Is this “new Christian Fiction” offering a deeper perspective on the reality of God than is currently offered in CBA?
Do you know the story of Typhoid Mary? I just saw it on Nova so it’s fresh in my mind. At one point, she was called “the most dangerous woman in America.” During the early 20th century, the prevalence of horses, open sewers, and deplorable hygiene standards caused sanitation in the big eastern cities to become an almost religious moral crusade. This was when cleanliness first sidled up to godliness. Men in white uniforms literally paraded through the streets like war heroes, and scientists took up the crusade to study bacteria and germ theory. When it was discovered that a house servant named Mary was connected to many of the typhoid cases showing up in wealthy families, a scientist paid her a visit to ask for samples of her body fluids for his research. Her resistance of his benign request was unequivocal. She misunderstood. She believed they came calling her a menace, a health threat, based on the assumption that upper class doctors held a negative stereotype of all servants and were singling her out for persecution. Mary, an Irish immigrant, was from a different culture and didn’t believe in germs. In her mind, she was the virtuous, hard-working innocent against the system. For a scientist to show up at her door in his fine clothes and tight manner, Mary would naturally resist the presumption. Unfortunately Mary didn’t know she was the first known healthy carrier of typhoid, responsible for 47 documented cases and 3 deaths. She was incapable of understanding that she was a carrier. She’d never been sick a day in her life and simply couldn’t understand how dangerous and painful typhoid was. She lived out her life never accepting that she was one of the causes of the spread of the typhoid virus.
I think our discussion about Christian fiction can take a lesson from Mary’s story. We’re waged in a battle of perception and we’re all a little like her, vehemently opposed to the idea that we might be part of the problem, too unwilling to examine ourselves to confront the potential destruction in our wakes. I have been guilty of being a Typhoid Mary, just as bad as the people I accuse of spreading disease. When I forget that both sides of this argument about the purpose of Christian fiction derive from unique perspectives, I fall victim to that same closed-mindedness I’m so opposed to. The entire contentious issue of Christian fiction’s purpose comes down to a matter of perception. If you don’t believe it, ask someone who doesn’t share your perspective if it’s true. It does matter that we understand this because people dies because of misconceptions every day. The existence or nonexistence of absolute truth had no effect on their lives. Not one of us is objective and we spread disease when we pretend to be.
Our different perspectives on the relative health of the CBA industry might derive from sales bookstores, number of books, or the spiritual, artistic, or emotional depth of those books. I like to think I’ve got a pretty realistic overview. But the fact is, I’m as subjective as the next guy. Because I put a premium on the artist’s search for beauty, truth, love, and quality, my vantage point tells me that Christian fiction is growing and some of its new growth needs to be challenged, encouraged toward health. This is what I’m asking us to dialog about. The Christian Writing Revolution is just my phrase for classifying the portion of that growth that emphasizes freedom in Christ over cultural standards of morality, artistic license over conservativism. Much CBA fiction is genre or commercial and it’s of high quality and getting better all the time. Christian creative writing is expanding into new markets and submarkets and it’s encouraging to see. But we’ve still got a lot of “fat babies” reading Christian books, as the Amy Grant song of the ‘80s described, but overall, I’m encouraged by the strong signs of health. There’s been a lot of silent acceptance of substandard prose in the past, but also quality and depth. There’s been pandering but also unquestionably there’s been creativity.
So as we continue to advance in our contributions to this industry, let’s dedicate to positive change. Let’s be honest about our disappointments, but always looking to the nuggets of hope scattered around.
Let’s be wise and remember that the prevailing wisdom among the world says, “Jesus goes in the heart, brain falls out the head.” But let’s be innocent of finger-pointing and division in our quest to spread truth. Christianity belongs back in the public square and our lives, like our books, need to be tools that knock stones out of the wall. Let’s use our examples and not our words to convince our co-laborers that though the world is evil, tainted, and unsafe, it is not so “lost” that it can’t be found. Christian fiction is not a spreader of disease, but a beacon of hope and a flag on a hill.
I am seeing hopeful progress out there that writers, editors, and publishers are building on the expanded territory. And there will be more. I’m excited to find them and I want us all to know about these people so we can support them and respond with our dollars, as Steve Laube pointed out. I want to showcase these courageous individuals here because they’re full of inspiration. They’re showing us our roots and teaching us how did stay committed to quality in the midst of the search for goodness beauty, and truth, and how to still write significant, inspiring stories that get read and change lives. I want to explore and celebrate that here.
And speaking of celebrating, be sure to check out the 4th Celebration of New Christian Fiction at Chris Mikesell’s place.
Grace and peace to you as you strive to engage and draw us into that deeper purpose.