Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Writer Tip #18: Go To The Movies!

The Arcade Theater, my home away from home as a kid.
When I began screenwriting, I became a student of the movies. I already loved the movies, but now I looked at them through different eyes. I still demanded to be entertained. but now class began every time the lights dimmed. I studied what worked and what didn't. I took note of new actors and actresses. I tried to figure why one film succeeded and the next one failed. During my formative years as a screenwriter, I attended between 110 and 190 films a year -- while working full time and writing multiple scripts.

A lot of people I know started screenwriting around the same time as me. Most of them failed to write a produced feature and stopped writing scripts. After a while, I detected a common trait among them before they gave up: They all stopped going to the movies. First, they started complaining about Hollywood movies, then independents, and then before long they weren't going to movies anymore at all.

Do I go to movies as much as I used to? No. Do I complain about Hollywood films? Yes, particularly their over reliance on superheroes, reboots and sequels. But I still go. I still want to be transfixed. And I still learn.

Here's the best advice I can give any aspiring screenwriter: Go to the movies. Often. If you can't see every film, at least see every film in your chosen genre!

Here's my movie list from 1995.  I wish I could find my list for 1998. That was my record year. I saw 198 films in the theater.  I did, however, have a theater chain pass.

01. THE  JUNGLE BOOK, **1/2, 1-1-95 at The Perry Hall
02. DUMB AND DUMBER, ***, 1-2-95 at The Annapolis Apex
03. THE SANTA CLAUSE, ***. 1-6-95 at The Perry Hall
04. I.Q. Rating. ***, 1-15-95 at Beard's Hill
05. DEMON KNIGHT, **1/2, 1-15-95 at Beard's Hill
06. LEGENDS OF THE FALL Rating: *1/2 1-16-95 at The Valley Center
07. RICHIE RICH, *, 1-19-95 at Perry Hall
08. DISCLOSURE, ***, 1-19-95 at Perry Hall
09. THE LAST SEDUCTION, ***, 1-20-95 at The Rotunda
10. MRS. PARKER AND THE VICIOUS CIRCLE, *,  1-21-95 at The Greenspring
11. DUMB AND DUMBER, ***, 1-22-95 at The Perry Hall
12. MURDER IN THE FIRST, ***, 1-22-95 at The Perry Hall
13. BEFORE SUNRISE, ***,1-30-95 at The Towson Commons
14. STREET FIGHTER, *1/2, 2-1-95 at The Southside
15. THE PROFESSIONAL, **1/2, 2-1-95 at The Southside
16. CARO DAIRO, **, 2-8-95 at The Charles
17. THE JERKY BOYS, **, 2-9-95 at The Perry Hall
18. THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, ***, 2-11-95 at the Yorkridge
19. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, **1/2, 2-12-95 at The Jumpers
20. THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE, ***, 2-13-95 at The Rotunda
21. ROOMMATES, *, 2-16-95 at The Golden Ring
22. THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE, ***, 2-17-95 at The Valley Center
23. QUIZ SHOW, ***, 2-18-95 at The Tollgate
24. THE HUNTED, **, 2-26-95 at The Beard's Hill
25. BILLY MADISON, Bomb, 2-26-95 at The Beard's Hill
26. THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE, ***, 2-27-95 at The Yorkridge
27. MAN OF THE HOUSE, *1/2, 3-5-95 at Beard's Hill
28. HIDEAWAY, **1/2, 3-5-95 at Beard's Hill
29. SHALLOW GRAVE, ***, 3-6-95 at The Charles
30. THE MANGLER, Bomb, 3-11-95 at The Towson Commons
31. OUTBREAK, **1/2, 3-13-95 at The Valley Center
32. BYE BYE LOVE, *1/2, 3-17-95 at The Yorkridge
33. PULP FICTION, ***, 3-18-95 at Beard's Hill
34. MAJOR PAYNE, **, 4-1-95 at Beard's Hill
35. CANDYMAN 2: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH, *1/2, 4-1-95 at Beard's Hill
36. THE WILD BUNCH, ***1/2, 4-2-95 at Beard's Hill
37. CIRCLE OF FRIENDS, ***1/2, 4-8-95 at The Rotunda
38. ROB ROY, **1/2, 4-10-95 at The Towson Commons
39. TANK GIRL, Bomb,  4-15-95 at Beard's Hill
40. TOMMY BOY, **1/2, 4-15-95 at Beard's Hill
41. EXOTICA, **, 4-22-95 at The Senator
42. DESTINY TURNS ON THE RADIO, *, 5-3-95 at The Perry Hall
43. JURY DUTY, Bomb, 5-6-95 at The Tollgate
44. MURIEL'S WEDDING, ***, 5-6-95 at The Tollgate
45. FRENCH KISS, ***, 5-8-95 at The Towson Commons
46. WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, ***, 5-18-95 at Perry Hall
47. VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, *1/2, 5-18-95 at Perry Hall
48. DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, ***1/2, 5-22-95 at The Senator
49. THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, **1/2, 5-24-95 at The Towson Commons
50. FUNNY BONES, ***,  5-25-95 at The Charles
51. FORGET PARIS, *1/2,  5-26-95 at The Towson Commons
52. CRIMSON TIDE, ***1/2, 5-27-95 at The Perry Hall
53. BRAVEHEART, **, 5-28-95 at The RC Eastpoint
54. FUNNY BONES, ***1/2,  6-5-95 at The Charles
55. CONGO, **, 6-12-95 at The Annapolis Harbour
56. TALES FROM THE HOOD, **, 6-17-95 at Beard's Hill
57. CASPER, **1/2, 6-17-95 at Beard's Hill
58. BATMAN FOREVER, ***, 6-19-95 at The Valley Center
59. SEARCH AND DESTROY, *, 6-24-95 at The Rotunda
60. CRUMB, ****, 6-27-95 at The Charles
61. POCAHONTAS, **1/2, 7-1-95 at Beard's Hill
62. JUDGE DREDD, **1/2, 7-1-95 at Beard's Hill
63. APOLLO 13, ****, 7-2-95 at The Annapolis Apex
64. APOLLO 13, ****, 7-3-95 at Eastpoint
65. SPECIES, *, 7-9-95 at The Southside
66. FIRST KNIGHT, **, 7-10-95 at The Senator
67. UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY, **1/2, 7-16-95 at Beard's Hill
68. APOLLO 13, ****, 7-21-95 at The Perry Hall
69. THE POSTMAN (Il Postino), ***1/2, 7-25-95 at The Rotunda
70. BABE, ***,  8-3-95 at Perry Hall
71. NINE MONTHS, *,  8-5-95 at Perry Hall
72. BUSHWHACKED, *1/2,  8-5-95 at The Tollgate
73. LITTLE ODESSA, ***, 8-6-95 at The Charles
74. SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT, ***, 8-13-95 at The Tollgate
75. DANGEROUS MINDS, **, 8-13-95 at Beard's Hill
76. A WALK IN THE CLOUDS, **1/2,  8-19-95 at The Valley Center with Andrea Barnes
77. LIVING IN OBLIVION, ***, 8-24-95 at The Charles
78. THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN, ***, 8-27-95 at The Rotunda
79. DESPERADO, *1/2, 8-28-95 at The Timonium Cinema
80. KIDS, *1/2, 9-2-95 at The Eastpoint
81. THE PROPHECY, **1/2, 9-3-95 at Beard's Hill
82. LORD OF ILLUSION, **1/2, 9-3-95 at The Tollgate
83. THE USUAL SUSPECTS,  ***, 9-3-95 at The Rotunda
84. SEPARATE LIVES, Bomb, 9-7-95 at The Towson Commons
85. THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN, **1/2, 9-11-95 at The Rotunda
86. DESPERADO. *1/2, 9-17-95 at Beard's Hill
87. THE PROPHECY, **1/2, 9-17-95 at Beard's Hill
88. NATIONAL LAMPOON'S SENIOR TRIP, **, 9-18-05 at The Annapolis Harbor Mall
89. HACKERS, **, 9-20-95 at Perry Hall
90. MORTAL KOMBAT,  *, 9-20-95 at Perry Hall
91. SEVEN, *1/2, 9-23-95 at The Yorkridge
92. CLOCKERS,  **, 9-24-95 at The Montgomery Mall
93. SHOWGIRLS, *,  9-25-95 at The Senator
94. HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS, Bomb, 10-7-95 at the Tollgate
95. ASSASSINS, ***, 10-7-95 at The Tollgate
96. DEAD PRESIDENTS, **, 10-7-95 at The Tollgate with Bob Burgess.
97. TO DIE FOR, **, 10-9-95 at The Senator
98. STRANGE DAYS, ***, 10-15-95 at The Perry Hall
99. STRANGE DAYS, ***, 10-18-95 at The Timonium Cinema
100. THE SCARLET LETTER, **, 10-19-95 at The Valley Center
101. JADE, *1/2, 10-20-95 at The Valley Center
102. GET SHORTY, ***, 10-24-95 at The Towson Commons
103. MALLRATS, *, 10-28-95 at The Eastpoint
104. THEREMIN: AN ELECTRONIC ODYSSEY, ***, 11-3-95 at the Charles
105. FAIR GAME, *1/2, 11-5-95 at Beard's Hill
106. NEVER TALK TO STRANGERS, **1/2, 11-5-95 at Beard's Hill
107. POWDER, **, 11-5-95 at Perry Hall
108. HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, **1/2,  11-6-95 at The Senator
109. COPYCAT, **1/2, 11-12-95 at the Valley Center
110. THE USUAL SUSPECTS, ***, 11-17-95 at The Towson Commons
111. THE MIGHTY APHRODITE, **1/2, 11-18-95 at The Greenspring
112. ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS, **1/2, 11-19-95 at Beard's Hill
113. VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, *, 11-19-95 at Beard's Hill
114. GOLDENEYE, **, 11-20-95 at The Yorkridge
115. GET SHORTY,  ***, 11-24-95 at The Valley Center
116. MONEY TRAIN, *1/2, 11-25-95 at Beard's Hill
117. CASINO, **1/2, 11-25-95 at Beard's Hill
118. WHITE MAN'S BURDEN, **1/2, 12-1-95 at The Valley Center
119. SEVEN, ***, 12-3-95 at The Tollgate
120. TOY STORY, ***, 12-3-95 at The Tollgate
121. CASINO, **1/2, 12-8-95 at The Towson Commons
122. CARRINGTON, *1/2,  12-11-95 at The Rotunda
123. SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, ***,12-13-95 at The Senator
124. PERSUASION, *1/2, 12-15-95 at The Charles
125. NIXON, **, 12-21-95 at Towson Commons
126. DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT, **1/2, 12-23-95 at The Southside
127. LEAVING LAS VEGAS, ***, 12-26-95 at The Charles

Other Tips:

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

RIP, DJ Long

DJ Long (left) with bandmate Scott McGinn
David Jesse Long, a founding member of bands Face Dancer and Growing Up Different, has died. DJ, who sang and played keyboards and flute, later moved to Jamestown, Rhode Island where he served many terms on the city council.

Below is the Group Up Different music video Watching In The Moonlight featuring DJ. The video was directed by my frequent co-writer Timothy Ratajczak during our heady post-college days.  The video crew was a veritable who's who of our graduating class from Towson State University (now known simply as Towson University.)

Those were good times. Thanks for helping to provide the soundtrack of our lives, DJ.  Rest in peace.

THE PROMISE - Chapter 7

This will be the last sample chapter of my memoir, The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God, published by TouchPoint Press, that I will be posting on the blog for the time being. I thought it would be best to end on an upbeat note, but, rest assured, things don't work out as I intended.  If they did, there would be no book!

7 – Mission Accomplished


By any objective measure, my efforts to bring Kathy into my life had been a complete and utter failure.

My daily three-mile excursion past her house kept me trim, but it only produced a few conversations that, to my knowledge, led to absolutely nothing. I never found the courage to ask her out, let alone express my feelings. I also had no idea if she had any feelings whatsoever for me. If she did, they couldn’t have had anything to do with anything I had said or done, because I hadn’t said or done anything.

Left to my own devices, I doubt we would have ever dated. It was coming up on the second year since I received the promise. I was nearing the end of my senior year at Curley. Next fall I would be going to college. The following year, she would also be headed to college. Unless something happened soon, we would drift off into our own separate worlds.

I was at a loss, but I never lost faith. Something would happen. And it did.

One Saturday night, Kathy came to our house on Rueckert Avenue to hang out with my sister Jeanne. I started telling her about a feature film I had just bought called Night of the Living Dead. The low-budget, black and white horror film, directed by George Romero, was a real eye opener to me. When I first saw it, I found it genuinely jarring and disturbing in both its violence and dark tone. This influential zombie opus changed the way I looked at film, and I had written a glowing review about it for the Curley newspaper.

Kathy told me she’d love to see it. Jeanne wasn’t interested, but had no problem with letting me show it to Kathy. My projectors were up in my third floor bedroom. She came up to my room. Alone. We sat on the floor with our backs against the wooden frame of my bed and watched the ninety-six minute movie, which was longer as a result of my manual reel changes.

I couldn’t believe it. The girl of my dreams was in my bedroom. Alone. For almost two full hours.

Did I put the moves on her? You already know the answer to that question. I shockingly didn’t even try to slip an arm around her shoulder. What a waste! Isn’t that why guys take girls to scary movies in the first place? To give the girls, and themselves, an excuse to hold onto each other? But no, I was still too shy. We just sat there and watched the movie. Or, in my case, tried to watch the movie. My heart was racing. I occasionally peeked over to catch a glimpse of her. I’m not sure if I ever caught her sneaking a peek at me.

It was late when the movie ended. Kathy thanked me for showing it to her and said she enjoyed it. Then she went downstairs, said goodbye to my sister and walked home. Alone.

She later told me she hoped I would offer to walk her home after showing her such a scary movie. I wish I knew she felt that way. I would have been happy to walk with her. As it was, I was afraid I would be crossing the line by offering to walk her home. Fortunately, it would only be a week or two before we could openly talk about our desires, with the help of Jesus, director George Romero, and Kathy herself.

The next time I saw Kathy was on May 8, 1979. The date we subsequently celebrated as our anniversary.

It started like any other day. I was walking my route. I found Kathy sitting on her porch swing, smiling and happy. She waved me over. We sat and talked amiably, as we had before, on the grass in the shade of a tree on a small rise that marked the border of her front yard. She told me she had to go to the library in Parkville. She asked me if I wanted to go with her.

Did I want to go with her? You bet I did! This was unbelievable. We were actually going to go somewhere together! It wasn’t a date, but it was still a dream come true! Or should I say a promise.

Thank you, Jesus!

Kathy had just gotten her driver’s license. She drove us out Harford Road into Parkville, a small, suburban community in nearby Baltimore County in her mother’s mid-seventies Plymouth. I have no memory of what we said or did at the library. I can only imagine that I followed her around like a puppy dog with a big, goofy smile on my face while she did her schoolwork. When we got back to her house, she asked me if I wanted one of her school pictures. I certainly did. She went into her house and got one for me, and wrote a nice and encouraging little message on it that even used the L-word.

Now the ball was in my court. Kathy had done everything except ask me to ask her out. 

At the time, I viewed myself as the pursuer. I was the one who dreamt of her. I was the one who walked the long, lonely miles. I was the one who prayed and kept the faith. In retrospect, it is obvious that something had changed within her since I received the promise.

In our first meaningful private conversation after I heard the voice, Kathy obviously didn’t consider me a romantic possibility. If she had, she wouldn’t have been asking me about Charlie Woods. It would please my ego to think I had done something to cause a change in her attitude, but I hadn’t. I only had a handful of meaningful conversations with her over the ensuing year-and-a-half. I dare say none of them were characterized by any particular wit, sophistication or romantic savoir-faire on my part. I hadn’t displayed any! I’m sure it wasn’t my physique either. I was a short, gangly guy with a relatively big nose and totally unruly hair. My only physical attributes praised by girls were my long eyelashes, but, trust me, few girls got close enough to see them. I was shy, naïve and immature. My strengths were a good sense of humor, persistence, and, although I didn’t know it at the time, the ability to love very deeply if given half the chance.

I don’t know why Kathy became interested in me. My only explanation is that God had gently turned her heart to me the way He had turned mine toward her. 

God had worked it out in His own way, and, in my experience, that’s the way He always did it. Any time He gave me a word of knowledge, He would fulfill His promise on His own. Despite my desire to pitch in and help, He never needed my assistance, and the events usually came to pass in a way I didn’t anticipate.  

In His time. Not mine. I believe that’s what happened here.

I honestly doubt I would have ever even considered asking Kathy out on a date if I hadn’t heard His voice. He brought me to her. I had given Kathy no reason to be interested in me. When it came to looks and charm, she was definitely out of my league. I can only assume He drew her to me.

God had orchestrated this whole relationship. In His time. In His way.

Now I finally stood before Kathy, the girl I had dreamed about for nearly two long years. She was looking at me expectantly. Waiting. It was my turn. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something along the lines of: “Hey, remember that movie we watched, Night of the Living Dead? The sequel just came out. It’s playing at Golden Ring Mall. Do you want to go and see it?”

I wonder if I stammered? If I did, it didn’t matter.


Wow. She said yes.

Actually, inviting her to a movie at Golden Ring wasn’t a very smart move. I spent a lot of time there with Jim and Bob. Those were the glory days of shopping malls, and the two-story Golden Ring Mall was the retailing crown jewel of the Eastside of Baltimore. Teenagers flocked there, all intent on meeting members of the opposite sex. Bob thought it was a good place for us to meet girls, but, as usual, it became a good place to watch girls from a safe distance. The problem with taking Kathy to Golden Ring Mall was that I didn’t have any transportation. I didn’t drive. I didn’t even have my driver’s license. What was I going to do? Ask Bob to give us a ride? Nah. Or my parents? Yikes. Disaster! 

Fortunately, Kathy said she could get her parents’ car. The movie, George Romero’s horror masterpiece Dawn of the Dead, was extremely crowded. We were forced to sit in the front row, craning our necks to look almost straight up at the screen. That didn’t prevent me from boldly putting an arm around Kathy’s shoulder. Despite the fact that my arm gave her a terrible crick in her neck, she never asked me to move it. I didn’t move it either, even after it fell asleep and began to ache. This was still a dream come true.

After the movie, Kathy drove me home. She pulled over and parked a little up the street from my house. Throughout the course of our relationship, she often laughed at the timidness of my words when I asked, “May I kiss you?”

She said yes. And I kissed her with a tenderness and passion I never dreamt myself capable of attaining. I always kept my heart tightly locked, but those chains melted that night. I think Kathy and I both surprised each other and ourselves. My first kiss wasn’t just a kiss. It was a veritable tidal wave of affection and emotion. I always knew Kathy was sweet. I knew she was kind. I didn’t know how passionately alive and affectionate she was.

It was an exhilarating and happy surprise.

The windows quickly fogged. I don’t know how long we sailed across this undiscovered sea of desire, but it was too long. Kathy had a curfew. She had to get the car back home, but we always needed one more kiss. Finally, she reluctantly managed to pull herself away. She got home late to the disapproval of her parents. I, on the other hand, could have walked straight to the window of my third floor bedroom. 

Praise the Lord.

Kathy wasn’t my wife yet, as promised, but this evening completely justified the faith I had long placed in the Lord’s word. It was unbelievable. I was a changed man. I literally didn’t consider myself capable of both giving and receiving such affection. I held her and kissed her, and she did the same to me. To a shy boy sitting in his attic room, still shaking with excitement and disbelief, it was a miracle. The best kind.

Years later, a friend of mine, John Noble, wisely said, in the midst of a male-bonding weekend on the beach after he broke up with his first real girlfriend, “First love is the best, because there’s no fear.” 

He was so right. All the fear in me dissipated overnight.

I knew I would be able to tell her anything. I knew I would be able to be my authentic self around her. I felt completely secure. Why not? I knew we had a future. It was God’s will, and if God wanted it to happen, it had to. Right? There wasn’t a single iota of doubt in my heart. God’s will was my will. My relationship with Kathy would tie together the desires of both my heart and my soul. For good or evil, the two were now inseparable. 

How could I be afraid of her? The concept of fear was absurd. At least to me.

Kathy’s parents, however, expressed some fear. Or at least some firm disapproval. She came home late with the car after our first three dates. Her parents would have been even angrier if they knew what had happened on that third night. After our scheduled activities, we decided to drive out to Loch Raven reservoir, a large man-made lake north of Baltimore City that provides most of the city’s drinking water, to find ourselves a nice romantic lovers’ lane. We parked in a secluded area and began making out again. The windows were soon so fogged we didn’t notice the other car until they flashed their high beams.

It was the police. They pulled up directly behind us, locking us in place and came sauntering up with flashlights. I bet they spent the rest of the night laughing about how scared they had us. They told us we were trespassing, but, after making us squirm a bit, they let us off with a verbal warning. Kathy was beyond relieved. She was so afraid of what would have happened if they had arrested us.

Even without knowledge of our close call with the police, Kathy’s parents were upset enough on their own. This was her third time coming home late. Her punishment was that she couldn’t use the car for dating anymore. 

No problem. I was ready to step up to the plate.

I had already taken drivers’ education at Curley, but I hadn’t bothered to get my driver’s license. Before I started dating Kathy, Bob Burgess and I were pretty much inseparable. I didn’t go anywhere without him, and he had access to his parents’ car. I didn’t need to drive. Now I did.

I immediately went out and got my license, despite the warning of my driving instructor at Curley who prophesied that I would kill someone behind the wheel. The guy who administered the driving test at the MVA shared his opinion. He got out of the car angry because, technically speaking, I had passed the test. Before he slammed the door, he looked at me and said, “I’ll be reading about you in the newspapers.” 

Who cared what they thought? Not me! I had Kathy. Nothing else mattered.

I had my license, and use of my mother’s Ford Torino. It was a multi-hued Frankenstein monster of a vehicle assembled with a hood and fenders from various different cars. It was generally free in the evening. So was I. I never remember having a curfew after we moved to Rueckert Avenue. Once, after listening to my mother fight with my sister Laura for an hour about what time she was coming home at night, I asked her when she wanted me to come home. 

“Anytime,” she replied.

Now I had somewhat regular transportation, though that first year Kathy and I still had to take the occasional bus over to York Road to catch a movie at the Senator Theater. We also spent a great deal of time walking up and down Harford Road holding hands. That was often nicer than driving.

Now that I had a regular girlfriend, it was time to secure a steady source of income. Bob Burgess and Jim Jackson were already working as bus boys at Thompson’s Sea Girt House. Sea Girt means surrounded by the water, and, once upon a time, the white tablecloth restaurant sat on a small peninsula in the harbor. Now it sat at the decidedly less maritime corner of York Road and Northern Parkway. It was one of the oldest and finest seafood restaurants in Baltimore. They had the best crab cakes in town, and that’s saying something. Baltimore restaurants pride themselves on their crab cakes, and the title of best is fiercely contested.

My buddies put in a good word for me. At the end of the interview the manager told me to buy some black shoes, black socks, black pants, a white shirt and a black snap on bowtie. Yes! I was now officially a working man. Since the restaurant management proved willing to work around my college schedule, I would remain on the staff for years. However, I suppose I could blame them for starting the process that ultimately made me twice the man I used to be. Employees were permitted to help themselves to the soups. I had cup after cup of their delicious cream soups. I actually had a bit of a belly by the time I left their employ.

So now I had it all: Transportation. Income. Someone to love. No fear. Well, maybe a little.

Kathy’s parents definitely worried about what we were up to. We were, too. We were good kids. Innocent. Moral. Early on in our relationship, Kathy told me she wanted to be a virgin on her wedding night. I respected that. And, quite frankly, that’s what I wanted, too. In my heart, I knew Kathy wasn’t a conquest. She was a gift from the Lord. I didn’t want to repay Him by jumping the gun sexually. It was an easy decision to make, especially since I believed I would ultimately be the recipient of her virginity on our wedding night.

While it was an easy decision, it wasn’t always easy to remain true to our better angels. We were normal, red-blooded American teenagers. Our hormones were raging. It was a daily struggle, not with each other, but with our own desires. There would be many times when one of us would prove weaker than the other in our shared resolve. Abstinence can only succeed in a relationship when both partners are truly committed to it. I don’t regret the decision, even though I would ultimately not be the recipient of her virginity.

Our biggest test came that first summer. Kathy’s family went away for vacation, but she opted to stay home alone. Well, not alone. I was there.

Her parents sternly prohibited us from being in the empty house alone together. Yeah, right. We very quickly disobeyed, and, just as quickly, we found ourselves upstairs in her bedroom. In her bed. Making out. But it didn’t feel right, for either of us, so we soon retreated downstairs. I don’t remember ever being in her bedroom on Westfield Avenue again. Nonetheless, despite our continued virginity, it was an absolutely lovely week. A lot of it was spent swinging in the hammock hanging between two trees in her backyard dreaming and getting to know each other.

As if to confirm that I was right in the center of the Lord’s will for my life, during my last religion class at Archbishop Curley High School, the friar took out the Bible and read my old familiar, thesis statement, John 15:16-17: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: Love one another.” 

He said that was our mission in life. I couldn’t agree more. Still, the dark clouds on the horizon were creeping closer.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

THE PROMISE - Chapter 6

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be offering a taste of my memoir, The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God, published by TouchPoint Press, here on my blog. It is my true story of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined. Keep checking back for additional chapters.

6 – The Mission 

1977 - 1979.

To me, there’s nothing more satisfying in life than knowing the Lord’s will and your place within it. My life now had purpose and direction. I trusted God completely. If He wanted me to marry Kathy, so be it! I was now a man on a mission, and I was definitely loving it. 

Through this period, one Bible verse kept coming back to me again and again. It was John 15:16-17: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: Love one another.” Every time I opened the Bible, there it was. Every time I saw a preacher on television, or heard one on the radio, there it was. It soon became the thesis statement of my life. 

It also fit in perfectly with the mission at hand. 

The Lord had indeed chosen me, not the other way around. He wanted me to go forth and bear fruit. In the original context, that meant sharing the gospel. In my context, it obviously meant getting married and having children. To make sure those children appeared on the divine timetable, the Father would grant me anything I asked in Jesus’ name. What did I have to do in return? Love Kathy? 

That didn’t seem like much of a sacrifice. Sign me up.

What I had really done was take a perfectly valid Biblical passage with a wide interpretation and reduced it to one meaning within a single context provided by yours truly. That isn’t to say the passage didn’t have relevance to my upcoming relationship. It did. But by reducing my life to this one mission, I was further upping the ante unnecessarily. It was a mistake I would pay for later.

In the waning years of the seventies, however, I couldn’t have been happier. The Lord had given me a mission. Unfortunately, He didn’t tell me how to accomplish it. 

Obviously, in retrospect, it was clear that I wasn’t going to be marrying Kathy in the near future. My own parents’ youthful nuptials notwithstanding, we were both too young, even if we were both so inclined. Of course, I didn’t let such concerns bother me. I wanted to get on with the mission. The question remained how.

I knew where she lived. I knew her phone number. I could have very easily walked up to her door, or called her on the phone, and asked her out on a date. 

Yeah, right. Not going to happen.

I’m a Rosenberger. Remember?

I was way too shy and emotionally guarded to do that. In fact, I don’t think I ever honesty considered doing that. I needed another plan, so I examined my strengths and weaknesses. My major weakness was fear. Despite the encouragement God’s unexpected message gave me, I was still frightened she would say no if I asked her out. My major strength was that we were friends. We could talk easily. I had no problem talking with her in a pressure free environment. Therefore, I resolved to put myself in that very setting. 

I decided to place my faith in the chance meeting. I figured if the two of us just happened to end up at the same place at the same time, we could talk with no pressure. My first chance encounter with Kathy caught me by surprise. I was riding my bike up by Northern Parkway Junior High School with Charlie Woods and found her playing tennis on the courts out back. We had a pleasant chat. Believe me, I rode by those tennis courts often afterwards, but I never spotted her in that location again.

Rats. My strategy was proving to be a failure. Hamilton was too big. Baltimore was too big. The State of Maryland...Ah, forget about it. The world was too big. I couldn’t hope to keep bumping into her unless I developed a better plan.

I decided that the only place I knew for sure where she could be found was her own house. I resolved to walk by her house every day I could with the hope of seeing her. I couldn’t do it every day, especially during the summer. I spent most of those days with my friends and I couldn’t connive of a way to get them to walk down Westfield Avenue every day. Anyway, if I was with them, I probably wouldn’t do any more than wave to her. I wouldn’t want to do anything to give my feelings away. My romantic interests, and their decidedly odd religious inspiration, were strictly private. I never discussed my feelings for Kathy with any of my friends until after we started dating. Even then, they never knew about the efforts I made to reach her.

I rarely socialized with my friends on school nights. That’s when I would take my walks — usually between 4:30 and 6:00 pm. It was a three-to-three-and-a-half mile round trip between my house on Rueckert Avenue and her home across the street from my grandparents on Westfield Avenue, depending on the route I took. I rarely took the same route two days in a row, not as a result of any strategy, but rather to break up the routine. 

I didn’t want anyone to know why I was walking around that area. I had two cover stories prepared if anyone saw me and asked what I was doing up in that neighborhood. Only one of my close friends, Bob Burgess, lived near Kathy. If he saw me, I would tell him I was either heading to or from my grandparents’ house, depending on which direction I was walking at the moment. If a relative spotted me, I would say I was heading to or from Bob’s house, depending upon which way I was going. It was all very cloak and dagger, but my cover stories ultimately proved unnecessary. Neither Bob nor any of my relatives seemed to have spotted me during this period.

What’s odd is that I didn’t find any of this strange at all.

Here I was, walking three miles a day, five days a week, hoping to see a girl that a voice in my head told me I would one day marry. Was I crazy? (Don’t answer that.) For all I knew, the poor girl had no romantic interest in me whatsoever. Still, I knew to whom that voice belonged. I had a simple, child-like faith that if I trusted Him, He would deliver. I simply resolved to put myself in proximity to her and let Him do the rest. After all, this was His idea, not mine.

I had my first chance encounter with her early that fall. I think she was walking into her house. I said hello. She invited me over and we had a lovely chat for about fifteen minutes or so. Then she broached a question to me: “Do you think Charlie Woods likes me?”

Yikes. Looks like the Lord hadn’t had the same discussion with her. Still, I was absolutely delighted she felt comfortable enough around me to ask that question.

I don’t specifically remember what I answered. If Charlie Woods was interested in her, I’m sure I would have told her. I couldn’t see myself lying to her, despite my self-interest. Fortunately, Charlie Woods never expressed any interest, romantic or otherwise, in Kathy around me. He knew her brother Dan, but I never heard him talk about Kathy.

I could certainly see why Kathy would be interested in Charlie. He was charming and charismatic. He was the natural leader of my small group of friends, but our days in his orbit were slowly coming to an end. 

Jim Jackson, Bob Burgess and I, and some of the other guys from our old St. Dominic circle, followed Charlie, but, as we moved through our high school years, his behavior became increasingly erratic. He exhibited disturbing outbursts of anger. While waiting in the basement, we would hear him have screaming matches with his parents and his aunt Deb, who was also our age and had attended St. Dominic with us. I felt horrible about the way Charlie treated his aunt, especially when he would steal her diary and read passages about her romantic longings to us, but I never said anything.

Once, in a moment of anger, Charlie grabbed a three-pronged garden tool and drove it through the front of one of my tennis shoes. The metal prongs miraculously missed my toes, but it got me thinking. Something was seriously wrong.

Even the pranks Charlie devised took a dark turn. His idea of fun was to go to a public place, like the grassy divide between the east and westbound lanes of Northern Parkway, and have three or four of us pretend to beat him up. He’d lie on the ground taking our feigned punches and kicks while cars would stop to watch. We’d keep up the charade until someone finally got out of a car to intervene. Then we’d all run off together laughing. Once, however, when the time came to run away, Charlie deliberately ran off in a different direction! The rest us spent about a half hour cutting through yards and hiding in shrubs to avoid a determined do-gooder. That was the last time we played that game.

Charlie’s interests soon shifted toward biology. Whenever we’d go over to his house to play our traditional poker games we’d find ourselves surrounded by cages of mice. He selectively bred hundreds of them to bring forth one attribute or another. He kept meticulous notes on everything. It was harmless enough, but the cages made the place smell like we were playing poker in a monkey house.

Charlie’s biological studies were short-lived. More disturbing were his studies in chemistry.

Most kids seek forbidden fruit like drinking alcohol. We only had a very brief period of underage drinking. For a few months, a stolen bottle or two of Southern Comfort, mixed with Coca Cola, diverted the crowd. I did not partake. I had lost my taste for alcohol as a child when my brother Doug and I decided to purloin some open cans of beer during a party at our house. When I took a drink from my can, I discovered someone had been using it as an ashtray. The revolting residue permanently eliminated my desire to both drink and smoke! And smoking came next to our little circle. Marijuana soon followed and supplanted the alcohol — very quickly. Charlie became a pothead overnight. For a couple of months, he tried desperately to get me to indulge as well. Then his attitude suddenly and surprisingly changed. He began to admire my willpower, and would confess that he wished he possessed it as well. Before long, PCP was being sprinkled in with the pot. Things were getting serious.

Jim, Bob and I quickly started seeing less and less of Charlie. A new group of acolytes began gathering around him. They tended to be younger and more open to the drug culture than we were. I think Charlie always felt the need to be a leader. As a result, he made an interesting progression through my family. Originally, Charlie was my brother Doug’s friend, but that group of guys had too many alpha males to suit his taste. Then he started hanging out with me. Now, my doomed younger brother Mark fell into his orbit. Sadly, many of the people Charlie started hanging out with would have their lives cut short by drug overdoses or suicide.

I warned Charlie about the dangers of drugs to no avail. He was very intelligent. He didn’t just take drugs. He studied their chemical properties intently. Charlie repeatedly told me he knew far too much about drugs to ever become addicted to them. He probably wasn’t the first person to feel that way. He certainly wouldn’t be the last.

Charlie was soon manufacturing LSD and other arcane drugs of his own design in his basement. Jim and I went over to his house one final time to play poker and found him with a group of his new followers. They were flying high on acid, talking about how the walls were melting and discussing the meaning of various Doors songs.

“Mr. Mojo Rising, he’s talking about his Johnson, man!"

Oy vey. First, drugs. Now, The Doors. Please.

The evening came to a quick end when Charlie told me he had slipped acid into the iced tea I was drinking. I freaked out. It was probably the first time he saw me angry. He quickly admitted he was only kidding. He hadn’t put acid in my iced tea, but that was it. I never ate or drank anything at his house again. From that point onward, Jim, Bob and I would watch Charlie’s steady descent from a distance.

It was very sad. He was one of my best friends. He was like a brother, but now he was gone. Where he was going, I could not follow. Or should I say, I would not.

It would have been so easy for me to fall into the drug culture. Most of my friends were dabbling to varying degrees. It was perfectly acceptable. It was certainly harder to say no than to say yes. “Yes” was the road to popularity. “No” was the road to Loserdom. One would think with my inherent shyness, I would say yes just to win the approval of my peers. It was that impulse that compelled me to be an extrovert: An attention-seeking performer. But I couldn’t do it. Not this time. I chose instead to be a loser.

I often wondered why the Lord gave me that revelation about Kathy so long before I would actually start dating her. Now I think I understand why. He wanted me to know that He had plans and goals for my life. The Lord wanted to keep my mind and heart occupied so I would avoid these temptations. It worked. I had a lovely young woman waiting for me just beyond the horizon.

I had no time for drugs. I had to keep walking.

My strategy of unforced meetings wasn’t proving to be a rousing success. I would say that I only saw her four or five times over the course of nearly two years. Still, I didn’t feel I wasted a minute. Eventually, my daily walks were less about seeing Kathy than expressing my faith in God. Those walks were quiet times of prayer and meditation. I remember them fondly, particularly during the fall when the leaves were turning and the smell of change was in the air. 

I often found myself humming the 10cc song The Things We Do For Love. “Like walking through the rain and the snow when there’s nowhere to go and you feel like a part of you is dying.” Yes, I had walked through the rain and the snow for love, but I didn’t feel like a part of me was dying. I was alive.

I had purpose. Meaning.

More than that. I felt immortal, or at least temporarily indestructible.

Here’s the way I looked at it. God was sovereign. He had given me a mission. I accepted the mission. Therefore, since the Lord controlled all of the circumstances of my life, I would survive, no matter what, until I accomplished the goal He had set before me. Once, when hanging out with the guys in Bob Burgess’ basement, I made that very point without, of course, discussing any of the supporting details. They thought I was crazy. Maybe I was, but I would find myself putting that theory to the test on a lonely mountain road in a few years. And I survived.

Those were great days. I was happy. In every sphere of my life: school, friends, and my prospects for the future. Well, almost every sphere. There was one very large dark cloud looming on the horizon: The destructibility of my Grandfather Murphy. 

A hard drinker all of his life, Paul Murphy was beginning to suffer from liver failure. I was in a panic. He was my role model. I watched him, hoping to learn from him and imitate his style, attitude and demeanor, with the exception of his drinking, of course.

I knew he was dying, and I was positively distraught. I prayed incessantly. I told God I couldn’t handle his death emotionally now. The Lord responded, saying He wouldn’t take my grandfather until I could handle it. I immediately interpreted God’s word to suit my purposes. Personally, I didn’t think I would be able to handle my grandfather’s death until I was married and I had settled down with a family of my own. God had given me no such assurance. 

Perhaps sensing the coming demise of my grandfather, in the winter of 1978 the Gardiners invited the entire Murphy family over to their house for a sit down dinner. All of us: my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, their spouses and children. It was quite a crowd. We filled a number of tables all over the first floor of their house.

I have a number of photos of the party, and even some Super 8mm home movie footage. After the death of my grandmother Margaret in 2006, I, being the family archivist, was given possession of her photo albums and I have been scanning the photos to share them with all of my family. I found the photos from 1978 and 1979 particularly poignant. With each turn of the page, my grandfather, normally a large, robust man, grew thinner and sicker. That’s the way he looked at the party.

My grandfather would be the first to go, but so many other people at that party would follow him: my grandmother, my father, Kathy’s father, my siblings, Laura and Mark, my Uncles Brian and Doug, my Aunt Dhu.

The wash of time. It comes for all of us. 

There were also some photos of Kathy in the album; even one with me in the same frame. The camera never caught me sneaking a glance at her. No. I was way too careful at guarding my feelings to let anything slip in front of our families. Or even her for that matter. I don’t remember any specific conversations I had with her that evening. Maybe I didn’t have any, aside from the normal pleasantries. But I discreetly hovered around her, enjoying the sound of her voice, smiling when she smiled.

Looking back on the photographs, I found myself drawn to her face. Was that the face that launched a thousand ships? Pretty, yes. Bright-eyed, yes. Inviting, yes. I can recall many reasons to be drawn toward her, but now, in retrospect, I have to ask myself what was the driving force behind those years of longing. Was it her inherent and plentiful qualities as a human being? My desperate need for companionship? Or was it primarily the voice I had heard in my head?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast 3: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

On this episode of the Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast, an intergenerational look at the movies, host and resident Gen-Xer (barely) Ralph Quattrucci brings us one of his favorite films of all time: The 1974 version of The Taking of Pehlam One Two Three.  This is also one of my favorite films, and would have been my first choice if we kept our original concept of only exploring underrated films of the 1970s. Al and Hassan both weigh in on whether the film holds up today, especially in comparison to the 2009 version starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta.

Here's the trailer of the original film:

Here's the video of our podcast:

Or you can listen to it on our webpage:  Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

THE PROMISE - Chapter 5

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be offering a taste of my memoir, The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God, published by TouchPoint Press, here on my blog. It is my true story of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined. Keep checking back for additional chapters.

5 – The Promise

JUNE 18, 1977.

Winter gave way to the spring and with the spring came joy. The whole Jesus thing was working out great for me. Not that you would necessarily know it from my behavior. Outwardly, I appeared the same. I didn’t suddenly become a street evangelist or a missionary to Africa. I didn’t start attending church more frequently or even become more outspoken in my mandatory religion classes. To quote the title of a film I later wrote, I was a true Holyman Undercover.

I wasn’t deliberately hiding my faith. I was still simply a Rosenberger at heart. To discuss such private things remained an anathema to me. If someone asked me a direct question, I would endeavor to give him a reasonably direct response, but, frankly, the subject of faith rarely, if ever, came up. Why would it? My friends and I were all Catholic!

In the Catholic Church, at least among the people I grew up with, we left the heavy theological lifting to the priests. That’s what they were getting paid for. We were trained to show up for mass and partake in the sacraments. Evangelism, for the average Catholic layperson, essentially involved getting married, practicing unprotected sex and then taking the ensuing progeny to church. We weren’t taught to share our faith. As a result, I was experiencing a mind-blowing encounter with the Supreme Being but kept it entirely to myself. A pity. Though I suppose I can’t really blame the Roman Catholic Church. My own Rosenbergian nature was more responsible. That said, I don’t remember the Lord ever pushing or prodding me to share my faith, either. I suppose He was waiting for me to finish my training period.

That would take quite a while.

Despite my lack of outward change, I definitely underwent tremendous internal transformation. With God watching my back, I no longer had any anxiety or concern about the future. I was happy. The inner sense of loneliness was gone. I was a new man, or, at least, a new teenager. And what did every teenager want in June of 1977? You guessed it: To see Star Wars.

I remember feeling utterly content as I stood in an impossibly long line outside the Towson Theater with Bob Burgess to see a Saturday afternoon screening of Star Wars. The buzz on the film was unbelievable, although no one could have guessed at the time what a monstrous cultural phenomenon it would soon become. Frankly, I was a little skeptical. I remember watching the television commercials playing on the Washington, D.C. stations before its release and thinking that the film looked kind of corny. Shows you what I knew.

Still, as I stood in line, allowing myself to be swept up in the enthusiasm of my fellow moviegoers, I found my thoughts turning toward the other thing every teenage boy wanted in June 1977: A girl.

The prospect of me getting a girlfriend at that time was remote at best. Why? Because I didn’t know any.

The girls I knew from St. Dominic had all been safely shipped off to all female high schools and I lost track of them. The neighborhood girls were all sisters of friends, or friends of my sisters. That essentially made them off limits. Despite riding the bus home every day with numerous, nubile young ladies from The Catholic High School, I didn’t have the courage to talk to any of them individually. I had no problem addressing, and, even amusing them, as a group, but those darned green uniform skirts were simply too intimidating for me. There’s no question. Pickings were slim for a shy, slightly goofy boy from Hamilton.

Bob, Jim and I were always on the lookout for girls – like any red-blooded American boys. Bob was actually pretty good at figuring out where to go to meet girls. However, despite Bob’s desire and ability to place us into proximity of members of the opposite sex, none of us were ready to make the first move. When it came to picking up girls, we were a pretty pathetic lot. And I ultimately didn’t mind.

I remember thinking, as the line to the theater slowly moved forward, that it would be great to have a girlfriend, but, if I didn’t have one, that’d be fine, too. I was happy where I was in my life just hanging with the Lord.

Perhaps out of appreciation of my well-ordered priorities, I got a strange feeling, or leading, as it were, that I would meet a girl soon. “Meet” is actually the wrong word. I’d already met her. I’d known her as long as I could remember.

Two or three weeks later, I found myself in the backyard of my paternal grandparents’ house at 3111 Westfield Avenue. It was a loud house growing increasingly quiet as my myriad of Murphy aunts and uncles married and left to start their own families. My family was only too happy to fill the void. We spent a lot of time there, especially during the summer. My grandfather, Paul James Murphy, was a wonderful host. Summer nights often found him cooking hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. He’d also cook a terrific rockfish with stuffing. I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of seafood, but I would always make room for that.

The Murphy Pool
One of the great appeals of the Murphy house, other than the simple pleasures of family itself, was the pool in the backyard; pools, actually. There was a steady stream of above ground swimming pools built in the backyard throughout the sixties and the seventies. The first ones were extremely small, in the two-to-three-foot depth variety, but they always seemed ridiculously filled with people. Each summer seemed to bring a larger pool. By 1977, the circular, above ground pool, now wide and five-feet deep and surrounded by a concrete patio, had become a permanent fixture.

On one memorable evening, as the sky began to darken, I found myself in the pool alone with a certain Katherine Jean Gardiner, a neighbor girl from across the street. Her presence was not surprising. The Gardiners were frequent guests at the Murphy house and vice versa. The two families were very close.

Kathy’s parents, Daniel and Sally Gardiner, were a generation younger than my grandparents. Their children corresponded closely in age with my siblings and me. The oldest, the easy-going, good- natured Daniel, Jr., was about my age. Kathy was approximately the same age as my sister Laura. With all the time we spent at my grandparents’ house, it was only natural we would become friends. Whenever my grandmother Margaret wanted to get me out of her hair, which was frequent, she would say, “Why don’t you go over and see if Dan wants to play?” I was only too happy to comply.

The Gardiners were also a family that was touched heavily by the miraculous hand of God. In an automobile accident, Kathy’s father’s legs were crushed between two parked cars. The doctors felt they had no choice but to amputate them. Sally, distraught, called The 700 Club to ask for prayer and guidance. They told her not to let the doctors amputate his legs. They said he would be able to walk again. And he did.

Since then, Sally became what I would later recognize as an evangelical, born-again believer. At the time, however, I had never seen anything or anyone like her. She was totally outside of my realm of experience. My mother was undergoing a very religious phase at the time. She became active with the church and even indulged in extra-curricular activities like Bible Studies, but she remained within the Catholic norm.

My grandmother, Margaret Murphy, was also a firm believer. My Uncle Brian summed her up best in her obituary when he said, “Her major hobby was trying to get us to read the Bible.” She made sure we always prayed before every meal, and, yes, she forced some of her children to recite a psalm or two on occasion, but her faith was more staid and mainline. It was predictable. Understandable. Safe.

Sally Gardiner was different. When she talked about Jesus, you got the impression he was sitting in the next room, or maybe standing right behind you. She was quick to turn off the radio if she heard something she deemed satanic like the Fifth Dimension singing “Aquarius (Let The Sunshine In.)” She was equally quick to leave her church when they shunned a black family that dropped in for a service. Not to say she was judgmental. She displayed the fruit of the spirit. I found her kind, compassionate and no-nonsense. I really admired her. In fact, I envied her. Alone among the people I knew at the time, she seemed to share the same kind of faith that I possessed. I, however, lacked her boldness to express it in both words and deeds.

I still don’t have it.

Her husband, Daniel Gardiner, Sr., did not share her religious fervor, but I liked him, too; a lot. He had an easy smile, and I always enjoyed his stories and practical common sense. In the ensuing decades, I frequently found him hanging out at my brother Doug’s garage. His wife called him D.A., for Daniel Andrew. Dougie started calling him “Dah,” which Daniel appreciated, since it was also an affectionate Irish term for father.

The Gardiners were a good family. By 1977, Kathy’s brother Daniel and I had gone our separate way in interests, but I still held them all in affection; including Kathy. But that didn’t prepare me for what would happen next.

Kathy and I were the last two people in the pool. It was customary for the last people in the pool to create a whirlpool to gather together all the grass and whatnot into the center so that it could be easily scooped out. I remember putting my arms around her waist and started dragging her backwards along the edge of the pool. There were smiles and laughter as I pulled her faster and faster.

Then the strangest thing happened. God said, “Son, behold your wife.” Behold your wife?


What the...

Believe me, since that day, I have replayed that moment in my mind a thousand times. Those four unexpected words changed the course of my life irrevocably, for both good and evil. They would bring me years of bliss followed by years of sorrow and confusion when Kathy would prove not to be my wife.

Was it possible I imagined it? Part of me wishes I did. It would be easy to discount those words if this was an isolated incident, but it wasn’t. This was just a single link in a long, solid chain of words of knowledge and answered prayers. I had no reason whatsoever at the time to doubt it. Everything else the Lord said to me, both prior to this incident and subsequent to it, came true. I was in a place in my life where I expected and often received direct guidance from the Lord. He was simply doing now what He had already been doing. It was well within the realm of possibility.

Additionally, this wasn’t something I would have thought on my own. I wanted a girlfriend, but Kathy simply wasn’t on my radar screen. Not at all. The circumstances of the moment proved it. I had wrapped my arms around her waist and was dragging her around the pool. There is no way I would have been bold enough to do something like that to a girl I had romantic designs on. I was simply too shy. But I could treat Kathy like that because she wasn’t a girl to me. She was Dan’s sister. She was my sister Jeanne’s friend. Those were two major disqualifiers. If my relationship with Kathy took a wrong turn, it could ruin my relationship with Dan. He might feel compelled to beat me up. Not only that, if things went bad, she might complain to my sister and tell her what a jerk I was. I valued my privacy too highly to consider dating someone who had independent access to other people in my life. Plus, Kathy was too young for me. I was sixteen going on seventeen. She was a mere fourteen going on fifteen.

The whole idea was crazy. Behold your wife? Nobody was getting married any time soon. Still, the thought of dating, let alone marrying, Katherine Jean Gardiner was a revelation. And, after the initial shock, I found it not an unpleasant one.

Why not Kathy?

Until that moment, I never really looked at her as a girl before, but upon further examination, I discovered her to be quite a girl indeed. She was very pretty, and, as she blossomed through her late teen years into her early twenties, she would grow nothing short of beautiful. She was also great to be around. She was warm and friendly, with an inviting smile. Intelligent. Thoughtful. Funny.

What more could I want? Plus, she already liked me.

Maybe not that way, of course. I’m pretty sure she had given me as little romantic thought as I had previously given her. Probably less. But we were friends, and that seemed like a good foundation to build a relationship upon.

Perhaps most importantly, she was someone I already felt I could talk with and that was what I really wanted more than anything else. My desire for a girlfriend wasn’t inspired predominately by my raging hormones, although they were certainly a factor. I truly wanted a companion: A girl and a friend. Someone to drive a stake through the heart of my inner Rosenberger.

But the Lord was offering me more than that.

“Son, behold your wife.”

I didn’t object. I got onboard immediately. But, in retrospect, I wish I had never heard those words.

The Lord told me more than I needed to know. I’m sure I would have pursued Kathy with half the encouragement. I would have acted the same if He had said, “Son, behold your girlfriend.” That was all I needed to know. Instead, the Lord had upped the ante. In poker parlance, He pushed me all in.

I didn’t need to know He wanted me to marry her, especially since He knew I would eventually blow it. It’s one thing to break up with a woman you love. It is another thing entirely to know that that woman walking away from you was the partner God intended you to share your life with. Not only have you shattered a beautiful human relationship, you have also disrupted God’s perfect will for your life.

When I titled this book The Promise, or, The Pros and Cons of Talking with God, I wasn’t being a smart aleck. The pros of talking with God are self-evident but there are also cons. The main one is knowing. You have no excuse and no one to blame but yourself when you know, categorically and without question, God’s will, and then you deliberately choose to disobey.

How do you recover from something like that? I think it is better not to know.

The Lord disagreed.

Maybe because one day He wanted me to write this book about surviving in the gray area we create for ourselves between His sovereignty and our own free will.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Kairos Prize Semi-Finalists Announced!

As a former winner of the 2012 $50,000 Kairos Prize for Screenwriting, I want to congratulate this year's semi-finalist.  (See my blog: Winning The Kairos Prize.)  I want to thank Dr. Ted Baehr and Movieguide for offering this contest and the rest of their good work throughout the year.  Screenwriters are rarely treated as well as they are by the team at Movieguide, and it is a great opportunity to gain for industry exposure.

Yours truly with the award and the check!
Below, you will find the semi-finalists in both categories.  I only wish the last names were included.... (That way the semi-finalists will show up more readily in the Google searches by producers!)

Kairos Prize by Beginning Screenwriters
“Angels and Attorneys” by Lisa L.
“Bodey’s Bible” by Ernestina J.
“Christmas Forever Home” by Jody T.
“FISH” by Richard G.
“Hammering It Home” by Lesley M.
“Illuminate” by Seth H.
“No Room at the Inn” by Mark D.
“North Star” by William G.
“Out of Eternity” by Joel B.
“Skirting the Naughty List” by Christopher P.
“The Bless Me Club” by Matthew E.
“The Mountain” by Ellen W.
“The Methuselah Project” by Rick B.
“The Piano Gospel” by Tony G.
“The Summer Preacher” by W.D.

Kairos Pro Prize by Established Filmmakers
“Appointments with Heaven” by Brian B.
“Broken Pieces” by Rick G.
“Good Again” by Jeanne D.
“OMG!” by Robert L.
“Sheba” by Carole W.
“Sold” for Ashes by Glenn B.
“Switched” by Alexandra B.
“The Extremist” by Ron P.
“The Inheritance” by Alexandra B.
“Trapped” by George E.

Below is the clip from the 2012 Movieguide Awards of the Kairos winners receiving their awards in front of an audience of Hollywood notables. (Back then, the rules were slightly different. Their were three winners in a single category.)

Be sure to check out my memoir, The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God, on the way to the ceremony.

Friday, December 1, 2017

THE PROMISE - Chapter 4

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be offering a taste of my memoir, The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God, published by TouchPoint Press, here on my blog. It is my true story of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined. Keep checking back for additional chapters.

4 - Saved 

It was cold. Too cold.

If I already felt isolated, the chilly winter weather only made it worse.

Generally I stayed around the house on weeknights, doing my homework and watching the small television in my room. I hung out with my neighborhood friends during the weekends. That winter none of my friends seemed willing to walk the mile or so to each other’s houses. Neither did I. None of us drove yet. That summer Bob Burgess would be the first of my friends to achieve that goal, and his parents’ burgundy Caprice would be our ticket to mobility. I was old enough to get my driver’s license, but I frankly just wasn’t interested in it. Cars were Dougie’s thing. Movies were mine. That’s the way we still roll today.

Winter was always the lonely time. I hardly spent any time downstairs with my family either. I pretty much had everything I needed in my large attic bedroom. Well-stocked bookcases filled one wall. My parents were avid readers and I had no shortage of books. I had science fiction ranging from Robert Heinlein to Isaac Asimov. I found myself exposed to literary writers like John Updike, as well as police procedurals by Ed McBain and Lawrence Saunders. And, yes, there were some steamy Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann potboilers. Most of the books I bought myself were about the movie business. The seeds of my future career were already being laid.

The bookcases were built around a gray metal desk where my faithful typewriter sat. Aside from homework, I wrote a number of childish short stories, and began at least a half a dozen unfinished theatrical plays on it. I didn’t have a stereo, but I had a nice little television set, which got exceptional reception atop Mount Murphy. I got all of the Baltimore stations and all of the Washington, D.C. stations. I even picked up a UHF station from Salisbury on the Eastern Shore, and, when the weather was right, a station from York, Pennsylvania. 

The other side of the room served as my personal movie theater, stocked with my rather sizeable film collection. My Super 8mm projectors sat on a cabinet at the head of my creaky single bed. I had a large screen on the opposite wall. 

What more could a teenage boy want? Quite a bit, actually. 

I remember walking home from a play at Curley on the night of January 23rd, hoping to get there in time for the first night of ABC’s highly anticipated mini-series Roots. I think the play was Inherit The Wind, a rather odd choice for a religious high school. I skipped out immediately afterward and, for some strange reason, decided not to wait for the first bus and walked directly through the now dangerous Belair Edison neighborhood to catch the second bus at Clifton Park.

It wasn’t a long walk, but I was cold and underdressed. And miserable. I kept asking myself what I was doing. Not just that night, but in life in general. 

I hate to get all Shakespearean on you, but this was literally the winter of my discontent. I knew something had to change.

Freshman year I got a thick trade paperback copy of the New American Bible for the mandatory religion classes. My religion classes during the first two years at Curley were of the Bible-as- history and the Bible-as-literature variety; nothing very Protestant. None of the This Is The Word Of God and You Better Pay Attention stuff. I found the classes somewhat engaging, but they certainly weren’t of the life-changing variety. The life-changing stuff happened at home.

I don’t know why I began reading the Bible in earnest. Maybe it was out of boredom, although it was more likely through the call of God, but I started reading it all that winter alone in my bedroom. I avoided the historical introductions to the books in that edition of the Bible, which tended to parrot the prevailing and dismissive attitude of German Higher Criticism, and concentrated on the actual texts themselves. I was mesmerized. Enchanted. Inspired, even.

I had always believed in God. I believed in Jesus too, and I understood what his sacrifice meant. But there is a gigantic difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. I had the head knowledge, and I knew I needed more. 

Father Ryan, one of the handsome, young parish priests over at St. Dominic who set all the mothers’ hearts a-fluttering, visited our eighth grade class and told us outright that God didn’t need us. He created us. He loved us. But he didn’t need us. He was doing fine before we were created, and would do fine without us.

That attitude shook my childish perception of God. I guess I always pictured God as a kindly, if tottering, old uncle who listened to our prayers with bemused delight and sent some good things our way now and then as a result. Until Father Ryan spoke, I really never conceived that we had any responsibility toward Him, other than simply “being good”, whatever that meant. The fact that God didn’t really need me worried me. 

I wanted to be needed by God. And I certainly needed him. 

I started consuming the Bible, old and new testaments alike. And it was all making sense to me. The personality of the Creator God shone through the words like a beacon in the night. Before you dismiss me as a mere impressionable youth, I want you to know I was also reading all of the popular skeptical literature that I could get my hands on at the time. I read books like The Passover Plot that desperately tried to debunk the resurrection. I expected God to disappear in a puff of smoke when I read Bertrand Russell. Only slightly more damaging, were the arguments of the so-called Christian scholars of the Higher Criticism movement, but their attempts to defang scripture of all its supernatural elements through literary analysis did little to obscure the entity slowly emerging from the pages of my Bible. 

There was a God. I was sure of it. And I wanted to know Him. But how? 

Catholics are different from Protestants. 

Most of the Protestant born again believers I know can proudly tell you the time, date and place of their conversion. How they walked down the aisle and recited the sinner’s prayer by rote. Whenever I write a faith-based film, the producers or investors always demand a scene precisely like that. Quiet, heartfelt conversions are simply not permitted. They want to hear the protagonist walk through the whole sinner’s prayer, word-by-word, point-by-point, as if it were some sort of magical incantation, to make sure the character is truly saved. I always resist it, because it wasn’t that way with me, or lots of other people.

Remember, I was a Rosenberger. I wasn’t going to undergo something as private as a spiritual transformation in front of a crowd. No, thanks. Fortunately, the Lord didn’t ask me to do it. 

Not that I would have known what to do anyway. In a sense, I was born again before I was even familiar with the term outside of the context of the story of Nicodemus in the gospel of John. I didn’t seek to become “born again”. I just hungered to become closer to God the more I learned about Him in the Bible. I knew God had more to offer than I was receiving. I knew He was out there, just beyond my reach.

It all came to a head on a miserably gray afternoon in late January or early February of 1977. It was probably a Saturday, but don’t hold me to that. I was in my bedroom on the third floor of the house. The chimney poked up through the middle of the room. After spending most of the day lying in bed reading the Bible, I got to my feet and started pacing around the chimney deep in prayer. I don’t know how long I prayed, or even what I prayed, but something changed in me forever. I was overwhelmed by a profound sense of peace.

What I previously understood with my head became real within my heart. I felt the fellowship of God himself. He knew me. He was watching me. He was listening. And I could trust him. Granted, I was still a Rosenberger. I still possessed the same strange fear I had since childhood that I would never be able to open myself up enough emotionally to really experience love, but the old sense of aloneness that I felt was gone. After that day, I knew I would never be alone again. I would always have Jesus. I could always talk to him, even if He didn’t talk back.

But He did.

I know this is where I am going to get into trouble. I really don’t mind having my spiritual experiences dismissed by atheists or by people holding a strictly materialist worldview. That is to be expected. Call me crazy. I don’t mind. I know what I know. I know what I experienced, and, as a wise man once said, “A man with an experience is never the slave of a man with a theory.” However, an unusually high percentage of Christians believe that God no longer communicates with his people except through the pages of the Bible.

They use 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 as a justification. It reads: “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” This passage, in theory, illustrates that the early Apostles needed miraculous manifestations of God’s power to evangelize the world. Such signs and wonders are unnecessary now that perfection has arrived: The Bible.

To me, that is a stretch. Don’t get me wrong. I treasure the Bible as much as the next guy, but it seems absurd to me that God would happily tie His hands behind His back, and deny Himself the use of His divine powers upon its completion. Man’s wisdom is indeed foolishness to God, and vice versa, but it seems somewhat obvious to me the perfection referred to in that passage in Corinthians would be Jesus Christ at the Second Coming. That makes much more sense on every level. In fact, to call anyone and anything but God Himself perfect seems nothing short of blasphemy to me. 

I can see why people would want to believe that the Lord doesn’t communicate with people anymore. There is no denying the church would be a much more orderly place if God only spoke to those in charge and let them convey His will to the others. Chaos can easily erupt when you have fifteen people delivering messages from God, especially if they are contradictory. I know I have had a hard time accepting some things that fellow believers say that God told them. For example, I recently attended a service at a small Pentecostal church. A man stood up to share a vision the Lord had given him of The Animal Rapture.

Yes, that’s right: The Animal Rapture. 

He didn’t give us a specific timeframe for this impending event, or whether it was pre-tribulation or post-tribulation. He did, however, make it clear that Jesus was going to miraculously come back not only for his church but also their pets. Not only that, the man also had a vision of heaven itself after said event. In heaven, your pets can talk. Dogs. Cats. Even goldfish.

The whole time the man was talking, I expected the pastor to wander over to him, put a gentle arm around his shoulder, thank him, and ask him to please sit down before he scared everyone. It didn’t happen. Nope. Everyone just listened intently, nodding occasionally. I couldn’t believe it. The man was obviously crazy. 

Yeah. I know what you’re thinking. How can I call him crazy when I claim to have experienced the same phenomenon myself? Isn’t this a case of the pot calling the kettle black? No. Not all claims of communication with God can be considered equal. We are instructed to test the spirits. I totally believe the Bible has complete supremacy over any private revelation. In fact, the Bible is the only instrument we have to weigh any private communication against. Nothing I heard detracted from the gospel or perverted my very orthodox view of Jesus Christ. When I emerged from this period of self-study and direct guidance from the Lord, my beliefs were completely in line with mainstream evangelical thought. That is really somewhat amazing, since I initially approached scripture from a decidedly Catholic perspective. 

Nothing I heard reflected on theological issues at all. I wasn’t given any hints about the end times or special insight or interpretations on issues like the Trinity, the Incarnation, Transubstantiation or even Papal Infallibility. Nor did He speak on national or global events. He didn’t slip me the Preakness winners or tell me who shot J.R on Dallas. All of the communication between the Almighty and me dealt with my various teenage concerns and the occasional heads-up on some upcoming issue or event in my life. Let me give you a few examples of my interactions with the Lord from those first days. 

One gloomy, overcast Sunday afternoon right after my conversion, I found myself sharing a prayer along with, I’m sure, thousands of my fellow students throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area. No, not for a girlfriend, but rather for snow. While Baltimore is, temperamentally, a Northern city, it remains surrounded by a decidedly Southern state and therefore it tends to tremendously overreact at the mere thought of snow. Persistent flurries were enough to cause the cancellation of the public schools. Archbishop Curley wasn’t part of the public school system. They made their own decisions regarding closings, and, as I happily learned over the years, the Franciscan Friars seemed to enjoy school as much as we did. They would cancel school at the drop of a hat, and they were willing to drop that hat themselves. And I wanted them to have the opportunity again.

That Sunday I offered up a prayer for snow although, of course, it wasn’t snow I sought, but rather a vacation day. Then, at the end of the prayer, something unusual happened. God answered back. He said, “Okay, it will snow before you leave school tomorrow.” 

When I said, “He said," what do I mean? 

I mean I heard words. They were inside my head, not outside of it. The voice did not sound like Charlton Heston. It sounded like me, but it wasn’t me. It wasn’t the voice I would hear when I was having some sort of internal debate – or what I hear now practicing dialogue for a script. No. This voice was firmer and more self-assured than my voice. It was alien. Not of me. It was also warmer, and, perhaps more than a little amused by my request. 

It was, in retrospect, an odd place to start a conversation. 

Still, I went to bed that night confident that the next day would be white. The morning betrayed my hopes. The cloudy gloom of the previous day had been replaced by blue skies and bright, warming sunshine. The morning news gave no reassuring hint of snow lurking just beyond the horizon. Like it or not, it was going to be a beautiful day. 

I didn’t like it. When I prayed, I wasn’t asking for a miracle. It looked like it was ready to snow. I could smell it in the air. It would have been very easy for the Lord to grant me snow the day before, but now He was going to have to work overtime. It was going to take a miracle, and I strangely expected Him to deliver.

I spent the whole day at school with my eyes on the windows, waiting. I was confident the snow would come. I didn’t begin to lose faith until the end of the last period. I must confess I experienced a degree of doubt and confusion as I went to my locker to put away my books and grab my coat. The powers-that-be at Curley frowned upon students using the main doors near the auditorium to enter or leave the building. They preferred us to exit through the doors near the library. I wanted to be alone, so I headed for the front doors. As I neared them, I heard excitement outside. I rushed out to see snow falling from the sky. Not just normal snow. These were huge, individual flakes. I turned up to the sky. It was blue and cloudless, aside from cirrus clouds very high in the sky near the horizon in the southwest. The snow only seemed to be falling very narrowly in front of school. It kept falling until I reached the sidewalk at the edge of the school grounds. Then it disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Like it never happened.

But it did. 

The Lord came through for me. He had given me what I had asked for — snow, although not what I really wanted: a day off from school. The most amazing thing was the way He chose to do it. Had the day been cloudy and cold, there would have been nothing remarkable or miraculous about a snow flurry. No. He didn’t want to give me something that could be confused or dismissed as coincidence. He gave me a miracle, and I accepted it as such.

In a sense, snow became the sign of a private covenant between the Lord and me. Abraham had circumcision. The Apostles had the last supper. I had snow. Ever since that day, for the next thirty years, I have always offered a silent prayer of thanksgiving at the beginning of every snowstorm. It will always be a sign that God exists, that He hears my prayers, and that He has the power to respond.

But it would not be the last time I would hear from Him. 

Barely a week or two later I found myself sick in bed; some cold or flu. I don’t remember what it was. All I know was that I was lying under a heavy load of blankets and cuddling up to the big, old iron radiator for warmth. I felt absolutely miserable. Kleenex fell to the floor like an indoor blizzard. I was praying, no, actually complaining, to God, when I heard the voice again. He said, “Why don’t you ask me to heal you?”

That was a reasonable question. Why hadn’t I asked him to heal me? I immediately rectified the situation and asked Him to heal me. And He did. I was instantly cured. 

That’s pretty much how it went for the next couple of years during what I now call my honeymoon period with the Lord. There was lots of communication. Lots of answered prayer. Lots of guidance. Most importantly, lots of love. It would not be an exaggeration to say that something miraculous happened every week. When I look back, I am reminded of the lyrics of the Paul Simon song The Boy in the Bubble: “These are the days of miracle and wonder. This is the long distance call.”

I was loving it. And I trusted Him too, once in a really stupid manner.

School has always been pretty easy for me. I’m not bragging. I don’t view myself as particularly intelligent. I simply possess the capability to absorb information and regurgitate it back onto a test page when needed. No big deal. My grades tended to reflect my interest level in the various classes. Obviously, I had no interest in Plane and Solid Geometry, and it showed. As the school year slowly ground to an end, I found myself facing the prospect of actually failing the class. I had never failed a class before. I wasn’t sure what that would entail, but I knew it meant summer school at the minimum or, perhaps, repeating it next year. It could actually affect my graduation.

I was worried. I took it to God in prayer. “Don’t worry,” He answered. “You will pass the class.”

Yay! That was a relief! 

You’d think that’d be all the encouragement a responsible young man would need to hunker down, study and pass that looming final exam. In fact, I’m positive that’s exactly what a responsible young man would do. Unfortunately, God didn’t give that message to a responsible young man. He gave it to me. I responded somewhat differently. Assured I would pass, I simply didn’t bother studying at all. God couldn’t lie. He said I’d pass. So why study? I was certain the Almighty would supply me with the answers when Father Isidore, the geometry teacher, plopped the test down in front of me. 

He didn’t. I struggled with the test. If I hadn’t been assured by the Lord God Almighty that I would pass the class, I would have assumed that I failed the test. 

Guess what? I did fail the test. And with it, the class. Bah-humbug!

I refused to accept the results. Who was I supposed to believe? 

God, who said I would pass the class? Or the Franciscan Friars of Archbishop Curley High School, who said I had failed? The answer is obvious.

The school year ended. About a week later, I was leaving the house and looking forward to another day of summer freedom. I checked the mailbox and noticed a letter from Curley addressed to my parents. I opened it up. The letter said I was to report for summer school for geometry. Having complete and total faith in God, I crumbled up the letter and threw it away. I didn’t give it, or geometry, another thought that summer.

Father Isidore
School reconvened in September. On the first day, I found myself in study hall. Father Isidore was the proctor. Oh joy. He walked up to me and said, “Murphy, you passed geometry.” 

“No, father,” I replied. “You failed me.”

“No,” he explained. “There were some mistakes when we sent out the summer school notices. A lot of parents said they didn’t receive them so we had to pass everybody.” 

I had passed geometry. Just like the Lord had promised. 

No. Let me take that back. It wasn’t just like the Lord had promised. Had I studied hard and passed the test the previous semester, the word of the Lord would have been just as accurate. It would have been equally true if I had gone to summer school and passed it, or if I had been forced to retake the class that semester and passed. At no time did the Lord instruct me to stop studying, fail the test and then wait for Him to miraculously deliver me.

In retrospect, the whole incident reminded me of the story of the old man who lived near the river. A hurricane was coming. The National Guard rode up to his house and told him he had to evacuate. He refused, saying, “The Lord will rescue me.” The National Guard left and the hurricane arrived. The river started rising, completely flooding the first floor of the house. The old man was at a second story window when a Coast Guard boat arrived. They ordered him to get onboard, but he refused, saying, “The Lord will rescue me.” The boat left and the water continued to rise. Hours later, a helicopter hovered overhead as the old man was trapped on the roof. They threw down a harness on a rope and ordered the old man to put it on, but he refused, saying, “The Lord will rescue me.”

The helicopter flew away and the water continued to rise. Eventually the old man was washed away and drowned. When he arrived in heaven, he walked right up to the Lord and expressed his disappointment. “I thought you would rescue me,” he said. The Lord just looked at him and said, “I sent a car, a boat and a helicopter. What more did you expect?” 

I was that old man, with the exception that the Lord showed me an extraordinary amount of grace. More than I deserved.

The pros of talking with God are obvious to believers, but this case illustrates some of the cons. The Lord had given me a word of knowledge. I placed a very narrow interpretation upon it and took no further action than what I myself deemed necessary. I was definitely placing my will above His will. In fact, I never sought His will on how to pass the class. While I hadn’t specifically disobeyed Him, it would be very easy to interpret my response as sinful. Through my inaction, I had tried to compel God to act in the way I intended.

I fell into this same trap nearly every time the Lord gave me a glimpse of the future. I would immediately spring into action and attempt to further God’s plan my way, without consulting Him. Usually my efforts would prove completely pointless, and God would fulfill His plans in a way I hadn’t foreseen. Sometimes, my actions were actually counter-productive. 

My experiences reminded me of what Father Ryan had said years earlier, “God doesn’t need you.”

That’s so true. He doesn’t need me, or you, to accomplish His plans.

I am reminded of the story of Esther. The Jews were about to be massacred, but Esther, now queen of Persia, has an opportunity to save them. However, it meant risking her life in the process. When she expresses her fears to her uncle Mordecai, he wisely replies, “Even if you now remain silent, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another source, but you and your father’s house will perish. Who knows – perhaps it was for a time like this that you became queen.” 

The Lord did indeed raise Esther up for that hour, but she still had free will. She could refuse the calling. If she did, she would suffer, but God’s plan would be fulfilled in another manner. 

God doesn’t need us, specifically. He always has another plan ready. 

That attitude stands in stark contrast to something I once heard the disgraced television evangelist, Jimmy Swaggart, say. During a fund raising speech, Swaggart told the audience that there were people who never hear the gospel unless he preached it to them. 

Really? Maybe we should change John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he sent Jimmy Swaggart... 

Please. Give me a break. To say that God would put the eternal salvation of any one of His children entirely into the hands of a single, fallible human being is to make a mockery of His love. 

When my film The Encounter premiered at the Christian Film Festival of Boston, more than two hundred people came forward afterward to accept the Lord. I know I can take no pride in that. Or credit. I was just an interchangeable cog in the machine. If my partner, Tim Ratajczak, and I hadn’t written the script, someone else would have done so. In addition, God had been calling those people in Boston. They were going to come forward no matter what film they saw. I am simply honored the Lord allowed us to play a very small part in His plan.

I am also grateful He overlooked my willful foolishness concerning my geometry class. 

Or am I? The Lord showed me so much grace during our honeymoon period and overlooked so many mistakes, that I would later be truly stunned when He would finally hold me accountable for my disobedience. 

Once saved, my soul itself would never be in danger again. However, I would discover soon enough that some mistakes would result in permanent, earthly repercussions. Faith is essential for salvation, but obedience is also necessary if you want to stay within the will of God.

What? Me worry?

Other Chapters:
Chapter 1 - A Photograph
Chapter 2 - My Death
Chapter 3 - Childhood
Chapter 4 - Saved!
Chapter 5 - The Promise
Chapter 6 - The Mission
Chapter 7 - Mission Accomplished

You can get a copy of the whole book here: