On Writing, Art, and Salvation (part 4)

At last, we come to the end of these ramblings. If you’re still with me, thank you. I ask you to bear with me for one more post on this stuff, and then I will fall silent for a while as you give me feedback.

Yesterday, I outlined the main content issues I think other Christians will have with my work. I think it’s fair to say that I really do want to get back to writing, even if it’s only a hobby and I put it in the same place in my schedule as knitting, sewing, or reading (which is to say, pretty far down the To Do list). But I don’t think I can write—I don’t think I can create—until I hash out some of the questions I have about the content of my work.

There are other issues, too. I recall being called on the carpet for having “impure motives,” essentially—for pursuing my writing goals for reasons other than bringing glory to God. I could never quite wrap my head around the accuser’s issue, to be candid. When I worked full time in an office, I never thought, “I’m typing for the glory of Jesus.” Perhaps I should have? I don’t know. But somehow, this person thought that simply pursuing a career because it was an enjoyable pursuit was wrong.

Hear me on this: I do not disagree with the idea that everything we do should be done as if working for the Lord. I suppose I just don’t see it as quite such a well-defined thing as this particular person thought it should be. When asked my “motives,” I didn’t automatically answer, “to glorify God.” That seemed to be the crux of the matter. If I had, would that person have had no objection to the content? I doubt it. I can give Sunday school answers if that’s what’s expected, but I don’t like to give them unless they’re honest.

So, all that said . . . here are my questions:

If the content is inappropriate, but I don’t feel convicted of wrongdoing, how do I know how to edit myself?

If the content is acceptable, but a brother or sister chastises me, how do I respond?

Can we, as believers who know the truth as God has revealed it in His Word, acknowledge through art (in this case, fictional short stories and/or novels) that those who do not believe as we do will not act the way we believe they should?

Is my quest to reveal truth through the practices of believable characters in a reality that may not look exactly like earth’s reality (hint: there may be fairies or talking dragons or magic or strange gods) a worthwhile one?

What is the proper balance between the responsibility I have to my audience, whether Christian or secular, to accurately portray the practical reality (i.e., what people do in practice on a daily basis) of human life and to protect their eyes and hearts and minds from said reality?

Am I obligated to God to share my work with others, believers and non-believers alike?

I think it’s fair to say that once I explore the answers to those questions, I will have to then consider how to apply what answers I come up with.

In the meantime, there is another issue immediately at hand–namely, the issue of how desperately I want to write again.

Here’s some truth that splashes buckets of cold water on my desires: I don’t have time to even keep up with my daily obligations, much less find time to write. I am drowning in American Heritage Girls responsibilities, not gaining even the slightest bit of traction on putting my house back together after years of neglect, and still attempting to do all of the churchy things I’m supposed to do. It’s not the daily time with God I’m talking about here–it’s all of the other stuff–the Bible study, the homework from said Bible study, the church attendance, etc. There are other volunteer duties, too (because apparently, I enjoy taking on extra stuff that I don’t have time for). And then there’s just the general, all-encompassing title of Mother of Four. Plus, Mr. P does like to talk to me occasionally.

So, suffice to say, I certainly have no time at all to indulge in my chosen art. And should I decide to spend precious free time writing (instead of knitting or sewing), there’s a part of me that always feels a bit guilty. You see, writing without intent to publish feels unbelievably indulgent–akin to buying designer purses or having pedicures in the Pacific Northwest in winter (no one sees them). At least knitting or sewing feels productive and useful. If I don’t ever share my writing, then I feel like it’s a rather pointless indulgence. All it does is make me feel happy–which, while lovely, seems rather useless considering the length of my To Do list.

So perhaps there are a couple more questions that I should add to my list:

Can I justify indulging in my writing if I never intend to share it?

If I indulge in my writing, do I have any obligation to share my work?

And on an even more personal note,

If I share my work, how much and what kind of criticism, chiding, and Christian correction am I obligated to integrate into my work?

I am not anywhere near sharing my work again. I still have visceral, painful, anxiety-ridden reactions to even the suggestion or thought of sharing my writing in anything other than a blog post. I have been honest on this particular blog because it’s therapy, but that’s not anywhere near being honest through my works of fiction. And truthfully, I’m more honest in my works of fiction than I am anywhere else—you just have to know how to read the fiction.

So there it all is. Four very long, very rambling posts that expose far more of my heart and thoughts than you all probably expected. I would not have opened myself up like this if I did not expect chastisement or reprimand. So, let me have it. Perhaps the Spirit will use you to convict me of something—I don’t know.

In the meantime, if you’re still reading, I thank you for sticking with me this far.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

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4 thoughts on “On Writing, Art, and Salvation (part 4)

  1. Jane Wells (@2jewells)

    Because I’ve only had one cup of coffee yet this morning, I’m not going to address all the questions in the middle, just the accusations of the unnamed man and your sense that writing because you love it is self-indulgent.
    In the classic movie Chariots of Fire runner Eric Liddell is a devout Christian, the son of missionaries who intends to return to China to continue their work – this is from the Wikipedia summary:
    “When Eric Liddell accidentally misses a church prayer meeting because of his running, his sister Jennie upbraids him and accuses him of no longer caring about God. Eric tells her that though he intends to eventually return to the China mission, he feels divinely inspired when running, and that not to run would be to dishonour God, saying, ‘I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.'”
    I have had my writing motives questions also – and I found the questioner was actually coming from a place of pride. How, after all, could someone who doesn’t even really know me have any idea what is going on inside my head and heart?
    If writing left behind the same feeling as gorging on candy (a little sick, headachy, grumpy) – then, yes, perhaps my motives are greedy… but if instead I am refreshed, inspired, more at peace with the world around me, then I can’t help but tip toward the belief that writing is a gift God has given me, even if it is only for my own edification.
    God has promised to give us all good things and the desires of our hearts.
    Another example to consider is Nehemiah. Convicted of a task God had given him, attacked from all sides. Yet persevering.
    So… that’s a lot more than I thought I’d write on one cup of coffee…
    For what it’s worth.
    Love and Hugs,
    your sister in the word.

    1. jmpadoc Post author

      Dear friend, you have no idea how much I needed to hear those words this morning. Thank you.

      Perhaps a single cup of coffee does you more good than you realize . . . 😉

  2. jccassels

    I sympathize and identify with your angst. I am a Christian writer, but I make no pretense of writing Christian fiction. Like you, my work contains worldly elements that would garner criticism from those expecting purely Christian stories.

    I, too, struggled over the worldly content. I entered prayerfully into my writing, especially with my second book which contains a spiritual element. I didn’t want to be a stumbling block, either. After consulting with my pastor, the women I worship with, my father, and my Sunday school teacher, and after much prayer, I’ve come to accept certain responsibilities as far as my writing is concerned.

    As a writer of secular science fiction, I have a unique ministry opportunity. People who will never go near a “Christian” book will gladly read mine. My book may be the only exposure they have to the message of salvation and forgiveness. Yes, my book contains language, violence, implied – though not graphic – pre and extramarital sex, and a ‘Godless’ setting.

    I’m not writing to be read by the hyper critical modern version of the Pharisees. I’m writing for those whose hearts may just be starting to soften and seek His word. I’m writing for those who understand and need to hear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

    Sex, violence, and language are still a part of their world, as it is for my characters, sinners who are seeking forgiveness and unable to find it in themselves or their world. My MC calls himself a ‘bad man’ and can’t forgive himself for the things he’s done. A bad man isn’t going to say “darn” when he gets thwarted.

    Every day before setting out to write, I prayed that God’s words be used, and His story be told for His glory and His purpose. I have to trust that He provided those words because He promises He will never leave us, nor forsake us. I believe He is faithful even when we’re not.

    I am willing to endure any Pharisee like censure that comes my way as a result. I have been faithful. Any criticism that comes my way, comes from men presuming to know God’s purpose for my work. It doesn’t come from God, my true writing partner.

    That said, it is important to surround yourself with Christians as your writing support network. Like-minded crit partners, beta readers, and editors will be your sanity check along the way. If you are like I am and immerse yourself in your writing, make sure that your non-writing time is as inviolate. I have not turned on my computer since September. I will not write again until 2014. That was my promise to my children.

    1. jmpadoc Post author

      J C, thank you so much for your thoughtful and in-depth response. I really appreciate your insights.

      I will confess that I was not especially prayerful about my work when I pursued it before. I was mindful of what I was responsible for, but I think it was that insidious pride issue that got between me and prayer (and hence, God). But as I said, now that I *am* seeking God about all of this, I don’t feel especially convicted of the content that I included before. So perhaps I stumbled into something correct even if I wasn’t prayerful? I don’t know.

      I do know that some non-Christians who read my work previously said that they saw and understood some of the Christian symbolism in my work. I didn’t convert anyone, but then, the redemptive arc wasn’t complete as I quit everything before I’d finished the series. And I don’t know if I ever would convert anyone. But what I would hope is that I would put a stone or two in someone’s shoe and make him/her think about bigger issues of faith, ethics, values, etc. Sometimes just starting to ask those questions can lead people to the road to the Cross.

      I am really impressed with the balance you have struck between writing and children. Yes, I do become completely immersed in my writing, and going back down that road scares me to death. I don’t want to ignore my family again. I like what you said about your promise to your kids, and it’s quite probable that giving your own head and spirit a break from the work will replenish your creativity and give you a more productive 2014 . . .

      Thank you again for your thoughtful answer to my questions. I hope to see you comment again!

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