Perhaps it is the border between summer and fall, those dangling days at August’s end and September’s beginning, that brings to mind the way we crossover, emigrate into a story as we turn the pages or swipe a screen.
A story invites us to cross a border and enter a magical mystical land, a promising, tantalizing world worthy of exploration and delight. It is a private estate, a personal place, intimate, shared at most with one other voice – the author, maybe also a reader reading aloud. A good story creates what John Gardner called “a vivid and continuous dream.” Novelists are urged by their coaches, instructors, and mentors to avoid at all costs waking the reader, pulling her to the surface of the dream. We want to draw her deeper and deeper into the dream of story, into its heart, to feel its heartbeat.
Those who write stories (authors), those who make those stories available (publishers), and those who promote those stories (critics, media), control our culture. So in the twentieth century, in the postwar euphoria of peace and the explosion of pharmaceuticals, with the resulting sexual revolution and its triumph of narcissism over sacrificial love, stories embraced the worldview of self, filling the vacuum left with the fading of faith and the dilution of belief.
Such despair lived in earlier fiction to be sure, but postwar peace and rising living standards pushed the need for God to the boundaries of our culture, banning religion in art and academia. Somewhere in the sixties and seventies Christians lost the culture, primarily, it appears, because they lost their creative voice in the public square. Christians no longer offered “a vivid and continuous dream,” a hopeful story for the present day. The dream had been replaced by a nightmare or, at the least, sleeplessness haunted by ghouls.
Today memories of that good dream are (almost) only memories. Even so, it is never too late to redeem the time, to recognize story’s power. For in a story, particularly one set in the present, we can create a dream not only vivid and continuous, but one we can breathe life into. And only when Christian story writers – novelists for the most part – return, crossing the border into our culture and bringing with them the culture’s rightful inheritance, its faith-full characters and plots of hope, only then, will our public square sing once again.
And so as I watch Christian faith and practice pushed to the borders of society by an overweening Supreme Court or other misguided fiat, I see a clear and present danger to churches and their related institutions (hospitals and schools) as faith is expelled from the public square. It is a world that countenances the selling of baby parts, that traffics in pornography, that is drugged by violence and sexual deviancy. It is a world that silences speech and poisons academia. It is a world that pushes propaganda.
Let us embrace stories of hope, stories that remind us of the definitions of love, marriage, and family, of our humanity, of who we are as creatures of the Creator. Let’s encourage authors to create heroes who challenge us to be brave and selfless, characters we can emulate, and character we can demand from our leaders. Let us call lies lies and truth true when we see and hear them. In such stories we can live for a time, waking from the dream as better men and women, people with a clearer vision.
As Christian writers, let us infuse the goodness and love of Christ into our culture. Let us rebirth our world, through story’s power. Today, we are nearly aliens in our own land, nearing the borders. It’s not too late for publishers and promoters to lead us back into our nation’s heart. Authors cannot do this alone. All we can do is create the dream, the vivid and continuous dream of heaven, and invite readers in, one at a time, into the magical mystical land of story to turn the page or swipe the screen, to dwell happily for a time.