Thursday, July 06, 2006

AG: Who's on First?


Not long ago, a story appeared on the front page of USA Today. It caught the attention of many including Christianity Today which featured it in its daily newsletter. There are many stories that might catch the attention of Christians, but not usually baseball stories—especially an account about a major league team that has struggled most of its existence.

Yet this story has less to do with America’s Past Time as it does with faith. It seems that many of the players on the Colorado Rockies are Christians and they make no secret of it. There are Scriptures posted in the weight room, and prayer meetings and chapel services have replaced the usual magazines and behavior expected of a bunch of men. Apparently this behavior extends to the executives, including owner and CEO Charlie Monfort.

What does this have to do with Imagination@Work? Well, it got my imagination going. That’s what writers and readers do—kick start their imagination as often as possible. At first I felt a sense of joy that these men would be so vocal about their faith. Then the storyteller in me began to ask questions. First, I wondered what it would be like to play on such a team. Are their daily values really different than other teams? Will their faith be challenged by the sport, the industry, and expectations of fans? What would it be like to be a Christian baseball player? Can you still slide into second cleats first and throw a fastball inside?

Then I realized the questions were silly. There have always been baseball players who professed a belief and commitment to Christ. After all, the evangelist Billy Sunday played ball, and Billy Graham planned a baseball career before heeding the call to ministry.
So what are the right questions for a storyteller presented with such an interesting tidbit as found in the USA Today article? If this were to be a novel, what would the premise be? Point of view—that’s where the key lay. The question isn’t what is it like to be a Christian on a largely Christian team, or even the lone Christian on a major league club. The pressing question for a story is: What would it be like to be the only unbeliever on a team of believers?

This is where my mind took a detour. So much of Christian fiction is written from the Christian point of view. I know, I know, “Well, duh.” I acknowledge the need for the approach, but now I’m wondering what kind of story might be churned out if some writer decided to write a Christian book from an unbeliever’s point of view. I don’t mean have an unbelieving secondary character, or spouse, or friend, or boss or any other such permutation. I mean write an entire 90,000 or more word book purely from the point of view of someone who has no idea what it means to have salvation.

The reader would see the events through the eyes of disbelief rather than faith as has become expected in the industry. Imagine a tale told of a lone doubter on a baseball team composed of practicing, mature, well instructed believers. How would he view the Christians? Would he be attracted to their faith or would he struggle with their human foibles? And could Christians learn from this approach? One wonders if a Christian writer, long in the faith, might even remember what it was like to be on the other side of the border. Such a story might be instructive for the author and the reader. The question is, is the market ready for such a thing?

In my book, The Incumbent, I write about a woman mayor struggling with personal loss, a cantankerous council, and her place in the world. She is not a believer and proves it in a number of ways. The spiritual strain of the story was purposefully left for the later acts. I received several letters from readers who had read 80 or so pages and wanted me to explain what made the novel a Christian book. I could only answer, “Keep reading.” Beginning a book with a fully formed set of expectations is courting disappointment—but that’s a subject for another time.

All of that to say this: There are more stories out there than can be penned. All they need are imaginative writers and courageous publishers to make them real.

Alton Gansky's blog, Imagination @ Work, reaches the world from his home in California. You can read it daily at this link: http://altongansky.typepad.com/

3 Comments:

At 12:24 AM, Blogger Bonnie Calhoun said...

I agree whole heartedly. I think some 'christian' readers place too much emphasis on having an overt salvation message.

I like to take my example from the book of Ester. Nowhere in the book is God even mentioned, but you can see His hand all over it.

Writing a 'christian' novel from the POV of a unsaved person could be very cutting edge, if done right!

 
At 1:51 AM, Anonymous Annette Smith said...

Great post. Thankfully, stories told from the viewpoints of nonbelievers are finding places in the market.

My next novel, A Bigger Life, out in Jan. with NavPress, is written in the first person voice of a 27-yr-old non-believing male. My main character, Joel, is thoroughly post-modern in his views of the local church and of Christians in general.

Joel's take on some of our religious sacred cows is amusing, illuminating, and heart-breaking. My hope is readers will learn as much from his voice as I did.

 
At 4:05 PM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Great post. Thought-provoking.

You said, "I’m wondering what kind of story might be churned out if some writer decided to write a Christian book from an unbeliever’s point of view. How would he view the Christians?"

Interesting. Of course "secular" writers do this all the time (though the books aren't for the Christian market), and usually, they depict Christians as ignoramuses (technically, is that ignorami?). I'm thinking of Elmer Gantry and other Christians in both classic and contemporary novels.

Thanks again for a great post. I enjoyed reading it.

 

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