Oasis: Faith under unfamiliar stars

Amazon’s Pilot Season has begun and for me, the winner is the SF show, OASIS.

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Without giving too much away, Richard Madden (from Game of Thrones) plays Peter, a young minister in the dystopia of 2032, who travels to Mankind’s last best hope, a distant space colony called Oasis where the best and brightest (and wealthiest) of Humanity is establishing a shiny new future for our species – a future without the ‘treacherous illusion of faith”. At least that’s what it was supposed to be until colony founder David Morgan suddenly and mysteriously invites Peter to take the ride through the Big Black Empty.

I think it best anyone interested experience the show for themselves, so I’ll avoid spoilers. But in my opinion, Oasis is the stand out show of the five potentials. It is the pilot, so there are some intentional plot holes and unresolved issues. Of course. It also comes off as smartly written, well acted, with great visuals and camera work. More importantly for me, it hits that spot where future science and technology intersect with human nature and religion, and portrays my particular faith (Christianity) in a solid, three-dimensional character. Peter comes off as human and humble, as well as definite and devoted, without being insipid or obnoxiously dogmatic.

Amazon’s ‘after-the-show’ survey wanted to know if I thought Oasis was the best thing I’d ever seen and could be my favorite show ever. Well… that’s impossible to say on the basis of a single episode. It all depends on where the writers go with the characters and what answers they forward through the show’s plot, but I will confess Oasis certainly got my attention. So much so, I spent some time in my shop today and as I closed up, I caught myself thinking, “Nice. I can go watch the next episode” only to remember a split second later that was all there was. So that’s a good sign, I think.

So if you’re fiending for a SF fix with some intrigue, substance, and perhaps a little soul, I highly recommend Oasis. Here’s hoping there’s enough of us to recommend it and get the show in production.

Have a  good weekend.

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Let the Stable still Astonish

manger

 

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child–
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place”?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
Of our hearts
And says,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place.”

–  Leslie Leyland Fields
***
I post this every Christmas for lots of reasons, my faith being the main one. Yes, I believe Jesus’ birth was critically important and that despite the dysfunction of organized religion, His  life and words are worth serious consideration.
I also appreciate this little poem because it takes the manger away from being a seasonal Disney-fied religious scene and brings it back to earth. It presents Jesus not as some magical, special ingredient to make my life life better – like flavored coffee creamer – but as a real solution to my deepest needs. It speaks of a God who knows and loves me despite myself. Of transcendent mystery intervening in the sordid particulars of the sad, strange mess of human history. It speaks of intention, of hope, of grace.
And for that, I am truly grateful.
Merry Christmas to you and yours. May 2017 be filled with happiness, health, courage, and compassion.
I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.
 – Jesus of Nazareth Jn. 10:10b

The Brilliant and Beautiful Rejection of San Junipero

Black Mirror, Season 3 Episode 4 that is.

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I am tripping on Black Mirror. My lips to God’s ears,  I wish I had the chops to write things like it.

As long as I’m confessing… I binged the first two seasons when they appeared on Netflix and have been spending most every spare minute on Season 3 since it was announced last week. Sort of a Twilight Zone on Crystal Meth and a 4G Wireless connection, the series has riveting plots, great writing, and pitch-perfect acting that synthesizes each episode into a polished splinter digging in that sensitive intersection of human nature, technological advances, and social trends.

That’s not saying I ‘like’ each episode or agree with the conclusions. It’s not Family Friendly by any stretch. (I suppose as a Christian, I’m not supposed to appreciate it, but frankly Scarlet…. ) Polished as each vignette is, the tone is brutally frank and deeply unsettling. I suspect the real reason it gets so uncomfortable at times is how authentic, incisive, and terribly plausible it all is.

Which brings me to San Junipero – the episode I watched during lunch yesterday.

As a thirty-one year Christian, former Christian Drama Team leader, pastor, and missionary, Sunday School teacher, Bible Study leader, etc, I can’t recall ever seeing such a brilliant and beautiful dismissal of religious faith. I mean that sincerely. I was speechless with admiration not choking on indignation. It was a slice of artistic genius.

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It would be difficult to explain line by line how San Junipero encapsulated such a momentous dismissal unless you’re familiar with the traditional Biblical worldview and you watched the episode. I don’t want to slather a spoiler-filled synopsis here. But if you’ve seen it,  I bet you’ll follow along: start with the distinctly secular, scientific premise of digitized consciousness/personhood, add the lesbian relationship, the one character’s heart-rending rejection by ‘strict religious family, the other’s poignant lack of faith concerning belief in ‘life after the death’ in the case of her spouse and daughter. Then so to the perpetual Spring Break hedonism of the virtual ‘afterlife’  – (in the 80s, no less)  Add it up and the underlying statements are plain: there is no soul, no Eternity, no spiritual dynamic to life, no accountability, no consequences.The episode is  a complete dismissal of and substitute for religious faith. The writers even managed to give  Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is a Place on Earth far more meaning than it ever had. (or deserves)

 Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh, heaven is a place on earth
They say in heaven, love comes first
We’ll make heaven a place on earth
Ooh, heaven is a place on earth

The purpose here is not to air my sniveling, or rate the show on some Faith- Based Approval Scale, or offer a Believer’s Public Service Warning. I really do appreciate the show. It is excellent and challenging.

If there’s a caution, it’s to myself. I know God’s redemption is real – I’ve experienced it in my own life and seen it authentically transform others in America and overseas.

That said, I’ve concluded lately that much of the Western church still operates under the illusion that many non-believers/other-believers need or want or are interested in the Gospel message. Maybe twenty-five years ago, but not anymore.  Not really. If anything these days, they’re indifferent. Or dismissive. Contemptuous. Even hostile.

The fact is, most folks are already confirmed and committed not just to carnal and consumer distractions but to a definite worldview. Or they have sought out and bought into alternative remedies to their questions and issues, selecting them from the drop down menu of hundreds of available options in our pluralistic, globally-connected, information age world. We Christians assume they’re hungry in quiet desperation when in reality they are all set and just ate. And yet we’re still knocking on the door with yesterday’s sandwich.

So my personal caution is this: as an artist and a writer, as a human being who believes and has experienced God’s Grace, I am convicted of my need to earnestly, diligently pray for His Spirit to inform and infuse my character, my words, and my work. The world is far better at everything than I am. And they have more of it. The only thing I really have isn’t even mine – the grace and truth that is in Jesus. And I can and should do my level best to pass that on as uncut and consistently as possible. But it needs to be in my bones not just on my bumper sticker. Because in the end, that is the only way I can be a genuine witness to His death, resurrection, and reality.

Have a nice day.

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And watch Black Mirror. 

 

 

 

Casting Stones and Stumbling Blocks

“A prophet gone wrong is almost always more interesting than your grandmother…”

  • Flannery O’Connor

 

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Been on the perimeter of yet another round of Believers Brick-Tag, i.e. the “Spec-fiction is a stumbling block/supernatural and,or worldly elements are a grievous offense” discussion, and I feel the need to stake out what seems incredibly obvious yet damnably elusive.

First off, let’s reiterate the distinction between theology and speculative fiction. One is the systematic study of God and religious belief, the other is – by definition  – made up stories.

Now I know atheists would say this is true of the Bible itself, but that’s a different discussion. To repeat my mantra: a novel is not a sermon. It’s one of those ‘apples and orangutans’ things, people. Similar raw material (words and ideas) but different modes, different purposes, different content.

You don’t get into an elevator for the music. You shouldn’t look for theology in a dystopian YA novel or an urban fantasy series. I know they make truth-claims and worldview statements either overtly or obliquely. EVERYTHING DOES. You must have heard the phrase ‘spit out the bones’. It’s time to exercise discernment – the same level one employs when selecting kitchen utensils to say, scramble eggs. “Put away the corkscrew and tenderizing mallet.”

If you want Christian theology, read the Bible, church history, and apologetics. Don’t get it from a Wachowski movie or a K-pop hit or a Marvel comic book or a “Left Behind” novel. That’s akin to making life-choices based on fortune cookies. Which would be bad. That some people do in fact cobble belief systems from Star Trek and Pink Floyd, then Quick-Pick their Happy Panda Lucky Numbers constitutes a severe failure in their judgment. (I suspect LSD and alcohol is a factor in such cases)

Second, let’s remember the distinctions between the artist, their art, and their audience. Souls are saved, art is not. Art is a product of a remarkable, mysterious synergy, but it is a construct nonetheless. Painting a night sky means you’ll have to break out a tube of black paint. It doesn’t mean you’re a ‘dark’ individual. Just don’t expect to sell it to folks who are partial to sunrises.

While the call to genuine character, sound thinking, and the fundamentals of Christian doctrine apply to every believer, the vocation of an artist – in this case, writer – is not that of the preacher or theologian. One employs drama, metaphor, allegory, and myth, while the other expounds on biblical spiritual truth and (hopefully) delivers an inspired rhema for a particular time, place, and congregation.

Both engage with the transcendent. Each borrows from the others toolbox. I’m not elevating one over the other- I’m simply noting they approach it from vastly different angles. See the C.S Lewis quote on Reason and Imagination. (Incidentally, doctrine is how we engage with the transcendent – not beat it into submission; directions to the doctor are not the doctor. Dreams about the doctor aren’t either.)

I happen to be a Christian who writes spec-fiction for a non-Christian audience. Part of my obligation before God is to recognize the conventions of the genre and the expectations of my readers. I have to be faithful to those dynamics too, then do the work to the best of my ability. And to echo Dorothy Sayers, work must be good work before it can be God’s work because pious trash is still trash.

Last, let’s distinguish between Realistic and Gratuitous, between being Sensitive and Pandering.

Let’s face it: “Christian gritty” is pretty tame. Many Christian fiction writers try to genuinely honor the conventions of their genres as well as strive for credibility, consistency, and realism, but we don’t come close to reality. Not really.

Not that our gold standard is Triple X Snuff Porn with a dash of Corporate Avarice and Ethnic Cleansing, but it’s worth remembering ‘worldly’ content is taken from the real world – a real world that is definitely not PG-13, that God still loves, hasn’t abandoned, and meets precisely at its shameful, broken, ugly point of need. That’s what the Cross was and Salvation is.

When writing fiction, I’m certainly not for inserting cruel, coarse, or lascivious content for shock or titillation. But realistic themes where and when they’re organic to the characters and story line? Absolutely. It’s mandatory, in fact. Anything less cheapens the work, and strikes me as inherently duplicitous and dishonoring to God.

Now that kind of content may well make some readers uncomfortable. Shock them even, to the point where the alarmist ‘stumbling block’ phrase gets volleyed about loudly and frequently.

Look, I’m all for being sensitive to someone’s weakness or struggles. I’ll refrain if I know someone has a problem. That’s basic human compassion and consideration. But I’m all done pandering to the ‘professional weaker brother’, those tedious brethren who make a habit, a career, a ministry of taking offense, then running around telling everyone. It’s deliberate immaturity, demanding everyone bend down because they refuse to grow up. We’re walking on eggshells while they stomp all over personal convictions, choices, and liberty. I’m going to make a lot of mistakes, but I’m not going to second guess myself into paralysis, mediocrity, and anemia.

Over thirty years as a believer, a majority of them in full or part time ministry of some kind, it’s my experience too many in the church prefer tidy affirmations to hard-edged hope. Christians in any walk of life or vocation have to reject the notion  that the call to be ‘in the world but not of it’ translates into a license to be ignorant or insular. The root meaning of “holiness” is not sterile separation but the notion of being set apart for a particular use. We cannot hide from ugly realities or contradictory philosophies (or worse, ridicule, reduce and sanitize them) then think we can be effective in addressing them with any meaningful offer of God’s redemption.

I’ll end with this thought from Harry Dreyfuss, actor Richard Dreyfuss’ son. (Good find, K.C.)

“If you can’t stand to listen to an idea, it does not prove that you oppose it. Refusing to show interest in a different perspective should not serve as a badge of pride in your own ideas. It actually serves the exact opposite function. It proves that you don’t even understand your own opinion. If you can’t understand the argument you disagree with, then you don’t have the right to disagree with it with any authority, nor do you really have a grasp on what your own idea means in its context.” – Harry Dreyfuss

Have a good day, and in the words of Chuck Wendig, “Go forth and art hard.”

St. Clive sez “Back off!”

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Something to help faith-based spec-fiction writers duck those spitballs from Baptisney-land:

“For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.”

― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Guest Post Dave Alderman

First in a series of Guest Posts for 2016. First up, the founder of the Crossover Alliance, a small press specializing in gritty Christian fiction.  I asked him to address the viability of faith-based fiction and its ability to impact secular, non/other-believing  readers. Here are his thoughts.

 

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It was only a few years ago that I decided to write a short story for NaNoWriMo entitled Black Earth. It was supposed to take a look at the universe of my Expired Reality series long before humans colonized another planet in the universe, back when the Earth was busy being destroyed by a vile alien force. Little did I know at the time that I was penning the basis for a four-book series that would determine the course of my writing – and even my career.

When I wrote the first book of the series, I realized the thing that made it unique was that it was science fiction, it was Christian fiction, and it was filled with real-world content. The first chapter contains a rape scene, and from there the book dives into areas that still are not acceptable in the fiction that the main Christian publishing houses put out. It was at that point that a new genre was born: edgy Christian speculative fiction. The birth of the genre eventually turned into the birth of the publishing company that I currently run: The Crossover Alliance. We specialize in this special type of fiction.

But publishing – even writing – this type of fiction is not without its hurdles. Besides having to overcome the stigma attached to Christian fiction, there are many who believe edgy Christian fiction is simply Christian fiction rife with F-bombs, sexual scenes, and gratuitous violence – essentially a PG-13 or Rated R Christian movie.

I would argue against that point. As much as I am a writer, I am also a reader. And I’ve read un-compelling fiction on both sides of the fence – Christian and non. I’ve read secular fiction that tried to stay sanitized and ‘safe’, and ended up being drab and unconvincing. I’ve read Christian fiction that tried to mask itself as fantasy, and ‘trick’ readers in the end by plugging Jesus Christ and salvation at the end of a very boring, very clique story.

When I wrote the first book in my Black Earth series, the rape scene found in my first chapter came naturally. My character, Cynthia Ruin, is considered the school whore because she bases her status on who she sleeps with. It isn’t until she is raped the night of her high school graduation that she begins questioning her actions. Her rape needed to happen, and the way I described it – from her point of view, drugged – couldn’t have had the same impact if I had just said that she was carried around a corner and then ended the chapter.

There’s a strange habit that Christian writers have adapted over the years where they believe their fiction has to be clean, pressed, and folded before it can be presented to the rest of the world. Or are they actually just trying to present it to other Christians? Maybe that’s the problem. Who are we writing for? Does that question really even matter? If we’re writing to Christians or non-Christians, don’t we all struggle with the same things? The only difference is that Christians have accepted salvation – well, supposed to have accepted salvation. So if it doesn’t matter to whom we are writing, does it matter why we are writing? If we’re trying to write to a dark world to show them the light of Jesus, wouldn’t it make sense to set the light of Jesus against a dark world within our stories?

This isn’t to say there isn’t an audience for straight up, Rated-G Christian fiction. But I don’t believe that type of Christian fiction is necessarily aimed at trying to show the light of Jesus to a dark world. I think those stories are meant to be sanitized fiction for a Christian-reading audience because the Christian-reading audience doesn’t want to read secular content. The problem with that is that we’re not reaching a non-Christian world. But that’s why the ‘why’ of what we write is important to figure out.

I think any good writer who involves themselves in this unique genre isn’t trying to be edgy just to be edgy. We’re trying to write authentic fiction that shows the world – the people in this world and the sins in this world – for what they truly are and how the light can both reveal the darkness and in the end chase it away. What is edgy anyway? Is it some foul language, some lewd scenes, some blood splatters? I think it’s simply content that pushes the real world into our writing, filling it with real issues: slavery, depression, mayhem, chaos, anger, promiscuity, lust. Good versus evil. Gray versus grey. There’s an undercurrent of tension that tugs at the reader’s heart and mind, that nudges and sometimes pushes them out of their comfort zone. It forces them to ask the hard question: Would you sacrifice ten for ten thousand? It forces the reader to face their own demons, the demons that live with them day to day. And then once the reader is brought to a place where they can no longer deny the darkness, the evil, then they are shown the light of the world, the salvation that is made available to everyone.

How do we know what is good unless we have seen or experienced what is evil? I think that’s what it boils down to. We shine the spotlight on the dark deeds to expose them for what they are. And that, my friends, is a scary way to write. It’s a scary way to read. But it’s the realest Christian fiction you will ever experience in your life.

 

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IMPORTANT LINKS

Website / Blog – http://www.davidnalderman.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/davidnalderman
Twitter – https://twitter.com/DavidNAlderman
Crossover Website – http://www.thecrossoveralliance.com

 

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Be sure to check out the latest Crossover Alliance Short Story Anthology. It’s out and available at Amazon. Check it out here.

CA ANTHOLOGY V.2

 

 

 

Merry Christmas 2015

Let the Stable Still Astonish

manger
Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child–
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place”?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
Of our hearts
And says,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place.”
–  Leslie Leyland Fields
***
I post this every Christmas for lots of reasons, my faith being the main one. Yes, I believe Jesus’ birth was critically important and that despite the dysfunction of religion, his  life and words are worth serious consideration.
I also appreciate this little poem in that it takes the manger away from being a seasonal Disney-fied religious scene and brings it back to earth. That it presents Jesus not as some special ingredient to make my life life better – like flavored coffee creamer – but as a real solution to my deepest needs. It speaks of a God who knows and loves me despite myself. Of transcendent mystery intervening with a plan in the sordid particulars of the sad, strange mess of human history. Of hope.
And for that, I am truly grateful.
Merry Christmas to you and yours. May 2016 be filled with God’s peace, courage, compassion, and creative power.
I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.
 – Jesus of Nazareth Jn. 10:10b