Monthly Archives: January 2017

Get Free

Everybody wants to be free, right?

We read that the truth will set us free.

We’re told Christ came to free us, and that if he sets us free, we are free indeed.

One of the liberties we in the U.S. at least claim to prize is the freedom to speak the truth as we see it. Yet we allow dogmas, editors, critical readers, and the marketplace, to censor us.

The Brothers Karamazov addresses the concept of freedom. In the “Grand Inquisitor” chapter, Dostoyevski sets up a drama in which Christ returns to earth in medieval Europe, gets taken captive by the Inquisition and told by the Inquisitor why he failed: because people don’t really want the freedom he granted.

What people want, the Inquisitor contends, is what Satan, while tempting Christ at the end of his 40-day fast in the desert, offered to help Christ provide them:

Miracle. A show so grand it would stop all questioning.

Mystery. Idols to worship.

Authority. A source of unambiguous, strict rules that everybody must follow, so they won’t feel alone and different.

As writers, we can’t afford to be like the people Satan (in the Inquisitor’s story) describes.

If we hope to leave ourselves open to the spirit that moves us, we need to question everything, beware of idols such as the desire for fame and wealth, and to express our uniqueness.

If we’re Christian writers, redemption can free us from the demons of guilt and shame. If this freedom allows us to shed legalistic inhibitions, fear of risking heresy, and whatever hang-ups are blocking the messages the spirit is ready to give us, I suspect we can create more powerful art than writers who haven’t found the ticket to freedom.

Joan of Arcadia

Zoe took a trip with her mom and left me alone for five days. Every one of those evenings, my entertainment was Joan of Arcadia, a television drama that aired for two seasons about a dozen years ago. The premise is: at least once each episode, God appears to Joan in the person of a stranger and gives her an assignment such as join the school orchestra, keep your eyes open, clean out the garage. Usually Joan argues, almost always she misunderstands the purpose of whatever God proposes, and always by the end of the episode, the happenings caused by the assignment deliver an important message, a new way of understanding herself or the world.

I can’t recall ever being so fascinated by a television series. What captivates me is that we not only, along with Joan, learn about the world and ourselves; we also come away with new perspectives about God.

I just bought a DVD set of the two seasons to give to a friend, because it seems to me that when smart, generally open-minded and imaginative people can’t grasp why I or anyone with a modicum of common sense would believe in God, the problem is often that they won’t allow their imaginations to roam. It’s as if using one’s imagination to speculate about God is not only heretical but perhaps illegal, and surely cause for a stay in a rehab center like the one where Joan spends the summer between her junior and senior years.

I have often been asked, and occasionally have wondered on my own, why I’m writing this story instead of that one when that one would be more likely to make serious money. I think next time anyone poses the question, I will suggest they watch Joan of Arcadia. Because I see the show’s premise as a metaphor for the way artists are guided by something beyond their comprehension, often assisted by random people they meet or happenings they observe, or by wisdom or questions that arise out of their daily experiences.

I have decided to create a Perelandra College class around Joan of Arcadia as an elective in the Writing and the Spirit MA program. I’ll probably teach the class because it will give me an excuse to watch the series again and again. The thoughtful stuff it offers make it worth many viewings.