I’m not responsible for your salvation.
I’m sure you consider that a good thing. As a writer, I’m responsible for my characters’ salvation but even that can get sticky. How many of us like message films and books? I’m not talking about self-help books or how-to videos. I’m talking about entertainment that aims to convince us of something.
Heaven exists because a cute little boy says so. Or God doesn’t exist at all because an unhappy scientist says so.
Women are better kick boxers than men. (Every super hero movie with Scarlett Johannson — she does wear the Spandex well)
People have no control over their sexual desires — and why should they? (Most movies about men and women)
All violence throughout history was caused by white men. (Dances with Wolves and a host of others — I loved Dances anyway because of the soundtrack)
People with low IQ’s are better parents than white women. ( I Am Sam — worst movie ever made, but totally worth watching as a dark comedy)
Great art always conveys a message but the art that rises to the top does it with subtlety. The artistic outcome satisfies on a deeper level that taps into our common humanity.
Art that has at its center a desire to convince and cajole is limiting, propagandizing and not satisfying for those of us interested in something more than just gluing ourselves to a movement or, to be more blunt, a cult.
As a Christian, I very rarely read “Christian” fiction in the modern sense based on its reputation for being fluffy. Even the colors of the Amish romances don’t appeal to me (though some may be quite good). I just don’t want to read about people who don’t cuss sometimes (yes, I’m being unfair since I’ve never gotten past the covers).
I don’t want to be protected from the world. Jesus didn’t play that way, so why should I?
The reason I admire a movie like GLORY, for instance, (if you haven’t seen it you should) over a movie like 12 Years a Slave is that the characters in GLORY grapple with big ideas, big prejudices and big emotions yet each and every character invites us in and asks us who we are and how we would react in similar situations. The acting, cinematography and soundtrack elevate this movie to art. We leave with questions, not easy answers.
Readers here know I’m still getting over reading WAR AND PEACE. Tolstoy may have been trying to convince me that great leaders have no free will or many other things, but he left me with more questions than answers. He left me feeling I’d lived an alternative life in the shoes of others.
I try to write, in my humble way, not to convince the reader of my novels to become a Christian or to become an activist or to become anything at all. My goal is first to entertain and then perhaps to lead the reader to see in another person the chance to question assumptions and exercise compassion for those people who are valued just as much as you and I by our maker, but who may not be members of the same groups as we are.
Experiencing or producing great art (or even lesser art that leaves us with questions to explore) and living on this earth offer far more questions than easy answers.
A curiosity seeker who wanted to catch Jesus in his words asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” when told that he should love his neighbors as himself.
Neighbors and characters ask more questions. They don’t pelt us with their answers. They may offer opinions. They may debate. They may cause us to question our own assumptions.
How many times have I won an argument or convinced someone to change by yelling at them or by wearing a pin that announces my strident desire to be change (translation: to control others)?
“God acts in history and in your and my brief histories, not as the puppeteer who … works the strings but rather as the great director who no matter what role fate casts us in conveys to us … how we can play those roles in a way to enrich and ennoble and hallow the whole vast drama of things.” CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE
*** Featured Image: Detail from Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio
Do you disagree? Do you enjoy message art? I’d love to know your thoughts.