Wednesday, December 31, 2008

CSFF Tour - The Lost Genre Guild

Time for one last Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog Tour for 2008. (Wow, I'm only caught up to like, May of '08. Do we have to rush into '09 so soon?)


The Lost Genre Guild is a site devoted to promoting speculative fiction that follows a Christian worldview. They have the simplest formula I've seen for describing what speculative fiction is:

Entertainment + scriptural framework

It was started by some of the members of the CSFF tour to raise awareness and respect for Christian spec fic according to their "About" page. These folks haven't just endeavored to write about other works, they are also actively producing their own to try and self-fulfill their mission. The site and group is open for new members to join as well.

Their most ambitious product to date is the self-produced anthology "Light at the Edge of Darkness". Check out more about it at the link.

My only critique is that they don't have reviews or apparant support (that I can find on their site) for spec fic produced by mainstream CBA publishers (such as the Dominion trilogy by Robin Parrish through Bethany House Publishers). I admit that I didn't get to do an exhaustive search of Lost Genre Guild, so maybe I missed something.

It is impressive to find people to see a need and do something about it. I am interested to discover more about their group and works. If you're a fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror and are looking for alternatives, then check out the Lost Genre Guild.

Also see my fellow tourmates below, and we'll see you on the other side (in 2009, if everyone is in such a rush to get there...)

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Grace Bridges
Valerie Comer
Frank Creed
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Carol Keen
Lost Genre Guild
Mike Lynch
Rachel Marks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Hanna Sandvig
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Timothy Wise

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I Celebrate the Day

And with this Christmas wish is missed
The point I could convey
If only I could find the words to say
to let You know how much You've touched my life
Because here is where You're finding me,
in the exact same place as New Year's eve
And from a lack of my persistency
We're less than half as close as I want to be

And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize
that You would be my Savior
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever

And so this Christmas I'll compare
the things I felt in prior years
To what this midnight made so clear
That You have come to meet me here

To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me
In the hope that what You did
That you were born so I might live
To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me

And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life

Relient k
I Celebrate the Day

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Short and Long of It

I have a friend who is going through a crisis right now with her baby. My heart breaks for her as she asks for prayer and shares her family's struggle in keeping strong. She has great faith and has been an admirable testimony through it all, and I know that all the prayers people are offering for her, and especially her own cries to the Lord, are offering a deep source of strength for her that she can't fully realize at this time.

It got me thinking about our response to crisis times, and the long term effects of such times. I've had two events in the last 5 years that have been major upheavals in my life. Four years ago my mother succumbed to COPD (basically emphysema). Then two years ago I was laid off from a job when my contract wasn't renewed, under some interesting circumstances (you can read all about it on this blog even...whee).

I know I relied heavily on the Lord for strength during those times. In one sense my mom's death was easier, because she had taught us that death was a natural part of life and she didn't fear it. We knew she didn't want to suffer anymore, and in that way it was a blessing. Still, my father died when I was 5, so she was essentially both parents to me through my life, and it was still hard. God brought a lot of peace into the situation.

When I lost my job, that was a little incredible because there wasn't a really good reason for it. There were lots of circumstances in the background that made it a difficult road, and I didn't get a job right away. It took four months to start my current job from when I finished at the old clinic, and I spent three months at the job I was losing the way my contract was written (90 days notice). It was a real battle to go to work each day to a place I knew didn't want me, but again, God moved in my life during that time, and He proved Himself extremely faithful.

So where is this babbling going?

In the short term, I really turned to Jesus and received strength, grace, whatever you want to call it. I spent time with Him, and I felt like the tree in Psalm 1, with roots planted by streams of water. Especially in the job situation, where I had reason to be very bitter and angry, I can say I had a supernatural enabling to walk in pretty good attitudes (hey - I wasn't perfect).

Today as I was thinking about my friend's trial, I thought about the long-term position I was in regarding my big crises. I was dealing with anger at my mom that she missed out on our new little girl, because she chose to smoke. I still deal with anger and bitterness over my former employers. A couple of people were gossiping about one of the doctors, and part of me didn't want to hear at all, but part of me delighted in hearing about his problems since I left.

What happened to the good responses?

I can testify that it wasn't God's fault how my spirit, my response has darkened. It was fully my lack of endurance in seeking His will in all of these areas. As time passed and the busyness of life took over, I no longer spent time with Jesus regarding these events and attitudes. I focused on what was immediately in front of me, without fully submitting all of my life-past, present, and future-to Him.

I think my point in all this is that the Christian walk is a long-term marathon. I thought that the problems were over just because things had moved on. I stopped actively asking for His Word and light to help in those areas. Therefore a root of bitterness, starting small, was able to take hold. These events are affecting me years down the road. Now, the death of a parent is supposed to do that. The loss of a job is also one of the major life stressors someone can endure. Yet, with the grace that was given me during those times, it seems out of line that I reacted this way.

I don't want to take God's grace for granted anymore. I don't want to let things from my past rule my present. I feel like I enjoyed His grace for a season and left it behind when things turned and started going "my way" again. How terrible to disregard such a gift.

Ugh. I didn't mean to get so maudlin. But it is an important point I want to make: we keep going to the well of the Lord, whether good times or bad. We don't stop when times get good. We turn to Him in the short term and when things go well, we leave Him in the long term.

Thankfully these are heart attitudes that aren't huge. I haven't lost my faith or anything near it. But He deserves better from me, and I'm not happy with where my heart is in these areas.

Here's to the short and the long of it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Alternative Christmas Gifts

Yesterday I mentioned my friend's baby boutique, Lovely Lullabies Boutique, as an online option for Christmas shopping. If you don't have anyone that is in baby mode that you need to shop for, and you're frustrated about what to get them, I have a couple of suggestions.

Many of us in the West don't really NEED anything. We have wish lists of the latest toys and gadgets, styles, or whatever. I am definitely talking about myself in this as well. What if we could give something that was meaningful and made a difference in people's lives?

I have a couple of examples of things that can be done.

There is a new trend with charities that gives a concrete example of what is given, and it is a great opportunity for kids to see what they are doing with their gift. If you've got a family member that has everything, then you can also give something in their name via the charity.

World Vision is one of the best charities when it comes to financial accountability. They have a "gift catalog", where you can give $25 dollars to by chicks for a village, or $250 worth of food for $50. The catalog explains how a $75 goat can be such a windfall for a family providing protein-rich milk, cheese and yogurt as well as the possibility of offspring. For just $30, 5 ducks can be provided, with eggs and extra ducklings to sell for money. It is an awesome opportunity to help those who really need the help, and again it is a concrete way of seeing the money spent, rather just sending a check into the void.

International Justice Mission is another of my favorite charities. They work on behalf of oppressed peoples in slavery and trafficking around the world, whether for sweat shops, forced prostitution, or other instances of injustice. They also have a freedom catalog. Gifts of $25 - $50 can buy a half or whole day of investigative work, which is needed to find the people in need and line up the proper government authorities to enforce the right laws, or aftercare for abused girls. The gifts here are a little more abstract, but still the money is going to a specific activity, which can be much more meaningful.

I hope people can consider these options in their gift-giving plans. I'm sure there are other charities out there that do similar things, these are just two of the charities I have chosen to support because I believe in their mission and trust their accountability. Since we're celebrating the birth of Jesus, let's remember His words about "whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me." (paraphrase of Matt 25:40)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Gifts - A Suggestion

I want to put a plug in for a friend of mine. She has started a wonderful baby boutique in St. Louis, Lovely Lullabies Boutique. It features high quality baby furniture, decor, toys, gifts for Mom, special occasion items (like for baptism/christening) and other items you don't see in the typical department store. It is a quality start-up, and it has online shopping available. There are items for the expectant mother before delivery as well.

I don't usually advertise for businesses, but I wanted to see if I could drive a little traffic to her site, as the timing wasn't ideal for a new business considering the economic slowdown. You won't be disappointed. If you want a choice other than Wal-Mart or Carters, then I strongly encourage you to check out Lovely Lullabies Boutique, whether online or in person.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Christmas Memories

I want to have traditions for our family, especially around Christmas. However, I didn't intend for our yearly Christmas tree hunt to be traditionally filled with bloopers. Last year we had a memorable experience. I thought this year would be quiet. Yeah...

We decided to go to a local guy who has a small Christmas tree farm to have a fresh tree. My sister-in-law decided to tag along with us and pick up one as well. We made quite an entrance with 7 kids between us all.

She quickly found a tree and her teenager cut it down. I started to pull on my leather work gloves, which I had grabbed from my back porch before leaving. I got the right glove mostly on when I felt a prick in the space between my index and middle finger. Huh. Must have a needle in it or something. Except the sharp pain started getting worse.

I yanked the glove off. A wiggling wasp fell out.

So THAT was the culprit. Darn thing trying to get warm. I hope it froze out there.

Well, if that was our excitement for the day, it wasn't bad (as I write 2 days later with my finger still swollen). I made sure to shake my gloves out, then found our own tree and did my best Paul Bunyan.

The problem was how to get home. I had planned on putting the tree on my van's roof. My sister-in-law had brought her Expedition with a travel case on top. She didn't really want needles in her vehicle. As her teenaged son wondered why they hadn't brought his truck, I confidently said we could put both on top of my Caravan. After fighting bungee cords and pine needles, we were ready.

For trouble.

It is about a 5 mile trip on the highway back into town. I drove slowly, since my boys expressed concern that the trees might fall off. As Dads do, I reassured them that it wouldn't happen...

Hey, was that a couple of Christmas trees that landed in the middle of the road?

Yep, our trees did a nice bounce off the pavement. We both pulled over, and thankfully there wasn't much traffic as my niece and nephew jumped in the road right away. Also, I was impressed as our trees weren't reduced to kindling. They relented and shoved their slippery spruce in the back of the Expedition, as I firmly lashed ours back to the van. We all managed to arrive at home without further excitement.

So far.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

CFBA Tour - Dark Pursuit

I've taken a little time off from reviewing books in order to avoid commitments I can't meet. However, I couldn't pass up this week's book from the CFBA: Dark Pursuit by Brandilyn Collins. This is her first book (a stand alone) since her lauded Kanner Lake series.

Darell Brooke is the King of Suspense, having written 99 books. Since his car accident two years ago, he is a shell of his former imposing self. He needs a cane to get around and he can't concentrate enough to hold a plot. He badly wants to reclaim his glory and write book #100, but he can't push through the mental fog.

When his estranged granddaughter Kaitlan returns to his door, with a tale of a murderous boyfriend after her, he wants to help her. He's a police officer and has hid the evidence, so she can't go to the local police. Can the King of Suspense help save his only family and reclaim his fame with the plot inspiration drawn from the trap?

I admit it was a little different reading this book. I was invested in the lives of the people in her Kanner Lake books, so it was a shift to get into the characters of Dark Pursuit. Brandilyn continues her expert pacing and building of suspense. The book never fails to be a page turner.

The new characters grew on me after a while. Darell Brooke is a prickly old man, bitter about his new circumstances, and it is hard to empathize with him initially. Kaitlan is a sympathetic character, and she's easier to root for, especially when she is in danger.

I also struggled with the apparant direction of the book for a while, because it seemed un-Brandilyn. The reader knew everything up front, and it seemed like I was just following along. I should've known better. I don't want to give away anything more than there's more than meets the eye, and I was very pleasantly surprised at the end. The twists and turns are very satisfying.
I had a little problem with the obsession of the killer, but this comes into focus better at the end. Still, it seemed a little too outrageous to me. There was also some repetition of phrases describing the suspense that caught my eye after a while, distracting me.

Up until the last part of the book, it wasn't my favorite Brandilyn Collins book. It was a worthy enough suspense, but I wasn't savoring it. After finishing it this morning, it really turned it into a very enjoyable, satisfying read. She sucks us in, then pulls a fast one. I shouldn't be surprised. Her fans will find this new book continuing her tradition of Seatbelt Suspense, while new readers should find this a solidly entertaining suspense.

Also, for more behind the story, check out this interview with Brandilyn in the Christian Fiction Online Magazine. You can also read the first chapter of Dark Pursuit, HERE.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Movie Review - Twilight

It's the movie everyone is talking about: Twilight.

So what is it about this movie that has half of the 12-30 year age group of females wildly excited?

Maybe a guy in his 30's isn't the best judge.

Anyway, unless you've been under a rock (considering the economy, it may be more secure than your mortgage), Twilight is based off the first book in the best-selling series by Stephenie Meyer. First, the quick summary to make sure we’re all on the same page. Seventeen year old Bella moves to Forks, WA, to live with her dad in the wettest, cloudiest place in the US. While adjusting to a new school, she meets Edward Cullen, a very handsome boy who at turns shuns her and acts interested in her. Her dogged pursuit reveals his secret: that he is a vampire, part of a “family” of vampires that only drinks the blood of animals so they don’t have to be killers. Edward is drawn to Bella both in love and to the scent of her blood, fighting his natural urges. As Bella and Edward explore their relationship and she is immersed in this strange new world, other forces enter their lives that threaten all they are trying to build.

How’s the movie? It isn’t as good as the book (when is a movie ever?). It stays pretty true to the book, so fans of the series should be pleased overall. The director tries to visually create a mood with filtered shots and lots of dreamy/vexed/glaring looks by the love-struck couple. The movie slows down at times due to this, but doesn’t bog down. There are hints of suspense interspersed enough to move things along.

The actors who play Bella and Edward have some chemistry, but it wasn’t enough to convince me of their resolve to press forward into such an unorthodox relationship. Kristin Stewart (Bella) portrays teenage awkwardness well and anchors the movie, although she is asked to pose gaping way too often. Robert Pattinson (Edward) is charismatic enough, but he isn’t always an imposing, remarkable figure. I don’t know whether to blame the screenwriters or the actors. Other characters like Alice are under-utilized, but I’m sure it’s hard to compress a long novel into two hours.

There’s been some controversy about the novel and movie, both in regular reviews and specifically Christian reviews. One general complaint is that Edward has stalker tendencies, since he watches Bella as she sleeps and always seems to be around. This is shown in the movie somewhat, but it doesn’t come across as creepy. My 12 year old niece picked right up on it and recognized that’s not a good trait for a boyfriend. The couple only kisses passionately a couple of times, but there is a lot of restraint, even though once they talk late into the night and she ends up sleeping and cuddling up to him (no nudity or intercourse).

Spiritually, there are obvious concerns about the whole concept of a vampire and drinking blood to sustain life. I’ve read blogs that point out the perversion this idea makes of Christ’s sacrifice for us and the sacrament of wine specifically. Personally, if I can accept the idea of an impersonal Force in Star Wars and random mutation and evolution in the X-men series as acceptable platforms for story-telling, then I don’t have a problem with vampires. I understand the above criticism, but it doesn’t strike me as blasphemous.

With the specific story, there are positives. Edward’s family is “vegetarian”, meaning they have learned to survive on animals. They hold to their promises to the local Native American tribe, and they back each other up. They work hard to protect Bella when danger arises, and Bella is willing to sacrifice herself to save a loved one.

Overall the movie was enjoyable, and it was fun to see it in the theatre (although it exposed some weak special effects). I’ve seen other reviews that state the movie will appeal to fans of the book and not bring in the uninitiated. Since I’d read the books, I can’t judge very well. They may not have created enough magic as the book’s author, Stephenie Meyer, did. My niece hadn’t read them and enjoyed it, even not being one for romance (tomboy has her picture next to it in the dictionary). There’s probably not enough explosions to draw a hard-core male audience, but it is a good introduction into a new world (ready for the already announced sequel). Using discernment is always needed, as writers and directors always have some form of agenda, but it is not a scandalous movie that need be feared and shunned. If you have a pre-teen or teen who is prone to becoming too emotionally involved with something, then Twilight is a bad choice. If they have some judgment, then it can create some interesting discussion.

Stars? If I had 'em, probably a 3 1/2 out of 5.