Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Should a Christian Write?

Before launching into my thoughts, I need to make an important distinction. There is a difference between being a Christian writer and a Christian who writes. A Christian writer is someone who writes for the Christian publishing market (referred to usually as CBA) and creates to exacting standards on issues such as using profanity or not being detailed in matters of sexual activity, to name just two areas of concern. A Christian who writes is a believer who is not bound by those rules.

I fall into that second category, by design. Part of it because of intended market, the readership group I want to reach. I think there is a market of Christians out there who want real characters because they are real characters themselves ... complete with flaws, sins, weaknesses. There also is a general class of readers who know enough about Christianity to understand the moral boundaries, and they will be able to relate to my characters. When I use characters in my novels, I want them to be REAL ... complete with flaws, sins, weaknesses. Second, this need to put flawed characters out there is something that is screaming inside my creative soul, and I want to let it out.

That being said, let me get back to the basic question here: What should a Christian write? Obviously, going outside CBA rules means barriers are erased, but that could take a writer in any direction from a slightly spiritual book to a Dan Brown novel to pure erotica. There must be something within that mosaic of possibilities at which a Christian who writes must aim.

I taught a fiction writing class at a church in Eugene, Oregon, about six years ago, and I made that question the centerpiece of one class. It was easily the best subject I covered.

I came up with one dominant theme: Christians should write something that is in some way redemptive. Now, that doesn't mean redemptive in any spiritual sense, such as a character answering an altar call, but that character must do something or undergo some change that makes his or her life better. That change also has to be in something foundational, not in something ethereal like money or status. It can be forgiveness or simply getting real with who you are. By extension, that change will impact other characters around them, and that impact must be positive in some way. After all, our own actions in real life are just pebbles that we cast into a pond. (Of course, sometimes we throw boulders.) We are not isolated human free agents. Those pebbles (or boulders) cause ripples that have an impact on others in our pond, and they may extend into other ponds.

Why is that redemptive quality a prerequisite for a Christian who writes? Because it is what our belief system is all about. We are to varying degrees (and I apologize to anyone who is offended by my metaphor here) lumps of spiritual dung. The good thing is that God, through Christ, won't allow us to stay in that condition. He will mold us, shape us, hammer at us, lure us, persuade us to get better. My fictional characters will face those same challenges, even some who have no background in churches or spiritual belief systems.

How does that character look when freed from CBA rules? Each character differs, but he or she will drop f-bombs, connive, have sexual backgrounds that would make a nun blush, have a spiritual life that is dead with no impulse to become spiritual, have family backgrounds where huge weights are part of the baggage they carry, be divorced and happily so, have abandoned their children, be spiritual searchers ... the possibilities are many. Why do I build characters who some say are so rough? Because church pews and the general populace are filled with real characters just like that.

How can I be so sure? Just listen to the sermons. Even in very conservative churches, the truly honest pastors will talk about things like Internet porn, sex outside of marriage, tensions that tear away at married couples, recovery from divorce, etc. Those tensions are part of life as a Christian. Anyone who says they have overcome those things is one of two things, either someone who has encountered a spiritual level not common to most Christians or a liar. I think the second option is truest. Statistics say that divorce is as prevalent in Christian homes as in the general populace. I have heard that per capita subscriptions to porn sites are highest in the state of Utah. Go figure. The perceptions we'd like to have about ourselves and those around us in church is one thing; reality is something else. We reach for a standard many people don't understand, but we encounter serious obstacles along the way. I think God intends for those obstacles to be there. It's how we grow.

In short, people are real, even when they occupy church pews every Sabbath. Many pastors will agree because they face these things when they counsel troubled congregants. I simply put those factors into my characters. That doesn't make it easy on me, because I run the risk of being too Christian for secular and too secular for Christian. So it goes. I would rather be true than hypocritical in order to carve out a little niche of success.

Peace, love, long life. Strive to get better every day. If you have the gumption to do it, allow God to lead you along the way.The rewards can be overwhelming.

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