Monday, November 30, 2015

His Eye is On the Turkey

Forty six million.

That, according to the statistics, is just how many turkeys we consumed last week in the United States.  There it is, the delicious roast beast set out for our gatherings, full of protein and tryptophan, and I wasn't partaking.

Instead, I noshed on tofurky, which is honestly not nearly half as good as the turkey I ate before I moved away from the omnivorous diet that's natural to higher primates and became a vegetarian.  It's...well... a little rubbery.  Although with enough stuffing and gravy, you can sort of get around that.

Sort of.

As I ate, I reflected on those forty six million lives.  Turkeys are not the pinnacle of organic sentience, I'll freely admit.  They are, in fact, rather remarkably far from that.

There's a peculiar trait all turkeys share, one that's generally cited as an indicator of their epic stupidity.  They'll stop what they're doing, and stare gape-mouthed at the sky, looking upwards towards the heavens for ten, twenty, thirty seconds.  Nothing interrupts this behavior, not rain, not anything.

Scientists, who note that the turkey is a social bird that is no more or less aware than other birds, have debunked this behavior as an indicator of stupidity.  It's an inherited defect, they argue, and they are probably right in the faintly drab way that science is right about the mechanics of things.

But here you have a creature that evolved to fly, and fly strongly, and it's been bred to be a meat machine.  They are pinned to the earth by the tumescent inbred flesh that dooms them to our tables.  They look to the sky, lost in it, in the freedom they once had but now do not.

And here you have a creature, part of the great complex work of God, now with a life bent and warped to serve our hunger.  It looks upward, an avian Job with face turned to the heavens, out to the vastness of blue and the stars beyond, away from the flesh factories in which it is doomed to live a short and joyless life.

Its eyes are on the heavens.  And God?  The God I profess, that resides in and beyond the fullness of being?  My Teacher tells me his Father knows the lilies of the field, and counts the feathers of the sparrow.  Just as the turkey stares without worldly hope into the endless fastness, so too does the Creator look back.

I am more than a turkey, my Teacher reminds me, in my symbol wielding social mammal complexity.

"But how much more?" I want to ask.  Is it measured by weight?  Measured by lifespan?  Is it measured by the relative volume of neurons?  Dare I ask that, in my mortal smallness?

How much suffering of simple weaker creatures can I justify, to the terrible, fiery God of Love that knows them as fully as God knows my own soul?

His eye is on me, after all.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christian Storytelling

Over the course of the last month, I've not been blogging.  Instead, I've been hammering away on this year's novel.  It's part of National Novel Writing Month, which I've done for the last three years, and it's been great.  The structures and disciplines and insta-community that springs up around this month-long blast of writing is great.  Every year, it's helped me punch down a full draft 50,000+ word manuscript, going from concept to dang-there-it-is in a month.

One of the recurring of my writing has been developing stories with Christians woven into them.  Being a pastor and all, I suppose that isn't surprising.

My first year's output revolved around the Amish.  The Amish after an apocalyptic event, admittedly, so it's a harder and more brutal narrative than your typical pastel romance, but the Amish nonetheless.  That one found a publisher, and should be out there...God eighteen months.

Last year's manuscript included two significant Methodist side characters.  Methodists, aliens, and robots.  And Russian hit men.  Who were not Methodist.

This year, my protagonist is a charismatic evangelical, an evangelical who has an encounter with pandimensional extraterrestrials whose appearance is an homage to H.P. Lovecraft's Elder Things.  Because for some reason, those two things go together in my mind.

Besides just pitching out a good yarn, one of my goals in the midst of all of this: to attempt to write stories in which Christians are actual human beings.  In my reading and in film, I find that I'll encounter Jesus-people who are cast in only the broadest-brush stereotypes.  They're too often Elmer Gantry charlatans or bible-thumping hypocrites or other two-dimensional tropes, and it bugs me.   Jesus people are, in my experience, not all like this.

But neither are they the cookie-cutter drones we too often encounter in contemporary "Christian" literature and film, that alternate reality where human complexity gets obliterated by blow-to-the-forehead messaging.

As I prefer to write 'em, Christians make mistakes, and do stupid things, and continue to be genuinely Christian in a world where that's increasingly not the norm.

Which brings me to a point of fuddlement as I've been writing.  My Christian characters inhabit a world populated by people who neither think nor speak in particularly Christian ways.  Because I'm trying to write in a way that reflects reality, there is profanity.  There is violence.  And there are Christians, some flawed, some kind, some less so, mixed in to the whole mess.

I do wonder, honestly, how that will work for readers.  To what extent can there be faithful Jesus-folk presented in literature that can be horrible or rough or profane?  Is that encounter too jarring now, for the Christian reader, trained to expect watered-down and simplified literature?  Is that encounter too jarring for the secular reader, who expects easy stereotypes in place of the human complexity that exists among the faithful?

The only way to find that out, I suppose, is to keep writing.