Saturday, October 18, 2008

A professional nerd?

Ok so I'm going to try not to edit this note and just present it as it pours out of my head. I wrote that last blog because sometimes I just can't help writing about the books I read, and the response that I got to it made me think...

One of the other things that I wanted to add to that note (but I was trying to keep it from being forever long) was that those characters all have special gifts that they try to put to good use, without seeing the redemptive value of those gifts. I wanted to add a paragraph talking about using your gifts as a way of seeking God and both opening up to and responding to grace. I am convinced that even the most random gifts and talents are avenues to God/good/etc.

So, Megan Shitama. (This is where I start lecturing myself). You are a person who loves to write essays about books you read for fun. You love both theology and reading books in Middle English. You read and routinely reference scholarly writings in which Lewis and Tolkien talk about the power of fantasy in faith formation. You fantasize about getting a Masters in Classical Lit. And while you tell everyone and their mom that you should do what you love and explore the talents that give you joy, it hasn't occurred to you that this might be, like, something you should pursue as part of your ministry?

Ok, back to first person. So I have been wandering in the desert of "what do I really want to do with my academic and professional life" and maybe this is something I should seriously consider. My calling is still to working with young people, but looking deeper into using stories to do that might be a legitimate option. Hmm...

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Do Vampires Go To Heaven?*

I have decided that if vampires existed, they would be able to go to heaven if they were killed. The Bible says that nothing can separate us from God's love. Most vampires don't choose to be vampires, and lots of them hate the fact that they are vampires, so why wouldn't grace extend to them? Even if a person chose to become a vampire, wouldn't that just be a dramatic illustration of the fact that even when you repent, you still have to deal with the consequences of your actions? Yes, I think vampires could be saved. If they existed.

I was thinking about this today, because issues of religion, salvation and faith continually pop up in books where I'm not expecting it. I'm thinking of three books in particular: The Queen's Fool, Wicked, and New Moon (which I'm reading now). Each of these books involves characters who are trying desperately to get it right.

The Queen's Fool
takes place during the English Reformation, and the heroine is a Jew caught up in the tug of war between Catholics and Protestants. The character's spiritual dilemma is whether God really cares that much about whether we believe the right way (although she's mostly trying to avoid being burned at the stake).

Wicked is set in a world without Christianity, but there is a religion that is similar in practice. In this one the main character, Elphaba, is believed to be bad because of the way she looks, and she is preoccupied her whole life with trying to be good. Even when people are trying to do good, they can still make a mess of things.

Finally, last night I was surprised to see questions about God and salvation come up where I least expected: a teenage romance about vampires. But then again, it makes sense. Lots of people have experienced the feeling of becoming something scary and not altogether good (because of anger, infatuation, sadness, lust, or werewolf genes). If I can't control myself, am I doomed?

The underlying question that pops up again and again in "secular" fiction, is this: What does it take to be redeemed? If I'm a vampire or a green witch, can I somehow make up for it by trying really hard to be good? If I follow the rules of my religion very carefully, does it matter what religion I follow? The answer that leaps out of my heartfelt conviction is that God's grace can overcome anything. Vampire, Witch, Drug addict, criminal, liar, or just plain ordinary person who makes mistakes, no one is hopeless.

So why am I spending time thinking about hypothetical theology of fictitious realities? C. S. Lewis points out that fantasy helps us to understand things about our own reality, and helps us to wrestle with difficult questions. It is so clear from our books and movies (I'm thinking of the movie Constantine as a great example) that we are so tied to this idea that we have to be "good enough" or we'll be supernaturally punished. We worry about "how good is good enough." The answer is simple but really complicated from a Christian perspective. We don't have to redeem ourselves. We open ourselves to Grace, putting our trust in God's goodness and mercy. It happens tentatively at first, like when we first begin to open up to a new friend.

As often as I see it in our fiction, I see this question with people in real life too. Regardless of religion and culture, so many of us walk around with the fear that we aren't good enough. I don't think that's what God sees. I think we are capable of good, and we each have abilities that we can use for good. There's a line in a prayer of confession that I love, "forgive us we pray, free us for joyful obedience." In Christianity, the whole idea of being forgiven is tied to the idea that when we don't have to worry about our own souls, we can apply ourselves to living well without fear of getting it wrong.

And if, according to this line of theological reasoning, a vampire could put their faith in God and try their best to not drink peoples' blood and not be damned, doesn't that give us hope too?

*Let me be clear: I am talking about fiction. Please do not debate with me about real witchcraft and the possibility of real vampires. That is a discussion for another day.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008


Well, the election is coming up fast! I know that a lot of us have questions about voting and the election process, so I have taken it upon myself to gather some information.

If you haven't registered to vote yet, there is still time, but deadlines are coming up! You can register and get other information at Rock the Vote. The deadline to register in Maryland is October 14, but it varies from state to state.

Also, if you are traveling or at school, don't forget to request an absentee ballot. Google your state board of elections, and there will usually be downloadable absentee ballot requests. Again, the Maryland deadline is October 28, but check your state's deadline, and allow time for your ballot to come in the mail.

So once you are set up to vote, the question is... who are you voting for? Don't worry, I won't tell you who to vote for (most of you know what I would say anyway), but I have found a few voter guides and references that might be helpful. A progressive evangelical organization called Sojourners, which has ties to the United Methodist Church, has a voter guide that discusses a range of topics for Christians to consider. The United Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society has also put together a very extensive voter guide that lists the UMC's official stance on different issues, and compares the stance of the McCain and Obama campaigns. Relevant Magazine also has a politics page with some info and discussion.

These resources are provided because we can let our faith influence our votes without imposing our beliefs on others. They are also intensional about raising a lot of different issues, because Christians need to remember that there is more to politics than regulating sex (abortion/gays). I hope these are helpful.