Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Writing that changes lives.

Words are powerful. A few words strung together can destroy or encourage, bring hope and joy or dash every expectation. As writers we exert power in every paragraph we offer to others. Will our writing amuse, tickle ears, or inspire our readers?

Just after Christmas, Steve and I saw  'Les Miserables.'  Having loved the stage production in the late 1980s, I was both excited and apprehensive as I entered the theatre, tissues in hand. I was totally captivated and pleased I only cried a little. But this film didn't stop when I tore my eyes from the screen. It invaded my mind, interrupting my sleep and demanding answers. 


It challenged me. Could I, or would I, extend grace the way the Bishop offered grace to Jean Valjean. Could such costly grace be a hallmark of my life! The extent of grace was reflected in the shocked eyes of the women in this scene. Their Bishop gave away the family silver. Gave it to a man in chains. Gave it to a man who had stolen from him in the middle of the night,  thrusting into his hands two more silver candle sticks. The Bishop's offering of grace literally removed chains from Jean's legs, saved him from returning to a life of slavery. One act of love and generosity burned so hot in Jean Valjean's heart that he turned to God. He, in turn, extended that love and compassion to  many others, often costing him dearly, including his safety and freedom. It bought life and hope to those who could receive grace, but bought death to the one who was bound by law. 


Les Miserable is one of the most profound expressions of the gospel that I have seen. Better than any sermon I've heard or delivered. 


The film is based on the book of the same name written by Victor Hugo and published to 1862. Hugo was so sure of this book that he sold the publishing rights to the highest bidder! His writing was so powerful it forced the highlighted social issues onto the agenda of the National Assembly of France. But I doubt that he foresaw over 14 million people flocking to see the movie 150 years later. Nor did he expect it to speak into hearts over so many generations.


As I writer, I honour his skill and imagination. I would love to be able to encapsulate the love of God in such a story. Which raises a question. If any of us wrote a similar book today would it be accepted as a Christian fiction, or would it be considered too 'edgy', to risqué for  Christians to read? Or would it receive similar reviews to some given to Hugo's masterpiece, when it was first released. Lambasting its artificiality, one reviewer wrote, "neither truth nor greatness". Another, despite giving favourable reviews in newspapers, castigated it in private as "tasteless and inept".


My local radio station summarized the film as 'a convict rescuing a prostitute'. I was stunned, arguing that there wasn't a prostitute in the movie. Instead I saw a deeply devoted young mother who would do anything to keep her daughter alive. I was offended by the description and wondered if the reporter had viewed the same film. Which demonstrates that a great story tells a different tale to each individual , depending on the tint of the coloured glasses worn at the time. 


"Is not my word like fire," declares the Lord, "And like a hammer that breaks a rock to pieces?"


Les Miserables has the Word of God hidden within its fast moving story, and three weeks later the hammer is still  pounding my heart, challenging me to walk every day in deep grace.


Oh, to be able to string words together with such skill and imagination. I'm determined to practice my word building until it brings such positive challenges, renewed hope and deep revelation! 


Lord take my heart, my mind and my words and let them be instruments in your hand. 


Jo Wanmer apologises for the highlighting! She had an argument with blogger and blogger won! Meanwhile she is working on her new book, praying that God will give her words that will bring life and a deeper experience of the amazing, powerful love of God. Her recent publication 'Though the Bud be Bruised' continues to challenge thinking and bring hope and healing.

16 comments:

  1. Hi Jo,
    It's a great privilege to be able to work with words. To be able to elicit emotion from readers is just part of it. I saw "Les Mis" back when it was a stage production, with some mates from youth group. I haven't seen the new movie yet. Powerful old classic indeed.

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  2. Actually Jo, I think you a pretty good at stringing words together in a powerful fashion already. And yes, Les Misrables struck me in the same profound way. Thanks for sharing. XXOO

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    1. Thanks for your kind words Amanda. Blessings xx

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  3. Jo, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on Les Mis. You go right for the core - the central story of grace and forgiveness that is at the heart of the gospel. I remember being blown away by the stage show of Les Mis many years ago and like you left pondering the full implications of the story for weeks afterwards.

    You make an interesting point would today's Christian Publishers consider this story too edgy to publish?

    Thanks for an insightful review

    Jeanette

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  4. Well said, Jo. I saw the non-musical film version with Liam Niesan some time ago, and then this new musical film version, and you are so right about the depth of grace expressed. Forgiveness, love and all of that. I guess we could pray that everyone who sees this magnificent piece of work will also hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit as he reminds them of His grace and compassion.

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    1. Amen, Meredith. I started reading 'How Sweet the Sound' I'm captivated!

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  5. Like you, I was totally captivated with Les Mis. Such a powerful portrayal of shackles being removed and total grace. I cried during the movie as the impact of God's love was shown over and over again.

    The movie impacted me so much that it has changed the direction of our publishing house, HyalineHouse. We'll still be publishing fantastic books, nothing will change that, but we're going to incorporate another arm which will deal with abused women.

    Would I consider this too edgy to publish? No. The Bible is full of similar situations and the impact caused.

    Thanks for reminding me, once again, of God's incredible love.

    Lee

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    1. I agree, Lee. The Bible is full of such stories, but some readers give me the impression they don't know that!

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  6. Hi Jo,
    I love Les Mis too!! Ihope it gets the audience thinking about love and forgiveness in their own lives, I know that's what I think about when I see it.

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  7. Great blog Jo. Thanks for all your interesting thoughts on it too. Grace is a challenge for all of us isn't it? I think we all have a daily challenge from God to extend His grace to all in our world. Love the idea of writing a book with a similar theme. You got me thinking there.

    Blessings and thanks,
    Anusha

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  8. Thanks for your thoughts Jo. Haven't seen the movie yet (this weekend for sure), but have seen the stage show three times and each time I was blown away by the story of grace, forgiveness, compassion and servanthood. A more powerful Christian message than some specifically Christian literature I've read. Your comment about whether it would be accepted as Christian fiction today set me thinking about a related issue. Is it sometimes better to publish books with a Christian message in the mainstream market rather than in the Christian market? To Kill a Mockingbird is another one that comes to mind - published in the mainstream market but with a powerful anti-prejudice message. Great food for thought Jo.

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  9. Great post Jo. Thanks for your thoughts.Les Mis is my favourite musical because it is all about the themes of redemption, sacrifice, God's love and forgiveness. Powerful words indeed. I haven't read the book yet, but intend to. I have seen the stage play three times and movie just last wek. It never fails to impact me.

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  10. Yes, Nola, To Kill a Mockingbird another powerful book and film. I'd like to see more with strong message that are Christian based in the mainstream market.Maybe we need to pray mainstream publishers will open their eyes?

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    1. Hi Dale - Great idea. I've seen a number of mainstream novels that have faith issues in them, though not always necessarily Christian. For example, Geraldine Brooks's books often deal with issues of faith, so I guess there are mainstream publishers who are open to that if it's a compelling story. Maybe we should pray for the publishers, but also Christian writers - that we will know how to craft faith stories that don't compromise yet will resonate with a mainstream audience.

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    2. Agree about Geraldine Brooks. Have you read Caleb's Crossing? I adored that. Agree with other points you made too.

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  11. Thanks for the great insight about Les Miserables Jo. I must admit that I too have experienced non-stop crying on some parts of the movie. There are various instances in the movie that touches the Christianity spirit in me (the moment when the Bishop gave the remaining two candle sticks and when Jean Valjean is on the bed of death where the spirit Fantine is on his side). Who would have thought that after more than 150 years, Victor Hugo's writing will deliver such a strong emotion to the readers/viewers today.

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