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.

Charlatans for Christ

So WORLD magazine has yet another expose in the Parade of Shame for mega-ministry train wrecks. This month’s culprit is Ron Luce of Acquire the Fire fame. You can read the full article HERE if you can stomach it, but it is the all-too-typical sordid fare of shallow dealings, megalomania, dissembling, deception, and rationalizations rather than repentance. “Be sure of this, your sin will find you out,” seems to have dropped off the memory verse list.

“You have given occasion for the enemies of God to blaspheme” the Lord said to adulterous, murderous King David. As a former minister and present Christian, thanks for that brother Ron. As if it ain’t tough enough.

This is really just another fine example of Western Christianity’s “TET Offensive” style of ministry: reliance on Talent, Emotion and Technology over Character and Anointing. All genuine ministry is fundamentally supernatural, rooted in who Jesus is and what He did. It’s His story preacher, not yours. It’s the Chef, not the Waiter, so stop spitting in the food. Don’t believe your own press and hog the spotlight. Ministry isn’t a cruising altitude – it’s a diving bell. Hide in Christ and let Him get the glory – He’ll reward you soon enough. (and any crown you get you’re going to throw at Jesus’ feet anyway, so…)

I don’t know which is worse: that there’s enough scandal fodder for WORLD to do monthly articles, or the general undermining of Christian credibility. It’s rather discouraging, all you leaders getting caught with your pants down or hand in the till. I swear, If it wasn’t for Jesus, I’d give up on Christianity altogether.

*apologies to jesters all over the world.

Sci Fi is Sin?

The first in a series titled “Spitballs from Baptisneyland.”* It deals with Christian worldview issues. So you’ve been warned.

IT’LL JUMP ON YOU!
I’m old enough and been around church long enough to remember the “Rock and Roll is Devil’s music” debate. “Words and motives don’t matter! Drums and electric guitars are Satan’s tools. It’s the beat – that pagan, idol-worshipping beat.”

Never mind God considers the heart before the appearance, that character and content matter more than cosmetics, that the root determines the fruit… scores of the faithful were burning other believers at the metaphorical heresy stake because they couldn’t/wouldn’t disassociate the medium from the message.

Offspring of shallow thinking, anec-data, bolstered with a few out-of-context Chapter and Verse, this things are evil doctrine is rooted in bad theology. Let me clarify right here, Stuff isn’t inherently sinful** – people are. We sin because we’re sinners – not the other way around. It’s not the THING- it’s how we use it. It’s us – not the item. Music is a vehicle for self-expression before it’s a vector for ideas. Same with film, theater, dance, art… To borrow a computer tech troubleshooting term, PICNIC: Problem in Chair, Not in Computer. Basic Christianity, right there.

That’s why salvation doesn’t merely forgive our crimes but transforms our criminal tendencies. It’s conversion of the soul, i.e the essence of who and what we truly are. But back on topic…

ROBOTS AREN’T REPROBATE
Now maybe you were expecting Yoda to be a little green Billy Graham, (died on tree, savior did) but is it really that shocking when non-believers express non-Biblical worldviews? When they speculate in speculative fiction? Aside from enjoying the experience, allowing yourself to be entertained, the key is shift your expectations, spit out the bones and discern (there’s that word again) the themes, virtues, principles that ARE portrayed. To stand on the common ground of our humanity. All truth is Gods and it’s the perfect place to start the conversation.

I believe artistic integrity, or faithfulness to the medium, is mandatory – I’ll talk about that in another post – but the notion that portraying the futuristic, the fantastic immediately disqualifies a story, renders it unprofitable and ineffective for Christian truths, betrays a blinkered, petty perspective based on ignorance and fear, not faith. That some use fiction to dissemble and deceive, and others follow along speaks more of a vacuum than inherent malice or conspiracy.

C.S. Lewis’ statement “The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature” hits the mark. Unless you deliberately neuter your work in the editing process, Who and What you are can’t help but come out. The essence is transmitted. The challenge then is not simply to become an genuine Christian, but master your chosen medium and so authentically express the reality of redemption working in your life.

I’ll end with a quote from Dorothy Sayers. (I have a crush on her.)

“The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

EXTRA CREDIT BONUS QUESTION: If a net-friend’s autocorrect on her IPad keeps changing “Jesus” to “Jedis”, is it possessed?

*So titled as my attempts to fend off wads of gloppy logic fired by the insular religious

**Gnostic duality (material = bad but spiritual = good) isn’t Biblical. Sanctification isn’t seclusion. Creation is damaged by sin, yes, but it is NOT implicitly evil. God created, inhabited and continues to animate the material world. He made it. He blessed it. The Incarnation sanctifies mortal creation.

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.

Rest and much geekery


Having finished both Shift Tense and The Barrow Lover (see below) recently, I’m feeling simultaneously relieved and drained. Now I’ve got ideas on the radar screen, the outlines/initial chapters of two novels, the start of the next Clar1ty Wars collection, but they’re all just kinda… sitting there.

The only shiver of excitement is seeing what Chila at Port Yonder Press does with The Barrow Lover. Someone asked if I was worried an editor would ruin the story, change its voice. I’m sure some do but I’m not sensing that here. I need and want a solid editor. A good book isn’t so much written as re-written, and having an objective yet sympathetic set of eyes to hone a story, tease out the best and grind down the rough edges is critical. Like Twain said, the difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightening and a lightening bug. A good editor helps you in that struggle.

So I’ve moved into a Reading Phase to step back and recharge. Right now, I’ve got Jane Gardam’s Old Filth, Iain Banks’ Surface Detail, Gorky Park, Story by Robert McKee, and The Moth at my bedside. (Plus a bunch of stuff on my Kindle) I’m especially looking forward to The Moth, as immersing yourself in good stories teaches you about good writing as much if not more than a book about writing.

To keep my otaku juices flowing, I’ve been gaming a new set of table top wargame rules titled Pulp Alley, adapting them to science fiction and post-apocalypse settings. My friend and I are having a blast. It’s refreshing to sit back and just enjoy a game.

Here are some pictures from three recent games:

There’s plenty more at my hobby blog if you’re interested.

I’ll also say turning 50 the other day turned out to be more a major blessing, and less one of those ‘acute sense of mortality/passage of time’ things. (I think those are good – in proper doses) My wife rented a house on a lake for a potluck with family and close friends, and we held a story slam that broke up around 11 pm. “All good” is an understatement; it was an opportunity to appreciate God’s grace on my life.

Murdered girl’s ghost finds a home.

TheBarrowLover 2 eyes

Port Yonder Press Announcement for 2014 titles. Scroll down a bit

Looks like The Barrow Lover will feature a PYP imprint in 2014. Don’t know specifics yet, but I want to thank Chila Woychik for taking a chance on the story, and her staff readers for wading through the slush.

I suspect I’ll spend a few weeks grinding down rough edges, but at least I have the cover. It will be interesting to see how this small press-traditional publishing plays out. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll keep you posted.

PYP Website: Port Yonder Press
PYP FB: The inevitable FB page

And yes, I’ll make a Celtic stained glass panel to giveaway.

When the Dark Matter hits the fan

Thoughts on Christian faith here.

***

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I want to be real with God. I want Him to be real with me. I am so all done with perpetually effervescent charismatic caricatures gushing the latest gift or revelation. I can’t comply with the rank and file of brittle, painted saints, stuffed with a thousand minor pieties and doctrinal dissections. Perfection is and never really was an option. Best I can muster is honesty and a constant diet of repentance.

I think there are phases of growth in our personal understanding of God. Stages to practical theology, if you will. To use a contested term, I think we evolve in our understanding of him, his Word, and how to implement His reality in our lives. Truth and Reality are Objective, but we view them through the lens of our worldview. The clearer, deeper, more accurate, the better we can comprehend and conform to his will and his image. I parallel this to Astronomy and Mankind’s expanding understanding of the universe.

1. Primitive Phase: new convert stage. We think it all really revolves around us. Like newborns. We experience the love, the sense of purpose, personal intimacy, assistance, grace… That’s all true and real, but we filter it through an immature selfishness. We acknowledge God’s Sovereignty, but in practice, we get upset when it’s not all about us.

2. Copernicus Strikes: Given some time and disappointments, we bump into enough hard facts to recognize we are not the center of the universe, God is. What do you know, Rick W was right: It really isn’t all about us – it’s about Him. We admit God might love us but doesn’t spoil us. He truly is the Eternal and Sovereign God, far above all Principality and Power, dwelling in unapproachable light. Amen.

That said, we still demand order, structure, certainty in our religion. And not just confidence in the Person, Principles, and Promises of God, but in our day-to-day values, attitudes and applications. The cloister or gated-community mind-set, we expect perfect spheres to revolve around our faith in perfect circles. As Christians, we insist our marriage, our jobs, our kids, health, family, church, ministry… all move from glory to glory in an ever-escalating testimony to the Abundant Life. (TM)

Here’s where Classic confirmation bias kicks in. We tailor everything those expectations, discarding what doesn’t conform. It’s safe, predictable, certain… but it’s also small and inherently false.

3. When the Dark Matter hits the Fan: Given a peculiar combination of time and circumstances, everyone gets Black Hole and Hubble Revelations. Light gets sucked in. Gravity hits like a runaway freight train. Your conceptions get shattered. The Universe is a big, scary place – Really big and really scary. It’s not at all what we thought and we’re very, very uncomfortable.

We discover yes, there are laws and principles. Yes, there is a vast, complex harmony that keeps it spinning. But there are ellipses, apogees, perigees, anomalies, deformities. Gravity, light, time actually change in strange relationships to mass and each other. They aren’t constant and perfect and uniform. The universe is mind-blowing, frightening, so much bigger and stranger than any one, or all of us.

But this is actually the God who saved me in the first place. This vast, complex, confusing, Creator, Sustainer, Sovereign and Savior. He hasn’t changed. I have. Even more humbling; he’s been waiting for me to get to this precipice. After all, He brought me here. He is the Author and Finisher of my faith.

Time to start believing that.

Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. – 2 Tim. 1:12

MDBT Guest Post – Mark Carver

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MEGA-DARK BOOK BLOG TOUR: “TAKING A BREAK FROM ALL THE DARK STUFF”

A while back, I read an article that admonished writers to stick to one genre. Of course my initial reaction was, “How dare he tell me what to write!” but I soon realized that the article was largely correct. The most successful authors are those who write in one genre, since their fans know what they want and the authors are happy to give it to them. Of course this isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule, but the fact remains that an author has to establish themselves as a brand and this means carving out one’s niche, rather than diluting their brand by dipping their wick into too many genres.

Mark Carver headshotI’ve come to realize that my primary genre is dark supernatural fiction, and I’m comfortable settling into this genre. But writing is a lot of work, and every author needs a vacation now and then. The question on my mind was: how can I branch out into other genres without throwing my readers for a loop?

As I pondered weak and weary, I came up with a simple solution, which I call “Two On, One Off.” Basically, I will write two books in my primary genre, and then one book in a different genre. By following this schedule, readers can know what to expect and when, and it gives me a chance to stretch my legs and exercise different muscles of my imagination.

My first two books under this plan were The Age of Apollyon and Black Sun, both of which were extremely dark and intense. I definitely needed a break after being submersed in this grim world for nearly a year and a half. Thus, Indelible was born.

While my previous books contained Christian themes and elements, Indelible is a completely secular book. That’s not to say that it’s full of four-letter words or graphic descriptions of sex and violence, but it does contain some mild language, casual sex, partying, drug use, etc. But it’s actually a pretty light and easy read, at least compared to my earlier work. There’s not a single act of violence in the entire story, though there is plenty of tension and drama. I won’t give away any details about the story, but if you’re a fan of tattoos, heavy metal, or fantasy weapons, I guarantee you’ll love Indelible.

Writing this book was an absolute joy, and I had the entire manuscript cleaned and polished in just over three months (half the time it usually takes for me to complete a book). Of course I hope that it will attract a whole new market of readers to my corner, but my main purpose in writing Indelible was just to give my mind a breather.

And it worked. Almost immediately, I launched myself into the final book in The Age of Apollyon Trilogy, entitled Scorn, which I’ve nearly completed. I don’t think I could have written the entire trilogy back-to-back-to-back, and writing Indelible gave my imagination the rest and rejuvenation it needed to finish strong.

Indelible cover

So if you’re looking for something a bit different from my usual fare (or anyone else’s, for that matter), check out Indelible when it releases in just a couple of weeks. I think you’ll be very surprised, and that’s exactly what I’m hoping for.