What should Christians read?

Yes, people. It's a real book.

Yes, people. It’s a real book.

Last Saturday I was scrolling through the latest Facebook fodder and came across this post from Christian writer Tricia Goyer’s timeline:

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And while the majority of the responses (and there were several) were not in favor of limiting themselves to only Christian Fiction, I was surprised that there were some who felt that Christians should not read fiction that was outside the genre of “Christian”, arguing that we should not expose ourselves to the bad language, sex and violence so often found in mainstream works of fiction. Although to be fair, most stated that this was a personal conviction not a condemnation of those who read secular work.

But still…

It bugs me.

Maybe it shouldn’t. It’s certainly none of my business what people choose to read or not read, but if art imitates life–and I believe that good art mirrors real life–then much of what passes the muster of “appropriate” Christian Fiction is a poor imitation of what makes a good story. It’s a white-washed version of realistic prose. There are words that cannot be used, acts of violence and depravity that can only be suggestively danced around so as not to offend a Christian audience.

And that bugs me…

Writing for a Christian audience. So much so that I put in my snarky two cents:

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Do you know what the hottest thing in Christian Fiction is right now?

Amish Fiction.

Written by people who are not Amish.

I’ve struggled to understand why this is so popular, but I think I’m beginning to understand. Just as teenage vampire romance novels are an escape from the banality of everyday life, Amish life (or at least the idealistic version of it) is an escape from an increasingly crude and immoral one. And I suppose both have entertainment value, but neither imitate real life. Pre-teen Twilight audiences are spoon-fed sexuality disguised as taboo vampire romance and Amish fiction audiences are spoon-fed an ideal, profanity-free communities where bad things may happen, but really bad things never happen to good Christian folks.

But that’s not real and that’s not real redemption.

Many of you know that I’m a big fan of Stephen King. There are those who refuse to read his work because he uses, among other things, profanity. I once read a discussion board where several posters maintained that his use of cuss words is simply laziness. That his books could be every bit as compelling if he left out the profanity.

To them I say, bullshit.

Take this passage from The Stand concerning a young deaf mute’s encounter at an orphanage:

He stopped wanting to communicate, and when that happened the thinking process itself began to rust and disintegrate. He began to wander from place to place vacantly, looking at the nameless things that filled the world. He watched groups of children in the play yard move their lips, raise and lower their teeth like white drawbridges, dance their tongues in the ritual mating of speech. He sometimes found himself looking at a single cloud for as long as an hour at a time.

Then Rudy had come. A big man with scars on his face and a bald head. Six feet, five inches tall, might as well have been twenty to runty Nick Andros. They met for the first time in a basement room where there was a table, six or seven chairs, and a TV that only worked when it felt like it. Rudy squatted, putting his eyes on approximately the same level as Nick’s. Then he took his huge, scarred hands and put them over his mouth, his ears.

I am a deaf-mute.

Nick turned his face sullenly away: Who gives a fuck?

Rudy slapped him.

Nick fell down. His mouth opened and silent tears began to leak from his eyes. He didn’t want to be here with this scarred troll this bald boogey. He was no deaf-mute, it was a cruel joke.

Rudy pulled him gently to his feet and led him to the table. A blank sheet of paper was there. Rudy pointed at it, then at Nick. Nick stared sullenly at the paper and then at the bald man. He shook his head. Rudy nodded and pointed at the empty paper again. He produced a pencil and handed it to Nick. Nick put it down as if it were hot. He shook his head. Rudy pointed at the pencil, then at Nick, then at the paper. Nick shook his head. Rudy slapped him again.

More silent tears. The scarred face looking at him with nothing but deadly patience. Rudy pointed at the paper again. At the pencil. At Nick.

Nick grasped the pencil in his fist. He wrote the four words that he knew, calling them forth from the cobwebby, rusting mechanism that was in his thinking brain. He wrote:

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Then he broke the pencil in half and looked sullenly and defiantly at Rudy. But Rudy was smiling. Suddenly he reached across the table and held Nick’s head steady between his hard, callused palms. His hands were warm, gentle. Nick could not remember the last time he had been touched with such love. His mother had touched him like that.

Rudy removed his his hands from Nick’s face. He picked up the half of the pencil with the point on it. He turned the paper over to the blank side. He tapped the empty white space with the tip of the pencil, and then tapped Nick. He did it again. And again. And again. And finally Nick understood.

You are this blank page.

Nick began to cry.

Tell me how that could have been written as powerfully without the use of profanity.

The difference between that passage and one written without profanity is the difference between hitting a sacrifice fly with one out in the bottom of the ninth to win by a run and hitting a grand slam with two outs and a full count in that same inning.

The end results may be the same, but the latter is infinitely more memorable.

******

I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t read Christian Fiction. I happen to know that some of it is excellent. All I’m suggesting is that we don’t limit ourselves to it thinking the hand of God only moves the pens of those who call him Father. Rather than looking for the devil under every secular rock, maybe we should open our mind’s eye to see that God is at work in the most unexpected places and even through those who don’t know Him.

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18 Responses to “What should Christians read?”

  1. Jason July 10, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

    I thought you were going to post something controversial.

  2. Lois C. July 10, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    Sorry, I can’t “unfriend” you for this one. I read Stephen King, but have never read an Amish Romance. My plan is to keep it that way. Don’t judge me too harshly, but I have read the Twilight series–blame it on old age–I’m 76.

    • katdish July 10, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

      Oh, hey Lois. I read it too. Well, I read the first two and got halfway through the third book. By then I was so sick of Bella that I began hoping that she would be eaten by wolves.

  3. Amy Sorrells July 10, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    Forever and ever amen.

  4. dan mcm July 10, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    Very good post, and I agree with you completely. The same philosophy ought to apply to music, art, movies, etc.

    There is a time and season for abstaining from secular stuff (for me, I had to avoid certain music that tried to pull me back into the “sex, drugs and rock & roll” party culture for a while), but unless your John the Baptist or Samson (i.e., someone with a specific call on your life), there isn’t really a mandate to avoid all things secular all the time.

    Amish fiction, huh? Now that bugs me….. I suspect it would bug the Amish too, if they were aware of it.

    As for Stephen King, not a big fan either (don’t like the horror genre), but his “On Writing” is fantastic. And no, he’s not being lazy when he uses profanity. Hell no…..

  5. Allen July 10, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

    I am always baffled at the individuals that want to build their own “Christian Commune” both physically and virtually. In the 1970s when I was growing up, I remember people constructing their communes to escape society. I wondered then, do they feel God put them on earth to ignore the hurting souls around them? I never could find anything in the Bible that said “Go away. Shun those who do not live to your standards.” But I do find where it says that God did not send Jesus into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved. So, if we judge the world, are we then saying we are in a higher position or better than Jesus? Yikes.

    So, when I hear people only reading Christian books, only listening to Christian music, only watching Christian TV networks, I wonder do they mingle with non-christians or do they judge them? Do the non-christians that encounter these folks feel drawn to them and allow them to speak into their lives?

    It gives me pause…

  6. Jake July 10, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    At my last church, I was told I couldn’t listen to a particular band because the singer was gay. “You never know what influence that might have on you.” said one of my pastors.

    The scenario it left in my head was this:
    Listening to said band… “This beat is sick- Oh wait! I like dudes!” (It’s better if I can act it out for you, I promise)

    Christians living in fear of the world probably won’t be overcome by it. But they won’t likely do anything to contribute to its improvement, either. Nice rant. They always are fun.

    • katdish July 10, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

      “Oh wait! I like dudes!” Snort! You crack me up, Jake.

  7. Beth July 10, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    Why do we have Christian Amish fiction out the wazoo? Because Christians buy it. And some of it is good. And some of it is not. I wrestle with anything that has become a Christian Industry. I feel the same way about Christian music and radio sometimes. If money is involved, humans, even Christians, tend to mess it up. So…I agree with you. God moves whether we put a Christian stamp on a product or not. Sometimes the darkness of the human soul is the best argument for the need of an all powerful and loving God. But sometimes we need to guard our hearts if a book, movie, song has absolutely no redeeming value. The lines are hard to draw. And I like that you bring all this up. May the Church embrace the arts to glorify God and not make a safe fantasy world that cannot reach a world in desperate need of Jesus.

  8. Ricky Anderson July 10, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    The Christian novels I’ve read were dreck. Every plot turn was only placed there to set up the next sermonette. Just as I hate Hollywood preaching its depravity in a movie, I hate pretending to tell a story when there’s nothing interesting in it.

    • katdish July 10, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

      Clearly, you’ve not read When Mockingbirds Sing by Billy Coffey (available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other fine retailers).

  9. Annie k July 10, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    My 2nd marriage (blended family) was to a Mennonite-which is an off-shoot of the Amish. Our lives are NOT like the books (those should be classified as fantasy) and if anyone knew our real story they’d probably say “holy shit!”.

    • katdish July 11, 2013 at 7:42 am #

      Yes, Annie. I’ve heard it’s not quite as idyllic as portrayed in the books, which I suppose is true of most things.

  10. Shawn July 10, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    Well said, Katdish.

    I’m writing an Amish murder mystery with bad language, violence and a drunk protagonist.

    • katdish July 10, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

      Awesome.

  11. Steve Thomas July 10, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

    I don’t mean to criticize the Amish; my late first wife and I lived where 13 of our 14 closest neighbors were OOA, and they were wonderful people – the same as everyone else. It annoys me to read Amish Romance, because not only the details, but the gist of Amish life is off-key. But on the other hand, that’s pretty much trie of ALL tomance novels.

    The Amish do seem to come a lot closer to the bible-oriented life than most of the people wearing “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it” on their bumpers. It’s funny that those who say that the most often seem to know less about what the bible says than the mainstream Christians like Methodists, United Church of Christ, etc.

    Uh, Allen, shunning is not applied to those who lived by other standards,only against those who have opted for the Amish standards, and then backslid, and it’s not applied as punishment, but in the hope of persuading the backslider to return to the flock. I know several who have lefy yjr Amish church, and were sincere in their change of heart, and although the shunning was neer officially lifted, the members of their former congregation no longer shun them, but treat them as any other non-member.

  12. Andi July 11, 2013 at 6:29 am #

    So nice to read this, Kat. So nice. I just wrote about why I don’t want to be a Christian writer yesterday, and it’s for just the reasons you describe here. My life – a life defined by faith for all of my 38 years – has not been all puppies and Amish kittens. So I write what I know and I try to write into things I don’t know.

    And with you, I’ll be reading Shawn’s gory Amish novel. 🙂

  13. Alise July 11, 2013 at 6:48 am #

    I get annoyed when people write off any genre of art based solely on what category it falls into. So I get equally annoyed by the folks who refuse to read anything by secular authors and folks who refuse to read anything by Christian authors. I just want to read a good book and I think we miss out on a lot by limiting who we will read. There’s a lot of just bad writing out there, regardless of the author’s faith system. (Though I do think that there are publisher restrictions on topics/language that can play into Christian writing that are not necessarily present if you’re not a Christian author and can unfortunately hamstring otherwise excellent Christian authors.)

    Also, I still haven’t had a chance to pick up Joyland – I’m such an ebook reader that going and reading a real paperback just keeps slipping my mind!

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