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I've been working on this story for a while and I thought I'd see if I could get some feedback on the allegory for Heaven I'm using. Due to the nature of the story and the universe in which it's set I went with a more abstract allegory for Heaven instead of a physical location or merely putting my concept of Heaven into the story.

First, a little background: the story itself spans the heroine's first six months as a fledgling superheroine and outlines the trials she faces along the way. It's centered around her changing understanding of her motives for engaging in the superheroic life and draws parallels to the Christian experience. 

Below is a passage from the story in which the heroine, Powerset, is interviewed for a college journalism project by her friend and flatmate, Ahmed, concerning her heroic endeavours.

Ahmed: So, who is Powerset?

Powerset: Ahmed, that is a terrible way to start an interview.

Ahmed: But that's what people want to know, isn't it? Besides, we can always edit this later.

Powerset: You want to do well on this assignment, correct? I was under the impression grades meant something.

Ahmed: Said the dropout...

Powerset: Replied the journalism student desperate for the dropout's help...

Ahmed: Touché. Alright, how would you start this segment?

Powerset: Probably by asking something personal. And by personal I don't mean what colour undies I'm wearing.

Ahmed: Aha, okay. Um, okay, I think I have a good one. What drives you to do what you do?

Powerset: Superheroism has always been a big part of my family history. My great granddad had powers, as did my uncle, and I've developed them as well. Even our non-powered members like Mum or Dad have always found ways to join in the fight, even if they never punched out thugs or caught planes in mid-air. We've always felt it was kind of our duty to do as much as we can with what we have. If not us, who else?

Ahmed: Sounds like a burden.

Powerset: It can be. There are times when I feel like Atlas, like every decision I make could mean life or death for a few million people here or there. It's not easy, but the rewards more than make up for it.

Ahmed: Rewards? As in you get something for being a superhero?

Powerset: Mhm. Some may already know this from the interview my uncle did a few years back, but my family's powers are fueled by brainwaves. We can absorb them and then use them in different ways. And since the world's just brimming with thoughts we're almost never at a loss for power. Can't absorb all frequencies though, except in a special case. Just before we die there's a moment. A moment in which we can see, can feel everything. Everything that's ever happened to everyone that's ever lived. In that moment we can see the full impact of all the good we've done. All the lives we've touched... My uncle explained it just before he went. My Mum says granddad said almost the same words.

Ahmed: It sounds beautiful.

Powerset: It does. *Sniffle* Sorry, I'm getting emotional. I must sound like a lunatic.

Ahmed: No, no that's a beautiful goal to work towards.

Powerset: *Sniffle* Thanks. You'd better get an astounding grade on this, Ahmed. You just managed to capture someone who can stop a train with her bare hands crying like a schoolgirl.

Ahmed: Oh, trust me, I have much more embarrassing footage than this. Maybe I should just make that my video...

Powerset: ...

Ahmed: Kidding!

So, what do you think? Is the allegory clear? Does it work? What can I improve upon? Any constructive criticism would be appreciated!

-R.M.C.

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Hello R.M.C., I'm not seeing your allegory for Heaven, can you walk us through your thoughts about it? I think you write very well, and I love Powerset's description of what happens just before one of her family dies, but I'm not making the connection to Heaven though.

Hi Gerard. I guess maybe it could be a little clearer. I guess I should explain my thought process.

The "moment" Powerset describes is supposed to be the allegory for Heaven, or more specifically an allegory for the blissful aspect of Heaven which we desire, which is the focus of this part of the story. I didn't want her to desire a physical place as I didn't want to make it seem like she's doing all that she does to get into an exclusive club and I didn't want the allegory to become too complicated: exclusivity brings about ideas like separating the "good" and "bad" people or even the notion of earning a place in Heaven, and the physicality of it would warrant questions like "where is this mythical place?", "why do only superheroes know about this?", "who's footing the bill?", "why haven't any normal people stumbled upon it?", "how do the superheroes get there?", or "who randomly decided only superheroes should be rewarded?", which I did not wish to explore. I wanted it to be emotional and subjective in nature so it could be disputed within the story (i.e. she cannot prove that she will ever see the "moment", so who's to say her efforts aren't in vain?). Also, part of the reason I chose the "moment" is that it gives her a reason to keep going (if she does more good, the impact of the "moment" will be greater).

Of course looking back I can see the allegory I chose doesn't necessarily eliminate the issues I was trying to avoid, specifically because the "moment" only seems to occur for her family (exclusivity). The idea of having the moment specific to her family was for simplicity's sake ("why do only superheroes experience the moment?" "must be in the genes"). Technically Powerset's family members aren't the only ones capable of experiencing the "moment"; they're just the most famous example and happen to be surrounded by those who can't experience it. Of course the reader at this point wouldn't know this, so I guess I should consider making the story a bit more new reader-friendly. Also, I guess I can see at this point how the nature of the moment may be interpreted as something earned, which wasn't what I was going for. I had hoped mentioning that non-powered members of her family, such as her granddad, also experienced the moment as they passed would convey the idea that average people could still experience the moment despite the fact that they didn't do anything as impressive, but I guess that could use a little clearing up too.

Hope that explanation's thorough enough! Any ideas on how I can make anything clearer?

Gerard Lee said:

Hello R.M.C., I'm not seeing your allegory for Heaven, can you walk us through your thoughts about it? I think you write very well, and I love Powerset's description of what happens just before one of her family dies, but I'm not making the connection to Heaven though.

Hi R.M.C.,

Ah, I see! Yes, that clears things up quite a bit. I did think that Powerset's description of that last moment of insight into the minds of all living beings had the quality of Heaven, but I was wondering why it would be exclusive to her family. I think what tripped me up was that though some members of her family are not super powered and yet experienced this, I thought it was a hereditary gift.

Could you later in the story have a friend she told about this dying, and having the same experience? That would establish in that moment that it's an occurence common to all humankind. Well, just a thought.

Thank you for sharing your author's insights into the piece you shared with us, it was very interesting and enjoyable! Don't be discouraged just cause I didn't get it, I can be kind of slow sometimes, ha ha! I do think you write well, the dialog sounded very natural, and the description of the last moments of life was beautiful.

Be well, and be blessed!

Gerry

I'm taking:

Just before we die there's a moment. A moment in which we can see, can feel everything. Everything that's ever happened to everyone that's ever lived. In that moment we can see the full impact of all the good we've done. All the lives we've touched...

as your definition of heaven. But it's not scriptural, heaven has nothing to do w/ sin, and this life / world is cursed by sin. Heaven is being found in the presence of Yahweh, and Hell is separation -being separated from Him. Look at the testimony of Stephen he gives a good description of Heaven.

Acts 7:55-56

55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Hi Alika,

I'm not totally sure what the meaning of the word 'Allegory' is, the dictionary only had a one sentence definition that I actually thought was rather vague. I thought that R.M.C. was just trying to show an aspect of Heaven (I presume the White Throne Judgment will reveal all our works in the presence of God) and that this was what R.M.C. was getting at, rather than a complete picture of what Heaven is. You are right though, the complete Truth of what Heaven is, is much bigger and better than can be contained in symbolic terms, and is not complete without the vital quality of being in the presence of God. But perhaps R.M.C. will address that in a later section of his series.

Thank you for sharing the passage from Acts with us, it was very encouraging and exciting!

Gerry

Thanks, Gerry! Hmm... I'll have to look into having a friend of Powerset's dying a little more closely. I can see it working, as it may cause Powerset to question her beliefs concerning who experiences the 'moment' and therefore may wonder if it makes any difference whether she keeps on going or not, but I'm worried it might end up conveying the idea that everyone gets to Heaven whether or not they have a relationship with God in life. Since the primary focus of the story is a Christian's changing motives for doing good and living a life pleasing to God I'm reluctant to go too deep into the experiences of the nonbeliever. But of course the nature of God's selection process in as much as I understand it (i.e. accepting grace, not earning a place because of works) is still a relevant issue. So it's definitely something I'll consider.


Gerard Lee said:

Hi R.M.C.,

Ah, I see! Yes, that clears things up quite a bit. I did think that Powerset's description of that last moment of insight into the minds of all living beings had the quality of Heaven, but I was wondering why it would be exclusive to her family. I think what tripped me up was that though some members of her family are not super powered and yet experienced this, I thought it was a hereditary gift.

Could you later in the story have a friend she told about this dying, and having the same experience? That would establish in that moment that it's an occurence common to all humankind. Well, just a thought.

Thank you for sharing your author's insights into the piece you shared with us, it was very interesting and enjoyable! Don't be discouraged just cause I didn't get it, I can be kind of slow sometimes, ha ha! I do think you write well, the dialog sounded very natural, and the description of the last moments of life was beautiful.

Be well, and be blessed!

Gerry

Hi R.M.C., in the first story I every wrote I tried to pack as much doctrine in as I could. And that is a totally fine way to write a story as long as it's set up for that. But as I get older I begin to think it's not necessary for Christian comics to present the whole Bible's worth of information. For one thing, I don't think it's possible to condense everything into a fictional story, you'd have to make a picture Bible. I think that like Christian music, Christian comic books can contain a Christian message and point to the Bible as the source of Truth. Certainly if a Christian comic book was all anyone would ever read, it might not present enough of the Gospel for Salvation. But in this information age, it's pretty hard for Americans to not be able to get a Bible somewhere, somehow, online or in print. I guess I'm bringing this up because I remember someone once accused the Maranatha Singers of presenting poor doctrine in their songs. What the guy was doing was measuring the message in a 3 minute song against the Bible. But the songs aren't a -replacement- for the Bible, they are to point the way to Jesus and the Bible, and in time knowledge will come. Anyway, that's what I was thinking about tonight.

"allegory"? "the White Throne Judgement"? but that won't happen till the apocalypse is said and done.

Naw, it reads like new-ageism; heaven is what you make of it, heaven is a different experience to everyone, heaven is what we think it is according to our time on this earth. There's no God in that, it's self/human centered, when heaven is centered on Yahweh and He's the focal point.

Hi Alika,

To clarify, Powerset's understanding of Heaven at this point of the story, which is very early on mind you, is neither holistic nor "mature". In my experience our initial understanding of Heaven is often that which is presented by popular culture (i.e. airy, peaceful, sating our simplistic desires for justice and reward), and as such, so is Powerset's. As the story goes on Powerset will gain an understanding of Heaven more similar to what mature modern Christians understand it to be.

I understand that on the surface this allegory presents itself similar to New-Ageism, which is partially why I posted this discussion. As indicated in the passage, the experience of everyone who experiences the moment is essentially the same - "granddad said almost the same words". At this point going deeper into an understanding of the 'moment' relies on knowledge not presented in this passage (i.e. Powerset's family and close family friends, the primary observers of the moment, are in many ways reflective of the body of Christ, so just as dwelling in God's presence is the state of a child of God, experiencing the moment is characteristic of this group of people). 

I will admit imputing an explicit or even implicit God allegory is tough, especially since highlighting one aspect of God tends to detract from others due to our own shortcomings as writers, and as human beings in general. I do believe any story with Christian undertones should point to Christ in some way, so when a story is set in a universe which necessitates the use of allegory it can be challenging to do so without creating many similarities to erroneous ideologies.

So, it's still a work in progress. I hope you understand.

-R.M.C.


Alika Parsons said:

"allegory"? "the White Throne Judgement"? but that won't happen till the apocalypse is said and done.

Naw, it reads like new-ageism; heaven is what you make of it, heaven is a different experience to everyone, heaven is what we think it is according to our time on this earth. There's no God in that, it's self/human centered, when heaven is centered on Yahweh and He's the focal point.

Very true! In general I've been trying to write stories that address a specific question, usually from a specific point of view, but of course I often run into the problem of having too many viewpoints on the same subject (i.e. things I've heard from two different denominations) and end up trying to write them both into the story and it gets complicated. 

I guess sometimes I forget God has other writers, and of course has his own Book people can pick up for themselves, so the pressure isn't all on me - besides, it's his gift, so it's only fair that he directs my writing. Thanks for the perspective!

Gerard Lee said:

Hi R.M.C., in the first story I every wrote I tried to pack as much doctrine in as I could. And that is a totally fine way to write a story as long as it's set up for that. But as I get older I begin to think it's not necessary for Christian comics to present the whole Bible's worth of information. For one thing, I don't think it's possible to condense everything into a fictional story, you'd have to make a picture Bible. I think that like Christian music, Christian comic books can contain a Christian message and point to the Bible as the source of Truth. Certainly if a Christian comic book was all anyone would ever read, it might not present enough of the Gospel for Salvation. But in this information age, it's pretty hard for Americans to not be able to get a Bible somewhere, somehow, online or in print. I guess I'm bringing this up because I remember someone once accused the Maranatha Singers of presenting poor doctrine in their songs. What the guy was doing was measuring the message in a 3 minute song against the Bible. But the songs aren't a -replacement- for the Bible, they are to point the way to Jesus and the Bible, and in time knowledge will come. Anyway, that's what I was thinking about tonight.

R.M.C. Haynes said:

To clarify, Powerset's understanding of Heaven at this point of the story, which is very early on mind you, is neither holistic nor "mature". In my experience our initial understanding of Heaven is often that which is presented by popular culture (i.e. airy, peaceful, sating our simplistic desires for justice and reward), and as such, so is Powerset's. As the story goes on Powerset will gain an understanding of Heaven more similar to what mature modern Christians understand it to be.

This would make sense if you didn't preface her understanding of heaven with:

Some may already know this from the interview my uncle did a few years back,

And bookend it with:

My uncle explained it just before he went. My Mum says granddad said almost the same words.

It comes across as this is not just her outlook but as being part of her mature/dead uncle & granddad's experiences. Unless you are planning on making this clearer in other pages that it is solely her perspective on things.

Sorry for the confusion. 

I had Powerset reference an interview her uncle had to establish that her family was well known, and as such so were their beliefs in the measure the media presented what they believed. By this point the moment is not an entirely foreign concept to the audience of the interview, and is ingrained enough in the pop culture of their world to affect her beliefs slightly. Just as how our early concepts of Heaven are not strictly based off of Scripture but also off of the opinions of those we trust, society, and even to an extent our own sinful desires (who hasn't thought of Heaven as a place where they get everything and anything they want?), Powerset's understanding of the moment and what it means in the context of how she should live her life is partially shaped by her world. The 'bookend' to her part of dialogue here establishes that she at least heard the testimony of her uncle firsthand and the testimony of her grandfather secondhand, which have both influenced her beliefs. Her beliefs do stem from their experiences, though of course what and how much they reported during their final moments, their different understandings of the moment in the context of the lives they lived, Powerset's ability to grasp what they were saying at the time, and her mother's reporting of her grandfather's words all play a factor in what she got from their testimonies. To be fair, some of this is really only understood later on in the story as Powerset's relationships with the various members of her family are expounded upon.

Part of the confusion may stem from the other bits of information in that section of dialogue which relate to aspects of the story other than the moment itself, but I felt were worth mentioning at this point. The Heaven allegory in itself is contained in the dialogue between "except in a special case" and "a beautiful goal to work towards".

I expect that the reader would understand that Powerset's initial view is not the 'correct' view based on how it is tested during the course of the story (and yes I'll be wary of accidentally conveying the idea that it's perfectly fine to surrender your beliefs). I'll keep working on the background info and clean up my allegories a bit. Thanks for the input! I think I have a better understanding of what needs to be done at this stage.

-R.M.C.


Alika Parsons said:

R.M.C. Haynes said:

To clarify, Powerset's understanding of Heaven at this point of the story, which is very early on mind you, is neither holistic nor "mature". In my experience our initial understanding of Heaven is often that which is presented by popular culture (i.e. airy, peaceful, sating our simplistic desires for justice and reward), and as such, so is Powerset's. As the story goes on Powerset will gain an understanding of Heaven more similar to what mature modern Christians understand it to be.

This would make sense if you didn't preface her understanding of heaven with:

Some may already know this from the interview my uncle did a few years back,

And bookend it with:

My uncle explained it just before he went. My Mum says granddad said almost the same words.

It comes across as this is not just her outlook but as being part of her mature/dead uncle & granddad's experiences. Unless you are planning on making this clearer in other pages that it is solely her perspective on things.

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