f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Of Andy Crouch, Christy Awards, and Christian Fiction

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

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Of Andy Crouch, Christy Awards, and Christian Fiction

You know what's fun? Calling home from a time zone away and getting your mother-in-law on the phone because your wife's at the emergency room with your weeping eldest daughter. Good times. It turned out to be a broken wrist. Accursed monkey bars.

So in the meanwhile, I guess a variety of you folks have been talking about Andy Crouch's speech at the Christy Awards at places like this and this and this and this. It's perhaps the latest go-around on the argument that will never end but it's the only thing going right now so I'll offer a few peripheral takes on it that I haven't seen mentioned yet.

1. What I think has been roundly ignored in critique of Crouch's critique of literature is his larger point that we're constantly faced with the issue of choosing in life (not books) to lead a virtual life. We're all implicit in this, in other words, (all of us), and Crouch offered a humble example of a time his own actions kept him isolated from the very "real" face staring at him through the window. For Andy this isn't at heart an issue of good fiction/bad fiction. It's the central facet, central struggle of the Christian life (and one he admits to failing)--following Jesus' example of seeing the real world, and just maybe touching it with some divine grace. It just happened to have application to fiction.

2. The Christy Awards are an odd duck. Awards are given across a variety of genres--romance, suspense, visionary, general, etc.--and for one night we act as though talking across these genres even makes sense. Frankly, to me it's like comparing apples, pears, oranges, bananas, etc. Yes, they're fruit, but after that they've not got a whole bunch in common.

Instead, what we seem to be celebrating, for one evening, is some grand hypothetical, some pinnacle of what literature, and Christian fiction can be at its best. I took the speech to be Andy's attempt to point his finger in that general direction. Not necessarily because he thinks we should all write that way but because that's what the night was for.

Here's a loaded question: Does a CBA romance author aspire to the pinnacle of Christian literature? Should she? How about a historical novelist or a fantasy writer? Is there even a "real" pinnacle to aspire to? If not, perhaps Andy's message was mis-timed or mis-aimed.

To me, the advice given--"Write to rescue me, rescue all of us, rescue even us Christian writers, from our addiction to our safe, sheltered, virtual stories."--is not merely a vague insinuation that we should all try to write a book like Gilead but practical advice that all writers can apply within their own particular genres and aspirations. If you write romance, therefore, write "real" romance. It is not the form of the book that matters...just the focus.

3. Finally, in arguing with my own quick post on Monday, I really DON'T think that this has anything to do with happy endings. Happy endings become an issue because we do very little else in CBA than happy endings, but they're peripheral to this discussion. "Reality" is happy endings. It's sad endings. Most often, it's endings with a good amount of both. Gilead for instance. Or Peace Like a River. The hard work is to tell a story that earns whatever ending you give it. The hard work is to tell a story that dares to find its own shape--the shape of the world it's reflecting--rather than be crammed into a mold determined solely by reader tastes.