We the People (In and) Of the Book

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Happy belated 4th of July! Hope you had a good one. My own family celebrated in style, on our butts, transfixed by the kaleidoscope of imported explosive devices that screamed and flashed and with any luck, helped to feed many underprivileged Chinese families for another few months. But sitting there, pondering the freedom we so often take for granted in this country, it got me thinking about our role as the privileged recipients of liberty and what specifically we should be doing as participants in and contributors to this Christian book industry. Sure, it seems like a bit of a jump from the House of Congress in 1776 to the trade show floor at the first CBA convention in 1950, but if you look hard, there are similarities.

 

Today, there are all sorts of abuses of our liberty that undermine the original rewards our progenitors won for us. It’s the natural order for systems to decline—governments and industies alike. In CBA today we see artifice being rewarded and books being judged by their covers. Polished stage manner will get you much further with publishers than a well-written sample, and well-known speakers outsell little-known geniuses.

 

But those little realities are no big offense in the end. That’s just the world system. Sure But looking closer, you realize how strange it is for Christian authors to be forced to become public figures who claim Christ as Lord and Savior in one breath and ensure a massively appealing, calculated brand image in the next. In scripture we’re told things like, “Man looks upon the outward things, but God looks upon the heart.” “Do not be concerned with the things of this earth, but set your mind on the things above.” “Blessed are the poor for they will inherit the kingdom.” Jesus denounced the idea of seeking man’s approval and surely creating a personal (self-focused) public image is dangerous work. And I’m still every bit as concerned by the apparent complicity of our Christian book industry–from authors to editors to publishers to sellers to bookstores to buyers to readers—in promoting the very values of the world system which God himself says he detests. We claim, “Valuable!” and God sits up on his throne and shakes his holy head. Sure, we’re only human. And sure, the system is designed to allow us to absolve ourselves of all blame (“That’s what the buyers want.”/“That’s what other publishers are producing.”). But in fact, I’m afraid—terrified—of what this will mean for us as participants in and contributors to this industry.

 

It makes me wonder where we’re headed. If we’re responsible for our country as members of it, we’re certainly responsible as Christian book readers, writers, and editors. The commodification of Christianity currently taking place in our free country encourages it more every day. Christian products sell to the tune of $4 billion per year, and many of them, by promising a better life and favor with God and happiness of a kinds and all assortment of unbelievable things if you’ll just pray a prayer / read your Bible / go to church / believe and recite the words that unlock the secrets. It’s all to give Christians something worthwhile to spend their money on, but some of it seems pretty far from what Jesus intended.

 

Our country was founded on the principles of freedom and liberty of all to practice whatever ideas about business and religion they might choose. We can mix them and mash them all we like because that is our right as citizens of America. And we may not have to answer in this lifetime for our participation in the less than honorable elements of this industry. But I'm very grateful for those who agree with me that the price of my eternal freedom is no match for this world’s cheap copy.

 

Anyway, fireworks are illegal in my city, but that didn’t stop our entire neighborhood from calling a civil mutiny to light off hundreds of noisy rockets to honor our freedom from oppression of all kinds. Including our own laws. That probably says something about our relative respect for these sorts of thoughts. But it was still a pretty sweet show.

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7 thoughts on “We the People (In and) Of the Book”

  1. Very powerful imagery here, really thought-provoking.
    Still, what does it look like to break free?
    As a young kid, I remember watching as my law-abiding father (who refused to partake in illegal affairs) made a bold decision to engage. He began to light one of the wimpiest firecrackers available, and down the street- of course- rolled a cop car. His little daughters then had to watch as he was rebuked by the copper (“Is Daddy going to jail, Mommy?”).
    And so we want this spectacular reality (that being the hairspray-free image, the it’s-okay-to-hang-out-in-a-coffee-shop ministry), and we KNOW that anything is possible in Christ. But…we like to do what we’re told? We have a hard time differentiating between Christ’s intent and “obey your govt. leaders”?
    Maybe it’s a trust issue. Sure, God can do whatever He wants with my work, but it will all be useless to Him if I don’t promise to get on the radio and tour northern Italy and southern France, passing out gelato and baguettes to those who can already afford them.
    So we want to engage, then. What are the tools?

  2. As always, I agree with your thought-provoking essay, Mick. What you have described–“Polished stage manner will get you much further with publishers than a well-written sample, and well-known speakers outsell little-known geniuses”–has already been taking place for years in ABA non-fiction.
    The strange thing is (from my viewpoint anyway) that fame can usually get one or two books published in ABA. But it seems that it goes much further in CBA.
    I vote for more quality books; those are the books I buy.

  3. Mick, I agree with the concerns you raise about the CBA. As a writer, I hear over and over “you need a platform” “we need to know we can sell 10k books the first year.”
    I am not always sure where the line is between craft and business, between ministry and celebrity.
    So I write my heart out and walk on trembling feet through the grey areas.
    I appreciate your insights!

  4. Such a conundrum. Freedom really isn’t free, is it? It’s cost (hopefully already counted before we embark on our journey toward the finish line) is high indeed.
    It is…everything.
    And yet, as William Wallace so appropriately shouted:
    “Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!”
    Freedom is worth every breath; every word; every stroke of the pen or keyboard. It is worth fighting for. But we must use it wisely.

  5. Hey, Madison- I was wondering if you’d expound a bit on your first thoughts re: counting the cost. This is important stuff.
    What do you picture?
    The high cost- what does it look like, paying, in this context?
    Blessings, Jen

  6. Sorry about that Jen – I was out of town yesterday and tied up all weekend and didn’t see your question. Since you asked, I’m going to just lay it all out there…
    I guess freedom’s cost is different for everyone and it comes down to how you define freedom and what you’re willing to give for it.
    My idea of freedom includes things like following hard after God even if it means I look foolish; being obedient to His leading with every move; every breath. The life I have chosen has cost me my pride, my love of man and man’s praise; it has cost me jobs I wouldn’t take because they would compromise my values and friendships that might have been otherwise advantageous but were morally or ethically outside God’s will for my life.
    Freedom means being free from the spirit of “religion” that says we have to do church or Christianity a certain way based on traditions or rituals that have their roots in the opinions of men instead of the Word of God. It means being free from judgment (of others) and free to choose to lay down my right to be right.
    Being free is no longer being enslaved by personal strongholds like fear, jealousy, selfish ambition and fear of man. Getting free in some of these areas has cost a great deal as I have continually chosen FOR my own healing and therefore AGAINST continued bondage to these things. Laying down our own comfort and the desires of our flesh that war against the desires of our spirit is no battle for the weak. It is relentless.
    Jesus paid in blood, sweat and tears and I have done the same – at times literally and at times metaphorically. We seem to forget how much power there is in a willing sacrifice. When we choose FOR God and AGAINST our enemy, there is great power released in the spiritual realm — the power to demolish strongholds — at least, that’s the way my bible reads…
    Once I realized how beautiful freedom really was – once I let my toes leave the edge – once I started to fly – I decided never to go back and it has cost me everything I’ve ever known – my perceptions, my paradigms, and my ability live a life of sweet oblivion.
    And I’ve never regretted one minute…

  7. Excellent thoughts, Madison! Thanks for responding. I appreciate the way you have weaved from the cost of things in the Luke 14 sense to the cost of fighting for freedom from strongholds.
    “We seem to forget how much power there is in a willing sacrifice.” This is really amazing, isn’t it. I love a powerful portrait of this, from Chronicles of N to Devil’s Advocate to A Prayer for Owen Meany. Nothing more powerful than a living sacrifice.

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