By Christine Sunderland
Today is Veterans Day, also known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. Americans remember those who fought in World War I and the Armistice signed the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918. We also honor with gratitude those who fought in all wars defending our freedoms. We celebrate those heroes who died and those who survived to tell their stories, each one a part of our history.
Christian novelists are tasked with telling history, even in fiction set in the present. We tell the truth about time, our present time and our past time. We seek to be clear-eyed, to not whitewash our history, be it personal or national. We create backstories for our characters, histories that reveal their true nature, their humanity, as they grasp with epic questions of free will and choice, what it means to be free to choose. What they choose in the course of the time of the novel will determine the plot – the conflict, the crossroads, the crisis, and the ending. Their histories are vital for while they will not predetermine their actions, they will influence and catalyze them.
My recent novel, Angel Mountain, opens on Veterans Day 2018, a Sunday, and the centennial of the 1918 Armistice. The novel closes on Thanksgiving, covering a twelve-day span. Thus, the time of the novel is bracketed by remembrance and gratitude, two major themes.
In American culture today, history is being rewritten (and taught) so that truth and lies appear interchangeable. Heroes are disgraced. Responsibility and hard work are mocked. Civility and virtue are ignored if not forgotten. Identities divide and threaten assimilation. Christian ideals, once assumed, are erased by a cancel culture. Never has there been a greater need for Christian writers to write, to tell present-day stories built on the foundation of the past, the true past. The foundations of liberty and law, human dignity and responsibility, offer the reader stability in a chaotic world. On these foundations we challenge our characters, informed by conscience, to choose love, not hate, and bravery, not cowardice.
The recent and ongoing worldwide pandemic has, in many ways, forced our churches underground, locking the faithful in their homes to gather virtually on screens and in squares. This may be a rehearsal for the future, should Christian artists – writers, painters, producers – not inform our culture with historic ideals based on Judeo-Christian commandments. While there is time, we must redeem our time. We must weave into the warp of our world Christ himself.
Our Creator created each of us to be creators as well, to reflect his divine image of love and suffering. Just so we must be willing to suffer for love, telling the truth, as he suffered for love of us, if we are to redeem our time. For even with a marginalized church, or an underground church, stories are told. Stories connect us, reaching aboveground, into the hearts and minds of readers. Stories remind us to remember. Stories reflect the reasons we rise in the morning to a new day, praising God for the safe night and asking God for a new and good day. We ask, “What will you show me, Lord, this day that you have made, this day we shall share together?” And we travel through the minutes and hours listening for his voice, watching and waiting for ordinary epiphanies. Grace allows this; grace makes the new day good.
When my son was young, we said bedtime prayers at night. After we prayed for a safe night and for family and friends, he would invariably conclude with, “And God, make tomorrow a good day.”
I often think of this, now in my gentle years, now when my boy is a man and husband and father of teens. That’s what we all want. We want tomorrow to be a good day.
Our stories hold a hope that tomorrow will be a good day, full of ordinary epiphanies, at least with God’s grace working actively among us. Our stories point to that grace, reminding us of his inestimable goodness.
Our tales remind us to remember, for memory reveals and defines our humanity, who we are and who we are meant to be. We recall the past to understand the present, so that we can choose rightly in the future. Without true history, true remembering, there cannot be true celebration of the good and true repentance of the bad. Without repentance there cannot be forgiveness. Without forgiveness, there cannot be grace. Without grace, hope is dimmed. Without hope, faith is fragile. Without faith, can freedom survive? And with freedom, we cherish what we have learned from the past, what makes the days good for all.
Christian storytellers remind us to remember to remember who we were, who we are, and who we are meant to be.
Tweetable: Christian storytellers remind us to remember to remember who we were, who we are, and who we are meant to be. @Chrisunderland #ACFWBlogs #writetips #ACFWCommunity
Christine Sunderland has authored seven novels: Pilgrimage, set in Italy, Offerings, set in France, Inheritance, set in England, Hana-lani, set in Hawaii, The Magdalene Mystery, set in Rome and Provence (all Oaktara), The Fire Trail (eLectio), set at UC Berkeley and Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock), set on Mount Diablo, east of Berkeley. She serves as Managing Editor for the American Church Union (www.AmericanChurchUnion.com). Visit Christine at www.ChristineSunderland.com (website and blog).