Friday, July 21, 2017

Are there boundaries in entertainment anymore? And, if so, what are they?



Today, I had a long Twitter exchange - which I never do - with a journalist and Christian about #GameofThrones. He defended the indefensible because, dude, it's really good tv.

I mean, what's a show without rape as a frequent, common, and accepted plot event? Throw in some sexual abuse of children, too. That's just necessary story development. Don't forget to include scenes of pregnant women being stabbed in the belly and women killed by shooting arrows into their groin. It's been two minutes, cue another rape scene.

All good solid character development.

I know talking about our entertainment choices is a sensitive topic. Entertainment is sacred. If you can find a show with good acting and an intriguing storyline, we'll tolerate nearly anything to have it.

But we've gone too far with this. And, if we don't speak up, hard as it is to imagine, it's only going to get worse.

I'm sharing the Twitter exchange to illustrate the lengths #GameofThrones viewers will go to justify their entertainment. If you're so attached to a program that you believe violent sexual assault on anyone for any reason at any time is a "necessary visual," you've got a serious stronghold in your life.

Turn off the tv, get away from that show, and get some perspective before it does more damage to your perception than it has already done. Being okay with consuming this kind of evil is not trivial and never okay.

Yes. Calling this stuff out will get me called "self-righteous" and "judgmental" and "holier than though." If that's what it takes to push back against this kind of vileness, so be it. I've been called worse.




Any story that relies on sexual violence is a pathetic excuse for a story. And created by unimaginative writers. Building rich characters, even villains, requires far more than showing the vulgarity of their actions. That's the cheap route. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the writers, should try harder. But, instead, they are focused only on shock value of the subject.

A story in The Atlantic, the one I quoted above, outlines several ways the writers have gone far beyond what was required for the story or the character in their illustration of sexual violence. They've purposely added even more than the book series outlined and all for what purpose?

In the end, if sexual violence against women and children is acceptable in the name of entertainment, what isn't? If that doesn't stop you from watching a show, what will?

For you Game of Thrones fans, I'd really love an answer.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Entertainment at the cost of what?

Here's Matt Walsh's post on the subject. 

Years ago, a friend recommended, "The Ring." I watched it, then spent a week of insomnia waiting for a dead girl to crawl out of my TV.
I'm not glad I freaked out for a week, but, then again, I am. It forced me to seriously rethink my entertainment choices and their impact on my thoughts, views, and peace.
What I've discovered is that the more distance I put between myself and the glorification of sex, death, and gore, the more I see how it impacts me when it crosses my path again. I'm not only generally disturbed, I'm angry. So, I shut off my tv. Then I yell at it. And it soothes my rage.
If we think our entertainment is harmless and has no impact for good or bad, we've swallowed a lie. And if we think, 'oh, it doesn't bother me,' we've washed down that lie with personal deception. We're either lying to others or ourselves because, yes, it does affect you. If you aren't noticing it, that means you've allowed it to root itself in who you are. It means it's affected you far more than what you even realize. It means you need to start noticing now and fast.
The environment, the words, and, yes, the entertainment we surrounded ourselves with impacts how we view our life, our beliefs, our world, and even our personality. Whether unconsciously or not, we often take on characteristics and mannerisms of the characters - or reality stars - we watch. This is how movie one-liners become part of our cultural dialect.
Entertainment also puts thoughts in our heads that simply should not be there, especially as a Christ-devoted example to our friends, coworkers, and family. Christ is holy. Above all else. Holy. What are we saying about our love of God to those around us who witness us easily discard that principle for a good time?
What I'm saying is, our entertainment choices matter. Really, really matter.
I'm not telling you to resort to watching reruns of "Little House on the Prairie," although a few episodes of that show wouldn't hurt anyone. And I'm definitely not saying I've got the list of "approved" and "banned" TV shows and movies to pass around. But I do believe we should be considering what we're consuming before pushing play. And we should be willing to turn it off for moral reasons, not just entertainment value ones.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Life and Times of a Book Festival

The Decopolis BookFest in Tulsa on Saturday was a hot, fun mess. This is how it all went down....


The ability to succeed as a writer has nothing to do with communication skills or creativity. It's all about the biceps, deltoids, and core. Can you or can you not carry everything needed for your table for a minimum distance of one city block? Many a promising writer has ended their careers at the 20-yard line.





That's not even a little true. There wasn't one freaking camel in the entire downtown area.





Those who know tell me authors must constantly be taking pictures with their books. But...it's a book. It's rectangular. Eventually, you run out of fresh picture angles. So I've taken up flashing hand gestures with my books. Here, I went with the peace sign. I have no idea why. It means absolutely nothing.





This sweet couple stood and chatted for awhile. I sat the entire time, while, apparently, taking a periodic nap during the conversation.





That's not completely true. I ate very little, although I will admit to consuming a fruit roll-up. Otherwise, I kept consumption at a minimum because bathroom breaks aren't frequent. Instead, I chose starvation and dehydration.






Then a friend, knowing that's exactly what I was doing, showed up to complicate the situation. I won't regret drinking that water. I won't.




There's a family-type familiarity between readers. We know each other, even when we don't know each other. Whether we're driven to read history or fiction or autobiographies, it doesn't matter. We know inside those pages there is another world, one we can only explore by taking the time to seek it wrapped in words.
Meeting those people was the best part of the day.
The worst part of my day was when the bookfest ended and that freaking camel still hadn't shown.

The end.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Why is entertainment so unentertaining?



A few months ago I tried watching Homeland. I knew better. But some lessons take a few tries before they stick.

After a few too many episodes of feeling like a voyeur in Nicholas Brody's bedroom, I signed off. Let's let these kiddos work out their material issues without me watching.

I don't own cable, or any of the cable add-ons because, quite frankly, I don't enjoy needing mental decontamination after an evening of relaxing in front of the TV. I prefer not seeing severed bodies during a typical Friday night - I'm funny that way. Or hearing joke after joke about genitals and bathroom habits - because jokes are supposed to be funny. Or watching actors simulate sex acts - I pity them for the awkwardness they should be feeling.

Since I'm neither a sex addicted porn watcher or a murderous psychopath, none of these things entertain me. And all these things, in one form or another, are everywhere. Even in my non-HBO or Showtime watching world.

God preserve me from the day I'm held hostage and tortured with Game of Thrones episodes.

I don't mean to come off like some self-righteous puritan. But, then again, do self-righteous puritans hate being around gratuitous sex, gory violence, extreme crassness and excessive profanity? Because, buddy, if so I'm in. Get me the t-shirt.

Here's the part that really disappoints me: As consumers, we can have better; As artists, we can do better.

Entertainment can be inspiring, hilarious, romantic, adventurous, mysterious, intriguing, fascinating, intelligent, inventive, impactful, pointed, opinionated, thrilling, all without the negative, gruesome elements. Despite the popular belief of most entertainment producers, it can. And the fact we're so rarely treated to such either shows a lowering of standards on the consumer's part, or a laziness on the artist's.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying you can't find high caliber entertainment anywhere, I'm saying is isn't predominant in the industry. It's like that rare fleck of gold you find after sifting through running sewage.

Now go wash your hands.

When I wrote Not Another Superhero, writing a story with class was a major objective for me. Could I create complex characters, put them in extreme circumstances, design a multi-faceted plot, ignite it with a respectful but spirited sexual tension, and do it all without asking my readers to lower their standards?

You tell me.

Not Another Superhero is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The sequel, Just Another Sidekick, is due out in August.

Expect more from your entertainment, my friends. Expect movies and books and art that meet your moral and mental standards. When you do, the artists - as artist Robert Florczak explains in the above Prager University video - will have to meet those standards.

Hold artists accountable and demand better. You deserve entertainment from your entertainment. Otherwise, what are you inviting into your time and attention?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Let the good times roll.



How much sharing is too much sharing? Anyone got an answer? A formula? A theory? I haven't got a clue.

As an author, from what I've been told or witnessed, I'm supposed to be sharing every opinion, past time, thought, and meal I have. That's me marketing myself. That's me creating a brand.

That's me getting on my nerves. That's why me doesn't do it.

Personally, I'm not big on knowing everything about anyone. Even the writers I adore reading, I don't necessarily adore their coffee mug collection or gardening hobby.

Not that they aren't lovely people with lovely lives, but I'm cool just reading their books when they come out.

Personally, I'm not great with sharing details about myself because 1) I'm a private person and 2) my life is about as fascinating as a coffee mug collection. And I'm good with that.
"It's no bad thing celebrating a simple life."
J.R.R. Tolkien
Post WWI, Tolkien lived a normal, ordinary life off paper and an unimaginable one on it. We could have been mates.

I'm saying all this as a heads-up. I'm gearing up to launch my second book, Just Another Sidekick (available August 2017), which is the next installment to Not Another Superhero. This means I'll be pressured - and will succumb to that pressure - to post aspects of my simple life you are not obligated to find interesting.

But doing it is a necessary evil.

However, I do have some boundaries. I won't take selfies with my meal. I won't take a picture of my feet on the beach. And I won't live tweet any sporting events. Everything else in the pursuit of marketing my book is fair game. That includes pictures of my coffee mug collection, which I don't have, and information about gardening, which I don't do.

You've been forwarned.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Send ANYONE Else



He told me not to bother. If I remember correctly, his exact words actually were, "Don't bother."

This was around my 27th year and I was less than a week away from launching The Remnant, a Christian service group comprised of adult singles....wait for it...with a twist.

The twist was that singles groups are awkward and I didn't want to attend them anymore. So how does one meet new people and make quality friendships? One starts a group that weeds out any namby-pamby. Here's what I figured: I'd create a service group that specialized in volunteer projects so heinous, so tiring, so draining, so filthy, only the cool would survive.

Anyone left standing would be my kind of person. And we could be friends!

A week before the launch meeting, while I was in the midst of making snacks (the almond bark coated pretzels were a big hit) and organizing my pitch, a friend asked me a question that nearly ended it all: Are you willing to lead?


Define 'willing.'


Matthew - you beautiful boy you - was a friend with a background in ministry leadership. While working on the initial launch, he helped me think of scenarios and issues I'd never imagined. He asked me the hard questions. He took me through the logistics and the reality. Basically, he was my Mr. Miyagi.

Then he asked me that question and I was stumped. What I was comfortable doing was starting the group, not leading it. I assumed God was only asking me to do what I was comfortable doing. Isn't that what God does? Lets us chill in our comfort zones? Can I get an amen?

Matthew wasn't impressed with my answer. "If you can't lead it, don't bother starting it."


But...but...but...


This is what I call, "Being a real Moses." Not the Red Sea division Moses. The earlier dude talking to a burning bush about a speech impediment.

Initially, when God spoke to Moses about His plans to free the Israelites from Egypt, Moses responded with questions. We may think of him as this powerful Charleton Heston type and, with God beside him, he was. But he was also a man with a fear of public speaking he could not face.

So, he threw out any question he could. People will want to know God's name, what was he suppose to tell them? People will question his authority, how could he make them believe him? When God had answers for every excuse, Moses finally got real.

"Oh Lord, I'm not very good with words. I never have been, and I'm not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled." Exodus 4:10


Oh Moses. I get you, man.


I relate so much more to this Moses than the miracle working one. He saw his own inability and it caused hesitation and fear. I've often given God a list of the things I don't want to do. "Ask me to do anything Lord! Except this list of exceptions I've made into a convenient refrigerator magnet for you."

When Matthew asked me that question, I had a list of excuses, too. But God came with a ready answer.
Then the Lord asked Moses, "Who makes a person's mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say." Exodus 4:11-12

In other words, "You get tongue-tied? So what! Your limitations do not limit me. So get your rear in gear!" But Moses couldn't give God this one fear. He just couldn't.
"Lord, please! Send anyone else." Exodus 4:13


Accepting your ineptitude is liberating.


All those years ago, my friend Matthew gave me a new perspective on stepping into a role where I didn't feel qualified.

"God has trusted you with this project," he told me. "So are you going to protect what God's given you or let someone else step in and, quite possibly, take this group in the direction God never meant for it to go?"

This wasn't about what I was qualified to do. It was about God asking me if I was willing to do anything. Even if that anything freaked me out.

I take it back. 


I did launch The Remnant. And led it.

Not because I felt empowered and capable, but because I wasn't going to let anyone come along and screw it up.

Not only did God use me far beyond my capabilities, but He blessed me immeasurably for trusting Him. That group is where I met many of my closest, dearest, lifelong friends. For three years, we broke bread and sweat together. Lived with more paint in our hair than was culturally stylish. Worked in the cold rain and brutal sun. Ended most projects covered in dust, dirt, sawdust, and, on one particular weekend, cow manure. We also had an unfortunate event in a muddy field with a heavy truck, laughed more hours than we cried, and experienced true brother and sisterhood. All these years later, and I'm still blessed by that time in my life.

I think about that a lot when God comes around again asking me to travel further into my fears, which He does all the blasted day long. It's like He doesn't appreciate that refrigerator magnet at all.

If God is asking you, like He does with me, to do something that freaks you out, here's what we should do:

Right after listing all the reasons we're not qualified and believing anyone else would do a better job, take a breath. Deep inhale. Deep exhale. Get rid of the boundaries we've placed on our life. Forget who we are alone and remember Who is with us. Then, with as steady of a voice as we can summon, say, "Geez. Okay God. I take it back. Don't send anyone else. Send me."

Friday, April 14, 2017

Yes. But He's alive.



A wise and noble friend of mine often says, "Life is hard, but it's also so much more than hard."

And I reply, "Yes, but it is hard."

And he replies, "But not only hard."

And I reply, "Yes, but..." You get the picture.

My side of the conversation is super easier to prove. In fact, at this very moment I can rattle off names of family, friends, acquaintances, and even plug myself in there, who are currently struggling financially, with serious health issues, mourning over lost loved ones and lost trust, battling with failure and those fuzzy feelings that go with it, facing self-doubt, helplessness, hopelessness, broken heartedness, and pain of various shapes, colors, degrees, and delights.

See? Hard. I win.

Rules and exceptions.


We know this, of course. The evidence is everywhere. After awhile, and simply to maintain sanity, we accept my argument without much push back. Why fight it? What's done is done. What will be will be.

Right on.

Things get glitchy at this point because, if you're a Christian, you can't leave it there. God won't leave it there either. Lately, His 'not leaving it there' is getting louder. At least in my head. I have this phrase that keeps making its rounds everytime I consider all the harshness of life. It goes something like this, "Yes. But He's alive."

Easy to remember; hard to forget. Also, incredibly repetitive, like when you get, "The Final Countdown" by Europe stuck in your head.

Life is hard! Yes. But He's alive.

The harshness is real! Yes. But He's alive.

The real is confirmed! Yes. But He's alive.

Death is as real as it gets.


Easter weekend is here and I keep thinking about the disciples and their reality. They walked with the Son of God on earth, saw the sick healed, lame walk, thousands fed, Pharisees publically humiliated.

Good times.

Things took a drastic turn nearly as soon as Jesus got off that donkey.

The miracle worker stopped working miracles. The good guys started losing. The man who raised others from the dead was now dead himself. What could they have been feeling as Jesus was tortured to death on that cross? Probably hopeless. Definitely fearful. Incredibly lost. Undeniably defeated.

This was their harsh reality. It was their grave medical diagnosis, their home foreclosure, their sick child, their ending marriage, their failed dream. Jesus didn't just appear dead, He took a final breath. Done, finished, finito.

What's done was done. What would be...was.

Yes. But.


Sunday was coming. Not all that far off, actually.

The disciples saw their Teacher and Savior buried in a tomb. But their reality didn't change God's eventuality. That tomb was already empty. Those burial clothes were already tossed aside. Even before reality said so.

The plan God had written from the beginning was already as good as done before it even started.
Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus said, "Listen, we're going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Romans and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise."
Luke 18:31-33 

All these hardships we face are real. They aren't frivolous or minor or shrug-worthy. They're painful, excruciating at times, and overwhelmingly defeating. They're as real as real gets. So, yes. The harshness is true.

And, because of that, I think we often see the future as more of the same. Mourning that never ends. Heartache that never stops. Pain that never relents. It's hard to imagine anything different than the reality we're facing every day, over and over, without any signs of change or renewal or hope.

But He's alive. And, because of that one fact, everything can change. Everything. Even our reality.

You know what this means? It means I lost the argument.


Happy Easter, my friends. He's risen!