Saturday, December 24, 2011

Journey to Christmas

By Journey to Christmas, I don't mean the long drive from Fayetteville, Arkansas back to home in Johnson City. Tennessee. That journey involved a detour around construction on I-40 and letting our student driver take the wheel at Bald Knob. Which turned out to be a bad idea because the new navigator(Terry, as I had moved to the back of the van to watch Scarecrow and Mrs. King on DVD) didn't know we were supposed to be on Hwy 64 instead of 67, and we ended up going to Memphis by way of Jonesboro. A flat tire in Nashville added a bit more adventure to our Christmas journey.

From Flat Tire

No, the Journey to Christmas of which I speak is the title of a DVD series that our family recently previewed for Tyndale House Publishers. This 4-part series follows five individuals who are given a trip to the Holy Land to help them discover the true meaning of Christmas. The five travelers include an agnostic, a person experiencing a crisis of faith, an artist looking for inspiration, a native American who wonders if Jesus can identify with her culture, and a "normal" enthusiastic believer (at least I hope that it's normal for believers to be enthusiastic about their faith).

The cinematography was wonderful, and it was interesting to see the five travelers bond through their journey. But, my family found the series to be quite boring. Each episode (except the first) started with a great deal of review and the action was very slow. I had hoped that watching this together would make a great family advent experience, but we were underwhelmed. I even fell asleep during one episode. I had hoped at least to see some dramatic life-change occur with the travelers, but they didn't seem all that different.

I received a complimentary copy of this DVD series from Tyndale House Publishers and was not required to post a positive review.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Return of the Living Dead

I posted before about the book, Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos. This is a book I agreed to review for Tyndale House Publishers, and I read it aloud to the boys back in October. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but we all loved it and couldn't wait to sign up for the blog tour!

In the book, Matt uses a hilarious story to explain how we all need transformation and how that can only be accomplished by the work of the gospel in our lives. We had some great discussions about our own "monsters." I know I struggle with my anger - though,like a werewolf, I appear normal most of the time. I also have some of the controlling issues of a mad scientist. My boys could relate to the anger of the werewolf and the selfishness of the vampire. And we all thought that, unfortunately, zombies are a very good analogy for the church as a whole. Our favorite scenes were at the zombie church and at the therapist, where the werewolf learns how to use behavior therapy to change his actions without truly changing his heart. We could all relate to how our own efforts only succeed in making us "a vampire with a tan."

Nathan thought that most Christian teens would also enjoy this book - though he said to warn them to persevere through those first few chapters when you don't know what the heck is going on. I actually think it's even better to share this book by reading as a family or as part of a discussion group (discussion questions are provided in the book).

Spoiler Alert: I must say that the boys did not like the ending because the "guy didn't get the girl." They said this was hard to take after what happened to Captain America. I never would have pegged them for such romantics. I, however, really liked the ending. It was a refreshingly realistic ending to a very improbable story.

We liked the book enough that we decided to read Imaginary Jesus by the same author. It was also very funny and thought-provoking. You could read either book first, though it might make more sense if you start with Imaginary Jesus. I've read a lot of Christian literature, but I think these two books have been the most unique and creative approaches to sophisticated theology that I've encountered.

As part of the tour, we are very excited to present author Matt Mikalatos on our blog, answering the questions that we prepared for him:

Q: You've got more monsters in your self-diagnosis guide than appeared in your book. Does this mean you have a sequel planned?

I actually pitched a series of short novellas looking at the lives of some of the minor characters in this book... specifically Robert zombie, Lara the vampire and the minister in the end of the book as he goes to reconcile with his (other) son, but with various sorts of busyness, that's on hold for other projects right now. I had a lot of fun with this book, and I'd love to revisit some of them and see how their lives are shaping up! I have plans for the mummies and the sasquatch in some of those follow up novellas, but most of the others were either things I had originally thought about using in this novel or some I put together specifically for the monster guide.

Q: Who/'What is Borut supposed to represent? Is he Satan or just the death that follows us all or something else entirely?

Ha ha. Well, no one has seen Borut the way I see him yet... I saw Borut as a physical manifestation of the Pauline concept of The Law. The implacable, unstoppable reality of your sin equaling death. By all rights, someone like Luther belongs to the Law and his penalty is pre-determined. In that sense, the Law can be seen both as adversary and death sentence, so I don't see those interpretations as too far off from what I was shooting for.

Q: We couldn't quite figure out Matt's dream in Chapter 18 where he swallows the tiny silver bullet. Is that supposed to represent salvation, a longing, an answer to prayer, or what?

Hmmm. That's what I like about dreams. You probably learn more about the interpreters than anything else. I think your interpretations are more interesting than anything I had in mind. For me, I would look at it through the lens of Matt's concerns about leaving his neighbor alone with a loaded gun, and concerns that he might harm himself, feelings of helplessness, lost, worry, working themselves to the surface.

Q: When did you start writing?

I wrote a couple little things here and there as a kid. I did a good amount of writing in high school in my drama classes, though at the time I thought of it as acting. In college I really buckled down and it became a regular part of my life.

Q: Have you ever done NaNoWriMo?

No, though I love the idea of it. I'm already squeezing as many free moments into writing as I can, so in some sense it would be redundant for me. This year on about November 23rd I thought, "I should try to do it!" but obviously it was folly by then to try to catch up!

Q: Was the secret lair in your book inspired by reality?

All the space in our home (aside from the bathrooms) is really shared space... my wife and I share a room (of course) and our kids do, too. The one place I feel like is "mine" is my car when I'm driving to work. So, when I asked myself where my secret lair might be, my first thought was that that car! I don't, however, have any sumo wrestling equipment in the trunk. I just thought it was funny.

Q: Clockwork Jesus can quote from different versions of the Bible? What's your favorite version?

I most consistently read out of the NIV personally, but for family devotionals we use the NLT. I grew up largely with the King James, so a lot of verses I've memorized are KJV, and I still enjoy the poetry of the Shakespearean language in it. I actually like the New Berkeley for a change of pace now and then, as the unfamiliarity of it sometimes shakes me into taking a new look at phrases I know too well. There aren't any translations I absolutely loathe, but the more stilted the language gets as a translation moves toward trying to capture Greek or Hebrew sentence structure and things like that, the less I enjoy it for casual reading.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Camo Cupcakes

During the week of Thanksgiving, I had fun helping Carol make "camo cupcakes" for Samuel's outdoor laser tag birthday party. It's always fun to make a mess in someone else's kitchen, so we made this at Ann's house.

We used some brown and green food coloring to make several ugly shades of cake batter and randomly placed them in muffin cups.

From Art Museum in Arkansas

From Art Museum in Arkansas

Then we made a rather unpleasant but authentic shade of green buttercream frosting.

From Art Museum in Arkansas

From Art Museum in Arkansas

They looked pretty disgusting - just perfect for a 10-year old boy's birthday party. But they tasted good, and they also blended in perfectly with dirt and leaves just like camo should.