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Monday, April 25, 2016

Testimonies and Bylines


I grew up Evangelical.

It's a fancy term. Broad. Short for: I sat through a lot of conferences about following Christ as a committed youth group member.

We'd frequent conferences and lock-ins together. They were full of these big, chase-after-God moments. They took us to the very crest of spiritual peaks. They showed us what community meant. And how life as a Christian could spark something alive in us.

They were also full of testimonies, stories about faith. Stories akin to the Prodigal Son, about losing faith and returning to it. Stories that were more Saul to Paul, a sudden turn on the road to Damascus. They involved drug addictions, prostitution, murder -- or ninth-hour miracles. Recoveries from cancer, or a change of heart after paralysis.

They were incredible. They were pointed, affirmed. And those who shared them were so certain of a faith unspooled and wound around their lives.

My naive heart wanted a good story. It wanted a conversion-moment more interesting than giving my life over to Christ at five-years-old. It wanted redemption.

It wanted more drama.

It took me years to learn that just because my testimony lacked drama didn't mean it lacked relevance.

There are those of us who seep further and further faith through our mundane routines. Through trips to the grocery store and coffee with friends. Those of us who weren't refined in a blaze of glory but whose hearts were perhaps changed by the day-to-day flickers of a lit match rather than a roaring bonfire.

So, as a fiction writer who is a Christian (note: not a Christian-fiction writer) how do I reconcile this? How do I create stories that matter, that nod to higher purpose and deeper meaning slowly? Without the conversion-moments in many mediums that come across as contrived. Or maybe even a little creepy?

How do I reconcile what I know about faith and God, with characters who, maybe, love Jesus but drink a little? Or curse. Or have sex. Who make bad, selfish decisions, but who learn from their mistakes?

Would those people (you know the ones) condemn me for being real? For being honest in fictional work?

With that, the following is an excerpt from the opening of my novel-in-progress, Bylines. It's been a three-year-long journey. An attempt to connect the big, flamboyant faith with the quiet, tempered journey.

Bylines [An Excerpt], by Brett W. Tubbs

She figured it would be on page S-2. Flush left. Above the fold. That’s where it had always been. Jordan’s fingers could find it by habit; a type of muscle memory that only avid readers could develop.

Where is it?

“Yo, Jacobs! Think fast!” Samuel Martinez’s voice sliced into her caffeine headache. Without her eyes leaving the page, she lifted her hand to catch a small stress ball mid-air, inches before it smacked her in the ridge of her glasses frames.

“Niiiiice!” Samuel called as he trotted up to the hallway. His pure-white sneakers shuffled along the corporate blue carpet. “I always thought we’d make a good team.”

“Hard pass.” She gave him a blank stare through her dark frames and tossed the ball back. It landed in the palm of his hand with a thwack!

“Christ, girl,” he said as he trotted up to her felt-lined cubicle. “You look like hell.” She sighed a heavy portion of irritation blended with good humor.

“Good to see you, too, Martinez.”

Of course it would be Samuel she ran into first. She’d somehow managed to slip into the Richmond Times-Dispatch building unnoticed, which meant having to bypass the office’s coffee corner. A sacrifice she was beginning to regret more and more with every high-pitched swarm of ringing phones.

She was hoping for at least a moment of quiet before she fell down the work-well. A prelude to the pomp and chaos that was her work-life. Or what it was eight weeks ago.

Should’ve known better with this crowd.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you’re back and everything,” he shoved his hands in his khaki jacket pockets. “The intern they hired to take your place wasn’t nearly as hot. You know. On your good days.”

“You just hated her because she didn’t want to make a pass at you.” Jordan smiled at the sound of her editor’s voice. She turned in her desk chair to see Caroline Mitchell, the Barbie to her Skipper. The well-groomed and settled brand of adulthood Jordan hoped to become one day. “I thought we talked about not starting with her today,” her perfectly lined brows cinched together as her hand made a staccato smack against his backwards baseball-capped head.

“Agh! Jesus! It was a joke – ”

“It’s fine,” Jordan lifted her unpainted lips in a side-smirk and pushed her glasses up. “First time someone’s been honest with me in weeks.”

It started the moment her Dad was diagnosed. The dishonesty. The well-wishes. The I’m-praying-for-you sign-off to every phone conversation and email exchange. Even the sabbatical the paper gave her to be with him in hospice; the written letter signed by the team pressing her to take care of her father that came accompanied by a lifetime supply of Cracker Jack boxes.

Everyone was so sure he’d be feeling better. Any day, now. Any day. 

The lies didn’t stop the funeral, either.

Jordan watched, numb, the way people would ooze and slush through the room that smelled like death and stale peppermints.

They told her God wanted another angel and that he was in a better place. Jordan knew if there was a heaven, her father would make the cut. Especially if the Big Guy was a Yankees fan. But for Frank L. Jacobs, heaven was no further than a box seat at a baseball stadium. And, Lord help him, he was nobody’s angel.

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