One of my heroes died a few days ago. Ray Bradbury wrote at least 27 novels and over 600 short stories, according to the LA Times. For me, it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d only written a few words. He imbued his writing with such awe and wonder, such poetic sensibility that I have remained fascinated by it from the first word I read until today.
I still vividly recall my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Sweatt, reading “The Small Assassin” to our class. This seems like an odd choice for a class in a small fundamental Baptist school, but it was perfect for us. We sat on the edges of our seats, amazed at what we heard. As soon as I could, I got a copy of the story from Mr. Sweatt and spent the rest of the day reading through it. It was a book titled The October Country, and it included several classically creepy tales, such as “The Dwarf” and “The Homecoming”. I read it a dozen times. It was after this that I vowed to become a writer. It has only taken me 30 years to actually follow through on that promise.
So, why don’t we write as believers in Christ. Sure, there are hundreds of Christian books published each year. So I guess what I really mean is, why don’t we write like a Ray Bradbury? Maybe I’m a bit elitist, but while Christian Living books often have complex, vivid writing, much of Christian Fiction is one dimensional and full of pat answers. It hardly ever reflects real life or contains any tension to carry it along. There are some notable exceptions with Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and even Tim LaHaye’s and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind series. These books contain tension, but deal with themes and ideas that fit into more esoteric categories than just plain fiction. Where are the stories that deal in a complex and subtle way with every day issues like financial indebtedness, growing up, death, addiction, and the like? Where is the poetic sensibility in Christian Fiction, the tension, the complexity that we so often see in our secular counterparts?
When I think about the most complex Christian stories I’ve read, I think more about C. S. Lewis than Janette Oke and Francine Rivers. Those authors meet the needs of many Christian readers, but they don’t seem to tell new stories that stretch the genre in the same way that Lewis did. I love to read Lewis, Tolkein, and Chesterton, but those men have passed into history. Someone needs to take up their mantle, to push contemporary Christian writing up to to the level of the classics. Who will do this?
The answer is, we will. I’m compelled to write not because I believe I’ll be a more complex, interesting writer than others, but because we all need to write to find that person who will. For too long, I’ve been content to sit back and let others tell me their stories. It is time to write stories of my own. If no one reads them or responds to them, that’s okay. At least I will have practiced an important discipline that helped me grow in Christ. For this reason, I encourage you to tell your stories as well.
I often tell my students that “Writing is therapy.” I believe that. Write, and you will understand yourself and your place in God’s plan more deeply and fully. If, along the way, you pen a classic, then that is a bonus. You’ll have given the world something joyous and sublime. But write, either way.
Peace of Christ,