Thursday, May 22, 2008

Readin', Writin' and Faith

I just returned from a two-day event at the Alban Institute. titled "Secular and Sacred Story: Finding Connections that Enrich Transformation and Ministry." Participating in the event were folks such as C. Michael Curtis (fiction editor of the Atlantic Monthly), Barbara Nicolosi (founder of ActOne), Heidi Christensen (National Cathedral’s Cathedral College), and Craig Detweiler(filmmaker of "Purple State of Mind") and others. It was a time of ideas and discussion of the power of story, especially as it intersects with congregational life.

I mostly listened (something which faithful reader will find hard to believe), but was asked to lead the "Writers' Fishbowl" -- a time of dialogue about writing as a person of faith. I had (if I do say so myself) some really great questions. They were so good that we only got to two of dozen or I had prepared before time was up. Which made me think -- perhaps others who see their writing as an act of ministry might like to think about them. And share their answers. So ... here they are.

1. Leland Rykins, of Calvin College, wrote that about “Reading and writing as a means of grace” – adding once wrote that, “A means of grace, as I use the phrase, is anything in our lives by which God makes his truth and beauty known to us, and correspondingly anything in our lives by which God's presence becomes a reality to us.”
a. Is it the role of writer to make God’s truth and beauty known to the reader?
2. I heard somebody (and I wish I could remember who… but I’m old) say that Gospel is a uniquely Christian form and so gives some support to the idea of novel as distinctively Christian in origin.
i. Characterization (Mark 1:6)
ii. Scene setting (John 3:1-2)
iii. Dialogue (Matthew 19:16-22)
iv. Shows, doesn’t just tell (Luke 22:39-44)
v. Lack of wasteful adjectives (Mark 1:43) (“strong used just 4 times in all of Mark)
vi. Tension & release cycles (Luke 8:22-26)
vii. Builds towards climax
viii. Resolution (Luke 24:50-53)
ix. Also has primary, secondary & tertiary characters
b. Have you ever thought of the art you’re creating as a sort of Gospel – a telling of good news? If so, in what ways do think of it that way? Likewise, if not, why not?
3. “If I understand the Gospel, it tells us that we are to spread the Good News to all four corners of the world, not limiting the giving of light to people who have already seen the light. If my stories are incomprehensible to Jews or Muslims or Taoists, then I have failed as a Christian writer. ….” Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
a. Do you think this sort of comprehensibility is also important for writers of other faiths such as Michael Chabon, Dara Horn, Salman Rushdie,etc?
b. Is there any such thing as a Christian screenwriter or Jewish novelist? Or are we merely writers who are informed by a particular faith tradition?
c. What is the role of the audience in creation of art?
d. Does the idea of an audience – say, congregations or adult faith groups – ever enter in to your creative process?
e. How does the audience influence your idea about where a character/scene/idea is working?
4. “Creation is surpassingly wonderful, and God is greater than anyone can possibly imagine. I write about the things I do because I can’t help it. I think flowers bloom to the glory of God. I write stories to the glory of God, to celebrate the privilege and miracle of being alive.” Mary Ward Brown, novelist.
a. So why do you write?
b. What do you wish a congregation using your creation for whatever purpose would know about you?
c. What do you wish a congregation using your creation for whatever purpose would know about the piece they’re using?
5. “At its best, art transfigures the world around us for a brief time, strives to let the radiance of truth, goodness, and beauty flash out for an instant. Art wakes us up, trains our perceptions, and reminds us that when we try to build rigid structures around presence we inevitably lose what we attempt to keep. The purpose of art is not to strand us in an alternate world, but to return us to the realm of the ordinary, only with new eyes. After the light had dimmed and the cloud had dispersed, the disciples found Jesus alone. Seeing their bewilderment, he must have had compassion on them. He must also have known that, though the disciples were temporarily blinded by the light, an image had been imprinted on their hearts that would never be erased.” Gregory Wolfe, Image, #27
a. So how do you see art, in this case story, film, etc as transfiguring the world?
b. What are ways you could see this “awakening” as Wolfe calls it, work in congregational settings?

What sayest ... um, er, writest... thou?


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