You are viewing the most recent 25 entries.
31st August 2007
30th August 2007
There's preaching... and then there's preaching
Me and Suzanne came across both of these videos last night. Watch them in order and see what you think. The first is clearly biased against the speaker but I find it hard to disagree with the points. The second left me floored. :
24th August 2007
C.S. Lewis on the Three-Personal God
Me and Suzanne recently had a lengthy debate with some Monotheists. To me the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is the most profound and beautiful mystery that I have ever encountered. I'm often brought to tears just thinking about it. :
After this debate, I read an excerpt from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis addressing just that doctrine. Once again Lewis has floored me with his ability to explain the complex without subtracting from it. Here it is in its entirety. Enjoy:
THE THREE-PERSONAL GOD
The last chapter was about the difference between begetting and making. A man begets a child, but he only makes a statue. God begets Christ but He only makes men. But by saying that, I have illustrated only one point about God, namely, that what God the Father begets is God, something of the same kind as Himself. In that way it is like a human father begetting a human son. But not quite like it. So I must try to explain a little more.
22nd August 2007
This cracked me up
I've always hated those MacDonald's commercials. I'm glad someone else does too. :
21st August 2007
writing update, and a song
Even though my posts have been extremely sparse of late, I have been writing. :
I wrote this last night and I liked it:
14th August 2007
An apology of sorts
I've been thinking about my previous post and I wanted to offer a brief apology. I realize that most of the people who read my blog are probably not offended by the fact that I'm sort-of promoting a Steven King horror novel, but maybe some are. :
For most of my life I've fancied myself as a discerning dude, free of the usual legalistic boundaries surrounding art. I'm struck with the concern that this may be a lousy appraisal of myself and my motives. Do I honestly seek to build others up by exposing them to true beauty through their freedom in Christ or am I simply showing-off by finding spiritual nuggets in cultural turds? "Hey, look at what I came up with!" Sometimes it's hard to tell.
Just because I have liberties doesn't mean I should parade them publicly. If I've caused anyone to stumble or given someone license to offend their conscience -- I sincerely ask for your forgiveness.
12th August 2007
Salem's Lot and the Church
I recently finished Salem's Lot by Stephen King. I'm a huge Stephen King fan but I don't read a lot of his work. Most of it is far too macabre for me and some of it borders on the silly. However I think Salem's Lot was astoundingly good. Oddly enough, it caused me to ponder my faith.
Although immensely gripping, the book is as much a meditation on good and evil as a conventional vampire story. The town of Jerusalem's Lot is on the surface a Mayberry-esque New England town with the usual stock of quirky characters, But as the story progresses the sins of the townsfolk begin to appear until it's clear why the vampires chose the town in the first place. When they came, they easily ensnared the citizens because they were already evil. The vampires just presented an opportunity to sink lower.
The point is a powerful one: though we may wink at our gossips, or our private lusts, or nurse our bitterness, or our white lies -- these sins are cut from the same cloth of whatever dark acts birthed the legends of vampires. Scripture describes sin as yeast that works throughout the entire batch of dough. Perhaps a more modern analogy would be a cancer: we may think that it's only an odd lump and ignore it but it may already be in our bloodstream. How awful it would be to be faced with an unthinkably wicked being and find oneself related by "harmless" sins. And that is what happens in Salem's Lot.
As one character says when the vampires are taking over:
“[Salem's Lot] ain’t alive. . . . That’s why he came here. It’s dead, like him. Has been for twenty years or more. Whole country’s goin’ the same way. Me and Nolly went to a drive-in show up in Falmouth a couple of weeks ago, just before they closed her down for the season. I seen more blood and killin’s in that first Western than I seen both years in Korea. Kids was eatin’ popcorn and cheerin’ ’em on.” He gestured vaguely at the town, now lying unnaturally gilded in the broken rays of the westering sun, like a dream village. “They prob’ly like bein’ vampires.”
I find it hard to disagree with this assessment of the human condition. Tonight I went to rent a movie with my daughter. Now that I have little children, I'm much more aware of what is on the movie covers and it's pretty disturbing. Nearly ever other cover depicts such horrible images that if viewed in real life, one might vomit or faint: rotting corpses, nightmare masks, blood soaked bodies, beautiful girls screaming in horrible pain (thanks to the hot new genre "Torture Porn" these are becoming more and more common), all manner of violent, twisted images. The scary part is when you realized that a cover is what's supposed to make people rent the movie. Customers, Middle-Class, Christian, Americans are enticed by these twisted images to pick up the disc and see more of what's inside. This should tell us something about the human heart. If vampires came to our town and offered true thrills of violence, power, and sex -- how many of us would hop in line? It's obvious by our entertainment that we are fascinated by such things.
A second point that suddenly became clear to me while reading the story is a major function of the Christian Church. The image of a priest warding off a vampire with a crucifix and holy water has been depicted and lampooned so many times that I never thought much of it. But King's thoughts on the subject made me reconsider.
The scripture often describes the Christian life as a battle and if we are in a continuous battle, than the church is an army constantly at war. But what/who are we fighting? Steven King's answer: EVIL. I happen to think that's an excellent answer.
Our governments often try to paint our wars as matters of good versus evil. Even the church in history has prostituted itself to political conflicts. But in this day in age most know that the wars of good and evil are not fought by governments or armies. We've watched the corruption of our politicians become too naked, seen too many pictures of "Collateral Damage", heard too many horror stories to believe in the righteous military war. So who will fight evil? Again, King's answer is the Church.
The Church of God is the only body on earth and in time that is completely equipped and capable of confronting any manner of evil and defeating it. This reality becomes brazenly clear when faced with something as fantastic as the vampire legend. Why can a vampire not abide a crucifix? Because the act that took place on the original crucifix was God's purification of mankind. By that act, the church has been cleansed from its wickedness and made holy before God. At the cross, Evil's hold over men was broken - defeated by a far greater power.
The Church is also armed with a mighty weapon in the scriptures. Unlike the entirety of mankind's institutions, the Body of Christ has a book that again and again leads it through valleys of persecution, feeds it on truth, cuts to the heart of lies, inspires the listless, invigorates the weak.
History will not allow us to say that the Church has always been the enemy of evil. The Dark Ages, Crusades, Inquisitions hang over our heads shouting this point. But the key here to understand is that those horrors were the result of the church abandoning scripture instead of submitting to it. Critics proclaim that we Christians long to drag everyone back into the Dark Ages where everything was governed by the scripture. This makes me laugh. The Dark Ages were dark because nothing was governed by the scripture. It took an angry German monk to finally drag the church kicking and screaming back into the light of its own holy book.
And this is utterly important: There was no Roman Reformation. When Rome fell, it fell and did not rise again. But The Church is continually rising from its own grave, vital and equipped for battle. Evil cannot kill the Church because the Church holds the Word of God in its hand.
I imagine what it must have been like when the Church was born in a small upper room in Jerusalem: A bright hot light bursting to life in a world smothered in darkness; a world full of sorceries, witchcraft, bloodthirsty idols, perverted temples, and insane emperors. Did the darkness shudder when those simple fishermen burst into the square, when they proclaimed the victory of Christ? This small spark would never be quenched. This army would never surrender. No stronghold of wickedness would be safe. No gate of Hell would stand against the Church of God.
In this modern age, Westerners have comfortably dismissed the ideas of things like vampires. I know I have. Yet something in me, something deeper than my intellect, more primal, is still reluctant to draw back the curtain over a dark window. Do my genes still remember things in the darkness that the church has banished?
What was the nature of the world when the Church first marched into the battlefield? I think it may have been very different than it appears now. Was there a night beyond human memory when a terrified saint had to face a bloodthirsty creature of nightmare? Did this saint quote scripture in the face of a devil like Jesus did? Did he defeat this creature by the power of his simple faith in Christ? This event may have never happened. But the legends had to start somewhere.
A warning: Salem's Lot is not for everyone. It's terrifying, gory and explicit. My mom read it when she was sixteen and thirty years later the school bus full of vampire kids still gives her nightmares.
8th August 2007
Camping and more travel
Here's some pictures from our camping trip: :
Isn't it amazing how dirty kids get while camping? It's like they become little Pig Pens.
Sam in the tent:
All smiles, as usual.
Jack's heros are his two older cousins who are Firefighters. He got to hang out with them on this trip and was in heaven.
Lily's Grandpa ('Bampa') and hunting mentor.
Lot's of fun.
You know why I'm an important person? Because tonight I'm leaving on a BUSINESS TRIP! Oh yeah... Going to hit the links, stay in the swankiest hotels, and sip expensive wine over dinner.
Actually, I'm going to be sitting in an Orwellean classroom for the next two days, learning about a Java Content Management System. And I'll be staying in Santa Rosa's finest two-star hotel. I'll probably eat at MacDonalds.
I truly have arrived.
My last software training session (about two years ago) was quite bizarre. I even documented it on my old blog. I now republish my account of that experience for your enjoyment.
Republished from the archives of culturezoo.blogspot.com, Circa: June 9th, 2005
So I mentioned in a previous post about having to sit in a dreary facility, watching a Power Point. The following is my better attempt to document my experiences in my final day of Microsoft software training.
Don't worry, folks, the car is at a complete stop in every picture.
This is true. It showed me what I stupor I drive to work in every morning. My brain checks out and my instincts tell me to head to my work. I only realize that my training class is on the other end of town when I'm miles in the wrong direction. Once, this might be understandable, but three times is just scary.
What a poorly-chosen name. It's a combo of the torture chamber for U.S. soldiers (Hotel Saigon) and The Bay Of Pigs debacle. But I bet their chicken is great!
This photo does not capture the drearyness of this building.
They had some funky art on the walls.
Is there anything more fake than these sort of "Certificates of Achievement". I'm not trying to be cynical but it just seems lame.
And that's a day in the life 'o Levi.
6th August 2007
Camping this weekend was a blast. Suzanne had so much fun that she's asking me if we can go camping every remaining free weekend of the summer. I'll try and post some pictures later. :
Here's one experience I'd like to share:
Saturday morning I went on a bike ride. The area we were camping in, was next to a stretch of forest that a fire had recently decimated. The only trees that still remained were black hollow husks that you could hear cracking ominously if you stood close enough. Because of the lack of tree cover, the wind was strong.
I rode out and stood on the top of a hill in the middle of the desolate area. The scenery was impressive: all around me enormous granite boulders climbed hundreds of feet into the sky and just ahead sat a green marsh full of reeds and dragonflies. But the thing that impressed me the most was the silence. Surrounded by the immensity, the only thing I could hear was the wind.
Americans love noise. When we drive we play radio shows or music, in our homes we have constant noise from TV, stereos or radio, while we work we listen to music, now, thanks to iPods, we can take our music anywhere and many of us do. But I believe there's something to hear in silence. Standing on that hill, you could almost hear the earth speaking inexpressible things; things that humans can't say.
It sounds schmaltzy, writing this down, but if you're life is full of noise, try listening to silence. It's a profound experience.
3rd August 2007
We're going camping!
Yay! Things are going to be quiet around here for the next few days. Just FYI. :
1st August 2007
A report from the Christian Booksellers Association Convention: :
Hard to believe, but this is not a joke. Can we just take CCM culture out back and shoot it right now?
The Hunting of the Last Dragon by Sheryl Jordan
This was a pleasant surprise. I had ten minutes to find a book to read in the library before my appointment and I just grabbed this one. It turned out to be quite an engaging tale. I'd recommend it. The author paints a vivid picture of Medieval Britain with a fantasy twist.
Story of a Girl by sarazarr
Yep. I ordered it. Just read the first chapter though. I have more comments in the future.
Me and the cover of Story of a Girl separated at birth? You decide.
Going well. Not much to report on this front.
25th July 2007
Thanks to : sarazarr for this. It made my morning.
I don't know how I would react if I ever ran into this gang...
"This turkey is a jerk!" Strong words indeed.
23rd July 2007
Writing Update: :
This weekend was quite productive. I managed somewhere over 1,000 words on Sunday (huge for me). This book is really starting to take on an appealing shape.
Here I stand: The Life of Martin Luther
by Roland H. Bainton
On a whim I picked up this book from the library and it's had me hooked. I feel like I've found a friend in Martin Luther. I find myself really identifying with him. Surprisingly, this is quite a gripping read. It even has illustrations.
This isn't a "oh isn't Levi smart, look at all the books he's reading" post BTW. Augustine's confessions are really easy to read. And I consider Jane Austen and Charles Dickens too hard to read so... The Confessions are truly inspiring though. Augustine is regarded as a central figure, both within Christianity and in the history of Western thought and it's fascinating to read his auto-biography.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Prayer Request: :
Saturday we found out that my aunt's cancer is back and has moved into her head. My church is a small one, about 150 members. Small churches like mine tend to clash from time to time - especially when most of the members have been attending for over 18 years - but my aunt is one of the few people who everyone loves. She's that sort of person. On Sunday morning we prayed for her. Almost everyone attending came up to the front to pray and in the end about 70 people had gathered together close together in one big weepy hug. Odd as it may sound, it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. That moment of unity in our motley church in our love and desperation, and the unshakable joy of knowing Christ no matter what happens - it was like tasting heaven. I can't wait to embrace those people again in heaven.
So if you know Jesus, can you pray to him for my aunt? We're specifically asking for at least six more years of life so she can raise her daughter (who is currently twelve). My aunt's name is Tracie.
22nd July 2007
HP7 is here
Me and Suzanne are fighting over who gets to read it. So far she's winning. :
I managed to read the first few chapters after she fell asleep and it's pretty awesome so far.
One thing that I've noticed more than ever with this book is what a plain writer JK Rowling is. Compare Rowling's prose to a poet like Shannon Hale and you realize how *blah* it is. The success of Harry Potter is really a victory of substance over style. Rowling's plot and characters are excellent but her prose is only average. Still, I'm hooked.
19th July 2007
What books inspire your story?
When I look at my work-in-progress I can see the influence of three particular books that inspired it: :
1) The Dark Tower by Stephen King
The setting of The Dark Tower was a revelation to me. The jumbled blend of cowboys, robots, wizards, and vampires all roaming around a post-apocalyptic world fascinated me to no end. It was just so different then the usual fantasy fare. It's had a profound effect on the setting of my story.
2) Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
One of the rare books that gets better each time I read it. It also consistently brings me to tears. The ending of my story really echos (I.E. rips-off) the final conflict between Weston and Ransom. Namely, someone gets their brains bashed out in a cave. This is probably my favorite novel of all time. I don't exaggerate when I say that it is truly an amazing piece of fiction on every level. I will forever be trying to rewrite it.
3) Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The characters in Wuthering Heights are practically simmering in the type. They are passionate, diabolical, insane, conflicted, cruel, romantic, kind -- they just stick in your mind. Because of WH, I'm trying to write more than just stories about nice or mean people.
So what are the books that influence your stories?
What would earth-bound immortality do to a person? I think: :
1) It would make them reclusive
When you've lived long enough to see hundreds of fads, ideas, trends pass - I think you'd ditch social life and start hanging out in nature where things don't change.
2) They would be emotionally distant
When everyone you love dies of old age but you're stuck at 20-something, you would think twice before making a strong emotional bond. One fact of life is that people die really fast, usually about 80 years after they're born. My only comfort is that I'm dying right along with them. But if I was immortal and I had to watch generation after generation of my friends die -- I'd think twice before getting chummy.
That's where we meet one of my main characters, Lilith. About 500 years before my story starts, she's granted immortality (I'm not sure how yet). Because of this, she's a hermit hiding out in the forest and really doesn't like people. But, of course, she can't stay this way. Events will force her to love again. Can you say Character Arch, baby! He he.
It sounds corny, I know.
16th July 2007
What a weekend...
My sister got married this weekend. The wedding was a blast. We celebrated the newly married couple in Nunnink-style, complete with fudge on the tables, great masses of relatives, and much dancing - capped off by the now traditional Streamer Dance. :
The wild and crazy streamer dance.
For some strange reason, I was asked to conduct the ceremony and marry them. It was a true honor to stand up there with my sister and my now-brother and be a part of their special day. Everything went smooth until my daughter started screaming and crying and had to be taken out of the hall by the father of the bride no less. Ah, it was certainly a family affair.
I'm glad it's over though. I never told anyone but I was more nervous than I'd been in a long time.
Congratulations to Steve and Rosalyn, I love you guys.
The extremely lovely couple.
I'm really finding my groove with Penelope as a character. I cut out all her angst and I'm focusing on her practical, slightly-shallow nature.
My story opens with her having just witnessed the sudden death of everyone she knows. My first thought was to have her react to this with anger, fear, etc. But that's not how her mind works (or most minds, for that matter).
In this draft she handles the horrible event by not thinking about it; pretending that it never happened. And she also can't talk for a while. But she's trying to make the most of crappy situation. Her character is floating somewhere between denial and strength. The thing that her mind will not let her do is completely break down; she's got to keep going even if the wheels are falling off. She's a complete 180 from my last version of the character and it's working much better.
13th July 2007
Last night someone chased my minivan on foot, screaming obscenities at me. :
It was one of those instances where you realize the light is yellow, but - *oh crud* - you've got to keep going because you just can't stop in the middle of an intersection. I guess this ticked off the middle-aged, gray haired pedestrian on the sidewalk because, the second this happened I heard:
"What the F---?!!! Hey!!! Mother-F-----"
I thought, are you serious?
I can understand if I'd almost hit the man but he was twenty feet away from the traffic violation.
So I pull up to the next stoplight, look in my mirrors and see him running up the sidewalk at my car, still screaming all manner of obscenities. One, I began to get nervous but -- as I was in a philosophical mood last night -- on a deeper level this interested me. This man was clearly angry and his level of anger was not equal to the level of my mistake. Part of me wanted to roll down my window and, after sincerely apologizing, have a candid conversation with the man. "Sir, are you okay? Do you want to talk about why you're so angry?"
I think white Americans have a lot of anger these days. You hear stories about white-collar types killing each other because they got cut off in the passing lane. The American dream is not a recipe for happiness and peace.
But my light turned green and I had to go. Grass Valley is a small town, I wonder if our paths will cross again.
12th July 2007
There's an : excellent article today over on Jeff Berryman's blog. This is not necessarily related to writing but I think that it's inspiring.
I especially found this challenging:
Here’s the question: when was the last time you stopped and engaged what you consider beautiful simply…because? When was the last time you were arrested by beauty, and you had to bring your world to a stop because there was something in front of your senses that simply spoke to your soul?
11th July 2007
Thoughts on Mechanics and Authors
Author and critic : Jeffery Overstreet made a post today regarding his debut fantasy novel Auralia's Colors. Just a bit of background Jeffery is a Christian, he writes for Christianity Today, his book is being published by Waterbrook Press, the Christian division of Random House.
So I thought Jeffery's comments regarding his book were interesting:
As a Christian who's been involved in the arts I've struggled to reconcile my role as a Christian and a musician, now writer. I've even used the Mechanic Analogy numerous times (except I think it's a carpenter when I tell it). But over the past year my opinion has changed and the mechanic analogy sounds quite hollow these days. Bear with me for a minute:
So am I saying that we need to pepper our writing with Christ Figures, Biblical Morals and Allegorical Events -- all tied together with a nice Sunday School ending? I don't think so. Here's where I see the problem: today the book business is awfully similar to the car-repair business. Let mechanics be mechanics but - please, God - don't let authors be mechanics.
I get depressed when I walk into Borders these days. I'll browse the young adult section and (thanks to Harry Potter, I suppose) my favorite genre is flooded. Now I haven't read all of these books but I've read some and therein lies the problem. Some are beautifully written (Shannon Hale's, The Goose Girl), others are clever (Garth Nix's, The Key's to the Kingdom series). Those are the top -- most are somewhere below them. I tried to start The Sisters Grimm -- quite a popular series -- and I couldn't believe that they actually published the thing. After studying the packaging and the blurb on the back, I had the feeling that I was reading some marketing executive's pitch for the next Series of Unfortunate Events. The only thing this novel had to say was, "Me Too!" That's the ironic problem with the genre. It's doing better than ever money-wise, but that hasn't helped the quality of the stories.
Bottom line, in Young Adult Fantasy there's a lot of noise these days. Some good, some bad - but dang it's loud in the Me Too Chorus!
Are we just adding to the noise?
As Christians, I believe that we must have a higher standard than non-Christian authors. The world does not need more Daniel Handlers or Garth Nix's, we need another Chesterton, Tolkien or Lewis. Our world needs to be challenged, not entertained. We are choking on entertainment.
Often I'm forced to examine why I write. Why do I spend the small amount of free time I have raking myself over the coals for words that - most of which - will stay buried on my laptop? What am I trying to do? Honestly, it's still gray for me but I know a few things:
This might seem a bit overboard but I think this is the attitude with which Christians must pick up the pen. Forget making your book "Christian" -- that's the easy part; just keep out the swear words, make it readable and there's a seat for you in the Me Too Gospel Choir.
But what are we trying to give to our readers? How will we change them in the brief time they hold our words? We cannot be content to entertain them - that's the world's business. We must bring them to the truth. God has given us this opportunity and kept it from mechanics, web designers, lawyers, almost everyone else. Let's not waste it.
Note: Apologies to all mechanics and Jeffery Overstreet. I write this with upmost respect for him as a superior writer and a fellow brother in the Lord. This was not a critique of him or his book, just the implications of his blog post. What I've read of Auralia's Colors is lovely. I'd welcome his response to this post if he feels inclined.
5th July 2007
going out on a limb here...
I don't like Jane Austen. Let me clarify that. :
1) I like her stories. Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Emma -- they're all excellent.
2) I like her morals. Her male protagonists are all people that I'd let my daughter date when she comes of age. That's saying a lot. Her women are all honorable seem to reflect Christian ideals.
But if you stand back from all the romance, polite conversation, and dances you'll realize that her stories are nothing but the accounts of overly rich snobs struggling to hold on to their affluence and avoid any sort of labor. Think about it.
Q) What's the definition of a "Gentlemen" in an Austen novel? A) Someone who is independently wealthy.
Q) What's the ultimate shame for a character in an Austen novel? A) Having to work for your living.
Q) What do the characters actually do Austen novels? A) Play croquet, sew, flirt with the opposite sex, go on picnics, sing songs, (I think I saw someone paint something in the Emma movie. Never read the book though so I don't know if this is Cannon-Austen.), and plan dances. Have these people ever done anything strenuous in their lives?
Q) If you're a character in an Austen novel, should you associate with someone who is not independently wealthy? A) Apparently, no.
Those are just a few gripes. Anyone stuck on Austen's vision of the English life should read Wuthering Heights.