Uncertainty and Christian Writing

The new literary journal Relief: A Quarterly Christian Expression continues a trend begun by Image and Rock & Sling, providing a home for creative writing that takes Christian faith seriously without sacrificing literary and moral complexity. My novel excerpt “Bride of Christ”, about a young woman torn between loyalty to her gay brother and her evangelical family, will be published in Relief later this year.

In this interview on their website, guest editor Jill Noel Kandel shares some perceptive advice about what separates Christian literature from doctrinal or inspirational writing:

Relief: A number of our nonfiction submissions are more like articles or even sermons and not what we at Relief think of as creative nonfiction. How can writers be sure their work is appropriate for Relief before they submit?

Jill: Christian writing has many avenues. Doctrinal, devotional, and magazine article writing seem to be prominent. I would say that Relief wants to publish fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that is out of the Christian mainstream. If a piece is something I could read in Guideposts or Christianity Today for example than it probably isn’t right for Relief. I think that what I am looking for is of a more literary quality.

Relief is trying to do something different. I love the definition given by the Relief staff:

Relief- An architectural term referring to a raised projection of figures on a flat surface. It is an image of a reality caught halfway between 2D and 3D.

This is precisely the type of writing that I will be looking for. Writing that reflects the reality and honesty of the world we live in tempered by the hope given to us as believers. Leave the cotton candy at the fairgrounds….

Relief: What is it that makes a piece of writing absolutely Christian?

Jill: As a writer I am still trying to learn how to write faith. As Christians we walk by faith and not by sight. To write faith is not to write sight. What I mean is that as Christian writers we tend to want to write the end of the story, heaven, and angels wings. Throw in a little victory celebration. But as human beings living here on this earth we are often like Joseph sitting in Pharaoh’s prison. He didn’t know the ending of his own story. I try to write what I know today to be true.

I think I’m going to post that last sentence over my writing desk, with an emphasis on “today”. How do I know what is true? Try something and see what happens. Sufficient unto the day is the writer’s block thereof.

17 comments on “Uncertainty and Christian Writing

  1. Steve says:

    I really liked the line about leaving the cotton candy at the fair. So much of the Christian writing I encounter in a typical Christian bookstore is what I’ve long called “Christian Coated” – like an m&m.

    And when I think of not knowing the end of the story, I tend to think of the other Joseph. The one who raised a son he knew was not his own, in an ordinary trade, making a living only slightly better than subsistence, and passed away before more than a few odd signs, like Jesus in the Temple… Our tasks can often seem empty, but we may be building the largest structures of all – one “today” at a time.

    I need to look into “Relief.”

  2. Steve,

    I think I like “Christian Coated” better. Oh, and yes, do check out Relief, especially in the upcoming weeks…we’re trying to blog more.

    Thanks for the shout out!

  3. Hi Jendi! Congratulations on your upcoming publication in Relief. Very cool! I look forward to seeing it. Thanks for the nice comments on your blog about my interview. It was fun doing it with Lisa. She is one smart girl! I write exclusively in creative nonfiction and would LOVE to hear of more believers who are being called to this genre. I loved Steve’s thoughts on the other Joseph. Raising a son he knew wasn’t his own. There is so much in life we do that we really don’t understand. Faith walking hand in hand with a blindness. How else could we learn faith? If our life was something we could fast forward and see, then how meaningless it would be to walk it.
    Steve … check out Relief. It’s worth the effort. And tell your friends about it, too.
    Hey, why not submit something to us?
    Looks like right now I need to do some web browsing of my own. I think I’ll start with all these listings I’m seeing on Jendi Reiter’s Chapbook Hound of Heaven.

  4. Jendi Reiter says:

    Thanks for your good words, Jill. If you’re looking for great Christian nonfiction writers, my writing teacher Linda McCullough Moore is someone to watch: she’s written for Books & Culture, Rock & Sling, The Sun, and Relief, among many others. Another favorite is Garret Keizer, especially his books Help and The Enigma of Anger.

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