Monday, October 19, 2009

Offense Through The Mailslot

I had a completely different topic to cover in today's blog post, but something came through our mail slot this morning that I thought might be worthwhile to reflect upon for a few moments. The item is a holiday season (although we might, I say "might" be safe to say Christmas in this instance) catalog from a popular Christian bookstore. It is tangible evidence I can point to for two statements my wife has heard me make countless times. "So often I feel like an alien in my own religion" and "If I did not believe the Gospel to be entirely true there would be nothing about Christianity that would make me a Christian."

I've heard many before me speak on the topic of "Jesus Junk," which is to say anything from pencils to paddle ball sets, to key chains, to breath mints "sanctified" by a little scripture inscription or at the very least a symbol, or that one painting of blond haired, blue eyed Jesus. Tom Waits even did a song about the phenomenon. So I know I'm not alone in these observations. So for some reason, probably born from the echos of Sacher-Masoch in my subconscious, I thought I might give a walking tour of this catalog. Clearly I am in the role of Virgil, not of Beatrice.

First, right on the front cover is the new Christmas themed video in the Veggietales series which I believe are about old enough to drink now. I'm hard pressed to think of another child focused cartoon to survive longer than one generation. I don't have much of a value judgment to make on the Veggietales series, although the bright shiny colors, the happy image, the tried and true marketability, and the total absence of anything apparent that would point an alien to the Gospel message sets the tone for what's within.

Within are greeting cards, pastoral and sedate art prints, a plush mountain goat or something like that holding a package that reads "Jesus is the gift." The sort of thing I remember from being an atheist as the sort of thing you go and buy for someone who you know is religious, because it's got Jesus written on it and because what the heck else do you know from what to get them. There are hoodies, a plate set, dozens of advent scenes, baseball caps, uh, let's see, there's a little Precious Moments figurine reaching for a snowflake to symbolize, uh, how we're all like God's little snowflakes or something. A clock! That's good and useful, right? I bet I could knock you over with a feather from surprise when I tell you it's a Kinkade scene on the clock face and that it plays an inspirational song on the hour and that it is 50% off. Necklaces. Oh, okay, 22 pages in we hit the first Bible. It is the Veggietales Bible. It is an NIV. It is also on sale. I think the one that scares me the most though is the American Patriot's Bible. It's a New King James Version, of course, and has a picture of a Puritan and one of Washington praying by his horse on the cover. It is also on sale.

There's the Fireproof movie page where you get a free "Covenant Marriage Certificate" with your purchase, suitable for framing, which you and your wife sign and then I guess you're even more committed than you were when you had a danged marriage ceremony before God, state and your core peer group. You got your Rick Warren, your Donald Miller, that dude that went to Heaven for an hour and did so well with his book that some other guy went to Hell for 23 minutes on Don Piper's coattails.

Then I got to the page that has two books which had me sputtering around the front room for a few minutes. They are books addressed to Christians who are entrenched in the Twilight series of books. No, I'm not kidding. There are, in fact, Twilight replacement books for Christians (I think the genre is Xian ParaRom which, translated, is Christian Paranormal Romance books) which are a bit like methadone for the heroin addict I suppose. This, rather, is... well, let's let the product description speak for its self:

"What can vampires teach us about God's plan for love? Two new books help you investigate the themes of the Twilight saga from a biblical perspective. Touched by a Vampire presents parents, teachers and others with a thoughtful, but cautionary overview of how the series' storylines portray love, sex and purpose. While Escaping the Vampire draws on themes that appeal to teen girls- romance, superhuman powers and adventure- to help them move beyond fantasy to discover the true Lover of their soul."
Oh, dear reader, I wish I were being satirical. It really really says that.

Are we really having this conversation? Is this really so big an issue that it warranted two books? We are talking about God's divine and sovereign plan throughout eternity, all of history and space unfolding to the great work of redemption and His perfect holiness, His glory, His infinite love! We're talking about the meaning of the existence of everything, the drama of cause and effect, sin and holiness! It's a catalog which claims its aim is toward people passionate about Christ, transformed into new creations, once dead in their sins and brought to life through the Holy Spirit's gift of faith in Jesus' perfect sacrifice and atonement for sins! And there's a page featuring books about pulpy pot-boiler checkout-counter books by a Mormon about teens who fall in love with glittery vampires?!!?

Oh, and two pages over is the steaming heap called The Shack. Near the end we have the "Guitar Praise" game which, you guessed it, is Guitar Hero with Praise Music. There's Ben Stein's movie being appropriated (or maybe quarantined might be more apropos) by the Christian catalog on grounds of some shared points of view. There are films with families standing on prairies. One with a talking dog. An auto-censoring DVD player so you can watch big Hollywood films instead of the crap in the catalog without the bits the DVD player thinks you might disapprove of.

We end in the music section. There's an album with a cover that shows that the band has seen, liked, and stolen the art style of artist Dave McKean (who is probably old enough to be the grandfather of the members of the band. Christianity does that. The cutting edge of Christianity tends to reflect the slightly edgy mainstream of a generation ago.) There's an album cover with a pug dog in comedic glasses. Most of the other album covers are great big pictures of the band. And the catalog ends with coupons.

I posted recently on righteous indignation to be used sparingly and in the appropriate context. I also talked about focusing on the good and avoiding giving too much press to the horrible. I find it appropriate for me to break both of those with this catalog. It's spitting in the face of all I hold most valuable. It is a book of vultures picking clean the corpses of the spiritually dead while giving the illusion of life. The catalog stinks of Hell. It reeks of the nominally Christian, the false conversion, the cultural Christian. I find myself at a loss to express how repugnant I find it, so I wrap my comments in sarcasm. Make no mistake, behind it is deep offense.

People die for the Gospel. The Cross is everything. As C.S. Lewis said,
"Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
Needless to say, I'm trying to fit Lewis' quote into the box of Christian merchandising trifles. I would say the same goes for Guitar Praise. Also, there are people, many throughout the world, many even in America now, who are in dire need at the end of this year. And you're really hocking a system so people can watch National Treasure on their flat screens with the innuendos bleeped out?

Folks, we are all sinners. That is the natural condition of man to be separate from God in our sin. God, in His perfect grace and love, provided a Savior to atone for His lost sheep, to die in His perfection on the cross under God's wrath for all of our sin, to rise again victorious over death itself, to restore our relationship to Him and all those who have faith in Him.

This Christmas, give to those who are in need. There are a lot of them right now. Spend time with your loved ones. You only get so long with them in your life and you don't know how long that will be. Keep Christ in your mind. And if you're going to give gifts, like what you like. God made you the way you are for a reason. Don't let these hucksters try to pawn a bunch of cheap crap off on you because you're a believer and you have to take it.

This isn't meant to say that Christian bookstores are all bad to their core. I've been to the one in town franchised from this catalog's company. They have two or three titles by the always awesome John Piper right next to the gargantuan display of Don Piper's "Whut I Seen In Heaven That Time My Heart Gave Out." They have the ESV Study Bible available (which is probably the best study Bible I've found to date) next to the American Patriot Bible. My point is the tone and bulk of the offerings are SO far off base. It's not even cotton candy instead of steak. It's more like a picture of bubblegum cigarettes instead of a few lung fulls of clean, pure, mountain air.


  1. Thanks, this is a jarring article. But a good and timely reminder to value the truly Holy, and have a just disdain for that which is merely a cheap call to small thinking and unholy compromise.

  2. Oh, Man, I wish I'd thought to write this post. But I wouldn't have written so well as you, so I thank you.

    You've missed two items...

    First, those frilly, feminine "angels" that adorn the gift aisle. I've never seen a single one of those female angels in the Bible. Nope. Totally unBiblical.

    Secondly, I wish some Christian publisher would produce and sell a reasonably priced paperback (reference) Bible that has reasonably nice paper and reasonably sized font that is reasonably readable by anyone without the use of a magnifying glass. Most inexpensive (dare I say cheap?) Bibles are written on paper more suitable for toilet paper and with print to so tiny that the book of Genesis would fit on the head of a pin. Along with the frilly angels, I guess.

    I realize the store owners are (most likely) Christians as are the employees. But why are we deceiving our fellow Christians as to the nature of angels and why do we make a decent Bible so high priced?

    Yep, love that ESV Study Bible. Now if they would only print it in paperback, buyable by the case, for my women in jail.

    I do, however, thank Foundation Publications for a fine paperback NASB at a decent price for my needs...I just wish it was a reference Bible.