Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Mine was good…apart from the debilitating worry that I’d dug myself into a hole I might never work my way out of.
Actually, it wasn’t that bad. I did feel thankful for so many who contacted me with encouragement and constructive response to the Screwtripe thing. Had I known just how many people he would convince to equate my personal POV with his, I’d have been a bit more forceful in getting him to distinguish his diabolical voice from mine. But you know, that’s just like the devil to resist his editor’s suggestions.
Many of the comments, in fact most, I do see a lot of truth in, which is why I feel a heavy mix of gratitude and humility in pointing out the explosive undercurrents beneath our discussion here: there are good ways and bad ways to encourage deeper truth and beauty in CBA books, fiction and non. And please don’t think I know every time which way is appropriate (From the beginning, I’ve questioned whether a blog is the best way for writers to engage with this–so easily mangled).
But as anyone, I want to be clearly understood. If you see anything in this blog, recognize that there is a spectrum of diverse opinions on this issue, and while I understand much of the passion that goes into it, many times I want to come out from behind the curtain and breathe fire. Damn it! They’re not getting it! I’m not talking about literary fiction, genre fiction, Christian erotica, or whatever posterboy you’d wish I was. Please, observe the new rule in the sidebar: When you click over to your writers group, check your ego at the firewall.
This is a blog with a moderate level of traffic by a 32-year-old American male who works in Christian publishing and was heavily influenced by the Evangelical God Club from a very young age. It’s taken me many years to learn how to temper my resistance to those who promote the Christian bubble either directly or in their books (so my grace to you who haven’t yet learned is freely extended). But to me, the first task in the war against low quality books is to break down the artificial barrier that protects us from the the scary unknown "out there." I hoped Screwtripe’s perspective would show us how having no objective definition for "quality books" actually keeps us in our defensive trench rather than progressing into new territory for the kingdom. I’ve wanted to resist this cliche of warfare imagery, but feel forced into it now, trying to slice through the BS to tie together our disparate voices into a cohesive whole. Stop fighting. Look at yourself. What are you doing to put your skills toward a proactive CBA and get us unstuck from the reactive early years.
In fairness, I’m going to start telling you what I’m doing personally. People have asked why I don’t do something about it and I’ve wanted to point to the things I’m committed to–writing reviews, short stories, articles for Christian mags, editing, acquiring fresh voices, etc.–but I’ve also wanted to maintain a clear dileneation between what I’m doing, my work as an editor, and my own writing, and the larger discussion going on around us in writing groups and publishing houses who carry our industry’s reputation. It’d be too easy for some readers to hear me spouting my achievements and dismiss the real message.
But I’ve been overjoyed over the past year at the progress I’ve seen in every level of Christian publishing, the once-rare diamonds becoming much more prolific on our shelves, fewer raw, clunky stones giving way to more polished gems. But over the year, I’ve also seen the same reduction of God, the dismissive treatment of his truth and beauty, that has characterized Christian books since before my time. You tell me: How much of my short time holding your attention should be spent patting backs?
Yes, there’s progress, dear writers. Hear me, I beg you: Your efforts are making a difference. I wish I could convey the high esteem I have for the professionalism of your work and the dedication with which you perform it. I would not for the world–or for all the filthy lucre I’m raking in with this goldmine of a blog (wink)–wish anything here to discourage you, undermine your progress, or derail you from your own journey as an artist. That is 180 degrees from my goal. Simply, my goal is to open our eyes and bring in other vantage points to show us what we do in the name of God by allowing less-than-excellent work to proliferate through our art. And I contend, and will continue to contend, that anyone who takes offense has either misunderstood this, or is acting in complicity with low quality without their knowledge. Once we get a clear picture of the figure CBA cuts to the world, I believe all the well-meaning defenses fall away. We have no business arguing ourselves out of responsibility for the decline of absolutes and the near-universal image of Evangelical Christians as sincere but insignificant artists. We cannot profess personal responsibility for creating works of art in response to and for the glory of God without taking into account the hundreds of years of art, literature, and learning that preclude any valuable contribution to art on the world stage. And while not everyone in CBA is writing to be on the world stage, the fact is, your books are traveling the world, influencing people to believe a particular view of God through the eyes of one of his accomplished people. I believe we all have to ask ourselves what figure we’re cutting.
You may not like me asking if Jesus would write what you’re writing, but frankly, if that question makes you uncomfortable, I’m glad. You may not want to consider whether Jesus would read escapist fiction or extremist nonfiction, but I can’t wait for you to come around. We can all keep making excuses for ourselves–our complicity, our choices of reading material, the way things are–or we can seek truth and beauty. One road leads to despair, the other leads to abundant life. The choice is ours.
I do not say that writing or reading "commercial" fiction is wrong. Each book is different and your motivation is between you and God. I have not said that literary fiction is better. Much literary fiction is worse because it lies about God just as often. This is not a battle between genre fiction and high art. It is a battle for the distinction between books for God and books for man. Books for God will be books for man by default, naturally, in their entertainment value, in their honesty, their humor, and their unquestionable superiority over any title we might apply ("commercial," "artsy," "edgy," whatever). I’m asking authors to look at your books as though no one else is reading them but God. I’m asking editors to acquire books as though they’re for no one else but God. And I’m asking all of us to put down our egos and get in the fight to reclaim and redeem this holy ground of producing books that attest to the fullness and the richness of our Creator of sacred words.