Should We Forgive Authors?

working-man-131372-mWhen I was in high school, my church was a growing, vibrant congregation, due in large part to the dynamic preacher who occupied the pulpit. That is, until his wife ran off and had an affair. Not only did our pastor lose his marriage, he lost his ministry.

I wasn’t privilege to all events that transpired. Did he resign or was he forced out? I don’t know.

Not so many years afterward, one of the gifted teachers I’d been reading was discovered to be having an affair. He too lost his ministry, though I recall that he did repent of his sin. I don’t know what happened in his marriage.

Of course all of us are sinners, but some have a more public fall. Solomon would qualify for that category. He wrote some of the clearest warnings against sexual morality, addressing his words to his son. Many people memorize these words and turn to the passages to study in regard to the issue of sexual purity.

Except, Solomon was the man who had . . . what, 600 wives and 300 mistresses? But no adultery, apparently. Well, OK.

Of course, Solomon’s words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so there’s a greater reason to listen to what he had to say than that his life validated his words. Because it did not.

So I’m wondering, do we reserve our forgiveness for a writer’s wayward life just for those the Holy Spirit inspired? Or can we look at what others write and glean truth from their words though their life might not hold up to close scrutiny?

I mean, let’s face it. No one’s life holds up to close scrutiny. That’s why we need a Savior. But no author that I know of puts their most egregious sins in the bio that goes on the cover of their book. So what happens if readers learn of a life style or a proclivity or a habit with which they disagree?

Of course, most Christians don’t expect non-Christian writers to live according to Biblical standards. As such, there’s often a lot of filtering of material. Just today a friend who reads just about everything by a famous author said she brushes past certain scenes by certain characters. But otherwise the writing is so good.

Should readers take the same approach toward Christian authors?

I ask in part because notoriously Christian readers are harder on Christian authors. We want their lives to be godly and their stories to be theologically sound. And why shouldn’t we? I don’t think Christian novelists are so different from pastors or non-fiction writers.

Or are they? Because they command the attention of an audience, should they live in an intentionally different way since people are watching?

In reality, I think all Christians should live in an intentionally different way because people are watching. We should want them to watch because we should want them to see Jesus in us.

But what happens when a writer falls short? What happens when you learn your favorite novelist is a universalist or believes in sinless perfection? What happens when the evangelist you look up to takes Mormonism off the cult list?

How are readers to respond?

I think there are three ways that believers might commonly respond. Some will treat the books and authors exactly as they do non-Christian works and writers–enjoy them, but stay alert for what is false. Others will simply stop reading those books from that particular author. Others may or may not read the books, but they will pray that God will open the eyes of that author’s heart and that he might come to a position of repentance.

So here’s the thing. I’ve thought for . . . maybe my whole life, about how authors can influence readers. But now I’m seeing that, through prayer, readers can influence authors.

So guess which response is the one I’d recommend? ;-)

Published in: on February 11, 2014 at 5:44 pm  Comments (4)  
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Contests And Awards

Spec-Faith-Winter-Writing-Challenge-300x150I love to highlight good books, especially Christian speculative fiction, but I also enjoy the opportunity to point blog readers to other bloggers who share a like passion. Thus the CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award.

In case you missed it, there are four eligible bloggers who participated in the December tour for Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. Each of these is deserving of recognition, but the nature of awards is that we pick the best of the best. And who else can do that but those who peruse the posts? Any and all who take a few minutes over the next few days will discover interesting, honest, balanced writing about a book in one of the hottest genres going: fairytale fantasy.

There’s also another opportunity you might want to participat in and/or help with. Over at Spec Faith we’re running the Winter Writing Challenge. Entries are coming in, but there are still four more days for you to submit your own piece–a one-hundred to two-hundred word continuation of this sentence prompt:

    If the reports were true, Galen had reached the right spot.

We need readers, too–people to give feedback on the entries by hitting the thumbs-up button for the selections they think are best. There is no limit on the number of entries for which you can give a positive endorsement at this stage of the challenge.

So have at it–you might be voting for a piece of writing that will turn into a blockbuster. ;-) (It’s possible!)

Is Christian Speculative Fiction Weird?

Some writers who specialize in fantasy or science fiction or supernatural suspense or horror love to say that what they write is weird. It’s the stuff that doesn’t fit into another category. It’s dystopian or apocalyptic or cyberpunk or steampunk or … you name it. Weird stuff.

Or is it?

Speculative fiction, above all else, acknowledges the existence of a dimension of life beyond what we can see or measure or test with the scientific method. It acknowledges the Other.

For the Christian, it is a clear invitation to write about what we know to be true from Scripture. God exists as an infinite, imperishable, transcendent Person–three in one. How much Other can there be! Further He created spirit beings that exist beyond the realm of our physical senses, some of whom attempted a coup and continue to this day to work their own purposes in opposition to God’s.

Speculative stories, in one form or another, show some aspect of this actual world about which we know little. In other words, a story that shows the unseen, either symbolically or through imaginative interpretation, is closer to truth than any story that ignores God and the rest of the spirit world.

Is it weird to tell the truth? Then speculative fiction is weird.

If it’s normal and expected and good to tell the truth, then speculative fiction is actually in the wheelhouse of ordinary.

If we Christians really believe what we say we believe, we’d realize that this world is not humming along because it’s made up of matter and energy that behave according to a chance set of laws.

We believe, for example, that the Spirit of God lives inside a person who has put his trust in Jesus as the Redeemer. We believe we need what He has to offer because sin somehow infuses our nature and corrupts it, even as it is corrupting the entire universe. We believe that a Man who died more than 2000 years ago is alive. What’s more, we believe He is planning a triumphal entry back into this world.

Fantastic stuff. Yet we don’t think how amazing, even preposterous such things sound to the person unfamiliar with the tenets of Christianity. To us these things are normal, factual, established.

Why, then, would we think stories that bring to light this unseen spirit world or the foundational truths underpinning it, are weird?

In truth, I’ve only heard speculative writers call speculative stories weird. I’ve talked with people who say they don’t usually read science fiction or fantasy or horror. I’ve even talked with some who say they don’t like such stories. But I’ve never had someone tell me they’ve formed their opinion because the speculative stories are weird.

Throughout history, Man has recognized the spirit world, sometimes worshiping God but often worshiping a false spirit setting itself up as god. The point is, only in these most recent days have we tried to explain away the spirit world, as if we’ve become smarter and now know better than what every human before us knew.

That, I submit, is not normal. That is weird–to have so much pride as to believe that in the vastness of the universe we have uncovered, we have assurance based on our own finite abilities that nothing exists beyond what we can see, study, test. That kind of hubris is weird, not the speculation about what might exist beyond our everyday.

Fantasy Friday – The Fall Writers’ Challenge

Technically this Fall Writers’ Challenge isn’t strictly for fantasy. In fact, we’ve already had some entries that would best be described as science fiction or post-apocalyptic. Very creative. But let me back up.

The Challenge I’m referring to is over at Spec Faith. And before those of you who are not writers or who do not favor speculative literature stop reading, let me mention that we especially need readers. But first things first.

We have just two more days for writers to enter a 100-200 word piece into the Fall Challenge. I wrote a first line as a prompt, then your job, should you choose to accept it, is to write what comes next.

Already readers have weighed in, either with comments or the plus side vote–the thumbs up. But starting Monday the Challenge will be all about readers. Then the following week we’ll take the top three and put the challenge to a vote, letting readers pick the best entry and thus the winner of the Spec Faith Fall Challenge.

So, you see why we need both writers and readers. Both are welcome for two more days, then writers will be forced to the sidelines (well, as readers, of course, they can still play. ;-) )

Just to pique your interest a tad more, here’s the first line prompt:

    If dragon hopping was safe, then I wouldn’t have any interest in it, but of course it’s not, so guess where I’m heading.

Now it’s your turn. Why don’t you hop (dragon or otherwise) on over to Spec Faith and join in the fun. :-D

Published in: on September 21, 2012 at 6:07 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – The Fall Writers’ Challenge  
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The Influence Of The Media On Culture

Today Justin Taylor over at The Gospel Coalition posted key excerpts of a New York Magazine article by Jonathan Chait addressing the influence of TV on culture.

In the past any number of people denied the (mostly conservative) accusation that the media was exerting influence on viewers. It was a silly denial since of course those creating commercials clearly believed they were able to influence those who watched their short spots. Certainly a regular length show, airing week after week for years would have an even greater impact.

Apparently the denials have come to an end. Research and data have surfaced, but also admission about the intentions of some in the media to move society in a different direction:

A trio of communications professors found that watching Will & Grace made audiences more receptive to gay rights, and especially viewers who had little contact in real life with gays and lesbians. And that one show was merely a component of a concerted effort by Hollywood—dating back to Soap in the late seventies, which featured Billy Crystal’s groundbreaking portrayal of a sympathetic gay character, through Modern Family—to prod audiences to accept homosexuality. (excerpt from Jonathan Chait’s article as quoted by Taylor)

I guess this article was written before NBC unveiled its newest program in that line: The New Normal.

But rather than focusing on one particular social issue, I want to think about the influence of story. This came to mind as I was reading the posts for the recent CSFF Blog Tour. About a particular aspect of the book we featured, one blogger questioned if a Christian novel should contain such a thing. Secular novels, sure, but not Christian.

That comment reminded me of Mike Duran’s suggestion that Christians hold Christian writers to a higher standard when it comes to theology.

And shouldn’t we?

Which is more apt to influence those in the church, an atheist like Richard Dawkins saying no one goes to hell or a professing Christian like Rob Bell saying it? Who’s going to introduce the idea of universal salvation to Christians more effectively, a New Age guru like Eckhart Tolle or Paul Young in The Shack?

But what if an author is writing a story about the realities of the human experience without delving into the greater truth of a person’s interaction with his Creator? Must the fictional world align with Scripture in that case?

In other words, can angels who aren’t really Biblical angels inhabit our fictional world? Or wizards who aren’t anything like the wizards God condemned. Or dragons who aren’t like the Dragon of Revelation. What about priests and prophets? Sacrifices? Demons? Ghosts? Heaven? hell?

Here’s the greater question: Will a fictional portrayal of real supernatural beings begin to undermine the Biblical truth about those? Is Gandolf the Wizard in danger of dulling the senses of Christians to the existence of real wizards who seek to acquire illegitimate power?

I suppose some people think these questions have already been asked and answered, but I wonder if they shouldn’t be asked again in light of this awareness that the media influences culture.

How, then, should a Christian writer influence those who read his work? And I’ll say in advance–shame on any who say our job isn’t to influence, but to tell a good story. Whether we think it’s our job to influence or not, clearly, stories have that affect on people. We can either do it well and intentionally or we can watch from the sidelines as others convince our culture that a sinful lifestyle is a viable option.

Weaker Brothers, Legalists, And Christian Fiction

The “weaker brother” concept comes from the Apostle Paul, writing in Romans 14 about Christians judging one another. He prefaces his remarks by saying,

and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom 13:9b-10)

The next chapter opens with this directive:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

I surmise “accept” meant something different in Paul’s day than it does today, because in today’s understanding, if you “accept” someone, there’s no question about judging him. I’m thinking the connotation might be this: include the one weak in faith in your assembly (churches), but not with the goal to harangue him for being weak in his faith.

Paul’s first example of someone weak in faith was the believer who decided to become a vegetarian so he wouldn’t accidentally eat meat offered to idols–something the church leaders had specifically stated Gentile believers should avoid. (Presumably Jewish Christians, because of their adherence to Jewish law, already did refrain from eating meat offered to idols, so no special letter went out to them). See “The Misconception About Weaker Brothers” for more on this point.

What made this vegan “weak”? I’m not sure I get it. He’s trying to be hyper-vigilant, trying to obey the admonishment of the church leaders.

In some ways, though, he’s missing the point–the reason Christians weren’t to eat meat offered to idols. Paul spelled it out in 1 Cor. 10

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (v. 21)

But perhaps Paul gave a window into understanding the brother of weak faith earlier. Leading up to verse 21, he said

What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. (vv 19-20)

Perhaps, then, the one weak in faith did indeed think the idol was something. His faith in God as the One True God, was weak. He was thinking, there are many gods, and Yahweh is one more. Perhaps.

But is he a legalist?

I suggest he is not. The Oxford English Dictionary defines legalist in the theological sense as “dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith.” The Pharisees were legalists. They believed they could hold to the law in such a way that God would accept them for their righteousness.

They, in fact, were not Christians. No one who thinks he can earn his way into God’s good graces, is a Christian.

Is that what the vegans were doing? Some, I suppose, but I don’t think necessarily so. Paul called them brothers, for one thing. For another, he never chastised them for their decision to stop eating meat. He never said, Silly people, you’re being too picky. Don’t strain at gnats and don’t try to earn your way to heaven.

Rather, he told the meat-eaters to stop belittling the vegans and the vegans to stop judging the meat-eaters:

The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. (Rom. 14:3)

Which brings me to Christian fiction. I see a lot of contempt floating around on the Internet, some by Christian writers aimed at “vegan” Christian writers. I also see a lot of judgment, vegan Christians accusing or scolding meat-eating Christian writers.

It grieves me, because we use this passage in Romans to bolster our arguments, not our love for one another! And yet Paul, who started out by reminding Christians they were to love one another, wraps up his case in the next chapter by saying this:

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. (Rom 15:5-7–emphases mine)

One thing I think we can know for sure–if we dump on another writer, or on a reader who writes a review voicing opinions that seem vegan to meat-eaters or meat-loving to vegans, we can be sure we are in disobedience to Romans 15, and Romans 13, and to Christ’s admonition to love one another, to Peter’s command to love the brotherhood.

Love doesn’t mean we have to agree or that we need to change our convictions to match theirs. It does mean we don’t disrespect our fellow Christian because he embraces a different view, or hold his feet to the fire to try and convert him to our positions. It means we continue to love him even when he may not act in a loving manner toward us.

And therein might be the way we can differentiate strong Christians from weak.

Wisdom, Correction, And False Teaching

I haven’t been a part of the Christian Carnival in a while, but jumped in last week. The post linking to all the articles went up yesterday during the CSFF Blog Tour, so I didn’t get a chance to mention it. But you can find the modest collection of links at Who Am I?

One in particular caught my eye — Ridge Burns’s article “Wisdom and Correction.” I’m currently reading in the book of Proverbs and thought this post might relate. As it turned out I got a two-fer. Not only did Ridge base his thoughts on Proverbs, but his remarks fit with several things on my mind.

First, Ridge anchors his article on Proverbs 12:1.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is stupid.

Ridge used the NIV which says “correction” instead of “reproof,” but regardless, the thought is just as pointed, if not more so, in this translation.

I couldn’t help but think about how important “correction” is to a writer. Without input from readers/critique partners and eventually from an editor, a writer’s work will rarely be as good as it could be.

Writers learn from rejection letters that sting and maybe even carve away a pound of flesh, but they have the potential of pushing him on to better writing. Those of us who are pre-published also learn from contests or exercises like the Spec Faith “Shredding” held a couple weeks ago. Any objective opinion can serve as correction from which we can learn and which we would be “stupid” to ignore.

The second thing that came to mind when I read Ridge’s article fit with something I was praying about this morning. It seems to me that false teaching which so often stems from inside the Church and has its origins in Scripture develops in large part because the one who diverges from the truth does not, will not, receive correction.

I thought first of Solomon himself. Unlike his father David when he was caught in sin and repented, Solomon hardened his heart and drifted further from God. Because Solomon took up the idol worship of his foreign wives, God sent a prophet to him telling him He planned to divide the kingdom, taking all but the tribe of Judah from his descendants. Instead of getting on his knees and repenting, Solomon acted like Saul had in regard to David and went after the man anointed to take the throne, intent to kill him.

God said? So what, Solomon seems to say, I say I can do what I want.

And isn’t that what false teachers do? The Bible says, No one knows the day or hour when Christ will return, but the false teacher says, I know.

All have sinned, our righteousness is like filthy rags, and even Peter had to confess his hypocrisy toward the Gentile Christians, but the false teachers says, I no longer sin.

And what about the one who ignores the clear counsel of Scripture to love our brothers, our enemies, our neighbors, and justifies mean-spirited, judgmental attitudes and behavior?

Or how about the universalists who are so sure they know better than God that Mankind is just too deserving of “fair” treatment than they are of punishment?

I could go on and on. So many different false teachings, and the people behind them claim Scripture. Except, not the verses that contradict their position. Those they explain away.

For example, I’ve had a discussion with someone in the Holiness crowd (those who claim they no longer sin because in Christ they have a new nature). I pointed to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians about the brother who was living in an incestuous relationship and the church that was divided by bickering and greed.

Look how Paul addresses them:

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling (1 Cor. 1:2a)

Yet just a few verses later, Paul confronts and reproves them for the quarrels in the church. Then in chapter three he says

for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:3)

But in the very same chapter he says

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:16)

You’d think such a clear example would demonstrate that Christians in fact do sin (and need to repent). And if not this example, then surely Paul’s clear statements in Romans 7 that the things he doesn’t want to do he does, and the things he wants to do, he ends up not doing. He concludes, Oh wretched man that I am, but thanks be to God.

Clear. Unequivocal, right? Yet those I’ve held this discussion with have ways around each of those verses. They do not accept the correction of the Word of God, saying instead that they understand more fully what these passages intended, all so that they can hammer Scripture into the shape of their theology.

It is no different than the emerging conversationalists who style themselves as Christians, but to do so they must “re-image” Christ (see for example the discussion that would not die – “Attacks On God From Within”). In the end, they are no different than those of the liberal persuasion who bowed to higher criticism to determine what they would or would not accept of the Bible. Since the presupposition was based on rationalism, anything supernatural had to go. Out went the virgin birth, healing the sick, raising the dead, Christ’s resurrection itself, and all you were left with was a milquetoast Christ who sat around saying platitudes that have formed the basis of today’s “tolerant” society — stand for nothing and accept everything.

Well, well, well. I could keep going, but I think the point is clear. Scripture itself is the corrective, but if someone rejects it … what was it Proverbs said about him?

Published in: on February 23, 2012 at 6:30 pm  Comments Off on Wisdom, Correction, And False Teaching  
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Celebrity Christians?

A few years ago when I was leaving a noted Christian writers’ conference, I was sitting with others in a van, waiting to head off to the airport. As I gazed out the window, I saw our conference speaker exit the hotel and step to the curb where a limousine awaited. After the bags, the speaker piled in and was whisked away.

Mind you, this individual’s name is well-known by Christians, but nothing I observed during the conference made me think I was listening to someone who felt entitled or stuck on themselves. Rather the opposite. But the limo created a divide.

On another occasion I watched writers flock to a speaker like groupies to a ball player. One editor noted that at conferences he was treated like a rock star. Not so long ago two friends, commenting on different occasions, mentioned a writer who paraded about very much like a rock star.

And we’re talking about Christians.

Some years ago after a church service, I had something I wanted to discuss with my (now former) pastor. The problem was, I had to wait in a fairly long line, not because people wanted to shake his hand but because they wanted him to autograph their bulletins.

What’s more, a few years ago I wrote a short piece that was printed on the back of our weekly, and a friend asked me to autograph it.

We live in a celebrity culture, as PR pro Rebeca Seitz (Glass Road Public Relations and Reclaim Management) pointed out in her 2010 Mount Hermon workshops. We can wish things were different, but this is the time and the culture in which God has placed us — a culture preoccupation with celebrities.

So what’s a Christian to do, embrace the way the world works? Should Christians become groupies, flocking to the name-author as if being in his shadow makes us Somebody, too? Should name authors take full advantage of their status and accept perks or adulation, or even expect such?

My inclination is to see what Scripture says that might give an answer to these questions. Nowhere do I see instructions for how to treat celebrities. I see instructions for how to treat neighbors and enemies and fellow Christians and parents and spouses and children and God and rulers and false teachers, but nothing about celebrities. Could it be, then, that we are not to put celebrity Christians in their own category or treat them any differently than we treat other Christians?

And what about Mr. or Ms. Well-know Christian Author?

I don’t see in Scripture that Jesus said, If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet — except for you celebrities.

In the book of Philippians Paul used Jesus, probably the person in Scripture who received the kind of treatment closest to that given to today’s celebrities, as an example of humility. The qualities he highlighted were Christ’s willingness to give up status, to take the role of a servant, and to sacrifice Himself.

Those are very un-celebrity-like traits.

Paul and Barnabas received celebrity treatment once. After healing a lame man in Lystra, the crowds wanted to worship them. Literally. They were ready to crown them with garlands and to offer sacrifices to them.

Groupies today don’t go that far, do they?

The truth is, the way we express adulation has changed. Animal sacrifice isn’t the accepted method, but we still give those few famous the kind of recognition once given to self-proclaimed gods — people like the Egyptian Pharaohs and the Roman Caesars.

Paul and Barnabas wouldn’t put up with it.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you (Act 14:14-15a)

So what am I saying? Should well-known authors not give autographs or pose for pictures? Should they wear a button saying, “I’m just like you”? Hardly. In fact, that kind of behavior, though well intentioned, could actually come across as elitist, as if the Name Author is too good to have his picture taken with a lowly No Name.

I guess the bottom line, for the famous and the not so famous is this: what matters most is our heart attitude. Our behavior should be its reflection.

If we are following Christ’s example of humility, we shouldn’t have a problem treating others with respect.

The famous aren’t idols and they aren’t property. They are people. And the not so famous aren’t unimportant, nor are they something to avoid stepping in. They, too, are people.

Finally, in a celebrity culture, it’s probably inevitable that well-known Christians will be marked as Somebody Famous. Wisdom would seem to say, however, that Average Christian shouldn’t jump on that bandwagon. And Celebrity Christian shouldn’t either — no one says a celebrity has to act like a celebrity.

Published in: on September 14, 2011 at 1:54 pm  Comments (9)  
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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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Beyond Plateaus

Mountain climbers are familiar with reaching plateaus. You don’t get to one without a lot of serious work. Often when you arrive, you’ll find a scenic view and certainly a good place to rest. But if you have set a goal for yourself, staying on the plateau will defeat you.

Staying on plateaus can be tempting — for mountain climbers, for writers, for Christians. One of the things the long journey of writing novels and waiting to find an agent and publisher has taught me is to keep working. There was a time I thought my work was ready for publication. In fact I confidently read other books and believed my writing equal or better.

Apparently I was the only one. Yes, I got good responses from critique partners and others in mentoring groups. But there is still that elusive “We want you to be our author” phone call. Something, therefore, needs to be better. It pushes me forward to improve.

But what happens when I don’t have that incentive any more?

Lady Gaga (bet you never thought you’d hear me quoting her here, did you ;-) ) said in anticipation of her next performance, she (mentally) takes the awards she’s won off the wall and stuffs them in the closet. In other words, she’s determined not to let past success affect her goal. She’s not going to stay on the plateau.

I think some writers are content with the plateau. Publishing was their dream. Now they have books out and enough sales to get the next contract. Who cares if they improve their writing or become better at plotting their stories? Who cares if their characters are retreads? I mean, those sales show the fans are there.

I think it would be easy to fall into that attitude, but the plateau isn’t the mountain top.

Plateaus can become traps for Christians in our spiritual walk, too. Our friends all believe pretty much the same way we do. We become comfortable with our church. We tithe and attend, and even participate in special work events in the neighborhood.

God is good. He’s forgiven us by His grace and we’re thankful. So very thankful.

And there we stay.

But look at what Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. (4:1)

What a statement! You’re doing a good job, now go out and do better!

In the next verses, it becomes clear that Paul has in mind, in particular, their sexual purity. But then in verse nine he turns a corner and commends that church for how they love other Christians. And yes, he follows up with the same admonition:

Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more (4:9-10)

A couple things I learn from this. The Christian life isn’t a “let go and let God” proposition. There is a “work out your salvation” aspect, and that doesn’t deposit us on a plateau at some point, where we can sit back and enjoy the view — not, at least, if we’re to take what Paul said seriously. Rather, the Christian life is dynamic.

Excelling still more is a logical goal for those who stand next to perfection. It’s impossible to rest and think I’ve arrived when I look at God. He is the gold standard of purity and love.

Finally, though I’m an active agent in this excelling process, so is God. Look at what Paul said right before his first “excel still more” statement:

and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. 3:12-13

The Thessalonians were to excel still more in the area of loving believers, but Paul prayed that God would cause this. The Thessalonians were to excel still more in the area of sexual purity, but Paul prayed that God would establish their hearts without blame in holiness.

It’s kind of like the really serious mountain climbers who are tethered together as they make their way up a rock face. One moves forward but not without the other. The first enables the second and the second supports and secures the first.

We have an incredible God who thinks and plans far beyond the ways we would choose. One part of that would seem to include our enjoying the plateaus He leads us to, but then we must keep going, thankfully, not alone.

Published in: on July 28, 2011 at 6:04 pm  Comments (1)  
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