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(pronounced Ko-Hane)
Dan is the Bram Stoker-nominated author of Plague of Darkness, Solomon’s Grave, and the critically-acclaimed Margaret's Ark. Writing as G. Daniel Gunn, he released Destroyer of Worlds and the novella (written with L.L.Soares) Nightmare in Greasepaint (Samhain Publishing),. His short stories have appeared in Cemetery Dance, Shroud Magazine, Apex Digest and many more. He and his family live in New England.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Of Leviathans and Famines

My friend Marty Holman recently began an online magazine called The Holman Report, where he writes about living our your faith in the wilderness, starting conversations about the modern church and where it is, where it's going, etc. I've written a few articles for him so far. One recently. The last couple are:


and

Friday, May 17, 2019

When Someday Becomes Tomorrow, for Amanda and Audrey



My two amazing daughters, Amanda and Audrey, are graduating college. In fact, Amanda has already graduated a few days earlier. Audrey's big moment is coming up tomorrow morning. I've been trying to write something around all of this for a week. What I keep coming up with are clumps of memories, what has stayed with me through the years. But it didn't feel enough. Too impersonal, more akin to those end of year summaries outlining the fun had since the last summary. Something was missing.

What makes a memory, and what do I truly remember about the family I helped bring into the world, and specifically the two little girls I held and hugged and loved from babyhood through this beginning phase of their adult lives?

What do I need to remember from a quarter century of being Dad?

Moments, laughing and crying and watching these beautiful people dance and run and pretend and dress up and snuggle as I read to them. I bought them clothes and got them to school and helped with homework but in the end, if I've been halfway decent with this parenting thing, I also watched them. The best gift we can give any child is what they crave the most: my valuable, personal attention.

Watch me, Daddy.

I watched them jump in the pool; do a dance; stand on one foot; perform a play they renamed "Rabbit" because "The Big Scary Haunted House" was too frightening a title. I watched them learn to cook, setup blankets and pillows in front of the TV for movie night, do a fashion show.

I listened, to the stories they made up, the things they did in school. To flute and piano recitals, the music washing over me grander than any symphony because this was music made by my daughters. Listened to their bad dreams, and without judgment their plans for the future. As parents we try to support their first steps towards any dream. I want to be a chef. I want to be an engineer. I want to be a cinematographer. I want to work in an office like on that TV show. I want to save the world. I want to step out and make my own mistakes but God willing I hope you're there if things go south and I need to call my Daddy.

I talked to them. Not my strongest suit. When I do speak it usually sounds like I'm thinking about something else. I've tried to be honest with my girls. Restraint when needed, when my opinion doesn’t matter in the moment, but offering encouragement or advice if I think it'll land in good soil. When they were little, I spoke to them as if they were big. Never speak down to the little ones; if they don't know what you mean, they'll ask.

I read, Harry Potter and Madeline and Get Fuzzy comic strips and that series of books with the cats. Curled up against a pillow at bedtime, opening a world of words for them. If I'm lucky, the memories of their childhood will be narrated by my voice. Share with your children the books and movies you loved as a kid, too. These are as much a part of you as any grand tradition carried through generations.

I watched them dance and let their joy break my heart (see below for a link to a classic entry on that topic that still makes me cry). Shouted and screamed and burst with pride as they raced to the finish line (then threw up). I laughed at the plays they wrote then performed, at the scary movies they made when they stole the video camera.

What advice would I leave future Dads (and Moms)? As a parent, never make the mistake of thinking their universe revolves around you, or take their acts of rebellion as a personal affront. At the very best, you will never be the center of their world, but always an anchor when it's needed. Video as much as you can, but don't pan the camera too quickly. People watching will throw up. On that note assume you'll get vomit on you often, and don’t assume when the kids get bigger that part ends.
Every now and then, make chocolate cake for breakfast (one very minor regret of mine, never having done that). Try to live your life with honesty and integrity, and assume they'll follow suit. Live out your faith with no hesitation, and pray for them every day. Don't shove any of it down their throats, but don't let them talk down about it. They'll follow your path, or make their own. You can’t control them. You can only love them.

Amanda and Audrey, I love you girls so much I want to cry if I think too hard about it. In a couple more days you will both be officially out of college and joining your amazing brother in "the real world" with all its possible roads before you. I'll continue to watch as the events of your life unfold, the good and the bad (there will always be both), and listen to you tell me about your adventures traveling the world or what you saw in the supermarket the other day.

I think we did OK with this family stuff, crazy and eclectic as it's become. I might not be able to give anything too big or shiny as a graduation gift, but I can always give my words. Hopefully, along with love and our shared memories of what has been, these will last a lifetime.

Dad.


Some related entries from days gone by:


Friday, May 03, 2019

Who Am I? (Part 2)


In Part one (which was a devotional - click here to read Who Am I? (Part One)), we talked about the perils of meeting your heroes, and briefly mentioned how we raise up others to be larger-than-life examples of the kind of person we either wish we could be, or strive to be. This is where we pick up now:

Wishing and striving are two very different actions, and the way you look at them will vastly determine the path ahead of you in life.

That's the kind of man I want to be.
I wish I was like him.

Which of the above statements would end in a resigned sigh? Most likely, the second. If wishes were fishes, and all that. On the surface, they sound similar. Follow them along the path they lay out for you, however, and the destination will vastly differ.

That's the kind of man (or woman or artist or park ranger or ball player) I want to be.

This statement implies you can, if you choose, become like this person, even better. You are pointing to someone and saying, "role model," "example" (living or otherwise), "goal." As in a race, when you see the finish line and aim for it, a person raised up as an example before us – and by us (key point) – is a destination towards which we direct our lives.

When we were young, people often pointed at little Johnny (apologies to all the Johnnys used as literary examples in this way) and say, You should be more like him, or, Your older sister has no problems in gym class, what's your deal? More directly, Why can't you be more like this person, while pointing to an athlete or a speaker or a neighbor or someone on TV.

That approach never works. Forcing a role model on someone breeds discontent. On the other hand, imagine a six-year-old girl watching the Olympics with her mother. Mom says, "Oh, that skater is so amazing. I love watching her." No finger pointing, just genuine awe and respect. If the daughter is athletically inclined, she might see that skater as a hero, a model towards which to strive. Perhaps for no other reason than to make her mother proud.  We do a lot of things in life to make Mom and/or Dad proud. That's an important bonus take-away from all this: If you're a parent, show pride for your children. It is the number one fuel for their early years.

I wish I was like him.

On the other hand, this statement doesn't actually have a destination in sight. As mentioned earlier, it's usually followed by a sigh of discontent. Personally - and yes I'll agree this might be a purely personal feeling with no basis in fact - "wish" is not an active verb. It's a statement of desire without an accompanying action. As someone who has a faith in God and tries to live it out the best I can (which on some days is not very well), I see prayer as being active. Lord, help me to become more like this person; show me ways to reach this level. That's asking for help. Wishing for it is just that and no more.

When I was a teenager, I wished I was a writer. Though I did scribble a few words down, they were quickly discarded. Growing up, my personal dreams and desires were only wishes. I never did anything about them and instead let events and experiences carry me where they may. No complaints, in retrospect, as they were mostly fun times and I did a lot of growing up. After school, job in hand, I started adding actions to my desires. Firstly, I finally conceded that to be a writer, I needed to write. I took a continuing ed course on fiction, read a book on the craft and most formed a writers' group with other newbies. I also read a lot, studying how those (far) better than me created such amazing visuals with words. Many of these were written by people who became in varying degrees my literary heroes.

All of it, adding action to the wish, making desire into a goal. I was off, slowly, but forward.

We all have dreams and wishes and bucket lists. If future accomplishments and worlds-to-visit start off as only wishes that's fine. Wishes come from the imagination and without that we would be standing in little unpainted rooms staring blankly out onto brick alleys all our lives. At the very least, wishes elevate our imaginations away from the mundane to something new and hopefully better.
Soon, though, decide on a first step and take it. Find someone who is doing what you want to do, being who you want to be, and use them as 1) proof that it's possible, 2) an example of how to do it well. You don't need to know them, or ever meet them in person. Decide, then, on the next step, and take that, and the next, all the while putting action to the wish. Once you start, it becomes a goal and the proverbial race is on. Keep going, adjust as necessary, and you will reach the end. One of many ends. There will always be more races, more goals to aim for.

Finally, and most importantly, enjoy the journey. In my life I've finished a number of smaller races and enjoyed the process of getting there. I learned a lot, found new heroes, chose new goals, and started again. I'm on one now – though my end goal is a little fuzzier than usual, and I've been wandering off course. But it'll come. I'll get a better picture, then get back on track.

We all will. It's life, and this a pretty good way to live it.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Great Divorce

It's been a strange time, being church-less after attending services at an evangelical church pretty much every Sunday for past ten years and Catholic mass for forty-five years before that. Sundays meant church for as long as I can remember. They will again, I have no doubt, because I feel it's important to get together as a community to worship and celebrate on a regular basis. At the moment my wife and I have different opinions about what this should look like, but we'll figure it out.

In the meantime, I've been watching the emotional progression of my friends Marty and Al, former pastor and assistant pastor of the church from which we've all stepped (or been pushed) away. There has been a gamut of emotion, including anger and resentment. In many ways I know what they are feeling, though from a different perspective. I've been through a divorce, seen a life I once assumed would be a constant in ways not the least of which being who my partner in this journey of life would be, suddenly fragment and come apart. Said life eventually fell together in wonderful ways and I'm certain for my friends the story will end the same. But first, they need to go through the ups and downs of their respective divorces.

Don't get me wrong - these two and their wives are so happily married that birds fly around them with garlands of flowers in their beaks. It's sick. Even so, a divorce is happening. We keep the illusion that marriage is forever, and it will always be an illusion if both parties don't work hard at it every day. We also see "church" as another relationship that will be constant in our life. If it's working, not a cult-of-personality but a strong, cohesive group of believers striving and living together for the purpose of honoring God and each other, how could it not last forever? After all, that description paints our old church home perfectly.

Well, God knows (literally) that our enemy hates that sort of thing and will do anything to dismantle it. We talked about this last time. In the end our little church-world came apart and its former leaders were left with the same emotions and crises of relational faith any divorcee will experience when the world they thought they knew is torn away. They understand why it happened, but it hurts because there has been betrayal. What they once saw as "right" with religion is suddenly being questioned. In some ways this is a good thing - when we stop questioning and keeping our focus on what we care about, we allow it to rust away. There are other aspects of "church" which might only appear negative in the moment, in light of the pain, but will come to be seen as "good" again in the future. One hopes.

On the other side of the coin, I am in the unique position of suddenly understanding - even if just a little - what my now-adult children went through. In their younger lives, family was one thing they probably assumed would never change - always be there for them - hold up against any storm. Then their mother and I sat them down in January of 2010 and explained how everything was a lie and it was all coming to an end.

My spiritual parents, as it were, announced they were getting a divorce a few months ago and now it is done. I am recently as yesterday grieving the death of the very church I'd dreamed of being a part of, one I had gladly gotten up at 5:15 am every Sunday morning for setup, stayed until the afternoon to take down. One where my younger kids always were excited about attending.  But the cracks growing in the organization had gone too long unattended, and things ended. Pride, mostly, let it die. Hopefully humility will help restore it to what it once was, though this may not happen quickly. Some things  simply need to be brought into the light.

Many of us are now left with a broken church family struggling to decide how to move forward with this thing called "church". Family is, truly, what we'd found these past five years. One with shared purpose and a love for each other that transcended any differences. Now we cling together online mostly, sometimes having lunch, traveling to other churches as smaller exploratory groups to work out what life will look like post-divorce. Even others have stayed at the old place and this also is perfectly acceptable, even expected.

Who are you going to live with, Mom or Dad? A horrifying question no child should have to answer, but which most need to at some point. For me, I'm a "kid" in his mid-fifties having to answer this. Marty and his wife Carie, Al and Erica, Linda and I and everyone else will find what answer works for us. For the moment, we have to pray and lean into God and each other, and not let our light dim too much.

If nothing else, people are looking at us very closely to see how we respond. Waiting for us to prove that "church" is not the building, or the day, but who we are.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Walking Down New Roads with Smoldering Remains Behind Me


15 Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out
    falls into the pit they have made.
16 The trouble they cause recoils on them;
    their violence comes down on their own heads.
- Psalm 7: 15-16

There was a recent schism (if I'm using that word right) in my church: a multi-site organization with locations, for the most part, around the northeast. A decision was made to fire our local pastor, even though our specific location was one of the healthiest in the organization and the pastor an amazing shepherd to his people. A lot of questionable behavior from the central leadership followed as they tried to prevent the mass exodus which eventually happened anyway. Our local church bled well over half of its membership to become a shadow of what it once was, formerly a growing, spirit filled congregation open to everyone and worshiping with bursting joy in community. The new local pastor is a nice guy with a big heart, and the people staying on are committed to working with him to rebuild, and I pray that his church will grow under him, I really do. I'll watch from the sidelines, however, as I myself have stepped away.

That itself was a hard thing to do. I'm not good at endings, but like someone who sees how his food is actually prepared in a favorite restaurant, and after many months of prayerful consideration, I felt obliged to. It still took a while, because I was in charge of what was called the "production" team and truly loved the people there who come in early to setup, run the lights and video and sound, and did not want to leave them. In the end, central management, the new pastor and I came to an agreement and just prior to me leaving for Spain for vacation (see earlier entry) we parted ways amicably. I told each team member (those still there), and people were sad but understood.

Why the verses up top? Well, after writing a 1200-word rant then deleting most of it, I trimmed it down and posted the main point on my devotional page, but in short, every organization working for the kingdom, be it a church or charity or what have you, survives only when it keeps its perspective upward, stays humble and grateful for the chance to serve, and its leaders never forget they are not the hinges upon which the door of their efforts swing. Sorry, not the best metaphor but I liked how it looked in my head.

The unofficial tagline for my novel Plague of Darkness is that secrets never stay buried forever. In the above verses, if you dig a large hole, you end up stuck in it like Mike Mulligan and his trusty steam shovel Maryanne, or at the very least you fall back into it at some point. The latter is usually what we humans end up doing. There's accountability for every action we perform, good or bad and whether we think we've hidden it or not.

A significant moment for me was during a date with my wife, Linda. We told each other pretty much all of our deepest, darkest secrets, stuff we hadn't told anyone before. Coming out of that, it was like the world was suddenly open like never before. So much metaphorical weight lifted from our chests. There's a song from the band Tenth Avenue North which goes

You told me secrets nobody had known
But I never loved you more, even though
Now I know what you did.

To climb out of the holes our own actions have dug, to break bad habits and patterns in our lives, we need others to be brought into the game. After years of trying to quit smoking, I succeeded only when I told other people what I was doing, and asked them to keep me honest. I think about what they might say if I start again. Being reminded that what we do has an impact on other people is a strong deterrent to bad behavior.

Sometimes because of this, we try to hide our secrets. That opens the door for our spiritual enemy (call him/it what you will) to work against us. Most major church movements start out honestly, humbly doing the work of the Spirit here on earth and perhaps growing in size and influence, not that this is an important attribute of a church, but that's a topic for another day. At some point, if we're not careful (and often we are not because we're a prideful bunch) the enemy will do what he always does: get us to destroy it all by ourselves. Pastors have affairs that shatter illusions of the people they serve (to clarify: that is NOT what happened here, nothing like that). Church leadership becomes so obsessed with money that every sermon brings the subject up in some way, rather than putting more trust in God's provision. Preachers see themselves as deserving accolades and reverence, instead of serving humbly every day and being grateful for the opportunity to speak and teach. Obsessing over details, trying to control everything, rather than trust. So often, in scripture, Jesus warns us to stay humble, that the proud will fall. Or, in the words of Han Solo, "Don't get cocky."

Pride, and control. A lot of these potential holes can be avoided by putting guardrails in place, not least of which is being open and transparent with other leaders and the congregation itself.

There's a lot more to talk about and I will over the next few weeks. When "going to church" has become so central to one's life, what happens when that man-made structure and organization is yanked away from you? My relationship with Jesus is still strong –as strong as it has been, at least, there's always room for improvement. Like my friend Marty, the aforementioned local pastor who after twenty years is on the same road (more so since "church" is what he has done twenty-four hours a day for most of his life), I'm walking down whatever road(s) the Lord lays before me and discovering what "doing church" can mean outside of the box we are constantly trying to shove God into.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Took 25 Years to Finally Look Inside

About 25 years ago, the Catholic church I attended (St George n Worcester) hosted a Maryknoll priest and we began giving money to their mission outreach each month. Saw no reason to ever stop, they do good work, but every quarter they send their little magazine. In 25 years I never read a single article, just tossed it. Been going through this season of drifting (and yes, rest) without a church home (a story for another time, soon) and picked up the latest newsletter, decided to read it. Some pretty amazing stuff. This is a short article I just read which seems quite timely for me (and maybe some of you) to read. Check out the article here: "Even when we feel far from God, God never leaves us."

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Fear is the Mind Killer


My wife Linda and two of our children visited friends Marty and Carie Holman (and their 4 young kids) for a week in Valencia, Spain last week. Marty, during his month-long stay in Spain which was one-part vacation, one-part sabbatical, had been writing daily updates on Facebook of his experiences traveling in a new country with his family. He asked me to write some final thoughts on our own trip which he then posted as day 25 of his story:

=====================================================

The moment my wife Linda heard that that the Holmans were traveling to Valencia, Spain for a month, there was no question in her mind we were going to Spain for a week to visit them. I thought it was the wackiest idea she'd ever had and did my best to forget how these ideas of hers usually end up pretty darn good times. Everyone knows Spain is a backwoods country riddled with crime and swarming with ‘ne-er do wells’ just waiting to snatch away children and lash out with rusty sabers in the marketplace.

Yes, I watch too many old movies, and was probably mixing up Spain with early 20th century Istanbul.

Often, if I'm asked to step out of my comfort zone I will invariably fight back. I know my world well: which step creaks at night, where the dogs go when they run away, where the bathroom is, and even how to say "bathroom" which is kind of important after a good almuerzo! Fear will whisper to us that "new" equates to "bad."

God does not call us to have a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). Linda, on the other hand, has no such qualms about stepping into new experiences and seeing new things. This fearlessness has rubbed off on me a little. Even so, when an opportunity like this arises, my first reaction is to metaphorically curl up into a ball and shout, "No, no, no!"

Not counting trips to Canada and Mexico, 80% of Americans have never left their native country (based on State Department statistics, the percentage of people who own a passport and average number of trips US citizens have taken to non-neighboring countries over last ten years, and a wild guess). Aside from Canada and four trips "the countries" at Disney's Epcot, I've never left the United States. Suddenly we're talking about traveling with our two youngest children to a spanish city that I'd never heard of? I don't even speak Español!

Granted, my two oldest daughters visited Barcelona, Spain a couple of years before and did not return screaming in terror. In fact, They had a wonderful time.

After crunching the numbers and deciding we could (just) swing this financially, I had two options before me: 1) stay where I was and not personally experience the rest of civilization around me, claim as I do to be open to other cultures; or 2) step out of the boat and trust mine is not the only corner of the world worth standing in.


In the end we had an amazing time, posted pictures and videos from Valencia and perhaps learned some valuable lessons along the way, not the least of which is that the rest the world has an overflowing sense of beauty and culture and chocolate croissants and piña juice to share with us if we're willing to stop listening to fear and take a step of faith. Spain isn't perfect, but neither are the walls of our own home. Being cautious and wise is a good thing – an important part of survival, in fact. Now and then, however, you have to uncurl from the fear and trust God has a lot more of life to show you than what you can see today.