Theology Versus Morality

Lion-origional, smallFor over a week I’ve been thinking about theology in fiction. Well, truthfully, I’ve been thinking about it ever since a well-known, respected man in Christian schools circles he couldn’t endorse my fantasy because it had talking animals.

What? Had he not read Narnia?

I was stunned, flabbergasted, frustrated, appalled. And I changed the specifics of my story so animals don’t talk. Not because I agreed with the idea that something was wrong with animals talking. I mean, it’s fantasy! But I wanted to sell my book and have key people endorse it so that more people would read it. Never happened, but that’s not the issue for this post. Rather, it’s the question about where theology belongs in fiction.

This discussion which crops up from time to time, started with a guest blog post by James Somers at Spec Faith. Author Mike Duran picked up on something James said and wrote “No Zombies Allowed (In Christian Fiction).” To which I responded with “Reading Choices: Realism, Truth, And The Bible,” an article which I believed took a middle-ground approach. Mike, in turn, answered my points with a Part 1 and Part 2 rebuttal.

So, yes, this subject has been on my mind and continues to be on my mind. I apologize if this issue isn’t of universal interest. I acknowledge I might be one of the few people still wrestling with the subject, but I think it’s important.

Above all, fiction should convey truth. Novels are not a sermons; they’re illustrations. They show whereas non-fiction tells.

Bad stories are about nothing. False stories are ones that show a lie as if it were truth.

Christian stories should neither be bad or false.

What should they be? In my view, they must be theologically true. That is, they must represent God truthfully, in some way.

God cannot be contained within the pages of one story. He took the entire sixty-six books of the Bible to reveal Himself. Why would anyone think a four-hundred page book could show all of who He is?

But if a book shows God, it must be truthful in what it shows.

Not all books must show God. Some can be morally true and silent on theology.

They can, for example, show that lying is wrong. All kinds of stories have made a statement about lying, and some are written by non-Christians who have no belief in the authoritative Word of God to undergird their position. Nevertheless, they believe lying is wrong and that it is a worthy truth upon which to center a story.

Moral truth is not the same as theological truth. This fact seemed lost on many Christians during the last Presidential election here in the US. A moral man, whose morality agreed in many respects with Bible believing Christians (and disagreed in many ways that never came to light–but that’s a separate issue) ran for office with the expectation that Christians would vote for him. He implied that since his morality was similar, his theology aligned with Christianity.

That’s not true. I’ll tell you whose morality aligns in many respects to Christians–Muslims. But I’m getting sidetracked. The point is, a person can be pro-life or anti-lying and still have wrong views about God. Morality and theology are not the same.

Some people want to impose morality upon fiction. Or some morality.

I suppose I’m one. I’ve said vehemently that I think Christian fiction has no business following a couple into the bedroom and showing their sex act, whether they’re married or not. That’s a moral judgment on my part. I have reached that position via my theology, but that stance is not a theological one.

Like other moral ideas, that one can be shared by people of an number of faiths or no faith at all. It is moral, not theological.

It is theology that Christians need to get right, though I’ll reiterate–not all stories must speak about God. I’d hope that Christians would want to speak about God, whether overtly or symbolically or allegorically or surreptitiously.

I’d hope Christians would want to proclaim Him–to point to His work, His plans and person and purposes. And if they do, they must show Him as He has shown Himself. For example, God isn’t arbitrary.

But wait a minute. A lot of people think He is. Must that aspect of God’s character be true to who He is or to what people think Him to be? I believe, true to who He is.

No one else can speak the truth about God. Only Christians have seen Jesus and therefore seen the Father. Only Christians have the Holy Spirit. Everyone else who speaks about God is going to get it wrong at some point.

So why would Christians want to muddle around, nitpicking about moral matters when theological ones need to be truthfully shown?

Mike Duran used a great illustration which he borrowed from C. S. Lewis. The idea is that a story is the scaffolding for theological truth (in the context of what Lewis said, he was referring to the Resurrection). Mike said, “When we become preoccupied with a story’s ‘scaffolding’ and niggle over literary ‘artifices,’ we will inevitably miss the bigger story.”

The bigger story, as I see it, is what Lewis referred to as the True Myth–the story of God loving His creation, dying and rising for His creation lost in darkness that He might redeem all who believe.

What part of that story can Christian speculative fiction show? Does the idea of all stories being “about” the Great Story seem limiting, boring, predictable? No story has to be any of those.

But it doesn’t happen by hoping. Lewis didn’t hope Aslan would rule Narnia the way God rules our world. He purposefully crafted him to do so.

But now I’m straying toward a discussion on craft. I’ll stop. The point for this discussion is that stories can be moral or they can be theological. They can even be both. But stories held to a rigid morality ought not be confused with ones held to a truthful theology.

Published in: on February 12, 2014 at 8:12 pm  Comments (9)  
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The Author

I love the fact that the writer of Hebrews refers to Jesus as the author. Not “an author,” mind you, but the author, specifically the author of our salvation and the author and perfecter of our faith:

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. (2:10)

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (12:2)

Interestingly the word has the connotation of one who takes the lead, who serves as a pioneer. That idea seems appropriate to me for writers. Rather than serving as reporters of the human condition, an author is one who leads the way to truth.

I realize there are varying philosophies about writing, but this use of “author” in the Bible gladdens my heart.

Darkness is in the world and certainly darkness is an appropriate, even necessary, part of stories. But it doesn’t have to be the central element. I know I don’t want it to be the central element in my stories.

As I think about the best of Christian fantasy, I ask, where was darkness? Where was darkness in Lord of the Rings, in Narnia?

In the first, I’d say it was ever lurking on the fringe, even stalking the good and noble and true. As the story progressed and the main character traveled further, darkness grew, but so did the resolve of those opposing it.

In the latter, darkness took a more insidious form — that of deception and betrayal. As such it still wasn’t quite front and center for most of the story. It was always present in the mind of the reader, and ultimately solving the problem of evil drove the story to its final conclusion. But the stories weren’t about darkness, though perhaps The Last Battle came close.

My point is, in these great fantasies, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis led the way to truth without darkness being the predominant element. In each story they painted the picture of a world in need and yet the greatest part was the process of overcoming the dark.

In this day of dark stories, of vampires and werewolves and zombies, I find the idea of leading the way through the dark to truth a refreshing alternative.

Published in: on November 10, 2011 at 5:22 pm  Comments (5)  
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Writers Writing Nothing New

Writing instructors constantly remind novelists that there is no such thing as a new story. All of them have already been told before. And why should we be surprised by that since there is no new thing under the sun.

A wife lured her husband into grabbing for power. Is that Macbeth or Eve with Adam? An innocent man is kidnapped and thrown in jail. Joseph, or The Count of Monte Cristo?

First, stories happened, then they became a tale someone told.

But why do writers keep on writing if none of the stories are new? I think there are several reasons. For one thing, the particulars of every story change.

The man-versus-man conflict has been told millions of times, for example, but in each one, a man is not murdering his brother. Perhaps he’s selling him to traders instead or setting his field on fire. Maybe he’s stealing the heart of his girlfriend or sleeping with his wife.

There are any number of details that can change — particulars about the characters, the location, the time, the events leading up to the culminating act, the motivation behind it, the resolution, and what it all means.

Writers continue telling stories, in addition, because each one of us adds our own touch. The story, in essence, becomes an expression of us — our personality, our outlook on life.

Painters have not stopped painting mountains because some other artist completed a landscape featuring mountains. Photographers haven’t stopped snapping pictures of sunsets because others before them have taken photos of the sun slipping below the horizon. These visual artists know that no one has captured their subject at that moment, in that way, and from that same perspective as the one presently holding a brush or peering through a lens.

So, too, writers bring their unique selves to each twice-told tale.

J. R. R. Tolkien said that writing is an act of sub-creation. Scripture says Man is made in God’s image. It’s not a stretch, then, to believe that the act of sub-creation is something humans do because of who God made us to be.

A fourth reason writers continue putting out stories even though we understand we are not writing a new thing — society needs them. For one thing, language changes, and some people prefer stories told in the vernacular.

In addition, society forgets. We need stories to remind us that there’s still a Big Bad Wolf in the woods, that a scorpion still stings because that’s what scorpions do.

Our stories anchor us to the truth, but they also serve as beacons looking forward. They fuel our imagination and make us look beyond ourselves. They attach us to one another, though we live across the globe or the galaxy or in a different era or world. They show us our commonalities even as they inform us of our uniquenesses.

Sure, no story is new, but none of them has ever been told in exactly the same way before. So writers keep writing, and readers keep reading.

Published in: on August 18, 2011 at 5:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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Fiction And Glorifying God

The last few blog posts I’ve made the case for a different understanding of what it means to glorify God based on a Bible study of the word. I’ve come away from that believing we Christians generally have a fuzzy understanding of the term, and consequently a fuzzy understanding of what we should do if we want to honor and magnify God.

In addition, I’ve become mindful of a variety of other interactions with God which Scripture mentions — ones that seem to have found their way into the general catch-all into which we’ve turned glorify. Undoubtedly some will look at this exercise as needless parsing, a type of word game with little meaning.

However, I’ve come to believe that fuzzy thinking keeps us from intentional action. Consequently, a vague sense that I’m to glorify God in everything I do actually leads me to do nothing purposefully to that end.

Now I understand more clearly what Jesus was talking about when He said we are to let our light shine. The point is that others will see our good works and glorify our Father. This seems quite purposeful.

In addition, I see a host of other related, but not identical, activities we as believers can and should do. We are to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10a).

We are to draw near to Him (James 4:8a), grow in our knowledge of Him (2 Peter 3:18), give him praise (Heb. 13:15, Rev. 19:5) and thanks (2 Cor. 9:11,12). We are to exalt Him (Ps. 99:5), obey Him (Acts 5:29), and trust Him (John 1:12). Above all, we are to love Him (Matt. 22:37).

These things are not fuzzy. They are specific and require me to be intentional. What, for example, must I do if I am to draw near to God? What pleases God? For what am I to thank Him?

Do I do these things, or is my life sort of a general whatever — the spaghetti against the wall approach, hoping something will stick and consequently glorify God? I’d say that latter approach is the way I’ve lived most of my Christian life.

But I’ll admit, I want my writing to be different. How? My overriding goal has been to give God glory, and by that I meant I wanted others to see Him more clearly as a result of what I write. I see that now as exalting God. The idea is to lift Him up so others can see Him more clearly.

How does a novelist accomplish this? I believe it comes back to being truthful about God.

As I see it, God has done this new thing in my life: He rescued me from the dominion of darkness and transferred me to the Kingdom of His beloved Son. How can I not want to tell my friends and neighbors, my family and co-workers, about this great inheritance I now have? Especially knowing that my God is generous and is willing to give that same inheritance to any who believe.

Would I skulk about and hoard an inheritance of untold jewels and gold coins? I hope not.

So I see my role as a writer to be that of Truth teller — the greater Truth that resides outside the box of the limited perspective of finitude. In the process, I trust that God will work through my stories to accomplish His purposes.

From time to time I find verses in Scripture that seem to apply to my writing. Not so long ago, I added Psalm 40:3 to the mix:

He put a new song in my mouth,
A song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
And will trust in the LORD.

I’ll be honest. I could easily get bogged down with what it is I’m doing — praise? thanks? exaltation? glorification? honor? I don’t think the name is the important thing. I do think I need to be intentional, purposeful. It’s why I shared this verse with the group of people who are praying for me.

Last thought (I heard that sigh of relief! 😉 ). I think it’s possible for all of us, writers and others, to intentionally do good works or sing a New Song and never know, this side of heaven, whether others are seeing and as a result, glorifying God or trusting Him. That’s OK. It is enough that I can leave in His hands the results of that which He has entrusted to me.

Published in: on August 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm  Comments (5)  
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Glorifying God Isn’t What We Think, continued

You’ve seen it, maybe even said it. A young child in a situation apart from his parent, acts in an especially responsible way, and an adult responds by saying, Your mama raised you right, or some such thing. The child was the one who did the good deed, but the parent was the one receiving the honor.

I believe that scenario best shows the way “glorify” is used most often in the New Testament.

One definition of the Greek word doxazō which is most often translated as glorify is this: “to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged.” As I see it, that definition best fits the context of the verses related to people glorifying God.

Because of the miracles Jesus performed, people who witnessed them acknowledged God’s dignity and worth. Because of our good works, people around us will acknowledge God’s dignity and worth.

Here are some general observations then.

1) The Christian can glorify God but can also do good works that cause others to glorify Him.
2) Good deeds don’t themselves glorify God; instead, they give others the opportunity to glorify Him.
3) Glorifying God is a “third party” activity. The one doing the good works isn’t the one giving glory.
4) Glorifying God is something done for a visible act, not a private, personal attitude.
5) If God is to be glorified, those watching have to see and recognize, not only the act, but God as the source behind it.
6) Glorifying God is more than calling attention to Him because people can do so in a negative way — it is showing Him in the best light possible.

The Christian isn’t limited to glorifying God. That may sound strange, but I think this is the crux of what I’ve discovered. “Glorifying God” has become a catch-all phrase for every time a Christian mentions God’s name.

I wouldn’t be surprised if those people picketing funerals with horrible signs proclaiming God’s judgment think they are glorifying Him. They are not. Even if they are saying something true, their lack of love and compassion does not magnify God.

Athletes who say they want to praise to God in an after-game interview aren’t giving God glory. I’m not saying they shouldn’t identify themselves as people who believe in and follow Jesus Christ, but the fact that they make that public statement is no different than me putting a license plate frame on my car that said “Jesus is Lord.”

After so identifying, what comes next is what matters. Good works? Or behavior that defames God’s name?

And writers? I think I’m ready to tackle that question next.

– – – – –

Other posts in this series include “Glorifying God Means What Exactly?”, “More Thoughts About Glorifying God,” and “Glorifying God Isn’t What We Think.”

Published in: on August 8, 2011 at 8:03 pm  Comments (3)  
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Glorifying God Isn’t What We Think

I’m tenacious, you might think, or bull-headed, known to flog dead horses from time to time. 😉

For many Christians the topic of glorifying God is moot: We’re supposed to glorify Him in everything — move on, already!

Except I decided to take a look at what Scripture says about glorifying God, and I don’t see this “in everything concept.”

As friend Mike Duran commented in my first post on this subject, when the Bible talks of people who are righteous or godly, the idea seems to be that their entire lives were to be pleasing to God.

Yea, verily, to quote the King James Version of Scripture!

But my study of the word “glorify” leads me to believe that this particular response to God is distinct from pleasing Him and even from praising Him or thanking Him.

The main word translated “glorify” and its various forms appears sixty-three times in the New Testament. Those uses include the shepherds glorifying and praising God after they saw Jesus, as the angels told them they would; the crowd glorifying God after Jesus healed a lame man; the mourners glorifying God when Jesus raised the widow’s son from the dead. In fact, the majority of the uses of the word are this type.

John expands the use somewhat. He refers to Jesus not having been glorified yet (7:39) and then later, His having been glorified (12:16). He also talked about the Father glorifying His name and then glorifying the Son.

In reference to us, John says that whatever we ask in Jesus’s name, “that will [Jesus] do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (14:13).

Besides this idea which we associate with prayer, John says in the next chapter: “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (15:8). This verse seems in harmony with what Jesus said recorded in Matthew 15:6 about letting our light shine so men could see our good works and glorify our Father.

Peter also echoes this idea: “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Peter 2:12).

Clearly, good deeds or works or fruit ignite the act of glorifying God and, according to John 15:8, themselves glorify God as a sign of our discipleship of Christ. With that exception and one other, the actual act of glorifying God itself seems to be a response, an intentional, verbal, and spontaneous honoring of God.

The other exception is Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians “to glorify God in your body (I Cor. 6:20). The context here is quite specific though — that of keeping away from sexual immorality.

I come away from this quick study thinking that praise and glory are linked closely but are not synonymous; that good works offer others an opportunity to glorify God and as they signify my discipleship to Christ, glorify God directly; that living a sexually pure life glorifies God.

While some choices I make, such as my eating habits, what I watch on TV, how I manage my money, or how I spend my Sunday might please God, I don’t think I give Him glory by them or cause others to glorify Him because of them. Non-Christians can eat well, choose wholesome entertainment, and stay out of debt, too. In so doing, they do not bring God glory — not the kind Scripture records in the New Testament.

I can grieve the Holy Spirit by poor life choices or I can please God by good ones. But glorify Him? I think that’s a different something.

Maybe I’m hair-splitting, but I can’t help but think that fuzzy thinking on this subject has led some writers to believe they can show their character saying grace before a meal and feel as if they have glorified God in their story.

Does someone glorify God by putting a “Jesus saves” bumper sticker on their car? Or holding up a “John 3:16” sign at a football game? I don’t think those things stack up with the good works Jesus or the Holy Spirit did that caused people to glorify God in the first century. I don’t think they come close to the glory that living a sexually pure life gives God.

So is it possible for a writer to glorify God in his fiction? That question is still on the table, isn’t it. 😉

– – – – –

Other posts in this series include “Glorifying God Means What Exactly?” and “More Thoughts About Glorifying God.”

Published in: on August 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm  Comments (10)  
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More Thoughts About Glorifying God

As Mike Duran so astutely noted in his comment to my first post about glorifying God, I did not touch on the actual topic of his post which sparked my thinking on the subject — how writers can glorify God in their writing.

I’m getting there, I think, but won’t make it today, I’m pretty sure. I’m still not settled in my mind about what glorifying God means for the average Joanna Christian. I’m pretty convinced the verse we use to say we are to glorify God in everything has been yanked out of context and isn’t a good proof text for what I’m actually to do.

So I’ve gone back to Scripture to see what other verses can give me instruction. I’ve also thought more about the verse in Matthew (Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven”) that gave Jesus’s take on the subject. What “good works” today cause me to glorify our Father who is in heaven? Here are a few:

* Gracia Burnham testifying of God’s love and provision and desire for the salvation of the Abu Sayyaf terrorists who kidnapped her and her husband, resulting in his death after more than a year of captivity.

* Katie Davis leaving the security of “the normal college kid life” to begin caring for orphans in Uganda.

* The Pickersgills from my church, he with ALS, speaking before their Fellowship group and then via video before the whole church, six or so months before he died, praising God for His provision in the midst of their suffering.

* Most recently, a friend of mine, via email:

Last July 13Th. 2011, I was coming down a ladder so that I could move it to a better spot and missed the last two rungs and fell back on the cement and fractured my lower back in two places.  I think I remember something like that 37 years ago if I am correct.  Oh well.  The Dr. said that it was two new fractures but in the same area.  NO SURGERY.  Thank the Lord.  With my seizures in 2009 and the latest one March of 2011.  The D.M.V. has taken my license away for a while and now recovering from the fall.  The Lord has me where He wants me. 
Therefore I have come to believe that.  If there is a single event in all of the universe that can occur outside of God’s sovereign control then I cannot trust Him.  His love may be infinite, but if His power is limited and His purpose can be thwarted, I cannot trust Him.  Paul, said however, “we can entrust our most valuable possession to the Lord.  2 Timothy 1:12.
The Lord has brought me back to this truth. “The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rick to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are NO ACCIDENT: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God.
Thanks to a wonderful God.

God, who doesn’t always heal or shower riches upon the most needy or rescue the captive, nevertheless will not fail us or forsake us. When I see people living out that truth, and telling others how great He is because of it, how can I not glorify His name!

Maybe their good works glorify His name. Maybe my praise as a result of their good works glorifies His name. Maybe it’s both. All I know is, that’s what I want to sign up for. I want people to see God and know Him more clearly because of my life and because of what I write.

Published in: on August 4, 2011 at 6:01 pm  Comments (9)  
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Glorifying God Means What Exactly?

Once again author and friend Mike Duran has asked a thought-provoking question on his blog, this time How Do We “Glorify God” in Our Writing? If you take a look at the comments, you’ll see there are some remarks nearly as long as the original post. The subject of giving God glory is no small one.

Mike started out with a straightforward statement about a Christian’s need to glorify God:

Of course, I realize that Christians are to glorify God in everything they do.

    So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (I Cor. 10:31).

Odd as it may seem, that oft repeated idea caused me to pause, first because of the supporting verse, then because of the broad term “in everything.”

I recently had occasion to look at the issue central to the passage containing the “do all to the glory of God” verse. Paul has just finished giving an argument about eating or not eating meat offered to idols. Here’s the immediate context:

If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Clearly the verse in question is referring to a specific scenario. Paul’s conclusion, in essence, was this: Make your decision to eat or not eat, to drink or not drink, or whatever else, on what will glorify God.

The popular view of this verse, however, has become something like this: Christians are to glorify God in whatever we do. I’m a Christian, so whatever I do brings God glory.

As I see it, this latter interpretation doesn’t account for the context and actually makes the verse say something it doesn’t say.

But I’m also wondering about the idea of giving God glory in everything we do. I believe the in-context understanding makes it clear that “everything” means everything specific to Paul’s discussion. But even if that were not so, I’d have the same kind of struggle inherent in the command, “Pray without ceasing.”

I spent some time looking up what the Bible says about bringing God glory to see if other passages gave an “in everything” slant. The clearest passage defining what it means to glorify God seems to be in Matthew 5:16.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Throughout the New Testament, people responded to miracles and other “good works” by giving God glory. The way the passages read, it seems as if this was verbal and immediate.

For now, I’m left with these thoughts:

1) It seems good works can and should spark others to give God glory.

2) Giving God glory is something we communicate, one person to another.

Some people argue that Scripture teaches all creation glorifies God, so I’ll throw in a third point:

3) Psalm 19:1 (The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands) indicates, as does Romans 1, that creation declares something about God. I think this is different from “giving Him glory.” Rather it’s a statement of fact. God has glory; creation reveals His glory. The full moon, for example, is glorious, consequently the one Who made it is revealed as a glorious Creator.

What are your thoughts?

Published in: on August 3, 2011 at 6:30 pm  Comments (18)  
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Who Owns Fiction?

Last December in a blog post I wrote for the CSFF Blog Tour of The Charlatan’s Boy, in which I discussed belief and unbelief, author Jonathan Rogers became somewhat exercised over the thought that I was comparing his fantasy folk known as Feechie with angels.

Here’s his comment:

Well, Becky, when you put a book out there, it’s out there, and you can’t control what happens to it. As Sally Apokedak has told me, it belongs to everybody. I would have never drawn the connection between feechiefolks and angels. But the feechies belong to anybody who will read about them, I reckon. Thanks for giving them lots of thought.

In response, Sally Apokedak explained that Jonathan’s comment was spurred by a Facebook discussion that ended with differing opinions about who “owned” the character.

Here’s part of what Sally said in that exchange:

I say Grady [the protagonist in The Charlatan’s Boy] belongs to me. 🙂 You are not allowed to keep ownership of him. When I read a book the characters become my friends and I have very strong feelings about them. Once Grady’s published he is out in the world and you can’t coddle him and keep him as your little pet boy any more. He’s out there interacting with the readers. You gave birth to him, but he keeps growing after he leaves you.

I’ll admit, I dismissed the discussion because I though Jonathan had misunderstood my post(!) but I was more inclined to agree with Sally than Jonathan.

No actual pictures of feechie exist but here's one of Feechie Swamp Stew compliments of Donita K. Paul

And yet, I most certainly didn’t want Jonathan thinking I was comparing his fantasy feechies to angels. I knew better and didn’t like the idea that he thought otherwise based on my article.

Last Friday over at Spec Faith, the subject again cropped up, and suddenly I saw things in a different light. One of the visitors there claimed that guest novelist Kathy Tyers’ work Firebird was racist. He went on to say that Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was racist, that, in both cases, the authors may not have intended to write a racist work, but they did anyway.

In other words, he took the extreme position that a writer’s intention did not matter at all. Rather there is some standard apart from what the author thinks he is saying against which the reader can measure a work and determine what he actually said. And that standard? Apparently whatever the reader “got out of it.”

Suddenly I was not so firmly on the side of the reader, so I countered with a post of my own at Spec Faith. As I wrote my thoughts and realized that the attitude we have toward reading plays a huge part in how we understand Scripture, I thought this topic was important enough to revisit here.

The key issues, I believe, are these:

    1. Novelists, like any other writer, are communicating something.
    2. Readers are responsible to discern what it is the novelist is saying.
    3. Stories affect readers on an emotional level as well as an intellectual level.
    4. Readers come to stories with their own set of experiences and their own worldview.
    5. Consequently, a reader may interact with a story and come away, having been touched, having learned and grown in ways that the novelist never dreamed.

Using The Charlatan’s Boy as an example again, in my reading, I saw parallels between the disbelief of the “civilizers” about the very real feechie and the disbelief of today’s rational thinkers about the very real world of the supernatural.

Was this a point Jonathan intended to communicate? From his comment, it seems clear he did not. Could that parallel legitimately be made, however? I think definitely yes, in part because of two things. One has to do with what I as the reader was experiencing — much having to do with false teaching and the effects on our culture. The second has to do with the actual content. Nothing I saw in the story violated what Jonathan wrote.

Now if I claimed, as he apparently thought I was, that the feechie were allegorical representations of or symbols for angels, I believe I would have violated his work. To reach that conclusion, I would have had to force the feechie into the Biblical parameters for angels.

Quite frankly, they simply do not fit and my saying so wouldn’t make it so. In addition, I would be contradicting the author’s intent. Not just going beyond his intent, or drawing ideas out of what he intended. My ideas would have contradicted his intent.

So who owns fiction? I believe the writer does. But if he writes about important things, the reader may interact with the story in such a way that he thinks thoughts far beyond what the author envisioned. And that’s a very good thing.

Published in: on May 4, 2011 at 6:47 pm  Comments (5)  
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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)  
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