The Essence of Star Trek

A couple days ago, we finally got a new trailer for Star Trek: Beyond that felt a bit more like “real Star Trek.” Now, there are Trekkies who will say none of the new films are “real Trek,” but I’m not one of them. Though parts of Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) irritated me as a life-long Trekkie, overall I thought they were good stories and I’m nothing but pleased with the cast’s performances of my favorite characters (especially Karl Urban as Doctor McCoy).

The Essence of Star Trek | marissabaker.wordpress.com

image credit: my screenshot from Star Trek Online

I did, however, feel these films were missing a focus that has always been core to the idea of Star Trek. Star Trek’s mission is about exploration, science, new cultures, and ideas. It’s not a space-battle heavy type of science fiction nor was it a “crisis of the week” type of show. It’s much more thoughtful than that. The new movies engaged with ideas of this nature to a certain extent, but they were also fast-paced, explosion-heavy, and largely earth-centric blockbuster films. The first trailer for Star Trek: Beyond made it look like the new film took that to an extreme. It was so bad that Simon Peg admitted he “didn’t love it” and told Trek fans “hang in there, be patient.”

In this new trailer we get discussion about Kirk’s motivation and character. We finally see hints of exploring new worlds, engaging with different cultures, and wrestling with tough ideas. This makes me happy because, at its core, Star Trek is about people trying to do the right thing in complicated situations. Trek should engage with current cultural topics in a unique way. It should support the idea that “good” and “right” are a real things rather than abstract concepts while also acknowledging it’s not always easy to know what’s the good and right thing to do.

Here’s some examples of what I’m talking about. I could list many others (the TNG episode “Measure of a Man,” for one), but for the sake of space I limited it to three episodes. *Spoilers for all episodes below*

TOS: City on the Edge of Forever

Written by science fiction legend Harlan Ellison, “City on the Edge of Forever” is regarded by many as hands-down the finest episode in the Original Series and perhaps all of Star Trek. After Doctor McCoy inadvertently alters earth’s history, Kirk and Spock travel back to the 1930s to repair the time-line, at which point Kirk (predictably) falls for a woman who needs to die for history to play-out as it should. Edith Keeler is a social-worker who runs a soup kitchen and seeks peace for the entire planet. In the correct timeline, she dies in a car accident. If Doctor McCoy saves her life, her peace movement delays U.S. involvement in World War II.

Kirk is the product of a society with the type of peaceful, one-world government Edith dreams of and fights for. He agrees with her ideologically, but he also knows that if she lives Germany’s victory prevents the formation of his unified future-earth. The whole episode grapples with the ideas of responsibility and accountability. Letting someone die is wrong, but letting a planet’s future die would also be wrong. Which is the lesser evil? Can we allow one personal tragedy in order to prevent a global catastrophe? Those are questions we’re still wrestling with today.

DS9: In The Pale Moonlight

While not one of my favorite episodes, “In the Pale Moonlight” is a good example of what we’re talking about today. The story is set during the Dominion War, and the Federation is losing. To borrow from Memory Alpha’s description, “Captain Sisko enlists Garak’s help to ‘persuade’ the Romulans to join the Federation/Klingon alliance to win the war. Sisko unwittingly learns that to save the Federation, he may have to sell his soul and the values Starfleet stands for.” Sisko, and the audience, wrestle with the question of how far the “good guys” can or should go to win a war. He begins with “good intentions,” but they’re the sort that proverbially pave a road to hell.

As the plan becomes ever more complex, he moves from spying, to fabricating false evidence, to paying off dangerous criminals with the ingredients for biogenic weapons, and finally he becomes complicit in an assassination. But Sisko hasn’t gone off the deep end — he simply came up with a plan, received approval, and kept moving forward with sanction from the Federation. Though the assassination wasn’t part of the original plan, there aren’t any repercussions for it. Romulus declares war and the Alpha quadrant is saved. Mission accomplished. But not without great moral wrestling. The episode ends with Sisko staring into the camera ending his personal log with the words, “So I will learn to live with it…Because I can live with it…I can live with it.”

STC: Lolani

Star Trek Continues really feels like a 4th season of the Original Series, and it continues Star Trek’s rich history of dealing with complicated ethical questions and current cultural issues. In this episode (click to watch), the Enterprise rescues a frightened Orion slave girl from a damaged ship. Having been taken from her family and enslaved, Lolani’s situation is very much akin to trafficked victims here on earth. You might think freeing her is the obvious, moral thing to do, but Star Trek is never simple. The episode wrestles with other issues as well, such as whether or not Lolani’s victimization can excuse her crimes and to what extent Kirk and his people can legally help her.

Since the Orion system isn’t part of the Federation and their law demands any slaves found revert to Orion control, the Federation insists Kirk return Lolani rather than risk an international incident. Kirk initially complies, then chooses to rescue her in violation of Starfleet orders. Before he can, Lolani kills herself and her master by destroying the ship. It’s too late for his change of heart to help; for his moral core to over-ride his nation’s law. That saves the Federation from war with the Orions, but what does it do to Kirk’s soul?

I’m hoping Star Trek: Beyond and the new series coming next year continue Trek’s history of tackling complex ideas, pushing us outside our cultural comfort zones, and looking at issues and ideas from multiple angles. I want more stories that make us think while they’re entertaining us.

What (if anything) must you do to be a Christian?

Is there anything we have to do in order to be a Christian? Some will tell you the answer is “no” — that salvation is a free gift and once you accept it you’re a Christian and there’s nothing else you need to do. Others will say “yes” — that you’re not a Christian unless you keep God’s commandments and follow Jesus Christ.

The truth is that God offers salvation freely, but you have to accept the gift on God’s terms. Those terms are called covenants — agreements that involve two parties binding themselves together with oaths. On the spiritual level, God initiates covenants, establishes the terms and promises, and binds Himself to the covenant oaths. These covenants are unfailing and sure, regardless of human action. We can choose whether or not to walk in covenant with God, but the covenant, and associated consequences for sin, stand whichever you decide.

What (if anything) must you do to be a Christian? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Choose Covenant

“I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before the Lord our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today,” Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 29:14-15. Not entering into covenant with God does not mean you’re getting out of consequences for sin — it means you’re choosing a path of death (Deut. 29:18-28).
Continue reading

When Should We Value Human Life?

In the abortion debate, one of the things people like to argue is at what point the fetus qualifies as a living human being. Is it when the heart starts beating around 3 weeks? Is it when we can detect higher brain functions at at 22–24 weeks? Is it when the fetus is “viable” without the mother? Or after the baby has been born?

There’s plenty of science to indicate that a unique human entity is created either at the moment of conception or at cellar division about 24 hours later. The zygot, and then the fetus, is alive when a genetically unique cell forms that can grow, metabolize, and respond to stimuli. You can click here to read an excellent white paper on the subject written by Maureen L. Condic, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine. She concludes,

This view of the embryo is objective, based on the universally accepted scientific method of distinguishing different cell types from each other, and it is consistent with the factual evidence. It is entirely independent of any specific ethical, moral, political, or religious view of human life or of human embryos. Indeed, this definition does not directly address the central ethical questions surrounding the embryo: What value ought society to place on human life at the earliest stages of development?

I was on a pro-choice action network website, and they’re perfectly willing to admit that the fetus is alive and that it’s human (click here for the article I was reading). What they contend is that the fetus isn’t a human being yet (they distinguish “human being” from “human”). They also contend that a fetus does not have the right to live parasitically at the expense of its mother if she doesn’t want to carry to term because her person-hood and right to choose is not in dispute. They’ll then turn the argument to the “rights of the woman,” asking why we’re so ready to sacrifice her right to decide whether or not to have a baby on the altar of a fetus’s “hypothetical” right to be born.

Even at this point in the argument, you can see it really isn’t about science or objective fact. The facts are that the fetus is genetically unique, human, and alive from the moment of conception. That’s not in dispute. In reality, the question we should be asking is not, “When does the fetus become human?” but rather, “At what point do we value human life?”

When Should We Value Human Life? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photo Credit: “hello in there!” by Adrienne Bassett, CC BY via Flickr

The main leg the pro-life movement has to stand on is convincing society that we should value the life of unborn people so much that killing them is legally considered murder. We can use the science, but ultimately that’s not going to convince people to fight against abortion. People who support the legal right to terminate pregnancies know fetuses are alive — they just don’t think it matters. Our battle needs to be fought on philosophical and moral grounds.

Recent polls show that while more American’s describe themselves as pro-choice than pro-life right now, 51% think abortion should only be legal “under certain circumstances” verses 19% saying legal “under any circumstances (Gallup Polls). Getting into more detail about exactly what this means, we see 84% of Americans want tight restrictions on abortion: 25% say it should be legal in the first 3 months, and the others are divided between only in cases of rape or incest, to save the life of the mother, and not legal at all. (Marist Poll).

The Marist Poll also reports that even though only 13% of respondents favored banning abortion under every circumstance, 60% believe abortion is morally wrong. In today’s America we hate the idea of imposing our morality on other people, but we still do that every day we continue to (rightly!) maintain that murder, rape and pedophilia are wrong. Why is it so hard for us to extend that moral stand to protecting unborn life? And how far are we going to let this go? When we as a society set arbitrary limits on what makes a human life qualify as a human being, we’re on a very slippery slope. In 2011, two researchers in Australia published a paper titled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” I’ve not read the whole paper, but this is the researcher’s own succulent abstract statement of what their work is about:

Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.

While these researchers were not widely supported and later claimed their argument was taken out of context, it was a step in a disturbing trend. Informal evidence suggests college students are increasingly in favor of “after-birth abortions” up to 4 or 5 years old because they believe children that age aren’t “self-aware” yet (never mind that psychologists say children become “self-aware” between 1 to 3 years, usually 18 months).

It’s ridiculous to suggest that a fetus suddenly becomes a human being at 3 months, or at birth, or whatever age you decide to go with, but that he or she isn’t a human being a few minutes, hours, or days earlier. When you take such an argument to it’s farthest extent, you either have to believe human life is precious from conception or arbitrarily define a point at which humans are protected and before which they are not.

While we’re on the subject of valuing human life, I want to point out that a pro-life argument should never be anti-women. As one blogger who works with at-risk women points out, “Abortion isn’t so much about a woman having a choice — but a woman feeling like she has no choice at all.” While I want abortion to be illegal because I firmly believe no human being has the right to decide they can kill another, I also want to create a world where women don’t feel they have to or should have abortions. Where violence against pregnant women who want to keep their child stops. Where people are honest about what actually happens to both the mother and unborn child during an abortion. Where we consider the physical, emotional and psychological risks to the mother and stop pretending abortion is pro-woman.

It is our right and it is our duty to stand up to injustice, to speak out against moral wrongs and fight to correct them. And if we’re Christians, this is doubly the case. We’re called to “choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19). God talks about knowing His people pre-birth and calling prophets and judges “from the womb”  (Judg. 13:5; Is. 49:1, 5; Jer. 1:5; Gal 1:15). Other verses talk about Him forming children inside the womb and being involved in birth (Job 31:15; Ps. 22:9; 139:13; Is 44:2), and about in-womb children reacting like and being treated as people (Gen 25:23; Luke 1:41). For Christians to say that murder is wrong but killing an unborn child is not just doesn’t add-up. There are certain areas in which we cannot be like our culture, and this is one of them.

Firstfruits From the Rejects

All the holy days point to Jesus Christ, often in multiple ways. For the soon-approaching Pentecost — the Feast of Firstfruits — Jesus is Himself “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” because He was the first of God’s people to raise from the dead to eternal life (1 Cor. 15:20-23). He’s also the one who redeemed us, making it possible for us to be firstfruits, and He’s the reason we receive the Holy Spirit, which was first given to the New Testament church on Pentecost (John 14:26; 16:7).

On the surface, the term “firstfruits” simply refers to the first agricultural produce of the harvest season. In the Hebrew scriptures, firstfruits were offered to God before you harvested anything for yourself. This offering occurred after Passover on a Sunday morning and kicked-off the 50-day count to Pentecost (Lev. 23:1-21).

Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks or Feast of Harvest, pays a key role in God’s plan. Even churches that no longer keep the other holy days often mark Pentecost because that’s when the Holy Spirit was given to the New Testament church (Acts 2:1-4). In Leviticus 23, instructions about the wave-sheaf, 50-day count, and Pentecost occupy more than 1/3 of the entire chapter. Clearly, there’s something here we’re supposed to take careful note of.

Gleanings and Ruth

Embedded in the holy days discussion of Leviticus 23 is a peculiar verse. It doesn’t seem related to the chapter’s subject, yet it follows immediately after the instructions about Pentecost.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 23:22)

Why would God put this law in place while discussing the holy days? It doesn’t seem to make sense. It does, however, connect Pentecost with the story of Ruth. In Jewish tradition, Ruth is read every Pentecost, and perhaps that’s a clue as to why the law of gleanings is discussed here.

When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem they’re both poor and Ruth was a “stranger,” a Moabitess instead of an Israelite. She more than qualified for gleaning under the law given in Leviticus, as well as the repetition in Deuteronomy 24:19 which added the “fatherless” and the “widow” to the list of those who could glean.

Instead of just letting Ruth glean, Boaz offered her protection (Ruth 2:9), provided food for her (2:14), and told his reapers to drop grain on purpose so she could glean as much as she wanted (2:15-16). When she first meets Boaz, Ruth’s relation to him is strikingly similar to us when first encountering Christ. He is good, and wealthy, and powerful while we have nothing. We don’t deserve anything from Him, and yet He offers us blessings beyond expectation.

Opening Salvation

When Jesus died, He opened up the covenants to non-Israelites. Prior to accepting His sacrifice, we were all “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). We were the sort of people who couldn’t expect more than the gleanings.

But He answered [the Gentile woman] and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” (Matt. 15:26-27)

Jesus did honor this woman’s faith and heal her daughter (Matt. 15:21-28), but by-and-large people outside Israel didn’t have access to God before the cross. Strangers who converted, like Ruth (Ruth 1:16; 2:12), were the exception rather than the rule. That didn’t really happen until after Christ’s Passover sacrifice, His ascension to the Father on wave-sheaf Sunday (click here for a timeline), and the Pentecost recorded in Acts 2.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

Peter didn’t realize this included Gentiles until latter (Acts 10:34-35, 44-48; 11:18), but speaking by inspiration of the Spirit He still proclaimed salvation for all whom God calls. This was a huge step in God’s plan to save the world through Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 12:47), and it’s connected with Pentecost.

Redeemed Firstfruits

In the epistle of James, we’re told the Father “brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). The church is composed of the first people God will “harvest” from the world. We’re a rather unusual sort of firstfruits, though.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

God picks us up from the things devalued and discarded by the world. In other words, He finds His firstfruits among the gleanings. He’s taking people who are underwhelming and overlooked and transforming us into something glorious. Like Ruth, we were strangers who are brought into fellowship with God’s people by a Redeemer (Ruth 2:20; Tit. 2:13-14).

My Mother’s Personality Type

My mother refuses to take a Myers-Briggs test and won’t answer any questions if I try to type her. I do have my suspicions about her four-letters, but this actually isn’t the topic of my post today. One of my mom’s reasons for not learning her type is that she doesn’t want put into a box. While I do find MBTI a useful tool, I also realize it contains stereotypes that can be limiting. People are so much more nuanced than a type description. We can (and should) love them, understand them, and value their “personality type” in a way that doesn’t have anything to do with Myers-Briggs theory.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I have an incredible mother. Here’s just one example: she has this super-human ability to get angry so rarely that her wrath might as well be nonexistent. This is an invaluable gift in any situation but considering she lives with three Extroverted Feelers (an ENFJ, an INFJ and ISFJ) who tend to get stressed-out and emotionally vent (which then triggers the other Extroverted Feelers in the house) it’s a wonder she hasn’t killed us yet. Instead, she’s a peacemaker and a willing sounding-board for all the emotions we’re not quite sure what to do with. I don’t need to know her four-letter type to appreciate that.

My mother’s personality is patience, kindness, and peace. She’s one of the most truly godly women I’ve ever known. Thought it’s a little surreal to have someone who knew her when she was my age recognize me as her daughter, I can’t think of many higher compliments than being compared to her. They say girls turn into their mothers as they grow older, and that’s perfectly okay with me. I love you, Mommy.

Happy Mother's Day! and a tribute to my mother  | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Inheriting Covenants

My renewed interest in studying covenants started with a Greek dictionary. Typically, I would define covenant as  “a binding agreement between two parties,” which is a very basic description of the Hebrew word berith (H1285). For the New Testament, though, Spiros Zodhiates says diatheke (G1242) refers to “the disposition which a person makes of his property in prospect of death, i.e. his testament” and shows “a unilateral demonstration of the will of the testator.”

I’ve always been confused by the discussion about testaments in the book of Hebrews because it didn’t all line-up with my idea of covenants. Do we enter covenant with God as a mutual agreement, or are we benefactors of God’s unilateral will (whether we want it or not)? And how, exactly, do we become partakers of this covenant? After 3 weeks of study, I realized the answer is a little bit of both and that clarity for this question is found in Jesus Christ (that should have been obvious, right?) Continue reading

Thoughts on the Physicality of Christianity

I was in Michigan over the weekend for Last Day of Unleavened Bread and the Sabbath, heard some thought-provoking messages, and had some interesting discussions. One of these messages (and related discussion) touched on the role physical actions play in our Christian walk.

By itself the message I heard  would have prompted many thoughts on the subject, but taken together with a book I’ve been reading it’s quite a chunk of spiritual meat to chew on. I’ll probably write more about this topic when I’m not functioning on ~5 hours sleep and a chocolate hangover, but those are my thoughts right now.

Blocking the Light?

In the message I’m referencing, the speaker talked about Passover symbols (foot washing, bread, and wine) and said “the physical acts are irrelevant” but we keep them because they’re good reminders. That wrinkled my eyebrows a bit, but I thought I’d keep an open mind and hang in there to see where this went.

It went to Colossians 2:16-17: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” He took this and defined shadow as the absence of light, and then called the holy days that we were gathered to keep “blocked light.” The next place he took the analogy was back to the Passover, asking, “Why would Jesus partake of a shadow that’s blocking the light?” The message then jumped to saying that since “He wouldn’t do something like that” the words must function on another level, as in Luke 22:18 referring to our communion with the kingdom of God inside us today rather than an actual event in the future.

“Shadows” by pwjamro, CC BY via Flickr

Obviously I’ve oversimplified his points, but you get the basics of what I want to cover. The crux of his message rested on the idea that “the physical acts are irrelevant.” That led to talking the implication that because holy days, sabbaths, etc. are described as “shadows” they may distract us from living in the Light. But the word for “shadow” in the Greek can mean two different things, much like it can in English. You have the physical absence of light in the sense of “darkness and gloom,” and you have the metaphorical sense. For the Greek word skia (G4639), that means a foreshadowing of a full and perfect image not yet seen clearly. You have to infer the meaning from context. And when the context is discussing Sabbaths that are a key part of God’s covenants and saying that they point to Christ, I have to go with the metaphorical meaning as most likely.

Embodied Liturgy

Then on the other side of the spectrum we have the book I’ve been reading called Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith (between this and Fill These Hearts, I’ve been reading a surprising amount of truly fascinating Catholic theological works lately). I haven’t yet finished this book and it’s a deeply academic text that defies easy summary. One of his main points, however, is that humans are primarily lovers (“I love, therefore I am” rather than “I think/believe, therefore I am) and that we require embodied liturgies to aim our desires in a correct direction.

While my church does have many physical things we do as part of worshiping God (like resting on the Sabbath day, the Passover symbols, and water baptism) this particular view of physicality in worship was new to me. He seems to be prioritizing physical acts of worship over learning theology and understanding doctrines, which makes me uncomfortable, but the idea of doing what God tells us to just because He says so before we understand why does make sense. I also find the argument that we should engage with God on every level — including emotional — very compelling, especially in light of the many scriptures talking about the role of our hearts in our walk with God.

Balance

I’m thinking something between these views is probably closest to right. Yes, the physical isn’t the main point because it’s largely there to teach us more important spiritual lessons. Focusing too much on physical is one of the things that got the pharisees in trouble — you need to have a right relationship with God or it doesn’t matter how good you look on the outside or how closely you keep the letter of the law.

Still, the physical is vitally important. God created us as physical beings full of desires that He tells us to direct toward Him. If the physical didn’t matter, God wouldn’t spend so much time telling us what to do and what not to do. The state of our hearts is of paramount importance and we’re supposed to control our thoughts, but that results in physical actions. And if we’re in a right relationship with God, we’ll be walking in Jesus’s footsteps (including the physical things He did, like Passover) and keeping His commandments.

What about you? any thoughts on the role physical actions should (or shouldn’t) play in our Christian walk?

Covenants 101

I thought I had a pretty good grasp of covenants. Studying this subject for the past three weeks, though, has taught me the truth of Paul’s words: “if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:2). Covenants are so much deeper, so much more entwined with the plan of God than I’d previously realized. And so I went back to the beginning to review covenants (today’s post) before diving deeper into the subject (next weeks’ posts).

The relationships God establishes are consistently described through scripture as covenants, so to understand how God relates to people we have to study the principles of godly covenants. Hebraic understanding of covenants in the Old Testament forms the basis for understanding what a covenant between God and man involves. We need to understand that before we can even begin to get into the New Testament because Christ’s covenanting work (and the NT writers’ discussions of that) grew out of the covenants recorded in the Old Testament.Covenants 101 | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Signs of Covenant

If you read anything on covenant history in Biblical times, you’ll learn that covenant agreements involved the establishment of a relationship between two parties, an agreement on terms/promises, and sealing the covenant with some sort of sign. For the covenant with Noah, this sign was a rainbow (Gen 9:13). For most major covenants, though, the sign involved blood. Continue reading

Books That Tell Truth Through Lies

As I was going through blog posts in my inbox yesterday,  I noticed two of my fellow bloggers were writing about reading recommendations and lists. Juni Desireé was posting about the top 10 books on her reading list for this year, and Socratic MBTI offered three quick recommendations for “enriching” books to read. In the past, I’ve shared a couple lists of my own, including my favorite fantasy books, but that was way back in 2013 (I’ve been blogging that long!?!). Sounds like it’s time for another recommended books post! Fiction That Tells The Truth

Books That Tell A Truth Through Lies | marissabaker.wordpress.com

I’m taking the title of this post from one of my favorite ideas — that even though “fiction” is defined as imaginary or untrue it is, in fact, a vehicle for telling the truth.

“That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.” ― Tim O’Brien

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” ― Albert Camus

“A fiction writer weaves a fabric of lies in hopes of revealing deeper human truths.” ― Wally Lamb

That’s my favorite kind of fiction. Any good story can teach you something true about yourself or other people, but truly great stories are going to get at a “deeper human truth” than is often isn’t possible in any other form. Child-labor laws would have passed in Britain without Dickens, but would it have happened as quickly if people hadn’t read Oliver Twist? Would the phrase “Catch-22” have entered our vocabulary if Joseph Heller wrote an essay instead of a novel?

Many books exist to share truths or make us think about something we’d otherwise overlook. One of the more famous is 1984 by George Orwell, which I’ve never actually finished reading (I know, I know — I’ll go hide in the corner now). Many others teach us truths seemingly by accident while telling a story. Here are just a few examples :

*note: there will be spoilers for all these books.

The Lord of the Rings

Tolkien insisted his The Lord of the Rings trilogy was not allegorical or inspired by his personal life, but I think we can at least say that his faith (Catholic) and his history (serving in both World Wars) influenced his writings. It’s a classic battle of good verses evil that set the stage for every epic fantasy adventure written since.

Just in case you’ve escaped reading or watching LOTR, the formerly-vanquished dark lord Sauron has come back into power in Middle Earth and is attempting to regain control of a magic ring that will let him subdue all lands and people under his power.  Though there are great warriors involved in the fight, the final victory hinges on two little hobbits from the middle of nowhere who hiked a very, very long way to destroy the ring.

By taking us outside of our own world, Tolkien shares universal truths about what makes a real friendship, the sacrifices required to do the right thing, and the importance of resisting evil even when it seems hopeless. One of the truths that hits me the hardest when reading or watching Lord of the Rings is how helpless we are to resist evil on our own. Frodo was incredibly strong on an emotional and psychological level and he carried the ring longer than any other character could have, but he still couldn’t make it up to Mount Doom by himself. Sam carried him the rest of the way and Frodo still wouldn’t have destroyed the ring if Gollum hadn’t fought him for it and carried it into the fires when he fell. Even heroes are susceptible to evil’s pull and they can’t overcome alone.

Mockingjay

I’ve read the whole Hunger Games book series and just watched Mockingjay Part II this past weekend. Suzanne Collins grew up learning about military history from her father — a Vietnam veteran and history professor. She didn’t go the history professor route herself, though, instead majoring in theater and telecommunications, then earning a master’s degree in dramatic writing.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay all take a good, hard look at what the article linked above describes as “necessary and unnecessary wars.” They quote Collins saying, “If we introduce kids to these ideas earlier, we could get a dialogue about war going earlier and possibly it would lead to more solutions.” In this case, the writer approached her storytelling hoping to convey truths about and get a dialogue started on ideas relate to war.

My mother, brother and I were talking yesterday about how Mockingjay is a story that sticks with you. It’s not something you can just read/watch and move on from. This is largely owing to what is probably Collins’ least popular authorial choice — killing Finnick Odair. In the book I actually read right over his death the first time and then had to go back and figure out what happens to him. His death isn’t the driving force in a major plot point (like Prim’s death) and he doesn’t have a dying scene all of his own (like Rue does in the first book). He just dies senselessly and tragically while the action moves on without him. And that’s the point. In real life, death doesn’t always make sense or serve a specific purpose.

Ender’s Game

This book could have so easily been nothing more than a story about a futuristic society that trains children to kill aliens. But Ender’s Game was written by Orson Scott Card (one of my all-time favorite writers) and there’s much more to it than that. The real story isn’t about the alien threat — it’s about human nature.

Ender’s Game wrestles with the question of how far it’s “okay” to go when you’re at war, and it does so from the perspective of a child who’s been immersed in a militaristic system for the bulk of his formative years. Just in case the military training isn’t enough to make him comfortable with genocide, though, he’s taught the entire thing is a game — that none of the aliens will actually die if he wins.

As the story unwinds, we’re forced to confront ideas that can spill over into our own world. How violent can games become before they start affecting reality? When, if ever, are large-scale preemptive strikes an acceptable form of self-defense? What is an adult’s responsibility toward children?

Somewhat less obvious is the question of an individual’s responsibility within society. Ender was raised from a young age to think of the Buggers (this name was changed to Formics in later Enderverse writings) as enemies you must destroy at all costs. He should have been thoroughly brainwashed into believing this, and yet learning he’d succeeded in wiping out his enemy in real life rather than just in-game nearly destroyed him. He devoted the rest of his life to making others understand the Hive Queen’s perspective and trying to set things right by bringing back the Formics species. Perhaps that’s the real take-away truth from Ender’s Game — there are at least two sides (and often more) to every story and it’s not always easy to see who’s right.

Your Turn: What are some of the truths you’ve discovered in and through fiction?

Christ’s First Words

My parents tell me my first words were “Dada” and “duck.” I’m sure many of your parents also shared with your how excited they were when you first started talking, or perhaps you have kids of your own and eagerly waited for the first words to come from their mouths. We view first words as important, even on into adulthood when we meet someone for the first time. Based on the words people speak, we form ideas about their priorities, character, and motives.

Christ's First Words | marissabaker.wordpress.com

We don’t know what baby Jesus’s first words were, but we do have four gospels that record words He spoke while walking on this earth. Looking at the first words each writer records Christ speaking gives us key insight into His character and priorities. Continue reading