Let’s get our head on straight about this

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This ‘Sin’ issue, I mean.

This article below prompted a long-standing theological issue to surface yet again.

https://www.dailywire.com/news/39037/listen-popular-christian-singer-lauren-daigle-not-amanda-prestigiacomo?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_content=062316-news&utm_campaign=benshapiro

Basically a nice young Christian music celebrity can’t say for certain if a practice – homosexuality in this case – is a ‘sin’ on a TV talk show.

Not real news, right? There’s been a lot of hedging, loads of waffle and mince on this one lately, so this can’t be a huge shock.

So… she can’t? She won’t? Is our poor celebrity cowed by secular pressure? Choosing the ‘fear of Man’ over the ‘fear of God’? Is she more concerned about fame, approval, and music sales than her Christian testimony and a public declaration of Biblical morality?

Maybe. But maybe she simply doesn’t know. She said as much during the interview. I mean she had to know the question was coming, but perhaps she gave an honest answer.

Call me Reverend Obvious but “SIN” is definitely in the Bible. Jesus forgives us of our sin and saves us from our sin. That’s the whole point of the Old and New Covenants, or Testaments; God helping us address our sin problem. Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 to see what I mean.

That said, we need to return to a very subtle but critical understanding: we ‘sin’ because we’re ‘sinners’. Not the other way around. Doing a ‘bad’ thing doesn’t make you ‘bad’. The bad we do stems from a dark part of us. Each of us. It may come out different from our neighbor, but it does come out. Oh yes it does.

Basic Bible doctrine is clear that in every human being that ever lived, lives, and will live, there are two natures: the Imago Dei, or Image of God – And the Fallen, or Sin Nature. We are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of our creator  – and  yet we have a part of us that is isolated, broken, and defiant.

It’s from that second, dark part that selfish, cruel, manipulative, petulant, deceptive, rebellious character and conduct emerge.  This is a ‘Root’ versus ‘Fruit’ thing; the actions are symptomatic of a much deeper problem.

Of course many of us learn and grow. We sometimes see our errors and flaws, regret them and change. We lean into the Imago Dei to improve, to be better, to love more. But that other part, that Fallen bit, that twisted taint never leaves. Not ever.

It’s that deeper problem that concerns God. It’s the one Jesus came to address.

Now I don’t have my finger on the pulse of American Churches, but I need to emphasize real Christian Conversion isn’t Repression, it’s Regeneration. It’s not Indoctrination, it’s Transformation. We’re not talking behavior modification or the memorization of religious dogma. Genuine faith is supposed to engage the individual on a profound, personal level.

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A couple problems seem to stem from forgetting this vital dynamic: First is the idea of ‘grading’ sinful acts and the people who commit them. (I’m bad but not as bad as *points finger*)

No, I’m not suggesting moral equivalence – that a starving beggar stealing food is the same as ethnic cleansing. That’s ridiculous. I am saying however that individuals pointing fingers starts to sound like people in the Emphysema Ward belittling Cancer Patients. Do remember Lucifer fell from Pride.

And second, that God’s unconditional love somehow doesn’t distinguish between the two parts of our nature. It does. Fact: God loves you. Next Fact: That doesn’t automatically ‘save’ you.  Read this carefully: “God so loved the world, He gave His only Begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” 

I take it you’ve heard that before. Somewhere.

God loves us but we’re gonna perish because the Fallen Nature/character we’ve expressed in various willful denial, disobedience and defiance acts separate us from Him. I’m not talking mistakes, or accidents or ignorance. These are the willful deeds. The ones we know deep inside are bad, yet do anyway. Those are the ones that will indict us at Judgment.

At the end of the day, we disqualify ourselves.

Salvation is about admitting that. Confessing to that dark part, those dark acts, accepting forgiveness and allowing God to work in there on the Root. The bad fruit of that poison tree? If the root is dealt with, whatever it may be eventually withers away. Sure, for some, it might take longer and it’s not all going to get pruned on time. But the deeper issue has been resolved.

Simply put, faith is trust. Christian faith is trusting Jesus, not your own nice, possibly substantial  but ultimately insufficient good intentions/philosophy/religious affiliations/charitable deeds to compensate for the times you blew it.

So why this and what does it have to do with writing fiction?

As a Christian, I felt the need to put it in the public arena once more.

As a Christian who writes, I am once again reminded to invest my characters with genuine conflict and complexity. If they’re going to do any real heavy lifting, they have to be real enough to bear the weight.

Have a great day. Art Hard.

Thoughts on ‘art’ as ‘ministry’

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When churched people learn I’m a stained glass artisan who also writes fiction, after they recover from the initial surprise, they often spin my vocation as some form of ministry. (After all, it’s artistic, not practical. Not ‘real’ work, eh) So my windows must be for churches and my stories about Jesus or theology. Or maybe the End Times – that’s OK too.

If I have the time and enough of a relationship with the individual, I try to explain my “Christian” testimony in these contexts actually consists of me treating my client well, doing the work honestly, on time, on budget, and meeting or exceeding expectations in terms of design, execution, and craft. It does not mean I incorporate the shape of a Cross in the window or hide the face of Jesus somewhere in the pattern. And when it comes to writing, well my speculative fiction pieces are most definitely NOT dramatized sermons with Chapter and Verse cross references. In fact, I caution some people against reading my stuff because I sense they’re looking for moralistic parables or family-friendly entertainment. My stuff will only confuse them.

Over the years I’ve encountered various reactions that range from relief through perplexity to downright distrust. Some people understand. Others simply aren’t wired for it. Some are in different  places in their faith, and a few are so locked in to a particular mindset about religion, that any derivation is deviation and immediately suspect. Even though I’ve run this gauntlet many times, I’m on edge whenever it comes up; I’m not looking to argue or persuade someone against their convictions. I’m simply doing what God has set before me – however clumsily.

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After this morning’s devotions, my eye caught the spine of a book on one of my overflowing shelves: Dorothy Sayer’s ‘Letters to a Diminished Church’. Opening it, it fell to a dog-eared page.

“The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.

   Church by all means and decent forms of amusement certainly – but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. Not, if they did, could anyone believe they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.

   Yet in Her own buildings, in Her own ecclesiastical art and music, in Her hymns and prayers, in Her sermons and in Her little books of devotion, the Church will tolerate or permit a pious intention to excuse work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent draftsman.

   And why? Simply because She has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be called a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work.”

This absolutely rings true for me. This is what makes me strive to be a better, more creative stained glass artisan and to write more honestly and skillfully. I hold myself against this standard whenever I step up to my worktable or sit down at my desk.

And this principle right here is why I urge any believing artist never to shy away from honing their craft and employing any and all the conventions of their medium and genre to make good work. Excellence should always be the mark of Christian endeavor. Our worldview provides us with a foundation, not a straitjacket. Faith is inherently supernatural. It is wings, not chains. It is a benchmark gauge, not a Procrustean Bed.

Don’t accuse me of advocating gratuitousness here, I’m not. By all means be gracious and aware. But Christian artists must access all the tools available to them so their work – whatever that is – stays true to itself and thus to God.

No, I won’t always thread the tension between my flawed understanding and the reality of God without a hitch. But I have to do the work set before me, tackle each project honestly to the best of my ability, and trust it is God who works in me both to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phil. 2:13)

Trust God. Go forth and Art hard.

Have a good day.

 

 

  • PS: This is also the reason I’m simultaneously stunned and irritated with ‘Christian’ services like VidAngel that censor naughty language and ‘offensive’ scenes from television/movies like Netflix’ recent “Black Mirror” and “Bright”. As if cuss words were the defining factor in secular content and not hearing them somehow makes me more Christian, or renders the show magically ‘God-fearing’ and acceptable. Those folks are cashing in on a cloistered religious mindset and utter lack of discernment.
  • BTW, ‘Black Mirror’ is a disturbing as it is brilliantly incisive. I wish I had the chops to write those kinds of stories.

 

 

Thoughts on the Conventions of Genre and Faith

 

” Those French have a different word for everything.”

– Steve Martin as huffy ‘Merican tourist

 

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I’ve come to accept the fact – but not really comprehend – there are people who don’t read. Like, at all. It’s an exertion, painful on the same level as a marathon or a colonoscopy. And of those who do read as a past-time, there are some who don’t read fiction, especially speculative fiction. My brother for example sees no value in the Lord of the Rings, which to him is a bunch of short people and pretend creatures running around a make-believe land after a stupid piece of jewelry.

So… yeah.

(we are related – I checked.)

Sure you’ve got those dark suit, bowl-cut, body odor, Bible-quoters who hold any entertainment to be vain, carnal, and worldly.  “It’s all going to burn, brother.”  (real-life quote example, that)  Like the poor, they will always be with you, so leave them alone to mutter and scowl in the corner. In general though, I think fiction like poetry has lots of folk who don’t ‘get it’. Lack of or poor prior experience, too intellectually lazy, or some other reason. Other folks simply aren’t wired that way. They’re eminently practical. Fiction is just not their thing, and I’m OK with that too.

Not so for me. I remember walking into the Big Hall at GenCon 2000 and realizing I was part of a huge, weird, cool secret society. The Cult of Geek. It was as much a relief as revelation. Since then, transitioning from genre reader to genre writer, I’ve come to understand even more that Sci Fi, Fantasy, Horror… Spec-Fiction Genres are languages. They are distinctly different vocabularies from Normal; the jargon of real, day-to-day, life. In fact, I’ll go further and say Genres are separate countries, entire worlds even. Speak at length with a Hard Core Star Wars or Warhammer 40K Nerd and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Genres have evolution, histories, archetypes, symbols,  idioms, nuance…it’s incredible, and implicit to good genre-writing is a deft handling of those dynamics in manners that satisfy, even stretch and exceed the audience’s expectations. It’s hard to pull off, to be fluent, and not everyone will understand, but those that do, appreciate it. That is the mystery and magic of allegory, of parables. I think my first point here is that Discrimination – in the sense of a select audience – is perfectly OK.  Not everyone is going to enjoy, understand, or accept my work. It’s high time to stop being surprised.

The next hurdle I see is the challenge of approaching creative endeavor with an ideology, in my case a theological one. Don’t kid yourself: all art makes a statement  – overt or otherwise, religious or not –  because it springs from the mulch of the artist’s life. Having a defined worldview makes the challenge that much stranger because it either forms a strong foundation or  reduces it to propaganda. So not only does the fiction writer have to hone craft but they have to avoid capture. Sort of sculpting smoke while waltzing through a minefield. The wisps of imagination have to form an entertaining, yet credible make-believe world (a ‘lie that tells the truth’) without  shrinking or spoiling the medium.

I get that some people will scorn or be hostile to my faith. Getting your worldview shat on is part of the package. (part of Life, actually) The last thing I want though is my stories to be Terrariums for Pet Rocks: painfully, obviously contrived, tiny, artificial environments for my cherished doctrines.

So as I hammer away at my next novel, consider October’s Viable Paradise workshop, and view the recent Hugo dust-up in light of my own faith and artistic struggles, I’ve still of a mind to sink my roots deeper while growing wings. For me, it’s not an ‘Either/Or’ dilemma – it’s translation problem. God help me to learn the language and be an effective communicator.  An oracle, even.

 

 

 

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.

The Grim Fall notes

WHO CAN YOU TRUST WHEN THE GODS BETRAY YOU?

Tagline for my next novel right there.

Eshu International and Clar1ty Wars are going to stew on the back burner for a while. The Grim Fall is the project that’s banging inside me demanding to be let out.

So the initial outline is complete and I’m 15K into the first draft. To explain, The Grim Fall is a post-apocalyptic quest story set in a desolate, shattered fantasy world. The Gods managed to murder each other in their final cosmic battle before they could destroy all creation, allowing for a post to this particular Apocalypse.

My goal is Lord of the Rings meets The Road. To chain High Fantasy to a cement truck and drag it through Chernobyl for a while. I’m busting with ideas on what that looks like, and what fantasy world survivors would morph into to survive in such a place.

Worldview-wise, it’s my examination into/dramatization of people’s reactions to religion’s disappointments, failures, even treacheries. (Kinda the ultimate betrayal if the ultimate thing you trust throws you under the bus.) Like the tag line asks, who can you trust when your own gods let you down? Do you trust anyone or anything ever again? Can you find authentic faith in the ruins of a scorned, broken world?

On a practical note, while letting my imagination run, I’ve had to constantly rein in The Grim Fall because the story wants to escape into the bad lands and mutate in magical irradiated solitude into something rabid and monstrous. Methinks this is gonna be one huge novel, or maybe even a three-parter. I’ll know more as I write more, so that’s a decision for later. In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away. I plan on contacting my cover artist soon. I need some visuals to prop up the increasing page count. I’ll post excerpts as I can.

Thanks for stopping by and have a great apocalypse-free day.

One for my ‘concerned’ brethren

When I mention my fiction writing in a group of Christians, I often get suspicious glances/blank looks when I explain I don’t write ‘Christian’ books or target the Christian market. It probably doesn’t help that I use the word ‘explicit’ to describe my approach. What I mean by that is I try to write whatever I believe best conveys a credible portrayal of both Christian and non-Christian elements. Part of my devotion to God is faithfulness in my vocation. I have to be true to God and true to my work, which has to be true to itself. I won’t apologize for using mandatory conventions of fiction or genre. (‘show don’t tell’, war violence in Military Sci Fi, ghosts or magic in Horror/Supernatural…)

Now I make every effort to avoid the gratuitous and contrived, but the notion that including certain topics and realities somehow diminishes or cancels the Christian ‘witness’ is lazy logic. The strength of an idea is the test of real life – how it addresses and overcomes contradictory positions – not in cloistering it from any and every opposing viewpoint. To be “holy” is not sitting behind glass in a museum but employed for different work. Utensils in the Temple were honed for bloody use, washed after day in, day out use.

That said, this recent Two-Star Review had me smiling:

The Time I Accidentally Read a Christian Novel, May 5, 2015
 Verified Purchase
This review is from: Running Black (Eshu International Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
I was looking for some gritty cyberpunk novel and found this. The world that the novel creates is truly excellent, and the technology is uniquely cool. I wasn’t expecting the christian elements which seemed to start out as a minor irritant when I was already mostly invested, but unfortunately by the end the christian propaganda has become a central theme. It’s an easy read, but instead of the expected grittiness you get Jesus freaks. I’d recommend passing this one over unless you want your cyberpunk to have what according to Christians are christian values.
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The Christian faith themes are very clear in the book description and a number of reviews, so the charge of ‘bait and switch’ doesn’t stick. He got it though. I’m sorry he responded negatively to the Christian elements, but there’s little doubt he understood them. (Same guy also gave ‘The Book of Eli’ movie one star. Big shock, that.)
So this definitely helped offset the pain from yesterday’s hernia repair surgery.
Have a good day.
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When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business.

Flannery O’Connor

Shift Complete + Free Excerpts

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The shift to Shift Tense is complete: all three novellas are now compiled in a single volume. Thanks to everyone for their support and encouragement.

Apologies to you print book lovers; at present, my status as a writer combined with the reader demographic for spec-fiction doesn’t make it worth the extra ISBN, effort, and cost to do POD. If anything, it gives you late-adopters another reason to buy an IPad or Kindle.

Speaking of which…part one of both Running Black and Shift Tense are available in PDF here on the site. Scroll down past the Amazon links on the right sidebar, then click on the Incursion and/or Red Flags covers. Free stuff to give you a taste of the novels and my take on Biblical perspective spec-fiction. (notice I didn’t use the phrase ‘Christian fiction’) Hope you enjoy.

Next up: Clar1ty Wars, book 2: Under Strange Stars