Tag Archives: stephen-lawhead

Feeling Snarky

I’m having a day of snark – one of those where everything I want to write about involves some sort of sarcastic response toward ridiculous opinions and viewpoints. Hazards of coming off a couple of sick days, I suppose – I tend to be a little less patient and tolerant.

For starters, in response to the shooting at Virginia Tech the other day, gun control outcriers have cropped again. And they’re welcome to their opinions, of course. But I still think they’re wrong. There seems to be this mentality that allowing people to own and carry weapons will only cause the crime rate to increase, since guns will be that much more available. Almost without exception, though, I find that those opinions come from folks who have had very little exposure to guns. For those of us who have grown up with guns and have been taught how to safely handle them, we know that those folks who make the decision to 1) own guns and 2) earn the license that gives them the right to carry said guns are _far_ more likely to handle them safely. These are the people who respect these weapons enough to, get this, keep one with them at all times. The people who go on these shooting sprees usually acquire their weapons by illegal means or, if they’ve acquired them legally, haven’t bothered to learn how to use them properly or gained the licenses necessary to carry them. In short, shooters like this do not respect the laws that govern the use and ownership of guns. It places those of us who actually _do_ respect these laws in a difficult spot because the resultant fear from tragedies like these threatens the right of American citizens to own and carry guns.

Recognize this – psychos like this Virginia Tech shooter will always be able to find guns when they want them, no matter what sort of legislation is in place to make it “impossible” to do so. The black market will never be shut down. All these gun control laws do is make it more difficult for honest citizens to put a quick end to a shooter’s spree should such a crisis arise. Personally, I feel much safer with a licensed-to-carry citizen next to me than without. But then again, I realize that said citizen has been trained in how to use that weapon and would never casually use said weapon unless there was no other option.

The other thing that has my snark up right now involves Fox News apparent posthumous besmirching of Kurt Vonnegut. Apparently, Fox News ran a story the other day that wasn’t terribly flattering to the late science fiction author. Ultimately, I couldn’t care less what Fox News thinks of the author or how people are reacting to the news story. I deliberately tend to avoid the news in any form exactly because the news seems to bring out the worst in people.

What I _am_ a little bit surprised by is Fox News’s deliberate mention of Vonnegut being a ‘leftist.’ Well, of _course_ he was a leftist – most science fiction authors are. Read just about any science fiction novel, and you’ll see worlds in which religion is all but dead, with God having been debunked and traditional and historical forms of morality having been given up in favor of less restrictive and more ‘liberating’ personal values. These are worlds where anything goes, guilt-free, so long as others are not harmed in the process. This is the ideal of 21st-century man, to live as he desires rather than being bound to a set of rules set down by a third party, whatever that third party may be. This view is liberal and leftist, and for some reason this viewpoint, this hopeful future, goes hand-in-hand with science fiction. The shirking of religion, with all its rules and regulations, is seen as progress for mankind, and science fiction embraces this hope with vigor, eagerness, and passion.

What _I’d_ like to see is science fiction where the future world doesn’t look all that much different to the world we see today, with the obvious exception of more advanced technology. I’d like to see some science fiction where, if anything, morality and religion have become _more_ entrenched, just to see what that kind of world would like. I wouldn’t mind seeing such worlds built in both a positive and negative light, since either outcome is equally likely, in my opinion. Essentially, I’d like to see a more deliberate exploration of such universes. And just once, I’d like to see a world of the future where religion isn’t the demon that it’s made out to be today, where religion is actually beneficial and productive. Stephen Lawhead attempts this in his Empyrion set, and Orson Scott Card presents another version in his Ender series. But these are the exceptions, rather than the rule. I just tend to think that science fiction does not necessarily need to be divorced from religion and morality in order to be good and exceptional. But since many times science fiction expresses the ideologies of each writer, they tend toward a certain brand of preachiness against religion that grows wearisome after a while.

So that’s a bit of the snark factor bouncing around in my brain today. And now that it’s out there, perhaps it’ll leave me alone.

Give Me Simplicity

There are many times during the course of my immersion into the realms of science fiction and fantasy, whether it be reading books, watching shows or movies, etc., when I wish that I could experience aspects of those cultures first-hand. For instance, in the short-lived show _Firefly_, two cultures merged into one when humanity abandoned Earth. The predominant world superpowers at that time were the United States and China. So, when new worlds were terraformed and then populated by Earth’s refugees, it wasn’t long before most inhabitants of this new solar system were bi-lingual, speaking English primarily but switching over to Mandarin in moments of high emotion.

In Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon cycle, the culture of Britain in the early days after Jesu left his mark on the world was rich with history, symbolism, and faith. The mere image of the cross was enough to spark strong emotional and behavioral reactions in the followers of the Great Light, of the one True God. You can believe that nothing in their faith was taken for granted.

What it comes down to is this – I see in many Americans a shallowness that borders on being depressing. I don’t believe it always used to be this way. Early on in our nation’s history, national pride was treasured, cherished. It was important to be known as an American, important enough to die for, as many did. Today it seems that so many of our citizens are almost ashamed to be called Americans, thinking that to claim such is to be pretentious and arrogant in the eyes of the world. We are becoming American in name only, with so many having no concept of the pride that goes with being called such.

So, too, in our churches and in our faith. We are becoming Christian in name only, and that often only barely. Cultural shallowness has begun to penetrate our minds, our hearts, our churches so that our ministries become less effective, less robust. As both Americans and as Christians, we are losing our culture, those elements that root us in what we are and in what we believe. The cross of Christ has become less of an integral, necessary part of our belief system and more of a digitized placeholder of faith whereupon we look and remark in a distracted manner about how important it is to our faith.

A recent email conversation among some friends has addressed this topic from the perspective of the church’s affluence. The problem posed at the outset of the discussion is that of the presence of “fancy buildings… sound systems, and the musical instruments, and the hundreds of different colors of papers, and the power point programs, and twenty children’s programs and all associated materials.” These are all things that most of our churches today seem to think they require in order to function and minister effectively. We seem to require that our auditoriums be air conditioned and that crying children be removed from the service, that the drums not be played too loudly (or at all) and that the pastor have the appropriate level of pious humility if we are to be expected to worship at all. ((Email correspondence))

There are several things that I believe have contributed to the current state of affairs in our churches. The first is that the increased development of technology has pushed the pace of culture into hypersonic speeds. Information and data travel at a breakneck rate nowadays, and most of us have noticed that life has moved into not just the fast lane but into the ultra-fast lane. We have less time now than we ever did, and what free time we have we fill with activities that are, essentially, needless. We are constantly inundated with more and more information that we must sort through and process, and as a result we have become detached from those things that are truly important, things like God, faith, and family. This is contributor number one to the shallowness of culture.

The second contributor is the shift toward post-modern philosophy. Truth is no longer what it once was. It has become an ethereal entity that cannot be grasped. Indeed, truth has become little more than a vapor, a thing that is seen – and then only just barely – before it is caught up by the wind and blown away. We try to clasp it in our hands so that we may know it, yet it slips through our fingers and goes on its merry way, leaving us wondering if it was ever real to begin with. This is the way popular culture sees truth today, as an insubstantial, ever-changing entity that is unique to each individual. Truth has many faces, so that it may look different to each individual who views it, even changing in form to a single person depending on the circumstances surrounding its pursuit. We are continually losing the notion that truth is, in fact, static and stable, never-changing, steady throughout the ages. The Enemy attacks the idea of absolute truth because those who do not believe in it are merely sheep to be led to the slaughter. The disappearance of absolute truth has contributed to the shallowness of culture and the loss of those things which are most important. Now what is most important is determined by each person privately and may look vastly different from what is most important to the next person.

The third contributor has already been mentioned – the affluence of culture. As another contributor to the conversation stated, it seems that “the more STUFF we have around us, the more FAITH we need.” I do not believe that this is just limited to material possessions, either. I have watched as men fill their heads with more and more knowledge and ‘facts’, information that they learn and catalogue. In so doing they see less and less of God’s presence in the world and in creation and less need for something outside of themselves to provide truth and to make sense of those things that happen that we simply cannot explain. We are an affluent culture, both in the things we _own_ and in the things we _know_. The more things we have, the more we become distracted by them and the less we see a need for God. It is the _things_ that then become important because we must maintain them, maintain a certain way of life, maintain traditions that we have become comfortable with and that continue to make us comfortable. The things take a place of higher precedence, usurping God and pushing faith into the background. We continue to believe that we have faith, but all we are really left with is a dependency upon things that, when taken from us, cause us to come crashing down because, in pushing faith aside, we have struck our own foundation out from under ourselves. The acquisition and collection of things contributes to a shallow culture and a faith that is sorely taken for granted. Things are temporal; faith is not, yet we seem to have gotten the two in reverse.

I find myself yearning after some of the things I read in my fiction, not as a substitute for my faith but as a return to a simpler way of doing things, a way that eliminates so many of our distractions and restores a richness to culture and to faith that has been lost in today’s hustle and bustle of activity. I think perhaps what most appeals to me about Chinese culture, in some ways, is the richness of it, the legacy of history that inspires millions to both national pride and devotion (though even that is being lost as Western culture invades the Chinese borders). There is a power within a national legacy that the cultures of both America and American Christianity seem to lack. We have become shallow people, abhoring and rejecting that which is most important in favor of pursuing those things that are most important to _us_, our selfish and narcissistic ideals. That is what our culture has told us is important, to what and to seek out that which _we_ want, rather than what our Creator God deems important.

A return to simplicity is needed, I think, in order to return us to our roots, so that we may find again the awe of our faith and the power of God in our lives. I believe that the icons of our faith can once again become powerful, no longer taken for granted as just another pretty picture on a wall or a decorative item to be viewed and then dismissed. I also think that simplicity can be communicable, a contagion that can spread through the Church and returning it to a place where the important things are remembered and the unimportant set aside and forgotten.

Yet, I think in order for that to happen, simplicity must first take place within each one of us separately, as we extract those things in our lives that prevent us making the most of the time we have here in this life – the possessions that demand our interest, the activities that require our time, the pursuit of more knowledge and facts that only serve to distract from serving our Lord. It is in the doing and living that makes the most impact on others, that demonstrates that we do not, in actuality, require most of the things we cling to with such ferocity, that we can really be happy and content with less. It is not, and will not, be an easy process, no. But I think more and more that it is a necessary one if we as a Church in America wish to again be salt and light in our culture. We do not yet see that we need less because we are blinded by our own affluence, but there are Christians in many other countries who pray that Christians in America will face the persecution that strips away all the unnecessary things so that we will once again remember Who it is we serve and remember again what business it is we are to be about.

Less is more. Jesus knew this. It is why he taught time and again that for any man to follow Him, he must first give up all he had and then follow Him. Would that we should remember that.

Goblet of Fire, Tungsten T5, and Empyrion I

The Goblet of FireHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

How do you condense a 734 page book into a 2.5-hour movie? The answer is that you don’t. _Goblet_ was an exercise in thumbnail moviemaking. Each scene was little more than a visual sketch of each chapter in the book, jerking through the plot with all the grace of a wounded bird in flight. Each episode in the movie was clipped, transitions between abrupt. It was very obvious that the point was to get to the final graveyard scene, where more time and energy were spent on development and detail.

That said, I did enjoy the movie. It was interesting to see where the shortcuts were that made up for the lack of detail everywhere else. Character and relationship development were made more obvious, dropping subtlety in favor of the conspicuous to develop the storyline. The challenges were well-done, even if everything else was a bit shallow or gaudy. Most of the important parts of the story were brought out, and the things that were dropped or ignored were ultimately the bits that have no real effect on the final outcome of the story.

**Tungsten T5 from Palm** Tungsten T5

I recently purchased a Tungsten T5 from Palm. I probably wouldn’t have had I not received a bit of cash as a gift for the completion of my Master’s degree. Prior to owning the T5, my PDA had been the original Palm model — the M100, a monochromatic, 2 MB dinosaur that finally failed several months back. The upgrade from the M100 to the T5 was extreme, and I was exceptionally pleased the moment I got the battery charged and the device fired up.

The T5 has a color screen, optional Portrait or Landscape viewing, a new version of Graffiti (r), and Documents To Go (r). It plays mp3s and video, and you can create, carry, and move documents from your Palm to any PC with a USB port. The ability to add storage and functionality to your Palm via memory cards is another powerful feature.

The only problem I have had with my Palm is that Windows does not always recognize it when you plug into the USB port to perform a HotSync (r). It has been very problematic, and as yet I still have no solution to the problem. But my T5 has been a workhorse already. Add the infrared keyboard, and I have the ability to write whatever whenever and wherever the urge strikes.

The Search for FierraEmpyrion I: The Search for Fierra

Stephen R. Lawhead’s _Empyrion_ saga is science fiction with a Christian perspective. Orion Treet is sent on a mission to a colony world and, along with his companions, is quickly thrust into a world of mystery and intrigue. His mission requires him to seek out a lost colony of humans before the rigors of barren Empyrion can claim his life and those of his companions.

_The Search for Fierra_ is the tale of a man on a journey, one that is as much spiritual as it is physical. His trek and transformation across the desert is symbolic of the rebirth of the Christian faith, and his discovery of a utopian culture of love is a glimpse of what the future _could_ be for those who follow the Infinite Father. The story is strong, though perhaps a bit clichéd at times, and the characterizations are, for the most part, believable. _Fierra_ is the first of two books and ends with a cliffhanger as Treet heads back to the cesspool of Dome to find a way to prevent the inevitable war that will destroy Fierra utterly. Treet, in essence, becomes a missionary of hope to a dark, dying land slowly being undone by its own selfishness and lack of vision.

_Fierra_ is a good read — a little less than engaging at times, but the plot drives forward to the promise of an explosive confrontation with the leaders of Dome.