Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

What Would Jesus Do If He Had Weird Priorities?

Today I'm doing research for a prospective article about Christian utopian fiction---specifically the Charles M. Sheldon classic In His Steps (1898) (the most popular book of its time, second only to the Bible) plus its sequel by Glenn Clark, titled What Would Jesus Do? (1950), and a third stab at the idea, In His Steps Today (1976), by Marti Hefley. The general plan of the article is to track how the different authors have handled the idea, and how this, in turn, has reflected the shifting moral focus of American Christian culture. For example, in the first book, Sheldon has an entire congregation of a small town commit themselves for a year to really live like Jesus, and the results are so successful their ideas spread to churches in Chicago. In the third book, six members of a Bible study, inspired by the first book, decide to try to live like Jesus for a whole week. I wish I were kidding.

My ultimate point is that, somewhere around the '70s (and with In His Steps Today getting its ass kicked by Hal Lindsay's The Late Great Planet Earth---itself the greatest bestseller of that grim decade), the new Christian novelists don't try to write novels about social reform: the bestselling series of today, and in fact of all time, is the Tribulation Force series by Tim LaHaye, about Christian resistance during the rule of the Antichrist.

Anyway, the reason I'm mentioning this is that all three of the books share an earnest, didactic approach that doesn't seem to know what to do with art or laughter. No big surprise there. But what did surprise me are two things. First, in the earliest book, the first big blow is struck for goodness when a Christian newspaper editor, listening to his conscience, refuses to run the story about a boxing match on his sports page! (And the second big choice people make is that the community tries to shut down the local saloon! Anti-boxing, pro-Prohibition; when was the last time THAT was the agenda of the Christian right?) And then, in the middle of all this sort of charming weirdness, I also noticed that in all three books only one person actually consciously fails to live like Jesus, and he's so much like me that I thought I'd share the passage without further comment. From In His Steps, chapter 17:

Early one afternoon in August . . . Jasper Chase walked to his window in the apartment house on the avenue and looked out. On his desk lay a pile of manuscript. . . All through the heat of the summer he had been writing. His book was nearly done now. He had thrown himself into its construction with a feverish strength . . .

He had not forgotten his pledge made with the other members at the First Church. It had forced itself upon his notice all through his writing, and . . . he had asked himself a thousand times, "Would Jesus do this? Would He write this story?" It was a social novel, written in a style that had proved popular. It had no purpose except to amuse. Its moral teaching was not bad, but neither was it Christian in any positive way. Jasper Chase knew that such a story would probably sell. . . "What would Jesus do?" He felt that Jesus would never write such a book. . . Jesus would use His powers to produce something useful or helpful, or with a purpose. What was he, Jasper Chase, writing this novel for? Why, what nearly every writer wrote for---money, money and fame as a writer. . .

[Then, while looking out the window, he sees a woman he loves walking down the street with another man.]

Jasper watched the two figures until they disappeared in the crowd on the walk. Then he turned to his desk and began to write. When he had finished the last page of the last chapter of his book it was nearly dark. "What Would Jesus Do?" He had finally answered the question by denying his Lord .

Wow! Must be some book!


Okay, one more thing. If churning out artless product "in a style that has proved popular" is enough to send you to hell, then Tim LaHaye and his whole Tribulation Forcecompany are definitely in danger. It's a nice thought.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

boy you are pretty judgemental for someone who claims to be anti=evangelical.
In His Steps Today is a corny old book but written with humor and attempt to relate to Christians of that era. At least these people were trying for something better or above themselves, instead of just making fun of what others are doing.
Sorry, I have never read your blogs before, but you sound like a jerk.

5/15/2006 1:05 AM  

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