Category Archives: Christianity

THE SHACK (Film Review)

I saw THE SHACK after my rabbi, a Messianic Jew, recommended it. “It’s about relationship,” he explained. And, indeed, it is. God’s desire for an intimate relationship with man is the underlying theme.

In the beginning of the film, “Mack,” the main character, is grieving over a personal loss when he receives a note from “Papa” to meet him at “The Shack.” What follows is an encounter with the triune God of the Bible–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–in a most unlikely setting.

“The Shack” is one of my favorite films. I’ve seen it three times, and I don’t want to spoil it by giving away too much information. I read Paul Young’s book before I saw the film. The film complements the book with an explosion of color and texture.

The cast is impressive. Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Aviv Alush, and Sumire Sarayu are outstanding in their respective roles.  (As far as I know, Aviv Alush is the first Jewish man to portray Jesus in cinema.)

THE SHACK was in the theaters last spring.  Now it is available as a DVD.  You can also rent it at Amazon.com.

 

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Write What You Know About

SUBJECT AND SETTING

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The interior of Berryman United Methodist in Richmond inspired the fictional Methodist church in Faifax.

The easiest subject to write about is the one you know the most about.   I knew before I wrote the first sentence of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER that the book would feature a Methodist minister, his family, and his ward.  My dad was a Methodist minister, so I’m familiar with the underpinings of the United Methodist Church. As for wards, I had read about wards and guardians in novels, but never knew any in real life.  Like Augusta Evans Wilson wrote [in VASHTI]: “The only wards I ever knew happened to be fictitious characters.”

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Fairfax Court House built in 1800

The setting of a novel is like a frame around a portrait.  If the frame is too dark or too light and if it doesn’t complement the colors in the portrait, it will take away from the picture.

I wanted a nostalgic setting that enhanced the old-fashioned romance I had in mind.  I chose the City of Fairfax, not only because it is historic but because I lived nearby and spent many hours walking through the town and researching its role in the Civil War.  History is one of my favorite subjects and the City of Fairfax fit the bill.  I deliberately put the parsonage right in the middle of “Old Town” Fairfax City near the scene of “Mosby’s Midnight Raid.”

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The Moore House in Fairfax

The fictional parsonage was a conglomeration of houses I had written up when I had a real estate column in THE CONNECTION, a local paper in Northern Virginia.  Using the best features of some of the houses I reviewed, I created the interior; but the exterior of the parsonage was solely inspired by the antebellum Moore House, which is behind Truro Anglican Church and across the street from what used to be the Black-eyed Pea Restaurant.

copy-005956-r1-23-241-e1387249318579.jpgWhile writing the novel,  I got permission to tour the Moore House, which housed a business at the time.  I was delighted to see that the house has two staircases just like the fictional parsonage.  The Moore house has thirteen gables as well, so I created a parsonage with thirteen gables.

Thirteen gables added a nice touch to the modern gothic theme I was developing, not to mention the secret room on the third floor hidden behind on
e of the gables.

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True Love Waits

The theme of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER was inspired by “True Love Waits,” a program that took root in the 1990s to encourage young people to abstain from having sex before marriage.  I am familiar with the program because I participated in teaching abstinence to teens at a Baptist church.  The program culminated in “DC 94,” where youth from all over the country displayed covenant cards (pledging to abstain from sex before marriage) on the Mall in Washington.

The True Love Waits theme is spelled out in the following conversation between “Effie” and “Benjamin Wright,” the youth pastor, in Chapter 22:

“I like being your assistant or whatever you call it,” Effie said between bites of a sandwich.

“Assistant has a nice ring to it,” Benjamin replied with a grin.”

Effie returned his smile, pleased that he treated her like an equal.  They were having lunch at the Black-eyed Pea in Fairfax, and she had chosen a seat by a window with a view of the Moore House, an antebellum home that reminded her of the parsonage.  

She had been helping Benjamin with MYF, so they had been seeing a lot of each other.  She was aware that people at church thought they were dating, but Effie deemed the relationship platonic because Benjamin, who talked mostly about evangelism, had never crossed the line of friendship. 

“How do you like college?”

“The first year was awkward, but now I’m at ease.”

“I knew you’d adapt.  High school is one thing but college is different.  Most people are there because they want to be.  They’re serious about getting an education.  Changing the subject, there’s something I want to talk to you about.  True Love Waits.”

“What?”

“True Love Waits,” he repeated.  “Didn’t you read about it in the paper a few years ago?  It was a church sponsored program that taught abstinence.  Teenagers were encourage to sign covenant cards stating that they would remain celibate until they married.  During the youth rally in Washington, covenant cards with signatures were displayed publicly.  I wanted our church to participate, but Gideon [senior pastor] was opposed to the idea, but maybe he’ll reconsider this time.”

Effie pressed her lips firmly together.  How typical of Gideon to oppose something noble.  

“I want you to help me,” Benjamin added, leaning over the table.

“How?”

“Lead a group at MYF [Methodist Youth Fellowship] on dating and sexuality.”

“Me?”

“Yes.  You take the high school kids.  They’re easier to manage.  I’ll take the ones in junior high.  All you have to do is ask a few questions to get a discussion going, and don’t let them go off on a tangent.”

“What kind of questions?” 

“Should a couple kiss on the first date?  How far is too far?  That sort of thing.”

“But what if they don’t give the right answers?”

“I’m not worried about that.  I just want them to think about abstinence.  The discussion will be held with a Bible study, so the youth can explore what the Bible says about fornication and discuss the role and symbolism of sex in marriage.  When the course is over, we’ll hand out covenant cards.”

“When do we start?”

“As soon as possible, but I have to run this by Gideon first.”

“Oh no,” she blurted.  “Do you have to?”

“Yes, because I want to end the True Love Waits program with a Sunday evening service, and I need Gideon’s approval in advance.  Have you finished eating?”

She nodded.

“Good.  Let’s go by the church and ask him.”

“We?  You mean you want me to go with you?”

“You’re my assistant, aren’t you?  Besides, I think he puts a lot of stock in your opinion.  Maybe with your influence, he’ll agree to True Love Waits.  You know him better than I do.  How do you think he’s going to react?”

Effie shrugged.  “He’s a mystery to me.”

***

“Unrealistic!  You can’t stop teenagers from having sex.  Smarter to give them condoms.  No?  Then go ahead.  Do as you wish but you’re wasting your time.”

Effie looked at Benjamin wondering if he was thinking the same thing she was thinking.  A half-hearted endorsement was better than none.

“A word of advise,” Gideon cautioned.  “You’d be wise to form a committee of parents and teens before you start.  “You’ll need their support as well as their ideas for implementing this . . . what did you call it?  Save It for Marriage?”

“True Love Waits,” Effie cut in.

“Whatever.  And one more thing.  Once this chastity drive of yours getting going, make sure you don’t alienate young people who don’t care to participate.  A vow of celibacy is meaningless if you pressure someone to take it.”

“I wouldn’t dream of pressuring anyone,” replied Benjamin. 

Cardinal Caught on Camera

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Another day.  Another storm.  Another cardinal.  This one usually flies away before I can take his photo, but I caught him off guard today.

I’m a dinosaur in a digital age.  I don’t own a digital camera and haven’t bought any 35 mm film for my vintage camera in several years.  (I wonder if film has become obsolete since i last bought it?)  What would I do without a cell phone?  It may not be a good camera, but it sure is convenient..

A Literary Take on Icy Weather

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The following passage is an excerpt from INFELICE, written by my favorite novelist, Augusta Evans Wilson (1835-1909).

“Walking to the window, he stood for some moments, with his hands folded behind him, and he noted the splendor of the spectacle presented by the risen sun shining upon temples and palaces of ice, prism-tinted domes and minarets, and burnishing after the similitude of silver stalactites and arcades which had built themselves into crystal campaniles, more glorious than Giotto’s,–the pastor said:–“The physical world just as God left it,–how pure, how lovely, how entirely good;–how sacred from His hallowing touch! Oh!  that the world of men and women were half as unchangingly true, stainless, and holy.”

Feigned Indifference

photoMA31378394-0007 I have three rescues.  “Brack,” the American short hair on the left, is named after my dad.  He belongs to Mom but I’m his caretaker.  Brack is about 18 or 19 years old now.  He is blind but healthy and smart.  He knows where everything is: the food, the couch, the bed, the litter box–all the necessities of life.  The other cats are somewhat afraid of him because he sits and stares at them, but they don’t know that he can’t see. I rescued “Abigail,” the calico on the right, from a shopping center parking lot.  She was a kitten at the time living in the bushes next to the restaurant Boston Market.  Rather than call her “Boston” (too masculine a name for a female), I named her after Abigail Adams of Boston.  *Abigail is small and shy.  The other cats pick on her.  Apparently, she thinks that if she looks away, they won’t see her because she can’t see them.  Cats are experts at feigning indifference. photoMA31378396-0006 Like Abigail, “Pickles” (the black and white cat on the right) is a feral cat.  He used to sneak on my porch at night looking for cat food.  When he started acting a bit tame, I made the mistake of touching him.  He snapped at me and disappeared.  After I started taking the required rabies shots, he decided to show up again.  He’s now domesticated and likes people but bullies the other cats.  He is a big cat–a very big cat.  Naming him was not easy.  “Goliath” or “Samson” might have been good choices, but I chose to name him “Pickles,” a fictional cat with big paws in a book called THE FIREHOUSE CAT. My cats often sit within a measured distance from each other with their backs turned.  They seem to be saying something like, “One’s company, two’s a crowd.”  They don’t like each other and make no secret of it.  They like people and view other cats as competition.  In the world of cats, body language says it all. *Abigail is my “Writer’s Companion.”  She has collaborated with me on many projects, including newsletters, fiction, non-fiction, photography, and research.  She’s a computer geek. photoMA31378445-0001

Late Night Journalism

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Have you ever written what you thought was a brilliant post, and all of a sudden, you hit the wrong key and deleted the whole thing?  Well, that’s what just happened to me. Ironically, the post was entitled “Why Write?  Why Bother?”  Indeed, why bother?  It’s almost 3 a.m.  That’s what I deserve for writing in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping.  So rather than try to recreate what might have been the best post–or the worst post–I’ve ever written, I’m going  back to bed.  Goodnight! :-)