Stories have worn many adjectives over the years: escapist, imaginative, devilish, deceptive, sub-creative. They have worn many outfits: epic poem, history, speech, play, novel, short story, film. They have changed civilizations and civilians; they have brought down walls and plastered them together; they have unchained the slave and bound the free in post-modernism’s free-love. With this kind of power, it is easy to eschew fiction of any kind out of fear. Oddly, we can also minimize it, treating it as mere entertainment and popping a Twinkie here and there from the Bestseller list.
In this smorgasbord of story around us, from the screen to the page, Christians lack discernment. If stories be a kind of formative food for the soul – certainly lower on the food pyramid than the perfect Word of God, but still with nutrient value – we are far too apt to roam the entertainment aisles dumping everything into our cart from chintzy picture books to sentimental teenage drama novellas to the latest blockbuster. Or we run from the supermarket entirely, holed-up on a hilltop somewhere and missing out entirely on the formative value of incarnational art.
There are a host of reasons for this failure of discernment – lack of sound, biblical teaching and anemic fellowship within thriving Churches being two of the most prominent. These and more have smudged the glasses of our vision – we simply do not see the world correctly through our crinkled contacts and stifled imaginations. We also haven’t been taught well by our schools to understand things like worldview, literary analysis, and more. We do not grasp and love reality as God has made and revealed it to us, and do we not see what those created in His image are creating around us. We need to embrace that fiction “is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system” (Flannery O’Connor). The best fiction is anything but escapist; it takes ideas and enfleshes them, which makes it very powerful. And very dangerous.
As Christians, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and a renewed heart to “guide us into all truth” (John 16:13). We have every blessing and ability to see the lies the world is packaging in moving images on a screen, through lyrics synthesized with vocal pitch machines, and in paperbacks with gold-leafed covers. We of all people should know when to pick up the book and read, and when to put it down…when to walk into a movie theatre, and when to walk out.
But we need to be trained, and I heartily believe that the Fiction Festival is an invaluable tool to train you and those in your community to see clearly and engage the battle about us with wit and vigor and fervor. As Hebrews 5:14 says, “but solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” There is some fantastic literary food out there, and The Chronicles of Narnia offer some of the best meat-and-potatoes you can find. There are a few mushy peas here and there, but they are easily picked out, unlike arsenic-laced Marvel fare. Because make no mistake, there is devilish food available on every corner, and they are choice morsels that sink down into the heart.
At the Festival we will dive into some big questions: How do stories operate? How do they glorify values that you find detestable, possibly without you realizing it? How, as a parent or grandparent, can you grow your children with Nebraskan steak instead of JELLO? How can you grow by identifying with characters, seeing how a certain sin or virtue works itself out to the end point of a plot? How can your worship and feasting and glorifying be better because of some make-believe story about something that never even happened?
All of Lewis’ novels have been some of my greatest teachers. I have seen myself in the mirrors of Jane and Orual, reading my own thoughts back on the page…and it has terrified me. I have seen the virtuous faith of Lucy or the pessimistic realism of Susan amplified within a world not my own, so that I could own some of my failings and fan some of my baby virtue. I have read biblical truth, and then seen it incarnated in a story – of looking to Christ’s standard instead of my own, of walking out in obedience as my faith caught up, and of knowing that ultimately, the battle is won, and all the trials and tribulations of this life are the worst it will ever be for those with whom He is well pleased; that pleasures here are but the beginning of the most wonderful story that has ever been written, world without end.
So we hope you will join us for this year’s Fiction Festival, perhaps to strum a few pages for the first time, or to wipe your glasses with the dish-towel of discernment, or go romping in a thunderstorm. We can’t promise you much, but we can promise you one thing: it won’t be entirely safe, but it will be good.