The Scoop often features an original essay, story, or poem by one of our students, past or present, or by one of our professors or good friends.

From The Parable of Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, by Nicole Rivera

Be Abnormal

Sirius on Barty Crouch, Sr. – “Crouch let his son off? I thought you had the measure of him, Hermione! Anything that threatened to tarnish his reputation had to go; he had dedicated his whole life to becoming Minister of Magic. You saw him dismiss a devoted house-elf because she associated him with the Dark Mark again — doesn’t that tell you what he’s like? Crouch’s fatherly affection stretched just far enough to give his son a trial, and by all accounts, it wasn’t much more than an excuse for Crouch to show how much he hated the boy … then he sent him straight to Azkaban.”Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, (p. 528)

Voldemort to the Death Eaters – “You ask for forgiveness? I do not forgive. I do not forget. Thirteen long years … I want thirteen years’ repayment before I forgive you. Wormtail here has paid some of his debt already, have you not, Wormtail?” Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (p. 649)

Hagrid on Dumbledore – “Dumbledore was the one who stuck up for me after Dad went. Got me the gamekeeper job … trusts people, he does. Gives ‘em second chances …”  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, (p. 455)

Voldemort and Crouch were more concerned with their ambitions than with people. Dumbledore was more concerned with people than his ambitions—a lesson he learned much earlier in life (see Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows). Because of his emphasis on people he was able to look past faults and give second chances. He didn’t judge people based on how they served his need or desire, he judged people on the basis of who they could become. He believed the best of people so he was able to look past the worst.

What was so different about Dumbledore? How was he able to rise above his ambitions in a way Voldemort could not? If you’ve read through the series a number of times, which I hope you have or will because the best learning comes with repetition, you should recognize this answer: It was Dumbledore’s ability to love that set him apart from Voldemort and Crouch. Indeed that same ability sets possessors of it apart from most normal people. It is not normal to truly love. That sort of power is born out of extreme abnormality.

It is normal to do what makes us happy. To focus on our goals and dreams. To strive to get what suits our tastes. To judge others more harshly than we judge ourselves. To not forgive. To never trust. Those things are all normal.

If not, there wouldn’t be so many shopping carts left pell-mell in parking lots. We would be selfless and caring enough to take the time to put our carts up so that those who come behind us won’t have to struggle with a mess. If not, children wouldn’t bring in pirated movies to class for the teacher to show with no inkling that pirating media could be wrong or that they could get arrested for stealing. Instead they would think of all the employees who work on movie sets and have families of their own to support—the janitors, the food service people, the set painters, who are robbed every time their employer is robbed. If not, taxpayer money wouldn’t have to go toward street sweepers to sweep up all the trash dumped out of car windows. We as loving, courteous drivers would think of the mess we would cause for others before disposing of our gum or coke cans or fast food bags. If not, we wouldn’t need government programs for the poor. There would be no hungry, starving children because we would take care of one another. We would feed one another instead of gorging ourselves. Clothe one another instead of packing our closets to overflowing. Have enough left over at the end of the month to aid a struggling family instead of spending every penny we make, and then some.

Love, true love, is rare and does not come naturally. It is born out of a choice to set aside self and focus on others. You’ve likely heard the following verse before, even if you’ve never read the Bible. It is read at many weddings:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Love is patient. Love does not cut other drivers off in line to get on or off the expressway. Love does not spout out harsh comments when someone else’s actions delay us. Love does not demand everything right here and now.

Love is kind. Love holds the door open for the lady with the stroller. Love lends a helping hand when a friend or neighbor is moving or having a tough day. Love picks up her own mess so that someone else doesn’t have to do it. Love shares with others.

Love does not envy. Love does not begrudge the nice things others have. Love does not desire to take from others. Love does not pirate media because the taking is easy and so-and-so makes enough money anyway. Love does not steal when love does not have. Love does not feel entitled.

Love does not boast. When there is more than plenty, love does not proclaim fortune from the rooftops. Love does not speak about how amazing or gifted or incredible her own achievements are.

Love is not arrogant. Love does not believe himself more important or valuable than another. Love does not ignore the bellboy at the hotel but speaks to him like a friend and thanks him as if he volunteered to bring the bags to the room. Love does not treat the waitress as if she’s a slave but thanks her with every request.

Love is not rude. Love does not behave impolitely or display bad manners. Love does not say everything that comes to her mouth but only what is good and useful for building up. Love considers the customs of others and shows respect for them.

Love does not insist on its own way. When love does not get what he wants, he doesn’t make everyone else miserable in return. Love does not believe she is always right. Love does not push her way on others.

Love is not irritable. Love is not easily angered, but endures with patient understanding. Love is able to bring peace to problems instead of add hurt.

Love is not resentful. Love is quick to forgive and to take responsibility. Love recognizes that he is not perfect and so does not place the expectation of perfection on others. Love is quick to forgive faults and release anger.

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but with the truth. When a friend one-ups someone in a slick trade, love does not pat him on the shoulder. Love instead rejoices when the friend recognizes what he did as wrong and goes to ask forgiveness of the one he hurt. Love does not rejoice with her friend at getting the latest piece of gossip. Instead love rejoices when her friend holds her tongue and speaks only what is good and uplifting and necessary.

Love bears all things. Love takes on great weights and perseveres. When love is treated poorly, love does not turn sour but bears the weight of that ill treatment and turns it to good.

Love believes all things. Love believes the bad in people can become good. Love believes in others. Love believes in the ability for every man and women to achieve great feats.

Love hopes all things. Love does not let failure or downfalls or negativity keep him from hoping for the best. Love sees past the valleys because she keeps her eyes focused on the mountaintops.

Love endures all things. Love suffers patiently as her child goes through the teen years knowing just how difficult the transition into adulthood can be. Love endures ridicule. Love endures hateful persecution.

And lastly, love never ends. Not when he is hurt. Not when she is abandoned. Not at any point in life or in death. Love is here forever, to stay, unending.

Question: Are you love?

Challenge: Become love. Be the person who is more concerned with people than with ambition. The one who, like Dumbledore, is able to give second, third, and even millionth chances. The one who sees past the worst in people to the best.

I raise my right hand and announce that I want to be this person but I am far away from being love. In fact I’ve been the opposite of love for most of my life. I’ve considered myself better than others. I have demanded my own way. I have been rude to my parents. I have turned my back on being kind to friends because I didn’t want to be inconvenienced. I have envied other women their bodies. I have rejoiced with friends when they did very wrong things to achieve their goals. I’ve been extremely impatient and unforgiving—a flaw I am still fighting. I want mercy for myself but I struggle with offering it to others. I’ve gossiped—oh how I’ve gossiped. I’ve placed my ambitions above the value of people. In short I have been just as bad as Voldemort and Crouch, but I am deciding not to be that person anymore. I want to be more like Dumbledore. I want to see people, to love people, to give people as many chances as they need. I don’t want to achieve my goals and leave a wake of victims behind me. Life is about love. I want more of it.

But how do we do this? How do we become love? The first step is to accept love into our hearts.…

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

“This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” – 1 John 4:7-16 (NIV)

The way we love is by acknowledging Christ as the Son of God. Then God, who is love, comes to live in us. His Spirit guides, directs, and helps us to grow. As we grow—by hearing the word and applying it to our lives—we will become more able to express love. God is the power of love and Christ is the method by which we access love.

If you haven’t acknowledged Christ and you want this love, the challenge is to take some time to acknowledge him. Pray to God in your acknowledgement.

If you have already acknowledged Christ, the challenge is to pick one aspect of love (patience, endurance, kindness, etc.) where you struggle. Google: What does the Bible say about (insert the word)? Read through the scriptures that come up. Pick one or two you can post on your mirror, phone, desktop, etc. where you can read them daily or hourly. Out of those verses pick the one word you are focusing on: Patience, kindness, endurance, etc. And then, with the word and verse, formulate a statement you can use whenever you are tempted to go against love. For example, if your word is patience, your verse might be Proverbs 19:2 (ESV), “Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.” From there I would make my statement: Haste makes waste. Then when I feel impatience boiling in my chest and I feel the urge to rush, I can easily recall my statement. This has worked for me in battling my impatience and I also use this method for other faults of mine like the unwillingness to trust.

Verse: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” – 1 John 4:7 (NIV)

Prayer: God, I acknowledge Christ as your Son. Please come into my heart so I can be of love. Grant me your Spirit to guide me and grow me. Forgive me for all the unloving things I’ve done. I am turning myself over to your ways. Teach me and guide me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


On Writing, Morality, and the Artist’s Burden, by Sarah Withers

I am often asked in conversation what I intend to do with my degree once I’ve obtained it – the “doing” implying that education is strictly pragmatic and ought to be put to active use in some shape or form. For some time I played along and responded that I’d be a writer, of course, an occupation that I could do from home as I raise my future children. But after some thought on the topic and some inner delving to discover why indeed I chose this degree and what I desire to obtain from it, I’ve realized that I don’t want to “do” anything exactly with the knowledge I’ve obtained except to put all the abstract thoughts and feelings that have filled my mind since childhood down upon paper in a way far better than before.

Nowadays I answer the question quite differently. “I chose this degree because I wanted to become a better writer,” I say, “I don’t want to do anything except to write, and write well.” I want to call into question whether an education must solely provide income or practicality to a person’s life. Why not merely self-betterment? Perhaps a more basic question to ask is this: why write at all? In that case, why do anything at all? The work of mankind must purpose on towards an end, and all meaningful things in life must be teleological. What is my end? To glorify God. To enjoy him forever. In light of this, I write.

The artist has a burden. This burden is to transform abstract truth into a tangible reality. In this sense, Art is moral. But perhaps this is not so strange as it sounds. Perhaps art is moral by necessity, in that art, true art, is always moral and can be no other way. If morality means presenting truth and not gilded falsities, then there is no such thing as immoral art, just as there is no such thing as dry rain. Morality is a necessary quality of art.

And by this I don’t mean that the characters in novels or scenes in paintings ought to present only perfect people and situations. Far from it! To do so would be trite and untrue to reality. What I mean by morality and truth in art is that the artist must portray human nature and life accurately. What are the basic fundamentals of the universe and the heart of man and how can they be represented in a sonnet or a song?

This, this is art. Moral and real.

If this, then, is the burden of the artist, than the goal of a writer should not bow beneath popular culture and tradition. Artists must create art because it is in their nature to do so, and to defy it would be to smother a part of their souls. If anyone can sell their soul to the devil it is the artist who gives up this burden for wealth and glory. No one can serve two masters. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The art reveals the heart.

Art reveals the real even as creation speaks to the truth of God. Even when the stubborn heart of man refuses to acknowledge Him who formed us from the dust, still their art is testament to the creator. Their art will inform the world about what they themselves could not see. And because of the rich heritage of art in this world passed down from age to age I am inspired to take up the pen. My goal is set, but the burden remains.

The Scoop, October 2013 features our friend Alan Russell:

Alan’s Big Announcement:   ST. NICK

The actor John Ritter died ten years ago, on September 11, 2003.  It is a day I will never forget.

I never had a chance to meet Mr. Ritter in person, but it almost felt like I knew him.  He was one of those actors who could always reinvent himself, and was adept at both comedic and dramatic roles.

My brief association with Mr. Ritter came as a result of my novel ST. NICK.  I wrote the first draft of that novel more than a dozen years ago.  It’s a cop story, but more than that, it’s a Christmas story.  When I finished the novel my literary agent sent the book to my film agent, and immediately there was movie interest.  The book was optioned for film first at one studio, and then at another, and another.  Screenwriters were attached to the project, as well as producers.  Every studio, from Columbia Tri-Star to Disney, told me they were going to make the film.  Like most Hollywood projects, it just didn’t happen.

Over the years whenever I was asked which of my novels is the most successful I always replied, “It’s a book that’s never been published.”  And then I would tell them about ST. NICK.  My agent and I wanted to tie-in a book deal with the movie, and because that didn’t happen the book remained in limbo.

On September 10, 2003, my film agent called me with the good news.  He said ST. NICK was finally going to be made into a movie.  It had a green light, he told me, as a result of the actor that had attached himself to it.  My film agent discussed the proposed details, and said he would be FedExing me the contract the next day.

I went to bed excited.  I felt like a kid again on Christmas Eve.

The next morning my wife awakened me early.  She said, “Is the movie deal dependent on the actor?”

I said something like, “Yeah, of course, it wouldn’t have a green light if it wasn’t for . . .”

Even though I was groggy, my wife’s expression and body language told me more than I wanted to know.

“Don’t tell me John Ritter is dead,” I said.

She nodded.  Both of us were numb.  Since that time we have replayed that moment in our minds hundreds of times.  It is one of those events you can’t forget.  I felt bad personally; I felt bad for the Ritter family; I felt bad for the movie that was never made.  I always wondered what magic Ritter would have brought to the role of my world-weary cop Nick Pappas.

With the death of Ritter, the ST. NICK balloon burst.  My agent and I decided that it just wasn’t the right time to put the book out there.  A few years after Ritter died there was interest from another studio, and I was paid to write the screenplay, but nothing ultimately came of it.  Now and again my agent would talk about submitting ST. NICK to one publisher or another, but I don’t think either one of us had the heart for it.  The book just sat.

It’s always a mistake for an author to fall in love with one of his books.  That is a sure recipe for heartache.  And so it was with ST. NICK.  It’s a novel I love more than any of my others.  I can’t tell you why this is.  It just is.

This year I decided we had done enough grieving.  This year I decided enough time had passed.  I wanted ST. NICK to finally be published.  And in November of this year (only two months from now!) it’s finally going to happen.

Thomas & Mercer loved the book, and wanted to bring it out in time for Christmas 2013.  They thought the best way to do this was in a six-part serialization.  Every week for six weeks they will be bringing out a segment (at the end of which the book will be available in “regular” book form).  For the past two months I have been reworking the novel so as to make it a perfect serialization fit while at the same time trying to enhance the novel as a whole.

In the coming weeks I will provide more details about the book and its serialization, but at this time I am excited to be able to pass on this news.  It has been a long time coming.  At even though at this writing it’s not yet the middle of September, I want to wish everyone Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Meet up with Alan at his website: www.alanrussell.net


The Scoop, September 2013: from Sarah Withers, written in response to a series of podcasts by Erwin McManus of Mosaic Church in Los Angeles:

On Art 

           I believe that man is created in the image of God.

Created in the image of God. We were born out of infinite creativity, and in his image, we are likewise creative. Deep echoes unto deep, and our nature responds to the nature of him who formed our substance from dust. Our soul, our very essence, demands creativity. In all areas of life we have the potential to express this deep communion; it is only human.

Some have said that because all are created in the image of God, all are artists. Certainly, all are creative. In the ways that we form unique thoughts and act upon them: planning, shaping, evolving and constantly bettering our methods. Even in something as humanly basic as cellular regeneration or procreation, we see how physically and spiritually we cannot escape our creative nature. By nature we bring forth newness and life.

Yet, I find I cannot say that all are artists.

I believe we’re missing here a crucial definition; what is art? If art is merely creativity, then all are artists and all is art. Like the age-old maxim that “everyone is special,” art becomes meaningless and trite when expanded so broadly that it encompasses everything. All are special, all are artists; no one is special, no one is an artist. In order to avoid sinking in the sand of postmodernism, we must narrow the scope and differentiate between concepts that are similar, but not the same.

Art is the use of the subjective to reveal the universal, a symbol manifesting reality. Art is relevant to all people at all times and places because it expresses objective truths about our human condition. We are sons of Adam. We all experience life under the sun. We all die, too.

Whatever this is, whatever we want to call it, creativity cannot sum it up. One can be creative in their occupation as a nurse, a businessman, a police officer, but one is not expressing objective truths through universal symbolism in doing so. Life is not art because life is what’s real. Art is a symbol revealing the real. This is not mere creativity; this is something deeper. The symbol wrapped up in the crescendo of a concerto and the metaphor in a sonnet bear a far deeper expression of not just the artist’s soul, but all souls. Creativity is an expression of the self. Art is an expression of humanity.

And this is in no way belittling creativity. In expressing ourselves we express our nature, our soul. We showcase our likeness to our creator, infinite God. This is no small thing. But artists bear the privileged burden of summing up humanity in all its glory and flaws. The rest of the world has the joy of being able to look into the mirror held up by Bach and Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare and Van Gogh, and see their own reflection and all the world’s, captured fully and exquisitely. For when you meet with Hamlet and Mr. Darcy, or hear Beethoven’s fifth, or join the blind beggar crying out along the dusty Jerusalem road, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me,” and your own soul is met in theirs, unity is glimpsed. The human condition is realized through human expression. All mankind is able to commune. And in this communion, we break not bread, but barriers.