Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Christians and Halloween -- Opinions Galore

And here are more than a few of them.

Technically this is the Day of the Dead, but it's a cool pic. Okay?
 "Finding the answer to this question has been an interesting journey in itself. I interviewed several people and then researched what many leading Christian writers, authors and spokesmen have written about the subject. I also searched various websites such as christianitytoday.com, focusonthefamily.org, and cbn.com to read what others might be saying. What I found was an agreement on the origins of Halloween, but a mixture of recommendations about allowing our children to participate in this super-charged media driven holiday. "
http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/onlinediscipleship/halloween/halloween_watt05.aspx

"An old proverb says, "When you sup with the devil, use a long spoon." Presumably, NO genuine Christian would want to sup with the devil at all and yet many may be doing so in ignorance."
http://www.chick.com/seasonal/halloween/celebrate.asp

"For some people this holiday is a time for dress-up and candy; it is an opportunity for fun. Others express concern for their child's safety or for the emphasis that is often made on violence or horror at this time of year."
http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=1844

"The celebration of Halloween has no such Christian spiritual features. True, this holiday falls on October 31st, which is the eve of All Saints Day, which is a festival day celebrated by some Christian churches. However, the modern celebration of Halloween is not generally thought of as a Christian time of worship."
http://www.gci.org/church/holidays/halloween

"Have you noticed how costumes and masks are getting generally more bloody, gory, and depraved each year? Unfortunately, the gruesome and grotesque and the occult are increasingly glorified in American society, not only on Halloween, but throughout the year in frequent horror movies and television programs."
http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/halloween.html

"Halloween—October 31—is considered a holiday in the United States. In fact, it rivals Christmas with regard to how widely celebrated it is. Stores that sell only Halloween-related paraphernalia open up a few months before the day and close shortly after it ends. But is Halloween a holiday that Christians should be observing?"
http://www.charismamag.com/site-archives/610-spiritled-woman/spiritled-woman/7156-the-danger-of-celebrating-halloween

"Good Christians are right to want to avoid evil, but Halloween is not evil, at least the way it is celebrated today. Some sincere people may worry about the origins of Halloween, but that is a mistake."
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/post/should-christians-celebrate-halloween/2011/10/30/gIQA4HmbXM_blog.html

"Halloween, no matter how commercialized, has almost completely pagan origins. As innocent as it may seem to some, it is not something to be taken lightly. Christians tend to have various ways to celebrate or not to celebrate Halloween. For some, it means having an “alternative” Harvest Party. For others, it is staying away from the ghosts, witches, goblins, etc., and wearing innocuous costumes, e.g., little princesses, clowns, cowboys, super-heroes, etc. Some choose not to do anything, electing to lock themselves in the house with the lights off. With our freedom as Christians, we are at liberty to decide how to act."
http://www.gotquestions.org/Christians-celebrate-Halloween.html

And my own op-ed about this topic...
http://filthyragsanddirtycups.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-hornets-nest-of-halloween.html

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

[Link] Getting it

by John Fischer

Peter now claims to “get it,” this essential equality, which prohibits him from falsely judging and practicing separation by the avoidance of certain “unclean” things and by withholding the gospel from those Gentiles who would hear it and receive it.

Peter struggled through his cultural practice of holiness and separation and we are guilty of the same kind of legalism and externalism today.  Peter did not change overnight nor will our entrenched ideas and beliefs. Nevertheless, one thing is certain, God never meant for anyone to judge another. Therefore, by the power of the Holy Spirit, let’s stop the proliferation of our spoken and unspoken judgment.

Here are some concluding thoughts:
Let’s each step into the shoes of those we deem unclean and see what they see when looking at us.

This new insight will cause our knees to buckle toward the floor and our heads to bow in supplication. ...

Continue reading: http://catchjohnfischer.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/getting-it/

Monday, October 29, 2012

Creative Corner #6 -- Thank You, Mr. Prometheus

 Here's another that has never appeared in print before. Just for you, faithful readers.

Thank You, Mr. Prometheus

That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
-- Neil Armstrong, July 20, 1969


Jupiter laughed
When man first sparked flames for himself;
(Sure, his public face was aghast)
With his eyes upon us
He rested
And waited.

Just yesterday
Jupiter took Juno's hand,
Lead her to Olympus' edge,
Spread his hand across the canopy;
Then he kissed her
And waited.

1994

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Creative Corner #5 -- Yoke

Here's one that has never appeared in print before, a blog-exclusive just for you.


Yoke

(It is said that children who have been
abused have a greater likelihood of
becoming abusers themselves.)


She is a drooping rose
Weighted by the rain
Hunched,
Leaning above a younger bloom
Careful to pour out her burden
Beyond the newer pedals.

1994

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Creative Corner #4 -- Death of the Prodigal

Photo Credit: Chris Wozniak, 1998
by Sean Taylor

There he kneels, the old man,
Still, staring at the headstone,
Boring holes into the fresh patch of earth
Between the plastic hearts, wicker wreaths,
Flowers doomed never to die,
Perched on three thin metal legs.
I wonder, is his heart perched there
Among them, waiting for a strong wind
To push it away
To keep vigil at some other stone?

... Run, kill the fatted calf,
The one we've fed for such an occasion,
For the returning prodigal;
Cook it and bury it deep
Beside the resting child,
A feast for the damned ...


He rises, crosses the freshly-cut green
Growing between the graves;
I smile as he passes, and he tells me,
"He was my son, but he was a Philistine.
He was a Philistine, but he was my son."
As if it were my heart, I offer
My hand, a token, but he continues
Past, weaves between the stones,
Making a cross at each one, and like a prayer
Says again, "He was my son..."

©1994 Sean Taylor


My poetry and early short stories are available in Gomer and Other Early Works.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Life Sucks, So What? (Part 3)

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—

A time to give birth and a time to die;
 A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.

What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils?
I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves.
He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.
I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God.
I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.
That which is has been already and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by.
Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness.
I said to myself, “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,” for a time for every matter and for every deed is there.
I said to myself concerning the sons of men, “God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.”
For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity.
All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.
Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?
I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him? (Ecclesiastes 3:1-22, NASB)
 

Once again I return to the "depressing" book of Ecclesiastes, one of my favorites. Being prone to existentialism, I love to see the way the preacher (speaker delivering the message of this book) seems to waffle back and forth about whether or not it's ultimately worth it to look for happiness in the world.

Some see the opening of this chapter as a sort of sing-song (thank you, Byrds), happy-go-lucky admonition about all the wonderful opportunities in life, but I think the truth is a bit more dismal than that. I think it reads a lot more like this: Okay, some good stuff happens, then guess what? Some bad stuff happens. Then more good stuff, then more bad, then so on and so on. Life's filled with good things and bad things, and they all keep circling around.

Then, as if to punctuate that thought, the preacher goes on to say that we work our tails off, but it doesn't really get us anywhere. Sure, it may pay the day-to-day bills, but God has put a longing for eternity in our hearts, and somehow, just dealing with the day-to-day won't cut it in the long run. Don't think you have eternity set in your hearts? Ask yourself this: Do I want to be remembered after I'm dead? Do I want to matter in the world? Do I want the world to notice that I was here and that I'm gone? Damn right you do, because God set eternity in your heart.

As people, we contemplate the big ideas like eternity and actualization and morality and existence. It's what separates us from the lesser beasts. It's why our minds work the way they do.
Only, get this...  the preacher continues and takes even that away from us. We are no better than mere beasts, he says, nothing but beasts actually. They procreate and die. We procreate and die. Big whoop for us. At the end of it all, we're both dust (in the wind, thank you Kansas).

But rather than slitting his wrists after this thought or joining an emo band, the preacher suddenly has another massive mood swing. In spite of all this, nay, BECAUSE of it, it is good for people to be happy with their lot in life.

He baits the hook here, because, if this is all we've read, it doesn't make sense to us. Why would we be happy after you just let us know that life sucks and we're no better off than mere animals even with all our ability to ponder and reflect and our "souls"? Care to fill us in, Preacher? And he will. Ultimately, he's getting around to that. He's just building up his case at this point, laying his foundation. The best is yet to come, but it's going to require flexibility in our world view and our sense of karmic fair play and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. He's already working hard at his premise that's going to cut all that right out from beneath us.

What's fair? Nothing's fair. Good stuff, bad stuff, it happens willy-nilly, whether we've earned it or not. What about all our hard work to make something of ourselves? Tough crap. We're all just beasts, rights, made of and returning to the same dust.

So obviously, this idea of being able to enjoy life and have a happy and meaningful existence isn't going to be something we actually contribute to the equation. It's going to have to come from outside us, something we aren't able to manufacture ourselves.

Hint. It's called "grace," and we'll be getting to that later.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

[Link] Five Tips from the Oldest Woman in the World

by Jim Daly

A colleague recently had the pleasure of speaking with Sidney Cooper of Monroe, Georgia.  Mr. Cooper’s mother, Besse, is the oldest woman in the world.

She’s 116.

To put that number in context, at the time she was born, Grover Cleveland was President and Orville and Wilbur Wright were still seven years away from their first powered flight over Kitty Hawk. She’s now lived in three separate centuries and actually remembers the turn of the 19th to the 20th and the 20th to the 21st.

Mrs. Cooper was born in east Tennessee and was the third of eight children. After graduating from college she worked briefly as a school teacher before moving to Georgia at the beginning of World War I.

Besse Cooper and her husband, Luther, had four children. Widowed in December of 1963 after 39 years of marriage, Mrs. Cooper has remained single ever since. When she turned 105 she told her son had she known she was going to live so long, she would have remarried!

A person can learn quite a bit from someone who has lived so many years.  Here are five lessons culled from the long life of Besse Cooper, as conveyed by her son...

Continue reading: http://www.focusonlinecommunities.com/blogs/Finding_Home/2012/10/24/five-tips-from-the-oldest-woman-in-the-world?refcd=136901

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why I Write

What drives you to write? Why do you do it?

Ask that question in a group of writers, and you'll often hear this answer: "I write because I have to." Or some writers may put it this way: "I write because the stories and/or the characters make me."

Of course, we all (as writers) understand that either of these responses mean absolutely nothing to a non-writer. Those are reasons for writing, for putting effort into something that may or may not pay off in any sensible way. Those are reasons instead for breathing, you know, because you have to, and some writers may even make that connection: "Writing is like breathing to me, just something that I have to do."

This too is metaphorical hogwash. Don't let us fool you.

We write for various sundry reasons that range from utter selfishness to a genuine desire to change the world with our words, but let's be honest -- most of us probably fall somewhere between those two extremes. And trust me on this, rarely will you hear one of us be completely honest with you about why we actually do the work of writing (and make no mistake, it IS work, unlike breathing).

But enough stalling... Why do I write?

To some degree I write because I enjoy the writing itself. I love the play of words against and with other words. I love the sounds clicking or "smoothing" together to give my sentences a certain feeling or mood.


I also write to some degree because I enjoy the act of getting the stories out of my head and onto the paper, loving the time spent with my characters, and giving them a sort of live where there was nothing there previously.

But if I'm honest, I write to have written. If you're a fellow writer, that will make perfect sense. If you're not, you may think I just screwed up my grammar. I write because I'm proud of having a body of finished work that I can look back on. It's not about bragging (although sometimes I do brag about it). It's not about the money (Lord knows it's not about the money.) Nor is it about proving I'm a "real" writer.

For me, I write to have published a body of work that stays behind me and that I can look back on and feel proud of and know that in some small way to some readers, I mattered. My time here wasn't just wrapped up in a microcosm of one small life. It affected someone else. I may never know who and I may never know how, but the work was there, and the work was read, and someone had a reaction to it -- good or bad.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

[Link] Understanding Wisdom Literature: Should we revel in its "dissonance"?

By Charles Halton

Wisdom literature is one of the most accessible yet perplexing genres within the Bible. The Book of Job explores the nature of suffering, Proverbs gives guidance on matters as routine as avoiding laziness, and Ecclesiastes reflects upon the vanities of life. And yet, Job openly disputes with God, Proverbs lists blatantly contradictory statements side by side (26:4-5), and Ecclesiastes presents such a pessimistic view that an editor felt the need to add a clarifying appendix.

David Penchansky enters this confusing landscape with Understanding Wisdom Literature, but instead of reconciling the tensions within wisdom literature he revels in them. Penchansky develops an interpretive approach that he outlined in 1990 in his treatment of the Book of Job entitled The Betrayal of God: Ideological Conflict in Job (Westminster/John Knox). He works from what has come to be an accepted truth within the guild of biblical studies: most biblical books have a complex development that involved the contributions of multiple scribes or authorial groups. Penchansky scours texts for seams in which the work of the various authors meet, and he then pries them apart. It is here, Penchansky claims, that the interpretive keys are found: textual dissonance marks points at which the editors, tradents, or interpreters of biblical precursor texts tried to conceal disparate voices under the guise of harmony. Instead of following these acts of concealment and discerning a singular message for each book Penchansky divides texts into their constituent, often diametrically opposed, voices.

For instance, he says that the people who wrote biblical wisdom literature, the sages, urged their readers to "get wisdom," pitting themselves over and against the prophets, who encouraged and at times excoriated their auditors to "fear God." Penchansky says that these are two totally different perspectives on how to navigate through life. The prophets, he contends, tried to cultivate a "sense of servile, abject terror in the fact of a massively superior and hostile heavenly being," while the sages "figured out the way the universe works" through "their own observations and judgments, constantly tested by subsequent experience." The sages were not shy about their different perspectives, and in their writings they even "fight with each other and against everybody else"; they were "warring parties" engaged in a "clash of wills" with their ideological opponents (whose views also ended up within Scripture).

Continue reading: http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/webexclusives/2012/september/understanding-wisdom.html

Monday, October 22, 2012

Philosophical Gumbo a la Sean

It's not gumbo -- it's yumbo!
I've long held that I'm a self-professed postmodern existentialist christian mystic believer in absolute truth. Now, if you've studied philosophy at all, you'll know immediately that those are the kind of ingredients that make one strange and confusing soup in which the flavors don't actually complement each other.
Postmodern:
If Descartes is seen as the father of modernism, then postmodernism is a variety of cultural positions which reject major features ... modern (the philosophical concept of modern, not the chronological necessarily) thought. Hence, views which, for example, stress the priority of the social to the individual; which reject the universalizing tendencies of philosophy; which prize irony over knowledge; and which give the irrational equal footing with the rational in our decision procedures all fall under the postmodern umbrella.

Existentialism:
A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts.

Christian Mysticism:
Mysticism is the philosophy and practice of a direct experience of God. In the Christian context this is usually practiced through prayer, meditation and contemplation. Christian mysticism aspires to apprehend spiritual truths inaccessible through intellectual means, typically by emulation of Christ. "If you're a Christian, you're on a tightrope. If you see yourself more as a "Christian mystic" you're on the tightrope but juggling bowling balls." -- from http://www.christianmystics.com/

Absolute Truth:
In general, absolute truth is whatever is always valid, regardless of parameters or context. The absolute in the term connotes one or more of: a quality of truth that cannot be exceeded; complete truth; unvarying and permanent truth. It can be contrasted to relative truth or truth in a more ordinary sense in which a degree of relativity is implied.

How can I believe and hold to all these conflicting tenets? Well, I guess it's that struggle that helps to make me who I am. 


All I know is that the postmodern in me rejects easy answers and attempts to deconstruct everything to find the "truth" beneath the composition (even though typically postmoderns reject the notion of truth with a capital "T." 

The existentialist in me acknowledges the isolation of the individuals and places great importance on living well in a world that seems to ignore us (at best) or downright antagonistic toward us (at worst). The living heroically in that world is the greatest human achievement, seeking to be responsible for standing up in the face of that isolation. 

The Christian mystic in me attempts to makes sense of this all through a relationship with God, and sees that those my existentialism makes the world seem apart and distant and uncaring, the God who created it isn't, that the postmodern who has become jaded and skeptical can ultimately find something solid and real once everything has been deconstructed and laid bare apart from all it's cultural context. 

And the believer in absolute truth in me gives me hope that there is something real, something firm that holds true, period, and that if I search for it, regardless of its name or what faith has tried to co-opt it, it will be there just as real for me as for everyone else who has the guts to put everything they believe at risk just to find it.

So, beneath the surface of my skin and psyche, all that mixture of philosophical gumbo is going on. And now you know me, the real me. The definition of me, at least in terms of my philosophical understanding of myself, the world, and my place in it. But, in spite of all the heady, self-important crap that is me, I like to watch TV, movies and read books and comics and play (I call it work most of the time) on my computer.

All this heady stuff, and I'm still a shallow wack job, huh? But you have to love me for it, right?

(Wait, don't leave. Please...)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again?

When was it that you realized your early inspirations no longer held sway over you, when that childhood book just didn't hit you the same way anymore? What changed?

For me, this moment occurred when I looked back over some of my early stories and found that they were the work of  different writer than the one I had become in the years between writing them and  re-discovering them. My early work tended to be inspired more by the allegories of C.S. Lewis, and I was was working in a Christian bookstore at the time trying to get a job as an editor for a Southern Baptist Convention, I  wrote what I knew. And what I knew was the stories within the Christian subculture of Frank Peretti and Randy Alcorn, so that's what I wrote, only with a sci-fi slant.

However, a few years later (even while working for the SBC) I found I had become a different kind of writer. I no longer felt compelled to write to the choir (so to speak) or to write for any evangelistic or allegorical motive. I simply wanted to tell stories.

Because I am who I am and was who I was, certain values will and would come through those tales, but gone were the days of writing with an foreordained agenda.

I still love to read C.S. Lewis -- don't get me wrong -- but I'm not looking to write that kind of story anymore, nor do I believe that's my calling.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Preach It, Sister Flannery

"The writer can choose what he writes about, but he cannot choose what he is able to make live." 
~ Flannery O'Connor


Part of my "Sean shelf"
A Facebook friend sent this as a comment on a recent discussion (http://seanhtaylor.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-writer-will-take-your-questions-now_16.html) and I have to admit that the truth of this quote really hit me. It's completely beside the point that I'm a huge fan of Flannery O'Connor however. No, really, it has no bearing on it. (Okay, methinks I doth protest too much.)

Anyway, it hit me again as a strong reminder that as writers, we have no control over what actually sticks with readers and what falls by the wayside. Will it be our Holy the Firm or our Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, our As I Lay Dying or our "Rose for Emily"? Will it be the work that makes us look like the best of all saints or the one that makes us look like the worst of all possible sinners?

We simply can't make that decision for our readers. They make it for us. 

As I look back on my own work,is there anything I'm not proud of in the sense that I regret what it says about me? No. Not even the Dominatrix book for Gene Simmons. I'd do it all over again. That book speaks truth. It does. It tells of the emptiness of a person who is driven like the preacher of Ecclesiastes to pursue a path that ultimately ends in vanity and nothing. It doesn't hold back, but it speaks truth.

My pulp work? Nope. Nothing there either. Those tales are filled with sacrificial action and folks risking their lives for others, trying to do the better thing, even when such a course of action is unclear.

So regardless of what sticks, if any of my work even does, I stand ready.

As such, it's important to me that I write what I believe I'm called to write. That I follow the dictates of Scripture to the best of my understanding and the teaching of the spirit of God. That I listen to the still small voice prompting me toward this and away from that. That I remain a true example of being not just who I am in Christ, but who I am period, not putting on airs or writing for a pre-fab submarket so I can be a best-seller by preaching to the choir and not ruffling pharisaic feathers, neither hiding my light under a bushel nor trying to sneak in "spiritual stuff" to fool "the lost" into reading it and suddenly saying the magic prayer.

In short, I have keep walking that straight, narrow line that gets hard to see sometimes and be a fallen man saved by grace through faith telling stories that I hope come from the kind of heart that says something that causes people to pick up some truth to ponder as they read. And if they can get even a little bit of truth from me and my stories, then hopefully, they'll keep reading and find out that old saying about the truth is actually, well, true... the Truth will set you free.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Is it possible for an artist to do something so detestable that his or her work should be banned?

Wow. That's a tough one, primarily because as people we find it difficult to separate the creator from the work itself. In a perfect world, the work would be able to stand on its own merits and the creator's life wouldn't be taken into account when analyzing whether the work itself held value. I believe even a detestable person has the capacity to create something good (after all, in my belief system, we are created in the image of a creator, so creating comes naturally to us all in some way). 

For example, had Charles Manson written a great play, would it be "moral" to perform it because of the awful, horrible person he was? 

Personally, as long as the play itself wasn't detestable, I wouldn't hold it against a theater company who chose to perform it. But I'm sure the families of Manson's victims might feel differently -- and with good reason. 

In my own life, I know that Richard Wagner's symphonic works are often associated with Hitler and Wagner's own anti-Semitic views, but it doesn't make me appreciate the simple beauty of the melodies any less. 

I tend to discourage wholesale banning on any official level anyway, and I prefer to leave it up to individual people and companies to make those decisions based on their beliefs, values, and clientele. For example, a family-run, community theater might find performing a Manson-penned play a distasteful endeavor and refuse to produce it, but another theater troupe might enjoy sharing the work in spite of the Manson connection. It becomes, at least to me, a matter for the individual and individuals of the company to decide for their circle of influence, not for the governmental powers that be to decide for the rest of us. 

True censorship makes me feel very, very uncomfortable, because it involves making decisions about what's best for the whole of society, and I'm not content to let others make that decision for me -- or for me to make that decision for others, except for perhaps minors in my own house.  

(Thanks to James Wynn for this question.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

the view from ... John Fischer

Tell us a little about how and why you became a Christian.

John Fischer: I grew up in a Christian home and have believed most of my life. My issue has not been believing but making real what I believe.

What lessons have been the most valuable to you during your experience of following Christ?

John Fischer: A Christian is to be real. There is no need to hide. It is not how good we are but how honest we are to ourselves with Christ living in us.

You helped usher in Christian music during the '70s with many songs that became campground favorites of that youth generation. Tell us a little about that experience and how you perceive the current Christian music culture (or subculture)?

John Fischer: I have books written about this. The short of it: The Jesus movement was turned out towards the world. The subculture that grew out of it is turned in on itself.

In one of your CCM columns from years ago, you wrote a statement that I've had tacked on my office bulletin board ever since. You said, "Is there anyone out there fool enough to think they can still change the world with their guitar? I don't think anything's going to happen until there is." Do you still hold to that statement? How do you think it applies to this current generation of Christians, even those without musical talents?

John Fischer: We can make a difference in the world through living as an honest Christian in our own sphere of influence.

One of the things I've enjoyed about your writing is the sense of honesty and realness and transparency that comes across in your books. Do you make a conscious effort to stay real or does that come naturally to you? Why is that important to you and your writing?

John Fischer: When I gave my life in service to God as a college student, it was on one condition. That following Him -- being a Christian -- would be real. He's kept his side of the bargain. I've tried to be honest about mine.

In your earlier books Real Christians Don't Dance and True Believers Don't Ask Why you wrote of the hang-ups that plague Christendom and keep Christians from focusing on the truly vital issues of being salt and light in the real world. Do you still see those hang-ups getting in the way? Or does each new generation develop it's own set of hang-ups to focus on?

John Fischer: We have new ones as culture and society and people change. I see the big issue now being fear of the world and a desire to hide in the Christian subculture where we can be safe.


 ================================

The In's and Out's Of It
by John Fischer

"In it not, of it," the statement was made
As Christian One faced the world, much afraid.
"In it, not of it," the call was made clear,
But Christian One got something stuck in his ear.
"Not in it, or of it," was the thing that he heard.
And knowing the world was painfully absurd,
He welcomed the safety of pious retreat,
And went to the potluck for something to eat.

Now Christian Two, he knew what to do,
He show those fundies a thing or two!
How will the world ever give Christ a try
If we don't get in there and identify?
So "In it, and of it," he said in his car,
As he pulled in and stopped at a popular bar.
"I'll tell them the truth as soon as I'm able
To get myself out from under this table."

Now along comes Christian Three jogging for Jesus,
In witnessing sweats made of four matching pieces.
His earphones are playing a hot Christian tune
About how the Lord is coming back soon.
"Not in it, but of it," he turns down the hill
And stops in for a bite at the Agape Grill.
Like the gold on the chain of his "God Loves You" bracelet,
He can have the world without having to face it.

While way up in heaven they lament these conditions
That come from changing a few prepositions.
"Not in it, or of it," Christian One thought.
But who in the world will know that he's not?
"In it, and of it," thought Christian Two.
But who in the world will know that he knew?
"Not in it, but of it," thought Christian Three.
But who in the world watches Christian TV?

And Jesus turns to Gabriel, shaking His head.
"'In it, not of it,' wasn't that what I said?"

(used by permission)

=================================

One of your books contains a poem that perhaps best illustrates how Christians have misunderstood Christ's intention for our interaction in the world and have created a Christian subculture. In your opinion, how and why did such a "counter-culture" develop and why is it such a danger for Christians to pull away from the world at large?

John Fischer: It developed out of a preference for the familiar and a desire to be safe -- to protect our kids from the world instead of prepare them for it. We created an alternative world with a Christian version of everything cultural so we could reject the world and still enjoy it anyway.

What do you think are the biggest trouble spots or blind spots contemporary Christians face in trying to impact their culture and develop ongoing, genuine relationships with people who may not believe as they do?

John Fischer: Most Christians are trying to prove the world wrong. The world is not wrong as much as it is lost. We don't know how to dialogue with our culture. We spent our time and effort fighting culture instead of making a difference in it.

Any advice for Christians who want to impact their culture rather than retreat from it or judge it from a "safe" distance?

John Fischer: Don't surround yourself with Christian things. Be a Christian in the world. The world doesn't need Christian music; it needs Christians making music. You can substitute pretty much anything for "music" and get the point.

Just as your writings have influenced many people in this generation, who are some of the writers and thinkers who helped to influence your views on faith and living out that faith? Why are they important to you?

John Fischer: C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Frederick Buechner, Harry Blamires

Tell us a little about the concept behind the book 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (Like Me).

John Fischer: The biggest errors of Christians are in attitudes of self-righteousness and condemnation. I felt the recovery model would suit breaking out of those attitudes well. Someone came to me after a talk and said my writing was like a 12 step recovery program for a Pharisee. I told them right then and there that I wanted that for a title of my next book. Two years later at the same event I was able to give that person a copy of the book!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Hornet's Nest of Halloween

No doubt if you've been in church at all in the past few years, you've heard this question: Should Christians celebrate Halloween?

Let's just go ahead and open a hornet's nest, shall we? *grins*

For me, in order to respond to this question, I need to know what you mean by celebrate? If you mean taking part in a black mass and trying to raise evil spirits or engaging in rituals expressly forbidden in Scripture, then the answer is an emphatic no. Period.

If however, celebrating means to enjoy the company of neighbors you seldom see more than once a year, enjoy candy, and playing dress-up, then celebrate away. 

Now, you may say, but Sean, the roots of some of the activities are based in old pagan ceremonies and we should take no part in them. The Bible also teaches us via Jesus that it's what in the heart, or the intentions, that make the difference -- such as in lusting is the same thing as committing the adultery. The inverse also holds true, I believe. Innocently enjoying children and neighbors without seeking to worship demons or evil doesn't go down in your heart as "celebrating paganism." 

And if you're going to harp on Halloween, then be consistent and clean up your Christmas too, and move it away from the pagan solstice, get that tree out of your house, and stop playing the Santa Claus game (especially those of you who have that ridiculous ornament with Santa kneeling down to worship at the manger). 

Just saying.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

[Link] In the Line Up

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” – Jesus Christ (Luke 6:35)

If you want to get a little taste of what God is like, try loving your enemies, lending money to those you know won’t pay you back, and then try being kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. What does this do to one’s sense of justice and fairness? What could this possibly be about? Jesus can’t be serious about this, can he?

Here’s what I think. I think Jesus is getting us to think this way because he wants us to see something important about ourselves.

After all, what are we thinking here… that we are God’s friends, that we always pay back what we borrow, and that we are most certainly grateful and holy, and that’s why it’s so hard for us to understand why God would ask us, the holy ones, to be kind to all these wicked and ungrateful folks? Gee, somehow we’re going to have to find it in ourselves to love these awful people. But I suppose that if God can do it, we can too. It will be a stretch, but we will try… Is that what this is about?

Hardly. Here’s what I think it means:

There is relatively little difference between the most ungrateful, wicked people I can think of and me, and I had better be deeply grateful that God is, in fact, “unfair” in this way, because otherwise there would be no hope for me. I know this is what Jesus is saying because the very next verse is: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful [to you].” And that is followed up with: “Do not judge and you will not be judged.” See where He’s going with this?

When you look at it this way, it changes the whole picture.

Love your enemies and be kind to those who, like you, have received the kindness of God when they didn’t deserve it. And if you are ever tempted to think of God as being unfair, then go all the way and rejoice in the glorious inequity of grace that has made unlikely room for you and me, and in that same spirit of “unfairness,” make room in your heart for others.

You have to always be on the lookout. A little self-righteousness goes a long way. 


Reposted from http://catchjohnfischer.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/in-the-line-up/ because John Fischer said it better than I ever could.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Drawing the Moral Line as a Writer

Is it moral for a writer to /choose/ to write just any kind of story?

I would say no. And that's a great question.

For example, because I don't believe (based on my Christian worldview) that life is essentially meaningless and purely about survival, I couldn't and wouldn't write a traditional nihilistic slasher film. Would I write one about redemption and self-sacrifice and the search for meaning in death? Absolutely.

But I see those as theme issues, which is where I draw the line. Morality issues are a grayer area because my characters must have different morals than me and each other in order to fully realize them as "people" in the illusion of the story. If they are all moral people who use the same guideline, then the story has no "truth" to it. It's just a setting for preaching to a choir (pick your choir, religious or political or socio-cultural, propaganda is propaganda).

===============================================================

Post Facebook discussion addendum (warning -- theological content, proceed at your own risk):

I don't believe that morality is objective. I belive that we in the Christian community have confused morality and (what we call) holiness for way too long. Morality is culturally based, whereas the biblical principal of holiness is an objective one (in our belief). And we tend to care less about that objective one (with its dictates to feed the poor, take care of the widow and orphan, have no other gods before me, extend grace, love others like God loves them, be one in spirit etc.). 

That's one of the core reasons we Christians get into such a cultural/philosophical argument with the world, because we criss-cross our terms so much and try to argue an objective concept using words that reflect connotatively to the average listener a sliding scale.

I know its a semantics question for some, but in a world of deconstructionism, it's an important one, I think. To the rest of the world, morality IS relative, and that undercuts any argument of what's intrinsically right in any given situation. Therefore we must use words that speak to the issue.

For my part, I can only respond to the question by exposing what I mean when I say morality, i.e., is it moral for ME to write just any kind of story?

Emphatically no. 


When the theme of such a story opposes my values as I understand them, no.

When the content in such a story may however require understanding and grace from the reader to understand and not immediately judge my moral standing before Christ because of said content's presence in the story, that's a different matter.

Which brings me back to the morality/holiness semantics issue. I'll trample morality underfoot in my writing all day because it is inconsistent depending on the time period in which is standardized. Preachers can use "suck" or "crap" in the pulpit today in some places without a shocked face in the pew (or nice comfy chairs). Forty years ago, they would have lost their jobs. Why? Because the morals around what is profanity change. Besides, biblically, everything I've found about language involves speaking truth and not using oaths. And while we are biblically instructed not to engage willy nilly in sex, writing about sex is clearly not a sin or else it wouldn't be in scripture. Not even writing designed to titilate (i.e., Song of Songs, which would have hit readers in its context a lot stronger than it hits us today).

As long as I can write what I write while my soul remains clean before God (to couch it in Christian terms), I feel that is between me and God. As Mike Yaconelli once said, (paraphrased because I can't remember in which book I found it):

I stopped worrying about my behavior when I realized that it wasn't offending the least of these out of the kingdom and causing them to question the truth of faith (which is the meaning of that verse). It was only causing those within the kingdom to question whether or not I had it, and I could live with that.

If writing something causes me to stop loving God with all my heart, soul, and mind or loving my neighbor as myself, then I will not write it because to do so would be wrong based on God's standards of holiness. To practice some of the things I write about would be wrong based on that standard. To write about others practicing them, not so much.

That's the long-winded answer. How's that?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Creative Corner #3 -- Let Not Their Plight

Let Not Their Plight

Because I love you
I will go
To the dying in a darkened land,
Not for the great need
Inside they
Feel, the yearning for infinite purpose.
No. Just because I love you.

Because you love me
I will work
In the tortured times, persevere
Though misunderstanding and hate
Is only
A reflection of the hell inside.
Stay just because you love me.

Although the needs are great
While the dying dream of life
When people yearn for love
Let not their plight overwhelm me.

Because your love will
Bid me go,
Let my response show love for you;
Send me to love them
By serving
You first, and bid me go and work
Because I love you.


My poetry and early short stories are available in Gomer and Other Early Works.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Life Sucks, So What? (Part 2)

I said to myself, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself." And behold, it too was futility.
I said of laughter, "It is madness," and of pleasure, "What does it accomplish?"
I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under
heaven the few years of their lives.
I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself;

I made gardens and parks for myself, and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees;
I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees.
I bought male and female slaves, and I had homeborn slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem.

Yes, the cliche.
Also, I collected for myself silver and gold, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men-- many concubines.
Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me.
And all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor.
Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.
So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly, for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done?
And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness.
The wise man's eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both.
Then I said to myself, "As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?" So I said to myself, "This too is vanity."
For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die!
So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.
Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me.
And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity.
Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun.
When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he gives his legacy to one who has not labored with them. This too is vanity and a great evil.
For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun?
Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity.
There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen, that it is from the hand of God.
For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?
For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God's sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind. (Eccliastes 2:1-26, NASB)


I use to call Ellen DeGeneris "Ellen Degenerate." Granted it was more for the obvious pun -- and I'll go way out of my way for a bad pun -- on her last name rather than any seeming "holy roller" ideals, in spite of the (often but not always unfair) caricature that people of my faith persuasion are primarily illiterate, drooling hicks who want to keeper women, homosexuals, and other races under our thumbs.

Still, it does reveal something about not just me, but all of us, I think-the way we use words to not just define things, but also to categorize them in more easily managed groups of things. For people in my system of belief, I'm sad to say that we have a tendency to divide the world in to two broad categories. Well, make that one broad category and one tiny one. Ask most any of us today, and we'll immediately begin telling you about the things that are "sacred" and the things that "secular." 


Titian's Sacred and Profane Love
Although we've turned the term primarily into a marketing term today, as though there were genuinely such an animal as Christian music or Christian fiction, the idea originates much earlier, and it's perhaps Soren Kierkegaard who best verbalized in his concept of the "leap of faith" -- the ultimate dividing line between the normal, rational, everyday things and the somehow "higher" or "holier" things such as faith, prayer, or good works. Kierkegaard's idea was that some things could be reasoned and others could not, but even that idea has been perverted by the Church to somehow take the sacred out of the secular.

You're probably getting the idea that I disagree with that concept. You'd be right. My views are much broader in scope. I subscribe to the notion that all things are sacred to the mind set to see the sacred in all things. I'm not espousing some form of pantheism, mind you, but simply saying that if all good things are gifts from God, and if "whatever your hand finds to do" should be done for the glory of God, then things like music, writing, vocation, jobs, even sex, romance, and friendships, should be included in the list.

There is no valid biblical basis for creating a Christian subculture to market safe, alternative, "Christian" versions of other things to poor, uptight Christians who don't want to be offended by having to live in the real world. Nor is there a valid basis of dividing what I do 24/7 in my life from the more "holy" things such as prayer or good deeds or meditation. I must be just as open to seeing the sacred in my everyday interaction on the job (whatever the job) and the relationships I have with people throughout my life. 


I'd go so far as to say that there's not any valid basis either to separate rational thought from faith, as if a faith that's no more than some wishful thinking or "leap in the dark" is worth its proverbial salt -- as though God invited us to a life of turning off our brains just to believe in Him. (Granted, I don't think you can ultimately "prove" faith without the experience of having it, but there are rational pointers -- philosophy, science, etc. -- that can help guide you there, but that's a discussion for another time.)

Now, what does all this have to do with Ecclesiastes 2? Simple. The "preacher" or writer of the book says he tries all sorts of things to find purpose or even simply happiness in life-pleasure, wine, laughter, aesthetics, romance, sex, possessions, wisdom, and quite a list more. And he says that none of them were ultimately satisfying, or mere "vanity or striving after wind." The typical Christian reaction to this conclusion is to dismiss all such things as somehow "bad" because they didn't work and to focus on some type of more sacred activity for purpose or happiness.

But that's not what the writer is saying at all, and those who jump to that stretch of a conclusion are really missing the point. The problem isn't that pleasure, wine, laughter, aesthetics, romance, sex, possessions, and wisdom are bad, it just that they aren't enough IN AND OF THEMSELVES to give anyone a purpose in life or a lasting happiness. Sure, they may be fun or helpful for a season, but even great sex fades over time when the mechanics of a real relationship supersede mere gratification. Even wisdom ultimately fails because mere reason alone leads the conclusion (often) that there's no way to really find a purpose other than endure, endure, and endure some more.

But that doesn't make them bad or less or evil or secular or profane or non-Christian. Remember, in Genesis, after creation, God declared it "good," not mediocre or "profane."

And I, for one, like that declaration, because I'm personally pretty found of laughter, pleasure, possessions, and sex. And what they heck, I'll even give wisdom a try every now and them.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Wouldn't It Be Nice...?


I had a thought hit me at random while driving home the other night. 

(And yes, it happens fairly often, so no, it wasn't lonely in my head, thank you very much. Smartass.)

Wouldn't it be nice if ... Christians were recognized and known as those really loving people who had some strange ideas about their beliefs? 

Wouldn't it be nice if ... Christians were seen by the world as that group of genuinely helpful and caring people who could be forgiven for believing their had the corner on Truth because their compassionate actions outweighed their talk?

Wouldn't it be nice if ... churches bailed out the government's welfare programs, and took the lead in taking care of the widows, orphans, jobless?

Wouldn't it be nice if ... the religious folks who get political about it sang the praises of the helpless poor who endure day to day and still persevere rather than those of the mighty who have "made something of themselves" by being self-reliant -- the opposite of accepting grace and then giving it because it was offered to you?

Wouldn't it be nice if ... every person who spoke out against homosexuality had at least one gay true friend that he or she hugged and spoke to on a regular basis so the humanity could outshine the activity?

Wouldn't it be nice if ... my HIV-positive friends didn't have to thank me for actually shaking their hands and hugging them, as if that's something out of the ordinary?

Wouldn't it be nice if ... I and my fellow Christ-followers entered the world/culture/etc. with faith and friendship rather than avoiding in fear that we might be tainted by simply setting foot inside a place that is still being redeemed?

Wouldn't it be nice if ... I and my fellow Christ-followers fully realized the truth that we are no better than this world/culture/etc. we hide from inside our subcultures because while we are redeemed, we are still being fighting the same fights and wearing the same dirty clothes as the rest of the world?

Wouldn't it be nice if ... we Christians finally got our supernatural erasers out and once and for all obliterated that imaginary line we've created that separates the natural from the spiritual, the sacred from the profane, the lost from the saved, and let God deal with that while we go about our "as you go" lives loving people, helping people, and introducing them to live more abundant?

Wouldn't it be nice if ... those same Christ-followers could still stand against sin and call people to repent from it, but in such a way that those people felt loved and respected instead of condemned?


Thursday, October 11, 2012

I Am Not a Bird


Scripture Passage: Jeremiah 1:1-10

Key Verse: "Before you were born I set you apart" (Jer. 1:5, NIV).


I tried acting a few times in high school. Let's just say I was no Harrison Ford, but I did learn a few things. First, acting takes a great imagination. Second, I'm not, nor have I ever been, a bird.

My first leading role was playing a baby bird. Feathers, beak, flap-your-arms-and-try-to fly, the whole nine yards. I did the best I could, but sadly, I'm afraid my best baby bird imitation was more comical than serious, kind of like casting Dumbo as Romeo. Later in the play, I got to play a real human being (a little boy who wanted to be a dancer, but, hey, it's better than being a bird), and it was a whole lot easier than trying to fly.

As strange as it may sound, learning that I was not a bird taught me a lot about being a Christian. How many people do you know who step out of their nests every morning and fly to work just by flapping their arms? Not many, right? Well, how many birds do you know that come home from work, kick back on the couch, and read the evening paper? Let's be honest—less than one, right?

That's because birds and people are different creatures. We see things differently. We think things differently. We do things differently. Perhaps that was why it was so hard for me to act like a bird. But in the same way, as creatures of God's light, we are a different species than the creatures of the world's darkness. We also see, think, and do things differently. Not because we consciously think about it, but because of what we are. But too often (much like my baby bird experience), we waste our time pretending to be something we are not.

That is the point that God is making to Jeremiah in these verses. "Before you were born I created you for something special," He says. Jeremiah tries to explain to God that he can't do the actions God wants him to, but God corrects him: "This is what I made you for; don't be afraid. Don't pretend to be a bird when I made you a human being."

Before we get ready to act, we must remember this truth: Our actions always grow out of who and what we are.

So, before you try to fly, who and what are you?

© 1997 Sean Taylor