Fell on Black Days

On May 27 in Seattle, Chris Cornell was laid to rest. I know I’ve already written one post, and I don’t want to look like I’m rehashing the same subject. It’s just that so much about the circumstances in which he died touches on my own experiences with depression and hard lessons I’ve learned through them that one post was not enough.

Depression and Grunge music

The Seattle Grunge that exploded onto the music scene in the ’90s sounded like it came from a city where it rained nine months out of the year: Dark, depressed, moody, brooding, and riddled with distortion and druggy haze, but also brilliantly creative and original. If I asked who were the Big Four of Grunge, I think anyone would say, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Cornell’s Soundgarden. We had already lost Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley. In a 2014 interview for Rolling Stone, Cornell said this about them and other area musicians he knew,

The tragedy was much more than the fact that I would never see him again – it was that I would never hear him again. There’s this projection I had with Andy, Kurt, Jeff Buckley and other friends of mine that died of looking into the future at all these amazing things they’re going to do. I’ll never be able to predict what that is. All this music that will come out that will challenge me and inspire me – that sort of romantic, dramatic version of the perspective. When that goes away, for me in particular, it was a really hard thing. And it continues to be a hard thing….

So part of my memory of every record, and certainly Superunknown, there’s an eeriness in there, a kind of unresolvable sadness or indescribable longing that I’ve never really tried to isolate and define and fully understand. But it’s always there. It’s like a haunted thing.

And now those same words apply to Cornell himself. Of the Big Four, three have now lost lead singers to depression and/or drug addiction. The two often go hand in hand. I never got on drugs myself, but I am convinced a lot of drug use associated with these bands was really self-medicating for undiagnosed depression.

Where do “Black Days” come from?

In that same interview, Chris Cornell opened up about depression. On the inspiration behind the song “Fell on Black Days,” he said,

No matter how happy you are, you can wake up one day without any specific thing occurring to bring you into a darker place, and you’ll just be in a darker place anyway. To me, that was always a terrifying thought, because that’s something that – as far as I know – we don’t necessarily have control over. So that was the song I wanted to write. It just took a while.

Cornell accurately described the experience of millions of people living with depression who don’t even know it. You look around at your life, you think you should be happy, and you’re not. You’re depressed, and you have no reason to be. If you can’t be happy when everything in life is going well, how can you ever be happy? Maybe you think there’s no point in going on. Or maybe you sabotage your career or your relationships, so at least then you have a reason to be depressed. It doesn’t make sense to you, but I’m here to tell you there’s a reason for it.

Depression can either be clinical or situational. If there is nothing in your situation that can explain your depression, then it must be clinical. There are a number of possibilities, but the most common is that you have a chemically imbalanced brain. I’ve talked before about the time I went without my AD medication for a couple of weeks, and about the depressed voice in my head. When I was off my medication, the depressed voice in my head came back with a vengeance. But as I took my new medication, the voice went away. What this means is that voice in your head that tells you you’re worthless, you’re a waste of space, you’re a burden, you’ll never be happy so why not end it all, no one loves you, God has forsaken you, blah blah blahthat is the voice of a chemically imbalanced brain.

This is nothing to be ashamed of. Some people are born with a heart murmur. You were born with something like a “brain murmur.” It’s not your fault, any more than the person with the heart murmur. Clinical depression, like all mental illness, needs to be treated like a medical condition.

The shock of my life

I’ve known this for a number of years. Seventeen years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Before that, there had been times in my life I knew I was depressed. But I had always thought it was temporary. There were times in my life when I thought I was happy. But even then, people sometimes asked why I was sad, or even worse, why I was angry. When I found out about clinical depression, this finally made sense. I might feel happy, but chemically, my brain was still depressed. There was this underlying sadness people sometimes picked up.

It didn’t feel like depression, I guess because it was normal to me. It was the way I had always felt. The thing is, when I was diagnosed, I wouldn’t have said I felt depressed. At the urging of my mother and sister, I got myself tested anyway. The results?

You tested high for depression in every possible way.

I don’t think anyone has ever said anything about me that shocked me more. It was totally surreal. It was something I never would have thought of myself in a million years. I thought, it can’t really be that bad, and yet I knew it was true. Like I said, even at times when I felt happy, people around me thought I was sad or upset. No matter how I felt – happy, sad, good, bad, or apathetic, optimistic or hopeless – every moment of my life, I had been living with a brain that was tilted toward depression.

Don’t believe every spirit

If only someone could have been there to tell Cornell, “These thoughts you’re having are not real. I know they feel real to you. They sound like the Gospel truth. But they are not. These thoughts are just chemical imbalances in your brain. Whatever you do, don’t let these chemically induced voices make life and death decisions for you. Don’t believe these voices in your head. Fight them. Treat them like the enemy, because they want to kill you. Don’t let them. God will help you if you call on Him. God can help you fight these thoughts and imaginations that exalt themselves against the knowledge that you are a child of God with unique gifts to give the world, of which the music is part, but there is much more ahead. Even if you have never believed that before, dare to believe that just this once.

Don’t believe anyone who says Chris Cornell died because of drugs. He died because he had a mental illness, an Anxiety Disorder of some kind. How do I know? Because of the medication he was taking. He did the right thing by seeking professional help for his condition. Medications like Ativan can help some people with Anxiety Disorders, just like Zoloft and Trintellix helped me with Depression. Unfortunately, they don’t help everyone. In fact, for some people, it may make them more depressed, more anxious, and more suicidal. And so it breaks my heart that the very thing that saved my life ended up killing him.

 

image of Chris Cornell and Soundgarden performing at the Sound Academy

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Chris Cornell’s Black Hole Sun

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Chris Cornell’s Black Hole Sun

As rock fans know, on May 18, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell was found dead in his hotel room in Detroit. It was officially ruled a suicide by hanging. His wife says she thinks it was related to Ativan, a prescription drug mostly used to treat anxiety disorders. I know he had a history of depression and drug addiction. That combination often ends in tragedy.

Still, I have a hard time understanding it, because I saw him on CBS’s Saturday Morning show last month, and it looked like everything was going well for him. He wrote the theme song for “The Promise.”

https://youtu.be/I2Bh0vU6_Lw

I was interested in the movie before. The song was so beautifully poignant, I really wanted to see the movie after that. My girlfriend and I both loved the movie. We had never heard of the Turkish genocide campaign against the Armenians, so we learned something important. Cornell made us both want to see it.

Chris Cornell was touring with Soundgarden and excited about the new music they were making. He was proud of the music he wrote for the movie. He sounded optimistic, and it seemed like he had every reason to be happy with his life now. He did not seem like he had any reason to want to die. That’s why the news came as such a shock. And yet I know that’s what depression can do to you.

I don’t know if Cornell’s case was related to depression. The last time he spoke to his wife, he told her he had taken extra Ativan. I’ve posted before about my use of antidepressant drugs. In my case, they have helped tremendously, but they don’t work for everyone. Sometimes they can make the condition worse, so you have to work closely with your physician if you decide to try it. Any kind of psycho-tropic drug affects everyone differently. It’s possible that too much of it took his mind to a place we can’t understand, where hanging himself made perfect sense. The fact that an anti-anxiety drug was prescribed for him shows he was having some struggles.

When your sun is a black hole

I’ve seen it before, especially in people who struggle with both depression and/or drug addiction. They get treatment, they get clean and sober, and they look happy. They show no signs of being suicidal. They get their career and family life back on track. You think they’ve turned their lives around, then BAM! The news hits you like a 2″ x 4″. You saw them just a few days or weeks ago, and you wonder why you didn’t see any signs.

Since my girlfriend knows I have a history with depression, she couldn’t help wondering about me. I reassured her that I’m not just pretending to be happy. I really am, thanks in large part to her. But that’s what happens to the people left behind. It makes you second-guess yourself and everyone you love, especially if you know they have struggled with depression and/or drugs in the past. They look happy, but how do I know? And so with her worried about me, I gave her my word I would never do that to her. Is that enough? I hope so, because it really was the only assurance I could offer.

I wouldn’t do that to her, or my mother, or sister, or father, or niece or nephew, or brother-in-law, or all the relatives I see most every year in our family reunions, or my friends at church. When I think of Cornell, I feel at a loss. Such a great talent. Such a great voice. Such great music he made. He had a wife and children who loved him. If I was shocked, sad, and baffled, how must they feel?

Higher truth

I don’t care who you are, you have people in your life who love you and care about you. Suicide will leave them devastated and agonizing about where they went wrong. Even if it’s just one person who cares, think how they will feel if you go through with it. Even if no person on earth loves you, God does. If you don’t believe in God, God still believes in you.

God put you here in this life in this time for a reason. If you can’t see that reason, keep trying until you do. I’m still not sure what purpose God made me for, but in my lowest points in life, what stopped me from suicide was I didn’t want to hurt my family, and I didn’t want to die without fulfilling God’s purpose for me. I just kept trudging through the darkness, not knowing if I was going in the right direction, with nothing but the hope that someday, somehow, I would find out my reason for living. And now, I’m finally starting to see that as a possibility.

Some of those things I went through for so long when I was really in the depths of depression, I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I would never want to go back there. But the fact that I can see the light now proves I did the right thing to keep living when that was all I could do. And if I can use that experience to help one person who is lost, who doesn’t see any possibility for happiness in this life, if I can convince you to never give up on life because one day I promise you, you will find your way, then everything I went through was worth it.

Keep hanging in there. Seek, and you will find. You can have a happy and fulfilling life. You just need to learn how to stop depression from sabotaging it.

Related Posts

How Christians Think about Mental Illness Needs to Change

3 Reasons Why Faith Matters in Recovery

Depressed Christian, Part 1 – Four Principles Guiding My Recovery

 

The war on Thanksgiving, and Cannabidiol (CBD) as possible treatment for anxiety and depression

Sometime in December, probably multiple times, I expect to hear about the “war on Christmas,” because someone said Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Has anyone noticed there has been an ongoing war on Thanksgiving?

I remember when stores would wait until after Thanksgiving to play Christmas music, put up Christmas decorations, and Black Friday marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Now it’s the day after Halloween. This year, on November 1, I was in a discount grocery store, it was sunny and almost eighty degrees outside, not even a hint of snowflakes, and I heard “Sleigh Bells” through the store speakers. I wanted to shout, “This is just wrong, people! It’s still more than three weeks until Thanksgiving!”

Good or bad for business?

A USA Today article showed the state of the debate from the business side. On one hand, there is question about whether it makes business sense. Instead of resulting in more sales and profits, the numbers suggest Thanksgiving sales dilute the sales and purchases of Black Friday. So you’re open on this holiday, but overall you’re not making any more money. On the other hand, some believe being closed on Thanksgiving will soon be outdated. Most stores used to be closed on Sunday. Now shopping and running errands on Sunday is normal. Will the same thing happen with Thanksgiving?

As long as shoppers want to make purchases on Thanksgiving, stores will continue to accommodate them, [Professor Tom] Arnold said, either in person or online.

Either way, however, it comes down to a business decision. I don’t blame them for that. Retailers need to maximize the Christmas shopping season any way they can. If you don’t make it at Christmas, you don’t make it, I remember hearing years ago. But do you have to make your employees sacrifice a major holiday and the last chance to spend meaningful time with their families before the Christmas rush?

Why am I talking about this on a blog about faith and depression?

Because giving thanks and gratitude are powerful antidotes to depression and perhaps the most important (and underrated) acts of faith. Think about a time when you were truly grateful, from the bottom of your heart. When gratitude overwhelmed you. Were you depressed then? Did it even occur to you that you could possibly be depressed at that moment? That’s what I mean about it being a powerful antidote. You can’t be depressed when you are truly thankful.

We have a day set aside to give thanks for our own blessings and the blessings of this nation. The fourth Thursday of every November. And every year we ignore it, trivialize it, and treat it as a speed bump in our rush to get started shopping for Christmas. Black Friday is threatening to take over Thanksgiving altogether. Taking even one day out of shopping season to stop, remember our blessings, share them with our families, and be thankful is treated as a waste of time, and even worse, a waste of money. Isn’t that a perfect metaphor for our lives? We rush and rush to acquire more stuff and buy the love of our families and never stop to be grateful for what we already have. Sounds like the perfect recipe for depression.

So this year I am going to support Thanksgiving by doing my Christmas shopping only at stores that closed on Thanksgiving Day. And I will wait until after Christmas before I shop any stores that were open on Thanksgiving. The only way this will change is if consumers prove to these companies that it really makes no business sense to try to make people shop when we should be giving thanks.


Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil Good for Anxiety?

The Early Show ran a story on its possible use to help NFL players deal with pain and might even help with brain injuries. It comes from the cannabis plant, but it does not have the psychoactive properties of THC. Doctors are saying it has many medicinal uses including anti-seizure, cancer treatment, and anti-anxiety. It is even said to be a superfood.

Could it be an effective treatment for anxiety and depression? It works through the same mechanisms as AD medication, but it appears to have fewer side effects. If you are taking AD medication, going off it can be rough, even if it’s to replace it with something else. Natural and prescription AD medication usually do not work well when taken together. You should consult your physician before taking on this or any new treatment.

I’m not sure if the research is complete yet, so for me the jury is still out. However, it looks like it could be promising not only for depression and anxiety but for many other serious health issues.


The Voice…that no one wants to hear

To my Tools for Depression, I want to add Nature (Ecotherapy) and TMS. I posted about TMS, a new therapy that involves strategic use of magnets.

Ecotherapy – exposure to nature is good for mental health. An article on Vice.com gives some easy to understand info on the research in this area. A recent study at Harvard University, published in April, is only among the latest of many to confirm this. Peter James, a member of the research team, summed up the findings up this way. “[T]here’s a direct cognitive benefit and restorative quality of being in nature, that we’ve evolved in nature to enjoy being in nature.”

This doesn’t mean you have to move out to the backwoods and reject civilization, a la Thoreau. Simply incorporate time with nature into your routine.

  • Go to a park
  • Notice what’s in your backyard
  • Plant a tree
  • Enjoy a local greenspace
  • Take a break at your favorite lake, river, arbor, or any natural attraction

If you none of this is available in or near your city, maybe you need to petition the authorities to add some. Any locality should at least be able to plant trees along a street or open a park.

image of double rainbow by road

Medication

Taking medication for depression is still controversial for some people of faith. When a psychiatrist first recommended it for me, I had some reservations. However, he had just told me I tested high for depression in every possible way, so I took his advice. There is no doubt it has helped me. Sometimes I have wondered if it’s really working, especially at times when I have been sad, moody, anxious, just fill in the blank with any negative emotion.

I can still say, though, that medication does make a difference for me. I don’t care what Tom Cruise said. I know because a couple of times, I have changed medications. When you change from one anti-depressant (AD) med to another, you first have to wean yourself off of your current med. That usually takes 2 – 4 weeks. Then you can start taking the new. It can take up to two weeks for the new medication to start taking effect. During that transition, those depressed thoughts you had forgotten about can come back.

The first time, I had suicidal thoughts. I can’t say it was the first time, but it was more frequent and intense than ever. Is the new med not working? My doctor said it was a low dose and suggested trying a “medium”dose. Within a few days, the suicidal thoughts stopped. That medium dose worked for me. But without that doctor helping me, I might have thought it was the wrong medication.

The second time was more recent. Bad thoughts came but in a different way. Instead of feeling depressed in the way we usually think of (deep and persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, etc.), it came in a way I had forgotten: Anger. I was angry much of the day. Angry at family and friends over past slights that my balanced brain had forgiven long ago. Angry at the world for the state it’s in and the downward spiral we seem to be in. Unreasonably angry. But when the new medicine kicked in, I was back to being happy. And I am proud to say I did not take my anger out on anyone, even the ones I felt angry towards.

Now some of that anger might not have been unreasonable, especially about the sorry state of the world. I mean, have you seen the election campaign since June, 2015? I think anger toward a certain candidate in particular is very reasonable. Not to name names, but he’s the unhinged one who seems hell-bent on finding just how low you can go and still be elected president. Though he may have finally crossed that line by talking about what he likes to grab. Admittedly, there were a few times the other one made me say, “What the hell were you thinking!” But at this point, I think it should be clear that one may have a gaffe here or there, the other is a nonstop gaffe machine. And that’s putting it as nicely as I can.

But through it all, I did not unleash that anger on my blog. Maybe that’s why I had to let out a little here. Why did I not act out my anger or my suicidal thoughts during those times? Before I started transitioning medications, I made a crucial decision. Until I know if the new med is good for me and until I get my brain normalized again with either the new or return to the old, I WILL NOT BELIEVE THAT VOICE IN MY HEAD.

I got the idea from the movie A Beautiful Mind.

Russell Crowe plays Nobel Prize winning Mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., who was found to be paranoid schizophrenic. He had more than just a voice in his head. He had full on hallucinations of three people telling him all these conspiracies around him. When he was diagnosed and got medication, the hallucinations disappeared. However, he was having difficulty with the side effects. He decided to go off the medication. But those imaginary people will come back. Yes, but this time he will know they are not real, and he will absolutely refuse to believe them. It was not easy. Those hallucinations had a life of their own. They tried really hard to convince him to listen to them. But he remained resolute. You are not real. I won’t listen to you. I won’t believe anything you say.

Because of past experience with Depression, I knew I needed to reject, ignore, and otherwise neutralize those thoughts TEMPORARILY. Let’s review what happened in these two instances.

  1. I stopped taking AD medication.
  2. The Voice in my head that fuels my Depression went from being a surly kitten to a roaring tiger.
  3. When the new AD medication kicked in, the Voice calmed down and the bad thoughts sunk back to a normal level.

What is going on? In earlier posts, I’ve talked about the chemical imbalances that exist in a Clinically Depressed brain. It is a medical condition where your brain can’t produce normal levels of “happy chemicals,” and so the “stress chemicals” overwhelm it. Medication helps your brain produce more happy chemicals so it gets balanced. When your brain chemistry is balanced, your emotional state can get back to normal – in a good way.

That last experience changing meds really drove that home for me. The Voice in my head didn’t bother me when I was on meds. But when I was in that transition phase, the Voice came back with a vengeance. Now that I’m on meds again, the Voice is gone. And that’s when it hit me like a revelation of Biblical proportions. THAT VOICE IN MY HEAD IS THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

If you have that Voice too, let that last sentence sink in. That Voice in your head that tells you “I’m no good. I’ll never get anything right. I’m a burden to everyone who loves me,” or even worse, “No one loves me.” Or if you pray or try to live by faith, the Voice will tell you, “There is no God. God hates me. God has given up on me, and I don’t blame Him. I’m like the tree that bore no fruit, so God has cut me off. I’m cursed.” Or maybe you have that angry voice, like I just experienced. And you believe it, don’t you? IT’S THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

And the problem isn’t so much the voice itself, but that we believe it so readily. At some point, in thinking about this, I was amazed at how anything we hear inside our head, we just believe it. We don’t question it, we don’t evaluate it, we just accept whatever it says, even when it has no basis in reality.

“Everyone hates you.” Oh really? 7.5 billion people in the world, and every single one of them hates you? Oh you just meant everyone in your school or in your town. But still, how many people is that, a few hundred? A few thousand? A few hundred thousand if it’s a major city? How could every one of them hate you? Simple logic should tell you that’s not even possible. But you believe it. Because it comes from your head, so it must be true, right? Are you telling me my head is lying to me? That’s exactly what I’m telling you. THAT VOICE IN YOUR HEAD IS THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

Or if it’s that angry voice, it might be saying, “They’re disrespecting me. They think I’m an idiot. They never listen to me. They’re idiots. They don’t care about me, so screw ’em all.” (Again, that’s as politely as I can say it). And again, IT’S THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

And bottom line, don’t believe a chemically imbalanced brain, even if it’s your own. You’re just as likely to get the truth from a Magic 8-Ball. Yes, it might tell the truth occasionally, but you’d better ask some questions before you accept that it’s right this time.

I suppose this begs the question, If you can’t believe your own mind, what can you believe? How do you know what the truth is? There is no simple answer to that, and anyone who tells you there is is setting you up for failure. But I will reiterate something I said in a previous post.

  1. God is for your recovery and healing, not against it (Isa 53:3-5).
  2. God will not kick you when you’re down (Isa 42:2-3).
  3. Some churches and spiritual leaders are good for recovery, and some are bad. Make sure you know the difference.
  4. With the right help – spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and perhaps medically – you can live a happy and fulfilling life. You just need to learn how to stop Depression from sabotaging it.

image of Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind (2001)

 

Game of Thrones and the Bible – edited and expanded

#GameofThrones

In honor of the premiere of season 6 of Game of Thrones, I am bringing back a post from February comparing Game of Thrones with the Bible, edited and expanded a little.

Game of Thrones and the Bible (for mature readers)

I love Game of Thrones. It’s got political and sexual intrigue, dysfunctional family relationships, shocking violence, and you know what? It’s got nothing on the Bible. It’s still a couple of months before the beginning of Season 6, but I thought I’d go ahead and post this.

WARNING: THERE ARE PLOT SPOILERS. AND THE FOLLOWING MATERIAL INCLUDES GRAPHIC GORY VIOLENCE. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

Genesis 34:1-31: Dinah and Shechem’s Red Wedding

All the fans freaked out over the Red Wedding in Season 3, Episode 9.

How’s this for a red wedding? Jacob’s large family of shepherds wanders into a city. The prince of the city (Shechem) encounters the one daughter (Dinah) of the patriarch. They have sex. The prince wants to marry the girl, but the family is offended because 1) he had sex with her before asking her parents to marry her, and 2) his people are not considered proper for marriage to one of their young girls. Shechem, however, is persistent. He really wants to marry her. He loves her.

Jacob’s family will agree on one condition: he and every male in the city must be circumcised, because as they say, they cannot allow her to marry from among the uncircumcised. He agrees. And since he is the prince, he is able to order the other men to follow suit. While the men of the city are still sore and recovering, two of her brothers sneak into the city at night, kill all the men, and take her back to her family.

So let’s see: There’s a prince who falls in love with the wrong woman. Agreements are made and then broken. Man in love apologizes sincerely to the offended party and tries to make amends. Offended party pretends to accept the apology then kills the offenders. I can almost hear The Rains of Castamere playing in the background.

2 Kings 9:30-37: Jezebel’s gruesome death

The Game of Thrones writers have given us some of the most ghastly tortures and deaths ever seen on television. However, even they have not given us a death more grisly than the infamous Jezebel.

[Jehu] looked up to the window and said, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked out at him. He said, “Throw her down.” So they threw her down; some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, which trampled on her. Then he went in and ate and drank; he said, “See to that cursed woman and bury her; for she is a king’s daughter.” But when they went to bury her, they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands. (2Ki 9:32-35 NRS)

And I thought Catelyn Stark’s corpse was treated roughly.

Judges 11:1-40: Jephthe “Snow-Baratheon”

Characters on Game of Thrones are not shy about their use of prostitutes. Prostitution was certainly part of the Biblical world, and one inevitable result of prostitution is illegitimate children, like Jephthe. He was the son of a prostitute who was rejected by his family and tribe, and yet had enough leadership skills to rise to prominence in spite of it. In the days before Israel had a king, Jephthe became one of the Judges and the head of his tribe. I wonder if Jon Snow was based on him.

Unfortunately, there is one other reason Jephthe is remembered. His greatest victory came at a dire cost. Just before a battle against a powerful enemy, Jephthe’s army was supposed to meet with a troop of Ephraimite soldiers, a neighboring tribe with whom he had formed an alliance. The Ephraimites did not show up, and the enemy was getting near. On their own, Jephthe’s men did not believe they were strong enough to defeat this enemy. Jephthe made a solemn vow to God that convinced them to follow their commander with the boldness of Viking Berserkers.

Jephthe’s army won and returned home in triumph, but now Jephthe has to fulfill his vow to the LORD [of Light?]:

“If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” (Jdg 11:30-31 ESV)

The word in Hebrew translated “whatever” is ‘asher. It could mean whatever or whoever. Jephthe may have had an animal in mind (whatever) or a slave (whoever). Instead, the first to come out to meet him is his one and only daughter. It’s obvious from his response she was not what Jephthe expected.

When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” (Jdg 11:35 NRS)

He vowed to the Lord (of Light?), and he cannot go back. A burnt offering, like Stannis Baratheon‘s daughter, Shireen.

When Abraham was sacrificing Isaac, an angel stopped him before he brought down the knife. Unfortunately for Jephthe’s daughter, no angel appeared.

1 Kings 1:1-43; 2:13-25 – Brothers are rivals who must die [New]

Speaking of Stannis Baratheon, he and his brother Renly were rivals to their family’s claim to the Iron Throne, so they went to war. Melisandre, a priestess of the Lord of Light, helps Stannis by conjuring up a shadow of Stannis to kill Renly, removing his most immediate rival. None of the kings of Israel would do such a thing, would they? Think again.

After David died, there was a brief dispute between factions for Solomon and Adonijah as to who should succeed him. Solomon won peacefully. But when Adonijah wanted to marry one of David’s former concubines, he asked Solomon’s mother to intercede for him. Solomon saw it as a backdoor attempt to strengthen his claim to the throne.

King Solomon answered his mother, “And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite (see 1Ki 1:1-4) for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom as well! For he is my elder brother; (1Ki 2:22 NRS).

What does Solomon do now that his elder brother has tried to undermine his rule? He sends one of his army commanders to kill his brother and rival. No shadow magic, but the result was the same. Was Adonijah really in love with Abishag? To the king, it does not matter. Just as in Westeros, a royal wedding has political consequences. Marrying for love can be dangerous, as Robb Stark found out.

Conclusion

Some people might say because I’m a Christian, I can’t watch a show with nudity, graphic violence, despicable rulers, ruthless power grabs, sexual deviancy, and people killing family members for power or revenge. Some might say about my novels or short stories, If you’re a Christian, how can you write sex scenes and blood and gore and scenes that show how seedy the Roman culture was? To them I say, Have you read the Bible?

I’m not saying we should read or write such scenes and stories just because we feel like it. I exercise discernment about these things when I write, and I expect readers to do the same whether they are reading about a historical world like in my novel, a fantasy world like George R. R. Martin’s, or the Bible. I don’t want to encourage the type of behavior I’ve described in this post, even if it is in the Bible. But if you tell Christian writers, you can’t write that because it’s sinful, or it might tempt some of the audience to sin, you are forcing us to ignore history and human nature. That makes for very boring stories and unbelievable characters. The Biblical authors tell the truth about human nature. Why shouldn’t we?

2016 Oscars: Bonus post

It’s interesting how things work out sometimes. There were calls from black celebrities to boycott the Oscars this year, and I understood why. I don’t have time to go deeply into the pros or cons. But I felt the need to say this year’s Oscar ceremony may have been the best ever.

There is this elephant in the room: For the second year in a row, none of the major nominees are black or people of color. Examples, Straight Out of Compton and Concussion could and should have been nominated for Best Picture. Will Smith could and should have been nominated for Best Male Actor in a Leading Role. Some black celebrities are boycotting the Oscars in protest.

I think everyone knew Rock was going to take on that elephant, not because he was black but because he has made a career out of taking on the elephant of racism – not just in Hollywood but anywhere – making us think about it, and making us laugh at the same time. If you missed the ceremony, I highly recommend you watch his opening monologue.

DISCLAIMER: I have not seen any of these movies. I cannot comment on who deserved to be nominated or not. Any comments along those lines are simply what I have heard or read from other people. However I did see the awards ceremony, and Chris Rock was the perfect host.

Best Picture nominees – why 8?

I kept wondering, “Why eight nominees for Best Picture when you can have as many as ten?” The number of nominees for other categories: Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, etc. is fixed at five. But best picture can have anywhere from 5 to 10 nominees. If you can have ten, why not? It seems like you could fit Straight Out of Compton or Concussion in there. Heck, you could have fit Star Wars: The Force Awakens in there. I know they wouldn’t have won, but you could have at least nominated Star Wars and one other. It turns out those movies did not get the minimum number of votes in the first round to qualify for a nomination.

Musical performances

Dave Grohl, “Blackbird.” I’m already a huge fan of Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters. This year, Dave performed the Beatles “Blackbird” solo during the In Memoriam section. Again, perfect choice. As if I needed another reason to love Dave Grohl, who should have won a Grammy by the way. Dave, what do I have to do to get you to bring the boys to Greenville or Simpsonville?

Lady Gaga, “Till It Happens to You.” Vice President Joe Biden introduced Lady Gaga after saying a few words about sexual assault. He urged men to go to the It’s On Us website and sign a pledge promising to intervene if we think a sexual assault is about to happen. Gaga then performed “Till It Happens To You” and was joined by several survivors of sexual assault. You forget sometimes she really can sing. She knows how to entertain, and she knows how to draw attention to a cause she’s passionate about.

Sam Smith, “Writing’s on the Wall.” Part of the soundtrack for Spectre, Sam Smith received this award with Jimmy Napes, who co-wrote the song with Smith. In his acceptance speech, Smith said he thought he might be the first openly gay person to win an Oscar. Not true actually. There were at least seven openly gay/lesbian winners before. To be fair, he cited this from an unidentified interview with Sir Ian McKellen and qualified it with “If this is the case….” Well Sam, it’s not, but with a voice like that, I can forgive you. I even forgave you for stealing that song from Tom Petty.

Should there be separate male and female actor categories?

Rock brought this up during the monologue. “Think about it. There’s no real reason for there to be a men and women category in acting. Come on!…You know, Robert Deniro’s never said, ‘I’d better slow this acting down so Meryl Streep can catch up.’ No!”

Seriously, why not have 10 nominees for Best Actor and 10 for Best Supporting Actor. Same total number of nominees, just make them open to both men and women.

Other notable moments

Leo finally won. It’s about freaking time. He broke the record for retweets on Twitter.

Statement from Academy president Chery Boone Isaacs, promising greater diversity in the future. She said the Academy had taken concrete action but did not say what.

Could black actors have played these same roles? Tracy Morgan as the Danish Girl was hilarious.

Game of Thrones and the Bible

I love Game of Thrones. It’s got political and sexual intrigue, dysfunctional family relationships, shocking violence, and you know what? It’s got nothing on the Bible. It’s still a couple of months before the beginning of Season 6, but I thought I’d go ahead and post this. Warning, if you haven’t seen the episodes mentioned, there are some plot spoilers.

WARNING: THERE ARE PLOT SPOILERS. AND THE FOLLOWING MATERIAL INCLUDES GRAPHIC GORY VIOLENCE. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

Genesis 34:1-31: Dinah and Shechem’s Red Wedding

All the fans freaked out over the Red Wedding in Season 3, Episode 9.

How’s this for a red wedding? Jacob’s large family of shepherds wanders into a city. The prince of the city (Shechem) encounters the one daughter (Dinah) of the patriarch. They have sex. The prince wants to marry the girl, but the family is offended because 1) he had sex with her before asking her parents to marry her, and 2) his people are not considered proper for marriage to one of their young girls. Shechem, however, is persistent. He really wants to marry her. He loves her.

Jacob’s family will agree on one condition: he and every male in the city must be circumcised, because as they say, they cannot allow her to marry from among the uncircumcised. He agrees. And since he is the prince, he is able to order the other men to follow suit. While the men of the city are still sore and recovering, two of her brothers sneak into the city at night, kill all the men, and take her back to her family.

So let’s see: There’s a prince who falls in love with the wrong woman. Agreements are made and then broken. Man in love apologizes sincerely to the offended party and tries to make amends. Offended party pretends to accept the apology then kills the offenders. I can almost hear The Rains of Castamere playing in the background.

2 Kings 9:30-37: Jezebel’s gruesome death

The Game of Thrones writers have given us some of the most ghastly tortures and deaths ever seen on television. However, even they have not given us a death more grisly than the infamous Jezebel.

[Jehu] looked up to the window and said, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked out at him. He said, “Throw her down.” So they threw her down; some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, which trampled on her. Then he went in and ate and drank; he said, “See to that cursed woman and bury her; for she is a king’s daughter.” But when they went to bury her, they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands. (2Ki 9:32-35 NRS)

And I thought Catelyn Stark’s corpse was treated roughly.

Judges 11:1-40: Jephthe “Snow-Baratheon”

Prostitution is an integral part of Westeros, and there are a few notable prostitutes in the Bible. Of course one inevitable result of prostitution is illegitimate children, like Jephthe. He was the son of a prostitute who was rejected by his family and tribe, and yet had enough leadership skills to rise to prominence in spite of it. In the days before Israel had a king, Jephthe became one of the Judges and the head of his tribe. I wonder if Jon Snow was based on him.

Unfortunately, there is one other reason Jephthe is remembered. His greatest victory came at a dire cost. Just before a battle against a powerful enemy, Jephthe’s army was supposed to meet with a troop of Ephraimite soldiers, a neighboring tribe with whom he had formed an alliance. On their own, Jephthe’s men did not believe they were strong enough to defeat this enemy. Jephthe made a solemn vow to God that convinced them to follow their commander with the boldness of Viking Berserkers.

Jephthe’s army won and returned home in triumph, but now Jephthe has to fulfill his vow to the LORD [of Light?]:

“If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever  comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” (Jdg 11:30-31 ESV)

The word in Hebrew translated “whatever” is ‘asher. It could mean whatever or whoever. Jephthe may have had an animal in mind (whatever) or a slave (whoever). Instead, the first to come out to meet him is his one and only daughter. It’s obvious from his response she was not what Jephthe expected.

When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” (Jdg 11:35 NRS)

When Abraham was offering Isaac, an angel stopped him before he brought down the knife. Unfortunately for Jephthe’s daughter, no angel appeared.

Shades of Stannis Baratheon, wouldn’t you say?

Conclusion

There is a lot more I could say, and I will return to this topic, probably to coincide with the opening of Season 6 on April 24. Reading the history of the Israelites and surrounding empires is not much different from the Seven Kingdoms. So when you see George R. R. Martin’s stories of violence between family members, incest, mayhem, conniving, deceit, sexual deviancy, and ruthless power grabs, remember it was in the Bible first.