Darkest before the Dawn


I don’t know if the expression “darkest before the dawn” has a bases in nature or not, or if darkness is even a measurable quantity. But we’ve all heard the adage, and we understand it because there seems to be experiential truth.

Novelists often take characters into the “black night of the soul” before a climactic reversal and triumph. And readers accept this as “real.”

Scripture chronicles a number of instances when the darkness got darker before God moved.

Lazarus got sick, seriously sick, and then … Jesus came? No, then Lazarus died. And was entombed for four days. Darkness at it’s darkest before Jesus showed up and said, Come out.

Or how about the enslaved Israelites, crying out to God because their burden was grievous. At God’s command, as a direct result of their cries, He sent Moses. And things went from bad to worse.

Keep making bricks, their slave masters told them, only now you have to collect your own materials because you’re so lazy. And when they didn’t meet their quota? Their leaders were beaten.

Darkness turning darker. And then the exodus.

Or how about Gideon. Already out manned, God reduces his fighting force, not once but twice. Darkest darkness. And then God intervened to defeat the enemies.

And even for those saints who died. The thief on the cross had Jesus’s promise that he would be with Him that day in paradise. Stephen, as he was dying, had a face that shone like an angel’s.

But here’s where I’m glad I have the Bible. I think of Abraham hiking up to the mountain with his teen son Isaac, ready to sacrifice him on the altar they would build. He didn’t know how that darkest moment of his life was going to turn out. He just knew he needed to trust God completely and obey.

The Israelites didn’t know that Moses was indeed the one who would lead them out of slavery. They thought he was, when he showed them the miraculous signs from God. But then the slave masters’ demands came and the beatings came. Suddenly, Moses’s own doubts resurfaced:

O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people; and You have not delivered Your people at all.

The thing was, God intended more for His people than just release from slavery. When Pharaoh finally sent them away, they had acquired silver and gold from their neighbors. They had a reputation as a people blessed by God, so when they arrived in Canaan, the locals were scared to death.

My temptation, when the darkness comes, is to find my own way into the light. I’m impatient and don’t want to wait for the fullness of God’s time. If I would only remember, dawn follows the darkest of the dark.

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Published in: on August 31, 2009 at 12:27 pm  Comments (6)  
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Christianity, Fiction, and Christian Fiction


Announcement: for those of you looking for the August CSFF Poll, please note that I inadvertently left Chawna Schroeder off, though I did post the links to her three articles. In contrast, I put Julie on the poll but left the links to her articles off that list. These mistakes are now corrected.

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The comments to yesterday’s post spurred me to think a little more about Christianity and literature. Happily I had bookmarked another article on the subject, this one by Jeffrey Overstreet entitled “Why my faith is not ‘FoxFaith,’ and great art is not necessarily ‘Christian art.'”

Being a film critic, Jeffrey relates much of his opinion to movies, but certainly his remarks apply to the gamut of fiction. He identifies a list of things he then believed (he wrote the article in 2006) identified Christian art:

whatever is clean;
whatever is free of anything that could possibly offend;
whatever is cute;
whatever portrays America as blameless;
whatever assures us that the good guys always win;
whatever is safe for six-year-olds and simplistic enough for them to understand;
and whatever openly proclaims the name of Jesus.

But here’s crucial point:

For me, these qualifications confined me to a sort of wish-fulfillment art. It limited me to a particular corner of Christian culture in which we dreamed about what we wanted the world to look like… a sort of Thomas Kincaid vision of the world… not art that challenged me to grapple with the dark, complicated world I live in, where answers don’t come easy. It was art designed to make me comfortable, not art designed to challenge my mind and test me.

Reading this prompted two contradictory questions: 1) is wish-fulfillment art always wrong? 2) are stories that do not challenge my mind and test me really art?

First, is “wish-fulfillment art” always wrong? If I worked in a garbage dump, would I come home and turn on a program for entertainment about land-fills? I suspect not. I’d want something that took my mind off my work-related problems.

But that leads to question two. I think there are two ways of “taking my mind off work-related problems.” I can put my mind in neutral and do something that requires no thought, or I can put my mind on something challenging but unrelated to work.

Stories that put a reader’s mind in neutral aren’t “art,” in my opinion. They aren’t even trying to be art. They’re trying to be momentarily entertaining.

As I see it, Christian fiction has often become equated with this kind of unchallenging story telling. That’s a problem. If I’m right and those stories are not art, then Christianity has been separated from art in fiction.

But why? Clearly there are writers who want to make Christian art—who want to challenge readers to think, to grapple with the hard questions of life, who want to hold out hope “while never flinching from the cold, hard truth of life in a sin-afflicted world.”

I can think of a number of writers who fit this category, some published, some yet to be published. So the question is really this, I guess. Will readers and writers and agents and editors be content with this “safe fiction” version of Christian fiction, or is there hope that Christianity will again ignite great literary art?

Note: in my opinion, including cuss words in a story or an inference to sex does not qualify a story as art since it is no longer “sanitized.”

Published in: on August 28, 2009 at 11:15 am  Comments (15)  
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Christianity and Fiction


Yesterday a visitor left a succinct comment to one of my Andrew Peterson posts: “christianity is pure fiction thanks.” Tangentially, I reread an article yesterday entitled “A Lost Art: What happened to Christian literature?”

In relating the rich tradition of Christian literature, the article made me realize that for centuries Christianity was accepted as true by a good many (most?) of those writing in the western world. Consequently, the authors were not writing stories, poems, or plays as a type of apologetic or even as an evangelistic endeavor.

Their books and poems provided eternal significance to the mundane; they held out hope while never flinching from the cold, hard truth of life in a sin-afflicted world. As a result, their works are appreciated today across the entire breadth of our literary culture.

The world has changed. Western culture is in the process of rejecting Christianity, as the visitor’s comment demonstrates. So what effect should that have on the stories we tell? Should it have any effect?

Richard Doster, author of “A Lost Art,” continued:

Perhaps its time—at this moment of social change and cultural renewal—to encourage a new generation of Tolkiens and O’Connors, to inspire Christian writers to build on their legacy, to look back and rediscover that a Christian worldview is the best grist for great and lasting literature.

Bravo!

The “best grist.” Not something to add on or to skirt around or to disguise.

As well as our conflicts and doubts and fears, we writers should tap into our beliefs. Our characters should test them, struggle to resolve them with the world in which they live, and be changed inside even if their external circumstances remain the same.

I do see stories that mine the belief about salvation, and that certainly is “the biggy.” But I wonder if stories don’t move to the level of universal and timeless when they go deeper, exploring what’s behind a person accepting or rejecting God.

Why, for example, would someone espousing that “christianity is pure fiction thanks” drop by a site called A Christian Worldview of Fiction?

There’s a lot to explore in the world, in the human psyche, in interpersonal relationships, and ultimately in our striving against or to God. Would that we Christian authors will be brave enough to make our beliefs the grist of our stories.

Published in: on August 27, 2009 at 11:30 am  Comments (10)  

Guilt


I’ve been working on a short story lately having to do with the concept of guilt. The idea came when I was listening to a radio program featuring speaker/apologist Ravi Zacharias.

As I was thinking about what topic to blog on today, I glanced at an article I bookmarked some time ago, and the topic is guilt. Ah-ha!

I began to peruse the article and came up against a troubling fact, reminiscent of some things I’ve read connected with the emerging church. There seems to be a movement afoot that a) lays guilt at the door of the church (not a person’s conscience or the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin); and b) wants to free up Christians from guilty feelings.

Here’s the part of the article I found most troubling:

He (God or your husband or your best friend) wants you to do one thing, you want to do something else. If you get your way, your joy is tainted by the selfishness you feel, and by knowing you will have to eventually pay that person back.

Thankfully, God isn’t like that.

Granted, God isn’t into payback the way we humans are. He doesn’t get His feelings hurt and because He’s miffed, insist on His way next time.

But what I find troubling about that quote is the idea that a Christian could say she wants to do one thing and God wants her to do something else, and she apparently thinks it’s just find for her to then “get her own way.”

Isn’t the Christian life about God’s will and God’s way? Since when do we get on equal footing with the Redeemer of our souls and decide to go our way instead of His? And not feel guilty about it. Because God doesn’t do payback.

This article shows the confusion of our time, I think. If I discern that I want to do one thing, but God wants me to do something else, to pursue my desires over God’s is sin. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin. Conviction makes me feel guilty—because I am!

The way to not feel guilty when I am guilty is to repent of sin. Turn from it. Stop doing it.

Of course, there is a “guilty” that comes from disappointing someone that may or may not be sin. If I “get my own way” in a disagreement with a friend because I am being selfish, then I have sinned and should feel guilty.

On the other hand, if I tried … say, to pick a friend up at the airport, but my car broke down, I can feel disappointed and even sorrowful that my friend was inconvenienced and I wasn’t able to fulfill my commitment on time. Those feelings may be similar to guilt, but there would be no real guilt in play.

The feeling of guilt can be induced, I believe, but real guilt cannot. Satan accuses the brethren, and I think he sometimes does that to our faces as well as to God’s. He wants us to feel defeated and incapable.

The answer is not to say guilt is bad. It’s to recognize when guilt is real and when it is not. Real guilt is easy for us to handle because Jesus Christ made it easy (that easy-yoke thing 😉 ).

I’m thinking right now, a question might help. When guilty feelings stir, I want to ask, Where are these coming from? I want to learn also to pray, asking God to give me the answer to that question. Left to myself, I can too easily fall under the influence of the enemy’s lies.

Published in: on August 26, 2009 at 1:38 pm  Comments (5)  
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Writing Distractions


First my protagonist was slogging in the swamp, and I along with him. But the two of us no sooner got out of that mess than real life stuff started putting up speed bumps. First it was car problems, then a couple friend favors, health issues, and a series of inconveniences.

One night the electricity went out for all of maybe five seconds—just long enough to set off the answering machine so I woke up (and stayed awake far longer than I wanted to) and to mess up the digital clocks so they needed to be reset the next morning.

Another night it was a bug in the bathroom (I HATE bugs! 😮 ) and more hours of missed sleep.

Then there are the things that aren’t working quite right and will soon need to be replaced. But until then, they are … inconvenient and a distraction.

Last night my Facebook account got hacked. More inconvenience and time wasted as I worked to right things there. Then today I spent another chunk of time changing passwords at various sites to avoid more of the same. Apparently at one of the writer groups I no longer am active in, someone posted account info including passwords.

Opps! 😳 I was guilty of the thing they always tell you not to do—use the same password all the time. Mine was foolproof, I thought, so no worry. Sure, foolproof unless someone posts it publicly, then not so much!

All that to say, as I am closing in on the last revisions of The Lore of Efrathah, Book Three, now titled The Stone of Surrender, I’m besieged with these distractions—from minor to considerably time-consuming.

It reminds me of a line currently in the opening of the first Lore of Efrathah book (title is being renovated):

But what had [Jim] expected? Ever since he hurt his knee, the governing rule of his life seemed to be, If it ain’t broke, it will be soon.

Mind you, I wrote that line before the problems with the recliner and the microwave. 🙄

It’s about now I start to wonder how much of these kinds of “coincidental” interruptions, distractions, snags are purposeful plants by the enemy of our souls.

I’m not one to see spiritual warfare under every rock or in every full parking lot, but honestly, there comes a point where I start to wonder.

Does it really matter, though, if these accumulations of problems are purposeful attacks? I suppose not, except to maybe help me pray and to seek prayer support from others, something I haven’t done enough of lately.

So here it is. If God brings me to mind, and you have the nudge from His Spirit, would you please pray that the distractions and delays and snags will not slow my writing progress. Honestly, I wouldn’t even mind if they sort of disappeared. 😉

Published in: on August 25, 2009 at 11:29 am  Comments (3)  
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CSFF August Tour Wrap


Before I move to the CSFF Blog Tour wrap for Robin Parrish’s Offworld, I want to mention an omission from the Andrew Peterson tour. Long time supporter of all endeavors to garner more attention for Christian fantasy, Jason Joyner participated in the Children’s Book Blog Tour but was inadvertently left off the list. Please take time to check out his post.

And now, back to Offworld. Forty-two blogs, sixty-three articles, but we can only have one winner of the August CSFF Top Blogger Award.

We need your help. Here are the people (and links to their articles) who are eligible, by dint of posting all three days of the tour:

If you haven’t taken the time to read some of these articles, this is your opportunity. Read two or three a day, then come back here and vote in the poll. You will have one week. 🙂

Published in: on August 24, 2009 at 12:03 pm  Comments (5)  

North! Or Be Eaten, a Review – CBBT, Day 3


Andrew Peterson, author of the Wingfeather Saga, is a talented musician as well as an author and illustrator. If I’d interviewed him for the Children’s Book Blog Tour of North! Or Be Eaten, the CBBT August feature, I would have asked if he finds it hard to head in so many varied directions. Of course, they aren’t all varied, since clearly Andrew brings his art to his stories and his writing to his music.

Be that as it may, as suggested in the title of this post, I want to review the second in Andrew’s middle grade fantasy series.

The Story. North! Or Be Eaten picks up the story of the Igby family where On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness left off. With their lives in danger and their town in turmoil, the Igbys are hiding out in Uncle Peet’s Castle. As they make plans and preparations to depart for the Ice Prairies, a place where they believe they will find a resistance force mounting against the Fangs of Dang, they are discovered. And chased.

In the process they find help when they least expected it, betrayal when they had no reason to look for it, and separation that tests them all in ways they could not have anticipated.

Strengths. As you might guess, one of the big positives in this story, from my point of view, is how unpredictable the story becomes. Just about the time I think I know the direction it will take, a new twist develops.

I also really connected with the characters, especially Janner. He understands his role now, and he takes decisive, though not always wise, action. I want to see him succeed. I worry for him when I think he’s making a wrong move. I want to smack him when I think he’s being a show-off. But throughout, I’m in his corner.

The setting continues to be a huge draw for fantasy fans. The world Andrew Peterson has developed is dense. It has a history and tradition, politics and poets. There are notable landmarks that influence and affect the story. The world becomes nearly as important as the characters.

Ultimately, I think Andrew hit a home run in presenting Christian themes. I doubt very much if anyone not looking for them will say, Oh, that book has Christian themes. Rather than noticing, readers, I believe, will be impacted by the truths inherent in the story. Andrew wove those truths with a masterful hand. They are at the core of What Happens, yet they do not call attention to themselves.

(I’m trying to be circumspect so as not to give spoilers. This is one of those books that, first time through, will be more fun if you don’t know what’s coming next.)

Weaknesses. While the story started with lots of action, I felt some seemed a little unnecessary. The Igbys spend time preparing for their trip north, only to leave much of their supplies behind, for example. The Gargan Rockroach seemed like a hideous monster thrown in for the sake of having a hideous monster.

Of course, the target audience readers will undoubtedly find such to add to the excitement, but since everything after the bridge seems to fit so tightly together, these earlier chapters feel less significant.

One more. There were some motivation and plausibility problems in those early chapters, too, I thought. For example, Oskar’s ability to find the family to warn them seemed a little unbelievable, given his wounded condition.

Recommendation. When I like a book as much as I do North! Or Be Eaten, it would be easy to leave out weaknesses, but my guess is, fewer people would believe the positives I have to say. I can only hope none of the weaknesses I pointed out would dissuade anyone from reading this series. It would be a shame because I think this is one of those keepers, the kind you buy in box sets some day and reread every few years. Wonderful books. Must read if you love literature.

For those interested in a “second opinion,” see what others on the tour are saying:
The 160 Acre Woods, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Book Buzz, KidzBookBuzz.com, My Own Little Corner of the World, My utopia, Novel Teen, Olive Tree, Reading is My Superpower, Through a Child’s Eyes

Read the First One – CBBT, North! Or Be Eaten, Day 2


On this Fantasy Friday, it’s a pleasure to continue discussing Andrew Peterson‘s North! Or Be Eaten, second in the Wingfeather Saga.

Second! Ah, apparently this has rub-producing potential for those who have not read the initial book in the series, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

So the easy answer, in my opinion, is to read the first one, first. Here are some fundamental reasons:

  • In book one readers become acquainted with, and eventually attached to, the main characters.
  • The first book introduces the fantasy world, with its history and current political situation, its new and different celebrations, and its creatures.
  • The first book establishes the lines: who is good, who is a betrayer, who do you cheer for, who do you fear.
  • On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness begins building the parameters of the magical. What can the water from the First Well do? Who has power to transform for evil?
  • The first in the series introduces, or at least hints at, the ultimate mission the main characters must undertake.
  • The first book sets the tone: light and fun, intermingled with danger and darkness.
  • Book one of the Wingfeather Saga is an entertaining story, but is really only part 1 of the greater … uh, saga. 😉
  • I’m stressing book one so much because some of the reviews of those participating in the Children’s Book Blog Tour indicated North! Or Be Eaten may have been more enjoyable if the reader came in knowing what all took place in book one. How horrible, I thought, if a reader was put off of this outstanding series simply because they had not read the initial offering.

    So don’t do it!

    Here’s what you’d miss: humor, clever art, entertainment, thought-provoking adventure, artful prose.

    The humor is woven throughout the story. I remember having occasion to smile even during the build up to the climax.

    Drawings. I’ll let this one speak for the others:

    Peets Castle by Andrew Peterson

    Peet's Castle by Andrew Peterson

    Entertainment. This story has something for everyone: adventure, mystery, suspense, romance (?), all a part of an unpredictable story with twists and surprises all the way to the end.

    Thought-provoking. I found myself thinking of the story in the middle of the night and contemplating its truths at odd moments through the day. Nothing is heavy handed, but there is Much to think about.

    Artful prose. Again, I’ll let the work speak for itself. Here’s one passage toward the end:

    Though the sky was unbearably blue and free of a single wisp of cloud, the peak of the Witch’s Nose [a mountain so named because of its appearance in the distance] pinned a swath of ghostly mist to the heavens.

    I’ll give a full review tomorrow. To see what others are saying about the book, check out these blogs:

    The 160 Acre Woods, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Book Buzz, KidzBookBuzz.com, My Own Little Corner of the World, My utopia, Novel Teen, Olive Tree, Reading is My Superpower, Through a Child’s Eyes

    And for those of you looking for the CSFF Blog Tour August poll for Top Tour Blogger, I’ll post that next week.

    A Second Tour – North! Or Be Eaten


    OK, if the title itself doesn’t grab you, then I think you need a dose of wanderlust injected into your system. Either that, or a closer look at the cover of Andrew Peterson‘s middle grade novel (which reads the way the Harry Potter books do—something there for all ages and stages) North! Or Be Eaten. This month’s Children’s Book Blog Tour feature, the second in the Wingfeather Saga, is a fantasy you won’t want to miss, whether or not imaginative stories are the kind you most prefer.

    Generally, when it comes to fantasy, I cringe when I hear or read an endorsement for a new book or series that makes such claims as “the next C. S. Lewis.” I mean, if there was a next C. S. Lewis, then we’d have a next Narnia, and to date I’ve not seen another world painted with such richness and enticement.

    Because of that strong opinion, I don’t think I’ve ever been tempted to do that kind of hyperbolic comparison in any of my endorsements or reviews. Until now.

    And even now, I will resist. Andrew Peterson is not the next C. S. Lewis. He is the very current Andrew Peterson, with the definite potential to become a classic author with a unique series that children and adults will read over and over again.

    That’s a bold statement, so it might be helpful to think about what makes a classic a classic.

    First, the story needs to be timeless. Not that the setting is timeless. Clearly, the Narnia books are set in England, either during or prior to World War II. But the story needs to work long after the period of time for which it was written.

    In addition, a classic needs to be universal; that is, it needs to address needs, longings, relationships that do not change from one generation to another or from one place or people to another.

    Thirdly, a classic must be much loved. This is the kind of book a person wants to reread, and then to read aloud to his or her children. These are the books aunts and grandparents give for Christmas.

    The Wingfeather Saga, which started with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness has these elements, though I suppose the “much loved” aspect has to become wide-spread. I hope it does, because these books are worthy of much attention.

    More tomorrow, and I love this book so much, I’m even planning to post on Saturday. Meanwhile, as Andrew said in the title of one of his blog posts, Purchase! Or Be Eaten. 😀

    I haven’t read what the other participants on this tour are saying, but I’m eager to go to their blogs and see if they liked the book as much as I did.

    I encourage you to stop by their sites as well. Leave a comment, even, then next week vote in the best blogger poll:

    The 160 Acre Woods, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Book Buzz, KidzBookBuzz.com, My Own Little Corner of the World, My utopia, Novel Teen, Olive Tree, Reading is My Superpower, Through a Child’s Eyes

    CSFF Blog Tour – Offworld, Day 3


    Photo Credit: Ashley Morgan

    Photo Credit: Ashley Morgan

    Robin Parrish, author of Offworld, the August CSFF Blog Tour feature, is a smart guy. A quick look at his Web site, and a visitor knows that Robin is aware and current with new trends in social networking. Much of his writing experience comes from online projects, and he lists his Twitter page as his blog.

    All this is as it should be to reach what I assume is his target audience: the comic book crowd. Or the action-adventure movie goer. But that brings to mind a question. How many of those individuals are also book readers?

    So, on to Offworld Review, Part 3 – Weaknesses. Because I am a book reader, not a comic book aficionado, certain things pulled me from the story that I suspect would not be a problem for someone in the target audience.

    One issue was the implausible escapes. Interestingly, towards the end of the book, these “miraculous” feats were acknowledged as just that, but I had already reached the point where I no longer believed these escapades were anything other than high drama for high drama’s sake. It was hard for me to reverse my thinking at that point and believe that the against-all-odds survivals were evidences of the hand of God.

    Another concern I had was the explanation of the technology at the center of the events. I did not find it plausible that brilliant scientists were adding to a massive machine they did not understand, but that grew more powerful with each addition.

    I also had difficulty with some of the set up. The four astronauts learn that everyone else on earth has disappeared, though they apparently make no effort to verify that people in other countries have vanished.

    For much of the story they seem convinced it’s possible to bring everyone back, yet I don’t see why they believe this rather than that the people have been annihilated.

    And finally, when they first encounter someone else, they seem oddly lacking in curiosity. I would expect them to ask things like, Where were you when everyone else disappeared? Why do you think you were left? Was anything unusual going on the days leading up to the disappearance? Unfortunately none of that took place, and my belief in the story suffered a hit.

    The greatest issue I have with the book, however, has to do with spiritual content, but I’m going to write about that over at Spec Faith, since this post is already long enough.

    Just a reminder, check out what the other participating CSFF’ers are saying about Offworld. Don’t miss Ryan Heart‘s very fun interview with Robin. And there are a number of bloggers offering an Offworld give-away: Rachel Starr Thomson, Fred Warren, Katie Hart, Dona Watson, and others. Also, if you’d like to see a trailer for Offworld, take a look at Nissa’s post.

    The complete and updated list of links is available here at CSFF Blog Tour – Offworld, Day 1.

    Published in: on August 19, 2009 at 11:04 am  Comments (6)  
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