DR: Friendly Fire
It’s a chilly, windy day here in Kansas and I have a nasty cold, so if I sound a bit testy in this post, I apologize in advance. I didn’t much feel like writing, so after logging about 600 of the1500 words per day I need to make my deadline, I took my laptop and a cup of chai to the cozy chair in front of the fireplace and allowed myself a few hours to mindlessly surf the net.
I caught up on the blogs I normally read, explored a few new ones, and somewhere along the way, I ventured onto a thread about Christian fiction. I was immediately interested, since that’s what I write. But the deeper I dug, the more my discoveries irritated me, then made me fume, and finally, left me deeply disturbed and saddened.
I’m accustomed to hearing criticism from the secular world. I—along with many fellow Christian novelists—have had more than one review from secular sources that include variations on the “compelling story, marred by a poignant, but all-too-expected conversion scene” theme. I learned several books ago to let that roll off my back. The mail I get from readers whose hearts were touched or whose lives were set on a different course by the very scene a reviewer mentioned with derision is enough to keep me writing with confidence.
I’ve been in on discussions with aspiring writers who want to “push the envelope,” or “write edgy,” and usually it’s been a case of them being unaware of how far that envelope has already been pushed. Or they have a difference of opinion about the definition of “edgy” or about whether Christian fiction is best served by becoming more edgy.
I’ve seen portents here and there, passing complaints about the dearth of quality in Christian fiction. Usually those naysayers read one of Janette Oke’s prairie romances back in the seventies, maybe a Frank Peretti or two in the eighties and nineties, and the first Left Behind book, and forever after judge all of Christian fiction by those titles. (For the record, I’ve read at least four titles each from those authors, and found entertainment and spiritual value in each one.) A Publishers Weekly writer in an article announcing the National Book Awards, spoke of “the trend of paying homage to the old writing that makes new writing possible.” Whatever one thinks of early Christian fiction, these writers (and the brave editors who acquired them) forged new territory and made my job viable, and I honor them for that.
But—and forgive me if I’m coming late to the party—I had not realized how much criticism of Christian fiction is being leveled from within our own ranks. Constructive dialogue about how we can improve our craft is always healthy, but what I read on post after post, comment after comment, left me feeling as if I’d been gunned down by friendly fire. And sadly, most of it seemed to come from a root of arrogance, a belief that for the sake of Christianity’s reputation, only highly intelligent people should be writing, and that they should be writing only for other highly intelligent people. And maybe, just maybe, their erudite offerings will manage to pull a few of the masses of stupid, lazy readers up a bit closer to their level.
Well, I’m no dummy, but neither do I have any illusions about belonging to the intelligentsia. In spite of the fact that I’ve slogged my way through dozens of books on the craft of writing and have made an attempt (not very successful, I’m afraid) to read Pulitzer and National Book Award writers in an effort to understand and maybe emulate what the literary world deems excellent, I always come back to the truth that the voice God has given me (dare I say gifted me with?) is not a literary voice. It is a very common and simple voice. And I’m honored that it has struck a chord with a few readers—common and simple though they must be to have found value in my bourgeois offerings. (I’m kidding, of course! I love my readers!)
It’s become a clichéd comparison, but truth—however oft repeated, does not change—and I can’t help but think of Jesus’ parables. Some were metaphorical and deeply symbolic, told with a let-him-who-has-ears-hear attitude. Others, the Savior saw fit to tell in simple, everyday terms, and then retell, explaining the meaning to his listeners. Is it possible that he’s called storytellers of this century to likewise reach out to people across spectrums of intellect, lifestyle, spiritual maturity, socio-economic status and a host of other attributes that make us uniquely different from one another? After all, it is God who bestows the talent. Could it be that He has distributed to each author the style and voice that will reach the particular audience He has in mind?
1 Corinthians 1: 19-21, 25-31 For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
Deborah Raney is the author of A Vow to Cherish (Steeple Hill). Coming in February: Remember to Forget for Howard Books/Simon & Schuster. http://www.deborahraney.com/