How my faith and my art fit together has been one of the great challenges — and satisfactions — of my life and writing career so far.
For years, I separated my beliefs and my creative work — writing faith-themed non-fiction (articles) for Christian publications and audiences, and fiction (plays/screenplays/novels) for mainstream audiences.
Only here and there would I create small overlaps. But recently I decided it was time to fully integrate these two ‘sides’ of who I am, with a novel series and script adaptation I will share about more when completed (soon!) They’re not ‘sides’ really; they’re at my core. They don’t run contrary to each other. But in this world of ours, the various parts of who we are can seem that way.
Because here’s the dilemma I’ve encountered in the writing industry, or so I’ve been told: my writing is too spiritual for mainstream publishers/producers and too worldly for Christian publishers/producers.
Translation? Too many faith professions or references to Jesus, God and the Bible for nonbelievers; too much ‘language,’ sex/intimacy or misguided behavior for believers. (Not that there’s very much of either, outright — but even a single instance of one seems to bother somebody or other).
Why be so inclusive? Because I want to explore who people really are. How messy and imperfect we all are. I select contexts very carefully, and I strive to make all situations and choices believable for the characters in the story. Not glorified, but clarified. Even if I don’t personally agree with all that my characters do, and all that happens to them in the story, I want to show the reality of who they are and where they are at. I want readers/viewers to understand how and why they got there. Just like I’m called, in life, to understand and care for people who may be different from me.
My main responsibility is not to a producer, publisher or audience, but rather to My Father in Heaven and to my family and friends, who hold me accountable to God’s teachings and values. But that doesn’t mean I blurt them out on every street corner in every scene. I have a heart for writing for both mainstream audiences and faith-based audiences, and as a result I am passionate about writing characters and situations which both audiences — all audiences — can relate to.
But for better or for worse, I seem to always fall in between the labels and genres, as a writer and person. However, those in-between places, I’ve come to learn, are the real places of life and creativity. The places where we grow most as people, as the faithful, as friends, spouses, parents, writers and artists. It’s from these vantage points that we have to live our lives and tell our stories.
So recently, I realized that the way I keep these two ‘threads’ or paths more integrated is to align them better with my larger purpose in life.
In all I do and write and speak, my purpose, my thing, is this: I want to encourage people. I want to encourage them to learn more about God, about themselves, and about each other. Whether I’m writing a screenplay, a stage play, novel, a non-fiction article, or giving a talk, or having coffee with a friend, or helping raise our daughters, I’m an encourager. I know in my bones this is what I was born to be.
But if all my characters were just like me, believed what I believe, felt as I feel, how realistic would that be? What conflict or growth or arc could I show? What credibility would there be in that story?
And yet if all my characters shunned the values I hold dear, or glorified the opposite of all I believe, how is that authentic or reflective of who I am?
So…I try to integrate my beliefs and my art by doing my best at these seven things:
1. Being as honest as possible about struggles we all face.
2. Keeping no topics off limits. None.
3. Having at least one character (can be minor or lead) whose worldview/values are similar to mine — not to trumpet my personal opinions, but to have them present in the mix, balanced with other characters revealing different points of view.
4. Not glorifying what I consider to be misguided actions, but not avoiding them either. All of us mess up. I aim to show an understanding for how a character reaches a particular point, what they do from there, and why.
5. Not preaching, but showing life lessons more organically — even if there is a character, say, who is a clergyman or activist or public official who gives speeches, I’ll try not to take the ‘easy way out’ in making themes obvious — as tempting as it is sometimes.
6. Being open to any kind of ending — but with a twist. For tragic endings, still having an element of hopefulness somewhere; for happy endings, still having something fail or remain unresolved.
7. Loving my characters. No, I’m not crazy. I even pray for them (okay, maybe I am a little crazy). We have to love our characters as I believe God loves us. We have to put them through all sorts of situations and not be afraid to have them suffer and grow and learn the hard way. Give them the highest highs and the lowest lows and everything in between, and at least some of the time, helping them get through. Helping them see that Hope is not based on how good or bad circumstances are. I want so much more for them; I want them to experience all that they are meant to experience.
Much like the people in my life that I love and pray for every day. I want to encourage them to learn and understand more of God, themselves, and those around them, and I want to help them get there. This is why I write, why I live. This is why I have to integrate what matters most to me into all I do. This is why I believe God put me here.
“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'” (Rev. 21:5)
(This blog post originally appeared on November 10, 2014.)