Christians, Fiction, and Domestic Violence

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Christians, Fiction, and Domestic Violence

Late last week, I posted a fictional story titled Jen Fled. It was a short piece for my ‘The Friday Muse’ segment on my blog where I write a short piece of fiction each Friday to discipline myself in writing on a regular basis and to give my followers/readers something new each week.

Jen Fled is a piece about domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is not covered in Christian fiction circles very often – if at all. I can’t remember EVER reading a piece regarding domestic abuse, aside from a brief mention here and there of the victim. Definitely never any pieces that showed actual domestic abuse happening. Christian circles tend to shy away from any form of violence, even mentioning it most times. It’s just too much.

But I got to thinking: Why?

I started The Crossover Alliance publishing company because I believe Christian fiction needs to be redefined. For too long, publishers have boxed in Christian writers, and Christian writers have boxed in Christ-themed stories into something so sanitized, Mr. Clean would be proud. Because of this, many people can’t relate to Christian fiction – well, most parts of Christian fiction, aside from the ‘being saved’ part. Then again, even some of those are a stretch in Christian fiction stories.

Needless to say, there is so much material, so many human and social issues, so many struggles that Christian fiction has completely ignored all these years. We’ve left it up to the ‘secular’ crowd to broach these subjects, and as such, Christian fiction stays by the wayside, completely and utterly irrelevant to today’s society. The world puts their own spin on these issues, never once acknowledging what these situations would look like with God’s intervention or help, or the inclusion of the element of faith.

And yet, our mission as Christians is to go out and spread the Gospel (Good News). The Good News of what? If we don’t show what’s wrong, how do we prove what’s right?

In relation to this, I believe domestic abuse is one of the most undermined issues in Christian fiction. We’ve (been) scared to talk about a husband beating his wife – it’s too violent. Or of a wife beating her husband – that never really happens…right? Or of parents beating their children – that’s just too much for my fragile psyche to comprehend. But the abuse is real. Physical. Verbal. Mental. This is a serious issue that rings true in so many households, and yet everyone is afraid to touch on the subject matter.

Why?

Are we afraid we’ll offend those who have faced domestic abuse? Are we afraid we’ll fill everyone’s head with violent imagery and push someone into domestic abuse? Are we scared we’ll tarnish the good name of ‘Christian Fiction’ with bloody and verbal scenarios? I mean, Amish romance doesn’t really have room for an abusive husband, does it? So why should the rest of Christian fiction?

Let’s face it, we’re afraid to talk about a lot of subjects relevant to today’s world. ‘We’ being Christians. ‘We’ being Christian authors.

A couple years ago, I was attending a weekly home-based bible study. One particular night, someone was discussing the verse “turn the other cheek”.

"But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” Matthew 5:39 (NASB)

Someone mentioned that if an individual was being abused, according to the verse, then they should turn the other cheek. I don’t remember all the exact details of this discussion, but that was the gist: allow the abuse to continue because Christ said to, ‘turn the other cheek’.

The leader of this particular bible study group did nothing to counter the ridiculous point. He allowed the heretical theory to go unchecked. My heart beat rapid in my chest, because I knew it was wrong. The verse was being taken out of context, and I knew I had to say something about it. I opened my mouth, but before I could speak, another woman in the group stood up and announced that the theory was wrong, that the verse was not speaking about allowing people to be habitually abused, and that the whole concept of allowing it to happen was making her ill. I chimed in with my agreement regarding her assessment, and then the leader of the group corrected himself and said that he felt the same way.

Yeah, right.

I’m gonna say it, even if nobody else will. As Christians, many of us have been conditioned to be passive. We have. With such verses as ‘turn the other cheek’ taken out of context, we’ve taught Christ’s followers to take abuse, to take wrongdoing, to take manipulation and just let it go. To let it happen.

I’m not advocating violence. I just believe we need to start taking things in the right context. And this verse, at this bible study, was taken in the wrong context. Yes, there are times where ‘giving your brother your cloak’ is definitely what we are called to do. But that doesn’t mean all situations at all times. And I don’t believe it regards habitual abuse.

Discernment, people. For the love of all that is holy, please start using discernment.

Back to my original point: Why do Christians (both authors and regular folk) shy away from discussing matters like domestic violence? Or rape? Or even murder? Is it because we, deep down inside, believe we should allow things like this to go on in the world? Do we believe that if a woman is raped that she shouldn’t pursue (legal) justice for herself? Do we believe that if a child is abused that we shouldn’t pursue (legal) justice for that innocent victim? Yes, vengeance is the Lord’s, but we also have legal structures set in place to get these evils off the street.

There’s a line. Like there is with all things. The problem is, Christians have taken the line and moved it back so they can have a more manageable ‘safe space’. The more area we try to cover in regards to the ‘real world’, the more danger there is that that ‘real world’ will seep into our world. Problem is, we don’t realize that we are in this world. In it. We are in the real world. We are not of it, but we are in it. And we need to acknowledge this world’s sin, this world’s idiosyncrasies, this world’s processes, and we need to address them all through the lens of the Gospel. Not the lens of passive avoidance.

Writers, stop being afraid. There’s someone out there that needs to hear your story, but through the lens of the Gospel. No, the Gospel isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, but it is hope. Hope in a future that’s already been fashioned, free of sin and this violence we so often ignore.

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The Christian Fiction Mess

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The Christian Fiction Mess

Creatives.

We abound in the fantastic. We thrive in the extraordinary. We skirt convention, we thwart the mundane, we flesh out the status quo.

As creatives, we create. And much of what we create can be…messy. Or rather, it should be.

How can painters paint without getting paint all over the place? How can writers write without eventually surrounding themselves in a mountain of scrapped and balled-up paper? What about those who do clay? Woodworking? Metal?

Of course, I’m not really here to talk about a physical mess. You won’t be able to avoid making a mess at some point if you work in the creative arts. I mean a mess, internal, displayed as external.

Isn’t the point of art to pour ourselves out, as a sacrifice to our work? Painters bleed upon the canvas, revealing the hurt, the pain, the virulent emotions they feel on a daily basis. Writers slit their wrists and bleed words on the page, exposing – for all to see/read – their turbulent lives and their unique and sometimes jaded viewpoint of the world. Those who work in crafts put pieces of themselves into their artwork, assembling fragments of their childhood trauma, slivers of their complex personalities, shards of their hopes and ambitions – failed and otherwise.

Every element of the creative arts requires a sacrifice from us, it requires truth – however hard and painful that truth may be. Our truths are what make our art. Who we are is our art.

So then, why does so much Christian fiction fall flat in the area of ‘creative’? Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of Christ-centered creatives out there in the world. They are building, they are drawing, they are designing. They are even writing.

But what are they writing?

A lot of the Christian fiction I have read over the years seems to lack a certain something. I mean, sure, the stories are filled with creative characters, creative plots, creative worlds. But what I don’t see a lot of is honesty. Truth. Mess.

Ironic, isn’t it? You would think, seeing as Christians tout about truth so much, that Christian fiction wouldn’t be exempt from honesty and messiness and truth.

But much of it is.

It’s because there’s been a line that was drawn in the sand a very long time ago. And that line was drawn to keep us at bay with our true feelings, our true thoughts, our true experiences. We can display these things in our Christian fiction, if – and only if – they do not offend others, they do not destroy the utopian dream of what Christianity should look like, they do not shake the very shaky structure of Christian publishing.

In other words, we must limit ourselves. Many argue that we limit ourselves in Christian fiction because we are called to limit ourselves in our personal lives. We mustn’t sin. And the same is true for our fiction. But is writing about sin the same as sinning? Not hardly.

Christian fiction has fallen flat in many areas because, to put it bluntly, some of it is just boring. And it’s boring because it lacks truth. It lacks the mess that makes us who we are. My wife doesn’t love me because I’m perfect. She doesn’t love me in spite of my imperfections, but because of them. They are a piece of me, a part of who I am, and so to deny my imperfections is to deny a piece of me. And I wouldn’t want my wife to only love a part of me, I want her to love all of me.

Christian fiction has seriously lacked the mess that could make it potentially awesome. Characters are too perfect, too ‘Christian’. They don’t swear, they don’t fight, they don’t question, they don’t drink, they don’t kill, they don’t fear. They are cut out of an Orwellian future and glued into our stories, and for what? To appease the masses? What masses?

As creatives, we are denying ourselves the most important part of the creative process – the mess – by adhering to cookie-cutter plots, hamfisted redemptive themes, and cardboard characters.

Fiction is a story, it is a tale. Most times, it is a tale about us, about those around us. We lie to ourselves and all of our readers if we hide the truth from our manuscripts.

I promise you: Write the mess, and nothing horrible will happen to you. Yes, you might stir the waters a bit, but that’s what all good art, what all good creative means, should do. Stir. Shake. Shatter.

Write the truth. Write it out, bleed it upon the page. Your fiction – and your creative process – will be better because of it. More importantly, so will your readers.

This article was originally posted on David N. Alderman's blog: https://davidnalderman.com/2017/01/17/the-christian-fiction-mess

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Planting The Seeds Of Tradition (Guest Post By Mark Carver)

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Planting The Seeds Of Tradition (Guest Post By Mark Carver)

As with most people, my Christmas experiences have gone through several phrases over the course of my life. Being raised in a Christian home, I was taught the true meaning of Christmas from an early age, and while the importance of this day was always in the periphery of my thoughts, my primary goal was scoring the best loot possible. Bicycles, Legos, action figures...my childhood Christmases were as merry as could be. My family wasn't wealthy but there were always presents under the tree. When my family and I moved from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia, Christmas became an even bigger event, since I now lived within fifteen minutes of nearly all of my relatives. Christmas Eve with one side of the family, Christmas with the other. Presents and food galore.


After graduating from college, I took a teaching job in China, where I would end up spending the next nine Christmases. Being so far from home in a country that doesn't celebrate Christmas—other than making supermarket clerks wear Santa hats—the merriment, and the true meaning, of the holiday began to dim. It became a day to go out drinking with other expats. We were all desperate to cover up the loneliness we felt, being separated from our family and friends by entire oceans and continents. There were Christmas parties and gift exchanges, and my students would give me cards and small presents, but without the lights and Christmas trees and holiday music that permeates everyday life in the West during the Christmas season, it was hard to get into the spirit of the holiday. I would call my family and let them know I was okay, and it was always a little painful to imagine them all together in a big room, presents littering the floor, a honey baked ham in the oven.


During my latter years in China, I got married to a Chinese girl and our first two children were born. Now that I was a family man, I became determined to impart a sense of the Christmas spirit to my family. We would set up a little three-foot artificial tree in our living room, decorate it with ornaments and tinsel, and surround it with presents. On Christmas day, I would read from the Bible, since there were no churches in the area for us to attend. My oldest was the only one who could really enjoy the day, since our second child was only a baby for her first and only Chinese Christmas. Still, it was fun for our family, and it made me happy to introduce a special day that most Chinese families didn't celebrate.

In 2014, we moved back to the US just three weeks after Christmas. It would have been nice to arrive in time for the holiday but my wife's immigration visa came through too late for that. So we had nearly a full year in the US before our first American Christmas as a family. Our second child was old enough to enjoy it now as well. It was so wonderful to be back home, to bring my wife and kids into my family. My father had died while I was in China, and I was especially grateful to be back with my mother again, since my kids were her only grandchildren at the time. I could tell that it brought a lot of joy to her and helped with the emptiness of that day.

Now we are preparing to celebrate our third Christmas in the USA. We now have three children, so this will be our first Christmas as a family of five. Having my own family has made me appreciate this day on numerous levels that I couldn't comprehend before. Nothing compares to the joy of watching your children's faces light up when they see the decorated Christmas tree or get excited as the stockings with their names on them get hung by the fireplace. Christmas truly is a holiday for children and even though it is stressful and expensive, I love it. The entire month fills me with happiness, and this is what I want my kids to observe and absorb. Most importantly, I remind them of the real reason for this holiday, and how Jesus was the greatest gift of all. As their father, I am responsible for their spiritual upbringing and we diligently go to church and read our Bibles, because I know that one day, they will be on their own, and I don't want the seeds that I have planted to dry up."

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Adverse Possession - New Cover Reveal!

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Adverse Possession - New Cover Reveal!

We've been behind the scenes as of late, having a new cover sculpted for Jess Hanna's supernatural horror, Adverse Possession. Today, we give you first glance at the new cover design, and over the course of the next few weeks we'll be implementing it in our digital and physical copies of the book.

Take a look!

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Transhumanism In Christian Fiction (Guest Post by Patrick Todoroff)

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Transhumanism In Christian Fiction (Guest Post by Patrick Todoroff)

DEUS EST MACHINA

Stem Cells, Cyber-limbs and Self-Evolution

trans·hu·man·ism
tranzˈhyo͞omənizm / noun

the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.

I read the simple definition above with three sets of eyes. 

The Sci-Fi nerd in me gets all warm and tingly at the thought of neural nets and exo-skeletons, A.I., and cyberspace. It's Blade Runner and Neuromancer, the Diamond Age, Broken Angels, and Deus Ex. It's all the bright and shiny tech that boldly goes into a future where no one has gone before. It conjures all the cool things that get me to sit up and think and dream. 

Next, the person who has dealt with a disability most of his life can't help but wonder if something like medical nano-machines could repair my spine and allow me to run again. (At least handle a flight of stairs easily.) I imagine bio-tech as this amazing, miraculous breakthrough - a sort of modern, upgraded, super-charged penicillin that triumphs over diseases and genetic defects. It will correct, even reverse traumatic injury and impairments. Picture prosthetics or biologically-optimized organs and limbs that are more responsive, faster, stronger than your OEM parts. Extended lifespan, augmented intellect, light-speed connectivity and communication, whole new realms of human interaction, creative expression, and media... The possibilities are vast and mind-boggling.

Finally as a Christian, I can't help but see a religion. A thoroughly modern, secular one, sure, but Transhumanism (a.k.a. "H+") is indeed 'a particular set of faith statements and worship'. From what I find from various sources online, Transhumanism is a systematic worldview with firm devotion not so much to divinity or a grand meta-narrative, but to science and self-will. Faith is in Technology, the Creed is Human Ingenuity, the Doctrine, Self-Evolution. The hitch in this post's title is intentional: God IS the machine. Immortality will come, but only to those who upload.

It's at the intersection of those three perspectives where things get weird for me.

Before I go further, let me say I'm not a Christian who holds Science and Religion to be antithetical. In my mind, they only 'oppose' each other in the same sense I have an opposable thumb: both allow me to grasp things. The two disciplines overlap in some areas and certainly inform one another, but one addresses the natural world, the other the spiritual and moral one.

As I see it, the real friction between the two stems from assumptions and conclusions made when trespassing in the other's field. To my mind, the statement "There is no Heaven because I looked through a telescope and didn't see it" is just as absurd as "If God had wanted us to fly, he would have given us wings." I submit that "Directed Panspermia" - the theory aliens deliberately seeded the basics of life on Earth - requires the same leap of faith, if not more, than any chapter in Genesis.

So the issue confronting the modern devout isn't whether to acknowledge science as 'a systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world using observation and experiment'. Too late - Science is a thing. And let's thank God for it. Nor is the proper response of the Pious to retreat into a 'Luddite Alamo' and raise bulwarks in the name of 'Doctrinal Purity'. Church cannot, must not become an anti-intellectual enclave that implicitly disapproves of technology to advance knowledge and improve the human condition. At best, Religious people are considered anachronistic - that kind of reaction is dangerously regressive and deliberately ignorant. 

If I camped out there for a second, I apologize. Anti-intellectualism in the name of God is a pet peeve of mine. And I simplified the positions, I know. The scope of this essay doesn't permit me to dig down or expand the discussion. There isn't time or space to layout a comprehensive, systematic comparison between a traditional Biblical worldview and secular, scientific, Post-Modern Humanism. At the end of the day I'm just a Christian geek - a believer trying to be faithful and authentic before God who also reads, enjoys, and writes Science Fiction.     

But that's the rub. As a Christian and a writer, Transhumanism challenges my understanding of the very nature of Life: What does it mean to be human? Do we have a soul? Are we indeed nothing more than self-aware meat machines, able to change, upgrade, or replace parts as desired, answerable to no one but ourselves? Or is there a critical spiritual element to existence that is inextricably linked to a transcendent reality?

Christian-wise, that right there is a deeper, more fundamental worldview question than anything Gospel-related. I have to decide if there even IS a God before I can wonder if that Jesus of Nazareth fellow had anything to do with my sin.

In my writing then, Transhumanism is the inevitable Materialistic philosophy that dominates my imagined future. It is the majority counterpoint to Religion, and most of the dramatic tension, conflict, and themes - obvious or oblique - stem from the friction between two perspectives. Any Christianity, religion, or spiritual dynamic has to be organic to the plot and serve the deeper theme without (hopefully) getting ham-fisted and didactic.   

One of the impulses that drove my first novel Running Black was the belief that the only thing that restrains man's inhumanity to man is a principled commitment to a transcendent, spiritual worldview - a perspective that conceives of a world beyond this one and holds life as a sacred gift. That is the fire-break designed to check Mankind's tendency to exploit and commodify human life. Even with it, we don't treat our fellow humans properly - what makes us think we won't abuse clones or androids? Take HBO's rebooted "Westworld" series as an illustration of what I'm talking about here. Set in the near-future, it's a live-action, Old West theme park for the wealthy. But we're light years from Disney World. Westworld is loaded with Deception, Torture, Rape, Theft, Killing... Apparently, technology doesn't improve human nature so much as reveal it - which is the main issue for me.

Someone will rightly ask about the evil done in the name of traditional religion. From Crusades to Inquisitions, Pogroms to Jihads, Religion is brutally telling as well, no question. The errors are even more glaring because cruelty and ignorance strike at religion's core principles. I submit those are human flaws, not religious ones. Mankind has a tremendous capacity to cloak prejudice and avarice in whatever's close at hand, be that a flag, a manifesto, or a holy book.

But now I'm back at the principle conflict in the Judeo-Christian story: Imago Dei versus the Fallen Nature. God, Humanity, Sin, Redemption... In my thinking, a story's setting and props change but the essential conflict never will: God or No? Deliberate or Accident? Mortal or Immortal? Imago Dei or Smart Meat? A hundred years from now, we might be encased in a cyber-linked, stainless steel body basking in the light of a distant star, it won't matter. Everything flows from how we answer those questions.

It was William Faulkner who said writers must get back to "the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.” That quote has come back to me again and again since I started writing six years ago. Fiction is about entertainment and escapism, of course, but a good story is also about expression, exploring, asking questions, pushing boundaries in search of answers. In spec fiction particularly, we're able, however clumsily, to fashion different worlds, to create another place to stand, from which we just might get another angle on Life and human condition and make some sense of it. 

I've heard it said 'Art with an Agenda is Propaganda' but good art, good fiction, is 'a lie that tells the truth.' Now as a Christian, I believe all truth is God's and that any facet of it, however small or oblique, ultimately points back to Him.

As a Christian who writes speculative fiction, I want to tell good stories. I want to entertain and engage. I also want to be consistent and credible, embracing the facts of modern world while holding fast to eternal truths. 'Roots and Wings' like the Chinese proverb says. I don't have all the answers. My stories certainly don't. Maybe though, in the midst of my scribbling about clones and corporations and robots and military AI, I can shed some light on those heart conflicts Faulkner mentioned or at least start asking some of the right questions.    

I honestly don't know what the future holds - I hope nano-meds for my spinal cord - but the New Testament Book of Hebrews assures me whatever happens, I don't have to write my story alone, Jesus promises to be the 'Author and Finisher of my faith.' I find that profoundly comforting and will do whatever I can to offer that same comfort to anyone who wants it.

Patrick Todoroff currently lives on Cape Cod where he runs a stained glass studio when he isn’t writing. He is the author of the Eshu International mil-sci-fi novels Running Black and Shift Tense, the Clar1ty Wars cyberpunk collections One Bad Apple and Under Strange Stars, and the Celtic ghost story The Barrow Lover.

Website / Blog: pattodoroff.com

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