Archives For Life

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.

There’s something I need to say, something I need to get off my chest: I’m a dummy. Not a stiff, immovable mannequin (although I’ve been accused of that), but rather a dummy with regards to the raising of offspring.
 
 Now what I’m talking about here isn’t so much about the inculcation of values, moral instruction, family rules, etc. Because there are non-negotiables: don’t cheat, don’t lie, tell the truth, clean up after yourself, help out around the house. What I’m talking about is the staggering realization is that, yes, while the goal is to (hopefully) one day raise responsible adults, children are not adults.
 
 You see: that’s how I was raised. Kids were mini-adults, expected to be interested in adult things. And it’s just what I did with my own kids: expected them–instead of being their own people with their own likes, dislikes, prejudices, interests–to share my likes, etc.
 
 I’ve spent a great number of years trying to uplift them into my world; instead of meeting them where they’re at. I’ve been such a dummy! Parenting doesn’t necessarily mean that ones kids will follow you into all of your interests; rather, it often means taking an interest in theirs. It means playing video games (even if you hate them), playing dolls, or ball, even if there are a thousand other things to do (like reading through that ever-growing stack of books). It means training them up in the way they should go–not necessarily in the way you would have them go.
 
 The quickest way to shut someone down, whether kid or adult, is to show no interest (or outright indifference) in something they care about. Conversely, showing an interest shows that we care, that we’re invested, in not only the activity, but in them as well. Because the fact is that quality time doesn’t just happen.
 
 It happens in the midst of a quantity of time. It happens via an intentional investment. So folks–men, women, moms, dads–how can we be more intentional today? Because I’m thinking I’m not the only dummy out there.
 
 
 

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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.

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?

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“Behold the mobile prostate van,
Let all your trousers fall,
Bring forth a shining speculum
For this won’t hurt at all.”

I saw this on the street today. As a man of a certain age, I’ve been there–in the doctor’s office, mind you. There’s no way I’d head into some van to have my nethers poked and prodded.

NO. WAY.

In fact, after I recovered from the sheer horror and shock of seeing the smiling faces on the side of the van (I mean seriously, who enjoys the finger wave? the old guy looks happy, the guy in the middle has got a face saying “can we do that again that was kinda fun,” the football player has assumed the position, and I’m not sure what the couple is doing–lady, you don’t have one), it occurred to me that this is kind of comical. I know prostate cancer is no laughing matter, but getting checked sure is a pain in the butt!

Now turn your head and cough…

Okay, that was bad, but somehow it just doesn’t make me wanna sing ‘He Touched Me,’ you know? Because I can assure that it wouldn’t be joy which flooded my soul… You wanna know something else? When I was a new believer lo these many years ago, we would sing ‘All Hail the Power of Jesus Name’ at the church. When we got to the second verse–because I didn’t know the word, “prostrate” at the time–I heartily sang to “let angels’ prostates fall.”

Hold that image in your mind’s eye for a minute. Who’s gonna clean that up? “Angels,” came a booming voice, “pick up your prostates! Put them back. Let’s try this again. Clean up in aisle five.”

“All hail the power of Jesus name… No, no, no!”

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Okay, seriously, while our body parts/bodily functions may indeed cause us some discomfiture, the need for prostrate screening is real. Men, get checked. For your sake, for your family’s, for everyone who Depends upon you.

This has been a PSA from your friendly, neighborhood RandomlyChad. Oh, and, “Thank-you, sir! May I have another!”