Christian corporation with staff of mostly elderly retirees, thirtysomething parents, and rarer college or high-school students, seeks responsible Christian fiction writer for fun, games, and long walks on the beach — but only so long as writer can use said fun, games, and long walks, which are otherwise useless, as part of a far greater good to include and endorse Moral Values and Safe, Family-Friendly Themes in the resulting product of fiction.
Must adhere strictly to the perceived rules of Allegory, and either include an overt call to Conversion or else include a “subtly” overt Symbolic call to the same.
Christian storytellers with no other skills beyond writing and yarn-spinning need not apply.
Optimal candidate will instead also be skilled in religious programming and evangelicalese, and have a preexisting platform of nonfiction Church Ministry —
(Job announcement is interrupted by static, which pops erratically and ominously. It is finally interrupted by a moan and a snarl, then a husky, snarling voice like Darkseid.)
“The dragons are still watching.”
After my two-part rebuttal against frequent calls for Christian writers to target only secular readers (Why we should write fiction for Christians), it occurred to me that since C.S. Lewis wrote about stealing past “watchful dragons” who guard against dull, familiar guises, similar shields remain firmly in place. But they may be formed by an entirely new set of stigmas.
These words from Lewis’s essay On Stories are among his most-quoted phrases, especially among the Christian-visionary reading/writing community. After Lewis had already begun exploring the pictures he had long had in mind for stories like The Chronicles of Narnia — and was not trying simply to write Christianity-promoting propaganda — it nevertheless occurred to him that these new fairy-tale-like stories could actually fulfill another purpose:
I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which paralyzed much of my own religion since childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But suppose casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past the watchful dragons? I thought one could.
Yet I suggest one should read Lewis’s Meditation in a Toolshed essay to, er, shed more light on this. He describes standing in the dark structure, from outside looking at a beam of light. This Lewis called Contemplation. But when he moved to look along the light itself, and saw what the light revealed outside the walls — that was a more personal experience: Enjoyment.
So what did these Imagination Dragons watch for, to reject if they saw it? The sense of must-do Contemplation. Any presentation of truth that sounded “religious,” which caused a reflexive religious mode to switch on, but cut off resulting imagination and Godly joy. “Sunday school associations,” jargon, plastic decorations — many of which resulted, I would suggest, from previous attempts to use art and creativity to help truth go down more easily. They may have engaged the mind, or even supported intellectual Contemplation as Lewis would term it. But they didn’t empower self-forgetting, God-enamored Enjoyment.
What was Lewis’s response? Don’t fight against the Imagination Dragons. Instead, remove all the bulky armor once originally intended to keep Truths poignant, but which now weighed them down. Instead, dress Truths in new vestments of blazing color; let them run freely, and dance past those dragons — powered by God’s grace, creativity, and Enjoyment.
Many Christians are still called to do the same. And those who grew up with stilted religious mindsets, whose forebears wrongly severed creativity, joy, and natural emotions (“religious affections,” Jonathan Edwards called them) from Truth — all such readers need new stories, songs, art, and more, to battle their Imagination Dragons watching for religious trappings. Yet might we forget about another species of watchful dragons?
Some of these dragons guard against supposed evils in stories, but contrary to many writers’ rhetoric (including my own!) refuting that approach, most of these Dragons simply ignore many visionary stories because they seem useless. I’ve seen it done. And they hardly realize they’re doing it. It’s axiomatic. Instinct. Their perceived light that reveals all other beliefs.
They do not guard their imaginations against pietistic platitudes, but the opposite: against anything that doesn’t seem Useful, or Serve a Moral Purpose, or Help My Kids Learn Values.
Am I saying morality and values aren’t important? By no means! But they, along with truth study, reading Scripture rightly, the very Gospel call of repentance and faith itself, and Godly imagination, are all means to other ends: eternal joy in the One Who saved us for His glory.
Already, though, Christian visionary writers have a few battle strategies against Churchian Dragons. I believe many of them are wrong or, at best, severely limited in their effects:
- Ignore them. “I’m shaking the dust off my sandals; if they won’t listen, I shall go to the Gentiles.” But as the previous series argued, that neglects the Bible’s call to love Christ’s bride the Church, and others’ calls to write stories for her benefit.
- Taunt them. “I Art in your general direction! Your mother was a legalist and your father smelt of fundamentalism!” Some may hear the traces of truth in those taunts, and turn away from the pietistic platitudes — and I hope to Christ and more-Biblical life practice. But more likely, this just makes the Dragons roar and spit more fire.
- Write for Churchian Dragons anyway.
Naturally, I prefer the last option. But it can be a trap. And I think we see many authors seem to fall into that trap, because even many people who buy Christian visionary novels are doing it Mostly For the Children or out of moralistic pragmatism.
Are most people seeking books with this question: Is this visionary novel well-written and based organically in truth, to help me draw closer to God through Enjoyment of story? Some do! Thank God for them. But one can guess the likelier motive: I want a nice book that does not contain Objectionable Material but will instead have Moral Values, and reinforces for (select one: myself / my kids) all the Useful Things we need to be better Christians.
Churchian Dragons: 1. Christian Visionary Authors: well, 0.1.
But does today’s score even matter if many visionary authors are playing on the Moralistic Pragmatism-owned field anyway?
Of course, some Christian authors have gotten past the Churchian Dragons’ watch. Lewis himself did. And let’s face it: many authors — whom some doctrine-thumping Christians like me may like to tweak — have been successful with their fantastic stories. Frank Peretti. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Maybe also those guys who did the Superbook series.
But maybe they got past the Dragons only because their works were considered Useful.
That’s why I wonder if Christian visionary authors have really been very successful at all.
How do we change this?
How might one do as Lewis did, in reverse, and thus cast God-glorifying story Enjoyments themselves into imaginary worlds, strip them of their negative associations — “uselessness” and moral-pragmatism slavery — and make them appear in their true potency?
One of the best ways to begin discerning solutions would be to survey those who’ve already stolen past the Churchian Dragons. How did they do it? And do we want to do the same? In some cases: no, we don’t. But might we want consciously to put on that disguise? Or at least avoid the appearance of flagrantly anti-Churchian Dragon behavior, such as banging on our thick metal “We’re All About Story As Enjoyment and Not Just Propaganda”™ brand armor?
Names and more thoughts, next week, in Stories for Christians 2: Stealing past Churchian Dragons. Before then, what are your ideas, or suggestions of authors who’ve done this well?
P.S.: Also see tomorrow’s article from one author who’s well-known for meeting Christian readers where they are, in his fiction and nonfiction, while also challenging them to move beyond moralism into Enjoyment, now and anticipating the New Earth: Randy Alcorn.