These columns will be written in honor of, but also as a loving and respectful corrective to, spec-story readers who feel alienated by Christian fiction, aspiring authors who are frustrated by publishers’ skepticism, and recently, ACFW conference attendees who were disallowed from entering an awards banquet while wearing sci-fi-and-fantasy costumes.
Brothers and sisters: it’s not about you. Or us. Or the genre. Or, especially, Being Weird.
In April I dealt with the “I love weird stories because they’re weird” notion more as a petty annoyance. My view was pragmatic. I said: This doesn’t help to promote the genre. But the worst problem is not that this motive doesn’t work. Worse, it distracts from true worship.
I keep seeing the Weirdness notion rear its ugly head. I see it in myself, and am ready to call it for what it is: an idol. Reading Is Worship, as this series says, and that worship can only be of two things: God, or a ridiculous replacement that is not God. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin,” the Apostle Paul writes with Spirit-inspired authority in Romans 14:23. We can read or write in ways that don’t come from Biblical faith, making idols out of good things like experience, The Cause of Christian speculative fiction, or writing itself.
But this latest idol to roll off the human heart’s assembly line may be the worst of the lot.
First I ask: what do the following attitudes prevalent in Christian cultures have in common?
- Cultural “fundamentalists” who measure people’s hemlines or condemn enjoyment of fiction, movies, contemporary music, or television, to be Different from Culture.
- Christian “patriarchalists” who insist that the chief end of man is to have as many children as possible (a “full quiver”) and train them to Take Back Our Nation.
- Religious fiction publishers who offer clean, moral fiction as a solution that reacts against secular publishers’ perceived obsessions with swearing, sex, and violence.
- Speculative story readers or writers who enjoy and promote niche genres such as fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, or anything in between, mainly as reaction against no. 3.
Answer: every one of these is based on reactively beating bad guys, not proactively glorifying our God. Each approach seeks to be “different” or “weird” for no other goal than to look good or seem spiritual, or as real or imagined confrontation of a Majority Culture.
Each is a revolting idol, perhaps worse than other idols because they sound so spiritual.
Idol identified: enjoying “weirdness” for its own sake
Do you love stories mainly because they’re “weird”? If so, you may believe things like:
- “In the morning I get up and want stories You Probably Haven’t Heard Of. Part of me also wants to ‘stick it’ to stories that ‘normal’ people enjoy. You can have your modern dramatic fiction without magical worlds, and straight-up histories instead of alternate-history steampunk craziness! Give me weird any day! The weirder, the better!”
- “Christian fiction today is just too safe! I want stories that Push All The Limits.”
- (After being asked what you’re reading:) “Oh, [speculative novel name], by [name of author].” (Later, silently to yourself:) “You probably haven’t heard of it.”
I recognize these lines (adapted from this) from my own redeemed yet sin-struggling heart. But this week I also saw some of them even more glaringly, in response to a dustup at this year’s American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Dallas. According to John Otte:
I can confirm that some spec fic writers were temporarily turned away from the [Saturday fiction awards] banquet (I was an eye witness). Here’s what happened:
Four spec fic writers dressed up for the banquet. The tamest outfit was a little black dress with a dragonscale choker and special nail/claw things (I’m sure there’s a technical term for it, but there you go). Another wore a suit but built a cybernetic arm overlay. A third wore funky contacts and werewolf gloves.
The fourth, though, was really awesome. My roommate dressed up as Failstate, the titular character from my book. He faithfully replicated the entire costume, down to the face-obscuring mask. When I saw what he came up with, I was so tickled and humbled that someone would do that as a surprise for me.
Once we were ready, we went down to the banquet and were able to take a few pictures. The others joined us but before we could enter, hotel security stopped “Failstate” and told him that they had gotten some calls about his costume. He showed his badge and they seemed (mostly) satisfied. “Failstate” went into the banquet and was almost immediately pounced on by the conference director and told that he couldn’t enter dressed like that and that he had to go and change into “Sunday best or better” if he wanted to get back in. She then insisted that the cyborg remove his arm and the werewolf remove his gloves (again, hotel security was cited as the motivating factor).
Some reactions to this incident are contagious. On Monday when I heard of it, I also felt like taking up arms. I thought: Those bonnets-obsessed persons are persecuting us again; this is just plain silly; what’s wrong with a Renaissance dress or a Star Trek uniform?
Unfortunately, that’s not the only angle here. Having attended at least one ACFW banquet, I can confirm that the rules, written or unwritten, lean toward formal wear, not cosplay. The online program for this year’s conference specifically stated:
ACFW Annual Awards Gala Dress Code = Sunday best-to-formal
Thus, the issue is not conference organizers who object to acceptable dress for the event. Rather, the issue is likely people who didn’t know the rules, or did and chose to make fudge of them.
Should the banquet mission or standards change? If so, that’s another question. What’s at issue now is those who likely Pushed the Limits. And I must ask: what were the motives? To have fun? To support the genre? That’s great and understandable, but the primary questions are:
- Did this action “proceed from faith” (Romans 14:23) to glorify God?
- Did it show love to other conference attendees, who were either brothers/sisters in Christ, fellow “characters” in God’s true-life Novel, or potential nonbelievers — all of whom, either way, needed to see us show love and respect for God and for others?
- Do our responses to the dustup show desires to make peace or to pick fights?
- Does the desire to “cosplay” at a conference and/or its banquet reflect the truth that speculative stories are normal, and that it’s no-speculation-allowed contemporary stories that are newer and “weird”? Or do they reinforce others’ stereotypes?
- Shouldn’t we who love speculative stories be “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22) to win them to Christ, or even to what we believe are more God-glorifying stories?
Of course, I wasn’t there. That’s partly why I’m offering these challenges, which are a mixture of hypothetical and rhetorical. Those serve as ways to diagnose the threat that this “weird” complex is not only inaccurate, unloving, and self-defeating, but the result of idolatry. Next week, with your input, I hope to explore ways we can cure the ill of weirdness-worship.