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?

Author Jess Hanna: Mega-Dark Blog Tour #2

mdbbt banner
Next Installment of the Mega-Dark Blog Tour. Now up: Jess Hanna

jesshanna-400

More about Me
This is a continuation of my first post on the Mega Dark Blog Tour. In that post, I focused on where I came from, when I knew I wanted to be a storyteller, and the origins of my fascination with the supernatural. This second post will continue along that vein, providing further insight into what motivates me to write. But before I dive in, I would like to thank Patrick Todoroff for hosting me on his blog.

After I got saved, I saw the world with an alarming new clarity. The supernatural things that interested me before now took on a more sinister tone. I found that the majority of it (Ouija boards, the occult, ghosts, aliens, etc.) was meant to lead me away from the truth of God. Don’t get me wrong, I was still fascinated by these things, but the way I viewed them was not longer with fascination, but as tools of the enemy.

It wasn’t too far into the future that I stopped writing altogether. While I had an interest and felt I could write well, I didn’t see it as a viable career choice. I allowed ‘real’ life to crowd out my love of writing. I even stopped reading for many years. To fill the void I lived my life the best I could, moving from one unfulfilling job to another. It wasn’t and hasn’t been terrible, but spending a career climbing the corporate ladder is just not all that appealing to me.

Everything changed when I turned 32. While floundering in questioning what to do with my life, I felt a strong urge to get back to writing. I hadn’t written anything in so long that I wasn’t sure I could still do it. I tried to push the feeling away, to be practical, but the tug was strong. I knew I had to write, regardless of whether or not I felt the tangible benefit of it in this life.

I also started reading again and re-read my copy of On Writing by Stephen King. After I finished it, I took his advice and just started writing. Within a few months, I had written the first draft of my first book, The Road to Hell. I was so happy to just finish a full length novel at all, and let that elation carry me until I started the second draft. I found it was hard work, taking what I had written and scrutinizing it with a critical and grammatical eye.

To find out more about my experience writing my first book, along with details about my motivation and the painstaking process of multiple edits and the submission process, check out my next stop on the Mega Dark Blog Tour with Mark Carver.

Don’t forget to check out my website for more about me and my writing.

http://www.jesshanna.com

Junk Food and Cowardice re-post

mdbbt banner

RE-POSTED FOR THOSE WHO DON’T LIKE TO CLICK THROUGH:

***

JUNK FOOD AND COWARDICE
I was told the other day my fiction was the literary equivalent of fast food: cheap, suspect, and eminently forgettable. In this person’s mind, too much fiction – especially genre fiction – is impractical. Unhealthy.

Fact is, it’s true in many ways: my novels won’t ever make the “Great Books of the Western World” list. (http://thegreatestbooks.org/lists/40) I’m not in a snit over it. Espionage thrillers about futuristic mercenaries, clones and killer drones aren’t going to change the world. I’m OK with that. As a writer, I’m pecking at the keyboard to exercise my imagination, to spin a yarn, hopefully entertain someone. Maybe even make a couple extra bucks before my time is up. I just hope I’m more like Panera than Mcdonalds.

now I want onion rings…

I’m aiming for that lofty goal because as a writer and artist who is also a Christian, I’d like to inject some substance, trace-elements of spiritual qualities in my work. After all, it is a product of my time and labor, an extension of my person, if you will, and I’d hate to think my soul is vapid and shallow. But that’s the fear, the accusation, isn’t it?

Which is what brought me to the charge of cowardice.

I finished Flannery O’Connor’s “The Violent Bear it Away” recently. (http://www.amazon.com/The-Violent-Bear-Away-ebook/dp/B009LRWWN6/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1375299985&sr=1-1) I read it decades ago for some Eng Lit course, and didn’t get it at all. I was stunned this time around though. The following passage in particular hit me.

“Tarwater clenched his fists. He stood like one condemned, waiting at the spot of execution. Then the revelation came, silent, implacable, direct as a bullet. He did not look into the eyes of any fiery beast or see a burning bush. He only knew, with a certainty sunk in despair, that he was expected to baptize the child he saw and begin the life his great-uncle had prepared him for. He knew that he was called to be a prophet and that the ways of his prophecy would not be remarkable. His black pupils, glassy and still, reflected depth on depth his own stricken image of himself, trudging into the distance in the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus, until at last he received his reward, a broken fish, a multiplied loaf. The Lord out of dust had created him, had made him blood and nerve and mind, had made him to bleed and weep and think, and set him in a world of loss and fire all to baptize one idiot child that He need not have created in the first place and to cry out a gospel just as foolish. He tried to shout, “NO!” but it was like trying to shout in his sleep. The sound was saturated in silence, lost.”
Excerpt From: O’Connor, Flannery. “The Violent Bear It Away.” Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Your mileage may vary, but what stunned me wasn’t merely the prose, the theme, the characters; it’s classic American literature for a reason. But I had the sudden intimate realization I lacked both the skill and the courage to write something that messy, that audacious. There’s an anger, a certain mad daring, not to mention profound bravery needed to grapple with the enormity of free will, Man’s primal defiance and the mystery of God’s grace without imposing clichéd answers. I was numbed, humbled.

I confess that with rare exception, I find most of the contemporary Christian artistic offerings as insipid as they are sincere. My opinion is that as flawed as we believers are and will be down here, the reality of God deserves better than the modern evangelical status quo. The Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters and brought the entire universe into being at the divine fiat. That is the spirit reportedly indwelling us.

As an artist, a writer, I agree with Akira Kurosawa that “The role of the artist is to not look away.” I understand what Steven Pressfield means when he says “The artist is seeking the real by means of the artificial.” It’s just that I flatter myself if I think that simply waving around the live-wire of some controversy, spilling some fictitious blood or allowing my non-Christian characters to drop an F-bomb or three, I’ve struck a blow against saccharine mediocrity. It might be bold to some, blasphemy to others. It might make me a shark in the koi pond, a vandal in the Precious Moments Temple, but sizzle ain’t steak. None of that is inherently more gritty or authentic. Like the song says, ‘It ain’t necessarily so.’

O’Connor’s novel reminded me once again true skill doesn’t rely on gimmicks, that gratuitous detail isn’t realism, and that my work will never really ring true unless I’m willing to leave the cloistered certainty of comfortable answers. As a Christian, an artist, a writer, as a human being, I have to venture out into the mystery that is God, the madness that is love, and the scandal that is grace, then have the courage, the humility to get out of the way and let them be what they are.

Red Flags Release

Red_Flags_17_titleB

Now available at AMAZON ON KINDLE. Read/Reviews would be much appreciated.

Special thanks to Michal Oracz for the cover, Mark at Angel Editing for the clean-up, and a heap of patient readers. I’m grateful.

Part 2 is under the copy-edit scalpel right now.

Sneak Peek: Red Flags cover

It’s really coming.
Here’s the first stage cover art. Minor changes and “Red Flags” subtitle pending. Each portion of SHIFT TENSE feature a different cover and will be released for Kindle over the next six months. The full novel will be available after in both trade paperback and electronic format. (About time, eh?)
Red_Flags_14b

RED FLAGS Excerpt

Heard from my editor: Part One is finished. Waiting on the cover, then it’s off to Amazon/Creatspace. Til then, here’s a taste:

***

PART ONE: RED FLAGS

“Mars is not an aesthetic God.”
Confederate Commander John Brown Gordon, at Shiloh.

CHAPTER ONE – Mini Puka Boy
Somewhere on the Gulf of Aden.

Abdi was sure he was dying.

His head was dizzy, loose on his neck like a door with one hinge. His stomach clenched with every wave, every jump and roll the boat made. He had nothing left to throw up. He felt empty, crumpled as a paper sack. Surely the angel Azra’il stood ready to escort his soul above the skies.

Thirteen years old, he couldn’t remember ever feeling this bad before.

It had started the second day out at sea. He had spewed hardbread and goat over the rail, and after that, he couldn’t keep anything down. The older soldiers, all SPLM men, had laughed, dubbing him Mini Puka Boy. Now, they sang out the name whenever he came near and wouldn’t let him sleep in the bunks below. Instead, they shoved him toward the ‘puke nest’; a makeshift tent on the bow made from an old tarp and big coils of greasy rope. There, they said, he could vomit over the side whenever he wanted.

Veteran pirates, the older fighters were full of advice, telling him it would pass on the fourth day, that he must stare at the sky not the ocean, claiming that smoking jaad or chewing khat would make him hungry, make the sea-sickness stop.

But nothing helped. The shakes, the weakness, only grew worse the farther out into the Gulf they went. Three days later, all he could do was lay on the deck like a limp rag.

Last night, one of the SPLM men, the one with the dirty pink rubber hand, brought a bowl of mishaari and spooned the corn mush into his mouth. Abdi managed five bites before it went all over his boots. Pink Hand gave up in disgust, and the older soldiers had cackled even louder. Abdi didn’t even have the strength to get mad. He simply curled up and bit his lip when he wanted to moan.

He has felt better briefly, earlier that morning. He’d woken from the metal stock of his old AK-47 digging in his ribs. Shifting, groping in the dark, his fingers had found a half-filled tin cup beside him. One of the younger boys must have brought it sometime in the night. The water smelled dusty, but Abdi sipped its coolness and kept it down.

The world had been silent save the low wind and the soft lapping of waves. He had actually managed to stand for a minute or two, steadying himself on the rails at the very front of the boat.

The Gulf had spread out around him like a great dark field while the stars shone like hard, bright sparks; a thousand thousands of them spilled across the dome of heaven. Wobbly, stretched thin, Abdi had nevertheless sensed something vast in that moment. Perhaps that was what the Hand of Allah felt like.

He must have fallen back asleep, because the sun was high when he opened his eyes again, and the water tasted like boiled sweat. His gut was in knots once more, so he lay there under the tattered blue tarp and tried to muster up hatred for the captain of this torture voyage.

His cousin Ghedi had lied to get him on board. Abdi was sure of that now.

Ghedi had found him at Dhubbato with their grandmother. Like most other members of the Isaaq clan, the massive UN refugee camp was the last safe place in Somaliland. Teeming, filthy, filled with crime and poverty though it was, at least the Hangash, General Dhul-Fiqaar’s secret police, or roving units of elite Duub Cas, the Red Beret Regiment, couldn’t come and slaughter them at night. Not with so many Peacekeepers watching.

Abdi’s cousin was shahiba, a gang-banger, and Ghedi ran with a crew of other Somali teenager boys, all of them orphans, angry, and Isaaq. A year ago, they had gotten their hands on some old army rifles and started calling themselves the “Harimacad”, the Cheetah militia. Soon after, they had disappeared into the bush to join Professor Hamid and his rebel Somaliland People’s Liberation Movement.

Then, all these months later, Ghedi had barged into their tent as if he’d only been gone a day. Mouthing big talk, he claimed he was no longer a shahiba; the Professor had made him a very important man. A captain. Abdi was suspicious, but Ghedi wore tiger-striped fatigues and had two gold pins on his shirt collar. And he flashed a huge wad of Euros. That was very different.

His cousin boasted he and his militia had been ordered to go on a secret mission for the SPLM. But he needed more men. Was Abdi interested? Ghedi promised a handful of bills and an AK-47 if he came. A real gun, a man’s gun, all for a quick boat ride, he had said.

Abdi hesitated. Then Ghedi had pulled out a nice red shirt. Almost new. It could be Abdi’s right then as a bonus.

That clinched the deal.

Abdi looked down at his new shirt now, all foul and puke-stained. Ghedi had bedeviled him. If he’d known the truth about being a budhcad badeed, he would have grabbed that shirt, kicked his cousin in the stones, and run as fast as he could. Now it was too late.

His cousin had only promised those things because this was his first time pirating and he wanted to impress the SPLM men by bringing his own fighters along. Lying wacaal.

Abdi was going to tell their grandmother about this swindle the second they got back to shore. May Allah bring that day quickly. The thought of their grandmother beating Ghedi with her old belt strap like she used to raised a smile on his cracked lips.

A sudden wind shook his little tent and he peered out across the deck of the pirate ship.

It was one of four that had been towed out to the deep water by a much bigger boat. An old twelve meter, Italian fishing boat whose name was long-buried under layers of paint, the nets and winches had been replaced with battered Dushka 12.7 heavy machine guns. The motors were new and strong however, and Abdi had heard them growling in the back. Originally meant for fifteen men, almost two dozen were packed in for this trip: thirteen SPLM veterans and ten of Ghedi’s Cheetah militia.

Twenty-three fighters, five days, the hot sun, endless slapping waves, the stink of diesel, bodies, and vomit… this was misery. The Dhubbato camp was better.
Waiting made everything worse. Abdi couldn’t understand why they didn’t just attack one of the big cargo ships right now. The SPLM men said there were dozens of them passing through the Strait of Hormuz every hour. Pick one, fire the engines, and converge on the massive target like jackals on a buffalo. Problem solved.
Unless the Russian or Indians had a frigate nearby, all a pirate had to do was circle a few times, fire off a RPG, then go aboard. The men said the shipping companies paid most ransoms within a week. The trick was not to ask for too much. The executives figured pay-offs were cheaper than delaying the cargo. That way, no one suffered.

Abdi couldn’t have agreed more. Even getting shot at was better than getting bounced around and roasted like peanuts.

But no. Ghedi insisted his mission had come from SPLM Headquarters, from Professor Hamid himself even. They would wait, starving, vomiting, baking, until a certain ship came by. The Mashona Breeze. No other would do. Ghedi even had a laptop that sent him messages and pictures from planes high in the sky.
Abdi doubted the commander of the entire rebel army was emailing orders to his cousin, but he was pretty sure the dozen fighters had come along to make sure Ghedi carried them out to the letter.

The boat jumped. Abdi swallowed sourness at the back of his throat. No more after this. insha’ Allah, he prayed. Please. Only dry land from now on.
Abdi shut his eyes and let his head roll with the Gulf’s motion. He had dozed off when a burst of rifle fire stuttered loud and close. He sat up, heart in his throat.

Ghedi stood on deck, rifle in hand.

“It is time,” he shouted. “Commanders send the signal to me. The ship is close. We must go, go now.”

Ghedi ripped another burst into the sky for effect. “Crazy fast. Quick. Quick,” he screamed. “The revolution needs us and we will not be late.”

Abdi heard ammo belts clinking, the clatter of weapons being chambered. Brown, shaved heads scurried to pull the anchor. The motors throbbed deep and low.

Thank Allah, Abdi thought, and sank back. Then he saw Ghedi staggering towards him.

Abdi tried to stand, but a wave hit. He fell back, tangled in his frayed blue tarp. He flailed, swept it aside and looked up. A shadow was there; his cousin standing over him, red eyes and little captain gold badges shining. The fat muzzle of Ghedi’s AK-107 was pointing down at his chest.

“As Captain Boss, I order every badass gangsta have his finger on the trigger.” A grin, filled with stained, crooked teeth. “A dog that refuses a bone is not alive. Are you alive, little soldier?”

Abdi nodded.

Ghedi jerked his gun up, fired into the air. Abdi flinched. His cousin laughed.

“We are the fierce lions of the sea,” he screamed. “We will bring this Mashona Breeze down. Strike a blow for the people of Somaliland.”

The motors roared from the back and as the boat swung north, bucking in the waves, Abdi’s stomach knotted tighter with each passing second.

Losing my religion?


I was asked recently about the ‘religious’ characters in my stories and ‘all that Christian stuff’, and figured I’d post some sort of answer.

I’ll freely admit one of my central goals as a writer is to integrate Christian themes into my work. However, I’m committed they work organically in the plots and I avoid heavy-handed, preachy narrative, or contrived ‘alter call’ moments. I’m not ashamed of my faith or trying to be coy and ‘sneak in’ definite truth-claims, but I feel part of my job as a writer is to keep the story line internally consistent. That means characters – Christian and non-Christian – have to act/re-act in ways that are authentic to their particular worldviews. That’s part and parcel of the calling of any writer. More so, the believer.

I’m never comfortable analyzing my own work, but Running Black intentionally addresses the sanctity of human life, specifically the premise that a transcendent worldview is the only thing that restrains Man’s inherent inhumanity against their fellow Man. Historically groups dehumanize, demean, and demonize ‘others’, caricaturize them as outcasts and opponents. As a person who has dealt with a physical disability all his life, I’ve encountered this dynamic before.

One of the catalysts for the Eshu International series was the fear that cloning technology will one day allow us to mass-produce human beings, who in turn be viewed legally and culturally as solely as property. A high-tech version of slavery. Hopefully, Running Black and even Shift Tense touch that nerve in the midst of all those firefights, explosions and betrayals.

Now Clar1ty Wars is a different animal. It is a serialized, sci-fi re-imagining of the 19th Century Opium Wars. The big picture is this nasty, shadowy war between the planetary government and massive, space-bound corporations who have been controlling an entire planetary system with a drug. I’m trying to portray the conflict on the street-level using an immersive, mosaic style. There are recurring characters, but each chapter offers a different perspective, a new piece of the puzzle. The Clar1ty Wars focuses on regular people – the good, the bad and the ugly – caught in the crossfire of a war.

Acknowledged or not, religion and spirituality play a major part in our societies and people’s lives. This has been true all over the planet for centuries up to today. And wishful humanist thinking aside, I don’t see that dynamic disappearing any time soon. For me and my writing, it means devout characters will play their parts along side the rest as the conflict unfolds. For example, the cabbie in One Bad Apple’s ‘The Doubter’ learns to see the protagonist, Seeb, in a new light. Little does he know it, but he’s slated for another appearance at a crucial time in a later installment.

Hope that helps. If you have an further questions just ask.