The Group September Letter – Redemption? Just another form of triumphalism?

by Geoff Hall on September 30, 2011

Mentoring support of word, image and performance arts

September, 2011. Redemption? Just another form of triumphalism?

 Dear Arts Mentoring Group,

I was at the Tree House on Wednesday night and during Jari’s Question and Answer time that old redemption chestnut surfaced again.


How does a writer understand the theme of redemption in their work? Should they even consider it? Is it based on a misconceived notion of triumphalism? (Triumphalism is an over-simplification of an issue; the narrative plot is simplistic and only works on the level of pre-text – you just know everything will turn out nice! ) The writer doesn’t convey any sub-textual threads to the story and is only concerned with getting you to the end and arriving at the same conclusion as they’d conceived, before the story was written. Namely, nice people, REALLY nice people, always get saved!


Generally christian triumphalist stories are sugar-high confectionery, schmaltzy venerations of nostalgia; when the world was a quieter, safer place to live and everyone loved Jesus, or Britain was a christian country, or America was Isolationist! In a nutshell, ‘Pleasantville’ without the possibility of colour breaking out!


The evangelical mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an over-simplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection. N.K. Clifford.


Jane (Lee) asked a question – gave an observation – that redemption can work in the lives of others, through the text inspiring readers not to give up, to find hope in their circumstances. (I’m paraphrasing, Jane will tell me if that’s an accurate remembrance). Redemption then is not a completed work, but a work in progress. The work of the storyteller is not to see redemption in its ultimate but penultimate form, it is an ongoing story.


How many lives do you know which have every issue totally resolved on finding that the Truth has indeed set them free? What if that resolution happened to you, would others look on incredulous to your claims? Would you actually believe it if the next day you awakened to find your mortgage and credit card miraculously paid off, the work you do finally providing a sustainable income for your family, all health issues resolved overnight, the kids receive ‘first’ degrees from your favourite University, the end of ‘Keeping up with the Cardassians’, sorry Kardashians, or find that David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg are abducted by aliens, or perhaps more accurately returning to their home planet! Would that be a kind of christian redemptive story you could believe in?


Normally speaking the tales that end ‘They all lived happily ever after’ are what we call fairy-stories; people do not believe that such stories are life-changing, or offer hope for the future; that is not an expectation consistent with the genre.  What kind of mind would believe in the truthfulness of such tales? What kind of mind would write them?!


It’s difficult of course when we feel we know the end of the story, the Book of Revelation should have been issued with a ‘spoiler alert’, because it turns an artist’s muscular agile brain into a grey splodge of cellulite between the ears.


As we work, whether in literature, poetry, film, musical or visual art forms, may we resist the urge to produce candy-coated panaceas to a world in crisis. It is not only issues which can be ‘over-simplified’ but people too. Our work should not offer glib answers, but nuanceful critique of humanity and environment. Redemption is a thread to any work, any story. It is not the whole story, for there can be no plot without tension, no resolution without prior angst. We learn in this life that not all plots are resolved, not all tensions dissipate at the sight of a pen.


Here are a few quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to close.


“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”


“I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.”


Peace and Love to you all,


PS I’ll be adding a few Dropbox links to this letter later.


Kingdom of God is here, but it is yet to come as well, so in the meantime there is struggle, unresolved issues, and pain etc. Even if there is a happy ending in real life, there are, or can be the scars that a person has picked up mentally, or physically along the way. A writer may be able to get away with a simplistic approach when writing a story for really young children, but to take this one dimensional approach for a teenage and adult audience, is to insult their intelligence!

by Tony on September 30, 2011 at 12:05 pm. Reply #

Hi Tony,
The Kingdom here and yet still to come! Yes that sounds like TENSION to me and not an easy ride! Therefore our work should hold, embrace, the same human experience.



by Geoff Hall on September 30, 2011 at 5:47 pm. Reply #

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