Christian Fiction Discussions Around The Web

OK, I’m only one day late ;).

Sometimes the discussion going on other places is too good to pass up.

Mike Duran, as usual, has some great, thought-provoking posts this week. He posted at Novel Rocket about Christian fiction marketing toward men. That started some chatter, so he continued his thoughts on his own blog Decompose. He wonders if the CBA is doing a good enough job reaching men with Christian fiction, both male authors and the readers. Is it a responsibility of religious publishers to reach out to men more effectively? Those are the questions asked at the two posts, and as a male reader and writer, they are very interesting to me. Check them out if you can.

Another post was by Jeffrey Overstreet, author of the Auralia’s Colors series. He brings up the idea of artistry versus message in fiction. I’ve agreed and disagreed with Overstreet on various aspects of this debate in the past. He is eloquent in his post and the comments below are worth the time to read. My friend Becky Miller makes some good counter-points there.

Both are good fodder for some deep thinking.

An Image in My Head

Most people don’t wonder about a body floating in the water.

Unless you are a writer.


The body is just to the left



That’s the image that came to me many moons ago. I saw in my mind a body floating in the water, in the ocean to be specific. Then I saw a boat run into the body, and the shocked fisherman frightened by his find.
Did I mention the man was from Thailand?

This is how my work in progress started. An image in my head. I started asking questions. Who is this person? Why are they dead? How did they end up here?

I learned that it was Travis Dawson, and that he was a missionary in Thailand. I discovered he had a sister named Jenna who was in medical school. She was a spunky younger sister type, and she didn’t take too well to the news of her brother’s death. She was impulsive enough to jet off to Asia to try and figure out what happened. Oh, and her slacker friend Derek Stephens, who had done a backpacking trip in Thailand previously, decided to tag along.

I don’t know how other authors come up with their story ideas, but I usually have images that beg to be explored. Yesterday for the end of the CSFF Tour I talked about whether a writer has their basic thrust as message-first vs. art-first. The responses from Dona, Becky, and Morgan made me think about my own process.

You have the set-up for my novel above. I thought for a time that there would be an aspect of spiritual warfare between the Christian missionaries and the strongholds in SE Asia. That didn’t fit the story though. Then I saw how Jenna had been estranged from her faith due to family trials when younger, and she would be challenged in them while dealing with something bigger than she could handle in Thailand. Travis uncovered a human trafficking ring, and this lead to his death and would be a major challenge to Jenna.

It seems that I had the story kernel that wanted told at first, and the themes of faith and human trafficking came out from there. I believe there’s always a theme when we write – otherwise what is the point of writing? Even if a writer says there’s not, there is something of their worldview getting in there.

Both the message and art pathways are valid ways to begin, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Like I said in yesterday’s post, a message driven book must have a strong story and sparkling writing to not be bogged down by the message. It may not appear organic. But the “let’s see where the muse takes us” approach can end up with a wishy-washy theme that doesn’t give a work of fiction the power only a story can bring.

What say my writing buddies? What is your approach, and why do you do it that way?

An Image in My Head

Most people don’t wonder about a body floating in the water.

Unless you are a writer.


The body is just to the left



That’s the image that came to me many moons ago. I saw in my mind a body floating in the water, in the ocean to be specific. Then I saw a boat run into the body, and the shocked fisherman frightened by his find.
Did I mention the man was from Thailand?

This is how my work in progress started. An image in my head. I started asking questions. Who is this person? Why are they dead? How did they end up here?

I learned that it was Travis Dawson, and that he was a missionary in Thailand. I discovered he had a sister named Jenna who was in medical school. She was a spunky younger sister type, and she didn’t take too well to the news of her brother’s death. She was impulsive enough to jet off to Asia to try and figure out what happened. Oh, and her slacker friend Derek Stephens, who had done a backpacking trip in Thailand previously, decided to tag along.

I don’t know how other authors come up with their story ideas, but I usually have images that beg to be explored. Yesterday for the end of the CSFF Tour I talked about whether a writer has their basic thrust as message-first vs. art-first. The responses from Dona, Becky, and Morgan made me think about my own process.

You have the set-up for my novel above. I thought for a time that there would be an aspect of spiritual warfare between the Christian missionaries and the strongholds in SE Asia. That didn’t fit the story though. Then I saw how Jenna had been estranged from her faith due to family trials when younger, and she would be challenged in them while dealing with something bigger than she could handle in Thailand. Travis uncovered a human trafficking ring, and this lead to his death and would be a major challenge to Jenna.

It seems that I had the story kernel that wanted told at first, and the themes of faith and human trafficking came out from there. I believe there’s always a theme when we write – otherwise what is the point of writing? Even if a writer says there’s not, there is something of their worldview getting in there.

Both the message and art pathways are valid ways to begin, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Like I said in yesterday’s post, a message driven book must have a strong story and sparkling writing to not be bogged down by the message. It may not appear organic. But the “let’s see where the muse takes us” approach can end up with a wishy-washy theme that doesn’t give a work of fiction the power only a story can bring.

What say my writing buddies? What is your approach, and why do you do it that way?

Thoughts on Violence in Word and Deed

It seems in the blogosphere there has been new conversation on the topic of language use and violence in Christian art. Note that the ideas presented aren’t necessarily new, but a healthy conversation is brewing in a few different sectors. 

Mike Duran is always up to stirring up contention, discussion on his blog Decompose. He uses the example of the counting of different potentially offensive terms in the movie The Blind Side to springboard into a discussion of language in Christian fiction. His recent novel The Resurrection had a jaded construction worker, who couldn’t say damn or hell because it was produced for the CBA market.

In the recent issue of Relevant, Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay asks if “offensive art can be Christian.” He starts off talking about a secular band declaring their allegiance  to Jesus in a song that also drops an F-bomb. Does the fact that they used such a word demean their otherwise Christian content? For a little more food for thought, check out this quote from the article:

We have come so far from reflecting the rebel Jesus in our art and cultural engagement that we do not recognize Him when He surfaces. I still wrestle with the fact that Jesus hung out with prostitutes not simply to tell them what they were doing wrong, but to love them where they were. He was in the world, and His agenda was to love. He was not looking for reasons to be offended. He was not looking for reasons to stay home, safely out of harm’s way. We weren’t set apart in order to live apart. We were called God’s own so we could confidently go into the world. 

 In a contrary grain, another author writes in Relevant that “Christian artists should (not) use violence.” He uses the term “violence” to include gratuitous sex and language. His contention is that the world is so jaded that using rough violence or stark violence or sex doesn’t faze the world anymore. When our morals were on a similar level, works like Flannery O’Connor’s provided a shock that hit complacency. Now when modern art tries to find new levels to shock and awe, then perhaps the answer  for the Christian artist is to paint a picture of beauty to be the contrast.

Whatever should be done, it is clear the Christian artist faces a peculiar enemy today: the expanding boredom of the modern age, which has the power to wash out even the severest expressions, and violence is its latest casualty. It is the constant duty of the Christian artist to outwit this amoebic tendency to consume and excrete, to make retail of riches. She must forge new paths of expression and restore old ones. When the world builds for itself a Tower of Babel, then she must paint a pile of rubble, and then when it is knocked down and the peoples wander in the refuse, she must paint a glittering city with jasper walls and foundations of precious stone. 

 A very intriguing article, and if you have to pick one, I think this would be it.

Finally, the flavor du jour here has been The Civil Wars. In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Joy Williams describes the freedom she now experiences being out of the Contemporary Christian Music realm.

“The process of being with John Paul  (White, her band partner) is this wonderful discovery of creative freedom that I didn’t know that I had,” she said. “I started in a very restrictive genre of music. But the reality is that I’m able to write a lot more about the world around me, if it’s about faith or about cigarettes, or about murder or adultery, or about a movie that I saw, or a book we’ve both read.”  Emphasis mine.

I like to put out interesting thoughts and articles for people to explore more. If you have thoughts on it, I’d enjoy your comments here as well.

Thoughts on Violence in Word and Deed

It seems in the blogosphere there has been new conversation on the topic of language use and violence in Christian art. Note that the ideas presented aren’t necessarily new, but a healthy conversation is brewing in a few different sectors. 

Mike Duran is always up to stirring up contention, discussion on his blog Decompose. He uses the example of the counting of different potentially offensive terms in the movie The Blind Side to springboard into a discussion of language in Christian fiction. His recent novel The Resurrection had a jaded construction worker, who couldn’t say damn or hell because it was produced for the CBA market.

In the recent issue of Relevant, Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay asks if “offensive art can be Christian.” He starts off talking about a secular band declaring their allegiance  to Jesus in a song that also drops an F-bomb. Does the fact that they used such a word demean their otherwise Christian content? For a little more food for thought, check out this quote from the article:

We have come so far from reflecting the rebel Jesus in our art and cultural engagement that we do not recognize Him when He surfaces. I still wrestle with the fact that Jesus hung out with prostitutes not simply to tell them what they were doing wrong, but to love them where they were. He was in the world, and His agenda was to love. He was not looking for reasons to be offended. He was not looking for reasons to stay home, safely out of harm’s way. We weren’t set apart in order to live apart. We were called God’s own so we could confidently go into the world. 

 In a contrary grain, another author writes in Relevant that “Christian artists should (not) use violence.” He uses the term “violence” to include gratuitous sex and language. His contention is that the world is so jaded that using rough violence or stark violence or sex doesn’t faze the world anymore. When our morals were on a similar level, works like Flannery O’Connor’s provided a shock that hit complacency. Now when modern art tries to find new levels to shock and awe, then perhaps the answer  for the Christian artist is to paint a picture of beauty to be the contrast.

Whatever should be done, it is clear the Christian artist faces a peculiar enemy today: the expanding boredom of the modern age, which has the power to wash out even the severest expressions, and violence is its latest casualty. It is the constant duty of the Christian artist to outwit this amoebic tendency to consume and excrete, to make retail of riches. She must forge new paths of expression and restore old ones. When the world builds for itself a Tower of Babel, then she must paint a pile of rubble, and then when it is knocked down and the peoples wander in the refuse, she must paint a glittering city with jasper walls and foundations of precious stone. 

 A very intriguing article, and if you have to pick one, I think this would be it.

Finally, the flavor du jour here has been The Civil Wars. In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Joy Williams describes the freedom she now experiences being out of the Contemporary Christian Music realm.

“The process of being with John Paul  (White, her band partner) is this wonderful discovery of creative freedom that I didn’t know that I had,” she said. “I started in a very restrictive genre of music. But the reality is that I’m able to write a lot more about the world around me, if it’s about faith or about cigarettes, or about murder or adultery, or about a movie that I saw, or a book we’ve both read.”  Emphasis mine.

I like to put out interesting thoughts and articles for people to explore more. If you have thoughts on it, I’d enjoy your comments here as well.

Creating Our Own Idols?

In this blog I’ve been an advocate for Christian artists to have the freedom to make art for beauty’s sake, that our creativity can give glory to God even if it is not specifically relating Jesus or other aspects of Christianity. I made the argument of Francis Schaeffer, that if you look over a Christian artist’s work over time, you would see their worldview coming out, even if a specific work did not seem to have a Biblical worldview. This post has the links to my longest run of posts concerning Christianity and art, and it goes into greater detail and nuance.


Made to worship?



Having said this, lately I have concerns. I love to see thoughtful creativity, and I think it is an act of worship to emulate our Creator. However, I think like everything else, it can become an idol.

 

We can’t sacrifice truth or faith for creativity.



There are different types of creative people. I believe I’m creative, but I like a certain amount of structure and I do well in a circumstance where I know the expectations and can shoot for a level of achievement. Some creatives are *very much* creative. Their whole personality is geared toward experimenting, pushing, exploring, and having a sense of freedom. They can be great people to be around.

The problem can be they put too much on the freedom. They start to clash with standards, guidelines, boundaries. This can become a problem area for Christians. If too much emphasis is put on creativity and the freedom to explore it, they can lose sight of what we are called to in the Bible. They end up worshipping the creative process over the Creator of it all.
I’m not necessarily talking about their art. I can see a musician writing an angry song that doesn’t seem to be Biblical, or an author writing a character or story that don’t have any apparent redeeming value – as long as what they do isn’t directly advocating sin. In a grander scope of their body of work, there may be a point being made by such work that continues to show a Biblical worldview, but it isn’t as apparent taken out of context.
I see more of a problem with their lives getting caught in the “creative life”, and the artist leaving behind the Kingdom life. Instead of following Christ and doing art in the wide beauty of His creation and Kingdom, they follow “the muse” wherever it takes them.
This may be an idol…
I think an example of this would be Katy Perry. It is well-known that she started in Christian music, but has evolved into a secular artist that likes to sing and dress provocatively. In reading articles about her, I think she also has let ambition and a desire for fame to drive her life as much as her “art”, but I’m sure her creative side contributes as well. 
What is an artist to do? As Christians, we need to offer fellowship and prayer for those who explore the creative life. The beauty that can revealed about God through wonderful art is a true gift we all can and should enjoy. The temptation is letting ourselves go into the creative act so much that we lose our moorings. I’ve had very creative friends that have been misunderstood. Evangelicalism in America especially can have trouble with the questions raised by these type of people. The artist must choose to stay within the boundaries of Kingdom life, but we can do our best to love and encourage them so they can use their curiosity and imagination without losing themselves to the process.

Creating Our Own Idols?

In this blog I’ve been an advocate for Christian artists to have the freedom to make art for beauty’s sake, that our creativity can give glory to God even if it is not specifically relating Jesus or other aspects of Christianity. I made the argument of Francis Schaeffer, that if you look over a Christian artist’s work over time, you would see their worldview coming out, even if a specific work did not seem to have a Biblical worldview. This post has the links to my longest run of posts concerning Christianity and art, and it goes into greater detail and nuance.


Made to worship?



Having said this, lately I have concerns. I love to see thoughtful creativity, and I think it is an act of worship to emulate our Creator. However, I think like everything else, it can become an idol.

 

We can’t sacrifice truth or faith for creativity.



There are different types of creative people. I believe I’m creative, but I like a certain amount of structure and I do well in a circumstance where I know the expectations and can shoot for a level of achievement. Some creatives are *very much* creative. Their whole personality is geared toward experimenting, pushing, exploring, and having a sense of freedom. They can be great people to be around.

The problem can be they put too much on the freedom. They start to clash with standards, guidelines, boundaries. This can become a problem area for Christians. If too much emphasis is put on creativity and the freedom to explore it, they can lose sight of what we are called to in the Bible. They end up worshipping the creative process over the Creator of it all.
I’m not necessarily talking about their art. I can see a musician writing an angry song that doesn’t seem to be Biblical, or an author writing a character or story that don’t have any apparent redeeming value – as long as what they do isn’t directly advocating sin. In a grander scope of their body of work, there may be a point being made by such work that continues to show a Biblical worldview, but it isn’t as apparent taken out of context.
I see more of a problem with their lives getting caught in the “creative life”, and the artist leaving behind the Kingdom life. Instead of following Christ and doing art in the wide beauty of His creation and Kingdom, they follow “the muse” wherever it takes them.
This may be an idol…
I think an example of this would be Katy Perry. It is well-known that she started in Christian music, but has evolved into a secular artist that likes to sing and dress provocatively. In reading articles about her, I think she also has let ambition and a desire for fame to drive her life as much as her “art”, but I’m sure her creative side contributes as well. 
What is an artist to do? As Christians, we need to offer fellowship and prayer for those who explore the creative life. The beauty that can revealed about God through wonderful art is a true gift we all can and should enjoy. The temptation is letting ourselves go into the creative act so much that we lose our moorings. I’ve had very creative friends that have been misunderstood. Evangelicalism in America especially can have trouble with the questions raised by these type of people. The artist must choose to stay within the boundaries of Kingdom life, but we can do our best to love and encourage them so they can use their curiosity and imagination without losing themselves to the process.

Art House America

I’ve been a fan of Charlie Peacock and his music since I first found out about him in 1991 (sheesh, that sounds long ago…). His music is intelligent, creative, risky, and often has a great beat to dance to.

He’s taken his love of God and his artistic nature and fused into something that sounds pretty special. The Art House is the ministry in Nashville with his wife Andi where they host artistic types of all kinds and nurture them in creativity and faith. It has spun off to a physical location in Dallas as well, plus the internet home at Art House America. You can find out more of their vision on the About page.

Not all of us will get the chance to go there (though I’m holding my breath). The website has articles from thinkers on subjects of artistry (music, books, film), justice, creation care, and hospitality, just to name a few. I really enjoyed an article by Andi on raising artful kids, from her perspective as a grandmother. Neat stuff there!

I encourage my creative friends to check out Art House America. Maybe God has something to speak to you from there.

Art House America

I’ve been a fan of Charlie Peacock and his music since I first found out about him in 1991 (sheesh, that sounds long ago…). His music is intelligent, creative, risky, and often has a great beat to dance to.

He’s taken his love of God and his artistic nature and fused into something that sounds pretty special. The Art House is the ministry in Nashville with his wife Andi where they host artistic types of all kinds and nurture them in creativity and faith. It has spun off to a physical location in Dallas as well, plus the internet home at Art House America. You can find out more of their vision on the About page.

Not all of us will get the chance to go there (though I’m holding my breath). The website has articles from thinkers on subjects of artistry (music, books, film), justice, creation care, and hospitality, just to name a few. I really enjoyed an article by Andi on raising artful kids, from her perspective as a grandmother. Neat stuff there!

I encourage my creative friends to check out Art House America. Maybe God has something to speak to you from there.

Beauty and the Church

No, I’m not quite dead yet.

(May have felt close recently, but that’s nothing y’all want to hear about…)

Between being busy, having *ahem* issues, and having the first two items here sap my inspiration, I haven’t had the chance to post. Don’t give up on me though. There’s still some new stuff rattling around my cranium.

For instance, in reading Christianity Today from May 2010, I cam across a little segment they have at the end of the magazine entitled “Who’s Next: People You Should Know.” This month talked about W. David O. Taylor, an arts pastor in Austin, Texas, who has his first book entitled For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts just released.

Now, I’ve talked a lot about creativity and the Christian artist, and the importance of encouraging this as a form of worship and expression that the church needs. I’ve also promoted letting a Christian artist have freedom to produce what they have in mind without expectations. (Here’s a selection of posts of mine on the topic). I’ve usually gone to Francis Schaeffer as an authority on this, and how his book Art and the Bible shows that there is beauty created in the Bible for beauty’s sake, not for an evangelistic purpose.

In reading the short interview with David Taylor, I realized a bit of corrective needed to be applied to my argument. He makes this profound statement:

We shouldn’t stop with classical ideas about beauty; we also need to think about beauty Christologically. The moment we sever beauty from the death and resurrection of Christ, we risk sliding toward idealism or petty-ism.

I thought that was very important, and a point I have not made well enough in the past. Now, I still believe that art can be made for art’s sake, for beauty’s sake. But for the Christian artist, if we are truly walking in a redeemed mindset and a new life, then Christ needs to inform our work. The work of the cross affects what we do. I still don’t believe it has to be blantantly Christian, but a Christian is not free to do “whatever.” Not if we’re true to the One who gave us our gift and redeems it.

So add Mr. Taylor’s great statement to my previous positions about Christianity and the arts.