Geralyn Wichers

"Life is a great adventure, or nothing"

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Am I asking too much of the husband that I don’t have?

Maybe you never did this, but when I was a teen it was popular among girls of my stripe to write ‘wish lists’ of what we wanted in our future husbands.  Since I was a goody-goody nice Christian girl, I wrote a lengthly list containing things like ‘must be passionately chasing after Jesus’ and ‘must serve in a church’ and eschewed shallow things like ‘tall, dark, and handsome’.

Mmm… tall, dark, and handsome.

As I age (yeah, the ripe age of 24, ha ha) my lists have taken on a pragmatic edge.  At fourteen I could barely look a guy in the face.  Now I’ve had the joy and pain of working with heaps of them, including a couple of tall, dark, gorgeous jerkfaces.  The more I know what I definitely don’t want, the more the good comes into sharp relief.

But I’m beginning to think even this new list may be too idealistic.  Let me list off a few items, and you can give me some feedback.

1. Must Not Live With His Mother

I don’t condemn the guys who live in their mom’s basement… exactly.  I know there are good reasons, and given the chance for a do over, I’d stay there a little longer too.  But I moved out of my childhood home at eighteen, and have been autonomous ever since.  I’ve forgotten what it was like to have a self-replenishing fridge, and self-washing dishes, and to get home from work and have dinner waiting for me.

I figure, if I would enter a relationship with a young man who has not lived independently, I will just replace his Mom as the fridge-replenisher and become the bad guy who reminds him to pay the rent bill and pick up eggs after work.  I want to be on equal footing with him.  I’d rather duke it out over HOW to run the home than have to teach him how to use a washing machine.

Is that horrible of me?  It sounds horrible when I read it.

2. Spends Very Little Time on Video Games

It’s not that I’m against video games, but the idea of a grown man spending hours in front of a TV, fighting imaginary battles, playing imaginary sports games and racing imaginary cars is unsettling and borderline on ridiculous.  I’m sorry.

Some might say the same about writing fiction, I don’t know.

Is life so boring that he must escape into an imaginary world?  Does he have no real battle to fight–no passionate pursuit?  Is he just lazy?  I can understand a bit of TV or gaming to unwind.  But hours upon hours of valuable time that can never be replaced?

3. Has Basic Financial Competency

If he can’t make a monthly budget, I don’t care if he looks like a GQ model.  I have worked VERY hard to learn financial skills.  I’m no accounting whiz, but I respect my money and do my best to be fiscally responsible.  Does he have to be wealthy?  Heck no!  Gainfully employed with a realistic picture of his cashflow?  Absolutely.

Now, how does one ask about this without sounding like a nosy gold digger?

4. A Desire to Do Better, Be Better

In a word: ambition.  He may not know what his life’s work will be yet, but he isn’t content to coast through life.  Whatever job he has, he does his best at.  He reads and learns constantly.  He examines himself and when he sees something he doesn’t like, he works on it.  He wants to leave a legacy, not just a grave marker, when he dies.

Turns out, this is a tall order.  I have met very few young men who pursue excellence.  But because excellence is so important to me, I know that if he does not, I will not be able to respect him as he deserves.  It is very important to me that I can respect my husband.  I ask no more of him than I ask of myself.  Not perfection, but a hunger for growth.

5. A Man of Courage and Character

I’ve worked with men who lie when the truth is inconvenient, cut corners to save effort, and would rather ignore (or rant about) a problem then fix it.  I doubt they realize how detrimental this is to relationships.  They lie to save my feelings, or cut a corner rather than correct me.  They want to be liked–I get that.  But I don’t trust them, so their amiable personality means little.

Over the years I’ve learned that truth isn’t as black and white as I thought, and honesty is much more difficult than just not telling a untruth.  But I need to know that he isn’t a coward.  He tries his best to do what is right. He’s not going to lie to get himself out of a hard place.  He’s not going to cheat on something because it’s little and ‘doesn’t matter.’

If he cheats at a card game, he’ll cheat on anything.  It’s just a matter of time.

6. A Man Who Loves Jesus

Honestly, the other four don’t mean anything without this one.

The passionate pursuit thing?  Life experience tells me that the burning flame of enthusiasm waxes and wanes, but love stays the course no matter what.  I have a passion to write. Sometimes writing is fun, even euphoric.  Sometimes writing is drudgery.  But I never give up.  Same deal here.

To love and to be loved by Jesus is transformative, and this man’s life will bear evidence of that transformation.

So How Am I Doing?

Are any of these unrealistic?

I said it already: I don’t ask of him any more than I ask of myself.  And I don’t want him to BE me.  I’d probably kill him.  One of me is enough, trust me!  But could there possibly be a man who lives life as intently as I do?  Or am I expecting too much of the poor sap?

What would you add to the list?

 

 

 

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“We’ve got to go.” The first intelligible words I heard. Liam. His voice was low, but deadly calm. He grabbed my shoulders and raised me up, but I recoiled from him. He didn’t seem to notice. “Simone,” he said. “We’ve got to go. We can’t stay here.”

“I still have my gun,” Simone said.

I turned, saw the gun still locked in Liam’s hand and stifled a scream. Morgan’s body lay behind me. I couldn’t turn around, so I had to look at Liam’s face, blank as blank could be.

“The map is gone,” he said, “But I remember the way. Come.”

Simone started after him, and so did I. And then I glanced back. Morgan’s body lay crumpled, just off the road. Blood pooled around his head.

I vomited onto my shoes.

Liam turned around, dead eyed. “Keep up.”

Keep up? Rage welled up inside me. “Keep up? You just shot your brother and you’re telling me to keep up? You… you psychopath!”

Liam’s face twitched. His mouth opened and clenched shut. He turned around and kept walking.

“Hey!” I followed after him. “Hey!”

Liam spun around. His face was almost purple, so contorted he could hardly be recognized. “What do you want me to say?” he ground out. I could hardly hear him over my own pounding heart. Again, a little louder, “What do you want me to say?”

Simone grabbed me from behind. “Stop it!”

I didn’t care. I wasn’t even in my right mind. “I could kill you!”

Simone clamped her dirty hand over my mouth and restrained me. Liam turned around. His shoulders formed a hard line, a wall between us, and he marched on. Simone pushed me forward, after him.

“Stop,” she whispered in my ear. “Just leave him alone. You don’t understand.”

Something about her words clicked in my mind. My anger dissipated to a low burn, and I followed after Liam.

My legs pumped in an effort to keep up with Simone. My mind reeled in unintelligible patterns. My stomach ached from vomiting. I would keep up. I would.

The sun began to set. Liam pointed to a house in the distance, and we made it just as the sun slipped behind the hills. We had the last few twilight minutes to make sure the house was empty. It was.

But for safety, Liam packed us into a tiny, windowless room. Simone, then me, then him against the door. The air was stifling, reeking of my own sweat and that of my companions.

We were silent. There was nothing to say. I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. Beside me Liam was rigid as full rigor. His breath rasped in and out.

I huddled close to Simone so I didn’t have to touch him.

Then, like a rupture, I heard a tearing groan come from within him. He slumped against the door. His cries hissed through his teeth, until even that could not contain them, and he sobbed like a baby.

Strong Liam, so broken, terrified me but I could not comfort him. I would not. Instead I grabbed Simone’s hand as if she could reassure me. She did not. She pushed my hand away and climbed over me to Liam. She grabbed his hand and pressed it to her lips.

“Liam,” she whispered, “Liam.”

He stirred. She grabbed his head and cradled it in her arms, stroking his face. He clutched at her hands, weeping. She cried too.
And I just lay against the wall. Every part of me hurt, but I would not cry.

And then, as quickly as it came, the storm passed. Liam jerked away from Simone. She held out her hand to him, but he ignored it and pressed himself against the wall.

“Kayla.” His voice came, low and rough, out of the darkness. “Kayla, if this should happen to me or Simone…”
“No!” I sat up. “No!”

He reached across and grabbed me by the arm. His fingers dug in to my soft flesh. “I’m serious. You can’t let that happen to Simone and you can’t let that happen to me, just like I won’t let it happen to you. Understand?”

Admit it. You wouldn’t mind having the chance.

Like I could say that to him. I was afraid of him. He was a monster. “Understood,” I squeaked. I burrowed down against my pack. My shirt was damp, sticking to me with sweat. My stomach turned with… with what? Fear? Grief?

His hand was still on my arm, but his fingers loosened and gentled before dropping away. Simone crawled back and lay down between us. She whispered in my ear. “Don’t worry, Kayla. I can do it.”

Her words, tinged with resignation, chilled me right through.

I didn’t really sleep that night. I dozed. The house made too much noise, though it may have been my imagination. There were creaks, moans like that of the undead, groans from Liam. Once I thought I heard footsteps. Liam lifted his head and listened for a long time, but the footsteps never came closer.

Thunder crackled, louder and louder. Then rain rattled on the terra cotta tiles of the roof. The tiny stream of air under the door turned moist, carrying the scent of trees and fields. Out there, things were still living.

This is an excerpt from my recent novel, We are the Living.  I have to admit that, of all the characters, I loved Liam the most.  I said to him (because authors talk to their characters sometimes), “I’m sorry, but you are going to be wrecked by the time I’m done with you.”  But will he redeem himself?  Well, I can’t tell you that, can I?
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I’m intimidated by my trainees.

They are educated in ways I hope to attain one day–a degree in physics (physics!), a degree in finance, and possibly degrees in business administration.  They’re well traveled, and they’re much older than I am.

But neither of them know how to coat pharmaceuticals, so they’re stuck with me.  I know coating, at least.  I know it quite well.

Calculus = Smart?

I’ve always desired to be the smartest one in the room.  When I was a preteen my Dad told me how much he’d struggled with trigonometry in school.  I resolved to master it.  In high school I did, indeed, become competent in low-level trigonometry and pushed myself to study the highest maths I could.

I can’t tell you how much time and tears I expended on the subject.  Why?  Because Calculus = smart.  I studied advanced physics.  Why? Physics = smart.

All the while, I was destined to be a… writer.  Woe is me.  If only I’d thought classic literature, poetry and writing classes were the thing for smart people to do!

Recreational IQ Testing

I’ve also been known to take online IQ tests for the fun of it.  I’ve been told they only count if they’re administered by a professional, but I still like to be reassured that my IQ is just a little higher than the average Jane’s.  I may in fact be ‘gifted’.

Never mind how many derelict genius’s there are out there.

I don’t know why intelligence matters so much to me.  I don’t know why I have to be “smart”.  Logically, I believe that IQ helps, but hard work trumps talent every time.  In fact, I have this coworker who I’m certain has a high IQ and is technically “smarter” than I am.  But I outwork him every day, and soon I’m going to pass him.  I don’t believe in saying “Oh, I’m just not smart.”

So why the heck do I have to be a genius?

The Book has a Silver Lining

You can’t choose your IQ, but fortunately there are no limits on the knowledge you may absorb.  So since I’m never smart enough, I keep on reading.  Oh yeah, I love to read, but mostly I’m outrunning my idiot status.  Must know more!  Must read classic novels.  Must read books on leadership.  Must read books on history.  Must read Plato.

I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to sit in a waiting room, reading Plato while everyone else is reading tabloids.  If that doesn’t swell my head, I don’t know what will.

If only they gave PhD’s to people who read enough books.

Close Enough?

Nevertheless, I am now a professor of pharmaceutical coating.  I’ve always wanted to be a professor of something.  I asked MY coach if she feels like an idiot the whole time she is coaching trainees.

“Pretty much,” she said.

Well, then I’m on the right track.

 

 

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The dictionary says that the word ‘slump’ originates from a word meaning ‘to fall into a bog.’  That’s wonderfully accurate.  The kind of slumps I’m thinking of are quicksand-ish things that suck you down and render you, the high-performance machine, into a tire-spinning mess.

They’re kind of dangerous if not diagnosed.  So here is how to know if you’ve fallen into a bog… and possibly my own tongue-in-cheek confession.

If You Refuse to Eat Your Veggies…

If you usually get your five to seven servings, but now you call those green flakes in your bag of sour cream ‘n onion good enough.  If you call the ketchup on your fries and the lettuce on your burger a salad.

You may be in a slump.

If You’re Watching Way Too Much TV…

If when you’re gunning for a goal you don’t give a rip about when Castle and Becket are getting married, but now it seems like a good reason to stay on the couch.  If you’re surfing YouTube at random–for hours.  If the kids who run the video store don’t need to ask for your phone number to process the rental, ’cause they know it already.

You may be in in a slump.

If You Hate Everyone…

If you’re usually Mr. Nice Guy, but now the world is full of idiots.  If even your Mom can’t get a smile out of you.  If you can’t stand to have someone breathing beside you because the noise drives you wild.

You may be in a slump.

If You Can’t Stand to be in the Same Room as Yourself…

If your internal dialogue consists of constant rants, diatribes, and arguments with yourself.  If you can’t muster the will to say no to yourself anymore.  If it’s Saturday and you’ve ticked nothing off your to-do list and you feel like a fat, lazy slob.

You’re not as bad as you think you are.

Look yourself in the eye and tell yourself “I am worthwhile,” because you are.  Your worth isn’t based on what you do.  You are a human, a unique soul, a special gift.  You are the image-bearer of God.  You might be going through a slump right now.  You may be full out depressed, and I’m sorry.  I wish I could make it better.

But you aren’t a waste of space.

I’ve watched so much TV, YouTube, and movies this week.  I ate two whole bags of chips this week (and I profess to eat low-sugar, low-carb).  I slacked off of blogging and tweeting.  I avoided my novel manuscript.  I was a grumpy bear to my coworkers and my family and ranted a great deal more than is seemly.  I’m sure I’ve been annoying as heck.  About the only things I did right were going running and showing up in church on Sunday morning.

But the clock is at three minutes past midnight.  It’s Tuesday morning, and I have twenty-four hours to try again.

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“Risk comes in all shapes and colors: bankruptcy, heartbreak, failure.  The alternative is a world without risk, without color, without knowing if you could have made that business work, if she would have truly loved you, if you would have finished that race or project or garden or painting or triathlon or… whatever.  If, in other words, is risk’s purgatory.  I know I don’t want to spend any time there.”  Georges St. Pierre

Don’t we all have these ‘ifs’ buried deep in our memories?

I have a business I tried to start.  I know I didn’t give it my best.  I was too afraid.  Every now and again I pull it from my memory vault, polish it up, and wonder could I have made it work?  Did I blow my only shot?

What IF?

In The Magician’s Nephew, the first of the Chronicles of Narnia, Polly and Digory come across a bell with this inscription:

“Make your choice, adventurous Stranger;

strike the bell and bide the danger,

Or wonder, till it drives you mad,

What would have followed if you had.”

“What if” is the purgatory of risk, as St. Pierre said.  If we, because of a lack of courage, take the easy road, we get to live with nothing but ‘ifs’ for the rest of our lives.  We live in a vaguely comfortable world without danger, but we become “cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat” (Theodore Roosevelt).

It breaks my heart to see so many ‘cold and timid souls’ among my peers.  They’re too scared to commit to a relationship.  They’re scared to quit their job and go to school.  They’re scared to move out of their parent’s place.

Because what IF it doesn’t work out?

What if it does?

No joke: the world is a big scary place.  I’ve got to acknowledge that not all risks are worth taking.  The Georges St. Pierre quote comes after an explanation of his calculated risk.  In Narnia, Polly and Digory awake a wicked witch when they strike inscripted bell.  In other words, I’m not advocating ‘YOLO’ (though a little of that spontaneous spirit is a good thing for homebodies like me).

I’m reminding myself that fear is inevitable, but I need to look past the fear, or the complacency, or the discomfort, and make a calculated choice.  Then, when ‘if’ comes calling, I can at least say “it wasn’t worth it” not, “I should have tried.”

It may be as small as engaging your new coworker in conversation, even if his accent is difficult to understand.  That’s my adventure this week.

 

Summer is over.  Manitoba’s autumn is the equivalent of winter in the coastal and southern areas–brain-freezing winds, thick frost, and gun-metal grey skies.

But it was a good summer.  I’ve been reflecting on this past summer and I’ve been so grateful for the great things that have happened this summer.  Here are the highlights.

Losing 30+ Pounds

This began in March, when I was introduced to the book Trim Healthy Mama.  The book advocates a low-glycemic, superfood approach to eating, which I have embraced.  This led to…

Green Valley RunRunning my First 5K

And my second, third and fourth.  I began the Couch to 5K program in mid-June, and ran my first race on August 17th, about nine weeks later.  Since the completion of the program, I have slowly been increasing my distance and speed.

Road Trip with Jess

In the first week of July, my sister and I packed up my little car and booted off to Minneapolis for a week of shopping, touring, and sister-time.  Neither of us had shopped at the Mall of America.  So we spent two eight-hour days shopping!  After that we were sick of the place, and toured a historic mansion, attended a Independence Day celebration at Fort Snelling, and drank a LOT of coffee.

 Publishing my First Novel

living_kindleAfter a marathon of editing, and formatting, We are the Living was released as an E-book in August, and a print edition was released in September.  My friends and family, who didn’t have to format and edit it, were much more excited than I. :)

It’s a post-zombie-apocalypse-lovestory mishmash, and a beautiful story of hope in bleak places.  I hope it will be a stepping stone to greater things.  I sure learned a lot from it.

A New Church

Leaving the church of my childhood was like leaving home and family.  Now I am safely ensconced in a new church in town.  It is slowly becoming home.  I became a member of the choir two weeks ago, and now I feel like I have a family within the church family at large.

What Next?

So what will the winter hold?  For starters, I’m going to learn how to run on a treadmill.  I have no interest in running in -40 weather, so the treadmill will need to be my best friend.  I’ve never used one, so this might be funny for everyone else.

I have plans to complete National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) by writing the first book in a series, which I plan to debut late next year.  In the meantime, I am editing a sci-fi novel, for release in the spring.

And you know, I’m kind of looking forward to Christmas.  Too soon?

How was your summer?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This week I took my second sick day of the year, and the third of my lifetime.  Yes, I consider myself to be indestructible, and when I do get sick I go to work anyway.

Last Saturday I woke up with burning lungs, like the feeling you get after you’ve inhaled caustic cleaner (been there, done that).  “No!” I said, “I can’t be sick.  I have a 5K.”  Cue browsing articles on ‘should you run while sick,’ of which there was no unanimous conclusion.  So, I said ‘to heck with it,’ went to the drugstore and bought the highest-powered lozenges I could find.  Back in the car, I popped one in my mouth.

My tongue went numb.

“What the heck is in these things?”  I flipped over the box.  Hmm, Benzocaine.  Isn’t that what they use to freeze your mouth at the dentist?

Well, you don’t need to feel your tongue to run.  So off I went to the race.

I almost burned out in the last mile.  My lungs hurt so bad, and I had to force my oxygen-deprived muscles to keep firing.  My time was lackluster, but I made it.

Monday, I went running again.  Tuesday I was still sick, and on Wednesday I was dragging myself around work like a zombie.  I decided to call it a day and go to the walk-in clinic.  Chest X-rays and EKG’s and blood work couldn’t tell the doctor what was wrong with me.  “You have a virus,” he said.

I could have told myself that.  At least I wasn’t dying.  I’d already been imagining the end of my running ‘career’ because I had scarring of the lungs, or a hole in my heart, or something (just making up stuff, here).

So this week has been one of extra sleep, extra writing, and extra Harry Potter watching.  After much self-lecturing, I’ve decided I’m sick.  No speed-work midweek.  No long run on the weekend.  I’m getting antsy.  Based on the way my chest feels right now, I might collapse midway.  But it’s autumn in Manitoba, and that means six months of winter are almost here, and if I don’t enjoy the snow-free roads now, I won’t get to!

Argh.

Someone tie me down, or hide my sneakers.

The Misunderstood Power of Christian Art: Part 3

I’m the person who skips through the ‘preachy’ sections, searching for the part where the romance and adventure begins again.  I’m the person who sighs heavily when the beleaguered protagonist falls to his knees.  I’m the one who rants on demand about how I can’t stand God’s Not Dead.  But why?

In Separating the Pulpit from the Novelist’s Pen, I talked about the notion that novels and movies must contain sermons and ‘lessons’.  I’ve often felt guilty for not relating to these parts.  I DO believe those sermons, right?  I do believe that God isn’t dead, and that faith is rational.  Heck, I’m a homeschooled, choir singing, Sunday School teaching Christian nice girl.

Meanwhile, I’ve been writing stories with curses, clones, clandestine romance, gladiator-like fighters and zombies.  I toy with profanity, and dance in the grey areas between darkness and light.  True, wisdom often dictates that I go back and censor myself, but eventually I had to decide that there isn’t something wrong with me.  I was just called to something different.

I am convinced that each artist must fulfill the role that only they can fill–be it in the genre of Christian fiction, or in the mainstream genres.  And mainstream is where I belong.

The Box Opened and I Jumped Out

reading-262425_640I expect that Christian fiction, as an industry, was developed to provide a clean alternative to mainstream book genres.  This is certainly needed, because what passes as a ‘romance’ novel these days is more like soft-core pornography in written form.  Even genres that are not pegged as romantic contain a lot of this material.  Furthermore, the cynicism and nihilism present there might be useful to provoke thought, but as a regular diet it is not beneficial.  Essentially, the mainstream lacks truth.

However, in our efforts to provide an acceptable alternative, I feel we have created a sanitary little ghetto that we dare not poke our heads out of.  We keep to the basic basic plot of mission, failure, wise sermon, repentance, miraculous victory and positive resolution.  We recoil at the mention of sex, wash the blood out of our violence, and skirt wide around vulgar language.

That’s not wrong, but I don’t like it.

In the genre of speculative fiction, writing becomes even more tricky.  Draw in clones, immortal characters, or magic and theology is no longer straightforward.  Christian authors begin day-long debates over if clones can have souls, if magic can be attributed to the Holy Spirit, or if granting characters immortality is unbiblical.

“But immortal people don’t even exist!” I say, “Suspend the theology for a second.”

So I guess you could say I left the genre to get out of the box.  I want to honour God, make no mistake, but I need the artistic freedom to tell a story without having to check off the boxes or screen it through a certain size of filter.  As I said in the first part of The Misunderstood Power of Christian Art, censorship should come from wisdom or conviction–not out of fear of what people will say.  To tell a story I have to go places that are uncomfortable.  I make no apologies for that.  Sometimes one must look past the surface actions and words, and look at the ideas and feelings being imparted, and the questions that may be raised.

The Mainstream Isn’t in the Christian Aisle

The clean offerings of the Christian genre are an excellent alternative for Christians, but are they effective in outreach?  Are mainstream readers buying Christian books?  Some are, perhaps, but for the most part ‘religious stuff’ is unintelligible to them, and ‘Christian’ isn’t a keyword they are searching for.

Christians have their books, their truth.  Who will tell the truth to unbelievers?  I want to.

So many blogs are spreading gossip, spewing vitriol and cynicism.  I want mine to be positive, speaking hope about personal change and good relationships.  The shelves are full of books that glorify violence, sex, self-indulgence and manipulation.  I want mine to be about purpose, integrity in adversity, hope and sacrificial love.

I want to tell the truth in a world of lies.

The First Seed

I see my role as preparatory.  My generation neither knows, nor respects the Bible.  Their gospel is tolerance, and ‘awareness’ is their salvation.  If I quote chapter and verse, I might as well be quoting Dickens.

But do they have a purpose to life?  Are they fulfilled?  Does their life have a foundation?  I once asked a coworker, about my age and an atheist, what he based his life on.  He had no idea.  I don’t think he’d considered this.

That is precisely the kind of question I’d like to raise.  I want to be the salter of the oats, so to speak.  Or at very least, provide a good story that is full of good principles, not lies.

Missional Media

In the past, authors reached the world through a publishing company.  But in this age of the independent author (indie), the writer engages and markets through social media.  The reader might stumble across my book, but just as likely they will meet me first.  I may start a conversation with them on Twitter.  They may read my blog.  I may have met them on Facebook and connected over a shared interest.  Writing is increasingly ‘missional’ that way.  I go to them.

Therefore, what I DO is just as important as what I say.  Make no mistake.  I cannot sit in my basement (as if a third floor apartment could have a basement… but I digress) and write.  I have to genuinely care about people, wade into the stream of social media, notice, encourage, speak out.  I can’t claim to be good at this, but the potential in it is breathtaking.

To Conclude the Series

Christian art is a nebulous thing, if my wobbly definition can be trusted.  But though it’s hard to pin down, we cannot fear it.  It is the primary medium by which my generation absorbs information.  Who better than Christian artists to reach them–especially the young artists.  They understand the technology, the language, the cultural references.  They are the ‘indigenous missionaries’ of North America.  They shouldn’t be minimized, or forced to conform.  Rather, empower them to produce the best music, film and literature they can–full of grace and truth.  And encourage them to take it to as many people as they can.

 

The Misunderstood Power of Christian Art: Part 1

The Misunderstood Power of Christian Art: Part 2

Recommended Reading:

Tim Downs, Finding Common Ground

Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

Dorothy Sayers, “Why Work?”  The whole essay is available in PDF form here.

 

 

 

 

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The Misunderstood Power of Christian Art, Part 2.

Christians are obsessed with truth, and rightfully so.  We bear our statements of faith with pride.  We have the knowledge.  We have the proof.  But do we have the medium?

Tim Downs said:

“In the last forty years both the quantity and quality of conservative Christian scholarship have exploded.  Evangelicals today are able to marshal more impressive, scholarly information on behalf of our position than ever before.  We now have, by anyone’s standards, world-class philosophers, theologians, and scientists on our side.  It’s no exaggeration to say that evangelical Christians have experienced a literal renaissance in our science.

Unfortunately, there has been no corresponding renaissance in our art.  We have more to say to our culture than ever before, and less ability to say it in a persuasive and compelling way.  We are enamoured with our content and cannot understand why the world isn’t fascinated with our latest proofs and evidences.”

In a generation brainwashed by film, television and music, carried along by the jet stream of social media, the Christian art industry has yet to catch up.  Music and film has increased in quantity and quality, yet the mainstream hears about it only if it is controversial.

We shove our artists to the front, put the Bible in their hands, and say “Preach!”  But what if a sermon isn’t what we need?

Preaching: The Only Messenger?

There is a point in many Christian novels where the main character reaches his lowest point.  They have expended their resources.  Their mission or relationship has failed.

Cue the entry of a wise friend who opens the Bible, quotes verses, and shows them what they need is a Saviour.  And you just know that when the protagonist falls to his knees in prayer, victory is around the corner.

Or say a movie is made about a farmer.  He’s not a Christian, and this is readily demonstrated by his workaholicism and regular drinking binges.  One summer, the corn crop he is counting on is ravaged by a hail storm.  The farmer throws everything into replanting while there is still time.  But this is thwarted by persistent rain.  His financial future is bleak, but worse, his wife leaves him because of his drunkenness.

If you have seen three or four Christian movies, you can predict the end.  The farmer will hit bottom, and while wandering in a hammered state, ready to end his life, a Christian will rescue him and clean him up.  The Christian will tell him that he needs Jesus, and the farmer will fall to his knees.

His crop will be saved, and his wife will return.  He may, in fact, become an evangelist.

Rarely does a movie or novel break this mould.

The Power of the Covert

Every novelist knows the adage “show, don’t tell.”  Telling, or explaining, is considered weak writing and rather insulting to the intelligence of the reader.  Sermonizing is precisely this: telling.

I saw a powerful example of ‘showing’ recently.

In the movie Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey plays Ron, a low-brow cowboy with HIV who begins smuggling illegal medication to treat AIDs.  His foil is Rayon a transgender man, now woman, who is dying of aids.  Rayon is played by Jared Leto, who is by all accounts, a heterosexual man.

The empathy and passion Leto put into the role is evident, even from the short clips I watched.  Rayon is no cardboard cut-out.  She is a feisty dreamer, but also a deeply hurting person who just wants love.  You can see it in her eyes.  Though I am uncomfortable with her lifestyle, I cannot look away.  I have to say, “this is a person, and I kind of like them.” (I cannot recommend that movie, by the way.  I decided against watching it because of graphic content).

At no point does an actor turn to the screen and say, “Accept this person!  You are a bigot if you do not accept this person!”  Neither do they say, “This is a good lifestyle!”  I accept Rayon because I cannot deny her personhood anymore.  I empathize.

Create empathy within the heart of the viewer, and you have won the greatest part of the battle.

Catch and Release

I also see that if the art is not used as a carrier for preaching, it is often used as bait.  For example, a prominent evangelist often uses free concerts with Christian rock bands to draw people to their crusades.  Likewise, Christian movies are often marketed as ‘witnessing tools’.  Does this work?  I don’t know.

But there is a level of dishonesty about it.  It says, “We are like you.  We like what you like.  Come, try our music,” and then slams the audience with an altar call.

In fact,  sermonizing such as the ‘basic movie and novel plot’, can also be inherently dishonest.  It wants the reader to believe so badly, that it makes ‘pie-crust’ promises, easily broken.  Will the farmer’s wife come back the day after he believes?  Probably not.  He may win her back after months of trying, with the wisdom and strength of God.  But faith isn’t the magic bullet we sell it as.

Let the Artists Be!

I feel like our preachers and theologians have convinced artists that their work is useless if not didactic.  Sort of a ‘why can’t you be like us?’  But if we believe in the priesthood of all believers, we must value the artist as much as the preacher and not force one to conform to the mould of the other.

Dorothy Sayers said:

When you find a man who is a Christian praising God by the excellence of his work – do not distract him and take him away from his proper vocation to address religious meetings and open church bazaars. Let him serve God in the way to which God has called him. If you take him away from that, he will exhaust himself in an alien technique and lose his capacity to do his dedicated work.

It is time to let artists be.  Let them do what only they can truly understand.  And when they have served in obedience to the work, and to God, the message within their art may be greater than any sermon you could insert.

Read Part 1: Defining Christian art, and the artist’s mandate, here.

 

 

 

 

 

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What makes art ‘Christian’?

I’ve talked about my disgust for the movie God’s Not Dead, and how I discarded Christian music.  After I released We are the Living, I had a couple of good conversations with people simply because it wasn’t a “Christian book”, or at least, I wasn’t sure their junior high kids should read it.

I feel the concept of Christian art has been misunderstood, and, as it is a subject I am passionate about, I thought it was time to discuss my philosophy of faith and art with you over the course of the next few posts.

In the field of imparting ideas, the piano and paintbrush are more powerful than the pulpit.  Not to put down preaching.  It is wonderful.  But art has power to cross boundaries that sermons cannot, and that is why it is important that we as Christians understand it.  A preface: while informed by Scripture and Christian artists and thinkers, this is my humble opinion.  No doubt it will evolve as I do.

Can Christian Art be Defined?

Art is loosely defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary as:

  • The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
  • Works produced by human creative skill and imagination.
  • Creative activity resulting in the production of paintings, drawings, or sculpture.

No explicit mention of film, literature or music is mentioned, but I expect there is little doubt that these are part of the arts.

But what is Christian art?  This is much more slippery–like a wet football, in fact.  Here is the definition I’m going to work with: Christian art is that which is produced by a Christian, in obedience to, and to the glory of God.

But what glorifies God?  That is where things become more difficult.

What is the Call of the Christian Artist?

Madeleine L’Engle said, “The artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child.  I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am.  Enflesh me.'”  If God calls his child to art, the art becomes his or her duty.

But the manifestation of that art is their unique calling.  Some will be called to hip-hop, like my friend Malcolm.  Others will write speculative fiction, like me.  And some will write Amish romances (which I neither understand nor enjoy, but others love), some will do acrylic paintings, and some will dance.  Some will write to a strictly Christian audience, and some will write to a mainstream audience.  Each field needs Christians who are obedient to the works God has prepared in advance for them (Ephesians 2:10).

Art is the work of the artist, and as Dorothy Sayers said, “Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.”

My Philosophy of Christian Art

I believe Christian artist must be these three things:

  • Excellent.  The Christian must perform or create their art to the best of their ability.  Where they lack, they must practise, research, and submit to mentorship by more accomplished artists.  There is no half-heartedness here.  There is no ‘I won’t memorize my lines for the church play’.  There is no ‘I’m not getting paid’.  It is your best, or nothing.
  • Courageous.  When you are inspired to a work, the decision to do or not to do must be based on conviction and wisdom, not fear or selfish ambition.  I believe this applies, especially, to censorship.  Censorship is sometimes necessary, but it should not be because you are afraid to not conform, or because you want people to like you.  Rather, it is because you think you’ve transgressed beyond God’s laws, or good sense.  The truth is NOT always sweet to the ears.  Just because it is scary does not mean it is wrong.
  • Truthful.  Christian art cannot fall victim to denial, self-indulgent fantasy, or a lack of integrity.  This is not to say that it cannot be ‘fictional’.  I’ve often said that just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it’s not true.  Simply, Christian art must not engage in deceit, nor try to make the receiver believe an untruth.

The Opportunity

The Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 5:1, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (ESV).  What an excellent description of our mandate as artists!

When we are obedient to the work, we produce what is good, right and true, and we expose darkness. This takes courage, for sometimes the darkness we expose resides within us, and we wrestle with our selfish desires as we create.  But out of this courage comes work that can probe where no scholarly literature or sermon can go.  That is the nature of art–to bypass the well-guarded gates of the mind, and go straight to the soul.

Which means that art can be very dangerous as well.

In the next post I will discuss why I departed from the genre of Christian fiction, and where Christian art may go awry.

Suggested Reading:

Dorothy Sayers, Why Work?  Read this excellent essay on the sacredness of work here.

Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water.  A rambling but inspiring account of her philosophy of Christian art.  I really enjoyed her perspective.

 

 

 

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