Andrew Peterson, Author of North! Or Be Eaten


When I was teaching, I had a few students who seemed to be good at everything. They were excellent students, the best soloists in choir, the lead in the Christmas program, the star athlete on their teams (and they played multiple sports), the speech contestant winners, the head cheerleader, the top artist, the best pianist or trumpet player. I’m only exaggerating slightly. Some students seemed loaded with talent—artistic and athletic talent.

Well, I don’t know about the athletic part, but Andrew Peterson, author of the CSFF Blog Tour January feature, North! Or Be Eaten, is one of these “bursting from the seams” talented people.

Let me say up front, I don’t think this is an enviable place to be. Andrew and others of his ilk must often decide how to divide their time between things they love equally, have the same talent for, and have found success doing. Either that, or they renounce sleep. 😆

Some of you know Andrew foremost as a musician. He is a gifted singer and songwriter. I heard him for the first time this Christmas as part of a Family Life Today program. One of the hosts remarked that Andrew is one of his favorite contemporary singers, and I thought, Do they know he also writes fantasy?

I became acquainted with Andrew as a writer when his debut novel, the middle grade fantasy On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness came out. I think I first heard about him from Jonathan Rogers, the outstanding author of the Wilderking Trilogy, who pretty much raved about Andrew’s writing.

Eventually I subscribed to Andrew’s group blog, The Rabbit Room, where he and a group of other artists discuss music and books and movies and the creation of art and theology and the Bible. What an encouraging look at a group of Christians engaged with our culture.

Among Andrew’s other endeavors, he produced a children’s book that captured my attention. From his Web site:

The Ballad of Matthew’s Begats
An Unlikely Royal Family Tree

Who says all those “begats” in the first chapter of Matthew aren’t fun to read?

Kids and parents will have fun reading and singing along with this joyful Andrew Peterson song. The lyrics tell not only of the Biblical list of relatives, but for the first time, kids will learn why the “begats” are extremely important. This story and song demonstrate that Abraham’s long lineage leads directly to the most important Bible character ever, Jesus Christ.

This special book bridges the Old Testament and New Testament, showing Jesus’ birth as part of God’s plan from the very beginning.

(So says the publisher. I’m really excited about this book, not just because I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book, and not just because Cory Godbey’s illustrations are delightful, but because I love being a part of impressing the words of the Lord on children. With a banjo.)

Andrew has taken time to blog about the CSFF Tour where you can leave comments for him if you’d like. Also, if you want to learn his thoughts about writing, check out Chawna Schroeder’s interview with him.

And don’t forget to see what the other CSFF bloggers have to say about North! Or Be Eaten.

Disclaimer as per current FTC rules: Months ago, as part of the Children’s Book Blog Tour, I received a free copy of North! Or Be Eaten for review from the publisher WaterBrook.

CSFF Blog Tour – North! Or Be Eaten, Day 2


Great tour going for Andrew Peterson‘s young adult Christian fantasy North! Or Be Eaten.

As a result of the “Attack on God” threads here, I decided to take a closer look at this novel in that light. Please know that I’ll be giving spoilers, so this serves as your ***SPOILER ALERT***

One of the Igiby children, Tink, is actually the High King of Anniera. As he and his family flee north to escape pursuit from Gnag the Nameless and the Fangs of Dang terrorizing the land of Skree, he begins to change.

First he admits to his brother that he doesn’t want to be High King. Next, when they encounter the Stranders, clans of murderers and thieves living in Glipwood Forest, he shows fascination, even admiration for the head of one clan.

Later a girl who befriends Tink tells him he would make a good Strander. He saves his family by doing a little pickpocketing, only to learn that he’s earned the place as head of the clan.

His reaction is horror at the possibility that he’ll have new responsibilities, but he learns instead that a clan leader “ain’t in charge of anything. He does what he pleases, and the rest of the clan has to do what he pleases too.”

When Tink and his brother are later separated from their family, instead of going to the meeting place as they’d said, he sets off to find the Stranders and take his place as clan leader.

The old lady who tells his brother what happened explained his decision like this: “He made a choice … Because whatever it is inside a man that calls him to the edge of things, calls him to the shadows and away from the light, must have been loud in his ears” (p. 225).

I think this story gives a snapshot of temptation. Ironically Tink’s brother unfairly accused him of selfishness, but in the end he was right. Tink didn’t want responsibility. He wanted a life in which he could do what he wanted, not what was expected of him.

I can’t help but think the same holds true today. How many people reject Christ because they don’t want to do what is expected of them but what they want to do? In the end, it’s a spirit of disobedience, whether it comes from Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens or one of the nice people commenting in the previous threads about how God could never exercise eternal judgment or he would be a tyrant.

It’s a resistance to “ought” in favor of “I.” (Actually it’s a resistance to God and to the perception of “ought” but that doesn’t come out in the story). For Tink, his decision took him to a terrible place.

Ah, but the story didn’t end with him there. North! Or Be Eaten is, after all, a story of redemption.

Don’t forget to check out the blog posts by the other CSFF participants. You’ll find the list, with links to the posts I know are already up, at the end of yesterday’s article.

Published in: on January 28, 2010 at 4:41 pm  Comments (7)  
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Fantasy and Emergent Thought


For those of you looking for a CSFF Blog Tour post about Andrew Peterson‘s book North! Or Be Eaten, second in the Wingfeather Saga, you are actually in the right place. However, you’ll find much more information about the book from my fellow participants listed below or from my earlier review and thoughts about the book posted in conjunction with the Children’s Book Blog Tour.

What I want to do today (and the rest of this week) is to tie in the current discussion here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction about emergent thought with our CSFF selection.

You might be wondering what one has to do with the other. Quite a bit, actually—an entire worldview.

This series of posts began last Friday with an article discussing a provocative piece entitled “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” In the ensuing discussion there and spilling over to Monday, some of those associated with emerging thought made it clear that they do not believe in one or more of the following: original sin, Satan as an actual enemy, hell, God as a righteous judge meting out deserved punishment.

In fact, a number of these visitors ascribe to a panentheistic worldview, or non-duality. In other words, they don’t believe in the basic fantasy motif: good versus evil.

It’s a little hard to imagine speculative fiction without duality. Avatar tried to pull it off, but good fiction is built upon conflict, so evil capitalists and military-ists were cast in the role of antagonist. As author and blogger Mike Duran has pointed out, the panentheistic people in the movie were at one with nature, even revering the animals they had to kill by way of preserving human life, yet they were not at one with the evil humans. No thanking them for giving up their lives. No reverential ceremony acknowledging their contribution to the cycle of life.

North! Or Be Eaten gives an entirely other point of view. There is an enemy bent on destruction—not of the body alone but of the soul. The threat is real, imminent, far-reaching, deadly.

My first question is, which of these two views most accurately squares with Scripture?

From first to last, the Bible is about conflict. Jesus’s parable in Matthew about the landowner who went on a journey gives a thumbnail sketch of the entire Bible.

After a time, the landowner sent reps to collect the proceeds from those he left to work the land. Instead of paying up, they beat and killed these reps. At last the landowner sent his son, but he too was killed and thrown out of the vineyard.

The parable ends with the landowner coming back. Jesus asked this question: “What will he do with those vine-growers?” Jesus didn’t toss out that question for thought. He spelled out the answer: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper season.”

So does North! Or Be Eaten present the same struggle, good against evil? Let me answer that by quoting these lines of poetry Oskar recites about the protagonists father:

    All children of the Shining Isle, rejoice!
    A hero strides the field, the hill, the sand
    With raven hair and shining blade in hand.
    The wicked quake when lifts the Warden’s voice

    So fleet his mount and fierce his mighty band!
    So fair his word and fine his happy roar
    That breezes o’er the Isle from peak to shore!
    So tender burns his love for king and land!

Good fantasy like North! Or Be Eaten is full of conflict, mirroring the good/evil struggle in the world—the very struggle the Bible addresses, ending in Revelation with a picture of the answer to Jesus’s question: what will He do when He comes back?

– – –

I promised you links to the other participants. Hope you take some time to peruse their reviews and other thoughts about North! Or Be Eaten.

A check mark provides a link to a specific post.

Knowing God


I’m going to digress from my usual format in order to address some of the comments in the last two posts.

Fouzia, a Christian Pakistani woman, regularly walks her children to worship despite a terrorist attack on a Christian hospital that killed 70 people, despite the kidnapping and rape of a fourteen-year-old Christian who dared to share her faith with her classmates and would not convert to Islam as her captors demanded.

“We all feel sad,” [she said.]

And more afraid?

“And more afraid.”

But even as she spoke, Fouzia was gathering her children to go to church.

“Maybe it will not be my enemies who will be watching,” she said. “Maybe it will be other Christians. Maybe when they see us going to worship God and to pray, in spite of what all is happening, in spite of our fears, they will be encouraged to come along and worship with us.”

And what about the danger to herself and her family?

Fouzia simply said, “We will trust God.”

(true story and excerpt from Daughters of Hope by Kay Marshall Strom and Michele Rickett)

Then there was Yuan, a Christian in China who ministered throughout the week to the women in her area. She and her husband held an underground church in their home until he was arrested and imprisoned. Days later soldiers came to Yuan’s home and trashed it. They hauled her in and confiscated everything she owned before releasing her.

A neighbor took Yuan in, and she continued to visit the women because she wanted to be bold for her Savior just as her husband was.

Again she was arrested and fined. She said she had nothing to her name—they had already taken all she owned. No, they said, she still owned the shoes she wore. They removed them and crushed her feet with their heavy boots so that she could no longer go from house to house.

She was left to crawl back to her neighbors, but her ministry did not end.

Today she sill “stands” as a faithful witness. Women and children come to her bedside to hear her tell the story of a God who loves them and who sent his own Son to suffer and die for them.

(true story and excerpt from Daughters of Hope by Kay Marshall Strom and Michele Rickett)

What’s my point? As a number of commenters described their spiritual journey, God brought to my mind the parable recorded in Luke 8. As Jesus explained it to His disciples, He said some people are like seed that falls where rocks are and the rocks keep the roots from going down deep.

The rocks are temptations—the hard stuff that makes us want to look at our circumstances just as the people of Israel did on their way out of Egypt. They didn’t have food, water, or any way to defend themselves from their pursuers. Consequently, they wanted to quit, to go back to the way things were. Their roots weren’t deep.

But here’s Yuan and Fouzia and a host of other women who live where rocks abound yet they turn to God—the God of the Bible, without all the redaction or re-imaging—to be their comfort and their support. (For a beautiful post, reasonably short, on Christ and our suffering, read Rachel Starr Thomson’s post “Painful Perfection.”)

Could it be that simple faith is what we need, as Jesus said, and not mystical “centering prayer” or Scriptural gymnastics to make the text say something beyond the plain meaning of the words?

Here’s what I think. God wants to be found. He’s “bent over backwards” to reveal Himself—through prophets, living object lessons (that’s what Isaac was and what the Old Testament sacrifices were, what Joseph was, and David), through His Son, through His written word, through His Holy Spirit living in believers, and through the Church—His hands and feet in the world today.

Satan (yes, a real adversarial being who appears as an angel of light) is determined to muddy the waters. He is a liar and the Father of lies. He started by lying to Eve, first making her question what exactly God had said and ultimately contradicting God’s clear command.

On her behalf, she wasn’t there when God told Adam not to eat of the tree in the midst of the garden. Maybe she thought she misunderstood Adam when he related God’s words. Maybe she redefined them in her mind. What was “death,” after all? Not something she knew first hand. Was there even such a thing?

Sadly, even though Eve was deceived and Adam knowingly disobeyed, she suffered the same consequences he did. They were separated from the love of their lives. From the One who made sense of the world.

Their real problem wasn’t the rocky soil they now had to till or even their he said/she said attacks they started when God confronted them. Their real problem was their loss of relationship with their Creator.

This outcome is what Satan is after. He is loath to see God glorified. In his pride, he wants God’s place. He wants the esteem and honor that belong to Jesus. What better way than to belittle God and bring Jesus down.

So he lies about God today, just as he did with Eve. God doesn’t really mean what He says. He isn’t really a righteous Judge, he’s a wrathful monster at odds with his loving son. But no worry, he’s finally come around in the twenty-first century and repents of his previous brutality. He promises he’ll never do it again, certainly not for eternity.

Satan wishes.

The Emerging Heresy


I wish I could answer each person’s comment to the last post, but I can’t keep up. Be assured that I am reading the comments. I understand more now about the positions of emerging thinkers than when this dialogue started.

As a second option I’ve decided to post my response to the threads running through these comments. I understand that not all emerging thinkers agree with one another, so not everything I say is directed at everyone who would identify with that movement.

I’m actually trying to take the issues in order of importance, as I see them. I may need a second day to cover everything. At any rate, here goes.

Emerging thinkers say they believe the Bible, but Mike Morrell, author of the article, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” states that his belief comes from a “panentheistic reading of Holy Writ.”

In other words, he does not mean the same thing as I do when he says he believes the Bible. He would not declare Scripture to be inerrant and infallible, authoritative and complete.

This allows him then to view God from a panentheistic (non-dualist) position as well without violating the Bible (or rather, his understanding of it). Consequently, God’s omnipresence, as clearly shown in a number of verses Mike quoted (see comment #60), is reconstituted to mean God is in everything and everything in God:

But to me (and my reading of the many passages above), God is even closer than with everything and present to everything (important and comforting as this is), God is within everything, and everything is within God. (Boldfaced emphasis is mine).

Never mind that God didn’t say He is within everything and everything within Him. It’s apparently enough that an emerging thinker can decide to read these verses this way and expand the meaning to fit panentheistic thought.

Of course, this view of God tears up the clear revelation of God in Scripture.

Emerging thinkers apparently have no problem, therefore, re-imaging Jesus as well. It would seem they prefer a kindler, gentler Jesus than the real Jesus who appears in the pages of Scripture. They choose to see Him as love and compassion. According to Dena in comment #95 “the two key components of Jesus’ message was Spirit and compassion.”

Even a cursive reading of the gospels will call this premise into question. Yes, Jesus loved and showed compassion, but He also told the story about the wheat and tares, the sheep and goats, the man who built upon the rock and he who built upon sand. (Quite dualistic for a non-dualist God, don’t you think?)

Jesus is the one who declared the way narrow leading to life and the way broad leading to destruction.

He called people hypocrites and vipers and blind guides and white-washed sepulchers.

He told parables about wicked servants being cast out into utter darkness, handed over to torturers, sent to a place of weeping and gnashing teeth or into the furnace of fire.

He is the same one who told His followers they’d need to hate their mother and father and brother if they were to be His disciples.

This same Jesus took a whip into the temple and used violence against the crooks cheating the people trying to perform the sacrifices.

He’s also the one that declared, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).

Loving? Yeah, Jesus is loving. But it is not loving to let people continue on their merry way in self-righteousness. Jesus loved the people of His day, and of our day, too much to be silent about the doom they would face if they didn’t come to Him to be reconciled to the Father.

Compassionate? Yeah, because Jesus saw the heart condition of the people. In the period of His ministry when He was going about healing the people who flocked to Him with all kinds of diseases, Scripture records this: “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).

One day He felt compassion for a leper and touched him. Touched him before cleansing him, thus taking on the man’s unleanliness according to Levitical law. What a picture of Jesus’s compassion! He was willing to take on our sins in the same way, cleansing us of something far worse than leprosy by taking on our guilt and bearing the full wrath of God.

Of course, you have to believe that God is wrathful, and the emerging thinkers don’t, in part because they don’t believe what Jesus said about eternity:

“The Son of Man [Jesus!] will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:42-43)

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world … Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels … These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt. 25:31-34, 41, 46).

You also have to believe that Mankind has sin that needs to be cleansed, that we in fact stand under God’s righteous judgment. But the emerging thinkers believe nothing we do deserves God’s wrath.

What king would stand by idly when his throne is being assaulted? Or his people maneuvered into a trap? But Mike says in comment #75 that he rejects a God who kills His enemies because “If any world leader were to command the things that ‘god’ commands here … they’d be condemned today as the worst kinds of war criminals.”

Presumably Mike thinks God should be treated as we treat war criminals. Would that mean he thinks God should be punished? treated with justice? Why would it be OK for Man to mete out punishment on the guilty, but it’s wrong for God to do so?

Emerging thinkers clearly have elevated Man above God so that now man can judge the Judge.

At the very beginning of this discussion, God brought to my mind Romans 1:21:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

“Speculations” seems to fit much emerging thought. In a quest to break free from dogma, to experience God, they do not honor God as God but re-imagine him as they wish him to be.

Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 9:59 am  Comments (38)  
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Attacks on God from Within


Yesterday I mentioned subtle attacks on God (and just a reminder, by “attack” I am referring to that which contradicts or distorts the truth about God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible). From what I see, the subtle version is most prevalent from within the body of professing Christians.

Sadly, it would seem that some identifying with the emerging church, are falling into this category. I almost don’t know where to begin.

Self-described wannabe mystic and prophet Mike Morrell wrote an article, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” last November that illustrates the attack from the inside.

Note: this article is a result of reviewing some sessions from the 2004 Emerging Theological Conversation. The presenting scholar was Walter Brueggemann, and Brian McLaren, Tim Keel, Troy Bronsink were among those hosting dialogues. In other words, these ideas are not exclusive to Mr. Morrell.

While Mr. Brueggemann first advanced the idea that God is getting over his addiction to violence, Mr. Morrell uses Geoff Holsclaw’s summary to explain the position:

“By this he [Brueggemann] means that God used to think violence was a good idea, but then gave up on it. However, like all addicts, He has relapses. Of which the cross is either the final deliverance, or another relapse.”

In today’s society, of course, “violence” has come to mean any use of force. Consequently, God’s judgment—whether on nations or on His Son as He bore the sins of the world—is viewed as violence.

This position negates God’s role as judge, denies the goodness and immutability of His nature, and ignores His plan for the world.

In essence, while claiming to search for the mystery of spirituality (departing from certitude, dying to “answers/desires/scripts”), this position misses the transcendence of God.

On one hand, this view of God reduces him to human proportions, at least emotionally. He grows up, matures, battles to “recover” from how he’s treated man because, apparently, he knows better now. In addition, because we are in a personal relationship with him, that means he must learn from me just as I learn from him.

On the other hand, this view of God strips him of his personhood. Here’s the argument:

But when we’re faced with the disturbing truths that Brueggemann elucidates – God’s irascibility for instance – what do we do?

There are two ways to do handle this. One is the way of definitive, forceful – almost violent – denial that there is (or has ever been) anything troubling in God’s character or actions. It’s the route of trusting God via suppression.

But there is another route – more painful, more adult, more complex – but I think it can still end in deeply-rooted, childlike trust. It’s a path that I’ve learned from many guides over the years … And this is the path: As Grubb proposes a radically panentheistic reading of Holy Writ, there is only One Person in the Universe. (Y’know, like “I Am the Lord your God, there is no Other?”) Creation unfolds inside of God. And within this unfolding, it moves from gross [overt] to subtle to causal. (emphasis mine)

Notice, there is no argument against taking God at His word, just an accusation that to do so requires denial and suppression.

But here’s the conclusion:

I think that I can be an orthodox Trinitarian Christian with a high Christology, and still hold that the Universe is one important aspect of the unfolding of God – and that we are the co-unfolding of God within God.

The panentheism believes nature is God within God or that God is beyond God.

As Jay Michaelson explained it, God is the ocean and all else is the water.

Remember, Mr. Morrell is speaking as someone within the emerging church. He considers himself a Christian—one who looks at Scripture through the eye of a panentheist.

I call this an attack on God.

Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 7:00 am  Comments (301)  
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Legion and Attacks against God


I’m defining “attacks against God” as that which contradicts or distorts the truth about Him as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. Some attacks against God are subtle and some are overt.

While I didn’t think the attacks in Avatar were subtle, apparently others did. Certainly those in The Shack were subtle enough that thousands of Christians have not seen them in light of the positives they discovered within the pages of the book. (An aside question: would Christians have so readily overlooked the idolatrous goddess worship espoused in Avatar if The Shack hadn’t desensitized many to the idea of God, the woman?)

Coming soon to a theater near you is a movie that appears to be a frontal assault on God and His nature. Legion, scheduled to release January 22, is a science fiction-horror movie or an apocalyptic thriller film, depending on what source you read. Here’s the premise and you can click on this link to see the trailer:

After God loses faith in humanity, the archangel Michael (Paul Bettany), who has become a fallen angel, is the only one standing between mankind and Armageddon. This time using angels to execute the Last Judgment, God’s wrath descends on Earth to exterminate the world’s population. In a desperate, last-chance gambit, Michael leads a group of strangers to a small New Mexico diner to protect a young waitress (Adrianne Palicki) who may be pregnant with Christ in his second coming.

Wikipedia

Here’s what one reviewer has to say:

Now, folks, don’t be too biblical if you want to enjoy this movie.

It focuses on the fallen angels versus mankind when GOD is disdainful of cruel people and their evil deeds.

LEGION the movie is a part supernatural and part horror flick and not a religious picture per se, so don’t reach for your bible.

It’s a mix of the EXORCIST and the TERMINATOR, if you must.

In other words, chill out. Relax. The movie’s just for fun, and boy is it! (“You will be treated to graphic scenes of violence, guns, sexual references and language, plus grotesque images and transformations. But you will enjoy the fast stomping action from tip to toe, heart in your mouth.”)

I know I probably sound like a kill-joy, but heart-in-your-mouth action does not make it okay to lie about God, to distort His character, to besmirch His angels or His Son.

However, the real issue, as I see it, is this “don’t reach for your Bible” attitude. The implication is, nobody was trying to tell the Biblical story, so don’t get all fired up.

However, when someone writes something that contradicts truth, we generally call it a lie. When a story shows God as the antagonist, especially when, by inference, God is the God of the Bible, this is nothing more than the flip side of the Avatar lie: Mother Nature (Eywa) is god, a good god who will protect Mankind as Mankind protects her.

On one hand, an angry God bent on destroying Mankind; on the other a kinder, gentler god who promotes peace and oneness and harmony.

And we are supposed to relax, chill out, not grab for our Bibles? After all, it’s just entertainment.

That’s as big a lie as the others.

What I Learn about Writing from Avatar


Those of you sick of this subject, feel free to click on over to a more interesting blog. I won’t feel offended (or even know!) 😆 I do have a tendency to camp on a subject (see ten-plus posts on The Shack, for example), but just so you know, I really tried to spark thoughts on a new topic. I visited other blogs, thought about the book I just finished, about what I read in my quiet time, and current events. Sorry, nothing there to share with you all.

So I’m back at Avatar one more time. I’ve thought about how this movie really seems to have three or four level. I identify the story level, the theme level, and the creative presentation level.

  • The story level includes the plot and character development (though some people might divide these two, which I would not disagree with).
  • The theme level includes the religious views and the sociopolitical ideology.
  • The creative presentation refers to the visual effect.
  • Most people agree that Avatar came up short on the story level. Sure, it had a sweet romance, but nothing was a surprise. From the moment Neytiri rescued Jake, it was apparent they would fall in love and that he would ultimately join the Na’vi.

    In addition, the characterization was weak. In a three hour movie, we learned very little about any other member of the Na’vi. And the earthlings were pigeon-holed neatly in their roles—the gun-happy military guy, the greedy and stupid capitalist, the tough on the outside but tender on the inside woman scientist, the geeky co-worker.

    I question whether anyone would come if Avatar, as written, were presented in the theater. I suspect the scathing reviews of the story would have the play shut down after the first week.

    The second level has to do with the message. Here Avatar either succeeded hugely or failed miserably, depending on whether or not you agreed with what James Cameron said. Some people camp on the environmental message or the anti-technology message, depending how you look at things. Some viewers wept because of the portrayal of the military while others wept for the loss of the Na’vi’s tree home.

    Another group of us either laud the movie or criticize it because of the religious views it espouses.

    On this thematic level, Avatar is steeped in controversy—never a bad thing for sales. But does it make for a quality movie?

    The last element is the creative presentation. This movie was a visual experience. I felt transported. I lived on Pandora for those three hours. I found myself frustrated with the sections of the movie that showed Jake on the military/commercial/scientific base and away from the real world of Pandora.

    Those latter sections made me feel as if I was running across the rim of the world after having been in a wheelchair for years, as if I had learned to ride a flying creature past the floating mountains. It was beautiful, stunning, exhilarating. It was an experience.

    Which brings me to what I as a writer learned about this movie. Reading should be an experience. Through story, characters, setting, the writer should transport the reader somewhere else.

    But not having the benefit of 3D or first-time technology, writers can’t afford to have flat characters or a warmed-over plot (and certainly never both in one story!) Nor can we afford to be heavy handed with our themes.

    Still, the goal for the novelist is the same—take the readers somewhere. Into the lives of your characters, into the world you’ve created, into the high-stakes issues you care about. Let them experience—beyond the adrenalin rush, beyond the tear-jerk moment. Transport them Elsewhere and keep them there to the last page.

    In the end, I have to believe such a book is more powerful, influential, timeless than Avatar can ever be.

    Now if I just knew how to write like that …

    Published in: on January 20, 2010 at 8:00 am  Comments (2)  
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    The Na’vi, the Borg, and the Church


    On Sunday Avatar won the Golden Globe best picture award, an amazing accomplishment considering the thin plot and two-dimensional characters. (If you haven’t seen this short spoof on the formulation of the plot, you’re missing a good laugh 😆 ).

    Interestingly, writer/director James Cameron put to bed all the questions about the message of Avatar in one of his acceptance speeches (he also received the award for best director):

    Avatar asks us to see that everything is connected, all human beings to each other and us to the Earth. And if you have to go four and a half light years to another planet to appreciate this miracle of the world that we have right here, well, you know what, that’s the wonder of cinema right there.

    This movie is not the first to depict this interconnectedness. Star Trek: First Contact, a 1994 movie based on the TV program Star Trek: The Next Generation, featured an enemy known as The Borg, which also exhibited a unitary oneness.

    The Borg … organized as an interconnected collective, the decisions of which are made by a hive mind …. They operate solely toward the fulfilling of one purpose: to “add the biological and technological distinctiveness of other species to their own” in pursuit of perfection. This is achieved through forced assimilation, a process which transforms individuals and technology into Borg, enhancing, and simultaneously controlling, individuals.

    Wikipedia

    The hive mind rather than individualism. Assimilation rather than freedom to choose. The pursuit of perfection at the expense of others. Add to this their oft repeated warning, “Resistance is futile” and you had one of the truly terrifying antagonists of contemporary fiction.

    And yet, fifteen years later the Na’vi show up on the big screen with many of these same components and they are the heroes. Rather than enjoying the “hive mind” at all times, it seems they can “plug in” at will. They also don’t assimilate, but they resist all who are not part of the people. Clearly their pursuit is perfection though they find their path through their connection to nature, not through adopting and adapting technology as The Borg did.

    In both these groups, I see echoes of the Church universal. The Borg had a queen with central control over the collective, and the Na’vi had a goddess who was their god beyond the god of everything. Christians are part of the body of Christ, with Jesus as our head.

    The Borg had one mind, the Na’vi could plug in and experience a oneness with creatures, and the Christian has the mind of Christ which allows us to be united in spirit and intent on one purpose (Phil. 2:2).

    Finally, The Borg sought perfection through assimilation, and the Na’vi experienced perfection in nature. The Christian has regeneration and sanctification with the expectation of glorification—a life free from sin at last.

    Are these parallels happy accidents? Could the humans behind the creation of The Borg and the Na’vi be expressing a heartfelt need that can only be satisfied in reality from the relationship God intends through His Son for His people? Could Satan be exploiting this need to do what he so often does—make a poor copy of God’s greater design? Hence, panentheism, a religion that offers unity and peace.

    Last week I discussed connection points between Christianity and the philosophy espoused in Avatar. Why wouldn’t there be? Humans all have the same basic needs. The Truth will meet those needs, whereas the lie will promise more than it can deliver (e.g. Satan: “You surely shall not die”).

    For a discussion about Avatar from a writer’s perspective, see “What I Learn About Writing From Avatar.”

    Published in: on January 19, 2010 at 10:19 am  Comments (3)  
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    Earthquakes and God


    Pat Robertson’s comments about Haiti in light of the most recent tragedy, the devastating earthquake centered near Port-au-Prince, have made many of us ask about spiritual ramifications and/or causes of such natural events. We’re no different from people throughout the ages. Seeing a man born blind, Jesus’s disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (John 9:2)

    Luke records a similar discussion centered on the death of numbers of people—not from natural causes, but still on point.

    Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were {greater} sinners than all {other} Galileans because they suffered this {fate?} “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were {worse} culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

    – Luke 13:1-5

    Here’s the issue. Was God punishing the Haitians because of their history of occultism as Pat Robertson suggested? Expanding on that question, Does God still deal with nations as He did in the Old Testament when He clearly brought judgment to any number of countries, including Israel and Judah?

    I have a hard time saying that the earthquake in Haiti was punishment on the nation. I lived in Guatemala in 1975 when a 7.9 (Richter scale) earthquake hit, killing over 25,000 people. Note that the power of that quake was nearly thirty times stronger than the Haitian quake. And it hit a country that had become the first Protestant nation in Latin America. (I suppose Catholics might say, Ah-ha, that’s why God visited His judgment on them.) Maybe others were saying about Guatemala what Robertson said about Haiti; I don’t really know. Certainly the missionaries I knew weren’t coming to that conclusion.

    But here’s another piece of information. In 1994 a quake hit near Northridge, California, killing 71 people, some indirectly (heart attacks and disease attributed to the effect of the quake—yes, disease, but I don’t have time today to explain this). And the power of this quake? It was measured at 6.7 on the moment magnitude scale, not so much less in strength than the Haiti quake with the projected death total around 50,000.

    I draw several conclusions from all of this. The number of deaths and the widespread destruction in Haiti don’t have a one-to-one correspondence with the strength of the natural part of the disaster. (Maybe the sin that needs to be confessed and turned from is that of the building contractors who allowed cheaper construction to flourish throughout Port-au-Prince.)

    But ultimately disasters wherever they occur should make us look to ourselves. Jesus’s words to those reporting the local news to Him should drive us to our knees: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

    Should not America look to our national sins—greed, pride, selfishness, and the failure to pass on to the next generation the truth about God—and repent?

    Shouldn’t Australia do the same? And Great Britain, Canada, Guatemala, all repenting of national sins?

    In the end, it doesn’t matter if I believe God still metes out national punishment today or not. What matters is that I understand He is judge and He is righteous. He is also sovereign and just. What I must know is this: Unless I am covered by the blood of Christ, I will likewise perish.

    And if I am covered by His blood, does this somehow inoculate me from tragedy? No. But I have His promise that He will go through the fire and the flood with me:

    When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.

    – Isaiah 43:2

    The truth is, Jesus told us there would come a time of great earthquakes.

    and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

    – Luke 21:11

    I don’t see anywhere in His words that these earthquakes would affect only the most sinful nations. In light of this prophecy, however, I think it’s important to remember who God is.

    God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar {and} foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.

    – Ps. 46:1-3

    Published in: on January 18, 2010 at 11:50 am  Comments (4)  
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