Please Consider this Powerful Ministry

sponsor a child inn ministries

Monday, September 05, 2022

Rings of Power: Spoiler Free Review (Episodes 1&2)

 Rings of Power {Spoiler Free} Review

Amazon’s epic new series “Rings of Power” released on Thursday, but I was busier than a bedbug in Graceland for several days. Three actual days went by without me getting to watch. I spent any surfing time speed-scrolling to avoid any possible spoilers, but finally FINALLY got to enjoy the first two episodes last night. You will find NO spoilers here, but hopefully some fellowship!

I’ve read The Hobbit at least a dozen times, Lord of the Rings somewhere north of twenty. When the original Peter Jackson LOTR movies were being planned, I scoured and any other site I could, looking for all the intel I could get about the movies. I must sheepishly admit that I had my doubts, sometimes vocally, about Jackson’s take on “my” beloved series. When it was announced that Sir Ian McKellen had been cast as Gandalf, I gave birth to kittens. He was all-wrong, I crowed. I mean, I mean… look at his nose. His nose is all wrong. Gandalf is supposed to have a pointy nose. Now, of course, I feel like a blooming idiot for those original misgivings. Jackson’s LOTR movies are my favorite movies of all time. I’ve watched them countless times. And well… Sir Ian, I apologize. You are Gandalf. 

So when Rings of Power was announced, I heard all of the griping ahead of time. I heard the fears and the accusations of how Amazon would turn Tolkien’s legendary work into “Game of Thrones: Middle Earth.” Knowing how wrong I was back in the late 90s, I kept a positive “wait and see” attitude. I read somewhere that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ son took his father to task about the potential for the Tolkien series. I believe the quote was, “Dad, don’t ‘F’ this up.”

I’m happy to report that, as of two episodes in, Rings of Power is an absolute marvel. Bezos, so far anyway, has not “F’d” the series up. I know there are Tolkien “purists” who have complaints, but honestly… so what else is new? You will never please everyone, and you’re mad if you try. Here’s my take:

Rings of Power is absolutely brilliant. I was instantly taken by the breathtaking visuals, the magnificent casting and acting, the clever easter eggs, rich dialogue, and thought-provoking themes. All of that and more speak to something spiritual within me. I had a long conversation with my son this morning about Rings of Power, so many of these observations come from him, but I wholeheartedly agree. If you come to Rings of Power with modern demands and even an inkling of entitlement, the show will disappoint you. The modern storytelling palette craved by many is fraught with gimmicks: blood, gore, action, frantic pacing, joke-telling dialogue, sex, lust, jump-scares, and more sex. Tolkien painted his stories from an entirely different palette. Tolkien’s rich tales paint with beauty, honor, bravery, grandeur, faith, platonic love, nobility, sacrifice, and scope. Rings of Power may not be chapter-and-verse Tolkien’s Silmarillion, Appendices, and notes, but it absolutely shares that wonderful rare-these-days palette. 

You will drink in lush visuals, and the storytellers know better than to rush it. You get to enjoy the scenery, stop and smell the flowers, and start pining away for that “far away land” whispered about in our own souls. I read one review who said the first two episodes were boring, tediously slow. Compared to some of the schlock we call entertainment today, maybe so. Forgive me for sounding (and being) a little condescending, but as a middle school teacher of 32 years, I can’t help but make this observation. In my experience, the adolescent readers I work with tend to complain that a book is boring… when they don’t understand it. When it’s hard. I suspect there’s a little of that going on with some early Rings of Power complainers. So far, this series wants to take its time and deliver an epic EPIC tale. Thank you, Lord! Bring on the epic-goodness! 

I thought there was plenty of action, nice bits of intrigue and mystery, and oh so much thematic nobility. This is not a show to binge and be done with. Like the Jackson movies, these are classics meant to be enjoyed over and over again, each time finding some new detail to savor. I suspect, I will pause each episode a dozen times to take screen grabs to use as desktop images on my computer. Seriously, Amazon should simultaneously release every episode in theaters. I wasn’t able to get a ticket for any of the local showings of the first two episodes, but I can only imagine the increased grandeur of seeing them on the big screen. I may have to buy a new higher resolution projector just to watch these episodes as they should be seen. Immersion is the way to go, my friends. Tolkien knew that. We laugh that he sometimes took two pages to describe a tree! But, DUDES, that’s really a big part of why we love Tolkien’s work. He took us away to whole knew worlds and sometimes let the plot simmer while he was busy wowing us with sensory description. 

A word about ethnicity. Um… yes. Including people of color and of diverse ethnicities in the cast of Rings of Power is not woke pandering. If you think so, you might need to check your Phariseeical worldview. Tolkien’s worlds are extraordinarily rich and welcoming. I’m a white dude, but I was so enchanted by the WHOLE Rings of Power cast. I adore and applaud the people of color being a part of Middle Earth. A wise writer friend once told me, when you write a novel and release it to the world, you grant subjective ownership to each and every reader. In that sense, Middle Earth has become a refuge for many millions over the years. If you insist that Middle Earth should only ever be populated by Indo-European white peeps, you are missing the point of Middle Earth, Tolkien, and creating in general. All are welcome in Middle Earth. 

To conclude, I am reminded of a brief dialogue in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Scrooge’s nephew Fred is talking to friends, explaining that each and every year around Christmastime, Fred invites Scrooge to come and join his family and friends for Christmas dinner and a party. Scrooge says pretty much the same thing each year: “Bah, humbug!” Fred observes that he actually feels sorry for his uncle’s negativity because each year, that bitter attitude rewards the man with missing out on a warm, rich happy time, something in which his old crotchety soul could perhaps find healing. That’s how I feel about those who are dissing Rings of Power. In their critical spirit, they are truly missing a masterpiece and perhaps, a bit of a reprieve from the world degrading all around us. 

Can Rings of Power keep this up for the rest of this season’s eight episodes? Or continue to provide such amazing content for five planned seasons? I don’t know. That is truly an epic aspiration. I not only hope they can, I pray they can. Until I check out of this earthly plane, my world-weary soul needs more Middle Earth.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Myridian Constellation Reader Art!

Received a very encouraging email from a young writer / artist who has read and enjoyed many of my books. He's particularly enthusiastic about The Myridian Constellation series and sent along some fantastic artwork. See if you recognize the MC story aspects Noah captured!

Sunday, June 05, 2022

What is YOUR Heresy?


What is YOUR Heresy?

My pastor began a sermon series this morning based on a book by a popular Christian author. This prolific author, who shall not be named, writes Christian Living, Theology, Devotional, Inspiration, etc. I’ve read a couple of his books and found them very thought-provoking and encouraging. I recall being so profoundly struck by one particular passage in one of his books that I took to social media to share the encouraging perspective. A few days later, I was very discouraged when someone commented that this author was a heretic. Or maybe the commenter said the author had “heretical beliefs.” Normally, I blow such comments off because well, it’s social media and… haters gonna hate. But the person who commented was not a stranger to me and cited several articles that I went and looked up, read, and found pretty solid. And yet…

The author in question has had (and continues to this day to have) an incalculably powerful impact, drawing people to Jesus. I am one of them. I am the first to admit that I am not the most spiritually touchy-feely, but I know that I have felt my soul tweaked by this author’s writings. I fully believe the Holy Spirit is at work in this author’s life and teachings. Multiple thousands of reviews offer similar support. As Paul might transition, “So what are we to say, brothers?” Can a genuine Christian have a heresy? Can an otherwise devoted follower of Jesus have a heretical belief or perhaps more than one? And, if so, does that invalidate everything else that person is or does? 

My conclusions are as follows—first question: yes; second question: absolutely not. At this point, some of you are probably deciding that I am a heretic. Or maybe your being nice and saying, “Yikes, he has a heretical belief.” That’s both okay and not okay. It’s okay, because, like as not, I’m probably guilty as charged. If the heresy isn’t the point I’m making in this message, then, I am quite certain there is something else in my theology that qualifies. 

I once went on a trip with one of my best friends, a person I also consider to be one of the most learned Christians I’ve ever met. We had been friends for many years, ten at least, and I thought we pretty much had the same biblical belief systems. In an unguarded moment, when I was already in a bit of a mental maelstrom, my friend admitted a tenet of his Christian theology that gutted me. It was the antithesis to a major belief upon which I had pretty much hung my eternity. I was crushed and admitted such. I very nearly ditched the trip and drove home. One thing stopped me. My friend, learning my intentions to leave, said, “That’s not Jesus.”

On a book tour with several Christian fantasy authors in the early 2000s, we attended a huge homeschool gathering that might have led to another, even more massive opportunity with a substantially larger homeschooling group. The authors had all FedExed copies of our flagship books to the president of the group. Unfortunately, this woman, a Christian leader, told us not to bother coming but that she was in fact, grateful to have screened our books, particularly my book, The Door Within. She called it a “tool of the devil” and promised to warn every other Christian homeschool association to avoid us and our evil books. Now, occasionally, I might accurately be described as a “tool.” But… “a tool of the devil?” Sheesh, I sure hope not.

Another writer I know has a very peculiar Christian belief that permeates his life and, to a detectable degree at times, his writings. It’s a belief so uncommon among American Christians and so personally troubling to me that for a season, I had to cut ties with this person. And yet, I know this man and his writings have led many thousands to Jesus. I’ve witnessed testimonials of young people who turned away from suicide to the hope of the Lord due to this man’s stories. And, I have witness the love of Jesus in this man, time and time again. For about a year, God started nudging me, okay, poking me. Well, if you really must know, slapping me upside the head, so that I would restore fellowship with this man. Thankfully, he was receptive and I can again call him friend. 

These are just a few of the anecdotes of one man’s Christian experience. I suspect you have several of your own, events or discoveries about people, even friends or family members that caused you to question the sincerity of their faith or even whether the person ever had genuine faith in the authentic Jesus at all. Here is where the title question “What is your heresy” reveals its depth. Do you have a heresy? Do you believe a heretical belief? Are you honestly convinced that you know the bible well enough and God well enough that you can say with complete assurance that you have no dangerous false beliefs? 

Whatever your answer to that series of questions, consider these: Are there certain beliefs that you immediately notice in other Christians and call into serious question, maybe even thinking the “H” word? What about certain sins? What if in all other ways, a person seems to be glowing in the dark with the love of Jesus, but there’s one certain sin they are committing and it doesn’t seem to bother them? How quickly do words like “pagan,” “abomination,” “heretic,” or “blasphemer” come to your lips or even to your mind? What about falsely accusing someone of heresy? Surely, that would be sin, but does it undermine the Gospel enough to also be a heresy?

I raise these questions because I think that a lot of us go through the Christian life, picking up tidbits of theology all over the place. We might learn a foundation from parents or family or a certain church, but surely other leaders, friends, or important faith figures will add influence. Of course, a big source of our private theologies is our own private research and study of the bible. Along with those potentially credible sources, however, come a motley crew of other “moralistic” beliefs, axioms, and gut feelings that we seldom examine with due caution. In that great mixture, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth, but we also have, if we’re honest, a kind of knee-jerk pride that leads us to believe we don’t have to clear the planks from our own eyes before addressing the splinters found elsewhere.

To quote the prophet J.R.R. Tolkien, as spoken through the priestly wizard Gandalf, “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

To that end, I add, leave room for God to work on people. If my understanding of scripture is accurate, discipleship is a process, holiness, a journey. If you see the fruit of the Spirit is someone’s life, don’t go a’hunting for the peach pit. Rather, ask God to gently reveal our own “peach pits” and gracefully help us learn and grow. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Microdecisions. Be careful. You've been down that road. You know exactly where it ends.

 Something about this scene from The Matrix continues to resonate with me year after year. Without rehashing the whole plot, there's a scene where Neo waits in the rain until picked up by Trinity and friends. Threatened at gunpoint by the character called Switch, Neo opens the car door to leave.

Trinity tells Neo to wait. "You've been down that road before, Neo. You know exactly where it ends, and I know that's not where you want to be." In the middle of that dialogue, the camera shows us a rainy, forlorn dark city street. Neo decides to stay.
All hail the might of the microdecision. In a high-concept science fiction action flick, that decision seems awfully small, but it's actually very potent.
Neo knows that the reality he's been sold is wrong, somehow less than it should be. He doesn't know what Trinity knows, but he knows that she's offering hope. He also knows, perhaps with a hollow ache, that going back down that same old road is a very dead end.
Every day, we are faced with dozens of these microdecisions, but we rarely recognize what's at stake. For example, I worked a full day today, teaching middle schoolers a variety of subjects. Teaching is exhausting work. Fulfilling, but draining. When I came home, I made dinner, thinking that I need to get some writing done tonight. After eating, I was tired. I flopped down on my bed and started meandering on my phone. This scene from The Matrix kept coming to mind. I realized with crystalline clarity that I could easily call it a night. The bed is comfortable, the covers warm, and I have a pile of TBR books calling my name. But I know that road. I know exactly how it ends. I'll read for an hour, maybe two. Then I'll fall asleep, and the day will be gone... like tears in rain.
I bounced out of bed, and here I am at the keyboard. I'm opening up Scrivener to write. I believe it was Stephen King who said, "If God has given you something that you can do, why in God's name wouldn't you do it?" Sometimes, we're lulled to sleep by the matrix and we don't even realize the decision we're making. It's greater than we think. Stay frosty, my friends. The thing that you do will not get done unless you do it.