By Christine Sunderland
It has been a year of worldwide violence and massacres. The flames leap high; the smoke obscures our vision. Our American traditions of liberty and law, freedom and responsibility, civility and respect, are attacked from within and without. The borders of both geography and culture are threatened. Speech is silenced through intimidation, education betrayed by socially-engineered curricula. Grievances are rewarded, lawlessness celebrated. Voters with third-grade reading levels decide our future at national and local elections.
Even church and family, traditionally safe harbors of faith and morals, are targeted. If the Christian merchant, be she florist or baker or candlestick maker, today is forced to participate in and thus approve non-Christian ceremonies, tomorrow the Christian pastor will be forced to do the same. We are deep into a brave new world, one that is no longer new and no longer brave. Religious freedom, that precious American right to believe, is threatened.
And so I wrote The Fire Trail, a novel set in Berkeley about the border between civilization and the wilderness. We can see the flames rising over the hill. Will the firebreak hold?
Like The Magdalene Mystery, a novel considering the historicity of the Resurrection, I sensed I would need help writing The Fire Trail. And so I sent early drafts to those who knew more than I. They were generous with their time and I am grateful. They corrected and refined my descriptions of past and present-day Berkeley. They helped with additions and deletions, with character and plot, giving me the knowledge necessary to choose what stays and what goes.
It is a miraculous thing, how a story can grow like a living creature. It has been said that our brains are always changing, remolded by experience, by choices made, tissue repaired, damaged cells healed. Our cells, bodies, minds, change as we age and interact with our world from the moment of conception. We choose, we grow, we die, the product of our choices.
And so with writing: plot and character are products of choices made. With manuscript suggestions in hand, I wrote the second draft, choosing as best I could, prayerfully, so that I could create true characters with true challenges in today’s true chaos. My characters must face crossroads just each one of us faces daily; they must choose as they step through the words, the lines, the pages. Their past choices defined them, and their present choices change them. They stop, turn around, and go back. They turn; they cross intersections of choice. They may even deny the choices offered, blinding themselves to life and love.
All choice is informed and formed by knowledge or ignorance. I must know from where I have come so that I can know where I am going. I also must be free in order to make my choice; I must live in a culture of liberty with lawful borders, true fire breaks. To choose freely I must practice self-control and responsibility, freedom’s price. To choose freely I must understand liberty’s roots, those seeds that produced this astounding freedom, planted in the rich soil of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Christians know this land where freedom truly flowers. They sense heaven; they desire justice while offering mercy. Believers in Christ are sacramental creatures, fusing earth and heaven, for they belong to an incarnate God, a God who walked among them, taking on human flesh. In spectacular moments of joy, God fills them, for they have allowed their heavenly father into their hearts and minds.
Christian writers are called to express this alternate vision, this uniquely hopeful vision of heaven and earth. They express this vision through their characters’ choices, painting with words who mankind is meant to be, an ideal in the midst of the un-ideal, the fallen. Christians travel through parallel realities as they journey through time, and they do not consider them contradictory. For Christ welded the fallen onto his cross, planted us within the cross, redeeming us. Christians see and know what humanity is – selfish and rebellious. They see and know what humanity is called to be – unselfish, loving, remade in God’s perfect, loving, image.
As traditional faith and family are threatened, Christian writers are called to offer a better way, one of civility, liberty, and law; one of goodness, truth, beauty, and love. They have been anointed by God to reveal to our world that we can, through each choice, preserve the fire trail, that border running between civilization and the wilderness, at least until Our Lord returns.
Christine Sunderland is author of five award-winning novels: Pilgrimage, set in Italy, Offerings, set in France, Inheritance, set England, Hana-lani, set in Hawaii, and The Magdalene Mystery, a quest for the true Mary Magdalene and the historicity of the resurrection, set in Rome and Provence (all OakTara). Her novel-in-progress, The Fire Trail, about the renewing of our civilization, is set in Berkeley, California. She serves as Managing Editor for the American Church Union (www.AmericanChurchUnion.com) and Project Manager for the Berkeley Center for Western Civilization (www.WesternCivCenter.org). Visit Christine at www.ChristineSunderland.com (website and blog).