Sunday, May 31, 2009

Stormy Waters and Hope

Family Ties & the author return to the Detroit River
(Photo by world adventurer and photographer, Charlie Scott)

Pam was attending a baby shower, and my eye balls were in need of a distant horizon, instead of the computer screen that even now is but 14-inches away. So, I went sailing.

There is not a better place to feel energized or contemplate God's nature and power than on a sailboat. So, I packed up the books and diary I use for my Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, made sure I had my iPhone Bible with me, dropped off Nineveh's Crossing's orders at the Post Office, stopped by Subway (it takes a while to get to the boat)... and an hour later was pulling out of the dock.

My life as a film producer, distributor, and writer is often filled with anxious moments... mostly centered around money to buy inventory, or pay for a number of projects we're developing. And sometimes those moments stretch into days. It's a constant challenge to keep spiritually focused on God's plans and not those that I devise without God. There's the rub, making sure the day's challenges are put there at the behest of God, and not the foolishness of Stan. Telling the difference is my biggest beef with God.

Lately, working on script, cast, and fund raising for Tiger's Hope, the decisions about how to spend time and money are often difficult to make, especially since both time and money have severe limits. There's never enough of either, it seems ... in the service of God. (my words, not God's)

Two days ago I was doing what all producer's do -- planning. Planning a film project is a little like budget forecasting in a recession. It seems useless, because what you plan never happens the way you thought it would. It generates a lot of chuckles and a few groans along the way. The question is always there: "What shall I do?"

That question was particularly haunting two days ago when my spiritual exercises took me to Jeremiah 29:11 and these words:
For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope.
That fits. But now I have to be sure "God's" plans are mine. Not easy.

That day the second part of my spiritual exercises took me to reflecting on the appearance of the Magi at the Nativity. I laughed out loud at the juxtaposition of Jeremiah's words ringing in my ears and putting myself in Joseph's sandals just before the Magi appear. Here's a guy that has to be wondering what "the plan" is. He's no doubt got a few of his own churning around in his head. He's got this "wife" and "baby" to care for, and he knows they are both a "little bit" special, and what's he got to offer them? Not much. The last time he tried to pawn his wood plain the broker laughed and pointed at his overstocked shelf of other pawned wood plains.

And then OUT OF THE WOODWORK (a phrase Deacon Bob uses on me when he thinks my ideas just may not be part of God's plan) come these three lost "kings" from the East with stars in their eyes, bearing gifts, looking for the King of the Jews. Uh-huh! These guys are seriously lost, Joseph thinks...wonder if they could use a wood plain?

But you know the story, and Joseph, 2,000+ plus years later in heaven is still scratching his head. There's no way he could have planned that. (plained that?) Most of us hope "one" sugar daddy will show up to help us with the latest "Project from God." But THREE?! They just drop in from left field, er.... they just pop OUT OF THE WOODWORK. (Sorry, Deacon, can't help but rub it in.)

Joseph had to have hope after that... at least until after Herod's soldiers started wiping the blood of babies off their swords.

So, I go sailing. Alone. the waters are rough, very rough. The wind is hollowing out of the West at 25-30 knots. I sail out of the Detroit River against the current, which is not something you can normally do. On Lake St. Clair there are gusts to 40, 50, and one time they hit 61 knots. What have I gotten myself into, alone, with a big boat, and just me? So, I find a moment of relative calm, turn on the iPhone Bible and access the scripture I'm suppose to be mediating on. It's Isaiah 43:1-7, which in part reads
When you pass through the water, I will be with you; in the rivers you shall not drown.
Okay, God, I get it, but let's get back to the dock so I can blog this.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


(Updated comments inserted 6/28/11)
Something quite amazing is playing out before us on national television that shows the wisdom of Catholic teaching such as Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life.) In spite of all the horrific pro-death, anti-life, anti-family decisions made by our politicians, one fact remains: In the end, you can’t buck natural law. Or, in the words of another common adage from years gone by, “You can’t fool mother nature.”

But, boy, the drama of watching it play out on reality TV is both heart rending and amazing. Since becoming Catholic I’ve been enamored with the phenomenon of large families, especially Catholic families. As a filmmaker I wanted to do a documentary on a couple of them, but never got together the resources. Lucky for me, others were able to mount projects (although not Catholic), and we’ve been enjoying The Learning Channel’s productions of The Duggars (18 Kids and Counting), and The Gosslins (John & Kate Plus 8). [The Duggars now have 19, and the Gosslins are divorced.]

Both families have Christian roots. The Duggars have a more explicit Christian presence (, but on the Gosslin’s show Scripture verses can be seen taped to the end of John and Kate’s kitchen cabinets, and John has been seen wearing T-shirts with Scripture references on them.

But early on I saw a huge difference in these families, and recently the difference has become a news item on just about every news show and website. I’m speaking about the breakdown of John and Kate’s marriage, and the very public playing out of the conflict on national television. The news media would have you believe the problem is the stress of success by having a hit show to which ten million tune in weekly. And indeed that is probably a contributor. But I noticed something early on. Did you? There has always been a romantic detachment in John and Kate’s relationship. They look at each other as if there was no romantic relationship between them whatsoever. They are like romance zombies… the romantic walking dead. You could never tell by their non-verbal or interactions that these two people love each other as husband and wife. They could be complete strangers thrown together in a reality show where they’re trying to get along, but it’s a strain. I have always felt sorry for them because of that.

But, if you watch the Duggars, the difference is startling. Now, the Duggars don’t have 8 kids to deal with, they have 18. Let’s say that again: THEY HAVE EIGHTEEN!!! And have you ever noticed the nonverbal between Jim Bob and Michelle? It’s like “love at first sight.” When Jim Bob talks and Michelle’s within sight her eyes are on him as if he was the most wonderful man in the world. She is totally in love with this guy. And when she talks, Jim Bob watches her affectionately. His eyes never wander. The love and respect is palatable, even through the silly flat TV screen.

Why the difference? Did you ever wonder? Well, Paul VI could have told you, as well as John Paul II, and a few others. And while I don’t want to be labeled a judge of people, I can’t help but take note of one particularly public difference between the sexuality of these two couples and Catholic teaching about natural law.

In the case of John and Kate Gosslin, all eight of their babies were conceived via intrauterine insemination, which involved implantation of Jon's sperm via a catheter. Kate compares the procedure with in vitro fertilization, (but) "there are no eggs removed or put back, as with IVF." Here's a link to her interview about that:

Compare that to the Duggars. While I’ve found no specific reference to how their children were conceived, (and there wouldn’t be if they were natural) their frank discussion of how they came to give up the contraceptive pill and let God have his total will with their lives and how many children they would have, explains that the Duggars, while not Catholic, have come to understand and apply natural law for all their pregnancies. Here's a link to their website's FAQ where they discuss how God told them to give up the contraceptive pill.

Through these two high-profile network reality shows we see the impact that natural vs. non-natural fertilization methods have. Catholic teaching is founded on natural law. When we follow what is natural, husbands and wives are drawn close together in a natural and supportive love. In the sexuality of marriage, when we reject what is natural we enter the danger zone as we separate the unitive and procreative nature of marriage. Paul VI writes “By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination towards man’s most high calling to parenthood.” (Humanae Vitae, 12)

This all become very real for me recently as I’m in the midst of producing a pro life Catholic television drama on in vitro versus natural fertilization. The project is titled TIGER’S HOPE, a co-production of the Diocese of Lansing and my production company, SWC Films, with seed funding from Our Sunday Visitor. We hope to shoot it this fall in Michigan. [We had a falling out with the Diocese of Lansing and separated the project from them. We are currently developing it with similar themes but more as a mainstream theatrical film.]

Through the power of story, this short movie will give an accurate picture of the state of both in vitro technology with its health hazards, its low probability of success, and its health effects on children and mothers. All that will be dramatically contrasted with natural methods that have no side effects, almost no cost, and a success rate that is 300-400% greater than in vitro. The cultural ramifications of separating the conception of children from the martial act will also be revealed in light of the Church's teachings on marriage and the dignity of each human being.

The differences between The Duggars and The Gosllins dramatically underscore the need for a clearer understanding of natural law, and why Church teachings are so vital for healthy and happy marriages. TIGER'S HOPE is designed to reach television audiences world wide with that message in a dramatic, movie format.

P.S. I can't help but also notice the differences between the position of the father in the two pictures used to illustrate this article. I did not pick these pictures with this in mind. It just "happened." (Right!) Both are pictures of the entire family around the dinning room table. Notice how John is standing in the background, a cap on his head (as if hiding or ready to bolt for the door), while Kate, in charge, is involved with the kids around the Gosslin table. Then notice how Jim Bob sits at the head of the Duggar table (in charge, and not going anywhere) while Michelle sits (partially hidden) at his side. Telling. Pay attention folks. There are consequences to violating natural law.

The Kingdom of Christ - Contemplation

Here is my reflection on The Kingdom of Christ.... it's a repetition.

God, I beg you for your grace that all my thoughts and actions be directed toward the advancement of your Kingdom. I offer up all my time, money, service, suffering, spirit to the advancement of Christianity both here and there with you.... In so doing I ask that I will act against sensuality and carnality and worldly love of things.

So, here I am in the Lord's presence as I work at my various tasks throughout the day. He labors immediately beside me. I can reach out and touch Him, or look at what he is doing (as if on his desktop)... a co-worker. We are in a large tiled and marble columned round room like a rotunda. Around the perimeter are many Biblical and other unknown saints standing behind the great ancestors of mine, who stand in front of the heavenly throng. I can look around at the crowd of witnesses watching me and the Lord, and in the front row are John Williams (missionary to the South Seas, martyred), Jeremiah Williams (circuit rider preacher to the land of Lincoln and Ohio in the late 1800s), Emily Williams (Jeremiah's wife of 7), Benjamin and Ruth Williams (my parents and active Evangelicals), Hope and Burton Winke (my Aunt and Uncle -- Hope and Ruth helped their mother found dozens of Christian Churches in central India during the early 20th century), Edith & Ross Willobee and their deceased child David (my mother and aunt's missionary parents to India 1907 ff - Ross and David are buried in India), Uncle Smith (the black missionary from Trinidad who immigrated to India was died there as an old preacher who taught me at his knee and shoulder to sing "Rolled Away, All my Sins are Rolled Away" in Hindi). And over the shoulders of these blood relatives are the saints of old, resting their hands on my ancestor's shoulders —altogether watching my every move. ..... My breath and voice of my many murmuring prayers are at the vertex or foci of the rotunda and my audience can hear everything I whisper like those acoustic museum displays. Indeed I am living in Hebrews 12:1.

Then, I notice that the saints (mine and the Biblical ones) are standing, if not hovering, over beautiful polished marble of various colors... and beneath me is compacted dirt. Over the saints is a tall and ornate roof to protect them, and over me the roof is missing, exposing my efforts to sun and wind, rain, and fog, hot and cold. Sometimes my flooring is mud, other times it is hard, but it is never grass. I am in the heavenly court, and I am on display as evidence...but of what kind? Am I evidence for the prosecution or the defense? That is my choice. What will I do?

Tonight, will I make a good examination of conscience and confession? Everyone watches and prays for me.

Smelly Shepherds

I'm bored with politics... at least blogging about the ancient social activity that is suppose to bring peace and goodwill to the common man, but for me only seems to bring distrust and angst. So, I'll try blogging my contemplations from time to time. I'm part of a new Oblates of Mary lay organization, under Fr. Dennis Brown. For the second time in our short Catholic life, Pam and I are going through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius with him as our spiritual director. In short, the idea is to contemplate a Biblical scene, put yourself into it, and gain some spiritual fruit or lesson from imaginatively being there which you can apply today. So here goes.

I'm one of the shepherds in a pasture outside of Bethlehem. We see angels in the sky trying to talk to us. We're scared and start to run not knowing what this is. When we figure it out (how we figure it out I'm not sure) we start to argue. (All good stories have conflict.) There are four of us. One of us is a skeptic and doesn't even darken the synagogues' door step. The other is all excited and starts jumping up and down quoting obscure passages from Scripture....he's nuts. The third is a dim wit and will follow the last person he talked to or fed him. And the fourth is wanting to go back and sleep off his drunken stupor. But when Mr. Faithfilled wants us all to go see this baby in the middle of the night, I think he's off his rocker... angels or not. I mean, in the daylight the villagers wouldn't let us in the gate without taking a bath.... it's been a week and we've been living with sheep. And then there's the problem of leaving the sheep in the middle of the night with only drunk and knocked out Rocky to watch them.... not a good idea. And what would you think if you looked out your house window in the middle of the night (I mean the men back then probably has enlarged prostates, too) and saw three suspicious guys wander into town that shouldn't be there? You'd call the cops, except there was no telephone, so you'd take your stick, rouse your neighbor, and case them out of town as if they were thieves.

So, going to see Jesus, isn't that easy, even if he was born a few hundred yards away. But, in the middle of the night.... wait, how do we know the baby is awake with his parents? This might be the first night they've gotten him to sleep on time, and they're bushed and fast asleep. Wouldn't we be waking them up? "Hey, Joseph wake up Mary so we can see the baby!" Watch out he's got a biggger stick.

So, I'm wanting to believe that we should go see Jesus and bug his parents, and raise the ire of the town folk, especially when the sheep we're suppose to be watching run off into the dark. I have my doubts, because I know that unless God does this, with me an unlikely, unworthy, smelly, otherwise-occupied, and sacred sinner -- it will not happen, and we will all be ridiculed by those that know us.

Now, what was that you saw in the sky? Naw, it was a dream, go back to sleep.