October 25, 2020

Making Belief Believable


“And there is … a type of modern man who can neither believe nor contain himself in unbelief and who searches desperately, feeling about in all experience for the lost God.”

—Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners

At Thanksgiving, some of us were sitting around discussing the crazy reality shows we’d watched recently. Naked and Afraid was probably the most intriguing scenario. A man and woman who don’t know each other are dropped in a remote place with a few implements and no clothes and expected to survive for a few weeks. Oh, and there’s a film crew there to capture it all for television voyeurs … er, viewers. The idea is kind of ridiculous and uncomfortable to think about, but it did prompt me to wonder how we would live differently or what would be important if we had to do everything naked and in front of a camera. Personally, I think the world might be a much humbler place.

Maybe you think I’ve placed a gratuitous hook at the beginning of this post, just to catch readers. Trust me, it does relate. The creators of Naked and Afraid, while maybe far from creating art, have at least realized that their draw is in showing (instead of telling) the audience what it would be like to try to survive on an island with a flawed naked stranger while fighting off monster mosquitoes at night and trying to find enough fish and coconuts to eat … and also while being a flawed naked stranger to your partner. It’s not pretty, but it’s real.

Flannery O’Conner, in her words above, lays out the primary problem and thus a primary objective in creating artful fiction. Readers are casting about desperately for their lost God and finding no satisfying vehicle to carry them into belief. The writer who is masterful will make belief believable … at least some tiny bit of something believable to one who is hardened by this world against believing anything. He will plant a mustard seed, carve an inroad, or ignite a spark in an otherwise cold, dark interior that leads his reader into a place of relief … a place that is true even if it is uncomfortable. It is a place where the reader is sure that his complicated self, his holiness and sin and everything in between, is understood. Characters living, moving and speaking as real people do make us believe. It is true in fiction and it is true in life.

I read O’Connor’s thoughts on fiction with interest, first because I have enjoyed her writing and wondered about the person behind it. If she wanted to explain why she, a devout Catholic, often wrote grotesque (her own word) and shocking things, I would be curious enough to pay attention. Furthermore, when I am not working or caring for my family or writing here, I also write fiction. At least, I try. But that is not the point. I’m just telling you why I am interested … why I paid attention to Ms. O’Connor.

It was while I was paying attention that I realized that the primary problem that writers of fiction have … making belief believable … is the same problem we all have if we want our people to know Christ. I know. I know. Most days we struggle with our own dang belief. We aren’t so much thinking about helping others with theirs. Nevertheless, it is the Church, the family of God, by virtue of Christ, that is the bearer of divine life.

We would not be here having this more than decade-long discussion on Michael Spencer’s blog were it not for belief having been made believable to us, or at least the hope of it being made believable. It was the string of stories starting with Adam and culminating in Christ, carried forward by apostles, martyrs, evangelists and fathers of the faith all the way up to our contemporaries who have touched in some way the multitude of us who come here to read and talk.

Now, I admit that the idea of making belief believable induces a pressure I don’t want. It is pressure akin to what I felt when I spent one whole summer in high school at a Christian leadership training event. We students worked during the day to pay for our living expenses and went to the streets at night in a mountain vacation town engaging passersby with “surveys” that would provide opportunities to invite them to evangelistic events or read through tracts with them. I was pretty sure there was something wrong with me because after three solid months I could never get the hang of it and couldn’t get over my fear in doing it. I’m not lazy, but I am very shy and the whole thing felt inauthentic to me. Articulating that thought on one occasion evoked a verbal smack down, resulting in me being certain the fault really was mine.

Years later, I came to the conclusion that, while I have many deficiencies and flaws, the real problem in that scenario was the same problem fiction writers often have in making readers believe them. A whole lot of telling and very little showing makes for fiction that does not engage the reader because it doesn’t feel real. That’s essentially what we were doing on those Rocky Mountain streets … talking it up with people we didn’t know and who didn’t know us. Furthermore, we teens were immature in every way, physically, emotionally, intellectually and more to the point, spiritually. What could 17-year-olds possibly say that would arise out of wisdom and true understanding of life and elicit someone’s belief? We were googly-eyed and innocent for the most part. Our naïve take on sin and salvation and the idea that, “All you have to do is receive Christ and you’ll be fixed,” didn’t recognize, allow for and bring grace to the grotesque and shocking truths that are inherent in the human condition.

Before I get accused of over generalizing or of devaluing the need and command to evangelize, let me just say I know there are exceptions all over the place. Some people truly have an ability to talk to strangers about spiritual things in very meaningful ways. The case of Phillip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40) comes to mind and I have a son-in-law with a similar gift. I also know that if the apostles and first disciples had not gone out on evangelistic missions the church would not have launched and we would not be here. That being said, we tend to focus on the moving-our-mouths-part and overlook the living-amongst-the-people part.

To be honest, I don’t even like the word “evangelism” anymore. Forgive me if I sound disrespectful. I don’t mean to be. It’s just that the word conjures up so many unsavory images for me. I won’t mention any, lest what is unsavory to me be cherished to you. Yet I would hazard to guess the word conjures less than lovely images for most of us. It wasn’t meant to be that way, though, and that is why I think I have latched on to O’Connor’s idea of making belief believable. It is infused with the authenticity that seems to have gotten stripped from evangelism by our mishandling of it.

St. Francis of Assisi famously said, “Preach the gospel always and, if necessary, use words.” He has stated the fiction writer’s first rule in spiritual terms, “Show, don’t tell.” For me, that brings both fear and relief. I fear not showing my Father and my people that I love them by failing in my actions … and I often fail. But I’m relieved to know that I don’t have to pass out tracts to strangers to show people their lost God.

Still, we need to give our people something … namely our naked selves. Showing them their lost God isn’t about what we tend to think it is (i.e. perfection). It isn’t about the choir preaching to would-be choir members. Those days seem gone. Ms. O’Connor says, “The problem of the novelist who wishes to write about a man’s encounter with this God is how he shall make the experience—which is both natural and supernatural—understandable, and credible, to his reader. In any age this would be a problem, but in our own, it is a well-nigh insurmountable one.” The encounter is mostly with people who dislike religious robes and have no plans to wear them, so ours have to come off too.

smokerIt’s not that our people have stopped looking for their lost God, but they are coming more jaded and harder of heart … more suspicious of motive and less willing to trust … more enlightened intellectually and darkened spiritually. They are still coming hungry for God, desperate and impatient, but they often walk away angry when they are denied or deceived or disappointed. It’s a very tough crowd. It’s hard work making belief believable in such cases. It’s tempting to throw up hands and circle wagons and turn away. Tempting yes, but not acceptable. Besides, it’s also not ultimately satisfying … to cave to convenience and leave potential brothers and sisters on the outside looking in. Alexander of Alexandria wrote in one of his epistles, “Two very bad things are ill-will and unbelief, both of which are contrary to righteousness; for ill-will is opposed to charity, and unbelief to faith …” Here, we see both sides of the problem at work. Unbelievers come with their shocking human selves … and we should not be shocked because we are also human … but we take offense and meet them with condemnation and ill will.

The ill will may come partially in response to encountering such hard chips of unbelief, but it may as likely come from our fears. We don’t know what to do with the irreligious and robeless ones. Their addictions and inadequacies frighten us. They remind us of what we are like under our own robes. Yet, isn’t this truth the very thing we have come to Christ for? It’s why I have come and keep coming. We want to know that God loves us for our naked, messed up selves and not for the beautiful robes we clutch around us. Those looking for their lost God will have a hard time finding him, unless they see us also naked before God and being loved by him.

When I was seventeen, I thought words were the answer. I could tell people how to find their lost God with words. Through the many intervening years, I have thought it was about service. I will love my people so much by how I serve them that they will see God. Isn’t that showing and not telling? Partly. But we are still in a crisis in the Church and we wonder why. We give money. We go on mission trips. We have food pantries and free clinics and counseling ministries. We lead Bible studies and small groups and mentor the young. We might be serving and giving ourselves into exhaustion and not really getting anywhere because we are still wearing robes. Maybe these acts of service are our robes.

Those looking for their lost God can’t really believe God loves them because we don’t really believe he loves us either. And the beautiful robes we insist on wearing tell them that only the beautifully robed get loved. Perhaps more profound than we believers demonstrating the love of God to our people is what happens when they see us loving and being loved by God in the midst of all our selfishness, sickness, sorrow, bewilderment, conflict, failure and devastation. The gospel we preach … the story we write and that God is writing in our lives without words … makes belief believable when we stand wordless and let our people witness us getting hauled naked and hurting out of our own pits.

My friend Harry, at church, is a good example. About a year ago, a lingering limp took him to the doctor and he was eventually diagnosed with ALS. His time on earth is short and he is already dependant on a motorized scooter to get around. He’s matter-of-fact … naked, if you will … about the reality of what he faces in coming months. But Harry makes his belief believable to me. When I look at him, I see a man emanating grace and bearing what would seem an incredible suffering with lightness. I see a man being loved into heaven by his God.

I am saying all this very badly and I am certainly not trying to write a how-to on something that I also do very badly. This is more a mental processing of something God is showing me about myself. The biggest fear of my life is to be seen as I truly am … weak, sinful … and getting older without having very much figured out. I’ve gotten past believing I can ever hide anything from God. I don’t bother trying, but I still hide everything I think is ugly from the world. I’m always sure my people wouldn’t like me for these things … but if they could see me in my humanness and nakedness being loved by God and also believing in his love, that would be a sweet reason to shed the robes.


  1. Lisa, this is very, very good. As a flailing writer and a flailing Christian myself, not only does this help me to see more clearly why I’m having difficulties crafting my story (making belief believable) but it also helps me to see more clearly the difficulties I have in “sharing” my faith (making belief believable). Being real, being naked…difficult and scary.

    This could be in a book. Really.

  2. True at the deepest level, Lisa, about both fiction and faith.

  3. ‘We want to know that God loves us for our naked, messed up selves and not for the beautiful robes we clutch around us. ‘

    For me, it’s: I want to know that God loves my naked, messed up self, and not the (not-so) beautiful robe I clutch around myself and with which I try to hide from the world (and sometimes still try to hide from God).

    “We don’t know what to do with the irreligious and robeless ones. Their addictions and inadequacies frighten us.” And we are all irreligious and robeless ones, just under the surface.

    • Robert, you are absolutely right. We want to know God loves us no matter what … in the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s very hard to believe at times … especially if others make us feel unloved or if we can’t love ourselves. It’s something I struggle with regularly and I think most people do to one degree or another. I have to keep reminding myself that keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus instead of me reminds me what he did out of love for me and for each of us and helps deal with my crippling self-consciousness. Thanks for reading and for your good insight.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        This fits in with yesterday’s post on pietism and internal sin-sniffing and excessive scrupulosity OCD.

        Otherwise we’re gargling lye alongside St Rose of Lima.

        • Mike’s post yesterday really struck a chord with me. How I wish my people could see me enjoying my life instead of worrying so much! It was a nice coincidence our topics related.

  4. Lisa, your sharing from the heart really touches me this morning. I think you speak for darn near ALL of us. I find myself wanting to perfect like Christ~ and knowing just how totally screwed up and useless I am on so many levels. And let’s face, the world (meaning other humans, in and out of the church) are pretty ruthless and vocal about our flaws, looking for them with the eyes of eagles and attacking them savagely like a pack of starving hyenas. No WONDER we hide under our robes…

    Maybe your article here and the discussion will help me in showing Christ to others, because I really don’t know how to do this. How can I explain my absolute faith in Jesus Christ and the Trinity? People much smarter, deeper, more loving and caring than me seem to lack this faith…..and mine is an absolute GIFT, nothing I can brag about or describe to others. I read brilliant apologetics and think “YES”, but I can only borrow their words when the opportunity presents itself. I am sad that people I love dearly do not share the joy of trusting in God, and I don’t know how to “fix” it…..

    • Pattie, some of the people who have made me the hungriest for God didn’t know they were doing it. That actually happened before I knew Christ was the way to the Father. I could see they were clearly enjoying a love with God that made me jealous for the same. That being said, someone later gave me a concise and matter-of-fact explanation of the gospel and I made the connection and a decision to follow Christ. Sometimes we get to see the culmination of the process, but sometimes we are God’s way stations in what may be a long process for someone coming to him. You are expressing a passion and desire to be about your Father’s business. It shows both your love of God and of your people. I’m guessing you’re probably having more affect than you know.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And let’s face, the world (meaning other humans, in and out of the church) are pretty ruthless and vocal about our flaws, looking for them with the eyes of eagles and attacking them savagely like a pack of starving hyenas. No WONDER we hide under our robes…

      Or find some Other (like homosexuals), point fingers, and ATTACK. Because if we’re attacking the Other’s SIN SIN SIN, it takes the attention off our own flaws.

      “Blame Canada!
      Blame Canada!
      Before anyone can think of blaming us!”
      South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut

  5. Christiane says

    since we can’t BE perfect unless we become artificial,
    why not try to be kind instead ? . . .

  6. Beautiful thoughts, Lisa. I think the tendency in Christianity is to do our best to appear to be spiritual superheroes, which I suppose is nice, but I believe it to be sinful in and of itself. If I’m proud of my works and boast in my own spirituality, I’m ashamed of the grace that God has given me. It’s not my work that’s on display when I do good…It’s all a gift from Christ. It’s like I planted a beautiful spiritual garden, and I love to show it off, but I let grace grow in the back corner, a twisted vine with thorns that will cut and make you bleed. I hide it, so that others will be impressed with my own efforts. I love your analogy of the robe. We do hide behind our super-spirituality, don’t we? If we weren’t so ashamed of who we really are, we would have less problem with sharing grace with others, through both words and deeds.

    By the way, one of my favorite quotes from Flannery O’Connor was about Ayn Rand…“The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re: fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.” She definitely didn’t pull any punches.

    • I’ve never heard it before, but I love that quote. Rand was an awful writer, just awful, and her poor excuses for philosophical novels roundly deserve to be forgotten forever. They belong in that garbage pail O’Connor was talking about, right next to “The Shack.”

      • Funny thing is, given the choice of those four writers I’d definitely take Spillane over the other three, big time. Kiss Me Deadly is as American as apple pie…

  7. Psalm 31 says that the psalmist has placed himself in a fortress that is God. But the psalmist acknowledges that his feet have been set in a spacious place. Naturally we put ourselves on paths( narrow), God knows, but the Spirit has us in wide open fields. I think that the people who speak here as if in a wilderness, maybe even some having had to climb out of a rut, are the one’s that I think see that the horizons are wide open, the ones willing to admit to constraints(robes) not of creative divine love. It is part of a maturing process that acknowledges your on a path, but it’s in a wide open field. I know to be in this wilderness is one that is far greater than one I could have created on my own. Who knew that the inside of God’s house was nothing like what humans think. Chaplain Mike admitted the day before yesterday that this wilderness can be far from the lake. I’d rather be here without a coat, than in some comfy man-made mcmansion.
    When we were on mission in Paraguay, we saw a way different idea about house. There you come to a gate and clap your hands, and the people come to the entranceway and wave you in. You walk through a garden into the living area, but it is all house, because the garden is part of the air-conditioning. Once, there, on a balcony outside our bedroom, I saw a tree that was at least 2 feet in circumference. I thought I know that tree. So I looked close, and it was a 40 foot tall Poinsettia. I only tell that story to try to supplement my idea in the first paragraph that we have preconceived notions about all types of things. I personally think that what actually causes anyone to believe in God is direct perception of the Divine. That will change you, and as Flannery O’Conner wrote over and over, change is painful. As is wearing no coat in a wilderness.

  8. Very thought challenging. I love the “Harry” story. Not the words we speak so much. Just as one notices the heat rising from a sidewalk in waves, so does the amazing “hidden” grace of God speak in to our lives. Who can describe “grace” in words? How ever we can live it in such a way that the grace within can speak to others that no words can match. I love Paul’s letter to the Ephesus Christ-followers, for it reminds me to be in a “lower-state” (humble) to have the ability to learn and change. Thanks

  9. Lisa, what a superb post! I must admit I find the concept of Naked and Afraid intriguing and would probably watch it if I had cable. Not only basic survival skills at work but maybe the next best thing to watching the Garden of Eden replayed. No doubt the participants are carefully selected for maximum fireworks. I would guess that like the originals, one of the first things these folks might do is devise “aprons”, the first robes until upgrading to sheepskins. Sorry about that, you sheep.

    And your tale of teen-age evangelizing sums up my discomfort with Evangelicals, God bless them one and all. One way and another it still is going strong, if circling the wagons. An online friend replies today to such overtures, “what eternal life? you die and rot. glad your choice makes you happy.” Somehow I think the Four Steps to Salvation are not the answer to that.

    You are the first person ever to make me consider giving Flannery O’Connor a try. I almost never read fiction any more but maybe there is a good short story someone could recommend. Your own writing here is a pleasure to read as well as provocative of thought and feeling. Hats off!

    • Charles, thank you for reading and for your comments. I finally got to my bookshelf where I could look up the name of one of O’Connor’s short stories that is particularly memorable for me. I warn you, though, it is a good example of the grotesque and shocking writing that she talked about in Mystery and Manners … not very edifying (Bobson’s word in comment farther down), but pretty brilliant. The name of the story is A View of the Woods and it is found in a compilation of her short stories in Everything That Rises Must Converge. While it is not edifying, I found it humbling as I did her other stories in this compilation. These are reminders of what we humans are capable of and why we need God to save us.

      • Lisa, I think “A View of the Woods” is one of her finest stories, but also the most difficult to read (twice, that is). The personalities (or personality, singular) of the grandfather and granddaughter come alive in their dialogue. And the ending truly shows what she meant by “grotesque.”

        “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is every bit as violent, but somehow funny (evangelistic too, in a way, and that from a mass-murderer). I don’t know how she pulled that off.

  10. I know you consider it rough edged, but I loved the post for several reasons. I was a twenty-something hanging out at university (making sure I took at least one class to be “legit”) in order to win THIS generation for the gospel. We had our bags packed, you betcha.

    I think the tension is not “spoken word gospel” v s. “service gospel” (these are my choices, you didn’t make that claim) or doctrine vs. justice, but honesty/authenticity vs. an opaque assume a role lifestyle (the robe thing). It doesn’t help that we’ve taken (maybe not lately) a couple of classes that would make sharing the gospel EASY: these five steps…. these three questions….. this simple outline. The content is not false (though horribly inclomplete… maybe that equals false..) so much as the package and presentation does great damage to us and the big story of Jesus. If we are allowed to live in a context where we can be ourselves, maybe evangelism would’nt be the carnival mirror trip done….. and redone.

    Glad you swallowed your doubts about the “polish” in todays post, and plunged ahead. KEEP WRITING…smiling, not shouting.

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    It doesn’t help that we’ve taken (maybe not lately) a couple of classes that would make sharing the gospel EASY: these five steps…. these three questions….. this simple outline.

    Call it what it is: A SALES PITCH.
    Straight out of Home Shopping Channel or Infomercial du jour.
    Move the Product —
    A-B-C = Always Be Closing, Always Be Closing, Always Be Closing…

    • I blame this sales pitch attitude to an over emphasis on Paul. The more I listen the more I hear that being ‘christian’ means following what Paul said and did. For many in the image of christ means ‘in the image of Paul in the image of Christ’. In some churches we can add the step of in the image of their spiritual superhero in the image of Paul in the image of Christ.

      Lisa. I think writing as a christian can become very difficult. A good well written story is not enough, supposedly. After taking a ‘christian writers workshop’ a couple years ago, I was encouraged to develop my ‘gift’ since apparently I can spin a yarn. There was this constant pressure to make sure the story was ‘uplifting’ (I can’t for the life of me remember the proper christianeze word). the purpose behind the art was important, the art itself was only a necessary byproduct.

      • I would say that it is an overemphasis on a misunderstood Paul. Read 1Thessalonians 2 and see what he thought about “sales pitches” and what he set in contrast to them.

        • Likely correct CM. the one I remember is stressing how Paul led thousands to Christ and he had to walk everywhere, you have jet travel and what are you doing.

      • ooo, I remember now. Edifying. All works needed to be edifying. I guess this post does tie in somewhat with yesterdays post very much now that I remember the proper word that keeps hindering me from trying to write more. There is that and the fact that once I got my story back from the proof reader all I could say was “I don’t remember writing that in red ink!”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          ooo, I remember now. Edifying. All works needed to be edifying.

          With or without the Amish bonnets.

          Is “Edifying” anything like “Socialist Realism” or “National Socialist Realism”?

      • Bobson: I’d look elsewhere (unless you want to count the misunderstood Paul as “too much”). I think it no coincidence that many of the movers and shakers in the evangelistic world came out of , and took full use of, a business and/or media context. I do not include the Billy Grahams or Luis Palau’s, but it is amazing how many of the trend setters had a business background and saw their methodology shaped by efficiency and “global” thinking: as in get ’em won quickly and in big chunks.

        Add to this the classroom model of discipleship, stir in a robust mission statement …… and you have some urgency cooking (ooooops: make sure not to forget a little end times frenzy: this HAS to happen NOW…. the trumpet will sound…) I think it unfair to make Paul the fall guy for this modern mess of wretched urgency.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Tip: Stay far, far away from any Writer’s Workshop with “Christian(TM)” in the name. Especially Jerry “Buck” Jenkins’ $1200-a-pop online one. When “the purpose behind the art is important, the art is only the necessary byproduct”, you don’t have storytelling, you have PROPAGANDA. No different than what was coming out of Soviet-era Pravda except pushing a different Party Line. (And your phrasing is very reminiscent of “He was looking to have A Wife; I was only the necessary piece of equipment.”)

        Go mainstream whenever possible. Not only do you have much more radius of action, but a larger potential audience. When I write old-school SF, I want my stuff on the bookshelves next to the classic authors — Niven, Anderson, Piper, Dickson. NOT in a Jesus Junk store next to Left Behind and its knockoffs. When I co-write My Little Pony fanfic, I want it compared to Past Sins, not The Gospel According to Twilight Sparkle (actual fanfic/type example of how NOT to Christianize MLP).

        Christianese Fiction is a consolation/booby prize for those who are forbidden from reading the real thing, read as an Act of Faith. If you can describe anything as “Just like Fill-in-the-Blank, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”, flee it like the plague.

  12. “but if they could see me in my humanness and nakedness being loved by God and also believing in his love, that would be a sweet reason to shed the robes.” Good words, Lisa!

    Charles Fines, I watched the show “Naked and Afraid” a few times and it’s quite interesting. I would never last as long as these folks do. Some of them get VERY sick. The first thing I would be doing is getting something on my feet. Then covering my “private” areas. I think I would cover myself in mud to keep down the bug bites.

    I have seen some great quotations from Flannery O’Connor so I think I need to read some of her non-fiction, because I have not liked the two works of fiction by her which I read. I was disappointed.

    • ditto on covering with mud……and I am too much of nurse to ignore the litany of diseases one can catch in these wild and wet places. There is a reason I got 16 or so vaccines and a bunch of meds from the Army before going to a deep tropical area…. North Carolina!! (but then on to Bangkok and India!)

    • Joanie, try her short stories. She only wrote two novels, and I know what you mean by being disappointed. Her best work was the stories. I also love the book that Lisa mentioned, Mystery and Manners. I think it’s a compilation of lectures and essays, all good stuff for writers.

  13. You have stirred my interest in Ms. O’Connor. I am off to Amazon to find a book. Thanks for the post!

  14. I read all of O’Connor’s stories and I REALLY disliked them. I think it was because all the people in the stories were morons, not the kind of people I like to read about. She did a story for her MA called ‘The geranium’ that I liked very much…

    • will f.. I agree that the characters in the stories O’Connor wrote which I read were morons. I was glad to have the stories end. I am sorry to hear that ALL her stories are like that. I was reading earlier at Amazon about her book of letters. I am bound to like that better. I heard she was involved in a dinner party type of affair and the folks started talking about the Supper (Eucharist, etc.). One person said it was a symbolic thing and O’Connor said something like “Well, if it’s a symbol, the hell with it.” I kind of liked that. I just went to a page of quotations by O’Connor and one of them says, ““Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.” I also like her, “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.” I don’t know if that was about a character or a real person. Either way, it makes me chuckle!

      • Oops, the word “Lord’s” should have been placed before the word “Supper.” Sorry about that.

        Funny…the word “Supper” suddenly looks and sounds odd to me.

        • joanie d. yeah, her non fiction is better than her fiction, man oh man…. One quote from her I like is “The catholic reader believes you destroy freedom by sin; the modern reader believes,, I think, that you gain it that way.”

          because it touches on the big problem facing someone who is a Christian who wants to write fiction but not ‘Christian fiction’ that’s uplifting a la Karen Kingsbury. You want to write something that really true, that accurately describes your experience enough so that it wouldn’t fit in the church library, but you want to have characters wrestle with God and questions of meaning–you end up staring at the blank screen thinking, ‘who on Earth is left who wants to read that kind of thing?” I appreciate your contributions to this website.

    • Will F., I’m glad you liked “The Geranium.” Try reading “Judgement Day,” which is a re-work of The Geranium. Completely different, though. These were the first and last stories that she published, as I understand. They are also first and last in the volume I have, Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories.

      I don’t think all of her characters are morons. Most of them, maybe.

      One of my favorite scenes is in “Greenleaf” when Mrs. May, the employer, comes upon Mrs. Greenleaf, her foreman’s wife, in the woods, flailing around in the dirt in a pentecostal frenzy, screaming “Jesus, Jesus!”

      Mrs.May winced. She thought the word, Jesus, should be kept inside the church building like other words inside the bedroom. She was a good Christian woman with a large respect for religion, though she did not, of course, believe any of it was true. “What is the matter with you?” she asked sharply.

      “You broken my healing,” Mrs. Greenleaf said, waving her aside. “I can’t talk to you until I finish.”

      Mrs. May stood, bent forward, her mouth open and her stick raised off the ground as if she were not sure what she wanted to strike with it.

      “Oh Jesus, stab me in the heart!” Mrs. Greenleaf shrieked. “Jesus, stab me in the heart!” and she fell back flat in the dirt, a huge human mound, her legs and arms spread out as if she were trying to wrap them around the earth.

      Mrs. May felt as furious and helpless ass if she had been insulted by a child. “Jesus,'” she said, drawing herself back, “would be ashamed of you. He would tell you to get up from there this instant and go wash your children’s clothes!” and she had turned and walked off as fast as she could.

  15. Randy Thompson says

    Thanks for this wonderful article.

    I share your skittishness about the idea of “evangelism,” at least as I was exposed to it. (I too did the “surveys,” which collected data no one ever bothered to tabulate, as far as I can tell.) What I found interesting, earlier in my life, was that the more I rejected hard sell evangelism, where the Gospel was inserted into sales techniques usually associated with used car salesmen, the more I found myself casually sharing my faith. My non-Christian roommate at UCLA once thanked me for not evangelizing him during our year together, which led to the one time I was able to share my faith!

    Your post today, and Chaplain Mike’s post yesterday, both illustrate something a second century saint, Irenaeus, said: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” The next part doesn’t get quoted quite as much, but it’s a good word too: “. . . and to be alive consists of beholding God.”

    The movie version of “The Wizard of Oz” opens in black and white. When Dorothy arrives in Oz, the movie becomes technicolor. This is a great metaphor for what it means to be alive beholding God–black and white becomes color, and monaural becomes stereo. From what I can make out, the best possible evangelism is simply living a full color, stereophonic life. The great tragedy is, as Chaplain Mike noted yesterday, so many Christians live black and white, monaural lives, and on that basis try to sell people the Gospel as though it’s a life insurance policy–and you’re going to die any minute.

    A joyful, loving life does a lot more to commend the Gospel than zealous hysteria and sales techniques.

    (And, having written all this, I want to note that there really are people who genuinely like going up to strangers and talking about God, and I honor them. If there is a spiritual gift of evangelism, folks like this have that charisma, and I have met a few!

  16. I’ve arrived at the point where I no longer strive to make belief believable to those around me. I am not that necessary, nor important, to effect the salvation of ANYONE! All I am responsible for is to be faithful to what I am called while living a life that does not contradict what I espouse in public. It is up to someone Higher than I to draw others toward true spirituality, and any navel gazing I may be tempted to engage in is just works, pure and simple.

    As a result I find myself slightly out of phase with other “leaders” in my local church. To all appearances they seem to be more spiritual and faithful than me and I sometimes wonder how long it will be before they discover my lack of…WHATEVER! But I am sure that they are just like me, harboring the same questions and doubts, but they are just not free enough to open up to each other. On second though, maybe they HAVE opened up, but just not to me, personally.

    In the meantime I will continue to exercise what gifting I may have been assigned and let the Giver assess its efficacy.

  17. Patricia Stewart says

    This post really resonated with me. I facilitate a group a cancer survivors at my church. What I love about these people is their willingness to be honest about their experiences and their responses to them. For one, the challenge of cancer made her feel like a step child of God at first, but as she began to see the love of God through others to her during this time, she began to see herself as God sees her – His dearly loved daughter. Sometimes, robe wearing “Christians” evoke the same response in others as cancer did to this dear woman. Immature followers of Jesus become discouraged, frustrated that they will “never measure up.” They look at their messy lives and realize they will never be the ones wearing the “robes.” And yet, THIS is the point; we need to lose those robes and rely upon the garment of righteousness that only Jesus gives. In this way, we CAN stand before God and others naked and unashamed.

  18. That’s the best pic of Flannery I’ve seen. Why do we usually see her as an old woman?

  19. Tom, she was only 39 when she died from Lupus. The illness itself and the nasty effects of the drugs for her treatment probably made her look older than she was. Very sad. She was so accomplished for a young writer. I wonder what more she would have written if she’d lived.