I featured this author on 28/09/19 in another blog, now defunct.
Today, I am featuring author, James D. Sanderson as my guest. He has just released a new novel, Those Who Dwell Upon The Earth. This is his first literary novel, set in the future, speculative in nature that asks the following questions,
- What will we do when the nations of the world finally resort to the ultimate violence - nuclear weapons? When the world economy collapses. When the world goes to war? Will we choose even more violence and chaos to solve our problems, or will we find some other way?
- Will we Christians choose to follow Christ, building loving communities, caring for others, finding forgiveness and living the way of nonviolence? And if we do choose this way, what will that look like?
- Those Who Dwell Upon The Earth' is a novel about a small Christian discipleship group that decides the time has come to choose this new way. Over time their tiny community grows into a full-blown movement. At that point they are seen as a threat to the authoritarian government that has taken away our civil liberties. Who will prevail?
- Before the end times comes the bad times - the Troubles. How will we as Christians respond?
I encouraged James to explore the background to his novel and discuss some of its themes and the challenges it presents to us. So below is his impressions on this that form the basis of his novel.
This is one very encouraging and challenging post. James has a heart for Christ and how to live for Him. It is with pleasure to feature him on this blog to encourage and inspire us. I can see his novel doing this too. I will be reading this novel, this week.But first, a book trailer to set the stage for this:
'THOSE WHO DWELL UPON THE EARTH' IS A NOVEL OF SOCIAL PROTEST
No one should have to live this way – too rich or too poor, because either extreme is bad for the soul. Yet a point seems to have been reached that leads to greater control of markets by corporations, by wealthy investors, by government cronies. By the capital class. While the working class is squeezed more and more and is in jeopardy of being crushed out of existence. When the developers and speculators can reap obscene profits, while the butcher at the local grocery store cannot pay his bills, something has gone terribly wrong.
No one seems to know what to do.
‘Those Who Dwell Upon The Earth’ is a novel of social protest much like John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. One of the primary criticisms of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ was that it presented a philosophy of communism. It is that same criticism that is likely to be levelled against ‘Those Who Dwell Upon The Earth’. When, in the extreme case of corruption, violence, and oppression in a government, the common people are forced to rise up and take control of the mechanisms of power, some form of communism may be the result.
There are several differences between a communist state and a church community. First and foremost is belief in God and the Bible, and a commitment to following the prompting of the Holy Spirit. There is a huge difference between a totalitarian police state and a loving and benevolent Father God.
The second difference is found in the voluntary nature of giving and sharing in the Christian community as found in Acts 2:42-48, and other places, and the mandatory ‘sharing’ that is found in a communist system. Being forced to contribute does not lead to loving care for one another. It leads to deceit and fear and anger.
The third difference between a communist state and a Christian community is the general sense of wanting to comply with God’s will, as opposed to being forced to comply with a central committee or power, or a single dictator. There are many other differences as well.
‘Those Who Dwell Upon The Earth’ anticipates what it would look like for a small Christian disciple group to act and lead in a world that has suffered the great agony of financial collapse, nuclear bombardment, and another world war. How would their way be different from the way of the world?
What we see in this novel is not a turn toward communism, but a way for people to move forward in the loving embrace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is truly a different kind of Christian fiction. It is literary, intelligent, action-packed – being thrust forward by a sense of community movement – and very important for today’s Christian trying to ‘make it’ in the real world.
I have an excerpt below. I chose this excerpt because it best illustrates the power of Christian love in action. Power in the hands of the corrupt – worldly power – can seem invincible. But we know from all the stories of Jesus, and the illustration He lived in His life, that true power lies in the hands of God. We need only turn to God and rely on His power to see miracles in this world.
From Chapter 8:
Immediately Jesus established the Church of Animas. He used the time-honored wisdom of the Apostle Paul, who directed Titus to appoint elders in each city. He looked for the Biblical qualities of vigilance, blamelessness, the husband of one wife, soberness, of good behavior, given to hospitality, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy, but patient, not covetous, of good reputation, and all the rest.
“Eldership is not a position of honor, as we have seen in other churches. An elder is a certain man who is wise; who has consistently lived a solid life; who prays; who studies his Bible; who teaches sound doctrine; and who can oversee the Body of Christ.”
He did not spend a lot of time citing what he believed was wrong with the official Certain Way of Truth Church. The fact that it was hierarchical, run like a business enterprise with a Chief Executive Officer; that it was ‘the’ only church-sanctioned exclusively by the government; that it had become comfortable and inward-focused; or that it held its money in reserve against a rainy day rather than using it to help the poor or reach the lost was something, he said, they would answer for.
No, he had his hands full without all that. He was not out to reform the official church, but to replace it with a truly new Body of Christ, inspired by the New Testament model, filled with the Spirit of God – filled with love and concern one for another – outwardly focused, following the commands to ‘go and preach’ and ‘go and make disciples’, paralleling the mission of Christ Himself as He said He had come to seek and save that which is lost.
At that time, before much had begun to happen in the way of opposition, Jesus taught his disciples (a group that now numbered seventy because of his dynamic and persuasive preaching), about the nature of power:
“Power is not found in a single large block, as most people seem to think. No, there is as much power as there are people. What seems to be a mighty block of power is in reality made up of infinite unseen atoms – each one of you. If those atoms refuse to cooperate with the whole block, or if they organize in another way separate from the block; what seems mighty and invincible – the block itself – flies apart.
“Power is not held in the hands of the few unless that power has been granted to them by the many. That is why violence is unnecessary and even counter-productive. There is no need for violence when people simply withdraw or withhold their consent. ‘We are making a different choice,’ they are saying by refusing to cooperate with their own oppression. The use of violence may give the authorities reason to retaliate in like manner, or even more violently, and they may actually find justification in cracking down on the resisters – even killing innocents as they do so – as part of their quest to ‘keep order’.
“Do you understand? There is no need for it. Let us take as an example, the establishment of this church – the Church of Animas. We need no one’s permission to do this. What we are doing here is not breaking any law. We are simply calling together the three elders (there may be more but we have not identified them yet) and have begun to preach the message of hope to those who, for whatever reason, have found themselves outside the walls of the official church. By creating this Church, we have established an alternative – a choice – for the people of our community. There is no need to become combative or belligerent. There is no call for violence. We are quietly and peacefully placing our ‘membership’ in a new place.”
Of course, this discourse made perfect sense to the disciples, and yet they found his teaching radically different from any way they had perceived things before. “Here is a man who teaches with great authority,” they marveled.
“It is the same with our community,” he continued dialectically. “Since decent services have not been provided and are not being provided to the common folks currently, we are at liberty to simply provide those services for ourselves, whatever anyone else may do. There is no need for a fuss. We may choose.
“Only if others come to oppose us – our activities – or attempt to outlaw them, will conflict arise. Even then the choices remain with us. We can ignore them. We can disobey unjust laws. We can resist those who attempt to wield power for their own purposes.”
The Novel's Structure and Style
To understand the structure and style of ‘Those Who Dwell Upon The Earth’ we must turn to the gospel of Mark. Many scholars over the years have attempted to discover a structural plan and scheme for this gospel, some with interesting results. It seems elusive in its very simplicity. One may rightly conclude that the gospel was written with a very literary intention. That the author of Mark lived and wrote in a particular moment in history and that he had full control of the material at hand – the story of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
One of the most intriguing of those studies is ‘Binding the Strong Man – A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus’ by Ched Myers, a work that I admire very much. His is an in-depth and complex examination of the figure-eight structure of Mark’s underlying organization.
Myers presents the first half of Mark as a ‘prologue and call to discipleship’; ‘the first direct-action campaign’; the first sermon on revolutionary patience’; Jesus’ construction of a new social order’; and the execution of John and the first epilogue’. There is then a very distinct breaking point at the midpoint of the story which leads into the second half of the figure-eight, ‘the second prologue and call to discipleship’; ‘Jesus’ construction of a new social order ii’; ‘the second direct action campaign’; ‘the second sermon on revolutionary patience’; ‘Jesus’ arrest and trial by the powers’; ‘the execution of Jesus and the second epilogue’.
A much simpler plan was used to structure the novel. The author found an introductory section in the first Chapter of Mark. In the gospel, Chapter one verses 1-15 we find John the Baptist calling for the people to ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” He preached, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the straps of whose sandals I am unworthy to stoop down and untie.” Jesus himself is baptized by John.
It is at this point – with the baptism – that the novel begins. The character of Jesus has baptized himself in the lake and spent forty days fasting and praying in the wilderness. In the gospel, verse 12, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness,” where Jesus is tempted by Satan. After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Good News of God. “The time is at hand,” Jesus proclaims. “And the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.”
The next section in both the gospel and the novel tell the story of local ministry – in Galilee and in small-town Colorado. In the novel the small Christian disciple group grows into a movement for social change and builds a practical program of renewal for the people and their city. In the gospel, this section ends with healing a blind man and sending him back home while he, Jesus, and the other disciples went into Caesarea Philippi and on toward Jerusalem, conflict, death, and resurrection.
In the novel, this section ends with leaving the Church of Animas behind to grow as it has been growing all along. Jesus and a few of his followers set out on ‘The March’ toward Denver, toward conflict, and death and, they hoped, toward resurrection.
The third and final section of both the gospel and the novel is the long journey into the heart of the ruling powers – church, military, and government. In both, we see a renewed call to action and teachings which are intended to illustrate this new way. The new location for the showdown between the powers and this new way is the city of Jerusalem in the gospel of course, and in Denver in the novel.
In both cases, the dramatic build-up is intense as the powers recognize the threat, issue their warnings, and finally move with overwhelming force – “and with him (Judas) a great multitude with swords and staves…” – to crush any dissent or opposition. The power elite simply cannot be defeated.
It is then, however, at the very moment of our weakness, that we can find the strength through Christ to prevail and to transcend the entire situation. It is then we discover the true transcending power of the cross.
The style of the novel is fast-paced, tense, and taut. In the gospel of Mark, we have a sense of constant movement with words like ‘immediately’ and ‘right away’. That same sense of pace is used in the novel. Almost at once conflict is set up as any move to live as Jesus lived and teaches us to live will come into direct conflict with the world. The character development is minimal, being sacrificed for the overall call to action. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ you take on certain characteristics that transcend personality or personal desires.
The use of a submerged first-person narrator is the key to the style of this novel. It is this sense of personal storytelling without revealing its source that keeps the reader engaged in the welfare of the characters in spite of their rather sketchy development. In several instances, the reader catches glimpses of the interior life of Jesus through his journal entries. Not until the end of the novel, however, does the first-person voice of the narrator emerge as one of the common people of that future time.
For those who want to study this novel in more depth, James has developed A READER'S GUIDE: THOSE WHO DWELL UPON THE EARTH. It provides background, literary analysis, critical thought, insights, author information and questions for group discussion.
James blogs at: http://jamesdsanderson.blogspot.com/
His Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JamesDSandersonBooks/If this has piqued your interest in reading this novel and/or its Reader's Guide, click on the image below:
About James D. Sanderson:
Author James D. Sanderson was born and raised in the Midwest – in Michigan – where he lived the values of a hard-working blue-collar family. He began reading great literature at an early age. The idea that we are to live greatness in our lives took root then. That our time is limited and therefore valuable – not to be wasted on trivial matters or cheap entertainments. That, if God took the time and effort to create us, that is something special. Life is not to be squandered.
He was a nominal Christian until a mission trip to Nicaragua confronted him with poverty and the way of nonviolence in the face of a civil war that had left that country devastated. His faith in Christianity as Sunday gathering and religious observances was overturned. When he returned home his wife Nancy and he began an outreach to the homeless, the poor, the disenfranchised, the lost and forgotten in their community. The practice of Christianity in that setting changed everything. Then a homeless woman living in a cave challenged him, “If you want to know what it’s like living outside in the winter, why don’t you come out and try it for yourself.” So he did. That challenge, “try it for yourself,” has informed his ministry and his writing since the beginning. “If we don’t know first-hand what we’re writing about, we have no business writing,” Sanderson has said.
His writing is built upon the foundation of great literature, the Bible, and has been influenced by Steinbeck, Dickens, Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and many others. His attempt to express the way of Christian love, nonviolence, missional community-building, and solidarity with the poor and downtrodden of society is unparalleled, especially in literary fiction. “Theology has to work in the real world,” Sanderson says. His writing reflects that conviction.