Macho Men and Kindness

victorianhomestiffanywindowsarticleI went grocery shopping this morning. And as an aside, I picked up the latest copy of Victorian Homes, which contains an article I wrote about a series of Tiffany stained glass windows: “Bringing to Light Opalescent Light.” That was a fun, challenging article, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Before I even got into the grocery store—in fact, just moments after I pulled into a parking space, a woman standing beside the van next to me looked mournfully up from her cell phone and said, You wouldn’t by any chance have jumper cables, do you?

Well, yes, I do. I haven’t used them in years, but I kept the instructions, and I even bought a bag for them once that also has a set of instructions, so I was pretty confident I could help her.

My, was she relieved! Except, when we’d hooked it all up and I started my car, her engine still didn’t turn over.

OK, there were things about her battery that were different from the picture, so maybe we didn’t have everything connected right. We pulled the clamps off, checked the pictures, reattached everything, and … no joy.

There was juice getting to her car, but the engine wasn’t turning over. I’m thinking, Not the battery. She’s got something else wrong, and what to do now? She said she didn’t have Triple A, didn’t have money to fix her car, that her grandpa did the work on it but wasn’t available. So what to do?

Just then a middle aged man walked up and asked if we needed any help. Wow! Kindness still lives! This guy saw two women struggling with a car problem and braved the scorn of a society that says guys bailing out women is sexist. Well, here’s one woman who is happy, happy that a guy who knew what he was doing came over. He refastened the clamps, told me what to do when I started my car, told her what to do, and sure enough, her engine turned over and started.

Then it dawned on me. How much has the Macho Man concept come about because the feminist movement robbed men of everyday chances of being heroes? It seems to me, when men knew their roles; knew they were needed and appreciated; knew they would be thanked for offering their help, not slapped down because of it, they didn’t need to prove their manhood in the artificial ways we see today.

In reality, a man who knows how to use jumper cables, seeing two women who are trying to use jumper cables and coming to help, is doing nothing but extending kindness. May more men have the courage to do so as well. May more of us women stand up and applaud when they do!

Published in: on December 9, 2008 at 2:26 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: , , ,

Christ Shows Up in Fantasy and Sci Fi

I read a particularly interesting post this morning, in light of the recent discussion about the existence of God. Some science fiction and fantasy fans, in analyzing the genre, have discovered an abundance of Christ figures in movies and literature. Sci Fi & Fantasy Lovin’ Blog has this to say:

So I guess I’m just wondering why. Why is it that science fiction, that is often supposed to be more about the rational mind, falls back on our religious superstitions? Is it simply that the creators of our favorite fiction find themselves going back to their childhood traditions? Even unconsciously? Or is science simply not enough to fill our need to know why we are here?

Well, I’m glad you asked! 😉 (Never mind that she didn’t ask ME. As I’ve noted before, I’m not shy about voicing my opinions!) Blaise Pascal, the 17th Century French mathematician, philosopher and physicist, suggested that there is a need in Man’s heart for God:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself. [Pascal, Pensees #425]

The Bible makes it clear that God shows Himself through what He has made.

that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made …
-Romans 1:19, 20

I’ve always understood the “through what has been made” part as mountains and stars and photosynthesis—the natural world, in other words. But He also made Man, and something in us also shows God. More than the other stuff, actually, because Genesis says were are made in His image.

What does any of this have to do with Christ figures in science fiction and fantasy? I don’t have the time to develop this point right now as I wish I could, but I’d suggest the presence of Messiah figures is indicative of this part of us made to reflect God. We long for a True Hero, someone so self-sacrificing, so good, so fair, so accepting that we feel completely safe—and so empowered—because we were made for relationship with the Ultimate Hero. Putting him in our fiction shows what we want in our lives. Some authors do so because they long for what they haven’t experienced and some do so to demonstrate what they do enjoy.

The Chistian Hero—Part 5

Mike Duran always makes me think. Today in his post about hypocrisy Mike included a quote I thought intriguing in light of the discussion about heroes:

Nietzsche, ever hostile to Christianity, said “If they want me to believe in their Savior. . . His followers will have to look more like men who have been saved!”

Mike questions the point, saying our actions do not validate or negate the truth. I agree with that. However Nietzsche isn’t questioning the truth, at least not in that snippet. It’s really a point of pragmatism. Does Christianity “work”? What he couldn’t see, of course, was the change in hearts, the eternal forgiveness, the eternal futures. Because Christianity isn’t about being good enough, it is about being forgiven completely.

Still, when we are talking about giving evidence of the actuality of our forgiveness, it seems to me there does need to be something tangible, observable. If nothing else, we should be people who readily forgive others. Our lives should be marked by how merciful we are, not how judgmental we are. I believe that’s a Scriptural position. In one Gospel parable, for example, a man forgiven his insurmountable debt was later punished because he didn’t extend forgiveness to another.

How does that translate into the heroes of Christian fiction? Maybe the true mark of the hero should be forgiveness. Closely followed by a lack of hypocrisy.

Published in: on August 31, 2007 at 11:54 am  Comments (2)  

The Chistian Hero—Part 4

Where are the heroes now? This is a line from an old song by Steve Camp.

For reasons too mundane for me to mention here, I pulled out my old cassette of Fire and Ice, and there, as the closing song on side two, was “Where Are the Heroes.” I’d forgotten about that song, but before it was over, it had me in tears again, just as it did those years ago.

Why? Because the song is a plea for mature Christians to step up and be those who inspire the people coming after us, to be Moses and Abraham to the next generation.

Flash back to another point of my past—my years in the classroom. As part of beginning a school year, I would have my students fill out a questionnaire so I could get to know them better. At one point I included the question, “Who is your hero?” I was stunned when the bulk of my 120 students included characters like Spiderman. In later years, I tried to clarify the question to illicit the names of actual people, living or dead. Subsequently, I drew lots of blanks, and a handful of Michael Jordan‘s.

In this day and age of “authenticity,” when a twelve year old knows all too well the foibles of his dad or youth pastor or homeroom teacher, it’s hard for a kid to look up to a real person. Better to look up to the image of a real person, and even better still to look up to a Superhero. No pressure to actually be like that person, since, after all, the people in real life have made it abundantly clear that nobility isn’t attainable, that nice guys finish last (and I don’t want to be last!), and that image is everything.

Enter the Christian hero in fiction.

It seems to me, we fiction writers have an awesome opportunity to influence our culture. For ill or for good, we are in a period of history that is story-driven. The way to the mind AND heart of the people in our culture is through story.

In addition, our culture is experiencing a vacuum of true heroes. This is why the brave citizens who died aboard flight 93 on September 11 were immediately elevated to the role of heroes. Without knowing anything else about them, their sacrificial act catapulted them into the spotlight as heroes.

The problem with a hero who has died is that there are no fresh reminders of him, no new acts to emulate.

Which brings us back to the Christian hero in fiction.

We have a chance to create characters that can serve as inspirations to our readers. Not because they are perfect, but because they overcome, or endure, or persist, or sacrifice. We can create them to show what it looks like to be a Christ-follower. Which is why it’s important that we understand what it is we want our heroes to look like.

A couple things I have as goals for my heroes.

  • I want them to be winsome, people that draw readers and make them cheer, but also make them feel like they’d expect to meet these characters on the street some day.
  • I want my heroes to be different from the heroes on TV. Sure then can be funny or brave or clever, but they ought not be proud of their sin and selfishness.
  • I want my heroes to point to Christ, not to themselves.
  • I want my heroes to be compassionate, not vengeful.
  • I want my heroes to stand against evil—not politically, but in their own lives.
  • Again, there are probably other qualities that are important which I’ve left out. Which ones?

    Published in: on August 30, 2007 at 11:36 am  Comments (8)  

    The Chistian Hero—Part 3

    If not meekness, what then does make a character look weak, and therefore less heroic?

    I don’t know how to answer this except in subjective terms. What makes ME think a character looks weak?

    In part, I’ve come upon some traits from a series I grew to love. Yes, grew to love, because initially I hated the character. Well, hated may be too strong. I was sympathetic to a point but also repulsed.

    The character I’m referring to is Thomas Covenant, introduced in Lord Foul’s Bane, the first book in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson. For those of you who haven’t read the books, Covenant is a leper. Yep, though he is a Modern Man, he has contracted leprosy, and no, this is not what made him repulsive. In fact, in the opening pages, there’s the makings for him to be highly sympathetic. After he was diagnosed with leprosy, people who knew him avoided him. His wife divorced him and took their son. Neighbors complain about his presence and one even leaves the county.

    This ill treatment, along with the regiment he must maintain to insure he doesn’t suffer further damage because of the disease ought to make me care for him. I don’t particularly because his response to all this is a seething anger just below the surface, an anger that erupts when he translates into a fantasy world where he can again feel. His first act is to commit rape.

    No, he was not a character I liked, though he became a character I could cheer for. His experience in the Land changed him.

    But to the point, the number one thing that makes a character unlikable, in my view, is mistreatment of others.

    In another book I read recently—a Christian novel—I found characters who were not honest. I realized that’s another thing that keeps me from caring for a character: dishonesty. A character who knows the truth but does not tell it, then ends up in a mire of his own making does not have my sympathy. Whatever the reason the character might offer for holding back the truth, it comes across to me as cowardly.

    A third trait that makes a character come across to me as weak is wishy-washiness. I don’t like a character who is so clueless as to his own desires that he vacillates throughout the story, trying to decide what he should do, or second-guesses his decisions at every turn.

    Often this character is depicted as one enduring an internal struggle, so I think this might be a pitfall some Christian writers succumb to. I know I’ve been guilty of creating such a character. It was in reading other novels and finding a character who fell into this category and recognizing my reaction to him that helped me understand what my critique group had been trying to tell me.

    I think a fourth trait might be selfishness. When a character looks only after himself—another problem Thomas Covenant had at the beginning of his stay in the Land—he ends up looking … ignoble.

    There are undoubtedly others. What do you think makes a character look weak?

    Published in: on August 29, 2007 at 9:41 am  Comments (6)  

    The Chistian Hero—Part 2

    Last October I ran a couple series here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction about creating good characters, including creating Christian characters. You can see the beginning of the first series here. I mention this because in discussing heroes, I don’t want to simply regurgitate information we’ve already discussed.

    I think Bryan Polivka‘s book The Legend of the Firefish raised the question about Christian heroes because his protagonist, clearly the person (or one of them) the reader is meant to root for, acts in a way that is different from what is common for a hero in today’s American society.

    Call it the John Wayne-ing of our culture or perhaps the Rambo-ing of it. Writing books even mention the revenge story as a plot option. Even in stories based on other plot concepts, having the bad guys “get theirs” seems to get laughs and cheers. (Think of the Home Alone movies for instance).

    And of course this take-the-law-into-my-own-hands-and-mete-out-justice attitude is contrary to what the Bible teaches. We are NOT to seek vengeance but to let God be the judge. Pay-back is His, not mine.

    The question then is, can an author make such a character work in fiction? I certainly believe so. The primary reason I hold to this view is because such a character would be Christ-like. Christ was Himself winsome. People flocked to Him and followed Him. Who wouldn’t? Free food, healing, stories, and in-your-face confrontation with the Pharisees. Not to mention that He welcomed children, talked to women in public, treated crooked tax collectors the same way He treated the important scribes.

    In other words, Christ won people to Himself because He loved them and served them and told them the truth, no matter who they were.

    At the same time, of course, the core group of religious leaders hated Him. Hated Him because of the very same things that drew the people to Him. Hated Him because the people loved Him. Hated Him because they feared for their own power and position.

    My point is this. I think a character who is Christ-like should be winsome in the eyes of readers. The qualities of service and love and generosity and kindness should not make a character look weak but winsome. Except, perhaps, in the eyes of readers who might relate best to the characters of power and influence who have the most to lose.

    Did Bryan Polivka paint such a character? For the most part, yes, he did. Who hated Packer? Those whom he threatened, not physically, but by his life and his faith. He was brave in the face of death. This certainly did not make him look weak.

    If not meekness, what then does make a character look weak, and therefore less heroic? That’s one we’ll need to look at next time.

    Published in: on August 28, 2007 at 11:01 am  Comments (5)  

    The Chistian Hero—Part 1

    First things first! 😀 On Saturday, Sharon Hinck nominated me for a blogging award:

      Rockin’ Girl Blogger

    Quite an honor! 😉 And of course I want to pass it on to others worthy of notice, but I feel bad that it’s such a limiting award, clearly denying any of the rockin’ guy bloggers a chance to win. Not to mention that there are many, many bloggers who deserve attention. It’s just not possible to mention everyone. So I’ll pass the mantle of Rockin’ Girl Blogger on to these three:

    • Merrie Destefano of Alien Dream
    • Brandilyn Collins of Forensics and Faith (this kind of award is right up Brandilyn’s alley! 🙂 )
    • Karen Hancock of Writing from the Edge (who could undoubtedly care less that she’s nominated and may not even learn of the honor unless I email her. 😀 )

    Now on to the serious – and in my opinion, excellent – discussion started by Bryan Polivka about heroes in Christian fiction. If you haven’t taken time to read the comments to Friday’s post, I suggest you do. I’ll try to keep my own thoughts brief to allow you time to read what other visitors had to say.

    The discussion seems to center on whether or not Jesus was weak. I appreciated Nicole’s differentiation between weak and meek. Jesus is not weak. He did not cease being God, and God is omnipotent. Consequently, any appearance of weakness is not the true picture. That he refrained from using His omnipotence, that He donned the skin of mortal man does not change the fact that He is still eternal God, there from the foundation of the world.

    In fact, for Him to clothe Himself in the form of a bondservant when He is Lord of all is an indication of His strength. To have power and then to refrain from using it that others might benefit is the ultimate indicator of genuine strength.

    So here’s how I see the choices before Christian authors who wish to accurately reflect spiritual reality.

    • Show the “hero” protagonist who does the nobel, powerful, winning act but clearly is depending on God’s power, not his own. I suggest this is the kind of approach Sharon Hinck took in The Restorer. Perhaps this was Donita Paul’s approach as well.
    • Create a “hero” protagonist who is a type of Christ. I think Bryan Davis used this approach in Circles of Seven.
    • Show the “hero” protagonist who comes through the struggle to relinquish his power and let God win the victory. This is what I believe Karen Hancock and Bryan Polivka worked toward in their novels.
    • Show the protagonist as not the hero, but another character, a type or symbol of Christ, becomes the story hero. This is the approach I used in Lore of Efrathah.

    It seems to me each of these has some risk. Will readers think God’s intervention is the dreaded deus ex machina? Will the readers think the protagonist is wimpy or whiny or weak? Will readers find the protagonist unengaging? Will readers feel cheated that the protagonist isn’t the hero?

    I suppose we each have to choose the approach that allows us to write the truth to the best of our ability … and then we live with the consequences.

    I will add, I applaud writers who do not settle for the pay-back mentality of today’s secular heroes. Protagonists in Christian novels, in my opinion, should be different from those in secular novels. By different, however, I don’t think they have to be unlikeable. Clearly there’s more to explore with this subject.

    Published in: on August 27, 2007 at 1:02 pm  Comments (17)  
    %d bloggers like this: