Why I hate writing, Part 11: Fighting the Blue Hair Mafia

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“I want to be a Puritan,” my son says.

These are the first words uttered to me when I pick him up from football practice. He’s never been one to ease into a conversation and has a tendency to make extreme, declarative statements as a reaction to something that has upset him or made him uncomfortable. My mind quickly reviews our previous conversations for the week and I remember him suggesting that I not attend his pep rally. “Mom, there is a whole lot of cussing at my school, and I know you don’t want to hear that.” I assured him at the time that none of those kids were going to say anything I haven’t already heard, but him wanting to shield me from it was still admirable.

But back to the Puritan statement.

Me: Why do you want to be a Puritan.

Son: Because they lived good lives. They didn’t cuss or do bad things.

Me: Okay, well you do realize that if you become a Puritan you will have to give up the use of your computer, television viewing, your video games, many of the songs on your iPod as well as many books you may want to read.

Son: I think that’s a small price to pay to live a sinless life.

Me: There’s no such thing as a sinless life. Everyone sins, either through action or thought. Jesus was the only human who lived a sinless life, and He’s God.

Son: Okay, well. Then a life with less sin. I think that would make me happy. Did you know that children who talked back to their parents were subjected to public beatings?

Me: Are you suggesting that I beat you publicly? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to live a life free of sin, as long as you understand that you never really will. Besides, if you go around constantly trying to do right, think right and be right, how do you fit grace into that picture? Grace for yourself as well as grace for others?

He was relatively quiet for the rest of the ride home. I’ve considered sending my kids to private Christian schools in an attempt to shield them from the worldliness of public education, and the transition from elementary to junior high has exposed my son to many things I’d just as soon he not have to deal with. But you can’t live life in a Christian bubble. If you’re going to be salt and light, you have to understand that there is much darkness out there, even at the tender age of 14. I’m praying he makes the right choices because he knows better, but I’m relying on grace and mercy because I understand that knowing better does not always equate to being better. Besides, how can you ever truly understand the gift of grace if you’ve never fallen from it?

Which brings me to Reason 11 why I hate writing…

More specifically, the genre of Christian writing and who defines what that means. For me, any decent work of inspirational fiction will contain at least four key elements: Sacrifice, Trust, Hope and Redemption. But the characters and the narrative have to be real in order to be believable.

There is a large contingent represented in the world of Christian publishing who believe that any book which contains profanity, sexual immorality or perverse behavior of any kind is not worthy of the classification of Christian genre. I refer to them as the Blue Hair Mafia, and I’m not the first one to use this descriptive. They want assurances that anything they read will not offend their delicate Christian sensibilities. They want to live inside their safe, Christian bubble and not have to confront the harsh realities of a fallen world when they open up a book. No, they want to escape to a white-washed fantasy world where people say “shoot” instead of “shit”, where unbelieving husbands become believers because their loving wives prayed them back from the pits of hell, where children are tempted by drugs and alcohol but their faith protects them from ever indulging in such sinful behavior and where Jesus snatches them up before any real damage can be done. Who am I to say whether or not they should read nice, safe, Christian stories if that’s what they want to do?

I only wish they would afford others the luxury of writing books which might actually plant a seed of belief in a person who is either without faith or clinging to their faith by a thread. Someone who, by Blue Hair Mafia standards, is living a life of debauchery, a life so far away from Jesus they feel like He could never take them back. How is a book full of white-washed reality going to relate to them?

I’ll tell you how.

It’s not.

What it will do if they manage to get through the book in the first place is convince them they could never be worthy of grace because they are so much worse than any of the characters in the book. Which is pretty much the opposite of what an author who calls herself a Christian should be writing if she claims she want to draw others to Christ through her writing.

In a now somewhat famous sermon from a few years ago, American Christian preacher Tony Campolo summed up my frustration with the mentality which permeates our churches and all forms of “Christian” entertainment when he addressed a congregation with the following introduction:

“I have three things I’d like to say today.
First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition.
Second, most of you don’t give a shit.
What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

So what do you think? Am I completely off base with this? Do you think profanity should never be used in Christian books?

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15 Responses to “Why I hate writing, Part 11: Fighting the Blue Hair Mafia”

  1. Jason Wert October 6, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    You are completely on the money.

    I tried writing Christian fiction the way I would want to read it and had a bunch of professionals tell me there’s no way I would ever get published in the Christian realm doing it. I haven’t written fiction in so long because I just don’t think I’d fit anywhere. Too Christian for secular publishers, not Christian enough for the Christian ones…

    And Campolo is dead on.

  2. Marilyn Yocum October 7, 2011 at 5:53 am #

    Sing it, Sister.

    My policy: Profanity that establishes character or is critical to a scene, okay. Profanity that steals the limelight away from the story, not okay. it’s a fine line.

    Profanity is like red pepper flakes and when you are cooking for a crowd, you need to be extra careful about being too heavy-handed with the shaker.

    • katdish October 7, 2011 at 10:54 am #

      Completely agree with your policy. Gratuitous profanity, sexuality and violence has no place in Christian fiction or any fiction as far as I’m concerned. Gratuitous anything in writing shows laziness on the part of the writer in my opinion.

  3. Amy Nabors October 7, 2011 at 6:33 am #

    Oh this is right on it. I think living in the south especially people consider cursing offensive but there are times it can be used well to make a point.

  4. jake October 7, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    I discovered a phrase on one of those pieces of paper that someone attached to a wall at my office but nobody ever read. It’s about being Christians in the work place… it says something along the lines of, “you’re called to be salt and light, not pepper and darkness.”

    Now, when somebody says SHIT or worse, we all call them pepper and darkness, just for fun.

    Kat- at face value, you were pepper and darkness in this post, but here’s the deal, the fact that you’re more willing to accept a less than perfect reality and look at the world in spite of every little not quite unredeemed detail makes you a brighter light and a crap ton saltier than some old bat with blue hair.

    It’s why I read what you write.

    • katdish October 7, 2011 at 11:08 am #

      Ha! Love Pepper and Darkness. Sounds like a great name for a band.

  5. Heather Sunseri October 7, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    AMEN, SISTER! I would have to write an entire blog post to tell you how many ways I love the truth of this post. I’ve been composing one in my head for a while now on this very subject. Of course, fear gets in my way, which is just plain stupid. Thanks, Katdish! (Sidenote: For some reason I have this insane desire to just call you, Kat.)

    • katdish October 7, 2011 at 11:16 am #

      Well, hurry up and write it. I’ll be waiting…

  6. Laura Pauling October 7, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    I love this. And not just in writing but in all aspects of Christianity I feel this way. My kids are also in public school, knowing that they’ll have choices every day. But I’d rather prepare them for the real world than live in a bubble. Wonderful thoughts.

    • katdish October 7, 2011 at 11:16 am #

      Thanks, Laura. I’ve always been at odds with the idea that we must shield our kids from everything, even though it’s very tempting to do so.

  7. James Williams October 7, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    Kat, I loved this. I saw the headline several hours ago, but just now read it. I agree with you. I will say that part of what you say, about public schools and the Christian bubble, represents a mindset which, in unchecked, can lead to a kind of Phariseeism, also.

    That is, it’s wrong for anyone to judge all Christians who send their kids to public school as if they were not being good parents. But it’s also wrong for a public-school parent to judge those who send their kids to private or home school. There are a variety of reasons why parents do what they do.

    That said, I highly recommend this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svp3X68ZQ7M

  8. floyd October 8, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    I’m not sure how the church has figured out how to Judge the heart by what people say. I’m also not sure how they think they are somehow above the likes of Peter who God chose to help build us; the Church. Peter called down curses (I wonder what a sailor’s curses might sound like?) when he denied Christ.

    Maybe Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John forgot the part where Jesus said, “Follow Me.” Maybe He really said, “Follow Me, if you sailors, and cheats can swear not to cuss.”

    I’ve known many people who cussed like sailors who were light years closer to the heart of God than people who followed the rules and went to church every Sunday.

    If everyone of us wrote a non fiction book about truthful conversations and thoughts we’ve had, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be rated “G.”

    I thought Jesus said that the world would know we belong to Him by the love we have for one another? When did the modern church change it to “not using provocative words”?

    The sarcasm is not directed in order to justify lack of self control, it’s used to refute the hypocrisy in our modern Christian era. The same hypocrisy Jesus Christ used His strongest rebukes against.

  9. Hazel I. Moon October 9, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    I stand and applaud your son for his beliefs and for trying to shield you his mother, who has already heard it all. He has character that was not taught him in public school, so he must have picked it up from you or from his teachers at church. I hate it when movies are so bad you can’t watch them. Some get turned off because our spirits are offended. Books can be the same. Aren’t there enough words in our language that the writer (books and movies) need to use swearing and vulgar speech to emphasize their point?

  10. Ed Blonski October 11, 2011 at 7:12 am #

    I tried this once in a Bible class.

    “I have three things I’d like to say today.
    First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition.
    Second, most of you don’t give a shit.
    What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

    I was trying to make the same point with them that you are in this post.

    It was then that I realized that I need to understand the world(s) in which I live. Because the proverbial shit hit the fan after I said it.

    Oh, not in the class. Afterward, in the discussion groups in the parking lot. I eventually got “talked to” by the Elders for using profanity in a Bible class.

    They were not interested in the greater profanity of 30K kids dying every day.

    Here’s my point. Choose your audience. I cannot use the acronym for storing human waste materials on sailing ships (I’ve heard that’s where the word comes from. The human waste barrels on 17th & 18th century sailing ships were marked with the words “Store High In Transit”).

    We live in various worlds and have to shape our speech according to the world we are in or speaking to.

    While I strive to be “salt and light” everywhere I go and to everyone I meet, what that SOUNDS like changes accordingly.

    • katdish October 11, 2011 at 7:24 am #

      Oh, man Ed. You raise a great point. Maybe there should be warning labels on certain books: “May not be suitable for those with delicate sensibilities”.

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