Some Words on Encountering an Evangelical Literary Panel

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.

Too Many Options

After months of painstaking research and serious scholarly inquiry, I have uncovered a comprehensive list of all of the available “Options” that we Christians of 21st Century liberal America can exercise during these most unsettling times. You’re welcome.

New York #rabbits

It doesn’t mean much in the end, but my observations on international aviation law have made their way into The Atlantic, Financial Times, and Reuters. I never did make it into the New York Times — that is, not until I started discussing #rabbits.

Next goal: Get #friendlyfascism trending worldwide.


Compassionate conservatism was a thing in the late 1990s and 00s. For the life of me I can’t recall the last time I heard the expression used in a serious conversation. Maybe that’s because compassionate conservatism, like most political orientations packed into a slogan, wasn’t serious. It certainly didn’t help that the expression conjured up an image of regular old run-of-the-mill conservatism as downright mean, even frightening. Anyway, I don’t expect it to return to the forefront of our politics anytime soon, especially not in the era of “Tea Party” conservatism and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a gross mixture of social libertinism and state-managed capitalism. This is why I am issuing a modest, measured, and above all mirthful call for #friendlyfascism. In a day and age when so many traditionally disenfranchised, even oppressed, groups have “taken back” certain words of derision, is it not time for us, concerned citizens of the United States who have grown indifferent toward, nay, disgusted with the present socio-economic ordo to take back the original F-Word?

1962 > 1954

St. Lawrence Press has done a great service in the mighty cause of exonerating, nay, privileging the Missale Romanum and Divine Office of 1962 over the manifestly inferior “1954 books” (or — *shudder* — “1939 books”). As I flipped through the Press’s 2014 Ordo Recitandi for one of the last times this year, I was appalled to discover that there was a dark time, not too many decades ago, when this, the Sunday in the Octave of the Nativity, was displaced by the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Imagine my relief when, just before hearing today’s Mass, the priest ascended the pulpit to calm the crowd by reminding them that in the holy, indefectible, and manifestly superior 1962 liturgy, we would indeed be celebrating the Lord’s Day while commemorating the Holy Innocents. On this point even the Byzantines agree as they today celebrate the Sunday After Nativity; they would never countenance preempting and transferring such a day as this, even for  a venerable body of witnesses like the Holy Innocents.

Moreover, the faithful who had made the trek and sacrifice to attend Mass today could breathe a sigh of relief that unlike their forebears, they would not have to endure the abomination of seeing a Sunday Mass celebrated on the next available feria, which is December 30. No, sir; no church of mine “is going up on a Tuesday.”

So, at last, we need not hear anymore of this 1954 (1939) contra 1962 nonsense. The matter has been settled. The controversy is closed. While I look forward to thumbing through my freshly received copy of the 2015 Ordo Recitandi, reflecting on the celebratory horrors and confusions my poor ancestors once endured, that pales in comparison to the mirth which now consumes my soul over the knowledge that never again shall I bear witness to trad-on-trad polemical violence stirred up by such a minor, indeed hardly noticeable matter, as the perfect books of sweet, sweet ’62.

A Free Market for Religion

I have been accused before of being uncharitable and harsh toward the Acton Institute and all of its works. Some claim I am distorting what they are “really doing” while unduly demonizing them when I should be praising their pro-market, pro-freedom agenda. Then I read thing like Dylan Pahman’s “Consumerism, Service, and Religion” over at the Acton Power Blog and quickly remember why I, a professing Catholic, cannot flatter Acton’s troubling worldview. Pahman, an ex-Calvinist Orthodox Christian, isn’t happy with Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s recent piece on “The Spoiling of America.” Why? Well, for one thing Longenecker’s anti-consumerist ethos doesn’t jibe with Pahman’s free-market religion, which includes lauding a free market for religion. Using Alexander Hamilton’s somewhat famous observation that “it is . . . absurd to make [religious] proselytes by fire and sword,” Pahman concludes that markets are the better — perhaps only? — alternative. On this point I’ll let the man speak for himself. Pardon the extended block quote.