When life feels out of control and the news too heavy, I find myself drawn to one of two places: the library or the woods (or the San Diego version of the woods which is chaparral). All that to say, you better believe that your girl has been devouring books of late. In a world that is fractured, in a church that is increasingly fragmented, and in a culture that is fragile, fiction has proven a sweet place of solace for my soul.
When I say solace, I do not mean escape. Good fiction might pull us away from our lives for a few hours into a literary world, but it is intended to plant us back in our places changed with new perspective. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of times when I have sought to escape from heaviness or problematic realities into a good book, but the best books don’t let me run away from reality. They patch me back up, pack my proverbial bag with perspectives, and send me back into my real world either slightly or significantly different.
Story can be salve. Story can provide a common table at which people who would otherwise have no shared experience can sit down and chat. Story allows us to travel to other times and cultures even when a travel ban keeps our feet grounded and quarantine orders keep us homebound. Story reminds us that we are not the only ones to experience chaos, confusion, and confounding times. Story provides an objective, yet subjective fodder for discussion in a polemical, divisive times where shouting matches and online punching matches have stolen the stage.
Story cannot and should not ever replace the Scriptures for centrality in the life of a believer. For the Scriptures offer the Story from which all our other stories derive their power. We crave story because we were made in the image of the Grand Storyteller. At their best, stories on earth are distant echoes of the story written into our souls and into which our souls are written. Good fiction is not to be feared.
Fiction as Fodder
I hesitate to join into the conversation around Critical Race Theory in the church, as I am sure many of you do. I am not an expert at sociology. While I dabble in theology, I am no C.S. Lewis or G.K Chesterton or Malcolm Muggeridge. The debate is overwhelming and loud from where I sit. However, I can pick up a good book and enter into a story about race and racial divisions. Through story, I can experience empathy and outrage, even if I have not experienced the same thing as another. Through story, I can feel the weight of complex problems even if I do not know what the exact solution may be.
Two particular stories have been shaping and helping me in regards to race in the past few weeks: Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black and Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country.
Both allowed me to experience through story tiny slivers of slavery in the Caribbean and pre-apartheid life in South Africa. Neither book coached me in how to approach CRT or how to move forward in healing amidst the fresh racial fractures in the American church, as neither directed addressed it. However, each author invited me on a journey into experiences I have never had and taught me to see the world a little differently. They indirectly helped me learn to ask better questions about race and experience.
I don’t know if their authors are believers in Christ. But Christ used them to remind me of the brokenness and beauty of His church. He used them to remind of me the nuanced complexity and the depth of the results of the Fall of mankind. They may not lead me all the way to Christ, but they grow my love for Him as the incarnate solution to the problem of sin in all its grotesque and embodied forms.
What are you reading these days? How does the Word of God help you sift through the stories you read?
End nerdy “Fiction has a place in the life of faith” plug.