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Blessed to be a blessing

"Blessed to be a blessing" Continued...

Issue: "Summer Books 2004," July 3, 2004

Most people who don't know much about the Bible think that buried somewhere in there is a passage about a man and a woman pledging to each other that "where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge, your people shall be my people, your God shall be my God" because they've heard it so many times at weddings. But the fact is, this is Ruth's testimony of love to Naomi, and testimony to one of the most enduring stories of the Bible.

WORLD: There are differences, of course, between your characters and those of the Bible. Your Naomi is struggling with the burden of sin and her inability to accept forgiveness. You treat that sin with both realism and delicacy. Some Christian readers object to being exposed to any kind of "negative elements," while some Christian writers believe they should write with no holds barred when it comes to depictions of sin, putting in their characters' bad language and blow-by-blow descriptions of their sex lives. How do you navigate these issues as a writer?

BL: I don't think I've ever been a writer who has held back on depicting the fact of sin in the lives of my characters, because it has never seemed to me that sin holds back. Sin is devastating, by design, and so any gauzy fade-outs or euphemistic voice-overs have never been of any interest to me.

Describing sin in and of itself ought not to be anything that titillates or draws attention to itself outside the context of the scene. Period. Navigating those waters-trying to write about temptation and sin without writing it in a way that tempts the reader beyond the context of the character in the story-is a balancing act that calls for the writer-me-to understand why one of my characters sins in the first place, and then to write that scene as an observer instead of a participant.

I do that, as best as I am able, with the assistance of a knowledge of the effects of sin, because I am a sinner myself. I walk that tightwire, again, as best I can, fully recognizing that sin is devastating, but can at times be tempting, because I have been tempted in my life, and know the effects of sin as well.

WORLD: In your novel, there is a wonderful and deeply moving epiphany in a nursing home, where an adult son is holding the hand of his elderly father, who has been paralyzed by a stroke. This becomes a catalyst for Naomi, who realizes that "to live was to receive love, and to give it away." That is a great line and a great theme that you make real throughout the whole novel. It is an expression of Luther's doctrine of vocation, which says that the purpose of our lives is to love and serve our neighbors, and, in turn, to be loved and served by God through our neighbors.

BL: A couple of years ago my wife Melanie and I went through a missions series at our church in which the motto, if you could call it that, was "We are blessed to be a blessing." If one believes that receiving blessings is what our relationship to God is about, then one is only a consumerist. It seemed to me that Naomi, who has been blessed with the gift of a love that finds as its centerpoint forgiveness, and who has hoarded that gift of love rather than given it away, was in effect dying of consumption-dying of keeping the gift of love. If we want to know love, we can't merely accept it. We have to give it away.

WORLD: How do you see being a novelist as a Christian vocation, that is, as your calling from God?

BL: There's this wonderful word you read again and again in the Bible: talent. We grow up reading it in the Bible and thinking of it as a slab of gold or something like that. But then we have also grown up hearing the word uttered everywhere around us as well, but being used as some sort of innate gift from elsewhere that magically shows up.

Of course the fact of these two words being the same speaks to their fact in our lives: We are given the gifts we are given-the talents-and so must spend them as we would the gold spoken of in the Bible. Hoarding them-there's that word again-doesn't allow God's love for us to be witnessed, doesn't allow others to see His fact in our lives. God has called me to do this, and I respond with my willingness to do this.

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