Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dropping Formulaic Prayers

So often when I pray I end up in the "God, I praise you for..." or "God, please help me..." or "God, I'm sorry for..." trap. But then the other day I realized that when I talk to my friends, even though I might compliment them or ask for help or apologize for something, I also do a lot more. In fact, if all I did were those three things, I can't see how our friendship could really grow very deep.

My friends and I talk about what's on our minds. Sometimes we laugh or complain or remember good times together. And sometimes we don't talk at all all, we just hang out.

So, since I want my friendship with God to grow deeper, I've started trying to relate to him in a more balanced way. Rather than getting caught up in my typical formulaic prayers, I've started talking to him about the dreams I have, the stuff that frustrates me, the things I'm struggling with or concerned about and where I'm hurting and what I'm hoping for and what I'm thinking or planning or remembering.

Think about it for a few minutes. Let us know some of the ways you connect with your friends that we could add to the spectrum of ways we communicate with God.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Non-Christian Fiction of Jesus

As I've been considering all the great comments people have left over the last few posts on art, story, and spirituality, I started thinking about Jesus. After all, he didn't teach the crowds anything without telling them stories (Mark 4:33-34).

And the stories he told weren’t warm-n-fuzzy, feely-good fairy tales where everyone lived happily ever after (or where everyone got saved). In his stories people got beat up, imprisoned, tortured, killed and even sliced into little pieces. The good guy sometimes lost. Hard work didn’t always pay off.

Some of his stories are downright chilling, haunting even--like the one about the demons who slipped back into a careless person after a successful exorcism, or about the people being left out of the party and trapped in the darkness forever, weeping and gnashing their teeth.

And although his stories carried strong messages, almost none of his stories were overtly religious.

So here's the irony: by today's standards, a good number of Jesus' stories (maybe even the majority of them) wouldn't be considered Christian fiction.

If we need to label a story 'Christian' let's use the term to refer to stories that tell the truth about the world, not just ones that have ' little objectionable content' or 'good family values' (whatever those are).

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Paradox of Art

All art, by its very nature, comes from some sort of moral grounding, some view about the world. Some novelists write from the perspective that life is ultimatly meaningless, that in the end, our choices don't matter. These are the depressing stories.

And they are partially right.

Other writers come from the perspective that we should pursue our dreams, follow our hearts and shape a new destiny for ourselves. These are the Disney-ending authors.

And they are partially right.

Art that speaks the truth about the world and about the human condition doesn't compromise and land in the middle between despair and puerile optimism, but embraces them both and expands on them.

It's true that life is meaningless--without God. And that should be a truth that is explored in fiction, but it's not the whole truth and so it can be misleading. It is also true that life is glorious and the future holds promise, but only because of God's dreams and the destiny he offers. The way I understand the Christian message, we shouldn't follow our hearts, because they are deceitful. And we shouldn't pursue our dreams, but rather tune in to God's.

And we shouldn't give up hope, because the best is yet to come.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Agenda-driven novels

Following up on my last post, I thought I’d mention that last week I had a cup of coffee with Paul McCusker and he shared some of the same frustrations that (apparently) most of us do.

He said that in his seminars he'll ask people, “How many of you like agenda-driven fiction? For example, gay and lesbian fiction, or pro-abortion fiction?" (I might add, 'or fiction that slams religion, such as The Golden Compass series?') He said that nearly everyone will reply that they can't stand agenda-driven fiction, and then he’ll say, “That’s how people react when they read so-called ‘Christian fiction.’”

It makes sense to me. I saw a movie a few years ago called The Life of David Gale. The movie was basically anti-death penalty propaganda and, despite some fine acting, I was totally turned off from the movie. (This has nothing to do with my views about the death penalty, only my view about art.)

So here’s my question: What novels have you read (or movies have you seen) that have approached sensitive topics honestly and well; what agenda-driven novels (or movies) would you like to unrecommend for the rest of us?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Excusing Mediocrity

First of all, thanks for all the great comments over the last few postings. I’m so impressed by the depth of insight and the lively discussions.

Last week I spoke at a scriptwriting conference in North Carolina and then at a writer’s conference in Delaware so I’ve had writing on my brain. Both events were for Christian writers and at both of them I made a comment that several of my writer friends took offense at. Here it is, I’ll be interested to read your responses:

“How many times have you talked to people and they say, ‘I don’t read to so many Christian novels, or novels by Christian publishers; mostly I just read ones by secular publishers.” And when you ask them why they’ll say, ‘Well, the Christian ones aren’t that well written. They’re like sermons in disguise.’”

Then I said, “It’s our job to change that around so that people say they prefer the novels by Christian publishers and when you ask them why they say, “Well, it’s obvious. They’re just so much better written.”

All too often Christians excuse mediocre art by explaining that it’s Christian. I think we should be producing art that reflects the excellence of the Creator, not agenda-driven writing that causes us to be marginalized.

Monday, April 07, 2008

A Brief Conversation

"The idea that God is everywhere, all the time, is either the most comforting or the most unsettling teaching of all."

"So, let me guess: the only difference is whether or not he's on your side."

"No. He's already on your side. The only difference is whether or not you're on his."