Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Mirror: The Real Magic of Christmas

Leaving aside the eternal debate about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not (it is in my opinion), most people have a favourite. Christmas movies, in my opinion, are not only those about Christmas, but those set at Christmas time and those which capture the true spirit of Christmas. There is a huge catalogue of Christmas movies which are usually viewed at Christmas time, and so it was that as this Christmas approached we decided to watch a few. We kicked it off a little early with Christmas Jars: a new film for which we had a free double pass. Christmas Jars is a terrific film. Heartwarming and funny and completely safe for family viewing, unlike many modern PG films.

The next one we watched was a film on Amazon Prime called Lucy Shimmers and the Prince of Peace. If you're allergic to Jesus and Christians and people praying in movies, or if you're resistant to the idea that people practicing Christian faith can actually have a major positive impact on their lives and the lives of others, then give this one a miss. Christmas Jars is a Christian film but not explicitly so. It's a story about generosity. Lucy Shimmers is unabashedly evangelical, but lest that turn you off, let me make it clear that the theme of Lucy Shimmers is redemption and redemption is a also a major theme of Christmas. The birth of Jesus Christ was the first stage in God's plan to redeem us.

It's a little hard to talk about Lucy Shimmers without giving the story away, but switched on viewers will figure it out quickly anyway. Spoiler alert. Lucy is a five year old girl who is dying. She starts seeing and talking to her dead grandfather who is an angel. He helps her, more than anything or anyone else, to deal with her illness. In hospital, she meets Edgar a convicted criminal who is also dying. Lucy visits other patients in hospital as well, and makes friends with them all, blessing them with kind words and time. Lucy also writes a book about a dream she had. The way all these threads are tied together is magical. As with Christmas Jars, you will need tissues to watch Lucy Shimmers. Unless you have a heart of stone, this film will mess you up. Lucy Shimmers and the Prince of Peace perfectly demonstrates the power of love and grace.

In a different vein, Last Christmas is also rated PG but it's the kind of PG which makes you wonder what the film classifiers were drinking when they viewed the film. (Lots of sexual references, one night stands, a lesbian relationship, and bad language. While viewers will fall in love with Lucy Shimmers immediately, and not long after also feel great compassion for Edgar, in Last Christmas it's a struggle to feel anything but antipathy for Kate who, like David Lavender in my novel Loathe Your Neighour, is highly skilled at making bad choices. She comes across as reckless, selfish and oppositional. However, once the viewer learns the reason for Kate's behaviour, there is automatic compassion for her. There's real character progression in this story which, apart from the twist which blew me away, is what kept me interested. The catalyst for the transformation/redemption of Kate is her encounter and subsequent relationship with a mysterious person who (spoiler alert) it turns out is also an angel. Incidentally, if you're a George Michael fan, he provides the entire soundtrack for Last Christmas.

All of these films show the viewer something magical and Christmas is magical. It's over now for another year. As I write, we are heading into a New year in which everyone is placing their hope. COVID-19 wrecked 2020. 2021 will be better. It can't be any worse. This is what people are saying, but for me hope is in Jesus and the power of love and grace to redeem us, to save us. The magical thing about Christmas is that God became a man in order to deliver us from hopelessness. Not to make out lives perfect. Not to remove trouble and suffering but to show us the value of it.

It's easy to watch films like Christmas Jars and Lucy Shimmers and the Prince of Peace and dismiss them as corny, feelgood films in which the characters don't act like real people, and the outcomes are literally incredible. It's easy to watch the redemptions of Edgar in Lucy Shimmers and Kate in last Christmas and write them off as glib. It can't be that easy, and let's face it, happy endings only belong in fairy tales, not real life. That kind of cynicism traps people in circumstances which they don't like, but they needlessly accept. The hope of the producers of these kinds of films is not just that the viewer will be entertained but that they will be transformed.

Why not give anonymous gifts (Christmas Jars), befriend lonely strangers (Lucy Shimmers) or volunteer at a homeless shelter (Last Christmas)? Why not try to solve your problems by looking beyond them? Irrespective of whether you believe in angels or not, why not talk about them as though they were real? Why not let hope so take root in your heart that you fell invincible? Why not share with others the grace God has shown you? What harm can be done by being more loving, more kind, more thoughtful and more generous?

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Dog's Eye: The Ultimate Investment

I didn't read The Barefoot Investor from cover to cover, but I still reviewed it and I'll
explain why. I didn't read it all because not all of it is relevant to me at the moment. I gave it a five star review because it rings true. Despite the failings it shares with all self help books, it has an undeniable credibility. It is also inspirational, funny and very practical. This is the kind of book you buy and read through, then re visit those sections of most interest depending on where you are at. Later, you'll pull it off the shelf and dive in for some more wisdom from someone who clearly knows what he's talking about. I felt really encouraged after reading The Barefoot Investor. 
If you're a bit messed up with your money -most people are- get yourself a copy.

It's probably a timing's definitely a timing thing for me. I added this book to my 'to read' list two and half years ago when I was in the middle of a financial crisis. I didn't read it then, but as I had hit rock bottom, I sought help elsewhere, entering into a Part 9 debt agreement with a debt consolidation company. The type of company which Scott Pape doesn't endorse, mainly because they charge a lot for the service. It cost me over five thousand dollars in fees to have this company help me, but it has been worth every cent.

I was never good with money and the yardstick by which I measured success was how often I struggled. For most of my adult life, I have just gotten buy. Always having to make decisions based on the cheapest option, or whether a particular purchase was necessary or not. Saying no more often than yes, and much more often than I wanted to. I learned quite late that I was a stingy person. I had inherited, or absorbed by observation, the parsimony of my father. I also made selfish decisions about how to use my money, some of which had terrible consequences. I am still living with the consequences of those choices.

Over the years, I've learned two major lessons about money.

1. I am called to be generous, not stingy. There are many verses in the Bible which speak against stinginess, but when I read this one, I was convicted. Years and years of calling myself a good steward of money, and being careful, covered up a mean spirit.

"One person is generous and grows all the more wealthy, but another withholds more than he should and comes to poverty."                                                  (Proverbs 11:24)

2. God is my provider. When I lost my job in 2018 and was down to my last two hundred dollars, I recall looking in the mirror, and seeing the anxiety written on my face. God spoke to me, asking a simple question: 'Do you trust me?' For most of my working life, I worked for wages: regular pay deposited into my account. My lifeblood. The second great lesson I learned when I answered God's question honestly with a 'no', was that Christ is my lifeblood. After confessing that my trust was not in God, but in my job, I decided to really trust God instead of just saying that I did. Very soon afterwards, I got a job; a very good job in which I am still employed.

"My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus."     (Philippians 4:1)

How does this post about financial security connect with Christmas. Simple really. Among other things, Christmas is a celebration of giving. We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, God's greatest gift to mankind: the messiah, the saviour. His was the ultimate investment; an investment in people. In us, his children. This investment is a gift which keeps on giving because God is so generous.

The Barefoot Investor speaks only very briefly about the virtue of generosity, but it is in fact the true key to financial freedom. God is generous and we should be too.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

A Dog's Eye: Launching Scorpions

My sixth novel was unleashed on the world last week. Scorpion's Breath joins shelf mates, DevolutionLoathe Your NeighborAshmore GriefA Muddy Red River and Love Sick Love.

I started writing Scorpion's Breath while I was working on Love Sick Love, but it got shelved until such time as I could write that kind of story. It was really only an idea, perhaps a dream to write something fun and light; something easy to write and entertaining for the reader. In short, because of how emotionally intense it was to write Love Sick Love, I wanted to write something different. Unfortunately, the circumstances of my life at that time exacerbated my somewhat negative feelings, and strengthened my resolve to get it all out of my system.

When I finally returned to the idea of Scorpion's Breath, I wrote it quickly and easily. Divorced from any auto biographical content, and removed from reality, it was a chance to have a party. Scorpion's Breath is a literary version of a personal happy dance. 

Although not without humour, my earlier novels dealt with much more serious themes. Grounded in reality and focused on dysfunctional relationships, they reflected the challenges of my personal life, as well as the every day sights, sounds and experiences which I have always integrated both into my writing and into my character.

I can't remember the origins of
Scorpion's Breath, but let's just say I love The X-Files and Supernatural, so certain elements from these two iconic television series have no doubt influenced it. However, I've never been satisfied with the post modern narrative which champions relative morality and always raises a human saviour. One of the things I liked about The X Files is that they avoid always needing rationalistic explanations for the weird stuff Mulder and Scully encounter. Funnily enough, Supernatural presents supernatural explanations for everything, and yet our human saviours, Sam and Dean Winchester, always triumph. These exceptional shows blur the lines between right and wrong, between natural and supernatural, allowing the viewer to make up their own mind. I am not a humanist though, so I feel the weight of what is missing.

I am a supernaturalist who is fascinated by religion and mythology. As a Christian, I've chosen my path and made my stand, but that does not stop me exploring the world I can see as well as the one I can't. I view it all through the prism of my faith in Christ Jesus, which means I see echoes and shadows in many people, places and situations. The interplay between the worlds is what I explore in Scorpion's Breath, but that is not all. It's also about relationships, about power and about forgiveness. And did I mention there are lots of demons?

Let the reader extract what they will with respect to deeper meanings, but let them be entertained while doing so. Scorpion's Breath is supposed to be fun, but naturally I have something to say. I always have something to say. I guess that's one of the main reasons I write. When no one but God is listening, or those who do listen don't understand, I can 'put pen to paper' and I have a voice. I'm learning, growing into a better man and writing is an important tool for me to facilitate this growth as I work my way through the rollercoaster ride we call life.