Exploring Horror Or Exploring Light

300x179xthe-walking-dead-s4-e16-zombies-636-380-300x179.jpg.pagespeed.ic.35AUmep_fuWhen I first heard the term “Christian horror,” I laughed. I thought the person was kidding. I mean, how could blood and psycho-killers and hauntings and demon possession be Christian? Since then I’ve learned that some serious writers—including some Christians—believe horror fiction holds a necessary place in understanding evil, and therefore confronting it.

A number of years ago, for example, author Brian Godawa posted a three-part apology for Christian horror at Speculative Faith. More recently author and friend Mike Duran has published Christian Horror:On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre.

While I’ve moved from a hard stance against horror (I insisted that the genre existed to accomplish one thing—produce fear), conceding that some writers and readers confront evil and explore how to counter it through fiction, I’m far from holding the view that horror is “must read” fiction for Christians, that to turn away from an exploration of evil is to isolate ourselves from the reality of the world in which we live.

I expressed my thoughts in a post at Spec Faith nearly four years ago, ideas to which I still hold. The following is a slightly revised version of that post.

Author Anne Rice, best known for her vampire fiction and her conversions to and from Christianity, has stated that her vampire books were actually explorations of the spiritual. Spiritual light or spiritual darkness?

Some may say that an exploration of spiritual darkness must precede any look at spiritual light. I suppose this might be one of those areas that differ from person to person, but I can’t help but wonder why we Christians aren’t exploring the light more than we are the darkness.

Corrie ten Boom

Certainly darkness is in the world. Yet when I think of darkness, some of the most uplifting, true stories I’ve read come to mind. Take Corrie ten Boom, for example. Without a doubt, her story contains horrific elements, including the inhuman conditions in a Nazi concentration camp and the death of her dear sister as a result.

But throughout, from the decision to help Jews, to Corrie’s release from the camp and her subsequent commitment to show the love and forgiveness of God to victim and victimizer alike, the story is infused with hope and promise and the sovereign hand of God over all circumstances.

Elisabeth Elliot

The story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and Pete Fleming is similar. These young missionaries, so committed to sharing the gospel with a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, died at the hands of the people they wanted to save. More astounding, Jim’s wife Elisabeth and Nate’s wife Rachel returned to the tribe, lived with them for two years, and saw many come to Christ. The forgiveness and love these women lived out in the midst of tragedy and loss is a revelation of God’s love and forgiveness.

Joni Eareckson Tada’s story is equally inspirational. Injured as a seventeen year old, Joni has lived as a quadriplegic for forty-eight years.

Joni Eareckson Tada

Despite her disability, she shines the love of Jesus into the lives of hundreds of thousands through her writing, painting, and speaking. She has even put out a vocal recording and starred in the video of her life story. Perhaps her greatest work has been establishing Joni and Friends, an international disability center bringing hope and help to people throughout the world.

Hope. That seems to be a key thread that runs through these stories of triumph over tragedy. The darkness is very real in each one—Joni’s despair, the deaths of the missionaries and Corrie’s sister, the brutality of the Nazis—but triumph dominates the story.

The Hiding Place is not the story about Corrie’s sister dying but about God’s love and forgiveness manifested in an unspeakably cruel place.

Through Gates of Splendor is not a story about five twenty-something missionary men being killed but about the truth in this verse of the hymn from which the title of the book came:

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender.
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise;
When passing through the gates of pearly splendor,
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.

Joni is not the story of a seventeen-year-old whose life caved in, but of a God who brings meaning and purpose out of suffering.

You might wonder why I’m taking a look at all these true stories in a post about speculative fiction. I see how inspirational the lives of these three who suffered greatly have been. They personally explored the light in the midst of the darkness of their real circumstances. The result has been phenomenal. They have pointed generations of people to Christ.

Why, then, would a fiction writer not want to adopt this model — an exploration of light in the midst of darkness? Why go the other route and spend pages and pages exploring the dark, even if the light comes filtering in at the end?

I personally (and remember what I said at the beginning of this post about us all being different) find hope and help to be what I want to read. Darkness, I already know. Hope and help in the midst of darkness is compelling. Why aren’t more Christian speculative novels exploring the light?

It seems to me we are becoming fixated with what is true to the human experience, and as a result we are not setting our “mind on things above” (Col. 3:2). Do we think we know all there is to know about God, so we don’t need to focus on Him as much as we do the depravity and corruption sin causes?

Darkness will be a part of fiction, I believe. But I also see there are two ways of looking at it. In one case, stories seem to explore the darkness, in the other they seem to explore the light that triumphs over the darkness. This latter type is the kind of story I like to read and I want to write.

Christian Heroes or Christian Celebrities?

I just read another article (by Bob Burney of Salem Communications) about Anne Rice’s change of heart. The provocative title is “I’m With Anne Rice: I’m Resigning Too “ though the conclusion is quite different:

Sadly, I think Anne Rice is confused. The problem is not with “Christianity.” There is nothing wrong with Biblical Christianity. The real problem is religion masquerading as Christianity.

Be that as it may, what caught my attention was this passage addressing the response to Anne’s announcement six years ago that she was returning to Catholicism:

After writing for years on gothic and erotic themes, she shocked the world in October of 2004 when she announced a return to her “faith” in Newsweek and her determination henceforth to “write only for the Lord.” Christian magazines gobbled up the news of a “new convert” and praised her newfound “faith.” (Emphasis mine.)

We live in a celebrity culture, make no mistake. But Scripture indicates believers are supposed to be different. We aren’t supposed to idolize others, we aren’t supposed to love the world.

The way of the flesh is sadly dark. We, however, have the Light of the world. Does it make sense, then, to cover the Light and imitate those stumbling along in the dark?

But that’s what I think we do when we search for celebrities. We seem enamored with the already famous guy who becomes a Christian. Or the Christian who becomes famous for something other than his faith.

It really does come across as a “one for our side” attitude.

Instead, I think we should be looking for faith heroes. Who was Corrie ten Boom until she went to a German concentration camp for hiding Jews? She was a fifty-year-old nobody in the eyes of the world. An old maid. Not a celebrity.

But God did remarkable things through her during the next thirty-plus years of her life. Eventually Corrie became well known, not because she was somebody, but because she had faith in God.

Who was Elizabeth Elliot before her husband was martyred and she went back into the jungle to tell his killers about the love of God? She was a young unknown college graduate married to a missionary. A nobody, without a name any politician or entertainer or spots star would know.

But she became a hero of the faith because she trusted God in the midst of her grief and lived out what she said she believed.

That last may be the missing ingredient today. Christians chasing celebrities seem too eager to latch onto words that sound right (and might even be right) when they come from the mouths of people who are famous.

Shouldn’t we instead honor actions of faith and praise God accordingly?

Published in: on August 19, 2010 at 4:15 pm  Comments (7)  
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The Church Wins!

No, we’re not in a contest, so this title might be a little misleading, but it dawned on me today as I was thinking about a verse in Philippians that the Church, in fact, isn’t in danger.

That statement might seem surprising in light of what’s happening in the world today:

  • Those who profess emerging Christianity indict the Church and happily leave to engage in conversations and centering prayer.
  • Famous individuals like Ann Rice boldly and publicly declare they are finished with Christianity though they still follow Christ.
  • False teachers tell adherents how they can use Christianity to accomplish the very things God said to guard against (selfishness, greed, pride).
  • Christian leaders (Catholics and Protestants) have been exposed as hypocrites for engaging in immoral behavior contrary to what they say they believe.
  • Christians claiming to contend for the faith display hateful behavior and vile speech in direct contradict to Christ’s expressed teachings.

Yet here I am saying the Church wins. These are the verses that spurred this realization. Paul is addressing the Church in Philippi:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.
– Phil 1:27-28 (emphasis mine)

Why, I wondered, would an absence of alarm concerning opponents be a sign of destruction for said opponents? And for that matter, why would it be a sign of salvation for the Church?

I don’t pretend to understand all that Paul meant here, but thinking about the Church as a building in progress with Christ as the cornerstone, it dawned on me (or re-dawned on me) that the Church cannot fail.

After all, Christ is the head of the Church. We are His bride. We are branches attached to Him as the Vine. We sons (and daughters) comprise His family. We appendages are part of His body. We are stones that fit with the Cornerstone.

So if we, the Church stand firm in one spirit, and with one mind strive together for the faith of the gospel, we will be declaring for all to see that the building is being built and that it will be completed.

My next thought is this: can someone taking shots at the Church be standing firm in one spirit?

I suspect some believe that taking shots is a form of striving for the faith of the gospel, but what about the “together” part?

There’s another factor that needs to be considered. Who exactly is “the Church”? Some people claim to be “Christ followers” even as they divorce themselves from “organized religion” (a la Ann Rice, though she certainly wasn’t the first to move in this direction).

There is nothing sacred about “organized religion,” to be sure. After all, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Mormonism, Scientology are organized religions. In addition, I don’t think those first gatherings of believers in Jesus Christ as Messiah and Lord—the ones who responded to Peter’s preaching—were all that organized.

However, “organization” developed, some as a result of the instruction of the inspired Scriptures and some through tradition that changed over time. Before the last inspired epistle had been penned, tradition and inspired instruction had already begun to clash. This is why Paul said not to listen to anyone preaching a different gospel.

The gospel, of course, is the good news that Christ died to pay the penalty for sin and that those who believe in Him will have eternal life.

So aren’t those who stand firm in one spirit on this core principle and who strive with one mind for the faith of this core principle—aren’t those stones in the temple that God is building? The indestructible temple that will one day be complete no matter how many people in whatever ways try to tear it down today?

The Church wins for one reason and one reason alone: Christ our Cornerstone is already the Victor.

Published in: on August 12, 2010 at 9:25 am  Comments (2)  
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Vampires and Angels

Faith_Fiction2I’m late, but I wanted to add my voice to the discussion started at My Friend Amy as part of her Faith ‘n Fiction Saturday. Here are the questions:

So my question for you today is…what do you think about these kinds [vampire] of stories? Do you enjoy the fictional vampire stories or the fictional stories about angels? Are you more likely to read a story about an angel than a vampire? What do you think is the appeal of these books?

Interesting topic in light of the discussion we had centered on Eric Wilson’s Haunt of Jackals.

First vampires. Not my cup of tea. I may have mentioned a time or two that I’m not a fan of horror. I don’t like being scared and don’t understand why anyone else would. It is an unpleasant sensation, so why would I voluntarily put myself through the experience for hours on end? It makes no sense to me.

Some people have told me it’s an adrenalin rush. I get plenty of that as a sports fan (and earlier, as a coach and player) and don’t find that source to be unpleasant (unless my team loses 🙄 ).

Of late I’ve been dismayed by the “twilighting” of vampires. As I understand their original mythic role, they were evil, beings to fight against. But today’s vampires—from TV’s Angel to Twilight’s whats-his-name—vampires might be blood-suckers, but their self-restraint made them good. It’s a very humanistic message, not to mention that it plays to the “love the bad boy” syndrome too many young girls fall into as it is.

But are angel stories any better? I’ve only read a couple. I understand “fallen angels” stories are becoming more and more popular. Uh … I thought fallen angels were demons. So how can fallen angels be characters we cheer for? Perhaps the fallen angels will be beings to fear, taking the place, in essence, of olden day vampires. In that case, I refer you to the paragraph above about my reaction to horror. 😀

The larger issue when it comes to angels, however, is exactly what Amy said in her answer to these questions: angels are real. Vampires, as fictitious beings, aren’t tied to the original imagining of such creatures. Authors are free to speculate all they wish.

Angels, as long as they are not the cute and cuddly kind—in other words, angels portrayed in any way as Scripture reveals them to be—must be handled in the same way other historical beings are handled. They must be researched. They must adhere to what we know to be true.

Personally, I don’t see stories about angels being interesting at all. If we give them anthropomorphic emotions, we will be distorting reality. If we show them as single-minded servants of the most high God, then there really is no internal conflict that makes for a good story.

I’m not in anyway interested in these stories. The ones I’ve read fell far short, even when the writing was good.

So I’ll have to say, count me out of these angel/vampire tales.

How about you? Are you a fan of vampire stories? And if so, why? Have you read any angel stories? Do you look forward to the new wave of stories featuring angels?

As an aside, months ago I started a discussion over at Amazon and last week, who should make a comment but Anne Rice. I wanted to verify that this was THE Anne Rice, and sure enough, it was. In the process, though, I visited her Web site and saw the “angels are the new vampires” tag line. That was the first I was aware of the coming trend.

Shade – November’s CSFF Tour, Day 1

John Olson's ShadeI can’t help but think this tour for John Olson’s Shade (B&H Publishing) will be one of the more interesting tours we’ve had in CSFF this year. As Jason Joyner, CSFF member in good standing (now on sabbatical to help tend to his newborn daughter 😀 ), mentioned in a blog post last August, this book has been touted as a vampireless vampire story.

I hear that designation and my first thought is “horror.” OK, that reaction takes place on several levels—horror, the genre, for one and Horror! a Christian horror story? on another.

The first level. Is Shade indeed a horror story? I’m maybe the worst person to answer this question since I’ve made a point not to read horror. In the past I objected to the idea that Horror as a genre, defined by Wikipedia as that which exists to generate fear, could, in fact, be Christian.

I have yet to find anyone quibble with that conclusion, but many people disagree with the definition. Since it isn’t mine, I have no vested interest in whether it is or is not right. The point for me is that Wikipedia thinks it’s right—Wikipedia, the encyclopedia of the people. In other words, as long as that definition stands on the Wikipedia site, I assume that most people visiting that page aren’t finding the definition inaccurate.

However, Olson begins several sections of Shade with quotes from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, quotes that make it clear there is much wrestling with the supernatural in that classic story. Including the quotes makes me think that Olson is tying his story to that same line.

Modern horror writer, and recently professing Catholic convert, Anne Rice said as much about her vampire novels in her statements concerning her journey to faith. Those earlier novels, she said (and now has written in her latest book Called Out of Darkness: A spiritual confession), were part of her exploration of the supernatural and played a big role in her returning to Catholicism. From a statement by Rice posted on her Web site:

I am hardly stating an original idea when I say that such stories are transformative. They invite the reader on a journey which reflects perfectly the formula of Aristotle for great drama: as one reads (or watches the film or play), one feels pity and fear, and eventually experiences catharsis. One is taken to a place, through the literary experience, to which one might not have ever gone on one’s own. I feel strongly that dark stories demand that the audience earn the transformation; they require a certain suffering on the part of the audience as the price of eventual affirmation.

I would like to submit that my vampire novels … are attempting to be transformative stories as well. All these novels involve a strong moral compass. Evil is never glorified in these books; on the contrary, the continuing battle against evil is the subject of the work. The search for the good is the subject of the work.

Then later she says:

For me, the entire body of my earlier work, reflects a movement towards Jesus Christ. In 2002, I consecrated my work to Jesus Christ. This did not involve a denunciation of works that reflected the journey. It was rather a statement that from then on I would write directly for Jesus Christ. I would write works about salvation, as opposed to alienation; I would write books about reconciliation in Christ, rather than books about the struggle for answers in a post World War II seemingly atheistic world.

So where does Shade fit in? Does Dr. Olson’s story about supernatural evil—for clearly, it is that, even though there are no vampires—exist to generate fear, or to wrestle with the forces of evil? Is it a story intended for nothing more than entertainment, or is it attempting a greater goal by entering into the examination of spiritual warfare?

I guess you’ll need to see what others on the CSFF tour think. 😉 (OK, I’ll probably have my say later on, too).

Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton(not on the original list posted at CSFF)
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Joleen Howell
Jason Isbell
Jason Joyner
Rachel Marks
Melissa Meeks
Pam Morrisson (not on the original list posted at CSFF)
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Mirtika or Mir’s Here
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

“√” indicates I know a blog post is up.

Published in: on November 17, 2008 at 12:55 pm  Comments (16)  
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