Thanksgiving for a long awaited wedding

Fran and I have been married for a month now. I wanted to post this on Thanksgiving. Because I have so many people I need to thank, I couldn’t get it done in time. But our one-month anniversary seems as good as anytime to recognize those who made our wedding possible. I’m not using names except where I think they may want publicity.

  • My grandparents, unfortunately, never got to meet her. They left a house that was paid for, and I was able to live in it. This allowed me to stay relatively close, so we could continue to see each other on weekends.
  • My parents, who supported my plan to stay in South Carolina, so I could see if this new relationship would go anywhere.
  • The ACFW writing group: We met there, writing was a big part of how we bonded, and others in the group have been very supportive of our relationship all along.
  • All my relatives and friends who showed up (or wanted to): You met her at family reunions and weddings and made her feel welcome.
  • Her parents: They received me graciously and gave their blessing.
  • Her relatives: including several who live nearby. If they had not approved of me, I know she would have had a lot of misgivings about getting married.
  • My Sunday School class: I knew church would be important in our lives. They became her friends as quickly as they had become mine.
  • My sister: for moral support and giving one of the best messages I’ve ever heard on 1 Cor 13/ 1 John 4:16-21.
  • My pastor: for conducting the ceremony and being a calm in the midst of the storm leading up to it.
  • My brother-in-law: for being the best man, for accepting what was probably the mildest “bachelor party” ever, and being totally cool with it.
  • To the bride’s son and brother for being ushers. I know your acceptance of me was crucial to her. And two who deserve special recognition:
  • A Purple Heart to the maid-of-honor: Broke her arm the day before. Would she let that stop her from being there on her BFF’s big day? If you think that, you don’t know her. Let a doctor put a cast on so she would not even miss the rehearsal dinner that night.
  • The Unsung Hero award to the friend who came to stay with the maid-of-honor in the emergency room (thus releasing Fran to get to the rehearsal), drove the maid-of-honor to the rehearsal dinner, and stayed overnight and through the wedding to drive her home.
  • To the bride’s great-nephews and great-nieces for being ushers and bridesmaids, and her 3-year-old great-niece for being the cutest flower girl ever.
  • To my own niece for being a bridesmaid, and my nephew for being ringbearer.
  • To her brother and sister-in-law for getting the decorations started and helping us clear them away the morning after, and to all the friends and family who helped behind the scenes. I know you did a lot more than I will ever know.

And for all the compliments we got on the ceremony, the venue, the music, and the food, here is who we all have to thank.

  • Music during the ceremony: Robert Parrish, classical guitar student at Anderson University, and Sylvia, vocalist/guitarist and friend from church and choir.
  • Music during the reception: Scott Smathers of Black Tie Entertainment.
  • Catering: Kellye Rainey and Sullivan’s Metropolitan Grill. The food tasted much more expensive than it actually was.
  • Venue: Shelby for making the entire space of the Bleckley Inn available from Friday to Sunday morning. It was the perfect package for ceremony, reception, and rooms to stay the night before and the night of, all in one.
  • The cake: a friend at Piedmont Tech who delivered a beautiful cake under less than ideal circumstances.
  • The dress: from David’s Bridal, and a friend who saved us a lot of money on alterations.
  • Men’s wardrobe: from Men’s Wearhouse.
  • Decorations: Event Rentals, Linda’s Florist, and items contributed by my bride and sister-in-law.

And most of all to my bride, who agreed to a big wedding and all the preparations and stress that came with it, when she would have been just as happy to get married in the courthouse and hold a reception at home sometime later.

And finally, I have to thank God. That may sound cliché, so I’ll explain why it’s not only right but necessary to say that. From the beginning, God said it is not good for man to be alone. When I was young and first started thinking about love, I had a hope of being married to a woman I could live happily with for the rest of my life, and who would be happy with me as well. I promised God I would be faithful to her always if He would bring her to me. When that didn’t happen, I grew frustrated and angry with God. I’ve always believed in being honest with God, so when I’m angry, I tell Him. God would comfort me, and I would be all right for a while. Eventually, I would get frustrated and angry again, God would comfort me again, and I would be all right for a while. This cycle kept repeating until I had had enough. I gave up completely.

“It will happen when you’re not expecting it,” people told me. How can I not expect it? Every time I met a woman I was attracted to and did not have a wedding ring, I wondered if she was the one. Should I talk to her? What do I say? If I don’t say anything to her, and she walks away, have I missed my chance? And when I did manage to say something, she wasn’t interested. “It is not good for man to be alone?” Apparently, God did not include me when He said that. I will be alone, but I will direct my energy into writing.

So when I went to a meeting of American Christian Fiction Writers in my town, I didn’t expect to meet someone. I was just going to learn about writing and network with other writers. But I happened to be placed in a critique session that included Fran. She shared the first chapter of a novel she was working on, and I found it and her intriguing. I don’t know how to talk to a beautiful woman, but I do know how to talk writing with another writer. I managed to convince her to meet me outside the group. When I finally got up the nerve to ask if she would go on a date with me, I could hardly believe it when she said yes. That was the beginning of the most beautiful relationship of my life.

And the funny thing is, we learned we had a number of connections through Abbeville before we ever met. She was born in Georgia, and her family moved to Abbeville when she was sixteen. My grandmother was born in Georgia, her family moved to Abbeville, and several of her brothers and sisters were born there. And as if that wasn’t enough, my sister met and married a man while living in Louisville, Kentucky. He has a brother named David who is married to a woman from Abbeville. How weird is that? What connection does Louisville have with Abbeville?

Our lives were connected in all these ways we never knew until we started seeing each other. And all the years I was angry at God, saying He let me down and had sentenced me to a life of being alone, God had begun connecting our lives together without our knowing it. And both of us can look back and see if we had met before we did, we would not have been ready for it. I thought I was ready long ago. But if you really want the right person to spend your life with, it’s not just about when you are ready personally. It is about when it’s the right time for the two of you to come together.

All of that was to say when I thank God, it is not because it’s what I’m supposed to say. It’s because I can see God was working all along to bring us together. It was not the way I would have done it. I wanted it to happen a lot faster. But just like when you plant an acorn because you want an oak tree, you don’t see the sprout growing beneath the ground. You can yell and scream and ask over and over again, where is the oak tree? You can give up and say the oak tree will never grow. You’ve waited and waited and waited, and nothing is happening. Oak trees are not God’s will for you, and you were a fool to believe they were. And all the while, the sprout keeps growing until one day it emerges. And it keeps growing, putting out branches and leaves, and eventually growing acorns that will grow into more oak trees. And then you realize from the moment you planted the acorn, that oak tree was already emerging.

I know everyone’s story is different. I don’t know any stories of soulmates finding each other that are quite like this. All I know is where she and I planted, God gave the increase. And that is why we are together now. As I said before, I believe in being honest with God. If I am honest in anger, I also need to be honest in praise and thanksgiving. I once thought I was a fool for believing I could have the kind of love my heart longed for. Now I know I was a fool for not believing. I can think of no words to express this whole experience with all its ups and downs except, Thank you.

And Evening and Morning Were the First Day… Or Was It the Fourth?

The Foothills Writers Guild has started something called the First Draft Society (FDS). It is strictly in-house. Members can submit short pieces to be distributed to everyone in the guild through email for a first reading and feedback. Most of these submissions come in response to challenges from the president. Of course, last month there was an Eclipse Challenge. There were at least half a dozen submissions before the eclipse. I started mine on the day and just submitted it. Since it took this long, you probably already guessed it’s not really a first draft. So sue me.

Still, I understand it’s pretty late for this topic. So if you can take one more commentary on Eclipse 8-21-17, I really appreciate you stopping by and reading this, my first FDS submission.

*****

I bet when Bonnie Tyler recorded “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” she had no idea it would be the biggest hit of 1983. Even more so, I bet she had no idea that 34 years later, it would become number 1 again, and everyone would be talking about it. Or that a cruise ship would hire her to sing it as they sailed into the path of a Solar Eclipse. I didn’t make it to that cruise, but I was one of the lucky ones who only had to step into my back yard to see it. I didn’t really want to get caught up in Eclipse-mania, but when a wonder of the heavens is observable right where you live, you know you will never forgive yourself if you miss it.

imperfect image of solar eclipse of 2017
I tried to photograph the eclipse. But without the protective lenses, you don’t actually see the moon starting to block the sun. But you can see one star.

The sun is the very model of consistency and dependability. The earth keeps spinning on its axis, and the sun holds its position, so every part of the globe experiences daytime and nighttime. Sunrise and sunset happen at totally predictable times each and every day. You can literally set your calendar and watch by it. It shines on everyone on the face of the earth… except during a total eclipse.

The newspapers said Greenville (South Carolina) got 2 minutes, 10 seconds of totality, while Anderson got 2 minutes, 34 seconds. I couldn’t watch the event and start a timer, so I wasn’t able to track the timing. Thanks to the website www.eclipse2017.org, I found out the eclipse I watched started at 1:09:15 PM. I saw totality for 2 minutes, 35 seconds, starting at 2:37:57 PM. And “total” is important. The difference between 99% and 100% is never more striking than when you are watching an eclipse.

It amazes me how today, scientists can calculate exactly where the path of totality will travel, and based on your location, tell you exactly when the eclipse will begin, exactly when and for how long you will see totality, and exactly when it will end, down to the second. But what if you were living at a time before that kind of mathematical precision? What if you were a caveman, and you saw a total eclipse for the first time? You know it’s supposed to be day, and then all of a sudden it’s night. You look up, and it looks like the sun has been swallowed by the moon, which now has this fiery halo all around it. Day has turned to night. Nocturnal birds are waking up. Crickets and cicadas are chirping. What’s happening??? But after about two and a half minutes, the sun returns, and you’ve learned an important lesson. The sun can be hidden, but it is always where it should be in the sky.

The sun, moon, and stars, were created on the fourth day of Creation. I thought about this, because the only time you can see the sun, moon, and stars all together is during a total eclipse. Unfortunately, when it turned dark, the automatic streetlights in my neighborhood turned on. The ambient light hid all but a handful of stars. Still, it was enough to make me marvel that for the first time in my life, I could see all the heavenly bodies represented at once. It made me appreciate that fourth day of creation in a new way.

Fourth Day vs. First Day

Did you notice that in Genesis, light was created before the sun, moon, and stars? Light was created on the first day, but then God waited three more days to create the sun, moon and stars. I’m not arguing for a literal 6-day creation here, but I do believe the author of that particular passage did this deliberately. Whether the author was Moses (as tradition says) or the unknown author known as the Elohist (as scholars say), by separating the creation of light from the familiar lights in the sky, he wanted to tell us something much more profound than how old the heavens and earth are, or how many days did it all come together, and were they actually the 24-hour days we know, or were they 1000 years as the Psalmist said, “A thousand years are but a day in Thy sight”? Or were they billions of years, as evidence now indicates the universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old? I find all this fascinating to study. But at the end of the day, I don’t know, and I don’t care.

What the author was trying to tell us is this. It is not the sun, moon, and stars that are the source of light. It is God, who made all of them. Most people at that time worshiped the sun, moon, and stars as gods. The account of creation says those bodies we see in the sky give light for only one reason. God said it, and it was so. And so they are not gods. They are natural phenomena that operate under the sovereignty of God. God is light and the source of all light. God’s light pre-existed and is independent of the light we see with our eyes.

But sometimes even that light may be blocked from our vision. Many saints of old said they experienced a few dark nights of the soul. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that hide God’s light like the moon hides the sun during an eclipse. I’ve experienced a few times in life when God’s clear light of day suddenly turned to night, and they lasted a lot longer than the roughly two and a half minutes I experienced under a total eclipse. If Bonnie Tyler’s song was called “Total Eclipse of the Soul,” would you have known what she meant? I would.

Maybe you have experienced some of your own dark nights. Maybe you are going through one now. If so, one bit of good news I can offer is you are not alone. Name any Biblical hero (and in some cases, I use that term loosely), and I guarantee you the Bible includes accounts of their dark nights of the soul. God’s light was hidden, and it was as strange for them as that caveman I mentioned seeing day turn to night. All the caveman had to do was wait, and the sun would reappear again. God, however, does not move as predictably as the sun, moon, and stars. No one can give you a timetable for when your dark night will end, but it will end.

The moon appears to swallow and devour the sun, but really the sun is still there all along. In the same way, no matter how long God’s light remains hidden from you, it is always there. Neither life nor death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come can destroy it. They can only hide it for a time.

When the moon moves, as it always will, the light you see will most likely look different than before. Don’t worry. That is a good thing. Our dark nights of the soul remove our illusions and delusions we once held so dear, so that we can see the true light more clearly.

References

http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/communities/states/SC/Anderson_1401.htm

http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/communities/states/SC/Greenville_1483.htm

http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/communities/states/SC/West%20Pelzer_1654.htm

Is Multiple POV Dead?

When I first started seriously shopping my novel manuscript in 2014, secular agents/publishers said

  1. It’s too Christian for us.
  2. We don’t want more than two points of view.

Christian agents/publishers said

  1. It has too much sex and violence for us (none of it gratuitous, I assure you).
  2. We don’t want more than two points of view.

I expected #1 from both to be an issue that I would just have to negotiate and maybe make some changes for them. #2, however, came totally out of the blue for me. All my life I’ve read and liked novels with multiple points of view (POV). Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel devotes a whole chapter to how to write in multiple POV. But they just wouldn’t seem to budge on that. They really prefer one POV. Even two is pushing it.

When I first started writing this manuscript, I envisioned it as two POV, a criminal condemned to death and his prison guard. It wasn’t working. After trying different things with the plot and working on my writing technique, it improved, but I still didn’t feel like it was ready for publication. When I wrote some chapters in a third POV (the wife of the condemned criminal), that opened up new scenes and characters that made the story and main characters more real to me. I felt I was moving in the right direction.

Then I tried out a chapter from the perspective of the Procurator of the Games, to get access to important Arena scenes and intrigues around the emperor. My critique group loved it, so I wrote some more. So that meant I had four POV characters.

At the time, I had no idea it would even be an issue. When I kept running into the same brick wall, I stopped sending query letters and tried to figure out what to do with it. Can I eliminate two POV’s? And if not, what then?

A sock in the gut from an author and an agent

A few months ago, award-winning author Lynette Eason spoke at the local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). She writes mainly romantic suspense for the Christian market. She wrote one novel with four POV, like mine. It was 90,000 words while mine is 76,000. She suggested they might be thinking it’s not enough words to develop all four of these characters. It was the first thing anyone in publishing said that made sense to me.

However, I recently attended a workshop through Writer’s Digest that suggests I may not be able to overcome this no matter how many words I add. I got to ask all my burning questions to a reputable agent. She asked if there were any bestsellers comparable to mine that

  1. Were written by debut novelists, and
  2. Were published in the last two years.

There’s the rub. I can think of multiple POV bestsellers. Preston and Child’s Pendergast series, the most recent of which was The Obsidian Chamber (2016). George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series, which has been adapted very successfully for television. Jodi Picoult’s latest novel, which has seven POV in one chapter. But all of these authors have consistently written bestsellers going back to the 90’s. They have a proven track record. As a debut novelist, I do not. In fact, the last multiple POV bestseller from a debut novelist I can remember was The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009). Eight years ago.

And I can’t fall back on Donald Maass, as great as his book was, because Breakout Novel was published in 2002. Book publishing has changed a lot since then. That’s why in your query letters, when you name published books comparable to yours, you can’t go back more than two years. What sold three or four years ago is already outdated. The one bit of good news I have is I found three novels set in ancient Rome all published this year. But, of course, they are all single POV.

I spent about twelve years working on this novel, writing and failing, writing and failing, over and over again until I finally had a manuscript I believed in. And in that twelve years, the very thing that breathed life into my novel like God breathing life into clay became the thing that makes publishers say, “Thanks, but it’s not for us.”

What to do now?

I don’t know. I could maybe bring down the number of POV’s to three. That’s still too many for the major publishers. Are there any agents, and maybe independent publishers, that are willing to take a chance on a debut novelist with a multiple POV story that is a damn good novel if I do say so myself? I’m going back in the ring to find out. Because after all the work I’ve put into it, I just can’t accept that I created something no one will care about.

If you are a writer, what POV do you write in? First person? Third person, deep POV? Third Person omniscient? Do you use one POV character? Two? Do you ever use more than two?

And whether you are a writer or reader, what do you think about this situation? Are publishers right that multiple POV novels don’t sell any more (unless you are an established bestseller)? Or are they misreading the market? I would love to hear your comments.

_______

In the meantime, we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. I wrote a short story imagining them meeting in heaven called “A Requiem for Two.” It’s available on Kindle for only $0.99. And it’s only one Point of View (Princess Diana) in case you were wondering. If you like it, I would so appreciate a rating or review.

Tooting my own horn

Just found out I won third place in the competition for the Gus Wentz Prize, sponsored by the Foothills Writers Guild. The contest was for an essay of 750 – 1,000 words. My entry was originally a blog post I called How I Blew my Pastor’s Mind.
Hope you don’t mind my tooting my own horn a little. And no, I am not above enjoying awards and accolades. I imagine the acceptance speech I will give one day for a Pulitzer or a National Book Award. When you write and publish, even if it’s a blog, you want to know someone is reading and appreciates it. So any recognition, big or small, even a like or comment, encourages us. If you know a writer, show them a little love.

Writing Devotion, 1 Sam 17:49

I was asked to give a devotional for the June 24, 2017 meeting of the South Carolina chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). The pattern they prefer is 1) a bible verse, 2) reflection from personal testimony or other illustration, 3) a lesson learned or life application, and 4) a prayer. I chose to draw from the story of David and Goliath.

***

David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground (1 Sam 17:49).

I remember when the writing bug bit me. I thought about Jesus and the sinful woman, and something stirred in me. I grabbed a pen and notebook and started writing the story as if Jesus were telling it. I didn’t think about it. I wouldn’t even have attempted it if I had. But somehow the story just flowed out of me. I looked at it and realized I had to be a writer.

After that, it was like I was on a writer’s high. I wrote constantly and thought everything on the pages was brilliant. I would write, look at it, and I was like, “I can’t believe I wrote this.”

Some months later, the high wore off. As I studied more about what makes good writing, I found my clever turns of phrase were really clichés. My profound comments on the human condition were breaking connection with my POV character. My masterpieces were filled with rookie mistakes. Weak verbs, info-dumps, irrelevant details, characters that were spokespersons for my beliefs rather than real people, not enough emotion and suspense, too much internal dialogue, tell don’t show. And I looked at it, and I was like, “I can’t believe I wrote this.” Not in the good way. I was writing, but I still had a lot to learn about the craft of writing publishable stories.

We’ve all heard the story of David and Goliath. Do you remember that when David told Saul he would fight the giant, Saul gave him his armor and weapons? And what happened? That’s right. He did not take it. The armor probably didn’t fit. Don’t forget Saul was the tallest man in Israel. That’s why they wanted him to be king. And David had never worn armor or used a sword or spear. So he went into the fight with what he knew, a sling and five smooth stones from the brook.

david and goliath

But after that initial glory, David would be called upon to lead the armies of Israel. He had to learn new skills and techniques. He had to learn how to speak in a commanding and inspiring manner, make battle plans, lead marches, choose terrain for battle, maneuver units to outflank the enemy, coordinate infantry, chariots, and slingers, and start wearing the armor and using the sword and spear he had not been ready to use against Goliath.

As writers, we will probably never be called upon to lead armies or kill giants. Unless we want to write stories about them. But like David, this calling to be a writer will require we learn new skills and concepts like, plotting, characterization, style, dialogue, creating scenes, how to work in description and backstory without bringing the action to a screeching halt, and what exactly does “Show don’t tell” mean?

So if you find yourself annoyed with all the technical stuff about writing, think about David. He may have had moments when he pined for his sling and a giant to take down. But after Goliath, there were no more giants. If he was going to make the transition from baddest slinger in the Middle East to commander of the armies and eventually to king of Israel, it was time to put his sling down, put his armor on, and practice with his sword and shield. And also like David, whatever new adventures writing brings you, keep your faith in God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your gift of the written word. Bless this ACFW chapter to train and equip these people gathered here to make the most of their gift and calling, so that we may point others to the light of Christ. And it’s in his name we pray. Amen.

_____

Amazon Author page

New Article Published

My next publication credit can be seen online. It’s about a man who purchased some former slave dwellings to preserve them and make them a living piece of history. It’s published in the Anderson Independent Mail.

Former Anderson man trying to preserve a piece of city’s history

The article begins…

While he was growing up in downtown Anderson, Herman Keith Jr. did not know just a few blocks away from him were four houses believed to be the homes of former slaves.

When Keith, now an adjunct professor at Claflin University in Orangeburg, found out about the homes, he saw an opportunity.


Published!

It’s been a good week. I made two of my short stories available on Kindle for only 99 cents. One is called “Many Waters.” It tells Luke’s story of the Sinful Woman (7:36-50) from Jesus’ perspective. I think I must have been crazy to do that. The Preface tells the story how I came to make such a bold move. I included an Epilogue with some FAQ’s from people who have read it.

The other is also one I wrote years ago. This year is the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. Since they died within a few days of each other, I wondered what it would be like if they met in heaven. It’s called “A Requiem for Two.”

I also picked up an issue of Anderson Magazine (several, actually) that ran my story “Church Street Heritage Project: Looking Forward by Looking Back.” I wish I could give you a link to it, but it’s not available on the website yet. Anyway, if you’re in Anderson, South Carolina, the May/June issue is available now.

Fairy Tales And Kids

Midtown Psychiatry and TMS Center

Psychiatrist for Children HoustonThe Importance of Fairy Tales and Folk Stories in Fostering An Emotionally Healthy Child

A subject of interest for me is the role of fairytales and folk stories in bringing out and nourishing children’s spirituality.

There are many reasons why I think fairy tales are good for kids development. This article outlines just a few. Fairy Tales do the following:

  • Teach right from wrong

  • Help children deal with emotions

  • Foster imagination

  • Develop cultural literacy introducing them to different cultures

  • Develop critical thinking skills

  • They are fun!

Parents have a great opportunity when their kids are young to help them learn about people, the world, and themselves. Fairy tales provide kids the chance to put themselves in the shoes of the characters, which allow children and begin to develop essential decision-making skills. These are skills that will help children throughout their lives.

The Role Of Myths And Fairy Tales

Myths and…

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Enemy of God, by Bernard Cornwell. A Review.

This is a book review for Bernard Cornwell’s Enemy of God: A Novel of Arthur. It is the second in a series called The Warlord Chronicles or sometimes the Arthur Books. Notice it does not say King Arthur. Cornwell has a different take on these legends and characters. I really enjoyed this book, and I am giving it a five star rating. This review does have a few plot spoilers, but I will keep them as vague as possible.

Cover image of the book Enemy of God by Bernard Cornwell

Five Star Rating

There was so much I liked about it. I liked being in England in the Dark Ages – or what we now call the Dark Ages – at a time when Christianity was not yet the dominant religion in England but was a rising force. It was also a time when people still believed in magic, spells and charms, and sometimes believing in it might have been enough to make wondrous things happen.

Cornwell pulls off two difficult moves. First, presenting “the truth behind the legend” in a plausible fashion. He recreates these characters and stories as they were before they got embellished and whitewashed, or as Arthur says, “Before we paid the bards to make our squalid victories into great triumphs, and sometimes we even believe the lies they sing to us.” As an aspiring author, I was impressed with this. Second, he doesn’t lose me when normally I would be thinking, wait that’s not how Lancelot is supposed to be, or wait, Arthur is supposed to be king. He stopped those responses from me even before they began. I think the reason is the narrator. He tells this story through Derfel (pronounced Der-vel), a knight and close friend of Arthur. Derfel is now an old man, and he is telling the story as he remembered it. Incidentally, it was the same way Anita Diamant was able to change the Old Testament story of Dinah in The Red Tent.

There is one disadvantage in this approach. You lose some suspense. When Derfel is in a dangerous situation, you already know he’s going to survive because he’s alive to tell the tale. But I think what he gains in believability makes it worth the trade off. I don’t know any other way Cornwell could make changes in such a familiar story. Using an older Derfel as the narrator makes it plausible because he has the credibility of an eyewitness. It also makes it more interesting in some ways, because you know some details are going to be the same and some different. You’re constantly watching to see how the “real” story compares with the legend.

I haven’t said King Arthur because Arthur is not a king. Mordred is the king of Dumnonia and Arthur’s half-nephew (if there is such a term). Arthur and Derfel are charged with protecting the boy Mordred and keeping order until he is old enough to rule as king. Derfel and others who follow Arthur think he should be king, while Arthur dreams of a quiet retirement as a farmer. Guinevere, on the other hand, wishes Arthur had more ambition. Her drive for power is going to have more impact on the story than you will imagine.

Lancelot is a king and far from being a hero or the greatest knight of Arthur’s roundtable. Merlin is a druid, and he is trying to recover the treasures of Britain. He takes Derfel on a quest to find one of those treasures, a magic cauldron. Merlin believes if the treasures are recovered, the old gods of Britain will walk the earth again.

And it’s not just the old gods that have a stake in Britain’s future. Because of leftover Roman influence, some foreign gods are still worshipped. Guinevere is a worshiper of Isis. Derfel is a Christian but belongs to a society of Mithras. And some Christians are especially troublesome because this story takes place between 490 and 496, and they believe 500 is the year of Armageddon. They believe they must get the world ready for the return of the Lord. In order to do that, they try to rid Britain of all traces of paganism. They go around destroying temples, burning villages, and torturing and killing pagans. They try to purify themselves by self-flagellation.

The Christians are not all bad, but they are often not the good guys in this story. And we have to be willing to admit, historically, that has often been the case. However, I think more than a knock on Christianity, it illustrates that when people believe the world is about to end, they will do things they would not do otherwise.

Arthur is caught in the middle between the traditional religion and Christianity. He is a Christian but does not take up the cause against the pagans. Because of this, Christian extremists call him the enemy of God, hence the title of the book. Instead of a religious crusade, Arthur wants to create a national identity for the Britons so they can unite against foreign invaders, like the Saxons and the Belgians. He creates the roundtable toward this end, though most of the names we are familiar with are missing.

Oh yes, the names. They are difficult. Because Arthurian legends were originally Welsh stories, Cornwell decided to keep most of the Welsh names for an authentic feel. Once you get past familiar ones like Arthur, Merlin, and Guinevere, the names are almost impossible to pronounce. I run into the same problem writing about Rome. The most common complaint I get is, These Roman names are difficult to read. And let me tell you, Roman names are child’s play compared to Welsh names. So I suggest the same trick many people use for Biblical names: Just make something up and move on. No one will care that you cheated.

But what really thrilled me was what Lancelot did to try to claim the throne of Dumnonia away from Mordred. Up until then, I would have given it four stars. It was a great story, well written, and I was enjoying it, but when that happened, holy crap! That was a twist worthy of Game of Thrones. That’s when it became a five star novel for me.

I mentioned this is the second book in a series. I haven’t read the rest of the series yet. So why did I read the second book first, you ask? I am part of an online book club of Ancient and Medieval Historical Fiction. Last year, the theme was “second book.” One thing I’ve learned in this experience is with some series, you can read books out of order, and you don’t lose much. The second thing is sometimes the second book is better than the first, so the first book of a series may not always give you the best of what an author has to offer. So far, I’ve found this to be true of the Roma Sub Rosa series and the Saxon Tales series.

I see two reasons for this. First, I think sometimes the author becomes a better writer after the second book. There are lessons learned from that experience that you can carry with you when you write your second book. Second, in some cases, the main characters become better developed as the series progresses. I definitely thought that was true of the Harry Potter series. I know some H. P. fans are going to disagree with me, but I liked the books toward the end better than the ones in the beginning. I saw J. K. Rowling’s writing style and storytelling technique get better with each book, and what she did with the final book, Deathly Hallows, was absolutely amazing.

So now I’m not sure if I want to read the first book of this series or not. But if you are interested, volume 1 is called The Winter King, and volume 3 is called Excalibur, which I will be reading as soon as I can fit it into my schedule.

J. C. and the 12 O.G.’s (Mk 3:13-19a; Mat 10:1-4; Lk 6:12-16)

In the 1980’s, I loved Carman. He had a sense of humor, and early in his career, he said he wrote some songs that weren’t accepted by mainline Christianity because they were, in his own words, “a little off the wall.” This post is going to be a little off the wall. I hope you can handle it.

As someone who believes Christianity was originally nonviolent, and should still be, you might be surprised if I make a comparison between gangs and early Christians. I might not have the “street cred” for this. I was never in a gang. My only experience with them is through TV, movies, and news reports. However, like today’s street and motorcycle gangs, Christianity was sometimes an illegal organization in its early days.

In previous posts, I have talked about my novel manuscript that has not yet been published. (Maybe it’s a little off the wall). A major theme in the story has to do with persecution. How did the church continue to not only survive but grow when just being a Christian could get you tortured and killed? I think I got a few insights from watching Gangland and Sons of Anarchy. Gangs create a culture that encourages extreme loyalty that will stand up to prison, torture, and death.

Image of Sons of Anarchy cast members Kim Coates, Charlie Hunnmam, and Tommy Flanagan

The main rules you must accept to be part of any gang:

  1. Respect the O.G.’s
  2. Gang before everything, even family.
  3. Brotherhood: Intense love for each other.
  4. No snitching.
  5. Make some friends outside the gang.
  6. Never let a rival gang disrespect you.
  7. Recruit new members, but be careful.

The early church used these same tactics. I’m not saying they were a gang literally, but I think in some ways they had to have a gangster mentality. Let’s compare how this looks in gangs versus first century Christianity.

1. Respect the O.G.’s

O.G. stands for Original Gangster. Every gang has its founders, i.e. O.G.’s, and you must respect them. The Twelve O.G.’s of Christianity were the twelve apostles in the scripture references above.

2. Gang before everything, even your life and family.

Gangs make it clear up front you must give them your ultimate loyalty. The gang comes before your wife, your kids, your job, your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your life, everything and everyone. The church wouldn’t expect you to put them above your own life and family, would they? Well, how do you explain verses like this?

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Mat 10:37).

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it (Mark 8:35).

Their loyalty to Christ had to be absolute. Their loyalty to each other had to be absolute. Your family might turn you in to authorities – whether the Sanhedrin or the Romans – but your brothers and sisters in Christ never will.

The authorities might threaten not only your life but your family’s lives as well. You had to remain strong. That was the only way to ensure the gang could continue after you were gone.

3. Brotherhood: Intense love for each other

In Sons of Anarchy, which is clearly modeled after the Hell’s Angels, they talk all the time about being a brotherhood. They will say to each other, “I love you, my brother.” There aren’t many places where men declare their love for each other without afterward saying, “But I’m not gay.” Being a part of a brotherhood like that is definitely part of the attraction of gangs for young men.

John’s Gospel and epistles give some of the most succinct expressions of brotherly love:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34).

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1Jn 4:20).

Their loyalty to Christ was directly tied to loyalty to one another. He died for us, so we have to be willing to die for each other. That formed the basis of their brotherhood. And yes, sisterhood too.

4. No snitching

Have you heard snitches get stitches? Gangs punish betrayal severely. In gangs, if you rat, you die.

Remember how I said earlier your brothers and sisters in Christ will never rat you out? The flip side of that coin is you’d better not rat them out. The worst name you could be called was Judas, the mother of all rats. To most gangs, it would be unthinkable to let a rat live. To the church, killing was forbidden. However, the church had another punishment that was even worse: “Leave it to the wrath of God… ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay,’ saith the LORD” (Rom 12:19).

How would God repay? Hell was certain, unless like Paul, you repented. Death comes to everyone, and after that, judgment. If you turn in your fellow Christians to the authorities, knowing they are going to be tortured and probably killed, do you want to face God on the judgment seat after that? I don’t think so.

Why such severe punishment? Think about the situation they’re in. The authorities can use severe punishment to coerce testimony against you and your gang. You hope your brotherly love will keep them loyal under any duress. But just in case, you need punishment even more severe to be sure they keep their mouths shut.

5. Make friends outside the gang

In Sons of Anarchy, they had people in their pocket who could help them in ways people inside the gang could not. If they were in a bind with the authorities, they had people they could call in favors from: A sheriff, a police chief, a few deputies, a few prison guards, a few businessmen, a city council member. Now think about that when you see a verse like this.

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward (Mat 10:42).

What does that mean? Are you a Christian? Ok, then, I’ll give you this water. Why would anyone do that?

Is he talking about Christians giving to Christians? That’s the only case where giving to someone because he’s a Christian makes sense. Why would a non-Christian give to a Christian because he’s a Christian?

This verse did not make any sense to me until I thought about how gangs have friends on the outside. Maybe this is referring to friendships cultivated with outsiders. Maybe there were some people who saw their persecution and were sympathetic to them. During the Holocaust, there were some Gentiles who helped Jews because they were Jews. They hid them and did what they could to help them survive. I think Christians had friends like these when they were persecuted as well.

6. Never let a rival gang disrespect you.

The Sons of Anarchy were constantly in tension with, or outright war against, other gangs in the area. Someone in another gang disrespects them or kills one of their own, it’s war. Literally. At one point, I had to stop watching because there was too much blood and guts. I don’t mind realism, but it was getting excessive, and innocent people died too often just from doing their job or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What does that have to do with the first century church? Early Christianity was not monolithic, as we tend to think. The orthodox, or “correct,” version had not yet been established. There were rival factions, and I think some sects were not above using the authorities to remove some they thought of as heretical. Consider this.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God (1Jn 4:2-3a).

I don’t think we should take this literally, because I have seen and met some people who believe all the right doctrines and are not from God. You can talk to just about any KKK member and ask,

Do you believe in God almighty, maker of heaven and earth?

Yes.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son and our Lord?

Yes.

Do you believe Jesus Christ came to earth in the flesh?

Yes.

Do you believe white people have to keep uppity [N-word] in their place?

Yes.

That spirit is definitely not of God. Why would this or any one specific doctrine be some absolute standard of trustworthiness? Like one of my professors said, “Right beliefs, right confessions, and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee in the coffee shop in Sheol.”

Maybe there’s something else going on in John’s community that’s not immediately obvious almost 2000 years later. We know from the New Testament and other literature of the time there were some Christian sects who did not believe Jesus was a flesh-and-blood human being. They believed he was a pure divine spirit who appeared in human form, sort of like Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Image of Q as a judge
Caption: It’s not like I’m an all-powerful space entity or anything, but — Oh, wait! I AM an all-powerful space entity!

To John, the community’s O.G., it was very important that Jesus was a real flesh-and-blood human being. I’d like to propose that John was talking about not just a theological dispute but also a way to identify a separate sect, i.e., a rival gang. Saying Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh would be like a red bandana to a Crip or a blue bandana to a Blood.

John’s message to his community is, “They may call themselves Christians and preach about Jesus, but if they don’t believe like we do, they don’t belong to us.” In an environment where Christians are part of something illegal, they need to know who they can trust. That gang over there, they may look and talk like us, but they are not us. You can’t trust them.

7. Recruit new members, but be careful

People die in gangs: From old age (if you’re lucky), but more likely from being killed by police or rival gangs. This outflow makes it necessary to recruit new members. But how do you recruit for something like that? You can’t run an ad saying, “Anyone want to join an outlaw motorcycle gang? Meet us on the corner of 5th and Oak Street.”

They can only take people they know will not betray them. They need people who will follow their rules. Most people only get in if a member recommends them, though occasionally someone might be able to approach them, especially if they have a useful skill.

But getting in doesn’t mean you are a member. First, you are granted “hangaround” status, which means what it implies. If a member is willing to sponsor you (absolutely necessary), you have the right to “hang around” the gang and show you know your place. After a while, you may be upgraded to Prospect. This is the time when you prove your loyalty by doing anything a gang member says, from guarding bikes while the gang members party and cleaning up afterwards to criminal activity, even murder. Only when the gang is satisfied you’ve proven your loyalty will they accept you as a full member, and the vote has to be unanimous.

The early church wouldn’t have people run drugs or murder anyone, but there were times they had to be careful about who they let in. They needed to know any new members would be loyal to them, no matter what. I don’t have texts to prove this, but I believe early Christian communities had an initiation period where people would have “hangaround” or “prospect” status before being accepted as members. They would be instructed in their most basic beliefs – as much as they could tell, and probably emphasizing that they accepted the authority of Rome in earthly matters, while Christ is Lord over spiritual matters (Just in case they were spies for the Roman government). They would be encouraged to “count the cost,” because Rome did not always accept their distinction between earthly and spiritual Lordship.

If they still wanted to join, and the members accepted them, then they would be baptized to recognize their full membership. Only those who were baptized could join in the Lord’s Supper. Only the those who partook of the Body and Blood of the Lord together would be trusted with their secrets.

Jesus himself modeled this. He would speak to the crowds in parables but only explain the meanings to the twelve disciples. This made it difficult for his enemies to pin any charges on him, while communicating his true message only to his inner circle of twelve friends. Those twelve went on to become the “Original Gangsters” of the first underground Christian communities.