Calvin Miller: Rethinking Prayer, Retelling Christ's Story
- Thursday, April 16, 2009
The Singer probably was controversial at the time it came out. There were people who didn’t get it: Why do we need to retell the story of Jesus? The thing I liked about The Shack was that I found it a lot more accessible than The Singer. I don’t think it’s as beautiful, because The Singer is all poetry. [Readers] are slower to get into it. They just don’t get it as fast as they pick up on The Shack, and I give [The Shack] a good grade for its accessibility. I don’t know about endurance, though. A guy told me a long time ago, if you have any book in your library more than twenty years it’s either poetry or really good prose. And I think that’s true. We don’t throw away books of poetry.
The Singer is free verse, and it doesn’t rhyme. It’s very metrical. “When he awoke the song was there. It’s melody beckoned him and begged him sing it.” It’s got a lyrical quality which I intended for it. And there are some sections in iambic pentameter like “The Star Song.” The tone has a dignity to it.
If I had any criticism of The Shack, I would say that God suffers a little bit in dignity. I don’t necessarily object to him being portrayed as a woman, not at all. But there’s also a flippancy about that. Where is the majesty?
Since the time of The Singer, you’ve written over 40 books. But in your day job, you’re a seminary professor. Do you ever find that your two worlds collide?
In some sense, I think a poet is more apt to enjoy his life most if he’s not just writing, but also reading it to people. We write to be read. There’s a wonderful thing about reading and having people like it or making friends over a paragraph. I think that’s good. It’s connection. In my particular case, I teach Spiritual Formation and I’ve taught The Path to Celtic Prayer in seminary. I’ve taught courses on C.S. Lewis. So, I have a tendency to bring up literature and writing a little more.
When I approach the Bible, I think of the Psalms. I think of crusty old Paul, the lawyer, and he writes all of these books of the New Testament. But even he occasionally breaks into something like 1 Corinthians 13. Also, when you hear Jesus, he’s very story oriented.
You know, we all teach what we are, don’t we? You get a guy who’s real left-brained, and he’s probably going to teach a real left-brained seminary course. People are going to be yawning and probably lots of sleeping will be going on. You get somebody who’s in love with Jesus … probably more right-brained. Lots of poetry, lots of music. Passion.
Is there a literary genre that you haven’t tried writing yet that you’d like to tackle?
Probably. I don’t know. I do know that I’ve had unusual success in children’s poetry and then in the poetry of The Singer. Some of my serious books, The Book of Jesus … that was popular and never in the Christian market. It came out from Simon & Schuster in New York, and it sold in Doubleday Book Club rather than in the ECPA. So a lot of people in the ECPA probably still don’t know that I wrote it. But it was in a marketplace that did kind of count. That’s where we’d all like to be with our writing, I think. In the secular market, if we can.
The Greek god Proteus was a god who could change his form to meet every occasion. He could be an animal or a bird or whatever. And in terms of genre, there are not too many people who can change very successfully. A novelist only usually writes novels well. Occasionally there’s a man like C.S. Lewis who can do children’s books who can do Surprised by Joy who can do theology and popular thought, who can do all of that. And when he comes along, you’re so grateful because it’s a huge balancer.
I’ve found one of the things that’s bad about not being able to change genres is that it seems that no matter how good a novelist is, pretty soon if I’ve read ten of their novels and they start sounding alike. And it’s kind of like my friend Madeline L’Engle. She always wrote novels, but she said they always sounded just alike. And she used to say [to the publisher], “Well what are you calling it this time?” So I think the good thing about being able to skip from genre to genre is that you lose that predictability that you get if you only stay in one form.
Recently on Books
Have something to say about this article? Leave your comment via Facebook below!
Listen to Your Favorite Pastors
Add Crosswalk.com content to your siteBrowse available content