Yesterday evening, as I am sometimes wont to do, I parked myself at the café of Baker Book House’s expansive facility in Grand Rapids. The store, which is still fairly new, is geared primarily toward Protestants of the Evangelical variety, though it also boasts a fairly sizable Catholic section and an extremely modest Eastern Orthodox one. The two store’s two gems are its collection of remainder/lightly damaged titles from primarily Christian academic publishers (e.g., Baker Academic, Eerdmans, and even Ave Maria Press) and an extensive used book section (though most of the volumes are Protestant). The café is typically quiet in the evening, but not always. For instance, a month or two ago, I made the mistake of sitting there while “Movie Night” was going on. The film in question, God’s Not Dead 2, won’t be winning any academy awards next year, but so it goes. Another mistake was made last night when, after 30 minutes of peace and quiet, I noticed a flood of people (mostly women) enter the store and start sitting around the small stage area across from the café. Much to my chagrin, a panel of four Christian authors were speaking about their work; offering up some readings; and answering questions about the writing and publishing process. As someone who has almost no interest in penning fiction, let alone Evangelical fiction, I wanted to flee—but I couldn’t. For almost immediately I found myself transfixed by the well-meaning but ludicrous spectacle of listening to people who sound like they’ve never read a real book in their life tell others how to write.
Ok, perhaps that’s a bit harsh. One of the speakers, whose literary work revolves around an arsonist setting fire to her house and then purchasing a pug, was a former champion of the Moth Radio Hour’s “Story Slam” competition. She clearly knew how to string some words together and deliver them for comedic effect; she just wasn’t very funny. I say that because I find it grotesque that someone would take an obvious tragedy which greatly impacted their family and leverage it for laughs. As for the pug gimmick? Pure kitsch. When this individual began reading her work, I was equal parts mesmerized and horrified; how could anyone laugh at this? And it wasn’t just the arson; it was the fact she led off her story about acquiring the pug as if she was about to engage in a tawdry affair behind her husband’s back, and latter capped it all off with an anal-sex joke. Is that the Evangelical version of “blue humor”? I really don’t know, nor do I care to find out.
Two of the other speakers, both women, were a little easier to take. One had acquired her PhD at Princeton some time ago and spent her time writing and offering spiritual counseling. One thing that jumped out to me during her discussion is how often Evangelicals only openly confess to “positive sins,” that is, those which are typically considered virtues by contemporary secular society. For instance, this author made mention of her sins of “perfectionism” and “focusing too hard on her work,” as if neither aren’t already part of the Protestant work ethic. I also got the sense from her talk that the only times Evangelicals recognize sin is if they “feel convicted in their hearts” (or something like that). In other words, sin is defined as a subjective feeling rather than an objective abrogation of God’s Law. Strange. As for the third female speaker, she had recently penned a book of prayers that aligned with the alphabet; I must admit I had mostly checked out by the time she spoke.
The real highlight of the night was actually the panel’s first speaker, a middle-aged gentleman who writes a series of action novels revolving around a Christian cage fighter and former Philosophy major at Yale who, after beating bad guys to a pulp, tells them to go read The Bible. (No, I am not making this up.) To make matters worse, he also writes and self-publishes (of course) a miniseries about a vigilante nun entitled . . . wait for it . . . Force of Habit. (Were I a braver man, I should have reached into my pocket, removed my Rosary, and began loudly reciting the Sorrowful Mysteries.) During the course of his presentation and the Q&A session, this gentleman revealed that he had formerly been a lawyer (I knew it); that he had come to writing late in life and was often told he could never do it (obviously); and that anyone can learn to write (wrong).
And then the panel was over, and there was much rejoicing in Heaven.