Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On writing, conversation, and public faith

How public is your faith (or lack thereof) on the Internet? According to a recent survey, most folks in America may espouse some sort of religion, but you wouldn't know it by looking at their Facebook or Twitter.

I recently read an article at Good Letters (a Christianity+art blog) by a regular contributor who keeps his blogging quiet at work:
Simply put, four years and seventy-six posts since this blogging gig started, I am still something of a closet Christian around friends and colleagues who don’t know this side of me, or a mealy-mouthed one around those who do.
The author of this post is a screenwriter, and he feels it might be detrimental to his career to publicize his faith in a largely secular industry.

I find myself reflecting on this as I start my new program as a MA in religion at Claremont School of Theology. I'm entering a program of Christian study at a Christian school. So far in my blogging life, what I write has flopped back and forth between explicitly Christian stories and pieces more about the writing/creative process. As I dig deeper into my studies here, Jesus may start showing up in my posts more often.
Photo via Claremont Lincoln University

Is that going to alienate my audience?

How public of a Christian do I want to be?

On the one hand, I want to write about what I love. I am passionate about stories, in all mediawriting, music, film. Religion fascinates me, in part, because of the web of stories it represents: tales told and retold since ancient times, tales that have served as frameworks for people as they live their own life stories. And in the end, I do believe that my story makes more sense when written between the lines of this great Story. I believe that the story of Jesus is a story worth sharing.

On the other hand, I don't want to abandon talking about art in ways that are not explicitly religious. Maybe that's what the screenwriter meant: he didn't want to be typecast, pigeonholed, written off as a "Christian" writer who only writes a specific type of film. I don't want my writing about art and creativity to suffer.

I also can't deny that writing has consequences. Christians have a reputation for talking over other people, especially in this country where Christianity is often considered the "default" religion. That same Story that has changed my life has been used as a weapon. The last thing I want is for my words to contribute to that pain in any way.

So what do I do?

I've been doodling versions of this question in the margins of my notebook throughout my first few weeks at CST. For those of you who don't know, in the past couple of years CST has begun a Claremont Lincoln University, a new school dedicated to bringing together scholars/practitioners of all faiths and none, to learn from each other. CST is the Christian partner of this new consortium. I'm still in Christian-specific classes, but my core courses are shared with people of all different backgrounds.

This means that I'm in class with Muslim and Jewish and humanist students, as well as Christiansprospective scholars and ministers of many traditions, not just one. Here my fellow students and I are not asked to hide our faith or try to pretend it doesn't matter to our lives. Rather, we are encouraged to claim our own faiths proudly, while talking with others with different beliefs in a spirit of respect and friendship.

CST/CLU's whole experiment is rooted in the belief that this is possible: that interfaith conversation is sustainable, and that claiming your story in that conversation can be not a hindrance but a help.

If it's possible at school, it may be possible for me as a writer as well.

One could say this is part of my responsibilitywhat I can do as a Christian in a world where Christianity shouts loudly. Because if progressive Christians on the Internet keep quiet about their faith, then those who disagree with them will be the only public voices of Christianity that anyone ends up hearing. Can I be a public Christian who tries to listen and participate in conversation, rather than talk over people of other faiths? I certainly mean to try.

As for keeping my passion for creativity in my work--I hope I'll be all right. Because from my vantage point, faith and creativity aren't disconnected at all. It's not just the stories of my faith that I find inspiring, it's the faith itself, what it says about who I am and who God is. The God I believe in created the world and called it good, and created humans with the gift and responsibility to create themselves.

Plus, I bet Jesus would find plenty of things to geek out about, if he were here today. And I'm not just talking about gossip about his marital status, either.

So I'll keep studying, and writing, and trying to co-create. I'm excited to see what conversations the next two years have in store for me!

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