Three groups of readers possibly forgotten by Christian-speculative blogs, mentioned last week, are challenging. Christian-speculative fans may feel tempted to give up on them.
- Parents. They may include “moms who want things child-friendly, sanitized and safe.”
- The “Lewis/Tolkien or bust” crowd. “They want Christian fiction to match the best in secular fiction, despite there being at least 40 + year difference in the age of the genre.”
- Church folk. They prize safety and tend to dislike challenges.
D.M. Dutcher noted these annoyances in a followup blog, apparently an expansion of this comment. Others noted potential hardships in trying to “discuss reading as an activity” (Austin Gunderson) or a shortage of topics related to reading (novelist Morgan L. Busse).
What do we mean by ‘talk about reading’?
In asking if blogs, websites, and groups overemphasize writing-related topics …
I don’t mean: story structure, characters, emotion, truth, beauty, realism, creativity.
(Surely anyone who “enjoys” a story without exploring these buys cheaper/imposter “joy.”)
I do mean: this week’s personal wordcount, contests for writers, grammar peculiarities, Chicago Manual of Style changes, agents, publishing, proposals, pitches, provincialism.
To compare with another Christian “industry,” it’s those last terms that may resemble theologians exclusively talking shop about obscure symbolism, Greek language nuances, or exact translation matrixes rather than first discussing Biblical doctrine-applied-to-real-life. Yes, we should discuss all of Scripture. But first we must receive the Story, enjoy the Story, ask of the Story, delight in the Story. Isn’t the same true of manmade stories?
Perhaps before discussing potentially other neglected readers, we must first check to make sure we’re not neglecting genuine reading ourselves.
Lex Keating suggested an excellent image that reminds me of an earlier metaphor I tried:
Keeping the reader-only mentality is hard, especially when trying to deepen a discussion that requires elements of critical thinking that are typically stored in the “writer’s toolbox” section of the average human’s education.
Ah, a writer’s toolbox. It echoes this earlier question. Do writers see other stories, starting with the Bible, primarily as worshipful-art first to receive and enjoy? Or do we tend to see them as tools to use for our own arts and crafts, parts to salvage and use for practical goals?
In receiving a story, we lose ourselves in it. If possible, we’re not even thinking of “how can I use this” for some other means — not our children’s enjoyment, not moral instruction, not evangelism, and not even for personal entertainment. Part of this is the storyteller’s job to deliver, and part of this is our jobs as readers, to receive. Often this takes some training. Before we can share beliefs and discuss, we must listen. Before we run, we must breathe.
Of course, our breathing doesn’t always come easily. With the onset of spring, our allergies may be flaring. Maybe we just finished using previous oxygen for a long workout and are feeling winded. Maybe life, the universe, and everything, are sucking air from the room.
This is ultimately about our fight for Biblical humility. It’s the kind of humility that first says, “Not my story, God, but Yours.” 1 Our other stories do matter — but later.
If a story doesn’t lead me to enjoyment — true enjoyment is the same as even subconscious worship of God — it’s likely a poor story. I was concluding this the other day when considering many Christian writers’ or artists’ appeals. Look, some say. I wrote a song about the Gospel. Or, Look, I wrote a fantasy novel, only Christian. Even if these claims are unique (they’re not), I have only this question: will your artistry bring me joy? In that way I gladly admit I’m “selfish.” I should want to gain from your work — to gain Godly enjoyment.
Great stories keep us asking. This alone could power for weeks a city of reader-centric discussions on blogs and in person. What about this character? Did you see this plot twist coming? How did this theme grip you personally? Would you read this again? This is not “writicist” shop-talk (though it has implications for writing craft). It’s thinking like a reader, responding to the story-receiving and -enjoying by engaging the author and other readers.
This ties back to humbly-receiving, and handily completes the R.E.A.D. acronym (which will surely stay with you for perhaps seconds after this megachurch sermon). Story’s purpose isn’t “practical” as we often understand it. Story’s purpose is to cause delight — in God the Creator and in others’ creations. If a story doesn’t bring delight, it’s likely a bad story.
That’s what I mean by saying, Let’s first discuss reading before we discuss writing.
Next week: how we might encourage those skills in others. This may help deal with those annoyances of parents, the “Lewis/Tolkien or bust” crowd, church people, and others.
- Any talk of receiving other stories is tangential compared with the need to receive God’s Story. ↩