It’s been a good fifteen or sixteen hours and I’m still miffed. At least it’s downgraded from blazingly furious after a few hours of stopover in fuming.
A couple of days ago, Mike Duran asked his audience (which seems to include my audience more and more since I keep linking to him) if Flannery O’Connor wrote Christian Fiction. Which is sort like asking if Margaret Mitchell was a Southern writer. Because while both women were clearly from those traditions–O’Connor was a devout Christ-follower and Mitchell was born and bred in the South–their work generally stands well apart from the works that comprise those literary traditions.
But before I go any further, let me explain to those of you on the outside of the fence that within the circle of Christian Fiction there is a movement afoot that reminds me of the Disney movie making establishment prior to the advent of Touchstone films. Just as some within the halls of Disney wanted to make family fare that appealed to slightly older sensibilities, these writers want to write fiction for Christians’ leisure reading that is more PG-13 in nature. In other words they still want to have overt Christian themes but they also want to get away from the rigid strictures imposed by the Inspirational publishing houses. This debate generally centers around the code-word “edgy” and usually takes off when someone says they wish their characters could say the occasional Carlinesque Ess Word. It makes me fervently glad that God has called me to write something else, because if I had to spend vast amounts of my time worried about accidentally using the word “panties” and how I should not use the word “panties” I just might go back to booking travel for people who want to use their Sears card to pay for a Hawaiian vacation.
So when Mike asked folks if Flannery was a Christian author he pulled one paragraph out of the short story Parker’s Back to serve as an example. It happened to be the paragraph where the main character, Obediah Elihu Parker says
“God dammit!” he hollered, “Jesus Christ in hell! Jesus God Almighty damm! God dammit to hell!” he went on, flinging out the same few oaths over and over as loud as he could.
Based on that information alone, a man who had not read any of O’Connor’s works and was wholly unfamiliar with her biography decided that she was not only not a Christian writer but had standards far below that of any good Christian. From that point on another discussion ensued about whether or not writers should have their characters swear.
This? This is why Christian art is floundering in the ghetto of Kirk Cameron direct-to-DVD videos, Thomas Kinkaide’s paintings of light and blood and hair and endless stories of Amish girls and quilts. In the presence of true art we are getting hung up on the things we take out of context to fuel our Bowdleresque outrage. As I said over there, debating the use of profanity in that paragraph is like looking up at the Sistine Chapel ceiling and only noticing the strange nudity.
There was much discussion about how bad that paragraph was for taking God’s name in vain. Yet, if you were to read the entire story you would see that not only is the character’s use of those words at that time symbolic of his first supplication to God but it also echoes his disdain for his OWN name that he refuses to speak. So if you were to just see that paragraph you would of course say “yep. He took the Lord’s name in vain.” You’d be missing the whole story.
What good is a writer who misses the whole story?