Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weekend Worship—The Imaginary Line Between the Secular & the Sacred

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters… It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24

Even though I’m a Christ-follower, I must admit I'm struggling with a concept.

I have a problem with the idea of Christian books and Christian writers. I can hear the gasping and unsubscribing even as I write this. You are welcome to disagree. Actually I hope that you’ll take time to weigh in on this subject. But before you do, let me explain. As far as Christian books, there’s no way a book can be Christian, in that Jesus didn’t die so it could live. It’s like saying I have Christian countertops or a Christian chair. We’ve just become so accustomed to hearing the phrase we accept it at face value.
I get the reason for the distinction. It’s easier for the reader to know the focus and/or content of a particular book if it’s labeled Christian. But, at least in my mind, the distinction is an invisible line. Who decides what is considered Christian and what isn’t? These are some heavy issues, and they’re dogging the Christian publishing industry right now.

I believe the truth of the matter is subjective.

NOT, the truth of who Christ is and what He did for us. That is a foundational truth we can base our lives upon. The subjective part that I’m referring to is defining what the criteria is that designates a book as Christian. 
  • Is it only stories with a gospel message?
  • Is it stories where the characters are believers?
  • Is it only redemptive stories?
  • Is it only nonfiction?
  • Is it biblical fiction?

In the Bible we find all kinds of books, from poetry to biography to a book that never even mentions God (Book of Esther). For years, Christian books have been found in Christian book stores. While I don’t have anything overtly against these stores, I find them to be sanitized places, full of lots of Jesus Junk and very few actual books. They also tend to be extremely female oriented—heavy on the inventory of tea pots, doilies and jewelry. The reason for this feminine focus comes from the argument that most book buyers are women, therefore the shopping experience should be female focused. To me, that’s a self-defeating prophesy because very few men will shop in these girlie-girl surroundings.

But let’s leave this discussion and move to the designation of Christian writers.

It’s easy to ask what makes a writer a Christian, it’s the fact that they’ve accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord. I have no problem with that. But let’s go a bit further. We take it to mean that the so-designated writer, writes only Christian books and/or other Christian content. Again, who decides what is Christian and what isn’t?

Beyond that, what other professions designate themselves as Christian __________? Do we refer to Christian plumbers, or Christian barbers, or even Christian chefs? Do we serve Christian food, live in Christian houses or have Christian plumbing? Of course not. So why Christian books?

To carry this conversation even further—God created the world in which we live. If I'm writing about this world from the viewpoint of someone who believes in God—isn't that Christian?

As a believer, my goal is to write things that won’t shame my Lord. It’s at once that simple and that complicated.

I’ve shared my thoughts, now I’d love to hear yours. 

TWEETABLES
Is the line separating the secular and the sacred real or imaginary? @EdieMelson poses the question (Click to Tweet)

What does it mean to be a Christian writer and write Christian books? @EdieMelson weighs in (Click to Tweet)

29 comments:

  1. Edie, I agree with you. As a writer (and a Christian) I don't want to write anything that would shame Him. Having said that, I don't want my novel to be overtly "Christian" in that non-Christians wouldn't read it. The subtle message is there without "preaching."

    Thank you for this post.

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    1. Joan, thank you for sharing your thoughts, very insightful. Blessings, E

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  2. I also agree with you, Edie. Our pastors speaks a lot on the subject and I'm thankful for it as I've not always seen it from this perspective.

    Your post is an eye opener. I'd never considered how female oriented the Christian bookstores are, but it's true. I suppose they too know their "audience," as women probably frequent them more often. Hopefully, this will not always be the case.

    Thank you for the challenging thoughts on this beautiful Sunday morning, Edie.

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    1. Cathy, that's awesome that your pastor addresses this subject. Thanks so much for stopping by, Blessings, E

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  3. I agree also, Edie, and thank you for this post. I think your comment on Christian stores is very telling.
    As I've developed on this writing journey, my goal is make my heroes people with solid Christian values as their foundation. They may never pray or go to church or lead another character to Jesus. But I want the choices they make to based on Jesus. I'm with Joan on this.
    it's kind of like Show, Don't Tell. If I tell the reader my character is Christian, I'm preaching. If I show she lives according to a Christian values, it delivers a stronger message.

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    1. Henry, I love your application of Show, Don't Tell, in this context. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Blessings, E

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  4. A powerful post with so much to examine. Thank you.

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    1. Dorothy, thank you! I appreciate that you took time to stop by and comment, Blessings, E

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  5. Perhaps the categories should be pagan and non-pagan, because for Christians, it's often that we don't want to be slammed with overtly ANTI-Christian ideology unless we have girded ourselves up to endeavor to understand hedonistic material. Personally, I don't want to read smut, and many novels (and movies) go right there. I enjoy stories of those who have struggled and been redeemed. Just like a good testimony at church, I get comforted when lives are changed for the Lord. What a nice contrast to the evening news and television programming. the label let's me know I can pick it up and be encouraged by my fellow believers.

    By contrast, at the Florida Christian Writer Conference, one teacher challenged us to watch the movie, "Magnolia," with a stern warning that it is not "Christian" in behavior or language, but gives a clear redemptive message. I mentally girded up before watching it. It starts with much overtly hedonistic behavior and I was tempted to hit the button most of the movie. How can you convey a "Christian" theme in the midst of a severely broken world. It was very hard to watch, but for me, brought home an important message that God has been giving me as of late... pagan behavior is usually preceded by lives of extreme pain. Getting to the root of the pain often paves the way for healing, and while this movie didn't go there, the way to the Lord, because many don't believe that God would allow such pain from a "good" God.

    There are times when I want to know that a book is Christian, especially when it is challenging what I believe or causing me to go deeper in my faith. For example, my new book The Christian Prenuptial Agreement challenges the Christian world view, identifying areas where the community has gone to sleep and allowed bad thinking to become law. It raises the bar for Christian marriage. The book calls us to take back what I believe God call us to do, but we have allowed pagans to take away, both through common thinking and through secular laws. It challenges pastors to rethink their ideas on prenups, and instead of lowering marriage standards, elevates marriage to a whole new level. It was challenging writing it, because I knew that my theology had to be right without venturing into doctrinally divisive issues. It's sort of like putting a fish on your car... then you have to drive well... and probably,more to your point, who's to say I'm driving well?

    I understand your concept of who's to say something is Christian. I have thrown many a "Christian" book across the room when their theology is misguided. But that brings us back to the Bereans, where we are to test what we read. When I know it's purported to be Christian, I put on my Berean jersey, and cheer when it makes a touchdown and lament when it goes sideways.

    Great topic...

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    1. Patricia, thank you so much for adding your thoughts. It's a complicated topic, but one I think we all need to consider. I appreciate that you took time to comment, Blessings, E

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  6. Excellent points, Edie. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I just updated my Twitter profile in light of your insights.

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  7. Poignant, thought-provoking, and timely. Thanks, Edie.

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    1. Andrea, thanks so much for stopping by!

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  8. I love this line: "As a believer, my goal is to write things that won’t shame my Lord. It’s at once that simple and that complicated." This is so good, and what I want to strive for whether I write something God has placed on my heart or a post about fitness. I may not write something specifically related to faith, but I still want to honor Him. Anyway, good post...makes you think. :)

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    1. Audra, thank you! You're right, no matter what we write we want to honor Him, Blessings, E

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  9. Wow. Thought-provoking Edie. Love the thoughts of Christian food, Christian houses, and Christian plumbers. You're right--no one thinks like that!

    I've struggled with writing things, like the memoir, or articles that have a Christian message but will be read and enjoyed by non-Christians too.

    Thanks for challenging us.

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    1. Ellen, I think it's harder for us (as Christ followers) to write from a view-point other than Christian. Thanks for stopping by, Blessings, E

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  10. I just sat in a Ph.D. class where the professor (who is a Christian) said, "There is no sacred or secular."

    If His life permeates us and all we do, be bring the sacred to what many consider the secular.

    As for Christian books, the publishers I've worked with have their own definitions...and they vary. And as for secular books? In my classroom, we mine all the books we read for values that line up with scripture -- and many "secular" books are consistent with Christian principles. Love this discussion!

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    1. Laura, great thoughts! And you're so right, every Christian publisher has a different definition. Thanks so much for taking time to comment, Blessings, E

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  11. Thanks I needed this at this time and moment. Long story to explain how and why, but it is timely for me. Dealing with the secular is one thing, but what do you do when your views collide with another's differing Christian views. Where do you draw the line between forgiving seventy times seven (which might be enabling) and waiting for a prodigal son to pick himself up (which might be tough love and hard to do). When dealing with issues God's Word is trump, but that can create problems when it conflicts with society's values. In "my view" compromise is the first step on the road to hell. That being said I am not the judge and was not sent here to do so. I am called to set the captives free and above all else that requires truth and honesty, which are sometimes hard things to share. At present I am standing at a point in life where I am between the two alternatives I mentioned earlier. This post has helped me decide which is more important. Thanks for that, but I would appreciate your prayers for me that I make the right decision. This reply may seem off target, but my point in writing it is to show that posts can touch lives..

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    1. Ric, first, just to let you know, after 1 day all the comments left on my blog are moderated. So if you comment on an older blog post (even just one day older) your comment has to be approved before it shows up. I have to do this because of spammers.

      Now onto your thoughts. In the past, I've struggled with forgiveness and when it bleeds over into enabling. I've learned that forgiveness is never enabling, it's what we do after the forgiveness that becomes enabling. We can forgive and still keep our distance from the situation. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Blessings, E

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  12. So agree, Edie. Our local writers' group says we are Christians who write. Many write for the general market. We welcome any writer.

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    1. Vie, I love that! "We are Christians who write." It's a perfect description. Thanks for sharing, Blessings, E

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  13. Edie, I have discovered that my standard in Christian writing is not always the same as other folks standards. I have seen some stuff that had the word Christian on it, but it wasn't Christlike. I've tried to follow the rule that my writing must do certain things, number one of which is point people to God and Christ. It must teach Godly/Biblical principles, and people learn much better through showing rather than telling. Only God's writing is sacred. Christian writing is not sacred, but it should never be secular. Secular means 'without God'.

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    1. Donevy, good thoughts, thanks so much for taking time to share! Blessings, E

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  14. When my son graduated from film school, I gave him a 1887 copy of Les Misrables. On the card I wrote, "May this book sit on your shelf as a constant reminder that well told stories of faith and redemption never go out of style." As Christians, we often try too hard to tell "Christian" stories. I'm with you 100% on this Edie.

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    1. Ellen, I think Les Mis is the perfect example of what I'm talking about. Thanks so much for taking time to add your perspective! Blessings, E

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  15. Really interesting topic! I never really thought about it, I suppose. I read a lot of books by Ted Dekker and they often have Christian themes but generally are not always specific to Christianity I suppose. They are almost always about the struggle of good and evil, and he manages to write experiences that really connects with me. Very powerful stuff.

    I'm going to have to think about this more! Thanks for the pondering cue. :)

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