This post was written by our friend Russ Masterson, who recently released his first work of fiction, a novel entitled Adao’s Dance, available here.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 9.48.17 AMAbout six or seven years ago I found myself exhausted as a pastor. I was insecure and restless internally, just always felt like I wasn’t doing enough as a Christian. I knew I was forgiven, even loved, but I didn’t understand the depth of that love or the security that it gives. This began my journey into understanding how God regards us and relates with us. I realized God just wasn’t keeping score anymore, yet I was, every time I manically worried about my spiritual growth or maturity or my next achievement. All of it, the life of assessment and being challenged constantly, I was experiencing it as judgment.

You know the voice of judgment–it is what we all do–when we pull out our scorecard of great things we have done, or think we should’ve, and compare them to each other, then go home feeling like crap about ourselves. But something was stirring in me, a new belief, a transformation of knowing that God was actually able and cared to take away the scorecard, even as I keep trying to fill it out.

Then I found myself dreaming about writing a story about this freedom, this unconditionality, that could be read by anybody, any faith, at any point in time. This idea, this thought, created a curiosity I wanted to explore. My wife and I would be watching TV, and it would near bedtime, and she would ask, “Are you going to stay up?” And I never wanted to, but as soon as I put on my headphones it was as if I went into another world–I did, this land of Nomos where I’m excited to take you. It’s there I found Adao and Jadon, Pa and Avi, Joshua and Beth, and Evita. I found a supernatural world amidst a natural world, dreams and voices, judgment and love.

It’s a book about a disenchanted boy who receives a dream to carry his village’s symbolic treasure–a totem to the top of a near-impassible mountain called The Dragon. This is the answer to the problem of his inner self aching for some recognition in the world. The book becomes about much more than the summit–but also about what happens after you get the thing you think will be the thing that should give you meaning and peace. And, what do we make of human achievement and acceptance and love–where can we, any of us, find true inner rest?

My favorite setting in the book is in a village high on the mountain, the Village of the Snow, a gleaming attractive village on the surface but a legalistic hell of perfectionism. Adao’s friend, Joshua, tells him about the place as Adao is hesitant to leave to further his journey.

Everest-Movie-2015

“I’m beginning to see everything is not as it seems,” I said.

“Adao, this place isn’t a home for you.”

“Why didn’t you tell me of this side of these people?” I asked.

“Because you wouldn’t have received it. You were enamored by the disciplines, the validation it all gives. The system affirms you as it kills you. Adao, you can and should leave this place, but you must leave looking ahead and not back. Everything in the world does not work as this place does. You must remember where you have been. Remember the other villages.”

We returned to the cabin. Beth was no longer crying, but she was still in front of the fire, now lying on the ground with her head on a small pillow. She sat up when we entered.

“I thought this place was committed to a holy way of life,” I said. “Now, I don’t know about any of it, about the practices and the leader.”

“Adao, he’s not so different,” Joshua said.

“What do you mean, he’s not horrible?” I asked.

“We’re all the same, the leader, me, you, Beth. That’s the point. But here, in this village, people behave as if they’re not. This is my concern over their beliefs. Everyone is dying here, and they don’t even know it.”

“I don’t know what to believe,” I replied.

“Beth,” Joshua said, “the leader responded as we expected him to, without any vision. But fear of his council’s reputation is at risk, so I doubt any harm will be done.”

“Tell him what this vision is you speak of, as I now believe as you do,” Beth said to Joshua.

Joshua looked at Beth and me with a long, loving stare.

“Many have taken the snow as motivation to live purely, but I believe otherwise,” Joshua said. “I believe there’s a better way to see everything. That’s why I no longer go into the reflection circle. I believe the snow is a gift, and I believe the gift enlivens us. I believe there is a heart behind the snow, a gracious Other.”