone. After that, a long tube, at a snail’s pace, is inserted. All the while, the nurse is encouraging relaxation; “just breathe,” she says.

As if.

Photo Credit: “Colonoscopy?”, © 2009 Rollan Budi, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

Relaxation is about the farthest thing from one’s mind at that point. It’s more like grin and bear it–or grimace and bear it. One of the two. The best that can happen is an uneasy peace; it’s not going to last forever, or one will die right there of embarrassment.

There is after all a long, dark tube right up there in the Hershey Highway.

But the worst is yet to come:

Air, like helium into party balloons, is pumped up in there so that the doctor may better appreciate the structures of the lower bowel. Only it’s no party; it’s quite literally a pain in the butt. And beyond.

As a patient, whether one can, or cannot, see the monitor upon which the Colon Cam is displayed, one’s doctor will typically begin a descriptive video service. (Nowhere did this item ever even begin to appear on my bucket list: have your sigmoid colon described in vivid detail by your doctor). “That’s a hemorrhoid! There’s another one! Good! Don’t see any polyps! Oh, look! A piece of poo!”

If one felt embarrassed before, that right there would be where the bottom fell out of the nadir of embarrassment. Oh, to melt through the table, into the floor, and be no more! Curse this too, too solid flesh!

Then at last it’s over, one is handed tissues to wipe off the thick, viscous jelly from one’s nethers; the doctor and nurse exuent omnes, and one is left to contemplate the series of events leading to this tube time and place.

Wiping, washing, and dressing complete, one is free to leave; breathing a sigh (or several) of relief, thinking the worst is behind you.

Oh, how wrong that is!

The air pumped up in there, no longer having a tube occluding its exit route, discovers the point of least resistance–namely, one’s anus. If the blow-by-blow of the colon highway was the bottom dropping out of the nadir of the experience this is somehow even lower.

It’s not just a little gas; it’s like the inevitable results of a weeklong refried bean binge, the Vesuvius of anal expulsions (think pyroclastic flow–all hot ash and gas, no lava), and the Manhattan Project all rolled into one. In other words, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Yet other than death there is no escaping these noxious emissions.

Photo Credit: “Fart Bomb”, © 2006 basibanget, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

And that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is why I have yet to have a full colonoscopy. The defense rests. I place myself upon the mercy of the court.

Have you had a colonoscopy/sigmoidoscopy? How did it go?

 


You’ve heard of the lifting up of holy hands, or lifting up a brother (or sister) before the Lord? The former is demonstration of worship and/or praise; the latter, a metaphor for intercessory prayer.

You’ve maybe heard of these, but have you heard of praying someone in the back? Or perhaps the prayer ambush?

No?

Well, it’s kinda like this:

Imagine you’re out somewhere, and run into your friend. You exchange greetings, and your friend introduces you to their friend–a real prayer wolf. They ask if they can pray for you. Thinking that it’s going to be quick prayer lifted reverently to the Lord (you are, after all, in a public place), you acquiesce. 

That isn’t what happens.

They flank you like guards walking a condemned prisoner down the green mile to the execution chamber. And then they start ululating in a language which can only be described as early tribal. Right there, in public, in loud voices (because God, apparently, is deaf) they begin to declaim your deliverance from:

Demons

Health problems 

Marital woes

Halitosis 

Indigestion

Slow motility

Depression (you’re not down yet, but after this you will be)

Like the violet, you want nothing more than to shrink away out of view. People are beginning to look. You’re saying, “Stop! Stop!”

“In Jesus Name!! Stop!!” you yell at the top of your lungs.

“Amen, amen!” is what you hear in reply. “That’s right! You tell that bad old devil to stop.” Your eyes roll so hard into the back of your head you’re afraid they’ll stick there. You throw your hands up in utter disgust and frustration…

“Yes!!! Lift up those holy hands to the Lord!” Your hands clench involuntarily into fists, and before you know what you’re doing you lay hands on those dedicated prayer wolves with a couple of choice roundhouses and upper cuts.

“Now how do y’all feel about being slain in the spirit?” Like Ananias and Sapphira they ain’t getting up.

You walk off, perhaps feeling lighter than you have in quite some time.

Prayer, apparently, is good for the soul. Especially when you pray like Stands With A Fist.

My days are often spent like a pinball; I bounce between here and there. Oftentimes I circle like a ziggurat, working my around, and up through, the building in which I work. So it was on this day, the day a homeless man asked me for beer money. The day was clear, bright, not hot; in other words a perfect Spring day. The kind of day you wish would last forever, stretching out into eternity. The air was clear as crystal, the sun a golden disk in the azure sky. Nary a cloud scudded by.

It was as I passed through this day, scurrying from a lunchtime game of racquetball, on my way to grab a bite, that I was brought up short. Working in an urban environment for a great number of years now, I’m somewhat inured to the plight of my less fortunate fellow man, to the human pain and tragedy which faces me daily. Yet there was something about this man, something in his careworn face, in the cornflower blue of his eyes, that stopped me. I think it was the eyes, how they reminded me of my grandfather’s. Eyes which had seen so much pain, heartache, loss, had seen accident, illness, injury. The eyes of an alcoholic, spidery veins zig-zagging around the nose between and beneath them.

Eyes which somehow still had a sparkle, a twinkle of mirth and mischief, to them.

So I stopped. He said something; I didn’t catch it.

“You think I’m homeless. I’m from Las Vegas. I had a seizure this morning. Listen, I’m an alcoholic. I need beer. I feel another seizure coming on. I’ll be a big one.”

“I don’t have any cash.”

“You’ve got a card, right? Please, I need your help.”

The naked, plaintive need was plain for me to see, but my mind was a whirling chiaroscuro of conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, I wanted to believe him, but on the other I’ve been burned enough by similar situations over the years to have developed a veneer of cynicism. I was on my way back to work, with my credentials on display. I couldn’t be seen buying beer.

“Listen,” I said. “There’s a Chipotle right there. They have single serve.”

Clutching his weather worn leather bag a little tighter, the man with eyes like my grandfather’s replied, “I’m not going in Chipotle.”

“They’ve got beer.”

“I just need a couple bucks.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, walking away.

——————

I saw him again a short time later, in line behind me at the drugstore where I picked up a prepackaged lunch. He didn’t seem to recognize me, asking about how I was, how my day was going. In his hand was a six-pack of Busch beer. I went back to my busy workaday world.

I’ve wondered about that man.

I keep asking myself, “What would Jesus do?”

What would He have done?

I don’t know how to answer that. Maybe I never will. Jesus did turn water into wine to keep a party going, but would He have given this man that for which he’d asked? Knowing that it was killing him daily by degrees? I wish I had the faith of Peter and John, could shout, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee. I the name of Jesus Christ…”

But I didn’t.

What would you have done?