Wednesday, October 31, 2001

brothers grinn

Neither David nor I write humor for its own sake, at least not for a long time. We get tired of the jokes and witticisms, and can't help wondering if they're really that funny anyway.

What we do enjoy is communicating Truth and truths through what we write, humor that bites or makes a point. To do that, we need writing that is good, original, and thoughtful. And in order to get Truth consistently, we believe a thoughtful, Christ-centered writer is necessary. On top of that, the whole process can take three hours a mailing, depending on its length and subject matter, and it pays zilch. Zippo. Nada. See the trouble in getting people to help us?

We're pursuing a couple agencies to help us publish a collection of Chicken Soup for the Soulless that uses several of our recurring characters, some unpublished material, and a recurring motif to tell a story that stretches across more than 100 years, but that's a process that could take a while. When that's done, we want to turn our efforts toward our more serious fantasy writing and have no idea, quite frankly, how the list will change. Right now it's pure dissemination of our material; Smirkov wants to turn into more of a promotional tool, to draw attention to our other writing and products.

Beyond that, GOK what's in store. I've been toying with the idea of a Brothers Grinn Bible, and there are other useful applications of humor, to teach history, organic gardening techniques and who knows what else. Anything really big would require some money in our company to hire writers such as yourself and editors to oversee the quality of the work to make sure it's consistent what we want.

David has done the bulk of the illustration as he is much better at it than I. He did commission a few pieces out of pocket for our Civil War 2000 section and for Smiley's Last Resort, both of which were done by Earl Oxford, whose name is just about all I know of the guy.

His feeling is that his strength lies more in writing than in illustration, and it's also where his passion lies. He does a pretty good job, I think, and I've done my best to encourage him with the drawing, but I can't tell him what he should do with his time.

Saturday, October 27, 2001

a definition

For your approval:

surreal: (sur-reel, adj.) 1. William Shatner singing "Mr. Tamborine Man." 2. Sebastian Cabot giving dramatic poetry readings of songs like "Like a Rolling Stone" or "It Ain't Me, Babe."

Such unusual talents notwithstanding, I am enjoying "Golden Throats," a Dr. Demento CD that my oldest brother has given me. The CD contains more than a dozen classic songs made more entertaining than ever by celebrities working under the misapprehension that they can sing.

Thursday, October 25, 2001

comic strips

There aren't that many strips I really enjoy anymore. "Doonesbury" never recovered from Trudeau's 18-month hiatus and so many other strips languish under limited-joke syndrome, like Garfield's fixation on lasagna, Mondays and what a loser Jon is.

Great strips I've read in my life include "Bloom County," "Calvin & Hobbes" and "The Far Side." I don't really care for "Boondocks" because it seems to me more anger than humor, and "Mutts," while reminiscent in some ways of older comics like "Krazy Kat," just ain't funny enough. James Thurber's doodles, of course, were immensely funny, and still are, but that wasn't properly speaking a comic strip.

Of the cartoons I'm familiar with, I'd have to say the classic "Merry Melodies"/"Looney Tunes" retain their top ranking. True, they're old, but I think they've aged well. The slapstick antics of Daffy and Bugs are just as funny now as they were 40 years ago. Attempts to create new Bugs cartoons in the 1980s failed miserably in my mind; you just can't duplicate Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng. Classic Warner Bros. cartoons are among the best ever made. My wife and I even bought two of the tapes for our daughter to watch.

Incidentally, that itself is a hoot. Every time the Coyote hits the canyone floor after falling off the cliff, Evangeline says "Uh-oh." Her sympathies are on the wrong side, but she definitely understands what's going on.

watchtower

I think it would kind of fun to write articles for Watchtower.

Just think about it. You could be about halfway into a story about the significance of 1914 or some other major Jehovah's Witnesses doctrine, and then just stop and say, "I'm sorry. I just can't espouse this any more. I mean, let's look at some of the many weaknesses to our doctrines on the Deity and on Christ..."

The end result would be the same -- you wouldn't be writing for "Watchtower" -- but can you imagine the hoopla if it turned out the editor didn't even look at your story before running it?


Wednesday, October 24, 2001

harry potter movie

My wife and I just made plans to see the new Harry Potter flick on Nov. 17 with a couple friends of ours from church.

I can feel the flames of hell licking at the soles of my feet already. Ah....

In the meantime, I highly recommend the four books in the series, provided you can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. The books are nothing short of incredible. J.K. Rowling has my deep and abiding professional jealousy for her success.

Thursday, October 18, 2001

terror and islam

It's our inclination in the West to equate terrorism with Islam -- I don't know why that is, and I have to keep reminding myself that most of the stuff I've learned about Islam in church is about as accurate as, well, most of the American history I've heard in church.

But Islam is not a religion of terror, nor does extreme Islam have a monopoly on terrorists. Consider the lengthy history of fighting and riots between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

Then there's the Christian terrorists here in America. The most obvious example is the Ku Klux Klan, but there are extremists in the pro-life movement who see nothing wrong with killing abortionists and bombing clinics. As with the asterisks who have been sending anthrax to public figures the past week, these asterisks are doing it for the glory of God and believe that they will be rewarded in heaven for what they have done. I've even heard a few of them called martyrs.

Extreme devotion to Christ is an excellent thing, but one would think they would follow Christ's methods if they're going to call themselves his followers. Can't think of anyone he killed.

As to the other point, it's true the Quran has some harsh penalties: theieves' hands are cut off, liars' tongues are removed. Of course, the Bible also prescribes pretty harsh penalties: disrespect your parents, get stoned to death; commit adultery, get stoned to death; perform a homosexual act, get stoned to death; build a house that collapses and kills its owner's son, your own son is put to death; eye for eye, tooth for tooth, blow for blow, and burn for burn.

Of course, we explain that that's not what God REALLY wants from us. God forbid we allow Muslims the same luxury with the Quran.

funny commercials

The commercials I always find somewhat annoying are those that feature two people talking about a deeply personal problem -- incontinence, a weak bladder or impotence -- and one of them pulls out the product and starts talking about it. Worse, they're usually in a highly visible setting: a restaurant, a party, or something similar.

A few ad reps have handled it with class by poking fun at the ad convention; i.e., the wife begins talking about how her husband handled his incontinence with Wonder Brand Medicine, and he responds how you would expect in such a situation, "Geez, do you always have to embarass me with these stories?" or other people nearby start looking very uncomfortable and leave suddenly.

Friday, October 12, 2001

kosher laws

Taken from a post at CHRefugee, where someone asked about Christians and the kosher laws. Reposted here just because I like the thinking that went into it.

Heck, if someone wants to keep the kosher laws, you're probably not going to be able to dissuade them. More power to 'em. Keeping kosher is actually a pretty healthy way to eat and to live, but for your own edification, and because you asked politely, here are a few verses that satisfy me on my freedom from the dietary laws -- actually on pretty much the whole shebang:
Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened, and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."

Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."

The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
— Acts 10:9-15
While this is part of the passage dealing with God calling on Peter to take the gospel to the Gentiles, note that the vision specifically deals with food. In fact, it's only after Peter accepts that the dietary restrictions have been superceded that he's willing to visit the house of Cornelius.

The church council in Jerusalem also settled the issue of Gentiles following the Torah in its letter to the Gentile churches:
We have heard that some went out from us withotu our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear brothers Barnabas and Paul ... It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.
— Acts 15:23-20
Of course, that didn't satisfy the group Paul called the Judaizers, and in several epistles he was forced to address the issue himself. One of his more strident passages says:
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing -- if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law or because you believe what you heard?

Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
— Galatians 3:1-12
In other words, observance of the Torah — including dietary law — is not required of a believer; we are expected to live by faith and the Spirit, which frees us from being enslaved to doing "the right thing." Put another way: I push all the little old ladies in front of cars that I want, rob all the banks I want, and have all the adultery I want. Of course, when you are living by faith and the Spirit, none of those things should appeal to you very much.

Remember that the Torah and all its dietary restrictions came to the Jewish people at the time of Moses. There is no reason to believe that Abraham observed the kosher laws, although it is possible that some of those laws developed during the period of Israel’s enslavement to Egypt and later received divine sanction after the exodus. In any event, the Scriptures are quite clear that we can eat pork and shellfish — that we can even eat pork roll and cheese on a bagel — and have a solid relationship with God.

In another of his letters, Paul has the following to say specifically about food:

Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious fetival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
— Colossians 2:16-17
As I said earlier, I doubt any of this will change your correspondents’ minds. Generally, when people have made their minds up that strongly, they don’t want to acknowledge the validity of other interpretations and will just get more recalcitrant if you push the issue. My advice is to let them think what they want, and if you’re concerned that they’re in danger of shipwrecking their faith or that of others, that you pray for them. In a truly extreme case, you might want to consider blocking them from the forum, though it doesn’t sound like it’s that bad at this point.

Wednesday, October 03, 2001

single adults

The single adult thing gets tricky. Back when I belonged to Ashton Assembly of God, one of the older church members felt a need to start a singles Sunday school class. I attended it a couple times and started calling it the "Poor me, I'm Single" class since it was little more than a support group.

True, I wanted to be involved with someone -- I was maybe 20 at the time, and wouldn't meet Natasha for another four or five years at that point, and wouldn't marry her for another three years on top of that -- but the entire focus of the "class" was abject self-pity and coping with our "single disability."

Being single means opportunities that married folks don't have. As a single man, I was involved with the children's ministry to the point of helping to write the curriculum for two years running in addition to a number of other church activities that took a lot of my time, and when I graduated from college, I was able to announce to one and all that I was going to the missions field.

Now that I'm married -- and especially now that I have a daughter -- I don't have the time to write an entire children's church curriculum and I can't just up and take off for a third world nation for a couple years even if I'm sure that's where God wants me. I have other duties as a husband and a father.

A single friend of mine who's 34 has the time to volunteer nearly every night at the soup kitchen. She'd like to be married and have kids, but since she's not, Debbee is using the time and energy she has to serve God in other ways.

Of course, then there's the other extreme. I had another friend who, post-college, joined a "young adults fellowship" in the next town that often was little more than a meat market for single Christian folks to check each other out.

Tuesday, October 02, 2001

billy graham

Someone explain to me why Billy Graham is held up as par examplar of American Christianity. You can disagree with Falwell, deflate Swaggart and poke fun at Pat Robertson, but if you criticize Billy Graham, an unearthly quiet falls over the room and everyone looks at you in disdain.

No one's allowed to disapprove of Billy Graham.

And to large extent, he's earned it. Billy Graham has served in ministry longer than most of the rest of us have been alive. He's been an adviser to presidents, he leads those massive crusades that are major events in their own right, and he's done all this with no missteps serious enough to be reckoned as a scandal. He's reserved his influence for the church, and he's been a guidepost for many of us. Back when Time was looking for the Person of the 20th Century, there was a big e-mail campaign to have him named.

And yet, for all his reputation, I don't think his influence has been all that great. Everyone's heard of Billy Graham, and has respect for him, but for all the numbers he draws to his crusades, I really have to wonder at the supposed conversion rates attributed to his ministry. From what I've seen, the people who attend his crusades either already are Christians or belong very much to the churched crowd.

In other words, as with most Christian ministry in the United States, he's preaching to the proper and upright people rather than the ones who aren't likely to hear it elsewhere. Compare that to the words of Christ, who said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."

Billy Graham's ministry has followed a pattern set at least a century ago and that had held for a generation or two, but is no longer valid for much of the United States.

How many crack addicts and teen prostitutes are going to attend a big revival meeting?

on australia

I was an afs exchange student to New Zealand in 1987, the year the All Blacks came forth and conquered in the World Rugby Cup and the Australians only came fourth. The rivalry between the two nations was pretty palpable, but I never sensed it was anything more than a friendly rivalry.

No doubt the 50,000 or so New Zealand emigrants who take up permanent residence in Australia annually have weighed their options as living in a nation colonized by criminals, versus living in a nation where there exists a real and growing danger of a sheep revolution, and decided it was better with the criminals. The sheep after all outnumber the humans in New Zealand by about 80 to 1.

The reference to the criminal past of Australia refers, of course, to Australia's pedigree. It's well-known throughout the Commonwealth that Britain colonized Australia with hardened criminals -- people from debtors prisons; i.e., people who couldn't afford the excessive taxes being levied at the time. Given the choice of Australia or prison, many of them foolishly picked Australia.

And as everyone knows, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I'll bet most Australians STILL don't like to pay taxes. We don't, here in America, as the folks in Boston certainly made clear with that little tea party they threw a couple hundred years ago.

Monday, October 01, 2001

touched by an angel

Is it just me, or does the name of the show suggest a possible sexual harassment lawsuit?

In all seriousness, from what I've been able to gather of the show, my impression is that it for the most part it's a trite and feel-good TV show that has captured the attention of CHristians just as "Highway to Heaven" did 20 years ago because of its use of familiar phrases and symbols like God, heaven and angels.

The show does actual angels -- and the faith -- a disservice by lowering them to our level and turning them into creatures whose sole purpose is to make a tidy little conclusion at the end of the episode every week. Angels in the Bible appear only rarely, and when they do, their appearance generally is terrifying rather than beautiful and serene.

When the angel appears to Samson's parents, they fall to the ground, terrified. David sees an angel of God with his sword raised across Jerusalem and he's struck with fear. When Gabriel appears to Daniel, everyone else runs away in a panic and Daniel himself would have, but he was too weak from praying and fasting for weeks on end. The Apostle John has the same reaction to the angels in his visions at Patmos.

That's not to say angels have to be terrifying. Mary accepted Gabriel's appearance with faith and didn't run away screaming, and the angels who met the disciples and the women at the tomb seemed fairly low-key -- but even so, these cases illustrate another point that shows a problem with "Touched by an Angel" and society's current level of angelmania: Angels don't want attention drawn to them.

In the case of Mary, she responds in faith to God's message; because Zechariah doubts God's promise -- not because he doubts an angel -- he's struck mute for nine months.

I suppose it wouldn't make for much of a TV show if everytime Monica or Sam or Rufus the Angelic German Shepherd showed up, people fell on their faces in fear or ran away screaming, but there you have it. It would be nice to see just one episode like that, although you'd probably need someone like Eric Idle or Michael Palin to write it.

rapture

A former Pentecostal, I've been very indoctrianted to believe in the notion of a pre-Trib Rapture followed by the seven years of Tribulation and the millennial reign of Christ. A few years ago, the thought of the third Temple being built would have heralded to me a sure sign of the End being upon us. I admit I do wonder.

But all that aside, I've found that as I've grown further along in my faith, I find myself less inclined to believe in the Rapture, though not in the Tribulation. The Wittenburg Door actually had a pretty interesting piece in its last issue about the origins of the doctrines of the Rapture, and interviewed a fellow who traces it to 19th-century Scotland in the midst of massive revival preaching, including sermons by a woman who claimed to have had a vision that Scoffield later legitimized in his study Bible. Interesting stuff.

Those who favor a post-Millennial return of Christ -- i.e., one where the church ushers in a thousand-year reign of peace -- have never made much sense to me from a biblical doctrine of man's sin and the space the Bible gives to a coming time of wrath. Historically, that movement can be traced to the late 19th century here in America and the sense of the Great Century and America's "manifest destiny."

Overall, I try not to worry about it too much. It's more important to focus on the people around us and what we can do to reach them with Christ's love, by volunteering at the food kitchen or giving a cup of water to someone who is thirsty.