Do The Good Go To Hell? – A Story


Once upon a time, during a particularly difficult economic down turn, the president of the land of Make Believe decided to use his own money to help his people.

“I’ll build an industrial plant,” he told his economic adviser, “a huge complex, big enough to employ anyone who needs work. First we’ll hire people to do the construction. All kinds of people. No experience necessary. What they don’t know, we’ll train them to do.”

His adviser consulted with the necessary PR personnel and soon word spread: anyone who wanted a job could begin to report to the designated location, effective immediately.

People came slowly at first, hardly believing the president really meant what he said, and some stayed away, convinced the offer was a sham, or worse—a trick to bilk the people of the little they still had.

Eventually, however, as those first folk went home tired each night after a full day of hard labor, gold coins clinking in their pockets, more and more people decided to sign on for a job too.

One day, a nicely dressed young man named Warren Wingate showed up at the application center.

“Would you like to apply for a job?” the receptionist asked him.

“Oh, no, no. I don’t need a job,” Warren said. “In fact, I’m here to help out.”

“Help out? In what way?”

“I have money, lots of money, more than I can ever spend in my lifetime. I want to give it away.”

“To everyone?”

“Well, I could do that, but the amount would be so small, it might not make much of a difference.”

“So you plan to divide your wealth with just a few people? How will you decide which will receive your gift and which won’t?”

“I’ll figure something out—maybe based on need. You know, the poorest of the poor.”

So Warren set up a table and sat with his checkbook open. Whenever a poor man with a torn shirt or holes in his shoes came to the application center, Warren called him over, wrote a check, and sent him home.

“Warren,” the receptionist said, “you should be sending those poor people in to sign up for their job.”

“They don’t need it any more. I gave them enough to last a lifetime.”

“You don’t know that. What happens if inflation rises or our currency is devalued? These people need jobs. It’s the only way they can have a secure future.”

“That’s certainly a narrow-minded perspective. Look at me. I invested wisely, and I’m wealthy beyond measure. I don’t need a job, and in fact I can help shoulder the burden for all these other folk.”

With that Warren passed out checks to the next one hundred people who showed up at the application center, regardless of need. Each person was so happy, they shook Warren’s hand, said how grateful they were, how much they owed him, and headed back home.

The next day, all the people with checks hurried out to the bank. But instead of open doors and a lighted building, the shades were drawn and the doors were locked.

“What’s this about?” one person asked.

“Haven’t you heard?” a man on his way to work said. “The bank closed its doors yesterday. Those checks you have aren’t going to buy your groceries.”

“But Mr. Wingate said he had more than enough money for us all.”

“I’m sure he thought he had plenty. But he’s not buying groceries either, not unless he has some gold. And the only place I know where you can get gold is from the president. You all should come with me and put in your job application. They’re taking anyone willing to work.”

As the worker hurried toward the plant, a few folk trailed after him though most stayed in front of the bank.

“It’s a misunderstanding,” one man said. “They’ll open the bank in an hour or so, you’ll see.”

When those who went with the worker arrived at the application center, who did they see but Warren Wingate, handing out more checks to the poor.

One of those who had just left the bank, stepped forward. “What are you doing, Mr. Wingate? The bank is closed, and we can’t cash the checks you gave us.”

“Well, isn’t that sad. Would you like another? I can make this one for a good deal more if you like.”

“That won’t help. We need to buy groceries for our families and we need money, not a check we can’t cash. You need money, too. They say the only place to get any is here at the president’s industrial complex, so we’re going to apply for a job. You should too.”

“Me?” Warren said. “Why would I need a job? I have plenty of money. Take a look at my last bank statement.”

“But the bank is closed.”

“I’ll simply show this statement at the grocery story. I’m sure they’ll give me the food I need. You can show them your checks too. They’re bound to give you the food once they see how rich you are.”

– – –

So what do you think? Did the kind man giving out checks to the poor get the food he needed?

This story is an edited version of one first published here in October, 2010.

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Published in: on October 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Saving Truth


As I mentioned, I’m reading a book called Saving Truth by Abdu Murray. This is an advance reader copy, which allows me and others like me on the Saving Truth launch team to get the word out ahead of the release date. It’s pretty fun, actually, to see what others are saying on Twitter and Facebook. But that’s neither here nor there. The point I want to make first and foremost is that the pre-order of the book at Abdu Murray’s website provides some bonus items that are well-worth having.

This is a great book for a small group study, and one of the bonus items is a free study guide. Another is videos to use with the book, which again lends itself well to a small group study.

But I want to mention this book for a couple reasons. First, the culture of chaos which the post-truth era has ushered in could not be seen more clearly than in what is transpiring here in California.

As I noted in “California’s Latest Can Of Worms” we have the liberal left introducing a bill into the state legislature, which passed the assembly, that would seriously curtail the free speech and exercise of freedom of religion for anyone who wants to offer hope and help to someone struggling with homosexuality or even questioning their sexual identity. My intention is not to rehash that article, but I do see this bill as an example of the confusion of the age that Abdu Murray so clearly identifies and describes.

On one hand the bill wants to “preserve the rights” of those with sexual identity issues from being subjected to the kind of therapy that has been hurtful to some, though helpful for others. Trying to “change” a sexual orientation that someone “is born with” has been deemed fraudulent, and therefore advertising or promoting any such efforts is also prohibited. Of course, the other side of the coin is that such a law infringes on the freedom of speech of those who disagree, who have the witness of those who have believed the truth of God’s word and who no longer live under the repressive ideas of those who say a person can’t change once they’ve identified a same sex attraction.

As if that wasn’t enough, freedom of religion is at stake also. Various religions, notably Christians, believe that homosexuality is a sin. But to teach this principle or to write about it, or to sell books that discuss the dangers and the ways in which a person can deal with same-sex attraction would now conflict with the proposed California law, and therefore, the law would conflict with the US Constitution, specifically with the First Amendment.

In fact, as I read the chapter in Saving Truth about sexuality, gender, and identity, I had to wonder if this book will still be legal to purchase here in California, should the law pass.

Besides the way in which the California situation demonstrates the truth of Murray’s premise, I found something else really insightful in a quote in the book from Isaac Newton’s Optics.

The context is the chapter entitled “Clarity about Science and Faith.” Among other points, Murray discusses the question “Have Science and Faith Been at Odds through History?” Here’s the description of the book from the Sir Isaac Newton website:

Opticks is a book by English natural philosopher Isaac Newton that was published in English in 1704. (A scholarly Latin translation appeared in 1706.) The book analyses the fundamental nature of light by means of the refraction of light with prisms and lenses, the diffraction of light by closely spaced sheets of glass, and the behavior of color mixtures with spectral lights or pigment powders. It is considered one of the great works of science in history. Opticks was Newton’s second major book on physical science.

So what’s the quote that caught my attention? I had to read it a couple times to grasp what it was saying, but here it is in a nutshell. In answer to the idea that life came from chaos, he philosophizes that no development of the eye would have occurred because without the understanding of light and color, there would be no need for an eye. No ear would have come into being without first an understanding of sound and the need to receive those waves. Here’s the quote:

How came the bodies of animals to be contrived with so much art, and for what ends were their several parts?

Was the eye contrived without skill in Opticks, and the ear without knowledge of sounds?…and these things being rightly dispatch’d, does it not appear from phænomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent…?

I personally think that bit of logic is brilliant. If an organism would evolve from a simpler form for the purpose of survival, how would it know that eyes or ears would actually benefit it? There would be no reason to evolve into a sighted being or a hearing being without first an apprehension that there was something to see and something to hear! The two actually have to work together, or there has to be a transcendent Being who fits all the pieces in place.

In short, Saving Truth has helped me grapple with the present day circumstances in which I live, and it’s provided a wonderful piece of information that helps me understand God and His creation in a more complete way.

There are many other details and conclusions that Abdu Murray reaches in this book. I’ll post a more complete review of it when I finish. For now, I invite you to pre-order a copy so you can benefit from the bonus offer. Those will be good through the weekend. The book launches May 8 which is next Tuesday.

Autonomy VS Freedom


I’m reading a thought-provoking book called Saving Truth by Abdu Murray, a member of the RZIM apologetics team. He introduces his topic by discussing post-truth and the effects on society of this mindset.

The greatest effect, Mr. Murray says, is that people now believe in autonomy, not freedom. Thankfully, he took time to explain what he means. Autonomy comes from two Greek roots, one meaning self and the other meaning rule. Thus, autonomy means self-rule, or without external control.

The problem with autonomy, of course, is that my autonomy and your autonomy may collide. And then, as Mr. Murray points out, might makes right. The stronger of the two dictates to the weaker. In other words, autonomy is actually the gateway to tyranny, with anarchy a stop along the way.

Mr. Murray likened autonomy to what Israel experienced in the era of the Judges. Scripture records this statement: “In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6).

The result was chaos and all kinds of immoral action. People abused others and reacted in violent ways. And no one was willing to take responsibility until civil war broke out.

Freedom is very different. It’s akin to liberty or the ability to stand on your own, and “implies the power to choose among alternatives rather than merely being unrestrained” (Oxford-American Dictionary). In truth, true freedom occurs when a person is guided by moral law.

I think of the example I heard years ago when I was teaching. Some experiment was done in which children were given an open field in which to play during their recess breaks. There were no walls, no fences, but the children concentrated their play near the building. Some time later, the children were provided with a fenced area in which to play, and this time they scattered to the distant parts of the designated field.

In reality the “restriction” gave the children a sense of safety that allowed them to take off their self-restraint and enjoy the area where they’d been allowed to go. Without the boundaries, however, they created self-imposed restrictions that hampered their movement.

Of course, the experiment could have taken a different direction. The children without the boundaries could have left the school grounds. They could have run into the street. They might have vandalized homes in the vicinity. They could have harassed neighbors. They might have stayed away instead of returning to school. They could have been abducted.

The point is, their autonomy didn’t have to result in self-restraint. It could just as easily have resulted in their impinging on someone else’s rights and misusing their property, even as they put themselves at risk to be harmed, accidentally or on purpose.

Freedom is something we can all enjoy. Autonomy leads only to chaos and ultimately tyranny.

Again looking to the era of the judges in Israel’s history, when society descended into chaos, the people cried for a king. They wanted someone to impose on them the rules of law that would bring order. Of course, the result was that the entire nation was then under the rule of one man who subjected them to the laws he decided to establish or follow.

As a result the southern nation was a bit of a yo-yo. When they had a king that followed God, they returned to the sacrifices and temple worship established at their beginning. When they had a king that forsook God and worshiped idols, then they built high places and indulged in child sacrifice and temple prostitution. At one point, the Mosaic Law was not just forgotten, the scrolls that contained it were buried in the temple so that the people didn’t even know what God’s standard was.

Post-truth. They lived at the whim of whoever was on the throne.

The northern kingdom fared worse. They actually went from one coup to another as particular military men vied for control of the nation. At one point in history, one man assassinated the sitting king, but the army followed a different leader. So the one who had connived to take the throne was himself ousted.

Chaos. Tyranny. By ignoring God’s law, by choosing autocracy, they actually forfeited their freedom.

Jesus says, The Truth will set you free. Of course, He also says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” So Jesus is the truth. The truth sets you free. Consequently, Jesus sets you free.

Looking For Christmas Gifts?


I’m a big fan of giving books as Christmas gifts, and children’s books are the best. The thing is, they offer hours of pleasure for years to come. And for little kids, they are fun when they get the gift because they can look at the pictures right away, and they are fun every night they ask for the new book as their bedtime story.

I thought I’d mention the picture books by Hannah C. Hall as great gifts for the little ones in your life—kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews, neighbors. You name it, I think these books are some of the best.

Of course, Hannah is best known for her God Bless Books. They are seasonal or tied to a familiar activity. So now the book that’s most popular is God Bless Our Christmas. But the newest in the series is God Bless Our Family (pictured above).

Perhaps her best, though, is one not in that series. It’s called Would a Worm Go on a Walk? Here’s the description of that one:

“Would a worm go on a walk, if you could lead him down the street?
Would he wear his tiny tennies, if he had two worm-sized feet?”

So begins this humorous and imaginative picture book that introduces children to the idea that animals are uniquely created by a loving and wise God. Would a Worm Go on a Walk?, with its colorful, comical illustrations, is a fresh, fun way to teach young children that God created all things very good. He gave all the animals, and children, too, wonderful qualities and unique strengths. Children will giggle over the ridiculous scenarios presented, and they will come away with the knowledge that we all are loved and special. Ages 4-7.

I don’t think you can go wrong buying one of Hannah’s books this Christmas. And the cool thing is, the adults will likely get as much enjoyment as the kids.

Published in: on December 8, 2017 at 4:45 pm  Comments Off on Looking For Christmas Gifts?  
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Discernment And Culture


In a week or so Disney is set to release the movie Beauty And The Beast. Recently the news broke that one of the characters is gay and that a scene occurs in the movie that makes this fact clear. Talk has begun among some Christians that it’s time to “give up on Disney.”

In response, I wrote a post today at Speculative Faith that said, in essence, we need to realize that sinful acts take place in most, if not all, secular entertainment. We need to stop putting one sin on the top as if it’s the unpardonable sin, we need to open our eyes and see the sin in all the stories we read or watch, and we need to think about how those stories agree or disagree with what the Bible says.

On one hand people can take what I wrote about Beauty And The Beast and think I am being charitable toward a movie made by a secular company for a secular audience with a decidedly secular agenda as part of the story. In contrast, I raised more questions about The Shack, a movie written from a book by a professing Christian about a man who finds relationship with God, despite the great tragedy in his life.

So what’s with that? Are my expectations higher for a movie about God?

Maybe. But my cry is and has been for us to read and view stories with discernment. Discernment is even one of the topics under which I file my posts. In one older article I defined discernment and took great pains to explain what I believe about it and its importance.

I can summarize all that more succinctly here: discernment is the ability to spot truth and error. As a Christian I believe the only way to spot truth and error is by holding up God’s word, which is Truth, and using it as the standard.

So when discussing the two movies in question, I have to know first if the Bible says anything about the issues that the movies raise. In regard to Beauty And The Beast, the central issue is the nature of love. Does the Bible deal with the nature of love? It does in deed: parental love, God’s love, love between friends, love for an enemy, love for a spouse, love for a neighbor. Yes, the Bible speaks to the nature of love, so it certainly would provide a standard by which Beauty And The Beast can be compared.

And what if the movie agrees with the Bible’s standard for the most part but has errors in one minor relationship? This is where discernment comes in. My contention is that Beauty And The Beast deserves the same treatment as other books or stories or movies: we Christians recognize what is sinful, call it sin, expose it as behavior that is not desirable or godly, and weigh that fact along with the rest of the story. In some cases and for some people, the sin revealed outweighs any benefit. For others, it may not.

I’ll give a for instance. When I was in college I had to read Emile Zola’s Germinal for a history class. It was not a pretty story, but I learned more about how someone who is hopeless thinks and feels and looks at life than I could have ever learned apart from going through such an experience myself. For me, I could identify the sin and grieve over it for those poor lost people—fictional characters who nevertheless represented real people. Would I recommend that book to everyone? No. It’s sort of like staring at a head on collision on the freeway. Some of us look away because the images will stay with us in an unhealthy way. (I saw enough of those crashes in Driver’s Ed to last my lifetime).

But back to the two movies in question. The second, The Shack, deals with the relationship of man with God. That’s the whole story really. In the midst of pain and suffering, where is God and does He matter?

Clearly the Bible has a LOT to say about a relationship with God. We have examples (Adam and Eve, Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel, and more). We have prayers and answers to prayer. We have prophets reporting what God says, what His judgments are, and why. We have Jesus, God in the flesh, the image of the invisible God, the one who told His disciples they knew the Father because they knew the Son.

So, yes, we can hold the Bible up as the standard by which we can measure a story about a relationship with God.

Again, discernment is in order. First, we need some working knowledge of the Bible if it is to be our standard. Just because something touches us on the emotional level does not make it true! I was so happy for Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she fell in love with . . . the John she’s spent a week with! It was a true Prince Charming story because he rescued her out of prostitution. After he used her as a prostitute for a week! I mean, really? Is that true love? But it was heart warming and had such a happy ending. Didn’t that make it all an example of what true love looks like? NO!

So one of the important things, maybe one of the hardest things, in discernment is to recognize that an emotional response does not validate the truth or the error depicted in the story. What validates truth is the solid rock of God’s word. So how does The Shack measure up to the truth about God revealed in Scripture. And I don’t mean the peripheral things—the metaphorical representation of the trinity, for instance. I’m thinking more about what the movie says about Jesus Christ and His payment of the debt each of us owes because of our sin.

I haven’t seen the movie yet (and may or may not see it), but the book seemed to be more about God’s acceptance rather than about reconciliation with Him because of what Jesus did at the cross. That’s the key I’d look for. Does the story tell the truth about the means to our relationship with God. Is Jesus central to the story of grace?

Can the movie get most of it right but miss on a few points and still be worthwhile? Again, that’s an issue for each person to decide. What I hope is that when either movie misses, Christians will speak up and point out the ways the movie achieves something true and the ways in which it falls into error.

If we close our minds and go with our heart, we’ll potentially fall for all kinds of deception. Better if we watch with eyes wide open and our minds filled with the truth of Scripture.

Published in: on March 6, 2017 at 6:15 pm  Comments (15)  
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Christian Fiction Must Be . . . You Know, Christian; Or, The Shack Is Back


This past week, I saw the TV add for the upcoming The Shack movie. I’d seen the trailer some time ago, but was dismayed that the promotion was reaching a TV audience. And in LA. We don’t often hear about “Christian” projects here.

There’s no doubt that The Shack positions itself as Christian. After all, Jesus shows up, albeit in imaginary form. But is it Christian?

What constitutes “Christian fiction”? That’s a question we at Spec Faith have answered and revisited since our inception some ten years ago (see for example this early post by one of the founding members of Spec Faith).

Not only have writers and readers debated what constitutes Christian fiction, and particularly Christian speculative fiction, we’ve debated the rightness of and the need for good doctrine in our fiction (see for example “Reading Choices: Realism, Truth, And The Bible“). “Doctrine” encompasses both theology and beliefs concerning morality, and we’ve discussed those too (see for example “Marcher Lord Press and the Hinterlands Imprint“).

On top of these generalized discussions, we’ve also posted articles and comments specifically about The Shack. But that was eight years ago, when the book was still on the top of best-selling lists and Christians and non-Christians alike were passing it around from one person to another and discussing it over coffee.

Now the movie version of Paul Young’s book is about to come to a theater near you, and the question no one could answer back then is bound to resurface: Is The Shack truly Christian?

There are some specific issues that came under scrutiny concerning the book.

Some people stumbled over the most glaring issue right from the gate. I mean, isn’t it blasphemous to depict God the Father as anything but a Father?

I understand how portraying God as other than how He portrays Himself, can be troublesome. At the same time, I can see how others accept “God’s” explanation: that He needed to reveal Himself to the main character in a way he could receive Him.

That being said, I suggest one of the central problems of the story surfaces within the discussion of this rather peripheral issue. The Shack has little use for the Bible. Hence, God the Father is easily replaced by the needs of the character.

There are other major issues—the attitude toward the Church and universal salvation and an understanding of the Trinity.

Yet more than one Christian has reported how life changing The Shack was for them, how they wept as they read it, how they understood God’s forgiveness in a way they never had before.

So . . . is it Christian?

Can it be Christian if it shows God in ways He does not show Himself? If it does not point people to His word or His body, the Church? If it falsely claims universal salvation?

On the other hand, how can it not be Christian if it gave many believers renewed faith and deeper love for God and a deeper understanding of forgiveness?

On one hand, The Shack may not tick all the intellectual, theological boxes, but on the other, it more than makes up for that lack by the emotional, spiritual juice it provides.

In thinking about the “what makes something Christian” question, I have to look at the object itself, not the results that may come from it.

The Apostle Paul did just the opposite when he was imprisoned in Philippi and a bunch of so-called Christian brethren started preaching. Paul identified their motives as envy and strife and selfish ambition (Phil. 1:15, 17), but he basically said, so what? As long as they preached Christ, who cared that they had bad motives?

the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. (vv 17-18a)

Paul was only concerned with the bottom line: the result. These “brethren,” false or true, were telling people about Jesus.

So, isn’t that the best test? Shouldn’t we be applauding The Shack, if the movie is successful, because it is bringing people to Christ?

I said above that I have to look at the object itself, because my question is, Is The Shack truly Christian? Lots of things can bring people to Christ. War has been known to do so. A friend of mine came to Christ by reading a novel. Others look at the heavens and know they need to find the One who made them. After 9/11, here in the US any number of people turned to God in the midst of their fear and uncertainty.

Would we say war is “Christian” because some soldiers reported coming to Christ when faced with their own mortality? No, certainly not. God can and does use whatever means He wishes, but His use of the thing does not baptize it as emblematic of His Good News.

So I reject the idea that The Shack must be Christian because people report a deeper relationship with God after having read it.

When Paul talked about those so-called brethren in Philippi, he gave no indication that they were preaching anything but what was true about Christ. Elsewhere, however, he addressed those who were not preaching the truth.

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds. (2 Cor. 11:13-15)

In writing to the Galatians he also brought up the matter:

But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. (Gal 2:4)

Clearly, Paul was not hesitant to call out those who were not preaching the gospel but who were masquerading as if they were fellow believers. The same is true throughout the Bible about false teachers and false prophets. Jesus Himself made some of the strongest statements about “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” about false prophets misleading many, even about false Christs.

So determining who is and who isn’t a Christian, what is and what isn’t true Christian teaching, seems like an important aptitude.

Yet I know people will hold back for fear of judging. We aren’t supposed to judge each other, are we?

We’re not.

But that doesn’t mean we’re to put our brains on hold, either. We can still think. We can still look at the story on the screen and compare it with what the Bible says. Which is, after all, the unchanging, authoritative Truth by which we know what “Christian” means.

This article is a re-post of the one I published today at Speculative Faith.

Published in: on February 20, 2017 at 5:45 pm  Comments (11)  
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Fiction Isn’t Lying . . . Until It Is


booksSome Christians, apparently, don’t think it’s OK to read fiction because fiction is all about made up characters, places, and events. In other words, it’s all lies.

I had never heard that point of view until I got on the Internet, and then mostly other writers said they’d been confronted by others who chastised them for their lies. I did read a post once by someone who took that extreme position, but it was new to me.

For one thing, appealing to the definition of lie explodes that view, the key being the intention of deception. No one who writes fiction pretends their story is factual. No one who reads fiction is unaware that the story is pretend. So no one is deceiving or being deceived. So fiction isn’t lying.

In addition, authors of fiction use the pretend to make statements about reality. In all my literature classes throughout college, we analyzed stories to determine, among other things, what the author was saying, what he wanted readers to take away or to believe about humankind or the world or God. Thomas Hardy, for example, wrote stories to show that humankind is pushed and pulled by fate. On the other hand, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol which showed that a person can change his ways and isn’t locked into beliefs by chance circumstances.

Those two views which are in opposition to one another can hardly both be true. One might be truthful or they both might be false, but they both can’t be true.

It’s still probably incorrect to say that one which is not truthful is therefore a lie. I’m certain Thomas Hardy believed he was truthfully showing readers the way the world worked, but he was wrong. In his made up stories Hardy revealed his own belief system, one that replaced God with the ‘unconscious will of the Universe’ (see Wikipedia).

My question is this: ought not a Christian writer who knows the truth, reflect truth in any story he or she writes? I want to be clear: I do not think any story can tell ALL truth. For one thing, we don’t have all truth. The Bible, though complete, doesn’t show us all there is to know about God. It is our view of the world through that dark mirror I Corinthians 13 mentions. Second, ALL truth would not fit into one story, even one the size of The Grapes of Wrath or Gone With The Wind.

So what “truth” is a novelist supposed to show in his or her story?

That’s the beauty of writing. An author can open the door for readers regarding all kinds of important truths.

I’m thinking of one novel, for instance, a fantasy, in which the God of that world was worshiped by both factions in an owner/slave society. Both believe this God figure provides for them. Which brings up all kinds of interesting questions: does God provide for the wicked as well as for the victimized? Are those enslaved believing in this God in vain? Is the ruling class worshiping in hypocrisy? Is there anything similar going on in our world?

I could go on to discuss ways in which a novelist can show truth by developing their theme, but the point I want to make is this: a Christian writer, while not burdened to show all truth (an impossibility, but an attempt at such would clearly necessitate the entire plan of salvation), should show truth.

Of course it’s possible to leave out any direct reference to God and still show truth. J. R. R. Tolkien did that. He had Christ figures, but not a direct reference to God or to Jesus.

What Tolkien did not do was mislead people about those Christ figures. He did not have Gandalf decide to take the One Ring for himself. He did not have Aragon desert the forces of Gondor. The one who would sacrifice himself for the fellowship did not turn evil. The returning king did not forsake those who trusted him.

Thus, what an author chooses to show about truth is really up to him, but he must do so faithfully. He would be lying to portray God or a God figure in his world to be selfish or greedy or blood-thirsty or immoral or weak. Any of those would be a lie. A Christian who knows God must portray some truth about Him if He or a representative figure shows up in the story.

Non-Christians who turn God into an it with an unconscious will or who make Him out to be evil, as I understand Phillip Pullman did in his fantasy series, aren’t lying about God in the same way a Christian who knows the truth would be. Rather, they have rejected God and are trying to make sense of the world without Him. They are more to be pitied, though readers must beware so they see the ways their views deviate from the truth.

In short, the Christian is really the only one who can lie in fiction. We know the truth. If we purposely misrepresent God, how can that be thought of as anything but a lie?

An Influential Character


cover_Prince CaspianThis blog post is my response to a writing prompt posted in the Facebook group Fantasy Writers and Readers. Please leave a comment or contact me at my Yahoo account for an invite if you are an avid fantasy writer and/or reader and would like to participate in this closed Facebook group.

So the question: what character, as in fictitious person from a story, influenced you either now or in childhood or throughout your life?

That’s a head-scratcher.

When I was a kid, the characters I loved were Mr. Toad and his wild ride, Brer Rabbit and his clever cockiness, the Little Engine That Could and his commitment, drive, and determination. What persistence, that little engine!

Later, I loved the secret heroes—Zorro most of all, but Robin Hood too, the Long Ranger, and Superman. They were not about taking bows or doing good deeds for show. They wanted to right injustice, to help the poor and needy and protect the weak and helpless. Oh my what lofty goals! How do you do such things if you a) don’t have super powers or b) don’t have endless resources or c) aren’t planning to begin a criminal lifestyle?

Another character I loved was Alec Ramsey, protagonist in The Black Stallion by Walter Farley because he knew how to tame a wild horse and endear himself to the animal, for life. In many ways he was the kid version of my other heroes, only he turned his protective instincts toward a horse.

But who has actually influenced me? I’d have to say Lucy Pevensie of The Chronicles Of Narnia. In book two Prince Caspian, Lucy and a small entourage are trying to reach what had been their castle, but years and years have passed in Narnia and Things Are Different. The animals no longer talk and a great wood has grown up. Evil men are in control.

At one point Lucy sees Aslan, the High King of Narnia. He beckons her to follow, but she doesn’t. As a result, they take a very long road and almost fall into enemy hands. They have to backtrack and lose a day when time is of the essence.

Again Lucy sees Aslan, even talks with him. In their conversation, it’s clear he wants her to follow him even if the others can’t see him and even if they don’t come along. It’s a critical point—she must act on what she believes, or not.

That was a changing point in my life, too. Lucy had the courage of her convictions, and she challenged me to live the same way. So of all the great protagonists in all the great stories, I’d have to say Lucy Pevensie has influenced me most.

Christy Award Finalists


ReadingThe Christy Award finalists were announced today. I know that awards like this can easily leave out some of the best books—they might be independently published or the publisher chose not to invest in submitting a particular novel. All kinds of reasons.

Still, there’s no doubt these books deserve to go on a list of novels readers should consider buying. I mean, first an agent chose to represent the author, then an acquisitions editor took the manuscript to the publishing board, they decided to publish it, a substantive and a copy editor each worked with the author on it, then Christy judges chose it to be included with the other finalists. That’s a lot of people in the writing profession who believed in these books.

So why not consider adding them to your to be read list? I mean, this is the end of April, which means May is just around the corner. And we all know what follows May: SUMMER!!

You need good books during the summer to take with you on that vacation or to read when all your friends are away on vacation.

With all that in mind, here is the list of finalists:

CONTEMPORARY

Farewell, Four Waters by Kate McCord (RiverNorth, an imprint of Moody Publishing)
Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate (Tyndale House Publishers)

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

A Broken Kind of Beautiful by Katie Ganshert (WaterBrook Multnomah)
Firewall by DiAnn Mills (Tyndale House Publishers)
Undetected by Dee Henderson (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

CONTEMPORARY SERIES

The Amish Blacksmith by Mindy Starns Clark and Susan Meissner (Harvest House Publishers)
Home to Chicory Lane by Deborah Raney (Abingdon Press)
When I Fall in Love by Susan May Warren (Tyndale House Publishers)

FIRST NOVEL

Feast for Thieves by Marcus Brotherton (RiverNorth, an imprint of Moody Publishing)
For Such a Time by Kate Breslin (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)
House of Living Stones by Kate Schuermann (Concordia Publishing House)

HISTORICAL

The Advocate by Randy Singer (Tyndale House Publishers)
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (Viking)
The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot (Tyndale House Publishers)

HISTORICAL ROMANCE

A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)
Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer (WaterBook Multnomah)
With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

SUSPENSE

The Color of Justice by Ace Collins (Abingdon Press)
A Cry from the Dust by Carrie Stuart Parks (Thomas Nelson, a division of Harper Collins Christian Publishing)
Sky Zone by Creston Mapes (David C Cook)

VISIONARY [Also known as speculative fiction: fantasy, science fiction, fairy tale, futuristic, etc.]

Once Beyond a Time by Ann Tatlock (Heritage Beacon Fiction)
Shadow Hand by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)
A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes (Enclave Publishing)

YOUNG ADULT

Failstate: Nemesis by John W. Otte (Enclave Publishing)
This Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof (Independently Published)
Storm Siren by Mary Weber (Thomas Nelson, a division of Harper Collins Christian Publishing)

Published in: on April 21, 2015 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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Review – The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue


The Color Of Grief Isn't Blue coverI’m embarrassed. I planned to post a review of Sharon Souza’s novel The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue on Amazon and figured the easiest way was to copy my review from my own site. But when I did a search for the book, I couldn’t find it. I looked through the Reviews category, searched for the book by title, searched by Sharon’s name. I was so sure I’d written a review. But no. As it turned out, I’d written an endorsement, not a review.

YIKES! I must have had a senior moment. How embarrassing!

Well, I thought I needed to remedy the matter at once. I wrote a short review on Amazon and now will give a more complete analysis here. First, this is the endorsement I wrote. I’m not experienced writing these so I don’t know how much of it was worth quoting. But this reflects my thoughts shortly after I finished reading the book:

The Color of Sorrow Isn’t Blue by Sharon K. Souza is a powerful story, real and raw. Souza’s writing is beautiful, but it is also true. I don’t know of a novel that does a better job showing the depth of grief and the nearly insurmountable job of climbing out of the pit it creates. There are no pat answers in this story—only the reality of friendship and a gradual realization of God’s constancy. This book will touch the heart of anyone who has experienced the pain of loss and show that doubting and despair don’t have to be the end game.

Interestingly, my review on Amazon was quite different. I no longer see the book as something that will touch the heart of people who know the pain of loss. Now I understand more clearly, we all know the pain of loss to one degree or another. Consequently, this book is for everyone. So, without further ado. . .

The Story.

Bristol Taylor’s daughter is gone. Disappeared. In a moment of seeming safety, a simple, understandable choice opened the door to the unknown, and Bristol has suffered the pain and regret and guilt ever since.

A year later she can’t face the inevitable media regurgitation of those painful days and weeks and months and wants to escape. She plans to head off to her stepmother’s “beach house”—a twenty-foot trailer situated not far from the beach.

To her surprise her sister, best friend, and stepmother refuse to let her face the anniversary alone. Instead the weekend turns out to be anything but the escape Bristol had planned.

Strengths.

First, I suppose people might call this book a “character driven” novel. I mean there’s no dramatic car-chase scene, no passionate romance, no cops chasing down clues. Instead, the horror has already happened and this is a book about dealing. How do you go on when the worst has happened, or might have. In reality, there’s this thread of the unknown which adds uncertainty to Bristol’s loss and robs her of closure while draining her of hope.

It’s also a book about relationships—Bristol and her husband, Bristol and the three women who determine to see her through another day of crisis, Bristol and God. So, yes, you’d have to say character is front and center.

And yet . . . There is no lack of action and more importantly, no lack of tension. Bristol has a goal which she maintains throughout. She thinks she knows what she needs, but it’s clear fairly soon that she’s wrong. It’s not as clear whether or not she’ll turn from the course she’s determined to take. I mean, she’s determined!

So this story is not slow-paced. In actuality, it’s structured in a unique way, with what happened before liberally interspersed with what’s happening now. In some ways it’s a little like changing points of view.

In one section the story is the remembrance of a busy, happy, proud mother about life with her loving husband and their beautiful daughter. Then the story swings back to the present where husband and wife are nearly estranged and their daughter is gone. Together these two narratives weave the entire story together until the reader understands on a visceral level what Bristol has lost and why.

Besides telling a terrific story, Sharon has done so using beautiful prose. Bristol is an artist and she sees life as an artist does. Sharon has captured that aspect of her protagonist without slowing the story for long descriptive paragraphs. Rather, Bristol’s artistic nature colors her voice.

Weaknesses.

I don’t have much here. For a very short stretch, I wasn’t sure I liked Bristol. She had my sympathy right away, but it was clear something wasn’t right between her and her husband. It was early in the story and I didn’t have a clue why she seemed to be pushing him away. I knew that was the wrong thing for her to do, but I didn’t know her enough to be in her corner hoping she’d realize her folly.

As it turned out, the story went far deeper than I expected, very quickly. Why she acted the way she did became clear and it added one more thing Bristol had to work through—if she could. By the end, my heart was breaking for Bristol.

But that early reaction . . . well, I remember it months after reading the novel. In fact, I remember the entire story almost as if I finished it yesterday. That’s how powerful it affected me.

So, no, I can’t do a good job balancing my review with what could have made it better. I mean, I generally like a fairly straightforward, chronological telling, but I wouldn’t change a thing in the way Sharon chose to tell this story, the past and present threads woven together in such a way that the unique structure actually became a strength.

OK, here’s one. I didn’t ever quite have the setting clear in my mind—where was this trailer in relation to other structures and how close was it actually to the beach? I remember wondering in a place or two, but actually those could have been in the story and I missed them because I was focused on something else. Ultimately the logistics didn’t confuse me or disrupt the story.

That’s all the “weaknesses” I’ve got.

Recommendation.

I can only say, The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue is a memorable book, a powerful story, completely void of preachiness or easy answers or platitudes. It’s honest and the questioning touches your soul. Because sorrow is such a universal experience, I’m tempted to say, this book is a must read for everyone. But I know women will like it more than men. It’s really a woman’s book because it tells the story of the mother, of the wife. Guys could gain a lot. I just don’t know how much they’d understand. Oh, not intellectually. They could understand the words, but I don’t know if they’d understand the emotion. I mean, a big part of the story has to do with a wife submitting to her husband. Guys should read it, but I don’t know if they can get it. But there it is. A must read for women who enjoy good literature.