Stonework is published by Houghton College, a Christian liberal arts college located in New York’s rural Genesee Valley. Stonework seeks a diverse mix of mature and emerging voices in fellowship with the evangelical tradition. Published twice a year, the journal reflects the arts community at Houghton College where excellence in music, writing, and the visual arts has long been a distinctive.

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  • Issue 6
    Poetry by Paul Willis and Thom Satterlee. Fiction and interview with Lori Huth. Essay by James Wardwell, and student poets from Christian campuses.
  • Issue 5
    Poetry by Susanna Childress and Debra Rienstra. Fiction excerpt by Emilie Griffin. Art from Houghton's 2007 presidential inauguration and a forum on women writing.
  • Issue 4
    Matthew Roth--new poems. Diane Glancy--from One of Us and an interview. John Tatter-on gardens and poetry. The Landscapes of John Rhett. Stephen Woolsey--on the poetry of Jack Clemo. James Wardwell--on Herrick.
  • Issue 3
    Poetry by Julia Kasdorf, Robert Siegel and Sandra Duguid. Fiction by Tom Noyes. The portraits of Alieen Ortlip Shea. An anthology of Australian Poets
  • Issue 2
    Thom Satterlee - Poems from Burning Wycliff with an appreciation by David Perkins. Alison Gresik - new fiction and an interview. James Zoller - Poems from Living on the Floodplain.
  • Issue 1
    Luci Shaw — new poems with an appreciation by Eugene H. Peterson & Hugh Cook — new fiction and an interview

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Bottom of Our Lives: A conversation with Diane Glancy

Edited by Sally Amphor, Elizabeth Petrillo, and Amanda Sylor

Stonework: One of Us has its origin in the story of the BTK murders in Kansas, murders committed by a man who proved to be a church member and a respected member of his community. The first question that came to me as I read was: Could a man capable of such acts ever have truly been a Christian?

Glancy: My first answer is no. A Christian cannot sin in that way. But it may not be that simple.

I want to ask the question, What do you mean by Christian? To some (myself included) it is the born-again experience of accepting Christ as Savior— making the personal confession—“I am a sinner and I accept you Jesus as my personal savior.”

For other Christians I know, Christianity seems to be a movement for social justice. They spend time building houses for the poor, etc. The death of Christ on the cross does not seem as important to them as it is to me. Still others (I am thinking of a Catholic friend) believe you have to be a member of a certain church— that is their salvation. I am sure there are many more interpretations of Christianity.

I have not been in the Lutheran Church, so I don’t know its tenets, but I assume it is confession of faith in Jesus Christ. BTK was a member of the Lutheran Church for 30 years (is still a Lutheran as he sits in prison?) He was a major member, president of the congregation. How can this happen? That is the question of the book. The Christian is a new being in Christ. We have access to his nature. We have forgiveness over sin. We have power to side-step it through prayer and the washing of the water of the word. (I am just writing ideas, seeing where these thoughts go.) Yet I sin. I fall short all the time. Just let someone cut me off in traffic. Just give me a long day with my three young grandchildren. Just give me a little frustration and disappointment and I fail.

But this sin (BTK’s) is on another level. I asked Michael Clark (BTK’s minister) if he wanted to work on this book with me and he said he didn’t want to go through it again. I also had the feeling he thought it was beyond explanation. Maybe he didn’t want the Lutheran church involved with an examination of the problem. It gave me permission to go on my own, fictionalizing it somewhat, yet looking at the central problem. How could a Christian murder? Much less, how could a Christian murder 10 people, terrorizing them as he murdered, and sit in church year after year, singing hymns, listening to sermons, bringing covered dishes to church suppers? It is a worse “horror” than Conrad wrote about in Heart of Darkness. It is such a dark hole, such a huge splot. It is frightening.

Stonework: I find even thinking about mass murder appalling. What attracted you, a Christian woman, to such a violent story?

Glancy: Why would I want to write about it? Because it haunts me. I think it needs to be looked at. There’s a book by Stephen Single, Unholy Messenger, about BTK. I wanted to write from the minister’s point of view. Can a Christian murder? What if BTK was not really a Christian?

Yes, I like that thought. It’s easier. He was not a Christian, therefore he could murder. He had a sickness, a psychological sickness. He toyed with the thought and planning of the murders and carried them out. He was not truly a Christian and did not have the stop-gap available to him.
I would like for that to be the answer. But it seems that BTK did make a commitment to Christ. How could he be in these two places? Is it possible for a sickness of the mind and spirit to get a hold of a Christian? I want to run from that thought. I want to be safe in Christ.

I want to return to the first answer— BTK was not truly a Christian, only a counterfeit all those years of church attendance. He was like Judas who was in Christ’s company, yet was not truly one of the disciples. In the end, Judas let Satan enter his thoughts with the act of betrayal. I return again to the Christian community with the question of what went wrong? Is it possible for a Christian to sin? Yes, I think of the sexual scandals of ministers who are Christians. I think of a two ministers I have known in my long life who failed. I think of my own failures. And I want to say, yes, it is possible for a Christian to sin. But to sin to this extent? That is the problem. Why did God let that happen? Why the Holocaust? Why the death of a child from cancer? Why these questions for which there are no easy answers. Maybe not even difficult answers.

Stonework: This book seems to be a departure for you. I sense you putting yourself at risk in two ways. The first is personally—submitting to the horror to tell the story. The second is professional. People begin to expect certain things from writers, and I’d wager your readers are not anticipating the challenge you’re preparing for them. Would you talk about these risks? In regard to the first, do you pray a lot? In regard to the second, Is it necessary to make breaks with the past to stay alive as a creator?

Glancy: In THE DANCE PARTNER, I say at the end one of my stories, “Christ goes anywhere even to the bottom of our lives.” I wrote the piece after a visit to Pine Ridge. The harder issues always have interested me. Maybe it’s heritage or experience. But I think Christianity faces whatever problems we encounter, no matter how horrific. Christ suffered on the cross more than we can realize because he went to the bottom of sin and uprooted it.

Since Eden, Satan has worked to cast doubt and questioning. I consider BTK an act of Satan. Something like 911 was an act of Terrorism. What a terrible “hit” to the church. How much damage to those struggling for faith? I wanted to work toward some sort of conclusion, though only God knows if BTK is a Christian or not. BKT insists that he is, but it is hard to understand how he could be, unless it is possible for a Christian to give himself/herself over to a reprobate mind. Does he/she remain a Christian afterwards? I believe when we accept Christ our names are written in the book of life. I don’t think God erases names. The term I believe in is called “eternal security” (as it is not possible for a child to remove himself from his bloodline). I know at the end of Revelation it says, “if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life.” So I suppose God could erase the name of Dennis Rader (if indeed it was there). But I have trouble accepting erasure in this case. Maybe I will change my mind. Or maybe Mark Cabot and Ralph Gheary, the fictional senior and junior ministers at the church, will have opposing opinions at the end of the book. That would be an easy way around it. Then both yes and no could be present, and the reader can decide. These are the difficult questions that are there to be asked. I am very interested in the voice of faith, especially as it meets the hard places. I want to see how Christianity works in the zones of discomfort. How could we not think and write about this?

Yes, this work is a departure for me as well as a risk because I mostly have written about the Native American culture. I have sent a query letter to several Christian agents / publishers and they don’t seem interested because I have not published with a Christian house. Sometimes it’s just a rejection without a reason. I don’t know what will happen to the manuscript.

I don’t know if it is necessary to make a break with the past. I still write about Native American issues. I like to give voice to historical characters that did not have a chance to speak such as the Cherokee who walked the Trail of Tears, Sacajawea, and a book I just finished, Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th Mohawk who was converted to Christianity.

My personal Christianity, which always has been there, has been pushing forward. I feel the desire to write in that direction. I’ve written a long time. Maybe I want to move on from what I’ve done. I also think moving to Kansas sharpened my interest in this. And yes, I pray a lot. I think it’s the most important thing I do.

Stonework: D. Bruce Lockerbie, one of the first evangelical writers to engage the most violent and sexually explicit works of contemporary literature, once said he believed he was called to bear the risk of such works on behalf of the community. We sense something of the same spirit in your answers; you’re going to the hard place, the place of no answers for us. How do you expect this book to be read?

Glancy: Last Sunday morning in church we sang Fanny Crosby’s 1875 hymn, To God Be the Glory. I wrote down a line to use in the novel, “the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.” It was an assurance. But then the question, what if the offender had already been pardoned when he offends again? Is it the 7 x 7 or 77 x 77? The moment assurance arrives, another question comes to blur the assurance: But what about this case (BTK)? If we believe we are pardoned, we are pardoned? No, I don’t think that is what is meant. The pardon comes from Jesus, not from our own absolving of ourselves (not self righteousness, but the righteousness of God is what counts). So, if BTK believes he is pardoned, he is pardoned? I doubt it. We don’t control pardon by believing we are pardoned. That is an act of God through the blood of Christ. I think the true belief Crosby meant is our fundamental faith in the atoning work of Christ. The individual pardons God gives us during our Christian walk are up to him. These fine lines have shown up over and over to trip and to confuse the issues. If BTK is a Christian, and asked God to pardon his individual sins, though they are sins of murder, is he forgiven by God?

I actually hope (expect) this book to build faith and confidence in God. I have felt a confidence as I wrote: God is in control no matter what happens. I did not linger at the murder scenes in my writing, or in the mind of BTK. My purpose is to look at the situation from a Christian perspective because Christianity has been implicated. My faith fights back.

Stonework: Evil is present in so much of popular culture as entertainment, as a cheap thrill. How does a writer take this into account? What can a writer do to direct a reader to a fruitful moral engagement with a topic such as this?

Glancy: Scripture helps. Whenever I am afraid while thinking about BTK and the conundrum of these issues— Whenever I am afraid while writing about this frightening situation, I say, “the Lord rebuke you, Satan.” It is what I found in scripture to do. I still feel fear, but it is a confident fear. A semi-confident fear. I realize there is a horror involved in this that is much bigger than I am, yet I feel protected from it.

In Zechariah 3:1-2, the priest Joshua stands before the angel of the Lord and Satan stands at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan; even the Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you.” The verse is mentioned again in Jude 9. “Yet Michael, the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke you.” (I wish there was more about this incident in the Bible. Why was there dispute over the body of Moses? Was it because Moses murdered an Egyptian?)

Another thing that helps is that I also am working on other things, so I don’t stay with the book too long at one time. I remember early on, mentioning this book to John Wilson, and he said, don’t stay in it too long.

To get back to your question about what I expect from this book, it is confidence in the Christian faith. In my Bible study at church, we are in the book of Revelation. Even in the midst of the tribulation when everything is out of control on earth, there are parenthetical statements. In chapter 7, for instance, Jews and Gentiles are added to God’s kingdom. In Revelation 10, there is the wonderful angel with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the earth.

I think evil is getting worse. When I go to the movies, some of the previews of movies I have no desire to see are revolting. I also have passed through television programs that should not be on television. When I open my e-mail, even with the filtering program of the college, disgusting messages creep in. In my reading, I see many attacks on Christianity. It is an out-moded religion, etc., etc. I think evil will keep intensifying. I think there is an acceleration, an inflation of evil. Faith will have to be augmented also. It is the moral engagement in which I want to be involved.

Last Sunday in my Sunday school class, there were those who ask, how can I believe in a God who sends people to hell? How can I believe in a God who sent Israel into Canaan to wipe out enemy tribes? This is an adult senior class. People have been going to church all their lives. Yet they are still asking basic questions. Christianity is not easy.

I feel drawn to these questions and to these things I don’t want to deal with, or even look at while they stare us in the face. I want to write about what we face as Christians in this dangerous, deceptive world that God has made bearable to us. Scripture is bigger, so much bigger than BTK.

Stonework: In closing, let us draw you out just a bit more on the paradox in what you’ve just said. You feel drawn to questions you don’t want to deal with. As writers, we understand that. We too feel drawn to the hard places. But as readers, we sometimes prefer pleasant evenings by the fire. What challenge would you issue to Christians who want to make their reading a formative part of their lives?

Glancy: When writing fiction, a question to ask is, what is the worst thing that can happen to my character? Then we watch the character proceed through the worst. We read literature to see how others face their problems, crises, etc. This story had a built-in worst thing. I wanted to see how the minister worked his way through his disaster. What wisdom did he gain? (I'm thinking of Job's amazing statement—I had heard of God with my ears, now I see him with my eyes.) Then maybe I can work my way through mine, though I may not face anything so critical. Nonetheless, we read to grow as human beings. We read to learn. To grow larger than we are on our own. This world has disasters such as this minister faced. I want to know how the problems can be handled.

I also like to write what I want to read. I want to be assured that in a battle with darkness, the seeds of light are always there. God’s light is a light that darkness cannot overcome.