So said Rudy Wiebe, a leading Canadian novelist, who headlined the second annual Many Strands: Celebrating the Art of Storytelling writer’s conference May 29–30 at MEI Middle School in Abbotsford, B.C.
The conference was not called a Christian event, but the organizers and presenters are generally Christians and approach their work from that perspective.
It is an approach Wiebe is comfortable with. As a practicing Christian, he said he is “following in the steps of one of the best storytellers who ever lived.” He added: “The stories I write are written by a Christian; a Jesus follower should have a Christian response to events. But not everything we write is related to the church.”
Wiebe noted that many of the things Jesus talked about speak to our common humanity. “We think every Christian story should have some element of salvation, but most of Jesus’ stories don’t…Not every story has to end happily if you want it to be believable.”
A case in point is Wiebe’s A Discovery of Strangers, which he considers “a profoundly Christian story” – even though it is the pagan Dene natives who act in a more humane, caring and Christian way than the Christian English sailors who encounter them.
It is ironic and somewhat disappointing to Wiebe that his novels have been readily accepted in secular universities and literary circles, but have often been less warmly received in Christian circles.
He suggested his writings have been “too indefinite for some Christian readers.”
Wiebe said people are always asking of his fiction, Is it true? when they really mean: Is it factual? Did it happen in time? “Truth doesn’t have to have much to do with fact at all,” he says.
On the other hand, when we label something non-fiction, “people assume it is all true, and that is problematic.” Three people will often remember the same event differently, and “all language is image, a sound that only represents something else.”
For that reason, Wiebe prefers to present “ambiguity and meaning” in his work – which, he said, allows the reader “to participate in the shaping of the story.”
—Jim Coggins is associate editor at BC Christian News. This article appeared in their May 2009 edition, before the event. Reprinted with permission.