Faith, Mental Health, Musings

Karitos Retreat 2015

 

“Hey! How do you get out of here?”

 

“We don’t. We’re trapped,” I wanted to say.

 
 
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I never intended to write this blogpost. The title, yes; the content, no. Karitos 2015 was supposed to be a lovely artistic post about all the techniques and spiritual life applications from a gathering of creatives. It wasn’t supposed to be this mess.

But Karitos 2015 wasn’t a conference, it was a retreat. The classes were designed to delve into the creative’s mind and heart, not their skills and art. So unplanned by me, I was faced head-on with my anxiety, that thing that I shouldn’t blog about again so soon because I’d just finished telling everyone about it.

 
 

I sat outside the writing room, curled up, begging no one to notice. Hoping that the class had fallen for it when I picked up my phone and ran out, as if I had a call though there was no ringing. And I breathed and cried and hoped to God this wasn’t who I am. Then the girl came up – limping along in an uncertain scurry as if something was chasing her. I’m a mess, but she doesn’t seem too great either. Desperate. I saw it in her eyes. She asked how to exit the building – “How do you get out of here?” – and I told her to turn left and then right. What I wanted to say is “There’s no escape.” That’s what it feels like, and I wonder if she felt it too.

 
 

“You cannot manage a life of lies.” — Matt Tommey, #Karitos2015

 
 

It struck me. I know. I know that all this pent-up anxiety and fear and panic, it’s lies I somehow believed at the core, that somehow own me at the most inopportune times. And I knew that managing, what I’d been doing for years, wasn’t enough. I would fight this.

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But a fight doesn’t look pretty. A fight doesn’t mean as soon as I know the answer it’s all over. And I think that’s what the Christian world pretends, that enlisting in the fight means it’s all perfectly won that instant. Physical illnesses the church can understand if someone believes in healing but isn’t healed. But mental illness and the like, somehow the problem is that the person hasn’t been preached to enough.

 
 
 

In the few short weeks I’ve had a problem large enough to be on medication, to speak out about it, consult others, I’ve been told so many things I never need to hear.

 
 

“It’s just fear and lies. Let go of the lie and embrace the truth.”

I hear:

“You’re wrong, you’re believing so many wrong things, and if you just believed right like me, you’d be okay.”

 
 

“Be glad you can deal with this now before you’re married with kids. That adds so much more difficulty to bring that into marriage.”

I hear:

“You’re not whole enough for marriage yet, you’re not enough for someone else to take your problems.”

 
 
 

“Take your focus off yourself and praise Jesus. The devil can’t stand praise and will leave.”

I hear:

“You’re so self-centered with your anxiety, unlike us who are able to focus on God just fine.”

 
 
 

Those with anxiety don’t need a sermon, an answer. We have that bottled up within us, terrified to face it yet seeing it every. single. day. When my emotions are in a panic, my thoughts are overrun with dread, and my body experiences chest pain or twitching, the anxiety has taken my mind, emotion, and body, and in that state what more to a person is there? The anxiety is me, it’s all me, is what I believe. And all the while as I scream at myself “BE REASONABLE, AMY” nothing changes. Though it seems controllable, I have no control. Though it seems like it’s all my own doing, I can’t do anything but let it pass. I’m a prisoner to it. I’m fighting, but it’s not me. It’s not me. And that’s what I remind myself every. single. day.
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And if anyone feels this way, I just want to take a moment to say what I most need to hear: You’re strong! I see that. That the victory is slow does not mean it’s any less. I hope healing and freedom is instantaneous for you, but if it is not, know this: That you get back up every time to fight, you. are. strong. Keep going. And I’m with you in it.

 
 
 
 

You Are Strong

 
 

I won the battle at Karitos 2015. My unexpected panic attack where things should have been safe, it made me stronger. I’d like to say I won everything, but I’m still getting there. I opened up. I pressed forward. And I will keep on going.

 
 
 

Blog Signature - Crisper
 
 

Faith, for the Creatives

Indy Trip 2015: Karitos

Karitos Indy 2015

Karitos brings together artists of all types – musicians, dancers, writers, painters, actors, and everything in between. We have breakout sessions on our area of interest, but all get together for large sessions to be all artsy together. It’s also a Christian conference, so the best part is we learn about glorifying God in and through our art, as well as life. I love that there’s this comraderie of we’re-all-in-this-together instead of a spirit of competition and narcissism (quite common among creatives, even myself.) Such a refreshing retreat! I am mostly writer, so most of the sessions I went to were about writing.

My favorite parts were the general sessions all together, but I appreciated a lot of other parts. I came up with a blogpost idea from Paul Lloyd’s Blogging session. It will be titled “How to Find the Circus.” Be looking for that in the near future 🙂 He also gave lots of ideas for content to publish – I’m toying with the idea of making some vlogs because of his session, even though I’m even less videogenic than I am photogenic. We’ll see.

Leanzar Stockley’s worship session continued his theme from last year, on loving others and reconciliation. He reminded us that our art is for God and others – we dance or write or paint or sing for others.

In Donna Cherry’s “Taking It to the Streets” she said everywhere she goes, she assumes she’s sent. So refreshing to remember wherever I am, God has me there for a reason. Living with expectation. She also talked about a healing that happened through her, though she wasn’t even praying for healing. Just with an unintentional touch. She said we shouldn’t think that God will only work through us when we’re trying to have Him work through us. So true. It made me think of the woman healed by touching Jesus’ cloak. And He said, “Who touched me? I felt power go out from me.” JESUS unintentionally healed, why not us?

Finally, in Tim Swain’s Spoken Word session, it was fun to play with spoken word and presentation – as well as his exortation to make writing excellent, because Christians tend towards “If it’s for God, it doesn’t have to be quality.” Ughhhhh, that’s one lie that irks me from Christian culture. Don’t think that you can slide by in mediocrity because you have the stamp of Jesus approval on your work. Excellence is so key. Tim Swain said, “They’ll respect your art before they respect your message.”

One of my favorite parts of Karitos is getting to know other artists, other stories, other dreams. Here’s Linda Harris-Iorio’s artwork that was displayed and/or painted right there – her connection with God’s heart is so encouraging.

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I’m so pumped for the big event – Karitos Retreat in Chicago. Cause one Karitos just isn’t enough 🙂 Come join me! After Karitos ended, we headed to finish our scavenger hunt (come back for tomorrow’s post.)

Faith, for the Creatives

The Tortured Artist Mythology: A Christian Artist’s Dilemma

This is part 3 of the Tortured Artist series: you can check out Identity Crisis and Difficult to Love here.

The story of Christian singer/songwriter Rich Mullins, “Ragamuffin,” was recently released on DVD. A great movie that exemplifies the tortured artist stereotype. And I think it brings up two of the most difficult problems with being both Christian and artist.

The first is seen when Rich Mullins shows up to a seminary class right after his song “Awesome God” becomes a radio hit. It comes up in class and the teacher is befuddled as to why such a famous worship leader would be taking his class. It seems like Rich should know enough about God at this point with such anointed music to be leading the class himself, certainly not needing to learn more from others. Right? Right????

One problem that Christian creatives have is that they are assumed to be an authority on all spiritual topics. They can seek counsel and learning only to be greeted with a responsibility they never signed up for. We need to learn. We aren’t necessarily asking for authority when we put pen to paper or lyrics to music or paint to canvas. We’re just asking to express our hearts. Don’t take it too seriously. Every Christian has an audience, whether in artwork or another workplace; we all hold the same responsibility for our actions.

The second problem is equal and opposite. Rich Mullins is seen cussing, smoking, and drinking. (See, tortured artist.) Because a story of someone’s life will emphasize the highs and lows with no middle ground, it’s difficult to say how much of his life this more negative portrayal encapsulates. Yet multiple people get upset at his Christian platform when he struggled so. Some even question if he really knew God.

Sometimes I think the church is more forgiving of Christians from the Bible than of those Christians around today. Men and women who knew God in the Bible were messed up too. Liars, cheaters, drunkards, fornicators, murderers. This often after they knew God. But they weren’t defined by it. They’re considered heroes of the faith, with sin disregarded, ignored, or used as a lesson of God’s great mercy. And contemporary Christians should be given the same chance.

Somehow there is little grace for spiritual or theological error in creatives’ artwork. Because somehow we’ve accidentally taken up a mantle we’ve never intended, an authority we never deserved or asked for. Blasphemy. Leading others astray. An entire work worth being burned, instead of just taking the time to seek the truth yourself. Artistic expression is not the Bible (unless it is, of course.) We’ll get it wrong. Correct us where we’re wrong, but don’t write us off.

Let me tell you a secret: if we’re an artist for any length of time, we are open to criticism, even welcome it. For our work to be any good, it’s critical. We are prone to bouts of disagreement and tears over critique, while at the same time developing a backbone to eventually accept the life-giving truth after some good ol’ analyzing and ego-killing. So if you see something we believe or behave wrongly in, give it a shot. We may consider you our best friend after we take the time to set aside our pride. Just try to be gentle and gracious, because like I said, we our prone to bouts of disagreement and tears 🙂

Faith, for the Creatives

The Tortured Artist Mythology: Difficult to Love

This is part 2 of the Tortured Artist series: Check out part 1 “Identity Crisis” and part 3 “A Christian Artist’s Dilemma.”

Reading last week’s post, you may have thought I hate all that “I have problems but it’s cool” music. You know what I mean.

But actually all of these are on my Spotify favs playlist. I’m all about it, probably embarrassingly so.

Because to some extent, there is some truth to the idea of the tortured artist. (Google it: You’ll find that there are studies crediting and discrediting the idea.) Yes, some of it is confirmation bias….I know there are those who are dramatic nuisances who are not artistic and I know there are those who embody artistic expression yet I can’t imagine having a problem with (I’m looking at you, Maggie Schoepke! Don’t burst my bubble now.) But let’s be real: artists are in general particular about so much. There are non-artistic types that I can see being easy to love – no really, their laid-back temperament and cheery disposition make it so. And if you’ve seen just one portrayal of a tortured artist, well, we’re difficult to love. There are countless tragic stories created from that truth.

Can you spot the mess-up in this picture?
Can you spot the mess-up in this picture?

Above is the picture I did during worship this Sunday. (I know, even if you think I’m a bad writer, you can’t argue that I write better than I draw.) And it actually all started with me spilling coffee on the paper. A mistake. But finding the coffee stain is a trick because really, with my skills, it’s all a mistake, all of the splotches should have been more splotchy, all the lines should have been more defined, the squares would be more symmetrical and the squiggles shouldn’t have angles. One big oops. And that’s kinda life. And that’s kinda church. And that’s kinda people. (Not their creation, but their actions and relationships.) In some ways, the coffee stain is the most exactly right part of the whole thing. Oops!

Confession: I’m a little bit of a Sheldon. From Big Bang Theory. I actually watch the show and want to yell at Leonard and crew for not understanding him. I have a “my spot” too, that (though I don’t react as much as Sheldon) no one else can sit in or I’ll be uncomfortable the entire evening.

My roommates were talking about my “Roommate Contract” if I formed one like Sheldon did. It entailed the following:

  • Don’t let my bananas touch your bananas
  • Don’t let my toothbrush touch your toothbrush
  • Don’t move away from the sink while brushing your teeth
  • Don’t reorganize the communal areas without apt time for mental preparation
  • Don’t feed me sauce without first informing me of its exact ingredients or I will assume you poisoned me with Sriracha

Here’s a near-exact conversation from this week:

Courtney: Amy doesn’t like spicy food

Me: Yes I do, some. I get Medium spicy at Indian restaurants. I just don’t like the taste of most spicy sauces. Because they’re a sauce.

Lexi: And you don’t like most sauces.

Me: Right.

Courtney: But you don’t like it so spicy that your nose runs.

Me: No. Because that’s wetness. And I don’t like getting wet.

Courtney: Yeah, that’s a different problem.

It’s kinda hilarious and kinda pathetic that while at the grocery store I told Courtney that I can’t walk out of the store without a cart, even if I had no groceries. I was joking, but she thought I was serious.

(Side note: My roommates are moving out – who’s ready to be my roomie now? Haha 🙂 )

I’m very particular about certain things, but then I’m fed up with people who are very particular about other things. I’m scared of change and slow to trust, and I know I should be more flexible, more adapatable, just more than I am. But the shoulds can’t own me just like the faults can’t. And where’s the balance in this?

The lie of easy relationships can stifle the artist’s ability to engage in true relationship. Because it’s destined to failure or great pain at the very least, according to all of the Hollywood portrayals. And even if we’d risk ourselves, if we truly loved the other person, would we expose them to the toxicity of relationship with madness?

This is the dilemma artists face, the paradox we love and we hate. Because the tortured artist mythology is true. But it is also false. It’s only part of the story.

I’m difficult to love.

But I’m lovable.

And I can’t forget that part as I try to get rid of character flaws while holding on to my personality.

What About You?

Do you consider yourself an artist or no?
What quirks do you have?
What do you think of the tortured artist – true, false, both?

Come back next week for Part 3: The Christian Artist’s Dilemma

Faith, for the Creatives

The Tortured Artist Mythology: Identity Crisis

Hello, my name is Amy, and I’m a tortured artist.

Or am I?

There’s a problem with the “tortured artist” cliché in popular culture. It’s everywhere. It creates this community of “I’m crazy, but I’m not the only one.” Which is nice. But it’s also an indisputable excuse to continue on with unhealthy habits and relationships. Sometimes it’s hard to determine what parts of me are my artistic quirks, what parts of me are my personality irrelevant to creativity, and what parts of me are character flaws I need to battle. And the “tortured artist” can mesh all of those into one clump and escalate the necessity for madness.

Nowadays, this need to be weird, to own up to quirks or faults, to accept them because I was “born this way” or have self esteem or am genuine (all important concepts) seems to have created this competition to be crazier, louder, even bitchier, with no accountability or ownership of legitimate need for growth and change. Either it’s all accepted as a part of the personality, or it’s all blamed on past sufferings.

In Ted Dekker’s book “Outlaw,” the angel Shaka says, “The insane secretly crave suffering. It gives them an identity, however absurd.” And it seems like that’s the idea of the tortured artist, that my problems are my identity. But that’s not truth. I am not my sin, my flesh, my past, or even my quirks.

Oh, I’m a little mad. But I don’t want to succumb to what I should not. I want to learn and grow and not be held captive to the artistic stereotype. An easy one for me to bring up, because I  am already so not this way, is punctuality and reliability (or lack thereof.) The stereotype of creatives is that they’ll show up when they show up, have no regard for others’ time, and are not reliable for their commitments. And it drives me crazy!!!! Because I’m not naturally that way. But other problems are more difficult for me to bring up, specifically because I am prone to those quirks – or even faults.

On the flip side, I think there is some truth to the idea of the tortured artist. Artists in general possess (or are possessed by) quirks, vices, elusive behaviors, simultaneously inflated and self-destructive egos, and temperamental tendencies. To name a few.

It’s a paradox, difficult to grasp both sides at once. In a Huffington Post article on the legitimacy of the tortured artist idea, Christopher Zara says, “In speaking publicly about tortured artists, I’ve been accused of suggesting that drug addicts are better off high and the mentally ill should not seek help, if only because such impediments, by my estimation, help them produce better art….So why, then, are so many artists still turned off by the tortured-artist concept? For some, I suspect, it simply hits too close to home. Consider the wedge it creates between two fundamental desires: the desire to be happy versus the desire to produce great art. The stereotype of the tortured artist as a long-suffering creative genius suggests that those two states are mutually exclusive — and that’s an unsettling thought for anyone who practices a creative craft.”

And this is the dilemma I have now. Who am I really, and what is the imposter inside of me to let go of?

What About You?

Any other creatives have this feeling? What do you think of the Tortured Artist? To what extent is it actuality and to what extent do we perpetuate the needless cycle?

Just for fun:

Wiki-How’s “How to Act Like a Tortured Artist” – for anyone still learning 🙂

This is part 1 of the Tortured Artist Series: you can also check out Difficult to Love and A Christian Artist’s Dilemma.

Faith, for the Bookworms, for the Writers

8 Defenses of Christian Fiction

This is part of a series. You can also read “In Defense of Christian Romance,” “In Defense of Christian Fantasy,” and “In Defense of Christian Horror.”

 

The Problem

“Real” Books

At my apartment, I have two bookshelves. One is open for all to see, and the other closes up like a cabinet. It took me awhile to strategize for best shelf placement. Should my favorite books be on display for all to see? Or should it be like a treasure hunt, where a reader has to seek out the best behind the door? Finally I compromised with a little of both. My favorite series are in the open bookcase, while all other books – favorite and otherwise – are behind the closed doors.

One day a friend was over and an idea struck her. “Where are your books?” she asked, though the bookshelves were right in front of her.
“Right here,” I responded, pointing to the shelves.

Of course she only saw the books on the open shelf, and said, “No, your real books.”

I opened the other bookcase, and she found a great nonfiction book she was looking for.

I know what she meant. I really do. But that exchange sticks with me still. Perhaps because I’ve received that reaction many a time in various forms.

Other Forms

Upon hearing I have a B.A. in English Lit, multiple people have gone to talking Plato or Freud. In Christian circles I can get a similar response, only with wanting to discuss great literary sermons past and present, Christian Living books, or maybe C.S. Lewis. When they then ask what book I would recommend to them, I say that I tend towards a different genre they probably wouldn’t enjoy. What I want to say is, “Read some real literature already!” Okay, so you get my point; I’m a little toward the opposite end of things.

It just comes across sometimes as if nonfiction readers must be more spiritual than fiction readers. I want to take some time to expose that as a lie, if to no one else, than to my own heart.

Disclaimer: This post is in no way meant to discredit nonfiction. Nonfiction reading is a very excellent pastime, equal to fiction. Nonfiction can train, equip, offer new perspectives, and reveal unseen and abstract realities.

 

1. God uses story (fiction and otherwise)

A wide approximation is that about half the Bible is story. I can’t remember whose sermon I heard that mentioned that God could’ve written the Bible with a list of to-do’s, spiritual principles, theology, and proverbs. Instead, He included that and put a whole bunch of history and stories in there as well.

People who read Ephesians can be just as spiritual as people reading Esther, because it’s all the Bible. In fact, most Christians would agree that it’s important to read every part of the Bible, not just focus on a certain portion. If that’s the case, I wonder why Christian Living books can be viewed as more important than Christian Fiction books. Knowing that God wants us to learn of His character through story, it seems that story is valid reading material.

 

2. Jesus uses fiction

Jesus went from place to place for His ministry teaching sermons. About as much, He was actually telling fictional stories (parables.) Allegory, fables, metaphors, that sort of thing. Obviously Jesus is not opposed to fiction.

Why didn’t Jesus just say “God seeks those who abandon Him, not the other way around,” instead of telling the story of the Prodigal Son? Clearly story is important.

 

3. Left-Brain & Right-Brain Reading

Sermons, Christian Living Books, and the like engage the left-side intellectual side of our brain. Stories engage the right-side relational, emotional side of the brain. I think this gives a lot of insight into the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Some people are more dominantly left-brained, others right-brained, which may be one reason certain people prefer one type of book over another. There’s nothing wrong with that. But notice that it’s important to move material from one side of the brain to the other.

Left-brained, nonfiction material needs to be applied to everyday life scenarios.
Right-brained, fiction material needs to be delved into intellectually in order to understand what the story means for our life.

It takes both sides. Both are important, no matter which side you begin with.

 

4. Going to Church is Like Well-Rounded Reading

I have a friend who struggles listening to sermons. She wants to. She tries to. She scribbles notes every time to force herself to listen. But it doesn’t change that it’s difficult. And that’s okay, because she’s still engaging with God and learning from His Word – on her own time and at church, through sermons and through the other half of the service – worship. You see, she’s more right-brained, and music takes theology to the relational, emotional, right-brain side.

It doesn’t matter which type of reading you enjoy most, it just matters that you are gleaning from the material. Whether nonfiction or fiction is your primary reading, it can be good to jump into the other on occasion. Either way though, try to move what you’re reading to the other side of your brain in some way, too. What is the story saying thematically? What’s an example of living this message out in your life? Think outside your typical box.

 

5. Redeeming the Imagination

Some people can be very concerned about the imagination, thinking it’s evil. More usually though, using imagination is dismissed as childish, unnecessary, or futile – it’s not bad, it’s just not quality use of your time.

Imagination is amoral, though, just like emotions. It can be used for good or for bad. Jesus used His imagination to teach His messages in ways His audience could relate (parables.) God used His imagination to create the world. Psalm 139:16 – God imagined each of us before He created us.

The church should be fighting for the imagination. The imagination can and is used for evil, but we can redeem imagination by using it for God’s glory. We can use our imagination to create or to relate to others, and that’s good.

 

6. The Complexities of Biblical Fiction

This is one of the latest fads in Christian Fiction. Retelling a story from the Bible as it might have happened. Using our imagination to think about the possibilities. Sure, some and probably most of it is not actuality. But seeing the possibilities makes it a little more relatable, applicable, understandable. Seeing it in a new way. More right-brain-y type stuff. If someone were to write these stories claiming divine inspiration I’d have a problem, but writing it as fiction goes back to getting deeper understanding of the general scenario.
One qualification to that: it’s important to distinguish truth from fiction.

Remember those Bible trivia games in Sunday School? Racing through the Bible for the verse with an answer to whatever question was asked. One question asked during this game is “how many wisemen were there?” Well tradition is three, but the Bible does not explicitly say. Or “What fruit did Adam and Eve eat?” Tradition is an apple, but the Bible doesn’t state which fruit (I’d personally take a guess that we aren’t still eating the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil today.) One time the question was if the Drummer Boy came with the shepherds or wisemen – that’s a trick question because there is no actual Drummer Boy in the Bible.

It’s great to have these stories and traditions, as long as we know it’s fictional. When we start claiming it as Scriptural truth, there can be danger there. (There probably won’t be an issue with thinking there’s really 3 wisemen, but believing that Noah fought against God to preserve the human race could ruin your theology.) Know your Bible, so you can know what’s fiction. Biblical Fiction should not be a replacement for Biblical Truth.

 

7. The Subliminal Messaging is in All of It

“As a writer, you have to be careful to portray the law of sowing and reaping correctly.” A friend’s comment (not directed at me) long before I decided to write. But it stuck with me, and she’s right. Along with all of the other physical and spiritual laws – there are a lot! Some (probably many) I would admit that I am not even aware of.

I once was thinking of the millennial reign, and how probably a lot of the wonderful literature I loved would not be a part of it because of immoral or unbiblical elements. I then determined that I could write literary Christian novels, so that there were be a start of a library for Literature Studies programs in the millennial reign. Ignoring that we’re probably differing in end times theology, how ‘bout the fact that I didn’t realize that maybe there would be something I’m missing in my books that God might need to at least tweak before considering it up to, ya know, His perfect standard. Because I’m not perfect and all-knowing and all-understanding yet.
There’s this idea amongst at least some Christians that we have to be careful that when we read fiction, we’re aware of what exactly the story is implying. Whether author intended it or not, their beliefs are coming through, and chances are something’s not quite right.

And yet, that’s the case with every single book you read – fiction or nonfiction – besides the Bible. Everyone, even the greatest Bible scholars, have their own beliefs that God is still purifying or correcting and changing to His likeness. None of us have the perfect book to be entered into the hypothetical Millenial Literary Canon. Yet. We’ll work that out when we come to it, whether God keeps the great but flawed stuff since we’re aware of the lies, or whether He just starts it all new – doesn’t matter, it’ll be good. For now, we just have the slightly or greatly flawed, and should be aware as much as possible of everything we read.

 

8. It’s All in the Reader

Well, almost.

If you’ve been reading these posts, you’ve probably noticed a common theme. A lot of the benefit, or detriment, is not in the reading material but in the reader. Readers should be noticing what represents truth, what represents life as God designed it, what lies the book is implying or downright stating, and what can be gleaned from each story.

We need to be like the Bereans (“searching the Scriptures daily”), not just with sermons, but in our reading, too. Whether reading nonfiction, fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, or some other book, the reader needs to be recognizing what they’re reading and how they’re being persuaded to believe and live a certain way from that reading.

 

 

Your Response

What do you think? Have I forgotten anything in this series? Do you disagree with me in some place? Let me know in the comments below.

Faith, for the Bookworms, for the Writers

6 Defenses of the Christian Horror Genre

This is part of a series. To read “In Defense of Christian Romance,” click here. For “In Defense of Christian Fantasy,” click here. Check back later for “In Defense of Christian Fiction.”

“[Big-name author] writes Christian Horror….whatever that means.”

 

Add a tone of disdain to the above. That’s what a friend said of an author I happen to enjoy. I’ll admit, I chickened out in the moment and said that I enjoy the author’s older work with less of a horror aspect. Which is true, but I didn’t have an actual problem with the more recent stuff.

But I definitely don’t have an issue in general with horror; in fact my WIP has an aspect some may label as horror-esque. (Although, it is by no means actually horror. I just know people who have a problem with Christian Horror may also have a problem with a graphic, disturbing aspect of my story.)

Perhaps my chickening out though was because I wasn’t sure I had a quality explanation on hand. Now with some time to think about it, I feel like I have something to say besides, “I disagree with your insinuation.”

1. Some books, some people…

I stated this in defense of Christian Romance and Christian Fantasy. It’s as true a statement – perhaps even more so in my potentially inaccurate opinion – for Christian Horror. I am not defending every book in the genre, but the genre as a whole. Some Christian Horror books may not be Scripturally sound or beneficial material to expose oneself to. Also, some people may have personal convictions or experience that causes them to never read Christian Horror, and I’m fine with that. Just don’t throw out the entire genre for everyone while you’re at it.

This post is not to argue over which books should not be read or which people shouldn’t read Christian Horror. Rather this is just some thoughts to start a discussion about the view of the genre as a whole.

2. “God has not given us…”

I’m pretty sure if I were to engage in a conversation with someone who refuses to read a horror book as a Christian, that this verse would come up. “God has not given us a spirit of fear…” Also, “Perfect love casts out fear.”

An excellent point. We don’t have to fear. In all the horrific things we may face in this life, God has given us joy and love. Did I say that terrifying moments won’t occur? No. Did God say that terrifying moments won’t occur? Absolutely not. The stories of martyrs and even Jesus’ own death shows that fearful moments may arise. We can just have peace through them. We will not avoid opportunities for fear.

For that reason, there is no reason to fear in reading horror. We can see how God delivers His saints from all their fears. Or we can see how much is lost, but God is with them through it. All depending on the storyline. Christian Horror is an opportunity to see evidence of “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

3. “Think on these things.”

Here’s the other verse you may use to say that Horror is not material a Christian should be exposing themselves to. Let me list off the things you should think on and explain how horror can fit into them. Note: This does NOT mean that all horror will. I agree that some horror is not beneficial under this verse.

• True – there is the real world that we live in, where bad things happen, terrifying things even. There is also the truth that good overcomes evil, light overcomes darkness – either in this life or the life to come. These truths can be often seen in horror.

• Noble – often horror portrays the contrast between a character who responds ignobly and a character who is proven noble in the face of crisis. Sometimes it is difficult in the day-to-day to see clearly the difference, and horror (or any form of trial) can be a great testing ground of character.

• Just – once again, good does overcome evil and light does overcome darkness. It does not mean we pretend there is no darkness or evil, but that we are always aware of the greater force.

• Pure – just as the noble and ignoble are pitted against each other, often horror provides a great testing ground to see who is pure to the core, rather than who can give an appearance of purity in daily life.

• Lovely – There is a difference between pleasant and lovely. Horror novels are rarely pleasant. The torture and crucifixion of Jesus wasn’t pleasant either. I would not stretch this so far as to say that Christian Horror and Jesus’ crucifixion are one and the same, but enduring torment with honor is a tragic yet beautiful thing. Because if we were only supposed to think on pleasant things, we couldn’t think about Christ’s crucifixion in too much detail beyond “He saved me.” But since we are to think on “lovely” things, the whole process and the truth of what He’s delivered us from and at what cost is more realized.

• Of Good Report, Virtuous, and Praiseworthy – What does the horrific story reveal about the protagonist’s character? Is there a hopeful or just ending? Is there some good outcome or some good action to be honored? What does this trial reveal about a character’s virtues?

The point of this verse isn’t to turn a blind eye to pain or fear or struggle. The point is to find the things worthy of our thoughts, especially during difficult times. Philippians has two big themes – rejoicing and suffering. Paul doesn’t ignore his imprisonment or persecution, but acknowledges and brings up reasons to rejoice through it.

 

4. An all-seeing eye

Speaking of turning a blind eye….

We don’t want to do that. As Christians, we want to acknowledge and even empathize with the pains of this world. I am not saying that you must read horror to empathize, but that can be one way to understand situations we hopefully are never personally placed in. Understanding confusion and terror that God has offered us freedom from. Having compassion on those still in chains to that. We want to be aware of the pains of this world that we do not personally experience.

By no means does this mean I encourage everyone to read Christian Horror. What I am saying is that this genre is a legitimate Christian genre that can be beneficial to those who thoughtfully read from its literature. If this is not your cup of tea, do not feel obligated to read this genre just to gain empathy. There are many ways to develop compassion and empathy, and Christian Horror does not have to be one you personally endorse.

 

5. Great and Terrible

The Bible talks about the “great and terrible day of the Lord.” I think of it as the time that the war that’s been waging under the surface of our day-to-day life escalates to its pinnacle and is visible for all to see. It’s great – God’s judgement is pouring out, He’s purifying His bride, and miraculous signs are happening right and left. But it’s also terrifying – God’s judgement is pouring out, Satan is personified, taking over the world, and waging war on God’s bride. Everything is coming to a grand finale that is so majestic and gripping. Kinda like the last 20 minutes of a thriller, where you’re gripping your seat, sitting up, and freaking out – knowing everything will turn right in the end, but not sure how it’ll happen – and slightly worried the director may be throwing you for a loop. Only this isn’t a movie – it’s real life. But I feel like I can see this grand battle played out on a smaller scale in the Christian Horror genre. Horror isn’t something to dwell on, but goodness in the midst of terror – that’s worth pondering for hours. Most of those verses about the end times, I see it as God saying over and over “It’s terrible – and great! Don’t forget it’s great!” That’s the type of Christian Horror I like – that pits good against evil on a grand stage we don’t generally see in our ordinary life.

6. The purpose-driven horror

I feel like many Christians write off things based on content. For instance, books with magic are demonic. Well here’s an issue then, because the Bible has magic, psychics, and ghosts in it. How unScriptural – oh, wait.

So here’s a new way of looking at things. Why is this material in the story? What’s the purpose of it? If the horror content is to incite fear and despair, not quality material to be dwelling on. If the horror is to contrast with noble characters or a just end, there is a book I can rally behind. For me, it’s not necessarily the content, so much as the purpose or outcome of the content.

What are your thoughts? Any additional comments or disagreements? Let me know!

Faith, for the Bookworms, for the Writers

9 Defenses of the Christian Fantasy Genre

This is part of a series. To read “In Defense of Christian Romance,” click here. Check back later for “In Defense of Christian Horror” and “In Defense of Christian Fiction.”

Magic. Dragons. Witches and wizards. Vampires. Zombies. Mythological beings. These words can cause some Christians to immediately write off a book as demonic, Satanic, immoral, or a waste of time. Here’s my defense of the genre.

 

1. Beyond our understanding lies…

Remember when the earth was flat and we could fall right off?

Remember when flying was humanly impossible?

With a clap of my hands I can make light appear. There was a point in time where that would have been seen as magic. Now it’s called tacky electronics. In fact there’s a lot of things so common now that are beyond history’s understanding.

Similarly, there are things believed in the past (falling off the earth) that seem preposterous now.Some fantastical elements can just be a shift in understanding. Suspend disbelief. This is the world that these people live in.

2. God is into the inexplicable

Do you know how many times God asks us to suspend disbelief in His book? Over and over and over. Dragons, leviathan, Sheol, ghosts, miracles, talking animals, animated detached hands, immortality, the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” creating Nephilim. There’s some weird inexplicable things in there. And God seems just fine with His book having supernatural occurrences we can’t explain.

I especially love that there’s a ghost in 1 Samuel 28, and God doesn’t stop the story to say “Hold it. This is not actually a ghost, but a demon masquerading as a ghost.” That may or may not be the case, but that’s not the point of the story. Sometimes God tells the story and lets the story speak on its own, without worrying about what exactly is going on supernaturally.

Remember when Job is attacked by Satan? What is God’s response. It’s not, “Oh well see here, Satan came to Heaven, I was asking if he’d noticed your righteousness, and he challenged me.” Instead He says, “Where were you when I formed the foundations of the earth?” It seems God’s point isn’t to explain all the inexplicable in the universe, but rather to say that there are things in this life we’ll never understand – and that’s okay with Him, in fact, it’s His plan at least for now. To trust Him despite the weird, absurd, or confusing moments in life.

3. Some books, some people…

I stated this in defense of Christian Romance, and it’s as true a statement in Christian Fantasy. I am not defending every book in the genre, but the genre as a whole. Some books that claim to be Christian are not, and should never be read by a Christian. Also, some people may have personal convictions that cause them to never read Christian Fantasy of any type, and I’m fine with that. In addition, I’m aware that overexposure or worship of the genre can be unhealthy, escapism in the sense of neglecting this world for fictional worlds. But don’t throw out the entire genre quite yet.

This post is not to argue over which books should not be read or which people shouldn’t read Christian Fantasy. Rather this is just some thoughts to start a discussion about the view of the genre as a whole.

4. In defense of magic in fiction

To be clear, I am talking about magic in the sense of witches, wizards, incantations, and the like. Supernatural occurrences that are inexplicable are not magic per se, and are fair game in my book, due to reasons 1 and 2 above.

Here’s my stance on magic. And I know you may disagree with me. Magic is evil according to the Bible. Magic is in the Bible, depicted as evil. I am completely fine with books having magic used by “bad guys.” I’d even be okay with magic being used by “good guys” if it was not the end-all be-all solution. Because that distorts the truth. As soon as “bad magic” and “good magic” are pitted against each other, I can’t support the story personally. If there is magic used for bad purposes, I can totally read a book with that, because if I couldn’t then I wouldn’t be allowed to read the Bible. But I will not personally perpetuate the lie that magic can be good.

5. In defense of dragons

I’d say, “Poor dragons, why do they get such a bad rap?” Except, I know why. It’s the whole Satan is depicted as a dragon in the Bible argument. In this case, it may seem that I would only be in support of dragons depicted as evil, just like magic in reason 4 above. Except….

Instead let me say this. God never created a creature that is purely evil. There in fact, as far as I can tell, is not a single thing on this earth that is evil in and of itself. Everything was designed “good,” and then Satan comes along and messes things up. Humanity. Animals. Romance. Alcohol. Emotions. You may think you have a rebuttal by bringing up Satan and demons, but remember what they once were? Angels. Designed for good, but chose bad.

So don’t count dragons as always evil – give them a choice like angels and humans, or have them live in this fallen world as animals groaning for the restoration of creation, but don’t make them all evil. Or, if you make them all evil, have them be Satan’s spawn or something I guess. But the point is, they don’t have to be all evil. They can be good creatures in story without the story being demonic.

6. In defense of Damon, Klaus, the Byronic Hero, and the Anti-Hero

Vampire Diaries (the TV show) just happens to be one of my obsessions. And who do I root for? Damon and Klaus. There was a point where I wondered if this was a problem. That maybe I liked the idea of having an excuse for evil behavior, a reason that being bad can be acceptable or even justified.

You may have a similar issue with this new anti-hero fad (Wicked, Maleficent, Once Upon a Time, and other villains’ stories explained) or with vampires or creatures that go against a certain moral standard. I prayed about this and even stopped watching Vampire Diaries for a time.

I received my answer a few different ways. Here’s a new perspective of this phenomena.
• Hurt people hurt people
• The Misty Edward’s song: “For all men are broken/And broken men break their children/Who grow up to be broken men”
• We all have a fallen nature in us, we all have a tendency towards wickedness until redeemed

You see, the reason I root for Damon and Klaus is because they own their bad choices. They aren’t afraid to admit it. Stefan, Matt, Caroline, Elena – often they act as if their choices are good when they’re just as broken as the rest. My qualm was not with them choosing good, but with them pretending to be better than they are.

Just something to think about when you encounter a fallen creature in a story. What is this story saying? Could the theme actually be Scriptural, even when the character is not?

7. Speaking of vampires….

Funny how some creatures get special dislike from Christians. Not just that it’s a waste of time to read about them because they’re fictional, but that they’re inherently evil, perhaps even demonic.

I’m speaking specifically of vampires with this defense, because that’s where the dislike most commonly manifests right now, but this can be the case for many a mythological creature.

The mythology of vampirism is that they’re humans turned immortal surviving off of the blood (life) of others. We can see why this is unScriptural. I would not argue that this creature is holy and pure by any means. But there is a Christian perspective to this mythology that can bring clarity and depth to these stories.

This is what I think is the strength of vampire stories. A new way of seeing the Romans 6 struggle. For instance, my favorite vampire fix would be Vampire Diaries. On the show, some vampires drink animal blood, some drink “fresh” human blood, from the vein. Others only drink from “blood bags,” taking from blood donation locations and hospitals. Some vampires have embraced this part of their new life, while others are wracked by shame and contempt for the very nature they can’t seem to escape.

Just as humans daily have a struggle between their sin nature and the glory God has designed us for, vampires have a struggle between their vampirism and their humanity – restoring what was lost in them. You see, vampires for the most part have NOT chosen this lifestyle; like humans are born with a sinful nature and choose to sin, vampires are forced into a vampiric nature and must make their choice from there.

Each of these “dietary” choices come with their own dilemmas at different times. The shame and guilt of breaking your own standards. The problem of stealing blood from hospitals. The manipulation of drinking from the vein. And what if the strength of animal blood is not enough to fight off an enemy, and the friend tells you that you should drink from their vein – is it okay then, to save your friends? You see what I’m getting at – no longer black and white issues, but daily areas that appear so grey at times.

It’s easy to say “Thou shall not steal” and the set standards of living for God. The day-to-day living gets harder to see where the black and white is. I thought of this when I read “The Land of Stories” and the brother lies to his teacher to help his sister. The narrator says “it was the wrong thing to do as a student, but the right thing to do as a brother.” I won’t say whether that is justified in God’s sight or not. I’m just saying getting into the gnitty-gritty of life, sin gets a little confusing. And vampirism shows this struggle with a new perspective – a little more distanced, but also a little deeper. Vampirism is an analogy for humanity’s inward life in many ways.

8. I’m so lost I don’t like Lost anymore

And herein lies so many people’s problem with the tv show Lost. Let me be clear – I am obsessed with Lost. I’m completely fine with its unanswered questions and layer upon layer of what’s really going on. Because that’s the point of Lost. That there’s always something you can’t understand, there’s always more going on than meets the eye, there’s always unanswered questions (see my reason 2 above.)

Switch to something more Scriptural. If you recall, there’s this thing where we’re supposed to worship God for eternity and never get bored, because there’s always something more to discover. And the apostolic prayer from Ephesians about “knowing the love that surpasses knowledge.” Some things aren’t meant to be explained. There’s always going to be something more. So in the case of vampires, zombies, mermaids, faeries, hobgoblins, will-o-the-wisps, time-travel and parallel universes – just enjoy the mystery. Don’t explain away how they aren’t real, because yeah, that’s not the case (or is it? Muahaha.) Enter the story and enjoy the inexplicable for what it is. Or don’t read it, if it’s not your thing.

9. We don’t fight against flesh and blood

Ephesians 6 describes a supernatural war that is going on that we are a part of. This can be seen all throughout the Bible, I would say especially in Revelations, where crazy crazy stuff goes down. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, to forget the battle that is going on around us that we can’t see. More importantly, it’s easy to forget about the battle that we are constantly a part of. We’re called to something great and epic, beyond this flesh and bones daily living stuff.

I don’t know about you, but reading a story so much bigger than one character – especially if it includes elements I don’t see in daily life – reminds me of the life I’m called to, the life I’m daily living and so easily forget about. It sparks the need to be a part of this invisible supernatural battle – because we are natural beings, but we are also supernatural beings. And it’s war time.

What do you think? Tell me in the comments below.

Faith, for the Bookworms, for the Writers

8 Defenses of the Christian Romance Genre

This is the start of a series of defenses I will be posting – check back later for “In Defense of Christian Fantasy,” “In Defense of Christian Horror,” and “In Defense of Christian Fiction.” As I’ve been hearing a lot against these genres recently, I thought it was about time to start the conversation.

“The romance genre is like emotional porn for women.”

 

“I just wish there wasn’t romance in every single book…it’s not all about romance, ya know.”

Heard either of the above? I have – multiple times by multiple people. I’m not one to curl up with a romance generally, but I wanted to refute these claims on behalf of those who do. Excuse me, while I get opinionated. I am fully aware that disagreements will pop up, and I’m willing to admit I may have missed something in this post. Now I will go cower in the corner while you read.

1. Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater

I am by no means defending every single book out there labeled “Christian Romance.” Nor am I saying that it is always beneficial to read Christian Romance. What I’m saying is that I feel like many Christians are throwing out the entire genre based on
• Some books
• Some people
Yes, some books can be ungodly, immoral, sensual, or leading to temptation.
Yes, some people – whether due to their past, personal convictions, or any other number of reasons – have an individual issue with the entire genre.

I am not here to argue over which people or which books are okay. I am writing this to suggest that we not write off an entire genre based on a percentage.

2. Fiction is written to represent reality

In response to those tired of romance being in just about every book, guess what? Romance is a part of life. Romance will be and should be in almost every book out there, because it is all over the place in real life. Most people have crushes, dates, love interests, marriage, or romance in some fashion. To have an entire story that is totally absent of romance is so unlikely in real life that to have that in fiction is usually asking your reader to suspend their disbelief a little too far. Romance – real people are usually thinking about it, fictional characters probably are too.

3. Fiction is written to escape reality

On the opposite end, the Christian Romance genre can often be so focused on the romantic side of the story that there’s nearly no other story present. This is not usually a portrayal of reality. Real life has so much more than romance to it.

But here is where the paradigm comes in – fiction is, well, fiction. It’s not supposed to be entirely real. Fiction is for the purpose of entering an unreal realm for a moment. This can mean that fiction zooms in on only one aspect of humanity or it can mean that it spans more of human experience than any one person would typically encounter. Regardless, fiction is not entirely about reality, and that’s the point of fiction. So a book devoted entirely to romance is no less acceptable.

4. God likes romance

Dare I say it, God isn’t avoiding any mention of romance. He likes romance. He likes it between Him and the church, of course. More than that, He likes it between a man and a woman – it’s the representation of His romance with us. Just as it’s healthy to see a couple romance each other as a picture of Christ and the church, it can be healthy to see a fictional couple representing the divine romance between us and God. Yeah, I went there – romance can be healthy – uplifting, encouraging, challenging.

5. Speaking of health, romance is like food

I am aware that this genre can become an area of addiction, where reading it becomes unhealthy due to overexposure, when human romance becomes the end-all-be-all of life. This is not an issue with the genre any more than food is an issue because of obesity. Both are good with a proper understanding of how they should relate to our life. Our world should not revolve around either of these, just as it shouldn’t revolve around the fantasy genre, alcohol, friendships, or any number of good and bad things. That place should be reserved for God. But that does not mean we have to abandon food, or romance, altogether; in fact, that would be very unhealthy.

6. God Writes Christian Romance

Heard of the Bible? Ya know, the anthology of books written by men and compiled with the belief that God directed their every word? One of those books is Song of Solomon. You can argue all you want about how it’s talking about God and the church – and it is – but it’s also just a view of what God designed romance to be. And He planned on it being read. There needs to be books that show true romance as God designed it.

7. Satan likes to mess with God’s plan

This is where the issues come in. Romance points to God. Satan doesn’t like that. Whether real couples or fictional, Satan wants to distort our view of God. Once again, the fiction can represent reality in having flawed couples or the fiction can completely distort reality by making romance something God never designed it to be. Either way, I won’t deny that Satan likes to get in there.

But flawed people are inevitable. Reality. God still uses flawed people, and in the same way, stories of flawed people can be used. Just because the couple does not perfectly portray God’s design for romance does not mean the book has to be burned. God put the story of Adam and Even in the Bible. Tamar. David and Bathsheba. Hosea and Gomer. Those just off the top of my head – flawed people, flawed romance, that God specifically chose to speak to us with. So don’t throw out a book just because there is a flawed romance.

8. What’s with all this friendship nonsense?

Friendship. Best friends, old friends, new friends, building friendships – and don’t get me started on betrayals. It seems like there’s always friendship in every book out there. Can’t we write a book with no friendship whatsoever? Just for once I want to read a book where there aren’t friendships on every page.

I think you can see where I’m going with this. Friendship is an inevitable part of life, so nearly every book you read will have it. You will rarely find a book with a complete loner doing everything on his/her own with no camaraderie.
Romance is another inevitable part of life. So while the above complaint seems ridiculous, consider the fact that ditching romance is almost as crazy.

What are your thoughts? Did I miss something? Or do you disagree? Hold on while I crawl out of my corner to converse with you.

Faith, for the Creatives, for the Writers

5 Things I Learned at Karitos 2014

This post could be “500 things I learned at Karitos 2014” I think. My brain and my heart is full and processing. But I decided to keep this short and sweet.

Photo cred: Maggie Schoepke
Photo cred: Maggie Schoepke
  1. Art Ministry is Helps Ministry

    Multiple speakers hit on this. Our calling in Scripture is not to make music or dance or write or act. Our calling is service, our calling is reconciliation, our calling is love. We are not the worship ministry team or the sound techs or the drama team, we are helps ministry. I hope I live this out more and more.

  2. We Must Write for Others

    Blogposts and books and speakers seem to disagree on this. You hear never write for others, but write for yourself. You hear to keep your readers in mind. It’s all a back and forth. Yet here I am saying that I learned we MUST write for others. First off, multiple speakers brought up great points on this, but Jane Rubietta specifically mentioned it. Writing for others makes us responsible and deliberate in our writing. And our spiritual life always affects others; we are “the body,” so what affects me affects you. So we need to always be aware that what we are writing is for others as much as ourselves.

  3. It’s Not a Waste

    J. Scott McElroy spoke about Mary of Bethany dumping the alabaster jar on Jesus. Times with our art can seem like a waste. I could be DOING something! Yet it’s for Jesus, it’s not a waste. And what did Jesus say? “Years from now, people will be talking about this.” And we are.

  4. Interruptions are a Part of the Plan

    Whether interruptions in life or in our writing, God isn’t shocked by them. In fact, He often is planning this. What is God wanting from this interruption? When Jesus healed the blind man in Mark 10, He was on His way to the Palm Sunday celebration. But He stopped. Interruptions are for a reason. I want to be able to find the reason and be open to interruption.

  5. Karitos Isn’t About Learning

    Yeah, you learn alot. And that’s the hope of course. Days and weeks and months later, you’re still processing what happened there. But it’s not about the learning. It’s about the happening. Going with the flow of God and celebrating the arts in every form with likeminded people who are seeking God like crazy in their own crazy way. This is why I hope to be a part of Karitos for a long time to come.

    Want more info? Visit the Karitos site, or like them on facebook. Register for next year, only 65$ this month (almost 50% discount.)

    Photo credit: Maggie Schoepke is one of the coolest people ever. She took the amazing photo in this post, of me and the bathroom decor (coolest bathroom ever at Wheaton Academy!). You can visit Maggie’s blog here.