What Would Jesus Buy?

Reverend Billy says the Shopocalypse is coming, and you can color me commie, but I believe he's right. Kiddos, it's time to assume the position underneath your school desks. Grownups, duck and cover, because Halloween is over and you know what that means:

It's Christmasshopomadnesstime!

The intercontinental bombardment has begun, with a 673.8 percent increase in junk mail-order catalogues slamming into a mailbox near you. That's right: you my friend are ground zero, and Madison Avenue has an itchy finger on the button. So brace yourself for shopoactive atmosphere everywhere you go, fueled by those holy hymns of yesteryear, Jingle Bell Rock and Santa Baby. Even with the full body protection of a liberal line of credit, you're bound to absorb enough guilt and envy to start glowing in the dark. But don't worry; by the time the bankruptcy is over you’ll be so numb you won't feel it anymore.

Or . . .

You could fire back. Little ones must get their goodies from Santa, of course. But in the past, The Lovely Sue and I have also given Christmas presents to people who really need them (sick people, poor people, orphans). We gave them in the names of our adult friends and family. Then we sent fancy Christmas ornaments to our loved ones. On the ornaments, we used gold or silver paint to inscribe a description of the gift some person got in their name (“Sally with leukemia got a tricycle given in your name—Christmas, 2007”). Through the years we hope those ornaments will be used to deck the halls, and help us and all our loved ones to remember what Christmas really means.

How about your family? Do you have traditions or ideas for keeping Christmas centered on the Christ?

Posted byAthol Dickson at 5:34 PM 2 comments  

Cause For Celebration!

Here's great news for those who still believe it's possible to elect an honorable man for our next President. After lagging in fifth place for so long, in the latest Rasmussen poll Mike Huckabee is moving up while the others are slipping down. He’s now in a dead heat with McCain, Romney and Thompson for second place nationally for the Republican nomination. Also, in the latest American Research Group Poll he is only 2 percentage points behind the frontrunner in Iowa, well within the 4 percent margin of error for first place in the nation’s first Presidential caucus. The latest CBS Poll also has him in second place in Iowa and “surging” toward the lead, with nearly two months still to go before caucus night (Jan 8)—plenty of time for Huckabee to bypass Romney.

What’s amazing is the way Huckabee has gained so much momentum with so few resources. Giuliani raised $14 million in the first quarter of this year alone. McCain was “disappointed” to only raise $13 million. Romney raised $21 million dollars! Meanwhile, Huckabee raised less than one million dollars during the same period. In this CNN article from last April on the candidates' war chests, Mike Huckabee was not even mentioned!

Yet here he is, solidly in the running.

As I said before, this guy is a real “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” story. Not only does Mike Huckabee have no money to speak of by comparison to the others (and doesn’t that prove he is in nobody’s pocket?); he’s a beltway outsider, by far the most vocal critic of the Republican establishment (except for Ron Paul, of course). Although Mike Huckabee is a Southern Baptist, he gets very little help from high profile evangelicals, in fact most of our evangelical “leaders” (whatever that means) continue to either ignore him or come out in favor of the pro-choice Republican national frontrunner because they think the frontrunner has a better chance of “winning” (whatever that means). Huckabee does not fit into a simplistic red state / blue state mold (he’s passionately Christian and a foreign policy conservative, yet he’s also a fiscal revolutionary and a genuine social liberal in the original best sense of the term). All of this means he should have fallen by the wayside long ago.

Yet here he is, solidly in the running.

While Romney and Giuliani tell us what they think we want to hear, professing strong beliefs today that directly contradict what they said the last time they ran for political office, Mike Huckabee is gaining traction for one reason only: this man tells the truth exactly as he sees it, exactly as he has always seen it.

To those who still say Mike Huckabee can’t win, it’s idealistic to think he could, it’s not practical, I can only reply, "Tell it to the polls."

To everybody else, I say, Don't just sit there; stand against the cynicism! Now is the time to get behind Mike Huckabee with your money and your time!

Posted byAthol Dickson at 8:59 AM 1 comments  

Interview on Writing

Jon Brisbin was kind enough to ask me to discuss writing and a few related topics over at his blog. I hope you'll check it out. If you want to talk about some aspect of our conversation further, drop me a comment here and I'll do my best to keep my end up. And if you appreciate Jon's interview skills as much as I do, be sure to let him know. He asked some outstanding questions!

Posted byAthol Dickson at 4:00 PM 3 comments  

THE CURE, The Theme

Spoiler alert. What follows will give away important parts of the plot of my novel, The Cure, so if you have not read it and you think you might some day, you may want to stop reading today's post right here.

Still reading? Okay, you were warned. Here goes:

I received the following email today from a reader: "I read The Cure and I really did not get the ending. Riley was cured of alcoholism, so why did he have to become an alcoholic again to have to overcome it? I'm all for leaving things to the imagination, but did he get right with God?" Since this is not the first time a reader has asked me this question, I thought it made sense to answer here, where I can send other readers in the future. Following is my reply.

Dear Reader,

Thank you for taking time to ask this question. It's an important one.

The short answer is, Yes indeed, Riley does end up being "right with God." To understand why, we first have to open up the story a bit more broadly. Jesus did not die and rise to save us from our sins; he did it to save us from our sin addiction, the broken thing inside that makes it impossible NOT to sin. (We were "slaves to sin" as Paul says in Romans 7, from which I chose an epigraph for The Cure.) So when you read about Riley's alcohol addiction, think of the story in broader terms. The Cure is not just about one man's struggle against alcoholism. It's about your own struggle against your particular sin addiction, no matter how it might be manifested in your life.

We know willpower alone cannot save us from our sin addiction, and in the same way, we know there is no cure for sinfulness in technology. We can "cure" gluttony with stomach stapling; we can "cure" pornography with filters on computers, and so forth. But nothing human beings can do will cure us of our sin addiction. This is why Jesus had to die and rise, and why only God's grace is sufficient.

But your question remains a good one: why would a Christian voluntarily accept the urge of alcoholism?

Notice what Riley tries to do about his addiction. He takes the "cure" while he's still drunk on Scotch. Like Riley, the apostle Paul had a "thorn in the flesh," but Paul was wise enough to ask God to remove it. Riley does no such thing. Taking the cure is not a decision he makes with God; it is a choice he makes completely on his own while in the grip of the very thing he hopes to cure. Riley never prays for forgiveness; on the contrary, he prays for "something good to drink." Then the technology kicks in and Riley no longer "needs" to drink, but notice why: it is the technology at work in him. It is not the Holy Spirit. So while the external evidence of his sin addiction is controlled, the internal cause--the thing that made him start drinking in the first place--remains unchanged.

Remember Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. God doesn't just care about murder; He cares about anger in our hearts. God doesn't just care about adultery; He cares about lust in our hearts. Again, Jesus did not come to save us from external sins; He came to save us from the broken thing inside that forces us to sin. And although Riley is no longer drinking, that internal brokenness remains. Riley is not drinking anymore, but he is far from right with God.

We see this in the fact that Riley carries an overwhelming sense of guilt in spite of his sobriety. He often says he feels "weighed down". What does he do about that? He does what any pagan who is scared of hell would do. He works hard to try to make up for all the bad things in his life. He works hard to be "good." But of course, all his efforts come to nothing. Indeed, they are worse than nothing; they actually cause more damage. Hope is suspected of taking bribes, his daughter is pregnant out of wedlock, the town is dying, and all because "When I want to do good, evil is right there with me," as Paul said in Romans 7. Finally, when technology and willpower and good works have all failed, when the town is in ashes, Hope is in the hospital, Willa is dead, and Riley is in jail for murder, at last we come to this (on page 318):

"He thought about the weight that never lifted no matter what he did. Sober, drunk, broke or flush, in love or alone, it did not matter. And suddenly he realized what it was he had forgotten in a clearing choked with carnage seven years ago, the reason for his incapacitating weakness. When I am weak, then I am strong."

Now Riley knows his mistake. He was weak in his alcoholism, but he must allow himself to be weak in an entirely different way in order to accept the strength of God's amazing grace. He remembers what he once forgot: God will give no grace to those who think they're strong. But how can Riley Keep be weak, when he is now sober and the richest man in Maine?

You know what he does with the Communion wine, how he voluntarily accepts his alcohol addiction back into himself, and hopefully now you are beginning to understand his reason.

Riley's drinking started with a spiritual mistake. He needed a spiritual solution. Another Christian might not express that solution the way Riley did. I'm not saying they should. That's the kind of individual decision each person must make with the Lord. But lest we be tempted to condemn Riley's choice in his own case, remember God said "No" when Paul asked for his "thorn of the flesh" to be removed. Remember God explained that Paul was better off with that thorn right where it was. And as much as it hurt, Paul accepted this. In fact, he boasted about it. This is the very event that led him to write those famous words: "When I am weak, then I am strong." The idea for The Cure came to me one day when I asked myself, "If someone had come along with an instant cure for Paul's particular problem, would he have taken it in spite of what God said?"

When faced with trials, a Christian's decisions must never be made on the basis of what's easiest, or least painful, or less of a struggle. Christians are not called to easy, painless, struggle-free lives. This is the meaning of the sentence on page 326 of The Cure, just before Riley drank the Communion wine and took the urge/thorn back into his flesh:

"He had begun to remember crosses to be lifted up and carried, and follow me, and follow me."

So, dear Reader, now that you understand these things the way Riley understood them, I hope The Cure will help you think about the meaning of your own particular sin addictions, whatever they might be. In your struggle for holiness I hope this story helps you think of your sinfulness as an opportunity to be weak before the Lord. I hope it reminds you not to try to cure yourself. I hope you will remember you can't do that, except maybe on the surface. Deep down where it matters, like Riley Keep you are utterly powerless when you try to be strong, but if you have faith enough to let yourself be weak, the Lord will make you strong enough to do more than just survive the trials of life; if you let yourself be weak, you will boast about the triumph of the Lord's amazing grace in you.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 9:33 AM 13 comments  


Do you blog and enjoy novels? Have I got a deal for you! The publisher is ready to mail advance reader copies of my next novel, Winter Haven. I’d love to send you a copy (free, of course). All I ask is that you contact me no later than November 14, 2007 with your promise to a) read it in the near future and b) blog about it.

More on how to get your copy of Winter Haven below, but first, here’s the back cover blurb:

Answers are impossible
when questions are too terrible to ask.

Athol Dickson’s “powerfully imagined” River Rising received rousing acclaim from numerous publications including Booklist (who chose it as one of the top 10 Christian novels of 2006), Publishers Weekly, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was a finalist for Christianity Today’s Best Novel of 2006, and received a Christy Award for Best Suspense Novel.

His next novel,
The Cure, received rave reviews from critics like Library Journal, and readers alike. Now he entertains and enthralls readers once again with a mystery that goes beyond the surface of everything we know and see . . . .

Thirteen years ago, Vera Gamble’s brother, Siggy, ran away from home in Texas never to be seen again. Now his body washes ashore on the tiny island of Winter Haven, Maine. His only surviving kin, Vera travels north to claim the body—and finds herself tangled in the impossible: Her brother hasn’t aged a day since last she saw him.

Determined to uncover what happened in those lost years, Vera soon discovers there are other secrets haunting the island. As legends of lost colonies and a witch bent on vengeance come to life amidst a forest where no creature dares to live, Vera is hemmed in by unearthly fog and distrusted by the locals. Her only help is the mysterious owner of a grand but dilapidated mansion poised on a rocky cliff. Will Vera survive her desperate search for answers, or will her quest become yet one more dark Winter Haven legend?

If you want to be one of the first people on the planet to read Winter Haven, just send me a private email by clicking on “Contact Me” on the far right of the navagation bar above. Please be sure to include all of the following in your email:

1) Your name.
2) Your blog’s address (sorry, copies not available for those who don't blog).
3) Your mailing address (P.O. boxes are fine, but street addresses are better)
4) Your promise to read Winter Haven in the near future, and blog about it.

Remember: I need to hear from you no later than November 14, 2007.

Thanks, and happy reading!

Posted byAthol Dickson at 7:09 PM 9 comments