Thoughts on the Conventions of Genre and Faith

 

” Those French have a different word for everything.”

– Steve Martin as huffy ‘Merican tourist

 

***

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.

 

 

 

Merry Christmas


I post this poem every year because I believe it captures the essence of the incarnation and redemption offered in Jesus Christ. Christmas is about God’s gift of Himself to us, not just for religious spit-and-polish or pious moralizing mixed with creeds and rituals, but God coming to us at the very place of our need. In Jesus Christ is forgiveness of sins, transformation of heart, redemption at the very core of who and what we are. It’s a relationship with God forever. It’s eternal life.

Genuinely accepting God’s love means change – sometimes confusing, uncomfortable, inconvenient change – but most what is most remarkable is that it’s real And free. Jesus is alive and He loves you. Really.

Here’s the poem.

Let the Stable Still Astonish

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 all
the heavens and earth
be born here, 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 here – in this place.

May you come to trust in Jesus Christ as Redeemer. I pray God bless you all and keeps in health and peace in the new year. May God be real to you and in you, and express His Courage, Compassion, and Grace through you.

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

Praise Serendipity?

“That’s just serendipity,” he scoffed, when I mentioned an answered prayer. “The universe has a way of giving good things to good people.” (to soften the blow, I guess)

So you’ll attribute subtle, benign intent to an anonymous universe but not God? Affirm this karmic dynamic, yet insist on random, meaningless chance? Intelligent Design and Meta-narrative need not apply.

And you mock my faith?

So how come ‘serendipity’ happens more frequently and specifically the more I pray – to God?

Just asking.

The old has passed away…

Counterweight to the previous post. A friend of mine.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2. Cor. 5:17

Amen.

You’re supposed to pour it out.

The adoration of men, that is.

16So the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, and drew water from the well of Bethlehem which was by the gate, and took it and brought it to David. Nevertheless he would not drink it, but poured it out to the LORD; 17and he said, “Be it far from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. 2 Samuel 23:16,17a

Reports of the latest evangelical train-wreck/another minister falling victim to his success evokes several painful thoughts. The first is a wince of recognition. I watched the church I was a part of for 22 years morph into a smaller but no less sordid creature. The second is the sad, all-too-common snare of conceit and ministerial success. Without humility and perspective, it breeds arrogance – an ugly parody of godly authority. “Don’t believe your own press” an older man told me when I took a full-time ministry position. Genuine success has more to do with God honoring His Word, the Death and Resurrection of His Son, and His response to peoples’ needs and faith than any human ability, cunning, or position. Easy to remember when you start – easy to forget after a measure of accomplishment.

I’m not diminishing the reward and recognition of faithful service, nor am I undermining the concept of ministerial authority. My problem isn’t authority – it’s with bad authority. And ministers seem to be doing a fine job of ruining their credibility without me. Even allowing a measure of exaggeration and plain old peevishness in the report, this kind of rampant hubris, duplicity, and gullibility is a kick in the stomach to the testimony of Christ and the public credibility of his people.

Yes, Jesus remains true and faithful above the squalor and squabble. He is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. He’s the Savior. But I wonder if He gets tired of all the squandered opportunities.

Jesus saves. He’s the only one you can trust all the way to eternity.

Further reading for those considering full-time ministry. (I’d make it mandatory, if I could.)

Eric Metaxas

Battling a head cold for the second day, probably why yesterday’s post rambled. (It’s the medicine talking)

I’ve been shying away from I am Second as they seem bent lately on merchandising redemption, but I found this.

There’s a well-known passage in Ephesians, chapter 2 about salvation by grace through faith rather than works, but in verse 10, Paul wrote “… we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

I take odd comfort in the fact the Greek word translated as ‘handiwork’ is poiēma, or the root for our English word ‘poem’; i.e. a thing that is crafted with nuance and rhythm and layered meaning. Not a ‘To Do” list, an itinerary, an invoice, a legal brief… A poem.

So here’s to being a good one, and not just ‘there once was a man from Nantucket’.

Have a great day.