Bring Me My Coloured Coat, by Ben Jeapes
If I was a farmer looking at a dustbowl of sand and withered weeds where my corn field used to be, on the one hand I would be quite relieved to know that there was grain a-plenty; I just had to jump through a couple of extra hoops and my family would be fed. That would be my head knowledge. But in my heart I might still be sick with fear. The unthinkable had happened, once. Why should it not happen again?
God was in charge. God had set things up so that the Egyptians, and through them the people of neighbouring countries, should not starve when famine struck.
Did God actually send the famine? Or did he know it was coming because it was the inevitable working out of a whole host of factors in the way he had set up the world – climatic, meteorological, chemical, social – that, looked at logically, could only end in a famine? The same way that keeping live bats in a meat market could only, logically, inevitably result in a bat virus passing to one human being and – again, due to a combination of factors including pride, stubbornness, fear, politics and stupidity – thence to the rest of the planet …
Yes, I’m writing this on the first day of Lockdown 2 and I’m talking about that flippin’ virus.
I’m not going to get into the whole question of could God have stopped / why doesn’t God stop / did God cause or just allow the pandemic? I shy away from questions that ultimately boil down to “why doesn’t God act like I think he should?” Let’s just agree that it’s here.
It has disrupted life immeasurably.
I wish it wasn’t here.
But, I am so glad it’s here now, rather than 10, 20, 30 years ago …
Seriously. Can you imagine getting through this without the internet, Zoom, mobile phones, online orders, food deliveries …? Oh, we could have done it. We might have just put our heads down and forged ahead. Maybe millions more would suffer and die but the world would have gone on. Earth abides.
Frankly, I’d rather do it this way.
In cheap and easy fiction, things come to a nice resolution. If the pandemic were in such a book, someone would find a cure and normality would return, everything and everyone back in their place. It seems to me that God doesn’t do that. He gives us the tools to get through stuff rather than to resolve stuff – thereby opening up whole new possibilities for proceeding. That’s reality.
So, how do we write fiction that reflects reality but still has a resolution?
I would say, sure, have a resolution but it can’t tie everything up. If everything is back to normal then what exactly was the point of reading your novel? To use modern parlance, your book needs to end with a new normal – life going on but in a new way, so that people will want to know more.
Then, of course, you write the sequel. After all, that’s what God did in Exodus ...
I really love this, Ben. It's so sensible. I would only add that our Vicar has got a group which is studying a Christian book about the Pandemic (by Tom Wright) - which we are actually thinking of not attending, for fear of those very questions and statements you mention being put forward, discussed, and packed away again in predictable fashion... I'm not saying that's what NTW has put in his book, but people will mention them... And what you say here is so reasonable, and given our society, we are both more able to cope in various handy ways - such as the internet, Zoom, Teams, etc all, on-line groceries, etc... and, possibly, our ways of running our world at the same time have not changed (because we are humans proud, careless, lazy, individualistic etc), so maybe it is our 'sins' which (while not being punished by God with this virus), have simply and inadvertently made its spread so possible - international fast travel for one... Will stop here, but Go, Ben! this a great meditation... and the bit about how if we write about it, we should consider the conclusion of the story we tell...ReplyDelete
I like that idea, that a story should end on a new normal. That's a great way to think about it and something to aim for.ReplyDelete
"If I was a farmer looking at a dustbowl of sand and withered weeds where my corn field used to be, on the one hand I would be quite relieved to know that there was grain a-plenty; I just had to jump through a couple of extra hoops and my family would be fed. That would be my head knowledge. But in my heart I might still be sick with fear. The unthinkable had happened, once. Why should it not happen again?" Yep! That's the difference between head and heart knowledge. Such a good blog, Ben.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Ben. I love the way you explain finding a resolution. If you don't mind me asking on here, I read all the "morethanwriters" blogs that come into my emails and I nearly always comment, but I don't know how to see if my comments are approved, or even seen. Also, I don't like the thought that maybe someone replies to me and I seem to ignore them... Would it be possible to explain how I see the comments later, or just email me to say my comment has been seen and received this time? email@example.comReplyDelete
I can see your comment, DawnDelete
I also see your comment, Dawn! As I type this, there's a tick box below marked "Notify me". Clicking on that should mean I get a notification when anyone replies. Or, you can just bookmark the page and go back to it from time to time!Delete
Great post, Ben and totally agree, whats the point if nothing's changed?ReplyDelete
'He gives us the tools to get through stuff rather than to resolve stuff – thereby opening up whole new possibilities for proceeding.' So true. Great post. Thank you.ReplyDelete