Salvation And The Christian Writer


Not everyone is a writer, but I suspect these thoughts, first shared in September 2010, apply to people of other professions as well.

Before I precede, however, I want to point out the unique nature of today’s date. It’s 1/8/18. Cool, don’t you think?

And now on to the topic at hand.

As I was talking with a writer friend a number of years ago, it dawned on me that what I believe about salvation shapes my attitude toward fiction.

By way of background, there has been from time to time, a group of writers who plea for Christians to free their art from any “utilitarian” purpose, such as preaching the gospel.

I’ve been on the fence to a great extent because I do want Christians to write fiction that stands the test of time, and that’s usually a work that bears some kind of mark as “art.” However, I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that a “utilitarian” theme is necessary for fiction to be great art—if the writer doesn’t say something meaningful, then why would that story be around tomorrow, let alone fifty years from now?

But here’s the intersection between that point and my realization about salvation. If a Christian has certain views about salvation—a “God’s sovereign so I have no part in salvation” view or a broad understanding of who is saved (from some form of universalism to a belief that the sincere or the “good” or the consistent are saved)—he may feel little or no urgency to carry the message of Christ to the dying world. (Of course, a third option might be a “let them burn” lack of concern for the lost, but then I’d wonder about the genuineness of that person’s profession of faith).

Am I saying that every piece of fiction a Christian writes should have the gospel message embedded? No, I don’t think I can make any determination what other writers should write. Let’s just say I understand the divide better.

Some writers, myself included, look at fiction as our opportunity to reach thousands of readers, some who may have yet to hear the message of forgiveness in Christ through his redemptive work at the cross. These writers feel an urgency to get this message out to as many people as possible. The world, as we see it, has one and only one hope—Christ Jesus—and here we sit, holding this vital information. How can we watch people stream by our doors day after day and do nothing?

A writer with a different persuasion has no such sense of urgency. Fiction, instead, may be an exploration of spirituality, a personal journey of discovery regarding spiritual matters.

The difference in purpose makes perfect sense based on the difference in theology.

Ironic that some people don’t realize the importance of understanding our own belief system. I recently read a blog post about how dreary it is to read about such topics as original sin (hmmm—wonder if the writer had a particular blog in mind. 😉 ) when what we should be doing is getting out from behind our computers and living like Christians.

I certainly agree that we should live like Christians. I simply think that includes my moments behind the computer.

What fiction writers understand is the need to know our characters at the level of their beliefs—that’s what makes their actions properly motivated. Real life is the same way. Our beliefs inform our actions. How critical that we know what we believe about something so eternal-life giving as salvation.

Advertisements
Published in: on January 8, 2018 at 4:46 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Beauty And Function


LaPieta-MichelAnge_detalleFrom time to time Christian evangelicals are criticized for our view of the arts. The critics believe something that is truly artistic can exist for no other purpose than to be truthful and beautiful. A song, a poem, a painting, a novel–none of those has to serve a greater purpose than to shine as art. In contrast, Christian evangelicals always want art to be functional–especially if the function is to declare something about God.

The ironic thing is, this criticism often comes from other Christians, and the next plank in their argument is to point out that God made beautiful things in the deepest parts of space which no human eye has seen until modern science captured these glories on film. Same with things growing at the bottom of the ocean. What function does the beauty of those objects hold?

Add to that argument, the one from the Old Testament about the beauty of the objects connected with worship—the priestly garments with the gem-studded breastpiece; the ark overlaid in gold and covered by the carefully crafted mercy seat with its gold cheribium; the perfumed incense; the curtains made of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material, with embroidered cherubim.

God wanted all these things to be beautiful. He specifically picked out two craftsmen to “make artistic designs” though many of the objects would not be seen by the public but only by the high priest once a year.

So does beauty exist for beauty’s sake? Are evangelical Christians wrong to think art can and should do more than just be beautiful?

It’s a much more complex question than it appears on the surface. First, the “just be beautiful” argument neglects the twin arm of art–truthfulness. Real art is more than a picture of an angel of light because Satan himself walks around in that guise. He is not truthful, so regardless of his outward appearance, he is far from “art.”

If someone painted his portrait showing him as an angel of light, no matter how skillful the painting, it would still not be good art because it didn’t reveal truth.

There’s another principle to consider, though, besides the definition of art. That is the idea of an integrated life. When a person becomes a Christian, Scripture says we are made new. We have a new self. In other words, Christianity isn’t tacked on. It isn’t layered over top our existent lives. We’re not adding on a little religion like we might add on a hobby or a new friend.

Rather, Christianity gives a person a new core that ought to have radical implications all the way out to our fingertips. In other words, art is simply an extension of our Christianity in the same way that driving should be an extension of our Christianity or Facebook commenting should be an extension of our Christianity or getting our job done at work should be an extension of our Christianity.

In this view, all of life is “functional” in the sense that all of life should be a reflection of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Denver Broncos Tim_Tebow_TebowingTim Tebow comes to mind as an example of a man who is intentional in this regard. He wants others to know that at his core is this relationship with God that changes every other aspect of who he is.

Some people hate that Tim talks about his faith so openly and so repetitively. Other people are attracted to the reality they see, whether he’s leading the Broncos to a playoff win or has been cut loose by the Patriots and is out of work.

In many respects, Tim represents Christian fiction that is overt. Reporters who interview Tim know that there will be a point where he will talk about his faith in Jesus Christ. So, too, in some Christian fiction, there will be Christianity front and center at some point in the story.

Other Christians, even those in the limelight, are less verbal about their faith. A. C. Green who played for the Lakers alongside Magic Johnson comes to mind. His faith and his moral compass were the same as Tim’s, but he didn’t use every interview to draw attention to his relationship with God.

Is A. C. Green’s life more “artistic” because it is more subtle? Is Tim’s more “artistic” because the truth is front and center?

In my way of thinking, both men are living integrated lives. Their Christianity comes out of their pores, but that doesn’t mean their lives must look exactly the same or that they handle all circumstances alike.

So, too, with art. Some beauty has a function. Male birds have more colorful plumage than their female counterparts for a functional purpose–to attract said females. The design of some animals camouflages them from predators. The sweet scent of flowers attracts insects that spread their pollen, and so on. God gave function to some beautiful things, including those Old Testament items involved in worship.

Because a piece of writing or a painting or a song carries an overt theme does not disqualify it from being artistically great. If the opposite were true, no great art existed in Europe until the twentieth century. Michelangelo wasn’t a great artist, Milton wasn’t a great writer, Handel wasn’t a great musician, Charles Wesley wasn’t a great hymn writer.

On the other hand, absence of truth does disqualify something from being great art, though not all truth is represented in any one piece of art. The function of some great art, then, is to depict something sinful–the crucifixion, Humankind’s rebellion against God or mistreatment of each other. These may have poignant beauty and gut-wrenching truth and be some of the best art of all time.

But function? As I see it, function does not qualify or disqualify a work from being artistic–and certainly not the function of declaring God’s glory or His work in the world or in the hearts of men and women. What could be a more truthful, more beautiful event than the change that takes place when “The Lord my God illumines my darkness”?

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 7:14 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Art and the Christian


1411705_mary_joseph_jesusThree different online venues have discussed the topic of art and the Christian, in one way or another. The first one, the Gospel Coalition, presented an article entitled “How to Discourage Artists in the Church” by Philip G. Ryken, the president of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. In addressing the topic, however, Dr. Ryken left writers off the list of artists. I pointed out to him how discouraging that was. 😉

The next one was an article to which one of the commenters to Dr. Ryken’s article linked: “The Cruciform Heart of the Arts” by Toby Sumpter, one of the pastors at Trinity Reformed Church, Moscow, Idaho. This is the one I wish I had written. It is filled with gems.

The third was a Facebook conversation started by Mike Duran about the Christian writing/reading community. The question was this: “Am I the only one who feels that the Christian fiction writing/reading community is drifting further out of touch with culture?”

Put it all together, and I’m mulling the whole topic of Art, Christians, the Church, and culture.

I grew up in the era of the liberal arts education–school was intended to help you become a better person as much as it was to teach you facts and figures. Whether or not it led to a job after you graduated was almost an after-thought. My college was weak in the sciences and math. The business department was almost non-existent. Foreign languages were thin. But music, literature, history, Bible–those were the flourishing majors.

Clearly things have changed. Today most students go to college to get the prerequisites they need for the career they want. The last I checked, business is the largest department at my Alma Mater.

The point of this being, there’s been a shift in Western culture away from art. We are more concerned now with pop culture, defined as commercial “art” based on what is popular (the “pop” part of the equation).

Some decry pop culture as a shabby imitation of real art, and to some degree, those folks might be right. When we stopped teaching music and art and when we started worrying more about politically correct themes and multiculturalism in literature, we forgot what true art looked like; we forgot that it is universal and transcends differences.

I think another turning point came in our culture with Stephen King. As shocking as it may be, I haven’t read any of his novels or even any of his writing books, but I’ve heard any number of authors talk about his ability–as a storyteller and as a wordsmith. In other words, he wrote stories that sold to the everyday person, which put his books on best-seller lists, but were made of timeless ingredients.

Christians, it would seem, have been slower to come around to the idea that we can write stories with true quality and with saleability. Instead, the first Christian fiction of the contemporary era was more inclined toward establishing an alternative to the culture—stories that were wholesome and had happy endings. They were the long version of Hallmark cards. Of course, Frank Peretti offered a different type of story–a truly Christian story, with a Christian explanation of the way the world worked.

As the demand for fiction grew, so did the demand for stories of substance. The problem was, Christian fiction became the exclusive property of a handful of evangelical publishers beholden to a large number of Christian bookstores which had the power to prevent books from ever seeing a customer. Consequently, Christian fiction took the shape the booksellers wished it to take.

Times have changed. First the big bookstore chains and box stores like Wal-Mart began to include Christian fiction. Then Amazon took over, and lately there’s been an explosion of small print-on-demand presses, ebooks, and self-publishing.

The traditional Christian publishers have not been untouched by these changes. Some of the most prominent have been bought by general market presses, though they retain their Christian imprint. Others have narrowed their sights with the intention of fulfilling their mission statement. In those cases, it seems they desire to sell primarily to the market carved out in earlier days by the booksellers. Still others are making money putting out the books that they’re putting out, though they’ve begun, slowly, to expand in order to widen their audience.

Still, these are businesses, and the bottom line is, they will only continue to operate if they make money.

Where did art go in this discussion?

The same place it went when it fled the Christian liberal arts colleges, I guess.

So, is it important to bring it back? Should we worry about encouraging the artists in our churches? Does it matter if our books are artistic as well as truthful?

I think art is important for one particular reason—by it we show God. I’m not one who thinks all good writing glorifies God. There are some well-written stories that defame God’s name. But how we as believers write, matters. If I say, I am a Christian, then knowingly do a poor job at work or clock out early day after day or complain all the time, I don’t think God is glorified. In the same way, a novelist who doesn’t do his homework, who puts in half an effort, or any number of other “less than best” actions, isn’t glorifying God–though He may still use their work for His kingdom.

That’s the amazing thing about God–He uses His people but is not limited by our weaknesses.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t rest on the fact that God will fix our messes. We should be diligent because we love Him and want to serve Him as good stewards of His manifold grace, and aim for excellence in our art.

Which looks like what?

Not like a re-working of the latest popular general market story. No more “Christian Harry Potter’s” or “Christian Twilight’s.”

Not like another in the line of other general market successes–the next Hunger Games or the next Scorpio Races.

Christian art must take on the culture, not sanitize it nor excuse it. But the culture doesn’t need to shape up. Rather, people who make up the society that creates culture need to be redeemed. Christian art, then, should be stories of redemption, one person at a time. But those stories may look different from conversion stories. And conversion stories may look different from happily-ever-after stories.

In short, Christians who want their fiction to be artistic must write the hard truth and the divine end–death and resurrection, suffering and glory, the cross and the throne.

CSFF Blog Tour – Broken Wings by Shannon Dittemore, Day 2


brokenwings-coverToo often I hear negative comments about Christian fiction–still. Begrudgingly, serious critics have begun to concede that the quality of writing has improved, and yet those who loudly proclaim, “I don’t read Christian fiction,” often justify their stand with the accusation of poor quality.

In reality, no genre, no publisher, no author, no market is producing perfect books, or even great ones, all the time, every time. Mixed in with the best of the best are those that are good, OK, and sometimes, pretty bad. The key, then, no matter where readers are turning for their books, is to find those that are truly worthy of reading.

Enter reviews and blog tours like CSFF.

Shannon Dittemore writes worthy books, and her newest release, the CSFF Blog Tour’s April feature, Broken Wings, is a case in point.

I’ll take a closer look at the story itself tomorrow when I do my review, but today I wanted to highlight the beautiful language Shannon uses. Note that each word also is useful in some other capacity. Shannon hasn’t brought her story to a stop to deliver a bit of prosaic poetry. Rather, the beauty of the language supports the action or character revelation or thread of backstory.

Here’s an example from early in the book which serves in part to remind the reader what happened in the first book of the trilogy.

I’m alone.

The room is full of people, but I don’t see them. Not clearly. They’re a blur of summer colors and shadowed faces as my legs push me across the stage. My arms bow and curve, matching my inhales and exhales. Flutes, clarinets, and instruments I can’t even name trill from the speakers, the music telling a story. The dance sharing a journey.

My journey.

Getting back to the stage was not an easy path, and my mind is full of the circumstances and the players that brought me here. I rise to my toes and I think of Ali, my closest friend. I think of the life that was taken from her. I think of her boyfriend, Marco, and the case built against him: smoke and mirrors to hide what really happened.

But truth is stronger than lies, and as the music slows, my black skirt whispers against my knees and I remember the first time I saw the Celestial. Light and life everywhere, and on every surface colors that never stop moving.

This passage accomplishes so much. For example, it establishes the time frame of the setting in the poetic phrase “They’re a blur of summer colors.” It highlights one of the main character’s particular qualities–not being a singer but a dancer–with the statement “instruments I can’t even name.” She isn’t enamored with creating music but with performing the dance which the music evokes.

Shannon’s language also paints the picture of the dance with a few short sentences: “. . . my legs push me across the stage. My arms bow and curve, matching my inhales and exhales . . . , the music telling a story. The dance sharing a journey.”

Then too, it brings back key story elements–the main character has returned to dance, her best friend had died, the boyfriend had been falsely accused of her murder, and the main character has the ability to see into the heavenly realm–the Celestial.

With all this going on, there is still beauty in the expression. My favorite is “as the music slows, my black skirt whispers against my knees.” It’s visual (black skirt), audio (music slows, skirt whispers), and tactile (against my knees) all in one, which gives it the power to evoke a strong image.

Among my favorite passages are those describing worship. Here’s one:

The Sabres [a type of angel] open their mouths and lift up a song, and tears pour down my face at the sound. I sniff, trying to keep another round at bay, and that’s when the fragrance catches my nose.

It’s the smell of worship.

Sweet like honey and smoky like a campfire. Deep and thick like the ocean’s waters and fresh like their spray all in one inhalation.

I could get lost finding those kinds of passages in Broken Wings. Suffice it to say, it’s a beautiful story (well, part of one–the Angel Eyes Trilogy together is one grand story), told beautifully.

Please take time to see what others on the CSFF Blog tour are saying about Broken Wings (participants’ list posted at the end of the Day 1 post), then come back tomorrow for my review.

Truth In Fiction, Or truth In Fiction?


Among Christian writers there is this ongoing debate about what our fiction should look like. I’m convinced the differences stem from purpose. Not overall purpose. I believe writers on both sides of the fence who say they want to glorify God, mean what they say. However, some believe they do so by writing the best story possible, while others believe they do so by writing a story about His work in the lives of people.

The former writers maintain that a well-written story must be realistic and therefore show the human condition as it is, F-bombs and all. Life is messy and not everyone comes to Christ in the end. Atheists who Christians pray for still die of cancer without making a public profession of faith. Christians have unfaithful spouses and give birth to autistic children. Some get fired, and some have ungodly elders who manipulate and bully the flock they should help to shepherd.

These writers want to write truthful stories.

On the other side, however, are writers who also want to write realistic fiction, factoring in that God’s forgiveness and redemption through Jesus Christ is real. Life is messy, but God can use the mess to greater purpose. People experience forgiveness and release from the stranglehold of sin. God answers prayer. He changes people inside out and that makes a difference.

These writers want to write Truthful stories.

Think with me for a second about Abraham’s nephew Lot. The truth about his life isn’t pretty. Given the choice, he picked the best land, the fertile valley near Sodom. Eventually he moved into town. When God brought judgment on the sinful place, Lot hesitated to leave. The angels finally had to pretty much drag him to safety. He argued with them about where to go, and then changed his mind when they accommodated him. Having lost his wife and isolated from the rest of civilization, he allowed his daughters to get him drunk and sleep with him. Both got pregnant, so Lot became father to his grandsons. Now that’s messy. And truthful.

But there’s also something Truthful about Lot that we learn in 2 Peter.

If [God] condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, (2:6-9 – emphasis mine)

The bottom line of Lot’s life is that he was righteous and that he served as an example for us to know that God rescues the godly from temptation. That’s Truthful.

But here’s the pertinent point for this discussion about fiction: the author of Genesis never mentioned Lot being a righteous man or that he served as an example for others. The truth about Lot’s life just lay there among the stories of faithful Abraham and obedient Noah and scheming Jacob, letting the reader come to his own conclusion.

Until Peter came along, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote the Truth about Lot’s life.

My belief is, we need both–truth and Truth. We obviously need both in Scripture or God wouldn’t have given us both. But I believe we need both in fiction, too. How great if writers working toward one or the other would see those aiming for the opposite as partners completing a picture rather than inferior or misguided.

Published in: on August 15, 2012 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Fantasy Friday – Truth In Fiction


Over the past couple days, there’s been a small discussion over at author and friend Mike Duran’s site in response to an article I wrote here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction entitled “Realism In Fiction.” The central issue is whether or not authors have the same burden to be truthful about God as about Mankind.

In contrast, I recently read an article by Travis Prinzi over at the Rabbit Room about fantasy, particularly the fantasy tradition created by five writers who might be considered at the top of the genre.

In Travis’s article, he used the word “truth” nineteen times. Here are a few samples:

  • George MacDonald wrote that fairy tales are “new embodiments of old truth.”
  • G.K. Chesteron believed that “the world is wild,” and that the philosophy of the fairy tale was far closer to truth than “realism.”
  • Tolkien argued that in “escaping” to the world of Faerie, we often encounter truth in a more potent way than in non-fiction or in works of “realistic” fiction.
  • C.S. Lewis believed that in fairy tales, our imaginations allow us to grasp important truth about spiritual reality that our intellect alone, through reason and propositions, cannot fathom.
  • Madeleine L’Engle … criticized the idea that the “real world” was only found in “instructive books,” and wrote that “The world of fairy tale, fantasy, myth…is interested not in limited laboratory proofs but in truth.”

I’m not surprised by the marriage of truth and fantasy literature. I’ve long stated that the fantasy genre is best equipped to deal with spiritual realities. What surprises me most is that some aspiring Christian writers apparently find spiritual truth — specifically truth about God — so hard to pin down.

One commenter, for example, said

God by definition defies classification. You can’t pin Him down like a bug on a board.

Who is to say He isn’t portrayed realistically?

In those lines I hear an echo of Pilate’s question to Christ, “What is truth?”

Who God is cannot be known completely by any human being, but what God has said about Himself most certainly can be known. Fantasy allows us to explore His self-revelation and what that means to us.

Shouldn’t realistic fiction take up the mantle as well and strive to faithfully show God, not in the way a theology treatise would, but the way He works and acts in the real world?

So often art is defined using the terms “beauty” and “truth.” I guess I’m wondering what kind of art we Christians will create if we don’t pursue truth about God.

If More Isn’t Better, What Is?


Last time I made a case for writers slowing down their writing rather than flooding the market with less-than-best novels. With the change of status of the e-book and the ease, as well as the lower cost, of publishing that format, authors may be tempted to increase how fast they put out books rather than to slow down. I think that would be a mistake.

Writers should continue to improve. How can they when they barely have time to get a story down and turned in on deadline, even as they put in hours promoting the previous book?

But how, exactly, can a writer improve?

Last time I mentioned that characters can improve with time. As a writer gets to know the characters, they become like real people and therefore behave on paper in realistic ways. Gone will be the lines of dialogue the author forces on them because readers need to know certain things. Instead conversation, thoughts, and actions will fit naturally because this particular character would say, think, and do these particular things.

But it’s a stretch to make characters unique. No two people are alike, and an author needs to work hard to make no two characters alike, in what they do, how they think, how they sound. In addition, no character should fit a mold. Just like an author should avoid cliched expressions, she must avoid cliched characters.

Along those lines, a writer aiming for better, not just more, should avoid cliched answers to the difficulties she puts her characters in. Finding an uncommon way of escape is a challenge on several levels. One is to find something that hasn’t been done to death already. The other is to foreshadow it properly so that the problem isn’t solved by some force or mechanism that appears conveniently at just the right moment when nobody (especially the reader) expected it or looked for it.

Besides believable plot points that are properly foreshadowed, the better plots are not convoluted. Once I had an editor call a synopsis I wrote “convoluted.” He was right. I hadn’t written the book yet and put the synopsis together based on ideas I had for the story. I knew where I wanted to go but not what all I wanted to happen on the way. I put in all the interesting things I considered. It was too much and of course as I began to develop the story, it was obvious to me which ideas didn’t fit.

Unfortunately, it seems like some books retain all the interesting ideas even if they don’t fit. Plots should not be hard to follow. They can have interesting twists, certainly, but the bottom line should be, the protagonist has an objective and a plan of action. So does the antagonist, and the two are on a collision course.

Most importantly, however, books should say something. Unless they are modeled on fables in which a stated moral is part of the story, the something a book says should be woven into the fabric through symbolism, character growth, plot developments, and resolution.

Such weaving takes time and is often a result of extensive revision.

I could go on and discuss character motivation and language and imagery and subplots and a host of other things that better stories have, but I think it’s probably time I put this particular rant back into its cage for a while. Let me end with a simple answer to the title question: If more isn’t better, what is? Creativity — and that takes time.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 2 The Beauty


Beauty in the midst of darkness

After looking at components that create darkness in Jeffrey Overstreet’s fantasy world depicted in The Ale Boy’s Feast—book four, or the White Strand, of The Auralia Thread series—today I want to consider the “haunting beauty” R. J. Anderson referenced in her endorsement.

Seemingly no one can write a review of Jeffrey Overstreet’s fiction without invoking the word or idea of beauty. Jonathan Rogers said, “Jeffrey Overstreet has made something beautiful here.” Another endorser says he “writes like Van Gogh painted.” Another said it’s a work of art and yet another likened it to a beautiful dream. At Amazon, reviewers say things like poetic, wonderful language, descriptive.

All this points to one of the chief elements of beauty in The Ale Boy’s Feast — words. Not just words, but the way Jeffrey Overstreet strings them together.

Here’s a short snippet to illustrate the point from a page I turned to at random:

As the ale boy emerged from the earth’s crooked mouth, he breathed deep, relieved to escape the stagnant air of the maze below. Any light, even the sickly glow of the sun’s cold coin over a world drained of colors, was better than the subterranean dark.

“The sickly glow of the sun’s cold coin” — how’s that for an image!

This passage serves as an excellent illustration of my point. Even when the scene is bleak and the character is suffering, the language elevates the reader because of its beauty.

But beauty comes in an even greater measure from the characters. For one thing, some cling to hope when all seems darkest. Cyndere believes the beastmen can be restored when all around her want to destroy them, when her own experience should lead her to hatred not hope.

Cal-raven clings to the hope of a New Abascar when every reason to believe he can find such a place crumbles, and his own drive has been built on a delusion.

The ale boy holds onto his friendship with Auralia and the promises he makes to Cal-raven and Cyndere. His hope to lead the captives to the king drives him.

Jordam hopes for the infant he saves and for freedom for those he’s helped to rescue. He hopes to find Cal-raven, and then Auralia. Even several minor characters hope in the face of despair and try in the face of defeat.

Which brings up a second aspect of the characters creating beauty in the darkness. Any number of individuals do heroic, sacrificial acts when all seems lost. Above all, the ones striving for the good are not always the ones readers would expect. The old thief, the slaver, the former traitor, the would-be assassin, and of course the beastman and the ale boy once overlooked because of his insignificance — these are characters who change or who make surprising contributions to the fight against the evil that is consuming The Expanse.

Beauty amid the darkness. It’s a fitting format for The Ale Boy’s Feast, and in fact, for the entire series because the theme seems tied to these two elements as well. But I’ll discuss more about the theme in my review.

To read what others on the CSFF tour have to say about The Ale Boy’s Feast, check the links at the end of yesterday’s post. You can also read an interview with Jeffrey over at Spec Faith in which he discusses art and Rachel Star Thomson’s overview of the series and review of book four posted there as well.

Can Beauty Co-exist With Truth?


Some of the most artistic photographs are of human misery or community blight. Not beautiful, certainly. But truthful and “artistic.” The composition is original, or at least inventive. The point of view is distinct. In fact, the picture is more than its subject because of what the photographer brought to the scene.

Is “artistic” the best that novelists can do, given the fallen world we live in? If we tell the truth, beauty of necessity will inhabit a small place in our art or it will be painted in shades of black and gray. Dulled down. Muted.

Because of Truth.

Man sins, so there is crime and hatred, politicking and greed, immodesty and lust. Ugly stuff.

And even in the story of redemption, there is blood-sweat and beatings, betrayal and cursing, nakedness and forsakenness.

Where’s the Beauty in Truth?

Perhaps the problem is in thinking that what is true is Truth. It isn’t. It is true that Man sins in horrific ways, but Truth is Jesus Christ. (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” – John 14:6). Consequently, in showing what is true in the world, we may omit the Truth eternal.

In the same way, what we think of as beautiful is so incomplete, so imperfect, we’ve concluded it’s universally unknowable (“beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”)

Because of Creation, I have no problem believing that Jesus is Beauty, even as He is Truth, though Man may well miss what that actually means.

The fact is, we see through a glass darkly, so we cannot see Truth purely nor can we see Beauty exclusively.

Since we are hindered regardless of our efforts—whether to create a true work or to create a beautiful work—maybe it’s worth the effort to try to do both.

Is that possible?

If we create a work of beauty, are we not of necessity leaving out an element of truth? And if our writing is true, will we not of necessity have to include the ugly?

When it comes to art, it seems beauty and truth might be incompatible.

Do we not smudge out the sublime in order to convey the mundane?

If we retain the lofty, do we not lose the honest scrutiny of a wayward heart?

Believe it or not, I think there’s a practical point to these ramblings. I suspect the way a writer answers some of these questions may determine what kind of writing he does.

Some writers want to communicate Truth while some want to create art. Some believe what you say is most important; others believe that how you say it counts more.

When it comes to fiction, is Beauty actually incompatible with Truth, and the writer must simply pick a side?

Published in: on October 20, 2010 at 7:03 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , ,

Shaping Culture


I enjoy listening to apologist Ravi Zacharias on the weekend. In the talk that aired Sunday, he posited three ways in which culture is shaped. In essence, this process is actually the manner in which a person influences others, either their contemporaries or those of a coming generation.

One method a person can use to shape culture is theory. This method would include such things as reading Plato and Aristotle or any other philosopher who is working through a theory of how the world works.

A second method is through the arts. Here Mr. Zacharias gave the example of Albert Camus and his philosophy of the absurd (shown in stories such as The Plague and The Stranger) or existentialist Franz Kafka (The Metamorphosis, The Trial).

The third method of shaping culture is by prescription—that is, by telling someone what to do. By preaching, you might say. Or dictating. Parents use prescription regularly—Monique, make your bed or Lee, do your homework.

As I listened to the descriptions of these three methods, I couldn’t help but think about Christian fiction, particularly that the Christian writing world wants to reduce our ability to shape the culture to just theory and prescription.

While some writers like Athol Dickson have declared the importance of having something to say in fiction, I continue to read others parroting the sound bite, If you want to deliver a message, go preach a sermon.

How clever. And how wrong.

Not that sermons don’t deliver messages. They should. But so should stories. Just not in the same way.

The message of a story—and we’re actually talking about its theme, a literary term for the idea that pervades a work—should not be delivered in the same way as the message of a sermon. Preaching, after all, is prescriptive. Stories should not be prescriptive.

However, it’s a mistake for an author to accept this last statement and then deduce that stories should not have a message, or that the message will somehow ooze out of the author’s pores onto the page. As if delivering a powerful, non-prescriptive message takes no purposeful planning, no conscious thought.

Mike Duran recently had an interesting blog post about the time necessary to write meaningful stories. Primarily he was pointing out the effect of deadlines on a writer. But I can’t help but wonder if haste doesn’t first strip away depth from our stories. Who has the chance to think about what he actually wants to communicate when he needs to create realistic, engaging characters and a plot that isn’t derivative or predictable.

However, I don’t think haste would strip our fiction of its meaning, no matter how hard it is to weave a thoughtful message into the fabric of a story, if we were committed to the idea that we are shaping culture by our art. And that it’s OK to do so. Really.

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 6:54 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , ,