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Football, Spiky Hair, and Christian Fiction

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Well, I’m still in the final stages of recovering from the infection, but am nearly back to full brain capacity. I haven’t gotten any writing done in the past several days since returning from vacation, but I have spent time working on my chapter-by-chapter storyboards—which helped me realize I had at least one major change to make as I have a character appear a few times after he is supposed to have left for London for several weeks!

Okay, before I get to the meat of today’s post, I just have to interject something totally off subject:

LSU WON THE SUGAR BOWL 41-14 OVER NOTRE DAME! Woo hoo!! Geaux Tigers!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I read an editorial yesterday in which the writer complained about how younger recording artists are disrespecting the Southern Gospel genre by performing in “casual” outfits such as men in untucked shirts with sport coats and no ties or women wearing pantsuits instead of dresses. He is horrified by the young men who wear their hair “spiky” instead of combed, and feels that these young artists are insulting their predecessors and audience members by showing up at churches in jeans to set up their equipment and perform soundchecks. He posed the question that if they were invited to sing for the president of the United States, they would wear their best, right? Then, why should they show any less respect for their audiences? He went on to say that he feels this lack of “professional” dress amongst the young singers coming into prominence are being influenced by the casualness of Country music singers.

I’m a bit torn as to how I feel about this editorial. As a member of the so-called “Generation X,” I am rather an oddity in that I am more comfortable in a church where people dress up on Sunday mornings to attend Sunday school and worship service. I attended a “casual” church for a little over a year where the pastor wore Hawaiian shirts and nearly every one of the 1,000+ attendees wore jeans—or even (horrors!) shorts—on Sunday mornings. Even then, I could not bring myself to dress down for church, and ended up leaving as I grew uncomfortable and dissatisfied with the causal attitude toward God this environment engendered. While some people argue against it as “showing off,” I believe that dressing in our best to attend church on Sunday morning is showing respect and reverence. After all, if we were to receive an invitation to a special event at the White House, we would not show up in jeans would we? How much more respect does God deserve?

As a singer myself, I always strive to look my best whenever I sing special music in church—even when I know I’ll be wearing a choir robe over it! When I sang in a southern gospel quartet several years ago, we always dressed alike and dressed nicely when we sang on Sunday mornings. But, when we did a Saturday evening concert for family and friends at our home church, we did dress more comfortably—the guys in khakis and polo shirts, me in a khaki skirt and knit top the same color as theirs. It was in keeping with the way our audience would be dressed and limited any sense of pretentiousness or flashiness that dressing to the nines in suits would have presented.

When I used to listen to country music and watched the awards shows, I became increasingly disgusted by the trend toward casualness—and eventually to ripped jeans and tanktops—of the celebrities not only attending but singing at the event. An awards show used to be a black-tie-and-sequins affair and one of the few times we got to see our favorite singers cleaned up and dressed up. Taking the time and expense to dress in a tuxedo or evening gown bespoke the importance of the award being given. However, when I went to a concert, I wanted to see them in jeans and boots—it was right for the occasion.

I do not have a problem with this younger generation of southern gospel musicians wearing their shirts untucked on stage or having their hair spiked like Ty Pennington’s. For too many years, the southern gospel genre has been seen as music for old people because younger generations could not identify with their matching colored suits, 1950s combed-helmets, or Tammy Faye makeup and hair fanged to there. One of the main reasons the genre is languishing is this nearly maniacal need to hold on to the fashions and styles of 30-40-50 years ago. The young groups coming in are dressing and styling their hair like everyone else of their age. That is their target audience and they are more likely to reach members of Generation X and whatever they’re calling the generation after ours with the gospel message by untucking their shirts and using more hair gel than a gaggle of teens.

The revolution that occurred in Christian publishing ten years ago with the introduction of a certain blockbuster apocalyptic series is very much like the revolution that happened in Christian popular music about ten years before that and is now trying to happen in southern gospel. (You knew I’d get around to it eventually.) Authors and publishers realized that just staying with the tried-and-true prairie romances was not reaching the ever-broadening, hard-to-grab younger market—that elusive 19- to 34-year-old target audience that everyone from TV to radio to major big-box retailers tries to capture. And that audience took notice and started buying more books—so many books in fact that for the past several years, Christian fiction has been the only growing segment of the book publishing industry.

But there is still a vocal minority in the Christian community who feel very much the same way about our fiction as the writer of the editorial feels about the younger musicians with their jeans and spiky hair. They feel that the expansion of Christian fiction into genres such as chick lit, science fiction, fantasy, or suspense/thriller is a sure sign of compromise, of a loss of respect for what it means to represent Christianity in fiction. It’s too gritty, too filled with characters who (heaven forbid!) sin, too influenced by the fiction that’s out in the secular world. And, as Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, we are not to be “conformed” to this world but “transformed” by the renewing of our minds and by this, becoming the salt and light Jesus commanded us to be in Matthew 5. But salt kept in the salt shaker and never shaken over food or added to a recipe is worthless. Yes, it’s adding to the overall strength the entire amount of salt could have, but unless a few grains are sprinkled over food, it’s just so much white sand in a jar. Or, when walking into a lighting shop where everything is turned on, it’s hard to see each individual bulb, and the heat and extreme brightness turn many away. But one single, tiny bulb in a mini-flashlight turned on in a dark room is easy to find and a welcomed presence.

Readers today are looking for stories that relate to their lives where they are—in the gritty and sinful world—just as young people are drawn to singers who look and dress like them. In fiction, as in the music industry, we must meet our audience where they are, not stick to archaic standards because of a vocal few who fear change. By sticking with the tried-and-true, by writing Christian fiction that will be read and accepted only by other Christians, we are just like that salt sealed up in a jar doing nothing for anything outside of our own closed group. The food doesn’t seek out the salt shaker and beg to be seasoned, nor will the world come to us begging to be saved. We must go out into the world, to understand it and be understood by it. We are called to blaze trails in whatever direction God leads us—even if it means having spiky hair and wearing jeans or writing in genres unheard of five or ten years ago.

  1. Erica Vetsch permalink
    Thursday, January 4, 2007 5:01 pm

    An eloquent post. The beauty of Christian fiction is there is a market for both extremes, the gentle, truth-affirming stories loved for decades as well as the more cutting-edge, evangelistic, warts-and-all style. I believe God can and does use both styles for His honor and glory, and a myriad of styles inbetween.

    Viva la difference!


  2. Carol Collett permalink
    Saturday, January 6, 2007 6:51 am

    You are rigth on target, Kaye. I can’t imagine my grandmother reading Relief Journal, but I love it. Jesus went to the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the souls no one in the ‘religious’ community would speak to. He also attended synagogue on the Sabbath. If He is our example, how can we not meet people where the are instead of where we want them to be?


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