Examples And Patterns

In a recent post “Art: Painting Inside The Lines” I mentioned God providing Moses with a pattern for the tabernacle He commanded the people of Israel to construct. This idea of creating a pattern seems to be one of God’s ways of working.

In a very bold, dramatic move, He chose a people of no special standing and set them apart to be holy as He was holy. The idea was, the nations around Israel would see this relationship God had with His chosen people and how He blessed them, and they would therefore acknowledge God as God.

First God set Himself up as the standard of holiness. Next He set Israel up as the model for relationship.

In another bold move, He later gave His Son as the One to whom believers are to be conformed. In other words, Jesus is the “gold standard,” and we are to allow God to mold us and make us after His image.

The Apostle Paul even writes that we are to be imitators of him as he is an imitator of Christ.

Patterns, examples, standards. You’d almost conclude a model is worth a thousand pictures, and we know what a picture is worth.

Here’s my question. How is it that Christendom has adopted so much of the culture, as if the culture is the pattern, the standard, the example?

We see it in churches that adopt a “business model” and try to “sell” Christianity or their own local assembly.

We see it in Christians trying to produce a moral nation rather than working to make disciples as Jesus instructed.

We see it in Christian bloggers who decide to “heresy hunt” rather than love our neighbors when Jesus clearly said our love would be what the world would be attracted to.

But I have to bring it home to my own industry. We see it in Christian writers who imitate secular writers and popular content rather than setting the standard and dictating the trends.

I just read a somewhat related blog post by Rebeca Seitz—not about writing but about marketing/promotion, not about content but about strategy. That’s OK, I think her point is well made.

We can fuss and fume and complain, or we can lead. Set the pattern. Invite others to follow.

Of course I don’t think that’s something a Christian should decide apart from God’s direction. Even in our leading, we still need to be followers first.

Published in: on September 22, 2010 at 5:36 pm  Comments Off on Examples And Patterns  
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The Risk Of Writing Well

I’ve written extensively to support my belief that writers need to include—even hone—themes in fiction. As I said yesterday, if a writer doesn’t say something meaningful, then why would that story be around tomorrow, let alone fifty years from now?

Crafting a theme well, however, requires an author to write to a purpose without announcing it.

The easiest way I have of identifying poor handling of thematic material is by determining whether the story requires the passage or whether I’m writing those lines, that scene, for the readers. (This actually works for description, too).

In other words, am I writing down to my readers by spelling out the important information I don’t want them to miss?

Interestingly, readers will interact with a story more deeply if they must ferret out meaning for themselves. So the more I bring forward what I think is important, the less likely readers are to engage with that idea in a deep and meaningful way.

However, I remember when the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, I began hearing of groups of pagans who were holding Tolkien’s work up as their bible. They celebrated him as they engaged in earth rites.

How horrific, I thought, to have a work intended to bring honor to God actually misused, becoming fuel in the hands of those who oppose Him. In time I came to believe that was the risk an author must take.

Crafting theme well is just another of the many obstacles that can trip up a writer. Is it too blatant, too reader-directed? If so, many will put the book down. Is it too covert, too nuanced? If so, many will miss the main point of the story.

Of late I’ve had another thought as well. Allusions to spiritual things or subtle themesl may accomplish what God wishes though that accomplishment may be different from what I wish.

In my best-case-scenario imagination, I’d wish for readers to pick up my books (of course, that means they’d be published, so you see how this is my imagination 😆 ), read them, and see God more clearly, desire to know Him more deeply, be challenged to surrender to Him more completely.

But what if readers respond to my books by rejecting God? What if, instead of drawing near to God, they harden their hearts?

Somehow it’s not quite the grandiose picture I’d dreamed up, but shouldn’t I let God determine how He wants to use what is His?

I suppose that’s another risk writers must take.

Published in: on September 14, 2010 at 5:04 pm  Comments (4)  
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Salvation And The Christian Writer

As I was talking with a writer friend the other day, 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.

Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 3:22 pm  Comments (8)  
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What’s the Point?

From time to time I read on different writers’ sites that the main thing a novel should accomplish is to entertain.

The main thing? I don’t agree.

Think about it. Dirty jokes are entertaining. Is that as high as a fiction writer should aim? A Christian fiction writer?

Don’t get me wrong. I believe stories should entertain. If they don’t, few people will read them.

But I think entertainment is not the function of fiction. I think communication is the function of fiction.

That Christian fiction has been labeled as “preachy” by many tends to scare off writers from trying to say something important through story, but I think it should instead scare us into learning how to say what we want to say in an engaging way that uses story rather than fights against it.

As I see it, this approach is similar to the approach God wants believers to take in all of life. My real point and purpose for existing is to give God glory.

But what does that look like? If I go out to the busy intersection a couple blocks away and start shouting out truths about God, will that glorify Him? Maybe.

I tend to think, however, that a more effective way is to love those God puts in my everyday path. The harried mom I might run into at a soccer game. A distraught co-worker who found out his wife has cancer. A disabled gentleman I might sit next to in church.

There are lots of people God puts in front of me, and when I give them a cup of cold water, the act is as if I am giving that kindness to Christ. Does this not glorify God?

But back to writing—it’s a unique profession. Writers have the privilege of telling others what we think by putting words down for people to read at their leisure.

Two things, I think, make writing compelling. First, if the writer has something important to say. Second, if he says it in an interesting way.

Some people don’t think Christians have anything important to say. Is that true? Do we see the world through our $200 designer sunglasses instead of looking wide-eyed at the stark realities the rest of the world sees?

You might be surprised to learn that I do believe Christians have encumbered vision—we see through a glass darkly. The problem is, all those wide-eyed others are actually blind, seeing without seeing, knowing without understanding.

Enter the Christian writer. We have the chance to write about life in a way that opens up reality. We are not limited to the mundane or to the impoverished human coping strategies when we stare in the face of our damaged world. We have more to say than the unbelieving, not less.

Unless, of course, we only aim to entertain.

Published in: on August 17, 2010 at 4:14 pm  Comments (3)  
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Fantasy Friday – Focus on Faith

First, I’d love to have more feedback on the Charismatic Characters poll. If you haven’t participated yet, please take a moment to let your opinion out. 😉

Second, on Monday, voting for the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction – Readers’ Choice gets under way. There’s still time to read the minimum two required nominations to participate because the voting will continue throughout the month of August.

And now, faith. The first Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference I attended, Ted Dekker was one of the speakers. One of the most impressive, inspirational parts of the conference was his tale recounting his journey to publication, including the part where he and his family started selling off some of their non-essentials in order to make ends meet. Ted, you see, believed God had called him to write, but he was running out of money.

If God calls me to the task of writing, should I be afraid of what lies ahead?

Over and over, the believer has God’s promise that He will be with him, go before him, live inside him, and will never leave him or forsake him or fail him. As a result, we’re told not to be shocked, not to be afraid, not to tremble or be dismayed.

Why? Because God is going to make us best sellers like Ted Dekker? We have no such promise.

We do know that God is good, that He is trustworthy, and that His plans involve eternal matters, so we can put our unqualified confidence in Him, knowing that light affliction might await us now, but now is not the end of the story.

Any novelist knows, conflict deepens the closer we get to the climactic scene. But how sweet the resolution when the character faces Mount Doom and survives.

When Christ Who is our Life is with us and for us, should we expect less? Do we think we novelists can write a better story than the Author of life?

Too often our problem is expecting resolution in the middle of the story, or expecting a conflict-free story.

Faith sees the big picture, however, not just the dark night of the soul when all of life seems to be at odds with our calling. If God put me on this path, I might ask, why are things hard?

I suggest there are several possible answers, though I am sure there are others. Things might be hard in order to:

  • glorify His name by giving me patience through the uncertainty
  • teach me what I need to know to be a better writer
  • teach me what I need to know to love Him more truly and trust Him more deeply
  • prepare and bring those who will read my work
  • encourage others who come along behind
  • glorify His name by accomplishing He purposes through my writing in His time

When Daniel was caught praying and sentenced to the lion’s den, did that mean God had failed or abandoned His servant? We who know the end of the story can say emphatically, Of course not!

Yet too often we look at the lions-den circumstances of our own lives, our own writing careers, and think God isn’t going to come through for us. He’s let us down. Forgotten us. Failed.

Oh, we of little faith. Too little faith!

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 4:09 pm  Comments (5)  
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