I feel like I’ve said much of this before, but it probably bears repeating. I know I’ve made the claim before that you can’t have a good story without some measure of controversy, however minute. Controversy is the provocative interest that keeps people reading. Contrast, conflict: these things get at the essential provocation of the battle within each of us. The fact that many of us are used to being provoked in this way doesn’t make it any less controversial. All it takes is meeting someone who belives all stories are evil unless they’re from the Bible. Yes, people do. And yes, they shop in CBA.
But story brings that invisible tension to the surface. Make no mistake: it’s an inherently controversial thing to arouse the soul’s conflict with story. It’s nothing to take lightly. There’s a reason that fundamental, reflexive dissonance normally remains hidden. If you want to tell stories, you will have to wield your power of throwing those doors open very carefully, with care and consideration. People will take offense and make accusations. You will need maturity in order not to become defensive yourself. You must find a way to live within this controversy that fits your subversive act.
Currently, I’m tired of the popular cop-out among some less-than-artful Christian writers and industry folks who advise us to skip over the controversy of being honest about evil in our stories and go straight to the resolution. There’s no need to get into the controversy of evil, they say. And besides, it’s always better not to fall into the trappings of questionable content. Simply, paint the evil with broad strokes and let readers fill in the rest.
Well, that might work. Or maybe you’ll end up with propaganda. You can take out the conflict and avoid any controversy, but you’ll also avoid telling a good story. And, worse, you may actually end up lying. A story washed of the truth of evil, pain, and suffering may, in fact, be a greater evil, for it lies against nature and the world God desires to redeem. If we were assigned the task of writing, of using our words to define, shape, and call into existence those metaphors of truth, beauty, and goodness, then by God, we can’t turn away from the task. It may become difficult. It may take us to places we’d rather not go. But uncomfortable as it may be, we have to go there, clear of mind and pure of heart, to bring back the story of what redeemed really means. If they were just stories, we might be able to get away with less. If we were only writing entertainment and not also education, if we weren’t writing to help others understand the tension tugging at their souls, maybe we could stop at just one or the other, i.e. propaganda. If our job was to help people escape the truth, maybe we’d be okay providing manufactured stories—and some supposed Christians certainly do this. Oh, I know. I shouldn’t say that. It makes me sound judgmental. And I’m not one to judge. But thank God many people aren’t interested in those false creations. Many, even commercial Christian fiction writers, are writing stories that tell the truth—or at least as much of it as they’re allowed by the fickle, sanctimonious, and protective readers. Another thing I shouldn’t say. But this handful of frightened people still wield an undue power over the choices artists are given to portray truth. Though a writer may be telling truth, he’ll be criticized and castigated for his efforts. The fact is, there’s very little left to say about the situation. It’s not a fun thing to dwell on. But it does give us a goal, a higher purpose, reason to pray and learn more and write better.
So that’s what I’m off to do. Thanks for reading. And writing.