Friday, May 28, 2010

Is the God of Fiction Too Small?

Only two more followers needed to reach the 200 mark! We so appreciate your partnership in exploring the craft of writing and the passion of reading. Number 200 wins one book from each of us. AND if you share your favorite flower in your comments, I'll choose someone out of a hat to win a three-book set of my Garden Gates series. I've sprinkled flowers from my garden throughout the text, my gift to you at the beginning of this Memorial Day weekend.

Dearest readers and friends~ You've been absolutely brilliant this week, offering comments to reinforce and challenge ideas about showing emotion in fiction and the place for sarcasm. More graciously, you've seeded new ideas. Thank you for coming ready to participate. If you missed a day, be sure to scroll down and read the discussions. It's never too late to comment. Maybe we should rename our blog Novel Matters et al.

My question for you today: Is there room for mystery--and I'm not talking whodunit--in Christian fiction? Let me explain.

Let's go back to Abram. (This is not a Bible study, but this is a question that springs from some Scripture exploration. Hang in there with me.)

Abram went on quite a wild ride with God. He was minding his own business back in Ur. He knew what to expect from life because he was entrenched in his culture. He was a landowner with some standing in his community. His father was around for 205 years to offer advice--"Go for the two-humped camel. You'll never be sorry for the extra cargo room." The household idols, like a punching bag, gave him a place to vent. His heartache was his wife's barrenness. His greatest test, surrendering the son who answered all of God's promises.

On the other hand, there were no laws. The Ten Commandments hadn't been given yet. No Tabernacle. No Ark of the Covenant. No exodus. No synagogue. In essence, God was a distant idea from the time of Noah.

Simply, Abram was a man in the desert with a barren wife.

Until God talked to him.

God didn't lay down the law, he made outlandish promises to an old man with a barren wife: "I will make you into a great nation...and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

Oh, really?

And God did just that. (Thanks, God.)

God encountered Abram, soon to become Abraham, in an incredibly personal, extravagant, unexpected manner. He's still doing this through today Jesus Christ. Yay!

With this in mind--plus the fact, for one, that Jesus never healed the same twice--is there room in Christian fiction for a powerful, humongous God who defies explanation? Do you want to know any other kind? This is a God who doesn't always give the protag the man of her dreams? Who doesn't resolve life's questions in 95,000 words? Who may use disease, mayhem, and/or an irritating relative to express his power and love? And who, when he touches us, he will definitely leave a mark? He will show up in the most surprising places, like in the deserts of Ur, to a pagan who cannot accomplish God's promises on his own, although he tries. (Don't we all?)

Don't get your BVDs in a wad. I know. I know. The parameters of revelation in Scripture are sacrosanct. Also, hope is the best sort of resolution, very necessary in fiction--and the only resolution many of us are given--in fiction and life.

Our Novel Matters writers are masterful at that very thing. Lest we seem too self-serving, let me direct you to a book I've referred here before, The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson. If you haven't read it yet (Why not?), I don't want to ruin the book for you, but Jesus is a character in Lisa's contemporary women's fiction masterpiece. She tickled my imagination and made me hunger for the incarnate Christ. I want my fiction to do that, too.

Don't you?
So, what about it? Have you read something lately that expanded your perceptions about God? Please name them! Also, and I know you will, let me know if I'm running as fast as I can in the wrong direction. That's what we do for one another around here.

Be sure to thank a serviceman, past or present. My salute goes out to my step-dad, a WW II veteran and my brother-in-law, Bob, who served gallantly in Viet Nam. I'm also remembering my dad, William Irvin Kegebein, who supported the troops in Guam during the Korean War.

Who are you thanking? Feel free to add your salute here. It's let-it-all hangout Friday.


Terri Tiffany said...

Happy Memorial Day and today I'm thinking of my fav flowre lilacs that I can't get down here in Florida but would be beautiful back home.
Your thoughts got me to thinking how I portray God in my books and how he works like that in our lives. I'm not sure I am allowing for it in my fiction and I love it when authors do. Thank you for pointing me this way.
I salute my father who is a WWII vet and my husband who served 7 years in the Marines.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

First things first: Hydrangea or lately peony has been shooting to the top of the list.

Second things second. ;) Does anyone wear BVD's anymore?

Finally, I know it's non-fiction and we are here at Novel Matters, but for some reason I can't shake one image from Donald Miller's, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Miller describes a family and their unique way of saying good-bye to visitors. Every single member of the family jumps into the water off the dock fully clothed.

I want to live like that.

I have no idea if that even answered your question, but it's Friday, I let it all hang out. ;)

~ Wendy

Patti Hill said...

Lilacs are incredibly evocative flowers. Maybe it's their scent. They're one of my favorites, too, Terri. How interesting that they need the winter cold to bloom in the spring. Quite an interesting metaphor for those who experience "winter" and "spring" in God's kingdom. And I join you in saluting your father and husband.

Wendy, I have a new hydrangea in my yard, Pinky Winky with a conical flowering structure. Fun! As for the BVDs, well, I'll have to check. Love the picture of those people jumping in fully-clothed to celebrate their friendship and love. Jesus did that for us. And I want to live like that, too.

Hilarey said...

The book I want to mention is also by Lisa Samson. "Embrace Me" challenged me to realize that the path to peace and contentment (with God) is not always in the "traditional" sense: college, then married, then homeowner, then babies. He meets us when we are ready, wherever we are.

My favorite flower is a clematis. However, when I get a chance to go to California I always have to spend time staring at Birds of Paradise--the most intriguing plant.

Patti Hill said...

I'm reading Embrace Me right now. Loving it.

My very, very favorite flower doesn't grow in my area either. Does absence make the heart grow fonder for flowers, too? I LOVE freesias!

Nicole said...

Patti, this God we speak of, this Jesus we know, and the Spirit who we often ignore is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I cannot write my novels without supernatural intervention, interference, interrelationship. He lives. He knows. He still speaks to us even out loud sometimes.

The Passion of Mary-Margaret is so Him. He comes, He stays, He speaks, He visits, He instructs. This novel is in my All-Time Top 10because of this.

He is supernatural. He expands our mental borders.

My number one complaint for some CBA fiction is shallow, two-dimensional characters who are Christians in name only.

Love gardenias. Their pure white color and heavenly scent. But then I love roses, lilacs, gladiolas, and I think Petunias must be the happiest flower around. ;)

Ray, Steve, and all others who serve this great country: I admire, respect, and honor you.

Patti Hill said...

Yes, yes, yes, Nicole! Jesus is ever-present, ever-God. And gardenias? Yum! There seems to be a trend toward fragrant flowers. I think scents stamp our memories twice. Thanks to Ray and Steve!

Jan Cline said...

I would salute my son in law - a Major in the army. And since I am writing a novel on the WWII era with my mother and her husband as the main characters, I would send a belated salute to them. Mom's husband gave his life for our country while flying a bomber plane, and my mother served as an army nurse - caring for wounded soldiers.
I loved this post. Such a fresh look at how God works through people to make Himself known. I think some novelists (myself included) tend to water down the immense God we serve. It's a fine line and hard to balance.

Patti Hill said...

Jan, what an amazing partnership with you mom. Please give her our warmest thanks for a job well done.

Unknown said...

Nicole, I love gardenias, too! One of my most vivid memories of my childhood was during a visit to Mexico City. My dad bought me as many gardenias as my arms would hold and I walked around the city in the cool evening air holding them. Mmmm.

And Jan, we've never met but I love your haircut so much that I asked my hairdresser to cut mine just like yours. Really.

Lynn McCallum said...

I love wisteria. It is so delicate, and evokes memories of a visit to rural England and the Cotswolds. Wisteria was everywhere, so picturesque draping from those thatch-roofed 'chocolate box' cottages. As to the question "Is the God of fiction too small?", our God defies description, but to the extent that He reveals Himself, I stand in awe. And for the inspiration to give expression to aspects of His character in mere human words is a privilege and responsibility not to be taken lightly.

Unknown said...

Phlox. Freesia. Casablanca lilies (sigh), and yes, Lilacs! Oh, I love them all.

At the risk of being stoned, I will say, yes, the God in Christian fiction is too small. Too tied to North American culture, too disconnected from his past (e.g. church history), doesn't seem to embrace all facets of Christianity (there are more than 22,000 Christian denominations world wide).

There are brilliant exceptions, of course. Authors who show up to the empty page and ask God to fill it with His mystery and vastness. My goal is to follow in those footsteps - I'm not a brilliant exception, but I'm working on it. It may take me a lifetime, it may never happen at all. But the journey is worth the effort.

The novel I'm working on explores the mystery of unity within the Godhead, which is emulated (often poorly) in human community.

Bah. I sound like an old codger this morning. I'd better get back to writing!

Unknown said...

Oh, I forgot to address the central question.


I serve, believe in, and write about a mysterious and terrifying God of love.

Stephanie Reed said...

"This is a God who doesn't always give the protag the man of her dreams?" This is a particularly annoying point for me. I know Christian girls who don't have the man of their dreams. I've read so much Christian fiction where the guy the protag meets is handsome, sensitive yet masculine, blah blah blah. AND he's a Christian! Who's ready to commit!

But more importantly, I know (work with) single moms who are doing everything right, ie walking with the Lord and working hard (3 jobs) to make a living, but they are slammed with health care bills that are horrendous. They are stretched to the breaking point, just holding on day to day, yet not losing their faith. There may not be a happy ending here on this earth. But these ladies still get up in the morning, ready to face the day. That's real life. That's real faith.

Patti Hill said...

Amen, Stephanie! Living a life of faith does not mean walking through the culturally acceptable hoops without knocking them over. It's letting God love us and trusting him to be our backbone in tough times. Thanks for posting, Stephanie!

Paula Wiseman said...

Patti, this is killer - "This is a God who doesn't always give the protag the man of her dreams? Who doesn't resolve life's questions in 95,000 words? Who may use disease, mayhem, and/or an irritating relative to express his power and love? And who, when he touches us, he will definitely leave a mark?"

Why do we back off writing about THAT God? Maybe it seems preachy to some who don't know Him. Maybe it seems cheesy because He operates in such unique ways. I don't know. But that's the God I strive to connect readers with when I write. He's a God who calls us to do difficult things, to live what we say we believe. He invites us to struggle with Him so we can walk away forever changed.

Oh yeah- the flower thing... stargazer lilies
We salute all the uncles and cousins who served but especially my father-in-law, a WWII submariner.

Nicole said...

(Love Jan's hair, too!)

Wow, what a cool gardenia story, Latayne.

Unknown said...

"Living a life of faith does not mean walking through the culturally acceptable hoops without knocking them over."

I'm totally stealing this line, Patti.

Anonymous said...

Patti, what a great post, and what great comments. Wow. I love this discussion. Okay, flowers first. There's nothing this side of heaven that smells better than gardenias. Latayne, what a lovely experience for you. When Rick gives me flowers, he knows I want carnations. They're my favorite flowers to receive. Any color.

I don't even know where to jump into this discussion, but to me, the most two-dimensional character in most Christian fiction is God. He's the genie in the bottle, and if we rub it the right way we get our wish. We need to let him out of the bottle! The way Lisa Samson did, not only in The Passion of Mary-Margaret, but in The Church Ladies, and all of her novels. My life isn't neatly wrapped up in 95,000 words, not even close, but God is in every detail. I walk a path of faith these days that offers no answers, and yet I believe more deeply than ever that God is the one leading. There's no other way for me to present him in my fiction. He's there, in every detail, and it's messy!

Congratulations to follower number 200! Thank you all for what you contribute. We wouldn't be here without all of you. I LOVE the discussions.

sadie crandle said...

Happy Memorial Day to all. Wisteria is my fave too ... and aurora lilies ... and who was number 200??

Stephanie Reed said...

I would like to add that I realize many people read the happy-ending Christian fiction to escape from reality, or just to enjoy a good story. But I can see the ladies I work with reading that kind of book and becoming really bitter, wondering why God doesn't swoop in and give them a perfect life of ease, wondering what they have done wrong.

Anonymous said...

Stephanie, you hit it right on the head: wondering what they've done wrong. When they probably haven't done anything wrong. They're probably following God to the best of their ability. And feeling like they can never measure up. The thing is, God is FOR us. He's guiding us and cheering us on. We have such a distorted image of God the Father in most cases.

Patti Hill said...

I am feeling d-u-m-b, DUMB! I have no idea how to figure out who was #200. If you became a follower today, please let me know. I'll draw names out of a hat. So sorry. Contact me using the "contact" button on our homepage.

Patti Hill said...

Thanks to Katy, I figured out who was #200--Sadie! And the winner of the Garden Gates series is Paula Wiseman. Thanks for a great discussion today. You've heartened me incredibly. Love to all!

Anonymous said...

Hello! Just now it is blossom time where I live (above the 49th parallel) I love pansies too because they are hardy and survive a little spring snow. I just discovered this website today and I am wondering and hoping and longing but also shy and reticent to leap into a web community. The topic, however, intrigues so urgently.
I recently read some guidelines from a Christian publisher and was almost physically ill. They wanted me to reduce my Saviour and the characters who struggle with Him in my work so that small imaginations could be satisfied....gratified.
I agree that North Americans stamp their image upon God and recommend a trip to Africa (where I have experience) though I am aware of Asian and South American Christians who equally stimulate a larger and wilder image of God. I always think of C.S.Lewis who wrote, "He is not a tame Lion!"
Thank you to all, especially the authors of the site. I shall return soon!

Bonnie Grove said...

Anonymous, all of us are very happy to have you join our community. We are about openness and sharing our thoughts without fear or judgement. You are most welcome here.

Let's all take a trip to other places and experience other people, and thereby experience a fuller knowledge of God and His work in our world.

Wonderful perspective!! Thanks so much.

sadie crandle said...

i was #200??? oh, awesome!!! i've been reading this blog forever, but only signed up today and only then did i read the posting about the 200th person ... yay!!!

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I may be stoned for this, but I particularly enjoyed Jodi Picoult's 'Keeping Faith' about a child who manifests stigmata (bleeding from the hands and feet where Jesus was crucified). It's definitely not a CBA book, but it still had a few things to say to me about God (big 'G')and the religious community. God chooses whomever He wants to do His work and doesn't have to make sense to any of us. I think He gets a kick out of confounding us to keep us from figuring Him out, and I'm glad of it. He doesn't have to conform, and it's too bad that we have to 'conform' Him in our writing sometimes.

I'd like to give a shout-out to my son, Ian, who is in the Marine Reserves.

Patti, thanks for the heads-up. I was going for the one-hump camel but it didn't have side-curtain air bags.

Anonymous said...

In both of my comments I forgot to acknowledge the verterans in my life. So I want to offer my deepest gratitude to my dad, husband and son who were marines, and my two brothers who were in the army, and my step-dad who was in the army. Alas, only my husband and one brother are still with us, though none died in war.

Bonnie Grove said...

My friend Debi tried to post her comment here on the blog, but blogger gave her trouble. She posted it on my facebook instead. Here is what she said:

I found one amazing novel years ago about God (big G) its called The Devine Romance, by Eugene Price. to me this book is poetry and sings what my heart always longed for.
As for fave flower, today its the wild rose, no other rose compares for scent, I remember the ditches of rural Alberta filled to overflowing in my childhood.
Can't find it like that anymore,ditch maintanance has taken that away,but the memory still makes my mouth water.

Anonymous said...

Bonnie, your reply was so warm and gracious, thank you. It did stir a few thoughts.
How 'open and honest' could a person who sighs a message 'anonymous' be?
First, yes, I do struggle with web privacy and identity splattered for all the world to see.
Second, I chose it because I didn't know what 'google account' or any of the other options meant or might lead to. I am not the computer guru in our household.
Third, I notice there is no other 'Anna Nonimouse" in the community. You may easily regard it as a common name like Dick or Jane and recognise my voice.
Lastly, Anonymous is said to be the most prolific composer, and likely writer of all time. I am in exalted company!
Thank you again for your welcome. I am learning much and quickly.

Lori Benton said...

Claudia Mair Burney's books, Wounded and Zora & Nicky, stretched my perception of God.

Chris Jager - Baker Book House-fiction buyer said...

I just read Matt Mikalatos' Imaginary Jesus. Very interesting look at what the Jesus of my imgination looks like. Does it match up with the Jesus in the Bible? I don't know if that addresses the God question, but it sure made me think about things along those lines. Do I shy away from books that don't match up with "my God?" If I do why? Is it because it makes me uncomforable?