Category: The Influence of Christian Faith Page 1 of 15

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 desiringGod.org 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.

Key to success

The Key to REAL Success

God lays out the Key to REAL Success

’Tis the season of graduations…and graduation speeches. And almost every speech will encourage the graduates in their pursuit of success.

Let’s face it. No one wakes up thinking, today I will strive to be a failure. Yet we often search for the key to a successful life in all the wrong places. For the Christian, the key to real success is a simple, four-part instruction found—where else?— the Bible.

Second Corinthians 5:7-10 (NIV) tells us:

For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

The answer to a successful life is all there, spelled out in easy-to-follow details:

  1. Live by faith

For we live by faith, not by sight.”

Everyone lives by faith in something. Even if you consider yourself to be an atheist, you still live by faith. When you set your alarm clock to wake up at a certain time, you have faith it will work. When you flip the light switch, you have faith the light will turn on without sparking a fire inside your walls. And when you place the key in your car’s ignition, you have faith the car will start.

According to the Bible, the first key to success is found in living by faith. And the object of our faith is the Lord who created us to glorify His name.

  1. With an eternal perspective

“We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

Is this life all there is? Is this the best life we can expect? Even if we don’t believe that, we often live as if we do. We make the pursuit of comfort and convenience a priority. But everything about this life is temporary. Every earthly pursuit will fade into the obscurity of extinction.

Doesn’t it make sense to maintain a perspective that values things that will last? That’s true success. Anything less will fail because it will pass away.

  1. With a right goal

“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.”

Advice on obtaining success usually mandates the inclusion of goals. In last month’s post, I mentioned S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. So how does the apostle Paul’s goal to please the Lord fit with the S.M.A.R.T. model?

    • Specific: we’re to please the Lord first, before we please ourselves or other people. And God lays out the details of what this looks like in His instruction book for life: the Bible. This leads us to…
    • Measurable: How do you know if you’re succeeding? The commands and exhortations in Scripture describe how we are to live. And they become our standard. More on this when we look at the next verse.
    • Achievable: Is it possible to please the Lord? Yes, but only through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Which leads us to…
    • Realistic: What’s the point of having goals if they’re not realistic and relevant to who you are and what you hope to achieve? Since Christians are children of God, our goals are those that please our heavenly Father and are realistic by His standards, not necessarily ours!
    • Timely: Is there an end date in mind? We are all limited to a finite number of years, giving all of us an end date for living in a way that will please God. So, since none of us know when we will cease to be time-bound, let’s take every opportunity to please our heavenly Father in the days we do have.
  1. Using a right standard of measure

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

Here is the final measure of our success: the final evaluation. What have we done with the life given to us? The ultimate Judge is Jesus Christ, who will determine if the things we have accomplished have eternal value (I Corinthians 3:12).

There’s no need to read thousands of books on the subject of success. And you can spare yourself the need to compare the graduation messages of hundreds of thousands of speakers. The key to real success is living by faith, longing to be with the Lord, desiring to please Him, and doing it all in view of the judgment seat of Christ.

As writers, we tend to measure our success by the world’s standards, such as amount of advance or number of sales. But God’s standard is less concerned with those metrics and more concerned with obedience, changed lives, and the desire to please our heavenly Father. So how does your definition of a successful life stack up against the apostle Paul’s definition?

Is there a graduate—or a writer—in your life who needs to hear this? Or maybe this message is for you!

 

The Power of Repetition

I hadn’t been to church since February, and I was starting to feel disconnected from God. During my first week back in a sanctuary, God spoke to me through a literary device — repetition. 

My church stopped hosting in-person services at the beginning of March because of COVID-19, and I’d missed a few weeks before then because of a bronchitis diagnosis.

Last week, I was visiting my parents in Upstate, South Carolina, and had the opportunity to attend church with them. The crowd was sparse, and each family unit was spaced 6 feet apart, but it was communal worship — something I hadn’t experienced in more than 12 weeks. 

I’d seen my parents cry in the church from time to time, but I’d never really had a strong emotional response during a service.

The band began playing a song by Elevation Worship called “The Blessing,” which is straight from scripture. It shares a blessing from Numbers 6:24–26:

The Lord bless you 

and keep you; 

the Lord make his face shine on you 

and be gracious to you; 

the Lord turn his face toward you 

and give you peace.

I didn’t feel blessed that weekend, despite my safe travels to South Carolina from Central Virginia. I didn’t feel blessed because I was (and still am) working from home with no idea of when I’d be back in the office. I didn’t feel blessed because my husband, a police officer, was working the night shift during a weekend filled with violent protests.

But when the song climaxed, one of the worship leaders began repeating the words “He is for you” over and over again — and something happened. 

Repetition is a powerful literary device that can be used in poetry and prose.

As a writer, I know that repetition is a powerful way to make a point. As a person who has attended counseling for anxiety, I know that repeatedly speaking truth to yourself is a powerful way to change your thought process. 

It felt like God was speaking to me through that song, trying to get a point across, to reshape my thinking. He was telling me that He is for me, that His blessings aren’t always extravagant. More often than not, they will be quiet reminders of His presence. How fitting it is that God, the author of all things, spoke to me, a writer, through a literary device.

The song continued:

May His presence go before you

And behind you, and beside you

All around you, and within you

He is with you, He is with you

In the morning, in the evening

In your coming, and your going

In your weeping, and rejoicing

He is for you, He is for you

The repetition continued, with the singer repeating the word “you” throughout the bridge, reminding me that I am a recipient of God’s blessings. My impression of blessings has always been that they are an extravagant act from God. Yet in scripture, we learn that blessings are small acts of love from God — from the gift of a child to the provision of food and safety. 

This song challenged me to look at God’s blessings in a new way. God blessed me that weekend by giving me the opportunity to worship with other Christians, and he blessed me by protecting me from harm during my travels from Central Virginia to South Carolina.

God’s blessings aren’t always extravagant. They are often displayed through friendships, safety, and provision.

He protected my husband who served on the frontline of a riot on May 31 and brought him home safe to me the next morning. And he blessed me with the companionship of my sweet sister-in-law the night I had to send my husband back to work, despite continuing protests in our city. 

God spoke to me through a literary device, which is a powerful writing tool. While this instance of repetition was used in poetry (a song), repetition can be a particularly useful tool for writing children’s literature. 

Take this passage from Dr. Seuss’ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish  for example:

One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue fish,

Black fish, Blue fish, Old fish, New fish.

This one has a little car.

This one has a little star. 

Say! What a lot of fish there are.

 

Yes, some are red, and some are blue.

Some are old and some are new.

Some are sad, and some are glad,

And are very, very bad.

 

Dr. Seuss is well known for his whimsical, rhythmic writing. He uses a combination of rhyming and repetition in his work to create memorable writing that delights children of all ages. 

Repetition is also used in literature, such as Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two of Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Dickens adds stress and emphasis to the positives and negatives, bringing attention to the polarity present in his time. 

God used the repetition in “The Blessing” to touch my heart and draw me back to him. I believe he can use your writing to touch others, and repetition is just one way you can emphasize your message of hope through Jesus Christ.

Emily is a member of the Write2Ignite planning team and works full time as a promotional writer for Liberty University Marketing. Learn more about Emily here.

Would Your Life Win an Oscar?

mtishows.com

”Do You Hear the People Sing?” *

”I Dreamed a Dream” — that They Won All!  *

Am I ”On My Own” in this?  *

 

Les Mis should have won more Oscar Awards!

At first, I was discontented. Well, okay, miserable. Only three awards out of eight possible? C’mon! Couldn’t the judges see the talent, energy, and pathos that went into the production?

Although I don’t usually watch the Oscars, I was curious to see how my favorite film of the year fared against the others. 

HOPE HEALS: Book Review by Teen Blogger, Kathryn Dover

My mother and I were surprised to see Katherine Wolf at a Going Beyond Live conference we attended last summer; we had never heard of her. We had gone to see Priscilla Shirer and had not expected any other speakers. At this conference, Mrs. Wolf told a short version of her story from her and her husband, Jay’s, new book, Hope Heals. Her story is astonishing. The book switches between Katherine and Jay’s perspectives; they relate flashbacks of their wedding and life until Katherine suffered a massive brain stem stroke nearly four years later. She was only twenty-six years old, had a six-month-old baby and was not expected to live.

Her husband was in law school taking his final exams and had come home to retrieve some papers when Katherine had her stroke. Katherine was taken to the third-best hospital in the country that providentially had a renowned neurosurgeon on staff. That surgeon saved her life by performing massive brain surgery most doctors would not have done. In order to save her life, the surgeon had to “sacrifice” many of her physical functions, such as her ability to swallow and to walk. Amazingly, she had just won fifty thousand dollars on a game show, and that money enabled her husband to take care of her without needing to work. In addition, he had just taken out a catastrophic life insurance policy. Her family, friends, and church rallied around her to care for her and her baby.

Her miraculous recovery was a long and overwhelming process. She was in ICU for forty days and was then transferred to an acute rehab facility at UCLA medical center. After that, she moved to a long-term rehab facility, Casa Colina. Before leaving UCLA, Jay returned to her ICU room and took a picture of it as a remembrance. They wanted to memorialize this part of her experience as a reminder of God’s grace and how far they had come.

After Casa Colina, Katherine lived in a house that was part of the facility with daily therapy. On Thanksgiving, as she sat watching her family eat and fellowship, Katherine had what she calls her “epiphany of hope.” She was despairing about not being able to partake in the festivities of her favorite holiday when she suddenly heard God speaking to her. Her stroke was not a mistake; God was in control. From that moment on, everything changed. While most of her life was out of her control, Katherine could make the decision to have hope: Hope Heals. Later during her therapy, she realized that her story could be an inspiration to others and began writing Hope Heals with her husband.

While she will never be the same, Katherine’s life is amazing. The most fascinating part is that after her recovery, Katherine was able to have another baby. It was one of her main hopes to have another child, and the fulfillment of this was a testimony of God’s providence. Katherine Wolf underwent eleven surgeries. Her circumstances are unimaginable, and clearly her faith is the only way she made it through. Hope Heals is a compelling, emotional story that leaves the reader hopeful and encouraged. Our troubles seem small in light of her devastating loss. Katherine Wolf’s incredible testimony reminds readers of God’s faithfulness and strengthens their faith. Indeed, hope is healing for anyone, and I believe every reader will be inspired by this extraordinary book.

******

Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including her cats, Prince and Harley; dog, Lady; and two fish, Minnie, and Gilligan. She is a homeschool student and enjoys math, playing the piano, reading, and writing plays.

 

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