Freedom of Religion?

In the wake of the decision by a group Muslims in New York city to built a “community center” across from “Ground Zero” (the site of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001), I find, yet again, that I am under fire by my fellow Christians and political conservatives. Some say I am losing or betraying my Christian faith. Others say I am being un-American. This all because I am not willing to say that they, Muslims, can not build their “community center” or mosque or a holy building on private property that border “Ground Zero”. So I am writing this to set the record straight about my take on the issue as an American and a Christian.

As to the “Ground Zero Mosque” as it is being called, I can not come up with a legal, note that word – legal, argument based on the current laws of the city of New York, state of New York, or United States of America to prevent the construction of said building. There may very well be a legitimate legal argument that I am not aware of, but, so far, no one has articulated one. On the other hand, I believe that the Imam, who is heading up the project, Feisal Rauf , has shown questionable judgement in wanted to build a his religious building at the site of an attack on the United States by Muslims. Yes, I admit that the Muslims who carried out the attacks on September 11th, 2001 were radical fanatics (and frankly more politically motivated than religiously as far as I can tell), but many American’s don’t make a distinction between the Islamic fanatics and regular everyday Muslims. (That is an education issue that will not be solved by building an Islamic community center or mosque at “Ground Zero”.) But, to be completely honest, I have to wonder if the creator’s of this building true underlying motivations are really about reconciliation and peace and education. If that were true, wouldn’t Feisal Rauf be willing to move his project rather than pour salt in still unhealed wounds of 9/11, especially after seeing the division and anger that this project is causing? Is there something to the idea that this is equivalent to planting a flag on ground that has conquered? Is this an attempt to force America to go to war with Islam? I can’t truly, say, but it does make me wonder.

And on the subject of this same Feisal Rauf telling America they need to be Sharia Law compliant, which seems to have become intermixed with the “Ground Zero Mosque” issue, I say “No”. (I see these as separated issues.) This is the same answer I give to the Christians who wish to install a Christian theocracy in American. If you want to live in a country that has enacted Sharia Law as the law of the land, then move to one. There are plenty of them in the world such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. America was founded as a nation of freedom, which, like it or not, includes religious freedom for all faiths. As long as those faiths are practiced within the bounds of the laws of the localities, states, and the United States of American (i.e., if you stone a women to death for committing adultery, you will be sent to prison for murder whether it is okay in your religious belief system or not.) And becoming Sharia Law compliant would violate the United States Constitution as well as many of the core concepts at the heart of this nation.

Now as a Christian how am I supposed to react? Well, I guess if I take the example of many of my fellow Christians, I am supposed to get mad and lobby my government representatives and protest with signs and condemn Islam, etc. And yet, I look at the life of Jesus, and I don’t see it. What I do see is:

Jesus told us to love and pray for our enemies.

Jesus told us to turn the other cheek when attacked.

Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

I don’t remember reading about Jesus lobbying the religious and political bodies to fix things. I don’t remember Jesus telling to us take up signs and protest when I don’t agree with what someone wants or what someone is doing. And I don’t remember Jesus telling me, or showing me through example, to use the force of law to spread his message via forcing people to behave a particular way. Laws don’t change hearts, and God has made it clear he is about what your believe in your heart not how you behave. (Although, your behavior should proceed from what you believe.)

Unfortunately, surveys have shown over and over again some of the most patriotic Americans are Evangelical Christians. These are people who have being convinced of the lie that America is a Christian nation. These are people who believe that defending there faith includes defending America. Well, I am sorry to be the one to break it to you, but America is not a Christian nation, and defending America is not defending Christianity.

America is not a magical replacement for Israel.

America was not founded as a Christian nation. (Although the first settlers in what has become the United States of America were Christians seeking freedom from religious oppression.)

Again America is, at least for the time being, a nation of freedom, which includes religious freedom for all faiths including but not exclusive to: Christianity, Judaism, Scientology, Satanism, Atheism, Wicca, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Pastafarians, and those who worship of the color purple.

Now let me be clear, I am not a universalist. I believe in the exclusivity of Christianity. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the only path to salvation. But I also believe in freewill, which means that, whether I like it or not, you can believe what you want. I will pray for those who don’t know Jesus (and those who do.) I will try very hard love those who don’t know Jesus (and those who do.) And when opportunity presents itself, I will share the Gospel of Jesus with those who don’t know Jesus. But I will not try and force people to “believe” in Jesus through fear, force of law, or violence. And I will stand against attempts by any religious groups to install a Theocracy in America, Christian or Islamic or otherwise.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not happy about the “Ground Zero Mosque” or community center or whatever they are saying it is being built. And I question the motivation of Feisal Rauf related to this project, but I don’t see a legal means to stop it. The city of New York could change the zoning of the propriety in question, or the state of New York could pass a new law to prevent the building of this “community center” or mosque, if they really wanted to. (Either of which would not violate the Constitution because not having this one building will not prevent Muslims from practicing there religion.)

I will pray for all those involved in this “Ground Zero Mosque” frenzy. But I am not going to participate in the angry protests and media fueled fervor around this issue outside of this post. (Honestly, I expect that once the media circus dies down around this issues, the city and/or state of New York will quietly make this issue go away; but only time will tell.)

So in the end, am I betraying my faith or being un-American? No, I would say I am doing my best to represent both in the difficult times in which we live.

Deep Blue: A Review

Deep Blue – Unabridged Audiobook
by David Niall Wilson
Narrated by Chris Patton

Published by Crossroad Press and SpringBrook Audio

Disclosure Notice: I received a copy of this audiobook from Crossroad Press and the Author, David Niall Wilson, for review purposes.

There are stories I will never forget. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Terminal by Brian Keene, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, Vacation by Jeremy C Shipp, and Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck among a few others. And now I am adding Deep Blue by David Niall Wilson to that list. I have read (or listened to) a lot of good stories in my life, but Deep Blue, much like those others listed above, is one of those rare great stories. A story that leaves a mark (or marks) and touches you in ways you didn’t expect.

Deep Blue is the story of a group of musicians, a band if you like, who are drawn into the cosmic battle between good and evil most unwittingly by Brandt, the drunken guitarist and lead singer of the band. His chance encounter with a blues harmonica player in an random alley during the wee hours of the morning changes his life and lives of his friends forever. This change leads them through a series of supernatural music events to a showdown with the ultimate evil in the small religious town of “Friendly” California.

I will talk about the audio recording of this novel in a moment, but I have a few more things I want to say about the story itself first. This is the kinda story that can and should make some one’s career. The characters are deep and rich. The scenes and events flow into each other with precision. Nothing feels tacked on, everything makes sense together: music, religion, fate, pain, good, evil, coffee, patterns, etc. This just book works, and works well. I can’t say enough about it (and I did say more when I interview the author for my podcast, which will be released on August 31st 2010 at http://thesnarkyavenger.com.) (Yeah I just plugged my podcast, you got a problem with that?) So go get a copy audio, ebook, or print; and read (or listen to) it.

The audio recording of Deep Blue is top notch. Chris Patton, who is apparently a voice acting machine, did an incredible job reading this book. The reading is crisp and clean. All the characters have unique voices, and the voice’s for the female characters sound like women (not like a man with a five o’clock shadow and black chest hair in a strapless, slinky red dress and a blond wig trying to sound like a woman. Not that I am saying that Chris Patton wears slinky red dresses and blond wig or has a five o’clock shadow; or that I know anything about men who do.) The unabridged audio edition of Deep Blue is very good and, if you’re into audiobooks, should not be missed.

So I give Deep Blue 6 out of 5 snark bites for the story, and 4 out of 5 snark bites for the audio. (It would have gotten 5 out of 5 snark bite for the audio except for a few minor flaws and a few mispronounced words. Yeah, I’m a little picky about stuff sometimes.) And overall I would give it 5 out of 5 snark bites, so go check it out a Crossroad Press right now.

On Being a Wanderer

“Not all who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

I have often been accused of being unfocused. And it is true, focus is something I struggle with. (I am sure there are some who would say I suffer from ADD or ADHD, but I’m not sure I agree.) I am a wanderer. An Explorer. I feel much like the Rangers in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Living in the wilds. Traveling from place to place. Helping some. Defending some. Fighting evil and/or monsters. And exploring the hidden treasures of the world missed by many on the main path.

Much like the Rangers, I have had some great adventures. I’ve gotten in over my head more than once. And I have experienced more life than many of the people I know who have stayed on the main roads.

In the end, I feel like I am destine for more, but I never quite achieving it.

I’ve never seen this as a weakness, but it has it’s downside. I don’t have a lot of close friends. In fact, I can count my close friends on one hand. And I have rarely excelled at anything. I try something. Do it for a while and move on (usually when the challenge is gone or it gets boring). God’s creation, even in it’s fallen state,has so much to offer it is hard to want to stay focused on one thing for any long period of time.

I have had the chance to do a lot as well:

I was a crew member on a fast attack submarine. I have played almost every pen and paper RPG (role playing game) that came out before 1980. I have read (and listened to) dozens of stories. I have created hundreds of shows on a variety of different topics, and entertained so many people. I preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a church and on the street. Produce and self-publish two albums of music. Write software professional. Help several business make better use of there data via data warehousing and reporting. Help to run scifi/fantasy/horror/anime fandom conventions and clubs. Tried food and beer and wine from all over the world. Run several small project teams. Acted in Audio Drama. Produced Audio Drama. Inspired others to get into podcasting and to write. Met hundreds of interesting and awesome people. Experienced the joy of marriage. Bowled a 212 game. (I’ve tried and tried for a 300, but apparently it is not meant to be.) And so much more.

In the end I have so many ideas and desire. But sometimes I find I keep falling back on what’s easy rather than take on the greater challenge.

As I have gotten older, my desire to wander has waned a bit. I want to focus more. I want to take on the greater challenge. I am still not that interested in taking the main road but the paths I traverse are run a lot more parallel to it now. In fact, if you watch the line of trees off to your left you might catch a glimpse of me in my dark green cloak and awesome beard.

There are things I want to achieve that are a bigger challenges and will require more focus. I want The Adventures of The Snarky Avenger web comic to be a success. I want to sell some short stories and at least one novel. (I have been publish, I have simply not been paid for any my stories or articles.) I want to interview and spread the word about more awesome authors, artists, and other creative people. And I want to entertain and inspire people with new and interesting stories. Everything else is fluff. Fun fluff but fluff none the less.

I would also like to have more close friends. (Maybe enough that I have to use two hands to count them instead of one.) But I doubt I will ever have a lot of them. I am a loner and a hard person to be friends with. I am not interested the false community offered by social networking. I want people in my life who I can be there for, and who will be there for me. People who will tell the me the truth no matter how much I don’t want to hear it. People who truly care about me.

I have goals and ideas. I like trying new things. I view much of what I do and have done as grand experiments. But the time has come to wander less and focus more.

It is time to take on the great challenge.

It is time to put away childish things.

It is time to find that ever elusive thing I am destine for.

It is time to tell more stories.

Personal Heroes: Scott Sigler

I have been meaning to write a series, or at least start writing, a series of posts about my personal heroes. This idea really took root after I had gone to my second Scott Sigler book signing. The one for the release of Ancestor in hard cover. (I should have gone to the bar afterward. I am still kicking myself about that.) But I put it off. Well, here it is, or a least the first post in the series. There will be more. There are a handful of people living, dead, and otherwise that I admire greatly. It is my goal in the this series of articles to talk about each one of them, and what about them inspires me. Since I was inspired to start this series by Scott Sigler, he has the honor of being the first person I write about.

Scott Sigler is a personal hero of mine. He has managed to, thought hard work and perseverance, achieve his dream of being a full-time writer. He did this by giving away his work for free in podcast form as he went, building an audience. And he did this by writing and publishing kick-ass stories.

He is the New York Time’s best selling author of Earth Core, Ancestor, Infected, The Rookie, Nocturnal, Contagious, and The Starter. He is also the author of many short stories, and he collaborated on many stories with other authors for The Crypt. He also does a regular blog/column for AMC on horror, Laughing in the Face of Death. (I’m sure there are other things I am missing as well.)

I admire Scott not only because he writes great stories and has achieved his dream, but because he has a clear focus on what he wants to do and he genuinely likes and cares about his fans.

I am not good with focus, I admit. That has allowed me to do a lot of different stuff (and I enjoyed all those experiences), but it has hindered me from really hitting my big goals. (I don’t consider this a weakness.) I am very impressed with the fact that Scott saw what he wanted to do and focused on it, and he found ways around the obstacles put before him while maintaining his principles.

In the interest in not coming across as a total fan boy. I don’t agree with Scott on everything. I don’t agree with him about spirituality. And I prefer Bourbon to Scotch. (That can be blamed on Brian Keene, who will also appear in this series of articles.)

Scott has earned all of his current success, and the success that will come in the future for him. I am privilege to be an “original” junkie and to have had the opportunity to meet Scott in person and interview him twice for my podcast Snark Infested Waters.

I raise my glass in a toast to Scott Sigler. You are one of my personal heroes. Thank you for all you do, have done, will do, and the inspiration you are.