Francis: To begin with, what about telling us a bit about yourself and your background?
Christine: Thank you for this interview and thank you to Profiles in Catholicism for this opportunity to speak a bit about my work.
Born in 1947, in Fresno, California, I was one of the early postwar Baby Boomers, two years after my father, a chaplain, returned from World War II in the Pacific Theater under MacArthur. My parents were enthusiastic Christians, and my mother announced when I was born, “Another girl for the mission field.” I guess it came true in a way.
Eventually, my father pastored Presbyterian churches in the San Francisco Bay Area where I grew up (Berkeley, Lafayette, San Mateo). I experienced the tumult of the ‘sixties and the Vietnam war. Yet my sister and I grew up in a protected and quiet family world of ideas and books and a little TV, and of course, no other media, with a deep appreciation for our country, its freedoms, and the importance of faith and family. This was the world of suburbia in a more innocent time, a world of Saturday matinees trips to the public library, Sunday church, youth groups, church camps, church choirs; a world of the outdoors too, with tennis lessons, biking, and trailer trips; a world of piano lessons, recitals, and high school plays; a world of quite limited means (my father’s salary) but unlimited books and ideas. Most importantly, it was a world anchored by our mother at home, supervising all, including character formation through chores and discipline, through respect for authority. It was a safe world too, something we took for granted.
I worked my way through college to a BA at San Francisco State University in English Literature (Dickens concentration) but never saw myself becoming a writer. Eventually, I married an attorney with Safeway Stores and enjoyed being a homemaker, punctuated by company trips to Europe. When my husband retired from Safeway in 1992, we traveled more often. We revisited Western Europe, praying and lighting candles in basilicas, abbeys, cathedrals, and village churches, often with our Anglican bishop and his wife. I received an onsite tutorial in history and came to appreciate the legacy of Christianity as the foundation of Western Civilization, human dignity, and freedom. My resulting travel journals became the basis for my Western Civilization Trilogy set in Italy (Pilgrimage, 2007), France (Offerings, 2009), and England (Inheritance, 2009), published by Oak Tara.
I enjoyed the novel-writing process, the structure and character development, so I took classes and learned the craft late in life, going on to write Hana-Lani, set in Hawaii (OakTara, 2010), and The Magdalene Mystery (Oaktara, 2013), set in Rome and Provence (to be re-issued by En Route Books and Media), The Fire Trail (eLectio, 2016), set at UC Berkeley, and Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020), set east of Berkeley on Mount Diablo.
Francis: I know you have written novels about your journey in faith:
Christine: My faith journey has found its way into all of my seven novels of ideas: The trilogy mentioned above from my European travel journals about the history of Christianity; Hana-lani about the nature of love and suffering, marriage and commitment, body and soul; The Magdalene Mystery about the historical Jesus movement and its damaging heresies, New Testament scholarship, Roman excavations, and Provencal grottos; The Fire Trail, about cancel-culture, free speech and freedom, faith and science, Antifa, anarchy, and the rule of law, history and memory, the collapse of Western Civilization; Angel Mountain, about genetics, bio-ethics, and human dignity, C.S. Lewis apologetics and conversions, Heaven and Earth, Christianity and evolution, the Holocaust and the importance of studying the past to understand the present.
Francis: Would you like to summarize that faith journey? What was your starting point, some key moments on that journey, and where are you now?
Christine: I grew up Presbyterian but left the faith in my college years and experienced suicidal despair reading the existentialists taught in the ‘sixties. But I needed real reasons to believe in the resurrection of Christ and all that this meant. In 1967, I found those reasons in C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Since he was Anglican, I visited a local Episcopal (Anglican) parish, St. Matthew’s in San Mateo, High Church, and Anglo-Catholic. I fell in love with the beauty of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer Mass, the liturgy, the rich theology of the traditional hymns, the “smells and bells,” the processions, the rituals. It was a dance of joy, of faith, of worship, handed down through the centuries and I was a part of it.
In 1977 I found myself at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oakland when they voted unanimously, along with other parishes across the country, to leave the mainline Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) over liberalization of doctrine, faith, and practice deemed to be heretical. My parish priest at the time, Father Robert Morse, led the national group of brave clergy and their flocks to form the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK, www.anglicanpck.org). Father Morse was consecrated bishop in Denver in 1978 by three ECUSA bishops, and later, archbishop. Today the APCK continues to witness, unashamedly, to apostolic, sacramental, and creedal Christianity. My husband and I helped seed churches, develop children’s curriculum and other materials through the American Church Union, and support the newly founded seminary, St. Joseph’s Theological College in Berkeley (SJATC).
It has been and is a remarkable journey. I am strengthened by the seasonal disciplines of the Church, memorizing her prayers and psalms, integrating the words and actions of the liturgy into my heart and soul, and my daily life. I have been so blessed to have been a part of this small piece of Christendom, its history, and so blessed to learn to listen to Christ nudging me along through Scripture, Eucharist, and prayer, mentored by clergy and parishioners. (More about my faith journey can be found at www.ChristineSunderland.com.)
Francis: Your writing clearly draws on two, if not three sources – faith journeys; historical research; and fiction. Would you like to comment on the relationship between these three ingredients?
Christine: My faith in Christ as redeemer of the world through his resurrection and ascension, his salvific acts in history, through the Church, informs my life and writing. My faith provides a desire to witness to this love of God, in real-time, today, to share my own journey, my own joy, which, like Lewis, continually surprises me. It is an ongoing adventure, rich with meaning and purpose.
I asked myself when I began to write novels, how can I tell the story, the old, the new, the present-day story of salvation? I did not have the academic qualifications to write history, so I decided to influence popular culture with stories that would inform, inspire, and entertain. Fiction can do this. Fiction enters popular culture in a way nonfiction does not. It seizes upon the imagination and dwells in the heart. So, I write novels set in the present with forays into the past, through backstory or research, with compelling questions that must be answered by the past. My characters take on the quest to find answers to today’s unraveling of the West and our civilization.
In the process, I recruit friends, lay and cleric, professionals qualified to help me. A nun in Rome helped with The Magdalene Mystery, as did a New Testament scholar, former dean of our seminary. A hermit in Kentucky helped with Angel Mountain since a hermit resides in its sandstone caves and preaches from a precipice. A number of clergies weighed in on The Fire Trail.
Francis: What do you think are the key issues in American society today and do you have a response to them?
Christine: The first issue is legalized abortion, the murder of generations since 1973 in the U.S., a true genocide and holocaust, ongoing today. Western society has turned a blind eye, as though it wasn’t happening. I argue the sacredness of life at conception, just as you, Francis, do so beautifully in your poetry and prose. We don’t give up. But if we continue this killing of the unborn, the rest seems unimportant, and God’s wrath may be felt sooner than later. These inhumane horror-filled laws have hardened our hearts as a culture. They break our hearts as Christians.
The second issue is the collapse of the West and the rise of the Woke. Denying or rewriting history, as the Woke desire, divorces us from reality and ensures our dependence on the drug of big government, denying our freedoms. As we become divorced from reality, told that there is no truth, only perception, we become clinically insane. There are many tentacles to this demon of lies – the dependence on screens and the rise of the internet, the Woke takeover of media (including books and movies), academia, government, corporations, and the elites. Self-censoring is common today, even at the grade school level, out of fear of bullying. The redefinition of male and female, the chemical and surgical changes imposed on children, often without parental consent, is a part of this network of lies, where truth no longer prevails.
And with the collapse of Western Civilization, an unraveling perpetuated in part by the canceling of Western Civilization classes as college requirements, the traditional institutions and assumptions of a free and democratic society are no longer valued, i.e., the church, the family, marriage, and children, hard work, personal responsibility, the equality of races, genders, and classes, human dignity, free speech. All these ideas are Judeo-Christian and without this foundation, our world is collapsing. Is it too late for us to respond?
The response to silencing is speaking, just as this site is attempting to do. We must proclaim the truth of God and Man and the sacredness of life. We must vote on policy, not personality. We must pray that God’s will be done.
As of this writing, the collapse, corruption, and weakness of the Western world have led to the dangerous rise of Communism with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the support of Communist China. We must strengthen our world with God, with faith, with our unashamed witness to the truth, and our support of those who are speaking out for freedom and democracy.
Francis: What other books or writing would you like your readers to know about – or indeed what are you planning to write next?
Christine: With a working title of The Music of the Mountain, I hope to revisit these issues of free speech and freedom, with characters who gather at the base of AngelMountain. A pandemic has stricken the world and martial law has been declared. With their Berkeley chapel shuttered, my characters meet to worship secretly in a basement of banned books. They are discovered and dispersed (raid? bomb? fire?). They re-gather to the east at Angel Mountain and discover underground caves… but where is the music coming from? There is a love story, possibly an American History teacher, canceled for refusing to teach Critical Race Theory, and an honest journalist canceled for telling the truth. I hope to include a Holocaust story, based on The Lady in Gold and Adele Bloch-Bauer in Vienna. I hope to have backstory histories involving the nineteenth-century Norwegian immigration to Chicago (my great-grandmother came as a baby), and possibly other immigration stories that highlight the exceptionalism of America. World War II may be revisited in terms of the Pacific Theater, capturing the courage of these sailors in wartime, to save the West for a few more generations. There will be music and singing and the harmony of the spheres and a single candle lighting the dark.
And so much more, as God writes straight with our crooked lines…
And we sing his praises.