Creative endeavour

Wednesday, 22 July, 2009

So lately I've been thinking about the creative professions, with various thoughts tumbling around in my head like those clichéd clothes in a dryer. I've been thinking about it as I remember my childhood dreams—perhaps because I read Alain de Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (and somewhat perversely, my brain insists on putting the “sorrows” first in the title, rather than the pleasures). In it, de Botton tells the story of following a career counsellor around, who is called to a factory to talk to workers who have just been laid off. The career counsellor works with this group of people all day, and one of the things he does is ask them what profession they aspired to as children, and what obstacle was put in their way that set them off on a different track. De Botton found it quite moving when fully grown men with tears in their eyes recounted their childhood ambition to become an artist, only to be told by some thoughtless adult—a teacher or a parent—that their 10-year-old scribblinges were rather mediocre, and perhaps they should do something else instead.

The dream

For me, the dream was to become a writer—not in the sense of that's my identity (for, as de Botton points out, it's rather odd that our identities are so wrapped up in what we do), but in the sense of this-is-what-I'd-like-to-be-doing-with-my-time. I starting having those ambitions fairly young; I started trying to write books when I was in Year 3 or 4 (I still have them somewhere; they're terrible). I remember daydreaming in the pool after school when I was in Year 8 or 9, thinking about the plot of my latest project. I remember getting to page 64 of a very lengthy MS Word document and losing the lot, then having hysterics on the couch while my mother (who didn't know what to do with me) tried to retrieve something of what I'd done. (I ended up rewriting it, and it was better, though that's not saying much for a 13-year-old.) I wasn't one of those kids who just kept starting things either; I finished at least four of what I shall indulgently call my “novels”. One was even printed out and bound because I had written it for a friend.

The dream was never crushed; it was sort of pushed to the backburner. I never had anyone tell me my stuff was no good. In fact, I was fortunate to have supportive adults around me who told me I had talent and sent me off to various programs and mentor schemes. (Libby Hathorn was my mentor in Year 9.) But I also had people who told me that there was no money in writing and publishing. My adult self recognises that they were trying to help me to be realistic, but my childhood self resented the fact that they were so blunt about it. After all, there are a lot of people who end up getting published; scan any bookstore and you'll find piles and piles of complete rubbish that isn't even worth the paper it's printed on (sorry to be rude ...) I think what I needed was more to be shown the path and to be told the cost, rather than to be told that the way was hopeless and I'd better not even try.

So my secondary dream was to become an editor. I did work experience at McGraw Hill in Year 10 (I had wanted to go work at Random House but work experience week coincided with one of their senior editors leaving, so they couldn't take me on. My friend Erin did her work experience at HarperCollins, and I envied her.) Work experience taught me a bit about the publishing business—the good and the bad. And then I went off to Uni still with a view to going into writing (I majored in Creative Writing after all) but also with the backup plan of editing.

In God's kindness, I've realized the second dream (perhaps not in the way I initially thought!), but not the first. And now I wonder what I should do about the first (if anything).

The problem

I'm a lot older now and a lot less idealistic. I know a lot more about publishing, writing, editing and agents. Reading both Neil Gaiman's blog and Robin McKinley's blog has been really eye-opening in terms of grasping what a writer's life is like (deadlines, signing tours, maintaining your fanbase, all the while trying to squeeze some writing in when you can, which is why you initially got into the business, right?) The path is clearer, though no less hard (and its boundaries shift as the publishing landscape changes with the rise of e-books, Kindle and cheap self-publishing [see Lulu and Blurb]).

But I have changed too—especially spiritually. My priorities are different. I know that I wouldn't get into the game for the fame or the money, that it would be a living, that it would be hard, but hopefully, at times, even fun. The point would be serving God in this particular capacity—seeking the fulfilment of his plans in Ephesians 1 (i.e. the glorification of Christ and the uniting of all things in submission under his feet), Romans 8:29 (i.e. the conforming of his people to the image of Christ in all holiness and godliness) and Habakkuk 2:14 (“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”).

It's just that ... (well, perhaps this is something I have to think myself through—as if I have to convince myself. I suspect the rest of this post is going to get rather tedious as I argue myself in circles). It's just that there are very few models for the sort of thing I want to do. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is I break new ground myself; there are no rules, and I can make my own way. (This is also extremely scary.) The bad thing is that other people (Christians and non-Christians) won't really get it and therefore won't be supportive (so what else is new ...)

See, the Christian community often views creative endeavours with a bit of suspicion—much like the Greeks viewed the first Thespians. (The Greeks thought you couldn't trust someone who spends their time pretending to be someone else because they were essential liars.) Many Christians think there is no value in fiction—particularly fantasy and science fiction (also known as speculative fiction). One Christian guy I spoke to told me he only read non-fiction because “Why waste my time on something that's not real?” (Why? Andrew Lansdown devoted a whole talk to the place of fantasy in the Christian imagination at the 2006 C.S. Lewis Today conference. I'm not going to visit that debate here; go listen to Andrew's talk.) There's a line between artifice and reality, and everything that's not real isn't worth bothering with.

There's also the temptation to worldliness. Things involving the arts and entertainment tend to be things of this world rather than things of God. There are Christians who think that if you watch too many violent films, you will become violent yourself; if you listen to death metal, you will become a devil worshipper; if you hang around people who swear all the time, you'll start swearing yourself. There's an element of truth in that: what you consume does influence you, to some degree (take pornography), and some of us are more vulnerable in this regard than others. In particular, those with weaker consciences should stay away from certain things, while those with stronger consciences need to keep assessing how they are going with their diet and whether anything is having a negative effect on them.

Certainly it seems to be harder to be a Christian in the more artsy and creative industries. I don't know that many Christians who work as writers, actors, musicians (actually, I know a few more musicians ...), painters, etc. Or perhaps they just aren't as visible.

The job

Still, thinking theologically, writing is just another job. It's much like any other profession: you produce something and you get paid for it. It's another way to put food on the table, clothes on your back and a roof over your head (think 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). But it's also different from other professions—different in the nature of the work (you're creating things, not working on things that have already been created) and in the nature of the work (you can't turn the creative juices on and off; there are no regular hours; you still ‘work’ while you're doing other things—cooking, showering, sleeping, even going to the loo ...) Writing is a ‘legitimate’ way of making a living in a way that prostitution is not.

And, like any job, it is subject to the effects of the Fall. Every job is frustrating; why should writing be an exception? Every writer faces the dismaying disparity between what's in their heads and what comes out on the page; something always gets lost in translation, and the expression of the vision is never as good as the vision itself. No matter how much a writer does, it always comes back to the writer versus the blank page, with battle lines drawn. (The war is never won; the victories are never permanent ...)

Furthermore, because of the nature of the job, you need a bit of talent to start with—and certainly in order to keep going. No one knows where that comes from. Sometimes it seems like you either have it or you don't (because can you really develop something like that simply from reading more books, spewing out more words and workshopping your stuff 'til the cows come home?)

(Still, thinking back to those articles on genius, there are two types: people who sparkle while young and then fizz out early, and people who start out slow and then build up to it. There are also those who think that it's just a matter of practice—that, unless you put in the time, you'll never get better. It's like the 20-year-old violinists: good ones averaged 10,000 hours of practice over the course of their lives. Neil Gaiman is always saying you'll produce 100,000 words of crap before you unearth the good stuff (I forget where, but I'm sure he did). So you need to start. You need to practise. It's like exercise; you do it every day, or else you get out of shape. Paul Auster says, “I have to do it every day in order to keep the rhythm, to keep myself focused on what I’m doing. Even Sunday, if possible.”)

It's easy to give in to the nagging doubts that you're just deluded—you really are devoid of talent; you're better off spending your time doing something else instead of banging your head against a brick wall every day. As writers, we want others to validate our talent. However, the converse may apply: we may not be talented if we do not practise ...

In addition, writing is a solitary profession. You can't do it with other people the way you would paint a wall or even shoot a movie. There is no one you can turn to to fix things when things go wrong. There's no supervisors to tell you what to do. There's no one else who understands the nature of what you're trying to do as well as you do. No one else may actually care. The buck stops with you, and being alone can be terrifying ...

On the other hand, sometimes it can be exhilarating. Sometimes you want to shut out the world because the world is distracting and annoying and doesn't understand (cue ‘Finishing a hat’ from Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George), and until you've produced what you want to produce and said what you want to say, there's no point in even showing them.

And then on the third hand, there is the danger of loving creativity too much—because of the high that goes with it—the power that runs through your fingers when you're creating something—playing God. When you're up late at night, working and thinking—when it's all going right—it's like ambrosia is leaking from your pen or (your fingers through the keyboard), and you have all the power of God's creation at your disposal. It's like drugs—it's like getting high (I assume). It can be a dangerous way to be. It can border on idolatry. And once you've replaced the Creator with the created, you've gone too far.

The why

But why? Why would a Christian spend the majority of her days on earth writing and publishing fantasy and science fiction (among other things)?

It's not like the profession has no value. What's immediately obvious is the entertainment value—helping people to enjoy their leisure time—the rest that God has given them. That is legitimate, no?

There is also the role of the bard—the storyteller—the transporter—to reflect life, tell truths, tell people how to live their lives, how to behave, how to defeat the dragon (a.k.a. G.K. Chesterton)—how to grow up and take your place in the world.

Writers also fill the role of instructors and persuaders—to, through the medium of fiction, bring you around to their way of thinking—their way of seeing the world. When reading something, you automatically get a sense of their worldview—maybe not in its entirety, but glimmers and pieces that, put together, help you to understand what they think about life, the universe and everything. The twin tasks of all Christians (evangelism and edification) fit here. Certainly I know well that you can serve God through your writing; I've written about this subject before: “Writing Evangelism” and “Church Service”.

And writing for non-Christians has just as much value as non-Christians. We're told that people don't read anymore (that their attention spans have shrunk), but that's not strictly true; people do read, but they don't read everything. They read what they want to read—what hooks them and drags them in and immerses them. Look at Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, the fat tomes taking up too much space in the fantasy section. Why shouldn't someone like me have a go at tackling that market?

The (somewhat circular) argument

But my question is whether this is the best use of my days on earth. I know God is far more concerned with my godliness than what I actually do. I know that eternity with him and his people awaits, and perhaps that eternity can be filled with things like the making of many books (both in writing and in binding). I guess, given the part of the world where I live, I feel the push to ministry rather keenly. I think about the hours I could be devoting to serving my church or the Christians around me—in meeting people and reading the Bible with them to encourage them in the faith; in going out doing walk-up evangelism (which I dislike, but can do); in doing some of the endless admin that churches always seem to have; in editing Briefing articles; and so on. There are a thousand and one ways to serve God and build his kingdom; what makes writing/publishing any more deserving of my time? Is it because I'm a bit better at it than the rest of the Christian population? (Still, how is that an argument? “You have talent; don't let it go to waste.”)

The other thing that is often drummed into us in this part of the world is that only gospel ministry has any eternal significance (and therefore the unspoken corollary is that it is the only worthwhile thing to do). Created things won't survive the fire on that last day when God destroys the current heaven and earth and ushers in his new creation (Rev 21:1-5). It's a stark contrast to what Neil Gaiman says:

I think there are only two things that any writers are allowed to be obsessed by, and they are love and death. And I think that's a huge, great big clunking cliché, and like all big clunking cliches, it's true—that's what we write about. And we make are for fear for death. It's the joy of being some kind of creator is what you leave behind you, in Sondheim's words, is children and art. And you are essentially doing a little bit of graffiti on the wall of time that says, “I was here and this is my drawing and this is my story.” (Neil Gaiman, Arts and Ideas podcast, BBC Radio 3.)

So why is it worth my time? Can I say, like Nicky Chiswell, that “Only I could do it”? (Now that requires a fair chunk of arrogance!)

And if it isn't worth my time, why do I want it to be? Why do I want to do it so badly? Sometimes I look at my graphic novel (or rather, the current state of it: bits and pieces on computer, in journals and scribbled on scraps of paper) and think, “This is so self-indulgent.” The number of steps it needs to take from there to a finished product I'd be proud of is so immense, I feel like giving up. (Mind you, I know exactly what is required and how to get there, and that just makes it all the more daunting.) But should I expend all this time and energy on something that, in the grand scheme of things (and certainly in the grand scheme of publishing) is not that significant?

Nevertheless, in the face of the universe and its odds, I can't stop writing this story. It's not the muse; I don't believe in muses. I don't even believe that the Holy Spirit is making me do it (well, perhaps only to the extent that I believe in God's sovereignty). It's just something I enjoy writing about. I feel like something compels me the way that it compels Rachel Powers in The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood. I can't make it stop. But more importantly, I don't want to make it stop. And every now and then (like lately) I think wistfully it might be nice if I could do it all the time ...


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Other comments

I admit, that I only skimmed the above, but I think theres a valid point here… Writing, that makes a difference, is not just a “created thing”.  If your writing has impacted on just one person, and changed their perspective on just one issue, that person will be around post judgement day. So your writings effects will live on beyond the end of its, and your, life.

Writing is a form of communication, its a way of telling someone something.  Even sci-fi or fantasy books convey ideas, concepts, challenges, and to some people they do it in a better way than other formats.  In fact hard sci-fi is often basically a vehicle to convey a vision of the future of technology to the reader.

Even if none of that were the case, your job does not need to have merit in and of itself for you to be making a difference.  You mention that there are not many visible Christian writers/publishers/etc.  You can do that as a job, do it well, and be visible, and just by doing that make a difference.  You are there as a good strong Christian influence on all the others working in that industry.  Yes writing is a solitary persuit.  But I am sure that writers like to hang out with and talk to other writers, as they understand each other better…

I’m blathering… My point is that god can easily use you in an industry which makes use of your skills and talents, that he can find opportunities to make you being there a blessing to those you come into contact with.  And the skills talents and contacts you develop there can be quite useful in more directly Christian focused ministry (e.g. word by word)

Posted by Matt A on 22 July, 2009 3:26 AM

This is probably going to be meandering and endless and I’m tired and have a cold which means I’m not entirely with it so bear with me. ;p

The Dream: Firstly, in my experience, the people who are told that their youthful writings aren’t up to scratch are, more often than not, not very good. Everyone has access to someone who will encourage them - a parent, a teacher, a friend, someone - and so usually such people genuinely aren’t very good. However unpopular the concept is today, talent is a reality: some people are naturally good at things and while you can learn to do something with effort, someone with talent who puts in the same amount of work is still going to out-strip you. Secondly, people who genuinely long to do something, do it. No amount of discouragement will stop them. They may be embarrassed about it, they may hide the fact that they do it, but they’ll still do it.

The problem: There are others who endeavour to do (and sometimes even succeed in doing) just that. Not just in literature but every in art form, there are people who have set out to do exactly that. They may be undervalued. They may not be recognised for it. And more often than not, what they produce is… unfortunate, since Sturgeon’s law applies. But there are hundreds of artists who aim to use their abilities in the service of God. Whether they sell their work as ‘Christian Art’ or not, there are a lot of them out there.

In the end, I think it’s up to us to change such attitudes. The best we can do is show the good work that can be done but we have to do it. No one else will. And some people are always going to view fiction with suspicion or refuse to partake of it. (It something which seems to be just as common amongst secular communities and some of it’s down to personal taste.) But you can do what you can do.

The job: I think perhaps writing has it’s own built in self protection against idolatry. Okay, when it’s working, it can be fantastic. But, when it’s not, it’s really not. And mostly it’s not. Even when it’s going well, there’s still the inner critic having his/her say. The moments of blissful perfection are so rare that I think the dangers of considering oneself to be god-like are relatively limited. ;p

The why: I have to say that any time someone asks me why one would write, I have the same reaction. Why not as Jeanette Winterson continually points out, art fulfills some essential human need. Time spent creating is time not spent feeding, clothing, sheltering ourselves or reproducing. Time spent creating feeds us. Art connects us to God, to something beyond this world, to the commonalities between us. It gives us a view of the world that says, even when it’s crap, when can make it better. That sin is a reality but so is hope. The God’s in his heaven and all will be right with the world. Look at the sheer number of people who want to be writers, actors, musicians. Nearly every individual has a dream to be an artist of some description at some point in their life. Every child creates. There is no “why write?” There is only an enormous gift God has given us: the ability to create and communicate, both with one another and with him. There is only “why not?” If it’s in you do it, that’s reason enough.

A better question is “why publish?” ;p

Argument: Quite frankly, if you write something that affects someone, that is eternal. Even if what you write is never published, if it is lost from the world forever with only one person ever having read it, if it has affected that one person, they will carry it with them forever. Objects fade. Impact doesn’t. My first reading of Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse or Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet with always live with me and, when I die, they will go with me.

As far as I’m concerned, God speaks in everything. He can speak to anyone through anything. There are a hundred ways to first meet God and most people don’t meet God through the gospel. I don’t want to devalue the gospel: it’s God’s Word and is an essential part of the faith. It is God’s most direct communication with us. But God can speak to anyone through anything. God can speak through each of us when we interact with others and the same is true of anything we create.

I think it’s in our nature to question the value of something that isn’t… a product. The value of art, in the end, is fundamentally intellectual and spiritual. It’s about the head, not the hands. And because it is both mental (rather than physical) and fantastic (like fancy; as opposed to scientific) the value of art cannot be calculated by the means of this world. And so, in a world obsessed with what is material, it is undervalued. Which leaves the artist constantly questioning the value of what they do because other peopl don’t value it. Because the world doesn’t value it. That doesn’t mean that is has no value. It doesn’t make it self-indulgent. It means that the value of it is harder to find and harder to believe it. It means art is not for the faint of heart. But it means it is uniquely positioned to get to the heart of things. Not tied down by the world, it can step outside it and present it to itself. Not tied down to science, it requires no evidenced and can speak to those things which cannot be measured. It is limited only by the imagination and can show what could be. It can hold a hand out to God and present Him to the world.

Or alternatively, more or less what Matt said. ;p Sorry to go on for so long.

Dear Karen,
You know I love you.
You also know that I’m blessed to be doing something I really like, and I really believe in.
I don’t buy into the argument that work is only significant if it’s gospel in nature - for how do we know what’s gospel or not? How do I know that as a Christian psychiatrist (who I worked for once) you won’t encourage other Christians like mine did for me? How do you know that in my work, my example or my love might lead someone to Christ? (sorry for the dreadful construction of that paragraph!)

It’s a stupid argument, because some people have been told the only important ministry is full-time working for a religious organisation ministry.

Honestly, Karen, I think you should write. I read avidly everything you write - I don’t always agree, but you do cause me to think!  And Karen, you do write well. The 10,000 hours of practice, which was a bit of the focus of one of my essays, is really for things that are learned by rote - yes, anyone with reasonable effort and “deliberate practice” (which is key) can produce good piano playing. But writing is like composing music. Some people are crap at it, and some people are good at it.

And you, my love, are good at it.

I wonder why you keep editing sometimes. I think maybe writing is what you’re supposed to be doing, for God, like everything we do is for God.

And I’m glad no one shot you down.

Hi Karen,

Thanks for this - v. thought-provoking post, & it covered a lot of ground i’ve wondered about too, especially the art/gospel issue, & “whether this is the best use of my days on earth”.
Jean Williams touched on some of this stuff (eg. need vs gifts in decisions about ministry) here - http://solapanel.org/article/dare_to_do_things_badly/ - what do you think?
(is it better to do something more important less well, or to do something less important better?)

Re your comments on the part of the world where you live… When I was in Sydney last year at the Faithful Writer conference, I started thinking about how key the influence of our context is on the art/gospel (or image/word, or creation/redemption) debate… how our theology is not worked out in a vacuum. And I wondered if you could generalise the difference between Melbourne and Sydney on this issue:

eg. in Sydney, evangelicalism is strong, so maybe to a certain extent Christians can take gospel basics for granted… which can free up artistic Christians to put their efforts into the art (expressing Christian truths in new/creative ways), with the gospel as the foundation to spring off…

cf. in Melbourne, evangelicals are more of a minority, & can’t take the gospel for granted as much, so if i’m a conservative evangelical I need to be constantly guarding (fighting for) basic primary gospel truths… so theologically aware artistic evangelicals (an even smaller minority!) don’t have the same freedom to pursue art, because the foundation isn’t as secure… [much of the most creative Christian stuff in Melb comes from a theologically liberal or emergent perspective, not focused on the primacy of the biblical gospel]

What do you think? it’s highly possible my hypothesis is completely wrong & not a true representation of Sydney, in any case!

It also raises the issue of how you define gospel ministry (how broad is it exactly? does writing songs with biblical lyrics count? does your Bridget James story count, if it encourages Christian women to be faithful?)

In any case I’m glad you wrote Bridget James, and I’m glad CS Lewis wrote the Narnia books.

And surely even the Bible gives a precedent for creativity in writing - think of apocalyptic, narrative, poetry, fictional parables, etc… (though, granted, we’re not on the same level as the bible authors).

Here endeth my random thoughts. smile

Posted by Sandra Joynt on 22 July, 2009 3:02 PM

Of course you should be writing. As soon as you find a story you really want to tell, you will be unstoppable…

Posted by Craig on 22 July, 2009 3:20 PM

I watch tv because I like to watch tv.  You like to write, so write.  Hang the guilt.

Hi everyone,

Thanks for your comments. Reading through them, I realise that I haven’t been entirely clear with my blog post. Sorry about that! So let’s get a few things straight:

  • I do think that you can serve God through writing and publishing fiction, and that fiction has a useful role and function in society.
  • I do think God can work through anything and everything to accomplish his purposes—even the sinfulness of humanity (as demonstrated with the cross).
  • I do believe in the value of fiction—or rather, of stories to persuade people, move people, convince them to change their lives and live accordingly. (The gospel is a very good example of the power of story.)
  • My question was really “What should I be spending the majority of my time doing while I’m here on this earth?” I’m thinking about work (because at the moment, motherhood is not on the cards; if it were, it would be different). (Therefore, Simone, it’s not quite the same as TV-watching.) I’d like to write fiction, but is that necessarily the best use of my days? How do you even go about answering that question?
  • I don’t feel guilty about writing fiction, and I know I’d continue to do it even if I decided to work for MM for the rest of my life. The question is about whether or not I ought to change careers (or rather, work at changing careers—setting goals, making writing more of a priority, carving out more writing time, entering short story competitions, submitting things for publication, etc.).

The reason why this is a pertinent question is to do with the related question of “How should I be spending my time?”. If I decided that writing was the most important thing I can be doing on this earth to serve God, it would affect my involvement in church, for example. Oh, I’d still go to Sunday services and Bible study, but I would think twice about other activities (e.g. leafleting for the church mission or going along to women’s fellowship, etc.). If I ever managed to eke a living out of writing, then perhaps I could still fit in those things because a full or part-time job wouldn’t be taking up a significant amount of my time. But until then, I know the way ahead involves considerable hard work.

Writing isn’t a job. Or rather, any artistic profession is unlike any other job, so much so that to compare them is to do justice to neither. You can’t fail to turn up to a day-to-day, nine-to-five job because you just can’t do it today or because your head isn’t in the right space for it. Writing is… more like a lifestyle. I think most people who make their living by writing don’t even ask the question of whether to make a ‘career’ out of it. Writing is so much a part of them that to not to do it is like not breathing and if they can spend more of their time doing it and even make some money from it so that they can then spend more time doing it, then even better. If one acknowledges that fiction writing has value then, again, it isn’t a question of ‘should I’.

In the end, the way you prioritise writing in your life is entirely your choice. There is no right and wrong. There is only what value you place upon it. If you think and feel that writing is the most valuable way (or even simply a valuable way) you can serve God, then that is a valid and Godly choice and I don’t think it’s something that is done at the expense of other forms of service, especially when we belong to a faith that actively minimises the role women can play in ministry anyway. (That was not a critique, merely a comment.)

@Laurel-li: *Sigh*. Somehow I feel you’ve missed the point of the entire post.

Long before I ever became a Christian, I read CS Lewis’ Narnia series. Who is going to be this generation’s Lewis, Karen? Or this generation’s Tolkein? Somebody needs to be. Why not you? xxx

If you want to create a fiction that sells, I suggest you embrace sin.

For example, I have an idea for a book, a criminal recruits other small time criminals by setting up situations to attract them to steal. He leaves a wallet in the park, and walks away. He leaves his car window open at the beach with his travel bag inside, ready to be stolen by a beach criminal. Inside these left objects, eagerly awaiting to be stolen are instructions for the criminal who stole them - a surprise to them - to participate in a larger crime with a larger reward.

The larger crime is the mystery of the book. In fact, this person is running a terrorist plot of immense magnitude and subtle nature.
The plot needs a hero, in this case, a anti-hero, one of the recruited criminals with a conscience.

The title of the book is “Honeypots”.

You could adapt this idea to a more fictional universe and setting.

(p.s. how do you know I dont do this in real life).

I think it’s fair to say that we’ve grown up in more or less the same Christian culture.

I feel like I’ve been taught the main game very well: the uncompromising Lordship of Jesus, the necessity of following him (Mark 8:34ff, for example), the urgency of the gospel, the necessity of people hearing it, and what has eternal significance (something like 1 Cor 3:11-15).

But I think we have a great capacity to simplify, and flatten.

I think it’s the sort of phenomenon that lies behind those classic arguments about the relationship between social action and “gospel work” (evangelism). It’s easy to argue that a person’s eternity is of greater significance than their temporal sufferings.

But that’s simplistic, because: a) you can do two things at once, b) you can do multiple things that are valuable, and yet prioritise, and c) there’s something important being said when James writes that religion that is pure and faultless is to look after widows and orphans.

Something like Ecclesisastes 7:18: “It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.”

God is an infinitely wise, good, and creative Creator—far more so than we give him credit for (one of the theses of Job).

And as his more glorifying creation, human beings—homo imago—are much more than beings-that-can-be-saved.

There is intricacy and depth and richness to creation, and that’s not going to go away when Jesus returns. It’s a fundamental part of creation.

And so I think this is where writing and other artistic endeavours come in. Art is worship.

If through writing you consider, display, reflect the truth1 of the created world, (in all its glory and fallenness) and others do so by reading, then you are worshiping, and causing others to worship.

Of course, it’s up to you, and them, to ensure you’re worshiping the creator and not the created.

I guess you have the ability as writer (which should exercised with restraint) to explain the way the world works in the way we understand.

Wisdom literature seems to do this. Ecclesiastes and Proverbs for instance, both contain statements that cannot be categorically declared as true (compare Prov 26:4 and 26:5!), but are nevertheless true of the world in which we live. Generally speaking (as Proverbs tells us), natural justice/karma seems to operate (those who are virtuous are rewarded). But as Ecclesiastes shows, there are vast and copious displays of injustice in the world.

Both point you to God.

1And truth can be told through fiction. As I understand it, most of Jesus’ parables are fictional, and yet they are deeply true.

Thanks for that thoughtful response, Haoran!

Karen, I feel what you are saying and I have sometimes walked the road you are walking.  I have come to a very deep understanding of God as the creative life force of creative life forces. So by being creative myself, I am aspiring to God’s image and likeness, just as God intended. That’s one reason why I am increasingly wanting to spend more time getting those 10,000 (and more) crap words out so that eventually the beauty of God’s (however one understands the term) creative life force shines through my work one day.
It would be a pity if you didn’t let your light shine but hid it under a bushel.

Posted by Roanna Gonsalves on 12 August, 2009 9:44 PM

I’m a Christian, I’m a writer (well, I’m working on my first novel which is nearing completion) and I felt your post so PERFECTLY captured the dilemmas I’ve been thinking about.

Thanks Sarah! Feel free to share your own thoughts on the subject.

I’m doing my own series on the trials and tribulations of writing on my own blog here http://sedshed.blogspot.com/search/label/From%20Head%20to%20Hand
It’s coming along slowly smile

Hi Karen!
If you’re still thinking about this… I just read CS Lewis’s essay “Learning in War-time” which exactly addresses this issue (ie. how can we justify cultural & aesthetic pursuits when people are going to hell around us?).  Have you read it?  i’d be interested to hear what you think..
(i have it in his little volume “Transposition and other Addresses”, but it’s easily findable online)

Posted by sandra j on 22 September, 2009 10:43 PM

Hey Sandra! Thanks for the tip! I read it yesterday, but I struggled a bit because Lewis doesn’t start from the Bible. I wasn’t convinced by his argument. What did you think?


Kinds of Blue: Cover art



A way of funding writing in the future: pitch and idea and get people to support it.

Place where you can hire play equipment for parties, etc.

How to recalibrate the home button on your iPhone.

Unsolicited manuscripts accepted by Pan Macmillan with certain conditions.

Thought Balloon is a group blog in which the writers tackle a new theme every week? month? with one-page scripts. This URL is for their Phonogram ones.


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