This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #454, on the subject of In re: Comes the Storm.
When the publisher dropped me a note asking if I would write a few words about a pending book of inspirational poetry, Comes the Storm by Deborah L. Kelly, I thought I was a bad fit for such a task; however, apparently they wanted someone with a theological background to write a few words, and they thought of me. I hope they don’t regret it too badly.
I have two problems going into this. The one is that I have never found “inspirational” books at all inspiring. Even “good” devotional books leave me cold. I suppose I’m too intellectual for that sort of thing.
The other problem is that I’m very picky about poetry. There are two kinds of poems that I enjoy. The one is nonsense poetry, such as Ogden Nash or Lewis Carroll. The other is traditional poetry with well-structued rhyme and meter, such as Robert Frost. I believe with Chaucer that poetry is an art form for the ear, not the eye, and that prose does not become poetry simply because of the way the words are arranged on the page. In short:
I do not believe Seventeen syllables in Three lines make a poem.
Oh star–the fairest one in sight–we grant your loftiness aright to some obscurity of cloud; it will not do to say of night, since dark is what brings out your light. Some mystery becomes the proud, but to be wholly taciturn in your reserve is not allowed.
To my mind, if you can write it all out in a single line and recognize the poetry when you read it, it’s a poem; if you are scattering prose on a page to look pretty, it’s pretty prose. It might be poetic, but I draw a sharp line between poetic prose and actual poetry; and I’ve written both.
So I had low expectations going into this.
Indeed, I am breaking one of my rules by writing a review of a book I never finished reading. Part of that was the ebook format, and the fact that I saw no simple way to bookmark my place, and so I had to try to find where I was every time I had to reopen it; I expect that will be resolved in the published version. Part of it, though, was that the modernist poetic style all blurred together, and while I could probably have defined differences between the poems, for practical purposes I often could not tell whether the one in front of me was one I had read before or not. As I said, this was not at all my sort of book.
On the other hand, it was often well written. I frequently felt as if I were reading passages from the Psalms or Wisdom books or some of the Prophets. If inspirational books appeal to you, this probably should be on your list. It comes through as sincere and devoted.
Since I was asked to review this based on the fact that I am, in some sense, a theologian, I ought to say something about the theology. I am of the belief that everyone is wrong about something, including me, and that part of our spiritual growth is recognizing our errors and attempting to correct them. I have never known anyone with whom I was in complete agreement about everything, and frankly I do not expect to do so in this life. That said, while I did not agree with everything in this book, it was all within the bounds of orthodox Christian belief. As long as the reader does not take it as divinely inspired scripture, it is as sound as one could ask–and I would say that about my own writings.
Take that with however many grains of salt you wish.
This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #435, on the subject of Hindsight is 2021.
Once again, as we did last year in web log post #371: The Twenty-Twenty Twenty/Twenty and in previous years linked successively back from there, we are recapping everything published in the past year–sort of.
I say “sort of” because once again some material is being omitted. There have been a few hundred posts to the Christian Gamers Guild Bible Study which can be accessed there but aren’t really fully indexed anywhere. Meanwhile, the dozen articles in the Faith in Play series and the similar dozen in the RPG-ology series were just indexed yesterday on the Christian Gamers Guild site, along with everything else published there this year, in 2021 At the Christian Gamers Guild Reviewed, and won’t be repeated here. The RPG-ology series began recovering articles from Game Ideas Unlimited, the lost four-year weekly series at Gaming Outpost, so I republished its debut article as web log post #384: Game Ideas Unlimited Introduction, for the sake of completeness.
I also posted several days a week on my Patreon web log, which announces almost everything I publish elsewhere on the same day it’s published, but again omitting the Bible study posts.
Similarly, we finished posting the novel Re Verse All, featuring Lauren Hastings, Tomiko Takano, and James Beam, from chapter 58 to the end (chapter 156), which are indexed there along with the several behind-the-writings posts on it:
Then there were several related character papers in the Multiverser Novel Support Site, and we then began posting In Verse Proportion, bringing back Joseph Kondor in fantasy Arabia, Bob Slade in industrial age bird world, and Derek Brown on a lost colony spaceship, at this point having reached chapter 39. It included one behind-the-writings web log post, #432: Whole New Worlds, covering the first twenty-one chapters.
Yet there was quite a bit more.
Forgive me for burying the lead, as it were, but just as Why I Believe came out late last year, it was followed this year by the release of The Essential Guide to Time Travel: Temporal Anomalies & Replacement Theory, the long-awaited book on the subject, at the end of June. This summarizing of much of the information on the Temporal Anomalies web site includes updated analyses of four films and a comprehensive presentation of time travel theory. Dimensionfold Publishing interviewed me about it by e-mail, which they published here.
Related to that, a reader sent a letter with comments on Why I Believe, which I edited a bit (removing personal references) and posted as web log post #386: An Unsolicited Private Review.
Now, getting back to other publications, there were another dozen songs published this year:
I was given a book for Christmas, which I read and reviewed at Goodreads, God Is Disappointed In You, by comic book creator Mark Russell.
Then early in May someone (and I don’t remember who, how, or why) persuaded me to register as a Goodreads author; or maybe I did that earlier, but it was in May that I was persuaded by Goodreads to launch yet another web log, this one entitled The Ides of Mark because it appropriately posted at the middle and end of each month, updating readers on what I had published during that period. In that sense, it is somewhat redundant, as the aforementioned Patreon web log covers that as it happens, and this annual review recaps it all eventually. However, Ides also covers postings in the Bible Study and omits a lot of the personal detail about what I’m doing besides writing which the Patreon blog includes, and gives less information about what I am writing that has not yet been published. This year’s entries have included:
#16: Years Go By, December sixteenth through thirty-first, with my post-Christmas post.
Not all of that is repeated here, but the bulk of it is. I also answered ten questions there, which you can find here.
Half a decade ago I wrote about those musicians who influenced me; this year it occurred to me to do the same of writers, and so posted #380: Authorial Influences exploring that.
Quite a few Bible questions came up and were answered, beginning with web log post #410: When to Pray, followed by a somewhat technical question about a passage in Matthew, #413: The Abomination of Desolation. Then another reader asked me to address a long and complicated collection of issues in an article that claimed the Exodus, as reported in the book of that name, never happened, and I produced an eleven-part miniseries of web log posts in response:
Finally, I’ve had a long-standing relationship with the people at the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be, under which they have translated and republished quite a few of my articles. I finally took the time to organize these into an index in English, at least for my own reference, which I made available as web log post #431: Mark Joseph Young En Français, with links to such English versions as are available.
The writing of course continues, with more articles already in the queue, more work being done on the next novel, and more posted every week. Thank you for reading, and particularly to those of you who have encouraged me through posts and reposts and likes, and who have supported me through Patreon or PayPal.me and the purchase of my books.
This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #371, on the subject of The Twenty-Twenty Twenty/Twenty.
I believe the correct greeting is Happy New Year, as we enter 2021. That means it is time for us to look back at everything that we published in 2020.
The big deal is the book, in paperback and Kindle format, Why I Believe, a compilation of evidence on the basis of which intelligent people believe in God and in Jesus Christ. I’m told the hardcover version is out, joining the paperback and Kindle versions, but haven’t seen it yet.
The year began, appropriately, on January 1st with a look back at the previous year, web log post #325: The 2019 Recap, doing then what we are doing now, providing a quick look at everything from the previous dozen months.
On the first of the year I also published a song, the first of a dozen continuing from the seven of the previous year:
That series continues with another song later today.
On the subject of series, there are several others, including both the Faith in Play and RPG-ology monthly series at the Christian Gamers Guild. These are both indexed, along with other excellent material from other contributing authors, at 2020 at the Christian Gamers Guild Reviewed, posted yesterday. Thanks to the editorial staff of the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be, a large collection of the original Game Ideas Unlimited articles, thought to be lost when Gaming Outpost closed, have been recovered and are now appearing slightly repolished in these series. (Quite a few of them plus other articles have been translated into French for their site.) We also finished posting the rest of the novel Versers Versus Versers, along with updated character sheets in the Multiverser Novel Support Pages, and started on the seventh, Re Verse All, which will continue well into the new year. There were quite a few behind-the-writings web log posts connected to those, but they are indexed in the novel table of contents pages so we won’t burden this entry with them.
There was also the continuation of another series, reminiscences on the history of Christian contemporary and rock music from the early 1980s, which picked up with:
I should mention for the time travel fans that there is indeed a book in the works, possibly with a sequel, but it’s still in the early stages so that’s on the list for the coming year. Meanwhile, temporal anomalies were not ignored, as we had several posts and pages.
Toward a Time Travel Book, presenting the contents page from the first very rough draft of the promised temporal anomalies book.
Among the miscellaneous posts this year is one about the fact that my work appears under several slightly different names–Mark, Mark J., M. Joseph, M. J., and Mark Joseph–and the story behind that is explained in web log post #331: What’s With the Names? A musician asked a question on a Facebook group, which I answered in web log post #352: Why No One Cares About Your Songs.
Giving extra confusion to the year, in February my second grandchild, my first grandson, was born, roughly a decade or so after his half-sister. That was the beginning of a saga that still is not completely resolved, but it was several months before he came home, in time for Halloween.
My book reading slowed drastically, due largely to the fact that my Kindle was smashed and I’ve been trying to get it repaired, but there are a few book reviews (one of a book on writing) at Goodreads. Also appearing are two republished book reviews, as web log posts #351: In re: Evil Star and #368: In re: Cry of the Icemark, recovered from the lost Gaming Outpost archives.
The year ahead looks promising. There should be another song posted today, with Faith in Play and RPG-ology articles already queued for publication later this month and well into the year ahead, chapters of the novel Re Verse All with their accompanying behind-the-writings peeks standing by, more CCM history, some time travel movies awaiting my attention, and–well, we’ll have to see what appears. Meanwhile, this is your opportunity to catch anything you missed or re-read anything you forgot.
I would be remiss if I did not thank those who have supported me through Patreon and PayPal.me, and to invite and encourage others to do so. The Patreon web log is the first place where all new pages are announced, and the place to go for glimpses of what is to come, and even as little as a dollar a month helps me immensely and gets you that information delivered several times a week. Thank you.
This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #368, on the subject of In re: Cry of the Icemark.
This was originally published at Gaming Outpost, preserved by the Wayback Machine, and republished here.
To say that Cry of the Icemark is a book for adolescent girls is not to insult it; I am sure that the author, Stuart Hill, intended this as his audience, and that Scholastic Books published it with their peculiar target market in view. It still qualifies as a fantasy novel, of sorts, and having taken the time to read it I now offer my thoughts on it.
For me, not a member of the target audience, the book took a somewhat slow start. The cultures which were borrowed wholesale to supply the backgrounds of the characters were too thinly veiled, and the religions both too recognizably real and too dimensionally shallow. Despite the fact that the thirteen-year-old heroine battles a powerful werewolf in the first chapter, I felt that everything was predictable. She loses that battle, incidentally, but the werewolf is apparently impressed by the courage with which she surrenders to face death, and lets her live.
That combination of courage and the willingness to accept that people who are different are still people become the real strengths of Thirrin Freer Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield. As her fourteenth birthday dawns, she has befriended the king of the werewolves and a young warlock in the woods, a boy a year older than her with whom an appropriate amount of sexual tension is built. The very Norse northern kingdom is threatened by an enemy to the south, a vast empire which takes Rome and infects it with the rationalism of the enlightenment. This, to my mind, was the strongest element in the story, that Thirrin’s world is filled with spirits and legendary creatures come to life, and the enemy invading her country is certain that all such myths are superstitions to be ignored or explained by some other means. It thus becomes a battle between those who believe in the supernatural reality around us and those who reject everything that science cannot explain, and we find ourselves rooting for the supernaturalists.
At first, the book seems to be broad-minded in its approach to its religious concepts. Thirrin and her father are clearly Odinites, followers of a religion that leads them to put their lives on the line for the sakes of their people, to see falling nobly in battle as glorious even if it is defeat. Her tutor from the south, Maggiore, is rather agnostic about all such things, but not to the point of rejecting them outright. The boy from the woods, Oskan, son of one of the most revered of the witches (there is some teasing about the never-revealed identity of his father), is a sort of Druidic Wiccan, worshipper of the Goddess and skilled in the craft of the woods, including the language of the werewolves. When we eventually meet Thirrin’s maternal relatives (her mother died when she was young), they follow a Greek religion focused on matriarchy. This cooperation of various faiths is interesting enough; however, only Oskan has any real power in the story, and by the end of the book there is a tacit understanding that Oskan’s religion is the one everyone respects, whatever they may say formally.
As Thirrin turns fourteen, the empire to the south invades. Winter is almost upon the land, and her father Redrought Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield, Bear of the North, King of the Icemark, is surprised that the famed and undefeated General Scipio Bellorum is sending a force into his territory so close to the snows–which are delayed, creating the real danger that Bellorum’s forces could crush the resistance at the border and lay seige to the capital before anything else could be done. Redrought places the safety of his people in the hands of his daughter, adding Wildcat of the North to her titles, and instructs that they flee yet farther north to the cities held by her mother’s kin where her aunt rules as their vassal. He then leads the bulk of his army against the invaders. His force is slaughtered to a man, but not before destroying the advance guard of his enemy and holding the border long enough for Thirrin to evacuate the capital. News and proof of the death of her father reach her eventually, making her Queen of the Icemark, responsible to save her land and her people from the powerful invaders.
Thirrin is as good a fighter as any man in the kingdom, and sometimes an inspired tactician, but her true strength proves to be uniting very divided people. Her initial encounter with the werewolf is reinforced by a kindness she shows him, and this forges an alliance between the Icemark and its hidden residents. Thanks to Oskan Witch’s Son she forges alliances with the Oak King and the Holly King who rule the forests of the north, and then she gains the support of her mother’s kin. This, though, is just the start. Her courage and character carry her to the realm of the Vampire King and beyond that to the northernmost regions of the world where the Giant Leopards do battle against the Ice Trolls, and are surprised to discover that the two-legged creatures in the southern lands who can speak in their language are more than myth. Humans and cats return to the capital city just as the roads are opening, and so are able to fortify it against the southern army and make their stand there.
The details of the battle are interesting, laced with magic and medieval combat. Thirrin and her forces hold their own while awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from their allies; Scipio Bellorum presses his advantages while explaining away anything that does not fit his enlightened view of reality. Each side takes its losses, but the sense is constantly present that Bellorum’s resources are nearly inexhaustible and he can afford to fight this as a war of attrition. Everything hangs on whether the vampires, ghosts, and werewolves will arrive before the city falls. The invader also proves that he is without honor but willing to take advantage of the honor of his enemy, offering to face Thirrin in single combat to decide the outcome, and then fleeing and failing to accept defeat when he has been critically wounded.
There is a degree to which the climactic battle is brilliant, but I saw it coming. Bellorum recognizes that the moon will be full, providing ample light for battle, and believes that a battle at night will prey upon the superstitions of the primitive barbarians he faces. Thirrin and her people think nothing of superstitions, only of the realities of the supernatural world around them, and so this does not have the impact Bellorum hopes. However, I suspect my readers see the flaw in Scipio’s plan and the intended surprise that the author brings at this point, when the battle is fought on the night of the full moon. Suffice it that by the time she turns fifteen, Thirrin Freer Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield, Wildcat of the North, Queen of the Icemark, has routed and eviscerated the greatest army in the world, and established peace in her kingdom.
Overall the book was satisfying, and certainly so when viewed as a children’s book. It is not so well crafted as the Harry Potter series, and the inconsistencies about the religious beliefs embraced by Thirrin detract from it. However, it was a pleasant read with some excellent battle accounts, clever ideas in magic, and a delightful core character group that made it worth the time.
This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #351, on the subject of In re: Evil Star.
Regis Pannier and his kind staff over at the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be, who frequently translate my gaming articles for distribution to their audience, recently provided me with a link to a section of what is called the Internet Archive, complete with The Wayback Machine (I knew Mister Peabody had invented something useful) in which a very large number of my Game Ideas Unlimited articles have been preserved in whole, and a few more in part, along with some Blogless Lepolt entries (my old Gaming Outpost web log) and a couple of book reviews. With encouragement from readers I am going to attempt to republish most of this material. Most of the Game Ideas Unlimited material will go to the current RPG-ology series at the Christian Gamers Guild, although some of it might come here; one of the web log posts (about Harry Potter has been slated for the Faith in Play series early next year, and probably a few articles and particularly the book reviews will be coming here.
This is the first of those, originally published November 5, 2007.
I was handed a reviewer copy of this book, Evil Star by Alexander Horowitz; it is billed as the second book in The Gatekeepers series. The first, Raven’s Gate, escaped my notice despite being on the New York Times’ Best Seller list at some point. (That has more to do with my inattention to such lists than with any lack of merit in the book.) It is entirely accidental that I received this book. It was tossed in the bag with my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, because the bookstore was celebrating the release of the book and looking for things they had around that they could give away. The person who gave me this book had no idea that I was a reviewer (he did know I was an author, and had read my novel), and no expectation that I should review it. However, I read it, and since it was a pre-release “early reader edition” copy I thought I would write a review.
I am sorely tempted to call this series, “Harry Potter Meets Cthulu”. The connections seem to scream at me.
The hero of the series, Matthew Freeman who prefers to be called Matt, is in this book fourteen years old; that makes him a bit older than Harry was in his second book (he had just turned twelve). It is not clear to me, however, how old Matt was in the beginning of the first book. Like Harry, Matt is an orphan, although it seems his parents really did die in a car accident and not until he was eight. That tale is told, apparently, in the first book. Like Harry, Matt has powers he does not understand and cannot always control; he was aware of the car accident before it occurred, and he sometimes has similar premonitions here. He also sometimes causes telekinetic events, but through severe emotional upset, not intention. He is even described as thin with unkempt dark hair and blue eyes.
The similarities to Harry don’t end there, though. We are told that there are seven gates, and apparently each book revolves around the effort to keep the next one closed. first grade math says that means there will be seven books in this series, just as there were in the Potter books. Matt is the hero, the focus of the stories; his friends, young and old, help him, but in the critical moments he is the one on the line.
In fairness to Horowitz, at least some of these are the tropes of the genre: fantasy books for adolescents have adolescent heroes. Cry of the Icemark* was similar in some ways. Matt does not have a group of adolescent friends; he has the friendship of a young adult reporter, and the support of a secret international organization, but he is completely estranged from his peers. No one is helping him learn to use his powers. He is not exactly unique; there is much in the book about “the five”, of which he is the first to be identified, and he dreams about the other four trying to reach him. Still, in this book one of the others does reach him, recognizing him from his own dreams. He, too, has powers he does not understand, but they are very different powers.
As to Cthulu, he is never mentioned; however, the series revolves around a set of gates through which the “Old Ones” threaten to return to bring darkness to the word, and this book focuses on an ancient newly discovered book which tells how to open one of those gates. A wealthy reclusive businessman is the evil monster attempting to get the book and open the gate.
I did not feel that Matt was as familiar a character as Harry. It was a weakness of the book that I had trouble identifying with its hero. Harry stayed with family members who did not like him, but Matt had an insane former foster mother trying to kill him. Harry was alone at school but for a couple of friends, but Matt was alone on the streets of the Peruvian slums with a boy with whom he shared no common language. Harry meets creatures of fantasy and learns to control his power through the mentoring of those more experienced than he, while Matt meets Incan survivors and struggles to work through his own use of his powers. Where Harry’s powers made us feel that he was special, Matt’s powers make us feel that he is different; we want to be like Harry, but not like Matt. Even the fact that Harry goes to school in what seems a very ordinary way (despite it being a school for wizards) gives us a point of contact; Matt is behind in his education, because his life is constantly interrupted and he has to move to another school. It just never felt like Matt was a sympathetic character.
On the other hand, the author takes us on quite an adventure. Matt is the reluctant hero here; he wants to be a normal boy, but he’s not normal, and fate will not leave him alone. In his new school he is the outcast, and the fact that he pulls the fire alarm before the explosion that would have killed almost everyone only makes him less accepted. The Nexus, the organization that is fighting this battle, wants and perhaps needs his help, but he is trying to avoid getting involved–and yet gets pulled half way around the world and into the midst of the trouble as events unfold. It is not always clear who are the villains and who the allies, and more than once he flees from those who would have helped him. Scores, maybe hundreds, of people are trying to help him, but at the critical moment he stands alone but for the other, younger, boy.
The book is laced with some wonderful images, many of them descriptions of Peru from its ancient wonders to its modern slums. If there is a fault here, it lies in the interlacing of fantasy elements–a hidden Incan city, secret passages in those preserved wonders known only to the surviving Incans–with the hard facts. Even I am not certain where the facts ended and the fantasies began at times. That is only a fault because of the wonderfully clear portrayals of the realities of Peru, the author’s skill at bringing us into that place, and because (being published by Scholastic) it is targeted at a teen or pre-teen audience who will benefit greatly from the look at that society, if they can sort out the reality from the rest.
The copy I have has a number of errors in it which caught my eye as an editor, which may also have caught the eye of Scholastic’s editors before the finished version went to press. Most of these are minor typos, a wrong but similar word here or there. The mistake which most bothered me involved a description of the actions of a minor character, a truck driver on his way to be beaten and robbed. Before the incident we are told that he is thinking about asking a certain waitress at a certain truck stop out on a date; after the incident we are told that his wife was contacted and gave them important information. I prefer to think that the author overlooked part of what he was doing, rather than that he perceives married truck drivers commonly asking women out on dates; I hope, at least, that this was a mistake, and that it was corrected before the final copy.
I am tempted to attempt to obtain a copy of the first book. After all, it is often the case that one book in a series is weaker than the others, and this might be the weaker book. It is not a bad idea for a series; the Lovecraftian horror concepts are present but not terrifyingly so (although I’m probably not the best judge of that–Lovecraft has never frightened me). There is madness, there is betrayal, there are evil people working toward evil ends. Matt does not always emerge victorious, does not always make the best decisions, and is not always eager to do what he must do. However, he proves the hero through his efforts, and moves an epic story forward a significant chapter. I wouldn’t expect this to be the stuff of a best seller, but then, such things are determined by factors other than how they appeal to fifty-something author-reviewers.
—– *A review of Cry of the Icemark had been previously published, and has been saved, and will be copied here within a few weeks.
This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #325, on the subject of The 2019 Recap.
Happy New Year to you. A year ago I continued the tradition of recapitulating in the most sketchy of fashions everything I had published over the previous year, in mark Joseph “young” web log post #278: The 2018 Recap. I am back to continue that tradition, as briefly as reasonable, so that if you missed something you can find it, or if you vaguely remember something you want to read again you can hunt it down. Some of that brevity will be achieved by referencing index pages, other collections of links to articles and installments.
For example, that day also saw the publication of the first Faith in Play article of the year, but all twelve of those plus the dozen RPG-ology series articles are listed, described, and linked in 2019 at the Christian Gamers Guild Reviewed, published yesterday. There’s some good game stuff there in addition to some good Bible stuff, including links to some articles by other talented gaming writers, and a couple contributions involving me one way or another that were not parts of either series. Also CGG-related, I finished the Bible study on Revelation and began John in January; we’re still working through John, but thanks to a late-in-the-year problem with Yahoo!Groups that had been hosting us we had to move everything to Groups.IO, and I haven’t managed to fix all the important links yet.
At that point we were also about a quarter of the way through the novel Garden of Versers as we posted a Robert Slade chapter that same day, but that entire novel is indexed there, along with links to the web log posts giving background on the writing process. In October we launched the sixth novel, Versers Versus Versers, which is heating up in three chapters a week, again indexed along with behind-the-writings posts there, and it will continue in the new year. There are also links to the support pages, character sheets for the major protagonists and a few antagonists in the stories. Also related to the novels, in October I invited reader input on which characters should be the focus of the seventh, in #318: Toward a Seventh Multiverser Novel.
The first one after the recap of the previous year was an answer to a personal question asked impersonally on a public forum: how did I know I was called to writing and composing? The answer is found in web log post #279: My Journey to Becoming a Writer.
I had already begun a miniseries on the Christian contemporary and rock music of the seventies and early eighties–the time when I was working at the radio station and what I remembered from before that. That series continued (and hopefully will continue this year) with:
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it is evident that the music dominated the web log this year. In May I was invited to a sort of conference/convention in Nashville, which I attended and from which I benefited significantly. I wrote about that in web log post #297: An Objective Look at The Extreme Tour Objective Session. While there I talked to several persons in the Christian music industry, and one of them advised me to found my own publishing company and publish my songs. After considerable consideration I recognized that I have no skills for business, but I could put the songs out there, and so I began with a sort of song-of-the-month miniseries, the first seven songs posted this year:
I admit that I have to some degree soured on law and politics. Polarization has gotten so bad that moderates are regarded enemies by the extremists on both sides. However, I tackled a few Supreme Court cases, some issues in taxes including tariffs, a couple election articles, and a couple of recurring issues:
I was hospitalized more than once this year, but the big one was right near the beginning when the emergency room informed me that that pain was a myocardial infarction–in the vernacular, a heart attack. Many of you supported me in many ways, and so I offered web log post #285: An Expression of Gratitude.
Most of the game-related material went to the RPG-ology series mentioned at the beginning of this article, and you should visit that index for those. I did include one role playing game article here as web log post #303: A Nightmare Game World, a very strange scenario from a dream.
So that’s pretty much what I wrote this year, not counting the fact that I’m working on the second edition of Multiverser, looking for a publisher for a book entitled Why I Believe, and continuing to produce the material to continue the ongoing series into the new year. We’ll do this again in a dozen months.
This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #297, on the subject of An Objective Look at The Extreme Tour Objective Session.
Late last year I received an invitation from someone representing something called The Extreme Tour inviting me to investigate mutually the possibility of participating in their program. The big piece of the puzzle was something called The Objective Session, a long weekend of meetings in Nashville which they correctly say defies characterization as a convention or conference or retreat or just about any other label we might put on a large gathering of persons for a specific purpose. The Greeks would probably have called it an ekklesia, which means a gathering of people called together by a common interest, but which we typically translate “church”–and there is a sense in which church is not a bad name for what this is, but it’s very unlike any church I’ve ever attended, and I’ve attended many in many different denominations.
The odd thing was that I could find very little online about either The Extreme Tour or The Objective Session. Then many events conspired against any hope I might have had of attending–our car’s transmission died to a tune of almost as much as we were still paying for the car, I was hospitalized twice, money was getting tighter. I wasn’t investigating the trip as diligently as I otherwise might have done because it was beginning to look impossible–but I was still praying about it.
Then with literally less than a week to go the last pieces were falling into place; it transitioned from a ridiculous impossibility to a very difficult possibility. I posted to all the Christian musicians groups I knew to see if anyone could advise me on this, and got almost no response at all, and none that was informed. On Tuesday morning I was literally weeping, for reasons I cannot really explain in this post beyond that it had looked as if an opportunity to do something with the music had been placed in front of me and I was going to have to decline it. That’s a lesson for a different forum, but an hour later the last piece of the puzzle fell into place and the decision was made: my son Adam and I were going to Nashville to attend The Objective Session.
It was then that we started getting advice from musicians, and it had three things in common. The first was they were universally against our going. The second was they knew no more and probably less than I did about the program. One person asked if I had ever heard of a concert being presented by The Extreme Tour, which was a pretty useless question because I’m pretty sure that of all the concerts I attended and even promoted when I was at the radio station, I knew who presented or sponsored very few of them. Another person seems to have a very odd view of divine guidance, suggesting that no believer would ever be uncomfortable doing anything that was what God was directing him to do. The third commonality was that most of them had received invitations and ignored them.
The decision had already been made, so this advice had less impact than it might otherwise have had. We went. It was a twelve-hour drive, and over the course of Wednesday night through Monday morning we probably spent between two and three hundred dollars on food, gas, and tolls; lodging at a cheap hotel less than half an hour from the site even in morning traffic was less than two hundred dollars for three nights, although with how intense the event was it probably would have been better for us to have stayed in the area the nights before and after. Parking at the venue was free for the event, but we made a point of arriving early and not moving the car until we were done, because it was very crowded. Because we had been invited the meeting itself cost us nothing, and I don’t want to quote the price I heard for tickets for those not invited.
What I want to do in this post is provide information for those who have been invited and don’t know whether it would be worth going. I’ll give you the short answer up front: I don’t know what will happen from it, but for us it was worth going.
To fully understand The Objective Session you probably need to understand The Extreme Tour. Ted Brunn, founder, has one of those testimonies on the order of he should have died and the doctors don’t know why he lived and were themselves using the word “miracle” (fell seven stories and landed on his head on rocks). At some point he became extremely sensitive to the fact that there are a lot of lost people out there who don’t believe that anyone cares about them, and he began an organization that works with local non-profit groups to put on free shows in places no one wants to perform. The shows include select artists and talented extreme sports athletes (e.g., skateboarding exhibitions), and the message to the people is that someone does care about them. All of the performers, as well as all of the staff, are volunteers; the money that the organization collects really does go to the expenses of doing what they do, such as hiring sound equipment for venues. For some situations they defray costs of performing artists, but this is not an organization designed to make you rich. It is rather designed to enable you to contribute your talents alongside those of others to take the good news into places you probably could never go alone.
The Objective Session is from their perspective an opportunity for them to meet potential volunteer performers; to facilitate that, they also gather many music professionals from the Nashville area. Although in spare moments throughout the weekend I tackled the program book, I never finished reading all the names and credentials, and I’m only going to name a few here. I will also mention that there were said to be six hundred of us in attendance, and I met many of them and have CDs from a few. Probably the last thing I did was give a couple CDs of my own music to a young artist who was probably the first person I met when I arrived; it seemed the right thing to do at the time, as he wanted to hear the rest of the song I had partly sung the day before, and I was in no condition to attempt to sing it.
I will tell you that from the moment we arrived things were happening. Because of the fact that we drove eight hundred miles and twelve hours with one break for dinner and gasoline (don’t tell my hemotologist) arriving around noon central time and staying up to reach our hotel twenty minutes outside the city after midnight, so I was immunologically compromised, we left the event a bit early on Friday and Saturday nights. There are no meal breaks; there are food trucks in the parking lot said to be some of the finest in the city (and the ones I patronized were very good) and they recommend you slip away and bring back food to eat during the meetings.
Let me say I have been to several retreats for Christian musicians over the decades. This one was what all the others only dreamed of being. Here are some of the highlights of my experience.
Many of the speakers were excellent. I apologize that with that intense a schedule I can’t specifically pinpoint what we heard from Wes Yoder (one of the original business names in the CCM world), Tom Jackson (the go-to guy for staging a musical show), or any of the others; I do remember that Dr. Ken Steorts, founding guitarist of Skillet, delved into a Biblical understanding of the function of artists (he has a book on the subject). I had private meetings with Ezra Boggs and Vince Wilcox for the specific purpose of gaining some career advice, and I attended a songwriting session led by early Petra member Rob Frazier, at which I was invited to sing a portion of my song Free.
There were some things for which there was a charge, or an extra charge, and I took advantage of one, submitting a few of my songs and some biographical information to be distributed to a list of Nashville professionals who wouldn’t take anything like that from a stranger but would take it from people they know at The Extreme Tour. That was just under two hundred dollars, and I don’t expect to hear the outcome of that for at least a few days, probably a few weeks. I did not get tapped for a recording contract or management representation. However, I did not pay the extra to be one of perhaps a dozen performers who played two songs each for a panel of industry judges on Friday and Saturday evenings. Adam said it sickened him to watch eight strangers critize the performances of these mostly wonderful artists, although I sometimes found myself agreeing with their criticisms as things I would have said. He felt even worse when I told him that those artists had paid somewhere around five hundred dollars each for the privilege of being so criticized. However, while we watched a young band called Zoe Imperial absolutely wowed the attendees (and most of us fancy ourselves professional caliber musicians) with a rock/hip-hop blend in a show choreographed and performed as well as anything I’ve seen since Servant, one of the judges, Lamont Compton a.k.a. Supreme, leapt up on stage to offer them a management deal with him, so it does happen.
What Ted Brunn hopes will be the real impact, though, is that on Saturday night we were broken into teams and sent to Broadway in Nashville to make music and get attention and talk to people about the hope that is in us. Because it was so late and my condition was deteriorating I did not attend these, and Adam took me back to the hotel; I’m sorry he missed it, but I did that kind of thing at the Boston Common and the Topsfield Fair decades ago, so I’ve seen it. On Sunday afternoon we put on a concert (I really just watched) supporting a local church barbecue (O.K., so I also ate a hotdog and some chips) in a field that was supposed to be a park but there were too many shootings there for people to feel safe outside in it ordinarily. Most of us were to interact with the people, to let them know, once again, that someone cares about them. I watched a recently signed Universal recording artist attendee dancing with young ghetto children, and a Christian rapper hold a children’s dancing contest on the portable stage someone had loaned the Tour at the last minute when transportation for the stage they were going to use failed. This organization is really about taking the message to the hopeless, and it was worth every minute of it and the respiratory distress I was still fighting to overcome the night after.
It struck me that this might seem like a lot of effort for the opportunity to play a bunch of free concerts. I can’t speak to participating on the tour because I haven’t yet done so and have no guarantee that I will be invited. However, it seems to me that my experience is fairly typical, that most of us play most of our concerts for free, mostly in venues which reach only Christians. That’s not a problem for me, because my ministry is to be a teacher, which is primarily a ministry to believers, and my music frequently reflects that; but Paul told Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, and there’s good reason to think that that instruction is for all of us, or at least all of us doing any kind of ministry at all, so the opportunity to do for free what you are already doing for free but in front of people who need to hear the message alongside others doing the same might be worth the time and effort.
So to all those who thought it was some kind of scam, I am persuaded otherwise; and to those who wondered whether it would be worth it, I am persuaded that it is. Probably you won’t get a Nashville management deal or recording contract; those are few and far between. Maybe you won’t be convinced to volunteer for free concerts in ghettos and such, but you will still benefit, I think probably enormously, from the experience. Maybe you will get something from it that will move your music and ministry career forward in a significant way. Maybe that’s not the point of what you’re doing, and maybe you’ll discover what it is God really wants from you.
This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #285, on the subject of An Expression of Gratitude.
I need to thank a lot of people.
The complications include that I do not know who you all are, and I’m not sure of the propriety either of naming those whose names I have or contacting you personally.
Thus I am thanking you all, however many of you there are, through this web log post.
This arises from the fact that I recently had a myocardial infarction–a heart attack–which put me in the hospital. I posted that in this Facebook post, and somewhere about twenty responses down I posted again with news of the Friday and Monday procedures, and my Tuesday discharge and such.
Many of you sent what I guess would be called “good wishes”, that is, comments, messages, whatever, hoping that I would get better. Thank you. I have done so to a significant degree, although I am still a bit weak and officially convalescing (and my wife has already scolded me for overworking once she knew how much I did yesterday, the day after my discharge, but someone had to get the boys to work and someone had to pick up my prescriptions, and more often than not I find that someone is me, particularly when she is working a string of night shifts, driving herself for the first time since her broken hip, and needing to sleep during the day). So I am not fully recovered, but I am back at work.
Many of you prayed, and for this I am particularly grateful. You have, of course, obligated me to let you know about the answers to your prayers so that many of you can give thanks to God for the grace extended through the prayers of many of you (cf. II Corinthians 1:11). I have largely done that in the Facebook post. I am not out of the woods entirely–I have a bag of new medications (and of all things the pharmacy couldn’t fill the “aspirin” prescription (chewable baby aspirin–how could they not have that?), so someone has to go back for it today), and I have two appointments for a cardiac stress test and a followup to decide what the test results mean. Those are in the second week of March.
At least two of you made a point of spreading the word of my debilitation, and of encouraging people who at least know who I am to support me financially during this time. That has resulted in a few gifts of significant amounts through my PayPal.me account–the first real activity there since it opened, and enough to pay for this bag of prescriptions and a bit more. I have not seen any new Patreon patrons yet, but Patreon’s notification system is sometimes wonky so I’m going to include mention of that–because I am grateful to those of you who have made an effort to keep me going, and thankful to God that you are there, to those who contributed and to those who encouraged others to do so.
I’ll extend these thanks to those who have been meaning to send a bit of help my direction and simply haven’t yet done so; I know what that’s like, as there are often times when I have something I need to do soon that goes for days or weeks or even months before I manage it. So thank you for the prayers and support you are going to send in the future. You really do make a difference.
This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #278, on the subject of The 2018 Recap.
A year ago I continued a tradition of recapitulating in the most sketchy of fashions everything I had published over the previous year, in mark Joseph “young” web log post #219: A 2017 Retrospective. I am back to continue that tradition, as briefly as reasonable. Some of that brevity will be achieved by referencing index pages, other collections of links to articles and installments.
For example, on the second of January, the same day I published that retrospective here, I also posted another chapter in the series of Multiverser novels, at which point we were at the twenty-third chapter of the fourth book, Spy Verses (which contains one hundred forty-seven short chapters). We had just published the first of seven behind-the-writings web log posts looking at the writing process, but all of that is indexed at that link. Also on that same day the Christian Gamers Guild released the second installment of the new series Faith in Play, but all of those articles along with all the articles in the RPG-ology series are listed, briefly described, and linked (along with other excellent articles from other members of the guild) in the just-published Thirteen Months in Review on their site. That saves recapping here two dozen more titles in the realms of Bible/theology and gaming, many of them excellent. It should also be mentioned that six days a week I post to the Chaplain’s Bible study list, finishing Revelation probably early next week, and posting “Musings” on Fridays.
Spy Verses wrapped up in October, and was followed by the release of an expansion of Multiverser Novel Support Pages, updated character sheets through the end of that book, and by the end of that month we had begun publishing, several chapters per week, Garden of Versers, which is still going as I write this.
Now would probably be a good time to mention that all of that writing is free to read, supported by reader contributions–that means you–through Patreon or PayPal Me. If you’ve been following and enjoying any of those series, your encouragement and support through those means goes a long way to keeping them going, along with much else that has been written–and although that may be the bulk of what was written, there is still much else.
Since on January 10th the first of the year’s web log posts on law and politics appeared, we’ll cover those next.
#220: The Right to Repair presents the new New Jersey law requiring manufacturers of consumer electronics to provide schematics, parts, and tools to owners at reasonable prices, so that those with some knowledge in the field can troubleshoot and repair their own cell phones and other electronics, and none of us need be at the mercy of price-gouging company stores.
#221: Silence on the Lesbian Front addressed the ramifications of a Supreme Court decision not to hear a case against a Mississippi law permitting merchants to decline wedding services to homosexual weddings.
#247: The Homosexual Wedding Cake Case examines in some detail the decision that protected a baker from legal action against him for refusing service to a homosexual couple, based primarily on the prejudicial language of the lower court decision.
#251: Voter Unregistration Law examined a somewhat complicated case upholding a law that permits removal of non-responsive voters from the registration lists.
#274: Close Races and Third Parties arose in part from the fact that one of our congressional districts was undecided for several days, and in part from the fact that Maine has enacted a new experimental system which benefits third parties by having voters rank all candidates in order of preference.
One post that not only bridges the space between religion and politics but explains why the two cannot really be separated should be mentioned, #224: Religious Politics.
Looking at our Bible and Theology posts, the first of the year landed in the end of March, as #233: Does Hell Exist? attempts to explore how the modern conception of hell compares with the Biblical one; #245: Unspoken Prayer Requests finds theological problems with asking people to pray without telling them what to pray; and #267: A Mass Revival Meeting explains what is really necessary to bring about a revival.
A couple previously published pieces appeared in translation in the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be, which you can find indexed under my name there.
So that is a look at what was published online under my name this past year–a couple hundred articles, when you count all the chapters of the books (and more if you count all the Bible study posts). In the future, well, I have a lot more to write about Christian music, I’m only getting started with Garden of Versers and have another novel, Versers Versus Versers, set up and ready to run, several Faith in Play and RPG-ology articles are in the queue (one publishes today), and there’s a study of the Gospel According to John ready to post and the Gospel According to Mark being prepared to follow it, plus some preliminary notes on Supreme Court cases, an analysis of a time travel movie that’s taking too long to finish, and more.
Again, your support through Patreon or PayPal.me helps make all of it possible. Thank you for your support and encouragement.
This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #272, on the subject of To the Bride Live.
There aren’t a lot of albums that I’m going to mention in their own articles; this might in fact be the only one. That’s partly because this is a collaborative effort–our last two spotlighted artists, Barry McGuire and The Second Chapter of Acts, went on tour together with support from a band called A Band Called David (which supported artists on other tours as well). It is also because this live album easily falls among the best recordings of its decade, with wonderful performances of great songs and an unrivaled concert ambiance.
However, it is difficult to present much of this album, because very little of it can be found online. One of the two cuts I had linked in the early notes was removed because the account holder had been cited for multiple copyright violations (although I found another copy of it). None of my searches uncovered any cuts from this album by The Second Chapter of Acts. However, they did most of their repertoire to that point, and Barry also sang quite a bit as well as talking to the audience. His chat about Dolphins is available online (or was as of this writing, although I had to find a different link for it). He also sang the wonderful song I Walked a Mile.
This was apparently the debut tour for Acts, as Barry, the known figure from his secular successes, introduced them as those three skinny people “not to be confused with the microphone stands”, and told the story we’ve already related about hearing them at Buck Herring’s house after dinner one night. As they begin presenting their part of the concert, it is obvious that they, unlike some of the secular vocal bands of the era, were every bit as good live as in the studio.
The two-disk album is enjoyable and compelling throughout, a performance and concert experience rivaling any. If I could have only one album from that decade, this would be it.
The Second Chapter of Acts appeared on other live albums with other artists, but although they always delivered unblemished performances, the presence of Barry McGuire here made it a great concert, a cut above anything else I ever heard.
I recently saw that Barry released a new album in October, 2018. It might be accompanied by a concert tour. If you have the opportunity to attend one of his concerts, it’s worth it.