Let the Stable still Astonish

manger

 

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child–
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place”?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
Of our hearts
And says,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place.”

–  Leslie Leyland Fields
***
I post this every Christmas for lots of reasons, my faith being the main one. Yes, I believe Jesus’ birth was critically important and that despite the dysfunction of organized religion, His  life and words are worth serious consideration.
I also appreciate this little poem because it takes the manger away from being a seasonal Disney-fied religious scene and brings it back to earth. It presents Jesus not as some magical, special ingredient to make my life life better – like flavored coffee creamer – but as a real solution to my deepest needs. It speaks of a God who knows and loves me despite myself. Of transcendent mystery intervening in the sordid particulars of the sad, strange mess of human history. It speaks of intention, of hope, of grace.
And for that, I am truly grateful.
Merry Christmas to you and yours. May 2017 be filled with happiness, health, courage, and compassion.
I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.
 – Jesus of Nazareth Jn. 10:10b

The Brilliant and Beautiful Rejection of San Junipero

Black Mirror, Season 3 Episode 4 that is.

blackmirror

I am tripping on Black Mirror. My lips to God’s ears,  I wish I had the chops to write things like it.

As long as I’m confessing… I binged the first two seasons when they appeared on Netflix and have been spending most every spare minute on Season 3 since it was announced last week. Sort of a Twilight Zone on Crystal Meth and a 4G Wireless connection, the series has riveting plots, great writing, and pitch-perfect acting that synthesizes each episode into a polished splinter digging in that sensitive intersection of human nature, technological advances, and social trends.

That’s not saying I ‘like’ each episode or agree with the conclusions. It’s not Family Friendly by any stretch. (I suppose as a Christian, I’m not supposed to appreciate it, but frankly Scarlet…. ) Polished as each vignette is, the tone is brutally frank and deeply unsettling. I suspect the real reason it gets so uncomfortable at times is how authentic, incisive, and terribly plausible it all is.

Which brings me to San Junipero – the episode I watched during lunch yesterday.

As a thirty-one year Christian, former Christian Drama Team leader, pastor, and missionary, Sunday School teacher, Bible Study leader, etc, I can’t recall ever seeing such a brilliant and beautiful dismissal of religious faith. I mean that sincerely. I was speechless with admiration not choking on indignation. It was a slice of artistic genius.

black-mirror-season-3-san-junipero-gugu-mbatha-raw-and-mackenzie-davis

It would be difficult to explain line by line how San Junipero encapsulated such a momentous dismissal unless you’re familiar with the traditional Biblical worldview and you watched the episode. I don’t want to slather a spoiler-filled synopsis here. But if you’ve seen it,  I bet you’ll follow along: start with the distinctly secular, scientific premise of digitized consciousness/personhood, add the lesbian relationship, the one character’s heart-rending rejection by ‘strict religious family, the other’s poignant lack of faith concerning belief in ‘life after the death’ in the case of her spouse and daughter. Then so to the perpetual Spring Break hedonism of the virtual ‘afterlife’  – (in the 80s, no less)  Add it up and the underlying statements are plain: there is no soul, no Eternity, no spiritual dynamic to life, no accountability, no consequences.The episode is  a complete dismissal of and substitute for religious faith. The writers even managed to give  Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is a Place on Earth far more meaning than it ever had. (or deserves)

 Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh, heaven is a place on earth
They say in heaven, love comes first
We’ll make heaven a place on earth
Ooh, heaven is a place on earth

The purpose here is not to air my sniveling, or rate the show on some Faith- Based Approval Scale, or offer a Believer’s Public Service Warning. I really do appreciate the show. It is excellent and challenging.

If there’s a caution, it’s to myself. I know God’s redemption is real – I’ve experienced it in my own life and seen it authentically transform others in America and overseas.

That said, I’ve concluded lately that much of the Western church still operates under the illusion that many non-believers/other-believers need or want or are interested in the Gospel message. Maybe twenty-five years ago, but not anymore.  Not really. If anything these days, they’re indifferent. Or dismissive. Contemptuous. Even hostile.

The fact is, most folks are already confirmed and committed not just to carnal and consumer distractions but to a definite worldview. Or they have sought out and bought into alternative remedies to their questions and issues, selecting them from the drop down menu of hundreds of available options in our pluralistic, globally-connected, information age world. We Christians assume they’re hungry in quiet desperation when in reality they are all set and just ate. And yet we’re still knocking on the door with yesterday’s sandwich.

So my personal caution is this: as an artist and a writer, as a human being who believes and has experienced God’s Grace, I am convicted of my need to earnestly, diligently pray for His Spirit to inform and infuse my character, my words, and my work. The world is far better at everything than I am. And they have more of it. The only thing I really have isn’t even mine – the grace and truth that is in Jesus. And I can and should do my level best to pass that on as uncut and consistently as possible. But it needs to be in my bones not just on my bumper sticker. Because in the end, that is the only way I can be a genuine witness to His death, resurrection, and reality.

Have a nice day.

.wyatt-russell-in-the-black-mirror-season-3-episode-playtest

And watch Black Mirror. 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas 2015

Let the Stable Still Astonish

manger
Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child–
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place”?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
Of our hearts
And says,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place.”
–  Leslie Leyland Fields
***
I post this every Christmas for lots of reasons, my faith being the main one. Yes, I believe Jesus’ birth was critically important and that despite the dysfunction of religion, his  life and words are worth serious consideration.
I also appreciate this little poem in that it takes the manger away from being a seasonal Disney-fied religious scene and brings it back to earth. That it presents Jesus not as some special ingredient to make my life life better – like flavored coffee creamer – but as a real solution to my deepest needs. It speaks of a God who knows and loves me despite myself. Of transcendent mystery intervening with a plan in the sordid particulars of the sad, strange mess of human history. Of hope.
And for that, I am truly grateful.
Merry Christmas to you and yours. May 2016 be filled with God’s peace, courage, compassion, and creative power.
I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.
 – Jesus of Nazareth Jn. 10:10b

Guest Post – Dave Alderman

Work emergencies hindered me from getting this up sooner. Apologies.

The Distractions of Christian Fiction

Some days it feels like this world is going to hell in a handbasket. I turn on the news or I fire up my Facebook feed and I marvel at all of the ridiculous issues people are making a stink about. Everyone seems to be offended about something or someone somewhere. We’ve entered an age of entitlement issues and quick tempers. Passion has become misdirected. Instead of fighting against human trafficking, government corruption, or an increasing number of homeless filling our streets, we’re advertising, sharing, and making a huge deal about Bruce Jenner’s decision to become a woman.

Really, people?

Why is it this generation seems to have an easier time shying away from the issues that matter and instead cloister around nonsensical topics that allow them to turn away from the blood and violence and sexual slavery and instead fight amongst non-believers of their cause on social platforms?

This is one reason I have a hard time engaging in conversations with people on Facebook or Twitter. I can’t find a lot of worthy topics to latch on to. My passion is better spent writing.

If you read through the Bible – yes, I mean both Old and New Testament – you’ll see that God constantly uses believers to enact change in the world. We are His instruments, tasked with bringing Christ and His message of salvation to a broken world. Instead, we’re detracted by engaging in issues that don’t really matter.

We’re distracted, which I’ve realized is the Enemy’s number one weapon against Christians. In any great war, if you’ve succeeded in distracting the enemy, then you can pretty much take complete advantage of your opposition and secure victory.

I think the same goes for Christian writers as well. Instead of engaging issues from a Christian worldview, we’ve written clean-cut alternatives to the secular content monopolizing bookstore shelves. We’ve become distracted by a misinterpretation of the ‘who’ Christian fiction is written for.

I see a ton of Christian novels (fiction, science fiction, fantasy) that only seem to exist to see how many times the word ‘Christ’, ‘redemption’, and ‘forgiveness’, can appear in a novel. These stories cater to Christians and in many ways ostracizes non-Christians to the point where nobody but Christians want to read Christian fiction. Many of these stories are not realistic, nor are the outcomes. Not always.

Christians are shying away from writing about the real-world to instead offer up a wholesome, purified, easy depiction of the Christian life.

Too bad the Christian life isn’t easy. It’s full of heartache, it’s full of sacrifice, and it’s full of pain. A lot of it. It’s the kind of life that Christ shines the best through because He is our Healer, our Deliverer, our Savior. People who are not in trouble do not need a savior, nor do they need a deliverer, nor do they need a healer.

This is why I write what I write. I write Christian fiction but with real-world content. Drug dealers, megalomaniacs, sorcery, betrayal, sacrifice and ruin fill the pages of my fiction. And in the midst of it is Christ, coming to save a broken individual, a broken world.

Official Banner

It’s not enough to just write about this type of fiction. I want to publish it. That’s why I’ve created The Crossover Alliance, an online publishing company interested in pushing edgy Christian speculative fiction out into the world. Stories that the real-world can relate to. Stories of heartache and sacrifice and pain. Stories of healing, deliverance and rescue.

I have an Indiegogo campaign running right now to help raise funds for the first year’s expenses. Please head to the link – http://www.igg.me/at/TCA – to meet the team, read about the mission, and pledge to snag awesome digital subscriptions to our first year’s catalog.

My goal isn’t to prove that there is no need at all for tame Christian fiction, but that there is a serious need for Christian fiction that strives to resonate more with Christians and non-Christians alike.

IMG_0101David N. Alderman is an indie author of two speculative fiction series—Black Earth and Expired Reality. You can find all of David’s work at http://www.davidnalderman.com. He is also the founder of The Crossover Alliance (http://www.thecrossoveralliance.com), a publishing company specializing in edgy Christian speculative fiction. He participates in National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org) each year. When he’s not writing or spending time with family, you can find David gaming on any number of different consoles.

Some Thoughts about Ireland’s Same Sex Marriage Referendum

As a ‘conservative’ Christian, I found Ireland’s recent Same-Sex Marriage Referendum very interesting.

Off the top of my head, then.

1. Agree or disagree with Same Sex Marriage, people have the right in Free Societies to choose, to vote, to engage in the social and political process. Disagreeing doesn’t invalidate the right. Not even God violates people’s free will. This is happening. Deal with it – intelligently.

2. NPR reported that rather than take an adversarial, combative stance, many Homosexuals and Same Sex Marriage supporters personally went to friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and said “This is who I am. This is important to me. Can you help?” One human being to another. There’s a thought, eh?

3. No one is opening a Big Box of Darkness in the world like Pandora. Darkness is the absence of light. Ground is lost by default. Now I agree that sexual immorality – homosexuality included – is dangerous both spiritually and physically; that is is indicative of broken, lost and defiant nature in need of redemption. But it’s time to stop pointing fingers and handing out Citations like God’s Traffic Cop. Fact is, we’re all in trouble and in desperate need of a Savior. What are we supposed to be doing again?

4. Time to reacquire a sense of proportion. There are LOTS of ugly, terrible things going on in the world. Compared to war, poverty, corruption, slavery, child-porn, and sex-trafficking (and half a dozen other things), this is way down on the list. Really.

To echo that Irish bishop, ‘It’s time for a Reality Check”. Yes, there will always be hostile contradiction, a reproach to genuine faith. I get that. But the simple Gospel is compelling, compassionate, and profound. However imperfect, it’s on us believers to reflect that accurately. As Christians, we’re Responsible TO people, not FOR them. Their response to Jesus is between them and Him. Don’t like what’s going on? I understand. The call then is to repent and return to being Salt and Light. To be God’s ambassadors, ministers of reconciliation. Jesus’ hands an feet.

Or to swipe from Gandhi, “Be the change in the world you wish to see.”

Father Gabriel goes to Indiana

After watching TWD finale last night, then skimming the headlines of the last several days, a couple thoughts bounced off each other this morning as the coffee kicked in.

1. Fr. Gabe as a weak character. I cringe every time he comes on screen. I don’t mean the obvious in-show cowardice. (Even Eugene has shown more backbone) The good Rev strikes me as a cardboard standee, a typical ‘last-refuge-of scoundrels’ sniveler trying to prop himself up with religious bravado. Yes I know such people exist, (I’ve met them) but as a Christian myself, that bothers me. In real life and on screen.

Now Hershel was devout. Genuine. Portrayed as misguided at first, he was nonetheless solid, smart and brave. I miss him. I’m just disappointed this latest Scripture-quoting, Bible-toting believer is plagiarizing a page from the ‘lame religious guy’ stereotype playbook. At least he has enough faith/depth of character to have a crisis-of-faith. Otherwise, just shoot him and move on.

Now contrast him with the show’s main homosexual character, Aaron – who is most definitely playing against type and trope – and I have to wonder if he were played as a ‘typical flamer’, would there be any social outcry and push-back? Any cries of ‘perpetuating negative stereotypes’, ‘painting with a broad brush’, and gross distortion? You betcha.

Double standard? Evil Liberal Bias? Probably not. But I did wonder what would happen if the roles were ‘reversed’, as it were.

2. What exactly is going on in Indiana? From the furor, you’d think after throwing Rick and crew under the bus, Father Gabe snuck off off and wrote Indiana’s Religious Freedom Bill.

If indeed the law is based on existing Federal laws signed by Pres Clinton and Obama, if it is indeed virtually identical to similar laws currently on the books in other states, then why have LGBT activists swarmed Indiana like a horde of hungry Walkers? Why THERE and why NOW? How is this one different or special? I mean, don’t rights work both ways?(BTW, you might want to lose the ‘Sodomize Intolerance’ sign there)

No, I’m not a lawyer but by my reading of news summaries and various sources, the law doesn’t target a specific group. At all. It does not give or create any ‘new’ right for owners and servers; it simply clarifies and codifies existing rights and responsibilities. This isn’t legal discrimination. That someone might use it intolerantly isn’t a valid reason to negate the law. Capability isn’t culpability.

3. This past half season of TWD, I’ve been more impressed by the writer/director choices than absorbed in the characters’ plight. Not that I wasn’t gripped, but from a story-teller’s point of view, there have been some remarkably well constructed episodes. Several times I was ‘wish-I-thought-of-that’ jealous. The Season finale held up that high standard; Glenn’s mercy and sobbing, Sasha’s restraint/Maggie’s intervention and prayer, (she is her own woman but she’s also Hershel’s daughter), and using the Rick and Morgan meeting to end the show.

In light of all that’s going on in America and our world right now, the scene that stuck with me was Daryl and Aaron in the car. Tricked, trapped, mobbed on all sides by danger and certain gruesome death, they decide to stick together. To go down fighting side by side if it comes to that. There’s no ‘hick/queer’ labels, no agendas, no blame-game. Just two human beings facing a much larger common threat.

You’d think with all the deep and lasting problems in our world – poverty, hunger, illiteracy, corruption, slavery/sex-trafficking, terrorism, ecological damage, etc, etc, we’d have a sense of proportion, be grateful and realize our nation, however imperfect, is a singularly remarkable achievement in human history. We have freedom and prosperity at previously unimaginable levels.

Both sides of this current issue need to take a step back, dial down the rhetoric, and remember respect and rights run both ways. Of course we’re not going to agree on everything. Who does? But it’s time to stop and look at the bigger picture. We’re all in the same boat here. Problems we’re facing, we need serious help.

And if I understand Jesus’ teachings and the New Testament  correctly, all of us, and I do mean all of us, need a Savior.

Merry Christmas


I post this poem every year because I believe it captures the essence of the incarnation and redemption offered in Jesus Christ. Christmas is about God’s gift of Himself to us, not just for religious spit-and-polish or pious moralizing mixed with creeds and rituals, but God coming to us at the very place of our need. In Jesus Christ is forgiveness of sins, transformation of heart, redemption at the very core of who and what we are. It’s a relationship with God forever. It’s eternal life.

Genuinely accepting God’s love means change – sometimes confusing, uncomfortable, inconvenient change – but most what is most remarkable is that it’s real And free. Jesus is alive and He loves you. Really.

Here’s the poem.

Let the Stable Still Astonish

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw- dirt floor, dull eyes, dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls; No bed to carry that pain.

And then the child –
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry in a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said:
“Yes, Let the God of all
the heavens and earth
be born here, in this place”?

Who but the same God who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts and says,
“Yes, Let the God of Heaven and Earth be born here – in this place.

May you come to trust in Jesus Christ as Redeemer. I pray God bless you all and keeps in health and peace in the new year. May God be real to you and in you, and express His Courage, Compassion, and Grace through you.