Kia ora (Hello)
A famous walk at midnight took place in Oxford, England. J. R. R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was trying to convince his atheist friend that God exists. This may surprise some of you. Recently, someone commented they had not watched the “Lord of the Ring” or “Hobbit” movies because they were “demonic”. Tolkien, however, was a devout Christian and he wrote his stories to create a mythology that honored the ideals of the Christian worldview. But, Tolkien was careful to make certain his fictional creations, stories and ideas did not overtly speak to the existence of God but worked through imagery and imagination. But, his devotion to Christ and the basic tenets of Christianity resonated throughout the Lord of the Rings in spite of his refusal to make such ideas blatant. Tolkien decided to use this idea of imagination as a key to converting his friend and colleague, C. S. Lewis, to Christianity.That night as they walked through the garden, Lewis rebuffed all of Tolkien’s arguments for God’s existence. Finally, Tolkien told Lewis what he lacked was imagination, the capacity to see beyond the natural into a realm that is truly supernatural — that is above and beyond the five senses. Lewis was intrigued by this comment and soon became not only a devout Christian, but the leading defender of the truth of the Christian faith in the mid twentieth century.
The rest is history and in contrast to Tolkien’s more subtle inclusion of Christian ideals in his works, Lewis was more obvious as can be seen in the Christ figure of Aslan in his Narnia books.
I recall sitting in the theater in 2001 and being absolutely stunned and blown away by the movie, The Fellowship of the Ring. The story resonated with themes of self sacrifice, the existence of evil, the importance of companionship, unconditional love, and the battle for good. But, more than that, the movie was stunning in its visuals and its settings. I have touched on New Zealand’s beauty in previous posts as the setting for all of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien movies. The natural beauty is there to behold — raw and undeniable. But, there is also here among its people a love for goodness and hard work and the land and, yes, God.
In the Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo Baggins has this to say about Hobbits: “Hobbits must seem of little importance. In fact, it has been remarked by some that Hobbits’ only real passion is for food. And, this is a rather unfair observation. But where our hearts truly lie is in peace and quiet and good tilled earth.” As seen in the book and the movies, Hobbits are the most amazing and surprising folk filled with unexpected bravery and self sacrifice and committed to working very hard and finishing well. Tolkien never visited New Zealand, but it is the most powerful compliment in the world that this nation was chosen to be the setting for these remarkable movies. For, the people I have come to know and love here share all of these admirable traits: a love of food; a desire for true peace and contentment; a durable work ethic and nary a complaint when confronted with a long, arduous walk or a difficult journey. The land here sings with joy for being tilled and milled and cared for. Every twist and turn along the highway reveals farms and cows and sheep and carefully tended land. In the garden, God gave Adam a simple job: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Here in this beautiful land, the men and women of New Zealand are doing just that — caring for God’s creation. And, a love for God overflows from my new friends and family here.
I will be leaving this fair land in a day and I will carry with me fond memories of incredible sights but also of warm hearts and new friendships. I find it so odd that I can feel an instant bond with a fellow believe in Christ. This phenomenon defies imagination. In fact most of New Zealand’s beauty defies imagination.
Ah, there is that word again. Imagination. Here are two definitions of the word imagination:
“the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses AND the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful.”
New ideas formed from images or concepts NOT PRESENT TO THE SENSES (that is superseding the senses or, frankly, supernatural). I can assure you that my senses have been overwhelmed by breathtaking sights that defy human imagination. I cannot, could not, and would not ever be able to imagine what I have seen and heard. The towering mountains. The endless blue depths of the sounds and fjords. The haunting song of the bellbird. And so much more I still have yet to process. But, there is one thing I know. If imagination is truly “the ability of the mind to be creative and resourceful” and the human mind is woefully inadequate to conceive of the beauty I have seen then there must be a Mind behind it all; an Intellect of staggering proportion; a Designer with the heart of an artist who painted these hills in greens and browns and blues and dashes of red and yellow; a Mind whose creativity is echoed weakly in our own creative impulses. If C. S. Lewis had walked the hills and gardens of New Zealand with Tolkien, perhaps he would have been more easily persuaded. I cannot imagine a world like this where there is no God!
What have I learned here? We are God’s greatest creation and there is no beauty of the land to match the beauty of a human heart! The friends we have made here will resonate on into eternity and I hope to one day return to this wondrous land. So, just to pique your imagination, a simple slideshow of some of my favorite photos.
Hei konei ra (expressing good wishes on parting).
My father passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 98. Even though he had been living in the nursing home for the past three years, I always brought him home for the holidays. Every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Fourth of July, my father would sit at the head of our table. And, always, he would lead us in prayer and sing us a song or two.
My father’s singing idols were Tennessee Ernie Ford and George Beverly Shea. Although his voice was weaker and weaker as he aged, when he switched to his singing mode, from somewhere deep within this clear, deep, resonant voice would boom out a song in perfect pitch.
And so, this year, more than any other, I am thankful for my father. His absence has made me realize how much I came to depend on hearing that voice raised in song. “Don’t you want to thank someone?” is a more than just a question. It is a song written and sung by Andrew Peterson. The last song on his newest release, “Light for the lost boy”, this song brought tears to my eyes just a few weeks before my father’s death.
I used to be a little boy
As golden as a sunrise
Breaking over Illinois
When the corn was tall
Yeah, but every little boy grows up
And he’s haunted by the heart that died
Longing for the world that was
Before the Fall
Oh, but then forgiveness comes
A grace that I cannot resist
And I just want to thank someone
I just want to thank someone for this
Those are just a few words from this incredible song. I did not grow up in Illinois, but the corn grew tall in my father’s garden here in Louisiana and one dark day atop the tall tree I realized the world was broken and no longer the glowing, innocent thing I had lived in for my first ten years. It was atop that tree, above the vampires that lurked in the dark shadows and the werewolves with glowing yellow eyes that waited for me in the blackberry bushes and the myriad monsters of my imagination that my fear of the worlds I had only until then imagined became the beasts of approaching adulthood. Just as real. Just as dangerous. Just as deadly.
I write about vampires and werewolves and creatures in the dark because we live in a broken, fallen world. We try desperately to understand it and to dissect it and to equate it and to reduce it to laws and axioms that fit neatly into a science textbook. Equations we can control. With them we hope to tame the beasts but to no avail. Rather, it takes imagination.
During a midnight walk, J. R. R. Tolkien told C. S. Lewis that his atheism was no more than a lack of imagination. Here are some other words from this incredible song:
Now I can see the world is charged
It’s glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
Dripping from prophets’ lips
But still, my thirst is never slaked
I am hounded by a restlessness
Eaten by this endless ache
But still I will give thanks for this
‘Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat
I can feel it when the horses run
It’s howling in the snowy peaks
It’s blazing in the midnight sun
Just behind a veil of wind
A million angels waiting in the wings
A swirling storm of cherubim
Making ready for the Reckoning
Oh, how long, how long?
Oh, sing on, sing on
And when the world is new again
And the children of the King
Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it’s a better thing
A better thing
To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it’s waking up
And I’m waking up
‘Cause I can hear the voice of one
He’s crying in the wilderness
“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?
I am so thankful for the power of my imagination to open up the doorways of my heart and mind to the REALITY of God! I am so thankful my silent companion standing in the gap between my soul and the monsters of my brokenness is real and loving and forgiving and the author and finisher of this universe. I am so thankful for the times of failure and faithlessness and doubt so that I could search those shadows again and find Him waiting there right where I left Him. I am so thankful my father showed me the love of God! I am thankful for each and every reader that has trusted me to fill a book with words that are more than echoes of futility. Rather, they are words that lead slowly but inexorably to the Word, the Logos, the One who became flesh. And, for that, I am thankful.
Look around you in the aftermath of this hectic and busy season of empty thanks and muted praise and awkward family gatherings and frantic hours of shopping. Stop and look into the shadows. There may be beasts among us, and I am sure there are. But, there is a quiet, abiding companion following, following and watching over us. My father sang of this companion in his powerful voice. He sang of a Father that is greater than any earthly father could ever be. A Father who sits at our table; who sings the story of our lives into being; who longs to love us and redeem us and hold us in his arms. Think on this with an imagination that is a poor reflection of the image of God and you will find in your heart and in your soul the need to thank Someone!
This Friday at 915 A.M. join me for the “Christian Writing Conference” by Athanatos Christian Ministries “No Compromise for the King: In Pursuit of Excellence”. This conference is FREE but requires registration. I will be speaking on “Apologetics as a Foundation for Speculative Christian Fiction”. This is an adaptation of a presentation I gave back in April. In addition to the discussion of several Christian Speculative Fiction books that utilize apologetics, I will discuss the necessity of a firm foundation in the Christian faith for fiction that conveys the Christian worldview.
In addition to my discussion I would like to share a few thoughts as you prepare for the free conference on Friday.
Every story conveys a worldview.
Best selling books such as “The Shack” succeed because the author takes a slightly different angle on historical, traditional Christianity. I do not want to offend the author or readers who have enjoyed that book. However, the “doctrine” presented in “The Shack” smacks more of New Age religion than classical Christianity. I couldn’t help but wonder if the story could have used a shot of doctrinal truth. As an apologist, I cannot express how many times I have fielded questions that come directly from “The Shack”. Again, the book succeeds in bringing readers into a fascinating story and does expose the readers to some ideas from the Christian faith.
American Christians aren’t really Christian.
I would like to consider George Barna’s book, “Seven Faith Tribes of America”. In that book, Barna relates that 67% of Americans claim to be Christians. But, when Barna asked these same Americans specifically what they believe, it turns out their belief system consisted of picking and choosing bits and pieces of Christianity that fit their lifestyle. They created a “boutique” religion that does not resemble traditional Christianity. Only 16% or 1 out of 6 Americans practice what Barna describes as “committed” Christianity.
Imagination can alter our perception of Christ.
Bearing this in mind, it would seem there is a need for writers to make certain that the basic tenets of Christianity are represented in any work that labels itself “Christian” fiction. To do otherwise is to swerve dangerously close to the heresies of the “gnostic” Gospels which also strove to re-create Christianity and re-define Jesus in terms that would match their “version” of Christ. Matt Mikalatos touched on this tendency for us to create Jesus in our own imaginary image in his book, “My Imaginary Jesus”.
May the Force be with you.
Let’s face it. Today’s fiction landscape is littered with dozens of “mash up” philosophies. Spirituality is the “religion” of our time. Anything that smacks of the spiritual is fair game for inclusion in one’s own personal worldview. With relativism running rampant, one man’s religion is just as valid as another’s. What we as Christian authors must do is to avoid falling into a blurring of the lines that separate Christianity from these philosophies. I see Christian speculative fiction works embracing concepts such as dualism, that is, that good and evil are opposite and EQUAL forces in the universe. The Force took care of that one. And yet, as Christians we know that Satan is nowhere nearly equal to the power of God. Yes, he perpetrates evil. But, Satan is far from an equal but opposite force. There are numerous other examples of this blurred theology. The masters such as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis managed to practice “world building” and still preserve sound foundational ideas that are uniquely Christian. We can only hope to come close to their successes!
Authors should think critically.
One aspect of apologetics that has benefitted me personally in my writing is the development of “critical thinking”. Tough questions asked by my atheist partners are the force that spurred me into seeking answers that went beyond “the Bible says it and that settles it” or “God worked miraculously in my life and He can work in yours”. By entering into the field of apologetics, I was confronted with the necessity to use sound thinking, rational discourse, and reason in answering these questions. One need look no further than Jesus’ sessions with the Pharisees or the rich young ruler. He was the Master of answering a question with a question; of divining the true intention behind the question; of turning the tables on his opponents and leaving them open mouthed and confused instead of the other way around. This ability to utilize “critical thinking skills” has become indispensable in writing a novel. By looking at plot lines from all the different angles, a novelist can creatively lead his reader down one garden path and still have the outcome, though unexpected, be totally satisfying and ultimately logical.
We should be interesting and draw people to us.
I have also noticed that as authors, we tend to be poor speakers. We would rather spend time on the written word; honing it; polishing it; editing it until it is perfect. But, place us in a live interview situation and you would think we suffered from expressive aphasia! Becoming an apologist has also allowed me to hone those speaking skills. The ability to formulate a convincing “argument” on the spot is a powerful way to gain attention from those around us. William Lane Craig in his excellent apologetic primer “On Guard” talks about this principle. He says that apologetics will ultimately make us “more interesting”. Why would we want to be more interesting? To sell more books! To gain attention for our works! To have opportunities to tell our stories! And, this leads to furthering the Kingdom, our ultimate goal.
Are YOU being asked the tough questions?
A few years back, one of the employees at the hospital at which I work committed a murder suicide of his three year old son and his wife. Everyone was devastated as the news reached our department on that horrific Tuesday morning. I knew exactly what would be happening to me. I knew that within hours, employees in my department would be knocking on my office door to ask me “the question”. They seem to have the sense that I had answers to some of life’s hard questions. I never announced that I did. But, in our casual conversations, they sensed the way I think; the way I analyze; the way that I try and point everyone back to Jesus Christ. So, when bad things happen that puzzle and confound us, they turn to the nearest person that seems to have real and truthful answers. Sure enough, the next few days saw me trying my best to answer these tough questions.
This is exactly what we do as authors. We pose questions people never thought of asking and then answer those questions in creative and compelling manners. Jesus did the same thing with His parables. We should do no less.
I challenge those of you who want to write Christian fiction to consider rounding our your foundation by studying apologetics. Look at the tab at the top of this page labeled “Apologetics”. If you go to this section, you can download a document of resources that will lead you to numerous websites and books that will become a firm foundation for sound apologetics.
Fiction is something that we make up. But, our fiction must always point to the Truth of the Gospel. How can we lead someone to Truth unless we know that Truth intimately and fully?
January and February are usually quiet months for me as an author. With one notable exception. Last year, my editor sent me the first editorial suggestions for “The 13th Demon” in February and I spent the month working on a major rewrite for the book that came out in October of 2011. This year, I was prepared to spend mid February to March on the book. I was thinking that January would be quiet. Dead. Nothing would happen.
Here it is the end of February and I am SOOOOO busy and I love it! Already, I’m out of breath and the year has just begun. And, according to my stalwart editor, Andy, the second book “The 12th Demon” out this coming October is MUCH better than book one. I’m getting stoked for a good year.
Bottom Line so far: God is so good. And, as I look forward to 2012 and look back to where God has brought me from, I realize I’m riding the wave of His plan for my life, not mine. And, that is just where I need to be.
Item #1 — Drama. I never wanted to be involved in drama. And yet, God positioned me to be in charge of a drama ministry at Brookwood Baptist Church for 15 years!!! Because of my experience with drama, I am requested often to speak on a multitude of topics relating to drama in the church. This past weekend, I spoke at the annual Louisiana Music and Drama Festival on my work with kids in our church’s Kidstuf program. That work involves writing and rewriting and adapting scripts for weekly drama and directing adults to act like kids. The weird things is, Kidstuf is oddly about apologetics. You know, the defense of the Christian faith; the establishment of the fact that our worldview is based on sound, rational thinking. So, how does Kidstuf work? Each month, we teach the kids a “virture” or value, like honesty, self-control, honor, generosity, sacrifice, etc. And those virtues are rooted in sound scripture. And how do we convey this to the kids? Through edgy sketches and drama that makes them THINK! That’s right! We’re making our kids think critically about the world around them. Imagine that! Which leads me toL
Item #2 — Apologetics. I never imagined I would be in this field. For one thing, I never knew it existed until I was challenged by my scientific colleagues on why I was a Christian. This story I’ve shared many times before. But, I never imagined I would become a trained apologist and then use that apologetics to defend my faith and help out with kids who are being twisted and deformed by our postmodern culture. In fact, since the first of the year I have spoken four times at major venues on apologetics! That is in addition to the speaking engagement at the drama festival. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to our state Evangelism Conference. And then, I was invited to come and speak to Mark Sutton Ministries’ seminary class on apologetics. And then, I was invited to speak at two different “LifeGroup” sessions here in my home city. Tomorrow night, my best friend Mark Riser and I will be speaking at the launch of a new church series on the Life of Christ.
I mean, this is just too weird!!! How did I get into this? But, you know what else happened? Somehow apologetics made me want to write fiction that used those facts as the basis for stories and that led to . . .
Item #3 — Published Christian Author in Speculative Fiction. I started out at the age of 13 writing science fiction. For years I tried to get published and put my writing career on the shelf to conquer college and medical school. When I came back to it, God say “Write Drama” and that is what I did. In 1995 a series of children’s plays was published by Contemporary Drama. Wait! It’s supposed to be science fiction! And then, I got depressed. Bad depressed and worked through it in two years and my pastor said “Let’s write a book on depression.” And we did and in 2001 came “Conquering Depression” published by Broadman & Holman. But, where was the science fiction? I brooded over my multiple manuscripts of science fiction all in various stages of development and nothing happened. I told God I would write whatever he wanted me to write. After all, I hadn’t been too successful with the science fiction stuff, but God had used me to touch lives with other kinds of writing. Maybe the big Dude Upstairs knows what He’s doing!
I woke up one Saturday morning with this weird, scary, horror type story in my head that used, wait for it, apologetics as a center piece and the results, 30 days later, was “The 13 Demon”. I didn’t want to do what I now know is “speculative fiction”. I wanted to stick to good old hard science fiction. But, God had other plans. And now I’m writing, published, apologizing, kidstuffing and . . .
Item #4 — Speaking Career. Back in 2008 when I was taking a course in apologetics I was required to go to this Dynamic Communication Workshop and learn how to, uh, communicate. Get out of here! I already KNOW how to communicate! I write. I speak. I direct. I act. I chase little monkeys around the kid’s area. But, I had no choice. If I wanted to get my Certified Apologetic Instructor certification, I would head out at once to DCW. Guess what? Life. Changing. Experience! Bada bing! I was Co Mun Icating! And, now, I am getting all kinds of request to come and speak on everything from “How Can I Know God Exists?” to “Writing and Adapting Scripts for Children” to “Should I Self Publish or Not?”
Here I am smack dab in the middle of a plan I never imagined. I wanted to be the next Michael Crichton. Well, in a way, my speculative fiction is similar to the style he used. So, did God allow me to have the desires of my heart. You bet you He did! Man, what a year so far!
So, I’m contemplating a new endeavor. I’m considering starting a website dedicated to “apologetic fiction”. What does this mean? Simply, my goal would be to equip Christian fiction and non fiction writers with ways to use their writing to show the truth of the Christian worldview. I plan on talking about LEGACY — the mean and women of the past who used their writing to advance Truth. People such as C. S. Lewis and Tolkien and Chesterton. I plan on touching on BASICS, the basic tenets of apologetics — philosophy, history, science and how we can think again as Christians. How to use those elements in your writing. I plan on REVIEWS, covering books both fiction and non fiction about Christian apologetics so that you, the author, will know which book is best for your research. I plan on exposing FORBIDDEN topics, what my LifeGroup pastor, Weston, calls “speculative theology”. These are topics we Christians LOVE to argue over but that can become a stumbling block to non believers and skeptics we are trying to reach with our writing. And, I want to invite other authors to submit PARABLES, stories, poems, essays, blog posts illustrating the need for Truth in today’s postmodern culture. And finally, a little game in “NAME THAT WORLDVIEW” where I review a novel, a television show, a movie, etc. and see if you can figure what worldview is being portrayed.
So there it is. Look soon for the site intitled PARABOLE, the Greek word for parable. Is it more work? Yes! But, it is no more work than I am involved in right now preparing for these teaching and speaking engagements.
So, if you might be interested in exploring such a site, send me a comment. Make a suggestion. Let’s see if we can proclaim TRUTH to the world through our FICTION and our WRITING.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need a nap!!!!!