Friday, June 1, 2012

A Parting of The Ways (Part One)--Facing Separation

It's hard to put a book down. I think we would all agree on this point. :) What makes it even more difficult is when you become friends with the main character. Yes, a book friendship is quite hypothetical, but it is real nonetheless. You want to know if they win out--both mentally and in their current challenge. You want the knowledge that they know the Lord--because even though it's a book, sometimes authors paint so vividly that you want the assurance the character would be seeing you in heaven if they were real. And you want the freedom to imagine the happily-ever-after they will experience in their life after you read "The End".

But some characters fulfill none of those qualifications, and the realization sinks in that no matter how you love them, you must lay them aside. The principle put forth in Proverbs is deeply ingrained in our consciences:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. 

Another reference tells us that a companion of fools will come to harm. 

In this series I would like to discuss the topic of laying aside a book in which the characters are untrustworthy. It's not easy to close those covers, but the grace of God gives us the strength to do so. This series discusses faulty characters only; choosing to lay aside faulty plot lines will have to come another time. In the first part I'll talk about evaluating the necessity of a parting of the ways. Part two will cover how to make an ending with the book, and part three is a special encore discussing a group of men who made the decision to weed out their ungodly literature--what it cost, and what they gained.

The Books I Left Behind Me
Since starting this blog, it's been quite a bit more difficult to make excuses about my reading material. With every article, I leave myself just a bit less room than I had before for letting the bad books creep into my reading diet. And that, my dear readers, is due to the accountability I find in you. My Lord will not allow me to preach a double message, for I cannot encourage other readers to draw closer to Christ when I am unwilling to do so myself. I wanted to illustrate these post with a couple of practical examples of books I've chosen to return to the library this year. In using the following books, I am not saying that they are entirely devoid of merit. You may be able to sift and sort in a way that I am not. But due to God's direction in my life, I chose books that I would not be personally recommending to others to explain my points.

For instance, just about a month ago, I made an end to Michael Phillip's Angel Harp. I highly respect and enjoy Phillips' writings, at least his '90s novels; and I was excited to see what he would have in one of his latest 2010 stories. It was about a forty-year-old widow, who's husband wasn't a Christian when he died (a heavy theme to begin with) and who had drifted away from God herself. She wasn't actively antagonistic towards the Christian faith; more spiritual laziness than anything. But she was unimpressed with the poor comfort she received from her church when her husband died. So she left the Christian faith decided to go to Scotland, to fulfill a life-long dream, where she found a sweet little vacation spot in the town of Port Scaurnose. There she meets Phillips' classic set-up: an unorthodox clergyman, Ian Barclay; an emotionally scarred Duke of Buchan, Alsidair Riedhaven; and the 12-year-old girl Gwendolyn, dying from leukemia. The only thing is, Gwendolyn is living with her aunt Olivia instead of her father, and he hasn't seen her since she was born. The plots of this book are three: bringing restoration with Gwendolyn and Alsidair, Marie's relationship with God, and whether she should pick the curate or the duke (in a matrimonial way). By the first 150 pages, my mind was receiving small warning signals from a theological standpoint. Ian Barclay fully understood the grace of God, but Phillips has always struggled with God's judgement in his literature. This particular curate didn't believe in God's judgement; he believed God was only a Heavenly Father. God is a Father, and He longs for each of His prodigals to return to him; but he is a God of justice as well as a God of mercy, and as hard as that justice is to accept sometimes, it needs to be included in our beliefs. Also, when Barclay is counselling Marie on her Christian walk, he 'doesn't want to push her' and just lets the conversation drift wherever she likes. If she asks a question, he offers a thought on it, but he doesn't bring up spiritual topics of his own accord. He won't even pray when he invites her over to dinner, because he thinks it might make her feel uncomfortable. She's 'on her own journey' and he 'respects the fact that each journey is individual'. At first, such conversations made me uncomfortable without knowing why. After all, God does work in people's spiritual walk individually, we should be kind and considerate to others and their comfort level, and we want to appropriately gauge the amount of information we give according to the other person's interest level.

But still...

The focus was all on Marie. And that was the problem. Ian Barclay wasn't telling her "This is the way; walk ye in it." He was focused on her comfort, her thoughts about God, her spiritual journey. And he should have been pointing her to God instead of herself. Marie does finally accept and embrace God according to Ian Barclay's theology, and I never doubted their sincere Christianity; but I have to say, these characters were fictionally saved in spite of their theology, not because of it. When you take out God's judgement, then why do you need Jesus Christ? What is He saving you from? When you leave off certain conventions of the Christian faith just because someone is uncomfortable with them, then what message does that send?  Where do you draw the line? After all, much of modern society is uncomfortable with the true Christian faith, and that's good. Christianity is supposed to be offensive to those who do not accept it, for Christ's first coming was not for peace upon earth, but division between light and darkness. But according to Ian Barclay, does that mean we wouldn't pray before we eat every time there's a non-Christian present? And if each journey is so individual that you can't offer direct Scriptural counsel about it, then what is the Word of God for? It is not only for the comfort of the faithful, but also for the conviction of the ungodly. And it applies to everyone in all situations.

The tricky part was, most of his points were good some of the time. They included truth, yes, but not to the extent Ian Barclay took them. And paired with red hair, a Scottish accent, and a heartwarming grin, I was ready to overlook the quirks--for Ian's sake. I'll just evaluate, I thought, and move on.

And then the witchcraft started up.

It really is frustrating. Put a harp in a book, and automatically you have two heavy themes: death and the supernatural.  Gwendolyn's aunt Olivia is really a sour and strange woman, so I wasn't tempted to overlook anything for her sake. When the small town rumors started up, I thought they were just small town rumors. Most books have one or two involving strange powers that are either logically explained or nonexistent. But when they blew from small town rumors to rhyming phrases, reports from her brother the Duke about childhood terrors, and strange powers in the eyes, I was really starting to feel uncomfortable. By the time the characters were experiencing physical reactions to her looks, I knew I had come to a fork in the road:

"My eyelids grew heavy as I listened. I had to shake myself almost physically to keep my wits about me."

"Again her voice softened. Once more I felt myself growing drowsy."

"What was I to think? I saw her speaking in that calm, measured, smooth, mesmerizing voice that had become so familiar. I heard nothing, and saw her lips moving. I felt rather than heard the hypnotic power of her voice trying to lure and persuade me to believe what she said.  My chest began to tighten. My eyelids felt heavy...Desperately I tried to shake myself awake, to cast off the spell."
I never have been a big fan of magic to begin with; I'll allow a little in fantasy or in really old medieval-type stories. But when it's a modern day story and hypnotic in effect, I cannot justify it in my mind. But I gave Phillips one more chance. I jumped on Amazon and read everything I could find about the sequel to Angel Harp, called Heather Song. I trusted him from what I had read of his books before, and I wondered if he would possibly tie it all up in a satisfactory way--things must not be what they seemed. But alas, the second book only continued the bizarreness with harp-plucking added to the magic spells.

And I knew that much as I loved Marie and Ian, the sound of the waves and Gwendolyn's amazing skill on my instrument of choice; much as the brogue delighted me, and the Duke interested was time to say goodbye. I had already read ahead in the first book. I knew part of the ending. But letting the sequel go was not an easy decision.

As small as this struggle is for some bibliophiles--that of putting a book down--it is very hard for others. Sometimes it's easy for me, sometimes it's not. But I recognize that I need to be careful what book friends I choose to spend time with, and in the case of nonfiction, what teachers I choose to learn from. Once you've started, the story twines itself around your heartstrings, and cutting them is difficult. Just one more chapter...just one more page...just let me finish it, please.

But Deuteronomy 13:6-11 brought me some new insight in this area.

If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people.  Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

In other words, if the characters in the book are promoting man-centered ideas and wicked practices, then you need to 'slay' that character with your own hands, and put that book away from you. Then you will send your mind and heart the message that God reigns supreme, and those books that go against the teachings of His Word have no hold upon you. Show the author and character no pity. Do not spare them or shield them, for they must follow God's standards, not make up their own.

How to close those covers is next Friday's topic. There are actually a couple of ways, depending on the type of story. I look forward to sharing those thoughts with you then. But Tuesday's post will be a break from this series for another special post.

Lady Bibliophile


I am a friend to all who fear you,
to all who follow your precepts.

-Psalm 119:63

The righteous choose their friends carefully,
but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
-Proverbs 12:26


  1. Dear Lady B,
    Wonderful post! I haven't come across books that I have to put down yet, but this will help me when I will. There was a book I started and my mom had already put a warning signal in my mind so I put it down without finishing the first chapter. There was a couple other books I read all the way through but they had fortune telling and a type of witch doctor who could cast spells. They really bothered me.
    I really liked your post!
    Love, Sister

  2. Good job for recognizing that, Sister! I know you'll do the right thing when you have to put a book down sometime. :) But hopefully they will be few and far between in your reading adventures!

    Love and Cuddles,

  3. Very interesting! Knowing when to put a book down has never been something I've been really good at (witness the Feature Week I ran a while back, titled "Really Really Bad Vintage Novels" Or don't...*shame, embarrassment, facepalming*). I have to agree, however, that since I've begun keeping a book review blog and also a book log (on Facebook), I've had to become more accountable, which is wonderful.

    By the way, for some reason I'm finding this blog a little more difficult to read this afternoon. I'm on an unfamiliar computer and the text seems spidery, grey, and indistinct against the blog background. Wouldn't bother me normally but you have quite a lot of text up to be read. Perhaps you might consider tweaking your blog settings to make it more readable?

    1. Yes, I remember "Really Really Bad Vintage Novels" :) I took your word on them. ;) I really am sorry about the text not showing up properly; I tend to express myself the lengthy way round-(not good when it doesn't show up distinctly). I'll take a look at it; let me know if it works better for you next time!


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