Putting out the sun

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“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”

It was a good day. Titling meeting was today for the books scheduled for the fall. Fairly typical except that we had 11 books and only knocked out 5. But as meetings go, they’re the fun ones: creative, fast, intuitive. You try to think like the book’s ideal buyer, which is surprisingly harder than thinking like the author.

But as I was sitting there getting stumped by alliteration and appropriate active metaphors, I was thinking about how nice it is to have everyone asserting strong opinions and disagreeing in constructive ways. None of us is impervious to stupidity. There are good and bad ideas in any creative innovation, but the point is to continue on and assume there’s going to be compromise. With most things in life, there can be compromise. And when there can’t, there can at least be dialogue.

Who do we think we are, after all?

I’m on a Lewis kick again. It goes in phases, like the moon. About once every few years, I get Lewis on the brain and I go searching for more snippets I missed the last time around. The quote above is his. I can’t get past how appropriate it is for our discussion here. It reminds me of a truism: No one is running around shouting that the sun will rise tomorrow. It doesn’t matter what you happen to believe about the sun: it’s just rotating around the earth, with or without your permission or praise. God’s love is like that. Whether or not you accept it. Because of my evangelistic upbringing, I’m not compelled to convince people of the truth I have a corner on. But that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t. People need to hear it and it’s just my respect for my personal history that makes me comfortable being who I am. I like that God doesn’t need me to proselytize in the traditional way. I like that my life and my fiction are my evangelistic outreach. I like supporting those who have been called to be missionaries and to physically go. And I like living in the knowledge that God’s love for me is so inescapable that if I just live in that knowledge and invite you in to chat, you’ll eventually get it.

And because I’m not God, I don’t know if this was His plan for me from the beginning, to let my life and art be my message. I suspect it was, but I don’t think I’m supposed to know that as a hard and fast rule, just in case it’s not what I’m going to be doing my whole life. I need to be open to change and willing to reframe my self-perception. Sometimes He’ll probably want me to use words, when necessary, as Augustine said. But even then, my personality is such that my fervor won’t be the thing to save anyone. It will have to be God’s life in me, His love coming through me, His passion filling me until I am truly irrelevant in His grand scheme.

We come here to chat and discuss books. We come to think about what makes Christian fiction Christian. We talk about how true or untrue it is that Christian writing is better, worse, or the same as it’s always been. But ultimately, it’s not the questions that matter, or even the rigthness of the opinions given? It’s the dialog that’s created that gives us community and a reason to strive. We are learning to express ourselves here, ultimately to write the best we can. The fact is, the topics we cover aren’t so important. They’re just concepts. People, the sun is going to rise tomorrow and nothing we do or don’t do is going to change it. Christian fiction IS both deep and shallow, some by design, some unintentional. It’s written to Christians and nonChristians who want to read literary prose and well-designed sermons. We’ve got theologians and fat babies, sinners and saints, people who like to hear other people shouting about the sun rising, and some who want to see detailed stories of lives changed by silent, painful experience. Whether or not you believe construction workers should or shoud not be writing “JESUS” in the cement of every house they build, your opinion is valid and I hope you’ll allow us to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Now just for good measure, here’s my opinion: I think too many Christian writers have written about God, thinking that this is what he’s asking us to do when He calls us to write. To me, writing about God for a Christian is a moot point. If you’re a Christian and you wrote it, it’s about Him. So please don’t shout at me. It really turns me off. Let your characters learn and live on the page and forget about what you think you have to get across. If the Holy Spirit wants to use your story to convict of sin, to lead in salvation, He’ll do it. If Jesus’ forgiveness and redemption is wanted, your reader will accept it. If God Himself wants to draw people through your story, or fill them with His love, He’ll let them see it either through your story or someone else’s. It’s not up to you to ensure it happens.

And what I think is that anything more is trying to put out the sun.

If He’s called you to write, He’s called you to write. That means you’re not a preacher. You might be called to write propaganda, or flimsy, artful subterfuges of gospel presentations. That’s your perogative. What I want to read is a good fiction book. Right now, CBA is no longer requiring fiction to contain explicit religious content. There are many up-coming Christian literary writers who are excited by this, and there are those who are very worried. When writers write for the story and not the message, do they have control over it, or is it necessary to allow this creative license to the characters and leave them unredeemed? Is there a difference between writing for truth, and writing for the salvation of the world? Are we not God’s crusaders with pens? Are we fiction writers who write fiction for God to use as He sees fit, or are we something more?

These are the questions, folks. But I pray that as we continue to seek dialog, we’ll remember to keep our opinions as personally held things and not as weapons to swing at the sun. And I pray that when the new types of fiction by followers of Christ crest the top of this hill, may it be acceptable and honorable, helping even more people realize the God they need to know.

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7 thoughts on “Putting out the sun”

  1. it is interesting i had a thought about titling this morning as sat with a book which has a lumbering title and is basically as you described mick, a sermon. sigh.
    but there is more there, as i pressed on, between the pasty white bread, there was something being said, and that is the gem i am always looking for.
    of course, i am the nf gal in a fictional world (how true that is), but apply it if you can. i guess the gem for fiction writers would be not so much that they are saying something, but that their characters move, and breathe, and come alive in the minds of readers. the quickening. that, is the essence of catching the breath of God on a page. it is hard to do.
    deb gyapong is excellent at it.
    i was feeling the tenuousness of living open handed (to steel a phrase from david kopp), of trusting God to be God. it leaves me staggering and reeling most of the time. augustine or was it Lewis said, the finite–it was sartre, the finite point only has relevance in relation to the infinite (i’ve butchered that quote, but there you have it).
    my limited swaggering, stuttering prose is just one piece of the puzzle. i’m endevoring to make it the best piece i can, but my piece is meaningless without yours. and God filling in all those lost pieces.
    think about it.

  2. Whew! I would have commented sooner, but I’ve been running around all day, shouting that the sun will rise tomorrow. Should have read this earlier, eh?
    Kidding, of course. Great post again, Mick. Someone should buy you a little platform and rent some space on a popular street corner. People need to hear this.
    Or, on second thought, you could just use the Internet, which reaches most of the world, spares you the voice strain, and can be accessed from the air-conditioned comfort of your favorite chair.
    So much for my contribution to this discussion. But I do want you to know I’m still reading and nodding and muttering, “Good, good, yes, that’s good.” Also, I agree that C.S. Lewis rocks. And titling is fun.
    Off to cook dinner–

  3. I understand what you mean — it used to feel (and still does in some books) like you would hit a point and it was the obligatory salvation chapter. And other books preach throughout the story. I’m encouraged that there are publishers in the CBA market who are not requiring a preachy tone. It’s an evolution and a foundational question– can you be a Christian author/publisher if you don’t have someone get saved. I think so. And as I work on my first book, I continue to take it back to Him and ask for His message for the book. Just living life can witness if people see a difference. And that’s true for characters in a book, too. Just my thoughts.

  4. Interesting post. What a fascinating world we live in and it is also very gritty. We Christians get our feet dirty and gritty walking in this world (never needing to be bathed again, as Jesus said, because we’ve already been cleansed by His Word. However, life is not rainbows and strawberrys it has pits and holes and dark places. Jesus didn’t sit on a cloud and preach down to His disciples. He got dusty and sweaty and ate bad food and did not have a place to lay His head. Life! Reality, but with a filter called the Holy Spirit. Yes, we can write the grit and the dark stuff because that is how the world related to Jesus before He transforms one by one.