Last night, my internet went down, and so I was not able to sit, sew, and catch up on Downton Abbey. Instead, I sat down with Justin Lee’s amazing book Torn: Rescuing The Gospel from the Gays-vs-Christian Debate. (You can hear a really wonderful interview with Lee here.). In this book that is somewhere between memoir and theology and doctrine and self-help, Lee tells his story of discovering that he was gay, his struggle to try to not be gay because that’s what his Christian church taught, and his battle to come to peace not only with himself but with Christians who believe that his sexual orientation is sinful.
I was compelled by the story because the topic is one that I have thought much about in my years as a Christian and because over and over again, I see the church hurt people deeply in their attempt to “love the sinner and hate the sin.” In the end, Lee’s conclusions about the overarching nature of love being more important than dogma gave more reason and rationale to a position I had long held, and so I was thrilled with the book’s conclusions over all.
But it wasn’t just the content that drew me in – as a writer, what absolutely held me fast was Lee’s ability to clearly state his own truth, to state it without duplicity, self-aggrandizement, or self-deprecation, while also honoring and respecting people’s whose truth did not match his own. The writing is just masterful in this regard.
As I wrote on Saturday, writers have an obligation to tell our truth, even if it might offend some, and I truly believe that. I am sure that many, many people are offended by Lee’s book. Yet, as a wise friend reminded me, it’s not enough to just tell our truth by spewing it forth without awareness or a willingness to hear other people’s truth. We have to be able – if our writing is to be truly good – to leave space for people to respond and not just shut down conversation because we know “the truth.” Writing is, in fact, a humble act.
At its best, writing is transactional – it requires participation from both writer and reader. And the best writing leaves space for the write to really enter in and place herself in the narrative – to test out her mind in the writer’s experience or ideas or in the live of the character crafted anew.
Finally, good writing is discovery. When a writer excels, he has delved into a subject, a story, an emotion he doesn’t understand fully, and he is writing his way to understanding, carrying the reader along on the journey. Writing that starts with the same truth that it ends with is not appealing to any readers but those who already agree because it doesn’t leave the reader space to engage. Instead, it reads like a school lesson or a rank, and most people aren’t eager to enter into those pieces.
So, it is with Justin Lee. We take his journey of discovery with him, and we are able to find our place in his story no matter how we feel about homosexuality. And yet, still, Lee speaks clearly his truth – that our job as Christians is to show grace and love above all else and that we have failed to do so toward LGBT people in incredibly painful ways. He has done a massive work here – a work that will challenge and certainly offend but a work that will – above all – heal. Powerful writing, indeed.
What books have you read that gave you space to grow even while they spoke a clear truth to you?