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persona-non-grata-novel-stephen-j-stirling-978-1-4621-1450-4Welcome to the official website of author Stephen J. Stirling and the book Shedding Light on the Dark Side: Defeating the Forces of Evil, A Guide for Youth and Young Adults, and the novel Persona non Grata, coming July 2014.

Persona non Grata
Paladin is way out of his depth! Sent to Crimea to bring a former student home, Paladin is soon embroiled in international conspiracy. Close calls and adventure are the norm in this thrilling tale! Find out more…

The Brave New World — The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius

Having attempted to raise the level of dialogue on gay marriage to an educated level, I would like to make a comment on the emergence of the Brave New World – which we will discover is neither brave nor new, but which is destined to alter the fabric of our society.  Because, make no mistake about it, the Age of Aquarius, dawned in the 60’s and 70’s, has fully arrived — and those with the power to check its advent have been either impotent to stop it or disinclined to do so.

Again, the Brave New World is finally here — and we may live to regret its arrival.  Oh, don’t worry.  I don’t intend to talk at length about cultural trends, the meaning of the family, or the morality of eternity — though such issues are significant.  No, I want to address a measure that is much more fundamental: good and bad.

For thousands of years our world has operated on basic grounding principles that have served as a foundation for societies and individuals.  I speak of principles based upon truth, by which we anchor ourselves, across cultures, to the real world.  And “for better or worse” — to coin a phrase — marriage, family and morality are among those time honored, foundational principles – until recently.  It is our 20th century rejection of these values that is a bad idea.  And the reason may surprise you.

Psychologically, the human animal needs a foundation – something solid to build upon, to give stability to our lives in an existence otherwise built upon shifting sands.  These anchors or laws might take the shape of customs, traditions, and behaviors which provide us strength and safety.  You might debate that life is much happier and freer without the restraints of confining social mores – but history and the observation of societies in decline would argue against you.  The fact is, there are eternal laws of the universe that cannot be disregarded or altered by legislation, executive decree, or majority vote, no matter how much we, like spoiled children, want to make it so.  Still, “modernity” has seen us abandon these anchors of the past as we have cut ourselves from them in the name of liberation – and gratification without guilt.

This abandonment began over 100 years ago with the evolution of the “new morality” – which was nothing more than the reimplementation of the “old immorality.”  (Still, “new morality” makes us sound so progressive.)  In our struggle for this air of sophistication, we have failed to recognize how barbaric we, as a people, have become.  Standards held inviolate 50, even 25 years ago are no longer considered benchmarks today.  This may not seem like a big deal to members of generation XYZ.  But remember, as human beings we, by nature, cherish some form of stability in this life – a stability that cannot be answered in the echoed shouts “peace, love, or kumbaya.”

Relative moralities and situational ethics – anchors that move with the wind — have become the watchwords of the emerging Brave New World.  And this is important.  The stated final objectives of these cultural shifts is to weaken the grip of the family on society and to eliminate the influence of religion and God in the world. These consequences of modern engineering have not been accidental and they should come as no surprise.  These have long been the prime targets of the progressive think tanks in an environment where loyalty to entities such as country, family and God stand as obstacles to the “greater good.”

Over the past half century our “enlightened” society has accelerated its departure from the shackles of the past.  Seldom in history has a people departed with such wholesale reckless enthusiasm from its traditional moorings.  And never has global civilization faced the future with such anxiety as we do now.  Welcome to the “Brave New World.”

In our lives, all that was once rock solid – institutions of culture, moral belief systems, and the simple faith in a living God – has been swept away.  We now live in a world so “advanced” that not even our identity as a man or a woman is set in stone.  (Thank you Ms. Jenner.)  Consider.  Without an eternal perspective anchored in God — all that remains is a short and shallow life.  Very little of our old reality is founded in bedrock.  And in fact, with the dismissal of our time-worn moorings, very little is left at all.

We have cut ourselves adrift.  And that is not a smart thing to do.  As a people living in a fantasy land where anything goes – we are destined to ultimate confusion where nothing really fits. And you and I shall continue to live in an increasingly dysfunctional world – a world of frustration, apprehension, and aimlessness.

May we, as a society, come to ourselves and reestablish the foundations upon which peace and happiness may truly be built.

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Gay Marriage and American Society — It’s Not Really All About Love or Hate

Well, time to get on the bandwagon. I’ve been reading a lot about “love” and “hate” lately though I don’t much care to join in the cacophony of that debate.  Those two terms are literally being worn to a frazzle in the public arena – by myriads of people without knowledge enough to adequately label hate, and by hosts of others without experience enough to do justice to love.

That’s why I find the discussion disturbing.  Because the issues of abortion, or morality, or same-sex marriage may or may not have anything to do with love or hate – though they are constantly identified by such hashtags.  For example, all nice people are obviously in favor of love and of same-sex marriage – because they’re nice.  It’s just that simple.  (And I emphasize the word simple.) And that’s all there is to it.  So don’t argue!

On the other hand, anyone who opposes same-sex marriage, must oppose it because they are hateful – and are therefore very, very bad people.  (These deluded persons may also be “homophobic”, another of our favorite new words.)  But it doesn’t get more complicated than that.  There can be no other explanation for their beliefs and the commitment they have to those beliefs.  They are either hateful or they are scared.  “Simple.”  (Get a dictionary. Look it up.)

These are the basic arguments of right and wrong in the issue, and they should worry us because of their childish over-simplicity.  Because not everyone who opposes same-sex marriage (or even a fraction by my experience) is hateful or phobic.  They just don’t believe same-sex marriage is a good idea.  And by the same token, not everyone in favor of same-sex marriage is a proponent for the welfare of the gay-lesbian community.  In fact I’m convinced most of them don’t give a hoot — at least specifically.  They take their cue from the freedom-loving crowd which rose to cult popularity in the 1960s.  Their leadership stands unyieldingly against war, and poverty, and social injustice, and animal cruelty, and the burning of the rain forests – you know, all those things the rest of us really like.  And for decades they’ve made it no secret that they are sick and tired of society telling them what they should and shouldn’t do – and they are anxious to open the gates and usher in the Brave New World.  Peace, Love, Kumbaya!

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Everybody should have a right to believe as they wish and to speak their mind – well, until lately, that is.  But please, let’s just drop this knee-jerk drivel that the entire argument is about either love or hatefulness.  It is not.  And to suggest naively that it is, is an insult to real examples of life-changing love in our society as well as a careless nod to ugly illustrations of true uncompromising hatred and evil that do infest our world.

One more thing.  The misuse and misapplication of the English language (particularly “love” and “hate’) in the name of sensationalism also does a genuine and heartless disservice to friends of mine — good people — who do happen to be gay, who are being politicized and pandered to by self-serving public figures and the manipulative mass media who fawn over them.

And yes, I guess I do hate that.

###

 

I AM THE LUCKY ONE

Well, Happy Father’s Day! I’ve been hearing that greeting from quite a few people today.  And it is a happy day.  But to all those who are remarking lately how fortunate my family is to have such a great dad (and that, of course, would be me) I thought I would set the record straight as to where the luck is distributed.

We are a passionate group of people – the Stirlings, that is.  We have plenty of dreams and a lot of ambition.  And we have been immensely blessed to have laid hold of some of our fondest wishes.

As some of you know, I have a daughter who has followed her passion, fine-tuned her abilities, worked like a maniac, and accomplished great things.   Since she was a teenager she has always wanted to be — a writer.  Simon and Shuster is publishing her first book (The Only Pirate at the Party) in January.  That’s pretty huge!  Her name is Brooke.

All right.  I know what you’re thinking.  I do have another artistic daughter who has followed her passion.  She has a very unique style and many people have seen her work – and seem to like what she does.  She is — a painter.  She has just begun to sell her artwork at auction and the response is exciting.  Her name is Marina.

Ok, ok.  Yes, I do have a particularly talented daughter.  She is a creative musician who both writes and performs before thousands.  She plays the trumpet and holds a position with the East Valley Millennial Orchestra.  Nothing seems to stop her from achieving her goals.  She is 5’3”, 115 lbs., and now wants to become a firefighter to support her family.  And she’ll do it too.  Her name is Jennifer.

I also have a son who is going to jail.  At least that’s what the letter we got from the State of Texas said.  If anybody ever sees Vladimir, tell him that he might avoid the warrant, even now, if he’ll pay the speeding ticket.  (Vladimir has become rather reclusive again, so I don’t hear from him much.  But he is a sweet soul – with a good heart)  Also, ask him to call his Dad, just so I can tell him I love him.

Oh, very well!  I do have a daughter named Lindsey who has achieved a modest kind of success in following her passion.  That passion – to be a dancing violinist – has driven her through defeat after defeat after defeat to ultimate achievement.  She knows what it is like to fail.  And she knows what it is like to succeed.  And she is an example to anyone that our dreams are worth the effort and struggle – and can come true.

Incidentally, these five people have all been blessed with a great mother who has taught them to reach for the stars and given them an example of quiet greatness to follow.  I follow that example too.  She has generously shared her life with me.  Her name is Diane.

As for me, I teach seminary and I write.  Those have been two of my greatest aspirations in life.  And I’ve accomplished a lot of my dreams so far.  I’ve published my second book, a novel, Persona Non Grata, last July.  There are still a few remaining items on my bucket list – like publishing Persona Non Grata II, III, IV, and V.  (Ambitious!)  There’s time for that.  But no fulfilled dream of life has given me such satisfaction as my relationship with a loving wife, five fine children, and a Father in Heaven who has been so good to me.

From one who has been so favored, to all who may be fathers – or who have one, I wish a Happy Father’s Day.  May none of us forget how ultimately lucky and bounteously blessed we are.

 ###

An Exercise in Self-Revelation

There has been a great deal of wind gusting in the wake of last week’s “Adventure of the Billboard Dress”.   The conversation has been largely about modesty, and appropriateness, and high fashion in the music industry.  Those topics have been pretty much exhausted in the hot air of moral debate.

However, when all was said and done, those points were not as important as were our individual, personal reactions to the event. The flurry of approvals and disapprovals regarding Lindsey Stirling’s wardrobe at the Billboard awards has given us all a rare opportunity to demonstrate who we are.  And it has been an interesting exercise of self-revelation.  I hope we were all paying close attention to what we thought and what we said.  Some found expression in a disappointing display of snap judgment and criticism.  Others rose above the level of the mob and sparkled in a demonstration of charity and understanding that touched Lindsey’s heart in a dark time. That kind of love will one day change the world.  At least that was the Savior’s point of view – a teaching he demonstrated, time and time again, by example.

But aside from the sneers and the cheers, I would like to emphasize one point has not been made forcefully enough.  So as a father I will make it.  We all know who Lindsey Stirling is.  It is difficult not to see who she is, day in, day out.  Seldom has there been so sincere, so straightforward, and so genuine an individual in today’s culture of entertainment.  She is ‘right up front’ in her expressions and appreciative of the people who love her and her music.  She wears her religion on her sleeve and is perfectly willing to let the world know why.  She has a testimony of the goodness of God and is not afraid to share it.  And in word and deed she does so daily in more ways than most of us make the effort to do in a month of Sundays.

And I’m not hard pressed to say that there is probably not one in a thousand of us who could bear up under the pressure of the public eye and the influence of the world with as much grace and optimism and courage as Lindsey does – interview after interview, concert after concert, and yes, award show after award show.

Do yourself a favor.  Take a look at that picture everyone’s talking about.  Now, forget the dress and look at those eyes.  That’s  Lindsey!  There is no bitterness, or arrogance, or stain of the world in those eyes.  Those eyes tell the real story of Lindsey Stirling.  There is someone who loves the Lord – and along with millions of adoring fans, he loves her back.

Finally, to Lindsey I have a gem of truth, of which you will need to be reminded again and again, because in many ways you live in a fish bowl and you belong to the world.  It is a thought from philosopher Elbert Hubbard. “To be misunderstood is the penalty for greatness.  But it is no proof of greatness.  The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism [and misunderstanding] without resentment.”

May you ever continue to be great.

The Christmas Warrior, Part 3 – Concluded by Stephen J. Stirling

Klaus stood, transfixed, gazing into the face of the tiny angel in his arms, the words of promise still echoing in his mind.  As he stared in wonder he felt the hands of the young woman reach up to his face and gently stroke his beard.  He forced himself to glance away from the child into the eyes of the teenage mother who looked intently up at him, smiling, with tears in her eyes.  Momentarily, her young husband stood beside her, holding her with one arm and clasping Klaus’ burly bicep with the other.  Not a word was spoken.

Gradually Klaus loosened his hold on the swaddled child as the mother took the babe in her loving arms.  He watched mother and child in their personal reunion and then turned away, leaving them to their moment.  He straightened to his full enormous height and took in a full breath of the fresh, desert air.  He suddenly felt more alive than he had ever felt in his life.

Striding to his bag on the ground he reached inside for his pouch of denari.  Counting out one hundred of them he turned to the young father and handed them to him.  He spoke no Aramaic, but did his best to impress upon him to hurry in his departure, and use the money to advantage.  Herod and the Romans would be in pursuit soon enough, but there was time now.

Gathering up the family’s few scattered belongings, Klaus packed them onto the donkey and readied the couple to go.  When he finally turned to them for his farewells, the young mother looked up at him again and, handing the baby to her husband, raised a hand to his beard.  As gently as she could, she slowly pulled his face down to hers and kissed him sweetly on the cheek, before letting him go with a smile.

Klaus pulled back in surprise.  With the single exception of his mother, no woman had ever kissed him.  And that had been a long, long time ago.  A deep laughter slowly rumbled irresistibly within his huge chest and suddenly burst from his red cheeks, resounding into the night.   He wrapped the young father and mother – and the child – once more in his muscular arms and released them.  There was a tear in his eye.

Turning, he tossed his bag over his back and went on his way, through the night, rejoicing.  He marched until morning and on through the day.  He rested the next night, but never really seemed to get tired.  He continued over the weeks to walk north through Syria, and then west through Cappadocia, Galatia, and Asia.  He spent very little of his remaining denari on his own needs, but instead bought food, and clothing, and care for those who needed it.

As he journeyed, he found himself drawn to children and they were drawn to him, his happy nature and his booming laughter.  He shared stories with them, spent time with them and carved gifts for them.  And wherever he went, the little ones remembered him.

He traveled on through Thracia, Macedonia, Dalmatia, and Germania – from town to town and country to country — fulfilling the promises of the child of Judea – giving generously until his money was gone.  But still he continued to give of himself and his heart.

The weeks stretched into months, and the months into years.   Over those years and miles Klaus grew older, his beard turned in time from red to grey to white.  But in a real sense Klaus never seemed to age.  He was forever vigorous and hearty, always kind, endlessly good, and forever sharing his gifts, as well as the message of the holy child who had sent him.  And finally, in the passage of time, Klaus ventured from his homeland to the countless nations beyond, where children awaited him, year after year, for the gifts which he brought them and spirit he bore.

And it was ever said of him that his laughter gave joy, his great heart shared kindness, his   good nature warmed the troubled soul, and his generosity imparted glad tidings.  He has never been forgotten in the memory of mankind, and he has lived to this day in the hearts of children everywhere, and will forever.

He came to be known as Santa Klaus.

The End

The Christmas Warrior, Part 2 — continued by Stephen J. Stirling

Klaus’s powerful legs catapulted him to the top as if he were in combat.  Arriving at the summit, he swung his head around, surveying the situation instantly in the moonlight.  A young man in his twenties and a young woman, no, a girl, no more than a teenager, were being accosted in the night by three Roman soldiers. A donkey, startled by the brawl trotted fifty feet away.  A glance told Klaus that these soldiers were no mere thugs of the Empire.  Rather they were mercenaries in Herod’s employ.  But to Klaus, there was virtually no difference.  A suppressed anger he hadn’t known for years flared in his heart.  He reacted instantly.  The two soldiers beating the young man were closest to him as he charged over the hill.  Dropping his own gear he was upon them in one massive step.

The soldier within reach had just knocked the young man on the ground, fallen upon him, and was about to strike him in the face.  Snatching the soldier by his outstretched fist, Klaus yanked him from the spot with one powerful jerk, practically pulling his arm from its socket.  The startled soldier pivoted like a swinging gate, until his face came into sudden contact with the gladiator’s enormous fist, which sent him sprawling to the ground unconscious.

Klaus instinctively knew he did not have a second to lose.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw the other soldier turning his attention from his brutality to lunge quickly at him.  The big gladiator avoided a dagger thrust by only inches, but inches were all he needed.  Lashing out with a speed and strength that terrified the Roman mercenary, Klaus grabbed his dagger hand, twisted the knife from his grasp and then quickly snapped his wrist with an audible crack.

He didn’t wait to survey his work as the man screamed and stumbled down the hill.  (Klaus knew he wouldn’t be interested in either fighting or holding a dagger for a while.)

He turned immediately to the final, large soldier who was manhandling the young woman, struggling with her over a small bundle in her arms.  Klaus’ legs churned into the sand with superhuman strength, but the hulking soldier and his victim were several paces away.  He felt himself moving in agonizing slow motion as the Roman brut finally shoved the girl to the ground with a cruel slap.  The bundle fell to the ground beside her, and then Klaus heard a sound that chilled his heart – the cry of a baby piercing the night.  The soldier did not stoop to examine the infant or pick it up.  Instead, Klaus watched helplessly as the trained murderer unsheathed his sword and took dead aim to kill the child.  Yet as the blade thrust downward, Klaus stretched out his hand with all his effort, catching the hilt and stopping its descent in mid air.

Klaus held the sword there with a strength that not even he knew he had as he brought his second hand to the hilt and his eyes level with those of the huge Roman.  The man’s face was hard and cruel.  He grit his teeth, glaring with hatred at this red-bearded intruder while his eyes burned with a will to follow through with his execution.  Klaus stared back intently into those fiery eyes – eyes whose depth and meaning and earnestness he knew from the arena.  This man was determined to kill!  Klaus only had seconds to respond.

Unloosing one of his hands from the quavering sword hilt, and concentrating with all his might to hold the deadly blade in place with one hand, Klaus reached to his belt where his own dagger hung.  As he did so the sword inched toward the baby.  The Roman grinned.  Now was the moment.  Klaus felt his fingers on the hilt of his knife, but even as he grasped it and drew it forth to strike, a voice whispered to him in a command he could not ignore.  No more killing.  Responding impulsively like the gladiator he was, he rotated the dagger in his fingers and with all of his strength smashed the Roman in the temple of his head with the hilt of the weapon.  The sword fell to the sand on its side and the soldier crumpled to the ground beside it without a groan.  He lay motionless.

Klaus stood, straddling his vanquished foe, breathless and exhausted.  But momentarily he gathered his thoughts, glancing up at the young man, righting himself a few yards away, and the girl, who was stirring just within reach.  He was about to turn to her when he was diverted by the cooing of the baby at his feet.  Feeling drawn to the child, to the exclusion of all else, he stooped down and lifted the bundle from the cool sand, cradling it in his massive arms.  Strange.  He had never held a baby before, but it felt so natural – so comfortable.

He shielded the infant from the night breeze with his immense body and looked into its eyes.  Reaching out with its tiny arms the baby looked up at him and smiled, and then the smile vanished, but the eyes – innocent, bright and brown — continued to study him.  He paused, captivated in the gaze of those eyes that seemed to be peering into his very soul.  And then to his astonishment, he heard a voice — a peaceful, still, small, yet clear and powerful voice – speaking to the very center of his heart.

Klaus, for the service you have done me this night you shall be blessed uniquely among men – for the life which you have saved shall give life to the world.  In immortality, you shall likewise give.  Your laughter shall give joy.  Your great heart shall share kindness.  Your good nature shall warm the troubled spirit.  And your generosity shall impart glad tidings in all nations. You shall never be forgotten in the memory of mankind, and you will live in the hearts of children everywhere forever. 

(concluded tomorrow)

The Christmas Warrior, Part 1 — retold by Stephen J. Stirling

A million stars illuminated the heavens as they moved slowly across the Judean night – cold, crisp, silent.  The light of a waning moon bathed the earth and sky in a quiet brilliance that seemed to extend forever.  Only a light breeze interrupted the perfect stillness that filled the air.  Klaus sat on the brow of a hill overlooking a tiny shepherd village of the desert and breathed in the freedom.  For the first time in over ten years, his life was his own.

Klaus had only been 15 when the Roman soldiers had swarmed over his little Germanic town, far to the north.  The masters of the world attacked his people without warning – killing, pillaging and burning every hut to the ground.  He was carving wood that day in his father’s shop.  He remembered trying to fight back.  But what did he know of fighting?  He was woefully unprepared as a youth to give battle to the butchers of the Roman Empire.  However, time would change all that.

Amidst their scoffs and jeers they took him prisoner — the lone survivor of his hamlet — and carried him back to Rome.  What an amusing prize he was – this red-headed novelty of the north countries — as they sold him into slavery.  He was purchased at auction by an agent of Herod the Great and transported in chains another thousand miles to Jerusalem in Judea, where the merciless monarch had established his ‘kingdom’.

Had Klaus been purchased as a mere slave his story may have ended there.  But Herod’s servants had selected this husky, wild-eyed youth to be trained as one of the king’s gladiators, to fight in the arena as a spectacle for the entertainment of his guests.  And indeed, Klaus proved an able student, driven by anger and defiance of the Romans who had made a slave of him.  Within three years, he not only mastered every weapon in Herod’s arsenal, but built his body into the perfect tool to wield them.  His frame became a seamless network of muscles from his head to his foot, accented by a thick, red beard that made him the most fearsome warrior in the school of gladiators.

From the moment Klaus first stepped into the arena, he became a favorite – a fighting machine of such skill, agility, speed and shrewd intelligence that he bewildered and overpowered his rivals as much as he delighted the spectators.  But surprisingly none of this brought any satisfaction to the young gladiator.  Perhaps because none of the rage of his training accompanied him into the arena.  His only motivation in the heat of combat was a burning desire to survive, together with a knowledge, deep within his soul, that there was more to his life and destiny than this – something worth living for.

With that conviction sustaining him, Klaus fought on, and lived on.  He left the anger behind and developed a deep, booming laugh that was infectious and encouraging to his fellows.  He grew big-hearted and good-natured.  And he survived.  The life expectancy of the typical gladiator was one or two years.  Klaus endured for three, then four.  And he fought on – for five, six, and finally seven years.  Until, even the cruel Herod the Great was persuaded to grant this prize gladiator his freedom – with a reward of a thousand denari.  And now, Klaus was going home.

And none too soon.  It was rumored in Herod’s palace that one of these villages was to be the victim of his royal brutality.  As early as tomorrow the king intended to kill all the children of a single town out of an insane fear that one of them threatened him as a rival.  Klaus understood none of it.  It was enough that Herod could commit such lunacy.  Klaus was one in a million to have survived Herod’s madness.  He was leaving Judea forever.  He was going home away from this insanity.

Klaus inhaled a huge breath of the Judean night air and stretched his massive arms as he took one last look at the tiny village enveloped in darkness below him.  What was its name?  Bethlehem.  He hoped it wasn’t the town that was to be the target of Herod’s wrath.  Standing from the sand and picking up his traveling bag, he flung it across his shoulder.  He had a long journey before him.  It was time to go home.

He had only taken a few steps when a sound reached his ears – the sound of a scuffle, followed by the shouts of men, muffled by the wind in the night.  He froze in his tracks to determine the direction of the struggle.  But then he heard a noise that alarmed him, sending his head upright like a sentinel.  It was the cry of a woman.  Klaus sprang without hesitation, turning and sprinting to the brow of the sandy hill behind him.

 (continued tomorrow)

Persona Non Grata and the Mormon Milieu

As I speak to various audiences regarding Persona Non Grata, there is one question I always ask. “Does the influence of religion – specifically Mormonism – hamper the reader’s ability to enjoy a good tale of adventure and intrigue?”  Fair question.  In a day when religious prejudice is the last acceptable form of social bigotry, and the worn catch phrase ‘Separation of Church and/from State [– and Everything Else]’ has become a watchword of our times – it is reasonable to ask if references to religion are offensive to the literary consumer.

Persona Non Grata is the story of a Latter-day Saint seminary teacher who becomes embroiled in the imminent invasion of Crimea by Russian troops, while trying to rescue a former student from that outbreak of hostility.  Whether or not the treatment is religiously heavy handed, is an objective assessment best reserved to the reader. So far the critics and samplings of readers have received the book with overwhelming approval. But the jury is always out.

And I make no pretensions here. Persona Non Grata is written from a Latter-day Saint point of view.  Again, the hero of the story happens to be a Mormon. He could have been a Hasidic Jew, a Presbyterian deacon, or a Buddhist monk.  His unique point of view under any of those alternatives would invariably have changed the story.  And I’m sure the story would have been interesting.  My problem, or perhaps my advantage, was that I knew more about the Mormon culture than about Jews or Buddhists.

And that leads to my original question. Is there too much LDS culture in Persona Non Grata? Some people suggested that I ‘soft pedal’ the Mormon aspects of the book, or even write it from a Christian fundamentalist angle, completely eliminating any references to LDS issues or topics.  I preferred not to do that, and my reasoning was simple.  The world in which we live now enriches our lives with a wide range of cultural diversity – a diversity that shouldn’t flinch at a less than lethal exposure to various forms of worship.

Consider classic and contemporary literature — including books, plays, and feature films that have long been liberally laced with a colorful depth of religious tradition.  Jewish culture (exemplified in the writings of Chiam Potok or Leon Uris) has been a prominent fictional backdrop for years. Catholicism (typified through authors like Graham Green and G.H. Chesterton) has certainly occupied no less a conspicuous a setting in great literature and films.  Likewise Islam, Buddhism, or the religions of India have given a rich texture to many books and movies, all without apology.

My point. I believe that the Mormon tradition has the potential to offer just as rich a context to the creative arts.  The history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is laden with a wealth of devotion, sacrifice, tragedy, and glory — the elements that give significance to living. The culture of everyday Mormonism continues to provide a way of life that offers meaning and purpose to its adherents, who now number in the millions.  Their beliefs and practices have earned them admiration as well as ridicule.  Who they are makes them stand out — and even appear peculiar.

But they are a powerful and unique part of world culture.  And their cultural message – like the message of Judaism or Catholicism – has something to contribute to a cosmopolitan world.  In an article featured through the Huffington Post, writer Stephen Mansfield, (who is by no means a ‘cheering section’ for the Mormons), offered this commentary on the much touted “Mormon Moment” – you know, when Latter-day Saints seemed to be popping up everywhere a couple of years ago.

“What most commentators did not understand was that their “Mormon Moment” was more than a moment, more than an accident, and more than a matter of pop culture and fame alone. The reality was–and is–that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reached critical mass. It is not simply that a startling number of Mormons [from Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck to Stephanie Meyer, Katherine Heigl, and even Lindsey Stirling] have found their way onto America’s flat-screen TVs and so brought visibility to their religion. It is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reached sufficient numbers–and has so permeated every level of American society on the strength of its religious value–that prominent politicians, authors, athletes, actors, newscasters, and even murderers are the natural result. . . Visible, influential Mormons aren’t outliers or exceptions. They are fruit of the organic growth of their religion.”

Of course, none of this means the Mormons are going to take over the nation or the planet.  Not even Mansfield contemplates that paranoid possibility in the world you and I live in.  What he does suggest is that Latter-day Saints are achieving some prominence on the national scene, and have something to offer America – and the world.  And that should be no more religiously threatening than a stroll through the Deli Kosher aisle or an accidental close encounter with a televangelist while surfing on cable.

So, what I would like to know from you is this:  In your opinion can Mormonism be allowed to serve as an acceptable cultural context in standard fiction?  I believe it is time for the culture of the Latter-day Saints to take its place as a milieu in mainstream fiction.  I tried to establish that kind of backdrop in Persona Non Grata – to provide a unique picture of a basically religious character, without ramming that religion down anyone’s throat.

I hope that this aspect of Persona Non Grata served as a springboard and not as a barrier to your ability to lose yourself in a good book.  May my audience of America – and the world — continue to read and enjoy the international adventures of Paladin Smith.

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A HORRIFIC VISION OF THE NIGHT THAT BECAME A REALITY

In writing Persona Non Grata, I do not claim to have experienced a vision or spiritual premonition regarding the Russian invasion of Crimea.  But the phenomenon of genuine prophecy does have its precedents.  Outside of the Scriptures and modern revelation, the following true story is one of my favorites.  I condensed it from an article entitled, “A DREAM THAT SHOOK THE WORLD.”

It was Sunday night, August 25th, 1893, and Byron Somes was sleeping off a binge in his office at the Boston Globe.  It was not a tranquil sleep.  A horrific nightmare had tormented his slumber. Watching from mid-air in his dream, Somes had witnessed a catastrophe of monumental proportions.  The earth shook, mountains tumbled into the ocean, waves heaped themselves beyond their bounds, and then an immense explosion erupted from the depths of hell as thousands of screaming voices were silenced forever.  Somes burst awake from his troubled sleep and sat, breathlessly pondering the vision he had just experienced.  In his mind he could still hear the cries of those doomed mortals on that little tropical island as they sought vainly to escape from the fiery fate that engulfed them.  But it was just a dream.

Somes has the presence of mind to jot down the details of the dream while they were fresh in his mind.  Who knows?  Maybe he could use them in the future as feature material on some dull news day.  He marked the notes as “important” – put them on his desk and went home.

Somes did not report for work the next day but someone found the notes on his desk and misinterpreted them as the details of a story.  The notes did coincide with recent seismological disturbances that were puzzling experts.  Fragmentary reports were filtering in with regard to a large earthquake on the island of Krakatoa, located between Java and Sumatra.  In a day of slow communications there was no more information that.  But it was enough.  The next day the Boston Globe ran an excellent story based on the notes Somes had jotted down.  Other papers picked up on the scoop that had been printed by the Globe and in a short time, one man’s dream had been translated into a widespread news story.

When his employers found Somes, demanding more details and more copy, he broke down and admitted that his ‘report’ was nothing more than notes of a nightmare.  The hapless reporter was summarily fired while the editors of the metropolitan daily prepared a humiliating public apology for printing a dream as though it were factual news.

But before the Globe could make its confession, huge waves began to pound the California coastline and the telegraphed reports of a few eyewitness survivors began to trickle over the telegraph wires.  On August 25th, the volcano on island of Krakatoa had begun to rumble, showering the island with boulders.  Bridges fell, roads became impassable, and ships scurried out to sea to avoid the cannonading. Undersea explosions churned the waters, and volcano after volcano – fifteen in all — joined the violence in a thunderous chorus. Then suddenly there was an explosion so vast that it defied description.  The island of Krakatoa had disintegrated in one cataclysmic blast that sent earthshocks and air waves around the globe. The sound of the eruption was heard 3,000 miles away.  Tidal waves killed tens of thousands of persons.  And more than 11 cubic miles of debris was spewed into the atmosphere. There had been nothing like it in the annals of modern history.

As the newswires brought in the real story, hour by hour, the amazing accuracy of Byron Somes account became evident.  He suddenly found himself in the good graces of his employer again.  The Globe, not surprisingly, declined at the time to reveal the fascinating story behind the story.  But the truth would eventually be known – that in a remarkable dream, reporter Byron Somes witnessed the volcanic destruction of Krakatoa, an island halfway around the world, as it was about to happen.  A dream which accidentally became the news story of the decade.

–from Stranger than Science, by Frank Edwards,                                                                                            p.32-33

Just a reminder that world events have been foretold before – in the strangest of ways.  Persona Non Grata is one of those literary anomalies.  The historic prediction of an occurrence which took the world by surprise – amidst a world of happenings which continue to surprise us.

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THE FICTION THAT CAME TRUE

Like the Russian – Crimean invasion, the most renown maritime disaster of all time also lays claim to the notoriety of having been foretold by the fiction of its time.  Here’s the story.

“A floating palace sailed from Southampton in 1898 on her maiden voyage.  It was the largest and grandest liner ever built, and rich passengers savored its luxury as they journeyed to the United States.  But the ship never reached its destination: Its hull was ripped open by an iceberg, and it sank with a heavy loss of life.

“That liner existed only on paper, [and] in the imagination of a novelist named Morgan Robertson.  The name he gave to his fictional ship was the Titan, and the book’s title was Futility.

“Both the fiction and the futility were to turn into terrifying fact. Fourteen years later a real luxury liner set out on a similar maiden voyage.  It too was laden with rich passengers.  It too rammed an iceberg and sank; and, as in Robertson’s novel, the loss of life was fearful because there were not enough lifeboats.  It was the night of April 14, 1912.  The ship was the RMS Titanic.

“In many other ways. . . the Titan of Robertson’s novel was a near duplicate of the Titanic.  They were roughly the same size, had the same speed ad the same carrying capacity. . . Both were ‘unsinkable.’  And both sank in exactly the same spot in the North Atlantic.

“But the strange coincidences do not end there.  The famous journalist W.T. Stead published, in 1892, a short story that [also] proved to be a preview of the Titanic disaster.  Stead was a spiritualist: He was also one of the 1,513 passengers who died when the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the ocean.”

Strange Stories, Amazing Facts, p.406

I told you!  Amazing!  Tomorrow, one more Persona Non Grata-like world event will bear witness that time and fate are governed by coincidence.  But then again, I don’t believe in coincidence, do you?

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