Archives For Life

<strike>Bruce</strike> I’m sorry, Caitlyn Jenner has been all over the news of late regarding his/her gender transition. We’re supposed to believe that a man of 65 years of age has felt like a woman all of his life, and is now letting <strike>his</strike> her true self out.

Well and good. None of us can see inside Caitlyn’s soul to judge this for ourselves. But what I find hard to fathom is that the same folks who are so loudly trumpeting the fact that we must support Caitlyn, can’t get behind Rachel Dolezal. I mean if gender dysphoria is indeed a thing, why not racial dysphoria. The woman seem to have so strongly identified with the black experience that she believes she’s black.

In this relativistic, pluralistic culture in which we live, who are we to say otherwise? Personal truth (“my truth,” “my experience”) trumps objective reality everyday of the week. We can be whomever, and whatever, we wish…

Except if we’re Rachel Dolezal claiming to be black. Then, no, that’s not okay. But if one is a woman, for instance, who objects to <strike>Bruce</strike> Caitlyn Jenner’s conscription of femininity without living the feminine experience, the one is termed “transphobic.”

My conclusion is that, along with Chesterton, “Our Father is young, and we have grown old.” We have grown old in this sin-soaked world. Sin has tainted everything–everything–we see, hear, taste, touch, smell. Our reason is fallen. In my worldview, gender dysphoria is a consequence of sin. As is claiming to be something we aren’t (this would be termed “lying”). 

But.

AND THIS IS AN AWFULLY BIG “BUT.” Nothing puts us outside the love and grace of God. There is nothing truer than what He says about us; namely, that we–whether we are Caitlyn Jenner, or Rachel Dolezal–are never beyond His love. That He sent His Son. That whether we are gay, straight, bi, transgender, or claim to be transracial, all He asks is that we come to Him to let Him make of us something new. We can debate all the live long day  about what is, or is not, sin.

But in the end, we all need Him.

That, my friends, is not relative.

“Isn’t there enough real horror in the world? Why do we need horror stories?” I have been asked these, and other, questions. In fact, I was once on the receiving of a fundagelical intervention because I had the temerity to read the Harry Potter books. In some circles (yes, folks, they’re still out there!), somehow the Old Testament command, “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” has come to mean “thou shalt not read the exploits of a certain boy wizard.” Never mind that it’s fantasy, never mind the fact that the stories are rife with not only biblical–dare I say Christian–themes. The books start with a mother giving her life for her only son. There is sacrifice, honor, loyalty, facing adversity, standing up against the odds. I could go on.

And we’re worried about fantasy depictions of magic? Talk about straining at gnats! But I digress. Yes, there is real horror in the world–rapes, murders, war, torture, sex slavery, racism, and on and on and on. The thing is: horror stories don’t add to the horror in the world; rather, they give us a vicarious outlet for processing those real horrors we experience in life (or see in technicolor on YouTube). The horror story, because it’s a story, gives a safe place to feel our fears. We can put on a movie, or curl up with a book, in the safety and comfort our own homes. If it’s too much, we turn off the movie, or put the book down. We are never really in danger, but the stories remind us of the one fact we seem to almost willingly want to forget: the world is not a safe place. We, especially we in the West, crave nothing so much as safety and comfort. And we become quite wroth when anything threatens that delicate equilibrium. We don’t like to be made to feel uncomfortable. But this is exactly why I both read, and write, horror stories. It’s when I’m feeling the most safe and comfortable that world is most apt to collide head on with me (or I with it). The horror story is a necessary tonic; it reminds us that things aren’t always good, that sometimes things don’t work out for the best in this world. Young men die (I just lost a coworker who was only forty-nine!), while greedy grow old. Babies are born crack-addicted, or with AIDS. Praying grandmothers, serving with all their strength husbands suffering from strokes and with dementia, die before their ill spouses…

It doesn’t make any sense. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

The horror story comes along, telling us, “Yes, this world is a wilder, weirder, darker, more mysterious place than you can possible imagine.” But you can survive. You will face obstacles you never dreamed of, and will overcome them. The thing is we have to be willing to be made to feel uncomfortable. I find that not many are. We eschew that which makes us feel uncomfortable. Instead of facing our fears, we often give in them labelling it wisdom. Whoever said this world is a safe place?

Now I’m not here suggesting that the horror story be all that we read; rather that we make it a practice to step outside our comfort zones. It may feel uncomfortable and awkward at first, but I think it’s ultimately rewarding. Beyond that, there is precious little other fiction where the veil betwixt the natural and supernatural is so thin–is rent in twain. Horror, and all fantasy fiction for that matter, treats the supernatural as de rigueur–as a matter of fact. Because we, at least those of us who call ourselves christians, live in those two worlds all the time everyday. To us, the supernatural is real. To the writer of fiction, while it might not be real, it at least reflects a worldview much closer to our own; namely, that there are forces which lie outside the realm of physics and rationality. Which can’t be neatly categorized or explained. Supernatural/horror/fantasy fiction, done right, allows for the most of epic of confrontations between good and evil with a capital “E.” In this way, we come nearer in approach to a biblical worldview than we would say a Tom Clancy, or a Lee Child, novel. In those, man is the architect of the evil depicted upon the story’s stage; in Tolkien, there is Sauron. In Harry Potter, Voldemort. In King’s The Stand, there is Flagg. Each of these, whether the author intended or no, comes closer to depicting the world as it is; namely, that there is an enemy, Satan, who is the author of evil. That there is in fact a transcendent evil originating outside our species.

This is why I both read, and write, horror stories.

Beyond that, these stories make us feel something–even if it’s revulsion. They are visceral, and as such can’t be ignored. Like a roller coaster, there are chills and thrills, but ultimately the ride comes to an end, and we get off. Hopefully, we take enough with us to counteract the effects of world which seeks to lull us to sleep, to pull the wool over our eyes. This is why I read and write horror stories.

How about you? Do you read horror stories?

Like the popular Taylor Swift song, Blank Space, things have been quiet around here. Time was I enjoyed writing something everyday, but somewhere along the way lost the joy of it.

I forgot that the work was its own reward. It’s not about the comments, or the shares, the social media interactions, or the stats.

It’s about the work.

The sheer joy of creating something which yesterday did not exist. In Tolkien’s phrase, we are “sub-creators”–we create because we are made in the image of a creative God. He didn’t create for applause, but rather because it is his nature to do so. What do you think he meant in declaring creation “good?” Doing the work gave him, the most self-fulfilling being, immense pleasure.

That should be a clue to those of us who are compelled to create works of art (whatever form those works take). Don’t get get sidetracked by applause, acclaim, by being known–keep working, keep creating. It’s not about the glory, but about making the best art we can, and finding joy in the doing.

The work is its own reward. Let’s not forget this.

There’s something I need to say, something I need to get off my chest: I’m a dummy. Not a stiff, immovable mannequin (although I’ve been accused of that), but rather a dummy with regards to the raising of offspring.
 
 Now what I’m talking about here isn’t so much about the inculcation of values, moral instruction, family rules, etc. Because there are non-negotiables: don’t cheat, don’t lie, tell the truth, clean up after yourself, help out around the house. What I’m talking about is the staggering realization is that, yes, while the goal is to (hopefully) one day raise responsible adults, children are not adults.
 
 You see: that’s how I was raised. Kids were mini-adults, expected to be interested in adult things. And it’s just what I did with my own kids: expected them–instead of being their own people with their own likes, dislikes, prejudices, interests–to share my likes, etc.
 
 I’ve spent a great number of years trying to uplift them into my world; instead of meeting them where they’re at. I’ve been such a dummy! Parenting doesn’t necessarily mean that ones kids will follow you into all of your interests; rather, it often means taking an interest in theirs. It means playing video games (even if you hate them), playing dolls, or ball, even if there are a thousand other things to do (like reading through that ever-growing stack of books). It means training them up in the way they should go–not necessarily in the way you would have them go.
 
 The quickest way to shut someone down, whether kid or adult, is to show no interest (or outright indifference) in something they care about. Conversely, showing an interest shows that we care, that we’re invested, in not only the activity, but in them as well. Because the fact is that quality time doesn’t just happen.
 
 It happens in the midst of a quantity of time. It happens via an intentional investment. So folks–men, women, moms, dads–how can we be more intentional today? Because I’m thinking I’m not the only dummy out there.
 
 
 

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These days, there’s one name which readily comes to the tongue with regards to adult fantasy: George R.R. Martin. It’s no wonder. First, his book series–A Song of Ice and Fire–took the nineties by storm; then came the HBO series, Game of Thrones, which is a cultural juggernaut. Fantasy as a genre goes back much further, of course. Just how far do we go back? Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Beowulf? Certainly not children’s stories. For brevity’s sake, let’s here confine ourselves to select works of the past sixty (or so) years.

Now in a sense all fiction is fantasy, as it’s all made up. But we shall here confine ourselves to what is contemporaneously termed adult fantasy. As I said above, George R.R. Martin is the name du jour in adult fantasy (there are others: Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, the late Terry Pratchett), but Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (though it evolved from a children’s work, The Hobbit) certainly qualifies. As does Stephen R. Donaldson’s excellent Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

And it is about Thomas Covenant that I wish to talk today. Coming on the heels of the release of Terry Brooks’s The Sword of Shannara, Donaldson’s book ushered in a era of renewed interest in, and popularity of, adult fantasy. We’re talking 1977 here, folks–the year of Star Wars–and Donaldson wrote about about dyspeptic former writer turned leper who awakes in a mysterious world known as the Land. Unlike, for instance, Aragorn son of Arathorn, Covenant is no hero. He is a deeply conflicted man at odds with both himself and the world around him. At one time, he knew his place (knew who he was in relation to himself, others, and the world around him): he was a husband, successful writer, and father to an infant son.

Then he contracted leprosy, and his world imploded. Taught at the leprosarium in Louisiana to do a V.S.E. (“Visual Surveillance of Extremities”), Covenant built a new reality. Then the bottom dropped out again when his wife, Joan, left him citing contagion. Cut off from life, from those he loves, from others on his farm outside a small New Mexico town, he becomes embittered. V.S.E. becomes his life.

Leprosy is his only reality. And so little do others want him to be around that someone has paid his utility bills in advance. No one wants any contact with Thomas Covenant. Then it happens: he deliberately heads into town to pay his phone bill, only to find that it, too, has been paid. Enraged, he leaves the Bell office only to swoon in front of an advancing car.

The he awakes in the Land. He of course disbelieves all that he sees around him, chalking it up to a fever dream.

Reality, as it so often does to us, has gobsmacked him. He is in denial. All of his carefully constructed realities have gone whoosh! with the wind. With a name like Thomas Covenant, he is contractually obligated to doubt! And doubt he does–forcefully and actively. To the point where he, and bear in this is well before it became de rigueur to pen tales about antiheroes, does despicable things because “none of this is real.” His only reality, as stated above, is his sickly flesh. As he says, “dead nerves don’t regenerate.”

But in the Land, they do.

I don’t want to allegorize, but instead make an application to our real world: the Bible says that we are dead in our trespasses and sins until Christ makes us alive. And are we not like Thomas Covenant, holding onto our unreality–because there’s no such thing as a free lunch? It seems to good to be true. Dead things can’t live again. So we hold onto our sin, because it’s all we know. Moreover, even after coming to Christ, how long and hard do we work to hold onto our carefully crafted selves, and our comfortable lives? God comes in, has a work for us, and we like Covenant figuratively put our heads in the sand, saying “La, la, la can’t hear you, God.”

Allow me to circle back around here; what I believe The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to be about is simply calling. And he gets himself into the most trouble by stubbornly denying that calling.

How very much like us. “There’s no way God could use me,” we often say. Like Thomas Covenant himself, God doesn’t call the equipped–He equips the called. In Covenant’s world, he has the wild magic, bound up as it is in his white gold ring (symbolic of commitment, purity, purpose); we in ours have the Holy Spirit–the very mind of Christ available to us. “We are more than conquerors,” as the Bible says. Yet why is it that we don’t live in that place? Because, like Covenant, doubt.

Friends, it’s time stop denying, and embrace the calling placed upon you. If it feels too large–good! Because it is.

But you’re not on this journey alone.

The very Creator walks with you. Lean into Him today.

And read The Chronicle of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. I guarantee the books, with the questions of life, faith, calling it poses, will hit you where you live.