My Favorite Author: Orson Scott Card

My Favorite Author: Orson Scott Card

I’ve never read a book by Card that didn’t make me see the world differently.

Read my review of Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card on The Seven Sentence Blog.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/multimedia/orl-os-ucf-graduation-0c20120806121440,0,5561223.photo

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/multimedia/orl-os-ucf-graduation-0c20120806121440,0,5561223.photo

Something very strange and wonderful happened the other day at my graduation ceremony, aside from graduating, that is.  As I walked in the procession to be seated with the other graduating students, I wondered where, among the thousands of onlookers, my family might be.  My immediate concern was to make sure I followed the directions of the ushers directing us to our seats.  Once I was sure I was where I was supposed to be, I decided to have a look around, to see if I could spot them.  I looked up, and the very first person I saw was my husband Tim.  I thought that my eyes were playing a trick on me.  He was very far away.  Perhaps, I thought, this is just a man that resembles my Tim.  But as I scanned the people sitting in the row beside him, I saw other familiar faces.  So, it really was Tim.  Out of all those people, thousand of them, I looked immediately at Tim.  How could this be?

This reminded me of a science fiction concept invented by Orson Scott Card that resonates with me.  I’ve mentioned it in other blog posts. The Philotic Web.  The concept is explained in a Wikipedia article called Concepts in the Ender’s Game Series:

The Philotic Web is a philosophical and metaphysical construct of the Ender’s Game series of books by Orson Scott Card. The philosophy of philotes and the philotic web they create first appeared in Xenocide, the third book of the series. It describes the interconnection of […philotes].

The web is the direct result of every philotic connection in the universe. These connections never touch each other in the truer sense of the word “web,” but every being can be linked to every other being by their interconnected philotes. These philotic connections are not static, and can be strengthened or weakened over time.  As [people] spend more time together and grow increasingly more affectionate and emotionally attached to each other, their connection grows stronger and stronger.

The philotic connections spoken of in the Enderverse can grow to monumental proportions based solely on emotional and “spiritual” connectedness. […] Additionally, philotic connections can cause physical disturbance or emotional distress when severed.

This idea does have some basis in reality.  In quantum entanglement, particles can be linked in such a way that changing the quantum state of one instantaneously affects the other, even if they are light years apart.  Maybe Card’s science fiction isn’t as fictitious as it seems to be.

Have you ever experienced a remarkable moment, perceiving something beyond the ordinary means (the senses, previous knowledge, etc.)?  I call those God-moments.  And here I choose the word “moment” carefully – because it is a short but terribly significant moment, when I realize that we, humanity, know so very little of all that is knowable.  And just as soon as I become aware of the potential to tap into that knowledge, it dissolves into normalcy, leaving me feel thrilled and disappointed all at once.  Thrilled, because God created life as we currently understand it as a seed that will eventually “die” so that the seed can do what the seed does best – grow into something much greater than the seed.  Disappointed, because I was only granted a moment of perception about how profound and expansive the Light of Life really is.  Once that moment is gone, I’m left fumbling with words that seem to be entirely too awkward and limited to express a God-moment.

Have you ever had a moment when you discover spiritual truth in an unexpected way?  This happens to me when I watch movies or TV shows, hear music, have conversations with other people, or in the ordinary activities of my day.  God is always with us, and if we are sensitive to that idea, we become disciples (from “discere”meaning “to learn”) of the greatest Teacher ever. I gleaned a great deal of spiritual truth from my favorite Orson Scott Card book, Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, a fictional reworking of history.  Here is an excerpt from chapter one:

Columbus withdrew from human company that night and threw himself to his knees – not for the first time, but never before with such anger at the Almighty. “I have done all you set for me to do,” he said, “I have pushed and pleaded, and never once have you given me the slightest encouragement, even in the darkest times. Yet my trust never failed, and at last I got the expedition on the exact terms that were required. We set sail. My plan was good. The season was right. The crew is skilled even if they think themselves better sailors than their commander. All I needed now, all that I needed, after everything I’ve endured till now, was for something to go right.

Was this too bold a thing for him to say to the Lord? Probably. But Columbus had spoken boldly to powerful men before, and so the words spilled easily from his heart to flow from his tongue. God could strike him down for it if he wanted — Columbus had put himself in God’s hands years before, and he was weary.

“Was that too much for you, most gracious Lord? Did you have to take away my third ship? My best sailor? Did you even have to deprive me of the kindness of Lady Beatrice? It is obvious that I have not found favor in your eyes, O Lord, and therefore I urge you to find somebody else. Strike me dead if you want, it could hardly be worse than killing me by inches, which seems to be your plan at this moment. I’ll tell you what. I will stay in your service for one more day. Send me the Pinta or show me what else you want me to do, but I swear by your most holy and terrible name, I will not sail on such a voyage with fewer than three ships, well equipped and fully crewed. I’ve become an old man in your service, and as of tomorrow night, I intend to resign and live on whatever pension you see fit to provide me with.” Then he crossed himself. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

Having finished this most impious and offensive prayer, Columbus could not sleep until at last, no less angry than before, he flung himself out of bed and knelt again.

“Nevertheless thy will not mine be done!” he said furiously. Then he climbed back into bed and promptly fell asleep.

Today, I typed notes as I listened to Card’s lecture on various aspects of fiction writing. The analogy of God-as-author and we-as-characters is inadequate and flawed.  The main problem with the analogy is that God loves us, His very REAL non-fiction characters.  And the Plan of the Ages is so much more than a story.  Nevertheless, for people who are able to look past what doesn’t fit, the analogy is loaded with spiritual truth.  Card is an author who is very concerned with explaining why people do what they do, and as an author, he explores the human condition through his fictional characters and circumstances in various settings from familiar to alien.  I always find some spiritual truth in his books because of this. In his writing class, he explains the brainstorming processes and techniques that he uses to invent his wonderfully imaginative stories, and like his books, I also glean spiritual truths from his lessons.

I’d like to share a few excerpts from the notes I typed today.  Card’s ideas and words (my paraphrase, NOT direct quotes) are in bold.  My observations are in regular type.

If the audience is familiar with your story, they will reject it, because it has been pulled from the cliche shelf.  It is old, worn out material.  We must write stories that feel new.  We must become inventors and creators that think outside the box.  Every and any possibility is available to us, including possibilities that might bring disapproval.  You have a voice that is yours alone (the exception is echoes of your mom’s and dad’s voices that stay with you in your mind).  You don’t decide on or create your own voice.  It just happens as you tell your story, a story told only as you can tell it. You get information from your head to the reader’s head, but they will only stick around long enough to listen if it is interesting.

In spiritual matters, the institutional church has relegated God to a box, and they have so clearly defined exactly what it means and what it looks like to be a believer that there is inadequate room for a proper display of God’s creativity.  God’s imagination is limitless, and when He created human beings, He put His imagination to use.  Look at us.  We each have our own faces, fingerprints, personalities, talents, and dreams.  When God created us, He had unique “characters” in mind.  In an unfolding story, characters differ from one another and interact in certain unique ways according to the intention and direction of the author.  The story gets stuck if every character is the same and nothing new happens.  Some people get stuck in a spiritual rut, because they have allowed themselves to become slaves of the expectations of other characters who don’t approve of the author’s idea of who we were created to be and what we were created to do.  With God as our only author, we are free to take risks and have amazing adventures.  We are safe in His capable hands.  Our personal experiences, habits, gifts, and flaws are part of God’s redemptive Plan of the Ages, a story that is real and perfect.

In the first person limited point of view, the “I” is the narrator who tells the story.  The narrator easily becomes artificial and self-serving.  First person puts up so many barriers.  Plus, your main character must be the kind of person who would tell his own story.  How are you to write from the point of view of a person who has no interest in telling his own story?  There are people like that, whose stories are worth telling.  How do you tell what a hero he is without making him seem like a pompous twit? (Example: The character as narrator says, “I bravely marched forth… blah, blah, blah) First person point of view fiction can be written, but it can’t be easily written, and it is often written unsuccessfully.  The first person narrator can be a liar without the reader even realizing it.  He can tell it all, from past to present to future, but purposely withholds information from reader.  The narrator is harder to ignore, and without the author’s intention, he pulls focus away from other characters that are important to the story.

In telling a story, don’t use the second person limited point of view.  The narrator is bossy.  Save this for cookbooks and instructions.  

In the third person limited point of view, “he” or “she” tells the story.  The third person limited point of view is far more immediate than first person.  The narrator only tells us what has happened up until the present moment in the story, not because he is withholding information, but because future things haven’t happened yet for the characters.  There’s a reason third person limited point of view has been the absolute dominant force of fiction for a thousand years.  The third person narrator isn’t a liar (if you want to write him as a liar, this is very difficult to pull off, and most readers won’t stick with a story like this).  By and large, the narrator in third person is reliable.  The narrator is easy to ignore and readers are free to focus on the characters and the story.

There is some spiritual significance to the idea that our lives are best lived from an other-centered, not self-centered perspective, similar to the idea of a story being best told from a limited third person, rather than first person perspective.  If a person is constantly looking inward and describing the worthiness of his own actions to others, pointing out his own clever approach to life, and drawing attention to his own thoughts and feelings about everything, his life becomes artificial and self-serving.  He puts up barriers between himself and others.  He leaves no room for the other’s stories to become important or influential.  The “readers” of his life have a more difficult time experiencing the Author’s “story”, because his self-appointed position of importance becomes such a distraction.  

However, if the Author is the one drawing attention to a person (as in third person limited perspective) instead of that person drawing attention to himself, the “readers” will see that the person is reliable.  During those seasons of the “character’s” life when the people in his circle of influence need to understand how his story and their stories are woven together as part of God’s Plan of the Ages, the “character” isn’t a source of distraction.  Jesus said that whoever humbled himself, like a child, would be greater in the Reign of God.  If we apply the author analogy to this concept, we could say that a life lived in a third person limited perspective point of view (an authentic, outward focused viewpoint, like a child who does what says and does only what the Author has appointed for him to say or do) will be more influential and more important in the Reign (“plot”?) of the Author.

Dramatic irony is more powerful than suspense; suspense is more powerful than surprise.  They are all valuable.  With dramatic irony, readers know far more than the character about the danger ahead; with suspense, readers know what the character knows and that “something” is going to happen; with surprise, readers know enough about the activity the characters are involved in, but readers don’t know that anything is about to happen. 

The spiritual truth in this is simple, but anyone without eyes to see and ears to hear just won’t get it.  If you, reader, just don’t get it, it’s not because you are stupid or inadequate or any other negative thing; you don’t get it for one of two reasons.  1. I am seeing spiritual “truth” where there is none. 2. God, for whatever reason, has decided that you are not to understand this particular concept at this particular time.  If there is a third possibility, I am not aware of it.  Needless to say, I will not put forth a lot of effort into explaining something in order to give people understanding that only God can give.  So without further ado: Dramatic irony, suspense, and surprise (in that particular order) can be compared to the spiritual “story” awareness appointed by the Author to the barley, wheat, and grape harvest “readers” (also in that particular order).  “Each in his proper order, a first-fruit Christ, afterwards those who are the Christ’s in his presence, then – the end when […] he may have put all the enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor. 15)

Card throws the eraser at workshop attendant, who catches it.  Why does he catch it?  Because Card threw it (mechanical cause) at him and because Card wanted to make a point (motivational cause) about causes.  Watch the news and see to whom the news assigns mechanical causes and to whom the news assigns motivational causes.  The difference between people (motivational causes) and animals (mechanical causes) are assigned in this way. You will be amazed at how the media subtly labels various people groups as “people” or “animals” in this way.

I’ve not had the opportunity to test this idea, and consequently, I don’t see spiritual truth in Cards idea (yet).  But it is a very interesting concept that I wanted to share.  Be sure to share your feedback if/when you test it.

That’s all for today!  Be sure to check back tomorrow, as I will be posting a new blog about my Greensboro experience each day this week.  (Saturday’s blog will be posted Sunday since Saturday I won’t have internet access on the trip back to Florida.)

I have a story to write ASAP, so I can’t take too much time on today’s blog.  Yesterday we were assigned (during a 15 minute break) to write a nonfictional account about an hour from the past week of our lives in a third person limited point of view.  This is what I wrote:

The participants of the storytelling workshop in the memory care unit of the nursing home always forgot Alice, a creative writing student at UCF, from one week to the next.  Her usual routine was to reintroduce herself at the beginning of each session.  She expected that when she announced that this would be her last week, the participants would not treat her as though she had been a part of their lives for over a year and a half.  But that day, Alice learned something about the nature of memory, because when she announced that this would be her last week, that she was going to be working with a different group at another nursing home, the participants became very solemn and nostalgic.  Of course, they were unable to conjure up specific memories of her time with them, but all the emotion was there.  There had to be some sort of unconscious, emotional memory at work, even though the conscious, logical memories had long since disintegrated.  Alice made a mental note, for research purposes, of the phenomena she witnessed that day, but more than this, she tucked the moment away in her heart as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and how Alzheimer’s, as destructive as it is, can’t kill love.

 

I’ve been typing feverishly all day, and I’ve only come up with ten pages so far. I suppose that this is a lesson in stressful deadlines for writers 🙂 Consequently, I have another copy and paste sample of the work I’m doing this week. This is the first paragraph of my currently untitled fiction story that will be on the table for scrutiny sometime between tomorrow morning and Saturday.

A fondness for distant ships and a mutual enthusiasm for imagination knit the lives of Ethel Ravenhill and Judah Manzy together, a friendship born in the designated swimming area of the Ponce Inlet waters. Their favorite game was to name each ship according to the invented land from which it had come and to describe what magical properties the inhabitants of that land possessed or the strange and wonderful adventures the inhabitants had. Ethel and Judah comforted each other in hard times by making plans about how they might find their way to one of their make-believe lands. Judah suggested that they could sneak away on a dark, clear night, climb a very tall tree, taller than Jack’s Beanstalk, and lasso a shooting star. Ethel didn’t like that idea, because they might have to hold on to the rope for hours or days before it was safe to let go. Every time Judah thought of a new plan, Ethel would find a reason why his plan wouldn’t work. Likewise, Judah found flaws in Ethel’s plans. In this way, their plans grew more and more elaborate until they believed they had exhausted every possibility and stopped playing the game. But one possibility that neither of them had imagined was that they didn’t need find a way to travel to the land of their dreams, because it would come to them.

O.S.Card said something today that really got me thinking:

“Writing is like brain surgery.  You’re putting memories directly into people’s brains.  Injecting memories directly through their eyes.”

Although comedy writing was the context in which Card used these words, the same words really could be applied to all forms of writing, and, in fact, applied to all forms of communication with a bit of variation in metaphor.

Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life [are] in the power of the tongue…”

There are words that produce life and words that produce death.  I wonder what would happen if everyone thought of their words as “brain surgery” to their hearers?

Imagine a brain surgeon using a chainsaw instead of a scalpel.

Our words may be a life-giving tool or a deadly weapon.

“In the Hebrew Scriptures there is no word for spiritual. And Jesus never used the phrase spiritual life. Because for Jesus and his tradition, all of life is spiritual.  Everything is spiritual.” – Rob Bell

Have you ever had a moment when you discover spiritual truth in an unexpected way?  This happens to me when I watch movies or TV shows, hear music, have conversations with other people, or in the ordinary activities of my day.  God is always with us, and if we are sensitive to that idea, we become disciples (from “discere”meaning “to learn”) of the greatest Teacher ever.

Today, I typed notes as I listened to Card’s lecture on various aspects of fiction writing. The analogy of God-as-author and we-as-characters is inadequate and flawed.  The main problem with the analogy is that God loves us, His very REAL non-fiction characters.  And the Plan of the Ages is so much more than a story.  Nevertheless, for people who are able to look past what doesn’t fit, the analogy is loaded with spiritual truth.  Card is an author who is very concerned with explaining why people do what they do, and as an author, he explores the human condition through his fictional characters and circumstances in various settings from familiar to alien.  I always find some spiritual truth in his books because of this. In his writing class, he explains the brainstorming processes and techniques that he uses to invent his wonderfully imaginative stories, and like his books, I also glean spiritual truths from his lessons.

I’d like to share a few excerpts from the notes I typed today.  Card’s ideas and words (my paraphrase, NOT direct quotes) are in bold.  My observations are in regular type.

Writers tend to retreat from the scene that really ought to be written.  This can happen as a character flashback or narrative digression.  If you find yourself doing this, ask yourself, what is so important about the scene that I want to retreat from it?  This is the very thing you need to write.  This is what is powerful and interesting to the reader.  (And on a funnier note, if you want to make a character throw up, it is probably because you are hiding from writing a real scene.)

When I first began to notice inconsistencies and believability problems with spiritual concepts that I had always assumed were true (because the institutional church said so), my natural inclination was to retreat.  I was afraid explore, because what if I actually found something that clearly contradicted beliefs that were foundational to my understanding of Who God is or what God does?  What would my church friends think of me, if I were to challenge the “truth” of the pastor or highly respected elders?  Does God approve of “dangerous” critical examination of orthodoxy?  Am I allowed to do that?

As it turns out, God wouldn’t have it any other way.

Consequently, I have learned to recognize that when someone introduces an idea and I have the urge to retreat from it, I stop and ask myself why.  What is so important about the idea that I want to retreat from it?  This may be the very idea I need to explore.  This may be an interesting and powerful concept that God, the author and finisher of faith, wants me to understand.

The real question, then, is do I trust God enough to keep me from serious spiritual misdirection?  If the idea turns out to be false or corrupt, do I trust Him to keep me from embracing it in ignorance?  And what if I get it all wrong?  Do I trust God to set the record straight?  Do I believe that His love for me does not depend on me having an accurate understanding of everything?

Someone can be a brilliant writer, but if there is no story, that talent is wasted.

A pastor can be a brilliant speaker and natural leader, but it doesn’t mean he has the final say on what you ought to believe.

Christians can build magnificent churches and put on a high quality Sunday morning show, but if there is no hope in their message, why bother?

God can create billions of unique human beings, but if there is no hope, His creative act was a waste of time.

If you write, “She was sure that…” or “She believed that…” from the point of view of that character, you are actually introducing doubt.  If you are giving directions to someone of how to get to your house, you don’t say, “I’m sure that you turn right on Holden” or “I believe that you turn right on Holden”, and if you did, people would think that you don’t know where you live.

I think that this one speaks for itself.  There are times when we ought to say, “I believe ___” but we don’t.  And there are times when we ought to say just say, “___” but we add, “I believe” to it.  The trick is knowing when to recognize that you are a fallible human being, and knowing that there are some truths about Who God is or what God does that transcend our innate ability to screw things up.

If you have a character that is supposed to play a minor role and the character keeps becoming more important to the story than originally planned, don’t let the character just take over the story, go back to your original story plan and rethink it to include the minor character as a major character.

If you have an acquaintance that has a minor role in your life, and the he or she keeps becoming more important to your spiritual journey than you expected, don’t let the him or her just take over your spiritual journey, go back to who God created you to be and what God created you to do, and consider how God may want to include him or her in your spiritual journey.


 

Today was our final day.  My son, Seth and I both had our stories reviewed by our peers and by Orson Scott Card.  I can’t speak for Seth, but for me, it was a lesson in humility.  I went into it believing that I had a decent short story.  Sure, it needed some polishing, but overall it was clear and meaningful.

By the time the response was over, I realized that the story in my mind was very unlike the story they read.  This isn’t the reader’s fault, it’s the writer’s fault.

For example, I wrote one character in such a way that readers would feel sympathy for him.  The character believed he was stupid, not because he actually was stupid, but because he lived in a world that told him he was stupid.  Somewhere in the communication of the idea from my mind to the text and into the reader’s mind, they understood that either this character actually was stupid, or the narrator was racist – the character was a black person in the late 19th century south.  I had an alien in my story who “killed” a human character, an old man – the town drunkard.  But it was only supposed to seem like murder to other humans.  In the alien’s version of the story, the man simply changed locations and form.  He was very much alive and well and instantly freed from his addiction.  The alien had invited him into an alternate universe.  But my readers were angry at the alien and didn’t seem to have a clue that the old guy was just fine.  Obviously, I didn’t write what I meant to write.

But really, that’s not what this blog is about.  It’s just a set-up so that you’ll be better able to understand what mattered most to me about this experience.

My initial reaction was to feel angry.  I was justifying myself, in my mind, as a writer.  The readers were wrong, and I was right.  They must not have taken the time to read it closely.  They must have been sleep-deprived and grumpy, after a long week of writing and reading.   It couldn’t actually be that I had written something so unsatisfying or inadequate.

And then I remembered how easy it was for me to recognize the mistakes of other writers during the week.  This story doesn’t make any sense, I said to myself, as I read their work.  I hated characters I was supposed to like.  I liked characters I was supposed to hate.  It was so easy for me to find believability issues, language difficulties, verb tense problems, pronoun confusion, etc. in the short stories written by my peers.

During the reader-response portions of this boot camp, we let each other know what was or wasn’t working in the story overall, page by page, and sometimes even line by line.  Regardless of the quality of the writing, boot campers in the room were respectful, and for the most part, attentive.  But like any long, round-table meeting, there were also little distractions like people checking their cell phones, fidgeting, breaking for drinks or snacks, smoking, joking.

There was one story that, in my opinion, was unredeemable.  I figured it would be better to trash the idea and come up with a new one.  The time and effort involved in rethinking and salvaging it seemed like a humanly impossible task, and there wasn’t enough good material there to make it worth the effort.  Of course, I didn’t say that to the author, but that’s honestly how I felt.

Then, something magical happened.  Card retold the misunderstood, miscommunicated story, discarding the parts that didn’t belong and expounding on the parts that mattered most.  In that moment, there were no distractions.  Everyone had a clear view of the story the author meant to write.  And it worked.  It mattered.  The story was compelling.  It was a story worth telling, even if the author had to invest a lot of time and effort in learning how to write it.  In Card’s retelling, the heart of the story hadn’t changed.  It was the same story, only now it was understood.

Card’s advice was, “Your  job isn’t to make readers feel something, it is to make readers understand what is happening.”

A person with flaws is teachable.  A person with flaws who is too proud to see them, isn’t so teachable.  I accepted that Card and the other readers were right about my story.  I’m confident that I will eventually learn how to communicate fiction so that readers understand it.

Here’s the spiritual truth that is so evident to me, because of my experience today:

People sometimes write one another off as unredeemable, as if it would be better for God to just give up on them.  The reason we feel this way is that it really is a humanly impossible task to redeem someone who doesn’t seem to have anything good in them.  The thing is, it is actually humanly impossible for anyone at all to be redeemed.  Redemption, in its highest form, isn’t meant to be a human task.  Redemption is the work of Christ.

Just as Card retold the misunderstood, miscommunicated story, God retells our stories.  If we are the authors of our own stories, then it is inevitable, as fallible human beings, that we will tell it all wrong.  We’ll purposely make people believe we loved when we really hated.  We’ll accidentally make people believe we hated when we really loved.  We’ll make the heroes in our lives look like villians and the villians heroes.  The story God intends to tell, retold by us, is a mess.  But if the author and finisher of our faith tells our story, then everyone will have a clear view.

Every human life is compelling, a story worth telling, even if the Author has to write it in His own blood.

 

My son and I just completed Uncle Orson’s Writing Class, a two day lecture and practical application course on fiction writing given by my favorite author, Orson Scott Card.  During the afternoon session, one of Card’s remarks about the failed television series, Heroes, struck me.  (This is my paraphrase of what he said:) “Syler, the evil villain, took over the series.  They over-relied on him.  We don’t want to spend time with repulsive human beings.  We want to spend our time with the protagonist, and if we don’t, then the protagonist is not well written.”  His comment grabbed a fist full of my spiritual brain because of its universal implications.  How often do we allow the Sylers in life, whether they be a crappy set of circumstances or an angry person with too much power or even our own mistakes, to take over our story?  Do we over-rely on what ails us as the source of meaning in our lives?  How often do we think that when this, or that, or the other thing happens, THEN we will be happy?  Are we spending too much time with the repulsive villain?  Card said that we want to spend our time with the protagonist.  Why is that?  Who is the protagonist in our lives?  Ourselves?  God?  What do we think of ourselves?  What does God think of us?  Imagine your own inner dialogue: “I’m pretty good at this… I wish I was… I should not have… He is stronger than me… I’m an idiot… She’s prettier than me… They don’t approve of me… I’ll never… I always… I can’t…”  There is much more to say about this, but I must keep this blog short, since I am traveling very early in the morning.  Perhaps reader’s thoughts and comments can make up for my brevity today.

Locke and Demosthenes.  The two names for some, conjure up the concept of philosophy because of the great thinker, John Locke and the Greek statesman, Demosthenes.  But for Orson Scott Card fans, Locke and Demosthenes are the pseudonyms of Ender (Andrew) Wiggins’ siblings, Valentine and Peter.  The two super-intelligent children get “citizen’s access” to the net and pose as adults who argue back and forth over politics on the nets.  They decide ahead of time what their arguments will be, with Peter’s pseudo-persona winning the arguments.  Eventually, Peter takes over the world.

I have no interest in taking over the world, and it is just as well, because if I did, it would be an exercise in disappointment since I don’t have that kind of influence.  However, as a blogger, it delights me to no end to see people talking, batting ideas around, asking hard questions, passionately defending what they believe to be the true answer to those questions.  The blogosphere is a like a cool breeze blowing the multicolored leaves of possibility compared to a hot, suffocating theological car.

When I read other writer’s blogs, I always read the comments, because to me, the comments are often as enlightening as the blog itself.  Granted, more often than not I strongly disagree with either the blog or the comments, but when one is exposed to a view not their own, one can better understand the human experience.  Here are some recent blog comments that I appreciate and want to highlight, a pat on the back for the Lockes and Demostheneses out there and encouragement for all those who read but never comment.

Test Everything, Hold on to What is Good – Michael H. says:

I agree it’s time to expose the false math of the established church.

Good news = Most will be lost?

Mercy, love, and justice = Eternal suffering

When the church says most will be lost, what they are really saying is that the death Adam brought in the garden is BY FAR more powerful than what Christ did at the cross.

Zero faith in Christ disguised as faith

What is the abomination of desolation? We must first know what is made desolate. A non existent temple in Jerusalem? No, the sacrifice of Christ is what is made desolate, empty, and worthless, but by what?

Good news = Most will be lost

and

Mercy, love, and justice = Eternal suffering

The sacrifice of Christ is made desolate by church decree, and these doctrines represent zero faith in the power of Christ disguised as faith

The scripture, “Oh death where is thy sting, oh grave where is thy victory,” according to the church and their own doctrine should read, “Oh death thy sting is great, oh grave thou shalt be full.”

Simple math reveals what the abomination that makes the sacrifice of Christ desolate is, and Jesus said it would be found in Daniel yet no one knows what it is. Why? Because it points directly at the church. Where? Daniel 3:1-6

Bow down to our false image of god or burn in the fiery furnace.

Notice a key observation that is completely overlooked about this king of Babylon: Nebuchadnezzar erected this false image of God AFTER being converted and becoming a believer in Daniel’s God when Daniel interpreted the kings troubling dream.

Nebuchadnezzar symbolizes BELIEVERS!! You now know who the Babylon of Revelation is. Babylon = confusion by mixture

Confusion by mixture = Good news = Most will be lost and Mercy, love, and justice = Eternal suffering

The Non-Judgmental Search Engine – Wendy says:

Universalism does not eliminate Judgement, in fact, it raises the bar. And this is according to Christ who warned ‘ believers’ several times they will be judged and punished if necessary. In God’s Kingdom, there is no favoritism. Everyone will be judged.. For all face the judgement seat and be held accountable for the good and the bad they do…Luke 12:47, 1 Pt 4:6, Rom14:10, Col 3:25.

First or Last – Rachel says:

I do not think that universalism takes away from anyone’s free will and I will tell you why…I have been volunteering at a school working with kids who have behavioral problems. Many of the kids have a terrible home life and have no idea what it is to be cared for, to be loved unconditionally. Most of my time is spent working with those who are having the hardest time. The thing that I have discovered about these kids is that love and trust are foriegn concepts to them. Once they realize that I really do love them that they can trust me, they began to soften. I do not force them to do so, that would not be possible. Once they begin to trust in my love for them they want to change and be someone who is worthy of that love. Their behaviors reflect this.

I think that is the way with nonbelievers. I cannot imagine anyone refusing the love of God once they are aware of its existence.

Still Waiting on the Proof, Smarty – Sean Dean says:

Love ya. Still don’t get it. Too many angels on that pin for me to count…….

Pagan Gems and Christian Fluff – Sisterlisa says:

I think that is a good way of explaining it. And for folks who are not familiar with the language in which you described it, I believe there are others who can explain it in a way they can relate to. Relational. It’s all relational. If we can’t effectively find a way to relate to people, how will we ever come to understand one another? When we take the time to listen and discuss things with others then we miss out on identifying that they really do get it. Then we miss out on some spectacular friendships. They just may not have come to understand the Divine Truth in the same way we do through Christian lingo. God speaks to people through various ways. People from all walks of life have come to understand sacrificial love and the Divine can express that love of his for them in a way they can relate to. Even if they never hear the English translation of the name “Jesus” or even if maybe they had a very poor representation of who Jesus is, He can still get people to understand him. If we think He can’t express his love for them, they we have a small limited view of his power. I also find that some folks who say they don’t believe Jesus is the way, have gotten a carnal limited explanation of who he is and what he does. So I don’t get too caught up in the popular key phrase lingo that many Christians put out. When we speak in terms of spiritual concepts, they get it…or maybe they had gotten it a long time ago and “we” missed that.

The Church Has Left the Building – John Dean says:

Alice, I knew Lanny well many years ago. He is well grounded in the Scriptures and will be a good, if you will excuse the term, “Devil’s Advocate.” I think both of you make some good points. Mary adds some balance to the whole discussion. Like you, I have been hurt by the church, so I have not commented too much here because I feel that there may be some bias in anything I might have to say. One thing I am certain of is that all of you love the Lord. I think continued discussion with everyone considering what the other person has to say will lead to a fruitful discussion on your blog.

Right now, I am devoting a good amount of time studying the Bible to help me get a better perspective on my own life. I don’t agree with all you write, but I do know your heart. When I feel the time is right, I’ll add more detailed comment to your very interesting blog. Be like the Bereans. Keep searching the Scriptures, depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance and He will help you.

The Four Horsemen – Lanny A. Eichert says:

Metaphorical language is not the same as “code” in which there is one-to-one correspondence between a symbol and what it represents. Metaphorical language expresses what can’t be expressed using ordinary language, what is beyond ordinary categories of thought, you wrote.

Tell me then, if there’s no one-to-one why can there not be other interpretations of this metaphorical language that are equally as valid as yours regarding details and concepts?

Do you realize Alice left us in a situation where we are without the context of her interpretation of the first four seals? This fifth seal occurs AFTER the first four. Does your interpretation account for the activities of these having happened? How do you view the first century of John’s time as characterized by (1) multiple nations conquering each other in extraordinary numbers and activity? And (2) extraordinarily high murder rates among nations? And (3) extraordinary world-wide famine excepting oil and wine? And (4) extraordinary high death rate by war, starvation, natural causes, and animal attacks limited to a specific quarter of the earth’s surface? These characteristics MUST first BE in place before the martyrdoms occur. Maybe you have a non-literal explanation for each of these that actually minimizes the literal language and allows it to fit first century Roman occupation?

I’m not going to jump through hoops making these all symbolic representations of some things I have brilliantly interpreted, but I’d rather take them simply literal knowing that such extreme things haven’t yet occurred in human history which then allows for a REAL show of God’s vengeance that makes the statements of the lack of human repentance truly astounding. Again John wrote that he was told to “come and SEE” and he SAW four literal horses, each a different COLOR. John was given the interpretations of these four horses and we aught not to change those interpretations and the same holds true for the rest of the Revelation. Leaving it there makes good sense of the lack of the word ecclesia (church) in the rest of the Revelation and easily puts these martyrs beyond the age of the church on the earth meaning they are NOT Christians which validates their cry to be avenged as Messianic Israelites seeking the literal Kingdom promised to them since Abraham. Please keep in mind that the Tribulation is preparatory to the literal Millennial Reign of Christ, all of which is for the benefit of Israel, God’s chosen people. Christ’s Church is NOT God’s chosen people. Christ’s Church is not in the Tribulation; it is in Heaven during the Tribulation. Therefore the martyrs could NOT be church age Christians.

Donuts for the Duck, Duck, Damned – Mary Vanderplas  says:

I am still of the mind that some people may not be saved, that they may spend eternity (or perhaps some period of limited duration?) in alienation from God and others – not as a result of some divine decree by which they have been deemed objects of God’s hatred and rejected beforehand (which I find unbiblical and abhorrent) but as a result of their choosing by their persistent actions to forsake the positive relationship with God for which they were created. And I still do not see this as being fundamentally incompatible with the message of God’s love for all and desire that all be saved or with the message that salvation belongs entirely to God. As I’ve said before, there is a paradox in scripture of complete divine sovereignty and human responsibility that I believe must be preserved and not “explained away,” lest God be reduced to our size and lest we be reduced to other than the responsible agents we were created to be.

I can appreciate your desire to fill all of the holes, to construct an airtight theology, but to do so while ignoring or explaining away a sizable part of the biblical revelation, as you do, seems indefensible to me. I don’t disagree that there are texts which speak of universal salvation and unlimited atonement, of which 1 Timothy 2:3-6 is one, but there are other texts – more than a few of them – that speak of limited, conditional salvation, which I don’t think can be easily ignored or explained away. And it is a big stretch, in my view, to interpret the ending of the text you cite as a clear reference to people coming to faith at different times, in different “ages.”

Still, though, I think that what can be said is that God is able, if God chooses, to triumph over the human will to persist in rebellion and that therefore in the end what God has done in Christ may well overcome all human resistance, with the result that everyone is saved. I can’t rule out this possibility, anyway. And, as the president of the school I attended said recently, erring on the side of “salvific generosity” in one’s theology seems preferable to embracing a “stingy orthodoxy.”

I have a hard time understanding how anyone who is Christian can affirm a theological position premised on God’s hatred for his human creatures. Whether one is a “crazy Calvinist” or only a half-crazy (?) one, this theology is a hideous perversion of the message of scripture, which is that God is so crazy about us that he stopped at nothing to make us his own.