Yesterday popular Christian writer Tim Challies made A Plea for Innocence:

I want to be good at good. In fact, I want to be an expert in good. At least, I do when I’m at my best. But in moments of introspection I see a real interest in evil as well. These desires battle within me, the desire to fill my mind with good and the desire to fill my mind with evil.

It’s an important plea, one that each of us should take seriously. But as someone who writes and reads in the horror, supernatural, and dark fantasy genres, the plea for innocence can also be a potential indictment. I mean, is it possible to “be an expert in good” while having “a real interest in evil”? Perhaps “interest” is the wrong word — “wonder of,” “speculation about,” or “attention to,” might be a better way to put it. Either way, Challies makes a powerful case:

John Stott says this: “To be wise in regard to good is to recognize it, love it and follow it.” Do you recognize what is good, and find that it stirs your heart, and motivates you to pursue it? Do you love to tell others about the good you have seen, the good you have learned, the good you have done? Stott continues: “With regard to evil, however, he wants them to be unsophisticated, even guileless, so completely should they shy away from any experience of it.”

Enjoy what is good, not evil. Watch what is good, not evil. Ponder what is good, not evil. Dream of what is good not evil. Read what is good, not evil. Use social media to celebrate what is good instead of bemoan what is evil. Most of all, do what is good, not evil.

The plea to focus on good and be guileless regarding evil is firmly biblical. There’s no other way to cut it. God wants us preoccupied with good – doing it, thinking it, envisioning it, praying for it, and bringing it about.

The questions come, as always, when we apply this to our daily lives. Especially as it relates to pop culture and those of us who read and write about the weird, dark, and horrific.

  • Does this mean we can never write / read a book that contains depictions of evil, occultism, or the devilish?
  • Does this mean we can never write / read a horror novel or watch a horror movie?
  • Does this mean we should never contemplate evil deeds, shocking scenes, or atrocities?
  • Does this mean we should never ponder the the morally diseased or demonic?
  • Does this mean we should never intentionally walk through the valley of the shadow of death?

On the one hand are those who advocate complete abstinence from viewing / reading / participating in anything they consider evil.  In an article Is It Okay for Christians to Watch Horror Movies? this ministry concludes:

Horror movies are created by disturbed and evil people, by the inspiration of the devil, for the purpose of manifesting demonic wickedness and evil in a tangible, visible and audible way.

Horror movies contain evil wickedness, murder, rape, abominations and various satanic content that traumatizes the viewers brain, emotions, mentality and subconscious. This is the goal.

On the other hand are those who regularly watch / write / read about evil because of a lurid fascination with the dark, demented, immoral and wicked.

I’m guessing that Challies falls somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless, his appeal can be easily seen as an indictment of readers and writers of the dark genres.

So if Christianity is about Light, why should we watch or read about the Darkness? The Bible calls us to think about things that are true and good and virtuous (Philippians 4:8). So why should we voluntarily scare ourselves? Why should we willfully subject our minds to disturbing images, carnage, depravity, the occult, or wickedness? A couple of responses:

I think a case could be made for not running from evil, not closing our eyes to it. The famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa simply said, “The role of the artist is to not look away.” Christian artists and readers, perhaps more than any other group, should embrace this proverb. We should not “look away.” Our eyes should be wide open. I don’t mean that we should delight in evil, be captivated by the macabre, or celebrate darkness, but that our perspective of the human condition should be unflinching and particularly acute. In fact, according to the apostle Paul in Phil. 4:8, the first object of our attention is “whatever is true.” Sometimes the “truth” of a situation involves the truly evil. The suicide of a pedophile. The mental disorder of the adult victim of a pedophile. The horrors of war. Societal injustices. The abortion industry and the victims, born and unborn, it leaves in its wake. The lists of “evils” we should study, gaze upon, even expose are many. Sure, feel-good, inspirational story-telling may have its place. But writers and readers — especially Christian writers and readers — who only subscribe to a “feel-good” world have violated an essential artistic, dare I say, biblical law … they have “looked away” and shrunk from “whatever is true.”

The Bible is perhaps the greatest argument in favor of looking into the Dark. The Horror Writers Association puts it this way,

…the best selling book of all time, the Bible, could easily be labeled horror, for where else can you find fallen angels, demonic possessions, and an apocalypse absolutely terrifying in its majesty all in one volume?

Scripture contains scenes of gore, torment, destruction, demons, plagues, catastrophe, divine judgment and eternal anguish. The reader who wants to think only on what is “pure and good” may want to avoid such biblical stand-bys as the Fall of Man (Gen. 3), Noah’s Flood (Gen. 7), the Slaughter of the Firstborn (Ex. 11), the Destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19), the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20), and The Crucifixion of Christ (which involves one of the most brutal forms of execution ever devised). While the Bible’s message is one of redemption, that redemption unfolds amidst a dark world that is cannibalizing itself, pummeled by evil beings and barreling toward chaos and destruction. And we Christians are called to “not look away.”

Some will counter that the reality of evil is not justification to focus on it. Reading or writing about evil is akin to focusing on darkness, rather than Light. No doubt, some read and/or watch horror to fuel prurient interests or feed depravity. (I can’t see any other reason why people would watch The Faces of Death except that they are disturbed individuals.) However, there are people who read other genres for the wrong reasons too. Some read romance novels to arouse sexual desire or replace its void. Some read fantasy novels to escape the mess they’ve made of their lives. Some read Amish lit because they simply can’t cope with the 21st century. In fact, I think an argument can be made for how a preoccupation with “clean” fiction or films can actually harm us. So while some may, indeed, focus on dark lit as a means of dark fascination, this is not unique to readers of the genre. Readers / writers of ANY genre can turn to novels / movies as an unhealthy form of escapism or titillation.

I would also add, there’s a difference between what we look at / observe / encounter / ponder and what we choose to embrace. Just reading or watching something horrific does not make us horrible, any more than watching a car accident, robbery, flirtatious affair, or elder abuse makes us compliant. Sure, fighting monsters might make us monsters, but this is not a good excuse to ignore the beasts. The Bible is not telling us to turn away from what is unlovely and impure, but to not dwell on them, to not allow the darkness to usurp our hope and resolve. So it’s not an issue of ignoring monsters, but learning to look in their eyes and battle them. Thus, Christians are commanded to NOT turn away from evil and misery. Refusing to look upon or acknowledge evil may in fact BE evil.

I appreciate what Tim Challies is advocating. It so obviously biblical it doesn’t require my advocacy! Nevertheless, I think there’s more nuance to the application than simply a checklist of abstinence (not something Challies advocated, btw). Yes, we are called to think pure thoughts and meditate on that which is good. However, that does not mean we should live in denial about the darkness all around us. Nor should we eschew the evil and horrific simply because it is unsettling. In fact, this “unsettling” may make our stories more efficacious. As long as there is real Evil, really a place like Hell, then humbly, cautiously, reflecting on them must be part of the Christian imagination.

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Stories about Christian musicians defecting and losing their faith have become all too common. Jason Wisdom can testify. Not that Jason has gone MIA, but having been in the belly of the beast, recording albums and touring with a popular Christian death metal band, Jason has firsthand experience of the toll that touring and celebrity can have on ones faith. Which is one reason why Jason recently joined RYFO, a non-profit outreach to musicians. After learning a bit about this unique ministry and Jason’s story, I invited him to discuss a bit about his background and experience, the Christian music industry, and his involvement with RYFO.

* * *

MIKE: Thanks for visiting, Jason! Can you tell us a little bit about your musical background?

JASON: Sure. From 1999-2011, I was the lead singer and bass guitarist for musical group that came to be known as Becoming the Archetype. I was privileged to record 4 full length studio Jason-Wisdomalbums with BTA, play concerts in almost every state in the U.S., complete two tours in Europe, one in South Africa, and do a handful of shows in Mexico and Canada. I continue to be amazed at the way our music is reaching people.

MIKE: You’ve recently joined the RYFO staff. According to their Mission statement, RYFO is “Working to create movements of discipleship among musicians who are outside of the local church.” Can you tell us a little bit about RYFO, how it serves musicians, and why you decided to be a part of their group?

JASON: RYFO had a huge impact on me while I was in the band. We stayed with RYFO host homes while we were on tour. Not only did we receive the basic necessities that are so important to bands on the road–a place to sleep, food, showers, laundry etc–we also developed relationships with the host families that were priceless. They became homes away from home. Before we found out about RYFO, we were always scrambling to find a place to stay, and that usually meant that we would sleep in the van, a nasty hotel room, or on some stranger’s floor. RYFO served me when I was a musician on the road, and I am really excited to join on the other side now to help serve others.

MIKE: You’ve joined the RYFO team as a Discipleship Coach. Can you explain exactly what being a Discipleship Coach for musicians entails?

JASON: My role with RYFO has a lot to do with the unique skill set that I posses. After I left the band, I went back to school, got a bachelors and masters degree (currently working on a doctorate) and became a teacher at a private Christian school. I love learning and challenging people to think for themselves. So, my role with RYFO is a synthesis of my background as a musician and as a teacher. My job is to create resources that will equip people to more effectively communicate the Gospel to musicians who are disconnected from home, family, friends, and the local church. That doesn’t mean writing cute little pamphlets for them to hand out at concerts. No. I want to help people reach bands right where their needs are. What are they struggling with? What tough questions are they asking that no one is answer? What issues are they passionate about and looking for someone to come alongside? What misconceptions about Christianity do they hold and how can these barriers be broken down? My desire is to train people to be effective in impacting the culture backstage. It won’t do to simply have them show up and pass out Bibles. They have to understand the culture, and know how to talk to people so that the conversation doesn’t get stalled out by the use of superfluous “Christianisms.’

RYFOMIKE: On your Facebook page, you recently posted an article about one of the co-founders of the popular Christian band the Newsboys who is now professing atheism. You wrote, “If you think stories like this are out of the ordinary in the ‘Christian music scene’ you are wrong.” I’m usually pretty skeptical of stories like this. From my perspective, it’s trendy to criticize evangelicals. Many of these types of testimonials seem exaggerated to make Christians, Christianity, and particular Christian sub-cultures look lame. Why should I take this story, and stories like it, more seriously?

JASON: I agree with you that stories like this tend to shoot up to the top of the pile, not necessarily because they are an accurate representation of how things are, but because they make good headlines. At the same time, I can tell you from my own experience that stories of musicians giving up their faith on the road are entirely common. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the number of “faith casualties” is higher for artists than for any other demographic of young people, but I think the unique challenges of the backstage environment often expedite and amplify the experience.

MIKE: So do you think there’s something inherently dysfunctional about the Christian music scene? Are the number of “faith casualties” indicative of something wrong with the industry or just evidence of individual instability, laziness, or lack of accountability?

JASON: I wouldn’t say there is anything different about the Christian scene as opposed to the secular. That is, other than the fact that there is a lot of artists who are “Christian in name only,” having abandoned their faith, but still needing to continue selling albums to a Christian fanbase. But that is a symptom, not the sickness. I think all musicians deal with similar struggles. Like I said before, I think there are unique challenges to the life of a musician particularly out on the road. Most fundamentally, there is an inherent disconnection that they experience–from home, friends, family, the local church and just life in general as the rest of us know it. I have said many times that being in a band on the road is a lot like being married. They have to learn to live together, get along when things aren’t going well, make decisions together, manage money together, deal with problems together etc. Just like marriage tends to bring our faults out into the light, being in an isolated environment with the same group of people for long periods of time can intensify the things one is struggling with. That includes questions and doubts about faith–which are perfectly healthy, but become especially hard to deal with when there is no real opportunity mentoring or accountability. On top of that, musicians are generally going through an unnatural cycle which swings from the extreme of receiving tremendous amounts of praise (on stage) feeling very alone, uncertain, and exhausted (backstage). The downside is not entirely unlike the experience of someone going through withdrawals from a mood altering substance. What is more, and I am sure you know this as a writer, the artist culture in general does not have a favorable view of Christianity and the Gospel. Artists, and musicians are no exception, often feel like they are on a fundamentally different trajectory from the Church, which they tend to view as stuffy, boring, uncreative, and stuck in the past. All of that, and I have not yet even made mention of the many, more predictable, struggles of life on the road–the sort things that fit into the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” category. Most fans of music only see what goes on under the lights, and they would be surprised to know that backstage can be a very dark place indeed.

MIKE: What would be your advice to a Christian musician to avoid becoming a “faith casualty”?

JASON: Just some thoughts, in no particular order. Doubt your doubts and question your questions. Realize your own weaknesses and need for accountability. The other people in your band were never meant to meet all of your needs, and if you lean on them for that, you will crush each other. Dig deeper into your faith, into Scripture, and into prayer when times get tough rather than assuming that you already know everything and that it just doesn’t work for you anymore.

MIKE: You also run an apologetics site called Because It’s True. How do those two passions intersect?

JASON: I am a Christian because I am convinced the evidence demonstrates that the historic Christian worldview is true–it accurately describes reality. I love challenging people to consider the evidence for Christianity and confront tough questions. But more than teaching people what to think, I am interested in helping them learn how to think. That is what I do at becauseitstrue.com. That fits perfectly with my passion for music, musicians, the music industry, and the culture at large. Artists are looking for answers just like everyone else. But they are typically not in a position to access those answers for any number of reasons. On top of that, a lot of them hit the road right after leaving high school, and their experience/understanding of Christianity is unfortunately very shallow. With RYFO, I hope to use my passion for apologetics to impact the culture of the music industry.

MIKE: What are some ways that people can help support RYFO and its ministries?

JASON: First of all, we need prayer. Secondly, we are always looking for people who can minister to musicians by opening their homes. They can visit RYFO.org for information on how to join our host home network. Third, RYFO is a non-profit organization. That means that our ministry is made possible by the generous gifts of people who share our vision to see the culture of the music industry transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ. For information on how to support my work for RYFO, people can visit becauseitstrue.com/donate.

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Thanks for taking time to visit, Jason! If you’d like to learn more about Jason and his ministry endeavors, can visit his website. Or you can visit the RYFO blog to learn more about becoming a Host Home for touring musicians or to support this uniquely needed ministry.

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ghost-1I didn’t expect to be talking about ghosts as much as I have lately. But thanks to the release of The Ghost Box, that’s exactly what has happened. One reader was surprised to learn that ghost boxes are real things. At least, they purport to be real things. In fact, you can even purchase ghost boxes, spirit scanners, and ghost hunting kits online. Course, the one in my novel is 20 stories high and sitting in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. I’ve also conducted two different radio interviews, both in which I was asked about ghosts, especially from an evangelical perspective.

While the Christian Church is largely resolved as to the nature of the afterlife (heaven and hell) and its denizens (angels and demons), there is no consensus as to an “in between” state and possible “overlaps” therein. Are the dead aware of us? Can they interact with us? If so, what forms do those interactions take? Or is all such “contact” categorically evil?

The more questions one asks, the further we get into territory beyond our explaining. And beyond biblical proof-texting. This, however, has not stopped us from trying to explain paranormal phenomenon. Ghosts are no exception.

Evangelicals, for the most part, have come to define ghosts as demons. There are several reasons – good reasons – to do so. One is the Bible’s position on death. “…man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27 NIV). Souls don’t get second chances. And hauntings seem to lack the finality that Scripture seems to suggest. Another reason is the fixed nature of our eternal state. It’s either heaven or hell. Forever. (Even those who believe in purgatory see it as a holding tank for one or the other.) As such, the Bible provides glimpses of souls in eternal torment or eternal bliss. Frankly, we don’t see many souls traipsing about unsure of where they’re headed. A final factor in the “ghosts are demons” position is the biblical warnings about “deceiving spirits” (I Tim. 4:1; I Jn. 4:1). We are in a “struggle” against “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Not only are there spirits out there, many of them want to do us in and perpetrate “another gospel” (Gal. 1:8) . The medium who claims to speak to the dead, but communicates a message contrary to the Gospel, is probably speaking to someone other than Uncle Bob’s ghost.

But while there is good reason to see ghosts as demons — at the least, something malevolent — the Bible seems to offer some “contrary” evidence as to their nature and existence. The most famous and perhaps the most puzzling “ghost incident” in Scripture is Saul and the Witch of Endor (I Samuel 28). When Saul compels a seer to summon the prophet Samuel, they witness “a spirit coming up out of the ground” (vs. 13 NIV). The spirit is recognized as the dead prophet who validates himself by prophesying against Saul (vss. 16-19). So was Samuel a ghost? And where was he before his invocation? Whatever your answer, the manifestation of Samuel’s “ghost” is possible evidence of another category of existence, neither demon nor angel but disembodied man, still able to interact with our earthly plane.

Another monkey wrench in the “ghosts are demons” case is The Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8) where two dead prophets — Moses and Elijah – manifest alongside Jesus. Were they ghosts? Had they been physically resurrected? Scripture is unclear. Complicating matters was the fact the prophets “were talking with Jesus” (vs. 4 NIV), a sort of inter-dimensional conversation. Still another account is Jesus’ appearance to His disciples after His crucifixion. Luke records this:

While [the disciples] were still talking… Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (Luke 24:36-39 NIV, emphasis mine)

Notice, the disciples immediately assumed they’d seen a ghost, suggesting that ghosts were an admissible category within their culture. Even more interesting, Jesus does not rebuke them for this belief. In fact, He seems to substantiate it: “a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (vs. 39). This is important because, Christians have historically maintained that Christ resurrected in His same body. Even though the risen Jesus had the ability to vanish (Lk. 24:31) and suddenly appear in locked rooms (Jn. 20:19, 26), He was not a ghost. Among other things, this tells us that ghosts are not resurrected souls (and vice-versa), which means they are… something else.

But while evangelicals typically sift such questions through the grid of Scripture, there’s another growing body of theory and research that is being used to explain paranormal phenomenon.

In outlining 10 Scientific Explanations for Ghostly Phenomenon, Nolan Moore writes about the much heralded research of two physicists concerning life after death:

Quantum mechanics is the study of the smallest types of matter, and it has led to some pretty awesome inventions. However, it can get pretty weird when physicists start talking about souls and ghosts. Take, for example, Dr. Stuart Hameroff and his physicist friend Roger Penrose. Hameroff and Penrose theorize that human consciousness comes from microtubules inside our brain cells, and these tubules are responsible for quantum processing (our souls basically). Hameroff and Penrose believe when people have a near-death experience, all that quantum information leaves the brain, yet continues to exist, which is why some people report out-of-body experiences and lights at the end of tunnels.

As you might expect, a lot of scientists have problems with Hameroff and Penrose’s theory. But Dr. Henry Stapp isn’t one of them. As a respected quantum physicist who worked with the famous Heisenberg, Stapp believes that a person’s personality might be able to survive death and exist as a “mental entity.” Stapp theorizes if these entities could return to the physical world, then concepts like possession and channeling could really be possible.

Which has led some to speculate that ghosts could actually be “mental entities,” an individual’s  “quantum information” that has somehow returned or intersected the physical world. If this is true, possession and channeling could indeed be seen as the intrusion of a real “mental entity” into another.

Some have looked to Albert Einstein’s work concerning the conservation of energy as proof of ghosts. For example, ghost researcher John Kachuba, in his book Ghosthunters (2007, New Page Books), writes,

“Einstein proved that all the energy of the universe is constant and that it can neither be created nor destroyed. … So what happens to that energy when we die? If it cannot be destroyed, it must then, according to Dr. Einstein, be transformed into another form of energy. What is that new energy? … Could we call that new creation a ghost?”

As with most of this stuff, it’s complete speculation. Nevertheless, it shows how questions that were once consigned to the purely spiritual or metaphysical are getting play in science circles.

Multiverse theory and parallel universes are another branch of quantum science that potentially explains ghosts. In a parallel universe, what we call ghosts could actually be persons or entities from a parallel universe or dimension. Stephen Hawking has suggested that time is not necessarily linear, but that it can, on occasion, curl back on itself, creating loops or eddies. In this sense, it’s possible that ghosts can be explained as spirits or beings somehow trapped in a time loop. (Note, this theory is also used to explain deja vu experiences, in which an individual essentially encounters some sort of time loop and temporarily intersects their own future.)

Multiverse theory could conjecture that ghosts are living people we are seeing from another time. Sometimes called an Einstein Rosen Bridge or “wormhole,” this theory could postulate that what we call ghosts are actually living beings traversing wormholes from other dimensions.

Interestingly, the Bible seems to lend credence to the idea of parallel universes or dimensions existing alongside ours, yet remaining unseen. Take for instance the story of Elisha and his servant. They are surrounded by an enemy army and the servant fears for his life. But Elisha is, apparently, privy to an invisible dimension impinging upon their own.

And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (II Kings 6:17 NIV)

In what dimension did invisible “horses and chariots of fire” actually exist? Were they part of our dimension? Were they part of a parallel dimension? Either way, God caused some phenomenon by which the servant got a peek into a realm previously inaccessible. Likewise, similar questions could be asked of other “ghostly” phenomenon. Where did Samuel exist before he was summoned by the Witch of Endor? Where were Moses and Elijah before they joined Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration? In this sense, heaven and hell may not exist within our universe at all (as in “up” or “down”) but are dimensions that run parallel to ours (or dimensions that are partitioned to us). Which could mean that ghosts (or angels, or other phenomenon) manifest in a similar way that the Elishian fiery chariots did — they are just privileged glimpses into the Hell and/or Heaven which runs parallel to our own.

Again, this is all speculation. I’m not trying to further any theory. I’m only suggesting that immediately categorizing ghosts (or other paranormal-type phenomenon) as “demonic” doesn’t do justice to the world framed by Scripture. And science. While the Bible is not definitive as to the nature of ghosts, nor how the dead interact, if at all, with our world, Scripture is clear in its denunciation of necromancy, sorcery, and witchcraft (Deut. 18:9-12). We are forbidden, in explicit terms, from summoning, consulting, or communicating with the dead. So whatever conclusion a believer reaches about ghosts, inviting them, consulting them, or letting them hang around is the wrong thing to do. Seeing our world as a supernatural place is one thing; validating every supernatural phenomenon is another. In this, we do well to exercise great caution. Either way, the development of quantum theory opens the door to several possible explanations for ghosts and ghostly phenomenon, some of which corroborate a biblical worldview.

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A Pro-Life Odyssey

by Mike Duran · 110 comments

Several weekends ago, one of my sons was visiting and said he needed to talk to me. The topic of discussion was near and dear to my heart. He and his wife had recently attended a fund raising event for a local crisis pregnancy center. One of the speakers was a former nurse at an abortion clinic. She did not show any grisly slides, none of the familiar, yet shocking, pictures of unborn aborted children. She simply described performing the procedures that eventually led her to denounce abortion. The descriptions disturbed my son so badly that he could not sleep that night.

I was delighted.

However, his next question left me stumped: What can we do? I shrugged and answered, “I’m not quite sure.” I mean, what can the average person do to end abortion, to stand for the right of the unborn? This has been a question that has bothered me for the last 35 years. This is how I got here.

Two of my four children were born at home. It was the late 1980s. Lisa and I knew several midwives and, after two bad experiences at the hospital, we decided on a home birth. I delivered my youngest son and daughter, Jonathan and Alayna, in our living room. As a father of four with a wife who was a great mother, kids became a huge part of our lives.

The transition to becoming pro-life was quite natural for us. Seeing sonograms of our unborn children, watching them grow inside the womb, wondering at the miracle of birth, and witnessing them develop into unique individuals, only reinforced the intuitive sense of the preciousness of human life. And after several close friends had abortions and we witnessed its emotional consequences on them, we were convinced that we had to take a stand and do something.

The pro-choice movement was in high gear at that time. Public protests, marches, and angry debates were commonplace. Veterans of the feminist movement found a home in groups like NOW and NARAL as the movement became galvanized in response to a growing pro-life counter-movement. Several women in our church were part of such a movement. They visited a local abortion clinic every Thursday to distribute pamphlets and provide counseling. After reading some of their literature and learning more about abortion procedures, I became convinced that remaining silent was akin to complicity. I had to speak up. But as I quickly learned, there is great disagreement in how one should tactically approach the abortion issue.

Eventually, we became involved in the more confrontational, political spectrum. Operation Rescue was in its heyday and started holding rallies in the Los Angeles area. We attended several events, heard its founder Randall Terry speak, and joined in as hundreds, even thousands, of pro-lifers staged peaceful sit-ins blocking several L.A. area abortion clinics. It was quite an experience. As OR members, we were often surrounded by angry abortion rights activists who were chanting, holding placards, cursing, and instigating emotional responses from their pro-life counterparts. Gloria Allred often showed up, leading counter-protesters in chants about women’s rights. The police were everywhere: on horseback and foot, donning nightsticks and riot gear. The local media were fixtures. Several of our close friends were arrested. It was one of my first forays into social activism and was stoked by the subsequent reportage in the local news outlets. Having attended the events in question, I was appalled at their portrayal of the events in local papers like the L.A. Times. The Operation Rescue supporters were often characterized as coarse and even violent. It was SO different from what I’d actually witnessed.

That was when I first became convinced of media complicity and the liberal slant in mainstream reportage. I wrote more than a dozen letters to the Times and to the major local news outlets about the inaccurate reportage, without ever receiving a response.

As a result of my involvement in Operation Rescue, I soon joined the two women from our church every Thursday at a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Bernardino to pass out pamphlets and encourage adoption. For a while, I was the guy out front carrying the placard of an aborted fetus hewed into bloody parts. Being flipped off and cussed out was par for the course. I’d seen enough of those responses at the Operation Rescue rallies to know this debate wouldn’t be won by angry supporters squaring of on the street corner. So I maintained a peaceful, non-combative approach. But make no mistake, I wanted to shock people. Eventually, though, I began to rethink this approach and gave up the graphic signs for less inflammatory pamphlets.

Perhaps the most “successful” approach was when I began searching local court records for lawsuits being brought against this particular clinic. There were many. For instance, one woman was suing for having her uterus punctured during an abortion procedure and undergoing severe medical issues as a result. A half-dozen similar lawsuits were pending. I went to the Hall of Records and made numerous copies of these lawsuits, which I then distributed to patients entering the clinic. “Did you know that this clinic is currently being sued for malpractice and unsafe conditions and practices?” was the line I would lead with. Perhaps the most rewarding experience (if “rewarding” is the right word to use) I ever had during my years at the Planned Parenthood clinic was when two women entering the clinic took my literature and emerged 15 minutes later. They returned the literature to me and simply said “You won,” before getting in their car and leaving. I have no idea what happened in that situation, or if a person is alive today because of it. Nevertheless, that was the kind of thing you had to cling to in pro-life ministry — simply the hope that you are making a difference.

After several years at the abortion clinic, I started to drift into despair and wonder whether such involvement really mattered in the scheme of things. The abortion ministry was unforgiving. There was little “payoff” in the form of converts, adoptions, or attaboys. Eventually, we all burned out and decided that the best way to be pro-life was to support shelters for unwed mothers and pregnancy counseling centers, which our church did. The abortion ministry was shelved but our church continued to donate to local homes for unwed mothers.

But I never stopped feeling that more could be done.

Now, some thirty years removed from that, I still have  heart for pro-life ministry. And I remain greatly conflicted. The “battle” is so large and, frankly, as the culture grows increasingly secular, the dehumanizing of life and the trashing of innocents to continue. The person with a heart for pro-life causes faces a media that largely ignores events like the massive March for Life last month attended by an estimated 300,000 people. Furthermore, the narrative that a “woman’s right” supersedes that of an unborn child’s has so permeated culture as to have become obligatory in any debate. Pro-lifers continue to be branded as extremists. Other well-meaning individuals, though professing to be pro-life, simply remain silent because of the volatility of the issue.

Like my son, I have spent many a restless night wondering at the holocaust our generation has allowed, at least, tolerated.

Frankly, I wish many more of us would lose much more sleep over the evil of abortion.

Supporting homes for unwed mothers and other pro-life causes is the least a conscientious supporter should do. While I will probably never again carry a placard with the picture of an aborted baby on it in public, I completely understand why a person would. And support it. Nevertheless, I remain deeply conflicted about abortion and whether I have, or can ever, do enough to make a difference.

Perhaps I already have. I don’t know. Either way, I will take my son’s sleepless night and his troubled question as evidence that one person can make a difference.

 

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Doré,_Gustave_-_Paradiso_Canto_31The recent scandal regarding the boy who didn’t go to heaven is just one more reason to be skeptical of the “heavenly tourism” fad. Thankfully, many discerning believers have seen through this long ago, not only criticizing the publishing trend, but the unorthodox biblical messages such experiences often send.

However, in our haste to distance ourselves from the fads and fraudulent claims of “heavenly tourists,” there is the possibility of swinging too far in the opposite direction, becoming dismissive of all spiritual phenomenon, and reinforcing a materialistic worldview.

There are some good reasons to remain open to, at least agnostic about, the possibility that individuals can have genuine near-death (NDEs) and out-of-body (OBEs) experiences.

Scripture contains numerous accounts of individuals who were resuscitated from death (the son of the Shunammite widow, Lazarus, Tabitha, Eutychus and others). Scripture also contains accounts of individuals who glimpsed God or heaven (or something beyond this physical realm) and returned to talk about it. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Phillip, and the apostle John all had something equivalent to heavenly revelations or a “tour” of the spirit realm. Perhaps the most notable is the apostle Paul who writes:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.  And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. — 2 Corinthians 12: 2-4 NIV

Turns out Paul was speaking about himself. What’s interesting about this account is Paul’s inability to articulate his experience, to say whether he was “in the body or out of the body” when he glimpsed the “third heaven.” Whatever the apostle saw, and in whatever proximity his body was to his spirit, the revelations were “inexpressible” (which alone could call into question the current fad of writing in detail about ones experience).

Another reason to remain open to or agnostic about OBEs and NDEs is because of the wealth of evidence for them. In Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality, Christian apologists Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland explore the philosophical, scientific, and theological sides to the question. Interestingly enough, one of the strengths for the case NDE’s is simply the vast number of them. Literally millions of people have reported mystical, out-of-body types of experiences, many of which bare striking similarity. This wealth of reported NDE’s is changing how researchers approach the subject. Though not a religious work and more academic, Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century also appeals to the girth of unexplained phenomenon surrounding NDEs to postulate a less materialistic approach to neuroscience and our understanding of the brain.

Something else to consider is the Bible’s portrayal of a supernatural universe. Weird phenomenon abound in Scripture. Whether it is angelic visitations, exorcisms, prophetic utterances, Peter walking upon water, or Philip being transported from one location to another by the Spirit (Acts 8:38-40), the Bible frames a world of wonder brimming with “mystical” properties and potential. Surely the possibility that someone could expire and glimpse the Other Side (or some dimension in between) is not outside the boundaries of a biblical worldview.

Which brings me to my concern: My fear is that the weird, conflicting, and fraudulent claims made by alleged “travelers” to the Other Side will push us toward a more materialistic view of life or reinforce an already overly-materialistic worldview.

In his book True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer explained the biblical worldview in terms of two chairs. In one chair sits the materialist who only sees one half of the world, the world of material things, of reason and rationality, of science and natural law. In the second chair sits the believer. The believer sees the material world, but he sees more. He sees the spiritual world, the universe teeming with God’s presence, the holy angels, the devil and his demons, and the Holy Spirit who is constantly at work in and through us. The believer’s world is far bigger than the materialist’s world for he sees both halves of the universe — the natural and the spiritual. But the point of Schaeffer’s analogy is to exhort those Christians who only live in half of the universe. They profess to believe in God’s power and the testimony of biblical history, yet they sit in the materialist’s chair. While Evangelicals profess to believe in the miracles of Scripture and a supernatural world,  most of them live remarkably materialistic lives.

Likewise, some of the criticisms of “heavenly tourism” bespeak a materialistic worldview.  Some categorically deny that any of these “tourists” actually visited heaven but were deceived by demons or, at least, simply experiencing explainable medical phenomenon. Others embrace a Dispensational point of view, seeing visions and miracles as no longer necessary. The result is often a broad-brush condemnation of ALL OBE / NDE claims.

Should we be critical of the “heavenly tourism” trend? Absolutely! However, the Scripture seems to teach a more balanced approach. The apostle Paul wrote:

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (I Thessalonians 5:19-21 NIV)

Notice, we are to “test everything” — that means we shouldn’t blindly assume that every supposed miracle or experiential claim is an act of God. But in all our testing, we must not “put out the Spirit’s fire.” KJV translates that, “quench not the Holy Spirit.” Test, but don’t quench. Be critical, but not unbelieving.

In their Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli list Twenty-five Positive Arguments for Life After Death. One is the Argument from Near-Death Experiences. After concluding that they have “serious reservations” about validating all such experiences, the authors concede:

“Yes we also seem to have serious data and impressive testimonies, often from otherwise reliable, wise, even holy people, including orthodox Christians. The jury is still out on this one.”

At the least, adopting a jury-is-still-out approach seems wise.

As long as miracles are possible and the universe remains supernatural, plenty of weird, wacky, unexplained phenomenon will be claimed. Frankly, this is what many people don’t like. They want to box God in, apply a checklist to discount and discredit ALL claims of the supernatural. It’s easier to just believe NDEs and OBEs are not real than to sift through all the stupid claims people make. It’s easier to just disassociate myself from those wacky “heavenly tourists” than it is to believe that some of their testimonials may be true.

As a result, we end up sitting in the Materialist’s chair.

The wrong thing to do is to believe ALL supposed NDEs / OBEs because some of them might be true. Equally wrong is to reject ALL such claims because SOME prove fraudulent or unbiblical.

Christians should be both eager to denounce false testimonials of heaven while declaring the power of God, the wonder of our world, the mystery of life, and the hope of life beyond the grave.

Heaven and the afterlife is a realm of mystery. Let’s not completely sanitize it in our attempt to be doctrinally sound. Conversely, let’s not be so gullible as to embrace every testimony as legitimate. In our hurry to debunk fraudulent claims about visits to heaven, let’s not forget that our world is full of wonder, that strange phenomenon occurs beyond the limits of science and explanation, and that life beyond the grave is real.

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Indie Publishing and The Meat Grinder

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I recently purchased one of those Guide to Indie Publishing type books. It was cheap and a quick read. However, the author’s central point left me a bit bummed. After outlining in detail her fairly prolific sales record, she concludes that the best way for an author to succeed at indie publishing is to crank […]

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Christian Novelist (and Publisher) Gets Unfairly Skewered at “The Christian Manifesto”

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Last week, the popular Christian review site, The Christian Manifesto (TCM), published a book review that generated significant discussion and online chatter. Their fiction editor, Amy Drown, reviewed veteran Christian fiction novelist and Christy award winner Lisa Samson’s latest novel, A Thing of Beauty, concluding that it was worthy of only a half star (out […]

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One Fallen Sparrow

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Joey had been a part of the Youth Group I led. He was about the same age as my son, Christopher, and they went on to develop a neat friendship. Joey’s head was slightly indented on one side, a circular scar evident in his hairline where the doctors had opened up his skull and removed […]

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POLL: What Should Christian Fiction Accomplish?

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Is Christian Fiction a way to share the message with seekers and unbelievers? Or is it mainly a vehicle to inspire and entertain existing Christians? I’d love to know your thoughts. Please select what you consider the top two goals Christian Fiction should accomplish. If there’s an answer you think should be included, feel free […]

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Goodreads Giveaway

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This week I’ll be giving away three autographed copies of The Ghost Box at Goodreads. Enter HERE for a chance to win. Goodreads Book Giveaway The Ghost Box by Mike Duran Giveaway ends January 12, 2015. See the giveaway details at Goodreads. Enter to win Share this post! Tweet

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My 2014 Reading List

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Sadly, one of the things I sacrifice when writing, is reading. Ironic, huh? By the paltry size of these lists, you can see I’m not a prolific reader. Or maybe I was just writing a lot. Either way, I still managed to settle down long enough to consume the following fare. For whatever reason, when […]

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The Changing “Voice” of Christian Fiction

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I recently used my monthly post at Novel Rocket to blurb next year’s Realm Makers (RM) Conference. Here’s how I framed that post: Realm Makers is a conference designed for “people of faith who love science fiction and fantasy.” The Christian fiction market is notoriously thin when it comes to the representation of speculative fiction […]

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