Saturday, April 19, 2008

More Pillow Ponderings

The fever is subsiding but I am still weak on my pins and the antibiotics are making me queasy so it's still lots of pillow time. In which I am thinking about that novel. And wondering: how do you handle the ugly stuff?

By ugly stuff, I mean the kinds of things that happen in a Mennonite church that shouldn't, seen from the perspective of a minister's wife, since she and her husband will be doing the premarital counselling, which she doesn't enjoy, because the starry-eyed couples gushing about communication always make her aware of the flaws in her own marriage.

One approach is the one we all seem to prefer: "Um, well, . . .hey, isn't that a ruby-throated hummingbird out by the fuchsias?"

Then there's the "bad things don't happen to Mennonites" oblivion. Recently I read reviews of a novel about the Amish written by an ex-Amish man, and one furious reviewer said, "This was a terribly inaccurate book! The Amish are gentle people and they would never behave this way--calling their children brats, of all things!" Hmmm, yes, well.

There's the dump-out-all-the-slop-for-the-world-to-see approach, favored by that gal from Iowa, Ruth Irene Garrett, who ran off with the driver for the Amish, the daughter of John somebody from the North district I think, whom Mom and Dad knew.

I guess this subject is on my mind because every now and then I get random emails from minister's wives around the country, and they haunt me. Some of our Mennonite churches are downright cruel to their ministers, the way we put lay people into this position and then expect them to work fulltime, be family men, and take on obscenely heavy loads with the church. And be constantly criticized besides.

On the other hand, we often don't have a good system of checks and balances for ministers, creating a wide-open opportunity for someone on a power kick, resulting in terrible silent helpless suffering in the pews because unless he's doing something really terrible, who can speak out against God's annointed who are in their position for life, like Supreme Court justices?

I do realize that for every church that expects the minister's wife to plan all the funeral meals, there's another church that supports the minister with a half-time salary, and for every dictator type who suddenly decides to announce on Sunday morning that sandals are no longer allowed in church, there's another who surrounds himself with men he's accountable to.

But back to my original question: how does one handle all this in a novel?? How much is too much? How do you reach some sort of resolution in the story when in real life there often isn't any until 30 years later?

Quote of the Day:
"Most church problems could be solved if one or two people would just die."
--my irreverent BIL Rod


  1. I howled to have been quoted in your Quote of the Day and to be labeled "irreverent". But as one heavily involved in church ministry like you, I've sadly encountered just as many selfish and proud people inside as outside the hallowed church doors.

    And for the record I was quoting Steve Brown, a nationally knwon Xn radio speaker who spent ~20 years in the pastorate and another 20 as a radio preacher and public speaker. He certainly saw all the junk from the inside.

    your not-always-reverent BIL Rod

  2. Dorcas, All along I've thought no one knows how to work with those issues like you do! Just the fact that you see them in all their complicated glory means you're well on your way. Sorry--I know that's not much help. But from my experience living among those pressures/temptations of Amish/Menno leadership, an honest representation (e.g., pleasant and unpleasant realities) is long overdue. Good people who sometimes make poor choices--what else is there in life? (grimace)

    Have you read _Levi's Will_ by W. Dale Cramer? (Amish boy who ran away tries to reconcile with his father. Available on Amazon.) When I think of the most successful nonfiction/realistic fiction I've read, I notice the writer simply reports (carefully chosen) facts, but doesn't offer any commentary or judgment. _Angela's Ashes_ by Frank McCourt is another excellent example. He describes terrible events without a hint of whining. I would be elated to write about unpleasant things a fifth so well.

    Hope your health continues to improve! Just as it's warming up around here, my sinuses are throwing a fit. Ugh.

  3. LOL at the quote. If we put all churches into consideration, a whole lot of people need to die. ;) I just have to trust God has them there for a reason to help us grow and become more like Him.

    The very first book I read about the Amish was Crossing Over. I had a tainted view for years. Since that time I met folk who knew her parents and they set me straight.
    Glad you are starting to feel better. :)

  4. loved the qotd!!!!! :)

  5. You know, your "not-always- reverent BIL" actually has a point. We all need to die -- die to our selves, die to the flesh. I know that's not quite what he (or Steve Brown) had in mind, but it is true. If these "problem people" would die to their flesh, and develop a closer relationship with the Lord, the church would improve tremendously. Part of the process of the bride of Christ, making herself ready for His appearing. And, hey, I'm preaching to myself, too!!

    Juanita, a reader from Virginia who happened to stumble across your site...

  6. You know, your post sounds true to life, balanced. I appreciate that! As for how to put that in a novel...maybe the book would have to span 30 years? Do writers ever write stories with such long time frames? Nothing is impossible with God, are we expecting too little from Him?

  7. Sounds like you've got yourself a series of novels, not just one :) That way you can take 30 years to wrap everything up. Thst's why I have always loved the Anne series, I got to see her grow up. I think you would do a great job writing a LMM style series. Please write a novel(or three or four or five)!!

    I hope you feel better soon.

  8. The qotd is very true, and I often hope that it wouldn't be me that they are hoping would die.

  9. The Quote of the Day actually has a touch of truth to it. Also have to agree with "cwj", that God places these folks there "for a reason". God bless you, as you do the "less-than pleasant" tasks.

  10. I don't have answers to the hard novel questions, the author of Crossing Over was my neighbor, and I totally loved the QOTD! ~ribbit98

  11. and as my husband says, "if it wasn't for the students teaching would be a breeze!"

  12. I'll take the realistic "we're not perfect" approach, tempered by the hopefulness that having faith demands...just don't do the ostrich thing. If people can't handle the admission of a few flaws (like your angry reader reacting to the "brat" quotation) then they are not nearly as secure in their faith as they may think, are just possibly living in la-la land, and are most probably insufferable to be around.

  13. I love that quote and I'm laughing and wondering what the reaction would be if I posted it on the bulletin board at church.

  14. I agree with your BIL. :-)

    May I humbly suggest that you hold off writing the novel for at least a few more years, but not necessarily 30.

    The Baritone