Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Blog Tools
Edit your Blog
Build a Blog
View Profile
« October 2017 »
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31
You are not logged in. Log in
Entries by Topic
All topics  «
Group Two
White Throne Books
Best Christian Fiction
Monday, 28 November 2005
Universalist Fiction
I recently received, read and reviewed a new novel that was sent to me via my web site "Best Christian Fiction". It was a good story, fairly well-written (some typos aside, which I ascribe as much to the editor and publisher as the author). The author is probably a Christian.

The novel, though, was not Christian—at least from my evangelical point of view—though the author may think it so. It was a god-honoring novel, but not the god of Christianity (or, by extension, Judaism).

In the novel, earth is being attacked by a species of beings who are technologically far beyond humans. Things look grim. But, when the humans are faced with impending extinction, they rally together to fight back with a suicidal, do-or-die, one-chance counter-offensive. When the moment comes that all seems lost and the good guys have but one chance, they send a call back to earth asking everyone to pray for their success. The earthlings do, and the day is saved (and humanity with it). As I said, an enjoyable read.

So, what's the beef?

When the people of the world pray, it is specified that the Palestinians and the Israelis pray together, as do Muslims and Christians, and Bhuddists, et. al. They all pray to one god. As they do so, aliens all over the galaxy join them in prayer to this same god.

What's wrong with that?

Well, for the sake of this blog, I'm going to allow that God might have put life on other planets (though I find no mention at all—one way or another—for this in scripture). If so, then how he revealed himself to the beings on those other planets is certainly his business. I tend to ascribe to the C.S. Lewis vision put forth in "Perelandra" in which the first inhabitants of each planet would be given an Eve-like choice to either accept or reject God—and, if they reject, a means of salvation would be provided through God's son. But, God's a God with an enormous imagination and, so, he could have done it differently somewhere else.

However, here on earth he brought salvation to us through his Son. "There is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved," the Bible says (Acts 4:12). No other name.

Under a universalist mind set, it would be a good thing if everyone in the world prayed at the same time because all religions point to the same place. Under a Christian mind-set, though, everyone praying at the same time might be—at best—a start, for anyone praying to anyone other than Jehovah God, through his son Jesus, is just talking to themselves.

Some would argue that God could hear them anyway. Yes, he could, but according to Isaiah, he wouldn't be listening (Isaiah 59:2). According to Isaiah, our sins can pile up so high that they are like a wall preventing God from hearing our prayers. (There's a scary thought!) We don't have the power to tear down that wall. Only the blood of Jesus can do that.

All religions don't point to the same place. All but one do. One religion points to God the Father through Jesus Christ. All the other religions point in the opposite direction. That's how it's been revealed on this planet and, since we live here, we can't be hoping for someone else's (someone who may be fictional) dispensation.

The good news is: salvation is offered freely through Jesus Christ, the son of God!

Posted by bestfiction at 1:00 PM CST
Post Comment | Permalink
Wednesday, 2 November 2005
Cruel Parents?
There's a lady in our church who subs at the elementary schools around here. Recently, she had a kid in one of her classes whose name was pronounced "Sha-Theed". She was careful to ask him how to pronounce it before saying it out loud because it is spelled (I'm not kidding) "Sh*thead".

(The parents don't use an asterix, they use an "i".)

Posted by bestfiction at 1:18 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, 2 November 2005 1:31 PM CST
Post Comment | Permalink
Monday, 8 March 2004
"The Passion of the Christ"
To write a review of "The Passion of the Christ", the new movie by Mel Gibson, would seem to be a little counter-productive. After all, there have been plenty of reviews written, many of them by people who could spell much better than I. Still, it's the kind of movie that begs response. So, I'll give mine.

To begin with, as I told my wife, it was the best movie I never want to see again. Now, granted, I don't watch R movies or violence movies (this is the first R movie I have seen since "Conspiracy Theory" and I saw "Braveheart" in about an hour because I fast-forwarded through all the violence), but this movie didn't seem excessively violent to me. Not compared to what I had gone in expecting from all the reviews. Therein lies one of the thoughts I want to bring out which may or may not be related to this particular movie (depending on where this sentence winds up--I never know at this point): the world is full of movie reviewers these days. Thanks to a myriad of web sites which allow "regular Josephines" to post their reviews, not to mention a veritable tidal wave of movie festivals nation-wide and film review classes at almost every college, university or trade school. Anyway, this leads to a remarkably large culture of people who consider themselves qualified film reviewers.

[Note: they are qualified if they saw the movie!]

Unfortunately, these qualified reviewers seem to have, almost to a man, lost their ability to enjoy a movie. Every movie they view is scrutinized with ten times the intensity a proctologist would devote to a patient, with each nuance (real or perceived) sifted through a mosquito net ad infinitum until it's unclear whether they watched a movie or participated in a study of mineralogy. This being America, they are of course more than welcome to do so. The rest of us being in America as well, we are more than welcome to write them off as pretentious snots. (If they are writing their reviews on-line, they also seem to be afflicted by some sort of literary version of Tourette's Syndrome--or, they're just not bright enough to think of a better word, a possibility we cannot discount out of hand--so we can regard them as pretentious ill-mannered snots, as well.)

As they used to say on the channel 8 afternoon movie when I was growing up, now, back to the movie. Yes, it was violent, but not even as much as "The Fly" (which says a lot about how long it's been since I regularly went to Rs). What I thought was amazing was how much violence we didn't see. I thought the scenes where we heard the flogging but saw the crowd were more powerful than the ones where we actually saw the flogging. Perhaps they wouldn't have been if we hadn't had the visual reference of the actual flogs we had witnessed, but that is a question of the film-making.

The question has often been raised of whether children should be allowed to see this movie. I won't let my sons see it until they are at least ten, but then I won't let them see LOTR until then, either.

I have heard and read several people--especially some of the on-line reviewers, who by their own admission have seen many more movies than I--remark about the supposedly amazing scene of the cat-o-nine-tails ripping the flesh away and am really surprised. I watched for the scene and I know what they're talking about, but you and I could have done that bit of special effects. It was good, but nothing groundbreaking. It's already becoming one of those urban legends, though, of "how did they do that I actually saw his bones that was amazing" when it was just a routine bit of SFX work combined with excellent camera work and great sound work. So the scene worked, but it's interesting that it's working better in the minds of those who saw it than in reality it did. Since movies create their own reality, though, perhaps it did work that well. I'm just surprised people think so.

There have been many complaints, from various directions, that the movie didn't tell enough of the story. That we're only given the end of Christ's life, and not all the build-up to it. To this, I have several answers. First off, the movie is only two hours and you have to show something. Gibson condensed twelve hours (or so--there's some debate here) into two hours, so he still didn't tell the whole story of those twelve hours. One recently-read review compared the number of pages the four gospels devote to the passion of Jesus to the number of pages in the gospels entirely, trying to make a case that a movie depiction of the crucifixion should follow a similar percentage. Well, let's say that's done. Given that it took Gibson two hours to tell the 5% of the gospel narrative (by page count), is the reviewer asking for a 40 hours movie? Not that I'm against that idea, but I do hope they serve food when they show it (and cots would be nice). I also believe that Jesus did nothing that was unimportant, but all he did before the cross was subservient to his purpose of dying for us on the cross.

The main answer, then, is that Mel didn't choose to tell all those other things. He told the story--and the part of the story--that meant the most to him personally, which can probably said of everyone who tells the gospel message to a friend (or, maybe, who tells any story). Why didn't he show the various miracles, or have more of the sermon on the mount? I don't know. I'd have to ask him. Given the constraints of time (even if you add an hour or two to the accepted norm of 90-120 minutes like Peter Jackson or Kevin Costner do), every movie maker--and especially those movie makers who adapt from source material--has to ask, "What do I want tell here? If my audience walks away with one thought, what do I want it to be?" Gibson chose the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus and chose to do them in the way that he thought would give them the most impact. Here's where the audience gets to step in and decide for themselves whether he succeeded or not.

As a writer (and whether I am any good is up to debate and almost completely a matter of conjecture), I also know that there comes a point when, after all the critics, editors and helpful friends. one has to just say, "I'm going to tell the story I have to tell." It may please no one but yourself, and it may not please you like you would like for it to, but it you have to be the final authority to have any integrity in the matter at all. Mel Gibson has said he felt led to make this movie. I hope he has made the movie God called him to make. If he has, wonderful. And even if he has, that doesn't mean it's wrong for someone else to dislike it. They may be right, it may be a matter of perception, or it may just mean that what God needs to say to some people at this moment--or just Mel--isn't the same message He's sending to everyone else. (This is not an endorsement of relativistic truth. Truth is truth, but it holds different importance to different people. The fact that a building is on fire--a truth--has a much different impact to those in the building than to those outside.)

It's at this point that the reviewers jump in and, brandishing their pretentious snot-hood like a rapier in the hands of the lesser of the two brothers in "Zorro the Gay Blade", tell the rest of us what to think. Having read many reviews, by both professionals and amateurs, from respected and disrespected sources, I have been told I must see the movie, I should see the movie, I shouldn't see the movie, and that it would be a terrible thing if I saw the movie (and several other opinions which more or less fill in the gaps between those extremes). It's at this point that I feel compelled to say that they're all wrong! I am glad I saw "The Passion". It has spurred much thought and many discussions in my life since seeing it--and I'm sure has done the same for many others. If you go to this movie, you will probably be moved to thought, too (but even the fluffiest of movies inspires some thought--I hope). The reality is that you (the generic you of a potentially large audience) don't have to see this movie, or need to see this movie. I like movies, but if I never see another one, my life won't be any poorer (in fact, if I stopped going to movies, it would probably be because my life had filled up with other things, things which simply by definition of existing, are more important). The same with books that are labeled "important" or a "must read". With one notable, millennia-old exception, they're neither. They might be great books (or movies), they might help you financially, relationally, occupationally, spiritually or in some other way. But not one of them is a necessity for living. It is even possible to live and breathe without the Bible, though I wouldn't recommend it (especially if you'd like to live and breathe for eternity).

Is this a perfect movie? Nope. No such thing--not for every audience, anyway. There are things in this movie, for instance, that aren't going to make sense to a person who hasn't read the gospels, or at least heard them talked about. The sign over Jesus's head (which is erroneously printed in only one language), for instance, is given no translation. I know what it said, but if you haven't read the book, you won't. In fact, if you haven't read the book, I concede that it is fully possible that none of this movie will make sense. For such a person, it will be seen as just a violent movie about some guy who is a arrested and executed and then, inexplicably--shows back up before the credits.

And yes, there are things in the movie which are not specified in the gospels--or even implied in the gospel account. No, Jesus didn't fall off a bridge. There's no record of a crow pecking out a person's eyeball. The Bible doesn't specify that the woman caught in adultery and Mary Magdalene were the same woman. Not even counting the flashbacks, some of the dialogue which is biblical does not follow the biblical chronology. This is a movie. Does that excuse liberties with the written account? I don't know. Maybe not. But if you're basing your reality for any event on a movie account, we have a much larger problem with your perception of reality than with the movie industry itself.

That being said, this movie is being heralded by some as a great witnessing tool. Maybe, but only if those of us who know the rest of the story are willing to sit down and lovingly talk about the truth and fill in the gaps. This, of course, is a recurring theme with me: are we willing to get involved in the lives of the lost? If we're just going to hand over the business of evangelism to Hollywood--even a good movie, which I think this is--we have abrogated our duty and might as well join the side of evil because that's who we're serving. The fact that this movie is sparking cries of, "That wasn't in there!" or "Was that in there?" is a good thing, providing we're willing to run with it and keep the dialogue going.

So, if the target audience of this movie is the unsaved or the biblically uneducated, then I would say it failed. If, however, the target audience is the saved--the person who wants to see the sacrifice of his Lord in a way that makes it more real than the printed page has, or the person who wants to recapture that sense of gratitude they once felt when they first realized what Jesus did for them--then this movie was a success to me and, judging by the response of those in the theater with me (and in church with me later), a success for others as well. I'm not going to look at a cross again the same way, or read about Pilate handing Jesus over to be flogged and just skim over the words without a thought to their meaning.

For that, I say, "Thanks, Mel. I needed that."

Posted by bestfiction at 12:33 PM CST
Post Comment | Permalink
Monday, 2 February 2004
"Wild at Heart"
I just finished reading a non-fiction book that was given to me as a Christmas present by one of the elders at my church: "Wild at Heart" by John Eldredge. It had touched him so deeply he had been recommending it for months at our promise Keepers meetings. So, he finally broke down and gave copies of it to several of us.

Then, it took me more than a month to read it. Not because it was hard reading or something I wasn't interested in, but just because it was the type of book where I had to stop every couple pages and really think about what I had read.

That's a good thing, BTW.

Let me begin by saying I enjoyed "Wild at Heart". Again, because it made me think.

I remember in college when we had to do book reports. Most people turned in the same kinds of book reports they had done in high school and junior high, to wit: a capsulated regurgitation of the contents of the book. I turned in a few of those myself. Then, one day I had a revelation: the professors actually cared what I thought about what I had read. I learned that it wasn't a bad thing to disagree with a book--just because it's in a book doesn't mean it's right--so long as you have a reason for disagreeing and can clearly state it.

That being said, I enjoyed reading "Wild at Heart", was moved by it, and I think I'm a better person for having read it. On the other hand, I can't agree with everything Eldredge says.
For starters, I do not share his pull to the outdoors. I love to push myself. I am constantly working to stretch myself in ways I've never done before as far as preaching, writing and even cartooning. What I write and draw this year will be--I am determined--beyond not only what I did last year, but beyond what I could have done last year. I also like the outdoors. I just have limited interest in the back country and no interest in rock climbing. So while I agree that all men are created by God to push ourselves, I don't agree that such pushing is necessarily found outdoors.

Like Eldredge, I am also a big fan of movies, and have been known to use clips from movies and TV to illustrate points in my sermons or lessons. Some of the movies he quotes from I saw and enjoyed; some I saw and walked out on because I found them offensive. While they had some redeeming thoughts or points (at least to appearances from the examples he cites), for myself the evil outweighed the good. (My view, for instance, on how much pornography is acceptable is: none; whereas Eldredge can apparently look past limited amounts of nudity to see value. I can't.) Let me say that nothing Eldredge quotes from these movies is objectionable. I just object to the movies and question what could easily be construed as an endorsement of them.

Now, for the good. "Wild at Heart" has challenged me to pursue with much more vigor the path God has laid out before me. It has also drawn my attention to the things I say to my sons (and the things we do together) and how responsible I am for building them up in Christ (and not exasperating them, as Paul says). It has reminded me of what should have been obvious: men and women are different. Therefore, I should use my God-given strengths FOR my wife, as well as for God.

Like much Christian help, "Wild at Heart" covers little new ground. That's not necessarily a criticism. Any mature person has reached the conclusion that we all have to be reminded of what we know. It's why we keep coming back to God. It's why we keep reading the Bible even though we've read it before. And sometimes (often?) we have to have what we already know explained to us in a new way so that we'll open up to it. That's what "Wild at Heart" has done (and is doing--it's good enough that I'm working my way through the journal now) for me: returned my focus to God and being His man. If a book can do that, and especially if it does it well, then I call it a "recommended read".

Posted by bestfiction at 1:12 PM CST
Post Comment | Permalink
Wednesday, 14 January 2004
Welcome to Fred (a novel)
If 100 people see an event, probably about 10 of them won't have the faintest idea what they saw. "The building collapsed?!?! I didn't know that." Another 60 or so can relate the story pretty well, but with varying degrees of accuracy tinted by their own perceptions and biases. 20 from the crowd can tell what they saw accurately (though the sharpness of the narrative may fade). Nine people from the crowd will be able to tell the story in an accurate and compelling manner.

Brad Whittington is that 100th person who saw exactly what everyone else saw, but in the retelling is able to bring out the bits of nuance and insight that even the nine missed. I don't know what his narrative about the collapse of a building would be like, but he can tell about living in a one-horse town (where the horse is often sick and always swaybacked) in the 1970s in such a manner that you don't just wish you were there, you are there.

In some ways, I was there. Though a decade or more behind Whittington, I grew up in Texas (though the western side) and can attest that the people he was writing about were not caricatures. They were the people I grew up with. The kid who's too young to drive but practically built his own car and now terrorizes the back roads. The country folks who don't understand the city folks, and vice versa.

Welcome to Fred is the first-person story of Mark Cloud, the son of a Baptist preacher who finds life as an adolescent in the big city full of adventure and promise. But then, his father takes a church in the East Texas town of Fred. Fred is everything Mark didn't want in a town and Mark doesn't think he fits in. Maybe he doesn't, and the reader will start asking whether this is Fred's fault or Mark's.

The writing keeps you reading, which is what I think writing is supposed to do. Neither so simple as to bore you, or so complex as to run you off. The humor, which peeks out from the page in surprising places--rather like the next door neighbor's kid, who you want to be angry with but he's just so likable!-- keeps the book and reader from taking themselves too seriously. The fact that the humor sometimes seemed out of place for a "typical narrative" served to make the story seem that much more real. As if Mark Cloud is a real person (and maybe he is, named Brad Whittington) who can't help but find humor in life.

If I have a complaint about "Welcome to Fred" it's that I wish the book itself--somewhere on the jacket maybe--had told me it was the first book in an ongoing story. Not knowing this led me to get to the end and think, "What? That's it?" I am excited to know another book is forthcoming, and other readers may read it and not feel cut off, but I did.

Tom Bodett, whose success as a pitchman has obscured the fact that he's one of the best writers of our time, once wrote that the highest compliment he could receive for his writings would be for someone to read something he had written and comment, "Yeah, it's just like that."

As I read Whittington, the thought continually comes to the mind of this son of a west Texas preacher, "Yeah, it's just like that."

Note: word from Brad Whittington that his next novel has been sent to the publisher!

Posted by bestfiction at 11:16 AM CST
Post Comment | Permalink
Tuesday, 25 November 2003
Writing
What does it take to be a writer? Is it just putting words to paper (or computer). Well, yes.

We want to argue that, those of us who write. But the truth is, the person writing their grocery list is a writer. Frank Peretti's a writer. So is my friend Matt Franklin, who writes for the sports page in our local paper. Is it all the same? No.

What does it take to be a writer of fiction? An ability to tell a story helps but isn't necessary. It may be necessary toward getting someone else to read what you've written, but a lot of people write only for themselves. Cool! They're writers, just as much as CS Lewis or Tolkien.

I read an article recently by a published author I had never heard of who was saying that to write to sell is the wrong motivation. That one should write what one wants to write--to tell the story one wants to tell. I agree.

But I'm also enough of a capitalist that I think if someone wants to write soup labels because soup labels are selling . . . go for it! Maybe what I think it most wrong with modern writing is that it's based on someone else telling the writer what to write. "Write to sell!" "Write so it won't sell!"

I guess if I were to throw my two cents in (too late, huh?), I would say, "Write what you want. If it sells, milk it for all it's worth! If it doesn't, keep writing. Keep telling the stories you think need to be told, even if you're just telling them to yourself!"

Posted by bestfiction at 9:44 AM CST
Post Comment | Permalink
Wednesday, 19 November 2003
LOTR
Just got through watching "The Two Towers - Extended Edition". Wow! An incredible movie and so much better than the theater version (I know some won't agree with me on that, so don't bother articulating your disagreement in an email).

And now I'm starting to watch the voluminous "making of" features and featurettes. One of the recurring themes, said by several different people, is that Tolkien's book would never be published today. It's not written like a professional writer would write it, it expects too much of the reader for the modern publisher, it's not laid out the way books "are supposed to be arranged".

These statements are, of course, made by fans of the work who trust their audience enough to not say the obvious. Namely: modern publishers are idiots. All this book by a non-professional writer with its unconventional story-telling and trust of its audience has ever accomplished is to be referred to by many as the best novel of the 20th century. (And let's not forget that it's sold a few copies.)

Not that I expect publishers to ever see this blog, or to take it to heart if they do, but wouldn't it be nice if some of them were to watch LOTR and realize there might be some other Tolkiens out there and finally break through their pablum to present us with words worth reading?

I can dream, can't I?

Posted by bestfiction at 9:51 AM CST
Post Comment | Permalink
Tuesday, 18 November 2003
The Art of Writing, Part 1
What is it about the written word that so fascinates some of us? I can read for hours on end, but to hear someone read the same thing to me--even a very good reader or speaker--often leaves me cold. What is it, too, that is so much more appealing about reading something printed out on paper--even the slick paper of a magazine--than to read it on-line?

And what is it that leaves some people--even if they've read this far--shaking their heads in wonder because they just can't imagine finding reading entertaining? Such people are by no means necessarily low-brow or educationally deficient. I have friends who are college grads who are very intelligent, but just don't care for reading.

Back to my first question, though: what is it about reading? And why do some authors capture us while others leave us not just cold but depressed because we "wasted" time trying to read them? For instance, I can read almost anything by CS Lewis and his wordcraft just fascinates me. Same with Mark Twain, Louis L'Amour and several others. But some writers, who I will not insult by mentioning here, I couldn't slog through their report on the Super Bowl even if my favorite team had won it. The words are all spelled right, the grammar is passable, but that special something just isn't there for me.

Why?

I suppose, if I could figure that out and master it, I could probably charge people to read this blog and they'd be willing to pay. At least, the other writers would.

Posted by bestfiction at 2:06 PM CST
Post Comment | Permalink
The Art of Writing, Part 1
What is it about the written word that so fascinates some of us? (I've asked this before, but it's still preying on my mind.)

I can read for hours on end, but to hear someone read the same thing to me--even a very good reader or speaker--often leaves me cold. What is it, too, that is so much more appealing about reading something printed out on paper--even the slick paper of a magazine--than to read it on-line?

And what is it that leaves some people--even if they've read this far--shaking their heads in wonder because they just can't imagine finding reading entertaining? Such people are by no means necessarily low-brow or educationally deficient. I have friends who are college grads who are very intelligent, but just don't care for reading.

Back to my first question, though: what is it about reading? And why do some authors capture us while others leave us not just cold but depressed because we "wasted" time trying to read them? For instance, I can read almost anything by CS Lewis and his wordcraft just fascinates me. Same with Mark Twain, Louis L'Amour and several others. But some writers, who I will not insult by mentioning here, I couldn't slog through their report on the Super Bowl even if my favorite team had won it. The words are all spelled right, the grammar is passable, but that special something just isn't there for me.

Why?

I suppose, if I could figure that out and master it, I could probably charge people to read this blog and they'd be willing to pay. At least, the other writers would.

Posted by bestfiction at 2:04 PM CST
Post Comment | Permalink
Wednesday, 12 November 2003
Returning
It's been a while since I've blogged. Up until about a year ago, if I had heard or read that statement, coming from someone else, I probably would have responded with something like, "That's good news! I guess the fiber worked."

But blogging is, of course, something almost entirely different. Or, if it does have to do with gastro-intestinal matters, they are gastro-intestinal matters of the "Reader's Digest" variety.

Anyway, what brought me back is that someone finally wrote to me at the website. His name is Brad Whittington and he's the author of a great new book called "Welcome to Fred". I'm not going to review it right now--that will come later--but I recommend you at least go to www.fredtexas.com and check out the first chapter.

And while I'm recommending that you check out new things . . . "Saving Time", the sequel to last year's excellent "First Time" is due out any day now. Watch the front page of Best Christian Fiction (http://bestfiction.tripod.com) for details, or go straight to the horse's mouth at www.tuttles.net.

We also get word that Robert Calvert, author the wonderful novel "When Vapors Vanish" (also reviewed on BCF) is hard at work on a new novel. Keep watching for more word on that.

Good writing is out there. Sometimes you just have to get off the beaten path to find it.

Posted by bestfiction at 10:38 AM CST
Post Comment | Permalink

Newer | Latest | Older