October 31, 2010

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Grist for the Mill (Is that what we are?)

I’m reading a lot of stuff these days.

From UNCHRISTIAN: WHAT A NEW GENERATION THINKS ABOUT CHRISTIANITY AND WHY IT MATTERS by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons; to a semi-current issue of ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION (August 2010); to a very strange website called Purpose Drivel: Rantings on the drivel being proclaimed in the name of Christ (she has trouble with everyone’s message but her own, which I guess is the correct one); to friend blogs like The Friday Challenge and The Used Diaper Salesman; to blogs from various and sundry authors and editors and agents – in a effort to walk closer to Christ and be a part of proclaiming His Word.

My way of proclaiming is by writing and the grist (define: Grist is grain that has been separated from its chaff in preparation for grinding. It can also mean grain that has been ground at a grist mill. Its etymology derives from the verb grind. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grist) for every story is what I read, hear and experience. Writing stories about alien worlds and not only making my characters realistic, but also letting them believe in Jesus Christ as risen Lord and King has become my mission. I know – it’s crazy, but I think that there will be Christians in space, on Mars, in the clouds of Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as well as points beyond. I also believe those Christians will be essentially unchanged from the Christians of Jesus’ time.

HOWEVER, these Christians will be the type portrayed in…hmmm…I can’t think of any books off the top of my head. Catholic priests have played important roles in science fiction – from the single priest in the haunting borderline literary/SF novel by Mary Doria Russell, THE SPARROW and James Blish’s A CASE OF CONSCIENCE and a Mormon missionary was the viewpoint character in “That Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Made” in the September 2010 issue of ANALOG. But I can’t think of (or GOOGLE) a single reference showing an evangelical Christian in space whose story is portrayed in a specifically secular magazine or website.

The connection for all of this hit me last night as I lay in bed, not daring to move because I didn’t want my back to explode in excruciating pain: Father Mulcahy from M*A*S*H. A Catholic priest, Father Mulcahy’s witness to Christ was unswerving and deeply committed. He did preach, he did lecture – but he also acted in a consistent, loving way in his everyday life. Though the focus of the series was on booze, cross-dressers, adulterers, liars, cheats, thieves and fornication, Father Mulcahy’s witness was always there. The only thing that never happened in the series’ eleven-year history was someone coming into a faith relationship with Christ. (Given the power of the Holy Spirit, I doubt that that would have occurred in real life, but that might be another story.)

While WE may not be sacrificially active in America today, “During the great plagues that swept Rome in the second century, all of the doctors fled, but the Christians stayed and took care of the sick. They embodied what Christians are called to do. Although many Christians died…pagans were drawn to Christ because they saw both the love of Christians and Christianity itself as a better way of life.” Chuck Colson (p 87, unChristian)

Corroboration: from THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY: A SOCIOLOGIST RECONSIDERS HISTORY by Rodney Stark (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Rise-of-Christianity/Rodney-Stark/e/9780691027494) “a series of devastating plagues played an instrumental role in the seemingly miraculous growth of the early church. In AD 165, and again in AD 251, terrifying epidemics descended upon the Roman Empire, killing between a quarter to a third of the population. Contemporary accounts describe widespread panic as family members abandoned their loved ones at the first sign of disease, sometimes tossing them into the roads even before they had died. As a result, many plague sufferers were left without food, water, and basic care that could have dramatically increased survival rates.

“Christians, however, soon gained a reputation for their boldness in the face of death…bishop Dionysius…described how Christians ‘showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.’ For these Christians, the epidemic became ‘a time of unimaginable joy,’ a chance for believers to witness to their faith by offering themselves as martyrs.

“It was Christian doctrine…that motivated believers’ courageous response to the terrors of the plague. While their non-Christian neighbors abandoned their beliefs and retreated in fear, Christians found their faith a source of comfort as well as a ‘prescription for action.’ They knew they were their ‘brothers’ keepers,’ that it was ‘more blessed to give than to receive,’ and that they ought to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ To further understand the radical claims of the Christian faith…Matthew 25:35-40: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…’ By loving one another sacrificially, Christians sought to reflect God’s own sacrificial love. Because they believed that God loved all humanity, they also believed that their own love must extend beyond family and tribe. These were revolutionary concepts at the time, and by taking these teachings to heart, early Christians earned a reputation even among their opponents for their radical loving-kindness.”

So – I need to continue to write Christian characters, but they need to be sacrificial Christians and have more in common with those Christians in Rome, the men in THROUGH GATES OF SPLENDOR and any other men and women who have willingly risked their lives for the sake of Christ in the past month.

Hmmm…more grist, indeed.

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