Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Still Point

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.

You know?

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.


Marian said...

You've pegged it. My work in progress is a book about a pastor who uses the Christian doctrine, blind faith and gullibility of people for his own selfish purposes. He twists everything that is good into something bad and makes it look good. So, how many friends am I going to have after that?

Wendy Paine Miller said...

"Vibe you must."

Love that!
~ Wendy

Latayne C Scott said...

Insightful, challenging, and lovely post -- as always, Katy. But would you get off my toes?

Kathleen Popa said...

Marian, you might be surprised. You may gain as many as you lose. I suspect Latayne knows about that.

Wendy: hugs!

Anonymous said...

Kathleen, I don't have a paisley sash, but I do wear a horsehair belt - fair enough? This is a burr under the a writer/editor/poet/gambler, it frustrates me as well.

I've no answers but I'm one among you wrestling with this angel.

Bonnie Grove said...

Katy, this is gorgeous. I'll keep my comments for my post on Friday. You're a very hard act to follow my friend. :) I learn so much from you.

Lynn Dean said...

My hope, if I'm called to "noble exile", is that I'll do so standing for God's opinions and not my own. I've been disturbed to see some CBA fiction recently with a message that is sentimentally popular but does not align with Scripture. We may not intend to preach, but if we profess to speak for God, then we need to be accountable to do that.

Megan Sayer said...

I'm incredibly blessed to be part of a church that, as a whole, are very supportive of the arts. I realise often how blessed I am to be here, because inside me still lives the memories of trying to fit in to a little church where everything was just as you describe - four logical points and an altar call thankyou very much amen. I never, ever talked about what I was doing.

The thing that I struggle with my church now is that we have this fabulous new "book shop" area, and it's full of "how-to" books. I asked about a fiction section, and they had one - 3 books. All gone now. I was chatting with the coordinator the other day and she asked whether I'd like to come and help her re-stock the display from the local Christian bookshop, and I was so torn: I so desperately want her to start an Amazon account and ship in big quantities of REAL books (how many times have I recommended Lying on Sunday and Talking to the Dead to people, only to say "oh but you can only buy them online"). I'm so aware of the cost though of doing this, and I'm not sure if church is ready. Let alone books like Gilead, which (shock horror people!) isn't even from a Christian publisher.

I'm blessed in that the book I'm writing now, when it's finally done, will (should) fit the sensibilities of church, and I'm sure they'd love it and sell it at the resource centre. The new story though, the one that's waiting in the wings of my soul, isn't so atraightforward. There'll be a lot of people (most? Am I being too harsh?) who won't get the point, or why I'm writing it, and I'll be back to where I was in my little church all those years ago, pretending like nothing's doing on the surface, while my poor feet paddle like the blazes underneath.

Oh, and Kathleen you may be the only other person in the world who appreciates the art in this: I don't have a paisley sash, but years ago I had an excellent pair of paisley harem pants (think MC Hammer but nicer) that, once they developed a big hole in the crotch, I washed and hemmed and turned upside down and wore as a top : )

Kathleen Popa said...

Hey, Beautiful - A horsehair belt may be more to the point. Is this your first visit? We're glad you're here. We love people who wrestle with angels.

Bonnie, you're the hard act to follow, with your endless fountain of hope and ideas. But thanks for the kindness.

Kathleen Popa said...

Lynn, I think you would love Beauty Will Save the World. Chapter 6 is titled, Ever Ancient, Ever New, and in it he writes about G.K. Chesterton's definition of reform as a "return to form." We MUST turn to the Bible itself as our source, AND we must be careful about seeming orthodoxies which may only BE heresies established before we were born. Wolfe quotes Henri de Lubac: "To get away from old things passing themselves off as tradition, it is necessary to go back to the farthest past - which will reveal itself to be the nearest present." The vision here is to cut through the jaded present, in faith that beneath that we may reveal something beautiful.

But I'd squirm a bit about professing to speak for God. I don't write scripture. I hope what I write is something like worship.

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, is it hard ordering online in Tasmania? I understand, it's not the wild and wooly place I imagine, just saying the name. But I still picture you down there, wrapped in upside-down paisley pants, writing books to shake people off their tuffets.

Kathleen Popa said...

Oh boy. I didn't know if she'd make it public or not, but she did, so if you follow Bonnie Grove on Facebook, hop over there and check out her brochure for Poiema, the ministry to artists she has birthed in Saskatoon. Another place with an amazing name. Where I don't live - and this makes me want even more to live near Bonnie.

Megan Sayer said...

Haha Kathleen we do have internet connections in our little bush huts : P It's just that the postage costs add up really quickly. I buy 1 cent books from Amazon and it costs me nearly $15 to get them.

You might be able to help me here though: do you know the names of any Christian book distribution companies that can sell wholesale to retail outlets such as ours? The more I talk about the resource centre the more fired up I get about making things happen there!

Anonymous said...

hi Everyone..Katy invited me here. What is the topic you guys are on?? Katy is married to my brother and I think I need help w/this new site and how it works.HELP!

Kathleen Popa said...

Hi, Margie! Glad you stopped in. How it works is this: you read the post and comments, and join in. We'd love to have your thoughts.

Megan, I did know you had internet - I just wondered if the postage was hugely higher than it is here. Do they ship from here in the U.S., or do they have a warehouse in Australia?

Megan Sayer said...

KerCHUNK! That's the sound of a hand hitting a forehead.
WAREHOUSES! Of course!!! Combined postage and all that.
I'm so used to buying things via Amazon from random 2nd-hand bookshops that I managed to completely forget that aspect.
Yes, postage is heaps expensive. I've been trying to find out exactly how much it'd cost to do a bulk order on Amazon, but I'm a bit frightened of pressing the Proceed button too many times in case I accidentally end up buying 10 copies of a book I already have.
The main difference for us is that with the current system we return anything we don't sell and get new stock, but if we buy it from Amazon we're stuck with it.
I'm sure there's GOT to be a way though...

Dina Sleiman said...

Because my books are romantic and I've ended up hanging out with a lot of romance writers, I sometimes feel snobby talking about my goals to write artistic literature. That's why I come here for my artsy fix. Thanks ladies.

And coincidentally, I got my Gregory Wolfe Image Update newsletter today. Has anyone ever tried his Glen Nye workshop. I'd love to attend someday.

As for "healing the divisions," in my medieval novel I chose the time specifically because it is before our current denominational divisions, so it provides a chance to look at faith through new eyes. However in my contemporary, I tackle some of those divisions head on.

Dina Sleiman said...

Oops, meant the Glen Workshop. Coffee hadn't kicked in yet.

Anonymous said...

You know, for a while now I've bemoaned not being "right" for the market. I'm a little too rough around the edges for the CBA. Then again, maybe too clean for mainstream. I guess my biggest confusion is not knowing where I belong in the literary world!

So...I'm just doing my own thing. And I'm having a whole lot of fun doing it! (but getting paid would be nice)