Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Jesusy Parts

One of the challenges I faced as I wrote my novel was this: How to write what one reviewer described as "the Jesusy parts?"

I am a Christian, in nontrivial ways.  The protagonist of my story, whose particular point of view is the palette from which the tale is painted?  He is also a Christian, an Amish man, one who has set himself to living within an Order that is as rigorous as any monastic community discipline.  Faith is, by necessity, an integral part of the narrative.

But I did not write my novel for other Christians only.  There is a place for such literature, sure.  I've written books like that myself.

But what I want to do is tell a story, and present a human being who is a Christian in such a way that it is both organic and non-didactic.  There's a tendency, in all our forms of modern storytelling, for Christian characters to inhabit the realm of caricature.   This is true particularly when there is an agenda.  

Too often in popular narratives, Christians are hypocrites, nasty balls of barely suppressed perversion, warped and manipulative and brutal.   Christians are cold and judgmental and unforgiving, the dark-eyed Church Lady Pharisees who glare down on all who do not meet their standard.  Christians are charlatans, flagrant con-men whose "faith" exists only to line their own pockets.  Christians are dumb as stumps, gullible fools who'll follow any silver-tongued devil who tells them what they want to believe.

If you've never actually met any Christians, and have instead spent your whole life sitting in a darkened basement while reworking your manifesto on an r/atheism subreddit, this might seem valid.  Otherwise, not so much.

On the other end of the spectrum, there's the Christian media marketplace.  There, Christians are the saved, the pure-hearted righteous who glow with the certainty that Jesus loves them.  They are the ones making it all right, showing the love of Jesus in ways that are comfortably predictable and familiar.  They speak exclusively in the in-group language of the faith, uttering earnest pastel truisms in evangelicalese while suffused in the warm glow of their own rightness with God. 

There is an assumption among Christians who live entirely within the AmeriChrist, Inc. media ecology that these stories effectively convey the message to "non-believers."  These poor lost sinners will watch Left Behind, and the tears will flow, and they will call on the name of Jesus and be saved.

Tears are flowing, yes.  And the name of Jesus is likely being invoked.  But not necessarily for the best of reasons.

What I hunger for, and strive for in my own writing...when I write characters who happen to share my faith...is to create Christian characters who reflect the rich and complex humanity of the actual Christians I actually know.   Characters for whom striving to follow Jesus matters, who nonetheless and at the same time inhabit places of challenge, struggle, and grey-scale.

As I seem to recall, that was how he constructed his own storytelling, those pungent little tales of farmhands and siblings and Samaritans.