Thoughts on Violence in Word and Deed

It seems in the blogosphere there has been new conversation on the topic of language use and violence in Christian art. Note that the ideas presented aren’t necessarily new, but a healthy conversation is brewing in a few different sectors. 

Mike Duran is always up to stirring up contention, discussion on his blog Decompose. He uses the example of the counting of different potentially offensive terms in the movie The Blind Side to springboard into a discussion of language in Christian fiction. His recent novel The Resurrection had a jaded construction worker, who couldn’t say damn or hell because it was produced for the CBA market.

In the recent issue of Relevant, Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay asks if “offensive art can be Christian.” He starts off talking about a secular band declaring their allegiance  to Jesus in a song that also drops an F-bomb. Does the fact that they used such a word demean their otherwise Christian content? For a little more food for thought, check out this quote from the article:

We have come so far from reflecting the rebel Jesus in our art and cultural engagement that we do not recognize Him when He surfaces. I still wrestle with the fact that Jesus hung out with prostitutes not simply to tell them what they were doing wrong, but to love them where they were. He was in the world, and His agenda was to love. He was not looking for reasons to be offended. He was not looking for reasons to stay home, safely out of harm’s way. We weren’t set apart in order to live apart. We were called God’s own so we could confidently go into the world. 

 In a contrary grain, another author writes in Relevant that “Christian artists should (not) use violence.” He uses the term “violence” to include gratuitous sex and language. His contention is that the world is so jaded that using rough violence or stark violence or sex doesn’t faze the world anymore. When our morals were on a similar level, works like Flannery O’Connor’s provided a shock that hit complacency. Now when modern art tries to find new levels to shock and awe, then perhaps the answer  for the Christian artist is to paint a picture of beauty to be the contrast.

Whatever should be done, it is clear the Christian artist faces a peculiar enemy today: the expanding boredom of the modern age, which has the power to wash out even the severest expressions, and violence is its latest casualty. It is the constant duty of the Christian artist to outwit this amoebic tendency to consume and excrete, to make retail of riches. She must forge new paths of expression and restore old ones. When the world builds for itself a Tower of Babel, then she must paint a pile of rubble, and then when it is knocked down and the peoples wander in the refuse, she must paint a glittering city with jasper walls and foundations of precious stone. 

 A very intriguing article, and if you have to pick one, I think this would be it.

Finally, the flavor du jour here has been The Civil Wars. In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Joy Williams describes the freedom she now experiences being out of the Contemporary Christian Music realm.

“The process of being with John Paul  (White, her band partner) is this wonderful discovery of creative freedom that I didn’t know that I had,” she said. “I started in a very restrictive genre of music. But the reality is that I’m able to write a lot more about the world around me, if it’s about faith or about cigarettes, or about murder or adultery, or about a movie that I saw, or a book we’ve both read.”  Emphasis mine.

I like to put out interesting thoughts and articles for people to explore more. If you have thoughts on it, I’d enjoy your comments here as well.

Thoughts on Violence in Word and Deed

It seems in the blogosphere there has been new conversation on the topic of language use and violence in Christian art. Note that the ideas presented aren’t necessarily new, but a healthy conversation is brewing in a few different sectors. 

Mike Duran is always up to stirring up contention, discussion on his blog Decompose. He uses the example of the counting of different potentially offensive terms in the movie The Blind Side to springboard into a discussion of language in Christian fiction. His recent novel The Resurrection had a jaded construction worker, who couldn’t say damn or hell because it was produced for the CBA market.

In the recent issue of Relevant, Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay asks if “offensive art can be Christian.” He starts off talking about a secular band declaring their allegiance  to Jesus in a song that also drops an F-bomb. Does the fact that they used such a word demean their otherwise Christian content? For a little more food for thought, check out this quote from the article:

We have come so far from reflecting the rebel Jesus in our art and cultural engagement that we do not recognize Him when He surfaces. I still wrestle with the fact that Jesus hung out with prostitutes not simply to tell them what they were doing wrong, but to love them where they were. He was in the world, and His agenda was to love. He was not looking for reasons to be offended. He was not looking for reasons to stay home, safely out of harm’s way. We weren’t set apart in order to live apart. We were called God’s own so we could confidently go into the world. 

 In a contrary grain, another author writes in Relevant that “Christian artists should (not) use violence.” He uses the term “violence” to include gratuitous sex and language. His contention is that the world is so jaded that using rough violence or stark violence or sex doesn’t faze the world anymore. When our morals were on a similar level, works like Flannery O’Connor’s provided a shock that hit complacency. Now when modern art tries to find new levels to shock and awe, then perhaps the answer  for the Christian artist is to paint a picture of beauty to be the contrast.

Whatever should be done, it is clear the Christian artist faces a peculiar enemy today: the expanding boredom of the modern age, which has the power to wash out even the severest expressions, and violence is its latest casualty. It is the constant duty of the Christian artist to outwit this amoebic tendency to consume and excrete, to make retail of riches. She must forge new paths of expression and restore old ones. When the world builds for itself a Tower of Babel, then she must paint a pile of rubble, and then when it is knocked down and the peoples wander in the refuse, she must paint a glittering city with jasper walls and foundations of precious stone. 

 A very intriguing article, and if you have to pick one, I think this would be it.

Finally, the flavor du jour here has been The Civil Wars. In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Joy Williams describes the freedom she now experiences being out of the Contemporary Christian Music realm.

“The process of being with John Paul  (White, her band partner) is this wonderful discovery of creative freedom that I didn’t know that I had,” she said. “I started in a very restrictive genre of music. But the reality is that I’m able to write a lot more about the world around me, if it’s about faith or about cigarettes, or about murder or adultery, or about a movie that I saw, or a book we’ve both read.”  Emphasis mine.

I like to put out interesting thoughts and articles for people to explore more. If you have thoughts on it, I’d enjoy your comments here as well.

Too Clean?

As the debate rages in Christian fiction about “edgy” fiction, a Mormon author making the following pledge:

Mark the date and save this text. I will never use foul, crude, disgusting language or create explicit images of sex or graphic violence.

This is from Jason F. Wright, an author I am unfamiliar with, but I saw this article linked on Facebook and was curious. There is a subculture of LDS fiction just as there is for the evangelical world in the CBA. I’ve not read any of these books, but seeing them at the library, I can tell there are similarities (such as making knock-offs of popular general fiction such as DaVinci Code).

He asks the question if anyone has put down a book because it is too clean. Since the source of this article is “Mormon Times,” I would expect the answer to be “no”. I admire how he knows his place as an author and his determination to stick to his beliefs.

Still, I think people have put down books for being “too clean” if the book was also too unrealistic, uninteresting, or a combination. Can a good book be clean without the issues he labels above? Certainly. His point about older literature succeeding without gory details of sex, violence, or language is a poignant one considering our culture that demands “realism” above all.

Since I’ve participated in the discussion of edgy Christian fiction, the statement caught my eye. I still believe there is an argument for fiction that glorifies God and speaks to the culture while being grittier than your standard CBA fare, it is good to remember that each author has their own calling, and needs to stay true to that. It would not ring true to have a gritty Amish novel by certain authors, just as Ted Dekker writing a pure, sugary sweet prairie romance would be WAY out of character 😉

Too Clean?

As the debate rages in Christian fiction about “edgy” fiction, a Mormon author making the following pledge:

Mark the date and save this text. I will never use foul, crude, disgusting language or create explicit images of sex or graphic violence.

This is from Jason F. Wright, an author I am unfamiliar with, but I saw this article linked on Facebook and was curious. There is a subculture of LDS fiction just as there is for the evangelical world in the CBA. I’ve not read any of these books, but seeing them at the library, I can tell there are similarities (such as making knock-offs of popular general fiction such as DaVinci Code).

He asks the question if anyone has put down a book because it is too clean. Since the source of this article is “Mormon Times,” I would expect the answer to be “no”. I admire how he knows his place as an author and his determination to stick to his beliefs.

Still, I think people have put down books for being “too clean” if the book was also too unrealistic, uninteresting, or a combination. Can a good book be clean without the issues he labels above? Certainly. His point about older literature succeeding without gory details of sex, violence, or language is a poignant one considering our culture that demands “realism” above all.

Since I’ve participated in the discussion of edgy Christian fiction, the statement caught my eye. I still believe there is an argument for fiction that glorifies God and speaks to the culture while being grittier than your standard CBA fare, it is good to remember that each author has their own calling, and needs to stay true to that. It would not ring true to have a gritty Amish novel by certain authors, just as Ted Dekker writing a pure, sugary sweet prairie romance would be WAY out of character 😉

“Sensual” Christian Fiction?

File this post under “unfinished business.”

On September 15th I reviewed Immanuel’s Veins by Ted Dekker for the CFBA tour. I made the
comment, “Is this the book that changes what Christian fiction can be about?” I left off a cliffhanger saying I’d discuss it “tomorrow.”

Hope you haven’t been hanging too long!

Still, I don’t want to let this idea go. Immanuel’s Veins is a book that deserves some analysis.

The book is a potent mix of visual and emotional imagery. As I said in my review, Dekker spends time developing his two main characters, Toma and Lucine, and otherwise has placeholder characters that allow him to develop the tension and force the plot on its blistering pace. As Toma falls for Lucine, and she is torn between him and a deceptively dashing royal, there is a lot of description of the desire that develops.

Dekker describes it as probably “the most Christian book I’ve ever written.” It certainly is laced with the love Jesus has for His bride, as well as a deep connection to the Song of Solomon (he dedicates the book to King Solomon) and other Biblical imagery such as the two sisters in Ezekiel who end up whoring after other countries and their false gods. To build such a premise, this book couldn’t really be tame.

Dekker writes freely of passion and desire in building up the drama. The story wouldn’t have worked without it. The sensuality of the followers of van Valerik is contrasted with the nobility of Toma and Lucine. Still, both of them are tempted by the opportunity, and Lucine is seduced by Duke Vlad van Valerik. The horror of what she encounters after she gives herself to him echoes the mistake people make when they go after the schemes of Satan, only to realize they’ve been snared.

The book is sensual. The story demands it. As I read it, sometimes it was slightly arousing. It is unlike any other Christian (CBA) novel I’ve read. The book was actually not accepted by Ted’s Christian publisher in Holland due to its sensuality (can you say irony?).

I think only someone with Dekker’s clout in the CBA industry could get away with writing this book. Violence has long been accepted in Christian fiction, but any kind of sexuality is resisted. Now, I don’t think we should be seeing “Christian erotica” anytime soon, and that is not the purpose of Immanuel’s Veins. Again I’ll say the story required such language.

So this book could be a book that changes Christian fiction. I don’t think we’ll be seeing smut in the CBA, but if there is a proper place for sexual/sensual language that serves the story and the message, then Immanuel’s Veins sets a precedent. It will be resisted by some for sure – on the Amazon page the book is overwhelmingly praised, but there are several 1 star reviews that decry the language and imagery. I see their point, but I feel those reviewers are missing the point of the book by focusing on the trees and missing the forest.

Will this open up Christian fiction to the idea that “the end justifies the means?” I don’t think that is the case here. But Dekker really is not forging new ground, not when prophets and wise men in the Bible used such imagery first. Time will tell if it pushes CBA fiction, or if it is an isolated case.

What say you?

“Sensual” Christian Fiction?

File this post under “unfinished business.”

On September 15th I reviewed Immanuel’s Veins by Ted Dekker for the CFBA tour. I made the
comment, “Is this the book that changes what Christian fiction can be about?” I left off a cliffhanger saying I’d discuss it “tomorrow.”

Hope you haven’t been hanging too long!

Still, I don’t want to let this idea go. Immanuel’s Veins is a book that deserves some analysis.

The book is a potent mix of visual and emotional imagery. As I said in my review, Dekker spends time developing his two main characters, Toma and Lucine, and otherwise has placeholder characters that allow him to develop the tension and force the plot on its blistering pace. As Toma falls for Lucine, and she is torn between him and a deceptively dashing royal, there is a lot of description of the desire that develops.

Dekker describes it as probably “the most Christian book I’ve ever written.” It certainly is laced with the love Jesus has for His bride, as well as a deep connection to the Song of Solomon (he dedicates the book to King Solomon) and other Biblical imagery such as the two sisters in Ezekiel who end up whoring after other countries and their false gods. To build such a premise, this book couldn’t really be tame.

Dekker writes freely of passion and desire in building up the drama. The story wouldn’t have worked without it. The sensuality of the followers of van Valerik is contrasted with the nobility of Toma and Lucine. Still, both of them are tempted by the opportunity, and Lucine is seduced by Duke Vlad van Valerik. The horror of what she encounters after she gives herself to him echoes the mistake people make when they go after the schemes of Satan, only to realize they’ve been snared.

The book is sensual. The story demands it. As I read it, sometimes it was slightly arousing. It is unlike any other Christian (CBA) novel I’ve read. The book was actually not accepted by Ted’s Christian publisher in Holland due to its sensuality (can you say irony?).

I think only someone with Dekker’s clout in the CBA industry could get away with writing this book. Violence has long been accepted in Christian fiction, but any kind of sexuality is resisted. Now, I don’t think we should be seeing “Christian erotica” anytime soon, and that is not the purpose of Immanuel’s Veins. Again I’ll say the story required such language.

So this book could be a book that changes Christian fiction. I don’t think we’ll be seeing smut in the CBA, but if there is a proper place for sexual/sensual language that serves the story and the message, then Immanuel’s Veins sets a precedent. It will be resisted by some for sure – on the Amazon page the book is overwhelmingly praised, but there are several 1 star reviews that decry the language and imagery. I see their point, but I feel those reviewers are missing the point of the book by focusing on the trees and missing the forest.

Will this open up Christian fiction to the idea that “the end justifies the means?” I don’t think that is the case here. But Dekker really is not forging new ground, not when prophets and wise men in the Bible used such imagery first. Time will tell if it pushes CBA fiction, or if it is an isolated case.

What say you?

CBA Following CCM?

And in other news, ABC hates CBS and NBC.

Aside from abbreviation proliferation, I’ve been thinking about the continuing (continuous?) debate in CBA fiction circles about how to expand the “boundaries” of Christian fiction. On one side there are people defending the industry, pointing to its growth in the publishing world over the last several years, and the greater variety of genres/books being published. Another camp feels stifled by the unspoken limits of what is acceptable, and wonders how CBA/Christian fiction can reach unbelievers in its current status.

(Realize that the “industry” is a disparate group of authors, editors, agents, publishers, marketers, and booksellers, each with their own agenda. People speak of the CBA as some monolithic organization, which it certainly is not.)

Doncha dig the font
 and hairdos?
I’ve considered another industry that has had similar growing pains. CCM stands for Contemporary Christian Music, and it is another nebulous designation to speak of a variety of interests in music.

CCM started in the late 60’s/early 70’s with the revolution of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. As the hippie movement took full swing, there was a counter-revolution of young people getting saved, but retaining the new tastes in music and culture of their peers (without the sex and drugs part). As they naturally wrote music in the rock and folk genres, the initial music was often picked up by general market labels. Artists like Keith Green and Randy Stonehill were pioneers in these areas. Soon there was enough interest that labels were started to give further outlet to these musicians.

Since the people involved wanted to glorify the Lord as well as sell music, they became Christian publishers. This had the effect of sucking most of the blatantly Christian artists into a niche area, creating a music “ghetto” for lack of a better term. There were those like Bob Dylan with his Christian phase albums in the general market, but most artists producing specific Christian music (religious lyrics/subjects) were isolated from the general market airwaves. Christian music was on the outside looking in with the advent of MTV.

Slowly Christian artists tested the waters of “crossing over” to the general market, even as the Christian music ghetto flourished. Stryper was a famous Christian glam-metal band that got MTV airplay but was sold in (many, not all) Christian bookstores. Amy Grant was the first big crossover with her song “Baby Baby,” a syrupy-yet-catchy pop song that wasn’t specifically religious.

A debate raged at the time (early 90’s) whether these artists were “selling out” by writing lyrics that were ambiguous enough to be sung as a love song to the Lord or to a girlfriend. Michael W. Smith had a couple of hits on top 40 radio with such songs. In the mid-90’s Jars of Clay burst onto the scene when an early single, “Flood”, made waves in both markets. U2 remained a conundrum as they had spiritually insightful lyrics, but refused to be labeled a “Christian” band. Those darn Irish rockers wouldn’t let themselves be squeezed into the little CCM box!

Slowly, things have changed in the last 10 years in Christian music. Movies and TV shows started pulling songs from various Christian artists to play during the program. Switchfoot became a band that garnered a lot of respect in the general market, but were still considered “one of ours.” Relient k participated in the Vans Warped Tour with other general artists. P.O.D. broke through to both markets. Songs by The Afters, The Fray, and others got noticed. Skillet’s “Hero” was the major song for Sunday Night Football last year. The band Paramore is not considered a Christian band per se, but they have songs such as “Hallelujah” on their records.

Most of this has happened organically, without a lot of organization that I can tell. Perhaps there was behind the scenes maneuvering, but suddenly it was okay for bands to talk about spirituality without being black-listed to the CCM ghetto, and the CCM folks didn’t fuss about “selling out” nearly as much. This isn’t perfect: the band MuteMath sued their Christian distributor for being called a “Christian band”, as they felt it hurt their image since “Christian music” wasn’t considered the same quality as general market music. You don’t find songs blatantly speaking of Jesus on mainstream airwaves.

Could this be the model that CBA fiction follows? There are parallels – Ted Dekker is successfully publishing in both ABA/general market as well as Christian fiction. The CCM flow right now seems to leave room for the overtly Christian tunes, such as Chris Tomlin’s praise music along with the bands such as Superchick that have had some crossover appeal.

I can see this happening. I don’t know much about marketing and how books get out to the Barnes and Noble of the world, but it would be nice if relationships could be built with publishers and booksellers, getting more CBA books into areas of greater visibility. Hopefully the Ted Dekkers of the world will help pave a way for the Eric Wilsons and Robin Parrishs of the world for greater exposure.

CBA Following CCM?

And in other news, ABC hates CBS and NBC.

Aside from abbreviation proliferation, I’ve been thinking about the continuing (continuous?) debate in CBA fiction circles about how to expand the “boundaries” of Christian fiction. On one side there are people defending the industry, pointing to its growth in the publishing world over the last several years, and the greater variety of genres/books being published. Another camp feels stifled by the unspoken limits of what is acceptable, and wonders how CBA/Christian fiction can reach unbelievers in its current status.

(Realize that the “industry” is a disparate group of authors, editors, agents, publishers, marketers, and booksellers, each with their own agenda. People speak of the CBA as some monolithic organization, which it certainly is not.)

Doncha dig the font
 and hairdos?
I’ve considered another industry that has had similar growing pains. CCM stands for Contemporary Christian Music, and it is another nebulous designation to speak of a variety of interests in music.

CCM started in the late 60’s/early 70’s with the revolution of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. As the hippie movement took full swing, there was a counter-revolution of young people getting saved, but retaining the new tastes in music and culture of their peers (without the sex and drugs part). As they naturally wrote music in the rock and folk genres, the initial music was often picked up by general market labels. Artists like Keith Green and Randy Stonehill were pioneers in these areas. Soon there was enough interest that labels were started to give further outlet to these musicians.

Since the people involved wanted to glorify the Lord as well as sell music, they became Christian publishers. This had the effect of sucking most of the blatantly Christian artists into a niche area, creating a music “ghetto” for lack of a better term. There were those like Bob Dylan with his Christian phase albums in the general market, but most artists producing specific Christian music (religious lyrics/subjects) were isolated from the general market airwaves. Christian music was on the outside looking in with the advent of MTV.

Slowly Christian artists tested the waters of “crossing over” to the general market, even as the Christian music ghetto flourished. Stryper was a famous Christian glam-metal band that got MTV airplay but was sold in (many, not all) Christian bookstores. Amy Grant was the first big crossover with her song “Baby Baby,” a syrupy-yet-catchy pop song that wasn’t specifically religious.

A debate raged at the time (early 90’s) whether these artists were “selling out” by writing lyrics that were ambiguous enough to be sung as a love song to the Lord or to a girlfriend. Michael W. Smith had a couple of hits on top 40 radio with such songs. In the mid-90’s Jars of Clay burst onto the scene when an early single, “Flood”, made waves in both markets. U2 remained a conundrum as they had spiritually insightful lyrics, but refused to be labeled a “Christian” band. Those darn Irish rockers wouldn’t let themselves be squeezed into the little CCM box!

Slowly, things have changed in the last 10 years in Christian music. Movies and TV shows started pulling songs from various Christian artists to play during the program. Switchfoot became a band that garnered a lot of respect in the general market, but were still considered “one of ours.” Relient k participated in the Vans Warped Tour with other general artists. P.O.D. broke through to both markets. Songs by The Afters, The Fray, and others got noticed. Skillet’s “Hero” was the major song for Sunday Night Football last year. The band Paramore is not considered a Christian band per se, but they have songs such as “Hallelujah” on their records.

Most of this has happened organically, without a lot of organization that I can tell. Perhaps there was behind the scenes maneuvering, but suddenly it was okay for bands to talk about spirituality without being black-listed to the CCM ghetto, and the CCM folks didn’t fuss about “selling out” nearly as much. This isn’t perfect: the band MuteMath sued their Christian distributor for being called a “Christian band”, as they felt it hurt their image since “Christian music” wasn’t considered the same quality as general market music. You don’t find songs blatantly speaking of Jesus on mainstream airwaves.

Could this be the model that CBA fiction follows? There are parallels – Ted Dekker is successfully publishing in both ABA/general market as well as Christian fiction. The CCM flow right now seems to leave room for the overtly Christian tunes, such as Chris Tomlin’s praise music along with the bands such as Superchick that have had some crossover appeal.

I can see this happening. I don’t know much about marketing and how books get out to the Barnes and Noble of the world, but it would be nice if relationships could be built with publishers and booksellers, getting more CBA books into areas of greater visibility. Hopefully the Ted Dekkers of the world will help pave a way for the Eric Wilsons and Robin Parrishs of the world for greater exposure.

Discussions on “Edgy” Christian Fiction

Some are getting seriously tired of the label “edgy” when discussing Christian fiction. I can understand. Without an objective definition, one person’s edgy is another person’s milquetoast.

That being said, there have been a couple of interesting posts on the subject of edgy last week.

Mike Duran had an interesting post over at Decompose, and he disputes whether Christian fiction is really delving into the edgy or not. With 40+ comments this week, the dialogue has been interesting to say the least. If you’re interested in this conversation, be sure to check it out.

Ted Dekker has had a first: his latest novel Immanuel’s Veins has been banned in Holland. Strange, I know. It is only banned because the Christian publisher that produces his books there feels it is too “sensual” for their audience. Ted is not afraid to state a point, so he has a thought-provoking reply on his Facebook page.

For now I don’t have anything new to say in regards to these issues. Rather than rehashing them here, go check them out. Go on, off with ya now…

Discussions on “Edgy” Christian Fiction

Some are getting seriously tired of the label “edgy” when discussing Christian fiction. I can understand. Without an objective definition, one person’s edgy is another person’s milquetoast.

That being said, there have been a couple of interesting posts on the subject of edgy last week.

Mike Duran had an interesting post over at Decompose, and he disputes whether Christian fiction is really delving into the edgy or not. With 40+ comments this week, the dialogue has been interesting to say the least. If you’re interested in this conversation, be sure to check it out.

Ted Dekker has had a first: his latest novel Immanuel’s Veins has been banned in Holland. Strange, I know. It is only banned because the Christian publisher that produces his books there feels it is too “sensual” for their audience. Ted is not afraid to state a point, so he has a thought-provoking reply on his Facebook page.

For now I don’t have anything new to say in regards to these issues. Rather than rehashing them here, go check them out. Go on, off with ya now…