f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 2 of Abide With Me - What We Expect

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

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Day 2 of Abide With Me - What We Expect

I know nothing about Elizabeth Strout and how she personally views religion. I think, as Christians, we've been conditioned to feel that the media and the arts don't totally get us. I can't think of too many "secular" outlets that have given entirely objective presentations of the church and so when a work seems overly negative, I think there's a knee jerk chafing to that.

I fought it with Abide With Me and tried not to buy into the conspiracy, but in the end it seemed inescapable. The church in this novel is entirely full of vicious gossips and hypocrites. The pastor, though he is going through a somewhat stereotypical crisis of faith, is fleshed out enough that his pain and concerns feel real. Everyone else simply goes to church...because that's what people did in the 1950s.

And she's got a point. That's what people did in the 1950s. People went to church. Even if they didn't believe a lick of it, they often went to church. But to insinuate that nobody believed a word of it, or believed it only in as much to wound others who weren't quite so holy seems... off. It certainly makes for a cast of barely redeemable cast of characters.

And yet here I am. The guy who's called for "reality" in Christian fiction...for fiction where everything isn't rosy and sunny... grumping about when somebody dares to see the underbelly of the church. I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth, so what's the answer?

To give her credit, Strout does not see her cast of characters as irredeemable. But I wish she'd taken time to level the balance a little more. And find balance within characters as well. Can't one be both hypocrite and selfless saint, often in the same afternoon?