The Four Villains of Christmas – Jack Skellington, the Selfish (Part 3 of 4)

This post is an excerpt from my book, I Hate Christmas! How to Identify and Overcome Your Inner Christmas Villain. This is the third of the 4 parts of the book, which will be published here online to help you prepare for Christmas this year. If you’d like to get the whole book, you can get it as an ebook from Amazon here

The first part of this series can be found here

Jack Skellington, The Selfish

You know, I think this Christmas thing is not as tricky as it seems! But why should they have all the fun? It should belong to anyone! Not anyone, in fact, but me! Why, I could make a Christmas tree! And there’s not a reason I can find, I couldn’t have a Christmastime! I bet I could improve it, too! And that’s exactly what I’ll do!

There are a myriad of Christmas villains that have embodied a greedy thirst for possessions, attention, or some other temporal benefit for themselves. A lot of the ones I considered were T.V.-special, one-dimensional stock characters that have become, shall we say, Christmas cookie-cutter. Among the more spectacular ones were B.Z. From Santa Claus: The Movie, Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life,  Heat Miser, Freeze Miser, and the other Rankin-Bass Christmas villains who wanted to stop Christmas for their own reasons.

Yet when it comes to choosing a Christmas villain that seemed to best embody the selfishness of all those villains, but was relatable, one who is converted and not conquered, and part of a story that is generally considered a classic, Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas takes the pumpkin pie.

Bored with his life as the Pumpkin King and master of the Halloween holiday, Jack wanders into Christmas town and discovers the very different trimmings and feelings the celebration of Christmas inspires. He becomes frustrated that he can’t understand any of it, even (or especially) by scientific analysis of the material trimmings and trappings.

Finally it dawns on him that Christmas could be his. He has Santa Claus kidnapped, steals his hat, has the monsters and beasts of Halloween town build a sleigh, undead reindeer, and frightful toys, and proceeds to take over Christmas.

The result, of course, is a nightmare for the world and for the simple residents of Halloween town who struggle to grasp the concepts of spreading joy, happiness, and peace. Jack’s obsession causes him to neglect his duties as leader of Halloween town. By forcing his own followers, and the world, to accept his new ownership of the holiday, he becomes a tyrant.

Jack Skellington is well-intentioned. That’s one of the reasons he’s such a great model for the selfish Christmas villain. Other selfish villains admit that money or possessions are their reasons for stealing Christmas, putting Santa out of business, or destroying the holiday. Jack thinks he’s doing it for everyone else. He really does want to give the world a jolly Christmas like they’ve never had before. No matter how he lies to himself though, it is clear from the start he is doing it for himself, out of boredom with his regular life. True to the old saying, the story of the Nightmare Before Christmas becomes a tale of good intentions paving a path to hell.

When his friend Sally has a prophetic vision of a Christmas tree bursting into flame, Jack is blind to the possibility of failure:
“That’s not *my* Christmas! *My* Christmas is filled with laughter, and joy… and this: my Sandy Claws outfit.”

You have probably heard that phrase, “My Christmas” from someone before. Perhaps even yourself. “My Christmas must have this” or “My Christmas will have that.” Or the related phrase, “It just wouldn’t be Christmas without…”

It is ironic that Jack, who is doing so many Christmas-y things, is the selfish one, contrasted to lonely, miserly Scrooge who is often portrayed as the face of Christmas greed. Yet it is the overbearing, tyrannical selfishness of a Jack-like Christmas “spirit” that drives the Grinch, and those like him, to distraction and hatred of Christmas.
It is not just hard on others. Taking ultimate responsibility for your own vision of Christmas creates an incredible pressure and even anxiety over the coming of Christmas. Trying to make the celebration of the holiday fit a certain plan sets expectations that are beyond your human ability to control. Judging the success of the holiday by how closely it ends up resembling the ideas in your head will end in misery, for yourself and those around you.

Tempering the Inner Jack Skellington
It takes hitting rock bottom for Jack to realize he’d overstepped his bounds (he is bone-headed, after all). Hopefully for the rest of us it just takes listening to what everyone, including yourself, really wants to do to celebrate Christmas and not making assumptions that you know better.

If Jack Skellington is your Christmas villain, then you need to let go. You are heaping unnecessary pressure on yourself by trying to control the Christmas celebration. You are not made to be responsible for the happiness of others, even at Christmas.

Christmas is the celebration of the reception of a gift, God’s only Son. He who holds creation in His hands could have made the first Christmas shine with all the glory and attention the wealth of the world could offer. Instead He chose a lowly and inconvenient birth. The event was glorious and important enough of its own accord; it did not need glamour and fanfare. From this truth learn to rejoice in your salvation, and let go of trying to control its memorial.

Find out what those around you really want in their celebration of Christmas. If you live with a Grinch, you are probably going to be doing a Christmas tradition inventory, because you both need it.  What you may think has been bringing joy to others may only be bringing headaches. If those around you then don’t seem to be “in the spirit” you expect, you are going to be bitterly disappointed. As a result you may try harder the next time.

Truth be told, the remedy to conquering the Christmas villains is similar. Simplify. Re-examine why you are celebrating Christmas. Figure out what traditions really have meaning to you and yours and focus on those activities.

The reason for there being a common solution is because there is a common root to all Christmas villains, which is the subject of the next section, dealing with the ultimate Christmas villain archetype.

Playlist SuggestionsThe Friendly Beasts,  The Gift by Aselin Debison, or Good King Wenceslaus – songs that tell a story of sacrificial gifts and the giving of self.

The Four Villains of Christmas – Scrooge, the Fearful (Part 2 of 4)

This post is an excerpt from my book, I Hate Christmas! How to Identify and Overcome Your Inner Christmas Villain. This is the second of the 4 parts of the book, which will be published here online to help you prepare for Christmas this year. If you’d like to get the whole book, you can get it as an ebook from Amazon here

The first part of this series can be found here

Ebeneezer Scrooge, The Fearful

“What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

It is hard to have not heard the story of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It has been a staple of Christmas celebrations almost since it was written. It is the origination of not only “Bah, Humbug” but also the phrase “Merry Christmas.”

With the classic status of the story, its villain and hero Ebenezer Scrooge entered our everyday language. A “Scrooge” became a harsh nickname and insult for anyone miserly.  You can hear the name muttered all year round, for the legacy of Scrooge has reached far beyond the holiday season.

Scrooge gets a bad rap for being selfish, but that characterization rightly belongs to a more simple, greedy character such as Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life. Where does it say Scrooge was rich anyway? Wealth is implied in many adaptations of the story, but the original work casts Scrooge as a working-class business owner, not necessarily having amassed a fortune or being well-off.  Fear is anxious anticipation of loss, and Scrooge fears the world – and poverty – to the point of being ungenerous even to himself. He does not necessarily have much, but he fears the loss of it.

When A Christmas Carol was published, on the 19th of December, 1843, Charles Dickens’s wife was expecting their 5th child, and the book was intended to be a “pot-boiler,” a book written for the sake of generating funds quickly. There is a possibility that Dickens, like Theo Geisel, wrote his Christmas story with a bit of self-chastisement in mind while troubled by financial pressures that Christmas season.

Scrooge’s partner, Jacob Marley, appears with a myriad of other phantoms with the first warning. Their torment, it is explained, is to wander the earth able to witness the suffering of their fellow man, but unable in death to do anything. The time for action is only in life.
Scrooge is then visited, as most of us all know, by specters of his past, the present world to which he had turned a blind eye, and then to the future, after he is gone and only his legacy is left. I will not lengthen this little book by retelling in detail a tale told so often, and told so well and briefly by the original author, except to summarize that Scrooge’s redemption was achieved in the past, fanned into passion in the present, and finally sealed with new fear in the future.
Cold and hard as he is, the sights, smells, and sounds of his past move Scrooge to pity at the sight of his own lonely childhood. His heart breaks again at the parting of Belle, who bluntly points out that he fears the world too much as she walks out of his life. His fear left him unable to act to save the relationship, and a stubborn yet wiser Scrooge realizes that his fear caused an even greater loss.

“You fear the world too much,” she answered, gently. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you.”

The visit of the Ghost of Christmas Present echoes the theme of social justice that Dickens campaigned. Building on Marley’s initial visit, the Ghost shows Scrooge joy, even in poverty, which comes from generosity.

Through the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Dickens makes no appeal to a fear of God, but instead appeals to a fear of the legacy left behind. Scrooge recoils as he witnesses a couple gladdened by his death, the businessmen he esteemed referring to “Old Scratch” getting his own, the grave-robbers giddy with finally receiving something from him, even if only in death. Only in death does Scrooge give joy to others.

His fear of the world is finally and eventually replaced with a fear of a cold and hated future, but only after he confronts his lonely and heart-rending mistakes of the past and witnessing the joyous opportunities he was forsaking in his misguided miserly misery.
The character of Scrooge is most greatly contrasted by that of his “foolish” nephew, Fred. Fred’s generosity, which according to Scrooge he cannot afford, is persistent. Fred does not merely invite his uncle to Christmas dinner (which one can safely assume was rejected in earlier years) but does not take the first no, or even the first insult, as an answer. While few of us may be as miserly as Scrooge, how few of us are as persistently generous as Fred!
Are you afraid of overdoing it at Christmas? Do you find yourself fretting of the time and expense of the season? If worry and anxiety mark your Christmas celebration, then Scrooge is likely your personal Christmas villain.

Scrooge reminds us that you don’t have to be rich to be a miser. It is so incredibly easy for earthly cares, especially money, to consume us. It even seems at times that our culture seems to like the old Scrooge better; there are numerous articles published over the years defending the old, unreformed Scrooge. This is fear of the world, and it goes hand in hand with an assumption of tremendous personal responsibility for your material welfare.

This attitude could not be more opposite from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas. In the sermon on the mount alone (Matthew 5-7) there are statements such as:
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

Also consider the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) and the rebuke of one who has achieved success in his worldly endeavors. The Christmas Child went to a great extent to counsel us against fear of the world and material concerns. Certainly He does not want such cares to plague you as you celebrate His birth!

Soothing the Inner Scrooge

If you find yourself facing an inner Scrooge each year, recall that in A Christmas Carol the best examples of generosity are those demonstrated to family and friends. You need not dispose of your possessions to strangers, but at the very least we owe it to our families, friends, co-workers and business associates the time and the expression of hope. Charity truly begins at home.

Christians (who I may remind you are the ones that are supposed to be celebrating the Christmas season) have not offered sacrifices of animals since Christ’s time on earth. Yet we can still make sacrifices to bring earthly joy to others, especially those close to us. Put it this way: a little time to enjoy the company of others or give gifts, or share a feast, is quite small compared to offering a blood sacrifice of a cow or sheep. However it is far more pleasing to God, and far more fitting for a celebration of His birth as a human child.

The story of A Christmas Carol has been hacked almost to death by its many adaptations for movie and TV screens, some literally including song and dance routines. I would suggest re-reading the original if you find yourself staring Scrooge in the mirror. More than any other Christmas villain named in this book, the original tale of the redemption of Scrooge contains the counsel to those who share his illness.

Remember why you are celebrating Christmas in the first place, and for the sake of everyone around you, and yourself, relax and trust that the generous God who gave his own Son for our salvation will take care of your daily needs. To that end, re-reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is a good section of the Gospel to add to your Christmas celebration.

Playlist Suggestions:  Early in A Christmas Carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is sung to Scrooge by the boy in the street.  It’s actually a very appropriate song for those struggling with Scrooge within.

The Four Villains of Christmas – The Grinch, the Distracted (Part 1 of 4)

This post is an excerpt from my book, I Hate Christmas! How to Identify and Overcome Your Inner Christmas Villain. This is the first of the 4 parts of the book, which will be published here online to help you prepare for Christmas this year. If you’d like to get the whole book, you can get it as an ebook from Amazon here

The man who does not keep Christmas is an incomplete human being.
-G.K. Chesterton, in The Illustrated London News, December 24, 1933

Introduction

Somewhere between the time the first Christmas displays go up in the stores, until fallen Christmas trees line the curbs of suburbia, we all have at least a moment where we cannot wait until after Christmas.

At some point between the ever-earlier gift guides and Christmas advertising and the seemingly impossible task of fitting decorations back into boxes, we all have at least one moment where we sigh and recall what life was like outside of Christmastime.

It might be hearing a certain Christmas song once too many times. Or yet another trip to the shopping centers packed with people too busy for common courtesy. Or shuddering at the thought of all those Christmas cards to send. Or, the headache before going to church.
We may chide ourselves for not being in the spirit, or more likely our friends and family will remind us that it’s Christmas time, and not to be such a Scrooge, or a Grinch, or some other unsavory character vilified in the movies that are brought out for their annual holiday showcase.

Have you ever given much thought to why you have unpleasant experiences during “the most wonderful time of the year?” Are you really as bad as Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch? The holiday villains that have endeared themselves to us are works of human fiction, and in being such they are a reflection of real human experiences and traits. In other words, when we grow irritable with Christmas we are acting on the same principles as some of the most despicable villains of Christmas. But which one, and why? And most important, how do we overcome the issues with Christmas to enjoy it to its fullest?

These questions are the premise of this book, in which four infamous Christmas characters are compared to ordinary folk like you and I. They seem to be the four archetypes of all true Christmas villains, in those truly Christmas stories. They are not the one-dimensional destroyers of Christmas from countless “How X Saved Christmas” tales, but real true reflections of human characters with real human problems.

This is a Christmas book; that is, it is a book about the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Whatever past, present, and future form of paganism shall use the traditions, trimmings and celebration, the purpose of Christmas is still marking the pivotal moment in history in which God became man for our salvation. Therefore this book is written from a Christian perspective. However, even if you are not Christian, there may be some comfort to be found here.

The Grinch  – The Distracted

Every Who down In Who-ville liked Christmas a lot…
But The Grinch, Who lived just North of Who-ville, Did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

The classic story of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is a reflection of its author, Theo Geisel. The Grinch lives on a mountain overlooking Who-ville, just as Geisel lived on Mt. Soledad, overlooking the town of La Jolla in California. The Grinch remarks that he has endured the Whos’ celebrations for fifty-three years, and the story was published during Geisel’s own 53rd Christmas season.

The parallels in the story are not accidental. Of all his characters and stories, Geisel chose vanity license plates for his car that read GRINCH. He told the San Diego Union in a 1976 interview that the Grinch was “a nasty anti-Christmas character that was really myself.”
In the December 1957 issue of Redbook magazine, the same issue in which “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” appeared, he explained the inspiration for the story:
“I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noted a very Grinch-ish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss! Something had gone wrong with Christmas, I realized, or more likely with me. So I wrote the story about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could discover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.”

What was it about Christmas that Seuss had lost? Respectfully, I am not going to imply that my assumptions of the Grinch are the reflection Geisel saw in his bathroom mirror. The Grinch reflects a common enough holiday attitude in the rest of us.

We throw phrases regarding the Grinch around for anyone who is lacking cheer, such as saying “Don’t be such a Grinch.” The implied meaning is that the one being called a Grinch is robbing others, or even just themselves, of the Christmas experience.

But what, exactly, is the Grinch’s problem with Christmas? (Disregarding the lengthy backstory created in the Jim Carrey movie version and sticking to the roots, of course.) Before we can treat the Grinch, we need to identify what it is that drives him to such extreme hatred of Christmas.

While Seuss’ book states that “The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!” it does specifically cite three complaints. First, there is the noise of the celebration on Christmas morning, beginning with the children getting their toys. Secondly, the feasting is mentioned, including “rare Who-roast beef.” Finally, the story mentions the Whos gathering hand-in-hand and singing, accompanied by Christmas bells.

In his futile attempt to stop Christmas, the Grinch steals the gifts, the decorations, and the food for the feast in the hope of causing the Whos to bemoan the loss of Christmas. It is when he realizes that the items he stole did not in fact constitute Christmas – something the Whos demonstrate by singing their Christmas song anyway –  that the Grinch is converted, returns the gifts, and participates fully in the celebrations.

It appears that the Grinch’s hatred of Christmas stems from an assumption that Christmas is a noisy, meaningless celebration. To the Grinch, the Whos were silly, shallow, and sentimental creatures that were incapable of genuine feelings of goodwill during the Christmas season.

The noise and the toys can represent the bustle and increased activity Christmas brings. From late October (or earlier) through the end of December, just about everywhere you look the world is changed to all things Christmas. When you see it year after year, in every place, for two solid months, it gets old. Knowing that many commercial interests, such as stores and corporate-sponsored displays are in it only for the money makes it worse.

The giving of gifts, driven by an undercurrent of enterprising retailers and manufacturers, has become a necessity of the Christmas season. Charities solicit donations of toys, for there is nothing more sad than the image of a child with no gifts at Christmas. When you stop to think of it, the poverty of that idea is much more melancholy than the lack of gifts.

The feast, including a “rare” roast beast suggests the extravagance of the season. We eat too much. We spend too much. We buy things we do not need. Rather than joy, the deadly sins of gluttony and greed seem to be more common sentiments of the season. The cynical realization that some who so lavishly celebrate Christmas care little for the reason or principles of the holiday reeks of hypocrisy. The idea of such an odious twisting of the celebration leads to anger, and from anger to sullenness, snarkiness, depression, and in the case of the Grinch, thoughts of malice and ill will.

The singing can easily be likened to the seasonal music heard at Christmas. From sanitized muzak pumped into shopping venues (as studies show it increases sales, retail stores willingly employ it for the sake of the bottom line) to the seemingly unending Christmas songs playing on the radio by every entertainer – including those that are Jewish, agnostic, or openly criticize Christianity the rest of the year – we are subjected to an overwhelming tide of Christmas “sing” every year.

The Grinch’s issue with Christmas is that he is distracted. The things used in the celebration of Christmas – the trimmings, the singing, the gifts, the food – irritate him immensely. He no longer sees (if he ever did) the reason for celebrating Christmas itself. Because he does not see the why, the celebration of Christmas rings hollow and noisy.

Those of us who share the Grinch’s distraction also get irritated by the trappings of Christmas – or too caught up in them. We may not be driven to do away with Christmas all together, but have you ever found yourself saying or thinking, “I can’t wait until Christmas is over,” impatiently waiting for the Christmas season to pass so life can get back to normal?

You may even enjoy Christmas, and most of the celebratory activities. However, one or more things annoy you just enough to make you want to get it over with. It may be sending Christmas cards, caroling, family pictures, baking, visiting relatives, shopping, or keeping some other tradition that you don’t enjoy or has become so great a hassle that it has begun to stand between you and Christmas.

Traditions are a good thing, but like Christmas cookies, too much of them can be hazardous to your health.

There is a story about a family Christmas dinner, in which the hostess was preparing the turkey on Christmas morning. Just before putting the bird in the oven, she cut the neck off and placed it beside the turkey in the roasting pan.

“Why did you do that?” asked her mother, with a curious expression on her face.
“Because you always did mom,” smiled the hostess. “I figured it was a family tradition and I have carried it on.”
“But dear,” said her mother, laughing. “I had a smaller roasting pan and the turkey wouldn’t fit without cutting the neck off.”

Do you know why each of your family’s traditions are celebrated? It’s an important question, and one that is not often asked.
If a tradition, celebration, or practice stands in the way of you celebrating the joy of Christmas, cut it out, like a cancer, before it spreads and kills your Christmas spirit altogether.

Don’t be dismayed by relatives who complain that “It just wouldn’t be Christmas without [insert tradition here]!” Yes, it would still be Christmas without the tradition, just as the Grinch finally realized.  Any particular tradition or celebration is done for the sake of Christmas, not the other way around.

There are also those who are overly distracted positively by particular celebrations of Christmas. They obsessively need to do make a big Christmas dinner, have a real Christmas tree, or Christmas is ruined for them. They have become enslaved by a particular celebration of Christmas. This can be just as damaging as a loathing for a particular activity, because one’s enjoyment of the holiday is transfixed on something that may not always be possible given a particular year’s circumstances.

Taming the Inner Grinch

Since the Grinch’s problem is distraction by the means of celebration, ruthlessly cut out those things that annoy you in your own celebration. Sit down with your family and discuss what activities each of you likes the most, and which activities you each find annoying. If there is anything that is unanimously detested, do not keep doing it! And while some sacrifices can be made for the sake of others, insisting that the entire family participate in an activity that one of more of you can’t stand is not going to be a glowing family moment.

If you have a Grinch in your life, a friend, family member, or co-worker, ask them what things they dislike the most. Share with them the things that drive you up a wall about the celebration of Christimas. Then turn the discussion towards things they enjoy about the season. Try to reinforce those aspects they find positive as best you can.

Christmas will always come without the trimmings. It will come without ribbons. It will come without tags. It will come without packages, boxes and tags. It will still come without gifts, turkey or feast, and it is not caused by Christmas cards in the least. It will come without Santa, it will come without candy. It can come without music, if you find that idea dandy. If there’s something about Christmas that causes a fit, then by all means – get rid of it!

Playlist suggestions: Less “Deck the Halls” and more of… well, whatever carols inspire you. Music is a very personal taste, so carefully choose songs and renditions that you find uplifting. If necessary, avoid randomized playlists like the radio or streaming music services; the wrong song can send you into the depths at an emotional time such as Christmas is.

In particular, avoid “We Need a Little Christmas” like the plague. Lyrics like “Haul out the holly/Put up the tree/Before my spirit falls again” are probably the last thing you want to hear.

An interesting fact about “We Need a Little Christmas” is that when the song premiered in the musical Auntie Mame, the nephew interjects with the line, “But, Auntie Mame, it’s one week past Thanksgiving Day now!” Later versions of the musical and the song were updated to reflect Christmas Creep – the moving up of Christmas preparations earlier and earlier each year – until the line became, “But, Auntie Mame, it’s one week from Thanksgiving Day now!” 

MASTERLESS Christian Samurai Movie now Free on Amazon Prime

Just a quick note to share the good news!

Masterless, the Christian samurai movie from writer/director Craig Shimahara (cretator of Good Soil) is now available for free to watch for Amazon Prime members. Click here to watch Masterless today.

If you don’t already have Amazon prime, you can get a 30-day free trial by clicking here. This will be more than enough time to check out the movie while it is free!

Addressing Parental Fears as Christians

There has been a comment on my earlier post about the things  we as Christians should not fear, and I have been meaning to write a reply for some time.

What do you say to a mother who lives in constant fear of harm befalling her family? Especially when so many think God is the one who will bring these horrible things to happen.  It seems that God promises to keep us from much harm and evil if we will stay very very close to Him. The problem is many people do not stay there.

There are two comments or questions in this one comment to address. First, what counsel do you offer a parent who is anxious about harm befalling her family? Second, does God cause harm, horrible things, or evil to happen to those who stray from Him?

The First Question

As a father of 7, I am well aware of the concerns of a parent for their child, in both physical and spiritual matters. My wife and I long ago came to a realization that has at least allowed us to not be anxious about this: They are not our children. They are God’s children.

Every promise God has made to you He has also made to your children. You are worth more than many sparrows, and so are your children (Mt 10:29-31).  Furthermore, you can not even affect your own body (Mt 5:36) much less that of your children.

The Gospels are even more clear when you consider Christ’s discourse on taking care of your children:

Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Perhaps, when you are feeling like the well-being of your children is on your shoulders, read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) as if you were watching Jesus deliver the sermon directly to your children; listen to Him make the promises to them, knowing that God will care for them as much as He has promised to care for you.

The Second Question

I do not believe that God causes evil. We suffer the effects of sin, both consequences of our sin and those of others, that God allows. In fact, I believe that we suffer much fewer consequences than we by all rights ought to suffer because of God’s protection.

In Romans 5:12 Paul points out that ” just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men…” Death, as well as bad things and suffering, are all a consequence of sin, not a consequence of God.

A parent with a young child will tell the child not to touch a hot stove. If the child touches the stove and gets burned, was it the parent that caused the child’s hand to blister, or the natural consequence?

God sometimes allows us to suffer the consequences of our sins more fully than other times. We even suffer consequences of other people’s sins. But it is important to realize that these consequences, these bad things, are not something God dishes out, but that happened due to a consequence of sin.

As Christians, we also believe that there is an intelligent, malicious being that seeks our ruin. 1 Peter 5:8 warns that “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Despite what harm may come to us, every moment, every good thing, every blessing we enjoy is experienced by the grace and protection of God shielding us from this evil one. We do not enjoy what we can in life because of the laziness or ineptitude of the devil, but because of the power of God.

Consider the book of Job. Job is righteous, and yet it is the devil who causes harm to him and his family only after God allows it.

Thing then brings up the question – why does God allow us to suffer at all? Along those same lines, why do some people seem to suffer more than others? Why does it seem that it is the good that suffer more, in some cases?

The Scriptures teach us that God allows suffering, harm, and bad things to happen to those whom He loves. Hebrews 12:6-11 cites Proverbs 3:12:

For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,  And He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

In Romans 5:3-5 Paul counsels the church in Rome to “exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

God also allows good and bad things to happen to both those close to Him and those who reject Him – Matthew 5:45 points out that He makes it rain on both the just and the unjust.  In the parable of the wheat and weeds, He allows the good and the bad to come up together until the final judgement (Matthew 13:24-30).

My point in all of this is that God may allow suffering for a consequence of our sin, as all sin (including the original sin of Adam and Eve) affects our lives negatively.

In addition to that, God allows those very close to Him and very far from Him to experience bad things and suffering, but for our good and benefit. He allows it so that we will rely on Him more and ourselves less – for this reason it is often that He will give us more than we can handle on our own, but not more than He can handle for us if we come closer to Him.

Just as I pointed out in response to the first question, He knows what is best for us and has promised to take care of each and every one of us, including our children. Do not be anxious about their welfare, for their own free will and relationship with God is not something you can control. The most we can do is to aid them in every way we can to develop a loving, trusting relationship with God.

There really isn’t enough room here to go into all the problems of pain and suffering, but hopefully this is encouraging for the many parents who face anxiety and fear over the welfare of their children.

Don’t Comment Here, Comment Out There

It has been considered generally good blogging advice to enable and use comments on posts. On this blog, comments are disabled.

As I prepare my editorial calendar to begin resuming regular updates, I realized I never explained why I have decided this.

The idea of having comment threads on a blog is to create a tiny social network on the author’s site. Someone posts a comment, and they check back to see who responded. You develop a community on your page.

I believe we have plenty of social networks. There are plenty of ways to express yourself, without censor, without publisher, without editor. Networks like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit as social platforms offer link sharing/commentary.  Even better, it is possible to compose your comment or reaction on Medium, Blogger, WordPress.com, Ghost, or one of almost countless free systems where you can begin to tell your story on your own site or blog.

It’s not an original idea, Seth Godin stopped the comments on his blog over 11 years before I did.

In short, I don’t need to host, moderate, and control your commentary. You can make it in the public space, or on your own space. I want to encourage more conversation, not control it.

If you want to get in touch with me directly, you can email me at wordsmith@eternalrevolution.com.  You can email me if you want to make sure I see your new creation.

Christian Samurai (and Pirate) Shirts on Amazon, Free Book Promotion

It has been over a year since my last post, as I adjusted to a “regular job” that takes most of my waking hours.

But I have a very brief update today with 2 points of interest:

The Way of The Christian Samurai is Free on Amazon Kindle today through Monday, April 24. Get your copy here!

The Christian Samurai and Christian Pirate shirts that have been out of print for the past 2 years are back, and on Amazon! I think these are the lowest price I’ve ever been able to offer them at.

If you’re thinking of getting one, act fast. Amazon removes the designs in a few weeks if there are no orders.

Christian Samurai Kanji Cross ShirtChristian Samurai Way is Found in Death Shirt

Christian Pirate Disturb Us Lord Shirt

 

Masterless – Christian Samurai Film Review

Craig Shimahara and I connected several years ago, after he had finished producing his short film Good Soil and I had finished writing The Way of the Christian Samurai.  We obviously shared a certain perspective of Christianity in light of the ancient masters of the sword, the samurai of Japan. So when Masterless was finally done, Craig sent me a screening copy to review.

Visual Masterpiece

Craig’s background is architectural illustration, when he’s not making movies. I point this out as the visuals throughout the film are remarkable. If you have been following the Masterless Facebook page you will have seen several storyboard/scene comparisons over the last couple years; the emphasis was clearly put on creating memorable visuals.

I’m convinced Masterless could have been a silent movie. I don’t mean that the sound and spoken parts didn’t add anything, but the visuals alone are enough to tell the story. Too often exposition has to be spelled out in the dialogue, which either comes across as re-stating the obvious or using the actors to spell out the  plot to tell rather than show what is happening. This is not the case with Masterless; each scene paints a picture, not only of what is going on in the world of the film, but what is going on within the characters, especially the protagonist Kane Madison (Adam LaVorgna).

Depth of Story

The early Christian Fathers read sacred texts in at least three methods, literal (what the text says in historical context), moral (how what the text says relates to an individual’s life as a Christian), and allegorical (how the text relates to the gospel or life of Christ). Classical literature can be read in this polysemous sense, but much of today’s entertainment of the masses cannot.

For example, Gregory of Nyssa wrote about 600 pages in his Morals on the Book of Job, doing a line-by-line analysis of the short book of Job, applying the three senses to every part of the text. You can hardly do that with most of what makes the New York Times’ Bestseller list these days. However, you could do that kind of deep analysis with Masterless.

Just by knowing the premise, that the story of Kane Madison is told both in the happenings of his modern life as an architect, and as his journey as a ronin in ancient Japan. Symbols abound, but there is not necessarily one way to interpret what is happening on the screen. This makes it a great film to use for a group study, and should foster discussion with almost any group.

For example, there is a scene where the ronin encounters an old blind man in a forest. A sword in its scabbard is stuck upright in the ground next to him. The old man mocks the ronin at the same time as he give him a mission – take the sword, follow the path to the tree at the end. When the ronin questions the old man further, the old man responds, “My charge is to inform, not to inspire.”

It is a brief scene, but I could probably write several essays on different topics using just this one encounter. For instance, on the nature of inspiration and evangelizing – for to be “in-spired” by the Holy Spirit is a divine gift, not something another human can do for you.  The taking up of the sword to follow “the way” can be seen either as an allegory of taking up the cross – an instrument of death – as Christ did, or the call of the Christian to do the same to follow in his footsteps. Yet another insight could be the idea of the old man as the faults of Western Christianity, mocking the very souls it supposedly is to lead, speaking but not taking action.

What it is Not

Some movies are made to preach, others are made to show action. You might expect one or the other from a Christian-samurai movie, but Masterless is neither.

Masterless is undoubtedly a Christian movie, but there are no biblical citations, no mention of the name of Jesus, and no explicit preaching. Often Christian films will be so overly concerned that the viewer might miss the message that the audience gets beaten over the head with it repeatedly. They may even have a character to preach to the audience (though talking to another character), often cast as a pastor. Masterless does not lose its message despite staying allegorical, in fact I think it does a better job of making you consider many aspects of the Christian life because it does not make any particular aspect too obvious. The more familiar you are with the Scriptures, however, the more you will recognize bits of dialogue as literal or adapted quotations.

Neither is Masterless truly an action movie, as we have been accustomed to seeing from Hollywood. There are some well-choreographed fights, but there are also fights that you see building, tension mounting, and then only the aftermath is shown. There are reasons for this, but it demonstrates that Masterless was not made for simply for the sake of showcasing martial arts fights strung together with a thin plot. Story is definitely first.

The best way I can describe Masterless in terms of other films is that it is in the tradition of classic cinema or art films. It will more likely remind one of Kurosawa or Hitchcock then Spielberg or Bay.

Family Considerations

We watched this film with our six children, ages 3-14. There was nothing too frightening, no sexual innuendo, and the violent scenes were bloodless. Our 6-year-old did remark that he liked the ronin scenes better than the modern-day scenes.

I do not think it is inappropriate for younger viewers, but the pacing and allegorical nature may make it less interesting for them, and much of what is going on may go over their heads.

Final Thoughts

Masterless is an enjoyable and entertaining film, and one that has been crafted to  encourage deeper reflection and discussion on spiritual warfare and living as a Christian in spite of the difficulties and temptations of the world. It is ideal for a men’s group or youth group to watch together and discuss.

For more information on the film, showings, and availability visit MasterlessFilm.com. You can also pre-order the BluRay edition of Masterless on Amazon. DVDs are also available for pre-order.

Masterless on IMDB

Masterless trailer on Youtube

Rite of Initiation to the Ministry of St. Nicholas

As a Christian parent, how you handle the Santa issue is one of those hot-button issues. Some keep the tradition going, others see participating in the idea of Santa giving gifts as dishonest.

My wife and I have encouraged the belief in Santa Claus, and are not ashamed to admit we still believe in the mission of St. Nicholas of Myra, and acknowledge miracles that take place in the carrying out of that ministry.

The parental challenge, therfore, is how to transition those young children that believe in Santa Claus (with the constant reminder of who he really is/was and in Whose Name he does his work) through the adolescent years to a second childhood of belief?  How do you have that awkward conversation in the first place?

Before our oldest came of age to know the whole story, I had the idea to create a rite of passage ritual. After all, the “magic” or belief in miracles should not end when the idea of flying reindeer and a North Pole workshop HQ pass away.  Instead, the belief in heroic charity should be stirred.

In the tradition of G.K.C.’s Detection Club and disclosing the ceremonies of secret societies, I have decided to post the ceremony we use. Feel free to adapt it to your own use. I had thought of including it in as an appendix to I Hate Christmas, but it did not quite fit the purpose of that book.

We typically conduct the ceremony on the night of December 6 (St. Nicholas’ feast day) with the advent wreath’s candles (with however many lit as ought to be at that point) as the only light. The initiate is summoned from their bed after their younger siblings have fallen asleep. Those already initiated stand on one side of the table, the initiate on the other.

After the initiation, the child takes an active role in Santa activities, such as assisting with shopping, present research, and Christmas eve setup – although their own gifts generally remain a surprise.

The Rite of Initiation

[Name], in Christmases past, you have received gifts from others, in the Christian tradition of the Magi who gave gifts to the Christ Child, and St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who gave gifts in the name of Jesus.

Your Christmas gifts in the past have been given to you by friends and family. Some have also come in the name of Santa Claus, the immortal spirit of St. Nicholas’ gift-giving ministry.

Stories and legends of Santa Claus living at the North Pole and using flying reindeer to deliver gifts have become popular. These stories try to explain the impossible with stories of magic, and as such are not true.

However the truth about Santa Claus is mystical and incredible. Over the centuries, during the month of December, all around the world, gifts are still given in the name of Santa Claus anonymously by millions of people to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The generosity of this spirit is the cause of many miracles at this time of year.

By using the name Santa Claus – a name for St. Nicholas that has changed over time – Christmas gifts arrive miraculously. This way children associate the winter festival of Christmas and its miraculaous gift-giver with the origianal Christmas Miracle – the birth of our Lord and Savior.

[Name], you have grown in wisdom these past few years, and now understand the true reason of Christmas, and the great importance it represents for yourself and all humanity.

For the sake of those still too young to realize what you have come to know, I hereby invite you to join the ministry of St. Nicholas as an anonymous gift-giver, using the title of Santa Claus.

I also give you the symbols of our ministry:

A Gold Coin – St. Nicholas gave to those in need – the gift of charity. Be mindful of what others need.

A Candy Cane – The giving of a gift is often not about meeting a need, but the spreading of joy. Remember also to give things to others that they will enjoy.

A Santa Hat – All gifts come from God, and so we must seek to give anonymously and in secret so others remember to give thanks to Him. The name of Santa Claus allows us to do so. Remember to give in secret, and protect the mystery of Santa Claus.

For the very young, the fanciful stories of Santa Claus lend exceptional myth and mystery to the true meaning of Christmas. Until those young people grow in wisdom enough to put aside such beliefs, do not dissuade them. Teach them of the story of the Christ child, and remind them of the reason for gift-giving and celebration in the midst of winter while allowing them the more fanciful stories as well. In time, they too will join us in the secret arts of Christmas gift giving, and their recollection of a childhood of wonders will be as a cloak about them in the cold, bitter harshness of a world that denies the supernatural.

Welcome, [Name], to the Ministry of St. Nicholas. Through your gifts, and those of everyone who takes part in the tradition of gift-giving, may God bless us, everyone.

3 Prophetic Warnings From America’s Founding Fathers That Have Gone Unheeded

One of the human race’s favorite games, according to G.K. Chesterton, is called “Cheat the Prophet.” In this age-old game, the players listen to what wise or clever men say, and when they die, they bury them nicely and go an do something different.

As it is about that time when we celebrate the birth of American independence and remember the trials our Founding Fathers endured, the wisdom they imparted, and the genius of the system we have inherited from them. And since they have all been buried nicely, we have gone and made something rather different.

Here are just three of the many warnings and predictions those wise men passed to us, but that have been ignored to our peril.

Continue reading 3 Prophetic Warnings From America’s Founding Fathers That Have Gone Unheeded