Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ignorance On Parade

I had a semi-known author tweet me back about a question with the following: "I think if u r a Republican 2day, given the state of rhetoric coming from your party, then by definition, yes. You're a bigot." Ayelet Waldman, author of Red Hook Road and Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes is someone I followed because I saw an interesting interview with her where she spoke about the balance between work and motherhood. I thought she'd be interesting. Needless to say, after this ignorant statement I don't follow her any more. I think it's just a completely ignorant thing to say.

We have a two party system in this country. By virtue of that, to get any sense of having a voice, most Americans line themselves with one party or the other. Because polls have consistently shown, however, that the majority of Americans categorize themselves as political moderates, that means a lot of Americans are siding with parties they are not 100% in agreement with.

I, for example, who helped vote Bill Clinton into office as a young Democrat in college (I deeply regret his second term, although I do think he accomplished a lot in his first term -- good or bad is up to you), later came to find my opinions are now more in line with Republicans. But that doesn't mean the party speaks for me. I strongly disagree with Republicans on gun control, for example, which I favor. I strongly disagree with them on environmental issues: I believe humans have harmed the environment and need to take steps to repair and prevent damage in the future. I disagree with spending less on education and more on defense. However, I find more of the Democrats' platform with which I disagree. So I vote Republican much of the time. In order to play some role in which candidates are chosen, I therefore must register Republican. But how does that make me a bigot if some idiot in the Republican hierarchy says bigoted things?

This author is taking false equivalency to a new low here. And the fact she's known makes it all the more disgusting because she is potentially misleading people who might actually think because she's known she knows more than they do and not think things through for themselves. And she's just one of many celebrities choosing to spout hateful things in condemnation of other things they consider hateful. But while doing this, they themselves encourage hate against a group of people they lump together as a stereotype without really knowing they all belong there.

This is what makes me sick about politics today. It's what's tearing our country apart further under a President who claimed he would reunite the country. The sad part is His administration is doing as much to put this ignorant, false rhetoric out there as anyone in the GOP.

If anyone truly wants to reunite our country they need to stop spouting misleading hyped-up, prejudicial statements and recognize our country is composed of individuals of great diversity. That should surprise no one in a country where individualism has become our highest value. It's almost as if the political parties are trying to widen the divide to make people less individual and more aligned with their point of view. It's easier to count your enemies that way, I guess.

I don't know about you, but I never want to be that predictable. And I think it would be to the great detriment of our country if everyone else did, too. In fact, I'd say it's downright un-American. Freedom of speech, after all, is one of our most cherished and protected individual rights. The hive mentality the parties are encouraging will be far from individual. It will not encourage free speech. It may eventually lead to the type of censorship where anyone speaking outside the party line is arrested, etc. Sounds to me a lot more like Russia than America.

For what it's worth...

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I haven't written more than 1000 words in a month. Shocking considering how productive I had been before that. But between editing a friend's novel, critiquing for my group which I was way behind on and still am, moving, job interviews and other responsibilities, I just have not been able to focus enough to sit down. I also started this month as a reviewer for Tangent Online, so busyness is my life.

My goal though is to get Sandman's first draft finished by mid-September or at least in time for World Fantasy at the end of October. I'll start on it tomorrow, though I've been away long enough, it will probably take some reading time to get back into. In the meantime, I have had time to think about some things I haven't resolved and did come up with a good reveal for the ending which will help push it into the sequel and explain unanswered questions from throughout.

I also have my SF novel The Worker Prince being read by three small presses. Hopefully one of them will pick it up. It should be the first of a series. I have at least three in mind and the second is already partially outlined.

I also have ideas for a novella or two and some short stories. I did revise and get my WOTF losing entry back on the market, and a friend who just went through Clarion is looking at it as well. But I have others awaiting revisions as well, and I need to get back on these and revise them and get them sent back out.

In the meantime, I am putting together an anthology with some pretty cool people and hope to find a publisher for it. More on that later.

I am hoping the editing, proofing and critiquing, especially of the short stories, will help me learn my craft better. It will also help me make use of magazines I have subscribed to for a year now and never been good about reading cover to cover. I need to change that and this motivates me to push forward. My first assignment for Tangent was Asimov's August issue and I am now working on Analog's November issue while awaiting the Mike Resnick collection Blasphemy.

I am enjoying it so far and have discovered some amazing stories. More on this later as well, but you can find my Asimov's review at www.tangentonline.com.

For what it's worth.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Climate Change

I have never discriminated against or hated anyone in my life intentionally. Despite my life long religious views, I have always interpreted them and applied them with compassion. For example, I once served at a camp with gay students. When the students found out I was Christian, I got persecuted as a gay basher just because of it. Even though I'd never treated them different than any other students, they refused to accept anything but total agreement with them.

In high school, I carried my bible to classes, didn't drink or smoke, and didn't party or chase girls to "get laid." I was treated like an outcast as well.

These were my first exposures to being persecuted and discriminated against for who I am and what I believe, and because of them, I have been careful not to do the same to others.

Yet here I find myself discriminated against because I am Christian and conservative. Words like "haters," "Bigots," "fundamentalist wackos," etc. are bandied about. I am reviled and disrespected. And yet, those doing it don't even recognize that it's wrong. My beliefs are offensive so it's okay. I wonder what they'd do if they saw someone mocking a Downs Syndrome child at the supermarket or shouting racial epitats in a white hood.

The climate of the country has changed for the worst, and the Left is creating an environment of persecution, hate and intolerance against the Right that they say is intolerant.

This is not what our country was meant to be, and it's not going to create a civil, peaceful society. It needs to change. Conservatives need to be sure of how they express themselves, too. There are bigots on both sides, haters. I'm just tired of being lumped in with them because we share some beliefs.

Land of the free, home of the brave, free speech reigns -- not any more.

For what it's worth...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My love story with Story

Recently my buddy Ken Scholes blogged about the impact his favorite movies had on him and I realized I should probably do the same. Because movies and TV have hugely impacted not only how I tell stories but the kinds of stories I like and the fact I even have and want to tell stories.

You may or may not know I went to film school at Cal State Fullerton and graduated in 1992. I then spent four years working for a documentary film company and shopping spec scripts and screenplays. I did have one in development with producer Phil Nemy at Disney once, but nothing came of it for various reasons.

My whole love of scifi came from movies. I will never forget the time my cousin David said "We're going to this movie, and you've just got to see it! I've already seen it like ten times." Ten times seemed like an excessive amount of times to see a movie to me at age 8, but David was 9 and wiser, so I said "Sure. What's it called?" "Star Wars!" "Star Wars?" Sounded kinda stupid to my 8 year old brain. But it blew my socks off. In fact, the battle on the rebel ship with black vested, blue shirted rebels fighting the evil white stormtroopers remains one of my all time favorite movie scenes. And of course, I loved the robots' banter in the midst of it. The hero story of the awkward young kid who wanted more than life on a farm resonated with this kid from small town Kansas, and the adventure of life "out there" in the amazing world of the stars captured my imagination. Also, the battles, characters, aliens, etc. were so well done. It was real and popped off the screen for me.

After seeing "Star Wars," which I have now seen way more than 10 times and David has seen several thousand times (I never caught up though I am surely close to 900 by now), I fell in love with the art of movies, story telling and science fiction. I began devouring scifi books as fast as I could read them. The first "Star Wars" tie-in, "Splinter Of A Mind's Eye" by Alan Dean Foster made me an Alan Dean Foster fan and remains one of my favorite scifi novels.

But other movies influenced me too. "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" was powerful. In part, this was no doubt due to the fact it was so rewarding after the punishment of sitting through "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." What was Roddenberry thinking? If anyone was in love with his own creation, it was Roddenberry. That movie proves it. I heard him speak once and he was "Star Treks" biggest fan, not that it didn't have great qualities. But I loved the mix of humor, action, and drama in Khan, and the way they built on the series and the previously established relationships between characters to take it to a new level. Great space action, too. Plus the cameo by Ike Eisenmann of "Witch Mountain" (movies I'd loved from Disney) as Scotty's nephew was cool.

"Wizard of Oz" was powerful for us. We saw it on TV regularly, but also replayed in theatres and various sequels in animation and live action. It was powerful story telling and characterization, and I'd always been a music fan so I loved that aspect as well.

I have never been a football fan. So my life changed one Super Bowl Sunday when my dad let us watch "The Hobbit," an animated movie, instead of the Cowboys v. whomever. I loved "The Hobbit," animation, songs and all. What a great storytelling, and after that I devoured the book and then the "Lord of The Rings" trilogy.

I caught "Planet of The Apes" as a TV movie presentation and just loved it. It really fascinated me as an image of the future. The animation of apes was pretty cool too for the time.

I loved action movies, especially "Lethal Weapon 2" and "Die Hard" for their mix of comedy, action and character in telling fun, fast paced stories.

"Green Card" was brilliant because it was made by Peter Weir, whose "Witness" and "Dead Poets Society" had so powerfully touched me. I loved the cross cultural aspect of "Green Card," and no surprise, the prominence of music also played into it.

"Notting Hill" moved me because it's such great story telling and well acted. I loved the humorous touches and surprises which kept it from being cliche and the prominence of books, too.

"Gandhi" amazed me. It was long and slow, yes, but so powerful as a story and character study and well acted with powerful messages.

"Chariots of Fire" also was powerful even though I struggled to understand all the British accents and found the crossed storylines confusing at times. I just loved the passion of the characters for their sport and especially how Eric Liddell stayed passionate about God in the midst of it.

My movie list could probably go on forever, so these are the ones that pop out at the moment as having significance at their time for particular storytelling styles and ways of moving me. I'm sure I'll think of more later.

For what it's worth...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An Open Letter To My Fellow Christians

Dear brothers and sisters,

As I run into people like Anne Rice alienated by the small minded antics of many so-called believers, I now find myself dismayed by the outcry of believers against this Muslim center in New York. It's two blocks from Ground Zero, not on Ground Zero, and I don't get the moral outrage. After all, this is not an Al Queda training center. Al Queda, as a reminder, are Muslim extremists responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Muslims, on the other hand, are often kind, gentle people with strong faith who abhor those who commit terror in the name of their religion just as I abhor terror committed by abortion clinic bombers in the name of Christianity.

Why is it immoral for such people to build a faith center near Ground Zero? They may want to lead the way to healing by seeking to show that Muslims are not extremists and that Muslims care about the victims. Many Muslims themselves died in the 9/11 attacks. Unless the particular group building the center can be specifically tied to terrorists, we cannot rightfully object. The same freedom of religion which we cherish also applies to them, and by the same logic, any Christian churches near abortion clinics should also be banned.

Freedom of speech and religion must be universally applied or they are at risk for being limited for everyone, not just your personal chosen few. And Christ is about love and compassion, not hatred and discrimination.

So I don't get this outrage. And I am offended by the ignorance behind it. No wonder Christians are being so often vilified today. We cannot use our own anger or religion as an excuse to be irrational and immoral ourselves in falsely accusing and persecuting others. It is giving Christianity in general and Jesus Christ specifically a bad name, and I hope we can all agree that's the last thing we'd want to do.

It is time we lead the way back with love and compassion toward healing for our country. I am as angry as anyone with Obama, the most unqualified man in history, being president. I don't like the left's anti-Christian rhetoric. BUT firing back the same rhetoric and ignorance is not productive. It just instigates more of the same. If we truly want to be heard and want our country to change, we must change. We must do better than our opponents. We must listen and love even when it goes against our nature. It's what Christ calls us to do. It's what He himself did on the cross when He died for us.

It's what must happen if we ever hope to see change.

For what it's worth...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

An Open Letter To Anne Rice & Those Wounded By The Church

As I read your statements about leaving Christianity, I see people who have been hurt by the church as you have. I have been in ministry for almost 20 years and have been hurt by the church every year of that. I recognize that it's the fallible, sinful people who cause the pain though, not the institution. The institution is as imperfect as the people who form it, but that doesn't make the institution broken or invaluable.

God calls us to fellowship and tells us he brings blessings through it. It's not about a mega church or small church model. It's about a regular gathering to fellowship, pray together, worship and hear God's voice. Now, you can do parts off this alone. I do it all the time. And the bible supports this. But it also calls us to fellowship because the church has many parts like a body, and the leg cannot function without a foot, and the hand cannot function without fingers. We don't always know where our place is within that body, but we do know that we belong. Even though we may not always feel like it. If all the people who had issues with the church believed this and stayed to work from the inside to change it, the world of Christianity would be a different place.

The way to change it though is not to make it more like the world, but make it more like Christ. Christ suffered more than any of us can even conceive or will ever experience, but he never gave up on the sinful creatures He was sent to save nor the broken church which was to become His bride.

Arguing that none of the denominations are in the Bible is pointless. Denominations are man's doing, not God's. And I believe they grieve the heart of God because we have so separated ourselves from each other that we fail to recognize we really have a lot more in common than different. Instead, we start looking at each other like the enemy. And that divides us further and creates pain and anger which distract us from our focus on Christlike living and Christlike compassion to our world.

Compassion is the heart of Christ and yet the church today often fails to show any evidence of it. We're hardly compassionate to our own families, let alone needy strangers. That grieves God as well. Humans have to categorize everything because our hearts are competitive. It really comes out of deep seated insecurity which makes us want to feel we are okay by putting others down. But in the process, we fail to follow the humility of a Savior King who became a servant.

The church is not perfect. It's broken. But the fact that you see that makes you invaluable to healing her. The people who are blind to the issues will never make a difference Those who see it and have powerful voices, like Anne Rice, are in a position to push for much needed change. And I urge you to consider the ministry possibilities that offers for you to serve both Christ and the church. Even though you will have to be humble to ignore your discomfort, and even though you will have to love on people who don't love back or don't often deserve it.

The church needs you, and you need the church. Only together can we all grow together to be more like the Master.

I hope you will continue to seek His will and wisdom in this, and I hope you will consider how your service to your fellow believers can serve Christ. We need loud voices of change, and though they may seem to fall on deaf ears, they will never go unheard.



Monday, August 9, 2010

Cultural Numbness: Since When Did It Become Funny To Joke About Rape?

Had a friend whom I really like a respect who couldn't get why I didn't think he FB link to a YouTube video of a rape news report set to song wasn't funny. For one thing, my mother was date raped, which is how I was conceived, and as happy as I am to be here, I don't think rape itself is funny. For another, it makes fun of the whole ghetto culture, and while I do think some people may choose to live in that culture, a lot of people are stuck there. I found the idea of mocking it, especially alongside a rape news story, racist. And that makes me sad.

Since when did we become so culturally numb that it's funny to joke about rape? There's absolutely nothing funny I can think of about rape or poverty or lower class living and low levels of education. Most people I know who have experienced any of these things first hand find no humor in it. I know of no lower class, uneducated, poor person I've met who doesn't wish their life was anything but those things. I know of no rape victim whom I've ever heard say they're glad they were raped.

For a long time, I have seen our culture moving toward culture numbness on the violence. A lot of this is related to graphic depictions in television and movies, which is ironic given that so many Hollywood liberals are pro-gun control and complain about violence. Video games have contributed as well. I see my friends' young kids playing with guns all the time as if what they are depicting is no big deal. Even the parents scarcely seem to notice. Gun proponents would argue "it's the people not the guns," but I argue, laws are made to protect people from ignorant/irresponsible other people. Which is why I am pro-gun control. And don't give me the crap about the constitution either. Bazookas and assault weapons didn't exist when it was written and the Founding Fathers could never fathom the possibilities available in weapons today. Their goal was to prevent tyrannical governments from violating the citizens' rights, not to allow every homeowner to possess weapons capable of blowing up the neighborhood or shooting through four nearby houses simultaneously in the name of home defense.

My objection to rap music, besides the lack of musicality, are lyrics which glorify crime and killing. Shooting cops, raping women, robbing banks -- rappers glorify these things all too often.

We are becoming more and more numb to things which once appalled us as a society, and perhaps that's why those who argue for the return to traditional values with clear definitions of right and wrong are vilified. We don't see those things as wrong any more and don't want any one to remind us how ignorant and numb we've become.

Yet gun violence, killing, robbery, rape, abuse, racism -- these things remain unfunny. They are tragic, disgusting, and horrifying. If they ever become less, we become less for that thinking. And I think we've sunken far enough as a culture. It's time to come back up.

For what it's worth...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Challenge of a Dual Culture Nation

I've spent a lot of time traveling and working cross culturally. In fact, since I'm married to a Brazilian, my home life is that way, too. I've been doing a lot of thinking about the conservative v. liberal antagonism dividing our nation these days, and it occurs to me that part of the problem is we have two cultures living side by side: a Christian culture and a secular culture.

The Christian culture believes in traditional values which once formed the moral compass of our nation. These were the values our Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the founding documents of our nation. They may not have been believers or lived these values, but with the church of the day being the dominant voice of moral standards, these values nonetheless were a compass for them and influenced their thinking.

The Secular Culture consists of people who, for various reasons, believe that religion should be private and kept to one's self; that people of faith shouldn't share their faith with others or attempt to push its values into the public arena. Some of these are Agnostics and Athiests. Others are people of other religions than Christians. Others are members of mainstream Christian churches who may separate their faith and life in ways the members of the Christian culture don't know how to do.

These are far from complete descriptions. They're merely meant as sketches to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. The groups are far more complex than these few words can describe or explain.

The point is that Christians like myself, in the Christian culture, believe that our faith informs our lives. The way we live, think, breath and act is influenced by our beliefs. Like other humans, we are imperfect and don't always live up to our ideals, but we are trying and constantly adjusting ourselves to learn from mistakes and live more like the Savior we believe in. As a result, we can not separate our values in the church from those in the rest of our lives. We believe that biblical values are God's intention.

For example, murder is against God's law, and babies are humans, so abortion is killing babies. Human beings are possessors of finite minds and thus incapable of deciding if a baby is worth living or not. I was the child of date rape, but I have spent a lot of my life helping others, teaching, giving. I think my life has meaning. If I'd been aborted, I couldn't have made that difference. Who are we to know the child a woman is carrying won't turn out to be an amazing human being? Who are we to deny that chance?

Secular culture, however, looks at that and says that a woman has a right not to be forced to raise a child she doesn't want. There are too many abused and abandoned children already. Forcing women to carry to term unwanted babies will just create more.

Another example, gay marriage. The bible says marriage consists of "one man and one woman." It also says explicit things about the sin of homosexuality. Now one can argue that the church misrepresents homosexual sex as a worse sin than other sins incorrectly, and I would agree, because the bible says all sins are equal. But that's not the point. The point is, marriage is a religious thing to them, and therefore gay marriage can't exist because it is against God's law.

Secular culture sees this as Christians imposing their values on others, but civil marriage is separate and if laws were properly written to define the difference between civil and church marriage, some of the conflict would be a mute point. At the same time, secular culturists insistence that their view be upheld, feels to Christian culturalists like secular values being forced on them.

In any case, these are two opposing world views and their clash has created a great deal of anger, resentment and struggle in our nation and world.

We need to find a way to dialogue better in these cultures. If both sides object to having the others' values forced upon them, they must also admit that they have no right to force their values on the other side. A compromise must be reached and the gap bridge or our country will never recover and reunite in ways necessary to solve the problems we face. I have no solutions or compromises to suggest other than mutual recognition of our rights to not have others' views pushed off on us, but we do need to come together and I pray that we will.

For what it's worth...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Family History Interview: A Treasure Trove

When I was taking history at California State University, Fullerton, the professor gave me a challenging assignment. It was an assignment I approached with trepidation: how interesting could this be? The assignment was to interview a family member on tape about family history. I'd been hearing the family stories for years, I thought. Did I really want to subject myself to them again? What would this assignment accomplish?

I finally decided to do it with my Grandma Ethel Melson (Mom's mom). I prepared a list of questions and took them with me when we visited her over the holidays, sat down with her and the trusty old tape recorder she always loaned me when I was there. What happened next was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. She spoke for over two hours, answering every question with insightful recollections. Often she told things in ways I'd never heard them or offered details she'd never mentioned before. When my mother heard the tape later, she said Grandma was telling stories she'd never shared before, not even with my Mom.

Grandma passed away a few years later, and I have since transferred the tape to CD and given it to the family. I cannot tell you how awesome it is to hear her voice, her laugh, etc. when you start missing her or feeling you're forgetting. Even better, we can share it with people she never met, like my wife, or our kids.

Since then, I have encouraged so many people to do this with their families. I wish we'd done it with my Grandma Schmidt before her dimentia got bad. And I wish we'd done it with a lot of others as well. It is a cherished gift, and you should consider doing it yourself. You'll be surprised and blessed and it will be something you'll never forget.

For what it's worth...