f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 4 of <em>Jesus Saves</em>—Is Saying “That’s So Cliché!” a Cliché?

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

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Day 4 of Jesus Saves—Is Saying “That’s So Cliché!” a Cliché?

For as much as Christians deplore how men and women of faith are often stereotyped in the arts and media, it’s reached the point where we can actually begin to thank Hollywood (and novels to a certain extant.) See, the idea of evil hiding behind the cross is now a cliché. It’s beginning to become rote and I think some interesting reversals and re-examination will begin happening now.

Take Night of the Hunter a moody, frightening film about a released convict out to find the fortune he learned about from his prison cellmate. At the time, Robert Mitchum’s character was shocking and disturbing because he was a wolf dressed in lamb’s clothing. Show the film now to many folks (or The Scarlet Letter or The Crucible and they won’t be surprised at all. Contexts have changed and outrage has turned to common knowledge. Frocked men, particular (no surprise) priests, have simply been slammed lately.

But talented writers know that can’t fall back on the cliché. So you have Jesus Saves as (putridly) ripe a book as any for an evil pastor, and yet we don’t find one. He’s not an abusive father; he’s not a philanderer; he’s not even hollow man without faith at all. He’s wounded and worn down and prideful and getting kicked out of his church, but those things are all built up rather than taken from some stock idea.

The same needs to be thought through with the church as well. We can’t just show a little country church as dead and dry or a large suburban mega-church as flashy and vapid. (Or even a postmodern church as painfully hip and inclusive). Jesus Saves does less well with this, but it’s a small point and since the perspective is seen mostly through the eyes of an embittered young girl whose dad is getting the shaft, you can understand it.

Eventually in your novel you’re going to have to use a stock character or two. You simply can’t spend enough time with every creation to make them wholly original. That’s fine. Just make sure they’re the minor characters and that we get a sense of why they’re seen as clichés.

This comes from perspective. Who is looking at them and commenting? In Passion of Reverend Nash you have the disgruntled elder who is tired of the pastor and is looking for any reason to get rid of him/her and/or getting on a high horse about something in the church. A similar character appears in Jesus Saves. Same with Sutter’s Cross. You can make them acceptable if their actions are viewed as such primarily by an outside source or if even a moment is spent humanizing them to some degree. Offer some basis for their decisions. In general, I’d say to be wary around such creations, though. They’re beginning to pile up.

Finally a word on what I’d promised to write about today—finding the dark underbelly to today’s Christian culture.

In a word: beware.

Plank and speck may be an illustration that has become overused and almost trite in the past decades, but these were words spoken by Jesus himself. We can’t afford to make them bumper stickers.

A good thrashing is needed now and then (and fiction is a wonderful place to do it because you aren’t hurting “real” people) however there’s a humility that needs to be in place as well. Arrogance (and I’m as guilty of this as anyone) festers in the midst of criticism. We just need to be aware of it and pray the Lord keep us from it.