Tag Archives: fantasy

Suddenly, Mother Teresa: Writing Religion with Comedic Insight

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Mother TheresaPart of our 18 days of Tesseracts, “Mom and Mother Teresa” by Candas Jane Dorsey was published in Tesseracts 9 and plays with religion in a comedic–and yet still poignant–way.  I’m chatting with Candas about her story here as we each take turns talking about the story.

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By Jerome Stueart and Candas Jane Dorsey

Jerome: I’m revisiting “Mom and Mother Teresa” in Tesseracts 9 and laughing.  In the story, the narrator’s mother is often asking for more time with her daughter, specifically lifts to this place or that place, and her ear in order to complain about her life. It’s too much for the narrator.  But into the mom’s house walks Mother Teresa and the story takes a left turn, as her home becomes HQ for Mother Teresa’s simple plan to do the most good with all these things the Mom already has. In Dorsey’s story, Mother Teresa helps everyone take seriously the things we all believe but in ways we don’t push ourselves to actually do.  It’s like Pope Francis—actually taking seriously the Church’s stance on the poor, the needy, and ridding himself of extravagance—coming to America and telling Congress and Christians here that they need to, um, actually make the poor and the needy their priority.

Candas Jane Dorsey’s story is absurdist humour, an imaginative take on the appearance of a Real Religion, and a Real Religious Figure, in your fiction.  What would you do if Mother Teresa stopped by?  If she asked you what you were doing with all that ROOM in your house—a place that she can house 25 orphans, women with children, and single men, as well as a few nuns—what would you do?

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Faith and Knowledge: How Can We Know?

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The Awakening, Autumn Skye Morrison http://www.autumnskyemorrison.com/

The Awakening, Autumn Skye Morrison

Mary-Jean Harris writes our fourth guest blogpost for the 18 days of Tesseracts.  Her Story, “The Shadow of Gods,” appears in Wrestling with Gods: Tesseracts 18.

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Questions of knowledge and faith have occupied the thoughts of philosophers since the Ancient Greeks, and still, we struggle to have a grasp of what it really is to “know” something.

In my short story, “The Shadows of Gods,” in the Tesseracts 18 anthology, Toulouse, a young man in the seventeenth century, is grappling with ideas of knowledge of higher worlds and magic. He wants to experience these for himself so he might come to truly know about God, about what lies at the foundation of our existence. He has learned about many different religions and gods, but, until the end of the story, has not experienced the truth of any of them himself. This involves an element of faith, for how is it that we can come to know something, and how, when we experience it, do we know it’s true? First, let’s think about faith (faith in a religion, or in any power beyond the physical world).

Having faith in something is to believe in it without having a logical reason, but that doesn’t mean it’s unfounded. It can be believing in something on an intuitive level that cannot be explained by reason. It is something we experience with an inner sense, and so it is not something you can point to or describe as you would describe a physical object.

Yet even without considering spiritual experiences, can we really know anything? Of course, we can doubt that our senses give us reliable information, but most people take for granted that what they experience is a real physical world. Even if they don’t have perfectly accurate perceptions of it, they still believe that these have some sort of correspondence to the world around them.

Many philosophers have debated such issues. In particular, Descartes concluded that the only thing we know that exists is our mind, which is, in essence, a thinking thing. Everything else that we can perceive, from our own body to the planet Pluto, can be doubted. In his Meditations of First Philosophy he said, “Whatever I have accepted until now as most true has come to me through my senses. But occasionally I have found that they have deceived me, and it is unwise to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.” So if we submit to this standard of knowledge, that knowledge must be from something which we can never be deceived about, how can we know anything?

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Why I Wrestle With Gods

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Alexander Louis Leloir, Jacob Wrestling With the Angel, 1865

Alexander Louis Leloir, Jacob Wrestling With the Angel, 1865

This is the second blogpost in our 18 Days of Tesseracts and though I frequently contribute here, this one is a more personal blogpost about why the wrestling is important.  I was one of the co-editors of Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts 18.

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Liana and I are asked quite frequently why we chose the topic of “Wrestling with Gods”–who came up with the topic, why the wrestling, etc?  I think we both had an interest in religion and speculative fiction.  But when we sat down together–thousands of miles away—on the phone, we decided that we didn’t want stories of the true believers or the die-hard skeptics.  They had their ideas about religion figured out.  They would both, in some ways, be evangelical—one preaching about the saving power of Jesus Christ or God or Krishna or Buddha–and the other preaching about how deluded we all were.  No, what intrigued us were the people in the middle: the large struggling subset of believers who had doubts and questions but who still had faith.  That’s where the tension was.  Tension makes better stories and better characters.  Assured characters who had no fear and who had a God that would get them out of any situation would make for boring stories.  But characters who faced difficulties, even huge questions to their beliefs, and struggled onward–they sounded interesting.  They sounded like us.

I don’t know why Liana loved this as much as I did–I will let her tell her story to you.

But I can tell you why I wrestle with gods.

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Tesseracts 18: Wrestling With Gods Cover Reveal

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T-18-Cover-270x417-100dpi-C8Happy Bodhi Day!  Tesseracts 18 has a COVER!  We’re very excited to show you the new cover for Tesseracts 18: Wrestling With Gods, the new anthology of science fiction and fantasy from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, latest in the long running, award-winning Tesseracts anthology series.

The Tesseracts Eighteen anthology is filled with speculative offerings that give readers a chance to see faith from both the believer and the skeptic point-of-view in worlds where what you believe is a matter of life, death, and afterlife.

The work is now available as an e-book download for Amazon Kindle, exclusively, until it’s available in print in March (Canada) and April (USA) and in other e-book formats.  Keep watching for more on Tesseracts 18 in the coming weeks!  Order your Amazon Kindle e-book today–just in time for some holiday reading.

We’re incredibly proud of this anthology! We think you will be too.

Click on the cover to take you to Amazon’s Tess 18 site.

Featuring works by: Derwin Mak, Robert J. Sawyer, Tony Pi, S. L. Nickerson, Janet K. Nicolson, John Park, Mary-Jean Harris, David Clink, Mary Pletsch, Jennifer Rahn, Alyxandra Harvey, Halli Lilburn, John Bell, David Jón Fuller, Carla Richards, Matthew Hughes, J. M. Frey, Steve Stanton, Erling Friis-Baastad, James Bambury, Savithri Machiraju, Jen Laface and Andrew Czarnietzki, David Fraser, Suzanne M. McNabb, and Megan Fennell.

About the Editors for Tesseracts Eighteen:
Liana Kerzner is an award-winning TV producer & writer who was also in front of the camera as co-host of the late night show Ed & Red’s Night Party, and is currently the host/writer of Liana K’s Geek Download, heard weekly on the internationally syndicated radio program Canada’s Top 20.

Jerome Stueart has taught creative writing for 20 years, teaches a workshop called Writing Faith and has been published in Fantasy,
Geist, Joyland, Geez, Strange Horizons, Ice-Floe, Redivider, OnSpec, Tesseracts Nine, Tesseracts Eleven, Tesseracts Fourteen,
and Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead. His novel,One Nation Under Gods, will be published in Nov 2015 from ChiZine.

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For more on Bodhi Day–the Day Buddhists commemorate the Enlightenment of Buddha– see this link.

A Flood of Great Writing Techniques in Noah: (Re)-Writing/Expanding Sacred Stories

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Russell Crowe as Noah

Let me praise Aronofsky’s Noah for its fleshing out of an iconic thin narrative of Noah in the Bible and making it a story.

The story of Noah in the Bible is relatively sparse.  Noah never says anything.  God does all the talking.  In the movie, well, God may be doing some communicating, but since the narrative is told more from the ground, from Noah and his family’s perspective, Noah is the main character, making choices.

Making choices.  I think that’s an important thing to highlight.  One of the strange ironies of religious life, it seems, is that the closer we get to our God, whomever that may be, the seemingly fewer choices we get–until we are the Hand of God, the Feet of God, the Puppet of God.  I don’t think this is really the case.  But depiction in movies and books sometimes have us think characters who are devoted to their god cease to think and act based completely on the commands of God.  One should add “the interpretation of what they believe to be” between “on” and “the” in that last sentence. Because in many cases, believers have to do a lot of interpreting.

The movie holds out that question to answer.  Certainly Noah has to decide HOW he is hearing God.  He gets parts right—there is going to be a flood.  God wants him to build an ark.  The animals are going to come and get on board the boat.  After that, though, Noah is subject to some speculation and extrapolation when he can’t really hear a clear answer from God.

Aronofsky is not afraid to make God a real entity; he is not afraid to represent things in the Bible as they seem to be—the angels cast out of heaven, the unbelievably old people like Methusaleh–close to 1000 years old when the film begins.  These are fantasy elements, but Aronofsky plays them straight because believers believe them as fact.

(Full disclosure: As a Christian myself, I tend to believe most of the Bible stories as fact–since all the fantastical elements are explainable through communication and interaction with a god that I don’t fully understand or comprehend. Gods have powers.  They can do whatever they want and it happens…so angels from heaven, eternal people, giant massive floods–I’m okay with that.  It is my belief.)

Some Christians did not appreciate Noah.  At least that’s what I heard.  Over here the Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax does a good run down of comparing Christians who loved the film with those who hated it–and why.

I loved the Christianity Today response especially–thoughtful and positive. Not what I expected, but very happy.

My point: Depicting someone’s sacred scripture is never easy.  When you are given such meagre bits of story that have been idealized, and in some sense, covered up, when the original sounds like a fable or a fairy tale to begin with, where characters are not that well-drawn, you invite interpretation and imagination.  Always a good thing. But a dangerous thing.  Where your imagination filled in Noah’s story with THIS, mine filled it in with THAT.  And as we’ve talked about here before, interpretation differences fuel arguments when it comes to scripture especially.

What does Noah do right, though, as a film of a sacred story?

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Was Arjun of the Mahabharata gay, and would that matter?

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Found this great, thoughtful post on The Hindu’s Scrapbook about the notion that Arjun, a main character of the Mahabharata, might have been gay.  I thought it was appropriate to share on this blog because a) it shows how people of a faith might struggle with concepts that change that faith, b) that the speaker him/herself doesn’t believe that the changing of a character’s sexual identity has any change on the message of the faith itself, and that c) sexual identity within any religion is a touchy subject.  Concepts of Jesus being gay have aroused a lot of negativity, so why not concepts of Arjun being gay as well?  We are jarred by identity issues in deeply held beliefs or histories.

As writers we often find the flashpoints, the struggles within today’s faith, make some of the best places to write from.  While the post below–and it’s only an excerpt–does not touch on science fiction or fantasy, we can still empathize with the writer as s/he regards someone else suggesting a “re-interpretation” that has modern impacts, and modern opportunities for believers, and this struggle, perhaps, with being inclusive.

Science fiction and fantasy is going through its own bout of inclusiveness and gender identity struggles.  More and more characters, thank you, are being introduced that are not necessarily just the binary of male/female, or straight.  In comics, in games, in science fiction and fantasy, characters are becoming more representative of the full spectrum of identity–and as they do, we are uncovering more and more PAST characters, authors, historical figures who may also fall differently on this spectrum.  This may feel jarring, but for those who are finally finding representatives through history, or through literature, it can be so welcoming and encouraging.  To Northstar, Dumbledore, Batwoman, Alexander the Great, Willa Cather, Uncle Walt, James Baldwin, David and Jonathan, the Roman Centurion and his servant, and more and more, I’ll say that a few representatives are enough for me.  I don’t need the world to become gay.  I just need to be able to see them out there in the world.  Thank you for those interpretations which leave things more open and fluid in religion as well. I never want to take away someone’s true identity and give them mine, but thinking about possibilities when the door is already open allows for empathy for those who might not share the identity, and modeling for those who do.

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Homosexuality and Hinduism from A Hindu’s Scrapbook.

I haven’t really talked about many Hindu Concepts on this blog, but I was very upset after hearing this. Now just to be clear, I am a college student, and I just read up on Hinduism on my spare time. I am not an expert by any means, but that does not mean I am not knowlegable.

So yesterday, my boyfriend was telling me about a guest speaker he heard at HSC (Hindu Student Council) camp. He mentioned that the speaker talked about some people interpreting some characters in the Mahabharata as gay. He then told me that many people at the camp thought that it was very disrespectful that this idea was even being thought of and talked about. I could not find the thesis online (although I am sure it available somewhere, if someone can direct m I would love to read it), I have a feeling the character whose sexuality is in question is Arjun. (My boyfriend could not recall the name of the character.)

I just sat there and wondered, why? Why would this interpretation be disrespectful?

Again, I could not find the thesis, but being an academic thesis I would assume this person did extensive research (I am told psychoanalysis and reading in-between the lines…). I am also assuming that they do not say that Arjun (or who ever this character is) did not complete all the actions mentioned in the Mahabharata. So the question is, do these people find it disrespectful just because this person (as well as others) believes he was homosexual?

Now this is the part where I get confused. How is a homosexual character disrespectful? Even though there are many different sects in Hinduism, the one uniting principle, I thought, was Dharma. Duty. There are many different duties a person may have, one to him or herself, to their family, society, etc. Some of these duties are more important than others. Did Arjun not complete his duties in the Mahabharata to his best ability? Does a homosexual man or women not complete their duties? They have jobs and families. It is not like their homosexuality gets in the way of that….

For the rest of the post, please follow this link. 

 

For a discussion of Arjun/Arjuna as the first Transgendered Warrior, follow this link.

Bajorans and the Evolving Trek View of Faith

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Kai WinnI have to admire Star Trek for the way they evolved on matters of faith, by showing the complexity and the cultural aspects of faith, and how religion impacted society, at least in one series.

Star Trek hasn’t always been like this. Faith and Religion seem to be the target of early Gene Roddenberry design. In TOS and STNG, faith and spirituality were often shown to be merely a way to manipulate the masses (hello, Karl Marx). Both Kirk and Picard showed the natives that their gods were machines (“The Return of the Archons”) and (“The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”), usually, or fickle higher powers prone to jealousy (“Who Mourns for Adonis”, and “The Apple” come to mind from TOS), or merely keeping people young and stupid for the whim of the gods (STNG “Who Watches the Watchers?” ) or (VOY: “The Caretaker”). Worse was when a believer realized that his/her faith was empty (VOY: “This Mortal Coil”, or VOY: “Emanations”).

In STNG, Q also represented the gods at their most amoral and irresponsible. A whole slew of gods that were bored but fascinated with humans (HUMANS are the object of everyone’s curiosity… what, no god wanted to explore Betazoid culture? ) What a scary concept for a higher power.

But Deep Space Nine seemed to want to explore religion and faith a bit more deeply. True, the requisite aliens were present in the Wormhole next to Bajor, but Roddenberry wasn’t beyond saying that gods could be higher forms of life that we don’t understand. Certainly I agree.  My concept of God is that he is a much higher form of life—which would be classified as an “alien”, yes, but still God. But unlike Q, the gods of Bajor, the Prophets, care for the people of Bajor. They are higher life inside the wormhole and emotionally attached to a humanoid species.

Bajorans themselves are almost all religious, having to deal with the reality of gods who live in the wormhole. The gods intervene in history; they send little Orbs that light up and give you prophecies, and Bajoran faith has completely mixed with politics in a way that is eerily similar and yet very different than American culture today. The US may not have preachers as politicians, but they have politicians who think they are preachers, and who create laws as if God himself were speaking to them. At least Bajor is up front: it’s the Pope in charge of the world, thank you very much.

I can give DS9 a lot of stones for making this faith and religion complex.

What I think is useful for our purposes here at Tess 18: Wrestling with Gods are the following ideas, I humbly submit to you for your thoughts:

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