Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Writing "Christian" without writing "CHRISTIAN!!!": Symbolism and the Christian Walk

Hello bloggy friends,

First of all, if I know anything, you are probably wondering what I mean by that title.  We'll get there, I promise. :)
       As some of you have probably noticed, right now there is a big subject going around the blogosphere that has really brought up arguments on writing “Christian Fiction”… the topic has been known mainly as “Why Christian Fiction Doesn’t Work”, and as it is, I’ve already written two blog posts on the subject myself.

            What I find most interesting about this subject is how controversial it is.  One person believes one thing, another person believes another thing, and everyone wants their side of the story to be heard so they all start debating the point.  No outright fights, of course… we are all too civilized for that. J  But every one of us, me included, has entered the debate at one point or another to try and make a statement on our beliefs concerning the subject.

            Now, let me make something crystal clear: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ENTERING THIS DEBATE!!!  In fact, I find it admirable.  I see nothing wrong with writers – especially Christian writers – defending their writing and their belief systems.  And besides, this blog post was not written to be condescending, or to point fingers.  What was stated above was merely an interesting observation I had made that I wished to point out. :D

            With that said, however, I would like to continue the discussion going on here at the P&P on why I think “Christian Fiction”, as it is being defined in today’s world, doesn’t work… or actually, why it often isn’t working now.  This isn’t a discussion about why it never works, because goodness knows, I’ve read some pretty AWESOME books in the Christian Speculative Genres, and I don't plan to stop reading those genres anytime soon… but then again, I’ve also read some pretty uninteresting and mediocre books in those genres as well.  And that’s when you have to stop and ask yourself why those books aren’t working?  Why are they falling flat?

            First of all, one must ask oneself, what exactly is Christian Fiction?  The way we often define it in today’s world, Christian Fiction is fiction being written from a Christian World View.  Ok, ok... I get that, no problem.  For many writers, this means that Christian elements should be obvious – sometimes blatantly so (sometimes even right smack up in your face) – within the writing and story itself.  It is my experience that in some cases, Christian writers try to make their writing appear Christian with the use of prayer within the story, a single creator entity that usually represents God, belief systems similar to modern day Christianity, and even the use of a sacrificial someone that usually represents Christ... symbols within the story referring towards the Christian belief.

            Now, there is nothing wrong with the use of these symbolic elements.  Where we go wrong, I believe, is when we start to believe that the use of these elements alone is what makes a book “Christian”.  But the truth of the matter is that these symbolic elements, when placed in a story without conviction and the leading of the Holy Spirit, don’t reveal truth, but cloud it instead. 

            For instance, prayer alone, without conviction, is useless… it’s like repeating random words over and over again, but never meaning them, or perhaps never even knowing what it is you’re saying.  Even Christianity itself is meaningless without the conviction of what it stands for and what we believe in – truly believe in – as Christ’s followers.  The truth behind what we stand for, what we believe, and what that in itself represents, is what gives purpose to the word.

            I mean, no one can try to force God into a story.  God was not meant to be shoved in a box, or into a story… He can’t be controlled just because someone wants him to be.  And Just because the symbolism is used, doesn’t mean that the truth is evident, or that it’s even there.  Without the conviction and passion for Christ that should be evident in such symbolism because of the conviction in the story’s writer, the whole story will fall flat.  It’s as simple as that.

            The real truth of the matter is that it all comes down to a person’s walk with Christ.  As Christians, our love for God and His Truth should be evident in everything we write, and not just because we use symbols that are pertinent to the Christian faith.  It should be that even if we took those symbols out of our stories completely – even if our stories were never stamped with a “Christian” label, and even if we weren't even trying to write the book from a Christian perspective – elements of Christ would still be evident to our readers, and witness to the fact that we are Lovers and Followers of Christ.  

            Yes, I said even if those symbols were taken out of our stories completely.  I meant it too.

            If an artist’s walk with God is strong, it will be visible in her painting no matter what that painting is.  If a singer’s walk with God is strong, it will be heard in her song and her choice of songs.  And if a writer’s walk with God is strong, it will be read in her stories... with or without the symbolism that is so visible in so many Christian Fiction stories of today.

            One of my favorite quotes ever on this subject was written by C.S. Lewis.  He said, “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christian’s on other subjects – with their Christianity latent.

            You might think this is an interesting quote coming from the man who basically wrote the definition on what modern Christian Speculative Fiction is.  After all, he is most famous for his creation of The Chronicles of Narnia, children’s fantasy books that not only took over the market when they were first released in the 1950’s, but that are continuing to do so now.

            However, I want you to take a moment and think about the Chronicles of Narnia.  Oh, Lewis used the symbolism… or at least some of it.  But in truth, his books never seemed to scream at the reader, “I am Christian fantasy!  I have an important Christian message that you must listen to!” as I’ve seen other books under the Christian Fantasy label do.  They aren’t blatant about their message.  In fact, I only remember two points in the book that actually referenced prayer at all – the first in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Lucy called to Aslan while they were lost in Dark Island, and the second in The Last Battle when Tirrian called out to Aslan to send him Narnia’s Helpers from beyond the end of the world.  And those instances only lasted a few seconds.  And the two biggest symbolic events referencing Christianity within the entire series are when Alsan sacrificed himself for Edmund’s sake in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and in The Last Battle when the world ended.

            In truth, many kids don’t even pay attention to the symbolism to begin with – at least not the first time around.  They read Lewis’ books because they are fun to read, never mind the fact that the author wrote them from a Christian perspective.

            No.  C.S. Lewis originally wrote his books as a fairy tale, and the symbolism just sort of fell into place.    I read once in an article by Douglass Gresham, Lewis’ step son, that Lewis wasn’t even aware of Aslan’s presence in the story until the great lion just showed up; apparently Lewis had been dreaming about lions a lot at the time, and from those dreams sprung the figure of Aslan.  And, as some of you might care to recall, Lewis’ books weren’t originally labeled as Christian Speculative Fiction, and that wasn’t necessarily their original market either.

            For that matter, Tolkien’s famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, was never actually meant to be allegorical from the author’s own confession.  And yet just look at all the Christian symbolism within his books! 

            The choices within the story don’t have to be cut-and-dried.  The symbolism doesn’t have to be blatant.  It never had to be.

            The truth is that it shouldn’t matter what the story is, or how it is written, or what it is labeled as.  If the author’s walk with Christ is where it should be, the story itself will witness to the reader.   If the author’s walk with Christ is where it should be, the symbolism will fall into place unintentionally as it is inspired by God and the Holy Spirit, and not because the writer feels the need to use symbolism in order to get his or her point across.  If the story is inspired and led by God, then it won’t fall flat, the symbolism won’t feel forced, and God won’t be shoved into a box simply so that the story can be labeled “Christian”.  It won’t matter if the book is in the Christian market or in the Secular market, because if the story is truly inspired by God, it will witness to its readers of the author’s walk with Christ and the Truth of God’s love without being blatant and without the aid of a Christian label… much as Lewis’ and Tolkien’s books did.

            Because when we are walking straight with God, we don’t have to be intentional or right… we simply have to write.  God does the rest.

(Just a heads up to you guys, I'm working on another post on the subject of World Building and Character Choices within Christian Spec-fic. J  Hope to see you there!)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cultural Belief Systems and Christian Speculative Fiction, Take 2

Hello blogger friends. :D  This is going to be a rather long post – one of the longest blog posts I think I’ve ever written – so if you get through the entire thing, I commend you!!!

I’m writing this post because I think I might need to clarify what I meant in my last post.  Reading through the post again, and reading through the comments, I start to realize that the true purpose behind my post was not understood the way I hoped it would be (I think perhaps I beat around the bush a lot before actually trying to come to the point).  Hopefully I can clear it all up in this post. J

Before you read this post, however, I think it would be a great idea if you headed on over the first post and read through the comments.  A lot of the comments touched on what I originally meant for my post to portray, but they worded it better. ^_^

And now, ONWARD! :D

First off, I’m going to use part of one comment left from my last post.  It had some very good points in it. :D

 Philip Nelson said...

First off, there aren't moral shades of grey. Anyone who thinks that hasn't seen Good (or has refused to). (See how Job repented when he saw God, for instance, or what happened when Daniel came face to face with the glory of God.)

What makes it complicated is that Evil is the counterfeit of Good. That's the original sin: Lucifer thinking in his heart that he could make himself like God.

But God is incorruptible, and outside God things wear out. So, one way to tell whether something is good or evil is durability: in the long run, evil always wears out; good never does.

Philip has some very good points.  First off that there aren’t any shades of grey in morality.  Actually, this was pointed out in several of the comments from my last post, not just in Philip’s. 

Don’t worry guys!  I don’t believe there are shades of grey in morality, at least in the morality that I perceive.  That really wasn’t the point I was trying to get across.  Morality doesn’t deal in grey… only in black and white.  The problems come when Morality is placed into a religious belief… and before you guys jump all over my tale because I said that, wait a couple of minutes; I will explain. :D

It is quite simple.  Morality, as with all other aspects of human nature, can be distorted from its original purpose when it is tagged on to a belief system, or even to a personal belief or outlook.  Take murder for example… Murder is considered a morally wrong act – a vicious act of death.  Why then is it considered an honor in the Islamic society for suicide bombers to not only take their own lives, but to murder hundreds of innocents in the process?  In that case, murder is not considered morally wrong by the suicide bomber… it is considered an act of honor and valor, even though the rest of the world may see it as a horror. 

Morality, as with any other aspect of human nature, can be twisted from its purpose.  What is right and wrong can be skewed so that what is wrong can be seen as right… thus creating the “grey” I was talking about in my last post. 

But, as Philip mentioned, God is incorruptible. No matter what any of us believe, the Truth that is God is absolutely and 100% incorruptible.  Morality aside, what is true with God is ALWAYS true, and any truth that is not with God is not a truth at all, but a falsity.

Now, I have no problem with Christian writer’s showing this in their books.  In fact, I encourage it; there need to be more Christian books out there dedicated to showing this truth. 

The problems come when writers try to make it all TOO evident – when the right and the good is so evident that there is no point in choosing the wrong at all.

“Well,” you say, “That’s the point, isn’t it?  To have readers understand that they should choose the good over evil?  To make it so that the characters understand that they should always choose what is right over what is wrong?”

Uh… no, actually.  Well, yes… but no.

You see, I’ve read so many books like this, it’s not even funny.  I even started writing one and one point in time, but I stopped.  These are the books where the right choice is almost easier to follow than the wrong choice… which, in reality, is almost NEVER the case. 

Here’s another great Comment from my last post.  (I really do suggest you go and read the full comments… they are very thought provoking. :D)

Nathan Petrie says:

…What a lot of Christian Spec. Fic. tries to do, is present this in the clearest way possible: black and white. Because the world actually IS black and white, even if it's hard to see sometimes. There is only one right way to salvation and one right and one wrong. As for faiths, Christ is right, and everything else is wrong. That is a two option choice--Christ, or something else. Therefore, a lot of Spec. Fic merely simplifies the choice to show the ridiculousness of believing anything else. 

I agree with most of what Mr. Petrie’s saying, except for that last part…. Where he says that most Spec. Fic. merely simplifies the choice to show the ridiculousness of believing in anything else.  THAT is where I think most Christian Fiction writers are going wrong.  I’m not saying we should blur the lines between what truth is and what lies are, but simplifying the choice isn’t going to help in my own opinion.

Why?  Because the choice isn’t simple at all.   The choice to Christ may be right, but it’s not a simple one.  And following Christ is certainly NOT easy.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. ~ Mathiew 7: 13-14

The bible says it clearly: Those who enter by the wide gate and follow the easy path to destruction are many.  The people don’t even realize that they are on their own way to destruction.  What is difficult is choosing the gate that is narrow and walking the path that is hard.  Very few people enter through this gate.  

And why?  Because the choice between the Truth and a lie, between right and wrong, is certainly not simple.  The wrong choice is easy from the get-go, though it ultimately leads people to a dark end.  However, the right choice… the right choice is often paved with hardships and apparent troubles; it can be difficult to follow; a person may stumble a lot.  And yet this path is the one that leads to true freedom, and that is because it begins with the right choice… with Christ and salvation. 

Now, I would like to go back to my last post, pull a few things that I had touched upon, and use them to explain what was originally supposed to come across from my ranting. I understand that my purpose wasn’t clear last time, but hopefully I can make it clear now. *sheepish smile*  

I said:

I AM saying that I’m tired of Fantasy worlds where there are multiple cultures and races but only one True belief system for all of them; all the characters believe in One Ruling God (no matter their culture or race) and in one evil entity, and all the good characters are trying to work together to overcome the bad ones.  There may be some neutral characters, who don’t really take a side, but they still know that the sides are there to take and there is almost not middle ground.

I stand by this statement.  It pretty much sums up what I was saying earlier… that in many Christian Fiction books the choice to right is often SO clear that there is hardly a choice at all.   No matter what race or culture the characters come from, they all believe in the One true God (which isn’t true of humanity in this world, and almost never was unless you go clear back to the very beginning of the world, or even to the time after Noah).  And in these books, only the Evil Character and his minions are bad, and his minions are either just smaller parts of him, or characters that he forced to be evil.  And of course, all the good characters are trying to overcome the bad characters so that the world can be made perfect again.

There’s a key word in there, though: forced.  I’ve seen the technique used before with “evil entities” and other characters’ free-wills.  It doesn’t work.  And WHY doesn’t it work???  Because within the law of free-will, neither God nor Satan can force a human to do anything.  Humans can force other humans, but God will not force his people to love or obey Him – they have to choose to do that for themselves.  And Satan may be able to manipulate the thoughts and minds of men, but he can’t force a human to do anything they didn’t ultimately choose to do themselves.

Satan can, however, and often does lead people mentally astray… THIS is what has built up the many different cultural belief systems of the world today.  Satan was able to convince Eve in the Garden that God had not actually meant that she would die should she eat of the forbidden fruit, and so Eve ate of it.  And ever since that day, Satan has worked to discredit the actual word of God… he has built up his own followers and they are scattered all over the world.  Some of them don’t even realize that they are not actually following the truth, but are instead part of one great gigantic lie!  A lie that spans ages, generations, and many differing belief systems… all of them originally clinging to some form of truth, and all of them ultimately failing and falling in the end. 

And let me tell you something; all these different belief systems and cultural histories by no means make the choice to Christ any easier to find or to follow.  Each one of these belief systems claim that they are the only way to the light; they all think that they are right and they all claim that they have the truth, but Christ said that there is only ONE way to Truth, and that is through Him.

So then why do writers try to make the choice SO evident, when it is CLEARLY not?  I mean, part of what makes Wayne Thomas Batson’s “The Door Within Trilogy” so good for middle graders to read is the fact that all of the characters had and made their own choices; they could CHOOSE to follow the light, or the dark, or remain neutral, but they HAD to choose.  And often times, choosing the dark seemed the best answer; there was lots of money to be had, and power, and food, and wealth…  It was not easy to be part of the “good guys”.  In fact, it was often much harder to be good than it was to be bad. 

It’s like that in real life too.  

This is what I was trying to get at when I was speaking about adding multiple cultures and belief systems to Christian Speculative fiction.  The choice is important… in the real world, and in speculative fiction.  It is the choice that makes or breaks not only the story, but also the character, and often the plot.   But WHAT does your character have to choose from?  Why?  How?

Here’s another statement I made in my last post:

I said:

“It is my belief that a believable story world should be based on the truths perceived in this world, since this world’s history is supposedly known as reality.”

I realize now that that is a confusing statement.  I’m going to try to clarify it here.

What I meant was that I think writers should look to this world’s history for examples of choices to put in their books depicting right and wrong.  Not that they should only write historical fiction, no.  Historical fiction is fine in its own way, but I’m not going there at the moment.

However, think about the history of the world – even the history of Christianity.  There is so much conflict with other belief systems and other religions… other cultures.  History itself has brought Christianity to what it is today – and it was stock full of pitfalls and temptations. 

Think on the reformation, if you will.  That’s a time in history that I’m going to be using in subtle context within my novel, “Song of the Daystar”.  The time when the Protestant Faith decided to break away from Catholicism, which ultimately led to the creation of the different denominations within Christianity today.  Granted, I am not a big fan of the different denominations and I personally believe that God’s church should be of one body and mind, but STILL!!!  That's part of the beauty of Freedom in Christ -- Christ gives us the freedom to be diverse; to be ourselves in His truth.  Without Christ and his Truth, and by extension without the reformation, I technically wouldn’t even be allowed to think on such things without it being a danger to my life!    

Even before the time of Christ there were different belief systems that ended up tempting and eventually overcoming God’s Chosen.  I think now of the time when Moses went up to the mountain for the making of the Ten Commandments, and in his absence the people made an idol of a calf and began to worship it.  Or how about in the time of Elijah, when the people of Israel were oppressed by Jezebel and Ahab, and had turned their eyes to the false god, Baal? 

In the end, Truth prevails, but the other choices… the other cultural beliefs, the other religions… are there to tempt the people of God; to try and turn them astray.  THIS is where the real spiritual battle begins, and this is what so many books in Christian Speculative fiction seem to be missing.  I’ve seen it done well in a few of them, but there are so many other books out there that are just missing the point!

This is another part of why I think multiple cultures and belief systems should be added to Christian Speculative fiction… not as a truth in itself, mind, but as choice; as a temptation.  And think on this: the people of other belief systems do actually think that they have the key to truth, even if they don’t really.  Thinking this, they can be very persuasive and very defensive when it comes to their faith.  (That’s what I meant when I kept saying that people of different cultures and different belief systems see black and white differently.  I never meant that Black and White were negotiable; simply that people see right and wrong with different perspectives… and this was not meant to bring morality into the debate, although it ended up sneaking its way in anyways. ;D) 

What’s saddest of all is that often times the people of different belief systems such as the Muslims and the Buddhists are more loyal to their religion – to their faith – than the Christians are with our walk with God.  I’ve seen this first hand; I know it’s true.  It’s so, so sad… but unfortunately, it is a truth for many Christians (me included in many instances).  This fact, however, can make the people of those belief systems even more convincing when it comes to arguing out their beliefs.

However, it’s like I said in my last post:  I believe that part of the wonder of True Salvation is the fact that there are so many other (false) belief systems in the world a person could pursue, and yet it is the truth behind Christianity – the truth of Christ – that draws people in to seek God’s face and find True Love and Salvation in Him.

Why do you think that so many churches send missionaries to foreign countries steeped in the cultural beliefs of a lie?  The Islamic and Buddhist and Hindu countries?  It isn’t to learn their belief systems… it is to spread the light and truth of Christ.  But even our missionaries need to be wary, and need to be covered by prayer when approaching such matters.  It’s dangerous; unsafe.

The path to true salvation is not an easy one: the gate is narrow and the way is rough and pitted.  BUT, making that first initial right choice in a whole world filled with much more succulent looking wrong choices is the first real step.

THAT, my friends, is what I meant when I wrote my last post.  THAT is what Christian Speculative writers need to work on putting into their stories – stories that have been missing that all-important spiritual conflict for so very long.  THAT is why I believe that multiple cultures and belief systems should be included in Christian Speculative Fiction – not as different forms of Truth, but as temptations and pitfalls; beliefs that are thought to be true by those who believe in them, but that ultimately lead to destruction.

With these choices before them, along with the choice that leads to salvation and redemption, the characters of a story have a long and difficult road before them.  If they are not already aware of the Right Choice and the Right Path, then they may have difficulty understanding it; they may end up turning aside, looking at other belief systems, thinking that other religions and cultures hold the key to the truth that they crave.  They may not be able to fully grasp what true salvation is… some of them may even fail in their journeys.

BUT, that’s why I usually pair my characters like this with another character who does know the difference… Who has been in that position before, and works to help lead my other character in the right direction.

Take my character Curron, for instance; he’s a young boy who grew up hearing stories of Anahdor  (the representation of God in my book) but never actually knew what true faith and belief in Anahdor actually meant or what it called for.)  Curron is eventually paired up with another character in the story known as Caellahn; Caellahn has already chosen the path to salvation through Anahdor, but he has to be careful because the King has issued a law that bans certain outlooks and views of worshiping Anahdor. (This is where I will start to work in certain aspects of the Reformation period, as well as subtly touch on some thoughts on denominational separation.) 

On his journey with Caellahn, Curron is going to be introduced to different cultural beliefs… all of them false, and all of them just different facets of darkness that eventually lead to the father of lies and deceit. (In my story, that evil character is known as Ungahl.)  And yet, when Curron is introduced to these belief systems, the people of those religions will, of course, think that their beliefs are the only ones that hold the key to truth.  They are deceived by Ungahl, but they don’t even realize it.

Curron will also be introduced in many places to those who believe as Caellahn does, who have found the one true path to salvation and redemption, and who will help Curron and pray for him as he works through his own inward struggle to find God.

Perhaps now you are starting to understand what I tried to get across before: I never meant for anyone to think that I believe in multiple truths, or that I think that there are different types of white and black, right and wrong.  I simply meant that often times, people who believe in something other than the Truth think that they are right: they THINK that they know right and wrong, black from white, when in reality they are just wrong.  There is no other way to God but One. 

AND YET, it is the very fact that there are people like that and belief systems like that in this world that often confuses people between the truth and some random falsity.  If done correctly, multicultural belief systems could be the key to revealing to our characters and therefore to our readers (through a series of events and plotlines, of course) the only ONE TRUE PATH to salvation – through Chirst.  

We should not try to purposely exclude such elements from our stories because they are wrong, we should not keep our outlook of God stuffed in a box, and we should definitely not try to ignore these aspects of our reality and of this world by excluding them from our books.  Why?  Because IF they are used correctly, adding this extra depth to the world of our story could actually aid us in our mission to reveal the Truths of Christ through fiction.

And that was my point all along.

What do you think?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cultural Belief Systems and Christian Speculative Fiction

My friend, Mirriam, over at "Thoughts of a Shieldmaiden", just recently published a post about what she believes is the problem with Christian Fiction these days.  Before you read this post, I highly suggest that you skip on over to her blog and read what she has to say on the matter.  It's quite blood-rousing.

My post is an add-on to hers... some thoughts I had on why Christian Fiction is often less "fun" to read than secular fiction is. For one thing, I've noticed that good stories are sacrificed for the sake of a sermon-on-a-soapbox. I can’t stand reading that kind of stuff myself, and I pray to God that my writing doesn’t turn out like that either.

But I think that a lot of the reason Christian Fiction turns out this way is because of what I like to call "The Limited Christian Outlook".

Now, I'm 100% a born again christian and believe whole heartedly that the only way to God is through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross to cleanse a forsaken and fallen world from their sin.  But the truth of the matter is that Christians are very good at putting things into mental boxes.  We try it with God all the time, and COME ON!!!  We should seriously know by now that God CANNOT be put into a box!

That never stops us from trying, though. It never has, and it probably never will.

What does this have to do with Christian Fiction writing?  The answer is quite simple... at least in my mind.  Christians are some of the best sort of people for ignoring things that they don't like in the real world.  For instance, has anyone ever noticed how so many Christian fiction books have only one religious belief system?  How about how so many of them have only two sides to choose from, the side that is supposedly "right" and the side that is supposedly "wrong"?  Some people might say that this has a lot to do with the allegorical nature that most Christian Fiction books should take after, but quite honestly, I don't believe this outlook is helping our books in the slightest.

Why don't I believe this?

Because the world is not made up of people who all believe the same as everybody else.  Sure, almost everybody believes in right and wrong, but we all have different points of views as to what those rights and wrongs are.  The Muslims believe that Mohamed is the ultimate prophet of God, and that Christianity is an abomination.  The Mormons believe that the Bible isn't the only holy text and follow both the Bible and the Book of Mormon; they share some Christian beliefs, but also believe in plural marriage and other things that most modern Christians don't agree with.  The Scientologists believe that the world was actually populated by aliens millions and millions of years ago; the Darwinists believe that Humans were first derived from fish who apparently came onto land and become monkeys, who eventually evolved into the human race (or some other such nonsense); and the Atheists believe that there is no God or "Greater Power" at all, and never was.

And then there are the Christians.

You see the problem here, right?  In a world where so many people believe in so many different versions of their own personal "right" and "wrong -- where all of these different people try to make everyone else see their version of "right" as the ultimate right, and their version of "wrong" as the ultimate wrong -- HOW can Christian Writers create truly believable story worlds by only using one version of right and wrong?  The "Christian Version" that is?

Quite honestly, friends, I don't think it can be done.  Humanity is too colorful for that.  As much as Christians wish they could only see in black and white, the world has proven that there is simply too much grey, and to not at least show this grey in some shape or form in our books is to push aside the element of believability.

Now, some of you are probably looking at me cross-eyed right now.  And you are probably thinking, "How on earth can that girl think she is Christian and yet speak so liberally about such matters as these?"

Well let me tell you, I make no exceptions for my belief system.  I believe in the One True God, and in the Holy Trinity.  I believe 100% that Christ is my savior, my Wonderful Lord, the ultimate Lover of my Soul.

But I can also see that most of the world doesn't believe like this.  In fact, in THIS world... in THIS reality... Black and White is only visible to the person who sees it that way, how they perceive those colors to be.  One person might see White, while another person sees that White as Black and vise-versa.  It is the simple truth of Human Nature... a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless.

Now, one thing I've noticed about a lot of secular fiction - especially fantasy - is the presence of multiple cultures with multiple beliefs.  This, I believe, is part of what makes those books so fun and interesting to read.

It is the principal of culture.  The real world is NOT made up of multiple cultures that all believe in the truths of Christianity, or the falsities of what's left.  Rather, the real world is made up of multiple cultures and histories that have developed their own belief systems, their own versions of right and wrong.  In fact, that's why so many cultures have myths and legends, and why so many of them have fallen away, disintegrating into history.  Take the Greek mythologies, for instance; I need hardly say more.

It is my belief that a believable story world should be based on the truths perceived in this world, since this word's history is supposedly known as a reality.  So many successful writers deal out the advice, "Write what you know" - the problem with this advice comes with how it is perceived; how are you supposed to write about what you know when you are writing fantasy fiction?  However, what a person knows can depend on the context.  Even a school-kid can research the cultural follies of history and myth.  That doesn't necessarily show that history or mythology is truth, but everything in human nature is based on some truth... Zeus, for instance, was a false god of the Greeks, BUT he was the High god over all of the others in Greek Mythology.  We, as Christians, can trace the truth of a One High God, back to the God of creation, Jehova, in the Bible.

In a lot of secular fiction books, there are multiple cultures with multiple beliefs and religions, and that, in my personal opinion, helps to make the story world itself believable - after all, that's how this world is.  Our world is one multifaceted gem reflecting the One Truth in a pattern of contorted images and belief systems based off of the One Truth, but ultimately contorting it to fit into the box of our choice.

To apply what I'm speaking of to the subject of writing Christian Fiction, please someone explain WHY Christians believe that their books can only have one outlook on right and wrong?  I'm not by any means saying that Christians should experiment with what they KNOW through God's word to be right and wrong, but I AM saying that I'm tired of Fantasy worlds where there are multiple cultures and races, but only one true belief system; all the characters believe in One God, and in one evil entity, and all the good characters are trying to work together to overcome the bad ones.  There may even be some neutral characters, who don't really take a side, but they still know that the sides are there to take.

Our world is full of multiple belief systems.  Our world, as the reality that it is, is obviously a believable one.  Therefore, I would think that a truly believable fiction world would be based off of a believable reality.

I have read many, many secular books that follow this line of thought, but I have read very few Christian books that even acknowledge this outlook.  My question then, to Christian Speculative Writers, is why not show some aspects of truly different cultures and belief systems in your writing?  Your main character can have (or perhaps will eventually gain) a "Christian Perspective", but part of the wonder of True Salvation is the fact that there are so many other belief systems in the world a person could pursue, and yet it is the Truth behind Christianity that draws people in to seek God's face and find True Love and Salvation in Him.

And in considering that, maybe we've been looking at the genre of the Allegory all wrong; perahps the truth to be found in Allegory is not so much the retelling of a tale in a different way, but the retelling of a truth in a way that reflects the truth for what it truly is.

Think about it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Facts About Me That You Might Have Otherwise Never Known... I WAS TAGGED!!! :D

I was tagged by Jake over at Teenage Writer to do this tag and receive the "Thanks for Blogging Award". :D And since I haven't done a tag in a long long time, I thought it might be fun to fill out this one and pass it on.

Ok, so here are the rules:

- If you are tagged/nominated, you must post eleven facts about yourself.

- Then, you must answer the eleven questions the tagger has given you and make eleven questions for the people you are going to tag.

- Next, tag eleven more bloggers.

- Tell the people you tagged that you have tagged them.

- No tagging back.

- The person you tagged must have less than 200 followers.

Facts in a Bucket:

1) I love to listen to Celtic, Irish, and Folk Music, but also enjoy Contemporary Christian and Country.  I am currently listening to no music at all, but I have a round going through my head on constant repeat... I'm also not very familiar with the classical composers, even though I should be since I am a Music Major. :P

2)  I play guitar and sing a lot.  I taught myself how to play at the age of 14 when my aunt got me a guitar for my birthday.  I learned using a chord book and a CD called "Masters of the Irish Guitar", and I love writing and playing folk music and lullabies.  Currently I'm in the process of putting music to some of the songs in the book "The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood".  Also, I didn't know how to play Piano at all until about two years after I started college.

3)  I get kind of crazy around my good friends, but they've learned to love me anyway. :)  However, if you met me outside of my circle of friends, you might at first think that I am rather quiet, laid back, and slightly introverted.  My friends have proved this theory wrong. ;)

4) I just got back from the Bristol Wisconsin Ren-faire.  IT WAS EPIC!!!  I can't wait to go again next year. ^_^

5) I'm still afraid of the dark... Hey, don't judge me!  I can't help it... I just have an overly active imagination.  Even now at almost 24 years old, when all the lights go out at night, I can almost see things sneaking through the blackness to get me... *shivers*  Some of my dad's scary stories told to me as a kid might be at fault for that...

6) I used to think my toys came to life as soon as I stopped looking at them.  That doesn't happen anymore... but I blame Toy Story. ;)

7) I collect cool-looking journals and writing utensils, but I can't actually journal worth a darn.  I've tried it many times... it never lasts long.  However, I do keep a journal or a notebook with me at all times, and often write down scenes or plot ideas for my books.  In fact, the other day I forgot to bring my journal with me, and instead wrote my plot idea down in the back of the book I was reading on a blank page. :)

8) I currently have more writing projects planned out than I have time to write.  To remedy this, I've actually decided to combine some of my other ideas into stories that are already being written, in order to cut back.  Also, I started writing my first novel at the age of 16.  It's called "Eldrei" and no, it's not finished yet... I have a LOT of rewriting to do.  I started writing SOTD at the age of 17, and it was originally for a novella contest. :)

9) My favorite fantasy creature is the Dragon, although I'll admit that a griffin comes in close second. My favorite color of dragon is red. :D

10)  I've always wanted to go to Europe and South America, and I have a fascination with language (even though I can only truly speak English, and I butcher the few other languages I've tried to learn... :P).  I also love Tolkien's languages, of course, and used to be able to write using the Anglo-Saxon runes almost as well as I can write using normal English. (No more, I'm afraid...)

11) I'm officially glad that this part of the tag is over because I totally ran out of things to say! :D

The Bloggers I've tagged:

People are probably going to hate me for this, but though I follow a virtual TON of blogs, I can't think of any of them at this point in time. :P  Plus I'm tired.  So for now I'm just going to tag anyone who might want to be tagged, and perhaps later I will come back and actually assign people to this project. :D

My answers to Jake's Questions:

1. What's your favorite place in the world?

This is a tough question... Well, I've always wanted to travel to Ireland or Scottland.  I love my home state of Illinois as well, but I also really love the rocky mountains and Yellowstone National park.  Not to mention the awesome beauty of the badlands... Can I just say the whole world?  Since I live here, and there are so many wonderful things to see and learn? :D

2. What do you think about Kansas? (>:D)

I've actually never been to Kansas, but I'm sure it's a very  nice state. :)

3. Favorite song?

There are so many!  I can't name a favorite... I just can't!  I'll name a favorite Artist though... Andrew Peterson. :)  And Loreena McKennitt. ^_^

4. Favorite quote?

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."

5. G. K. Chesterton is, to you, what? Your opinion?

You're not going to believe this, but I've never read any of Chesterton either.  Just never have, for no reason other than I haven't.

6. Best speculative fiction you've read recently? In absence of speculative fiction, what's the best book you've read recently, non-fiction or fiction?

As far as "recent" goes, the last few titles that I've read were only mediocre in my opinion... Not terrible, but not really enough for me to name any of them as the best title that I've read recently.  However, I have a list of new books that I've started working through... perhaps I'll come back and re-answer these questions at a better time. :D

7. Best kind of cookie?

Chocolate Chip

8. Your opinion of pie?

I love pie, especially Green Tomato Pie!  YUM!!! :)

9. What color is your favorite shirt?

Probably red, but I only say "probably" because I have a lot of shirts that are red, and I don't know that I have a favorite. :)

10. Are you procrastinating?

At this particular moment in time?  Probably, yes.

11. If you're a writer, what are you currently writing? If you're not a writer, what big thing have you done recently?

I am currently working on a new and much better beginning for my novel SOTD.  Now, the whole story opens from my Villain's point of view, and I think the idea is working rather well. :)

My Questions:

1) What is the title of the writing project you are currently working on, and what is the story about?

2) If you could be anyone in history, fantasy, modern day, or a speculative world... anyone at all with no universe as a boundary, who would you choose to be?

3)Coffee or tea?

4) What is your favorite color scheme?

5) What is your special talent?

6) If you could be any of your characters, which one would you choose to be and why?  Would you let them be your Author, then?

7)  If you were suddenly gifted with millions of dollars, what would you do with it?

8) How big is your immediate family?

9) Science or History?

10) Do you prefer the country or the city?

11)  Where is your favorite place in the entire world?

Thank you for putting up with me, my friends!  And thank you for reading this tag.  If you feel like just claiming this tag, then good luck to you, and I look forward to reading it! :)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Reflections on The Chronicles of Narnia: Dragon Skin

In case any of you out there never realized this before, I am a HUGE fan of C.S. Lewis’ fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. And when I say “huge” fan, I mean squeal over getting the lion crest on a silver pendant, have lion stuffed animals all over your room, read the entire series at least twice a year and usually out of order, (not to mention listen to the audio books ten times in the same year), squeal over the theater release of every movie, and constantly dream of Aslan and Narnia whether by day or by night, HUGE.

Yes, that’s me. Ever since I first read the books at the age of ten, I was absolutely hooked. (I admit I may have exaggerated about the amount of times I’ve read the entire series to a year, but I’ve still read it so many times that I’ve lost count, and I’ve listened to the audio books even more often than that.)

There is something quite compelling about these books. I think part of what draws me to them is the fact that every time I read them I am brought to a new revelation – usually one that pertains to the spiritual aspect of things.

Now recently I’ve been listening to the audio books over and over again as I’m at work… I slip in a CD, and work to the rhythm of the story being told. (And I’m allowed to do that at work, since I work for an old woman who likes to listen to things of that sort as well. :D) Lately as I’ve been listening, I’ve had a whole slew of new revelations hit me upside the head, as if they were as plain as day and always had been, and the reason I was only just realizing that was because they were shouting at me in high-pitched voices and waving their hands in the air to make it as obvious as possible.

One such revelation came to me as I was listening to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The story had come to the part where Eustace, after being turned into a Dragon, is found by Aslan and told that he must “undress” before he can step into the enchanted pool and ease the ache in his arm from the Lord Octesian’s arm ring.

At that point in time, I thought, “What an interesting notion… a dragon that needs to undress.” Even Eustace thought it curious at the time, but had remembered that dragons are sort of like snakes, and snakes can shed their skin.

Oh, and how he did try to get his ugly dragon skin off by himself! Two skins, and three, and I believe even a fourth skin were shed before he realized that there was no way he could peal the whole thing off without some form of help.

And it was then that Aslan stepped in.

I don’t think anyone could blame Eustace for feeling afraid at that point in time. Who wouldn’t feel scared if a lion stepped up and offered to peal your skin off of you? Especially a lion so big and powerful and imposing as Aslan.

But then, when Aslan sunk his claws into Eustace’s dragon flesh and ripped it open, though it hurt like crazy, Eustace later told Edmund how wonderful it actually felt as the whole knobby thing peeled off, leaving him smooth and tender underneath.

Now, think on that for a moment… consider that whole scene. How does that scene – that particular scene – pertain to us as Christians? How can it?

I never made the connection before the other day, but when it hit me, it hit me hard.

How many of us are like Eustace?

In the books it states that while laying on a pile of dragon’s gold, and with dragonish thoughts in his head, Eustace had become a dragon himself. And how many of us Christians have also turned into dragons? Trapped by our greed, our ambitions, our imperious thoughts, so many supposed followers of Christ in today’s society have become like dragons… not in appearance, but in our hearts. And to make matters worse, we get stuck like that. Swathed in layer upon layer of dragon skin – layers we have created thick and deep in order to protect our tender hearts from a world we consider cruel – we get to a point where we realize that our barriers, our protective coverings, our haughty gazes and upturned noses, have turned us into something monstrous; something foul and hideous, and knobby. We suddenly understand that our own supposed protections, our own justifications, have transformed us into a creature not only ugly, but fierce… something that breathes fire at anyone and anything it thinks will attack it – including friends and family – and that’s long, sharp claws can tear down others much quicker than it can rebuild.

Once this is realized, I think a lot of Christians start by trying to peel off the layers of their dragon’s skin one at a time all by themselves. We don’t know how else to do it. After all, the layers were built up one at a time – one haughty thought at a time, one ambition, one moment of greed, one hidden sin… But for us it becomes too much. If we try to do it ourselves, we’ll never get the full Dragon skin off. There will always be another dragon skin underneath each layer to replace it, just as knobbly and dirty and ugly as the first. And because it takes time for us to try and peel off each ugly layer of skin one at a time, we shall always have that same ample amount of time to grow a new skin right back. After all, it is far easier to fall back into habit and to grow a dragon skin (with all that that entails) than it is to feel the pain and peel the skin away. It would seem that growing a dragon skin is only part of Human Nature.

However, there is One who can get the whole skin off all at once.

In the chronicles of Narnia, that One is Aslan the Lion… the only son of the Emperor Over the Sea. In the books, that Lion took his great, strong claws and ripped the giant ugly dragon skin clean off of Eustace’s body, leaving it lying in a heap beside the enchanted cleansing pool. And afterward, Eustace looked back on the shed skin and saw how thick and horrible it actually was, and knew that there was no way he could have taken it off all by himself.

In real life, that Lion is actually Jesus Christ, and his claws are actually three iron nails, and the enchanted pool is actually his blood pooled at the foot of an ancient wooden cross. And our Dragon skin… well, it’s much the same as Eustace’s. Sure, we can’t actually see it – physically see it – like the crew of the Dawn Treader could see Eustace’s dragon skin in the books. But that doesn’t mean our Dragon skins are any smaller or less awful or less shameful than Eustace’s. And only the Lion himself – only Christ – can actually “undress” us of our awful ugly skin and toss us into the enchanted pool… the deep, cleansing pool of his blood.

Sometimes, however, it’s hard to admit that we can’t take the skin off by ourselves. And yet admitting our weaknesses is the first step to freedom because it is a step towards realizing and having others realize that we are not perfect… never were and never will be.

Until Eustace actually turned into a dragon, he always thought that he was right, while everyone else was terribly and inexcusably wrong. Once he became a dragon – once he realized how awful he really was in comparison to what he had originally thought the others to be – he started to understand. He started to see the ugliness for what it truly was; not just the scales, and claws, and teeth of a dragon, but the ugliness that had settled in his heart and in his soul. He started to want to be fixed… want to be made beautiful inside, even though he knew he didn’t deserve it.

And what Eustace never realized, just as we often don’t, is that once he could see and understand the wrong for what it was, only then could Aslan heal him. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. If the horse doesn’t admit and realize that it’s thirsty, even if it’s going to die without water, there is nothing you can do to save that horse… it will not drink and you cannot force it to.

And just think about how much MORE stubborn a dragon would be.

And now think about how stubborn humans can be when compared to a common beast such as the horse.

But there is hope for us, just like there was for Eustace, because God is a jealous God, a loving God. He wants to make us beautiful inside and out, even though we don’t deserve it. It may not be pleasant though – sometimes it takes a lion’s claws to tear through all of the layers of Dragon Ugliness and Evilness that we’ve built up around us. But no matter what, we can rest safe in knowing that the pain is only temporary, and once the whole process is over, no matter how much hurt it may cost us at the time, we will be made new – smooth and pure, just like how we were always meant to be.

Once God cleanses us of our Dragon skins.