The Bible Project Blog experience’s impact on my new novel The Intersection.
As I’ve mentioned several times in my various blog posts, I was raised to be skeptical of religion in general and Christianity specifically. My limited impression of religion was negative, in part because it seemed to be so controlling of people, limiting their choices in life. When I came out in college, this negative impression was strengthened, as my interactions with extremely devote people focused on how I was going to hell because of my sexuality. This situation was not alleviated when mainstream politics took up this mentality with their failure to secure equal rights for LGBT people.
So I wasn’t sure what to expect with finally reading the Bible for this project. But one of the positive things to come out of my experience reading it for the first time was how I softened my negative stance on what the Bible has to offer. Sure, a lot of the fire and brimstone is present. But there’s a lot of positive content that gets set aside when a small sliver is used to represent this ancient text. This change in my perception directly influenced the revision of my new Philadelphia-set novel The Intersection.
Here’s this novel’s story: When a white driver critically injures a black bicyclist, the residents in a tense, gentrifying South Philadelphia neighborhood can’t decide whether to unite, hide, or explode. Ms. Rose wrestles with ways to effectively organize the community and still be true to the neighborhood she fears may have outgrown her. Carol Jones, the mother of the bicyclist, is drawn back to the neighborhood she fled years ago for posh suburbia and finds roots deeper than she realized. Michael, the driver and recent home owner in the neighborhood, must conquer his guilt over the accident while struggling with personal betrayal. By allowing strangers to help him, he discovers ties he didn’t know he deserved. Their intersecting lives test the neighbors — established and new — in ways they never expected.
I wrote the early drafts long before I began reading the Bible, and it wasn’t until I revised the book in 2014, after finishing the Bible, that I began to notice how dismissive I tended to be of Christianity. Although I still believe that people misuse the Bible to support their homophobia and anti-gay rhetoric, I do accept that a number of people don’t subscribe to these discriminatory beliefs; instead, religion genuinely makes them better people. They often share this positivity with their communities—and even communities of those less fortunate.
With one of my characters, Rose, an African American woman who is a longtime resident of this gentrifying neighborhood, religion played a role in her life. In particular, she was once a devout Church goer until she lost her son to war and, later, her husband to cancer. With more well-informed eyes, I wondered how I could work with her abandoning her faith. I was going to avoid having her faith restored—that would have taken the story in a different direction than the main plot; still, religion clearly mattered to her at one point and likely mattered to several of her neighbors. So how would she respect this?
I won’t mention the plot points and a particular symbol that I wove into the story, but I will say that the change felt true to her character and also showed a sign of respect for the positive things that religion can bring to a person’s life.
If you check out my novel The Intersection, let me know what you think about the story in general and the religious thread in particular.