Excellence Over Mediocrity I | The Problem With Modern Christian Fiction

“I’ve fallen in love with this middle ground at the cost of my soul.” | “Mercury” by Sleeping At Last

Apathetically receiving from the side-lines of life. I used this phrase in my post about Tony Stark when I described his life prior to the Middle East incident. The whole concept has been running around in my head lately and popping up in conversations with dear kindred spirits. I’ve found myself apathetically receiving from the side-lines of life in more ways than one. Content to wade in the shallows, I’ve shirked my God-given duty to love others self-lessly and instead wallowed in self-pity and bitterness. That’s apathetic living. It’s stubbornly refusing to become everything the Most High has created me to be. It’s looking elsewhere for satisfaction and Joy instead of turning my eyes to the only Source. It’s falling in love with the middle ground at the cost of my soul, being content to “just get by” when I’m supposed to be soaring and growing. It’s choosing mediocrity over excellence. And yeah, you better believe it’s gonna cost my soul something. I’m going to miss out on all the grand things going on about me, on all the ways the Most High is working in others and in this world, on all the little things which somehow turn out to be the most important things. While I was too busy staring at the ground under my feet, I lost sight of the sky above me. It’s something I do far too often and it’s something I’ve begun to notice that many of us do far too often.

So I’ve been thinking loads about mediocrity and the ways its evident in my life in particular and in our world in general. It’s funny how when something grabs your attention, you begin to see it everywhere. The Most High has been providentially orchestrating situations, conversations, books, sermons, and even songs; weaving them all together to capture my view and push me to seek Him more in response. My personal devotional time had slipped over into mediocrity and I wanted to change that. I wasn’t searching the Scriptures as I ought and so the things of the Most High weren’t gripping my soul as they ought. Lovely humans, we really have to get serious about the living for Christ. I’m going to address that in a subsequent post in this series, Lord-willing, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention it here. We’re in a War and while we need Courage on the Front Lines, we also need a Fire under us to do what He has commanded ’cause the Christian life isn’t just going to church on Sunday and then living like a heathen the rest of the week.

As I began to incorporate solid Christian literature into my devotional time (including The Legend, aka CH Spurgeon, and Charles Bridges, stellar but not like The Legend 😂), I started thinking about Christian books as a whole. Now as many of you probably know, I LOVE books and writing and reading and all things word-related so finding solid literature, whether Christian or secular, is something I’m quite passionate about. In having several conversations (especially a 6-hour FaceTime one that lasted until 5am…if you’re reading this, you know who you are and I’m incredibly grateful for you <3), it dawned on me that much of the Christian literature I read as an adolescent fell into the mediocre category. In fact, I still have some of those books on my shelf today and I’m torn because they’re books and I HATE destroying books but I also know I will never read them again….so decisions 😛

Although I don’t believe I should be using this platform/my little corner of the Internet to drop all my criticisms of things I don’t agree with, I do believe the Most High has placed this topic on my heart and mind for a reason and I also believe that there are certain “Christian” books in particular that need to be addressed for what they are since they can have a detrimental effect on the minds of those who read them. So I’m going to name one series straight-up because it’s really quite wretched and then gesture at another series/genre without naming names because I don’t believe it’s appropriate for me to do so 🙂

The Elsie Dinsmore series by Martha Finley.

Before I go any further, please allow me to stress that I am in NO way ridiculing, criticizing, belittling etc etc Martha Finley or anyone who has endorsed or who owns or who has read these books. I sincerely hope and pray that my words do not come across in that way. My desire in talking about this series (and another genre which we’ll get to in a minute…) is to draw attention to mediocrity in Christian literature and to highlight a rather problematic theme I have noticed in Christian fiction (particularly Christian fiction marketed to adolescent and teenage girls).

Mmkay, with that disclaimer out of the way, onward and forward! 🙂

I recently talked about this series with two friends on two separate occasions. All three of us grew up reading the series and I have a few other friends who have read it as well. Granted, I didn’t get very far before I grew bored…I think I only made it through 4 or 5 out of the 28 books, but what I did read is still painfully seared into my memory haha. Even now, I can see those pink-coloured books with the little blue accents and the impossibly perfect girl with blonde curls.

Something my friends and I bemoaned about this series was the fact that Elsie Dinsmore had attained an astonishing level of perfection at the tender age of 8. She shed copious amounts of tears when she took a walk on a Sunday afternoon and feared that she had broken God’s law by doing so. She lived in terror of her father’s displeasure (which happened rather frequently because Elsie’s father also had an impossibly high standard of behaviour) and sought to please him with a sickening sort of anxiety. When what seemed like “true love” came a-callin’ in her late teenage years, she fell for the darkly handsome, darkly mysterious, and darkly alluring Bromly Egerton who, naturally, turned out to be a scoundrel. Eventually, after refusing her childhood friend Herbert’s advances and narrowly escaping Bromly’s treachery, she came to her senses and married her father’s old friend, Edward Travilla, who had loved Elsie since she was, well, too young to be loved by a man of his age… Shenanigans ensue, one of which includes Bromly returning by night and climbing through the window, intent on murdering Elsie and her husband as they sleep, presumably out of a sense of revenge and jilted affections. The series then documents the.rest.of.Elsie’s.life. with rather descriptive titles: Elsie’s Girlhood, Elsie’s Womanhood, Elsie’s Motherhood, Elsie’s Widowhood….I think you get the picture.

If what I just described reminds you of a soap-opera, you would not be greatly mistaken. As my friends and I came to realize, the Elsie Dinsmore series is a Christian soap-opera. It’s not edifying. It promotes the wrong sort of excellence. And sadly, though written in the late 1800s, its tenets remain alive and well today albeit dressed in different clothes. The notion of the impossibly perfect girl who’s too naive to notice when she’s being taken advantage of, who settles for marrying a man the same age as her father, who has a form of godliness but denies its true power; that notion has filled many young minds with falsehood and deceit. Mine included. It remains today in the form of Christian Amish fiction and Christian historical fiction where romance and marriage are touted as the goal of one’s existence.

It’s a lie, lovely humans. The goal of our existence is to glorify the Most High and to enjoy Him forever. He has made us for Himself. He has chosen us from Eternity past, (let that sink in….) if we are believers, and He has sealed us with His Son’s precious blood. Christ didn’t leave Eternity, descend to His creatures only to be murdered by them, and endure the agonizing separation from His Father just so we could wallow in mediocrity and chase the Shadows instead of the Substance. He didn’t die so we could stay in our sin; He died to save us from it and to raise us to newness of Life of Him. Once that Truth grips your heart, and I mean REALLY grips it, you’ll never want to chase mediocrity again.

So yes, finding a spouse isn’t the goal of your existence but that seems to be exactly what modern Christian fiction believes. As a young girl, I fell into the trap of thinking that a dashingly handsome rogue with a lop-sided grin and muscles of super-hero-like proportions would enter my life, we’d play the “does-he-like-me-or-not” game, I’d be coy and flirtatious, and then he’d make his true feelings known and our fairy-tale would begin. Now I didn’t exactly label it in such a fashion when I was younger but the essence of that hilariously sad yet dangerously alluring idea had taken root in my brain. And it didn’t help that the books I devoured, let me say that again, DEVOURED, promoted that very thing. Books about love finding you on the prairie (if that doesn’t sound like a Hallmark title…😂) and love finding you in the New World and love finding you during the Revolutionary War and love finding you in the Amish countryside and love…..once again, I think you get the picture 🙈

As Christians, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard than the rest of the world. Not a standard of our own making but the Most High’s Biblical standard. And He says that we are to fill our minds with “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report” ~ Philippians 4:8. Are romance and marriage lovely? Yes, they are. They are gifts from the Creator, blessings that ought to point us back to Him while filling our souls with Joy and all the feelings 🙂 BUT is living off a steady diet of Christian romance novels pure and true and lovely and noble? No, it’s not. Because as someone pointed out in an article I read, quite a few of these modern Christian books actually border on steamy and inappropriate literature. I can remember Christian fiction-books I read in late high school where the author got a little too detailed about how the man was thinking about the woman he had a crush on or how the woman got all flushed when she saw the rippling-muscled hunk take his shirt off (for no good reason, I might add). It’s not glorifying to the Most High and we can do better. I know we can do better 🙂 So let’s not apathetically receive from the sidelines of life and welcome any Christian fiction novel simply because its Christian. Let’s read only the things which spur us on to godliness, which represent the Creator’s world accurately, which don’t shy away from the darker bits of our human existence, and which point to the Hope found only in Christ.

Now, all that being said, I want to end by giving a little shout-out to one of my favourite modern Christian authors who deals tastefully and appropriately with the topic of romance and marriage. Livy Jarmusch has written several books which actually show the dangers of living life like love awaits you around every corner. I find it soooo interesting because many of her plots and sub-plots have love at the center in one way or another. But the stark difference between Livy’s writing and the Elsie Dinsmore series, or even most of modern Christian fiction, is that she doesn’t hold up marriage and romantic relationships as some sort of fairy-tale-like existence. She lays out the problems, the disappointments, the challenges, the struggles, the sins, the confusion, and the reality of life in a fallen world. She’s a stellar example of what it means to strive for excellence in a time of mediocrity and I highly recommend checking out her novels (though for any guys reading this, I will warn you that they are very girly haha but to each his own).

So this was my first post in the series on excellence over mediocrity. I pray that it challenged you and encouraged you and filled you with a passion to pursue Christ with everything you have 🙂

mediocrity

made for more

| We’re in a War, my friends, and we all need Courage on the Front Lines ❤ |

 

 

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