Holy Dread – What I think I know after Hurricane Michael


Hurricane Michael
Radar snapshot of Hurricane Michael as he made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018.

What follows is my personal, frail attempt to make sense of a devastating event.

Prologue

(because prologues are cool)

While dining at my sister’s house, I sat beside my nephew, Leader, who was seven or eight years old at the time. He is eleven now. Guided by a profound impulse, he decided to ask me a series of theological questions, which he has been known to do at odd times (for example, he once told me I had to “fight the dragon” so that I could become “a king of forgiveness”).

“Unky Adam,” he said.

“Yes?” I said, turning toward him.

“Do you love God more than money?” he asked, his smile as big as a crescent moon.

“Yes,” I said. I went back to my food, thinking that would be the end of it.

“Do you love God more than houses?” he asked, his tenor elevated. He seemed to know well enough that sequels should raise the stakes.

“Yes,” I said.

His smile broadened. I decided not to take the next bite, knowing that another question must follow in the series. To him, it was a kind of game where the questions must be part of a trilogy.

“Do you love God more than the world?” he asked, raising his volume to something like half a notch above inside-voice acceptable decibels.

I waited, wanting to give myself a moment to be honest even if it led to disappointment. Anyone claiming to be a believer would want the answer to be “Yes”. But I gave myself enough time for it to be a cold, cowardly “No” if the truth of my heart demanded it. I gave myself time to fall if fall I must.

“Yes,” I said.

As soon as I spoke, I knew I had done what for me had always been unthinkable. I had made a commitment. Leader smiled bigger, but not because he had trapped me. He smiled in a kind of child-like awe. You see, because I had affirmed my love for God above money, houses, and the world—because of these affirmations of faith, he seemed to think I was some sort of hero.

The Storm

“Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” – Isaiah 8:13, KJV

I am awake when the iOS alert goes off. FIND SHELTER NOW. The sound is a challenge to describe. For me, it invites a sudden onset of nausea. If I manage to sleep, I awake within a few hours drenched in chilled sweat. Earlier this year, in Ecuador, I had descended four flights of hotel stairs to the same sound going off minutes after the building had shaken and swayed—a 6.2 temblor 75 miles west had thus announced itself. Guayaquil has seen worse; the traffic never stopped and we were back in our rooms within the hour.

Fast forward one month later: on October 10, 2018, my city saw the worst.

We fled at exactly 7AM and reached Birmingham just as Michael made landfall as the third worst storm in modern U.S. history and Bay County’s most devastating storm on record. But I have no interest in writing about Michael’s power over physical objects. I am not here to remind you how bad it was—if you live there, grew up there, have family there, then you already know.

No, I am interested in something else. I will tell you now so you can make an early break for the door if the topic seems vaporous, like the kind of nonsense a sage would ramble about while falling asleep in his favorite chair. What interests me is the thing we lose when we rely too heavily on our experience. I am interested in my capacity to feel dread—that ancient enemy of Certainty and one of the oldest friends of Spirit. I am interested in the end of pride and the beginning of wisdom.

Remember that Michael was hailed as an unprecedented storm before he made landfall. Keep that word in mind as you read: unprecedented. It is the word of the hour, the year, maybe even the decade. Perhaps your mind has already retrieved a list of unprecedented events of the past ten years. For my purposes, the word deserves to become a proper noun: a name.

Before Michael, Unprecedented may as well have been a street-corner prophet or a flittering, homeless junkie—I would rather dodge into oncoming traffic than pass within six feet of him. You, too, have been avoiding him at every turn. But at last we have seen him uncloaked, and there is no dodging him now.

You might ask why I have chosen a gender-specific pronoun for Unprecedented. For now, suffice it to say that Wisdom will introduce herself soon and it suits my sense of mise en scène to permit a balance of male and female players. But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Not until Unprecedented has made himself more than a street-corner prophet—indeed, not until he has risen to the level of Archangel will Wisdom make her appearance.

See what I did there? Aren’t I clever?

Maybe you agree that I am clever or maybe you are convinced (reasonably) that I have taken the metaphors too far, that I have wandered into the misty Lost Woods of creative interpretation and have strayed from reason’s guiding melody[1]. Perhaps I have. But let me be clear: unlike our Puritan forebears, I do not interpret the ransacking of my village as some divine penalty for my apostasy. If that is your perspective, suit yourself. It is not mine.

When I think of Michael, I do not think of wrath or judgment. Nor do I think God is the mastermind behind a storm whose sole purpose was to prompt knee-jerk repentance on a massive scale. I am not Jonathan Edwards, nor am I on the lookout for the next great awakening (sorry to disappoint my fellow charismatics).

Rather, I seek an awakening where we learn that we have all been, at one time or another, patrons to a false god who offers us the promise of certainty in exchange not for our faith but for the complete lack of it.

What false god? What is he talking about? Doesn’t he know we just went through hell and misery and that all we’ve been doing for weeks is helping each other rebuild (while he sits pretty in California sipping a latte, I might add)? Please do not mistake me. You have shown your mettle and are to be held in high esteem. I can only speak of what I have found in myself and, perhaps in the process, help you renew your hope and reaffirm the cornerstone of your faith.

That thing you are holding on to—that job, that man, that woman, that ideal, that business, that house, that goal, that church, that order of things, that prophecy, that calling: imagine yourself without it. What do you fear most in this life to lose? If you can, envision yourself on the other side of that loss. Put yourself in a virtual reality where dread is the dominant emotion. But be warned: this will be almost as painful as the reality itself. Proceed with caution into this lucid nightmare and crisis of the soul.

Take a moment to manifest the vision. Breathe.

Now, what are you left with? What shape does the monster take that now stares you down? Take a long look at this “you” separated from all qualifiers, preconceptions and ideals, from everything you think you know about yourself. Put away your Bible, your creed, your kingdom, your ecclesia, your academia, your wealth, your poverty, and above all your experience—anything that has brought you certainty, negative or positive. They cannot enter here. What did you see? Who did you meet?

When I remember Michael, when I remember my dread, I am left with an opaque vision of something like a jealous Love, an untamable Hope, and Mercy as a juggernaut. If you think this is how I cope with the vision, very well. You might be right. But I believe it is something more. You see, I am a bit cracked in the head. I happen to think the Spirit of the Living God is leading me to a deeper revelation of his power and love. And this next one is a bit more controversial: I happen to think that, in his relentless mercy, he fortifies my faith in him despite my resistance. After all, I tried to ally with Certainty and build walls on the foundation of my experience. But thanks to Unprecedented uncloaked, the deal fell through.

In case you did not see it coming, Unprecedented uncloaked has a name: Michael the Fierce, who in a spirit of might reminds us of one mightier still. He comes because he wants us to remember that our experience counts for nothing unless it can be transformed and redefined by Spirit. He wants us to realize the truth (there is no spoon)—that trust in our experience has led us to invite Certainty into our hearts, where only one can dwell. Little did we know that Certainty would paint himself as a bullseye on our foreheads. A bullseye for whom? All this time and we never knew: our trusty old friend was in league with his older sister, Chaos, from the start. What a twist, indeed. Certainty guaranteed our comfort, swore upon his foundations that we would never hunger or thirst if we sustained him with our lack of faith.

But that is just the problem. Certainty had no basis for his oaths and like the serpent before him promised what was not his to give. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, for they will be satisfied.[2] To hunger and thirst is to suffer. Faith leads to righteousness, and righteousness requires suffering. We are all going to suffer regardless of where we put our trust. The question is, rather, will we suffer bitterness and betrayal at the hands of Certainty, or will we suffer ourselves to trust in Spirit? Hint: the former guarantees the absence of dread—but who can know the cost?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.[3] For some of us, Michael may be that beginning. To dread the Almighty is to invite his guiding power to transform our hearts and minds until we depend on him alone; “let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” commands us to make him our certainty. Lucky for us, sometimes that guiding power manifests whether we invite it or not. We have all welcomed Certainty—a vampire must be invited before he can enter, after all. But the grace of God hovers before no threshold, bows beneath no arch. No longer will we be detained by the prince of this world and his false promises, for Michael has arrived.[4]

Epilogue

(because I obsess over symmetry)

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’” (John 21:15, NIV). Whenever I read this passage now, I am moved by its eerie resemblance to the exchange between me and my nephew on a day so uneventful I do not recall the month or the year. But that part about “When they had finished eating” also makes me laugh since Leader did not wait until I had finished eating before asking me a similar trilogy of questions. He just went for it.

If you have made it this far, you might ask how this story is relevant to dread, devastation, faith, or a hurricane. Well, I am still in the middle of making sense of that myself. But if I must give an answer, here is the one that comes to me: my nephew, inspired as he is by Spirit, asked me the same question three times in a row. He asked me if I loved God more than Certainty. He wanted to know if I had the one thing required to please God—to please Being itself.[5] And in the moment, I had answered in faith, “Yes”, knowing nothing of the wrath to come. Now, on the other side of desolation, I can say with some confidence: to that answer I hold.

What will your answer be?

— — — —

P.S.

I pray that those of you affected by this terrible, unprecedented storm are recovering well. If you can, surround yourself with friends and loved ones. If what I have shared here seems too simplistic, please forgive me. Perhaps it would have been easier just to quote a sage and hope for the best:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Rom. 15:13, NIV

— — — —

[1] If you are not a Zelda fan, sorry for this one. You will just have to work it out on your own.

[2] Matthew 5:6.

[3] Proverbs 9:10.

[4] See Daniel 10:13 and Revelation 22:20.

[5] See Hebrews 11:6.

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I Am


I am, says the Eternal Flame to Man.

The Man is afraid, abiding the moment as one in a trance or stranded in a dream idling on the edge of wakefulness. The blaze is hot but not stifling. It is a perfect heat, if such a thing can be perfect. Purple and pink tendrils of lighting reach over the mountaintop as if drawn by the flames. The fire drinks the rain. It is a fire unquenchable just as the force fueling it is unstoppable.

The ground is sacred – take off your shoes and feel the earth. Be in this moment. Hear me. Believe me. Trust me. Do everything I say and never again know the fear of man.

Wake up. I am the Lion and I am the Lamb. I spoke and light tore through dark matter like a splintered diamond. I breathed and the wind skipped across an eternal storm igniting a restless ambition. Wake up. Be light. Know me. I am the Lion and I am the Lamb.

I never tire of the flames or of the furious speed. I do not grow weary at the vastness of my thoughts. The songs of stars are not repetitious to me.

Have you ever waited and listened for the trumpet blast of supernovas? Have you counted the gems of Heaven? Do you know their names or their ages? I have waited – I am Time’s Master. I have counted them all. I know their names. I remember when each was born.

I am the Lion. I am the Lamb.

I am the Phoenix. And the resurrection fire is my cloak.

I am the Healing Serpent untethered and shedding his bronze scales; they lie like sunbaked husks in the desert. You could follow them but your path would be aimless, for the relics do not point to me.

I am the unexpected creature that comes after the Great Unraveling of Time and Space.

I am Abel’s blood, shed on every battlefield. I am the mark, both upon Cain and upon the desperate mob in swift pursuit. Blood for blood. Mine for yours.

I am the Lamb.

Where can righteousness be found? Who is seeking it?

Seek the Lamb. You will be cleansed.

Seek the Lion. You will be vindicated.

Seek the Phoenix. You will be restored.

Seek the Serpent. You will be forgiven.

Seek the unexpected creature. Follow her into the storm, beyond the great terror at the edge of infinite possibility, where love perfected drives out all fear. When you arrive, the only dread will be the dread of me.

The Man blinks and the fire is gone. His dripping clothes sag and cling coldly to his skin. The leaves jostle in the wind and cast a cool mist. No smoke. No ashes. A flick of lightning far off tells him the storm passed hours ago. But he knows that one day it will return to this hallowed place.

It must return because it isn’t finished.

He turns and appraises the dirt path that will take him down again into the valley, across the mile-long field and at last to the tent where his wife and sons still sleep. Could he not lie down beside them and wait for the morning? Could he not go back to tending sheep?

It isn’t finished. And neither is he.

Featured Photo credit:
pastoreid.com

Circumcision, you say? Why not go one further and cut your whole **** off!


animal with scissors

Note: this post assumes that most biblical translations are correct. That said, the KJV interprets Galatians 5:12 without specifying anything to be “cut off” except “themselves” (i.e., those who insist on circumcision). Either way, Paul’s choice of words here reflects the subject in question. For further reading on why Paul may or may not be telling his opponents to emasculate themselves, see this document and this article. If the translations that point to emasculation are wrong, then so is my post (at least from a literary standpoint). But maybe I can still contribute to the ongoing debate. Happy reading.

A Defense of Shocking Satire

“No dark sarcasm in the classroom!” – Pink Floyd

Within the community of believers (I shun the term “Christianity” because of its vast connotations), I’ve noticed a crippling and unwarranted dread of satire. Perhaps I’m imagining things, but I don’t think I am. Yes, we should detest Swift’s modest proposal of cannibalism just as we should detest C.S. Lewis’ “Saracen’s Head” on a pedestal. But we should also detest what these things deride. That is what satire is all about.

That being said, I once wrote a bit of chilling satire for one of my lit classes. That night, in a dream, the Holy Spirit rebuked me by dropping me in the disturbing scenario I had created in my poem. The next morning, I asked him whether he thought his manner of instruction wasn’t too extreme. “Isn’t yours?” he replied. Suffice it to say, I’ve never written anything like it since. So, I am aware of lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

But perhaps a central question remains: is shocking satire ever appropriate for those of us who aspire to whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy? Well, let’s take a look at what Paul (the man I just paraphrased) has to say when he feels like being sarcastic:

“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12, NIV). This is an apostle of Christ saying in no uncertain terms, “I wish those bunch of hypocrites would just go ahead and cut their Johnsons off!” Or if we’re going with the KJV translation, at the very least he is saying, “I wish they would cut themselves off from you just as they demand you cut away [fill in the blank] from your own flesh.”

Many people, Christians and non, are probably familiar with the above passage. I paraphrase the verse to show that 1) it could be a good example of sharp, grotesque satire in scripture and 2) an example of good satire, period. While I’ve read the passage many times, it dawned on me that Paul’s language would be seen as inappropriate if used today among Church-folk in the way that he used it then.

But is it inappropriate? Or is it exactly what needs to be said?

If you know me, you’ve probably guessed my opinion—the nasty image is not only proper but excellent. But if we want to find out why the verse’s grotesque flavor is justified given the circumstances of Paul’s letter, then we need to answer for ourselves two questions:

  1. What makes it satire?
  2. What makes it good (appropriate, effective, and memorable)?

Because of the way my brain works, I find it helpful to work from big ideas to smaller ones (and back to big again) when analyzing a text, so I’ll start by looking at the passage in a bit of context (or as much context as a non-historian can offer). Does Paul really wish that the men insisting on circumcision would cut off their private parts? Or is he using vivid, graphic imagery to make a point?

If Paul is anything like me (and I admit that’s a far-fetched assumption), then I’d say it’s probably a bit of both. 🙂

But really, what is the point of such a crude image? Let’s not kid ourselves: the image conveyed in Paul’s words is nothing you or I would ever want to see played out (though I can only speak for myself). Still, we can discern that Paul felt this specific imagery was necessary to convey just how frustrated he was with teachers working against the message he had fought for—a message I believe was at the heart of his ministry: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6).

By the time Paul writes this letter, he has laid a lot of foundational work with the church in Galatia.[1] But now, other teachers have come along and are insisting on ancient ordinances that, to Paul, just don’t matter. Not only do these ordinances not matter, they are direct threats to the message of grace he tirelessly promotes.  If you disagree with this, I can only stress again the passage quoted above, “The only thing that counts…” Take this exegesis with all the salt you need.

Perhaps we can at least agree that Paul is frustrated with these teachers (“Hey, teachers! Leave those kids alone!”). Knowing this, let’s take a punch at the first question we began with: what makes the passage satirical? Most definitions of the word “satire” focus on elements like irony and sarcasm, but another element and one that applies here is exaggeration. Also, in order for satire to be satire, it has to be directed at a person or a group of people and it must be a form of written or verbal criticism. Let’s see if Paul’s wish fits the satirical model:

  1. The idea of “going the whole way” exaggerates circumcision itself.
  2. Paul exaggerates his annoyance with the circumcision debate by suggesting these teachers “cut themselves off” (and thus end the debate).
  3. He is calling these men out—rebuking them—for demanding holiness through outward practices.
  4. And since we can only hope Paul didn’t really want his adversaries to mutilate themselves any more than he really believed sorcery was the problem when he asked the Galatians who had “bewitched” them (it was Lord Voldemort!), we could assume he is also being sarcastic (even though he says “really”).

But it also turns out that Paul is being ironical. In his letters, purity and abstinence come up a few times. And while he insists that marriage is better than burning with passion, he also wishes we could be unmarried like him (note: I do not share his wish, but I do abstain from any guilt in not sharing it). 🙂

Now, here’s the irony as I see it: Paul knows that those who demand circumcision as a requirement of the Law and as a requirement for salvation are doing so because, among other things, they want to pursue holiness (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here). “But,” thinks Paul, “if they really want to be holy, why don’t they just turn themselves into eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom?” Of course, he knows they’ll never do this—they will go on procreating with their wives, as they should.

And so Paul draws attention to what Christ taught: holiness begins with the heart and its orientation first toward God and second toward humanity. The outward actions that manifest as a result of this orientation are true, holy actions. Hence, the weird but prophetic metaphor of a circumcised heart that runs throughout scripture, including the “old” Law: “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deut. 30:6).

Interesting that love toward God is the end-goal of this weird circumcision of the heart, just as faith expressing itself through love is the end-goal of Paul’s message to the Galatians. Really, any message that persuades people to deviate from the simplicity found in loving God and loving people deserves to be satirized.

But we still haven’t answered our question: is there ever a time for grotesque satire in literature? In film? In art, music, television? On Sunday morning from the pulpit? Well, I guess it all depends on the context. Let me put it this way: if I had invested my life and career in making sure people took hold of a single truth, only to find other teachers disrupting and confusing what I had taught—I’d tell those teachers to go do a lot more than castrate themselves. And since I’m creative, I’d probably do it in an underhanded way, like insert it into one of my YouTube videos or put it in a blog post and plaster it all over Facebook.

But then, I’m no saint. 😉

What’s the point here? Paul used crude satire in his language to express his frustration and to call out his opponents for their ignorant practices. What’s more, Paul’s frustration with people turning from the faith that expresses itself through love is the same frustration Yahweh exhibits throughout the Old Testament every time his people drift from his commandments. So, if you were to ask me, I’d tell you that shocking satire does have its place whenever people need a good jolt.

I’ve already mentioned the dream in which the Holy Spirit rebuked me—I needed to experience a bit of my own shocking satire so that I could be freed from a wrong way of thinking. Would it have been better if I had discerned correctly to begin with and had never needed the rebuke? Yes! And if the people of God had kept his commands, the Prophets would’ve been out of a job….

Like many of the hard-to-digest images in scripture and like many similar images in literature outside of the Bible, the image Paul uses is brazen, crude, and inappropriate for young audiences. And yet, it’s there, plain as the paper it’s printed on. But it’s more than just “there.”

  1. It is appropriate for its intended audience because, for Paul, the circumcision debate was supposed to have been settled at the Jerusalem council and by this point he was fed up with its resurgence.
  2. It is effective to stir up critical thought and point people toward what matters: faith expressing itself through love.
  3. It is memorable because it outlasts its context, stirs us up, and compels us to push the limits of any “religious” barriers that enclose our modes of discourse while reminding us to shed any prejudices we might harbor toward the grittier side of literary expression.

Above all, it is good-old-fashioned satire. And it’s in your Bible.

***

Something not quite right? Let me know: leave a polite, intelligent comment and I’ll refer readers to you.

[1] I think at least this much can be gleaned from the letter without digging too far into outside historical material

If Dogberry Had a Blog


Michael Keaton as “Dogberry” in “Much Ado About Nothing”

From “How to Practice ‘Vigitance’ without Offending Anyone”

  1. Sleep freely and without conviction:

In my humble experience, one of the least offensive ways of keeping a steady watch by night is to sleep at free and regular intervals. If you make it to morning unmolested, you will be as fresh as the bright dawn sun that greets you and more pleasurable company for your companions. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But, Dogberry, if I sleep, won’t that leave my company vulnerable to attack?” Truly, but fret not, for should a knave sneak up to your camp in the night and dispose of you while you slumber, think little of it, as you will soon greet your Savior in all of his radiant glory and no more will you need trouble about the cares of this life or the lives of your companions.

  1. How to deal with vagrants, thieves, and the like:

To stop a thief one must verify his thievery, and this can only be accomplished by letting him steal; if you stop him in the act, he ceases to be a thief. You then would commit a grave offense by arresting him since you saw to it that he did not become a thief. Of course feel free to stop any man to inquire of his intentions. But, in my humble opinion, it is usually best not to “touch pitch” as it were, and so get embroiled in the heat of unwanted conflict when, after all, I have only been commissioned to watch, not to stop. That being said, if the vagrant or knave directly interdicts[1] with your watching, then you are within your God-given rights to stay that individual. If he refuses to be stayed, then of course you must let him go his way, as the objective is to keep watch without causing offense.

From “How to Detect a Lying Knave”

  1. What is a liar?

A liar is any man or woman who speaks an untruth, slanders, gives false report, or who does any number of the following.[2] I am of the opinion that all liars are knaves, though whether all knaves are liars ‘tis a subject best left for its own section.

  1. What is a knave?

By knave of course we mean any person who by our office we judge to be dishonest. However, the real challenge comes when one tries to distinguish between a generic knave and what I tend to call an “arrant” knave, which may be indisposed[3] to doing the works of the devil, and on this basis we may reasonably conclude that the devil himself is also a knave, since he does his own works.

Sixth and Lastly – How do we know when someone is a lying knave?

Since we have established that all liars are knaves, it is not less than more than slightly unreasonably safe to judiciously suspect all liars of also being knaves. Of course, the real challenge is met when you encounter a lying knave who professes to be one, in which case you would be unwise to take him at his word. Thus, not taking him at his word, you must trust that he is a plain-dealing and honest man even though he has given false report concerning his own character. These are the worst kinds of lying knaves.

[1] Interferes.

[2] Dogberry of course means to say the “previous.”

[3] Predisposed.

The Dark Knight Rises and Isaiah 1:17


The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight Rises and the Biblical Mandate of Isaiah 1:17.

While it is not a perfect movie, The Dark Knight Rises is for me the most positive example of the intersection of my faith with art. Certainly, the movie is not without its holes, such as the lack of explanation for how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) gets back into Gotham after his exile. While these issues deserve attention, I keep going back to the movie for its thematic message, which reflects my favorite scripture from Isaiah: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (1:17, NIV). This scripture, especially the part about the fatherless, is the basis of Bruce Wayne’s journey throughout the film.

The Dark Knight Rises draws somewhat from the French Revolution—the villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), takes over the city on the pretense of stripping power from the “corrupt” and giving it back to the people. But the backstory that precedes this pivotal revolution concerns the Wayne Foundation and its failure to support orphanages and teen refuge centers. As a result, teens with nowhere else to turn “descend” into Gotham’s sewers to find work. Instead, they find Bane who, in the absence of Batman, becomes their role model and liberator. Without the Wayne legacy, the lost boys of Gotham become the forces of destruction that will perpetuate the same cycle of murder that brought Bruce Wayne to his darkest hour.

The catalyst for Batman’s redemption (and Gotham’s) is a young hothead named John Blake, a.k.a., Robin. Just as fans of the character would expect, he goes straight to the Wayne mansion to shake Bruce Wayne from his stupor and to remind him of his calling. Interestingly, their conversation ends with Bruce asking, “Why did you say your ‘boys home’ used to be funded by the Wayne foundation?” (The Dark Knight Rises). The revelation that Wayne Enterprises no longer funds orphanages is the impetus for Batman to return to the streets. Few big-budget Hollywood films possess this kind of thematic undercurrent, and even fewer can be traced to scriptural mandates like Isaiah 1:17 and, similarly, James 1:27. Given the evidence, I do not see it as a theological stretch to trace The Dark Knight Rises to these mandates.

Without question, my faith-based perception of a story like The Dark Knight Rises is directly linked to the kinds of stories I hope to tell. The film ends with Bruce Wayne giving his home to Gotham’s orphans and also with the assurance that Robin will be nearby to watch over them. This is a far-cry from the dark, morbid turn some Gotham comics have taken in the past two decades, which insist that Bruce Wayne is as psychotic as the villains he struggles against. While these darker stories have their fans, I am convinced that the vast majority of film-goers want to see redemption on the screen—even for Gotham.

My story-telling drive compels me to descend into similar dark worlds of human crisis and to focus not on characters who succumb to the crisis, but who turn the tide in the midst of dark times, dark agendas, and dark principalities. And, just as a side-note, the idea of Batman as the Byronic hero doesn’t hold up in a story where the hero sacrifices himself and gives up everything he has to defend the oppressed and the fatherless. Quite the contrary, this is one of the most prominent and current examples of a biblical hero in mainstream Hollywood cinema.

The Other Rebellion – Written by Steve B. and Edited by Adam B.


James Dean and Natalie Wood
James Dean and Natalie Wood in “Rebel Without a Cause”

The following post is an original piece of literary analysis from my dad, Steve Burdeshaw. I hope it encourages you while perhaps causing you to see some things in a new way. My dad has always spoken of the New Way of Thinking, and God has helped me to take this concept one step further toward something called the New Way of Being. I believe what follows is one piece of this ideal, one small step toward what may become my family’s legacy: to turn children’s hearts to their parents, and to turn parents’ hearts to their children.

 * * *

One morning my wife and I were discussing movies, the main films being Rebel Without a Cause and Dead Poets Society. She expressed to me how it irritated her that people associated these movies with rebellion, since rebellion is neither what these movies are about nor what they promote.

Without really rehearsing in my mind what I was about to say, these were the words that came out of my mouth: “These movies are most definitely about rebellion, but they are not about a son rebelling against a father or society. Rather, these movies are about a father rebelling against a son’s purpose. In Dead Poets Society, the father rebels, refuses to repent, and loses his son forever. In Rebel Without a Cause, the father not only repents but sees his son for who he really is, and from this we might hope that they are able to begin a real relationship.”

Sons are a gift from Yahweh, God, and as parents we should concern ourselves with God’s purpose for our children rather than our own purpose for them. Old men will dream dreams and young men will prophesy. Without these two things coming together, nothing of significance will ever take place. It is young men and young women who see and change the future. As for me, I would like to be a facilitator of this purpose and go along for the ride.

 * * *

This is me, the son again. I don’t really have much to add except… well… I bet you never thought a father could rebel against his son, did you? But I am happy to tell you there is a cure to this epidemic. All you have to do is relinquish the control you never really had to begin with into the hands of One who has always had control and who always will. And yet you can still be active in that selfless trust, to the point where you look down at your own hands and see the hands of your Heavenly Father at work in you and through you. I pray that with every new day you embrace the hope of new beginnings, new ideas, and a new way of being. Thanks for reading. 

– Adam B.

The Hunted King


I spent most of my days singing songs and offering praises to my God for his protection. And yet, many of my nights I spent fearing for my life. Not in the way of a tree planted by living water. The glory of my youth having long since passed, I saw that though God was often with me, he was not in me, and my desire for all that I could not be—all that he had always been in spite of me and all that he would remain after my death—became the thirst that drove me deeper into the wilderness of my years. A thirst for God will often lead you into a desert.

* * *

I waited by the stairwell with my back pressed against the wall when the bunker hatch opened, squealing on its hinges, letting in a stream of concentrated moon, star, and planet-light. I waited for the intruder to cross the threshold of the stairs before lowering the barrel of my pistol to his right temple. He froze, and in the faint gleam of twilight I caught his smile.

“Don’t kill me, Áedán,” he said.

I lowered the weapon, and then he turned toward me.

“Don’t sneak up to my bunker in the middle of the night,” I said.

“If I had been sneaking, I would’ve knocked first.”

“Why have you come?” I asked.

“You must leave the camp,” he said. “Tonight.”

“Is that all?” I went to the sink beside the toilet and splashed water on my face. A cold shock to liven the blood.

“That’s wasteful,” he told me.

“No cleansing is wasteful,” I replied. “The unclean may spare water and so waste himself.”

“Father is sending men to kill you,” he said. “I’m supposed to kill you if I see you. You have to go.”

There was a painful, terrible moment when I wondered if he really had come to kill me, and I felt shame at the thought.

“How long am I to be gone?” I asked.

“Until I can convince father that you are not his enemy.”

“So this is a permanent exile, then,” I said.

“Not if I can help it,” he said.

Outside the porthole, wind rustled in the shrubs and among the trees; a few pebbles scuttled downhill and came to rest. His hand went to the pistol at his hip while we each held our breath, listening for the scuff of boots in the dirt and watching for shadows.

“It is wind, Asger,” I whispered.

“You’re probably right,” he said, and his hand dropped to his side. Sliding his pack across his shoulder, he said, “I’ve brought you food and ammunition. Exchange belts with me.” He unstrapped his belt and held it out, removing only his pistol. It hung heavily with the weight of loaded cartridges.

“More stones for my sling,” I said. I took his belt and fastened it about my waist, then retrieved mine from beside the cot and brought it to him. “How did you know I was running low?”

“You never have enough of anything,” he said, as if it were a law of nature I ought to have known. He fastened the belt I had given him with its one remaining cartridge.

“Someone may wonder at that,” I said, pointing to his new belt.

He shook his head. “I’ll have restocked by the time anyone sees me. You can be sure of it.”

“How am I to find you when all this is over?” I asked.

“Wait for my sign,” he said. “Hide in the hills west of the monolith. If all is well, I will place a single mark on the stone. If you are compromised, I will leave three marks.”

“I will wait two days but no longer,” I said. I had just finished filling my satchel with canteens and a few packets of the dehydrated food he had brought. Sealing it, I swung it over my shoulder. “You’ve risked too much—”

“Stop,” he said. “That was never a consideration, nor will it ever be. Don’t insult my labor.”

“I fear for your life,” I said.

“Fear for your own.”

I nodded. That was him saying to get a move on, or so I thought. As I moved toward the stairwell, he stretched out his arm to bar my way.

“Let me have a look at the field first,” he said.

I laughed softly. “As you will.”

When he signaled for me to come up, I crawled from the hatch as one rising from a tomb. Above us, Iunia and her two moons splashed the hilltops with radiant light. The night reminded me of a line from one of my songs. “In peace I will lie down to sleep,” it went, and the melody would fall on the word “sleep” with certain finality. Now, the line had taken on the weight and force of a warning, for I wondered how many sleepless nights awaited me in the desert. A little slumber, a little folding of the hands in rest, and so will a man lose everything.

My bunker lay on the camp’s southeastern perimeter, near the woodland. The forest teemed with acacia and corkwood trees, and through its heart a stream flowed from a riverhead thirty kilometers eastward—the camp’s water supply used to come from this source until the Dagonah poisoned the head. The barren-lands, inhabited by every tribe and clan of this persistent enemy, were north of the camp. Less than half a kilometer in that direction, the shrubs and grass dwindled until the landscape shifted into a hilly terrain of loose, dry dirt and rocks. Water was scarce in that region.

“Make for the desert,” he told me.

“I have nothing to give you,” I said.

“What you have already sworn is your gift to me,” he said. “Our sons and daughters will live in peace together. Go and wait for my sign. It will not delay.”

I left him and did not look back, as it would have been a sign of distrust not to be borne among brothers. The thought that this was that last of him I would ever see, I buried with all other idle projections. Perhaps it really was the last time we would meet; perhaps I would die in the wilderness or live the rest of my days as an outcast—one can drift quite peacefully in a wasteland of variables. Tonight, in the here and now, we had met as brothers. It was a thing established in the heart, and not even death could break it.

Passing along the outskirts of the camp, I met the eastern watchman at his post.

“I’m going into the forest to pray,” I told him. “Do not be anxious for my return.”

He nodded. If there was any suspicion in his eye, I could not tell. His hood was drawn closely over his face in the manner of night watchers.

I turned eastward toward the dark, shadow-ridden line of trees. Entering the forest, I followed the stream northward, ever keeping to the lesser-known paths. Iunia, like an eye of emerald in the heavens, sunk slowly into the northwest as the night waned. By the time I reached the desert she had at last begun to set, and the heat of morning found me alone and exposed on the barren fringe.

* * *

Through the cold night I waited on the ridge overlooking the vale. I would not go within a hundred meters of the monolith. Black upon a midnight grey, like a thin void cutting across the stars and into the desert, it grew more mysterious after dark. Now, at the hour between Iunia’s vanishing and the hesitant thrust of morning I waited among the crags, watching and listening. There isn’t much else one can do in the wilderness.

Before I saw anything, I heard the mellow yet distinctive hum of engines. From the south, a black shape sped across the flats toward the towering rock while something like a small whirlwind followed in its wake. I used my binoculars to get a better look: a single chariot with a single pilot, hooded and masked to guard from the gritty and chilled night air. Behind him the drape of his cloak danced like a standard in the gusts. He did not slow until he came within ten meters of the rock; I watched him dismount and walk up to it. He drew something from his cloak and used it to mark the stone—I watched the motion of his hand, the thrice dipping of his wrist.

Then, as if moved by some guiding sense of the present, he turned toward me or in my direction at least. Slowly, he removed his hood and drew the mask down below his chin, exposing his face to the night. It was only for a moment, delicate and fleeting, and then he returned to the chariot. Securing again the mask and cowl, he sped into the south whence he had come. Even from a distance, his sign was clear enough. Shouldering my pack, I started northward across the stony passes and made for the Canyon of the Fount.

* * *

Those who believe in fate cheapen the power of human initiative. The day I went out to face the Iunian half-breed, I did what any human could have done under the hand of God. Many disagree with this, arguing instead that I was chosen. Yet, I am confident that it could have been anyone; it did not have to be me.

Still, I was the one who killed the warrior from another world: shot him in the left eye with a five-chamber hunting pistol, and only because he had taken off his helmet. This, some argue, was an act of God in itself and perhaps this is true. Perhaps the giant would not have taken off his helmet for a real warrior. Nevertheless, the fact remains that a human being assumed the risk and performed the act. As I have grown older, I have come to see that belief in God is neither thought nor feeling—it is human action in defiance of the inevitable.

It is from such acts of defiance that legends are born… No, not born. Spawned and disseminated like larva, or a plague. The people sang songs about my victory, and it wasn’t long before they were making up new songs for victories I’d never had, for battles I had never fought. With the giant, I did what needed to be done just as I always had, what I knew God wanted to be done.  Yet, an interesting thing happens when you carry out the will of heaven—people will sing your praises and forget the one who drew you from the dust. Since those times, I have learned that there exists a form of idolatry as debilitating as the superstition of our ancestors.

It is the worship of heroes.

An infant mind dreams of becoming a hero, and looks to the hero for guidance. But anyone seeking guidance from me will only receive this admonition: do nothing to be noticed, but serve God quietly and in secret. Go out into the wilderness, live among the homesteaders, find a wife and raise children who honor God. Last of all, remember that nothing is worth the loss of a father’s love. Nothing. The price of slaying giants has turned out to be more than I could ever hope to pay.

* * *

For a while he stood outside the cave, peering in. What did he expect to see in the shadows, looking with sun-stained eyes? Man is so dependent on his physical capacities that he will peer into darkness in spite of both blindness and shadow, expecting all the while to see. But then, I did not blame this particular man. When approaching a cave in broad daylight, you could never be certain that you were the first to have found it without risking your life in the quest for that certainty. The hesitating stutter of his movements told me he knew as much.

He was alone, armed only with a short knife at his right hip and a pistol holstered at his left. My weapon was already drawn and pointed; I had seen him climbing the hill toward the cave, could have killed him then and been out of sight before anyone knew where to start looking. I could kill him now, only the echo of a gunshot in a cave would carry far out into the canyon, perhaps over the distant plains. But what did that matter? Gazing past me like a blind fool, here stood the man who had driven me into the desert, who had slandered me among my brothers and sisters, who… who had given me a home and a family when I’d had none to call my own.

The pistol grew heavy in my hand; I followed him with the nose of the barrel as he stepped into the cave and moved toward the rightmost wall. Resting his forehead against the rock, he unbuttoned his trousers and began to urinate, his water spattering the dirt. He truly believed himself to be alone.

When he had finished he turned and left. If that was all he had come for, then his men were somewhere close. His dark head, slick with sunlight, sunk lower as he descended the slope. I let my arm fall at my side—I wanted to drop the pistol in the dirt. Suddenly the line separating mercy from cowardice had become a blur or an illusion or nothing like a line at all, and I found myself unable to distinguish between the one virtue and the other vice. A voice inside me whispered, “Arise, you who judge the worlds.”

Pushing out into the heat, I saw him at the bottom of the slope. He was heading for the spring situated at the canyon’s lowest point, and with each stride a heap of dust swirled about his ankles.

“My lord!” I said.

He turned and at the same time reached for the pistol at his hip, but his foot struck a small boulder and he fell backward into the dirt. I heard him curse as I sprinted down the slope—he tried to level the pistol again but I kicked it out of his hand and struck him in the jaw. His other hand reached for the knife but I stepped on the wrist, pressing it into the dirt. Just enough force keep it down without snapping the bone. He shouted again as I took the knife and tossed it to the rocks. Then I backed away two strides, drew my pistol and waited.

He looked up at me while favoring his wrist, and then rested his back against the boulder. His hair was unkempt and his cheeks were flushed from struggling. His gray cloak was yellow with dust.

“What are you waiting for?” he said.

I knelt so as to be level with him. “What evil have I done?”

“Need I tell you?” he scoffed. “You have turned the people against me. You conspire with the sages and priests. You are a thankless son and a usurper.”

“If I were a usurper you’d be lying dead in a puddle of your own urine back there in the cave. I was with you the entire time. Now tell me again: what evil have I done?”

He was silent as he looked at me, his eyelids squinting in the sunlight.

“My father,” I said. “You have ventured three days into the desert with a hunting party of your best men for the purpose of taking my life. You would have sent Asger, my brother, to kill me in my sleep if he had only been willing. I ask for the last time: what evil have I done?”

His tongue moved only to lick the blood from his lower lip.

“My lord,” I said. “Do you truly hate me so?”

“You will be captain of our people,” he said. “God will put you in place of me, in place of Asger. This is the evil you have done. Do not insult me by denying that you know of it.”

I stared at him. “I do know of it. It was told to me in secret many years ago.”

He smiled coldly. “Much is done in secret it seems. Even God hides his deeds from me.”

The sun was still high in the northwest, though above the canyon heights to the east the bald top of Iunia began to rise. The earth was hot beneath us, so hot I could feel it seeping into my boots.

“I have no say in matters of God’s judgment,” I said.

“Yet you are not hesitant to embrace that judgment when it favors you,” he sneered.

“I live or die as he chooses—what he hopes to do with me he can just as quickly do with another. He can forge a ruler for his people from the fire and the pit. You and I are nothing, Father.”

“For God’s sake stop calling me that,” he said.

I gazed at him then with indifference—an old man in a tattered coat with a bloody lip and a sprained wrist. It surprised me at first, but the longer I looked at him the more I shared his disdain for the word.

“To appease his anger,” I said. “That’s why you took me in, isn’t it?”

“You know nothing,” he said, and he looked away, anywhere but into my eyes.

I refused to relent. “You thought that if you showed compassion on me he might change his mind, because you knew that he had chosen me even then. The signs were clear enough.”

“You are arrogant and naïve,” he said.

“I only speak the truth. Why didn’t you kill me then?”

“I nearly did several times. Have you forgotten?”

I shook my head. “No, I haven’t forgotten.”

He looked over his left shoulder, out into the canyon. “Promise me something,” he said.

“As you command.”

“Stay true to Asger,” he said. “Stay true to his children. Swear to me that you will not destroy my family.”

I nodded. “I swear it.”

He looked at me again. “Now where does that leave us?”

I rose and holstered my pistol. “I will leave this place. And you will stop hunting me.”

“Where will you go?”

“To the Dagonah,” I said. “Perhaps they have forgotten my former deeds. Will you let me go?”

He gazed up at me for a moment, as if deliberating. Then, he nodded.

“Yes,” he said.

“And let us come to one more understanding,” I said. “It will be the last thing that passes between us.”

“What is it?” he said.

“You were never my father. I was never your son. Are we clear?”

Again he nodded. “Yes.”

I said nothing, but turned and ascended the slope toward the cave. Retrieving my pack from the inner recess, I emerged just as a cloud was passing over the sun. Iunia darkened in the shade, while beneath her the canyon lay desolate and noiseless but for a calm, east wind. My enemy was gone, but whether to betray our agreement or to fulfill it I could not yet know.

Quickly, I filled my canteen at the spring, then shouldered my pack and took to the northern pass. I ran in places where the climb was smooth and when I reached the rolling plains I ran in spite of the evening heat, ever northward. By nightfall I had come to the edge of the mountains where the Dagonah dwell in large numbers. There, I rested and prayed and waited through the night for him to answer, but no voice spoke to me—only I had this sense that he was with me even in his silence. When dawn came I slept as I’ve never slept, as one without fear. My present hope was to take refuge with the enemies of God, for I knew I would no longer find it among my people.