Christmas

Christmas is made up.

Let me just say a couple of things before I get this rolling. I am a Christian. Card carrying, long time, and dedicated to it. I love God, not as well as I wish I did, but I try, and it has a positive impact on my life, and hopefully the lives of people around me. So believe me when I say, that the above statement, “Christmas is made up.” is not an attempt to stir anti-Christian sentiment, nor is it meant to be some kind of deep confession about how I actually disagree with Christmas or something like that. It is just the truth.

We made Christmas up. We quite arbitrarily decided that we should be celebrating Jesus’ birth, and put it on the calendar in order to do it at the same time every year. I’m not saying we shouldn’t. In fact, I think we should. I think we should always be celebrating Jesus’ birth, and I think having put it on the calendar, we tend not to celebrate enough. Regardless,  it is made up. Jesus didn’t ask us to celebrate his birthday. There was a huge party when it happened, sure, but Jesus didn’t say, “Look, I want everyone to give each other presents, and hang up wreaths on my birthday, okay?”

You can’t turn to a passage in Matthew and find:

Therefore, at the end of the year, when I was born, do this: Bring a tree into your home. Decorate it with candles, or eventually electric lights when those are invented. Also, drink eggnog. Some of you will hate it, but some of you will love it. Nevertheless, this is my command to you. You shall call this celebration Christmas, because of a word that really hasn’t been invented yet, and because I am the Christ. I also command that you are to be merry on that day, and that you should demand that others are merry also. If you find that some are not merry, or do not wish to be merry, you should chide them publicly. Do not attempt to make them merry by meeting their needs. No, if someone else is not being merry like they should, you should immediately stop being merry also, and go make certain they know how un-merry they have made you.

It’s not in any of the gospels, the epistles, or Revelation. It’s not in the Old Testament anywhere that you should always write the slogans of your made up holiday on your coffee cups.

We are given commands though. Love God, love each other. Also, if you want holidays, there is a fitting, and encouraged celebration of Jesus. His death and resurrection are given a ceremony we can observe. So, if you are a Christian who wants to honor Jesus, do that one.

Let me be clear. Christmas is wonderful. I love it. As a Christian, I love what it means. It means the solution to the problem has arrived, and that is something to celebrate, truly.

I went through a spell where the commercialism of the season made me a little bitter, but that subsided considerably, and I was able to, in the words of Dickens, keep Christmas  well,  when I realized something. Christmas is made up. People are under no obligation, not by God, and not by Starbucks, to celebrate it.

Maybe you don’t immediately see that as a good thing. But here’s why it is. You are not obligated to celebrate Christmas. Therefore, you get to choose to celebrate Christmas, and that makes it much sweeter indeed, when you are the one who gets to decide that you will honor love and redemption, and yes, even give people presents.

And choosing to honor God with your own, love, forgiveness, and gifts to others looks a lot like one of the actual commands we are given. Love your neighbor as yourself.

You are either still reading this far because you want some kind of closing advice, or because you want to get to the bottom to tell me how wrong I am in the comments. Well, here is the advice:

Commit your energy, if you indeed wish to celebrate Christmas as God would be honored by it, to really giving. Give truth, give time, give love, give understanding and forgiveness. Give presents. Give hugs and kisses. Give something sacrificial of yourself to the world around you.

Buy a  coffee, or don’t, but by all means, give.

And from the bottom of my heart, Merry Christmas.

-Jon

Jon’s Celebrity High Five List

Autographs are great and all. Photo’s, in my opinion, are better. It’s proof that you were in the same room as the person with whom you are photographed. But I don’t really care about that either. I’ve never been one to lose my cool over a celebrity. Even at my most star-struck, I’m just more apt to say “Awesome” too much. I already do, anyway. What is it that I would rather have than signatures or pictures? High-Fives.

Why High-Fives, you may ask. And well you may. I’ll tell you. Because a High-Five, and I mean a genuine High-Five, is a mutual expression of success or agreement. It implies that the two parties involved have shared an experience that involves mutual celebration. While I like for a favorite author to sign his or her work, and while I’ll always enjoy getting a quick snapshot with someone I find talented, interesting, or fun, a High-Five is the pinnacle of casual celebrity interaction. Further, it is not always as simple as that. It can mean quite a bit more, depending upon the celebrity involved.

Case in point: The first person I have checked off of Jon’s Celebrity High-Five List, is Wil Wheaton. If you follow Wil at all in the world of the Blog-O-Net, or on his The Twitter or other outlets, then you may already know Wil’s perfectly justifiable stance on physical contact at conventions. His immune system is not the strongest, and in order to save himself the trouble of contacting the “Con Crud”, he refrains from hugs, handshakes and other physical greetings. He’s not a jerk about it or anything, nor is it personal. It’s just the way he does things. That said, I had the opportunity to play True Dungeon with Wil and a few other folks a couple of years ago. We succeeded in defeating the dragon at the end of the module, and I received a Wil-Initiated high-five after our party’s victory. Wil probably doesn’t remember that, but knowing Wil and his policy, I was flattered. So, what that high-five represented was a shared experience and mutual celebration. When you think of it that way, it was one of the most sincere mementos of a meeting with Wil Wheaton that a regular fan could hope for.

Anyway, heart-warming stories of dragon slaying aside, here is an incomplete High Five List in no particular order (Except that Nathan Fillion actually is first. That cat is AWESOME….see?), which contains people with whom I am impressed in one form or another. It could be their talent, or maybe just that they seem like great people, who’d fancy a High-Five with a strange guy. Perhaps all of the above.

Nathan Fillion (And pretty much the entire cast of Firefly)

Wil Wheaton (One down)

Pentatonix. All five of them.

David Tennant

Seth Green

Chris Pratt

Ben Browder (And pretty much the entire cast of Farscape)

Clark Gregg (And much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe)

The list indeed goes on. It’s as flexible and organic as it can be.  Do you have an official High-Five List? You should.

-Jon

 

Stories From The Stacks – A New Anthology by Wicked Wordsmiths of The West

Last year, about this time, my writing group released our first anthology, Wicked Words. This year we have done it again! Introducing, Stories From The Stacks! This time, we chose a theme that was near and dear to all of us: The library where we meet each month. All of the tales in this collection hearken to our love of the vast shelves of stories, the smell of old paper, and the quiet contemplative setting of your local library. If you liked the first anthology, come and give this one a try!

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The story I contributed to this collection, Grailman, comes from a short passage I wrote a long time ago just to capture a scene that I had rattling around in my head, and was adapted to fit the theme. It deals with the consequences of dystopian destruction through the eyes of one man trying to salvage an invaluable treasure.

We really appreciate you taking the time to check us out! Thanks for reading!

-Jon

10 Books That Stuck With Me…

There has been a post making the rounds on social media lately that asks you to list 10 books that have stuck with you/affected you/made you take notice in some way. The language changes a little bit from post to post, but the premise is always the same.

I have posted my list a few times at this point, but I’ve kept it brief. I keep thinking I’d like to give a little explanation about why I have chosen the books that I have, but I didn’t want to get wordy all over someone’s post… and then I remembered, Hey! I have a blog!”

So here’s my list, roughly in the order that I first encountered them, with a little bit about why these books mean something to me. Shall we?

1. The Bible: Technically, 66 books. 🙂 I listed it for the simple reason that the way I see the world, the way I treat the people in it, and the way I conduct myself all stem from Biblical study and teaching.  My faith is an important part of me, and I think it even affects the way I write and the stories I like to read.  I’m of the opinion that mankind is striving, unknowingly sometimes, to tell a story of loss and subsequent redemption that has Biblical, or more to the point, spiritual origin.

2. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe: Parents and relatives read a lot of books to me over the years. My dad read me this one when I was very young, but I can’t remember exactly how young. I remember being young enough that when Robinson Crusoe mentions being in possession of arms, I thought he meant his literal arms. I thought, well, of course he has arms. Why would that be a big deal? Anyway, the book caught my attention enough that I would return to it and read it on my own a few years later, and more than once after that. As a matter of fact, maybe it’s time for another read-through. I can’t say why it stuck with me, but perhaps it is because it was read to me.  I’ve loved a good castaway story ever since.

3. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis:  This book, the first in the Chronicles of Narnia, is a famously allegorical Bible story. C.S. Lewis, himself a Christian, wove a tale of magic that I found fascinating. I went on to read the rest of the series, and found that I loved three things. Fantastic, Magical Worlds,  Long Journeys and Quests, and the effects of the passage of time. In later books, The Pevensies return to Narnia to find that a long time has passed in Narnia. Seeing the remnants of their time in Narnia centuries before, fascinated me!

4. The Hobbit: I read this book in the third grade. I think maybe I’ve read it twice more since then. The Hobbit was the first book that really, and truly swept me away into the realm of fantasy. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was short, sweet and wonderful, and though The Hobbit can be said to be a children’s book as well, I consider it the first “grown-up” piece of literature I ever read on my own. I remember seeing it on the shelf at my step-mother’s house (before she was my step-mother) and either I asked about it, or she saw me wondering about it and gave it to me to read. Either way, The Hobbit is a classic story about how the smallest, seemingly most insignificant person can make the biggest difference. Bilbo Baggins became a close friend, and at that point I began to explore the worlds in my imagination.

5.  The Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set Player’s Manual (From the 1983 Revision, Also known as The Red Box): The same year that I read the Hobbit, I was also introduced to Dungeons and Dragons by my soon to be Step Sister. To say that I was interested in a game where I could make things up in my mind and explore dungeons and even entire worlds, was an understatement of the greatest degree. Third grade was a pivotal year for a lot of reasons, but the most important one, at least for the purposes of this list, is that fact that I realized stories could be made up and written down by anyone. That included a third grade kid from rural southern Ohio. At first Dungeons and Dragons was that outlet. Contrary to some of the bad press the game has received over the years, it is socially inclusive, vastly creative, endless and flexible. My best friend throughout junior and senior high and I created and played many characters in many different places. I played in college, staying out way too late because the story was that good. I still play today, running a game in a world that I created specifically for the players, and I think they are having a great time. The first story I ever wrote down was for a class creative writing project in 5th grade. It was C.S. Lewis fan-fiction and it was terrible! But, I had become a writer thanks in no small part to the tool of the imagination that was D&D. (Buy the current 5th Edition Starter Set Here.)

6. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea – Jules Verne: I first read 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea around the same time that I read Robinson Crusoe on my own. In fact, it was because I had several of those classic adventures in a set. It also included The Three Musketeers and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I enjoyed those as well, but Jules Verne was my favorite. This book may be where my love of antique brass and Steampunk comes from. I loved the somewhat frightening Captain Nemo, never really knowing where I stood with him. I came to realize that a flawed hero could be a very interesting hero indeed.

7-9. The Lord of The Rings: My list includes more than the required 10 books because I listed The Lord of The Rings trilogy as three. I’m putting them back together here because these three books count as one in a tour of my reading history. I tried to read The Fellowship of The Ring fairly shortly after reading The Hobbit. I failed, mainly because the book picked up much later than I thought it would. I missed Bilbo, and I had no idea who this Frodo character was, but initially he didn’t interest me enough. I picked the book up a couple of years later and did fine. I suppose that I just needed time to mature into enough patience for the slower pace of Tolkien’s grander  works. (*cough* Silmarillion *cough*) The Lord of The Rings, though, once I was prepared to read it, introduced me to the kind of story that did not have to wrap up too happily. I don’t wish to spoil the story for those of you who may have yet to read Tolkien, but the ending of The Lord of The Rings trilogy, is bittersweet, haunting, and heartbreaking, and in the best way possible.

10.  The Neverending Story – Michael Ende: I actually didn’t read The Neverending Story until late high school, though I had seen the classic 1984 movie (and dismissed the successive sequels) years before. Admittedly, I was first captured by the movie version of the tale, which is much less detailed and somewhat truncated, if well done. The thing that most amazed me about The Neverending Story, I think, is the “meta-concept” of the reader (watcher) as a character in the story. I was thrilled by the idea of the characters being aware of their readers. For years I played with that concept in my own stories and games, and I think as I writer, I am always imagining the world/worlds beyond the setting. I always wonder about who else could be out there in the worlds I am writing, just waiting for their part of the story to begin. I love the perspective that The Neverending Story gave to me as a writer.  (I recommend buying the hard cover edition, which features different colored inks to indicate which world you are currently reading. It’s a fun device. Click here)

11. The Princess Bride – William Goldman: Again, I first fell in love with The Princess Bride in the form of its film adaptation. Perfectly cast, written, and scored, this movie gave a lot of heart to my generation. I read the book a few years after I saw the movie, and found it to be just as charming. I love that the author claims that the book is simply an abridgment of a much earlier work (which does not actually exist) that boils the story down to the “good parts”.  This book is simply a good example of a well rounded, romantic and comedic fairy-tale. I recommend it to anyone.

12. The Eye of The World – Robert Jordan: This book is here to represent many other books like it. I list it because this book, in many ways, started my exploration of the Epic Fantasy tale. Lord of The Rings can be said to be the first of these modern fantasies, but many have since continued the tradition. These broad, sweeping, multi-volume works  expand across globes, have hundreds of characters and tell many stories before they conclude. These stories, if you ask me, are for people who needn’t arrive at the end without making all of the stops along the way. They are for the journeyer and wanderer. Critically, some say Robert Jordan let his world get away from him, and they do make good points, but for those who simply wanted to explore his world, the ever-widening tale was just fine.  I list this book because it was the first that made me realize that I could explore a world as long as the author would write in it, and I could do so without impatience at all to reach the conclusion. Robert Jordan passed away before he could finish his story, but Brandon Sanderson took up the task and completed The Wheel of Time admirably. You should also check out his work. Currently, Brandon is my favorite fantasy author and his own epic, The Stormlight Archive, is gaining steam.  I believe it promises to be an incredible piece of fiction. I’m happy to be along for the ride.

And there you have it. A list of some of the most influential books in my life. I hope you’ll take time to read all of them! Great books, all! I’ll even create click-through Kindle links to Amazon so you can just buy them all right now! You’re welcome! Happy reading! 😉

-Jon

Yet another update…

Hello, droves of people!

I have reinstalled WordPress to change my site into something a bit bloggy.

The reinstall is also in preparation for the release of “Wicked Words”, The anthology that my writing group is self publishing this coming October.  More to come on the anthology in the coming weeks.

While you’re here, check me out on Twitter @jonccook and like my page on Facebook – facebook.com/jonccookfiction