catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 16 :: 2003.08.01 — 2003.08.14


Visions of hope

As a Christian who writes fiction I sometimes don?t know what to do. My problems are many. How am I supposed to write anything worthwhile when I live my life in the shadow of the Bible—and the stories in that book make mine seem redundant and pointless? Am I supposed to depict how sin has warped humans to the point where they can?t seem to do anything other than evil to each other? Am I supposed to write stories of happiness, offering the hope of God?s grace? Do I try to show both sin and hope? How do I do that without rewriting the Bible?

The way I keep writing though, is through the examples of books like The One-Room Schoolhouse by Jim Heynen. Heynen describes a group of junior-high aged boys growing up in a rural community. In a series of remarkably short stories, he shows us pictures of the evil that even little boys can do—but better still, the moments of grace, the visions of hope, when they chose to do something that is compassionate or kind. What is so excellent about the book is that it is utterly believable—even the parts about grace.

The first story was worth the price of the book for me. After an ice storm, the pheasants in the area have had their eyeballs frozen. They are wandering the gravel roads of the community blind and defenseless. Some of the men go out with clubs to harvest them for meat during the coming winter months. The boys go out too, and when they find a bunch of the sightless birds, huddled together, they consider throwing things at them or doing some other stereotypically boy-like mischief. Instead, though, the oldest takes off his jacket there in the frozen cold and wraps it around one of the birds. The other boys do the same and shelter the creatures, giving them time to thaw and recover.

Oh, come on, you say, we?re talking junior high kids here. No way would that happen. But it does. Heynen?s style is so convincing, that you simply believe it.

Partly he does it by showing a group of boys who are kind and

mean. They hoard eggs and leave them in the sun until the eggs get good and rotten. They hunt snakes. They kill chickens. But what makes the book soar is that the moments of graceful redemption seem to outnumber (perhaps just barely,) the moments of total depravity.

There are some surprising moments of believable strangeness too—the pastor?s wife who runs out of milk at the introductory tea and must make do with what is at hand (she is a nursing mother), the man who builds sheds in his back yard and has one special shed that he never lets anyone into, and similar inhabitants of this country provide me with moments of recognition. I have never known anyone to do either of those things, but I have an aunt who has owned eleven identical dogs, and at the death of each one she retreats into her room until her family re-supplies her with a convincing duplicate. People are strange and they are out there.

I don?t know whether you will like Jim Heynen?s writing. I suspect you might, though. It would be worth a look to find out, because in my experience, the authors who can convince me, in one page, that the world is totally messed up, and that God is utterly at work making all things right again are rare and to be treasured.

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