Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Facing the Giant of Christian Art: an oxymoron?

Over on the ACFW loop there was some discussion about the movie Facing the Giants. I’m not going to rehash it here, I haven’t even seen the movie. But it’s an example of a subject that comes up time and again about Christian art. What is it? Does it even exist? Should it? Huge questions that I’m not going to even begin to address.

Pam Meyers posted a link to a Jeffrey Overstreet article at Christianity Today that I thought did an outstanding job of summing up some of the answers to these questions. While he’s talking about movies and movie reviews, I think everything he says applies equally to writing. This quote in particular really resonated with me.

"Sermons have their proper place and purpose, but art is something different. I want to encourage audiences to move beyond simplistic, formulaic gospel lessons into the magnificence of the gospel as it is revealed in the lives of our neighbors, in creation, in history, in aesthetics, in mystery, and in the darkest corners of human experience."

That might be the best quote to explain what I want to accomplish with my writing. And I don’t think I’m alone in that desire.

Later he says:
"And good art cannot be reduced to a simple, extractable message. If your movie leads up to a simple 'Come to Jesus' climax, that may make for an entertaining sermon, but don't ask us to praise it as great storytelling. That's an altar call, not art."

And this:

"I want to see that what is good is lifted up. And I want to see crass and sinful behavior reflected truthfully so that we can see it as unhealthy, and then live our lives with that understanding.

In other words, I am looking for signs of truth, beauty, excellence, and redemption in art. And that means looking closer, not putting on blinders."

Because I write romantic suspense, this is an issue that comes up. How do I portray evil in the world in a way that is truthful and glorifies God? How much to put ‘on scene’? Are there subjects that are off limits? I think the answer will vary from book to book and writer to writer, but the above quote is a good reference point to begin thinking about those questions.

"Many Christians are not comfortable with art that reflects the complexity and the darkness of the world. Many would prefer movies that make them comfortable, or that steer their attentions away from the problems in the world and the rough edges of worldly people. They prefer movies that tell them that Christians are clearly "the good guys" and everybody else, well, they're the bad guys. And they do not discern the difference between portraying/exposing wickedness—and actually condoning wickedness.

They want Christian critics to condemn movies that portray the reality of evil, because dealing with evil is a discomforting, painful, sometimes horrifying process."

This is the one of the issues that has been discussed in the CBA writing circles. Lately there has been something called “the new CBA” as opposed to the traditional, bread-and-butter CBA. The quote above I think embodies what those of us trying to write for “the new CBA” are trying to do and the challenges we are coming up against.

I’m tempted to keep quoting the whole article, so please click over and read it for yourself. For me there was just a ton of stuff to mull over. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too.

Friday, February 23, 2007

And the Winner Is…

Well, we’ll get to that in a minute. First, some congratulations to friend and fellow Misfit, Heather, whose story "Matt and Marnie Sittin' in a Tree. Or Something Like That" is up at Infuze Magazine. Go check it out.

Second, I spent last night at my daughter’s enrichment programs. They put on a Living History Museum. The kids got to pick which historical character they wanted to come dressed as. She chose Amelia Earhart. She wrote a four page report, made a display board, came in costume and answered questions about Amelia’s life. She was one of 19 participants, and the historical figures ranged from Cleopatra to Ronald and Nancy Reagan. There were entertainers, scientists, and political figures. It was so fun to see the different ways the kids chose to present their projects. A few even used computer presentations.

Even better, this was all voluntary participation. This is an enrichment program for homeschoolers where they can do more extracurricular activities like Spanish, dance, drama, chess, intense science units, etc to enrich their homeschooling experience. It’s been a great program for both of my kids. And I was pretty proud of how much work she put into her project and how well she did last night.

Finally, what you all have been waiting for. The winner of Renovating Becky Miller is . . .

Georgiana D!

E-mail me through my contact information on the right and give me your snail mail info so I can get the book out to you. Thanks for playing, everyone.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Welcome Sharon Hinck

Hey everyone. Today I have a guest, Sharon Hinck. She’s the author of the Secret Life of Becky Miller and her latest book, Renovating Becky Miller.

In addition to being a young mom, Becky Miller is a daydreamer. Most recently, she’s been envisioning herself in the happy endings she sees during her weekly movie nights with husband Kevin. But her real life feels more like a broken filmstrip, spinning out of control!

When Becky and her family decide to purchase a rundown farmhouse, Becky pictures a slower, simpler lifestyle in the pastoral countryside. Of course, it doesn’t quite work out like she imagined . . . .

Regular readers of my blog know that I have, um, “adventures.” Sometimes they’re of my kids’ making, sometimes they’re my own. Sometimes they involve home improvement (here too). With that in mind, did the inspiration for Becky Miller come from the collision of motherhood and writing in your own life, or is she strictly imaginary, or some composite?

Friends know that I’m always having adventures – and that went on even before I had children to blame it on! Once we had children, the “adventures” increased exponentially. As did the internal pressures to “get it right.” Becky’s storylines are fictional, but her juggling act is VERY familiar to me.

I love this section: “I was a full time mom. And I loved it. Except when it drove me crazy. My children were magnificent, bewildering creations gifted to me from the Almighty. Except when they were tormenting me like gleeful gargoyles wielding red-hot pokers.” Which made me wonder, how do you juggle being a mom and writer? And have any of your children tried to burn the house down with a toaster while you were writing? (Or is that just me?)

Okay, I have to confess that I’m the one who starts the most fires. I put eggs on to boil then wander off to check my email…and don’t come up for air until the smoke alarm goes off a half-hour later. I’m also entering that wonderful age where I go downstairs to get something, but then can’t remember why I went downstairs. The kids help – by mocking me. I’m always losing my cup of tea (usually where I’ve left it – reheating in the microwave).

I wrestle a lot with the things I’m not good at as a mom, since I’m expending a lot of energy and time in writing. On the other hand, all four of my kids are passionate about the arts – music, drama, writing, photography, composing, singing. We’ve had some great conversations about the challenge of serving God through the arts. So in some ways my artistic life can bring blessing to my parenting life. (But pray for my dear husband – surrounded by a wife and four children who are ALL artists. Poor man. We sure keep his life interesting.)

I haven’t been on the sports booster club for school, but I’ve choreographed school musicals. I didn’t drive for grade-school field trips, but I talked to classes for reading week. I rarely bake cookies, but I listen to my daughter’s plot-threads for her latest story or play piano duets with my son. I’m not measuring up to my picture of “The Good Mom,” but I’m learning that picture can be a harmful myth.

I struggle with that too. One of Becky’s issues is an overloaded schedule that makes her feel like she’s rushing constantly and being pulled in different directions. I think we can all relate to that. Did you come up with any secret solutions while writing this that you’d like to share?

One thing Becky taught me, as I watched her journey in Renovating Becky Miller, is that we take on responsibilities to fix things that aren’t our job to fix. In each situation, we have an opportunity to bring our small part of grace to the needs we see. But that doesn’t mean it’s all up to us to make others happy, or solve every issue. God really is big enough (and the ONLY ONE big enough) to handle the needs we see around us. That spoke to me. I used to see my tiny contributions as failures, since they only helped a little – and didn’t fix the whole problem. Now I’m beginning to see that sometimes God has called me to that one little piece, and He has other people in the body to contribute other pieces.

That's so true and yet so hard for us to remember. I love this part of your bio: ‘My favorite college and community theatre role was as Luisa in “The Fantastiks” where in an opening monologue the character prays, “Please, God, please. Don’t let me be normal.” I think God answered my prayer...’ Writers are some of my favorite people to hang out with because they aren’t normal, because their combination of verbal skills and imagination can create some of the most interesting conversations. What experiences have you had talking with ‘normals’ where they looked at you like you were out of your mind?

Hee hee! Great question. My small group women’s Bible study (affectionately known as The Church Ladies) have informed me that my mind is a weird and scary place. But they encourage me to be who God made me (as a “not normal”) because they’ve been blessed by that. Come to think of it, maybe that’s just because they find it so reassuring to see how much more normal they are by comparison! They DO think it’s weird when I come to our Bible study worried about a character that’s in trouble. I’ll explain that I have to hurry home to finish a scene, because I don’t want to leave the character in that dilemma for too long.

Generally they give me a cup of tea and pat my shoulders, and remind me that my characters are fictional.

I’ve worked in the arts all my life, and there is certainly a heightened degree of “not normal” that goes along with the sideways view of life and the desire to express deep things. However, I’ll let you in on a secret. Each of us is so unique, and reflects such specific and amazing aspects of God’s nature – that no one is normal. And I’m delighted by that.

Good, then I'm in good company. Thanks for being with us, Sharon.

Thank YOU so much for inviting me to stop by! This was a really fun chat! I hope your kids stop setting your toaster on fire – but I hope life never gets too normal for you.
Hugs, Sharon

Jen here. If you want to win an autographed copy of Renovating Becky Miller leave a comment and I'll draw names next Friday. You can also leave a comment even if you don't want to win ;)

Schedule Update

Just to let you all know tomorrow I'll have an interview here with Sharon Hinck, author of Secret Life of Becky Miller and Renovating Becky Miller. She'll also stop by to answer questions and I'll be giving away a copy of her latest book. So stop by tomorrow and make Sharon feel welcome.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Blame Michelle

Ah, I guess meme's are good for giving me something to blog about. This one is courtesy of Michelle.

A - Available or Married? Married.

B - Best Moment? Wow, hard to say. But I'm going with the birth of my son, little Calvin, because he wasn't suppose to survive the pregnancy.

C - Cake or Pie? Pie -- Cake, preferably chocolate. Maybe a flourless torte with a ganache icing. Hmm, I wonder if I have any.

D - Drink of choice? Diet Coke, a decent wine, and either Perrier or San Pellegrino.

E - Essential Item? My Mac PowerBook G4. Even if the lid won't stay shut. Sigh.

F - Favorite Color? Blue. Periwinkle, to be specific.

G - Gummi Bears or Worms? Bears, but really I'm not fond of either. Too sweet and they stick in your teeth.

H - Hometown? Highland, Calif. Major points to anyone who's even heard of it. More points if you know where it is.

I - Indulgence? A hot bubble bath, a glass of wine, and a good book.

J - January or February? February. In January I'm still recovering from the holidays. It's nothing personal.

K - Kids & names? "Sissy" and "Calvin". Sorry, not giving you their real names.

L - Life is incomplete without? Books.

M - Marriage Date? September 2, 1995.

N - Number of Siblings? Two younger brothers.

O - Oranges or apples? Oranges. But I grew up surrounded by orange groves, so that's kind of a given. Ever been in a rotten orange fight? I don't recommend it.

P - Phobias/Fears... Kites (kidding). Heights, elevators, and spiders.

Q - Favorite Quotation? "For God so loved the world . . ."

R - Reason to Smile? My kids. Always.

S - Season? Summer. It's warm. Okay, in Arizona it's blisteringly hot. Still. . .

T - Tag three people! Oh good grief. Everybody's already been tagged. How about this? Tag yourself.

U - Unknown fact about me: If it's unknown, do I even know it? And if I do, why would I want to share it? There's probably a good reason it's unknown.

V - Vegetable you hate? Beans. In any way, shape, or form.

W - Worst habit? Probably worrying. But I'm getting better.

Where's X? Because there could be question on X-rays. I've had a lot of those.

Y - Your favorite food? Right now chocolate covered strawberries sound wonderful . . .

Z - Zodiac? Cancer.

Monday, February 05, 2007

To Goal or Not to Goal

Okay, it’s February, a little late normally to be talking about goals. But then again, I’m not much for rules . . . And lately I’ve been thinking a lot about goals. I normally make goals for myself, both short term and long term. But this year I haven’t been real motivated to get any done. Usually my short to medium term goals go on a white board above my desk. But up until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t even know where that whiteboard was after our move. Now, I need to find the whiteboard cleaner so I can clean it and then figure out what I want to put up there. Maybe that should be my first goal.

I like this blog entry from Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt on goal setting. It’s worth perusing if you’re interested in the topic. The points he makes that have worked for me are: reward yourself for hitting your goals, write them down, keep them limited, and keep them specific. I love this in particular.

I know my limitations and am very much aware that I can’t accomplish what I believe I am supposed to do without God’s help. (If you can accomplish an objective without God’s help, you’re not thinking big enough.)

Here's why I like goals. It's hard to hit something you're not aiming at. In fact, it rarely happens. Plus, it helps you make decisions on where you spend your time, talent, and resources. If you want to write a best-seller but you spend all your time painting, something isn't adding up.

That ties in a lot with what I've been thinking lately about who God designed me to be. It's not necessarily what other people think I've been designed to be. So as a result, I'm thinking of starting a “To NOT do” list. I think I first heard of this idea from Andy Stanley's The Next Generation Leader. And I think Michael Hyatt brought it up recently on his blog, but I can't be sure about much if I have to rely on my memory. Anyhow, they are things I’m not going to do anymore. This does fit in nicely with goals, because to achieve some goals you have to give some stuff up. While I’d love to put house cleaning on my “To NOT do” list, I think that may have to wait awhile. But I am going to be delegating more chores to my kids. I am not going to be guilted into doing things that don’t apply to my goals anymore. And I’m going to give up a few activities that don’t relate to my goals.

As soon as I find that whiteboard cleaner.

So anyone want to share their goals? Or their To NOT do list?