Thursday, 23 February 2012

In parenthesis

The Third Order of St Francis has as its mission statement that it exists to "make Jesus known and loved everywhere".

That is also my purpose - my sole purpose - as a writer.  I write to open the Gospel of Jesus for people, to present it in a way that makes it accessible to their imagination, so that they have a chance to understand its teaching better.

Each story I write explores an aspect of Christian faith and experience, with a view to deepening and strengthening the faith of the reader, helping each one's resolve to follow in the Christian way, to "know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly and follow Thee more nearly, day by day".

That's why I write.  I'm not bored, I'm not short of things to do, it's not an ego trip, I don't need the money, I am grateful not to be famous and I dislike attracting attention.  I write to be part of making Jesus known and loved everywhere, because I am His property, He is my Lord, and He is wonderful.

Therefore my books are unmistakeably intended to edify and to teach. I personally am interested in reading only those books which similarly have something to teach me, can build me up and strengthen my spirit; and I assume there are other readers similarly hungry for such encouragement.  I often start reading books that are just a "rattling good yarn," but I rarely finish them.

From time to time I wander along to the ACW (Association of Christian Writers) page on Facebook, to see what UK Christian writers and publishers are thinking and chatting about.

Recently I got involved with a discussion thread there about a new fiction list just starting at a UK Christian publisher.

I think I made myself fairly unpopular with the observations I made about the publishing criteria, so I thought I'd better shut up.  But something has been on my conscience.

The writers and publishers chatting on that thread were agreed that fiction with a message is execrable.

Comments went along these lines: 

I don't want to read a book where the author is setting out to inform me, unless you mean telling me about facts I don't know.  If you are talking worldview, forget it!  (a Christian publisher)

Another commenter asked for clarification:
Sorry to be so thick but what does "worldview" mean in this context?

The Christian publisher clarified:
I guess it means your faith, so if you see the world as being created by God, in need of redemption, of people being made in His image, in need of redemption, etc etc. 


Commenter (a writer) responded:
Ah, thanks.  Yes, I completely agree with you.

Later in the thread the publisher continues:
. . . people who write with any agenda other than telling a good story as well as they possibly can - write badly.  They are turning out propaganda. 

Another writer seeks clarification as follows:
When you are self-consciously trying to convince your readers of the validity of your world view as opposed to their own, that ventures into more questionable territory.  But surely presenting a world view in itself is not wrong? 

Publisher opines:
The key is in the word used above "presenting a worldview" - writing from a worldview is inevitable.  But bringing it to the fore is more questionable. 

and later:
No man can serve two masters and no author can have two overriding aims! 

and later:
. . . not to hide your worldview but not to make promoting your particular worldview the main raison d'etre of your novel.  Because it so often is.  And, I repeat, it is propaganda. 

Someone wonders aloud:
Patricia St John, most of the time, seemed to get it right, but do you think her stories would have been just as powerful WITHOUT the Christian input?  I remember feeling slightly uncomfortable, even as a child, when the Christian bits occurred.  

Another writer hastens to reassure:
. . . as for myself I do not ever want to push Christianity/its world view, in people's faces. 

These are extracts from a fuller conversation covering topics broader that just the one about "world view"; but what I have quoted here represents faithfully the tenor of the conversation in respect of the presentation in fiction of the Christian faith.

I didn't want to get into an argument or be antagonistic or pick on anyone, and someone had already offered admonishment that our comments and seeking of clarification seemed aggressive.  So I didn't say anything further.

But over these last two days the conversation has stayed with me, and I am not at peace with having allowed a situation to develop in which not one writer (or publisher) offered the counterpoint of an opinion that begged to differ.

So I want to say here, publicly, that the purpose of my writing (both fiction and non-fiction) is simply and solely to make Jesus known and loved everywhere, and to expound as best I can His Gospel.

It is my opinion that a personal, direct, living relationship with the risen Jesus is what saves and heals the soul.  Knowing that somehow confers a responsibility not to keep it to myself while I watch the world go to hell in a handcart.

I have written this on my blog and not on the ACW page because I don't want to clog that page up with lengthy and unwelcome opinions, but I do want to share a different point of view.


Gerry Snape said...

Oh lovely Patricia St. John...I gave my life to the Lord at 7 through the reading of Treasures in The Snow... no embarrassment there!

Pen Wilcock said...

Books like hers hold open a door for people, an invitation to abundant life.

Amy Smith said...

I completely agree. In fact, I have a quote at the bottom of my blog that sums it up very nicely for me,

"My chief desire in all my writing is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ & make Him beautiful & glorious in the eyes of people." ~ J.C. Ryle

Besides, writing is more than just entertaining some one. It is an expression of our innermost thoughts, and as such, will reflect our "worldview". So is any artistic form- if you don't want to be exposed to a different worldview than your own, you'd better stay away from movies, art, photography, etc. ad infinitum. Hollywood certainly isn't bashful about expressing a worldview, and Christians should not be so focused on "telling a good story" that they dilute truth, faith- whatever you want to call it.

I think Jesus was the master story teller, and I have a sneaking suspicion He was not concerned that perhaps His "worldview" was getting in the way of a good story.

Just sayin'.

I'm done now.[wink}


Pen Wilcock said...

Julie in Duluth (STILL locked out by Blogger) says this:

"I am almost stupefied by the comments you've quoted here, from believers in Christ and from a Christian publisher. It's almost too much for me to find words for. But I think I'll be able to rise to the occasion and find some words. :)

What, then, would be the point of a "Christian" work of fiction, if not to have some sort of faith message for its readers? If a book cannot have a faith message without being labeled unwelcome propaganda, then why the need for a "Christian" publisher? Are they just wanting non-fiction books to have the Christian message?

Isn't almost every book written or published meant to either influence in some way, or to share a story of some sort, or to teach? A cookbook is written and published to influence people to eat and cook a certain way. A book on holistic medicine is offered to the public to influence people to try another way of treating their bodies. A biography is published to tell someone's life story, and depending on the reader it can influence or entertain, or both. (Or neither.) An historical or scientific book is published to inform, teach and influence. Why shouldn't a work of Christian fiction also influence as well? The reader can decide if he/she wants to yield to the influence of the books they choose to read. I'm curious to know how a Christian book of fiction would be distinguishable as Christian at all, if not for the Christian worldview on its pages. Maybe the publishers of the 21st century want books that entertain only.

And about Patricia St. John's Treasures of the Snow (yay Gerry!) -- I have read that book out loud to most of my grandchildren because I wanted them to learn about the freedom and joy of forgiveness, and how real Jesus can be even to a child, and the rapt listening, tear-filled eyes, and pleadings to keep reading after each chapter, told me that they were getting it. Trying to imagine that book without the love and ways of Jesus on its pages is very sad to me.

I'm probably missing the point somehow. It wouldn't be the first time. :)

Ember, I would also just like to say that your Christian fiction has been a breath of fresh air to me in some of the ways most other (yes, I'll say it, fluffy and/or stale) Christian novels have not. Sinful, confused, mean, uncertain, kind, timid, and otherwise foundering characters meet up with the love of Jesus, and it affects their lives. I am the same as they are, and even from a fictional book I'd like to know that there is hope for me. The lives of your characters don't necessarily get all healed at once (a pet peeve of mine in some Christian fiction), but His love shown through others, makes a difference. It's why I've purchased your books over and over again to give as gifts.

After all this rambling, I'm still scratching my head over why a Christian publisher would denounce a Christian novel for having a Christian message..."

Pen Wilcock said...

I guess in this instance, Julie, the publisher is establishing a list intended for the general/mainstream market, so not necessarily for Christian readers.
I can understand why *the list* might be looking for a low-key approach, but felt very uneasy with the perspective that *no* fiction should be written to teach or communicate a message.

Ganeida said...

Just one author's name: Rumor Godden. Can't get more *in~your~face* Christianity than that ~ & she always sold very well.

Madness. I like Sayers who said you can get people to read anything if you write well enough. I agree with her.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Amy - thanks!

Friends, don't feel we are working up a head of steam here such that it's not safe to disagree. I felt quite scared myself to post an opinion that ran counter to the group thinking.
If you want to say something quite contradictory to what I think or Julie, Amy, Ganeida or Gerry have commented, your views will be considered and respected and we don't bite (hard).

Catherrine Campbell said...

Thanks for this Pen. As a non-fiction writer I felt my comments might have been unwelcome in the ACW discussion. I was however disturbed by some of what I read. I'm with you. Surely whatever our genre, our aim as Christian writers is to glorify God and introduce people to Christ. Blessings as you continue to write and represent Jesus.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks, friend :0)

Anonymous said...

Pen, I've had 2 glasses of wine so apologies if I ramble or offend anyone and if my spelling/typing is bad!

I think they are wrong. A story written from the heart will reproduce what's in that heart and if that is Jesus then that is what should come through. You know, coz I've told you, that God has been using your fiction and non-fiction to radically change where I'm at with him. My spirit is rejoycing but my soul isn't giving up without a fight! lol It saddens me that Christians object to a Christian content in much of worldly things are they taking onboard that they don't enjoy christian content?? That's worrying.

C.F.Dunn said...

Hi Pen. I hope this works on the second attempt. I probably should have worn glasses or I didn’t press the right button last time rather than there being any fault with your sitei.
You will have seen part of the comment I wished to send posted on ACW. I merely wanted to say that our common goal is to serve Jesus; how we do that might differ according to his plan for each of us. It worries me when opinion becomes a line of demarcation, and absolute; there are too many examples in history where such lines have become barriers. Both ‘sides’ (because that is what it feels like) have valid points, but perhaps the voicing of opinion became more vehement than the debate warranted, or the tone used could have been more tactful. I found your blog thought-provoking and sensitive, and there is room for all opinion whether everyone agrees with it or not. This is not something I wished to post openly because of the risk of misinterpretation, and enough debate has been raised to boiling point as it is. Let’s hope that somebody turns down the heat.

Penny said...

I have a lot to say, but don't think I can sum it up neatly in a comfy blog comment so I'll just say this:
1)I'm with Gerry re Patricia St John (same effect, same age). I hope one day someone says my books ring truth like hers.
2) Pen - Amen to your post.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi friends - thanks for your comments.

Debs, I think the nub of it for me is what you said about Jesus in the heart. If that is verboten, then I have nothing left to say, no novel to write. But as cfd points out, we don't all function like that, there is more than one perspective to the issue. And yes, Penny - to change lives as Patricia St John has is a worthwhile legacy indeed. Patricia St John or Barbara Cartland? Hmmm . . . which would I rather be . . . ?

Pen Wilcock said...

And Rumer Godden - yes Ganeida, what a splendid example!
I think the Christian publisher in our conversation yesterday could also cite Rumer Godden as an example of someone whose world view is obliquely and subtly presented, not thrust in the reader's face as polemic, so maybe Rumer Godden represents what cfd is talking about, a different approach to a common goal of serving Jesus.

Ganeida said...

Ember:Things like In this House of Brede & Five for sorrow, Ten for Joy are pretty straightforwardly Christian, with strong Christian themes & a good story~line but one has to take one's charactrs into consideration as well. Sayers, as I recall, got quite upset with those who suggested Her pet, Lord Peter Wimset, should become a Christian! lol I couldn't see it happening myself & nor could Sayers. ☺

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Yes - a Christian novel doesn't require comprehensive character conversion!!

Buzzfloyd said...

I haven't read the comment thread that sparked this, but I suspect the issue may be a semantic one. If the publisher means that story should not be sacrificed to the thrusting of dogma at the reader, then I absolutely agree with him. But the term 'worldview' is absolutely not the one he was looking for. A worldview is *exactly* what you want as a writer, or you have nothing to write about.

A good story, as we all know, arises from some form of conflict. That conflict and its resolution are impossible without a sense of how the world should work. And, while there are those who enjoy the school of modern literature that seeks 'realist' absurdism and to showcase meaninglessness, almost everyone else in the world prefers fiction that is heroic or romantic, or in some way shows the triumphing of human spirit over adversity.

If your hero decides to set aside his feelings for the greater good, then you are displaying your worldview. If greed destroys him, you are displaying your worldview. If love conquers all (or maybe a stupid trick with a wand does, JK ROWLING, grrr), then you are displaying your worldview.

If what the publisher means is that a statement of dogma or creed should not appear in the text, then he needs to say so. But if what he wants is books that display no worldview, he's going to get a pile of absolute crap and no readers.

Sarah said...

I'm a bit bemused by this - I've just re-read To Kill A Mockingbird. Great story yes, but surely Harper Lee was also sharing her 'worldview'?

Pen Wilcock said...

;0) Well put, Buzz!

.kp. said...

I just stood up clapping with and for your words. Amen. Proceed, friend. Your words impact lives because they are the words and life of Christ.

Just this week I gave one of your books to a friend who is caring for a deeply depressed daughter in law. She has not responded to anything in months. No longer even cries. Her mother in law reports that tears fell over Columba. Proceed!

Pen Wilcock said...

Such an encouragement. Thank you Keitha. God bless your friend and her daughter-in-law; may she find the Light that can lead her through. x

Tony Collins said...

Of course good novels express a worldview, as Buzz says so well.

The problem arises when you get the sense that the characters are simply there to dramatise an argument. This is exactly the opposite of what Pen's characters do.

As an editor of Christian fiction I sometimes find that writers manipulate their characters to achieve a particular conclusion (or course of action) which seems implausible to the onlooking reader. Once your disbelief is no longer suspended the writer has lost you as a reader. And if you don't finish a book you are unlikely to recommend it.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes indeed. But what you are describing sounds to me simply like "bad writing".
Looking back at the comments from the publisher I quoted in the blog post, something much deeper is being consciously excluded.
I think the problem you describe comes about when a writer is somehow separate from the faith s/he seeks to promote. It will make clunky writing then.
I guess the bottom line is that the publisher I quoted is simply looking for quite different kind of books from the ones I like and from the kind I write. And that's surely OK.

maria said...

Everything I do...everything I write, everything I am is for HIS EDIFICATION! It is for HIS GLORY!

Oh my friend, it is the reason why I read your words, because the Love for Christ is so evident in everything you share.

Ember, it is through your books that Our Lord has placed me in this path to live plain and simple. It is through your writings and your love for Our Savior that I am now dwelling deeply into His Words.

I read Christian Fiction because of its message...other wise, there is just nothing else out there to hold my interest.

Keep writing and following His Promptings my friend.

Peace be with you today Ember!


Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Waving! Nice to see you back, friend (you went on a trip away, I think?) xx