Three Samsons

Samson came to my bed
Told me that my hair was red
He told me i was beautiful and came into my bed
Oh I cut his hair myself one night
A pair of dull scissors and the yellow light
And he told me that I’d done alright
and kissed me till the morning light, the morning light
and he kissed me till the morning light.

“Sampson” by Regina Spektor

After this he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you.”

Jdg 16:4-6 ESV

He really loved her, that Holy Fool.
Others not so fortunate, but this one Samson loved
like nothing else.
In the midst of betrayal,
This sad sack knew,
he loved her still.
Loving her, he loved her to the end.

And she tormented him.
As we do Him, in the end,
And they both bring down Dagon.
Our Hero sees and lives even yet.
Delilah is redeemed.

Noah’s Frog

The day that Noah accidentally stepped on a frog and had nearly been crucified by the enraged eighth graders had turned sour by lunch. It was 1:15, and while eighth graders didn’t get recess-it was a kid thing-they did have blacktop time” after lunch, when they would mill about in small groups, talking with each other, flirting with each other, and otherwise acting awkward and out of place, trying to be cool. And failing. It was on the blacktop that the first conversations with girls that were beautiful and boys that were cute took place, where childhood friends since kindergarten were casually betrayed by the cruel-but-true story about dirty underwear and a sleepover back in Mrs. Rotter’s class second-grade. It was jungle, fenced on three sides. If that fourth wall had also been fenced in keeping them off of the grass, it would’ve been a prison yard. All it needed were some plastic shivs and searchlights.

Read the Rest…

Getting to Know the Protagonist

I had my editor (Marjorie) read my short story I was all ready to post here. It’s not quite ready for prime time, sadly. So instead of a story, I thought I’d post about writing stories.

I’m working on a supernatural YA novel right now. It’s about a boy who finds himself caught up in a conspiracy of aliens (or what might be aliens) trying to gain a foothold in our world. He’s got a McGuffin* that they need and is on the run with a neighbor girl.

But I found myself having a problem with the main character. I really didn’t know him well enough, and feared that he was a cloudy mish-mash of myself and a childhood friend at best and a cloudy ball of cliches at worse. To make matters worse, I am reading a brilliant piece of literary fiction (see this post) which is all character, and my protagonist appears even more unrealized and lame next to Franzen’s characters.

I decided to write a prologue chapter to get to know my protagonist better. I knew he was having trouble at school in chapter one of my novel, so I wrote a story about the day it all came to a head for him, timed well before my novel begins. While I was writing it I was not thinking about how it would work in with my existing story or plot. I didn’t write it worrying about tone or foreshadowing or action. I just wrote a story about my protagonist and why his school was obsessed with frogs.

What came from it was strong enough to stand on its own, as it turns out, and was a great way to get to know my character a little better, so spend some time in his skin that didn’t hinge upon plot points or the narrative arc of the novel. Just a chapter, a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

It was a great exercise in helping me get to know my character. I plan on writing another chapter-or short story-for some of my other characters as well. And they just might end up working themselves into the novel too.

This Wasteland

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only

(T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”)

wastelandThe great lie of the deceiver is the status quo, the illusion of normalcy. The Stones may have been unintentional prophets like Caiaphas before them, but they are servants of the Most High when they remind us of the impossibility of satisfaction. We were created for the Creator, to long for Him and search Him out. Our deeply satisfied lives in front of the glowing screen laughing at sex jokes and guile, thrilled with balls being thrown and caught by gladiator-sized steroid junkies realize the depth of our scorched souls.

That we appear contented and happy among the idols that give nothing and demand everything is our prison, and as prison, we cannot get out. The walls are too high, the entertainments too severe, the madness suffocating in its pressure to remain in society with the fellow-condemned. That even we hear of the light in Galilee and wonder how it must have been–even skip gaily over the words without the least penetration or fear reveals the abyss of our modern-post-modern-post-post-modern-everything-must-be-labeled-taxonomied-lives.

We need the miracle of the uncreated light, the iron that bursts the prison gates, the light of a million suns to break through the lead  covering our eyes to let us see the shackles around our ankles and hearts.

It takes the artist and the prophet and the preachers and sometimes the insane to remind us of the veil under which we live, the despair that our sinful world has deluged us with, of the hope that yet remains in the God-Man Jesus, however impossible it seems.

Thank God for men like Eliot who some, perchance, heard–at least for a moment–and for his enduring witness to this wasteland upon which we all crawl.

The Family Altar

When I attended Concordia Seminary I heard much about having “family devotions” and the importance of them for students. Single students (like me) were also encouraged to have our private devotions as well as to make use of time with fellow students, formally or informally.

I didn’t hear much about a “family altar” until a few years ago. It’s a common enough phrase, but when I did an internet search for it, I was amused to find at the top of the list many articles written by Protestants which described the “family altar” in metaphorical terms. They all had variations of “‘family altar’ means ‘devotion/private time.’” An altar without an altar. Of course many Protestant churches do not have an altar, so why would one have one in their home?

The importance of praying devotions with the family is given, but having a place to pray, a specific area set aside as sacred within the home–a concrete place–is nearly as important. Our religion is not abstract, after all. Our Lord was incarnate with a specific body received from His Virgin Mother. He had family and extended family. He may not have had a place to lay his head (Mat. 8:20), but He slept, ate and drank. Our religion is concrete. We have four Gospels, and water and bread and wine made holy by Our Lord which work salvation in our souls. Christianity is not “spiritual,” meaning incorporeal and intangible, it is of the Spirit and Truth revealed to us through holy men, prophets, apostles. It is physical…but not of the flesh.

What is it?
A family altar–a place to worship in the home is a great aid and reminder to pray devotions with your family. An altar could be placed anywhere, but tradition suggests an East wall in your home, the traditional direction for prayer (”For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:27 )). A family altar need not be hidden away from public view, but do place it in a room away from the general hubbub of life.

The altar consists of a table or a shelf on which you may place a Bible, a prayer book or hymnal, and one or two candles. On the wall in front of the table you may hang a crucifix. If you have icons or devotional “artwork” these may be hung near the crucifix as well (A recent CPH publication entitled The Baptism of Your Child gives some similar suggestions).

How do you use it?
First, choose a consistent time that the family can gather together, without too many other distractions. Devotions are not primarily about hearing stories, receiving instruction or reading edifying material, instead, they are prayed. Choose then an order which emphasizes prayer. In Lutheran Service Book one may use Matins, Morning Prayer, Vespers, Evening Prayer, or the shorter, one-page, orders for Morning, Noon or Night. A devotional writing is not out of place, by any means, but ought never replace prayer and Scripture–indeed it is of tertiary importance.

Begin with lighting the candles. This is important, for it prepares us physically and spiritually. Christ is the Light of the World, and lighting candles reminds us that what we are about to do is significant and set aside from everyday life.

If you are not in the habit of praying regular devotions, do not attempt to use the entire service (especially Matins or Vespers), especially if you have young children. Children should not be unduly taxed (Eph. 6:4), and if a devotional life is to be cultivated in them, keeping the prayers within their attention span is critical. Over the course of a month or two an additional element may be added, gradually lengthening the time spent in prayer. Praying the entire Vespers service is about the maximum length devotions should last, and that would be much too long for children under 12! Above all, ask your pastor for advice and follow his guidelines.

A Word on Prayer Posture
Stand, and teach your children to stand. We stand at attention for the flag, the President, ladies entering a room, your boss and so forth. Standing for prayer before the Holy Trinity is not too much to ask. Standing is also a helpful reminder for small children that what you are doing is special (If you are unable to stand for any length of time, obviously use your sanctified common sense.)

Praying your devotions in a structured time and place helps enormously in making this time for prayer a priority for your family. Children especially are helped by having a predicable ritual and process for prayer, and despite how “sophisticated” we believe ourselves to be as adults, we could learn from our children in the benefits of structure, predictability and consistency.