Category: The Influence of Christian Faith Page 1 of 15

5 Tips for Using and Understanding Literal and Metaphorical Language, Part IV

TIP#4 Recognize valid situations where literal and metaphorical meanings co-exist.

Statements may have both literal and metaphorical meanings without being ambiguous, equivocal, or contradictory.

Acronyms and acrostics, homonyms and antonyms, sound devices like alliteration and rhyme, humor, and even puns, function as literal content and also as helpful memory aids. Today’s icons, emoticons, GIFs, and memes combine devices like humor, symbol, and satire as communication shortcuts We see these in a wide variety of settings, from personal message to social media posts, advertising, and meetings.

Literal and metaphorical fusion in a class children’s tale

In Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robin and his animal friends set off on an “expotition” [sic] to find the North Pole. It soon becomes apparent that they have no idea what this geographic “pole” literally is. They envision an object “stuck in the ground.” Amid this lighthearted fun at young children’s innocent misinterpretation, the group’s conclusion that they have, in fact, discovered the pole is not only a literal event but also a symbolic one.

When Roo falls into the river and is swept downstream, Pooh finds a long pole to use in rescuing him. Afterward, the characters decide that they’ve accomplished their mission. Placing the pole in the ground, they name it the “North Pole” and label it with a sign attributing its discovery to Pooh. Its metaphorical significance, however, is twofold. First, it affirms the value of Pooh’s quick thinking despite his often being characterized as a “bear of little brain.” Second, it commemorates the group’s efforts to save a friend in danger. The North Pole, a literal point of geographic orientation, also frequently symbolizes an ideal destination. A. A. Milne fuses both meanings in this delightful tale.

Biblical teaching models

Numerous examples of “both/and” meanings exist in Scripture. Referring to the history of God’s covenant with Abraham, Paul explains its spiritual significance. He uses the term “allegory” in Galatians 4 to show differences between law and grace, referring to both old and new covenants and “Jerusalem.”

In Ephesians 5, Paul describes God’s design for husband-wife relationships as literal practice, but also refers allegorically in v. 32 to “Christ and the Church.”

Claims and counter-claims often focus on interpretation of literal situations, but many lead also to metaphorical expression.

  • Pharisees called Jesus a literal commandment-breaker when He healed people on the Sabbath. He stated His actual purpose to fulfill God’s law and commandments.
  • The gospel encounter when Jesus insisted that children be allowed to come to Him leads to a teaching point. As these children come to God in faith, believers of all ages must recognize their need to seek God as their Father.
  • He supplies a bountiful catch of literal fish, and calls the disciples to become “fishers of men.”

Applying biblical models in children’s and YA stories

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress uses allegory to retell the gospel as a quest journey in his own culture’s terms. Each character, place, and event represents a biblical parallel, with Christian recognizing his overpowering guilt and need to get rid of his sin “burden” as family and neighbors oppose his determination to set off for the Celestial City. At each stop along the way, readers share Christian’s experiences and find a new insight into faith, hope, doubt, failure, or commitment.

Max Lucado uses allegorical and symbolic elements to deliver literal truth in You Are Special. Stars and dots represent good and bad opinions people express about others, including the main character, Punchinello. He meets Lucia, who is immune to these “stickers” because she ignores them, instead forming her opinion of herself directly from Eli, the Maker. Her name, which means “light,” symbolizes wisdom and freedom found in the truth of God’s Word.

Questions for writers

Do stories you read or write treat literal and metaphorical references as mutually exclusive? How can children’s and YA literature help readers recognize situations in which one person, event, or object that has actually existed or happened, has added significance? Do you have a favorite example? We welcome your comments or questions below, on social media, or email:




Disappointment is His Appointment

Have you ever experienced disappointment?

Silly question, isn’t it? Because we’ve all been disappointed at one time or another. We live in a broken, sin-sick world. Disappointment is part of the package.

But it’s not the only part.

I know. Because I’ve lived this out.

Four years ago, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. A year later, we rejoiced at the news that the cancer was in remission. Sadly, his status changed within a few months. The cancer came back. And so did the chemo sessions. Blood tests. Scans. Nausea. Fatigue. Then acceptance of the inevitable.

And gut-wrenching disappointment.

Is that where you are today? Perhaps it’s cancer or another diagnosis. Maybe it’s a broken marriage. Or a prodigal child making destructive choices . . . again.

Your disappointment may not be related to a life-threatening situation and maybe you feel ashamed to compare it to the experiences of others. But disappointment crosses all levels of life circumstances. And if you’re a writer, seeing your publishing dreams stymied can generate severe disappointment, too.

But as songwriter Phil Keaggy wrote, “Disappointment – His Appointment.” God’s appointment for growth. For spiritual intimacy with Him. For receiving comfort so we in turn can comfort others. And for living out our faith even in the most difficult times, because that’s when others will see real faith lived out in the one, real God.

This doesn’t mean God is unloving or uncaring. It does mean He sees a bigger picture than we do. He has a plan for our ultimate good and His eternal glory. And His plan may include experiences that, with our limited perspective, we would not choose for ourselves.

We also have another set of choices. My natural inclination is to demand answers from God. If I’m honest, what I’m really doing is saying that His ways don’t meet my approval and He owes me an explanation. But God doesn’t owe me—or anyone else—an explanation for what He allows.

The better choice is to rest in my relationship with Him. Trust instead of demand. Live out the reality of my faith with the assurance that He is trustworthy. Know that I know He loves me.

Christians understand this temporary life is not all there is. Something greater than today’s suffering is at stake. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

And a few verses later we read, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 38).

By the strength of the Holy Spirit, we can live without fear and worry. Listen as He reminds us of His Word. Receive comfort in His indwelling presence. And rest in the assurance that this life is not all there is, regardless of whatever obstacles life throws our way.

You’re not alone in your disappointment. Because of Jesus Christ, we know who we belong to. And we trust Him. We trust Him with ourselves, our families, and yes, even our writing.

We all have a choice. Whatever happens today, in your writing or in any other area of life, how will you choose to handle disappointment?

Why I’m excited for the Writing Fiction Master Class (and why you should be too)!

Write2Ignite’s Writing Fiction Master Class is coming up Sept. 19! In just two weeks, author Joyce Moyer Hostetter will be presenting three sessions to help attendees learn more about fiction writing. Plus, the Write2Ignite team will be leading three workshops to help you apply the skills you learn during Hostetter’s sessions. 

Last year, I had the joy of attending the Write2Ignite Conference at North Greenville University with my mom. We loved meeting other writers and hearing from the lineup of speakers! While I’m sad that we aren’t able to meet in person this year, there are some benefits to this Master Class being on Zoom.

Life's Traffic Lights

Life’s Traffic Lights

This month marks the 106th anniversary of the first electric traffic system installed in Cleveland, Ohio in 1914. Four sets of red and green lights told drivers when to stop and go. The Cleveland Automobile Club praised the system, saying they expected that it was “destined to revolutionize the handling of traffic in congested city streets.”

Ever wish for a few traffic lights to handle the congested traffic in your life? I have. Some days are over-filled with commitments and activities to the point of sheer exhaustion. And then I wonder how I allowed it to happen. Even now, I seem to spend more time in video-conference meetings than I ever did in physical meetings before the pandemic!

The problem is not that I don’t have traffic signs and traffic lights in my life. The problem is that I don’t always pay attention to them, both in my personal life and in my writing life. For me, those traffic lights include:

Daily quiet time

If I fail to start with a quiet time set aside to spend time with the Lord, I’m in big trouble before my day begins. Tuning my spirit to listen to His Holy Spirit is the best way for me to proceed into a daily routine that’s often far from routine. Someone once said, “If I’m too busy to spend time with God, then I’m too busy!”

Reading and studying the Bible

While this is part of my quiet time, it’s more than just reading a few verses in the morning. It’s application, too. As I study the Bible, I learn biblical principles that help me make wise decisions – including decisions about how I spend my time.

Setting healthy boundaries

I have a tendency to be a people-pleaser. I want to be liked, so I will say yes when I should say no. And that gets me into trouble. Setting healthy boundaries – aka, knowing when to say no – is not easy for me. But if I start my day right with that daily quiet time, it’s easier (though never easy!) to follow the Lord’s leading.

Wise time stewardship

Ever feel as though you never have enough time to write? I do. Yet I know the traps that can drain my time faster than a bullet train. Social media is one that pulls at me. But it has an off button. And I need to click that button more often than I do. That’s just plain old self-control. No excuses!

Traffic lights can’t help manage traffic if drivers don’t pay attention to them. We all know of accidents caused by people who’ve run a red light or raced through a yellow one. The same is true in life. So my commitment today is to follow the traffic signals God has placed in my own life.

How about you? What are the traffic lights in your life?
What are the traffic lights in your writing life?

The Challenge of Interpreting Culture

Some stories — even if written during a different time — are applicable to every generation of teens because they help with interpreting culture.  

First published in 1967, The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton, has inspired readers for more than 50 years. Hinton, just fifteen years old when she began writing the book, was inspired by her high school experience. 

“Looking back, I realize how important it was to me to have another life at that time. To be someone else,” Hinton wrote in the introduction to the novel’s platinum edition. “To deal with problems I had to face, and write my way to some sort of understanding and coping. … I desperately wanted something to read that dealt realistically with teenage life.”

As one of the first novels to be labeled a young adult novel, The Outsiders received (and continues to receive) backlash because of its reference to gang violence, underage drinking and smoking, strong language/slang, and portrayal of dysfunctional families. However, this novel proves to be a paradox, as it is simultaneously banned from school libraries and used in English classrooms across the country.

First edition of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders focuses on main character Ponyboy (Pony) Curtis, a fourteen-year-old orphan growing up as a “greaser” — named for their greasy hair — in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Throughout the book, Pony struggles to find his place in a world divided by class. As greasers, Pony, his brothers, and his friends struggle to make ends meet and often find themselves at war with Socs — wealthier teens from the other side of town.

Keep in mind that Hinton wrote this book in an effort to “write (her) way to some sort of understanding and coping” with what was happening in her own life. Published when she was just seventeen, The Outsiders is not an adult’s interpretation of teen life in the ‘60s — it is one teen’s attempt to make sense of the world around her.

I first read Hinton’s book when I was a teenager, around fifteen or sixteen. Up to that point, I’d mostly read Christian fiction, books assigned to me in school, and dystopian fiction (a popular genre in the early 2010s). The Outsiders impacted me in a different way than anything I’d ever read before because it was honest; Hinton didn’t shy away from difficult topics like domestic abuse and classism. 

Hinton’s rawness and ability to face difficult topics head-on inspired much of my writing as a teen; writing about my world helped me cope, just as writing The Outsiders helped Hinton. 

I’ve been thinking about this book for the past decade, wondering why it impacted me the way it did, and I think it boils down to culture. 

“While it is not strictly true to say that fundamentalist (Christians) ‘condemned culture,’ full stop, perhaps it is fair to say that their attitude toward culture — their basic posture — was one of suspicion and condemnation toward any human activity not explicitly justified on biblical grounds and engaged in by fully converted Christians,” Andy Crouch wrote in his book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling.

This statement, along with an entire chapter examining fundamentalist Christianity’s posture toward culture, made me realize something: many fundamentalist Christians are quick to condemn anything not mentioned as holy in scripture — myself included.

Culture, for many Christians, is viewed as something that you can remove yourself from. Derived from a passage from John 17, the belief that Christians should be in the world, but not of the world is often interpreted as meaning Christians should not engage with culture. Later in John 17, Jesus prays, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”

Executive Editor of David Mathis suggests that this phrase should be interpreted as Christians being sent into the world with a mission rather than “being mainly on a mission to disassociate from this world.”

We cannot hide from culture — it is all around us, whether we choose to actively participate in certain activities or not. Hinton didn’t participate in gang fights or underage drinking and smoking as a teen; she was dismayed by her observations of culture. Writing The Outsiders was her way of making sense of the world around her. 

It is worth noting that while The Outsiders does include the unsavory parts of teen culture in 1960s Oklahoma, it also includes positive elements of redemption, friendship, and sacrifice. It interprets, not condones, culture.  

So what does this mean for us as Christian writers of children’s and young adult literature? It means that we should write truthfully about what is happening in the world. As Christians, we are on a mission to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who have not heard it. The gospel helps us make sense of the world, but it does not take us away from the world — not until eternity. It gives us something to hope for and values to live by. 

Every generation of teens will face different cultural trends that they need to make sense of. Right now, we’re seeing protests against police brutality, calls for racial equality and LGBTQ rights, a receding economy, and fear from the global COVID-19 pandemic, all during a tumultuous election year. How can you help your children, teenagers, or readers interpret current events?

As a writer, you have the challenge of interpreting culture through the lens of the gospel for your readers. Don’t shy away from the messy parts of life — teens experience a lot of things that they need help interpreting. Reading your work may be what they need to understand and cope with their worlds. 

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

Page 1 of 15

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén