The Easter Effect

[This article appears today at VENTURE GALLERIES-DRS]

This weekend, people around the globe gather to remember, honor, and reflect on events that happened some two thousand years ago in a micro-spot on the world map.  They referred to this cluster of events as the essence of what they called the Gospel.

Easter-2011-titleThe word itself comes from the idea of “good news” or “glad tidings.”  It is intended to convey the idea of divinely directed redemption and deliverance.  It is also a reminder that there is hope — now and in the future.

The key to their success was that they were the first to experience the Easter Effect.  They lived, worked, and died with a sense of fulfillment and joy because they never got over what they knew to be true — having seen it with their own eyes.  They were dramatically transfigured people.  They were radically redirected in life by an encounter with the Gospel.

The Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the fledgling and deeply flawed church at Corinth to address several concerns and offer corrective counsel.  Toward the end of the epistle, he reminded his audience that part of the reason why they were so dysfunctional in their faith and practice had to do with what they had forgotten — or at least minimized.  He drew them back to the basics.  And it all had to do with what Jesus had done a few decades before (See I Corinthians 15:1-8).

At the time, Christians were migrating and ministering en route to the uttermost parts of the earth, as Jesus had instructed.  And Corinth was a strategic, if spiritually stubborn, place.  The city was synonymous with evil to the extent that to use the city’s name in reference to a woman was the worst kind of vulgar slur.

Then there was the fact that the early advance of Christianity was made against the backdrop of the reality and rule of Rome.  It was the era of Pax Romana:Roman hegemony kept the relative peace, which meant that there was more time for other pursuits.  Decadence was in full bloom.  Moral restraint was virtually nonexistent.  Frankly, the political and cultural dynamics were arguably much more challenging than what we see in America today.

Many of those early practitioners of the Christian faith, however, didn’t seem to be intimidated by such a potentially daunting challenge, the problem-laden Corinthians notwithstanding.  This was largely because they grasped the concept that the message of the Gospel was more about redemption than reformation.  It was more about individual salvation than solving social problems.  And it was more about a world to come than the world that was — or is.

This is not to say that these souls on fire were indifferent to cultural or political matters.  They just seemed to know that ultimate hope and change were never really possible via human means and methods.  To bring about social justice, the kind implied in the command to love neighbor as self, required obedience to a greater commandment first.  That would be the one about loving God completely.

Loving God fuels righteous deeds, healed relationships, and cultural conscience and stability.  The attempt to truly love one’s neighbor in a social justice sense without acknowledging and loving God tends to devolve into a mere struggle for power.

The early Christians functioned in the wake and warmth of the Easter Effect.  The Gospel changed them from the inside out, and they went forward and turned the world upside-down.

Happy Easter — He Is Risen!  — DRS

Area 51–In New Jersey?

By the late 1930s, radio was a living room fixture in the majority of American homes. Furniture was arranged around the device, like big screen televisions today (which my wife still won’t let me have—sigh…). People back then were increasingly entertained, amused, and informed via the talking box. It was a great time for the imagination. Images were created in the brain, not on a screen.

MiniatureAntiqueRadio1Though radio news had been part of broadcast schedules for many years, the events in Europe leading up to World War II did for that medium, what the first Gulf War did for cable television news in the early 1990s. The marriage of medium to moment brought radio to critical mass.

In September 1938, the famous broadcaster of the day, H.V. Kaltenborn, made 102 broadcasts in eighteen days as the rumors of war in Europe reached fever pitch. That was during the Munich Crisis as British and French leaders persisted in denial and pathetically continued to try appeasement with Hitler.

More radio sets were sold during those eighteen days than any other similar period in history. People sensed war was coming and they wanted to be able to know the latest. Radio news became a major part of the line-up as the time allotted for news swelled to more than ten percent of total airtime.

As the world grew more dangerous, it was also getting smaller.

Of course, people also wanted and enjoyed the entertainment. There was no doubt about that. It provided a measure of escape from the challenges of domestic life in a time of economic depression (there was actually a 2nd Great Depression in 1938) and from a larger world that seemed determined to destroy itself.

There was comedy with Jack Benny, suspense with The Green Hornet, and even more suspense with The Shadow. Big companies would purchase blocks of time for advertisement. So some shows bore corporate names—sort of like a lot of sports stadiums today. For example, The Texaco Star Theater, debuting October 5, 1938, featured comedy and variety.

But the favorite entertainer that year—especially for boys like my dad and his older brother—was the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy. Never mind that even I could do ventriloquism on radio. the Stokes brothers never missed a Sunday night broadcast of The Chase and Sandborn Hour.

One Sunday that autumn, the Stokes brothers stayed a couple of nights at their Uncle Joe’s house in Detroit. The next night was Halloween and his neighborhood was a great place to fill their pillowcases with candy. So Jerry (my dad) and his brother Jim took their places on the rug near the big console radio in Uncle Joe’s living room at 8:00 p.m. and set the dial to WXYZ, which carried the NBC Blue Network.

They laughed at the opening bit, a typically hilarious Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy routine. Then their laughter turned to near instant boredom as some dumb lady came on and did a drama thing. Never mind that the lady was Madeleine Carroll, a famous British actress—the highest paid that year in Hollywood, earning more than $250,000. She became a big star via her recent performance in a popular Alfred Hitchcock film called The 39 Steps.

None of that impressed Jerry and Jimmy; they wanted to hear the funny stuff.

So they turned the dial back and forth and soon found some pretty cool music on WWJ, which carried CBS shows. Mercury Theater was scheduled to be on the air at that moment. So they left the dial there and tapped their toes to a band playing a Spanish-sounding song, fully planning to check back at WXYZ a few minutes later for more Charlie McCarthy fun. Possibly this is exactly the moment channel surfing was discovered.

But the boys never made it back to the NBC Blue Network that night. In fact, all across America in thousands upon thousands of homes, little boys and girls and all grown up adults glued their ears to what was being piped into their living rooms. It began like this:

Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. At twenty minutes before eight, Central Time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars. The spectroscope indicates the gas to be hydrogen and moving towards the Earth with enormous velocity…

Then all of sudden, it was back to the Spanish music as Jerry and Jimmy stared at each other. They called out, “Hey Uncle Joe, come here, something just happened on the radio.”

ORSON WELLESSimilar scenes played out all across the country that night. The music was interrupted again and again with more details about a spaceship crashing in a place called Grovers Mill, New Jersey. Something snake-like crawled out. Fields caught fire. All reported on the radio.

Forget that Hitler guy who wanted to take over some far away place called Czechoslovakia—these were Martians—and they wanted New Jersey!

Of course, it was all a hoax first dreamed up by a young radio actor named John Houseman (he grew up to become Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase) and brought to life by his boss, 23-year-old Orson Welles. It had been advertised right in newspapers earlier that day in the section where it showed the radio lineup for that night. There in plain sight it said: “Play ‘War of the Worlds,’ Mercury Theater. CBS Radio.” And the broadcast began with a disclaimer—which didn’t help all the people tuning in late.

The radio spoof became a textbook case of mass hysteria. In an instant, millions of people believed we were under attack by aliens.

Of course, H. G. Wells and Orson Welles were ahead of their times with their interest in aliens. These days you can find countless books and movies about the idea of odd-looking life forms coming from somewhere “out there” to do us harm. Just do a Google search on “Area 51” and you’ll find thousands of pages of theories about the subject.

Oh, and by the way, you’ll also be placed on an interplanetary watch list—just sayin’.

Yet according to the Scriptures, aliens have been on the earth for thousands of years.

Really.

The first real life alien was a fellow named Abraham. And he passed on his alien DNA to his son, and now there are millions of people with the “not from this world” gene in them. It’s called “incorruptible seed” in one place. And when you have this gene you are born again.

Cue the church organ.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews said this about Abraham and his heirs:

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” — Hebrews 11:13

The words “aliens” and “strangers” are from similar Greek words meaning “belonging to another”—in other words, from somewhere else. Having done my share of world travel, I have managed to provoke the question loosely translated: “You’re not from around here are you?” This has also been expressed to me on occasion without the use of words—just a condescending stare.

Have you ever known someone who was really “different?”

Have you ever said of someone, “That guy must be from another planet?”

Better yet, has anyone ever noted such a difference in you because of your faith, that it just seems to them to be—strange?
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My Interview with McKeesport, PA Newspaper…

[A few weeks ago, a reporter from The McKeesport Daily News (Pennsylvania) interviewed me about my new book, CAPITOL LIMITED: A Story about John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. -- DRS]

51QJQqaFEVL._SS140_SH35_“On this day 67 years ago, according to a new book, a McKeesport congressman set in motion a storied political rivalry between two then-U.S. House freshmen…”

Read the entire article HERE.

History in the…Movies

One of my favorite movies from the past few years is “The King’s Speech”—the story of Great Britain’s King George VI, and his struggle to overcome stuttering.  Colin Firth received the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of the king.  Watching the Academy Awards that year, I was rooting for Firth. My biases are seldom reflected by the academy—for a variety of reasons—but I was thrilled when he won.

TheKingsSpeechIt was a great movie because it was a great story.

I am looking at movies a bit differently these days as I attempt to adapt one of my books into a screenplay. Stay tuned.  I have been reading screenplays—a lot of them—to get a feel for the medium.  And I just read the shooting script for “The King’s Speech,” complete with an introduction by David Seidler, the guy who actually wrote it.

As I read Seidler’s introduction, I was struck by how his own life narrative was connected with the story. You see, he stuttered as a child growing up in England the 1940s.  So it should come as no surprise that he became fascinated with the King’s story.  The screenplay was actually the culmination of a life-long obsession.

Seidler read everything he could about the King, and every once in a while he’d come across the name Lionel Logue. He would write, “who is Lionel Logue?” in the margins. And here’s the salient point—Seidler seemed to instinctively sense that Logue was the story he was looking for.

Of course, he was right.  And with the help of a friend in the U.K. who simply looked in the telephone book for anyone named Logue living in London (forty years after the story), he was led to Dr. Valentine Logue, an eminent brain surgeon. He’s the boy in the movie who always has his nose in a science book. The good doctor told Seidler that he would be happy to talk about his father and show him his notebooks—but first the writer would need to get permission from the Queen “Mum.”

So he wrote to her.

Several months later, the writer received a reply: “Please, Mr. Seidler, not during my lifetime, the memory of those events is still too painful.”

So he waited.

That letter arrived in 1981. Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) died in 2002. By that time, the brain surgeon was gone, too—so no notebooks. They did finally appear just before filming began, but long after the screenplay had been written.

So, how did David Seidler write about Lionel Logue’s treatment of King George VI—“Bertie” in the movie?  Well, this is where fate stepped in. He found out in an almost incidental way that his own uncle had also been treated by Logue back in the day and the techniques used were similar to what Seidler himself had experienced during his own childhood struggle.

So he wrote from memory.

It was written as a stage play at first, but someone later saw the potential for the story on the big screen, and the rest is, as they saw, history.

Really good history—for a movie.

[This blog was originally written for and posted at VENTURE GALLERIES -DRS]

 

Eavesdropping on Presidents: New Book Details “Lost Conversation” – PR.com

Fairfax, VA, January 27, 2014 –(PR.com)– It happened in April 1947 on a legendary train called “The Capitol Limited,” as two men bunked down for the night for the trip back to Washington.

The men were John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, fresh from a debate in McKeesport, Pennsylvania earlier that day, but more than a decade away from facing off in their race for the White House.

As the train rocked gently and the darkness rushed by outside the windows, two future Presidents had a conversation that would last hours, spanning history, the onset of the Cold War, and their very personal and political dreams for themselves and the world…..READ MORE: Eavesdropping on Presidents: New Book Details “Lost Conversation” – PR.com.

 

Was My Book NOVEMBER SURPRISE Prophetic?

volgogradThe recent terrorist attacks in Russia have been connected to Chechen Islamists led by DOKU UMAROV.  In my novel, NOVEMBER SURPRISE, (which was released in November), I write about a terrorist attack led by this same DOKU UMAROV and designed to threaten the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

NOVEMBER SURPRISE: A Political Thriller appears to be “RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES.” — DRS

FROM FOX NEWS:

A pair of suicide bombings that left 31 dead in Russia could be a chilling tune-up for the Olympic Games, where a Muslim terrorist leader has vowed to put Chechnya’s long-standing grievance with Moscow in the international spotlight, according to terrorism experts.

Although no one has claimed responsibility for the twin bombings, which occurred less than 24 hours apart in the city of Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, terror experts strongly suspect they were inspired, if not ordered, by Chechen Muslim rebel leader Doku Umarov. Umarov, who calls himself the emir of the terror group the Caucasus Emirate, has called on Muslims to attack civilians and to prevent the Olympics from occurring.

The games, scheduled to begin in six weeks in Sochi, the Black Sea resort about 400 miles southwest of Volgograd, are “Satanic dancing on the bones of our ancestors,” Umarov said in a video released online in July.

Doku Umarov

Doku Umarov

“No Olympics in recent memory will commence as inauspiciously at the 2014 Sochi Games,” Hoffman told FoxNews.com. “Although fear of terrorist attack has been a staple of Olympics security for the past four decades, the back-to-back blasts yesterday and today, coupled with another attack in the same city in October, are likely intended to be the opening salvos in a sustained terrorist campaign.

“This would be unprecedented in Olympic history and likely reflects the perpetrators’ intention to disrupt the games even before the opening ceremony,” Hoffman added.

In the first attack, a bomber authorities believe may have been a woman detonated explosives in front of a metal detector just outside a train station entrance Sunday as a suspicious police sergeant approached to check the bomber’s ID. The officer was one of 17 killed by the blast. Hours later, early Monday, a suicide bomber on a bus killed at least 14 people and left nearly 30 wounded, Russian officials said. The bombs were similar, according to Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for Russia’s main investigative agency.

“That confirms the investigators’ version that the two terror attacks were linked,” Markin said in a statement. “They could have been prepared in one place.”

The Oldest Christmas Carol

merry-christmas-2013-wallpaperChristmas is more than a day in December — it is a season.  Reminders of this are all around us — the weather, gatherings, and music on the radio.  It is not unusual for savvy media outlets to saturate their formats with all things Yuletide for a few weeks at the end of the year.  It puts us “in the mood” — not to mention that it puts money in their accounts.

What’s your favorite Christmas song?  Some like to hear about chestnuts roasting on an open fire — others love to think about bells jingling.  Yet others tear up (with good reason) thinking about a Holy Night so long ago.  They may even fall on their knees.

A case can be made that the greatest Christmas song ever written is one with no familiar music.  The tune is no longer available to us.  But the lyrics — ah, those lyrics — well, they’re actually inspired.  As the Apostle Paul was writing to young Pastor Timothy about everything from order in the church to the dangers of greed, he gave us an easily overlooked but enduring Christmas nugget.

It may be not be a toe-tapper like I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus — but it completely captures the essence of Christmas.  That essence is incarnation.  This means that God became one of us so that He could reach those of us willing to surrender to Him.

As the Apostle winds up a series of thoughts about the church and those who serve and lead, he pauses to reflect on a larger issue.  Strategies and structure are not ends in themselves.  They are secondary to powerful ideas.  While he may have felt the need to give Timothy some practical advice about how to do his important job, he never lost sight of the why in all of it — nor should we.  There can be many controversies in life — macro and micro.  All of them require attention.  Some of them require systems and structure.  No doubt, this was something with which Timothy wrestled.  Therefore, his wise mentor, Paul, offered his advice.

Things that tend to polarize people often have little to with objective truth.  Instead, subjective experience is allowed to play too large a role in our lives and passions.  When this happens, Paul’s writings suggest that we need to stop and sing.  And we should sing something very specific — the most beautiful of all Christmas carols — though it is highly unlikely that we’ll hear the words blended with any seasonal music.

We are not told the style of music, nor are we told the instrument or instruments used to express it (if any).  We are given just the words.  They are inspired — and they have endured.  They are ancient words, yet ever new.

The first Christmas Carol is introduced in scripture this way: “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great…”.

Communities of faith throughout history have wrestled with many things.  But Paul reminds us all these centuries later that there are some no-brainers for the faithful.  First and foremost is that most powerful of all ideas is that God has come to the earth — the Word has been made flesh.

So, this season let us reach back for one of the forgotten “oldies” — a first-century worship favorite.  They likely sang it in places like Ephesus, Thyatira, and Philippi.  There were no ornate cathedrals or padded pews, no multimedia presentations to tantalize the eyes — just words, powerful and profound.  Go ahead and make up your own music — but don’t mess with the words.  They are from God.  They are a Christmas gift from the one who gave us the reason for the season.

And, one…two…three…

“He appeared in a body,

Was vindicated by the Spirit,

Was seen by angels,

Was preached among the nations,

Was believed on in the world,

Was taken up in glory.”   - I Timothy 3:16 (New International Version)

Merry Christmas!