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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?

8 Responses to “Christian separatists”

  1. I have a reservation at the King’s table, and remember that when I’m not included elsewhere.

  2. Mick says:

    Absolutely, Jules. Thank you. I should definitely qualitfy this a bit more. I can just hear the emails pouring in…
    “Compromise” with the world is the big fear here. We will never belong at that “adult” table, will we? Not really. We are “strangers in this land.”
    But from another angle, it’s excusing too much. It seems there’s a lot of work to be done on being “in” the world and working on our togetherness with the world and it needs to be acknowledged. The claim that Christian art, writing, music, etc. are substandard just carries too much weight to claim verses about religious persecution. (John 15:19, the world hates us because it hated Jesus first.) Now, John 12:25 is an interesting counterpoint… (“The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”) But that’s probably another post.

  3. siouxsiepoet says:

    it’s late, i just got in from an open mic, so anything could pop out of my fingertips as i’m riding waves of adrenaline.
    honesty has always been my answer. when i am sitting with a group of poets, i don’t poll the room to see who believes what. i am just who i am. i can’t evangelize for beans (hate that e word), but i can write poetry. whether or not that is e, is not for me to decide. but being honest with people really can’t be wrong. it opens way more doors than the five laws and pamphlets ever did. suz.

  4. Shanna says:

    “In writing his shattering, beautiful memoir, A Million Little Pieces, James Frey does away with a lot of things: punctuation, standard grammar rules, 12-step programs, belief in a higher power, and, eventually, his addiction to alcohol and drugs. In doing so, he has rewritten the rules ‘Recovery Memoir’ and established himself as a major literary talent.” From the Random House site.
    After reading The Smoking Gun’s story on Frey, I’ve been kinda hooked on this story. Why? It disgusts me. I want to see justice. I want to see Frey and Frey’s publishers, and Oprah hauled out and shamed on national television Simon Cowell-style: “You can’t write. Go back to Ohio. You’re just an over-grown frat daddy with an monster case of narcissism…” And Oprah with her “emotional honesty” line. Puuuleeeese! She got royally snookered and she refuses to admit it. Pride. Greed…In fact, I think we could every one of the seven deadly sins with this story and come up with a few more, to boot.
    The reason so many people got suckered with this one is that too many readers want to believe The Lie: You can toss the rules; You can toss remorse and repentance;You can toss God–and by your own sheer will, you can still make it. And to our increasingly waffle-y christian culture, this message of secular, boot-strap bravado is particularly appealing because it exploits, in the worst ways, the American myth of independence and self-creation.
    As for the publishers who demand this sort of thing and cynically exploit the public with it, I don’t want to eat at their table, thanks. The only rules that have been re-written are those for the writing game: Whatever it takes,even if you have to perjure your soul, make sure you can sell your story! And that just sticks in my throat.
    Now that I’ve gotten that bit of righteous irritation off my chest, I think I’ll add Mr. Frey and Oprah to my prayer list. Hm.
    Anyone out there ever read Franky Shaeffer’s *False Pearls for Real Swine*? I’m currently re-reading it twelve years after I first discovered it. Good stuff. Still applicable in many ways. Leaves you with the question, Are you a Christian writer? or are you a Christian who writes?
    What say you all?

  5. Jay says:

    In response to Shanna (and the original post) I definitely feel like I am a Christian who writes. According to some agents and publishers, I write well. The problem is my stories aren’t anything they feel they could “sell.” They are “interesting and intriguing,” just not marketable. It poses, for me, an interesting dilemma: do I adjust my stories to appease the market so I can increase my chances of becoming a “published writer?” Or do I just keep writing the stories that are in me, regardless? As a life long “right brainer” with a career in graphic design that carries with it a mild rebellious attitude (somewhat blunted with age), I find it hard to choose to adjust. Especially as I leaf through the catalogs for Lifeway or any other CBA outlet and see what is passing as “marketable.” It saddens me but I think I would be sadder if I tried to emulate what I see on those pages. If I stay true to my core beliefs, my stories will reflect Him, regardless if they are “too literary” or lack that “wow!” the market is (supposedly) craving. The old canard “if you aren’t writing with the goal of being published then you’re just writing a journal” may be harsh (and true) but at least my “journals” will be honest and true to what is going on inside of me in my daily, evolving relationship with Jesus. I can live with that (but I’d still love to be published).

  6. Shanna says:

    Emmendation: *Sham Pearls for Real Swine* (1991) OOP

  7. dee says:

    Milk :) Sorry this is long, but their is a point somewhere in my rambling here.
    How do we learn to be in the world?
    In my opinion–and this is my opinion, so email me if you have a problem with it– we can’t learn to be in the world, because we were born into it and we still live in it. Once we become Christian, then we learn to not live of the world: it’s ambition,it’s greed, passion for power, etc.
    The problem in writing spiritually mature Christian fiction, however, is that we’re in neither.
    Our characters–and I’m speaking of novels that have been written since 911–are missing some very important truths about human life, especially American life…how this tragedy affected our faith. (Although I read many books written last year, perhaps I didn’t read the one that would be a great example here. So if anyone has, please pass the book title on to me.) But from what I read, no book held a reference to the War in Iraq, 911, debate over removing Christian symbols from government mint or courthouses, race separatism in worship, gay men in the pulpit, legalism in the pulpit, debasing Christians for being Democrats, or megachurch mania. I read not a novel that placed any of those subjects in the backdrop, or as a theme or a factor keeping a character from getting the thing she needed. And that baffled me, because the world is not what it was in 2000. And hinting just a very little bit at the shift in our world in very creative ways would put our works in a more relevant context than it is right now.
    Let’s be honest, if there isn’t anyone who knows about Christian culture, it is an atheist or a Muslim or anyone else against this religion. And when we don’t address things that affect our christian way of life in our literature, then our work seems more like children fairy tales.
    And yes. I read inspirational romance, woman’s lit, comic lit, whatever. And yes. There is room in those books to slip in a little relevant reference, too. Let’s just be real for a minute.
    Because really I don’t know a Christian that hasn’t been affected by these events. Who haven’t had these concerns on their prayer lists or church prayer cells. Yet, I have yet to read a book that shows us moving in and around this world despite of it. How we overcome even though we live in New York and is scared today, irregardless of our faith. (Hypothetical, I live in Atlanta.) Or what it means to be a Christian in a world that ridicules us in the media, threatens us from going overseas to aid tsunami survivors, organizations living in our communities whose sole purpose is to end our religion and our physical lives. And legal or political thrillers, don’t qualify. Y’all know what I’m talking about.
    Yesterday, I was reading comments from J. Mark Bertrand’s site. And someone chided him from linking an article that was interesting and worthy to be debated about good writing and its devalue in our society. What bothered me the most was the commenter had a disdain for someone–a Christian–who wanted to celebrate or look for works that have a sticking power, a relevance, a significance. All the while, I’m thinking if we are not be of this world, then why do we keep replicating the same type of stuff that’s on the shelf? We have a Christian version of Stephen King, Stephen Bochco, Jane Austen, you name it , if it’s popular we have a christian clone. Sounds like we’re trying to write our stories based on what’s in the world right there.
    And, yes. I understand. We need to capture a reader’s attention.
    Afterall, there are so many ways to be entertained today. But fiction, particularly the short story and the novel affects the individual reader in his spirit.
    So if we, Christian writers, understood that power more than fighting with your brother who does, then we wouldn’t need to be trying to find a spot at their table. They would be clammering to get to ours. We–through the might of Jesus–can speak to a soul with words on a page. Only we can do that. Yet, we don’t. Instead we won’t to be like the rest of them. We won’t to write fluff. Throw Jesus in there and get mad at someone who wants to speaks to the heart of a person. Someone, who wants to present a realistic set of conflicts, whereby one of the external struggles highlights a current problem in our world? I don’t understand why anyone would want to debase another Christian writer for wanting that. And for being so mean spirited about it in the first place.
    If we are sisters and brothers in Christ why can’t we agree to disagree like paul and barnabas and move on with the work that needs to be done here. If that means a separation in genre, so be it. As long as the genre’s have Christ’s purpose at heart; then why should it matter?
    In short, finally…Milk, I agree that most of our work doesn’t make the mark literary wise. Regardless of the great intention that inspired a work to be completed. My church is enamored with a certain series of end times fiction. I love it. I love seeing my Sunday School class talk about christian fiction. I love it. But I am concerned, because I also knows what goes on in and out of their homes and not one of those novels spoke on that. And they hurting from some kind of relevance for why they are here. They asked me to compile a list of more fiction outside of what our pastor has recommended, because they want to expand their knowledge of God. I credit the authors of those books for sparking their interest in reading fiction. Make no mistake. I read all the novels and I’m very glad for them. But when you want more than milk to eat, there should be more food in the cupboard.
    Now it’s up to us (Milk, Dee, whom else…) to get added onto that list of deeper more sophisticated works.
    What say you?

  8. One of the most relevant stories I ever read is _Lost Shepherd_.
    Out of print, now, but available used on Amazon, it’s about a minister whose church is dying on the vine, and a strange woman down the street who prays for the minister’s injured nephew. The young man gets well–too fast for comfort.
    What will the vestry (or board of deacons, whatever) say???
    The pastor tells the woman to leave his nephew alone….
    She also has a favorite memory of a dear friend, a boy where they had lived as children in the Orient, who had heard the screams from the fields of torture. She moved away; eventually, he quit writing, and she lost track of him.
    There’s a lot more, new thoughts and applications with new people, for the pastor, new loves, and a stranger from the past.
    It’s powerful food for thought by the late Agnes Sanford, who writes of foreign mission fields and things we in the sheltered and skeptical church in the USA never heard about.
    But ask any missionary. God hasn’t changed a bit. His church has.
    And now, we long to be taken seriously, while “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.”

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