Shelly Troup come on down! We promised to send a copy of Novel Tips on Rice to our 300th follower, and Ms. Troup, that would be you. Please send your snail mail address to novelmatters at gmail dot com, would you? We're delighted you're here, and very pleased to give you this gift!
I think I've learned the cause of all (or most) of my neuroses. In reading Beauty Will Save the World by Gregory Wolfe, I found this:
The believing writer in America has always faced the same dilemma: how to find a way to heal the divisions running throughout the national psyche, including the community of faith itself.
Gosh. I feel sort of tired just reading that - you? Do you want to spring to your computer and ask Mr. Wolfe, Isn't it enough to just write a nice story, without having to change the world?
Don't bother. The disturbing truth is, no, it's not enough for me, and if you are a writer and you read this blog, it's probably not enough for you either. The reason we seek, as Sharon said on Monday, to find that sweet spot between the literary fiction we love and the commercial fiction that gets read, is that literary fiction is not just beautiful writing. It is writing that works through beauty to change the way we see. Other authors can write great stories. We want to do that, and so much more.
The trouble is that few within our churches will get the point. We have the Ten Commandments and the Epistles, the sensible books of the Bible tucked between those strange and troubling stories. Give us sermons with four logical points or give us stories to entertain, but don't lets get artsy, please.
So we find ourselves in an awkward position. Wolfe continues the passage:
Nathaniel Hawthorne may have had an anguished relationship with Christianity but that was in part because his imagination hungered for a deeper faith than was available in his time. He confronted many of the same divisions that plague us today. To his right were the descendants of his Puritan ancestors, whose lack of imagination pushed them in the direction of philistinism and fundamentalism; to his left were Ralph Waldo Emerson and his followers, whose religious commitments had evaporated into a pantheistic liberalism.
This middle position reminds me of stories my step-father used to tell of growing up half Irish and half Cherokee in a racially devided Oklahoma: if you wanted friends, you had to pretend to be one or the other.
But go that route, and you'll end up writing something other than the story you've been given. I hesitate to romanticize your position and sound the call to a noble exile, but I do think that as a writer of faith you must accept a level of friendlessness: many may love you, but few will really get your vibe.
But vibe you must. Whatever hunger you have for a deeper faith must be leaned into. What keeps you separate must be cherished for the gift that it is. There is a voice calling through that separateness, and you're meant to follow till you find what T.S. Elliot sought, that "still point of the turning world."
And meantime, those friends you have who share your dilemma must be honored and looked after and, most of all, prayed for.
As we pray for you.
Now it's your turn. Wrap your paisley sash around your hips and tell us (as much as you can on the internet in front of everybody) your tales of artistic exile and wonder.
We love to read what you have to say. And we will pray for your pilgrim souls.