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Part Two: Tempering Involvement in Culture

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Part Two: Tempering Involvement in Culture

**Click here to read Part One**

Overcorrecting Subculture

I’ve lived in four different states in the US and visited ten countries around the world. God has been gracious to show me how different cultures and subcultures can greatly impact the way we live out our faith. I want to focus on two specific cultures that I have the most experience with: First, where I was born and raised in Southern California, and second, where I have lived the last eight and half years in the Bible Belt of the South (Kentucky for six years and Texas for two and a half).

As I’ve said, it is human nature to overcorrect problems within our subculture. There are two main ways we do this as individuals. First, we observe the subculture around us and think that it is right, then demonize and stereotype people outside of it. Here are some overly simplistic examples: “Southern California is so much more enlightened than most of the US. I’m so glad I don’t have to live in the South with all those racists and fundamentalists.” Or, “The South is so much more grounded in its history and the Bible. I’m so glad I don’t have to live around all those crazy liberal feminists on the West Coast.”

The second way we overcorrect is to observe the subculture we live in, think it’s wrong, and then jump ship entirely, usually into a very different subculture with it’s own set of problems. Here are some examples: “Southern California is way too progressive and the churches are so shallow. I wish we could go to one of those churches that sings only hymns, offers Sunday school, and has a potluck after service every week.” Or, “The South is so legalistic and they hate women. I wish I could go to a more inclusive community in California where I can serve anywhere or teach anyone.”

These examples are trite, I know. But you get my point. No culture is perfect because everywhere you go, there will be sinful people there. There will be sinful you there. Yes, sometimes the answer to a problem is to jump ship. God can use discomfort to call you away from a place. But just because you’re uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s time to quit. This is where temperance, critical thinking, and more importantly prayer comes in. Temperance is needed to say, “I know there is a problem with my community but I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water and think the solution is doing the exact opposite.” Critical thinking is needed to ask questions like, “I feel like there is nothing good about my community, but I know that can’t be true. What is good and what is bad? What is salvageable here? What needs to go?” Prayer can enlighten your path more than any virtue or critical thinking ability. There will be times when your options ahead look perfectly equal and you really have no idea what to do. Thank God for his Spirit that directs our hearts and minds toward wisdom.

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Part One: Tempering Involvement in Culture

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Part One: Tempering Involvement in Culture

Temperance and Secular Culture

How far is too far to participate in secular culture? How far is too far to pull out? Can I let my kids read Harry Potter? Should I go live on a farm in the middle of nowhere to escape secular culture?  

I’m not actually going to answer any of those questions specifically. But I do want to talk about one of the virtues we use in answering these questions (and others) for ourselves and our families.

This is an age old conversation, but an important one. I don’t really plan on saying anything new here, but merely to cast this in a virtue ethical light that is rarely seen in the evangelical church. First let me quickly define some terms.

  • Temperance: The ability to moderate your actions. Most Bible translations refers to this as “self-control” in the lists of the fruit of the Spirit.

  • Virtue ethics: Focuses on the virtue or moral character—the heart, dispositions, and habits—of a person rather than on external actions and duty (deontology). We can see this in scripture in many places, most notably in the Sermon on the Mount.

  • Aristotle’s Golden Mean: Virtue is the mean between two extremes—the opposing ends being vices of excess and deficiency. This principle can be seen many times in the Bible when it talks about not turning aside. Such as Deut. 5:32, “Be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you are not to turn aside to the right or the left.”

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There are two common dispositions towards American culture that I see in the church at the moment (and for all time really, but I’m going to speak only into modern, western society). One is unrestricted (or nearly) indulgence in secular culture which can lead to further sin and idolatry. This is the “excess” side of the golden mean scale. The other is total (or nearly) abstinence from secular culture which often leads to legalism and self-righteousness. This is the “deficient” side of the golden mean scale. Both are vices, not virtues.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking at this point. Most orthodox Christians attempt to find a balance between participation in and abstinence from culture. We don’t always draw the line in exactly the same place. I would agree with that. It’s even a good thing that we don’t all make the exact same choices with our cultural diet because some disagreement, as long as it is civil, builds up the body of Christ.

So then, why say those vices (a lack of temperance) are common? Although it is generally known that we should find balance with our participation in secular culture, there’s real confusion about how to express such temperance. Confusion comes from our evaluation of our subculture and the human tendency to overcorrect when we see a problem. More on overcorrecting subculture in Part Two.

Christians are not taught how to think critically. Most evangelical seminaries do not even offer classes in the basics of philosophy (i.e. critical thinking, logic, metaethics, etc.) whereas Catholic and Orthodox seminaries require them. (Rabbit trail: Why is that important? I could go on and on about that, but I’ll keep it simple. Lest you think “human philosophy” is all evil, recall that logic is a kind of science that says if A and B contradict each other, they can’t both be true. Seeing as God does not contradict himself, it’s safe to conclude that God is logical, and we should strive to be as well. We should not believe contradictions.)

Our church congregants as well as our church leaders typically have no training in how to think critically. And how can we rightly discern the balance of such things as cultural involvement without those skills? We usually don’t. We overcorrect into vice which leads some to cultural indulgence and idolatry and others to cultural abstinence and legalism. Then we sit back and judge those who overcorrect in the other direction. Without temperance, we will not only fall, often unknowingly, into vice, but we will have a complete lack of grace for others who simply fall differently.

Let me give you an example of these two things.

Indulgence (excess vice): The community of Christians who write and read science fiction and fantasy, like myself, varies widely. There are those who make great effort to think critically about how far they should go with their writing and reading and how closely it should resemble that of the secular market. Then there are others who, upon seeing the problems with abstaining from much of pop culture, delve headlong into the fantasy world without restraint. Some of their fiction includes sex and the use of explicitly dark magic by protagonists. They see themselves as critical thinkers because they dodge the bullet of “legalism.” Yet, in their new found freedom from fundamentalism, they display an utter lack of critical thinking against indulgence, seeing it as good or the lesser of two evils. Cultural indulgence in general is prone to either deleting parts of scripture or twisting the meaning to fit certain needs. By some of these well intentioned readers and authors, I have been accused of being a fundamentalist due to articles like this one that tell of my position on sexual purity. (Not to be confused with the purity movement which uses shame to keep young people from premarital sex.)

Abstinence (deficient vice): In some circles I run in, lifestyles such as homeschooling, stay-at-home moms, and even patriarchy are commonplace. For the right family and the right child, homeschooling is prudent. And not only am I a stay-at-home mom, but I think it’s a blessing for any mom to be able to stay with their child when they’re an infant and toddler. Yet, where the indulgent delete or twist scripture, the culturally abstinent tend to stretch the commands of the Bible like silly putty so that they are no longer recognizable. For example, Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go.” This becomes the basis by which they advise others that public school is inadvisable or even immoral. Worse is the petrifying fear within the American conservative community of radical feminism. The overcorrection against such liberalism can be drastic and horribly unbiblical. Was the baby not thrown out with the bathwater by Paige Patterson, former president of a Southern Baptist seminary, when he advised a female student who had been sexually assaulted not to go to the police? In this conservative subculture, I have been labeled by some as erring in indulgence due to my stance on women’s roles within the church because I affirm their need to use their God-given spiritual gifts in accordance with scripture. Their role should not be defined by Bible-belt culture. Ironically, this view is shared by at least some professors at the theologically orthodox Southern Seminary.

I point out how I have been labeled by these subcultures not to merely complain or to show that I must be in the right because I think I fall in the middle of the two and, therefore, must have the virtue of temperance. But, instead, I want to illustrate that they can’t both be right. We can’t all be right, especially when we believe such contradictory things. I said before that disagreement, as long as it is civil, builds up the church. We must have temperance paired with grace if we are to flourish in unity. Knowing that it is in our nature to overcorrect into vice, grace is required for others who do the same in a different direction.

Pray that God grants his people temperance, wisdom, and understanding in this area. Ask also that we would learn to be more gracious to our brothers and sisters who are different from us.

**Click here to read Part Two**

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Is my identity in culture?

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Is my identity in culture?

The New York Times released an article this week about an African-American teenager forced to cut his hair, styled in dreadlocks with a cap over them, or forfeit his wrestling match. He chose to cut his hair. The article, not the teen, stated that he should not have to forgo part of his identity in order to continue the match.

The language in the article disturbed me. It wasn’t the teen who was using it but someone imposing that particular sense of identity on him without his consent. Perhaps he does consider it part of his identity. We may never know. But what disturbed me the most was that the way the author of the article uses “identity,” although normal for our society, was wildly ambiguous.

What is my identity? Who am I? Is my cultural identity the same as my individual human identity? Can I still be me if I’m stripped of my culture?

The word identity is often thrown around in these ambiguous terms. My appearance is my identity. My hometown is my identity. My gender is my identity. My church is my identity. But is this helpful? Does it diffuse racial tension or infuse it?

This is especially important for the Christian. Our individual identity is in Christ first before anything else. We should not be demanding of others to understand us whether they are unbelievers or weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23,

“Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. To those who are without the law, like one without the law—though I am not without God’s law but under the law of Christ—to win those without the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, so that I may share in the blessings.”

As unpopular as this opinion may be, I am not my earthly culture. Culture, although important in many ways, is not something I will take to heaven with me. It is temporal and I am eternal, made to commune with Christ forever in heaven.

Right about now I probably sound like a know-it-all white evangelical who likes to tell other people who they can or can’t be. But I’m actually attempting the opposite. While keeping in mind that all cultures are flawed in some way, cultural identity should still be celebrated. The teen with dreadlocks shouldn’t have to cut them because of someone else’s cultural preferences. (Whether he actually broke a real rule by having long hair is moot because I’m trying to make a point here….)

To understand this better, I will give another example of evangelicals rudely butting into culture—one which I am passionate about: worship styles. It is so common, especially among my own people (the young, restless, and reformed), to tell people how to worship. “Don’t be too loud, it’s not a show!” “Your smoke machine is too distracting.” “Hymns are the only thing you should be singing.” And my personal favorite as it directly contradicts the example set for us in the Psalms: “Don’t sing any song that’s repetitive!”

Should we not celebrate our culture differences (as long as it does not contradict the Bible’s direct or implied teaching) with something that is as personal as music? Should we not worship God in our own musical, mother language? It is not wrong to play your music loud. It is not wrong to keep using the organ and singing hymns. It is not wrong to dance and shake a tambourine. It is not wrong whip out the synthesizer on a Sunday morning. Worship is a celebration! Celebrate in a way that best communicates your love for God. Celebrate in your own culture, and when need be, gladly celebrate in someone else’s culture for the sake of the gospel.

Cultural identity is much like listening to my favorite style of music. Or better yet, worship music done in my favorite style of music. It can make me dance, cry, or wrap up in a warm blanket with a cup of tea. It feels like belonging.

That’s what the author of the article is talking about when he says that boy was forced to forgo his identity in order to compete. And that’s why it was so offensive. It was like stripping him of his sense of belonging—stripping him of his cultural identity. What he was not stripped of was his value—his innate human worth. Cutting his hair did not literally devalue him as a human being. With or without his dreadlocks, he is made in the image of God and has just as much value as a fetus, a small child, a teenager, a middle-aged man, an elderly man dying in a nursing home. He is always valuable because his individual identity is as a human being made in the image of the almighty God.

But what if the man who forced him to cut his hair really was a racist and was attempting to devalue him? That’s an important question. And it begs another—is every racist act committed, whether purposeful or not, an attempt at compromising another person’s value as a human being? Or is it disrespect for their cultural identity—their appearance, music, hometown, etc.?

You may be wondering why it matters. Racism is racism! It’s all bad! Well I think those categories do exist and they matters because, at least for me, it helps to have specific questions to ask myself in order to root out my own sin. As the song goes, “Everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes.” And if I don’t think rightly and specifically about my sin, how can I find it and, as John Owens says, mortify (kill) it?

Questions I can ask myself (or others) in order to know my heart better:

  1. Do I think I am better than that person? Do I actually believe I have more value than someone else? If so then I am calling into question their human identity given by God.

  2. Do I think my cultural preferences are superior to someone else’s? Am I imposing those preferences on them when I speak to them or advise them? If so then I am being disrespectful of their cultural identity.

  3. Does my life invite the celebration of other cultures or do I make them uncomfortable by being narrow minded or willfully naive?


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Divergent wrecks you, the reader.

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Divergent wrecks you, the reader.

This review contains spoilers.

Someone recently asked me how Divergent negatively affected my life. It wasn’t out of the blue or anything. I’d posted it as an answer in a series of questions on social media. Well I ignored the inquiry. It’s a bit of a long story. . . . Long enough to deserve it’s own blog.

In 2013 I’d just given birth to my second child. Pregnancy insomnia hit me hard that year, and clung on until, well, now. I was coming out of a season (a rather long season) of booklessness, when a friend let me borrow Divergent. Much like my initial introduction to Twilight, it wasn’t long before I was completely engrossed. You know what I mean—that kind of book that sucks you in so fast and hard that you are forced against your will to stay up till all ungodly hours of the night reading, never knowing who will be dead by morning.

So I read during the day . . . and during the night when I had to get up to nurse. And in those wee hours of the morning, pages turned, my mind raced, I got even less sleep, and my anxiety (which already bordered on PTSD) soared to new heights. I ate those first two books in a jiffy. Then I stopped. Oh, I didn’t really want to stop. The third book sat on the table laughing at me, watching me pace around the room like an addict without a needle. So, I snuck a look in the back to see what happened in the end. What did it matter if I was resolved not to read it? Well if you’ve read the series or have seen the movie (assuming they didn’t change the ending) then you know what happened.

The protagonist died.

And that sealed the deal for me. I was no longer tempted to read the third book. And I never did. (If only I’d had as much self-control years earlier while reading Twilight.) And in the aftermath of that encounter, I began to see troubling patterns emerge. It was definitely a case of 20/20 hindsight—Northanger Abbey style.

I realized that just about every time the author introduced a likable character, they either died or turned to the dark side. This kept pages turning and emotions running high, but it also guaranteed total heartbreak. Even worse was the near constant nagging by the male love interest for his girlfriend (the protagonist) to please, please, please stop throwing herself into super dangerous situations because it would destroy him if she died. Every time he repeated this plea, it cranked the tension higher. And then, of course, she threw herself into a super dangerous situation at the end of the series and died. I didn’t even read the last book, and I felt like the author slowly dragged me to the top of the Empire State Building then dropped me. Talk about heartbreak.

Those plot points were not only devastating, they were clearly intentional and formulaic in their execution. It was as though the author had plotted the series purely for the purpose of torturing her readers. What better way to keep them turning those pages and buying the next book? Also (and this is my pet peeve but I’ve written about it enough not to get into it too much now) the romance was your typical sexy, obsessive, teen angst nonsense. I’ve also heard there was a sex scene in the third book. (Young adult? Give me a break. It’s just good old fashioned porn for your teen.)

When I started writing fiction in 2014, I heard a lot of authors taking joy in the idea of torturing readers with tension and death.

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“. . . and forget the whole Point of It All. Which is, of course, to wreck you, the reader.” And I get it. Tension is necessary for a story. Without it, there is no story. Without conflict, it’s all just ponies and rainbows and no one will read a story about that. But what happened to caring about the reader? There is such a thing as creating tension, and even realistic darkness, in such a way that takes the heart of a reader on a journey of bad to better, or from mediocre to superior. Not that I’m say that has to be the point of the story. But there is a way to create tension and write an amazing story that doesn’t smash the reader to tiny bits for the sake of sales (not that I’m accusing the author of Divergent of being that shallow—I don’t even know her.)

Maybe some of you are thinking. Who cares? People like to read stuff like that. I mean, the books sold well and they made them into movies. So why not keeping giving them what they want? Well people also like to eat candy and drink vodka, that doesn’t make it good for them. It’s like the tagline I heard recently in a Diet Coke commercial: “Because I can.” And honestly, every time I see a Coke commercial lately, I think, “Wow. These people have the worst logic.”


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Magical Humility: Finding the virtue dividing fictional and real magic

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Magical Humility: Finding the virtue dividing fictional and real magic

“‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.’” C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Magic. An elusive word often thrown around ambiguously. What is it? Doesn’t the Bible only speak ill of it? If so, why does C.S. Lewis put “magic” in the mouth of Aslan—a Narnian Jesus?

Christians are not only divided on this, we’re also confused. Theologically grounded parents puzzle over their children’s books wondering if they’re making the wrong choice by allowing them to read fantasy.

Aslan and the Pevensie children provide a helpful guide. When Lewis writes of Aslan’s magic, he is using it as a literary device—revealing something about reality through unreality. In The Chronicles of Narnia, both good and evil are represented with magic. This is a broad umbrella term for both evil magic and the signs and wonders performed by Christ and his disciples. The Bible doesn’t use the word that way, but it has been defined differently in literature. In fairy tales, anything supernatural—including miracles—is considered magic. That may cause you to cringe, but Lewis is simply using the word in the same way it’s used in such stories.

So if the good miracles performed in Scripture fall into a magical category according to literary standards, how do we ferret through modern fantasy novels without being drawn toward the occult? There is, after all, fictional magic (used as unreality to shed light on reality), God’s “magic” known to us as miracles, and real evil magic used to deceive and wrongly empower. How can we tell the difference between the these when they are given the same name?

It is not so much the magic system that will give the answer, but a heart system.

Take a closer look at a few mentions of evil magic in the Bible. There is a common thread in the heart motivation of those involved.

Acts 8:9 reads, “But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great.”

1 Samuel 28 tells the story of Saul seeking the help of a medium (a witch or necromancer) to speak to Samuel’s spirit. When Samuel questioned why he was disturbed, Saul said “God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” (1 Samuel 28:15)


In Exodus, Pharaoh's magicians (under Pharaoh’s authority) copied Moses and Aaron (under God’s authority) as they brought the plagues into Egypt. During the third plague, the magicians weren’t able to imitate them. “Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.” (Exodus 8:19).

The common thread in these stories is pride. Like Pharaoh's magicians, using this kind of magic is merely copying God. They wanted to be like God on their own strength and merit. In Acts 8, Simon practised magic saying that he was “somebody great.” In 1 Samuel, Saul pridefully took matters into his own hands when calling up Samuels spirit. He was not satisfied with God’s answer, or lack of answer, to his petition. In Exodus, the magicians assumed they were as skilled as God at the supernatural. Their eventual confession that the miracles were the finger of God after they were not able to duplicate the gnats is how God humbled them.

It’s the same sin Adam and Eve committed in the garden. The serpent said, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)

Pride is the heart motive for these magicians and humility is the cure. It’s knowing who you are and who God is. Knowing that everything good you produce comes is from God. It is also for God. In Exodus 9:16 God says to Pharaoh, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”

How are disciples of Christ able to perform miracles? John 15:5 says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” They, the branches, draw all strength and nourishment from the vine. Without the vine, they can do nothing. Their health, even their very existence is dependent on the vine.

So too should fictional “magic” show a dependency on the power of God. When Lucy Pevensie uses her magic cordial (given to her by Father Christmas—an agent of Aslan) to heal someone, she doesn’t say she’s so wonderfully powerful. She uses it with humility—under the authority of Aslan and for the good of others in the same way Moses used his staff in Egypt. It was as if Lucy was saying, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

When approaching a fantasy novel, critical thinking should always precede censorship. Analyze the magic system to determine where the source of power lies. Do the magicians seek to elevate themselves, or do they wield their power in sacrifice and service to others? More importantly—does it cause you, the reader, to desire to elevate yourself over others or even over God, the source of all real power?

There is no such thing as a perfect magic system. The beauty of common grace is that despite cultural trends, mankind will continue to tell stories of humble, sacrificial love—of people laying down their lives for the good of others. And it’s that kind of humility, the kind that considers others as greater than oneself, that makes the very best kind of magic.

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Lorehaven Winter Issue: The Biblical Source of Super-Strength

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Lorehaven Winter Issue: The Biblical Source of Super-Strength

Lorehaven Magazine Winter Issue!

Download for FREE!

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Inside this issue:

  • Thomas Locke shares his faith journey and creative motive behind his many fantastical novels, including his newest release, Enclave.

  • We review Enclave, in which white-hat heroes in a corrupt frontier cope with the remnants of the now-decaying nation.

  • Our team reviews the best Christian-created fantastical novels.

  • This issue also includes two sponsored reviews: Mary Ting's Jaclyn and the Beanstalk and C. S. Wachter's The Light Arises.

  • Paeter Frandsen asks if Christian geeks might react like Spock and think of God (merely) as "fascinating."

  • Marian Jacobs gives practical, biblical advice to parents of children obsessed with superheroes.


Meanwhile, at the Lorehaven Book Clubs group, we're still hosting many of the authors featured in our book reviews. Staring in January, watch for more storytellers to arrive in the clubs and explore more at SpecFaith.

This March: watch for the spring 2019 issue! (Advertisers, click here.)

But first, watch for more surprises we plan to announce in January ...

Join the mission at Lorehaven.com. You can also browse our the LorehavenLibrary, which helps you find more than 900 Christian fantastical titles. Enjoy daily, free articles at Speculative Faith. And be sure to share this magazine with your church, friends, family, and anyone else who would love to explore great Christian fantasy.

Thank you for joining this mission to find truth in fantastic stories.

Maranatha, and merry Christmas!

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Lorehaven Fall Issue: Molding Your Child's Plastic Imagination

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Lorehaven Fall Issue: Molding Your Child's Plastic Imagination

Lorehaven Magazine Fall Issue!

Download for FREE!

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Fantastic stories are capable of God-glorifying good, but also idolatrous evil.

Book Reviews

Lorehaven review team

Sponsored Review: Affinity

Lorehaven review team

Affinity is a creative and original play on old concepts, and if you’re willing to take the ride, you’ll find it goes places.

Featured Review: Mark of the Raven

Lorehaven review team

Here’s dreaming that fans can share in more stories like this.

‘I Want to Share with Other People Who God Is’

Interview with novelist Morgan L. Busse

Morgan L. Busse’s fantastic realms challenge us to ponder our place in God’s world.

Fanservants: The Secret Identity of Christian Geeks

Paeter Frandsen

In Christ, you are a holy, adopted, cosmic ambassador on a mission.

Fanservants: Molding Your Child’s Plastic Imagination

Marian Jacobs

We can nurture young ones’ creativity for the glory of God.

New Worlds: The Christian Roots of Fantasy

R. J. Anderson

The genre once known as ”fairy stories” sprang from biblical ground.

Folklore: Werewolf Tales Reveal the Beast Inside

C. W. Briar

Dark creatures personify our struggle against the sinful nature.

Roundtable: Engaging the Magical Spellcraft of Stories

Parker J. Cole, Marian Jacobs, Ronie Kendig, Robert Treskillard, E. Stephen Burnett

Our panel explores how Christians discern fiction’s magical elements.

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Lorehaven Summer Issue: How Does Your Family Read Fantasy?

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Lorehaven Summer Issue: How Does Your Family Read Fantasy?

Lorehaven Magazine Winter Issue!

Download for FREE!

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Lorehaven’s mission: to chase fantasy joys all the way back to their Giver.
 

  • Book Reviews

Lorehaven review team

Explore the best new fantastical novels from Christian authors. Browse each title and learn more at lorehaven.com/library.
 

  • Sponsored Reviews: The Ghost Mine

Ben Wolf’s sci-fi actioner escapes the haunts of space horrors.
 

  • Featured Review: Fawkes

Lorehaven review team

Guy Fawkes’s 1605 gunpowder plot gets a color-magical twist.
 

  • ‘I Process Big Questions Through Story’

Story: E. Stephen Burnett

Nadine Brandes loves heroes who fight to find themselves in the color of truth.
 

  • Fanservants: How to Become a Spiritually Leveled-Up Christian Geek

Paeter Frandsen

God encourages us to be kind and compassionate, even in our fandom fights.
 

  • Fanservants: How Does Your Family Read Fantasy?

Marian Jacobs

Parents, try these tips to help children mature as fantasy readers.
 

  • Sponsored Reviews: The Sorcerer’s Bane

C. S. Wachter flings thematic windows open to sunlight and storms.
 

  • New Worlds: Horror Reveals Human Sin in the Dark

Mike Duran

Classic novels and films trace their fears all the way back to the Bible.
 

  • Sponsored Reviews

Journey Into Legend

All the realism and complexity of Journey into Legend wraps around an old, blazing vision.
 

Road of the Lost

Aidan Russell creates action-driven fantasy of all the good old things.
 

  • Folklore: Flood Legends Rise from the Depths of History

Tim Chaffey

From the Bible to modern flood fiction, we keep encountering Noah’s Ark.
 

  • Roundtable: Engaging That @&*% Our Stories Often Say

Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Morgan L. Busse, Mike Duran, Steve Rzasa, E. Stephen Burnett

Join the debate over hot topics based on biblical grace and truth. Our expert panel explores how Christians discern ‘bad words’ in fiction.

Meanwhile, join Lorehaven Book Clubs, starting online! (And if you're an author or publisher, we're saving space in our fall 2018 issue for your next amazing advertisement—to share your story with new fans.)

Thank you for joining this mission to find truth in fantastic stories.

Godspeed!

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Looking for a clean read?

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Looking for a clean read?

After my article, The Dark Alleys in Young Adult Fiction went live, there was a lot of confusion over whether I was advocating censorship of speculative fiction as a genre. The status update on the Facebook post read, "Many parents think any book is better than TV, but the fantasy in some young adult fiction leads our kids to places we would never want them to go.”

I think whoever wrote that status to accompany the article probably meant sexual fantasy since that was what I was writing about. I meant only to advocate parental awareness of the sexual content in YA fiction. It was my goal to help parents and teens continue reading clean stories and equip them with the tools to find those books. Are you unsure if your child should be reading sci fi and fantasy? Check out my article on the topic at Speculative Faith

Yet since there was a lot of confusion about sci fi/fantasy genres, I've compiled a list (with the help of H. Halverstadt) of resources for finding speculative fiction written by Christian authors. I have not read all of these books, so please do not take this as my stamp of approval on the individual books you find on these sites. I encourage you to use the guidelines at the end of the Dark Alleys article linked above for every book you or your child picks up. Just because it's labeled "Christian" doesn't mean it's clean. You can also follow me on Goodreads where I frequently review fiction (and non-fiction). 

Authors, if you write clean speculative fiction, please feel free to spam my comments with links to your website!

Sites:

Lorehaven Library

Realm Makers Mobile Bookstore

Unicorn Quester

H. Halverstadt Books

Superversive SF

Noblebright Fantasy

Enclave Books

Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Bulletin

Lasers, Dragons, and Keyboards

Revell

Castle Gate Press

Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Facebook group

Christian Speculative Fiction Facebook group

Christian Books - Connecting Readers and Authors

 

Tips: 

Request that your local Christian bookstore carry more speculative fiction or a specific book.

Ask the library in your city to buy certain books/authors.

Found an author you like? Check their website for book reviews and recommendations.

If you're still unsure about a specific title, look up their publisher. They may have a content standard on their website. 

 

 

 

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The Need for Critical Thinking

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The Need for Critical Thinking

My philosophy professor and guest blogger hubby strikes again! Click here to read part two in this series on critical thinking. Subscribe to his philosophy YouTube channel here.

We are born into a community. As we grow, we inherit many cultural beliefs from learning the language, being taught by our parents, being influenced by circumstance, and many other variables. If you are an American raised at the end of the 20th century or beginning of the 21st century, you will likely exhibit a culture of capitalism, consumerism, and the American Dream. You will likely view freedom as the ability to pursue whatever makes you happy so long as you don’t harm others. This will likely include the pursuit of a career and possessions. If you disagree with these things but were still raised in 21st century America, it will be because you were either raised in a subculture that has its own idiosyncrasies or you are a critical thinker. Actually, you may be some mix of all of these.

By contrast, if you were born in China in 500 BC in the Zhou Dynasty, your outlook on life will likely be directly related to the economic standing of your family. Speaking of family, you will be less interested in freedom and self-fulfillment than you will be in honoring your family through attaining a successful career. Success will be defined not primarily by how much money you make but by how much the community honors you and therefore by how much they honor your family.

We are inescapably influenced by culture. It is through culture that we learn language, we learn proper and improper social behaviors. Little boys in modern America learn that they shouldn’t steal their sister’s toys and how they should grow up to be industrious tradesmen. Little girls in ancient China grow up learning that they are to be treated as property. Little American girls today are taught to pursue self-fulfillment through career pursuits that are largely individualistic. Little boys in ancient China were taught the value of honor and family. Little boys in America today are largely seen as uncivilized little monsters when they can’t sit still and listen in their elementary school classroom while the little girls do just fine.

Culture influences us, but it does not have to blind us. There are good and bad elements to every culture, but we can only see them if we think critically. It was critical thinking that ended the British and American slave trade. In 19th century England, a small group of Anglican evangelicals dared to challenge their culture by pointing out the hypocrisy of those who called themselves Christians without living for the love of their neighbor or valuing the dignity of all people. They dared to challenge the system, to speak up against some bad practices present in their culture. Thus, they changed the world through critical thinking.

The other option is to adopt everything your community tells you to believe. You read blogs by people who think like you. You watch TV shows that reinforce what you already believe. Your family and friends believe the same things as you, respond to the news in the same way, and are generally carbon copies of you with only minor differences such as career, favorite NFL team, and what city they live in. These are people who blindly follow other people, like sheep. Some have affectionately nicknamed people who lack critical thinking, “sheeple.” Sheeple get angry when people from a different community say something controversial. Sheeple feel offended often and can’t understand why someone would think differently than themselves. Sheeple do not believe or act the way they do based on well grounded logical argumentation. People who blindly follow are leaves on the cultural tides of their community, being driven and tossed by the wind.

Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Will you be content as a leaf on a wave? That is dangerous. Why? Following the tides of culture without thinking critically means that you will fall headfirst into all of the problems that the culture shares. As a modern American, for example, this will likely mean that you will fall into the rut of defining your life by the pursuit of the American dream. You will pursue self-fulfillment through the pursuit of a career that is obtained for money and so long as it isn’t an entirely boring job. You will fill your nights and weekends with fleeting pleasures focused. In short, you will follow the American Dream, which is defined by greed and selfishness. However, if you do not think critically, you will not even be aware of your selfishness. In fact, you will not be aware of your flaws or how to fix them except in a vague sense that leads you only to lie on your bed and wish you were different, leading a life of “quiet desperation” as Henry David Thoreau said.

Maybe this does not describe you. Perhaps your culture is different. Perhaps you have similarities and differences to mainstream American culture. Or, perhaps you have already started thinking critically. The biblical Book of Proverbs speaks to three types of people: the fool, the youth, and the wise person. The wise person loves wisdom and pursues more of it (“philosophy” comes from the Greek for “the love of wisdom”). The youth is the impressionable person who has not yet determined their path. They may lead a life of wisdom or foolishness. Whether or not the “youth” is actually young is beside the point. The point is that, like a child, they may be moulded and can still choose their course in life. The fool, like the wise man, has already chosen his course in life. The fool has chosen to ignore wisdom and pursuit selfish, fleeting pleasures. In doing so, he constantly faces the consequences. Yet, since he is not wise, he does not learn from his consequences but repeats his mistakes, never examining his life.

Will you be a leaf on a wave? Perhaps, through critical thinking, you will be an anchor, holding fast to truths that the culture pushes against. They culture will not like you for getting in their way. The leaf thinks it is free because it is bound by nothing. But it only thinks it is free because it does not realize that it is carried along by cultural tides. The anchor holds firm. Further, some will not only be anchors but will make waves of their own, changing the tides of culture. Not everyone is called to make big waves, though everyone can make small ones.

The question of Socrates is this: Will you examine your life and make it worth living?

What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the analysis of an issue to form a judgment. It asks not only whether a belief is true but also asks what the justification for the belief is. It evaluates an idea’s supporting reasons and argument in order to accept, reform, or reject its conclusion. Therefore, a “critique” is not necessarily a rejection of an idea but a thoughtful analysis of its supporting argument.

The Wall Street Journal reports that employers find critical thinking skills significantly lacking in prospective employees. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of job descriptions listing critical thinking skills as a requirement has doubled. Employers are seeking employees who can think on their feet, analyze a problem, and propose a solution. Critical thinking is seen by employers as providing the ability to:

  1. Sift reasons from distractions in order to see the real problem.

  2. Examine evidence to support claims.

  3. Re-examine old ways of doing things.

  4. Re-examine how you are thinking in order to think more effectively.

  5. Make use of information to reach new conclusions or re-examine previous ones.

Yet, critical thinking is not first and foremost a job skill, an optional set of acquired traits that are practiced for the purpose of obtaining a decent job. Though it is a skill acquired and improved through practice, critical thinking is primarily for the purpose of improving one’s life and the lives of others. Critical thinking helps the thinker analyze their failures and improve, notice flawed thinking and act more reasonably, spot the problems in their life and the lives of others in order come up with better ways of doing things. Failure is only helpful if a person is willing to think critically about their failures in order to understand why they failed. Failure without analysis is doomed to repeat itself. This is why people often say that history repeats itself. It is because we do not learn from our past by analyzing it to see what was wrong and what can be improved upon.

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Forgotten Virtue

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Forgotten Virtue

Please welcome guest blogger, philosopher extraordinaire, and my husband, Tim Jacobs! Subscribe to his philosophy YouTube channel here.

 

I’m a Christian professor of philosophy at a state school in Houston, and at the beginning of each class I conduct an anonymous worldview survey. Only 20% of my students believe morals are objective and not created by individuals or society. About 33% say same-sex marriage is not permissible. About 52% say that abortion is not permissible, the majority adding the caveat that it is permissible in cases of rape or incest. About 60% say they are Christian. Why is it that 60% are Christian but only 20% believe in objective morality?

If Christians do not learn their worldview from church, they will learn it from society. Sunday School is dying and giving way to house groups that focus on application at the exclusion of learning. Don’t get me wrong, “life-on-life” accountability and support groups are valuable, but if Christians are not learning robust Christianity in the first place, their application will be of a largely secular worldview.

 

An example of a concept that is missing from the worldview of many Christians is the idea of virtue. We all think virtue is a good thing and have a vague concept that it means something like “goodness” or “holiness,” but that is hardly helpful. In order to understand what a virtue is, we must first understand that intellect separates humans from animals. The intellect has two components, cognition and willing. Cognition includes understanding, judging, and reasoning. A person can practice these and become very intelligent, but this does not make them good.

The will on the other hand is the seat of desire and making choices. This is different than saying that the will is emotion, for even animals have emotion. Yet, animals cannot make choices and only function in a stimulus-response way. This is why we do not say that a lion has committed murder when it kills another animal, nor do we say that a dog is a thief and a vandal when it eats my homework. Animals do not have moral status. Because humans have a will and can choose, they can develop habits of choice and can choose to either follow their emotions or lead their emotions.

A moral virtue is a habit that makes its possessor good. It is a character trait and disposition to act in a certain way. A virtue is not a mere habit, for we can have bad habits or useful habits that are morally neutral. A virtue is a habit that is intentionally cultivated by reason to achieve the ultimate purpose of a human life, namely the imitation of Christ. This is not to say that every good choice has to be well thought out. On the contrary, a lot of thinking may go into the first choice, but repetition of the same choice develops a habit, or a second nature, so that we can react in good ways without having to think about it every time. Practice makes perfect, you might say, and in this way you can see real change in your life.

God is interested not in creating a bunch of people who fulfill their duties and check off good behavior. He is interested in the person you become. Of course, a good person will do good things, but we are to become Christlike in character, not just in outward action. What does this look like? Here's some application.

 

First, the culture tells us to follow our heart and that love is something we are struck with and have an obligation to follow. “Love at first sight” and the obsessive addiction of infatuation are patterns of following emotion, or “following your heart.” Do your emotions control you or do you control your emotions? Let wisdom lead your heart. Is it wise to pursue a relationship with this person? If not, then it doesn’t matter how you feel about them. Keep reminding yourself of wisdom, and your emotional addiction will eventually subside. Culture, however, will tell you to follow your heart.

After a repetition of the right choices, your emotions will develop habits. Do you have a habit of thinking about what you are entitled to and what others ought to do for you? If so, then when you see injustice, you will likely feel the emotional habits of frustration and being offended rather than of pity and mercy. Do you give to the poor? If not, when you see the poor, you will habitually feel apathy. If you do, then you will habitually feel love. The way you respond to situations gradually grows your emotional response. Think first. Act second. Feel later. If your choice is habitually bad, then instead of cultivating virtue, you cultivate vice.

 

Second, obedience to God is not just about checking off your duties, going to church, sharing the gospel every once in a while, giving tithe, and volunteering for some ministry. Many will go to hell who have done these things well. The real question is whether they have done these things out of virtue, out of the love of Christ, or out of self-righteousness, trying to feel righteous by fulfilling external duties. Christ says that the motive for obedience to commands is the prime virtue of love, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The Fruit of the Spirit is a list of virtues: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22–23). It is not a list of duties. In the Sermon on the Mount virtue plays a significant role, discussing how murder and lust are in the heart and not in mere action, and we should love our enemies. The Sermon climaxes in the Golden Rule, which is a tool teaching us that love of others is the most important virtue (Matt 7:12–14). Jesus saves his most scathing rebukes for religious people who have all their ducks in a row and fulfill all their duties while neglecting the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy, faithfulness—all of which are virtues (Matt 23:23). The Bible is saturated with discussion of virtue. If you read the Old Testament through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount, you see that God’s intent the whole time has been to restore people to the imitation of God’s character as the image of God.

People should certainly follow their duties even when they don’t want to. Imagine a person who has a duty they dislike, but with great effort they do it anyway. This is morally praiseworthy. Unfortunately, without a consideration of virtue in our Christian worldview, we often think that this is all obedience has to offer. Obeying God usually entails doing something we really don’t want to do. This is a poor conception of the gospel life. Instead, imagine a person who so desires to do the right thing, that they don’t even think of it as a duty. They have developed such a habit of doing the right thing that it is natural for them, and they actually enjoy doing the right thing. It is not enough to do the right thing. We must love doing it. This is how we must imagine Jesus, the most human human.

 

Third, because virtues are habits, every choice is significant. In a situation where you can choose to act in love or apathy, cowardice or courage, diligence or laziness, whichever choice you make makes it a little easier to make that same choice next time. Before you know it, you’ve developed a habit and have changed your moral character and disposition. It is dangerous to say, “Well, it’s okay just this once.” After the first time, the second time will be easier. Before you know it, you’ve fallen down a slippery slope. This brings a sense of healthy fear in doing anything less than urgent, radical, whole-hearted obedience. The greatest commandment is a virtue, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37).

Since virtues are character qualities and dispositions, when you develop morally good or bad habits, you are changing your personality. As habits are formed by practice, this also gives hope for change. Most change takes place one step at a time. Take the first small step towards obedience and repeat it until it is as easy as habit. Growth takes place in small steps over a long period of time. Since virtues are habits ordered by reason to the imitation of Christ, they will more often than not begin by resisting emotions. You won’t feel like obeying. This is what it feels like to have reason lead emotion. However, this should only be a phase. Gradually, as the habit of choice develops, the emotional habit will as well. As C.S. Lewis says, “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him” (Mere Christianity).

Addendum on Grace

No discussion of virtue is complete without discussing GRACE. Without grace, we can grow in virtue, just like how a blind, three-legged dog can get better at walking. Your non-Christian neighbor may be more patient, hospitable, or hard-working than you. This is legitimate virtue, but only in a crippled sense. It aims generically at human perfection, but not specifically at finding that perfection in the imitation of Christ. It is not true to say, "Non-Christians cannot do good deeds." In fact, Jesus says, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matt 7:11). Jesus verifies that non-Christians can do good things.

Why do I emphasize that Non-Christians can do good? I have three reasons. First, because my whole aim is to fight against the oversimplified, greeting card Christianity that is full of catchphrases that sound close enough to the truth to dull the critical thinking of Christians and lead them away from a robust Christian worldview. Instead, I seek clarity and precision in my love of truth and wisdom, which leads to my second point. Verifying that Non-Christians do some  good (just look at all the self-sacrifice after Hurricane Harvey) helps us ask what sets Christians apart. If we don't verify the good of Non-Christians, that not only cuts off our witness with them, it excuses our own mediocre moral actions as being "at least better than them." Third, verifying the common grace God gives to all to restrict humanity's evil serves to highlight special grace, which is the thing that separates Christian virtue from Non-Christian virtue.

Grace changes both the goal and the cause of our efforts to be moral. Because of grace, we cultivate virtue for the imitation of Christ, not for self-righteousness, self-fulfillment, or even the good of society alone. Grace enables us to pursue not merely the generic perfection of human nature but its specific perfection in the imitation of Christ. Paul says everyone knows God from creation (Ro 1:19–21), and everyone has a basic understanding of morality in their conscience (Ro 2:15). However, without grace, they cannot submit to Christ as savior, cannot be motivated by love of Christ, cannot act for the sake of the glory of God, and do not have the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who works in us to sanctify us and recover the image of Christ in us. Progress is promised, despite our failures (Eph 1:4). This is the goal of salvation. You will grow in virtue, however slowly, if you have the Holy Spirit in you. This is grace, that every step forward was pushed from behind.

One last note on growth. PRAYER is magic. I've often asked myself why God didn't give us magic. It's because he's got it and we just need to ask him to use it. You know that bad habit you can't seem to kick or that good habit that never seems to stick? Pray and be patient. If you don't believe in prayer, pray that you will. If you don't have patience, pray that you will. If you don't believe anything that I've said, pray that you will.

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 Rolfe and Group Think

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Rolfe and Group Think

Remember Rolfe from The Sound of Music? He has you convinced through most of the movie that he's a good guy, a guy deserving of Liesl's affections. Then without warning, he joins the Nazi's and betrays the Von Trapps. So had he been lying to her the whole time? Biding his time until he has the chance to turn on them?

I'm guessing none of us have walked away from the movie with that interruption. Instead we realize he had good intentions but was misled by his country's widely accepted propaganda that the Nazi's were doing what was right. They were doing what needed to be done. He began believing that the ends justify the means.

Poor Rolfe. We feel sorry for him a little. But mostly we just wish he'd done the right thing and let the Von Trapps sneak away into the night.

Now many people in our country are facing the same dilemma as Rolfe. They've bought into a widely accepted propaganda that the ends justify the means. That some lives matter more than others. And that's the key. We need no longer argue when life begins because it's apparent that it doesn't matter. Proof that life begins in the womb will do us no good. What matters is what kind of person is more valuable dead than alive.

For all you Rolfe's out there with good intentions and only desire to see women treated well, ask yourself if the fight is really about women's rights, or equal rights for all human-kind? As Rolfe taught us back in the 60's, just because something is widely accepted, doesn't make it true.

Tim and I have been discussing the issue of life a lot lately, and in a broader sense than just abortion. With the election approaching, this is the one issue that's standing out to me more than any other. The issue of life is no longer about when life begins, but who is deemed valuable by society. That's been made clear to us lately with the deaths of minorities, law enforcement officers, and even the elderly.

Did you know that the elderly are among the recent death toll? Some of you may, and it probably won't surprise you. But it surprised me.

Recently I was told that when my grandmother was placed in hospice care a few years back, there was a sign placed in her room that said no food or water to be administered unless by a family member. When one of the family asked a nurse to bring water, they were pulled aside and told that she couldn’t have water because she was in hospice. The implication being that hospice is a place to die, and die quickly apparently. This is not to say that this is how all of these facilities operate, but it was how this one operated. I don’t remember that sign, but I do remember my grandmother going from conversing normally one day, to being unresponsive within a day or two.

These people are inconvenient to our way of life, so therefore, they should removed from the equation. Unborn children, the elderly, people with mental handicaps, minorities, law enforcement, etc. An inconvenience. And what is the American dream about other than living the perfect life we’ve always dreamed about? There’s no place for curve balls like unwanted life in that dream.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4

 

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The Lunar Chronicles Bookmark Contest

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The Lunar Chronicles Bookmark Contest

***Update: I made it to the finals and won a swag pack of Lunar Chronicles goodies and an autographed book. Here's the final blog on the fabulous winner, Tereza! Congrats!

Anyone who knows me well can tell you I am a huge nerd. So when I learned that Marissa Meyer, author of some of my favorite sci-fi novels, The Lunar Chronicles, was holding a bookmark design contest, I had to enter! Introducing my very first piece of fan art! 

LCbookmarks.png

This is a double-sided bookmark design featuring all four female protagonists from The Lunar Chronicles. All images were shot and designed by myself.

Here's the story behind each photo:

Cinder: This photo was taken in Shepherdsville, Kentucky in the garage of a mechanic friend. Cinder was played by Kendra Christy. 

Scarlet: This photo was taken in Shepherdsville, Kentucky in front of my neighbor's house. Scarlet was played by Katie Christy.

Cress: This photo was taken in the model's home in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. Cress was played by Hannah Simpson.

Winter: This photo was taken at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Winter was played by Symone Robinson.

Below are the full-sized images from each session. 

Cinder.jpg
Scarlet.jpg
Cress.jpg
Winter.jpg

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