Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Becket image

Some of you may remember my previous interview with author Becket, an indie novelist who likes vampires, was once a monk, and works for Anne Rice. Now he’s got a new book out, American Monk, a memoir about his years in a monastery growing closer to God and living in a brotherhood of similarly-minded men.

Welcome back to my blog, Becket. Happy to have you here. Now, your new book is American Monk, which chronicles your time as a monk in a Benedictine monastery. Why did you decide to write this memoir?

One day on my Facebook page I decided to make a post about my experience in the monastery. People responded well to it, so I made another one the following week. I kept up that have it for about half a year, at the end of which I decided to compile all my Facebook posts about the monastery into a memoir.

Why did you decide to become a monk in the first place? And why did you leave the monastery?

I wanted to be a monk because I want to deepen my relationship with God. The monastery was a wonderful place to do that because it was a house conducive to my personality type, an introvert and a scholar. I stayed in the monastery for five years, at the end of which time I was given the choice to make solemn vows, which is like the marriage commitment. It would’ve been for the rest of my life. The monastery was wonderful, but I also felt called elsewhere, although I did not know what that was at the time. So without any hard feelings, I left the monastery and began working for Anne Rice.

What’s a day in the life of a Benedictine monk like?

Monastic life is built around routine. We wake up early in the morning and begin our day with prayer. Our morning prayer lasts for about an hour and a half, and then we would go to breakfast. After that it was time for work. We worked most of the morning until the hour to celebrate the solemnity of the mass. After mass we had lunch. And after lunch we spent the afternoon committed to more work. Our day ended in the evening with prayer. After prayer we went to dinner, and after dinner we had a community time together, where the monks gathered together in one room and enjoyed one another’s company. Finally, we had night prayer and that it was bedtime.

American Monk

In memoirs like these, I’ve noticed that the vignettes within generally run the range from humorous to serious to tragic to inspirational and everything in between. Do you feel that this is true of yours? 

My memoir is meant to be inspirational. I hope that people read it and grow in their relationship with God, because the monastery was a place where a truly began to understand who I was in the divine plan. I am still learning the depth of my relationship with God. In many ways, the monk I was is still inside me, and perhaps he is a better monk than I used to be.

 Does Anne Rice make an appearance in American Monk at all?

She makes an appearance in the beginning and at the end, and in one chapter in between, but the memoir mostly deals with my experience with the brother monks.

What are you working on these days?

I just finished the first draft of my next music album as well as the first draft of a novel appropriately titled The Monk, about an African monk who suffers the stigmata and works as a miraculous channel of God’s love in the world.

When not writing or working with Anne Rice, what are you doing these days? And is there anything on your wish list you think you could be doing in the near future?

I spend time with God, my girlfriend, and my two cats. For the future, I have a few projects that I am working on and I am praying that God will give them success for His Glory.

Well thanks for joining us Becket. Glad to speak with you. And if you’e interested in reading American Monk and other works by Becket, you can check out his website, as well as find him on Facebook and Twitter.

And if you’d like to read more interviews with other authors and with some of my characters, you can head over to the Interviews page for those.

Hope you enjoyed reading this, my Followers of Fear. I certainly had fun putting it together.

Lately I’ve been reading Stephen King’s Revival on my Kindle, and I have to say, while a bit more on the science-fiction side and a bit less creepy than other King novels like The Shining, Misery, or IT, I find Revival to still be a very interesting read and I’m looking forward to seeing how it ends.

While I do believe Revival’s not as creepy as other King novels, there is one part of it that is very unsettling: early in the book a lot of time is spent on the question of whether God exists or not. I’m not going to say what any of the main characters decide one way or another in case you haven’t read this one and want to read it sometime soon, but the way they question their beliefs in God and some of the conclusions they come to, coupled with King’s ability to immerse us almost completely in the minds of the narrator, causes us as the reader to question our own faith in whatever god or gods we choose to believe in, if we do.

Doubt. In some ways, a little bit of doubt in our strongest-held beliefs can be one of the most anxiety-inducing things in the world. All we’ve known or believed is called completely into question, and the power of that can send us completely reeling, make us terrified of the possibilities if we come to the conclusion that our beliefs are as false as a three-dollar bill. Even worse is that this doubt is housed entirely within our own minds, so outside attempts to erase that doubt are not always very effective. It’s like standing on the very tip of a structure that until now you thought was completely solid, but suddenly you discover cracks there and that the structure is in danger of caving in on itself. Your friends, your family, your religious leader, and even your favorite YouTube stars (why not?) can put some wood beams under the stones and put sand in the cracks, but they’ll only last so long. Fixing the structure, or letting it fall to ruin, has to come from within.

This makes me think of the lengths people will go to silence doubt. Anyone doubts America’s exceptionalism in the world (which I admit is a philosophy I find silly, seeing as many nations have said the same things about themselves and have later lost power or disappeared from the face of the Earth), those in favor of the philosophy will shout out those who oppose it and say they are un-American or even trying to ruin the country. A parent thinks their kid doesn’t believe in the religion that will get them into heaven, they will surround them with prayer and texts and church music until those kids sing with joy of God. Someone suspects their partner is being unfaithful to them, they will go to any lengths to either prove or disprove this theory, sometimes to the point of paranoia. A member of a secret group or spy ring thinks another member might be disloyal, they make that member go through some sort of bizarre and often sadistic test to ensure loyalty to the cause (at least in espionage novels; I have no idea if this happens in real life, though I wouldn’t be too surprised if it did).

What doubt can do to you.

What doubt can do to you.

Doubt is powerful, its effects on us are powerful, and our efforts to eradicate doubt can border on the extreme sometimes. You can see why a writer like King would use it in the first part of a story. He knows how scary it is, the effect it can have on people. And over the years and through age, experience, and reading, I’ve come to the realization of how powerful doubt can be as well. I even have an idea for a novel where religious doubt plays a major role. I have a feeling it’s going to be quite the unsettling story, whenever I get around to writing it. I doubt it’ll be anytime soon though.

Yeah, I went there.

In any case, it’s pretty obvious that doubt might be as much a part of the horror writer’s toolbox as any of the other fear-inducing tools and devices we have on hand. In a way, it’s also much stranger, because unlike the other fear-inducers, you can’t fight it or flee it for survival. After all, doubt is a product of the human mind, it exists within you. And you can’t outrun your own mind, can you?

And that, my Followers of Fear, might be the scariest part of all.

Some writers like to compare themselves to gods of the worlds they create, prodding their characters this way and that as the write their stories. I’m one of those writers, as blasphemous as it sounds (even more blasphemous when you consider that my parents are rabbis). But in a strange way, it’s true. I come up with an outline for my stories, I start writing, my characters take over to some degree and make their own choices, but at the end of it all they get to where I wanted them to go.

Sounds like God, doesn’t it? My characters, my creations, have free will of a sort in my world, but in the end the story usually works the way I want it to go because this world is mine and I have ultimate say. Evil has a purpose in my world, and so does reward and punishment (in a way). There’s an ultimate plan or idea of where things will go because I will it to be so, but you have to see the whole picture in order to understand the plan.

And I’m going to stop right there before I get a ton of people angry at me.

But if I’m the god of my worlds and my characters, what does that make me? What kind of god am I? I specialize in horror. It’s a dark genre, where anyone can die at any second, where monsters exist, and if you’re lucky enough to live, you might wish you’d died. It’s the genre that revels in the darkest of humanity as well as the best, brings doubt as well as faith, and above all, scares. I’m the god of such worlds, I adore making them up in my mind and then bringing them to life on the page.

What does that say about me? What does that say about any writer that wants to put their characters through torment or hardship? What does it say about God, that His world which He (or She, I’m equal opportunity) authored is so full of darkness?

Well, this isn’t a philosophy or theology post. But it brings up some good questions in those areas. Imagine if the characters we write were real people and the pain we put them through was real to them. Would we want to keep writing anything where they felt pain? Writers often feel like these characters are family to them, like children. If these were our real children, would we want to keep doing these sort of things to them? Would we ever write a story with conflict in it?

And could we continue to worship God with this sort of definition of Him?

The thing is, we’re not God. And our characters are most likely not real. But if they were, we’d probably go about writing sad or tragic stories. Like God, we have a plan, and the characters who we killed off, if we have any amount of mercy in us, we’d give the dead an afterlife to live in, so that killing them off wouldn’t hurt us as much. Because you know what? We have stories to tell, and maybe they’re not happy all the time, but they’re ours and that’s what we write.

And I do feel my characters are real to some degree. But that doesn’t mean I won’t write. After all, their stories deserve to be told.

My friend and I (and the friend we ran into at the theater who joined us for the show) didn’t go into this movie with many expectations. We were trying to keep an open mind, trying not to form an opinion about a Biblical movie that apparently deviated a lot from the source material.

Well, I can’t speak for my friends with any sort of authority. But I can say that I was disappointed. And not because I thought it would’ve been better to have had Middle Eastern or black actors in the main roles rather than white people (I mean it is in Egypt). Or why a guy named Christian is playing Moses (so much irony in that).

I think what Ridley Scott was trying to do with this film was to tell the story of Moses as a very human story, of a man troubled by his decisions, his role as a leader, and possible brain damage or psychosis. I think those who go for the human story of Moses will like this movie. I however was still kind of hoping for the Exodus story, so I was kind of disappointed. And I don’t think they told the human story very well either.

Plus Ramses II’s motivation to exile Moses and try to take him down seemed a little weak. Didn’t help that Joel Edgerton, who plays Ramses, was pretty unconvincing as an actor. And sometimes the dialogue made us nearly burst out laughing because it was so awful. And why at the beginning do they have screen titles that explains what’s happening in Egypt at the time? Literally everyone knows this story! You would’ve done better actually telling us the minor characters’ names more than once!

Plus the traditional fourth plague isn’t flies, it’s wild animals! Lions and tigers and bears! I know with the profusion of frog and fish corpses out there flies seem like a better choice, but animals seem much scarier and harder to explain through science! Can’t we see that for once?

Still, the special effects are pretty impressive, especially around the scenes with the Ten Plagues. The decision of how to portray Moses’s interactions with God is pretty original. Plus there is a little bit of theological wrestling that really exemplifies Moses’s problems in this movie. I have to admit that those were high points.

All in all, I’m giving Exodus: Gods & Kings a 2.3 out of 5. I don’t think that, among movies about Biblical events, this one won’t be remembered as a classic and will more likely be remembered as a movie that got the people who prefer their stories closer to the book in conniptions.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m going to try to see The Legend of Princess Kaguya and Babadook later this week, might do a review of the former and probably will do a review of the latter. Keep an eye out.

Good night, my Followers of Fear.

Before I start, I just want to make sure everyone is aware that I’m not actually showing you how to curse someone. I do know how to do that, but I don’t want to share the method lest someone use it on me. That would suck. No, I’m talking about creating a curse for a story, one that would terrify all who read your work.

The thing about curses is that they are relentless and awful. A curse doesn’t discriminate based on how nice you are, how much money you make, what religion you belong to, or any other factor. No, once a curse locks onto you, it’s like you have a target on your back that you can’t get off, and you won’t get that target off until the curse has run its course (usually this means death). That’s what makes them so scary.

So how do you create a curse? First you need to decide on this:

Person, place, and/or thing. A curse is usually associated with a specific object, location, or person, though sometimes a curse can be associated with more than one of these (such as with an entire family, multiple houses, or a person who lived in a house). In the movie The Conjuring and its spinoff/prequel Annabelle (which I just saw recently), a curse was placed on the doll, allowing a demon to possess it and make havoc for anyone who came into contact with the doll. That’s an example of a cursed object. The house in The Grudge is an example of a cursed location, as well as an example of a cursed person (Kayako, the woman who lived in the house, is the one who carries out the curse). Another example of a cursed person is simply someone who has a curse placed upon them, making interaction with others difficult, if not impossible. Boy, would that suck!

This brings me to my next point, though:

The well is essential to Samara’s curse and origin story.

The origin story. Every curse has its story of how it came to be, and often that the basis of how the curse can be warded off (more on that later). Generally this involves some horrific event happening, causing the curse to manifest or be cast. For example, in the Buffy universe Angel’s curse was caused when he killed the beloved child of a tribe of gypsies, who restored his soul to him through magic. Another example is when Samara/Sadako from the Ring movies was trapped in the well and died, her soul was filled with rage and she infected a blank video cassette. And in The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Freddy’s curse came into being when he was killed in a fire by the parents of the children he’d killed/molested (depending on if you’re going with the original movie series or the remake).

 

The trigger. For a curse to take hold of a target, something specific has to happen. For instance, in the popular Bloody Mary legend (which I’ve tested numerous times, by the way), you have to say Bloody Mary three times in the mirror in order to summon her. In the Stephen King story Bag of Bones, the curse was triggered when a child descended from one of any of the families involved in a gruesome murder, whose name usually began with a K, got to a certain age (in the TV miniseries, this was simplified to just the daughters). And in the popular story The Monkey’s Paw, one had to make a wish on the titular paw in order to start the curse. Which leads to the fun part:

How the curse manifests. A curse manifests after the trigger has been…well, triggered. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (yes, I’m pulling Harry Potter out), Katie Bell was put in unimaginable pain when she touched the cursed necklace. Touching the necklace was the trigger, and the pain was the manifestation. Another form of manifestation would be the Tecumseh curse, which was that any President elected in a year divisible by twenty would die in office (though Ronald Reagan and President Bush managed to get away). The election year is the trigger, while the death of the President is the manifestation.

How to ward it off. This is optional for literary curses, but it’s something you want to consider in creating a curse. In Jewish folklore, the demon Lilith tries to take the souls of newborns or eat them. However, if one has a mezuzah, a marker on one’s doorpost  that has the name of three angels on it, Lilith cannot enter the home and attempt to take the child. The angels whose names are on the mezuzah were the same angels who tried to get Lilith to return to Adam when she was still his wife. When she refused, they cursed her to become a demon and made it that she could not enter a home with their names on it (that’s how the origin story relates to warding off the curse).

The hamsa, a symbol prevalent in Judaism and Islam, is also good at warding off evil. It’s no good at warding off taxes though.

In another example, there’s a curse among some actors about saying the name Macbeth in a theater which leads to bad luck. Depending on who you ask, there are different methods to dispelling the curse, a popular one being to leave the theater, walk around the building three times, spit over one’s left shoulder, say an obscenity, and then wait to be invited back into the theater.

Containing/canceling the curse. This is also optional in writing fiction, but it should be considered. Two things one should consider when figuring out how to cancel or seal a curse is that it should be difficult, and that it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the origin story. In the movie The Unborn, the dybbuk couldn’t be stopped until it was exorcised. A similar thing happened in the third movie in the American Grudge movies, in which case an exorcism that sealed Kayako into a little girl was needed before she could be stopped. In Japanese onryo legends, the spirit needs to have whatever is disturbing it resolved or it will continue to seek revenge.And in Bag of Bones, Sarah Tidwell did not end her curse until her bones were dissolved with lye, thereby releasing her from Earth.

That’s how you create a curse. As for creating a terrifying story involving that curse…well, that’s up to you. I’m not going to give you directions on that. Not in this post, anyway.

Oh, and one more thing: I saw Dracula Untold and Annabelle at the movies today with a friend. Both were excellent, getting 4.5 out of 5 from me. But something in the latter film really stuck with me: near the end, the priest character says that evil can only be contained, it’s not created or destroyed (or something like that). I think that when you’re writing a scary story, especially one involving curses, that’s some pretty good stuff to keep in mind. True evil is not something you can easily be rid of. At least, not in my experience.

What advice do you have for creating curses?

Have you written anything with curses recently?

Are there any stories of curses that are your favorite or that I didn’t include? Tell me a bit about them.

I know I’m a little late to this conversation (though I did post a lengthy message on my Facebook page when it first happened) and I would’ve written a blog post about this sooner, but I’ve been busy with other work. Well, better late than never. Besides, Jon Stewart managed to make some jokes on it last night, so I can do it tonight.

There used to be a time when religious liberty meant that you could go to church ro synagogue in peace and without fear of ridicule or attack. Where your religion didn’t bar you from certain neighborhoods or trades. Where you didn’t have to wear a yellow star, and you didn’t suddenly have to leave country or convert in order to avoid death and suffering.

When the hell did it change that a couple of people could make decisions about the health of thousands of women?

As noted above, a lot has already been said about the Hobby Lobby case. However, I’m going to go over it because I find the majority ruling of the Supreme Court simply infuriating.

First off, Hobby Lobby says that it doesn’t want the federal government to force them to hand women employees birth control. Um, the people who will be handing birth control over will be the pharmacist. The insurance company your company uses will actually be paying for it, drawing on the money every employee puts into the company insurance policy to pay for the birth control. So basically everyone who’s on Hobby Lobby’s health insurance policy would be paying for the birth control. The fact that only a few people at the top can decide what everyone is paying for in their health insurance worries me somewhat.

Second, the owners of Hobby Lobby are objecting to contraceptive pills that “cause abortion”. Most fertilized eggs actually self-abort and don’t embed themselves in the uterine wall, so maybe you want to protest whatever mechanism causes that? Also, the pills that “cause abortion” actually a bit of a mystery, as scientists aren’t sure how they prevent pregnancies. So maybe you might want to figure that out before you start a lawsuit? Especially since you still cover Viagra and vasectomies, the latter of which basically makes the testicles useless and gives seed nowhere to go to procreate. I think the Biblical term for that is “spilling seed”.

Continuing on with this, I’m not so sure Hobby Lobby actually objects to birth control pills, as some of the companies, trust funds, and other financial mechanisms its owners have fingers in actually hold stakes in pharmaceutical companies that produce these very pills that are being protested. Is it really protesting on religious grounds to provide abortion pills? Or is it something about not having to pay for a product you already own?

And I’m really worried about this decision, which opens up some serious floodgates for lawsuits. The term “closely-held corporation” is a pretty loose definition. Already we’ve seen evangelical colleges asking to be exempt, and other companies as well that one wouldn’t normally think of as “closely-held companies”. Under the loose definition though, they might.

And if religious liberty can be used as an excuse to get out of covering contraception or other “objectionable” medical practices, what’s next? Catholics are against all forms of contraception. Jehovah’s Witnesses are against blood transfusions. Scientologists are against psychiatry. Christian Scientists generally don’t like traditional medicine. And what about objecting to other things based on religious belief? Other laws? What if a family bakery that got incorporated decides not to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because they believe it’s a decadent lifestyle? What if a print shop refuses to print flyers for an event hosted by the local Wiccan community because they won’t “help witches and Satanists”? As Justice Ginsburg said in her dissent, it’s a slippery slope.

All in all, I’m really troubled by the implications of this decision, besides the fact that a few people, mostly older white men, are getting away with making medical decisions for thousands and thousands of women and thinking that is okay. It’s already hard enough to purchase safe, affordable birth control, and some people need the help of an insurance company to afford it. Some of these women aren’t even taking birth control medications to avoid getting pregnant! Birth control medication is good for regulating menstrual cycles, prevent endometriosis, reduce the pain of cramps or migraines, and even fight acne! Most women actually take the pill for multiple reasons, studies find.

And they can’t just go looking for another job that offers birth control on the insurance plan. Some women can’t afford to leave a job because it’s all they have. The job market is still rather difficult these days, and leaving a job to look for one that might offer the right insurance isn’t exactly like walking through a park. In fact, it could lead some families to financial ruin.

Now that I think about it, most of the women who will be most affected by this decision will be women in the lower-middle, working, and poverty-stricken classes. Meanwhile, the rich can still easily afford birth control should they desire it, or own the companies that produce birth control. This si not just starting to resemble a new battle in the war on women, but also a form of class warfare and keeping the lower classes in their place. And I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s thought this.

What say you on the Hobby Lobby case? Where do you see this going in terms of consequences?

(Be aware I will be screening comments. So if I get the kind of comments from people who can’t bear any opinion but their own, it won’t show up on this blog)

I’m going to tell everyone a midrash, a story that helps to explain aspects of Judaism, and which may or may not be true, depending on the story. This story, no matter how you look at it, is very interesting and helps to explain why I’m able to give these reinterpretations.

The story dates back to the writing of the Talmud. Several rabbis were trying to decide on an issue of kashrut, or dietary law. Eventually all the rabbis except one decided a certain way on the issue, with the remaining rabbi insisting he alone was right. This rabbi, who was apparently so learned that he could teach Harry Potter a thing or two (my own phrasing, not the story’s), said that if he was right, then the walls in the study house would cave in, a tree would move from one place to another, and that the river outside would flow backwards. Sure enough, the walls started to lean in, a tree walked across the ground, and the river started flowing backwards. With each occurrence the other rabbis would remind the rebellious rabbi that walls, trees, and rivers don’t decide matters of Jewish law (and they chided the walls for trying to bring themselves down when it wasn’t their conflict). Finally the rebellious rabbi said, “If I am right, let a heavenly voice confirm it!”

At that moment a great voice from above was heard saying, “Follow this rabbi’s opinion!” The other rabbis, instead of cowering and giving in, replied to the voice, “Matters of law are now on Earth, not in Heaven.” The heavenly voice replied, “My sons have bested me.”

What does this tale tell, besides the fact that apparently Talmudic rabbis were said to be quite powerful? Besides the teaching that a majority rule is stronger than a single zealot (and the rebellious rabbi later became a heretic and was excommunicated, interestingly enough), the story shows that once God gave the Jewish people the Torah at Mt. Sinai, it was in their hands, and therefore they had to decide how to interpret it. So basically while some may claim that LGBT people and their allies are going to hell and claim the Bible says so, I can claim just as much that that law no longer applies and that LGBT people and their allies are just as holy as anyone else. And guess what? We can both be right!

I tell this story because a lot of people’s arguments and opposition to LGBT rights are based on a singular interpretation of the Bible, so alternative interpretations of the Bible can be just as legitimate as traditional ones. I also tell this story because, while two opinions can both be right, sometimes one opinion may have more reason to be right than the other (as in the ruling of the majority in the story). For example, I can say that I believe both evolution and the Genesis story to be right. I can’t ignore that dinosaurs, the fossil record, and the distance travelled by the light of certain stars make evolution seem more right than Genesis (which I tend to view as a metaphor for the Big Bang and evolution that humanity is too stupid to understand at this point in our existence).

No denying it: gay people are born that way. It’s in their DNA.

Understanding this, let us look at what science has proven: that sexuality is a genetic trait, and that multiple genes make up sexuality, so multiple sexualities arise. Some people, like a pastor I had the displeasure of hearing speak out on the Oval at OSU this spring, claims that meant homosexuality is a genetic defect. But that would mean there would have to be a loss or impairment of quality of life for the affected. If anything, the scientific method has shown through studies that people who are open about their sexuality and accepted for it tend to live happier lives. It’s only when they try to deny, change, or hide their sexuality that there is some impairment.

Likewise, this also means that homosexuality isn’t a lifestyle, or something you can indoctrinate youth into. As I said, differing sexualities are genetic, and you can’t pray away, condition someone, or ban something so caught up in the very DNA in a person.

Now, some might ask about my previous post, where I said that homosexuality was commonplace in Greece in a ritualized form. I say that was a form of cultural homosexuality. It was done because it was part of the culture, everyone was doing it, and nobody could see any reason not to do it. Plus, having a male lover was a choice, not a requirement. You could almost compare it to video games: everyone seems to play video games these days, and most people don’t see a reason not to play them if you can. (I know that we’re talking about two very different things here, but you get the idea, right?)

In any case, I’ve said what I wanted to say about the Bible, religion, and homosexuality before Pride weekend here in Columbus. I hope you enjoyed the posts I’ve written and perhaps were given some food for thought. And if you’re in the Columbus area this weekend and are looking for some fun, come to Pride. Leave the picketing signs at home, and have a blast. I’ll see you there.