Category Archives: Postmodernism

Attraction of the New

I just got back from California after spending Easter with the family. Good times, restful, and important for reflecting on the distance traveled since last year, and the year before that.

Mt. Hermon was a blast. I met so many great people, people of passion, of ideas, and of incredible faith. I came back with one manuscript I really like, a nonfiction book I hope to acquire in the coming weeks, and some good possibilities for fiction as well. But mainly, I was excited to be representing a company with such a great reputation, a smaller, newer company with a diverse backlist and strong growth year after year.

And now I leave for the Calvin Faith and Arts Festival, my first time to this conference. It’s a huge, daunting place and I wonder if there can possibly be so many of my favorite people in one place–these writers I’ve loved and grown from over the years. I first heard Walter Wangerin when he came to Westmont and spoke. We’d read The Dun Cow, Ragman, and The Book of Sorrows, and everyone was so enamored in their collegiate-sophomoric way. I’m sure it will be no different for me this time. I’m so easily led into new areas of thought by writers like Wangerin, I can’t seem to help myself being a bit bedazzled by that mysterious ability they have to always know just what is the newest thing to discuss at the front of the wave.

I want to suppose though, just for a moment, that even if there was this universally held belief that whatever was newest was the most important thing, what would happen if writers didn’t care about it? Imagine if we all stopped wanting to know what Walter Wangerin or Luci Shaw or Marilynne Robinson thought about current affairs, the state of publishing, or the “emerging” newness of a new Christianity, whatever that might look like. What if we only listened to the old? In fact, if we’re honest, we have to admit there’s no such thing as new. If we lived seeking the old instead of the new, would that change how we’re writing, maybe what we’re writing? Maybe it would change for whom we’re writing too.

I don’t want to jump on a soapbox to denounce the cult of the new. I just think there may be something more to this Christian writing revolution than has really caught on yet. Getting back to the old is the new, and the inescapable fundamentals of life like those in our favorite quotes from Ecclesiastes–those are the real distinctives of a “Christian” kind of writing.

“For what does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world yet lose his soul?” I’m thinking I’ll seek my fortunes in the foundations of life and forget the baubles of the day for a while. See if I start to become irrelevant or out-of-touch. I guess that’s the real fear. But I wonder if that has to be the case–are these mutually exclusive terms?

Whenever I read a book, I try to pay attention to the state of mind I’m in since it has so much bearing on what I get out of the book. Everyone’s had the experience of reading some old book again and finding it completely changed. I wonder what the Calvin conference will have to say about this old vs. new debate. I’ll let you know what I find.

Christian separatists

How did we get on the subject of being in the world and not of it again? Mark?

At any rate, it’s a good starting place for tonight. Given James Frey’s recent crash and burn and all the controversy about writing memoir as fiction and who’s to blame and who really cares if it sells books and on and on, I figure there’s room to bring up the question here about morality vs. sophistication. Quick quiz: It’s a generally held assumption among some people who shall remain nameless that adding the qualifier "Christian" to anything in our culture represents a categorical drop in a) quality, b) sophistication, c) questionable decency. One of these is a good thing. Did you figure it out?

Yes, the answer is D, all of the above (a bit tricky for you Floridans and hockey fans, but keep reading anyway). Coupled with the new interest in all things emergent by PW and other media outlets, I think it’s an interesting dialog waiting to happen:

Do you as a "Christian writer" hope for a new definition of that term, given the knee-jerk connotations? Whether or not that’s crass an unfair to those who do consider themselves card-carrying members of Christian writer-dom, is it a valid hope to want some definition more (oh, I don’t know. Dare we say it?) "worldly?"

Anyone else tired of being the forogtten little brother late to the party with "Kick Me" on your back, while everybody else ignores you? It’s cute for a while, but really, at some point you just want to be allowed at the adult’s table. And I like to think that given enough time, we might all come up with a solution, a way to break through to that golden land of opportunity across the river, the one that flows with renewed hope for the state of our collective souls, but doesn’t concede the battle on the grounds of sophistication.

I’ll still hold on to my separation with one hand, but for now, let’s focus on this question of How do we learn to be in the world?