One of the things I’m most grateful for in my life is how personal God is with me. He loves me, spends time with me, and talks with me. When my character needs work, if I need something, or am not sure what to do, He is always faithful to coach, correct, guide, and provide.
I love this about God, but this is not the only reason my faith exists. I am also called to help others, for all of the goodness He pours into me to pour out to others, and not in passive ways.
There are three main sources that have been feeding into this for me recently.
The first is from the Bible Project. Recently on their podcast, they did a series on justice, laying out how the Bible views it and what, from a Biblical standpoint, it means. One of the things that most caught my attention was the “quartet of the vulnerable,” that is, widows, orphans, the poor, and foreigners. These are groups of people called out again and again in the Bible as those that God’s people need to be vigilantly watching out and caring for. I don’t have the time or expertise to explain more about that here, but if you have time, I highly recommend checking out the podcast or looking up some of their videos on YouTube.
The second source comes from research I’m doing for the book I’m working on now. I’ve mentioned this one before, but suffice to say one of the main characters has escaped from slavery, a topic that as a middle-class white person, I feel severely unequipped to approach. I am definitely the type of person who has avoided uncomfortable topics in the past, using emotional fragility, optimism, and a fear of being overwhelmed as an excuse, but doing research on this topic–and opening myself up to learning more about other areas of continuing injustice today–has definitely been eye-opening, both in calling out destructive habits and attitudes in myself (hiding being one of them) and in calling my attention to the seriousness of some of these issues even today.
The third source comes from my friend Alma. She was recently involved in a project called Facing Blue, an anti-sex-trafficking arts movement started as a result of a young woman’s murder. They recently put on a show–a mixture of music, poetry, video, and dance, and I was really challenged by what I saw, not only in gaining a greater awareness of the issue and how it affects my city but also in seeing many young artists use their skills for a purpose greater and more needed than I typically use mine.
So, what does all of this mean?
Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I can think of at least a few things.
First, it means no longer being complacent with just using my faith for me. The more I get to know God, the more clear it becomes to me that Christianity is not a passive faith. This certainly doesn’t mean using aggression, but it does mean confronting evil, naming it, and doing what I can to end it, in myself, and in the world around me. For example, calling out the dehumanizing effects of human trafficking or abuse, spending time with, valuing, and loving the vulnerable, and advocating for them when and where I can.
Second, it means not hiding from the world and doing research where necessary. As a genre fiction writer, it’s easy for me to hide behind fantasy, either as a human or in my work. It’s easy for me to say that I can just make up whatever I want or dismiss deep, recurring issues with a Trek-ian veneer of progress, but the longer I’ve written, the more I’ve come to realize that simply isn’t true. Human nature and its often disastrous effects are not something I can responsibly gloss over just because I’m not writing about a time and place common to Earth, and sometimes getting it right takes research and thought beyond what I’ve traditionally given.
Third, it means just being more aware of the world around me. It’s easy to get knotted up in myself, to put others after myself, and to ignore what’s hard. But that’s not how Jesus lived, and it’s not how I want to live either. It’s good to be grateful, but I also want to be generous and kind and compassionate to those in need. I want to use what God’s given me for more than just myself.
There are a few caveats I would like to point out, however.
First, I don’t think this is ultimately going to change what I write, at least on a nuts and bolts level. I think a trap I’ve fallen into before is thinking that the only way to use my writing for others is by one of the general “God-approved” categories I think of when I think of Christian writing, e.g. blogs, devotionals, poems, or heavily moralized fiction.
This, I will admit, is an unjust representation of what Christians actually write.
But more importantly, it’s a lie. One of the coolest parts of Facing Blue’s recent event is that it incorporated projects the artists involved were already working on. And I think the same can be said for what I work on now. I don’t have to cram a Jesus character into my writing somewhere, make sure each story confronts an issue, or make sure everyone gets saved in the end. I can just write what I normally do, well, better, more justly, more…truthfully to the characters and the world around them/us.
I also don’t think these new realizations need to (or should) change my calling. I think in the past, I’ve had some pretty narrow ideas of what “good Christians” do (either vocationally or with their free time), with disastrous results. Now, it feels more like a broadening of scope, or perhaps a sharpening of focus, rather than a change of direction. And while I don’t doubt there might be some additions or shifts in my daily life, I don’t think it means I have to drop everything and to be a missionary or spend all my free time volunteering. It could be as simple as shifting what I attend, listen to, or watch, or how I approach each.
Lastly, I don’t think it means despairing. In digging a little deeper into some of the research I’ve been doing, I have been grieved by some of what I’ve seen or found. The capacity for evil that humans (or the powers behind them) have is enormous, and when we give into it, on any level, it is a tragedy. That’s part of why I’ve tried shutting it out so much in the past. But in being willing to acknowledge some of this more, in participating in some of the grief my Father must feel, I must also remember that He is in charge and though He sees and feels and understands more of the despair, pain, and heartache that happens in this world than I ever could, He doesn’t give up hope and has promises yet to fulfill.
I’ve included the music video for Alma’s latest video “Hearsay,” featured at Facing Blue’s event, below. I think the lyrics are powerful and beautiful, and I encourage you to check it out. Her song “New Nation” is another great one that I think fits well.
Edit 2/28/2018: In thinking back on this post, I just wanted to make something clear about how I view Christian art, mainly in that I don’t think every piece of Christian art has to directly address some kind of issue or have some kind of great message or moral to be good art or “useful” to God, and in fact would say that’s a view I am categorically against. The main benefit or growth I expect to see from this in my writing is a more mature framework from which to approach what I choose to write, rather than shifting purposes, content, or goals, and I just wanted to make this clear to avoid feeding into any afore-mentioned ideas of what “good Christians” do or should write about, either in genre or purpose. Write freely and well, friends! Thank you!
So, how about you? Does any of this speak to you? When you’ve felt called to do more, how have you processed it and in what ways has it changed how you live? Any suggestions or tips as I continue to work this out?