f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Even Easier Than Making Your Characters Catholic!

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Even Easier Than Making Your Characters Catholic!

So you want to write a novel that dives deep into the holy waters of faith? You want to tackle the hard questions that have stumped very smart men and women from timeinfinitum? You want to get back at the church that hurt you? You want to show God’s goodness as it can be manifested through two hours on a Sunday?

So what do you do?

You make your main protagonist/antagonist (depending on your mood) a man of the cloth. Or woman of the cloth, if your denomination allows for such things. You sign Bob Brenda up for seminary, saddle them with an M. Div. and a parish and then step back and let all havoc break loose because churches, like families, offer an astounding opportunity for dysfuctionality and a window through which we can see humans operating at their best and worst.

If you choose to go down this pastoral path, however, you face a certain number of obstacles.

First, it’s very obvious and very subject to cliché. Paint your priest a shade too black and he’s just another in a long line of jerks who hide behind a collar, wielding their faith as a club. A touch too white and you’ve got a pious pastor whose faith seems unreachable by most of us. Too questioning and you’re drowning in the somewhat self-pitying morass of a precious crisis of faith.

Two more recent novels that don’t have either of these problems are Leaving Ruin by Jeff Berryman and, as you might guess, The Passion of Reverend Nash.

Berryman avoids the problem by diving with full Joycian abandon into the stream-of-conscience of one Cyrus Manning, pastor of the First Church of Ruin somewhere in the wastelands of Texas. Almost every thought is available for our perusal as Manning suffers through a crisis of calling, which is an important distinction from a crisis of faith. Manning’s faith, at the core, is steady. His mistrust is his ability and desire to pastor. It’s a slight shift of focus that makes all the difference. The book is unflinchingly honest, and suffers only slightly from being a bit too dense at some points. If you’ve not seen it, however, I highly recommend it.

Basch takes a different tactic in her novel. Despite her trials, Jordanna doesn’t succumb to the almost inevitable crisis of faith. Instead, she gets to reexamine what her faith means in such times…and also how having a trust in Jesus makes her different from many around her who don’t believe—specifically her sister.

Their relationship and the realizations Jordanna makes about it are heartbreaking and written with perfect care. They never fail to treat Jordanna as a human first and a pastor second.

And that’s the crux of it, I suppose. If you’re writing about a pastor, you need to make that secondary to the fact that you’re writing about a human. That’s pretty Duh! advice but it’s also incredibly difficult. If we all could just write honest human characters there’d be a lot more To Kill a Mockingbird and a lot less…(fill in your own hated novel here.)