Monday, February 22, 2010


Censorship. Every time I hear this word, something deep within me groans. Oh no, hear it comes again. It pits people against each other, invites judgment, kills creativity, and leaves artists afraid of the church. Censorship. It just sounds like the scrape of bars being wedged to cover a window.

The Christian faith is based on a grand narrative—a lovesick God rescuing his beautiful bride, a warrior king reclaiming surrendered territory. The story is epic, romantic, rings with the promise of a true happily ever after. But there are places in the story that are also ugly, gory, grotesque. We haven’t reached the happily ever after just yet. The bride—we’ve given our heart away, slept around, shed blood, drank ourselves into misery and certainly cast more than a few blasphemies toward heaven. But the church—we try to cover that up, refuse to acknowledge the way things were, the way our hearts can still tend to be.

We try to wipe the slate clean…but then we lose the story.

Without obstacles, story wouldn’t exist. The plot would flop. No one sighs with contentment when they close a book where the prince proposes and he and the princess marries, end of story, no complications, no opportunities for the prince to prove what his love for the princess can overcome. No one even reads those books. They don’t get published. They’re boring.

I’m not trying to justify sin, arguing that because it makes for an interesting story it suddenly becomes acceptable or even necessary. But I am saying that it’s part of our story, and it deserves to be told.

The ugliness of sin is ugly, but I find it makes the grace of God so much more breathtaking. And the ugliness is part of my story, part of our story. So when it comes to censorship, I think the church is so afraid that they miss the beauty and poignancy of their own story. I think that censorship doesn’t matter as much as we think it does.

I respect personal censorship; I have bridges I refuse to cross as well. But I also think that a swear word can carry a powerful message if used in the right context. I also think the power of that message will be lost if it is tossed around at every stubbed toe or overslept alarm. So, I think there is a balance.

A lot of what the church wants to censor, they probably have a right too. Besides being vulgar, it’s just bad art. Every time modern media wants to spice up a story they throw in a few more expletives and/or a sex scene and hope the movie or the book gets better. But they don’t craft the plot, hone the characterization, ask themselves if their characters really want to cuss or get laid or if they have something more unique to say. Most stories would be better without the jacked-up ratings.

However, there are moments when ugliness needs to be allowed to reveal itself for the sake of the story, because the world is broken and cries out for honesty, because it makes grace look more beautiful, more powerful. But the church is scared to allow the ugliness to speak because they think it is just part of the overwritten mass of moral smuck. I find the loss sad. And I find the tension difficult when I choose something edgy for my work with careful purposefulness—because it serves the story—and still find the church ready to shy away.

As an artist, I find it my job to challenge the church, to tilt her perspective, push her to find beauty in something outside of her Sunday morning box. But it’s also my job to respect her, to honor where she is at, to compromise and know what my audience can handle, to be gracious towards those who still don’t want to look.

I don’t really know where the lines should be drawn. I don’t want to be the one to draw them for everyone else, and I don’t want everyone else to try and draw them for me. I don’t think it should be about lines. It should be about story. And when we can’t see the narrative through all of the fences, we are missing a piece of the redemption process God wants us to experience. But I’m still learning, so these are just my thoughts.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


You know that you are a writer when your characters start to come alive—sit across from you at your desk and tell you about their favorite foods, strike up a conversation with you you’re running, or snore next to you in the bed while you are trying to get to sleep.

Right now, I’ve living with this character named Doris, well not literally; if we were actual roommates we probably wouldn’t get along so great. She’s an older woman who lives across the field from the plant where the propane tank nearly blew up in Norfolk last December. She’s stubborn and her sense of humor makes me laugh. Her favorite vegetable is snap peas, and she spends hours cutting coupons out of the newspaper. But she’s also a mystery, haunted by a past that skews the way she looks at the world, and at God. I’m trying to get to know her, decipher her past, and ultimately correct her worldview. Call me crazy, but it’s my goal this semester.

All this to say, I’m definitely beginning to stray over into the ranks of writers who are so nerdishly consumed with their work that they start thinking of their characters as real people. And really who’s to say they aren’t? It's really a good sign. Now if only I would be so consumed as to produce complete pages every day…

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Successful Artistry

The following are thoughts I’ve been pondering sparked from a discussion about Christianity and the arts with Lisa Neely and Amber Wood, during the annual writer’s festival at Lee University:

Conversations about calling tend to slip so easily into conversations about physical tasks and vocation, but calling is much more concerned with relationships than human undertakings. nAs a believer, I have a calling on three levels.

First and foremost, I am called to God, to draw near to His heart and encounter Him in relationship. Before my actions, He wants my heart staring intently into His.

Second, I am called to people, to serve the bride of Christ, the Church, and those God still desires to become His bride.

Third, I may be called to a vocation, to an avocation, to any number of tasks, burdens, or careers. Only on the third level does calling differ from individual to individual.

This is significant because when I consider success in my calling, the first levels of calling leave room for drastic differences between apparent worldly success and faith-filled success. First, calling means earthly success that gets in the way of relationship with God is not true success and smells of idolatry. Second, calling means success requires sacrificing for others—family, church, community—when there is a need more important than my personal artistic agenda. Yet third, calling means that God creates moments and places for my love of writing and the arts to bleed over into the first two areas of calling and bless the heart of God and His people.

Practically, what does that mean? It means that my words may never make their way into a New York Bestseller List, but they don’t have to in order to be significant. It means that I choose to write because I love to, because God gave me a gift for words and a joy for finding them, because if what I say affects just one person it might be enough. It means that I continue to hone my skills and choose to write with awareness of my community, of needs around me, and of those who have stories to be told but no voice with which to tell them.

It means I watch for the places where words and the burdens of the world overlap.