Friday, October 23, 2015

Cheese on That?

“Let there be goblin hordes, let there be terrible environmental threats, let there be giant mutated slugs if you really must, but let there also be Hope.  It may be a grim, thin hope, an Arthurian sword at sunset, but let us know that we do not live in vain.”  (Terry Pratchett)
   


The Hobbit made me do it.      

Once upon a time a fatal page of fiction transformed me into a nerd, and this means that I quote J.R.R. Tolkien, I named my Jeep after a Batman vehicle, and I keep a waterproof notepad in my shower (amusingly, this is often where book inspiration usually strikes).  And if any of you somehow happen upon my browsing history just remember, I'm a writer, not a serial killer.  But despite my affinity for fantasy, I sometimes I look back and wonder where all of this authorial madness started.    

Most writers begin their journey at varying stages of life.  For some, it wasn’t until a college professor wrote glowing remarks on their term paper that they picked up the proverbial pen.  For others like myself, it generally stemmed from the reading of fairytales as a child.  But I didn’t actually set out to become an author until the advent of what I at the time perceived to be a gross injustice.    
  

Television was a limited and monitored commodity in my house growing up.  At eleven years old my favorite TV show was a quasi-anime series about teenage superheroes battling for truth, justice, and the last slice of pizza.  I’d never seen anything like it.  But…in a cruel twist of fate, said show was put up for parental review, found to be somehow unwholesome, and subsequently banned.  I was crushed. 

I don’t remember exactly what went through my mind at that point except that my imagination refused to relinquish this well loved story, and so I did what any irritated pre-teen would have done.  I created a superhero universe of my own and starting writing a book. 

This first “novel” was written in faded pencil and madly scrawled in a cast off green notebook with half its pages missing.  And if I had to describe it in one word it would be:

CHEESE. 

Pure, unadulterated, melting-off-the-pizza cheese. 


This book had it all, egotistical villains, impractical costumes, a mouthful of clever quips and one liners to wittily toss at the bad guys, and (because I was an eleven year old church goer) Christian clichés.  Somewhere inside, I still felt a deep yearning for a super human world I could fully immerse myself in, and in creating something of my own, I felt like I was building an even better dream than the TV show had ever been, something braver, something deeper, and something true.  

Twelve years and many many novel drafts later, I still have that notebook.  I take it out and flip through it when I need a good laugh, and I and a dear friend of mine still write short stories involving the same characters in order to unwind and keep our creative juices flowing.  Because despite my cringe-worthy child’s writing skills crippled by pre-teen angst, I find myself still in need of a little of that cheese.  I think deep down we all do. 

You see, superheroes and fantasies are indispensable to our lives, because underneath all the cheese lies a refreshing simple question, good versus evil.   In a culture so woven with a discordant and complicated tangle of gray, it’s difficult to make out the threads of truth weaving a hidden hope in its midst.  When flipping on the news tempts our minds toward cynicism, faith is numbed.   When watching political debates makes us want to put an angry and hopeless axe through the TV screen, we become jaded.  This leads many to pursue that allure of fiction and fantasy.  


Now, people often criticize the escapism of books as creating an ultimately false reality, but I don’t believe that’s accurate.  As Bryan Davis puts it, “Fantasy is not a lie, because it doesn’t pretend to be true.  It is a vision, the mind’s dramatic sketch of what we were meant to be.  Good fantasy is a blend of survival and worship.”   

Now I know what you may be thinking.  Why take serious advice from someone who once wrote a college assignment titled Ode to the Cliché? (Note:  For all the haters out there, it was a smashing success by the way).  While not everyone may share my nerd’s affinity for Star Wars and Spider-man, I still maintain that we need those kinds of narratives to be present and active in our culture, now more than ever before. 

What models does our world hold up as exemplary?   What kind of stories typically make the evening news?  “Politician caught accepting bribes!  Reality TV star admitted to hospital for drug overdose!  Quarterback arrested for DWI!”  It’s an army of fallen angels that demands our adoration, marching to the drums of wealth and self.  When these things garner more press and viewer response than starving children, is it any wonder that we find ourselves yearning for something more? 


We live in the age of the antihero, the jaded cynic who’s supposed to make us feel better about ourselves by being relatable.  I'm not referring simply to a flawed hero, a fallen man that chooses righteousness in spite of himself, because short of Christ, we are none of us perfect.  Instead I'm calling out the fence rider, the entertaining and morally ambiguous character who is held up as the new role model, a good guy for the postmodern viewer.  We like to sit back in our seats and breathe a sigh of relief as this protagonist lies and slides his way to the end of the film. 

Showdown. 

Shoot out. 

Villain dies. 

The End. 

The “hero” ultimately makes the right choice, and we pat ourselves on the back, because really, we’re not such bad people after all.  We don’t need to try so hard.  Why strive to be Captain America in a Kanye West World?   

I’ll tell you why.  Because black and whites aren’t always as bad as we've been trrained to believe.  And because when we refuse to acknowledge good and evil for what they are, we miss the absolutely crucial opportunity use their stories to create strong soldiers for Christ.  We have more than enough blurred lines winding spider silk around our souls.  We need the boot that drags a hard toe across the sand and says “this far, no farther!” 


 “We obtain comfort by seeing evil unmasked, condemned and destroyed.  We are offered hope through being shown that at least somewhere, even if it is in another world, good has triumphed!” (Richard Abanes).   

We need fantasy, because it inspires many of us toward holiness like nothing else can.  In this culture everyday heroism might look as unexciting and unappreciated as working graveyard at a hospital or relentlessly petitioning the government, or even teaching second grade.  When we struggle to serve it lifts our spirits to enter into the hero’s narrative, because here’s the real secret:  the fight against evil isn’t just make-believe.  There’s a real enemy, an ancient conspiracy, and a hard and honest battle being waged in solemn wars and bloody scraps all over this earth. 

What inspires us to keep wading through the trenches with hope is not the banner of the antihero with his “good enough” catch phrases.  We need warriors that though humanly imperfect, fight against their flaws and continue to proclaim the truth that cuts deep into the darkness of our time and shatters its chains.  Fantasy breathes life into the deep dreams of our hearts, where down in the marrow of our very souls we know that we were made for something more. 


We do not serve a tame God.  He is wild, dangerous, almighty, and—he is good.  So why should we pursue that which glorifies our comfort and safety.  Why should we take the easy road?  We have “relatable” role models in abundance.  They coddle us with their mistakes when they should be inspiring us toward what is hard but ever so much greater.  Yes, there are questions that have no easy answers, and shades of gray do not always harbor lies, but there are also many things that deserve our adamant and unwavering support.  

Defending the innocent.  Standing for the faith.  Courage, integrity, sacrifice, and love stand in stark contrast to this blurred world and we, like Martin Luther King Jr. must solemnly declare, "Despite all this, there comes a time."   There comes a time when men must choose, and when we do not give fantasy narratives their proper place we shut the window that might allow us to foster brave and merciful heroes rather than apathetic and self-seeking hearts. 
       
So go ahead, sprinkle on a little cheese. Flip through your old comic books when the days get long.  Enter your closet and drop into Narnia from time to time.  Escape into that cheesy 80s TV show if you must, but never forget what really makes it good, the reason your heart thrills to know it.  It's the discovery that something so seemingly simple can contain that which is deeply profound.  There is good, and there is evil, so let your heart answer the call to holiness by reentering your own world armed with lessons from the fantasy realm. 


And, I’ll offer you what the film people like to call a Spoiler Alert.  The light is greater, and it does triumph over the darkness.  There is a mighty king who longs to rescue his beloved people.  

He is real.  He is good.  And He is coming back. 



Images via:  wonderhowto.com, myarmory.com, tumblr.com,
All work subject to copyright by the author.  Use by permission only.  2015.   





Monday, October 5, 2015

Autumn Wings



The still of morn is hushed with cold, every whisper a curl of mist and smoke
Softly to join the still and fog, that patrols a dawn the light shall soak.  
The last on a voyage over waves of stars, bravely the lanterns glow adrift,
To kindle the day with dragon’s fire, burn away the shadows and the darkness lift. 


The wings of the morning rise on flame to challenge the air and test the seas,
The oceans of heaven toss with wind, and salute the east with songs of breeze.
Light spills over the rim at last, to thaw the dawn turning mist to gold,
The sun climbs high in victory, singing colors to life and dispelling the cold. 


Grounded wings flutter on frozen grass, canvas snaps to life across the field, 
Like marching drums that smartly time the tune of breaths that dragons wield.
From every side and all around, the autumn’s chill by color cheered, 
Flashing red, bold yellow and blue, all hung with ristras, the dragons’ beards.


The roasted smoke of chile and spice, and cauldrons of chocolate seething with foam,
Greet folk of the festival bundled tight, against claws of the winter, of ice and snow.  
All wings take flight, dotting clouds with gems, autumn’s bounty on a table of sky,
 Chasing the winds on dragon flights, a song of life, roaring fire soars high. 


October fiesta at the mountains’ feet, gently the dragons play at dawn,
 A rite of the harvest joining earth and sky, feasting and flying, Fall dancing on.    


International Balloon Fiesta 2015.  


Images Via:  pinterest, flickr, tumblr, newscastic.com, photoshelter.com, isatrip.com.  
All work subject to copyright by the author.  Use by permission only.  2015.