f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Why’d You Have to Go and Make Things So Complicated?—Boundary Pushing in <em>Reverend Nash</em>

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Why’d You Have to Go and Make Things So Complicated?—Boundary Pushing in Reverend Nash

All those who get the lame pop reference raise your hand. Yes, that’d be “punk” singer Avril Lavigne in all of her 16-or-so-year-old angst. She must not have gotten invited to prom. Anyway, getting on with today’s discussion.

It must be noted, explicitly, that The Passion of Reverend Nash is not a CBA novel. Since it’s published outside the CBA, it was held to zero of the rigorous unspoken rules we have for our fiction. And, quite happily, it seems to break ALL of them. What we need to ascertain is whether the fact that it is an utterly rich and moving piece of fiction is tied TO breaking the rules, happens DESPITE breaking the rules, or has no relation to these things at all.

Here are some of the “lines” it crosses, most often with nary a glance.

1. Swearing
People swear in this book. I haven’t taken the absurd and meaningless route of actually counting all such instances for your perusal like some family oriented film sites do, (as though families say, “Well that has four &$%’s and two !$#@’s, that’s one too many !$#@’s for young Junior to hear.”) but you should have a head’s up that there is language. In fact, Jordanna swears. Not often, but, and this is important, certainly for effect.

In one scene, Jordanna is probing wounds left by two lost pregnancies and a husband living across the ocean doing graduate work. Their marriage (which I’ll get to next) is not just on the rocks, it’s being pulled well-nigh into the midst of Scylla and Charybdis. The problem is, Jordanna is going through all this mental anguish while biking and, distracted, soon topples headlong over her handlebars. Picking herself up, she speaks three carefully chosen epithets—all at her estranged husband. The last stings like a smack in the face. “She swore loudly”—which is what we’d write in CBA—just wouldn’t have the impact.

2. Bad Marriages
People in CBA fiction have bad marriages. Often, through prayer and petition, those marriages are reclaimed. This is a wonderful and optimistic thing and I wish more real hurting couples would take the time to truly examine whether their commitment is salvageable.

The reality is that, even among Christians, divorce and dead marriages are an epidemic. So, what is fiction’s role in this situation? Are we to hold up the mirror or are we to try and offer a shining example of God’s restorative power? One is certainly noble, but does doing the other make the writer guilty of being complicit in the world?

3. Vices
Drinking and smoking come up. Neither are truly important in the context of the book (as far as I can remember). They’re just part of the everyday happenings of life.

4. Sex
There’s no sex scenes in the book, however a subplot revolves around a pregnant teenager, so sex is obviously in the background somewhere.

5. Life’s Hidden Calamities
One of Jordanna’s crushing wounds is her inability to conceive, carry to term, and deliver a healthy baby. This childlessness is monumental. It’s also a topic that’s finally seeing the light of day among the Christian community.

Less prevalent, however, is useful conversation on the topic of depression. One of the main tropes played out in the book is the place of faith in the face of grief and guilt—often twins contributing to depression.

6. Thorny Church Issues
First off, Jordanna is a woman. This is something that obviously won’t fly in a great number of churches and appall a wide number of readers. Second, her preaching and the way she runs her church is going to rub many the wrong way. (We’ll get into specifics tomorrow.) Last, but not least, Christ Arisen! is not the final answer, end hope of the book. It doesn’t shirk that point, but it is not THE point. Do we bother writing something other than Jesus crucified?

...

For the time, the market simply won’t put up with #1, #3, and #4. However, you can work #2, #5, and #6 into books. Those, to me, seem to be the meatier issues. Coarse language, having a drink, these are all cosmetic things that, unless they BECOME important to the book, can simply be worked around.

In answer the question posed in the second paragraph, I do feel the richness of the book is tied to pushing boundaries often ignored in CBA fiction. The good news is that many of these boundaries are ones CBA writers are allowed to push and redefine. We may not yet have the freedom to lance our audience with the sting of a curse but, too be frank, Basch is one of the few who takes that freedom seriously. Most simply write in their curses because it sounds “real”. To me that’s a weak reason. Offer me a good excuse and maybe we’ll even test the CBA boundaries on swearing, too.