Whiskey, Diapers & Why I Don't Write Christian Fiction

There is currently a set of clear glass whiskey bottles filled with various proportions of grains in the big shared office space I inhabit professionally. They temporarily reside there courtesy of Bernie Lubbers, the Whiskey Professor. He uses them to demonstrate the differences between different types of whiskey: Irish, Scotch, Canadian, Bourbon, Tennessee, Rye, etc.

People are visual beings. We understand better if we can visualize something. Maybe that’s why Jesus used parables to teach about the Kingdom of Heaven. “It’s like yeast worked through dough… it’s like a treasure buried in a field… it’s like grain scattered on the ground…”  He gave people images they could easily visualize to understand things they couldn’t see.

Bernie’s bottles of grain show people part of how Scotch is different from Bourbon. Armed with that visual, you notice new things when you taste both. It reminds me also a bit of the school project box that Kevin Kline’s character showed Meg Ryan in French Kiss.  It occurs to me that the overlap between people (I’m guessing mostly men) who’ve seen Bernie’s demonstration, and people who’ve seen French Kiss (mostly women) is pretty low.

That’s what storytellers call contextualization. Recognizing that different people in different times have a different palette of previous experiences and images to draw from.  But that’s probably a thought for another post.

Right now, I want to talk about diapers, and Christian fiction.

I’m a follower of Christ. Have been since I was pretty young, although I abandoned that pursuit for a few years in my early twenties. Again, a topic for another post. Fortunately, Christ never stopped pursuing me.

I spent a certain amount of time in my late 20s and earlier 30s immersed in the evangelical Christian subculture. Like most life experiences, there were good and bad things about it. Two things strike me  at the moment about it. First, is that a lot of people don’t seem to distinguish between the evangelical subculture and the Christian faith. So I have a lot of people who treat me as if I’ve left the faith. Second, is that the people most deeply immersed in a subculture don’t realize they’re in a subculture. They believe they’re the mainstream, and everyone else is the lunatic fringe.

I think this probably goes for most subcultures, which also explains roughly 90% of the content in my Facebook feed.

Although I left the evangelical subculture, I’m still a member of a local church body. I have my reasons, which mostly relate to what I said earlier about Christ always pursuing me. Being part of a local church body seems to make me somewhat easier for Him to track down when my heart goes walkabout.

I have friends, both digital and corporeal, who don’t share my faith. That’s fine. I just ask that you respect that it helps me in ways that I find invaluable. If the specific church body I belong to were one of Bernie’s whiskey bottles, and the types of grain within it were different teaching emphases or specific faith practices, the things I need the most help with in my own practice make up the bulk of the contents.

While I’m fairly orthodox on the essentials, I’m not a perfect match with all the grain in the bottle. That is why I don’t teach Sunday school (aside from not being asked, and mostly the fact that our church doesn’t have adult Sunday School).  I serve in the nursery.  Babies do not care much about doctrine. They care about having a clean butt, a full stomach, and comforting affection when they’re separated from their parents.

I don’t write Christian fiction, at least not in the genre sense. I’m a Christian. I write genre fiction. From a publishing and marketing perspective, the market for Christian fiction is by definition the Christian subculture: people who want to replace the secular media they consume, including fiction books, with a Christian alternative.

Does my faith inform my fiction? Yes. A writer or artist’s worldview is always reflected in their work in some way.  In my case, gospel-related themes or elements often work their way into my stories naturally. As genre fiction, I know my work probably won’t ever be considered “great art.”  But I do want it to always be the best art I can make. I don’t want people grading my work on the “pretty good for Christian media” curve. I don’t want to make “Christian substitute art” or shoehorn an evangelistic message into a story as a marketing decision.

I don’t believe all writers in Christian fiction do those things. Some Christian fiction is also very good writing. But for me personally, writing really good fiction is hard enough.

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