What’s It All For? Thoughts on God, Art and Purpose

I’m sitting in a coffee shop, going through a binder of notes, and my mind wanders. I got a new client this week.

This is good, right? Yes.

“And God saw that this was good….very good.”

But this project’s a Christian novel for a change, and it’s really put me on the reflective. And I don’t want to say too much, because sometimes it’s a small world out there online, and I wouldn’t dare the publisher that gave me the opportunity to find me ungrateful.

But maybe it’s good that it’s come at this time, because five years ago, even two years ago, I wouldn’t have wanted to do it. I would have balked at being relegated to the “Christian ghetto” of the art world.

But since then, I’ve written a lot of novels, and quite frankly…it’s been a lot of compromise. A year ago, I would have said that it’s all part of the job. We live in a fallen world, and if you want to participate in the cultural conversation, you have to go where the people are.

I would have busted out the three views of H. Richard Niebuhr…”Christ against culture,” “Christ above culture,” and “Christ within culture”…and I would have defended my position that Christ transcends our ideas of culture, and therefore can be expressed within it. I might have said something really snooty like, “I wouldn’t serve a God that can’t be expressed with the cultural mediums of a given time. ”

When I was a little kid, the “Christian rock debates” were in full swing, and my dad was a guitarist, so these things were often dinner table conversations. There was a band that said something like that in a magazine, and it was the shot that heard ’round the world. (Or at least through American Christendom at the time). But, I always secretly thought it sounded super cool…like somehow I could choose what God was or wasn’t….

…..God in our own image…

I would have quoted Paul, who said, “I have become all things to all people, so that by all means possible, I might save some.” (I Cor. 9:22).

It’s an oft-quoted verse, but I found it years ago, all on my own.I was 22 and in a deconstructing phase in my faith.

(By the way, I know deconstructive Christianity is all the rage now. But my take on it is that deconstructing faith is a natural progression as we move from “glory to glory.” We can’t ever have it “all right,” in terms of our faith, at least not while we’re on this earth. So, we have times when we throw out everything we think we know about God, and start anew. It’s an ever-changing life-cycle of knowing God. It’s just…this generation is doing it in a more radical, intellectualized way, given that we have culture literally screaming at us from our pockets).

But back to me at 22–when that verse jumped off the page at me, it felt like a watershed moment to me. You know those moments, when you have an odd sort of feeling, like you are just now coming alive for the first time in your life?

There in black and white, Paul had just given me permission to fully participate in the “secular world.” Which, at 22, I thought my life turn out something like The Devil Wears Prada, or some other new-adult-chick-lit nonsense Ha! I wish my life had panned out that exciting.

(Publisher’s secret: I’ve written a few new-adult-chick-lit nonsense books now. And, publishers know that no one’s life is that exciting. They specifically plan these books so that the reader can, “self-identity” and transcend their ordinary lives for a bit. Some of these publishers even have rules that they have to have an “HEA” –Happily Ever After ending– because the reader or better termed, “customer” needs to feel they vicariously triumphed, and got the guy or whatever, so that they buy more of the author’s books).

But I latched on to that verse so tightly that if I would have thought of it, I would have had it tattooed on my forehead. (Thank God I’m deathly afraid of needles. It took half a bottle of Jack Daniels to get through the half hour on the one tattoo I do have…)

But, now, having been where that looks like…I don’t know. Being “all things to all people,” doesn’t usually work out that way. It usually works out all people being all things to you…and God the ever quiet character fading into the shadows.

In particular, working with secular publishing companies, they want what sells. And, what sells, is witchcraft, pseudo-witchcraft fantasy novels, or romance. Which, I love a good “girl meets boy” story.

But, the requirements often come with what they call a “steam level.” These can range from “sweet,” meaning implied sex…cut to the curtains while the music plays sort of things. All the way to “high steam,” which is unapologetically explicit. Sweet romances are hard to come by. Honestly, high steam is what sells, and that’s what the publishers want.

So, is writing that being all things to all people? Of course not, and I’ve turned down those jobs on the regular, and literally paid the price.

When I was a teenager, I went to a Christian writers conference, and they had a couple of very famous Christian authors there. One of them, I won’t tell you her name, admitted that early on in her career, she had done these kinds of novels under a pseudonym, and she was ashamed of those days.

I’ve remembered that recently. Is that the price to pay for experience? I don’t know.

And I think of where I really want to be. I’d love to be in those writers rooms at Netflix, or any of the big networks, writing the things that make people talk. Yet, if I have a difficult time writing a love scene, how could I handle writing a sophisticated television show?

I don’t know. My 22 year old self would have said that God would give you grace to engage with the culture. But, shall we sin because we are not under law, but under grace?

Ethics are a lot messier when they’re no longer theoretical.

But, now, here I am, safely back where I belong. Writing Christian novels. Don’t get me wrong, I am in awe that God has given me an opportunity to use my gifts for financial gain. But, there’s a part of me that’s standing at the window, looking outside, going, “I want to be where the people are…” ….Cue Ariel with a fork…

(And if I’m truly honest, I probably would sell my voice in exchange for legs, and a crack at a super hot prince with a yacht. Then again, that dude had some serious mother issues…so maybe not).

Today, I downloaded a bestselling novel, one that had been turned into a blockbuster movie. And, I read the first sentence, and I cringed with jealousy. I could write that. It’s not that hard. Yet, I’m not in that position.

And since I’m not, I wonder, what it’s all for? Why am I doing this for anyway? I became a writer because I believed I had something to say to the world. I fought tooth and nail, kicking and screaming, blood, sweat and tears, to get even this far.

And that’s the truth, man. That’s the truth.

Yet, I wonder, if I’m having any impact on the world. Is what I’m writing changing anyone’s life? I’m certain it isn’t. So, then what’s it all for?

I’m reminded of an old DC Talk song. The narrator is sitting down to write a song, and is pondering his purpose for doing so. He says, “Is this one for the people? Is this one for the Lord? Or do I simply serenade for things I must afford?”

Virtually everything I write is for “the things I must afford.”

What’s it all for? I’ve given everything for my career as a writer, and I believed, and I still believe, that it is why God put me on this earth. Yet, why, am I still in the shadows? I’ve put in the years, and I’ve put in the study. And yet, why has God not entrusted me with a platform to change lives?

I don’t know.

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