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Reading Is Worship 5: Identifying Weirdness-Idolatry

Brothers and sisters: loving speculative stories is not about you. Or us. Or the genre. Or, especially, Being Weird. That’s especially vital to recall after last weekend’s controversy over cosplay at the ACFW awards banquet.

These columns will be written in honor of, but also as a loving and respectful corrective to, spec-story readers who feel alienated by Christian fiction, aspiring authors who are frustrated by publishers’ skepticism, and recently, ACFW conference attendees who were disallowed from entering an awards banquet while wearing sci-fi-and-fantasy costumes.

Brothers and sisters: it’s not about you. Or us. Or the genre. Or, especially, Being Weird.

In April I dealt with the “I love weird stories because they’re weird” notion more as a petty annoyance. My view was pragmatic. I said: This doesn’t help to promote the genre. But the worst problem is not that this motive doesn’t work. Worse, it distracts from true worship.

I keep seeing the Weirdness notion rear its ugly head. I see it in myself, and am ready to call it for what it is: an idol. Reading Is Worship, as this series says, and that worship can only be of two things: God, or a ridiculous replacement that is not God. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin,” the Apostle Paul writes with Spirit-inspired authority in Romans 14:23. We can read or write in ways that don’t come from Biblical faith, making idols out of good things like experience, The Cause of Christian speculative fiction, or writing itself.

But this latest idol to roll off the human heart’s assembly line may be the worst of the lot.

First I ask: what do the following attitudes prevalent in Christian cultures have in common?

  1. Cultural “fundamentalists” who measure people’s hemlines or condemn enjoyment of fiction, movies, contemporary music, or television, to be Different from Culture.
  2. Christian “patriarchalists” who insist that the chief end of man is to have as many children as possible (a “full quiver”) and train them to Take Back Our Nation.
  3. Religious fiction publishers who offer clean, moral fiction as a solution that reacts against secular publishers’ perceived obsessions with swearing, sex, and violence.
  4. Speculative story readers or writers who enjoy and promote niche genres such as fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, or anything in between, mainly as reaction against no. 3.

Answer: every one of these is based on reactively beating bad guys, not proactively glorifying our God. Each approach seeks to be “different” or “weird” for no other goal than to look good or seem spiritual, or as real or imagined confrontation of a Majority Culture.

Each is a revolting idol, perhaps worse than other idols because they sound so spiritual.

Idol identified: enjoying “weirdness” for its own sake

“Throw me idol, I’ll throw you the whip.”

Do you love stories mainly because they’re “weird”? If so, you may believe things like:

  • “In the morning I get up and want stories You Probably Haven’t Heard Of. Part of me also wants to ‘stick it’ to stories that ‘normal’ people enjoy. You can have your modern dramatic fiction without magical worlds, and straight-up histories instead of alternate-history steampunk craziness! Give me weird any day! The weirder, the better!”
  • “Christian fiction today is just too safe! I want stories that Push All The Limits.”
  • (After being asked what you’re reading:) “Oh, [speculative novel name], by [name of author].” (Later, silently to yourself:) “You probably haven’t heard of it.”

I recognize these lines (adapted from this) from my own redeemed yet sin-struggling heart. But this week I also saw some of them even more glaringly, in response to a dustup at this year’s American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Dallas. According to John Otte:

I can confirm that some spec fic writers were temporarily turned away from the [Saturday fiction awards] banquet (I was an eye witness). Here’s what happened:

Four spec fic writers dressed up for the banquet. The tamest outfit was a little black dress with a dragonscale choker and special nail/claw things (I’m sure there’s a technical term for it, but there you go).  Another wore a suit but built a cybernetic arm overlay. A third wore funky contacts and werewolf gloves.

The fourth, though, was really awesome. My roommate dressed up as Failstate, the titular character from my book. He faithfully replicated the entire costume, down to the face-obscuring mask. When I saw what he came up with, I was so tickled and humbled that someone would do that as a surprise for me.

Once we were ready, we went down to the banquet and were able to take a few pictures. The others joined us but before we could enter, hotel security stopped “Failstate” and told him that they had gotten some calls about his costume. He showed his badge and they seemed (mostly) satisfied. “Failstate” went into the banquet and was almost immediately pounced on by the conference director and told that he couldn’t enter dressed like that and that he had to go and change into “Sunday best or better” if he wanted to get back in. She then insisted that the cyborg remove his arm and the werewolf remove his gloves (again, hotel security was cited as the motivating factor).

Some reactions to this incident are contagious. On Monday when I heard of it, I also felt like taking up arms. I thought: Those bonnets-obsessed persons are persecuting us again; this is just plain silly; what’s wrong with a Renaissance dress or a Star Trek uniform?

Unfortunately, that’s not the only angle here. Having attended at least one ACFW banquet, I can confirm that the rules, written or unwritten, lean toward formal wear, not cosplay. The online program for this year’s conference specifically stated:

ACFW Annual Awards Gala Dress Code = Sunday best-to-formal

Thus, the issue is not conference organizers who object to acceptable dress for the event. Rather, the issue is likely people who didn’t know the rules, or did and chose to make fudge of them.

Should the banquet mission or standards change? If so, that’s another question. What’s at issue now is those who likely Pushed the Limits. And I must ask: what were the motives? To have fun? To support the genre? That’s great and understandable, but the primary questions are:

  1. Did this action “proceed from faith” (Romans 14:23) to glorify God?
  2. Did it show love to other conference attendees, who were either brothers/sisters in Christ, fellow “characters” in God’s true-life Novel, or potential nonbelievers — all of whom, either way, needed to see us show love and respect for God and for others?
  3. Do our responses to the dustup show desires to make peace or to pick fights?
  4. Does the desire to “cosplay” at a conference and/or its banquet reflect the truth that speculative stories are normal, and that it’s no-speculation-allowed contemporary stories that are newer and “weird”? Or do they reinforce others’ stereotypes?
  5. Shouldn’t we who love speculative stories be “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22) to win them to Christ, or even to what we believe are more God-glorifying stories?

Of course, I wasn’t there. That’s partly why I’m offering these challenges, which are a mixture of hypothetical and rhetorical. Those serve as ways to diagnose the threat that this “weird” complex is not only inaccurate, unloving, and self-defeating, but the result of idolatry. Next week, with your input, I hope to explore ways we can cure the ill of weirdness-worship.

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E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Postscript: Versions of this response have already been posted online, and on Monday, Sept. 24, ACFW Conference Director Robin Miller (who is now the organization’s new full-time executive director) replied to my inquiry as follows:

Please understand that ACFW is very supportive of every genre, however, understand that there is a place and time for every event. The ACFW awards gala partners with a gala sponsor (this year’s sponsor was Thomas Nelson Publishing) to provide an upscale event to honor the achievements and accomplishments of all finalists and award recipients. Dress code has always been, and is listed on the website and in all information as “Sunday best to formal.” This is truly a special night for many, many people, complete with wait staff in suits, floral arrangements, upscale table sets, etc. It’s not a costume party. Those are truly fun (having lived in South Louisiana, we know all about dressing up for costume balls and parties) and have their place, but the gala has never been a costume party. It’s like the Academy Awards…the red carpet night for so many who’ve worked hard to receive acclaim!
 
As far as the “trekkie” costume…yes, I saw it at the gala but that particular person was NOT asked to change or leave…only those individuals dressed in monster attire or “terrorist attire” were told they had to remove the offending attire to enter the gala (and this was actually brought to my attention by the hotel security).
 
Again, understand that ACFW truly supports each genre in the Christian market, and there is no “slur” against any genre.

Given ACFW’s expression of support, it may be that lovers of Christian fantasy, sci-fi, and more are only as “niche” and “persecuted” as we choose to be.

Krysti
Guest

Stephen,

I think this discussion is one that could to be easy to let get out of hand, so I want to be careful what I say… 

In discussing it with some others who WERE there that same evening (I wasn’t there either, although I do hope to be at future conferences):

1) there has been a blurring of the rules on cosplay: costumes have been acceptable attire at the banquet for a while, especially if they come equipped with full skirts supported with a quantity of  full petticoats, or a bonnet and mutton sleeves. 

The Star Trek contingent at this years’ conference also was left alone and had no idea until later that there had been a problem. Randy Ingermanson in his Victorian tophat and pinstriped pants was permitted entry, along with a friend dressed in the feminine version of a dress kilt and plaid.

2) In years previous, other notables have appeared at the banquet in costumes other than bonnets and full petticoats, Jeff Gerke among them–someone mentioned that he has attended in the past wearing a full suit of armor? And nothing was said then. Someone else confessed that they recently attended in costume with a nerf gun painted to look realistic and a very brightly colored (and obviously fake) bandolier, and no one took any offense or made him get rid of his “bullets” and “gun.”

3) One young man who was up for an award at this years’ conference accepted his award in a t-shirt. Yet again, no one took him to task for his informal wear. 

4) So–the question becomes: why the double standard?

If cosplay IS acceptable at the banquet within the context of “Sunday best or better,” and the men with the cyborg arm and wolf paws were, by all accounts, otherwise dressed to the nines, then why was the line drawn where it was?

If cosplay is NOT acceptable, then there needs to be one rule for everyone, and no one should appear at the banquet in costume.

The one concern seems to be that there should not be arbitrary decisions such as “prosthetics are a safety hazard,” or “camo isn’t dressy enough” while a tshirt and jeans is. Having an issue with a masked man is one thing, but he didn’t arrive at the banquet alone–he came in a group of other costumed people, and he cleared hotel security–as you pointed out–and the issue then became the refusal of a certain person within ACFW to allow him and those who arrived with him to attend the banquet dressed as they were. 
As someone else noted, having the masked man take off his mask would have solved the source of alarm for almost everyone who had a problem with his costume. 

The suggestion has been put forward that it might be more reasonable to have a costume event at future conferences separate from the awards banquet so that it is clear what expectations are and everyone can have an opportunity to have fun dressing up in costume without fear of censure.

I think this would be an excellent idea. 🙂 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

there has been a blurring of the rules on cosplay: costumes have been acceptable attire at the banquet for a while, especially if they come equipped with full skirts supported with a quantity of  full petticoats, or a bonnet and mutton sleeves.

That I had heard. In fact, my first (and so far, only) banquet attendance, in 2006, I had shown up in business-casual attire: nice pants, but a short-sleeved shirt and tie. All around me were certainly more-formally dressed. Nonetheless, folks noticed by conspicuous nervousness and were very kind. I believe it was John Olson who said this would certainly count as “formal” in California. He meant this as a comfort.

Nonetheless, my main point is responding in Christlike ways to this issue, making sure we’re promoting speculative stories for the right, God-exalting reasons.

In years previous, other notables have appeared at the banquet in costumes other than bonnets and full petticoats, Jeff Gerke among them–someone mentioned that he has attended in the past wearing a full suit of armor?

Last year Jeff Gerke was indeed clad in mail. (I watched over webcam when they announced the 2011 Carol Award for best speculative novel, which went to Marc Schooley’s fantastic supernatural historical paranormal thriller Konig’s Fire.) That would seem to be an exception! However, this could then be either a matter of not holding the standards firmly enough, or simply knowing Jeff and in some sense trusting him to be that way. Either way, it’s an issue of trust. Would it then have been better to ask organizers in advance whether cybernetic arm pieces, werewolf hair, or superhero masks were permissible? Perhaps. Yet retrospect is too easy.

One young man who was up for an award at this years’ conference accepted his award in a t-shirt. Yet again, no one took him to task for his informal wear.

See, that would have been me, at least in 2006. Next year I hope to be in full dark suit complete with bow tie — perhaps with a sonic screwdriver in the lapel pocket!

The suggestion has been put forward that it might be more reasonable to have a costume event at future conferences separate from the awards banquet so that it is clear what expectations are and everyone can have an opportunity to have fun dressing up in costume without fear of censure.

I love this idea, and perhaps I could even reprise my own role as Gandalf the White, complete with magic staff, from the 2003 film premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It also allows people to be both professional and formal, and fun-loving and casual — to show their love for the craft and the story.

Either way, it should be about love: either formal/business/professional events or casual/fun/cosplaying/story-loving events first for God’s glory, second for our joy.

Kessie Carroll
Member

I think the whole costume argument is ludicrous. So they broke the dress code and looked “terrorist”. So what? It’s the conference’s call on whether or not to permit that. Also, BANQUET. What’s more, AWARDS BANQUET. Best foot forward, people. Scary costumes are not the way to go!
 
Sounds like costumes permitted previously were all at least semi-dressy. And it doesn’t sound like the conference objected to costumes at the rest of the convention. We just like being discriminated against so we can squawk.
 
Next year, people, go to ComicCon or one of the big secular conventions and stop picking on the romance con.

Kessie Carroll
Member

Also, Stephen, thanks for taking the time to present all sides of the argument. I’d only heard it from the cosplayers’ side until now.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Thanks for your encouragement, Kessie. My hope here is certainly not to call out a bunch of people as “idolaters”! Yet it does seem to echo a potential for idolatry, and I see that potential in myself. It can’t help to present the challenges! Yet I do hope a little journalism, checking into the issue from ACFW’s side, added some facts.

I think the whole costume argument is ludicrous. So they broke the dress code and looked “terrorist”.

I would have liked to have seen that costume. Somehow in my mind I’m picturing Bane, in a revolutionary/dictator large bulky coat, and a wiry metal mouth mask.

So what? It’s the conference’s call on whether or not to permit that. Also, BANQUET. What’s more, AWARDS BANQUET. Best foot forward, people. Scary costumes are not the way to go!

Agreed. This is why the main question needs to be how we respond to this issue, not try to fix it in retrospect. Then, with perspectives of peace and humility, if we wish to pursue the influencing-the-conference route, we might suggest real solutions.

I didn’t say this earlier, but I think trying to form a completely alternative conference would be the exact wrong thing to do. It’s frankly repeating the error that most of us complain about: Christians who (supposedly) can’t or don’t get along with a certain seemingly Closed System, and merely retreat to form their own insular counter-culture. Spec-story lovers are not immune to this impulse.

Sounds like costumes permitted previously were all at least semi-dressy. And it doesn’t sound like the conference objected to costumes at the rest of the convention. We just like being discriminated against so we can squawk.

“Hello, my name is Stephen.”

“Hiiii, Stephen.”

(Cringes) “And I really, really like being a Victim of Societal Pressure to Conform.”

Next year, people, go to ComicCon or one of the big secular conventions and stop picking on the romance con.

Yet it’s not romance con any more! That is definitely the prevailing atmosphere there, of course; I don’t wish to imply otherwise. But you might be surprised. In 2010 in Indianapolis, I dared to come out of my protective writers’-conference shell and talk to some of those Inevitably Romance/Amish/Historical (R.A.H.) folks. Naturally I asked what they read and wrote, and they asked about my work. When they learned I was a lover of speculative stories, they opened up quite quickly. They had read plenty of them themselves, given copies to children or grandchildren, and so on. Disclosure: Some of them lowered their voices for these admissions, as if this was a sort of insurrection. But if all lower their voices, we might as well shout it.

Either way, we know these genres are on their way out. Wishing to “go back to” a supposedly peaceful era, such as the 1950s or even the 1880s, is not sustainable. Neither is a sort of default American-ized Comfort Christianity. These will eventually fade, surely within our generation. When they do, we can be ready.

Julius
Guest
Julius

They should’ve known the rules.
 
But– I still rolled my eyes. This is why I only go to Christian conferences when they’re dirt cheap for me to attend. I’d rather go to something else 3 out 4 times. I highly doubt that security approached them and was adamant. People wear full Fallout 3 power armor to conventions and hotels and convention centers don’t blink, and someone wears a mask and this hotel panics? Eh…. I just don’t 100% buy that. I’m not saying security was absolutely silent, because I doubt these people are liars, but at the same time they perhaps protest too much. (Comparing one’s event to the academy awards is also kind of silly.)
 
 
Anyway– the rest of the article: 
 
My gut reaction to the questions presented are: no, I don’t think so (that they proceed from a spirit of worshipfulness, per se)… but neither is disallowing them. I don’t see how either is any more proceeding out of a spirit of worship than the other. I’m just sort of puzzled as to how one’s dress at a conference has anything to do with being all things to all people. People dressing all formally with ties and suits and making me wear the same makes me uncomfortable (I have never worn a suit I liked but once, and that one only because I felt like I was an Oxford Don) and I don’t like it.

Diane Graham
Guest

You are right, Julius, we should have known the rules. That said, when you have several years go by and many people dress in costumes…Jeff Gerke as a night, Randy Ingermanson in steam punk, Chip MacGregor in a kilt, hundreds of historical dresses, then the blur is there and ACFW allowed them. In doing so, they effectively said cosplay is okay.  Kat Heckenbach made an excellent point on my blog and again on my facebook about what the issue that has caused the rift is. A portion of the body feels spurned. That may be intentional or not but should be addressed. Otherwise, you have people stewing and that is never a good thing.
I don’t think that has a thing to do with self worship. God made us all a little different for a reason and our job is to learn how to love each other in spite of the differences. Celebrate the differences, even.
The simple point comes down to this…If the ACFW allows historical and period dress at the gala and refuses to allow other cosplay, they are wrong. I can understand wanting the gala to be formal and have prestige. That means NO costumes at all and the fashion police must stop people like Caleb from wearing t-shirts to accept his Genesis award. See the problem? Splitting hairs is a messy business.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

When you have several years go by and many people dress in costumes…Jeff Gerke as a night, Randy Ingermanson in steam punk, Chip MacGregor in a kilt, hundreds of historical dresses, then the blur is there and ACFW allowed them. In doing so, they effectively said cosplay is okay.

It sounds like a clarification on that policy is indeed necessary. However, I’m not sure MacGregor in his kilt qualifies. He does do that as a fun thing, but from what I’ve heard it is also certainly formal wear in his Scottish heritage. The same would be true for the quasi-Amish who wear their calico dresses or little caps to the banquet. It’s not the same as “cosplay,” though it certainly seems that way from our limited perspectives.

 

Diane Graham
Guest

I was being a bit facetious. I know it is dress, but when you start splitting hairs to suit your own way, people call foul. Kat astutely pointed out that if we go with technicalities, a formal toga would do. There are also cultures that dress in loincloths and I for one don’t care to see that. 😉 Clarification is definitely in order and I LOVE the idea of a night for costumes. That sounds like a brilliant compromise. =)

Kirsty
Guest

I don’t know about this guy, but certainly here in Scotland, a kilt is absolutely normal formal wear, worn by many men. It would be worn for graduations, weddings, anything you might wear evening dress for.
National dress is often considered to be equivalent of evening dress. So, for example, at a black tie event a Nigerian wearing (formal) Nigerian robes would be acceptable.

Kirsty
Guest

I think it depends whether it genuinely is what you would wear for formal dress. No-one wears togas for that now, so it wouldn’t count.
A loincloth? Only if it was
a) genuinely formal wear in your own culture
b) considered modest by the surrounding culture. In the same way that western people living abroad will adapt what they wear to be modest in the other culture. E.g. when I visited Malawi, I always wore a skirt. When my dad visited Argentina, he did not wear his kilt .
Sorry, I’m getting a bit off topic

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Julius, thanks much for your thoughts. I hope to engage with similar respect below.

My gut reaction to the questions presented are: no, I don’t think so (that they proceed from a spirit of worshipfulness, per se)… but neither is disallowing them.

Just in case, here’s some background. I don’t define “spirit of worshipfulness” as some kind of sober, religious, very spiritual attitude in which prayers are said for 45 minutes in a quiet chapel environment, bathed in stained-glass light, before you don your cyborg prosthetic arm-claws. Rather, it’s a kind of motive for Life, the Universe, and Everything that pervades everything. Does this proceed from faith? Do I want to honor the Lord Who loves and saved me? Do I want to love others?

This also affects one’s motive for going to a conference. In years past, when I have attended conferences, it has been more or less for the goal of My Own Ministry, defined as My Own Mad Skills As a Future Groundbreaking Epic Story Author. Naturally, I won’t get much out of the conference is that is my only goal!

Craft, story-love, learning, and meeting others are secondary goals.

Mean’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, and that includes attendance of such a conference. And I wonder if, when I return to the conference (I hope next year, in Indianapolis), focusing more on that goal might give an even more joyful experience. Secondarily, so would focusing on the goal of thinking of the conference as a Mission Field. Just because we’re all professing Christians in this same hotel doesn’t mean it’s not a Mission Field! This term also gets dual meaning when we fantastic-story lovers, who truly believes our genre is best, consider a sub-mission to “evangelize” others about the wonder and joy these stories bring.

I don’t see how either is any more proceeding out of a spirit of worship than the other.

(Nods soberly.) And yet this is a bit of a tu quoque, isn’t it? I don’t know the goals of conference organizers; even if I had been there, I wouldn’t know them well. Yet are we not responsible for our own striving to glorify God (worship) in all we do?

I’m just sort of puzzled as to how one’s dress at a conference has anything to do with being all things to all people.

Here’s what I mean, and I may flesh this out more next week. Here’s the passage:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
   
1 Corinthians 9:19-27

In the past I’ve misunderstood this passage, and I think many Christians do.

Here, reading the whole thing from start to finish — and it would be even better to read the whole chapter, as part of the whole book — we see that Paul is not talking about adding certain behaviors or practices so he looks cool.

He isn’t referencing, say, learning the latest teen slang, or getting a tattoo, or even donning the dress of another nation in order to respect local customs.

Instead, Paul is talking about making sacrifices of real rights in order to ensure nobody trips over a barrier to hearing the Gospel preached. Earlier, he mentions several specifics: the right to have the food and drink he likes, the right to travel with a wife, the right to earn a living wage from preaching the Gospel.

There are all real rights, and he strikes a firm balance in saying so, while also saying:

If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

1 Corinthians 9:12

Again, these are real rights. Paul is not saying he has no right to take a wife along on his travels (if he had one!), or have the foods he likes, or even earn a salary from preaching and teaching the Gospel (as is the norm for spiritual leaders; verses 9-10). Yet Paul is saying he will give up these rights for the Gospel’s sake.

Here we have a slightly derivative situation. In our view, God-exalting fantasy, sci-fi and similar stories glorify God more than many other story sorts. They are not “weird” but mainstream, and they are more directly inspired by the true and supernatural Story of reality. (More on this is in Please Quit Calling It ‘Weird’.) Thus we are doing ministry, not just for our favorite stories, but for the Story.

Can we not then set aside our “rights” to enjoy being “geeky” or “weird” for the sake of that Story, and the stories that better reflect its truths and beauties, for just three days while we’re on vacation?

If we find we want to refuse setting aside these “rights,” which do we care about more: God’s Story and fantasy-story “evangelism,” or our own “niche” preferences?

If the latter, I again suggest that we’re only being “persecuted” because we ask for it.

People dressing all formally with ties and suits and making me wear the same makes me uncomfortable (I have never worn a suit I liked but once, and that one only because I felt like I was an Oxford Don) and I don’t like it.

Alas, I’m not that fond of suits either. In Narnia, your good clothes are never your uncomfortable ones, Lewis wrote. But we’re not in Narnia yet. And the banquet is only a couple of hours, most of them sitting down in an air-conditioned room.

First-world problems.

Fred Warren
Member

I think there’s a danger here of conflating unproductive preoccupation or distracting enthusiasm with idolatry, in the same way the word “porn” has been used to defame anything that falls into the category, “Everybody likes this, I can’t stand it, why-oh-why won’t they shut up about it?”
Idolatry is taking something that isn’t God and treating it as God. Examples might include attributing omniscience to science or omnipotence to nature, or trusting in wealth to solve our problems. “Here, O Israel, are the gods that brought you up out of Egypt.” Stephen, I think you were closer to the truth with your initial assessment of the behavior you were seeing. It boils down to a failure to read thoughtfully and prayerfully. Sometimes we settle for whatever gives us an emotional buzz. You’re challenging us to read in such a way that our reading experience can become elevated to the level of worship. This is an ambitious goal, and a worthy one.
However, I think it’s going too far to say that imperfect worship, in the sense you’re using the word, equals idolatry. Can idolatry begin that way? Sure. The golden calf incident began with a petty gripe about Moses taking his time coming back down from Mt. Sinai, and it ended with a quickie god and an orgy.
 
 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Thanks for your encouragement and challenges. I certainly hope I haven’t implied that imperfect worship is somehow not good enough, or that we should legalistically navel-gaze to ensure we’re Doing It Perfectly. In this life, with our struggles with the flesh and our not-yet-redeemed physical bodies, it will be impossible to worship perfectly. Still, it’s worth aspiring to live now in light of our future, perfect worship!

I do assume that without striving for worship of God in all that we do, the default will be to worship idols and commit idolatry: ourselves, fandom, or anything else. It’s the “default setting” of human nature, though certainly not the default of redeemed nature. In Christ we can probe our motives, ask challenging questions, and love.

It also, I believe, has the benefit of ensuring we show love to folks who continue believing myths about speculative stories. We need to show them love and be winsome, so as to win them — perhaps not to Christ, as they’re already His, but to these sorts of stories that we believe reflect reality and God’s truths and beauties much better than, say, yet another book showing an Amish person wearing makeup.

Galadriel
Guest

While I have not been to a conference, I have a full-length cloak made to the top-left pattern in this image (sans hat, purple velvety fabric)that I wear around college sometimes.  Other “cloakers” exist on campus and we sometimes plan to all wear our cloaks on the same day. I can pin down three reasons I wear it.

It’s warm–especially nice when I wear shorts and it cools down.
It makes me feel cozy, kind of like wearing a bathrobe around the house. 
It makes people do a double take and smile. 

In fact, one of my professor’s little girls was absolutely entranced by the clasp when I wore it to a department picnic.Here’s a full picture</a

Jenni Noordhoek
Guest

You met the cloakers! (On my visit to campus last semester I met one of them too – she was awesome. :D) 

Kat Heckenbach
Member

I just discovered that I was quoted in a couple of comments on here (thanks, Diane) and figured I might weigh in. I am not, however, going to reiterate ideas I’ve posted elsewhere. What I want to do is say, as I said on the blog post I just put up on my own site, the thoughts that have popped into my head regarding this accusation that we are purposely setting ourselves aside as weirdos:

So, some still say the line should be drawn. No “monster” costumes, or even accessories. That those things go too far. There is a part of me that began to doubt my stance because of those statements. Maybe a set of monster hands somehow negates the dressiness of a Sunday best suit and tie.
But what has recharged me is the accusation that “we are setting ourselves apart.” We’re fostering the idea that we are oddballs who can’t be taken seriously.
Wait. Hold the dang phone.
First, could I not say the same thing about the women in petticoats and bustles?
Second, this was NOT an attempt to segregate ourselves or showcase our weirdness and inability to fit in. It was actually, as I see it, an attempt to join into an established tradition and find common ground with authors we don’t share much in common with genre-wise.
Third, it wasn’t done to disparage the historical costumers. The spec-fic crowd saw the historical romance crowd dressing up and thought, “Wow, how cool! Me too!”

(end quote) 
I also address the whole professionalism thing on my blog as well. It was pointed out to me that it would have been unprofessional for authors to dress up at editor meetings and such. Well–no one did! All the spec-fic authors, from what I have seen and heard, behaved completely professionally throughout the conference. The ONLY thing they did to upset the AFCW balance was match historical costumes with costumes of their own at an event which has traditionally been open to costuming regardless of written rules. 

Anyway, I’m not spamming my link here, but ya’ll are free to find my post on your own. It’s not hard with my name :P. 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Greetings, Kat! Thanks for your thoughts. By the way, that followup piece to which you alluded is here. (It’s not “spamming” if it relates to the topic at hand, is it?)

For organization, and to better simulate a conversation, I’ll reply point-by-point.

What I want to do is say, as I said on the blog post I just put up on my own site, the thoughts that have popped into my head regarding this accusation that we are purposely setting ourselves aside as weirdos:

Accusations are for courts of law, not for churches or Christians — even who have relationships over long distances, enabled by blogs and things. I hope what I’ve offered here are not accusations, but questions and Scripture-based challenges.

We are not authors, readers, or fantasy fans first, but Christians first, redeemed servants of Christ. Thus, if/when we are in conflict, shouldn’t we examine motives?

But what has recharged me is the accusation that “we are setting ourselves apart.” We’re fostering the idea that we are oddballs who can’t be taken seriously.

I’d hoped I clarified that I view these (for lack of a better term) “secular,” pragmatic concerns are secondary. Rather I’m first asking myself and others: what is the chief end of loving stories, writing stories, or promoting stories? Is it “to be counter-cultural”? Is it “to beat the bad guys”? Is it “to be weird”? If our answer approaches any of these things, I suggest that is first not a Biblical answer, and second that it’s not a very practical one.

Based on Scripture, the famous Westminster Shorter Catechism says Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

That’s why I ask: do our reactions to the conflict (assuming it has already happened due to whatever causes) glorify God? Do they come from a desire to make peace, make Christ look good, and thus a willingness to give up even actual “rights”?

First, could I not say the same thing about the women in petticoats and bustles?

Based on feedback I’d heard, I was under the impression that the petticoats, Amish caps and things were genuine wardrobe choices, not cosplay. I was basing that view on the word of folks who were there; others who were there evidently have a different interpretation.

Second, this was NOT an attempt to segregate ourselves or showcase our weirdness and inability to fit in. It was actually, as I see it, an attempt to join into an established tradition and find common ground with authors we don’t share much in common with genre-wise.

Again, in my challenges, I assume the conflict has already happened, before trying to go back and suggest “here’s how things should have gone.”

Let us assume that people were dressing up in Amish or prairie-romance cosplay, and that a double standard exists, and that there should be clarification about the banquet’s allowed attire (a fact about which everyone involved seems to agree!).

With that in mind, and assumed, how should we respond now?

I suggest we should take a look at why we love these stories, want to write them and promote them. Do we lean toward “counter-cultural,” plain secular reasons? Or, despite any actual dislike by others of these kinds of stories, do we want to love brothers and sisters in Christ, find common ground, and reach out?

Here is my presupposition: Fantastic stories are the default genre.

That’s why I presume that “it’s so weird” claims and actions are themselves weird — whether they come from these stories’ critics or advocates.

That’s why I presume it’s “no speculation allowed” folks who are weird, but who are still our professing brothers/sisters (mostly sisters) in Christ. Jesus died for them, died and rose to set us free from aesthetic rules that have the appearance of godliness but are of no value to restrain the “indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 3).

One worse thing we can do is read “persecution” where it may not exist, and thus commit an equal error of “withdrawing from the world” to make a “purer” counterculture — the same error we accuse Christian publishers of doing!

Perhaps worse than that would be assuming, on a personal, visceral level, that any perceived slight against spec-story fans is legalism, and condemn that legalistically.

This Thursday I hope to delve into this further. Several folks, including at Kat’s blog, have already begun suggesting a costume-party type event. That would allow more “fun” and celebration of stories, and perhaps alleviate the apparent tension (and potential unwritten rules!) at the Saturday banquet. Might we consider these?

  1. What if such an event welcomed all costumed attenders, though it is hosted by faith-fantasy-fiction fans? How could we show welcome and love to brothers and sisters (mostly sisters!) who are confused about spec stories?
  2. What if such an event was greater than a costume-ball type thing? What if authors, publishers, and Speculative Faith joined forces to host a fantasy-faith forum? Panels could discuss why we love these stories and how they are being, or could be, promoted. We could give away free books and literature about enjoying these stories “Christianly.” Perhaps best of all, market this to the people with kids. Genuine selling line: “Come one, come all, and learn at last why your [grand-]children love fantastic tales.” As my wife is fond of saying, you can do almost anything if you say it’s For the Children.
Sue Dent
Guest

Classification of policy? Really? It’s the ACFW.  The “C” is representative of a very specific brand of “C.” It’s their way or the highway. It would be nice if a more specific label were attached to describe their brand of “C” but, well, it is what it is. I’ll be discussing this in more in my Speculative Faith Guest Column on October the 5th. By the way, I wouldn’t attend any convention if I couldn’t show up as a vampire. Oh, and I’m a “C.” Just not that kind of “C.”

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