Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Jesus Papers: Non-Fiction or Fantasy?

Michael Biagent, the author who has most recently made international headlines over his UK lawsuit against Dan Brown, (author of the very popular DaVinci Code), announced this week, that he’s ready to release his newest book, The Jesus Papers: Uncovering the Greatest Cover-Up in History. And what a coincidence….the book’s release comes the very same day that 5 million paperback copies of DaVinci Code hit the U.S. market!

Like his earlier non-fictional work, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, (out of which Biagent claims Brown stole the basic premise for DaVinci Code), Biagent presents a sort of “what if…” concerning Jesus. Where Holy Blood speculated about Jesus’ possible relationship with Mary Magdalene and the possibility this relationship might have produced an off-spring whose roots can be traced to modern times, The Jesus Papers goes a step further and postulates that Jesus did not die on the cross, but survived to move to Egypt and eventually possibly to France. Authors and historians speculating about the events surrounding Jesus’ life, (especially his death and resurrection), are nothing new and skeptics have been providing their explanations of the resurrection for centuries, but what disturbs me about this particular book, (outside of Biagent’s obvious “best seller envy” of Brown and his attempts to one-up him), is the fact that it is presented as non-fiction.

Many Christian leaders, (especially Catholics), have been up in arms over the DaVinci Code for years now, ever since it became such an international best-seller, (43 million copies sold internationally). The fear always seemed to be…what if people read this book and think it portrays the events accurately? The more open-minded Christian leaders welcomed the dialog about Christianity and its roots that this widely read work created…but that’s another discussion for another time. But Brown always has been up front about DaVinci being nothing more than a work of fiction.

I’d would think more Christians would be concerned with works like the Jesus Papers, which portray totally unsupported speculation, as works of non-fiction. But fiction is exactly what this is, since Biagent states, that the basis of this theory is a document that allegedly existed that stated that Jesus was still alive in 45 A.D, which was allegedly seen by a man, (who died in 1948), who told another man, who many years later, told Biagent. He admits, there is no proof this document even exists, (or ever existed), and he’s still trying to track it down. Sounds more like a work of fantasy to me, or at the very least speculation at best.

Prior to my re-birth in Christ, I spent a lot of time trying to search for the truth about God and Jesus by reading a lot of books outside of the Bible, which attempted from an archeological, analytical or scientific standpoint to either prove or disprove Biblical accounts, (because that's how I had to process it). So I have no problem what so ever with skeptical authors discussing their theories, or beliefs, (or lack there of). In fact, reading some of these works by skeptics helped me develop a stronger faith, (though many warned me about reading such works)! But the danger lies with those speculations being passed off as having some basis in fact, when they are really nothing more than the creative fantasy of their author, because there is no evidence what so ever to support them, (as appears to be the case with Biagent’s book).

If you’re skeptical like I use to be, and find yourself thinking, “I know there must be something to this whole God thing, but I just don’t know if I can suspend my disbelief in the miraculous things Jesus is said to have done”, then I have a work of non-fiction that may help you answer those kinds of questions, (especially if you really like to look at problems in an analytical manner). Check out the book, “A Case for Christ,” by Lee Strobel. Strobel, a former newspaper investigative reporter and skeptic, who when setting out to disprove the story of Jesus (and Christianity in general), found that the facts and science supported the Gospel narrative, rather than disputed it. Because of his analytical background, Strobel attacks the questions surrounding Jesus with the methodology of a police investigator. He looks at and tests such things as: The eyewitness, the scientific, the documentary and the corroborating evidence on the major points. He spends considerable time on the death and resurrection, and very succinctly and logically answers arguments made by skeptics over the centuries, (including Biagent's), about what they believe happened after the cross.

This book, along with Strobel’s, Case for Faith…are two of the most influence books I ran across that helped me come to grips with understanding Faith and helped me open my heart, mind and soul to accepting Jesus as my savior and son of God.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

On's a Novel that's Graphic!

For readers of this blog who might be consistent readers of the literature based art-form of sequential illustrated storytelling, (that's comic book style), the term graphic novel is easily definable. For these types, just hearing the phrase gives you an immediate idea of what you can expect, verses the normal contents of a periodically published comic book.

But for the person a little less experienced in this format of literature, the term graphic novel might be confusing, or even raise some eyebrows, (especially in the Christian community).

No... a graphic novel is not a descriptive term....I.E., that it is very "graphic", harsh, or expliciate in the way it presents sex, violence and adult oriented themes. A graphic novel refers to the visual or illustrated quality of the work of literature. Think of it this way, a graphic novel is simply a "novel" that is fully illustrated! Any type of literature that can be presented in novel form, can be presented in graphic novel form and is done so in many cultures around the world, (especially in Japan, where it is better known as "Manga"). But here in the good-ol'-U-S-of-A, the general population is not yet privy to that development and most probably believe only cartoonish, (archie, mickey mouse), or super-hero themes are presented through this format.

Now that being said, certainly a graphic novel can package more adult only type materials, (just like any format of literature can and does), but for the most part on a percentage basis, there is probably less of this in this format, than say in magazines, text-only novels, etc...

The reason I am going to the trouble to explain what seems like such an elementary concept is because of a review for the Movie "V for Vendeta", (which was based on the graphic novel written by Alan Moore), which appeared in last week's Dallas Morning News, and the subsequent dialog that developed between myself and DMN, Pop-culture reporter, Tom Maursted. I questioned Mr. Maursted, why he felt compelled to use the term "comic-book" when describing the source material for the movie, rather than graphic novel, (since V was never presented in sequential comic book form and was always packaged in the graphic novel opposed to Moore's work, Watchmen, was was first released in a 12 issue periodic format, than later packaged as a graphic novel)? This was his response:

"And when I say that V was based on a comic book most people never read, yes, what I mean is that literally most people have never read it. I am aware that the original graphic novel is an important and influential work. I am a fan of Alan Moore, especially Watchmen. I understand that with in a particularized community of readers, publishers and writers, there is a big difference between comic books and graphic novels and Alan Moore is something of a rock star and that to use comic book interchangeably with graphic novel denotes ignorance and boorishness. But I write for a general audience newspaper and for many readers, graphic novels are a kind of comic book."

This comes from a man who is not only very familiar with the format, (from his comments), but also covers pop-culture for a living. So is his viewpoint accurate? Well, the editors at the DMN apparently think so, since they commonly let this error go unchallenged. But like I replyed to Maursted, then it falls to him, (and any of us working within the industry), to not perpetuate this misconception, but correct it, (just like I have to tell my children...that if they do not correct the constant misprounouciations of our last name, people will call you by the wrong name the rest of your life).

So hopefully I am doing my some small help the "general audience" understand.

Lastly, for those of you like me, (who really like to get to the origins of things), here is a little of the history behind the term, "graphic novel", (reprinted from an article I wrote for Youth Worker Journal in 2005):

The term, graphic novel, was first used in 1978, in connection to the release of Will Eisner’s, A Contract With God. This collection of four short stories by the creator of a widely popular newspaper comic strip, (The Spirit, 1940 to 1952), were all interconnected faith based tales. But Eisner himself, (in his book, Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative), traces the roots of the format back to the work of Frans Masereel, a Belgian political cartoonist, who began producing “novels without words” as early as 1919, with his story Passionate Journey, (which was a novel told in 169 woodcuts).

There 'ya go!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Wizard Mag shows EW some love!

It had been pointed out to me, (and I confirmed it today), that in the latest issue of the Magazine on everything Pop Culture, Wizard, (#174...on sale now at newsstand everywhere....totally unpaid endorsement), they have included Eye Witness: Acts of the Spirit, in their list of the "42 Things You Need to Know About Comics in 2006".

Sample page from Acts of the Spirit.
We are #40 out of 42, but being the half full guy I am I look at it this way...when you consider how many comics/graphic novels are published each and every month in this country by the indy press, small press, or individuals, (hundreds at least?), just being mentioned as one of the 42 coming in the next year is an incredible honor and I feel blessed by this inclusion of my work!
Better yet, in the blurb, Wizard actually acknowledges that there is a segment of the market creating Christian materials! "Author Robert James Luedke continues to break new ground for the Christian Fiction genre." When you consider how elitist Wizard has appeared in the past concerning the small press, (anything beyond Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse), it is a marvelous development for the marketing potential for projects such as Eye Witness, Armorquest, David, Serenity, et al...that this leader in comic-market pre and post publication publicity is declaring for their readers that there is indeed a "Christian genre" being developed.
Some might say...."why do you care about what such a secular and publication like Wizard thinks anyway?" To that I would answer....I am called to spread God's Gospel to the readers of comics and graphic novels around the world. I am not going to reach many of those potential readers, by having the book reviewed in Christianity Today, Though that of course would be a wonderful thing, and would take my books into our secondary target market, (re: Christian parents looking for outreach to attract their children to God through relevant choices of media), it would not address my calling head-on! But having a respected pop culture publication, like Wizard or Entertainment Weekly, or Variety, etc... just acknowledging our existence, (Christian comic creators-publishers), and listing us as something people should take note of within the industry, gives the book a sort of "street-cred" with their readers around the country and thus opens the door for curiosity, (and possibly more potential readers...and pre-orders?).
I Count it all as joy my brothers!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Holy Spirit, Batman!

Another term used freely and abundantly in Christianity that may be confusing to the non-Christian is, the Holy Spirit. And that’s for good reason, since the Holy Spirit is the 3rd leg of the tripod upon which our faith is based, (the Holy Trinity…. the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost/Spirit), and thus utilized in most of the New Testament writings of Jesus' Apostles.

You may have heard a Christian friend say:

-Have you received the Holy Spirit?
-Is the Holy Spirit of God within you?
-May the Holy Spirit bless and guide you.
-Holy Spirit Batman, the Joker just vanished before our eyes? (Okay, that one’s not exactly biblically based)

…and wondered, what they heck and they talking about?

So what is this Spirit, which is Holy? To the non-Christian comic book fan, it may be the worshiping of the creation of Will Eisner by that name, but for the rest of us…. Jesus, prior to his crucifixion, spoke to his apostles (his inner-most circle of 12 followers, among his hundred or so disciples), about the Holy Spirit of God, which would come to lead them. He spoke of “the Counselor” and “Spirit of Truth”, which would come once he had left them:

“When he, the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own, he will speak only what he hears and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”(Jesus words, as recorded in the book of John 16: 13-15)

Jesus was very clear that though this Spirit, or counselor, would be different from him, it would still be of him and God, (since all that God was, belonged to Jesus and the Spirit would be sharing what was his). Who’s on first?… anyone?…anyone?

After his resurrection from the grave, Jesus continued to ready his apostles for the coming of this “Gift from God”:

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my father has promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John, (the Baptist), baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…You will receive POWER when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses, (his spokesmen), in Jerusalem and in all of Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Jesus words, as recorded in the Book of Acts 1:4-5, 8

And what Jesus said, was exactly what occurred on the morning of the Pentecost celebration, (The Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks). The Holy Spirit was bestowed upon the 11 Apostles, (the 12 minus Judas), through, “tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” (The physician Luke’s description, from the book of Acts 2: 3-4). “All of them were filled with the HOLY SPIRIT and began to speak in tongues as the spirit enabled them,” (in my studies on this…no, “tongues” does not mean the nonsensical gibberish spoken by TV preachers like Robert Tilton, but rather that his apostles immediately were able to communicate in the native languages of each of the hundreds of people in attendance…and all at the same time)!

Armed the power of the Holy Spirit, this handful of men, who just 40 days earlier, were scared, timid and anxious, (because after all, then man they believed was the Messiah had been brutally tortured and killed before their eyes…and who knows when it would be their turn), became powerful and boldly proclaimed that this Jesus whom was killed by their own high priests, had been resurrected from the dead and was indeed the Son of God, (both very big no-no’s which could lead to their own deaths). Within one day of this event, the hundred or so followers of Jesus grew to over 3000. Within days the 3000, became 5000…and so it went. Since many of these new believers were Hebrews from cultures all over the civilized world, the cult of the Nazarenes, (named because of Jesus’ place of origin…meant to be a derogatory statement, like racial slang names of today) began to spread all over the Roman empire and it’s surrounding cultures.

So to put it in pop-cultural terms, think of the Holy Spirit as (to borrow from G. Lucas), the “Force”…it’s not something we can see or touch, but a binding spiritual presence originating from the one True God, which is there for any one of us to access, (and you don’t even have to have a high meta-clorian count to do so)!

Both the Apostle Peter and Paul, spend a lot of time on the importance of the Holy Spirit throughout their writing in the New Testament and how everyone who repents of their sin and proclaims Jesus as their lord and savior, not only gains forgiveness of their sins, (past, present and future), and eternal life after physical death…but can also receive this same Holy Spirit to empower them to:
-Change, become literally a new man/women in and through Jesus
-Help guide them through life
-Empower them when they feel weak
-Discover and develop their God given spiritual gifts, (that’s another whole message in itself….coming soon)
-And one of the most important…provides them direct access to God and a loving personal relationship.