What Sci-fi and Fantasy Villains Are NOT Thankful for This Thanksgiving

How do villains celebrate Thanksgiving? By remembering all the things they’re NOT thankful for.
| Nov 21, 2017 | No comments |

Villains Aren't Thankful Loki MemeWith Thanksgiving on the doorstep, it’s time to remember what we’re thankful for.

Unless you’re a villain, of course.

Because let’s be honest—being filled with thankfulness isn’t really part of their DNA. Kinda like having a bold, well-to-do person destined to be the Chosen One. It doesn’t happen.

In that case, how do villains celebrate Thanksgiving? By remembering all the things they’re NOT thankful for. Obviously.

Last week, Mark Carver’s clever A Very Speculative Thanksgiving featured characters sharing what they were thankful for. Characters such as Thor and Frodo and Spiderman. Now it’s time to see what the villains have to say…

Villains Are NOT Thankful on Thanksgiving

Setting: A brooding castle tucked deep into a snow-capped mountain range. In a large hall, thick with haze from large fireplaces and somber as a graveyard, villains from far and wide have gathered.

Sauron: Thank you all for coming.

Loki: Thank you? You dare dishonor the title Villain by using such sporting words?

Sauron: Silence, Trickster. Your opinion matters naught to me.

The Joker: Can we acknowledge we’re talking to a giant flaming eye? Not even I could dream up something that crazy.


Image via lotr.wikia.com

Darth Vader: *heavy breathing*

The Riddler (raising an eyebrow at Darth): He’s a cheery one, isn’t he?

Voldemort: There is no cheer in the world. Only endless pain.

Sauron: Enough. Stop wasting my time with idle banter.

Smaug: Listen to the Eye. Let us commence our misery.

Loki: You first, overgrown fire-breather. What are you not thankful for?

Smaug: For thieves and stubborn dwarves and barbed arrows.

Joker: What do you have against thieves? We’re an honest lot. We promise to steal and always keep our word.

Random Dalek: Exterminate!

Riddler (staring at the Dalek): I fail to see the connection…

Dalek: Exterminate!

Loki: I’ll exterminate you, foul machine. You’re a disgrace to our ranks. I am NOT thankful for whoever let that excuse for rubbish into our midst.

Darth Vader: *heavy breathing*

Riddler: What has a mouth but does not speak? Has no face but sees all? Is naught but shadow incarnate?

Voldemort (shooting withering gaze at Riddler): I am unthankful for meaningless babble and pointless riddles.

Joker: Babble? Babble. Yes, you’ve come to the right place, dear Voldemort. We have an endless supply of babble.

White Witch: Shut up, all of you. Fools!

Riddler: Tell that to Vader. Or maybe you could give him some of your infamous Turkish Delight and loose his tongue? Anything to say yet, Vader?

Darth Vader: I loathe anyone named Han. I loathe family. I loathe this miserable dwelling.

President Snow: And I find you all distasteful and dull. So very dull. There is little here to be thankful for.

Joker: Settle down, Grandpa. We can be a rousing lot if we put our minds to it.

Smaug: Indeed. Roused to fiery fury.

Riddler: Does anyone wish to guess my riddle? It’s quite simple.

Sauron: I wish to speak. I am not thankful for hobbits. I am not thankful for the presence of good. I am not thankful for courage and the heir of Elendil.

Voldemort: Well said.

Dalek: Exterminate the Doctor!

Joker: Forget the Doctor. He’s of no consequence. I am not thankful for bats. Ohhh, I hate them and everything they represent.

White Witch: Children are worse. Especially ones from England who happen to be siblings.

President Snow: I heartily agree with the woman. I have a particular dislike of melodramatic teenage archers. Repulsive.

Killer Frost: You know what I’m not thankful for? Alter-egos and other dimensions.

Riddler: I’ve had enough. I’m not thankful for ALL OF YOU! Refusing to guess my riddle. You’re all children playing at childish games.

Loki: Silence your accusations. You have no right. And after tonight, I can say I also am not thankful for whiny compatriots. And heroes. They’re so…heroic.

Having Party Tony Stark MemeTony Stark: Hey now, watch what you say, Mr. Demigod. Didn’t work out for you last time, remember?

*everyone stares at Tony*

Sauron: Why are you here?

Tony Stark: What? Don’t want me crashing your party?

What do you think other villains aren’t thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Thankful Characters-A Reprise

Despite privation, death, dangers, and the concerns for the future, the early colonists found reason to rejoice. They exhibited a degree of contentment, a gratitude for what they had rather than resentment for what they had lost.
| Nov 20, 2017 | No comments |

Thanksgiving-BrownscombeAs Thanksgiving Day approaches here in the US, I’m mindful of the basis of our holiday. Primarily it was instituted in various colonial settlements in the 1600s as a day to remember the ways in which God provided. Secondarily, it was (or they were, since there was no one set date in those early years) a day to be thankful, a day of celebration for the harvest.

In 1621 in the settlement at Plymouth, 58 colonists hosted 90 members of the Wampanoag tribe because, by teaching them food-growing and gathering skills and by donating food supplies for the winter, these native Americans were instrumental in helping the colony survive. Consequently, many see Thanksgiving as a day to express gratitude to significant friends, family, and neighbors.

The thing that impresses me about these early celebrations is the fact that they took place even though the overall picture of these colonies was quite bleak. Many people died because of disease. Supplies through the winter were meager at best, and more people died of starvation. In addition, an attack by the Powhatan Confederacy in 1622 wiped out a number of smaller settlements and killed twenty-five percent of the Jamestown population.

assorted pumpkins-1433668-mNevertheless, the colonists, in what would later become the Commonwealth of Virginia, held any number of Thanksgiving observances. Yes, despite privation, death, dangers, and the concerns for the future, they found reason to rejoice. They exhibited a degree of contentment, a gratitude for what they had rather than resentment for what they had lost.

When I think of stories, however, no matter what the genre, I think of a main character who is not content. He is missing something he wants, something he needs, in order to fix a problem that has cropped up in his world. Consequently, I don’t often think of fictitious characters as being content or thankful.

Until I considered minor characters. Those who are a part of the story but who are not the central figures, may indeed exhibit thankful hearts.

Think, for example, of Gimli, the dwarf in The Fellowship of the Ring who was one of the company traveling with Frodo Baggins. He stands out in contrast to the stereotype of dwarfs as greedy and disgruntled.

First he was grateful for the opportunity of traveling into the mines of Moria and learning what happened to his kin who had sought to reestablish a community there. Second, he was ever afterward thankful for having met Galadriel, the elfin queen of Lothlórien. Later he expressed sincere happiness as a result of his friendship with Legolas.

Sam Gamgee is another Tolkien character who is a good example of one who is grateful. In the Shire he was thankful to be Mr. Frodo’s gardener. On the way to Rivendell, he was content to see elves, and could have died happy after that first encounter. Most of all, however, he was satisfied to walk into danger beside Frodo, to carry his burden, and in the end, to carry his friend, no matter how bleak the circumstances.

In the third volume of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis also created a notable character who demonstrated gratefulness: Reepicheep. He was happy to be a Talking Mouse, and became content even without his tail. Mostly he was content with his lot—being the one who would go on a quest to the end of the world, though it meant he would leave all he loved.

Dobby2In the Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling created perhaps the best grateful character of all: the house elf, Dobby. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter ends up freeing Dobby from his servitude to the Malfoy family. From that point on, Dobby is so grateful to Harry Potter that he will do whatever he can to help or protect Harry Potter, even put his own life at risk.

What are some other notable characters who exhibit thankfulness? What do you think fuels these characters to be so grateful, even when their outer circumstances may not seem to warrant that attitude? For writers, do you have a grateful character in your story? For what is he or she so thankful and why? In the end, how do we as real people stack up against Reepicheep or Sam Gamgee or Dobby? Is it possible to be as sold-out grateful as these characters were?

Excluding some minor editorial changes, this article first appeared at SpecFaith in November 2013.

The Book of Revelation is an Epic Horror Fantasy

Horror is absolutely a biblical genre. Exhibit A: the book of Revelation.
| Nov 17, 2017 | 3 comments |

I was recently given the honor of being interviewed by John Piper’s website regarding the horror genre, and in particular, the horror movie, It.

Putting it nicely, Piper’s followers are not very appreciative of the horror genre. So I was grateful that his staff decided my biblical arguments on behalf of both genre and movie worthy enough to post for a conversation. We have a long way to go, Christian horror lovers, but we will get there—because we have the Bible on our side!

Let me give the biggest example of that biblical support: The book of Revelation.

No matter what your interpretation of John’s visions of the apocalypse, everyone acknowledges that they are loaded with symbolism. In fact, in the very first verse, John tells us that the Revelation was “signified” to him (Rev 1:3). The ESV English translation says “made it known” to John, but the Greek is a word from which we derive our word for “semiotics,” the study of signs and symbols. Whether Revelation is about the past, the present or the future, its storytelling technique is certainly symbolic. It is describing the spiritual significance and scope that we do not see through fantastical images and poetic imagination.

My goal here is not to argue exactly what I think those images symbolize, but to talk about them as literature and genre. Let the epic horror fantasy begin!

I’ll skip the first chapters, because one through three are epistolary toward churches of Asia Minor. Chapters four and five are a vision of the heavenly throne room and Christ’s opening of the seven-sealed scroll.

And that’s when all horror breaks loose.

Chapter six describes the seven seals being opened. Four horsemen of the apocalypse bring conquering, war, famine, and death upon the land like heavenly Nazgul. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if faithful Catholic, J.R.R. Tolkien, drew his fantasy imagery from these dark riders.

The other seals are opened and we see images of cosmic collapse like something out of a global disaster movie like Geostorm (but with a much better story). The earth shakes, the sun goes dark, the moon turns to blood and the stars fall from the sky. I realize some people think this is literal, but this collapsing universe imagery has a long precedent in Scripture for being symbolic of the fall of earthly powers, from Babylon to Edom to Egypt to Israel (Isa 13:1-19; Isa 34:2-10; Ezek 32:7-11; Jer 4:23-30). These verses describe the same destruction of the heavens and earth as happening in the past. They had to be earthly symbols of spiritual significance because after all, we’re still here, aren’t we? Prophets were poets.

Then we come to the seven trumpets and bowls. Now, some scholars argue that the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls are not chronological, but simply a kind of literary cyclical technique called “recapitulation.” They replay the same judgments from different perspectives with new aspects illuminated about those events. Not everyone has this view, but it is a prominent one that makes sense of the literary structure and tempo of the text.

Then in chapter nine, we have the infamous locusts from the Abyss. These bizarre creatures are like genetic hybrids out of a Michael Crichton sci-fi fantasy: heads with human faces, women’s hair, teeth like lions’, breastplates of iron, tails and stings like scorpions (Rev 9:7-10). In earlier years, it was common to think of these unholy grasshoppers as an ancient way of describing Cobra helicopters in war. Some current prophecy pundits claim these are literal genetic hybrids created by modern scientific DNA CRISPR technology. Most likely, the locust creatures are an ancient symbolic way of describing the spiritual reality of demonic infestation through earthly metaphor, since they come from the Abyss, a biblical reference to the underworld (Psa 88:6), and their king is the demonic angel of destruction from that bottomless pit (Rev 9:11).

Jumping to chapter 13 (and 17), we see the infamous sea beast.  Like his symbolic precedent in the Old Testament, Leviathan, this sea dragon of chaos is another genetic hybrid of monsters destroying the land and people like Godzilla or other huge beasts in our Hollywood monster movies. It has seven heads. It is like a leopard, with bear’s feet and the mouth of a lion (Rev 13:1-3). Just imagining this fantastical monstrosity strikes fear into the reader’s heart, as any good fantasy horror should do. Why? Because it is symbolic of tyrannical earthly and heavenly powers. And it is the dragon that must be slain by the divine knight.

This sea monster is both a symbol of a corporate empire (Rev 17:9-12) and an individual blasphemous ruler who demands worship and blasphemes God (Rev 13:18). Many scholars conclude that the sea beast has some kind of connection to the Roman empire (past or future) because of its description as symbolizing the seven mountains of Rome (Rev 17:9). And its heads represent seven kings of that kingdom of tyranny.

Then with some rather profane and vulgar symbolism, Revelation has a “great prostitute,” doing the dirty deed with kings of the land, and being exploited by merchants (Rev 18:3, 9, 11), before she rots with plague and is burned alive with fire (Rev 18:8). This is R-rated sexual slasher horror that is not family friendly or worthy of a Dove seal of approval.

The prostitute also rides the sea beast as a symbol of a corrupt immoral authority dressed in clothes that are drawn right from the description of Israel’s high priest’s adornment as well as the material used in the holy temple (Exod 25:4-5; 26:1; 28:5-8; 36-38). This is most likely a symbol of corrupt religious authorities spiritually influencing the Roman sea beast in her tyranny. But it is surely a disgusting picture of a rancid and diseased whore riding a beast of destruction. Parental discretion is advised.

No matter how you interpret these monstrous memes and metaphors, they remain a litany of horror images that use fantasy to conjure up the fearfulness and dread of the evil that God will judge. Huge and small genetically mutated monsters, possessed by demons, terrorize the land and murder people. The heavens and earth collapses like a Hollywood disaster movie. Rivers and seas of blood make Stephen King’s imagination look child-like.

Tyrant: Rise of the Beast, Brian Godawa

Of course, there is a lot more than these few samples in Revelation. But the point is made that it is a literary masterpiece of epic horror fantasy. And it has influenced storytellers for the past two millennia. Christians who appreciate the horror genre or fantasy have much to delight in since they are God’s favorite genres when giving prophecy to his people (Revelation, Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Micah). The horrific images of monsters and frightening terrors are one of the best ways to portray spiritual truths and encourage holy fear and righteous living.

I have tried to make some sense out of all that poetic and symbolic imagery in Revelation by writing a novel series about the origin story of the book of Revelation called Chronicles of the Apocalypse. I tell a fictional tale of the apostle John, Romans, Christians and Jews in the first century during the tyrannical reign of Nero as the Jewish War brought the armies of Rome down upon Israel. I put the apocalypse in its historical context, and try to capture how the ancient Jews and Christians understood its imagery in their own day. This ain’t your mother’s Left Behind.

Weekday Fiction Fix-The Girl Who Could See by Kara Swanson

All her life Fern has been told she is blind to reality—but, what if she is the only one who can truly see?
| Nov 16, 2017 | No comments |

Kara Swanson’s The Girl Who Could See

A Novella


All her life Fern has been told she is blind to reality—but, what if she is the only one who can truly see?

Fern Johnson is crazy. At least, that’s what the doctors have claimed since her childhood. Now nineteen, and one step away from a psych ward, Fern struggles to survive in bustling Los Angeles. Desperate to appear normal, she represses the young man flickering at the edge of her awareness—a blond warrior only she can see.

Tristan was Fern’s childhood imaginary hero, saving her from monsters under her bed and outside her walls. As she grew up and his secret world continued to bleed into hers, however, it only caused catastrophe. But, when the city is rocked by the unexplainable, Fern is forced to consider the possibility that this young man is not a hallucination after all—and that the creature who decimated his world may be coming for hers.


Chapter One

Present Time

On television crime shows, they never tell you how cold it is.

They might show the dimly lit room with the hard, uninviting chairs. Or the narrow table separating you from the elderly agent with stone-gray eyes. But a TV camera cannot fully portray the chilling experience of an FBI interrogations.

I rub my bare shoulders, fingertips even icier than the skin exposed by my red tank top. Brilliant move, Fern. Wearing a scarf but forgetting your jacket. Stifling a shudder, I meet the sharp gaze of Agent Barstow, who stands at attention across from me.

“I don’t know where you’re from, Miss Johnson, but in LA, state-of-the-art buildings don’t just crumble.” His voice is gravelly, matching the jagged lines of his dark skin and weathered face. “Especially federal buildings.”

I tug on my beige scarf. You have no idea.

His arms slowly unwind from his chest as he takes two steps toward me. “We’ve called in everyone to analyze this disaster. CIA, local police, firemen. Heck . . . we even called NASA. No one can come up with a plausible reason why a skyscraper in excellent condition would be standing one minute and collapse the next.”

I fight the urge to bolt for the door as he leans down, palms flat on the table—so close I can make out the creases on his black suit.

“You warned us of an attack in that area over a week ago. How did you know?”

I suck in a deep breath as his voice lowers and his fists tighten on the edge of the table.

“Are you involved with a terrorist organization?”

I almost laugh at his words, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m here to save LA, not destroy it. To save everyone in it. And I don’t have much time—none of us does. If I can’t gain this man’s trust, a shattered building will pale in comparison to what comes next.

“No, sir.” I shove my shaking hands beneath my legs.

A pair of lucid blue eyes appears over the agent’s shoulder. I know not to stare. But those eyes, which only I can see, are the reason I warned the FBI in the first place. Their owner is the reason I’m sitting in this room.

Licking my lips, I keep my attention on Barstow. For years I’ve wanted someone to listen. Really listen, I didn’t think the first person to do so would be in the FBI. Be careful here.

I open my mouth and force my voice to remain calm and steady. I hope my words are convincing—they have to be. “I knew about the incident, Agent Barstow, because my friend warned me.” Throat dry, I look away. “My imaginary friend.”

– – – – –

AUTHOR BIO—Kara Swanson

As the daughter of missionaries, Kara Swanson spent sixteen years of her young life in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Able to relate with characters dropped suddenly into a unique new world, she quickly fell in love with the speculative genre and was soon penning stories herself.

At seventeen, she independently published a fantasy novel, Pearl of Merlydia. Her short story “Distant as the Horizon” is included in Kathy Ide’s 21 Days of Joy: Stories that Celebrate Mom. She has published many articles, including one in the Encounter magazine. Kara received the Mount Hermon Most Promising Teen Writer Award in 2015.

A Very Speculative Thanksgiving

Several science fiction, fantasy, and comic book characters are gathered around the table for Thanksgiving dinner…
| Nov 15, 2017 | No comments |

Image copyright Polygram Filmed Entertainment

Scene: Several science fiction, fantasy, and comic book characters are gathered around the table for Thanksgiving dinner.

Gandalf: *taps staff on the ground* “Everyone, quiet down, please. Thank you all for coming. I know that some of you traveled a great distance to be here – ”

Thor: “Tell me about it.”

Gandalf: ” – And before we enjoy this grand feast set before us, let us go around the table and say what we are thankful for, if you feel that you want to share.”

Captain America: “I bet Falcon’s glad they still had turkey left at the supermarket or he might have been the centerpiece.”

Falcon: “Har Har. Bet you didn’t notice I used your shield for the platter.”

Captain America: “What?!”

Gandalf: *clears throat* “Anyway, let’s begin. I’ll go first. I am thankful that there are people in this world who still stand up against evil, who carry heavy burdens across treacherous lands because they care more about the future of others than about their own lives.”

Frodo: “And I’m thankful that they usually don’t have to do it more than once.”

Gandalf: “Wait your turn, Frodo.”

Spider-Man: “All right. I’m thankful for tall buildings and construction cranes and suspension bridges, and that I don’t live in Kansas.”

Superman: “Hey, watch it, pal.”

C-3PO: “I am ever so thankful for my dear friend, R2. He may be an irritating bucket of bolts sometimes, but I can’t imagine life without him by my side.”

R2-D2: *chirps*

C-3PO: “I’m sorry old friend, but sometimes you are quite irritating.”

Gollum: “We are thankful for kniveses, and fishes, and rockses, and the Precioussss…”

Sam: *smacks him on the back of the head*

Wonder Woman: *rises to her feet and stares off into the distance* “I am thankful for the opportunity to inspire millions of women and girls around the world, to give a voice to the voiceless, to give young girls a big screen hero that they can be proud of!”

Elektra and Catwoman: *scowl and sulk*

Gandalf: “Frank, what about you? Are you thankful for anything?”

The Punisher: *pushes his chair away from the table* “Oh yeah, I got tons to be thankful for, like smokeless powder, and brass shell casings, and armor-piercing rounds, and laser sights, and 100-round drum magazines. You know what? You all enjoy your little family gathering. I gotta go make someone thankful for their last few seconds of life.” *storms out of the room*

Gandalf: “Okay… Anyone else?”

Captain Janeway: “I am thankful for the millions of fans around the world that love us and our stories. Without them, we would just be words on a page or scribbles in a comic book.”

Everyone at the table: “Hear, hear!”

Gandalf: “Enjoy the feast!”

Gimli: *jumps on the table and buries his ax in the turkey*

And Then There Is Thanksgiving

So often, when Thanksgiving rolls around, which it does in the US every fourth Thursday in November, the question arises: what are you thankful for?
| Nov 13, 2017 | No comments |

So often, when Thanksgiving rolls around, which it does in the US every fourth Thursday in November, the question arises: what are you thankful for?

I think it’s also significant to ask, To whom are you thankful? But that’s a separate discussion. For now, I want to focus on what generates in us a thankful spirit.

Wikipedia says the early thanksgiving days in the US, starting as early as 1621, were set aside to thank God for things like a plentiful harvest and for military victories.

But when Thanksgiving Day arrives, what are we thankful for in the twenty-first century? We hardly know when harvest comes and goes. Oh, sure, the leaves turn wonderful colors in the fall, and pumpkin patches pop up even within the city limits. Of course the vines have been cleared away and the pumpkins, if they haven’t been trucked in, are properly arranged to make choosing the desired vegetable an exercise much like shopping for any other thing we want. Harvest? Who worries about harvest?

As far as military victories are concerned, we have Veterans Day (just celebrated), Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July. Who needs another day to dwell on what the military has done for us?

In all likelihood, family is the first thing most people will say when they’re asked what it is they’re thankful for. Some might go so far as to say they are thankful for good health or for their home.

We rarely get to our job, and choosing to be thankful for co-workers and for our boss—well, that may be a stretch.

Have we simply become an unthankful lot? That might not be so far from the truth. After all, we’re pretty close to brainwashed by the media and the advertisement world that we deserve this great thing or that great thing.

In other words we are becoming an entitlement culture. It’s pretty hard to be thankful when we think we deserve to go on that cruise to Alaska or to have that life insurance policy that we can turn into cash if need be, or whatever else, whether the slogan is “You deserve the best” or “For the style and service you deserve” or “Your dog deserves ___.” If we deserve it, will we really be thankful for it?

We may not give voice to the idea that most everything we have, we deserve, but I suspect that’s our underlying conviction. We deserve to retire in comfort and ease. We deserve a safe work environment. We deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. We deserve food on our table. We deserve schools that will teach our children what they need to know. And on and on.

But when did the amazing benefits and blessings we enjoy stop being privileges and start becoming things we deserve?

Take reading, for example. Once upon a time, the literacy rate in the US was roughly eighty percent—of the white population. The literacy rate of slaves in the 1600s and 1700s was a different issue.

Then in the 1840s school began to be mandatory and literacy became higher. Of course, the African-American population had major ground to make up, so the total literacy rate was good, but not great. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, literacy in the US was at an all time high of approximately 98%.

So, do we ever stop and thank God that we can read? Or do we take literacy as an entitlement. Of course we can read because we all deserve to go to school, we all deserve to learn. As much as learning seems like a right, much of the world still does not enjoy what we take for granted.

We spend much of our time and space here at Spec Faith discussing books which we’ve read. Sure, movies we’ve seen, too, but books first. And yet, reading is something God has given us which we so rarely give thanks for. And books. Think of all the books, either ones from the public library, school library, personal library, or more recently, stored on a reading device. Ca we even count how many books we’ve read in our lifetimes? How many of those have we thanked God for?

I’m mostly talking to myself here. I have taken books and reading, and even fantasy (which I love best), for granted. It will be there. Always. Whenever I want to crack a book open, I’ll be able to do so. But what a different world this would be without books. How different my life would be if I couldn’t read.

How much my cavalier attitude toward something I love so much, shows my lack of gratitude.

Should I start a list of “What I Am Thankful For” that I can read on Thanksgiving? That would be a start. But why make a list and not just go ahead and start thanking God every day for something that I normally take for granted.

So I wonder, what other things fall into that same category?

Why Are People So Fascinated by the Flood?

How have people around the world for thousands of years woven tales about a global flood?
| Nov 10, 2017 | No comments |

All around the world, for thousands of years, people have woven tales about worldwide catastrophic floods. From those tales have erupted countless other spin-off stories shared by campfire or candle flame.

The Sumerians wrote of a worldwide flood in their creation myth. In the later Akkadian version of the same myth, Enki, the god of waters, warned Utnapishtim of the flood and gave instructions for building an ark.

Then you have the Islamic view of Noah, the Ancient Greek flood myths, an Irish flood myth, Welsh flood myths, a Norse flood myth, Chinese, Indian, African, Korean, Malaysian, Pilipino, Mesoamerican, South American, and North American flood myths.

It just keeps going.

Diorama of the Flood at the Creation Museum near Cincinnati, Ky. (photographer: E. Stephen Burnett)

Diorama at the Creation Museum near Cincinnati, Ky. (photographer: E. Stephen Burnett)

Many modern Christian organizations have sprung up around the belief that the Bible’s antediluvian stories (stories before the worldwide flood reported in Genesis 6) are real, and should impact our interpretation of geological and scientific studies, such as Answers in Genesis, or the Institute for Christian Research.

These organizations employ real scientists with real degrees who really believe that a real flood really took place. That means there’s definite scientific evidence to bolster the belief.

But the sheer number of flood myths and their common themes is staggering enough. John D. Morris, Ph.D., wrote an article for the Institute for Christian Research compiling his research of over 200 flood myths from around the world.

88% of them had a favored family. 95% of them had a global flood. 70% of them showed the favored family surviving because of a boat. 57% of the stories explicitly mention the survivors landing on a mountain. And get this, 7 percent of those stories mention a rainbow.

I know 7% doesn’t seem like a big number, but that’s at least 14 global flood stories worldwide that mention a rainbow. That’s unbelievable.1

But flood myths get at something deeper than just our view of historic reality. The fact that so many people over so many thousands of years have continued telling them to friends and family gives us a fascinating glimpse into human nature.

One might claim that what makes flood myths so interesting is the high level of interest that worldwide destruction of any kind carries. I can certainly see that the sheer scale and uniqueness of such an event make stories of global catastrophe interesting.

But if that’s the case, why don’t we have worldwide myths about the world being nearly destroyed by earthquakes? Or any other kind of natural disaster?

Flood, Brennan McPhersonI think the most powerful element that gives flood myths staying power—even more so than the intrigue factor of worldwide destruction, or the historical accuracy of such an event—is that flood myths are always about the connection between human beings and divine forces.

Flood myths remind us that we are not alone. That there is much beyond us that we do not understand and cannot control. We are enamored by the unique, the strange, and the enigmatic, because we are always looking upward and outward, pondering what lays beyond what can be seen or touched.

Catastrophic flood myths force our inward gaze away from ourselves toward mysteries we can’t quite grasp hold of (kind of like trying to grab water in our fists). And that’s precisely why we love them. Because they give us a fleeting sense of selfless focus toward transcendent mysteries.

In our modern, anti-religious culture, we’ve never needed myth more. And, by corollary, we’ve never needed fantasy more.

Scripture says we cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from God’s mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3).

God is beyond us. He is transcendent, mysterious, and endless. We cannot grasp him with our intellect alone. To try to do so would be to emulate the Pharisees that Jesus so castigated while he walked the earth.

We were meant to engage God with our imagination as well as our intellect (think “becoming like children”). Fantasy literature and myths help us take steps toward God by reminding us that logic alone won’t be enough to get us through the narrow way. That the physical world we inhabit is just one layer in a cosmic sandwich. That our errant preconceptions deserve to be broken, so that we might see Him with better clarity.

That’s why I labor to bring fantasy twists to epic Bible stories. Because I need them.

And if I need them, maybe someone else does too.

  1.  See Why Does Nearly Every Culture Have a Tradition of a Global Flood?, John D. Morris, Ph.D., Institute for Creation Research.

Christians, Please Stop Warning Against Human Popular Culture Until You Know What It’s For

Statements like, “Entertainment is harmless, but …” don’t help Christians glorify Jesus well.
| Nov 9, 2017 | 5 comments |

What would happen if your favorite pastor only taught about how not to read the Bible?

Imagine that in this pastor’s every podcast, blog article, or book, he condemns Christians for the ways we misuse God’s word.

“You’re doing it wrong,” he always says. “You’re taking verses out of context. You shouldn’t read it silently there. You should not read it aloud here. You’re not valuing the Bible highly enough. But it’s actually Jesus we worship and we don’t worship a book!”

Never does this imaginary pastor teach about what’s in the Bible. Or how we can read the Bible carefully yet joyfully. Or what the Bible is actually meant to do in the first place.

After a while, you might get the idea this pastor secretly doesn’t like the Bible. Deep down, he probably suspects the whole Bible idea isn’t worth our trouble to read and apply. Maybe he thinks we can always do something better with our time.

End parable.

Application: this is exactly how many Christian leaders (bless their hearts) handle the issue of human stories, movies, television, and popular culture altogether.

Some Christian leaders couldn’t care less about human popular culture

Often these Christian leaders are glad to talk about popular culture—sporadically.

But they only emphasize the evils, the warnings, and the pitfalls of popular culture.

They pop in for a moment to talk about pornographic content in young-adult fiction, sexual assault culture in the film industry, or the problem of loving entertainment more than God. Once they’ve touched the topic, they let go, vanish, and ignore it for months on end—until they appear for another quick criticism of popular culture.

Ultimately, these Christian leaders create the same impression as our imaginary pastor who only warns about the Bible. They come across like they secretly don’t like popular culture. Or they believe it’s not worth the trouble. Or they believe we could always make better use of our time.

Now, do I mean these writers are being legalistic against popular culture—that is, against human stories and songs, which are often spread by digital and technological means?

Not at all. In fact, I don’t even strongly disagree with any of the linked articles above.

We do need help to focus our hearts and eyes on Jesus Christ, the giver of every good gift, lest we lapse into idolatry and demand the “entertainment” of His gifts without their Giver.

This goes double for Christians who don’t engage biblically with the popular-culture idea, or who are—like John Piper’s listener in this podcast—tempted to idolize entertainment.

Most of these well-meaning Christian leaders often clarify that they’re not against YA fiction, or movies, or TV as a concept.

For example, writer Marian Jacobs disclaims at Desiring God, “This article isn’t primarily about censoring your child — or even yourself — from the world of secular fiction.”

Author/blogger Tim Challies does not disclaim popular culture “censorship” in this article warning about Hollywood, but he does say he plays video games (“Enjoy the entertainment”) and at least some fiction.

They have that covered. We’re not dealing with nasty old legalism against culture.

Instead, we’re dealing with the most well-intended Christian carelessness about the topic.

Don't Waste Your Life poster

Christian leaders’ careless reactions to popular culture fail to challenge us in our real lives

What if you don’t believe popular culture has any purpose past “harmless entertainment”?

Someone, or your own inner voice, will always come along and say to you, “There are more eternally significant things you can do with your time than enjoying novels or TV.” If you’re honest with yourself, you have no real response to that kind of statement.

What if you believe popular culture does have good purposes: that is, to help you connect with other people, or to reflect common grace in the world, or to serve as Art and all that?

Then if you hear any Christian leader talk about popular culture only to say, “It’s harmless, BUT—” then his statements will roll right off you. Why? Because you believe popular culture has more purpose than merely benign “harmlessness.” You also believe Christian leaders who don’t care to address the topic in-depth and constructively haven’t earned the “right” to speak about it negatively. 1

Often I feel like these leaders would rather change the subject to their preferred topics, such as our serious need to obey God (amen) and our need for absolute holiness in Christ (again, amen). But behind these ideas, these well-meaning leaders act if if they only need to warn against a Christian’s careless, passive2 “consumption” of “entertainment.” This automatically frames the issue in over-simplified and negative terms, and may fly right over the people who actually do need these cautions.

What if the Christian speaker then only says things like, “You need to love Jesus more than your entertainment”? That may challenge the rank popular culture idolater. But it does nothing to challenge the person who already truly wants to love Jesus first, and secondly enjoys, say, gaming or anime in time-consuming, fandom-forming ways.

For either group, Christians who only warn against popular culture (when they speak of it at all) simply show they don’t take the topic seriously enough.

In fact, in some ways they are treating the topic of popular culture just as carelessly as the unthinking Christian who’s a TV or video-game junkie.

Christian leaders need to teach about biblical recreation, and about popular culture’s (possibly eternal) purpose in God’s plan

Am I fine with Christians passively consuming entertainment?

Not at all.

Entertainment is never “just entertainment.” The apostle Paul says to take every thought captive,3 and this must include thoughts relating to the stories and human creations we enjoy.

But the Christian leader who challenges popular culture “consumption” needs to say more than, “Popular culture is harmless, but you should love Jesus more than entertainment.”

He needs to show how loving Jesus transforms our view of entertainment—or rather, stories, songs, games, and beyond.

He needs to allow for the fact that some Christians are not passive about these popular works; in fact, we can be very proactive and thoughtful about human stories and songs (in biblical ways or otherwise!).

Christian leaders need to stop using words like “consume.” This makes us imagine some unthinking, careless gorging of one’s self, all alone in a dark living room, complete with fake-cheese snacks and a flickering TV screen. Why not instead try words like “engage,” “take captive,” “redeem,” or even “avoid based on personal scruples” about any particular story/song/game?

He may also try the word recreation—a far more biblical framing than “entertainment.”

Why not frame this topic in a biblical worldview, rather than use the world’s language?

Why not discuss popular culture—human stories and songs—in terms of human creativity being a gift from God? The way some pastors talk, popular culture is some alien (even if “harmless”) thing unrelated to God. But if God gives this gift (of popular culture-creation), then He, not us, defines the terms of how the gift is best used—to glorify Him, to guard against idolatry, and to make sure we get the most joy out of using the gift in the ways He has prescribed.

Why not explore how Jesus has built the work-rest rhythm into the universe, starting right in Genesis 1? Why not consider how stories and songs are part of being human, whether they’re shared around a campfire or enacted on your tablet screen? Why not allow the possibility that Scripture seems to allow—that we will create cultural works in eternity?

I would even go so far as to suggest that if the Christian leader cannot allude to the biblical view of recreation, or articulate this view in his body of work somewhere, he probably ought not talk about culture or popular culture at all.

No, I don’t mean that every Christian ought to become as I am, reviewing novels, movies, and anime, and often hanging out with Christian folks who like doing the same.

But Christian leader, pastor, or teacher: if you can’t show that you know what popular culture is for in the first place, using biblical anthropology, I honestly struggle to listen seriously when you only warn against popular culture.

Just like a Christian leader would shut out a fellow preacher who only warned about misusing God’s word, without teaching how the Bible should bring us joy.

Instead, let’s study the topic from Scripture. Let’s keep in mind God’s purpose for his people to recreate. Then let’s challenge ourselves not to treat popular culture carelessly, but to wrestle with it, in holiness, and engage human stories and songs for Jesus’s sake.

  1. Similarly, Christians who only ever praise popular culture (sometimes as if art or culture are a kind of “sacrament”) are not thinking biblically about the real evils found in the human creators of stories and songs. Case in point: Christians who don’t take seriously the real threats of Harvey Weinstein-style sexual exploitation and even assault behind the nude scenes in prestige television shows. I explore this at length at Christ and Pop Culture.
  2. The Nov. 6 Ask Pastor John podcast about entertainment refers in passing to the “passive watching of television,” assuming that this activity is passive rather than thoughtful, active, or done in Christian community.
  3. 2 Corinthians 2:5; see also Romans 12:1-2.

Beside the Point

People have made lucrative careers of giving offense.
| Nov 8, 2017 | 1 comment |

Not long ago, I was reading a review of a new album, released by a Christian artist who was known for his edginess and is now, perhaps, over the edge. The reviewer said (here I roughly, but accurately, paraphrase) that he had always liked this artist because he used raw words just to rile up evangelicals. And I thought that this was not truly a noble endorsement.

And it’s not because of the words he used, or because people were upset or offended, or because evangelicals were upset or offended (though I do think that, on the long road of learning to love each other as Christ has loved us, not taking positive pleasure in seeing each other offended is one step). As a reason to approve of anything, Look, he offends them! possesses doubtful worth. It seems a superficial judgment at best, an uncharitable motive at worst.

It’s unfortunate, then, that these days, it’s all around us. People have made lucrative careers of giving offense. In Exhibit 1,873 of our current societal dysfunction, certain citizens of this republic value most, in their elected officials, a demonstrated ability to offend their fellow citizens. You don’t have to look far in the broader culture to find the same impulse, to see real appreciation of the writer or artist or celebrity who offends the right people. In art, too, transgressing other people’s boundaries is often taken as a pleasure, and sometimes as an end in itself.

I understand the phenomenon; it’s all human nature, even if not the best part of it. We have all known people so annoying that they almost deserved to be offended. We have all seen boundaries so misdrawn that they deserved to be transgressed. No matter who you are, someone out there has sensibilities that are, by your measure, so hopelessly narrow or warped that they are begging to be offended. This judgment of others’ boundaries and sensibilities must, in some cases, be false. By the same rule of logic, it must, in some cases, be true. So if the sensibilities are narrow and the boundaries are skewed, isn’t there some value in offending them?

No, not intrinsically. It doesn’t follow that, because the boundaries are wrong, the offense is right. In this, as in other disputes, it is not possible that everyone is right, but it is possible that everyone is wrong. One can be politically incorrect by telling the truth, but one can also be politically incorrect by being a jerk; one can violate Victorian sensibilities in art by being better than they would permit, but also by being worse. The idea of offending the right people is tribal and superficial. Beyond the superficiality lies the lack of charity. It’s not charitable to enjoy upsetting or offending other people, nor is it worthy as an aim. What do you really achieve by bothering people?

Offense, as such, has very little meaning; it proves neither right nor wrong. As an insignificant thing, it ought to be incidental to what you are really doing. Tell the truth, or pursue artistic superiority – and perhaps people will be offended and perhaps not, but neither will be the point.

The 4 Phases of Becoming a Geek

Becoming a geek is a unique process. Some come to it early on, practically born into a hobbit family that lives in a TARDIS house. Others take a longer road.
| Nov 7, 2017 | 3 comments |

Becoming a geek is a unique process. Some may come to it early on, practically born into a hobbit family that lives in a TARDIS house.

For others, like myself, the process happens later on in life.

When I say geek, I’m referring to all things science fiction and fantasy. The discovery of all things awesome and fantastical, which provide immense entertainment and compelling concepts.

What are the phases of becoming a geek? There’s not a one-size-fits-all structure, but here’s a good outline.

Becoming a Geek Phase 1: Initiation

This is when the first echoes of geekiness resonate within. The time when you read a fantasy series that utterly captivates you or watch a movie that waters those seeds of geekiness.

You realize you have a love for tales set in magical kingdoms or on distant planets.

Reservations may exist, but the pull of these stories is too strong. Like a child is drawn to the candy store or the toy section of Walmart, you can’t resist the appeal. Your first tastes of what Geekville has to offer are too delicious to turn down, and so your appetite is whetted and you step through the door of initiation.

Becoming a Geek Phase 2: Assimilation

You Will Be Assimilated Time goes on. Your fascination with exotic stories increases, fed by a desire not to escape reality, but to see it framed from a different angle, colored by dozens of perspectives and cultures. To brave the inky void of space or embark on an impossible quest.

The worlds to explore are endless, offering excitement fused with compelling story arcs and settings that dazzle and amaze.

Characters and places come alive, kindled with the flame of otherness, yet an otherness that rings out with chimes of truth.

You begin watching TV shows where they say things like, “Engage,” “Bow-ties are cool,” or “My name is Barry Allen and I’m the fastest man alive.”

Like it or not, at this stage, there’s no turning back. The tractor beam of Ship Geek has locked in on you and you’re coming for the thrilling ride. Which is exactly what you want.

Becoming a Geek Phase 3: Passion

I Understood that ReferenceAfter entering Geekville without a second thought, you become a passionate resident (possibly with a comfortable home at Number Five Bagshot Row). 😉

You re-read your favorite stories, mark the dates on your calendar when Marvel and DC are set to release a new film, and attend comic cons. You become immersed in geek culture. Finding other geeks is akin to meeting up with long-lost relatives.

Being a geek doesn’t consume you, but it’s inseparable from who you are.

  • You share your passion on social media, posting memes, quotes, and articles.
  • You have long discussions with your friends about the latest episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (or any other favorite shows).
  • You become a quoting machine, spouting off movie and book quotes as readily as Tony builds Iron Man suits.
  • You read blog posts about movies and books, keeping up to date with the happenings in the world of sci-fi and fantasy.
  • You make quote graphics.
  • Whenever you can, you integrate your fandoms into daily life—see meme above. 😉
  • You enjoy YouTube videos like the How It Should Have Ended series and Honest Trailers.
  • You love inside jokes and clever blends of different fandoms.

"Use the Force Harry" - GandalfThis phase can be detrimental, as it includes forming the habit of binge-watching TV shows to catch up. But that’s fine, because the Force will be with you. (See what I did there? 😉 )

Becoming a Geek Phase 4: Obsession

In this phase, passion isn’t enough. Certain fandoms have your utter and undying loyalty *cough* Star Wars *cough*. Your inner geek becomes your outer geek as you hold nothing back in your obsession.

  • Watch the same Marvel movie five times in theaters? Yep.
  • Buy the extended editions of your favorite films? Naturally.
  • Get three (or seven) sets of Legos from your fav fandom? Eleven, actually.
  • Collect shirts, mugs, and posters proclaiming your favorite fandoms? Duh.
  • Stalk actors on social media? Guilty as charged.
  • Order the limited editions of books? Of course.

If you’re the type of person who enjoys dressing up, much cosplaying is involved at this stage. You have multiple costumes—because why not? It’s too much fun.

You regularly wear geeky shirts. It’s highly likely you own jewelry or replica weapons. Everything about you screams, “I’m a geek and I love it!”

Which phase are you in? How did your journey into the world of a love for all things sci-fi/fantasy begin?

*This post appeared in original form on zacharytotah.com in June 2016.