I remember vividly a conversation I had with my mother. Years ago, about my writing. I was in high school, but I wasn’t as rebellious as I could’ve been. My stories were still barely prodding in the direction of “secular”. But one or two curse words were enough to raise the alarm bell. We had a very respectful conversation, but I was defensive anyway, as it tends to be when your passion’s on the line. She asked me if I would put a rape scene in my novel if I thought it proved a point, or was needed. When I said “yes”, I still remember the look of intense disappointment on her face.
It was then that I realized that being a Christian fiction writer is a delicate task.
The issue of what Christian writers should write, and how they should do it, is an issue that is close to my heart. I read an essay by Christian author Bret Lott today, out of his book “Letters and Life”, and he also had much to say on this topic. The crux of his argument was this: God and art have been divorced, and consequences have arisen. There is a disparagement between Christianity and writing that effectively transmits Christian themes to a broken world, when it shouldn’t be so.
Have God and art really been divorced, even in the Christian world? It’s undeniable that a large portion of Christian literature is read “within the religion”. To be very pessimistic, Christian literature aimed at the “unsaved” is a lost art. Fundamentalists are dragging the spheres of “religion” and “secular” far apart, on the understandable grounds of “corrupting youth” and “pure thoughts”. When the secular audience is addressed, it has a tendency to adapt an overly evangelistic attitude.
But I suppose this isn’t divorcing God and art. This is trying to reclaim art for God in the wrong way. It’s forcing a lot of unneeded reaction, authors swinging the other way and blending in with the secular writing crowd. As with most things in life, a balance is needed. Both light and dark must be had in moderation. Bret Lott said this as well in his essay. He stressed that writing be in harmony with God’s moral order– and I add that harmony can be had in both low and high notes. You can make Christianity here on Earth out to be a utopia, but you’ll be lying. And once again, we’ll have all these people swinging the other way, and we’ll think, what do they see in those books? Yes, those books, the one the radio preachers rail against. But the crowd sees redemption. They see broken characters looking around them and thinking, what now? And so they try to find their fulfillment here, and here, and here. Some of it is vulgar. Some of it is unneeded. But some of it touches chords that you can’t get on any other instrument.
Writing today is overly focused on the self, yes. Everyone wants to write a memoir, everyone wants to be sympathized with even if they say they don’t. God should take preeminence in our writing, yes. We should give full credit to the One who has given us our very hands and voices. So how do we balance the scales? How do we put God in the forefront of our art, while using the negative aspects of this world? A contradiction? Perhaps not.
I will explore these very important questions in a second part. I’ll address many of the worries that Christians have about espousing a more “secular” writing style, and explore the purpose of art in general. In the meanwhile, I would highly recommend the Bret Lott essay to anyone who reads this. It’s refreshing to read a view so similar to my own. I realize that this post is personal, and I was actually quite apprehensive to publish it. However, it has a lot of things that need to be said. Until next time…