Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Dead Theologians Society: St. Polycarp

If you study the early church, I mean the really early church, you quickly run into St. Polycarp. A disciple of the Apostle John, Polycarp lived from 69 to 155, becoming the bishop of Smyrna – some accounts indicate that John nay have ordained him to that position.

Polycarp is an important link in the theological and leadership chain of the church, mentoring Irenaeus, who heard him speak in his youth, as well as Tertullian. Serving in an area led by a government opposed to the new religion, he led his flock for decades. At the age of 86, Polycarp was led into a stadium in Smyrna to be burned alive. After that attempt failed, he was finally killed by a dagger.

Only one of the many letters written by Polycarp is still extant, one written to the Church of Philippi. One passage instructs believers on the proper attitude to maintain. “Stand fast, therefore, in this conduct and follow the example of the Lord, ‘firm and unchangeable in faith, lovers of the brotherhood, loving each other, united in truth,’ helping each other with the mildness of the Lord, despising no man.”

Along with Clement and Ignatius, Polycarp is considered on the Apostolic Fathers of the 2nd Century church.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Comic Book Review: Gotham By Midnight #9

Gotham By Midnight #9, DC Comics, cover-dated November 2015.

“The Truth,” by Ray Fawkes, with art by Juan Ferreyra. Cover by Bill Sienkiewicz.
Internal Affairs drags in the members of The Midnight Shift for interrogation and gathers evidence from their station house. They have been in trouble before, fighting demons and ghosts. But this may just be the enemy that can actually destroy the team.
Detectives Jim Corrigan and Lisa Drake are questioned separately and both remain stubborn. Neither will turn on the other. At the same time, Dr. Tarr has made a critical discovery about the black flowers that have been a constant throughout the issues. He believes they are a language, containing certain rules and rhythms that are trying to communicate.
Back in the interview rooms, out heroes start to crack. Corrigan is growing frustrated, and Drake collapses as a response. Her powers tell her what’s coming and she tries to warn her interrogators. “Evacuate. The. Building.”
The case laid out by the IA officers makes sense, from their perspective. And they are not … totally wrong. He tries to explain The Spectre and his relationship to the being, and they respond with questions. Good questions. Like why doesn’t he just go and wipe out Arkham?
Corrigan slumps. “I don’t know. It’s God’s choice. I have no control.”
But IA believes he does control the power, that he is morally and legally responsible for the deaths that come in the Spectre’s wake. And when they threaten him with the possibility of Drake taking the fall for the murders if Corrigan doesn’t, that is the last straw. The Spectre appears in the small room, and seems to agree with the officers that Corrigan is as much in control of his actions as God is. And when the spirit of vengeance departs, Corrigan is left alone, in a room covered in the blood of his eviscerated interrogators.
This is a terrific issue. And we are left with a range of cliffhangers, from the situation that Corrigan is in, to Doctor Tarr’s discovery, to the relationship of the Spectre to Corrigan.
Juan Ferreyra successfully portrays Corrigan as a man becoming more and more rattled throughout the issue, more and more angry. And the looks on his face in the last few pages are remarkable: confusion, horror, doubt, shock. All are there on his face.
And all those emotions were mine as I read this.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Nephilim and Angels in Danielle Trussoni’s Angelology

Few obscure Bible passages have generated more theological and creative speculation than Genesis 6:4.
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” – English Standard Version
In her novel Angelology, Danielle Trussoni has an interesting take on the topic. The idea is that the great old families of Europe, the powers behind the thrones (and in some cases on the thrones) are the descendants of Nephilim. Sister Evangeline and her sisters, part of the Society of Angelologists, end up on the front lines of the spiritual battle.
The Angelologists believe that Nephilim are behind history’s greatest acts of evil – war, genocide, famine and slavery. The idea is that their wealth and influence have allowed the Nephilim to develop institutions and systems that suppress ordinary people.But as the years have passed, the Nephilim's bloodlines have becoe weakened, and their influence may be waning.
I really enjoyed Trussoni's take on the topic, as different as it was from other versions of Nephilim stories I have run across before.
There is a second novel in the series, and I expect to read it soon.
A general-interest review of the novel appears at Alan’s Eyes & Ears.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Surprised by Left Behind: The Kids #36

At some other point in time, I’ll discuss WHY I’m reading the 40-book Left Behind: The Kids series. But for now, let me discuss a number of surprisingly good moments I found in Book 36, “Ominous Choices.”
I understand that the phrase “surprisingly good” is a backhanded compliment. Let me say that I am not criticizing the technical skill of Chris Fabry, the actual writer of the young adult series. He did a very good job weaving recognizable events from the main Left Behind series into early books in his series, keeping the timelines of the two series consistent.
But what I’m referring to here as “surprisingly good” are events that I was genuinely surprised to find portrayed in a YA book published more than a decade ago by an evangelical publishing house. For example, there is a childbirth scene that is not graphic by any means, but is more specific and realistic than I was expecting to find.
But the biggest surprise was the resolution of the situation that one of our lead characters for the entire series found himself in. Lionel became pinned under a large boulder, and after many prayers for his rescue, he went “127 hours” on himself and cut off his own arm. In a series where angels regularly perform miracles, and many character were praying for Lionel’s rescue, this resolution is surprising.
During Lionel’s ordeal, Judd searched for aid for his friend, and ran into a kindly doctor who helped him, despite having pledged his allegiance to the Anti-Christ. Judd shared the gospel with the man, and he was moved by Judd, but he did not respond by accepting Christ. In fact, he responded by killing himself.
These situations each show a theological subtlety that is rarely if ever displayed in the prior 35 books in the series. The specific acts portrayed also depart from the highly sanitized books that preceded this one.
I wonder if with five books left in the series, the editors decided to “let things go.” Or perhaps Fabry just decided to push the borders a bit, again knowing that only five books were left in the series. However and whyever this change happened, I hope it continues as the series moves towards its conclusion.