Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pancakes or Prayer?

The International House of Pancakes has sued Kansas City based International House of Prayer over use of the acronym "IHOP":

IHOP (pancake), based in Glendale, Calif., has sued IHOP (prayer), based in Kansas City, for trademark dilution and infringement. The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, essentially said there was room for only one IHOP and that would be the restaurant chain that has been using the initials since 1973.

The religious group drawing thousands from around the world to south Kansas City to prepare for “end times” was started just 10 years ago.

And I was amused at this:
Thus the question, why sue now? The church mission started calling itself IHOP a decade ago.

“They’ve expanded — and now some of the branches are serving food,” [IHOPancake spokesman Patrick] Lenow said.

IHOP (the religious one) is based very near where I preach in Kansas City, and their future headquarters is set to be constructed pretty much across the highway from our building.

I don't know much about the IHOPrayer, but apparently they're, well, a little kooky:

The IHOP (prayer) on Red Bridge Road operates 24/7/365, sending a never-ending digital signal of prayers to Jerusalem, where it streams live on God TV for broadcast all over the world....

IHOP (prayer) was started by a man named Mike Bickle, who by his own admission grew up in a Waldo bar and claims to have traveled to heaven twice.

A friend of mine visited an IHOPrayer service with a young female he was interested in at the time. I asked him at the time if they gave little bottles of maple syrup to visitors. Apparently they don't.

Monday, September 13, 2010


From The Art of Manliness:

“Have upon your study table, always accessible, a good-sized substantially bound blank book. Whenever a germinant thought comes seize your pen and write it down. Such thoughts will come out of your special course of literary reading, out of your cursory scanning of current fiction, even out of the five-minute glance given to the morning paper, out of nowhere and from anywhere. Thought-compelling suggestions entirely foreign to the sermon on which you are just now engaged will frequently send you to your treasure book, and without any damage to present preparation you will scribble down a page of matter that will set you on fire at some future day just when you are in need of inspiration and help. Have also a special vest-pocket notebook and let nothing escape you.” -The Methodist Review, 1907

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Back On Murder
by J. Mark Bertrand
Bethany House, $14.99

I’ve long been skeptical of “Christian” fiction, which is why I usually avoid reading it. It’s something one wants to like, but can’t quite bring oneself to. Much like Christian pop music, Christian fiction is often so forced, so self-consciously holy that it can be hard to take. This is especially disappointing since the great fiction of Western civilization has always been Christian in the best sense of the word. The grand themes of the Christian story informed and undergirded it. What one desires first and foremost from Christian fiction is that it be good fiction with all the fundamentals of quality writing.

With this somewhat bleak background of opinion, I approached new author J. Mark Bertrand’s first solo novel Back On Murder (his co-authored Beguiled was released earlier this year). Bertrand’s self-appointed task is not simply to write a Christian mystery, but to write a Christian hardboiled mystery (think Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler). This may seem like a disaster in the making except that Bertrand gets it. He has not set out to write a “Christian mystery” at all, but rather a hardboiled mystery that is informed by the great themes of the Christian story. Rather than dropping the Acme anvil of Christianity on the reader’s head, Bertrand has sought first and foremost to provide us with a good story that is well written while being informed by the need for redemption in an often brutally sinful world.

In traditional hardboiled fashion, we are introduced to down and out Houston Police Detective Roland March who was once the golden boy of the department, but is now an unwanted, stumbling failure. He faces not only trouble at work, but also at home. His wife Charlotte is a successful attorney, but a chasm grows between them of unspoken origin. At work, March gets assigned to the cause célèbre du jour, the missing person case of Hannah Mayhew, an attractive teen who is also the daughter of a now deceased popular evangelist. He has hopes that a chance (?) discovery from another case will be his key to cracking the case and reviving his flailing career. Teamed with young and attractive up and comer Theresa Cavallo, March attempts to navigate the world of evangelical churches, police politics, ravenous media attention to his case and, ultimately, his own inner demons.

I must confess that at first I was a little put off by the staccato effect of March jumping from assignment to assignment, but that is really March’s frustration as well. Bertrand is letting us know that in the real world you don’t have an hour, including commercials, to smoothly solve a case with few distractions. It’s an authentic feature of the hardboiled genre. Bertrand also explores how media coverage influences investigative choices as well as the significance of the media choices behind that coverage. The media creates the cause célèbre du jour, which usually showcases a young attractive white girl as a victim. They then drive the story in their quest to fill the 24-hour news cycle. The police run the risk of “not doing enough” unless they feed the media machine with constant breaking news press conferences.

Bertrand does a nice job of exploring his characters, although the first person narrative doesn’t allow him a completely free hand. I would have liked to have seen a more depth to Hannah Mayhew’s mother, for example, but what we learn is what Roland March can learn. Special note has to be made of my favorite portrayal in the book, youth pastor Carter Robb. Robb is the self-flagellating spiritual mentor to the missing Hannah Mayhew. Bertrand skewers the modern evangelical youth leader with little more than straight-faced descriptions of appearance, from flip-flops to ever changing Christian “message” shirts. But Robb’s character is not cartoonish. It’s the realism of the descriptions that make them so hilarious.

While Bertrand successfully avoids the common dangers of Christian fiction—primarily its self consciousness—the real benefits are certainly found in Back On Murder. We’re not browbeaten with foul language and sexual encounters, such a staple of much of modern popular fiction. And Bertrand succeeds in integrating American religious life into a story whose protagonist himself is not religious. To read most fiction, or watch most television (or even the news), an outside observer would be shocked to find that tens of millions of Americans are active in churches throughout the country.

Back On Murder is the first in a projected series of Roland March mysteries. It is an auspicious beginning. Bertrand’s ultimate success is crafting a suspenseful story that not only draws you eagerly from chapter to chapter, but leaves you anticipating the next installment. As publishers constantly throw new fiction on the wall to see what sticks, Back On Murder tells us that Bertrand deserves to hang around.

[Readers of Theosebes may be familiar with J. Mark Bertrand as the man behind the excellent Bible Design Blog, well worth checking out.]