I was given a copy of Erik Guzman’s The Seed: A True Myth, this summer by Greg Dutcher from These Go To Eleven (we do, after all, share an office). While I generally don’t read much fiction, I was captivated by the description of the story Erik was trying to tell. The subtitle hinted that he was aspiring to do what the greats like Lewis and Tolkien do so well: pull us into the gospel narrative of redemption through a work of epic fiction. His book moved me the way the classic “true myths” should. I hope it, too, will one day be a classic. After I left Erik a favorable review on Amazon he reached out to thank me, so I asked if he’d be willing to share with us at GCD more about the process leading up to The Seed. Here is an abridged version of that conversation.
Erik Guzman, tell us a little about yourself:
My title is VP of communication/executive producer for Key Life. I started here 20 years ago as the talk show producer for Steve Brown. I would describe myself as a struggling believer. I’d describe the ministry of Key Life as one of grace to struggling believers. My role within that ministry is a support role to Steve as well as the other figures of Key Life. More recently I’ve made the foray into writing with both my book The Seed, as well as a mini book, The Gift of Addiction (both books published by New Growth Press in 2016).
I’ve been married for 23 years and together we have 3 children: two daughters (17 and 15) and one son (12).
Can you clarify what you mean by “struggling believer?”
Maybe a good entry point into what I mean is found in a recent article I wrote called, “I Suck at Not Believing in God." Sometimes I find myself thinking life would be easier if I didn’t believe in God. Things matter when you believe in God; people that bear his image matter. That can be traumatic and painful when you’re in relationship with others. Your life matters, you will leave a legacy, for better or for worse.
If life was just snuffed out like a candle, if we all died in a supernova and nothing mattered in eternity, I’d live my life free of the burden of caring about God and others. But the fact is, I can’t shake believing in God. I believe in Jesus, and the Orthodox Christian faith found in the Bible. I think the summary of that belief is that Jesus came to offer grace to struggling believers such as me.
That gives me hope in all my struggles. At the end of the day, it’s not about my performance, but his performance on my behalf. I’m not in control, but he is. When things go wrong, my hope is in the ultimate redemption and reconciliation of creation. I’ve found freedom in living transparently with struggle, whether that be an addiction, mental disorder, or the need to take medication to stabilize my mood.
What has your experience been with sharing your struggles so openly?
Before I found my place in the ministry at Key Life, I really struggled to fit into church culture. I worked hard at it. But now I’m really a product of Steve’s teaching and also find a security in my sense of identity as a son of God. And also a sense of security in my job. I feel free to be myself and not lose my job.
I also struggle with a sense of calling. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong. I have a sense that I’m called to be an open screw-up so I can point to Jesus and his love. Not in some trivial way that glorifies it, but in which the darkness in my own life can point to the light of Christ. If someone can look at me and say, “This guy doesn’t have it together, and he’s found hope in Christ? Maybe Jesus is worth looking into,” I consider it a win. I struggle with this at times, though maybe I’m just making a fool out of myself.
At times I think I get away with a lot because I’m not ordained; because people don’t expect that I should know better. We put pastors up on pedestals too often, and that’s a trap for them and for us.
So, tell us about your book, The Seed.
It took me about 8 years of on-and-off writing and frequent revisions to write The Seed. It’s based on this idea of the “love fractal.”
Fractals are everywhere, all through nature. And at some point, it occurred to me that they could be used as a metaphor or an image for the body of Christ and the life of God in the world. The way he creates us in his image and there’s this reproduction, much like in a fractal, it just clicked for me. I thought it a useful metaphor for what we are a part of. If we see them all throughout the world, perhaps God has a sort of “fractal mind” as he is the one who designed everything.
Originally, this idea started as an illustration that was going to be in Steve Brown’s book Three Free Sins. The big point there was that self-righteousness is the mark of the fall. Wherever you find it, whether it be self-love, or self-indulgence that rejects the companionship and input of others. Since everyone knew Steve but not me, they ended up publishing the book without my part but Steve loved the idea and kept encouraging me to work on it. That’s how The Seed was born.
Who are your influences as a writer?
I love C.S. Lewis’ science fiction trilogy, particularly Perelandra, but growing up I didn’t read a lot. The first book I ever really read was Cujo by Stephen King. During the weirder phase of my life, I was reading Carlos Castaneda, Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and a lot of New Age drug trip stuff like Hunter S. Thompson.
Later in life, I got into Tolkien, Kurt Vonnegut, and Aldous Huxley. Currently, I’m reading King’s Dark Tower series and particularly love The Gunslinger.
My book also had a lot of musical influence in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” It was the soundtrack of my adolescence and hung on even as I got older. Building your own prison is a theme in the book, and also in my life.
When I read The Seed, the thing I love is that it is a retelling of the gospel as a story. Do you see this as a tool for discipleship in drawing others into the story of God?
That was really my hope from the beginning. For believers, that they’d see the gospel anew in a fresh way that would impact their hearts in ways it maybe hadn’t before.
I was also hoping to draw in unbelievers who might normally dismiss Christianity, thinking they know what it is only to read this and then ask them if they’d ever thought of the Christian message in this sort of way. I was hoping to wake people up with my words.
Propositional truths might reach our heads, but an engaging story has the power to stir our hearts to worship when it’s seasoned with the truth about God. I wanted more than mental assent, but to tweak people’s hearts to respond to God’s love.
What would you say to someone critical of the way you portray God in the book, in particular, someone charging the depiction of his love as too feminine?
I think if you take a look at what the Bible says marriage symbolizes, and even more the way Jesus prays for his church to be one, and for us to be in him and him in us, it seems the Bible goes even farther than I did. Some might try to sexualize that, but I wouldn’t do that. Even more, we can go farther and say it’s not just God and his people, but eventually all of creation that will be reunited with him.
We’ve been given the message of reconciliation; there is no barrier between man and God, if man is willing to enter into that relationship through Jesus. The gospel is an invitation into a relationship with the Trinity. The Christian is filled with the Spirit of God, is a member of the body of Christ, and looks upon the Father who gazes upon him in acceptance and union.
The critic of this is not thinking too much of this, but too little. He’s probably been influenced more by culture’s view of sex than the Bible’s and doesn’t see the beauty of the gospel. It’s more than a sum of body parts. I don’t want to trivialize the meaning of man being reconciled to God in that way.
I wish more people would talk about the mind-blowing truth of man being reconciled to God. It’s so much more than simply being forgiven. While that’s a part of it, it’s certainly more than that. The Christian aim should be to become more and more one with his creator, and I think authors should be giving more attention to that aim.
Another thing I loved from the book was the laughter you depict between the person of God. What was your thought process for including laughter in the divine persona?
I love to laugh, and something about laughter brings you outside of yourself. Anne Lamott called it “carbonated holiness.” There’s something transcendent about laughter. You can often rise above darkness or tragedy by laughing about it. I grew up watching comedians attempt to do that.
I once saw Charlie Jones (of Peculiar People), do this bit as G.K. Chesterton, and I remember this line:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
It makes me wonder: Have we all grown tired and weary from the fall and lost our sense of humor? But God, as a fountain of life, does he take joy and laughter in his creation? I tend to think so. That’s the kind of God I wanted to depict in my work. He enjoys his creation and delights in their laughter and laughs with them.
Any future writing projects?
I sometimes say the biggest problem with my book is that everyone hasn’t read it. It’s been discouraging at times. When writing it, everything was so palpable in terms of the creativity of God and the enormity of his plan for reconciling the world. I was convinced I’d change the world. But it hasn’t made the splash I would’ve hoped for. So when I’ve tried to write more I’ve been burdened by the self-doubt.
I have been dabbling with the idea of a sort of sequel to The Seed, but with such a twist that it wouldn’t even be discernible until a long way in. The idea there being that maybe The Seed hasn’t caught on because it’s so niche that it doesn’t appeal to a secular audience.
Steve Brown has encouraged me by saying, “If you never do anything else after this, this is enough.” Which has been really good to hear.
Would you rather have legs as long as your fingers? Or fingers as long as your legs?
Probably legs as long as my fingers. Because I’d miss having the use of my fingers, but could do without reasonably sized legs.
Erik Guzman, thank you for your time and for your labor in writing a book that truly is a “true myth” and draws us into the story that God is telling.
You can find out more about Erik and Key Life at their website where you can also purchase his books.
Sean Nolan (B.S. and M.A., Clarks Summit University) is the Family Life Pastor at Christ Fellowship Church in Forest Hill, Maryland. Prior to that, he served at a church plant in Troy, New York for seven years and taught Hermeneutics to ninth and tenth graders. He is married to Hannah and is raising an army of toddlers. He blogs at Family Life Pastor.