Many of you have asked for it, but I’m still waiting on that “wilderness” speech from Wangerin. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll get a book out of it, but in the meantime, let me share what I felt was the most powerful aspect (there are interesting correlations here to Eugene Peterson’s speech, “What Are Writers Good For?”): writers call words from the wilderness, ascribing meaning and definition to the world, just as God did in the beginning. There is a direct lineage from that first Word that spoke everything into existence and the first man who was told to name everything. The Word is God. Everything you create is a holy act.
Does that not influence your taste for candy books?
To continue from last time, I believe that as long as our books support separation from the world, we will have nothing like the sort of literature Flannery O’Connor believed in. There is no place for it currently in CBA. Donna Kehoe, director of the Christy awards, has shared the profound idea that the word “Christian” was never intended to be a modifier. And O’Connor believed this so much that she wrote fiction as an incarnational art, trying to provide a direct experience of intrusive grace.
Now I’m not calling for worshiping books or worshiping the holy act of writing them. But this idea of art incarnate, of word become flesh, is an important one. CBA resembles the great Christian culture that has severed the gospel from its intended function of redeption and made it vague and weak through a sanitized, unrealistic creation. Without the truth of the reality God saves us from, there is no glory. Ted Dekker has said that without using the black brush, the white doesn’t stand out as starkly. Cut out the raw and ugly, and grace and redemption are tamed, manageable, moldable into whatever unobtrusive shape we please.
The symbols and metaphors of our stories are not mere clay to be molded—we are the clay. We are molded by the words as we struggle to pin them down, and we’ve forgotten this in our self-first mentality. Authors are merely the turnstile for the wondrous truths passing through. Why are the experiences of our classic literature no longer available? We need to recast an artistic vision that’s compatible with the urgings in scripture to “do all to the glory of God.” Rather than dismissing the instruction, we need books that make it their duty to call us back to it. I believe this is the only way to create “words of art” that become vessels of grace and mercy.
Of course, many disagree. I don’t think we need to make books any longer or shorter, smarter or dumber, commercial or literary. There’s a middle ground I’m pushing for. This middle ground is in pushing for books that respond to the paradoxes of humanity and the world, the books I feel CBA has forgotten by separating from those things.
Too many of our books teach separation. It’s time to reconnect.
In our arts, our churches, our entire philosophy as Christains “in the world but not of it,” we need revolution. There are too few places in modern culture Christians haven’t pulled away. Raised to be separatists—“set apart”—we’ve followed this to other conclusions. We now accept the functions of spirit as separate from the physical. We accept people taking the gospel out of the world. We even do it ourselves. We don’t think of reality as symbols of something greater. Symbols are separate from reality. These divisions reduce our efforts, try to extract the paradoxes, tame the mysteries, and make authentic experiences of grace less available. As Walter Wangerin said, good writers call meaning from the void, create something tangible out of the wilderness. But if the tangible world is too fallen, too evil, too scary for Christians, we can’t see the beauty God created us to enjoy, let alone create something beautiful in response to it.
This spirit of division has permeated more aspects of our faith than we know. The expression of our faith is seen in all parts of our lives, so this is a very real, very destructive problem. The main divisions I’m seeing do the most damage to our books:
The artificial division between spiritual and physical.
The artificial divison between Christian culture and North American culture.
The artificial division between sacred and secular.
The artificial division between entertainment and edification.
This last one is where I’ve spent the most time on this blog. I carry the quote before me, “Those who make a distinction between entertainment and education don’t know the first thing about either.” Entertainment educates. Education edifies. Edification inspires and that experience, when seen through a Christian lens, can be worship.
So what entertainment is worshipful? Can I praise God by reading People magazine? Reading about Nick and Jessica should be fine, right?
I’ll let someone else make that case. For us, I think we need to seek unity of those two goals.
These divisions become judgments, rules defining our popular Christian aesthetic. For all the lip service paid to the power of story and the “master storyteller’s” use of it in teaching truth, there is still very little of it actually being used. Truth is reality, but Christian books prefer to create their own reality. Why do we divide entertainment from teaching if Jesus didn’t? His stories were both, just as by nature, all stories are both. There is no perfect balance of entertainment to instruction in a story since it is always, all of it, both. It may be lesser degrees of both at any given time, but they always go together in quality writing. In fact, that’s my definition of quality writing. Making instruction entertaining.
There’s one division I do think is a holy sanction. It’s buried in this post, if you were paying attention…