The Misunderstood Power of Christian Art: Part 3
I’m the person who skips through the ‘preachy’ sections, searching for the part where the romance and adventure begins again. I’m the person who sighs heavily when the beleaguered protagonist falls to his knees. I’m the one who rants on demand about how I can’t stand God’s Not Dead. But why?
In Separating the Pulpit from the Novelist’s Pen, I talked about the notion that novels and movies must contain sermons and ‘lessons’. I’ve often felt guilty for not relating to these parts. I DO believe those sermons, right? I do believe that God isn’t dead, and that faith is rational. Heck, I’m a homeschooled, choir singing, Sunday School teaching Christian nice girl.
Meanwhile, I’ve been writing stories with curses, clones, clandestine romance, gladiator-like fighters and zombies. I toy with profanity, and dance in the grey areas between darkness and light. True, wisdom often dictates that I go back and censor myself, but eventually I had to decide that there isn’t something wrong with me. I was just called to something different.
I am convinced that each artist must fulfill the role that only they can fill–be it in the genre of Christian fiction, or in the mainstream genres. And mainstream is where I belong.
The Box Opened and I Jumped Out
I expect that Christian fiction, as an industry, was developed to provide a clean alternative to mainstream book genres. This is certainly needed, because what passes as a ‘romance’ novel these days is more like soft-core pornography in written form. Even genres that are not pegged as romantic contain a lot of this material. Furthermore, the cynicism and nihilism present there might be useful to provoke thought, but as a regular diet it is not beneficial. Essentially, the mainstream lacks truth.
However, in our efforts to provide an acceptable alternative, I feel we have created a sanitary little ghetto that we dare not poke our heads out of. We keep to the basic basic plot of mission, failure, wise sermon, repentance, miraculous victory and positive resolution. We recoil at the mention of sex, wash the blood out of our violence, and skirt wide around vulgar language.
That’s not wrong, but I don’t like it.
In the genre of speculative fiction, writing becomes even more tricky. Draw in clones, immortal characters, or magic and theology is no longer straightforward. Christian authors begin day-long debates over if clones can have souls, if magic can be attributed to the Holy Spirit, or if granting characters immortality is unbiblical.
“But immortal people don’t even exist!” I say, “Suspend the theology for a second.”
So I guess you could say I left the genre to get out of the box. I want to honour God, make no mistake, but I need the artistic freedom to tell a story without having to check off the boxes or screen it through a certain size of filter. As I said in the first part of The Misunderstood Power of Christian Art, censorship should come from wisdom or conviction–not out of fear of what people will say. To tell a story I have to go places that are uncomfortable. I make no apologies for that. Sometimes one must look past the surface actions and words, and look at the ideas and feelings being imparted, and the questions that may be raised.
The Mainstream Isn’t in the Christian Aisle
The clean offerings of the Christian genre are an excellent alternative for Christians, but are they effective in outreach? Are mainstream readers buying Christian books? Some are, perhaps, but for the most part ‘religious stuff’ is unintelligible to them, and ‘Christian’ isn’t a keyword they are searching for.
Christians have their books, their truth. Who will tell the truth to unbelievers? I want to.
So many blogs are spreading gossip, spewing vitriol and cynicism. I want mine to be positive, speaking hope about personal change and good relationships. The shelves are full of books that glorify violence, sex, self-indulgence and manipulation. I want mine to be about purpose, integrity in adversity, hope and sacrificial love.
I want to tell the truth in a world of lies.
The First Seed
I see my role as preparatory. My generation neither knows, nor respects the Bible. Their gospel is tolerance, and ‘awareness’ is their salvation. If I quote chapter and verse, I might as well be quoting Dickens.
But do they have a purpose to life? Are they fulfilled? Does their life have a foundation? I once asked a coworker, about my age and an atheist, what he based his life on. He had no idea. I don’t think he’d considered this.
That is precisely the kind of question I’d like to raise. I want to be the salter of the oats, so to speak. Or at very least, provide a good story that is full of good principles, not lies.
In the past, authors reached the world through a publishing company. But in this age of the independent author (indie), the writer engages and markets through social media. The reader might stumble across my book, but just as likely they will meet me first. I may start a conversation with them on Twitter. They may read my blog. I may have met them on Facebook and connected over a shared interest. Writing is increasingly ‘missional’ that way. I go to them.
Therefore, what I DO is just as important as what I say. Make no mistake. I cannot sit in my basement (as if a third floor apartment could have a basement… but I digress) and write. I have to genuinely care about people, wade into the stream of social media, notice, encourage, speak out. I can’t claim to be good at this, but the potential in it is breathtaking.
To Conclude the Series
Christian art is a nebulous thing, if my wobbly definition can be trusted. But though it’s hard to pin down, we cannot fear it. It is the primary medium by which my generation absorbs information. Who better than Christian artists to reach them–especially the young artists. They understand the technology, the language, the cultural references. They are the ‘indigenous missionaries’ of North America. They shouldn’t be minimized, or forced to conform. Rather, empower them to produce the best music, film and literature they can–full of grace and truth. And encourage them to take it to as many people as they can.
The Misunderstood Power of Christian Art: Part 1
The Misunderstood Power of Christian Art: Part 2
Tim Downs, Finding Common Ground
Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
Dorothy Sayers, “Why Work?” The whole essay is available in PDF form here.