Two Score and Five

This week I turned 45 years old, or as I would say while driving through Gettysburg— two score and five years ago my mother brought forth, well me. However it is phrased, I’m starting to run up the “score.” (snare. snare. high hat.)

I’m not going to get all clichéd about how that seemed so old when I was a kid. Truth be told it seems old to me now, and completely foreign to my conception of myself. I have reached that rather awkward age (call it adolescence part deux) where I think that I can still get away with being hip.

Just the other day I passed this kid on a skateboard that looked like me five (or maybe 25) years ago. I rather cooly remarked, “What’s up bra?”

He looked at me like I was nuts. Are the kids not saying that anymore?

Come to think of it, I seem to have a lot less in common with young people than I used to. I mean how the heck can they listen to that music.

Wow, that sounded somehow familiar.

Oh yeah— that was my grandfather’s reaction when he heard me blaring Guns-n-Roses.

So perhaps I’m not the same person that I was in my twenties. And since I was pretty much a jerk when I was in my twenties (although at least I listened to good music), that might be a good thing.

If I am honest with myself I am much happier now than I ever was when my abs naturally arranged themselves into neat rows and I didn’t have to manually stretch my face in order to rid myself of these stinking furrows.

And it is kind of fun to complain about the fact (and it is an absolute fact) that hip hop really sucks! Do the kids still say sucks?

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that growing up, and older, is actually pretty awesome. And those who try too hard to turn back the clock usually come off as kind of pathetic. Because we are meant to grow and to reach forward, not backward.

My devotional reading for today was rather fitting—

So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on “salvation by self-help” and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal judgment. God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. But there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it! -Heb. 6:1-3 MSG

So hear’s to the next two score and five. And here’s to hoping that in the coming years they’ll figure out a way to remove these stinking furrows from my face without me looking like a melted Barbie Doll (no offense Meg Ryan).

On Top of the World (which is a pile of dung)

My father was a better athlete than I ever aspired to be. He went to college on a track scholarship, ran marathons nearly an hour faster than my best time and was one of those people who get real medals at the end of the race (usually before I cross the line and get my finisher award).

After he blew out his knee playing football he took up cycling with the same intensity that he had for running. Although he didn’t cycle competitively, he trained ferociously and was a huge fan of the sport. He was particularly enamored with the Tour de France.

He died in 1989 while riding his bike, the year before American Greg Lemond would win his third Tour title. I remember watching the 1990 Tour and feeling a combination of incredible grief and comfort as my father’s cycling idol rode down the Champs Elysees as champion. At that moment Lemond stood on top of the world. But it didn’t last long.

In the coming years Lemond became better known for his whiny accusations than his cycling prowess. He famously battled Lance Armstrong, who had taken his limelight as the preeminent American cyclist, over accusations that Armstrong took performing enhancing drugs. He went from icon to pariah in a matter of years, chiefly at the hands of Armstrong, who used his power and influence to destroy Lemond’s waning reputation.

Lemond became a punchline and had to watch as Armstrong rode to victory seven times, made millions in endorsements, dated celebrities and became the hero of cancer survivors everywhere. Armstrong stood cockily on that mountaintop once occupied by Lemond.

But that didn’t last either. Several years ago Armstrong finally admitted that he had used PEDs throughout his dominant years. Lemond was vindicated, but it almost didn’t matter. Ivan Basso, Jan Ulrich, Floyd Landis- giant after giant fell to doping tests. What was revealed was that all of these cyclists were battling to get to the top of a tainted sport. They all wanted to stand atop a huge pile of dung.

We see this play out in other sports: baseball, football, track. In fact, we see this play out in all aspects of life: music, acting, politics, academia. It has become almost ritualistic in our culture to watch giants rise and fall. We glory in their excellence and revel in their destruction.

And yet no matter how many times we see the plot repeated, most never learn the lesson. We all scramble after our little whiffs of glory believing that if we reach the top of the mountain, it won’t smell like shit.

Jesus tells us:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasure upon the earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  Matt. 6:19-21

But that’s easy for Jesus to say. It’s not like he was ever tempted by personal glory…well except for that episode where he was tempted in the desert and Lucifer offers him the entire world. But was he ever tempted by real glory?

I remember standing on that stage in 1979 accepting my ribbon for winning the annual elementary school spelling bee. As I looked out over the auditorium filled with at least 20 people, who respectfully did not rush the stage in adulation, I knew that the world was mine to conquer and rule.

Now I have to use spellcheck just to get through the day. And that smells like failure.

 

 

The Dragon

 

Central to our series is the figure of Helel. In Tail of the Dragon, he is a secondary character, but remains the driving force of all action in the book. He is a highly charismatic, beautiful, intelligent and proud arella who causes those around him to bend to his will or resist him.

He is modeled on our conception of Lucifer, the angel that, in monotheistic tradition, fell from heaven after leading a rebellion. It is this story, the tale of the created challenging his creator, that led us to undertake this book.

This story is so fascinating to me. How is it possible that God created a being that he had to realize would lead a rebellion? How is it possible that a created being became the foil for his own creator? How could a being, with no conception or evidence of evil, go on to become the author of the Dark Ages, the holocaust, cancer, suicide bombings and Fox News?

Our understanding of Satan is a very Christian one. In Jewish tradition it is less clear that he was a definitive being. The term Satan and ha-Satan (meaning accuser or the accuser) seem to be used interchangeably, indicating that it is either a specific being or a set of characteristics (antagonist, accuser, he who opposes Yahweh, etc.). In the Koran, Satan is a being who is cast out of heaven for failing to bow down to Adam at Allah’s behest. He tempts Adam to sin and is cast out of heaven with the human patriarch. He is told that his punishment will be delayed until the day of judgement. But the New Testament indicates that Satan is the angel known as Lucifer, who was cast from heaven, tempted Eve in the garden, and now seeks to destroy mankind. It indicates that he has dominion over the earth and that he will be judged at the second coming and condemned to hell fire.

This Christian version of Satan is our character Helel.

In the second book, By Demons be Driven (currently undergoing first edits), Helel becomes a much more visible character. This allows us to explore some of the earlier questions that I mentioned.

We take a somewhat dualistic approach to the question of sin. In our books, Helel is always clearly a created being who perverts good things in an attempt to undermine God’s authority. He is not, however, the author of sin. He is not even the first being to rebel against God. The prologue to the first book actually begins with an episode from a previous rebellion, which becomes a model for Helel’s own insurgency.

In books two and three the idea of chaos becomes more and more important. We take the stance that there is a destructive force that Helel taps into and gains some mastery over. However, he is merely a created being who harnesses something that is a force, rather than a being. It is this force of destruction which is the real opposite of God. Helel merely taps into this force to further his cause.

And by the last book, Oceans of Fire, chaos becomes a character in its own right.

Ink on the Skin, Ink on the Page

When I was 21, I decided to get a tattoo. It was 1991 and I was a third year freshman in college. You might recognize this image as the logo for Led Zeppelin’s record label, Swan Song.

After 21 years I still love the music of Zeppelin and I still kind of like my tattoo. Through the years it has meant many different things to me.

 

In my twenties, it was an homage to my favorite band. Like many young people, I used music as a means to craft a sense of identity. Metallica, Guns n Roses, Rage Against the Machine- my musical influences reflected my lifestyle- fast and hard.

 

Later, after finishing graduate school and beginning my professional career, it reminded me of Icarus, the mythological character who flew too close to the sun with wax wings. He fell into the sea and drowned. This tattoo gave me a warning about the dangers of blind ambition and excessive pride. I chose to ignore the warning.

 

In my mid-thirties, I had the first of two children and this tattoo became the good angel, sitting on my shoulder, reminding me of the necessity of making the right choices. Or at least that was the intent. Given the choices that I made, perhaps it was a fallen angel, tempting me to do things that caused me to fail. My divorce would seem to argue for that interpretation.

 

Through the years I have often been asked if the angel was flying upward or falling downward. My answer is YES. It depends upon your interpretation.

Today, this slightly blurring, subcutaneous ink is a reality check. It is a reminder of the war that is going on between good and evil every day. It is a reminder that we live among the fallen, but we have a way out. My tattoo is Gadreel, or Ariel. You will have to read the book to decide which one.