Monday Morning, June 23, 2008
Fiction enables us to suspend reason just long enough to enter joyfully into worlds that don’t exist; or do they? That’s the challenge of great fiction. If you press the questions hard enough, you’ll be forced to admit that you’ve crossed some sort of dubious boundary. You’ve moved away from the world caught in time and space – the world we occupy from moment to moment – into some other marvelous dimension. Non-fiction does not allow for such transport. Fiction enables it.
There is a class of hard-core realists who spurn fiction. To them it’s folly. Child’s play. Escape. But they are bucking a mega-trend. Some call them “moderns,” caught in a reductionism that allows only verifiable, “factual,” demonstrable conclusions as a basis for rational conversation (spoken or written). The rest is non-sense. We’re told that we now live in a post-modern era. The “modern” era is passé, irrelevant, like the Tyrannosaurus-rex. “Put the Moderns in a museum where they belong” is the cry of the post-modern. The old rigid rules that determine the difference between the reliable and the unreliable are sadly out of date. If you want to communicate to this new emerging generation, forget the finely crafted argument firmly rooted in the classic demands of logic. Tell them a story.
The suspension of reason is a starting place. And what a delightful starting place it can be. Let go of reason for awhile, and you can step into a Wardrobe, into the hanging wool coats and sweaters with the scent of mothballs filling the air and fall suddenly into the wintry world of Narnia; filled with all sorts of nonsensical creatures and fantastic adventures. Or at the subway station (the Tube), you cross over into a land where you are recognized as Royalty; Kings and Princes and Queens and Knights who save the day. You can wake up with your grandchildren to the sound of a steam engine thundering across your front yard in the middle of the night and an imaginary Conductor will beckon you on board for destinations North. Polar Express! There are wonderful worlds to explore, if you’ll just let go.
Even business gurus are catching on. One hot seller aimed at leaders who carry the burden of top executive decision-making addresses the issue of inter-departmental discord. The author is a seasoned corporate sage, with a résumé that resembles the list of top performers on the Dow or NASDAQ. He wants companies to understand that leaders are responsible to bring the best out of their teams. But one of the most common enemies of high performance is corporate infighting, which all too often escalates to cold war. To the detriment of the bottom line.
So when Pat Lencioni produces a book for corporate execs called “Silos, Politics and Turf Wars,” he writes in fiction. He understands that people are more likely to get the point if they are told a story, rather than walked through obvious, simple, didactic “how to” bullet points. These same folks who sit through endless board-room meetings, numbed to unconsciousness by yet another predictable Power Point presentation, will learn better if they are drawn into a fast-paced novella. It’s curious to read a business consultant attempting to duplicate a Hemingway effort. I’m here to say, Lencioni falls well short. You won’t find many lines that will make the “Quote of the Day” database. You won’t get lost in the prose. But hey, it works.
My long time friend, John Frye, has done much better. He’s written a little book of fiction that kept me turning the page. And here, I did get lost in the prose. I checked my need for verifiability at the door, and let John guide me into a fictional world where something profoundly disturbing takes place – on a global scale.
The Bible disappears.
Our world of excess is saturated with The Book. It’s everywhere. Even many of the most remote people groups have diligent linguists and translators pouring over obscure languages with an unrelenting intent to present illiterate people with The Book in their own native tongue. It’s astonishing. In our world, The Book is available in your choice of translation or paraphrase. It’s in the drawer over at the hotel. It’s on the shelf along with your other books.
And yet, for the most part, our culture is sadly unaware, strangely unfamiliar, surprisingly uninformed. Its contents remain mysteriously obscure. Those who claim to affirm it, more often use it to proof-text their prejudices than allow it to transform their mind and heart. What if? What if the book vanished? Without a trace?
With one exception – the remnants of the text that remain in our memory. What if? Think about it.
That’s brother John’s fictional premise. What happens next will keep you wide eyed and turning the page. You’ll want to read it – Out of Print. (click on the title)
It’s Monday morning. You are a leader. You live in a world of conflict and controversy. Today, you need to tend to business. Not much time for contemplation. Not until later tonight, or early in the morning.
And business has never been more challenging. The hard numbers don’t look good. The prognosticators sound grim. The consensus seems to be “it will get worse before it gets better.” This brave new world is no place for the fainthearted.
Fainthearted you are not. This is no time to check out. It’s time to grab that Book on the shelf, and immerse yourself in that Story. God’s story.
It’s not fiction.
Copyright, Kenneth E Kemp 2008