God Is Not Second-Rate7:30 AM
We dreamed big on the couch together, my friend and I.
"What do you want to do after college?" she asked.
Write a book. Care for orphans. Work as a teacher's aid. Teach English. Lead choir. Just stuff like that, "unless," I said, "the Lord opens a different door altogether" -- something He's very fond of doing. He knows how to surprise me.
"And you?" I countered.
She currently teaches dance in her own home (her hapless ballet student I am), writes poetry and is big into drama. I learned from her that art could be a form of worship. So we discussed ideas on what she should do with all that talent and passion. She really wanted to go into ministry -- ministry that trains others to worship every moment of their life, to live radically for Jesus, to see the fine arts as the tool to magnify our Savior.
"And I think we need that," I philosophized. "We need Christians like you in those areas. Right now, it's either no dance or racy dance."
"But I want it to be good," she said. "I don't want to be just a nice Christian who teaches dance. I want it to be truly excellent."
That's when I got excited. I feel the same way about art -- we do need Christians taking up the pen, the brush and the prop for Christ. Others feel that same need, which is why there are, approximately, 1.5 billion Christian romance novels. Is my church the only church whose library consists of the Left Behind series and Janette Oke?
Christ has changed so many lives that I'm not surprised the more literary (or at least more wordy) of His children are hitting the publishing world with a vengeance. Still, it's no understatement to say that the vast majority of Christian books are mediocre at best and typically worse. If one gets through a Christian book still awake, the fifth-grade wording leaves a distinctly bland impression at the The End.
Admittedly, I read tiny-print classics for fun, so my standards might be skewed. And admittedly, the state of publishing in general is tragic. An English major told me it's highly unlikely for anyone to break into the publishing field. It's true, but "It's not fair," I grumped. "How come there are so many horrible books out there if it's so hard?"
But there used to be a time when The Pilgrim's Progress and Augustine and Milton -- and all the other brilliant Christian authors and thinkers back then -- dominated good literature. And it was truly masterful. Today, if a Christian book hits the bestsellers' list, it's either because it rides the hip wave or is The Shack. The literary quality and the depth of insight is nil. Literarily literally.
Of course, masterful books would struggle to make the bestsellers' list in today's reading climate, but I digress. Christianity used to trail literacy around behind it, simply because the Word, the word and words in general are integral to the Christian faith. It follows then that Christians ought to be the best of the best when it comes to literature -- or any other art form, really. Being in touch with the Creator of the universe doesn't count for nothing.
That's why mediocrity frustrates me: the Creator didn't create boring cliches. He wrought the most delicate work. He created language. In His word He communicates through some of the most beautiful poems and clever wordplays. Ever stopped to think how perfect a piece of literature the Bible is? And looking at it in a literary way doesn't diminish its divine authority; indeed, I think it strengthens it, and it proves a deeply theological point about our God. Instead of penning bland to-the-pointness, He inspired many different genres and styles. Paul's sharp rhetoric is different from John's spine-tingling poeticness and the paradoxes of Proverbs. Jesus spoke in parables specifically to confuse those who would not listen.
So I think the case could be made -- and made strongly -- that literature reflects the creative attribute of God. My friend was on to something when she said she wanted to be truly excellent: our God is not mediocre, boring, unimaginative or cliched. Why should work glorifying Him be? John Piper, in "God Is Not Boring," went so far as to suggest that poor use of the imagination dishonored God.
I agree. I find God and His world and work fascinating. I try to write that fascination into my literary attempts. Tacking on Bible verses to a short story does not make it Christian (and that's a horrible way to approach fiction, in my opinion) but setting a mind on fire to explore the world and Christ does.
When you write, writers, write the wonder of God in your writings. When you sing, singers, sing to anticipate the choruses of heaven. When you dance, dancers, dance like the well-plotted course of stars. God is not boring. God is not second-rate.
Neither should be our discourse of Him.