I love being a writer. I feel lucky to have this freedom. But being an artist of any kind can be challenging.
Being an artist is a satisfying way to live, but it usually isn't a great way to make a living. Depending on your field, it can be expensive buying supplies. It can be lonely, unless you're in a band or a play. It can be daunting, depending on an audience to appreciate what you do. And it can be scary, since so much of our art comes directly from who we are as human beings.
It's hard to make good art without being vulnerable, without splitting yourself open and letting others see who you really are. You can play it safe and let people assume that you have a certain kind of perfection. Or you can drop the facade and be real.
That kind of raw vulnerability is one of the most challenging aspects of being an artist for me. Especially when it comes to being a writer and a Christian, with all the variations of interpretation and expression that go along with that. Because invariably, as soon as you admit you're an artist AND a Christian, someone is going to come along and show you how you got it all wrong.
My Christian faith happens to be a big part of who I am. It is one of the things that inspires my writing. It naturally colors my perceptions and perspective. It provides a framework for my experiences. It infuses my writing with optimism and grace.
A weird thing happens as soon as you say you're a Christian and a writer, especially on the Christian end of the stick. All of a sudden the dynamics change and you get stuck in a box. The "Christian Writer" box.
Once you get put in that box, there are certain assumptions made about you and your writing. Everything you write has to somehow point people to God through Jesus, preferably in an obvious, straight-forward manner. All of your work should deal with nasty "real-life" situations as cleanly as possible so that no one is actually tempted to sin. All issues raised must be satisfied by prayer, reading the Bible, holding hands and singing Kum-Ba-Yah. The ending should be pat, with all evil doers either redeemed or dead, everyone smiling, and all questions answered. It obviously should be sold in a Christian bookstore, or at least in the Christian section of a secular bookstore.
And it goes without saying that, even though none of us are perfect, you must live beyond reproach or your books will be pulled immediately and pitched into the burn pile along with works by other reprobates like Anne Lamott and Donald Miller.
Okay, I know that is an oversimplification. I don't have a (huge) problem with Christian writers or Christian writing.
I think there is a huge difference between being "a Christian writer" and being "a writer who is also a Christian." Just like there is a difference between Christian films and films about content that happens to be relevant to the Christian community and to human beings as a whole. These two are, unfortunately, usually not equal. (For more information, see my friend Nathan Fleming's viral post, What's Wrong with Christian Filmmaking?)
So let me declare: I am not a Christian writer. I am a writer who happens to be a Christian, just the way I happen to be white and female and redheaded. It is part of who I am, but it isn't ALL there is.
At this point anything I have written could safely be carried in the average Christian bookstore. My worldview is Christian because that is my belief system. I have what I would term a relationship with God. The things I write tend to be uplifting and encouraging. I tend not to use profanity or write about the gritty side of life. I go to church. I have a nice family. I'm a nice person.
Why do I feel the need to delineate?
The first reason is the big "J" word. Not Jesus. Actually, the anti-Jesus J-word: Judgement.
I had two big fears that kept me from writing for a long time: 1) that I might be judged as not a good writer, and 2) that I might be judged by my writing...by other Christians.
I've sort of gotten over #1. I've had enough feedback to know that certain people like my style, certain people don't, and that I'm ok either way. There are lots of flavors in the world, and the worst thing I could do is try to be rainbow-flavored trying to appeal to everyone. I need to be true to my flavor.
But #2 is a bugger. And apparently I'm not alone or clueless in having this fear.
Earlier this year I had a conversation with a friend who is a priest. He is very supportive, commenting on my Facebook page and liking my writing, even the posts about boobs and girly stuff. We're both a little eccentric and there are things we don't see eye-to-eye on, but we have mutual respect and that's a good thing.
During our conversation, he congratulated me on going public and getting my writing out there on my blog. I confessed that one of the biggest hold-backs for me was the fear of what church people would think of what I wrote.
What if they thought it wasn't "Christian enough"? What if, based on my writing or my thoughts, they became convinced I wasn't even a Christian, aka "No one who is a real Christian would think/say/believe/promote that."
(For example, I almost didn't use the word "lucky" in the first sentence because in my head I heard Sister Christian chant, "Cindi, there is no such thing as lucky. You are blessed!" )
He nodded. "We Christians are a tough audience, quick to crucify our own. I don't blame you for being skittish, but try not to think about it too much."
Basically, he said, do what you do and leave the rest to God.
Which brings me to my second reason - Audience.
There are a ton of Christian authors. They write what they feel called to write. Or what makes them money. Western Christians have deep pockets, and they love to spend their money on Christian stuff. So if you are a Christian author who has a way with words and a great marketing strategy, you can make a killing.
That's not my gig.
I'm not very good at writing to a template or writing to please or writing to comply with someone else's set of beliefs. I don't enjoy being safe or predictable or pat. And I don't enjoy preaching to the choir.
I want to reach a broader audience. I don't want to lose a reader who might not normally read a "Christian" writer. I might have something to say that speaks to them
where they are.
I want my fellow believers to read me too, but I don't want my first thought to be "does this sound Christian enough"?
I don't want to censor myself in the fear that someone else might read it and based on their particular flavor of Christianity deem me apostate or heretical or any of those other religiously-excluding words.
I enjoy sharing all the quirky thoughts and feelings and experiences I have without hesitation. When I write, I always want my thoughts to be:
Is this well written?
Is this honest? Is this helpful?
Is this meaningful?
Is this challenging and compelling and entertaining at the same time?
Is this something that another human being - regardless of belief or creed or culture - can read, enjoy, learn from?
And, most of all, am I being authentic to who I am, to who I feel called to be, without fear of reprisal?
If I can honestly answer all of the questions Yes, then I am satisfied that it is ready for public consumption. At that point, because of my faith, I do exactly what my friend the Padre advised me to do at that point.
Don't think about it too much, and leave it to God.
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