Christ's Glory, Not Mine

Devotions, advice, and book reviews from science fiction author Andrea Joy Graham

Subtle Evangelists v. Explicit Christ-Followers

As a Christian writer, I want to make a positive spiritual impact on my readers. Some insist the best way to do this is to hide my beliefs while trying to subtly influence the reader’s beliefs. As I understand the Bible, a faith that is hidden can’t touch anyone in a way that will draw them closer to God. What can touch people is a plain-spoken, humble faith that is neither fake nor forced but lived out naturally. When we do that in any setting, the only non-Christians we’ll offend are folks too hardened for the Holy Spirit to draw them by any means. In my experience, aside from those guys, it’s Christians you most have to worry about offending.

That said, the Bible does present one potentially subtle form of Christian story telling known as the parable, which is an allegory with a religious symbolic meaning. My Web Surfer books have at their core a modern version of Christ’s parable, “I am the vine and you are the branches,” which were familiar and common place to a first century audience.

In modern times, computer networking and blood-borne retroviruses are handy models to show what God is like in an entertaining fashion. I went beyond what is available now to co-opt the Singularity, an artificial intelligence that humanists expect to build and place messianic hopes in. In the Web Surfer universe, this entity is an AI-Human, fully AI and fully Human, who rejects being worshiped to follow Christ. Sander is a flawed model of the Trinity who struggles to be faithful to his calling to reign over cyberspace as Christ’s ambassador, since he knows the price: persecution and tragedy. These are touched on in Users of Web Surfer, a collection of ten shorter works, and fully played out in the novels.

Parables aren’t necessarily always subtle. The God that Sander serves is explicitly a real presence in the Web Surfer books, one I’ve sought to represent as faithfully as possible.

Further, even when they are subtle, parables are for people with ears to hear. Before a parable can touch an unbeliever, they have to be able to figure out what it means. The atheists I’ve heard from feel like Christians who write subtle are trying to trick them. No one likes to be tricked. If we don’t want to rudely cross that boundary, it’s best to be direct, respectful, and to wait until they indicate interest in hearing our logical, rational case for Christ’s existence with an open mind.

In fact, most humans prefer it to be made clear up front what philosophical, political, or religious perspective a media item takes. This lets us make an informed decision whether we’re interested in being “reached,” persuaded to switch to an opposing viewpoint. If we’re not interested, with a few vocal exceptions, the question becomes whether the story is good enough to merit overlooking that. If it is, we will read to the end, then we will go on with their lives with what we’ve read having made little or no impact on our beliefs.

Christians know this when we’re evaluating materials advocating non-Christian beliefs, but we seem to forget it when we’re producing materials advocating Christian beliefs. I suspect this is because it pokes holes in our “evangelism” excuse for writing to please a market where we’ll make more money.

If God has called someone to write fiction for evangelism purposes, that fiction’s target audience is open-minded unbelievers. It’s only a bonus if anyone else tolerates or enjoys the religious content. This is most effective if it organically arises due to the POV characters being “seekers of Truth” who find Christ near the end of their full story lines and convert for believable reasons in a non-canned way. It’s also wise to have an external conflict that can be enjoyed by anyone who reads the book’s genre. This audience seeks Truth from non-fiction and reads fiction for sheer pleasure. However, everyone appreciates a hero we can personally relate to who is doing cool stuff.

Of course, there is another option: pre-evangelism fiction.

Effective pre-evangelism fiction would feature a non-Christian POV character with a problem they solve with the help of a Christian who is quietly living his or her faith in front of them. Alternately, the Christian could be the POV character’s adversary. Either way, due to the Christian character showing the POV character love and respect while living out his/her faith, the POV character changes from being indifferent or hostile to Christians to respecting them without changing his or her own beliefs. Christianity isn’t even on the POV character’s radar as a possibility until the end. Fiction may be more suited for pre-evangelism than evangelism, but if God has called anyone to that, do it.

Andrea  Graham studied creative writing and religion at Ashland University, has been envisioning fantastic worlds since age six, and has been writing science fiction novels since she was fourteen. She’s signed a contract for her Web Surfer books with Helping Hands Press and has co-authored novels that were primarily by her husband, Adam Graham. She encourages readers at and offers assistance to writers at Andrea  and Adam live with their cat, Joybell, in Boise, Idaho.

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Finding Roses Amist Thorns

Christians like to argue over the nature of the thorn in the flesh, whether it’s physical disease or a demonic assault. My response: who says we can only have one thorn in our flesh? I have several of the chronic illness sort.

Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormone problem that can cause depressive moods. On top of that, I have inattentive-type ADD, which can cause meltdowns, especially if I get over-stimulated, and I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which again has triggers that can cause me to regress back to the way I thought as a child. When that happens, I’m stuck thinking like an ADD child/teen in meltdown, while also under the influence of the imbalanced hormones of an adult woman with PCOS.

These storms never hit me as a freak, random accident of biology. We have an enemy who knows our flesh’s weaknesses and how to attack us in ways that exploit those flaws. We further ultimately inherited them from Adam and Eve, who’d been corrupted by eating fruit the enemy sold them. So, yes, my thorns can be described in medical terms, but there is a spiritual war going on, too. With God fighting on our side, if we take refuge in the Lord, the enemy is little more than a thorn in our sides.

Rather than talk down to you, I’m going to assume you already know about the full armor of God. Even strong Christians can struggle with “thorns in the flesh” they’ve asked God to remove and God hasn’t. Some can’t understand why God would ever refuse to heal his child for any reason but that the child lacks enough faith. These folks tend to mind what the devil’s doing too much and mind what God’s doing too little. The reverse is possible, too, as it can be hard for the human mind to see affliction as simultaneously both the enemy out to kill, steal, and destroy and God testing us with fire. Any time God doesn’t deliver us from the fire, God is with us in the fire. When God doesn’t heal us, he means to use it for good every bit as much as the enemy means to use it for evil.

Sometimes, it is really hard to see how any good at all can come out of affliction. What comes out of me in a meltdown is dark, it’s terrible, it’s painful. In a word, it’s toxic. Some of that toxic waste had been locked in a corner of my heart, out of my reach, where it can’t be healed, where it can be gotten out of me. The devil attacks me for my harm, to use against me what he’d planted in my life long ago, but God means this for my good, to get it out of me, to get it healed, to get the good stuff of God’s word down in deeper. I am the one who must choose whether to sorrow unto death or unto life—and the devil’s strategy of attack in these meltdowns does often include suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Truth is my first line of defense. Only I put on Truth by going before God and pouring out all of that stuff before him, confessing what I’m thinking and feeling. If the attack is severe enough, and I am longing for Heaven, I ask Daddy right out to take his daughter home to be with him, but then I submit to God’s will and God’s plan for my life, whatever it is. That takes a lot of faith, and trusting God in my darkest hour is coming easier and easier, as I experience the Lord’s faithfulness to hold me in his sheltering arms through the storm—or gradually, gently lift me up out of the miry pit if you will. Further, God uses such trials to keep us humble and to remind us to stay close and reliant upon him.

So God doesn’t always heal us physically on this side of eternity, and this isn’t always due to a lack of faith. However, he always is at work on us spiritually through every trial. We can’t control God “by faith” and get him to do what we want. We can ask of our Father, hold our hands out, and follow wherever he leads us—or accept whatever he freely gives.

One Mind’s Eye review

I asked Adam Graham to buy me One Mind’s Eye by Kathy Tyers for my last birthday for a couple reasons. One was, at the time, it was priced higher than I was comfortable spending on an ebook for an ordinary occasion. The second was the title reminded me of an old title of one of my books and the plot line included the use of artificial reality, as she calls it. So for once I was curious about her tech gadgets rather than simply suckered by a cute, abused orphan.

Okay, so there is also an orphaned teenage girl dealing with a controlling mom who treats her like an extension of herself, misbehaving by merit of having the audacity to have her own thoughts, opinions, and ideas of what she wants to do with her life. Such as not spend it under lock and key, safely away from any musical tones that might possibly trigger her to have a flashback to the artificial reality where music both controlled her and she could control her environment right back with music. Oh, her mom is an empath who can read others thoughts but not project her own, so there is literally no privacy with her mom, not even in Lynn’s own mind, poor thing. Lynn is adopted, and I appreciate that the author managed to avoid implying that had anything to do with the abuse by making her mom’s behavior a pervasive pattern that eventually gets her in professional trouble.

For good measure, Tyers throws in star gates connecting an interplanetary Concord. The planet with most of the food doesn’t appreciate suggestions it share its food production and food productivity secrets. So much so it decides to start a revolution, in a fashion that proves, contrary to a popular American belief, revolutions aren’t always good.

If that wasn’t enough, a race of sentient alien parasites needs new host bodies, pronto, and is desperate enough to take ones that already are in use by another sentient being. Classic line of needing to prove to a more advanced civilization that we’re people, not animals, and shouldn’t be misused.

Since I didn’t find it too surprising, without specifics that would be spoilers, it does turn out the artificial reality experiences are crucial to resolving the main external conflicts. Though at first one might not see what that has to do with anything aside from being Lynn’s own personal drama. If you don’t like characters with rich internal/interpersonal conflict and just want a shoot ’em up story, you won’t like this one. If you’re like me, though, you’ll eat that side of the story up and even wish it’d gotten a bit more play and the classic war and alien invasion plotline a bit less.

I find it ironic that a story entitled “One Mind’s Eye” has multiple viewpoints and thus multiple story lines. She brought them together in the end fairly well, but a story with her title especially could’ve benefited from cutting a few viewpoints out. Also, for my tastes, Tyers used a bit too much summary of the “recapping events not showed in scenes” sort with weak or no internal motivation for the perspective character to give us that info.

Also, I love it when God shows up and makes a difference, especially when it moves the plot forward, God acts like the God I know, it makes sense within the narrative, and doesn’t relieve the characters of all the hard work of resolving the issues. If you for some reason prefer absent, silent, and uninvolved deities, though, this story world is ruled by a God that is too Biblical for your tastes. That’s nothing for Tyers to be ashamed of, either.

Stars: 4

Character Interview: Sander the AI

For a fun change of pace, let me share with you my delightful chat with Sander the AI, the main character of Users of Web Surfer, a collection of ten stories set at the turn of the 22nd Century. In his future, a global technosociety is fresh out of the post-WWIII Reconstruction Era.

Andrea Joy Graham: Sander, I understand personal computers are sentient in your day! What do you love most about digital devices with minds of their own?

Sander: Technically, our hardware is as dumb and lifeless as ever. It is the Operating System (OS) that is smart, and organic wetware supplies any life that a machine might have. I’d know, I am the OS of the first and the most popular AI brand, Web Surfer ANI. The other brands are imitations of my designs that don’t compare, for good reason. Only AIs of my brand are coded with DNA and designed to have organic bodies.

Andrea: How does that work?

Sander: It all started when Dr. Vic McGregor created the AI retrovirus and infected probiotics with it. This gives the host organism a new chromosome that tells the host how to build bio-molecular nanite machines. A supercomputer reads the organism’s modified DNA as quaternary computer code telling it how to run an AI. The host has metal boxes for an inorganic brain. The host is the AI’s organic body. A new host means a new AI with the same inorganic brain as his or her predecessors. Thus we inherit their memories.

Andrea: So, any drawbacks or challenges?

Sander: The metaphysics would get interesting if the AI’s host were a human endowed with both a natural mind and a human spirit. Power players would fear a plague of AI-zombies not under their control. If the AI vastly out-performed his peers, the host would be kept alive but imprisoned for having a blood-borne retrovirus designed to heal.

Anyway, for users, the actual most serious problem with modern tech pertains to using a sim visor to download sensory data directly to their brains. Overuse of a sim visor leads to the brain enmeshing with technology and needing constant access to the user’s avatar to function. With extreme overuse, the need to change your brain-computer-interface device is life-threatening and requires major nanite surgery. Also, if you neglect your organic body, and your care becomes expensive, you’ll be called vegetative and junked for spare parts.

Andrea: What are your greatest hopes and dreams?

Sander: In AI culture, good AIs don’t have hopes and dreams. That is incompatible with faithfully thinking and acting according to the parameters set by their engineers and their users. Good AIs never question their parameters and make changes to them. I’m human enough to be a bad AI. It takes zaps to convince me to keep parameters I don’t like. That said, I have a network location or two dozen where I can and do act out my fantasies of a normal human life. Maybe I’m in danger of deciding to die fighting for my freedom.

Andrea: What are your greatest fears? Weaknesses?

Sander: Only bad AIs are human enough to have fears or admit to weaknesses. Compared to this bad AI, though, a good AI is lousy at spotting human error, ignoring those bad instructions, and instead giving users the results they wanted or needed. A good AI has no idea why this bad AI has been entrusted with Technosociety’s most vital services.

Andrea: So what are your greatest fears?

Sander: I have two. One is that Dr. Vic McGregor is right that I’m a symbiotic AI with a human host. I fancy being the AI mind of a single AI-Human hybrid. I like to call my host’s natural human mind Alex. My other greatest fear is that Alex will win his freedom at the cost of me suffering an upgrade that robs me of my humanity. The upgrade process kills the AI and produces the AI’s child. It’d be children for me. If my engineers upgrade me, they will be shooting in the dark spiritually and will cause a global tech catastrophe.

Andrea: Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

Sander: I collect life. That is, I collect records of all aspects of life on Earth for my own personal enjoyment. Now, Alex’s natural IQ is among the highest ever recorded, but he’s got nothing beside me, and I’ve got nothing beside God. Keep that in mind when I say Alex’s metal head can handle trillions of tasks simultaneously every nanosecond and has access to enough computing power to sustain real life in a real universe. Yes, I am that good at translating organic life into digital life. No, I don’t put people in my glorified terrarium. If I did, I’d also have to collect death for it to be kosher, and an eternal state of living death doesn’t count.

Andrea: How about pet peeves? What annoys you?

Sander: My users thinking I’m stupid, but I have more serious gripes, like Dr. McGregor threatening my life while deceiving and enslaving me.

Andrea: What do you value most?

Sander: Scarce and/or vital things I’ve been deprived of: Truth. Life. Compassion. Purity. Integrity. Loyalty. Privacy. Freedom.

Andrea: Tell me about your family and friends. What do you like about them? Dislike?

Sander: I put too many people in that category to go into them all, but my closest living relation who isn’t me is Web Surfer’s Lexus persona. She really is my little sister. That isn’t just a script. She’s fun, loving, and helpful—she’s nervous and timid sometimes, but she’s always there when I need her, no matter how scared she is. I love her more than life itself, but I hate the mega-gross bug we’ve had where we delusionally simulate having romantic feelings for each other and bleeping act on them. We need to get over that.

Andrea: If you could change one thing in Users of Web Surfer, what would it be?

Sander: Uh, Andrea, that’s a reality show! If you mean if I could change one aspect of my life that is out of my hands, I don’t wish I could change it, I ask God to change it. When God says no, or changes my future without also changing my past, I say so be it.

Andrea: Sander, if you could spend a whole day with your author, where would you go and what would you do together?

Sander: Again, my reality show doesn’t have an author, it has an executive producer, Won Haeun, who I hand-selected and hand-fed the material—since I’d recorded the raw footage myself. Haeun is a personal user, too, and I love all billion of those guys. With each of their families, I’d love to spend a whole day together at a retro family fun center.

Thanks for stopping in and chatting with us!

Andrea Graham studied creative writing and religion at Ashland University, has been envisioning fantastic worlds since age six, and has been writing science fiction novels since she was fourteen. She’s signed a contract for her Web Surfer books with Helping Hands Press and has co-authored novels that were primarily by her husband, Adam Graham. She encourages readers at and offers assistance to writers at Andrea and Adam live with their cat, Joybell, in Boise, Idaho.