by Terrie Lynn Bittner
I received The Rock That is Higher: Story as Truth for Christmas, which we had early this year. It is by Madeleine L’engle, the author of Wrinkle in Time. The book is about writing, but even more about religion. L’engle, who died recently, was a devout Episcopalian and this book was written shortly after she was in a terrible car accident that should have taken her life, and led to some intense thoughts about truth and scripture, as well as writing.
She spoke at Wheaton College, a place she loved and had agreed to donate her papers to. However, she was attacked by a group of Christians who objected to Wrinkle in Time. She could tell they didn’t want answers—they only asked the questions to make others hear their point of view, and in fact, interrupted her answers so she was unable to respond to them. They wanted only one perspective to be known. She was shaken by the experience and spent a great deal of time thinking about it. In the book, she writes:
“How do I glorify God in this matter? I think the only way I know is to continue to write what is given me, to write to the best of my ability. I wrote A Wrinkle in Time as a hymn of praise to God, so I must let it stand as it is and not be fearful when it is misunderstood.”
People don’t often think of writing as a career that takes courage. We sit at a desk all day. Other than carpal tunnel and the risk of being buried under the weight of our rejection letters, how dangerous can the job be? However, if we write things that matter to us, if we write about truth (as opposed to facts) and about great principles, we do indeed put ourselves at risk of attack.
When my first book came out, one reviewer was offended by the old-fashionedness of the book, of the idea of moms staying home, of a wife who combed her hair before her husband came home, that sort of thing that is no longer in style. (Who knew combing your hair was controversial?) But my portrayal of the typical homeschooling parent as female was actually factual, as well as truthful. I once accidentally encountered a furious debate (with no one defending me, so it was more of an agreement than a debate) online about me, because I suggested the various factions of homeschoolers stop attacking each other. They all agreed I was single-handedly destroying homeschooling, and furthermore…I was a Mormon. Who gave Mormons the right to represent homeschooling?
I felt intimidated for a bit. I thought I was preaching to the choir, as they say, so who expected my book to generate such intense anger? But I realized if I’m going to write about things that matter to me, I’m going to make people mad over the years. I heard that Mormons shouldn’t be allowed to represent homeschooling as often as Romney hears a Mormon shouldn’t be allowed to be president. Whether I’m writing that Sunbeams don’t need candy during class or that Noah might have been around for the Tower of Babel, I’ll generate controversy. And when I write about more intense things—the gospel, for instance—the emails can become downright scary.
But if my writing is a hymn to God, I must let it stand and not be fearful, as L’engle suggested. When I started my first writing career and was unable to sell anything, I prayed to know why. I was told my writing was fluffy and fun, which is okay, but it wasn’t my calling. My calling was to teach, and so my writing must teach truth.
Truth makes us free, but it also makes us targets. So, if you’re telling the truth in your writing (as opposed to facts), put on your armor and don’t be afraid.