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Book Review : Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill

Some books you read because you need to.

Ronan Farrow’s Catch And Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators was for me, one of those books you just need to read. It is a very adult book with lots of foul words and graphic language wrapped around disturbing material. Farrow includes a warning that it might trigger some people who have been hurt. The warning is justified. I have never been sexually abused or harassed yet there were times I had to put it down and walk away for a day or two.

I’d like to address the book in two different aspects rather than one of my more usual formats (good, bad, and ugly or what I liked and what I didn’t like). The first aspect I’d like to take is the topic at hand. The second is the book as a written endeavor.

As to the topic, Catch And Kill is an important work because it highlights the criminal activities of powerful people who use their wealth and power to intimidate or silence their victims. What I found particularly disturbing was the complicit nature of law enforcement, particularly prosecutors. I was not aware the law was that bendable — that money and attorneys could essentially shut down a viable investigation into rape or assault by simply lawyering up or using the media to start a smear campaign, victim shaming, job insecurity, and various other power trips including blackmail. It is disgusting.

Farrow’s book also teaches us an important lesson: Power is not political. If you think only Republicans are guilty of sexual crimes or only Democrats cover things up, then you fail to realize the extent of the issue. This is not a political issue, this is an abuse issue. Farrow makes certain that we know Harvey Weinstein, the central figure for most of this book, was a huge supporter of Democratic causes and especially of the Clintons and he spells out how Weinstein used his leverage with Hillary Clinton to try to silence him. But he also reminds us the same media group that helped Weinstein cover-up stories and buy people off did the same work for Donald Trump. And Republican governors and Democratic media personalities all used the same processes.

This is true in the media, as Farrow points out, and in politics.

It is also true in your hometown.

It may be true in your family, as it was for Farrow.

It might also be true in your church, as many of us have seen first hand.

It could be true in your school.

It also happens in many workplaces.

Until we refuse to be silent about it any longer it will continue. Today as I write this blog post, Epstein and Prince Andrew are in the news. Epstein’s death feels very suspicious to me (after reading Farrow’s book, it makes you think anything might have happened) and Prince Andrew is demonstrating typical behavior of these kinds of abusers. And next week there will be more, and that is a tragedy because for every famous situation we hear about, there are untold numbers of victims forced into silent submission by those who have leverage and power.

This issue has always been near to me because of all the women whom I love that have been hurt, abused, raped, molested, and harassed by men who have never been brought to justice. I will not mention their names nor attempt to tell their stories. Their stories belong to them.

It is also personal to me because of the situation I found myself in, which I wrote about in the epilogue to my first novel, when a trusted colleague in ministry was arrested and clearly guilty of one of the most vile things I can possibly fathom. It is so vile I don’t even want to discuss it here.

So this issue is personal, and because of that I am thankful for this book for any attention it might call our collective society to give no tolerance to abusers or those who protect them.

So that is the first thing I wanted to talk about — the topic.

The second part of this is about the book. It is uneven in its narrative. Farrow seems to jump around quite a bit, which perhaps would be okay but then he throws in a large number of names that were hard for me to remember. At times I wished he’d had a Dramatis Personae at the beginning for quick reference. I’m certain these people are all clear in his mind, but to me it at times turned into a book in which the characters were Weinstein, Farrow, Lawyer in this chapter, NBC executive in this chapter, inept private investigator in this chapter, and someone dancing in the ballet studio across from his apartment.

What he did a good job on was highlighting the victims, both the famous ones we’ve all heard of like Rose McGowan and those we’ve never heard about like Brooke Nevils. There is a part of me that wishes the book would have been more a canvasing of the victims and their own individual stories. However, that is not the book we got. What we got instead was a book about Ronan Farrow. Make no mistake, he is the star of the book. At times he portrays himself as a hard working investigative journalist. Other times, the victim of such dangerous espionage he has to move into a safe house. Then he is also the martyr for the cause, the little guy going up against the machine. He also wants us to feel sorry for his beleaguered bi-coastal love life AND the physical toll it took on his body.

But its hard to read his words and not think of him at times as a whiney snob who can’t believe the bad guys didn’t just roll over and give up. Just when you begin to think of him as a work-a-day guy like the rest of us he so casually tells us he’s getting advice from Tom Brokaw, hanging out with Gwen Stefani, or was singing songs with Rose McGowan and talking about music. And then BOOM! he tells us about the time Rachel Maddow made him cry.

It’s kinda of surreal and I think Farrow believes this helps the book, particularly his own pain. It is impossible to untangle the story of Weinstein, Lauer, and other perps without an awareness of Woody Allen and Farrow’s sister Dylan. In the outside chance you wanted to, Farrow won’t let you. He keeps dragging himself back to the center of the narrative. For me this is not helpful, and this is not to minimize his own pain or Dylans — heavens no — and I hope there is justice and healing there someday for them all. It is that in this book, as a work on its own, it was a distraction.

In the book there are winners and losers. Farrow is a winner, and he is the hero. So too is The New Yorker Magazine and David Remnick, who published the original and subsequent articles. Oddly, the spies are winners too, because they ‘came to their senses’ and turned it around.

The losers are easy to spot–Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Tom Brokaw, and NBC News in general. I mean, the big loser seems to be NBC. What a horrible, horrible culture.

If there is a hope in the book, it is the truth eventually comes out. We can certainly pray that way.

 

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Learning To Write: ACFW 2019

Greenbean has been taking notes this weekend at the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference in San Antonio because he wants to be a better writer.

I’ve published four books, and each one makes me a better writer. I still have a lot to learn. The last two days have highlighted how much I have yet to learn. But before I touch on that, here are some hot takes from the ACFW:

  1. The people who run this thing are wonderful, kind, hard working and inspiring. I really do appreciate how much they do to help all of us neurotic paranoids.
  2. Being around people who are like me is wonderful. Seriously, writers are a different breed of human and we all get each other without explanation. People who see me all the time in the real world don’t realize just how much I work to ‘hide’ that weirdness.
  3. The most unused public room at ACFW is the men’s room. It is not an exaggeration to say there are nine women to every man. If you’d like proof, here is a picture of last nights dinner table.
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Guess which one is me?

 

The keynote speaker this year is Frank Peretti — who many of you will recognize as the rockstar Christian author of This Present Darkness and The Oath. My favorite book of his is The Wounded Spirit. I’ve never seen him in person before and was very surprise by how much he reminded me of Doc Brown from Back To The Future. For reals. If he’d said “Great Scott” just once I’d would have lost it.

Peretti is speaking to us as the ‘wise old man’ and here is what he shared today.

  1. Keep a long term perspective.
  2. Always be honest.
  3. Be a real man. (Greenbean’s note: he didn’t make application for women, but I assume he could find a “be an authentic person” motif here with a little work.)
  4. Trust God.
  5. Failure is better than regret.
  6. Do not build your life around dreams and goals, because those will change.

He said a lot more, but this was the gist. I really appreciated it because he was right. So many of us have great big ambitions, but what it boils down to is faithfully answering the call of God in our lives to be people of faith. And most of us are not called to be rockstar writers or even signed and contracted authors. Most of us will simply continue to tell the stories which inhabit our soul whether anyone is reading them or not.

I’ve attended four workshops and two panel discussions. The workshops have been very helpful. Here is the ‘plot-skeleton’ I drew today in a session with super-duper successful writer Angela Hunt. In my hands, the plot skeleton looks like a plot-monster.

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Last night there were panels. Those were less encouraging. The basic message I got from each one is that my kind of fiction is not what anyone is looking like. The hot topics now are World War I and Vietnam Era historical fiction, contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, and suspense/romance. To a person, every time speculative fiction/fantasy/science fiction are mention the door is slammed. That doesn’t bode well for poor Pastor Butch Gregory or my WIP about St. Carl of Mars. IMG_0793.jpgI have two appointments tomorrow with literary agents, but my expectations are guarded. As Peretti said, I am trusting The Lord with a long perspective and will keep writing.

BONUS INFO: The hotel is on the Riverwalk and I had supper at the Hard Rock Cafe. If anyone is interested, their plant-based “Impossible Burger” was delicious. The fries were too salty and the Arnold Palmer I drank was not properly mixed but still refreshing.

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First Ten Pages of My New Novel

Below you will find the front matter and the first ten pages of my new novel, absolutely free. Enjoy!

 

ADW_cover

 

A DREAM WITHIN

A Pastor Butch Gregory Novel

 Jamie D. Greening

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks, is not enough, but alas, it will have to suffice.

I begin my gratitude with you—dear reader. There are so many other things you could be reading today, but you chose my novel and for that I am thankful. You will never know how much I appreciate that act of trust.

I also deeply appreciate Athanatos Publishing, specifically Anthony Horvath. His belief in Butch Gregory, from the very first short story in 2009 all the way to this volume, has been an encouragement that feeds my soul. I also owe a debt to the other writers in the Athanatos ‘stable’—specifically Joseph Courtemanche, Joe Shaw, Robert Cely, and Derek Elkins. After you buy two or three more copies of this book to give as gifts, you should immediately go buy their books. The same can be said of my little writer’s group: Patrick Shaub, Iris Macek, and Amber Jones continually remind me to shorten my overcomplicated, comma infused, compound, run-on, and pretentious sentences; avoid the echo of word echoes, as well as to not swing for the fences on fourth and goal by mixing my metaphors. My writing would be exponentially better if I listened to them more often.

Many people have read through this work at various stages, and I deeply appreciate their labor. My writing and grammar are always in need of improvement. This is particularly true of plane old homophones. I am convinced this was a section of grammar in grade school covered by my teacher when I had my tonsillectomy. If you find one or more in this book, it is no one’s fault by mine. These eagle-eyed people include Joe Courtemanche, Pastor Barbara Agnew, Sheila Cochran, and Elisha Pile. Another thanks to Pastor, writer, and theologian smart guy John Duncan for his assistance with tricky Greek transliteration.

A Dream Withinis the most pastoral book I have ever written, and as it pertains to that I wish to express my deep appreciation for Joe Chambers and David Caddell, both of whom share in the very difficult work of shepherding my soul even if they don’t know it. Related to this, the three churches I have been blessed to pastor—Walnut Springs Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Port Orchard, and now Fellowship Baptist Church, have helped me more than I have ever helped them. I owe these three congregations so much, and I am thankful the awful things that happened to poor Butch at Sydney Community have never been my own experiences. Although, there was that one time . . .

I am a crazy, insecure, neurotic writer, yet somehow my wife and daughters love me anyway. I can’t even imagine life without them. Thanks, FamSquad. I love you.

Jamie Greening

Texas Hill Country

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or characterizations correlate to actual people living or dead. Nevertheless, this story is filled with truth. Let the reader understand.

 

 

For my father, Jack Greening.

The field is plowed, the corn laid by,

and the peas are picked.

Rest in peace.


 While I weep—while I weep!

O God! can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

O God! can I not save

Onefrom the pitiless wave?

Is allthat we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?

                      From “A Dream Within a Dream”

Edgar Allan Poe

 

PART ONE

The crucible is for silver

The furnace is for gold, and

The Lord tests the heart.

 Proverbs 17:3

I

            Pastor Butch Gregory felt as dark and blue as the necktie he kept tugging.

The tie wasn’t tight. Tightness squeezed his throat from the inside out. It had been a long time since he’d felt this uncomfortable. It was warm, temperatures in the upper seventies. The sky was clear and blue. The sun felt good on his black suit.

The weather was not the reason for his discomfort.

Something wasn’t right.

Of course, things weren’t right. He was standing at the graveside service for a sixteen-year-old boy. A boy who had everything going for him. It was not just any boy, either. He was the boyfriend of his daughter’s best friend. The boy had been in his house.He had eaten at his table. He had watched countless movies in his living room. He had driven his daughter around town.

He was a boy who was almost a man.

And now he was dead.

What part did Butch expect to be alright, anyway?

He grunted as he tugged. The necktie loosened; the tightening increased.

Funerals are always tough, but he wasn’t the officiant at this graveside. Here, he was a mourner.

Butch’s wife, Lucy, stood with one arm around their daughter, Sarah.

What pain Sarah must be going through. Why hadn’t he spoken with her about it?

Sarah was between Butch and Lucy. Paul, their son and youngest child, stood on Butch’s other side. It was their normal family seating order at public events: parent, child, parent, child. Sarah always between her mom and dad, and Paul to the right of his old man. It was how they sat at movies, concerts, football games, airplanes, and now funerals.

The chapel service had been scriptural and uplifting, and his colleague from First United Methodist Church had done a good job dealing with the difficulties and trauma involved. Butch knew she would. Here, at the graveside the minister was reading a sobering and reflective text from Ecclesiastes. He listened, looking for hope. He’d always found hope in the Scriptures. Not necessarily the hope he wanted, but always hope. He listened with his aching heart, hoping to hear something positive. Anything to help.

He worked hard to not conjure the passage from memory, but instead to listen with fresh ears as each word was released into the air.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

A time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose.

 

The familiar text from Ecclesiastes should’ve comforted him. He could remember times when it had. It was the exact same set of verses he’d read at his own grandmother’s funeral. That was in the past. Today, though, the Bible agitated him. It mocked him. He felt as if he was always losing. When was it his time to win? His turn to get? When was his family allowed to dance? Why was their laughter always tempered with the weeping? And pain? Was the Gregory family ever allowed to heal?

God felt a million miles away.

He tugged at his necktie.

Sniffles and sobs filled his ears. Butch felt like the entire high school student body was at the funeral. He knew some, most he didn’t. He’d baptized a few of them. His heart ached for them and the world they lived in. This was not the time in the lives of these children when they should be weeping. They should be laughing, dancing, studying, exploring, dating, learning, and living. They should be asking big questions about their place in the universe, thinking about love and God and eternity and politics and philosophy, and what college to go to. It wasn’t fair. The young man would never experience these again, and Sarah would have to face life’s bitterness far too soon.

His heart hurt for the boy in the coffin. A coffin which would soon have pall bearer boutonnieres placed upon it. Then dirt. And then not a small number of tears.

Butch looked at the sky through his sunglasses and imagined how he might be more comfortable if Roberto had died in a car crash. Or kidney failure. Or a sudden aneurysm. None of those would have eased the grief, but any one of those horrible things would have at least made some sense. People die. It was part of life. Accidents happen. Illness steals away years. Medicine fails everyone, eventually. Even kids. It was the human condition.

But Roberto didn’t die in a car crash. He didn’t have kidney failure. His brain was fine—there was no aneurysm. The limitations of medicine or science had nothing to do with why Roberto would not be in class Monday morning.

Roberto had opened the veins on his wrists with a razor blade. He bled to death on the floor of his bedroom. His mom found him when he didn’t come down for dinner.

What a horrible experience it must have been for her.

Butch tugged at the necktie.

The more he stared upward into the sky, the more bothered he became. He’d been bothered since it had happened, but he’d blocked the whole unpleasantness from his thoughts. The ability to compartmentalize came in handy for pastoral ministry, and he’d successfully used this skill to shelter himself from thinking about Roberto. Instead, he thought about work, the landscaping of his backyard, and the book he was reading. He diagnosed himself with classic denial.

He’d not even taken the time to sit with Sarah and talk to her about her friend’s death. How could he have neglected her spiritual needs? Was it a mental block? Defense mechanism? Professional distance? Why had he ignored her? Had she been anyone else’s daughter, he’d have made an appointment to specifically speak to her as she went through this. Yet under his own roof was a teenage girl with enormous pain, and he hadn’t even talked to her. That this girl was his daughter made his heart even sicker. His shoulders slumped. His left knee buckled. Failing his family had always been his fear, and now he saw he’d done the exact thing he’d never wanted to do.

Butch drew his left hand from his pocket; he draped his arm around Sarah’s shoulder.

He moved to pull her close to him, but Sarah stepped to the side, pulling away. Without ever looking up at him, she clutched her mother’s arm instead. Only two feet separated him from her, but it was an emotional Grand Canyon.

Butch’s arm fell empty to his side He looked at her; she never looked at him. He felt as though he gazed at a stranger.

He clutched at his necktie, but this time he didn’t tug at it. He tightened it.

After the minister had declared the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life and the funeral director gave brief instructions, Sarah and Lucy stepped up to the casket. Sarah took a necklace from around her neck and placed it atop the silver casket. Lucy held her daughter tight. Butch stood helpless beside Paul. He didn’t know they’d planned that. When had they talked about it? He tried to remember if they’d talked about it, but he couldn’t focus.

The car ride home was quiet. Butch held Lucy’s hand, but neither spoke. Sarah and Paul doubled down on their parents’ silence.

The weather outside was warm for a spring day, but the atmosphere inside Butch Gregory’s home was cold.

 

II

 

Tommy Bothers brought the meeting to order.“As you know, this is a special board meeting called to discuss the sorry state of our church.”

“Come on, Tommy!” Dr. Gerald Land said. “You’ve not made a fair characterization at all of what our situation is. Your pejorative term is not appreciated.”

“Appreciated or not,” another voice chimed, “Tommy’s words are spot on. Things ain’t good.”

Tommy enjoyed this moment. He’d anticipated it, or something like it, for years, for as long as he could remember. It was his destiny. Tommy carried a mood about the whole arrangement. Last year he was elected board chairperson. His father and mother had politicked hard for him to earn the position, and their work paid off. He had endured the troublesome Butch Gregory long enough. Tommy knew how church should work. He knew what Sydney Community Church needed. He knew the solutions to their problems, and the solution started with removing the old preacher and finding a new one.

A younger one.

A smarter one.

A professional one.

A sensible one.

A compliant one.

But he had to be careful. There were difficult waters yet to navigate. Tommy knew he needed to be cautious. It couldn’t look as if he was working solely to get Butch fired. He had to make a logical case for a change in direction. It must look as if he was doing the hard things and saying the hard things for the church’s sake. Most people in the church loved Butch more than words could express, and the old guy had allies on the board. But the preacher’s power had waned

 

[to keep reading, you can purchase the novel for Kindle ($3.99) or paperback ($14.95) by clicking here]

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In Which I Argue With A Book

Argue is the right word. I argued with this book–or, to be more specific, the author of this book.

The author in question is Yuval Noah Harari and the book is 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. I picked it up at a bookstore during Christmastime. It is one of those books I buy from time to time to keep my wits sharp. I knew the worldview would be different from mine, and that is what I was looking for. The book has 323 pages of actual text, plus a large appendix of notes and an index. Although the material is weighty, it is an easy read written in a dialogue style. He has previously written two other bestsellers titled Sapiens and Homo Deus which I have not read. Unknown

At times it was enjoyable, funny, profound. At other times it was infuriating, depressing, and nonsensical.

What I Really Liked

There are two things I really liked about the book. The first is the opening 150 pages. If I narrowed it down even further, it would be the first 84 pages in which the author analyzes the technological challenges the future holds for human beings. I found this section riveting and spellbinding. Harari opened up ideas and thoughts, particularly about the role of AI in the human experience, I had never previously pondered, and for this I am thankful. In my opinion, the entire book is worth the buy and the read for just this part of the book.

The second thing I really liked about this book is that he devoted an entire chapter to science fiction. That’s right, Harari believes science fiction has a vital role to play in understanding and appropriating our human future. As an author who has a science fiction book he wants to release (Deep Cove Anthology) later this year and whose current WIP is a science fiction novel, this is good news. Now, I do think the author puts too much pressure on science fiction to perform a social good. Literature can only go so far, man. He does have a very interesting take on the movie Inside Out that any Pixar fan should take a look at.

What I Liked

I liked the way this book evoked in me a desire to think and argue with the author. I read it with a pencil nearby, and constantly wrote on the pages. Sometimes I agreed and wrote that, other times I wrote impromptu refutations. I must have sharpened my pencil twenty times. This is why I bought the book, but it far exceeded my expectations. Harari is an intellectual provocateur who takes things to an extreme situation in order to force us to ponder the logics of it. For people like me, this is fun.

What I Didn’t Like

I didn’t like being called a fool. In several places in the book the author portrays anyone who believes in God–whether it is the God of the Bible, Allah, or Thor–as a fool. Harari portrays himself as a strict realist who only looks at the facts, but he deludes himself by shuffling the deck of facts in favor of himself and his worldview. This did not become fully apparent until the last chapter of the book, and it was then that I realized what as going on.

What Surprised Me

There were two surprises. One, Harari holds an odd position in that he is what I would call an Atheist Calvinist. He absolutely does not believe in free-will or choices. For him, everything is determined. His is not just biological determinism that tell us genes determine heart disease and lifespan. It goes much further. He perceives all our choices are made for us by culture, biases, religion, politics, and advertising. You didn’t have a taco for lunch today because you wanted it and you chose to. You and the taco for lunch today because your brain is preconditioned by pressures and stimuli you can’t possibly act against, so therefore, it was predetermined you would eat the taco.

The second surprise was the ending, and I have already alluded to it. Throughout the whole book Harari trashes any kind of spirituality or religious experiences, then in one of the boldest bait and switch moments he finishes by trying to convince the humble reader the key to it all is meditation and getting into contact with your mind as opposed to your brain.

I was very disappointed, and suddenly his anti-God stance made more sense. He is an evangelist for a new kind of faith–a faith not in God, not in self, and not in humanity. Harari peddles a faith in awareness and experience. This is why many of his thoughts are fatalistic.

Final Evaluation

Read this book if you want to be challenged, argue with the author, and think about things from a different perspective. Do not read this book if you are easily offended by other worldviews.