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.

.wyatt-russell-in-the-black-mirror-season-3-episode-playtest

And watch Black Mirror. 

 

 

 

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

Mind the Gap

Some thoughts on the quandary of ‘crossover ‘ Christian Fiction.

The ‘too Christian for secular and too secular for Christian’ phrase has been popping up like the proverbial bad penny in recent online discussions. Seems the ‘professional’ consensus is an aspiring Christian writer must fall firmly on one side or the other is they want to go pro, be taken seriously, make a living at their craft.

Couple things:
I’m as willing as any aggravated non-believer to toss ham-fisted didactics in the critics’s den. Good riddance, I say. Dramatized sermonizing tends to be as painfully tedious as it is blatantly contrived. I think it was Dorothy Sayers who noted ‘pious trash is still trash’. Amen, sister. Throw it out.

Now I’m still learning how to both be a better Christian and better writer, so I’m not claiming mastery here, but as someone who does not see all art as a sermon platform and who strives for excellence in my work, I’m wondering at the wisdom of the ‘either/or ‘ stance as a professional mandate.

Learning curve aside for the moment, I’m unconvinced including explicit Christian content where it’s organic to the plot and characters makes one less professional, a wanna-be hobby or ‘weekend writer’. I’ve read enough thinly disguised ‘allegories’ from Christian authors that dripped with ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink. See what I did there? Biblical worldview! Aren’t I clever?” to not want to read any more. Those are just as much an insult to readers’ intelligence as any evangelical trope – even more so, as the Christian coyness seems inherently dishonest.

The key phrase here is ‘where organic to the plot and characters’. Discerning the where and when on that is not so much a question of ‘courage v compromise’, but the cultivation of mature technique, developing the skills of writing fiction. Echoing Dorothy Sayers again: ‘For work to be considered God’s work it must first be good work’. Nothing ruins a good idea faster than a poor execution, but a poor execution doesn’t automatically mean it’s not a good idea. The correct response to a good thing done wrong is to do it right, not to dump it altogether

Next is the idea of embracing what makes you different as a person and artist. You want to jump on the latest vampire/zombie/whatever trend, go ahead. Not my cuppa, thanks anyway. Seems to me, if there’s going to be any ring of authenticity to a person’s art, an artist/writer of any stripe has to embrace, wrestle, and reflect their deepest dreams, fears, and beliefs. If that is Marxism, Humanism, Nihilism, so be it. I may not agree, but I respect passion and conviction where I see it. For me, that triumvirate includes my faith in Jesus as the Risen Savior. There it is.

Because faith in Jesus is at the wellspring of my character and creations, it’s going to come out, overt or otherwise. Integrity demands it. And when it does, someone, somewhere, some when is going curl their lip, lift their nose, and start pontificating on my “blatant proselytizing “. (Pontificating…see what I did there? nudge, nudge, wink, wink) There is an element of reproach to the Gospel, an opposition and hostility. That old ‘world, flesh and the devil’ thing. So unless your Christians are lobotomized dupes or vile hypocrites, expect some flak. And it’s worth noting flak usually means you’re over the right target.

Closing this, you know I have to trot out the patron saint of Christian spec-fiction as well as apologetics, C.S. Lewis. His call for ‘Christians who write’ over ‘Christian writers’ still stands. Would to God I have the savvy to pen something like “The Screwtape Letters”, let alone multiple trips to Narnia. Point is for me, St. Clive managed both overt and covert expressions of faith in his fiction. He applied as needed. My prayer then is to imitate in principle, then develop the skills to write my stories and be both a solid Christian and solid storyteller to an audience in this generation.

Back to work now. Thanks and have an excellent day.

Guest Post – Dave Alderman

Work emergencies hindered me from getting this up sooner. Apologies.

The Distractions of Christian Fiction

Some days it feels like this world is going to hell in a handbasket. I turn on the news or I fire up my Facebook feed and I marvel at all of the ridiculous issues people are making a stink about. Everyone seems to be offended about something or someone somewhere. We’ve entered an age of entitlement issues and quick tempers. Passion has become misdirected. Instead of fighting against human trafficking, government corruption, or an increasing number of homeless filling our streets, we’re advertising, sharing, and making a huge deal about Bruce Jenner’s decision to become a woman.

Really, people?

Why is it this generation seems to have an easier time shying away from the issues that matter and instead cloister around nonsensical topics that allow them to turn away from the blood and violence and sexual slavery and instead fight amongst non-believers of their cause on social platforms?

This is one reason I have a hard time engaging in conversations with people on Facebook or Twitter. I can’t find a lot of worthy topics to latch on to. My passion is better spent writing.

If you read through the Bible – yes, I mean both Old and New Testament – you’ll see that God constantly uses believers to enact change in the world. We are His instruments, tasked with bringing Christ and His message of salvation to a broken world. Instead, we’re detracted by engaging in issues that don’t really matter.

We’re distracted, which I’ve realized is the Enemy’s number one weapon against Christians. In any great war, if you’ve succeeded in distracting the enemy, then you can pretty much take complete advantage of your opposition and secure victory.

I think the same goes for Christian writers as well. Instead of engaging issues from a Christian worldview, we’ve written clean-cut alternatives to the secular content monopolizing bookstore shelves. We’ve become distracted by a misinterpretation of the ‘who’ Christian fiction is written for.

I see a ton of Christian novels (fiction, science fiction, fantasy) that only seem to exist to see how many times the word ‘Christ’, ‘redemption’, and ‘forgiveness’, can appear in a novel. These stories cater to Christians and in many ways ostracizes non-Christians to the point where nobody but Christians want to read Christian fiction. Many of these stories are not realistic, nor are the outcomes. Not always.

Christians are shying away from writing about the real-world to instead offer up a wholesome, purified, easy depiction of the Christian life.

Too bad the Christian life isn’t easy. It’s full of heartache, it’s full of sacrifice, and it’s full of pain. A lot of it. It’s the kind of life that Christ shines the best through because He is our Healer, our Deliverer, our Savior. People who are not in trouble do not need a savior, nor do they need a deliverer, nor do they need a healer.

This is why I write what I write. I write Christian fiction but with real-world content. Drug dealers, megalomaniacs, sorcery, betrayal, sacrifice and ruin fill the pages of my fiction. And in the midst of it is Christ, coming to save a broken individual, a broken world.

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It’s not enough to just write about this type of fiction. I want to publish it. That’s why I’ve created The Crossover Alliance, an online publishing company interested in pushing edgy Christian speculative fiction out into the world. Stories that the real-world can relate to. Stories of heartache and sacrifice and pain. Stories of healing, deliverance and rescue.

I have an Indiegogo campaign running right now to help raise funds for the first year’s expenses. Please head to the link – http://www.igg.me/at/TCA – to meet the team, read about the mission, and pledge to snag awesome digital subscriptions to our first year’s catalog.

My goal isn’t to prove that there is no need at all for tame Christian fiction, but that there is a serious need for Christian fiction that strives to resonate more with Christians and non-Christians alike.

IMG_0101David N. Alderman is an indie author of two speculative fiction series—Black Earth and Expired Reality. You can find all of David’s work at http://www.davidnalderman.com. He is also the founder of The Crossover Alliance (http://www.thecrossoveralliance.com), a publishing company specializing in edgy Christian speculative fiction. He participates in National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org) each year. When he’s not writing or spending time with family, you can find David gaming on any number of different consoles.

Thought for today


“Somehow or other, and with the best intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore—and this in the name of the one who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which he passed through the world like a flame. Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much worse for the pious—others will pass into the kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like him? We do him singularly little honor by watering down his personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.”

― Dorothy L. Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine

The Gospel according to Sci Fi


Consider the implications of the TED talk below. Or rather the ethical implications of this mind-blowing technology: techno-slaved insects/animals, designer hybrid pets, cloning, genetic engineering… If we do it with animals, it’s only a matter of time before the techniques and technology are used on people. Think it’ll never happen? We treat regular human beings with astonishing cruelty and callousness – how much more a being that is designed and grown? 50 Shades of Josef Mengele

One of my favorite books in recent years, Drew Magary’s ‘Post Mortal’, extrapolates a decidedly non-idyllic look at the near-future where age-freezing gene-therapy is developed, debated, then disseminated. Blunt, realistic, well-written, I highly recommend it to anyone, especially those wrestling with the inevitable struggle to integrate the Person and Principles of our faith with advancing technology in a global society. (Side note: I believe in the Rapture, but think it’s too often a cop-out of serious work and thought. After all, why dig deep or plan when you’re out of here at any minute, right?)

Far from being pagan or hostile, science fiction is an incredible opportunity for Christian writers. It challenges us to get a hold of Who and What we believe, then develop credible, consistent, working expressions of God’s redemption, compassion, and holiness. A cloistered, ‘Hold the Fort/Siege’ mentality won’t work. Does anyone actually remember the Alamo? Retreat and separation isn’t holiness – it’s heresy. All you’re really saying is ‘My God is small and stupid and no God at all.’

It’s a shame the TED talk cuts off. I’d love to hear the rest of the discussion.

But maybe that’s the point.

The root of the problem

Faith-based post for Sunday. Big idea I’ll try to keep brief.

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There are over two hundred types of cancer, says the Cancer Society. Of these dozens upon dozens of ways your own cells rebel in your systems and organs, it’s the same basic problem manifesting itself in different ways. These different cancers require different approaches, treatment regimens, but all have the same desired goal: to stop the cancer, the internal treachery, before it spreads and kills.

There’s a lot of talk in religion over Sin: what is sin? is this or that behavior a sin? is Sin A worse that Sin B? etc, etc, ad nauseum. Now it certainly needs to be addressed; sin doesn’t make you bad – it makes you dead. But the discussion of a problem should never be at the expense of its remedy. Christian faith is the good news about the Remedy, specifically that God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is the effective, authentic solution to our deepest problem.

and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. “You are witnesses of these things.…” Luke 24:46-48

It seems to me three core theological foundations get lost in the furor of these ‘Sin’ debates.

The first is that we sin because we are sinners. The Spiritual Cancer is in all of us – it just manifests differently. Or to put it another way, our problem with God isn’t so much our Crimes as our Criminal Tendencies.

This is Christianity 101: we are not simply sick or broken; there’s a nasty rebellious streak in all of us. God’s holiness doesn’t demand judgment on merely sick people. That’s tyranny, and God is not the Big Sky Bully. The problem is a willful, selfish aspect to our being that knowingly denies and defies God. The whole ‘Original Sin, Fruit of the Tree, Garden of Eden’ story wasn’t about Satanic deception and arbitrary disobedience; it’s about human beings rejecting God as the final authority on Good and Evil, insisting we know better and are accountable to no one, except perhaps ourselves and only if we want to be.

This brings us to the second issue, the big R-word: Repentance. There’s no Redemption without it because the first step is acknowledging the problem. Repenting or “metanoia” is more that compliance to morality or conformity to dogma; it’s changing your mind about who you are and who God is. It’s allowing God to be God once again. It’s admitting you and I aren’t the center of the universe, we don’t know everything, and that God as Lord, Creator and Savior has the final say over our lives, over what’s Right and Wrong.

The third foundation is people are saved by Who they know, not What they know. I’m all for sound doctrine, apologetics, credible and consistent theology. But directions to the doctor aren’t the same as the doctor. The guardrails and signposts on the narrow road to life are only there to help prevent wrecks and getting lost. Morality stems from what God likes/dislikes, Doctrine from what he said, but Salvation is a Gift from a Person. It’s an ongoing spiritual relationship with a living, resurrected Savior.

These two recent posts http://mycropht.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/judgecooking/
http://mikeduran.com/2013/10/interview-w-stephanie-drury-of-stuff-christian-culture-likes/
brought this statement to my attention:

MIKE: Loaded question: Do you think it’s possible to believe homosexuality is a sin and still be a “good Christian”?

STEPHANIE: It depends on how you define a “good Christian.” If by it you mean someone who falls in line with what their pastor or denomination says, then yes. If by it you mean someone who engages the teachings of Jesus fully and thoughtfully, then no.

I’m not going to try and understand the logic behind that assertion. It strikes me as a sad and silly statement on many levels. I agree emphatically with Katherine Coble that Christian faith doesn’t rest on my response to another person’s sexual behavior – It’s based on my response to Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible is no more ‘anti-gay’ than it is ‘anti-liar’, ‘anti-adulterer’, ‘anti-greed’, or ‘anti-thief’. Sexual immorality – of which homosexuality is one type – is clearly stated, numerous times, as symptomatic of Mankind’s isolated, broken and defiant nature.

I’m aware it’s not currently popular to say that, but see the ‘Repentance’ part above. I don’t get to say what’s right and wrong. But I also reject the fear and hate mongering against people who deal with that particular sin. God loves people and offers forgiveness, redemption and transformation to anyone who comes to Him.

I’ll end with this remarkable testimony. Have a good week.

Euthanizing God?


EUTHANIZING GOD?

Now that I figured out I’m not Flannery O’Connor, I’ve been mulling over my experience with representations of Christian faith in popular science fiction. Note, this isn’t a researched thesis, so take it with salt.

Asimov’s classic “Caves of Steel” was one of the first sci-fi novels I ever read. Turns out the antagonist/murderer is a fundamentalist Christian, or ‘Medievalist’, that the android character tells to ‘Go and sin no more.” Irony abounds. Flash forward four decades to John’s Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War”, (great book, btw) which whips out a ‘stupid Christian’ stereotype in one of the early scenes. We got a space elevator, baby. Who needs the Sermon on the Mount?

Perhaps my impression derives from a peculiar selection of sci fi novels. Maybe I’m being peevish. However, it seems to me most of the fictional future wants traditional religion gone. Buried. Forgotten.

Cause of death varies, but there’s no need for God in fictional tomorrow. I ran into yet another example in a (very good) self-pubbed cyberpunk novel the other night. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the typical ‘Christian as villain/idiot’ trope. It was past contempt to outright dismissal.

In this particular projection, some tectonic event/discovery finally allows Mankind to dispatch God like a cantankerous, embarrassing relation. After all, He clung to life long past any reasonable expiration only by preying on the impoverished and uneducated. About time, eh? Future man gets to excise religion like a useless appendage, a sort of appendix on the human condition. Offering a meager, questionable inheritance, Mankind jettisons religion for a bright and shiny rocket ship/microchip.

If that isn’t a prelude to dystopia, I’m not sure what is. (See Communist Russia for recent historical example)

Yes, I actually paid attention in Western Civ classes. Yes, I understand stereotypes exist for a reason. Yes, I keep up with the world news. No, I’m not a Luddite. It’s the unreality of that prediction, the sheer disconnect with history, psychology and humanity I find so inconceivable.

We can bandy statistics, quote surveys, play Copy & Paste with internet articles forever. I’m happy to talk about it, but I’ll refer you to CHRISTIANS ARE HATE-FILLED HYPOCRITES and HOW CHRISTIANITY CHANGED THE WORLD to ground the discussion first.

Before you think I’m whinging or lobbing hand-grenades over the cloister walls at marauding secularists, I am painfully aware of abysmally stupid extremes. As un-Christian as it is, I loathe and mock those folks too. (I remain convinced sarcasm is a divine attribute. God is helping me.) Fact is however, people have been wrapping their lusts in good causes forever; religion doesn’t get a pass. And it certainly doesn’t mean God is cruel or faith is inherently tragic, debilitating, or divisive.

My net-friend, fellow blogger and writer Katherine Coble recently posted an interesting article: Christian vs Christ-Following. It is yet another comment on the unenviable but inevitable reality of Christian reproach. When I use the term ‘Christian’, I refer to those who have identified with the person of Jesus, hold to the veracity of Scripture, and trust in the grace of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection as the remedy to their sin and death.

Credibility demands I grapple with extremists and blunderers, but realism acknowledges for every high profile failure, reprobate, and lunatic, there are scores of people striving for devout, authentic lives. Yes, those people are flawed, conflicted. Who isn’t?

My concern here is the plausible depiction of believers in spec-fiction, and the challenge to not trade the mystery of God, (what C.S. Lewis called the Numinous) for the convenient high-ground of Morality or a cast of contrived Baptisney-land caricatures. Both the Numinous and the Moral are essential if I’m honest to my faith, but I think mystery is what ultimately captivates, just as it’s the person of Jesus who ultimately saves.

My question to Christian authors is if we don’t wrestle with portraits of real believers, a real God, and real faith, who will?