Tag Archives: Christianity

Why Christians are Lousy at Romance

The title of this blog is a bit misleading. I’m not saying that Christians are terrible at being in romantic relationships. That’s a whole other subject. No, I’m saying they’re terrible at writing stuff like love songs and love stories.

This train of thought came about because of a conversation I had with some friends on my personal Facebook page. We were discussing songs I’d consider using for a first dance if I got married, one of which was “Godsend” by dc Talk. One friend commented that she didn’t think that was that good of a song and that most Christian artists were bad at writing love songs. I asked her why she thought that, and she replied (in all caps for humorous emphasis) “BECAUSE OMG(osh) IF PEOPLE LISTEN TO LOVE SONGS THEN THEY MIGHT GET SINFUL IDEAS. PROTECT THE PURITY!!!”

I laughed because it was true.

Since my youth, I’ve known about the three primary words used for “love” in ancient Greek: eros (sexual/romantic love), phileo (friendship), and agape (unconditional love). The latter two were used in the Bible, but not the first. While it was often preached that all three were needed to have a thriving marriage, the huge emphasis was placed on agape because it was correctly said that unconditional love required commitment, and commitment was sorely lacking in many modern marriages. Too often, though, eros was barely acknowledged or it was forgotten, relegated to being the least of the loves.

This, sadly, is a huge fault of western (or just American?) Christian culture. They have so overcompensated for a secular culture that both exploits and worships sex and romance that they have almost demonized it. Now, this isn’t a new problem. There’s always been a sect of ascetics somewhere in Christianity that held to views like this. This was influenced by Gnosticism, a belief that what was of the spirit was good and what was of the body was evil. While it was regarded as heresy, some Gnostic thought has infiltrated some Christian teaching like an insidious disease. This is most true when it comes to Christian culture’s view of sexuality. Sexual desire was equated with the sin of lust. Women’s bodies were seen as weapons of temptation. Men were seen as animals incapable of controlling their urges. This has wreaked havoc on Christian young people, as you might expect. Even I wasn’t totally immune to it growing up despite having sensible parents.

Even if sexuality wasn’t seen as a vice, there were still those who minimized its importance because it was believed Christians—particularly young people—placed too much of an emphasis on romantic feelings and not on “true love.” In other words, agape. Eros didn’t last; it was selfish because it focused on one person and his/her immediate “needs.” It wasn’t what made a marriage last. It’s like eros was the ugly middle child the family acknowledged only out of obligation. I’ve even heard of Christian romance novels (I hate using that term as a genre) where the woman in the couple acts as though she has no sexual desire at all, and this is presented as a good thing!

This is why many Christian creators don’t write much about romance, preferring to focus on agape, phileo, and/or loving God. Those are safer. There are plenty more positive Bible passages on those subjects. They forget the Bible has its fair share of love stories (Jacob and Rachel, Ruth and Boaz, etc.) Heck, if you really want to shock some Christians, make them read Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs)! Yes, the Bible has love poetry in it—and it’s steamy, at that!

Even when Christians do write about romance, it’s often watered down or presented as an allegory for the love of God for the Church. This, I think, is an example of some Christians becoming, as the old saying goes, “too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good.” While the Church is called the “bride of Christ,” the Bible never uses romantic language to describe that love. Even the Song of Solomon has been interpreted not as the sultry interactions of two lovers but as a metaphor for Christ and the Church. (I’d love to see how they’d handle passages like this one, then).

God created romance. God created sex. Genesis says God looked at all He created and called it “good.” This included sex and romance. The Bible begins with the “wedding” of Adam and Eve, the first lovers, who were unashamed in their nakedness and love for each other. It was the Fall that ruined things. But sex isn’t a byproduct of sin. The Devil, being evil, is incapable of creating anything. He can only corrupt what was already good. He did the same with sexuality and romance. It’s him who compels humanity to exploit it as a commodity or to worship it as an idol. They were God’s creations, His gifts to mankind. The Devil knows how precious and powerful those gifts are, how they can bind two people together and make them a powerful force for good. That’s why He fears them and wants to see them denigrated.

It’s time Christian creators stopped fearing sex. It’s time they elevated eros as being equal with the other loves. It’s time they took back what was taken from them by the Devil.

I, for one, would love to be a part of that.

Do you think Christian creators need to work on being “romantic”? Why or why not? Can you name any good examples of good love songs or love stories written by Christians? Why do you think Christians are bad at writing romances?

Revulsion of Death

This was the closest I could bring myself to photograph my Grandmother in her casket (which is just out of frame). Photo by Nathan Marchand

My Grandmother lay in that open casket like someone sleeping. She was peaceful, serene, even beautiful. It was picturesque, and I had my iPhone out to snap a few photos. But I could not bring myself to step within a few feet of her, even if it’d get me a better photo composition, because I knew the awful truth. What I saw before me wasn’t slumber—it was death. And it repelled me.

Grandma Ruth’s funeral was difficult for all the typical reasons, but also because it reminded me of a truth I’d pondered several times before: death is repulsive. While there are exceptions to this rule (like medical examiners, who’ve become desensitized to it because of their work, or certain weirdos who take perverse pleasure in it), most human beings find death to be a revulsion. It is a great mystery, a tragic loss, an unwanted end. It frightens us. We don’t usually like talking about it because it forces us to grapple with our own mortality. That’s why there are about as many euphemisms for death as there are for sex (which, ironically, involves the creation of life): “the big sleep,” “passed away,” and “bit the dust,” to name a few. We don’t even like to utter the word oftentimes.

Personally, as a Christian, I believe this revulsion is because deep down in every human’s heart, they know death is an intruder. Despite the fact that it appears to be a part of the natural world (or the “circle of life,” as a popular song once said), it was never meant to be part of God’s design. In the Garden of Eden, there was no death. Does that mean Adam and Eve were immortal? The answer to that is beyond my paygrade. Regardless, God warned them that if they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would die (Genesis 2:17). I take this to mean there was no death (or at least death as we know it) before then. It was when Adam and Eve succumbed to the wiles of the Serpent in Genesis 3 that death became part of the natural order. It was a corruption of what God created as good.

So, though many human beings deny this, deep down they know it to be true. They can dress it up or joke about it, even say death can be dignified, it doesn’t change the fact that it is unnatural. Perhaps part of why death is feared is because it is an irrefutable sign of God’s existence.

I think this is why, to put it in a storytelling perspective, why many comic book readers both love and hate resurrection stories in the funny books. On one hand, there’s the thrill of seeing a beloved character return (i.e. Superman in the famous ‘90s storyline) because it shows someone defeating death (which is itself an echo of Christian theology [Revelation 1:18]), but on the other, it cheapens death. What’s the point of killing a character if they’ll just be brought back later? It kills (no pun intended) the suspense, and makes their sacrifice hallow. The joke used to be that nobody stays dead in comics except Uncle Ben, Bucky, and Jason Todd. Now only the first third of that statement applies.

Regardless, this, too, is a reflection of this idea: we want there to be meaning in death. It is an inescapable intruder, so we try to find purpose in it, even if that purpose is only to celebrate the life of the deceased or glory in their passing (I’m looking at you, Fidel Castro). That’s one reason why we have funerals: they’re occasions for us to come to grips with how we think and feel about death.

These are but a few of my thoughts. Whole books have been written on the subject. I’m an amateur philosopher at best, so I won’t pretend to have it all figured out. Indeed, I’m still trying to figure out myself. Death is a subject too large for a little blog entry here. However, I do hope I’ve inspired you to think more deeply about the subject, whether it relates to your life or your writing.

What are your thoughts on death? It is repulsive to you? Why do you people are afraid of it?

“Christian” is a Worldview, not a Genre

U2. Believe it or not, they’re a Christian band.

The beauty of WordPress is I can schedule a blog to be automatically posted, which is what I did with this one. I actually wrote it a few days ago. Why did I do this? Because I’m in the middle of the “fortnight from Hell” at my day job. (Long story).

Anyway, I grew up in a Christian home, so I’m well-versed in the Christian subculture. Honestly, the older I’ve gotten, the more annoyed I am with it. Not so much that I’ve rejected my faith (I think Christian faith and Christian culture are two completely different things and may as well be mutually exclusive), but enough to see how they usually don’t match up.

I’m going to focus only on one particular facet today: the idea that “Christian” is a genre.

This idea was initially sparked a year or so ago when I was talking with a friend on the phone who said she didn’t want to read my books because they weren’t “Christian enough.” As in, they wouldn’t fit into the Christian “genre” as defined by booksellers.

Christians, despite being commanded to go into the world and make disciples (Matt. 28:16-20), have for many years seemed intent on isolating themselves from the rest of the world and creating their own little culture complete with its own brand of entertainment. It goes all the way back to 1970s with the advent of “contemporary Christian music” thanks to the Jesus Movement. This has since expanded in other forms of media. Most recently, “faith-based films” such as God’s Not Dead have been popular the last few years.

While I have issues with the often poor artistic merits of many of these media (that’s a blog for another day), my biggest gripes with the so-called “Christian genre” are the mindsets it creates. First, it makes Christian culture very insular. I’ve known many fellow believers who refused to consume any media that wasn’t obviously Christian. In other words, listening to Carman was fine, but not Run-D.M.C. If it wasn’t didactic about faith, it was “too secular.” Some of it was even erroneously seen as satanic. These were things to be shielded against, especially when it came to kids (it’s always about the children, isn’t it?). So, new media was created by Christians for Christians. Considering the aforementioned often poor quality of their substitutes, it’s no wonder many Christians in the last 30-40 years grew up with bad senses of what makes good art. (Not to mention Christian creators were making obvious rip-offs of “secular” entertainment long before the Asylum. Anyone else remember the Spine Chillers Mysteries books?). It created an “us vs. them” mentality. It was about being “safe” and avoiding risky ideas that might challenge one’s faith.

Second, as I’ve already hinted at, it made “Christian” into a genre. Demon Hunter wasn’t just a metal band; they were a “Christian” metal band. (For the record, Demon Hunter is a genuinely great band). Like any genre, this automatically establishes the intended audience and the content (which, as I’ve noted, was often didactic and subpar). The problem is that “Christian” shouldn’t be a genre. It should be a philosophy, a worldview. Do atheists and other religions turn their beliefs into genres for the sake of marketing? For the most part, no. (Although some may do so in response to “Christian” stuff or as satire). In the history of literature, Christian authors didn’t concern themselves with whether their stories fit nicely into a “Christian genre”; they just told their stories. Think about how classics like Moby-Dick by Herman Melville or Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky or The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (did you really think I’d get through this without mentioning my all-time favorite book?) if they were published in today’s environment in Christian publishing. I have a feeling they’d either be rejected by Christian publishers or watered down in the editing process.

“Christian,” as I’ve said, is a worldview, not a genre. It’s something that, when done correctly, flows naturally into a creator’s work because it’s a part of him. Art is an expression of its creator, so it’s impossible for him to not imbue it with how he sees the world. But, as I’ve said for years, story must be king. The moment someone starts sermonizing in his story, whether it’s about religion or environmentalism or whatever, it brings the story down. The storyteller will lose his audience. Heck, even kids will see through that.

Readers and critics will discuss themes and ideas when dissecting a story, but they usually don’t do something like label Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game “Mormon fiction.” Those elements are part of that book because they’re part of Card. To tell his story honestly, he had to write it that way. He wasn’t trying to proselytize anyone. I know that to my fellow Christian creators that might sound crazy, even sacrilegious, but I believe your witness can be helped by not being didactic with your stories.

I’ve been listening to U2’s Greatest Hits albums while writing this blog. U2 is a Christian band (specifically, they’re Irish Catholic). Even a casual listen to their music makes that obvious. They don’t hide or flaunt that. They make their music and let it impact people. Jesus said you can know someone by their fruit (Matt. 7:15-20). That fruit doesn’t need to have “Apple” written on it for people to know what it is.

If you’d like to hear more about this, I highly recommend listening to these episodes of the Derailed Trains of Thought podcast hosted by my friends Nick Hayden and Timothy Deal: Episode 57: And the Moral of the Story is… and Episode 64: Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink.

What are your thoughts on this? Should “Christian” be a genre unto itself? Why or why not?

NEW BOOK: ’42: Discovering Faith Through Fandom’

Remember when I said I’d write two blogs in one week to make up for not writing? Yeah, that didn’t happen. In the words of the 10th Doctor, “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

But I have a good reason for my unintended hiatus: I’ve been working on two new books! The first of which is now available on Amazon!

Presenting…

Artwork by Ruth Pike.
Artwork by Ruth Pike.

This little book is a devotional for geeks and nerds. It uses the stories, hobbies, and other interests nerds and geeks love to illustrate theological Truth.

Here’s the back cover copy:

Don’t Panic!

Despite what many churchgoers say, God doesn’t think Dungeons & Dragons is “Satan’s game” or that cosplay is childish. In fact, God has imprinted Himself into nerd culture. Yes, all your favorite stories and games point to the LORD Himself. You may doubt, but you know your nerdy hobbies are more than just escapism. They resound with you for a reason. Perhaps you’re not sure why, but they do. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, there are profound truths to be mined from those tales.

Join us on a 42-day journey of discovery. Why 42? A famous “Guide” would have you believe that’s “the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.” The trouble is you have to know “the Question.” Maybe that question for you is, “How many days will it take me to learn the Truth?” Or maybe you already know the true “Answer” but want to deepen your faith. Either way, this book is for you! We promise it’ll be fun and challenging. You may never look at your favorite stories, characters, and/or hobbies the same again.

Don’t forget your towel!

It was co-authored by myself and my friend Eric Anderson, the founder of Nerd Chapel. We each took turns writing the 500-800 word devotions for each day. We both bring our unique voices and styles to the book. We mine Truth from things like Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, G.I.Joe, and even a strange scientific discovery about water crystals!

As I said, the book is available on Amazon for $7.99. Get your copy today!

Never Forget Your Singleness

Image courtesy of www.bigbaddie.com.
Image courtesy of www.bigbaddie.com.

I’ve made it no secret that Valentine’s Day is my least favorite holiday. In fact, I, like many people, euphemistically call it Singleness Awareness Day. This will be my 30th V-Day in a row without someone special. I’ve had a few girlfriends, but never on this holiday.

What annoys me is whenever singles—especially in Christian circles—lament their singleness in any way, they get tired platitudes (“It’ll happen when you’re not looking,” “Jesus is your boyfriend/girlfriend,” etc.) instead of sympathy. Or, worse yet, heartless lectures. These Christians, despite their good intentions, succeed in only denigrating marriage and singles’ desire for it. They cite Bible passages like 1 Corinthians 7 and make it sound like singleness is the godlier lifestyle. They even accuse singles of either desiring marriage so much they blind themselves to it not being God’s will for them or idolizing it to the point of defying God in seeking it. The worst part is these come from married Christians 99% of the time.

I believe these people have been married for so long, they have forgotten what it was like to be single. Or their time as a single was comparatively short and/or easy. In other words, they’ve lost their frame of reference, if they even had one. They are unable to sympathize. How can a person understand someone who is 30 years old, single, and desiring marriage if he married in his early twenties? Any struggles he had as a single are distant memories. Marital bliss has made him callous. He runs off with his sweetheart on V-Day, forgetting his single friends—if he has any—are alone at home.

I, however, won’t forget my singleness when I get married. I’ve spent too much time struggling with singleness to do so. I’ve watched friends hook up and get married while I was passed over, wondering if something was wrong with me or if I was unworthy of love. I’ve battled lust and a bottled-up sex drive. My hopes have been shattered and deferred. It gets harder to say, “It is not good for man to be alone,” with each passing year. I’m constantly told I’m a great guy, yet no woman seems to like me for long, if at all (unless they’re desperate).

I say all of that to say that I will be a countercultural married. I won’t forget singles or their plight. I’ll seek them out, talk to them, pray with them. I’ll validate their desires and advise them on how to fulfill them. Valentine’s Day won’t be a day where my wife and I go on an overly elaborate date. It will be a day where I invite all the singles I know to my house for a party, and we will serve them. We’ll prepare food, play games, and talk about the struggles of single life. Why? Because I want them to know there’s at least one couple out there who wants to redeem this so-called “romantic” holiday and include singles in it. They won’t be forgotten because I was once one of them, and I wished the couples I knew wouldn’t leave me by the wayside.

Couples, will you do this for the singles you know, especially if they’re your friends, this Valentine’s Day?

Remembering C.S. Lewis

I realized the other day that this is a week of noteworthy anniversaries. November 19 was the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Today, November 22, is a day loaded with significance. Fifty years ago today several events, both joyous and tragic, occurred. On the bright side, the British science fiction TV show Doctor Who first aired. But today is also remembered for the deaths of three great men: President John F. Kennedy, author Aldous Huxley, and theologian C.S. Lewis.

Between Heaven and Hell by Peter Kreeft
Between Heaven and Hell by Peter Kreeft

Interestingly, there’s a short book that featured a philosophical dialogue between these three icons: Between Heaven and Hell by Peter Kreeft. It’s a fascinating debate between them.

C.S. Lewis, author of such books as The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and The Space Trilogy.
C.S. Lewis, author of such books as The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and The Space Trilogy.

While I could go on about any of these, I’ll focus on Lewis. If you’ve read my bio on my website, you know that I list C.S. Lewis as one of my literary influences. But he’s done more than influence my writing: he’s shaped much of my thinking.

Lewis was a Christian, an intellectual, and a writer. He came from an atheistic background, but he always loved myths and stories. He believed in the power of narrative. This, along with some help from his best friend, Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien, was what brought him faith in God. He saw the truth of the “Christian myth” and saw that it was more than a mere myth.

Lewis was a writer whose works dabbled in things that many modern Christians shy away from. He could write stories featuring magic and mythic creatures without violating his conscience or his faith. He simply said these were powers and creatures created by God, that those mythic stories and fairy tales all pointed back to Him. He wrote science fiction that beautifully examined the effects of sin and the far-reaching power of redemption. He dared to examine Christianity, proving time and again that faith and intellectualism are not contradictory. Yet he did so in a way that neither talked down nor talked over his readers and listeners. I’ve heard someone describe him as a “redneck with a Ph.D.”

Yet he did all of this without proselytizing. Lewis was a man who didn’t have to preach at you in his works: he simply told stories. His faith would seep into his stories almost accidentally. It was a huge part of his life. Authors always tap into themselves—their experiences, beliefs, and knowledge—to craft a story. So, what Lewis wrote was “Christian” in the sense that he was a Christian who wrote. I love this because I don’t like being preached at about anything—whether it be Christianity, environmentalism, or whatever else—when I’m reading or watching a story. I just want to enjoy the story. If it inspires deep thought in me as I read/watch or after I finish it, then it is a truly great story. Art doesn’t necessarily tell you the truth; it inspires you to ponder what the truth is.

I wouldn’t be the man or the writer I am today if not for people like him. I owe him a great debt of gratitude. He’ll be one of the first people I want to meet when I get to Heaven.

So, if you’re looking for some good reading (besides this serial, of course), go to your local library and check out his books! You won’t regret it.