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Wrestling With Gods
 


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Wrestling With Gods


  Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts Eighteen

  edited by Liana Kerzner and Jerome Stueart

  Copyright © 2015

  All contributions copyright by their respective authors.

  E-Book Edition

  Published by

  EDGE Science Fiction and

  Fantasy Publishing

  An Imprint of

  HADES PUBLICATIONS, INC.

  CALGARY

  Notice

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author(s).

  * * * * *

  This book is also available in print

  * * * * *

  Contents

  Foreword: The Disappearing Lion Trick

  by Jerome Stueart

  Mecha-Jesus

  by Derwin Mak

  Come All Ye Faithful

  by Robert J. Sawyer

  A Hex, With Bees

  by Tony Pi

  The Queen in the Poplar Forest

  by S. L. Nickerson

  A Cut and a Prayer

  by Janet K. Nicolson

  Under The Iron Rain

  by John Park

  The Shadows of Gods

  by Mary-Jean Harris

  The Machine

  by David Clink

  Burnt Offerings

  by Mary Pletsch

  Ascension

  by Jennifer Rahn

  The Faith Circus

  by Alyxandra Harvey

  The Seven Creations — Book One

  by Halli Lilburn

  The Rev. Mr. Alline Encounters an Uncommon Light

  by John Bell

  The Harsh Light of Morning

  by David Jón Fuller

  Summon the Sun

  by Carla Richards

  So Loved

  by Matthew Hughes

  The Moral of the Story

  by J. M. Frey

  Soul Survivor

  by Steve Stanton

  Exoplanet IV

  by Erling Friis-Baastad

  Chromatophoric Histories of the Sepiidae

  by James Bambury

  Ganapati Bappa Moriya

  by Savithri Machiraju

  Abominatiō

  by Jen Laface and Andrew Czarnietzki

  When Bone Ships Sailed the Stars

  by David Fraser

  The Last Man on Earth

  by Suzanne M. McNabb

  Where the Scorched Man Walks

  by Megan Fennell

  Afterword: The Struggle to Wrestle With Gods

  by Liana Kerzner

  * * * * *

  Foreword: The Disappearing Lion Trick

  by Jerome Stueart

  In one of my most vivid memories, I am four-years-old, escaping the nursery at our church. While my folks were attending the service, I found an abandoned room at the end of a dark hallway. In the room was a large stuffed lion. He had holes in him and a gash, and his stuffing was coming out, and someone had put him out here as the first step towards throwing him away. I remember curling up in his paws, because he was so huge compared to me, and putting my head in the crook of his furry neck, and talking to him until I fell asleep.

  When the daycare attendants found me, they were upset, and they dragged me back into the nursery with all the other noisy kids. But I escaped again on another day, ran back to that room, back to that security— and found the room empty, and he was gone. But though they took him away, I never forgot that feeling of security and comfort in the arms of that ragged lion.

  * * *

  Lions were part of the narrative of stories I was receiving from multiple sources. I remember my mother gathering us every night in the hallway that joined our bedrooms. We’d bring our blankets, and cuddle with each other as she read. I remember the books: Mother Goose, Fairy Tales, The Bible, and the Chronicles of Narnia, with its talking lion and kids like me who found adventure.

  When I was nine, my father became a Southern Baptist minister, and the Bible became the cement foundation of our entire lives. We started hearing the Bible every Sunday, even three times a week, as it moved from stories to self-help to the rules of my life, and lost a little in the evolution.

  We shifted away from the stories I loved to the letters of Paul, and prophecies of prophets in very difficult circumstances. By the time I was eighteen, I had to escape the main service, go down the long hallway, and look into the Sunday school rooms of the children of our church to find the good stories. There they were, pinned up to the wall, almost inaccessible to me as an adult because I was supposed to have moved on to more “meatier” faith and religion.

  I missed “Daniel in the Lion’s Den”. The holy man of God is surrounded by hungry lions, and must last the night. When they check in the morning, Daniel sits with peaceful lions because his God was there with him.

  I missed Elijah who, in a great showdown of gods with the prophets of Ba’al on Mount Carmel, prayed for God to make a spectacular appearance, and God did.

  I missed Ruth and Naomi traveling together, praying to find economic stability and a home again. I missed Esther who risked her life coming out as Hebrew to save her people.

  I missed Jacob wrestling with the angel to grab something good for his family from the gods. This is the impetus for the theme of this anthology: struggling with faith, wrestling with gods.

  These were stories told mostly now to the children— encouraging, empowering stories. They were people struggling, talking, in a relationship with their gods.

  Bible stories, for me, showed faith was the great equalizer. In the stories, faith favours the wanderer over the settled, the outsider over the king, the captured slave over the captors, the boy over the giant, and the praying man over the predators. Jesus re-emphasizes that up-ended power dynamic when he gives his great speech, The Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit… the meek, the merciful…”

  But as a teen, sitting in church, it seemed the only thing left for adults were sermons that curbed that power, that independence, and often insured obedience, guilt, and an acceptance of suffering, endured for a promised Heaven. Welcome to the practical world of Christian living! There are no adventures here.

  I felt a bait-and-switch had happened.

  I had more questions. Like most people, I wanted to know why I was here? What were the stars way out there for? What was my purpose in life? Are there more truths to learn to become a better person?

  I shifted my eyes to find story again— as is the case with most of us. I’d been led in through the wide, colorful, open door of stories into my faith, and I wanted them back.

  * * *

  Great Faiths have great stories. The form of story is the most perfect form for truth, I think. Story doesn’t mean fiction— it just indicates form. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has tension and struggle and resolution. Stories have quests, and they answer questions. They can be historically true, and they can be allegorically true. Stories are easier to share. You can pass on a story to a child. Religions understand that you must capture the minds of the young with great stories, and stories will hold them to the faith stronger than anything. They leave impressions on us.

  Most faiths have a mixture of stories and creed. We’ve already talked about the use of story in the Bible. The M
ahabharata is a long epic poem containing many stories of gods and humans important to the Hindu faith and culture. The Qur’an contains stories as well that guide Muslims. Journey to the West, the Odyssey, Beowulf, Gilgamesh, the stories of Buddha. They all contain stories that hold cultural wisdom. Each of these texts have “fantastical elements”: gods, miracles, great beasts and giants, powerful evil beings, good triumphing over evil. The world’s most ancient stories helped establish cultures by putting wisdom in the form of story— to make them memorable.

  They just happened to have fantastical elements, too. When ideas, concepts and creeds become too existential, it is the giants and the dragons and the jinn that give truth form and texture. How do I master my untamed, destructive impulses? You can knock that Goliath down. I can see a Goliath. I can remember a Goliath when I try to rein in my destructive tendencies.

  Many of the texts above hold a sacred significance for millions of people. They created world cultures, and these conversations and struggles of humans and gods established our relationship with the known and unknown.

  In my life, they were great stories that helped remind me that God was with me, and that I too could struggle and search and doubt, and still be in a relationship with a god. But if I was told I’d outgrown them, where would I find more stories like these?

  * * *

  Since I’d already been led to believe in miracles, in “magic” (the power of God), and courageous heroes, I was overjoyed to discover fantasy and science fiction. They asked the big questions. Their characters struggled with the reasons they existed. They questioned the prevalence of war, inequality, poverty, and powerlessness.

  Bilbo and Frodo, the smallest, meekest of races, the hobbits, end up being the most powerful in saving their world from destruction. Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series had an awkward young woman and her younger brother battling forces of evil for the good of the world— and there were centaurs, and mediums, and giant, pulsing brains of conformity. I kept revisiting Narnia, both a fantasy series and an allegory for Christian faith, and found new comfort in that speaking lion. Star Trek and Star Wars gave me great morality tales in space.

  In the sacred texts, the holiest of people, Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha, were the great equalizers in an unbalanced world, handing power to the powerless and taking the authority out of the hands of the temple, the government, and putting it back into the hands of the individual. With prayer, or concentration, or devotion, you and you and you could have miracles too.

  Science fiction and fantasy reflected themes found in those sacred texts. They emphasized the weak over the powerful, the hobbits over the sorcerers, the rebels over the Empire. They said that great power came from strong belief and selfless motive, not in strong magic, weapons, or numbers. They celebrated good defeating evil. They had everyday people sacrificing themselves for the good of others.

  And I found myself in science fiction and fantasy’s not-so-holiest of people— the ones who struggled with what to do, who don’t have all the answers. It’s when they struggle and wrestle that I most identified with them. To me, they seemed so much like those earlier Bible story characters, stumbling through questions and interactions with gods (or aliens or wizards or giants).

  I could be these people too. I could make these mistakes. I could search and ask and doubt and struggle and wrestle like Frodo and Meg and Kirk and Luke and Bruce Wayne and Ripley and Tyrion— like they do with their enemies and their gods.

  Science fiction and fantasy stories still hold truths if you want to wrestle.

  * * *

  So here we have 25 stories and poems of the strugglers, the wrestlers, the ones who want to understand; the ones who want to snatch power out of the hands of gods; the ones who struggle to turn disaster into hope.

  You don’t have to be a believer. You just have to believe in the powers of fantasy and science fiction to speak truth. Having authors tackle faith as a theme has brought us stories and poems where characters find the most impossible challenges, and contemplate the deeper mysteries in a most satisfying way.

  We think you’ll like these 25 offerings.

  While I’m excited that they represent a wide spectrum of real world faiths, and a lot of created ones too, what makes me most excited is how they present the regular everyday people who search.

  Like the best characters of sacred texts, their characters are flawed and gritty, wrestling with faith and belief, and not always surviving. They craft, lie, surprise, create, explore, rescue, abandon and betray themselves and those they love to try to figure out how to balance the supernatural in their own natural lives.

  I was touched by many of these stories because I could see me making those same choices. They let me in.

  And isn’t that the most important thing when it comes to faith and religion? You feel comfortable with the ones that let you in. They may be old, ragged, with the stuffing pouring out, but they give you some peace, and they seem to whisper, Talk to me.

  * * * * *

  Mecha-Jesus

  by Derwin Mak

  Father Xavier Ito, a researcher of the Pontifical Institute of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, could not escape from androids even in rural Aomori Prefecture. He drove past fields of apples, rice, and garlic, all tended by agricultural androids.

  He slowed as he approached the black van in front of him. The van, moving at twenty kilometers below the speed limit, had Japanese flags and loudspeakers mounted on it. A voice boomed from the loudspeakers:

  “ANDROIDS TAKE JOBS FROM HUMANS! PROTECT THE HUMAN RACE! DESTROY ALL ANDROIDS!”

  Such sound vans were common at political protests in big cities. Father Ito had never seen one in a rural area, though. He guessed that the van drove slowly so that the few remaining human farm workers could hear it.

  He passed the van. The words “PROTECTORS OF HUMANITY” were painted in bold white characters on its side.

  Over the years, the police had arrested the Protectors of Humanity for attacking androids. Ito hoped that they were not going to the village of Shingo. There he had to examine an android that resembled Jesus Christ.

  He sped away, leaving the black van behind. Further ahead, a lane was closed because a crack ran through it. In a grassy field, a barn had fallen over. An earthquake had hit Aomori a week ago. Fortunately, it had been mild, and nobody had died.

  Finally, Ito arrived at Shingo. As his car drove into the parking lot, an android pointed at an empty space.

  “Please park in that space,” the android said.

  Ito recognized the android as an L-2 by its shiny plastic skin, glazed eyes, and electronic machine voice. Although it wore a parking attendant’s uniform, nobody would confuse it with a human.

  Ito switched to manual control and parked his car. He approached the android and asked, “Where is the Tomb of Christ?”

  “Please park in that space,” said the android, pointing at another empty spot.

  Definitely an L-2, thought Ito. He looked around and saw a sign pointing to the Tomb of Christ. It lay in the woods.

  As he walked on the path to the tomb, he passed vendors selling crosses and Jesus statues. A banner reading “WELCOME TO THE CHRIST FESTIVAL” hung on an arch over the path.

  A tour guide told his guests, “Jesus did not die in Israel as the Christians say. Instead, his brother Isukiri substituted himself for Jesus on the cross. Jesus fled to Siberia, then to Shingo. He became a rice farmer, got married, had three children, and lived to be one hundred and six years old. Because of his foreign appearance, people called him the Big-Nosed Goblin.”

  Nobody in Shingo knew that Jesus had lived there until a Shinto priest discovered Jesus’ last will and testament in 1936. Jesus apparently wrote in Japanese, four hundred years before the Japanese had any written language.

  Nobody in Shingo admitted to believing that Jesus had lived there. However,
nobody would turn away the tourists or their money either.

  A middle-aged woman approached him and said, “Ah, you must be Father Ito. I can tell by your clothes.”

  Ito always wore a black suit and Roman collar when visiting a holy site, even one of dubious history. Shinto priests were there, and he respected them.

  Father Ito bowed and gave his business card to the woman.

  “I’m Fukuda Hiro, the Mayor of Shingo,” said the woman. She handed her card to Ito. “I’m very pleased that the Vatican has honoured my request to verify that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ has occurred.”

  “I’m actually here to examine the android from an engineering standpoint,” Ito said. The Pope had ignored all the messages that Mayor Fukuda had sent him. The Pontifical Institute, however, wanted to learn about the android Jesus.

  “Oh, you’re not here to verify the Second Coming?” Fukuda sounded disappointed. “Well, it’s possible for Jesus to return as an android.”

  “Fukuda-san, are you Christian?” Ito asked.

  Fukuda guffawed. “Of course not. Nobody in Shingo is. I follow Shinto, like everyone else.”

  Mayor Fukuda led Father Ito to two graves, both earthen mounds with unpainted wooden crosses. One of Isukiri’s ears and a lock of the Virgin Mary’s hair were buried under one mound. The other mound held the bones of Jesus. Like the Jesus testament, the graves were unknown until 1936, and nobody had excavated them.

  As tourists walked around the graves, Ito saw a European man holding a Bible and brochures. As people passed him, he said, “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal saviour and you will be saved!” He spoke in Japanese with an American accent.

  Ito went to the man and introduced himself in English. The American smiled, bowed, and shook his hand.

  “I’m Norman Richmond from Los Angeles, California,” he said. “It’s nice to meet another Christian.”

  “Are you a missionary?” Ito asked. He knew the answer, but it was polite to ask and make small talk.

  “Only on weekends. I teach English in Aomori City, but in my spare time, I promote Jesus for La Cienega Bible Mission.”

 
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