As a teenager I was very much invested in the idea that I had to be perfect in order to be in God's favor, or at least I had to follow the rules of the world to the best of my ability. And so I decided to claim my Christian faith by buying cool looking "Christian" T-shirts and "Christian" music and "Christian" books. The more I invested my time in "Christian" artistry, the more I became aware that something was still missing. I read the "Christian" books and listened to all of the "Christian" artists I could find but I still wasn't getting the satisfaction of experiencing an authentic creation. I became obsessed with the Harry Potter books that are viewed as satanic to many Christians. I saw God in the series and no one else seemed to see Him there and it confused me greatly. The more I read books that weren't labeled "Christian", the more I saw God in the literature I was reading. The same can be said for the music I was listening too. I think this is where a lot of Christians slip up. They only immerse themselves in "Christian" art that often lacks what non-Christian art gives back to the world. When I came to this realization I began to wonder why it has to be this way. Why can't "Christian" art drop the sugar coatings and cheesiness and compete with (and I don't really like this term but for the sake of this blog post...) secular art?
Then, a few days ago, I went to my novel professor for my guidance with my first chapter. I revealed many of the things I wanted to do with my novel to him and I also told him that I wanted to incorporate Christian themes but not limit my novel to only a Christian audience. I explained my experiences with "Christian" art and my teacher explained a theory that I agree with one hundred percent. The story of Jesus is, while very celebratory and empowering, very vulgar and violent. It is easy to look at the tale in a two dimensional way since many Christians don't actually read the Bible but get their spiritual intake on Sunday mornings from another's interpretation of the scriptures. I can't say I am not at fault for this. I have only just begun to read my Bible and still have a long way to go and a lot to understand. But the story of Jesus is like the most photographed barn in the world. In the book White Noise by Don DeLillo, the character Jack and his friend visit the most photographed barn in the world. Jack's friend says to him that the people don't truly see the barn. All they see is what they have heard of the barn but they don't see the barn itself with its peeling painted history. The same can be said for the death of Jesus. Many Christians do not see the death of Christ for what it truly was. They see a clean statue of Jesus hanging on a cross that they sometimes wear around their neck. They see angels singing and people wearing bright colors in the sunlight and sometimes they maybe even see Easter eggs. As Christians, we understand the concept that Jesus died for our sins but do we truly see what happened to Him that day he was crucified? Do we not see the blood and pain that shown on Jesus' face? Do we not see the hatred that vibrates through the crowd of people who actually are condemning Him to death? I don't think we always do. We always see victory and while yes this was a victory, it was a very painful victory. The same can be said about the birth of Jesus - He was not born in a palace but in a barn, and His crib was a manger. Too often times "Christian" art includes the victory but steps over the pain and makes the art almost inhuman. I don't think God wants us to ignore the bad things in this world for He didn't ignore the bad things either when Jesus conquered sin and when Jesus was brought into the world.
I know I went on a bit of a rant with that last paragraph but it is important to think about in this blog. I have found that none of the books on my favorites are "Christian" novels and that is highly disappointing. However, as I said above, I don't think Christians should be limited to just experiencing "Christian" art. There are many books that have inspired my faith and I know God was getting through to me when I was reading them. So here are the top 5 books that have influenced my spiritual life. I have to say, it was hard to narrow down which of my favorite books to choose from because they all have influenced my spiritual life and my life in general!
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is about a family torn apart after a terrorist attack that kills one of their three children. Main character Jamie must fight for the love from his dead sister's ashes that sit on the mantelpiece while also trying to figure out how he can be friends with a Muslim girl after his father says all Muslims are evil since they killed his sister. The story is about acceptance, understanding, growth, and learning from a tragedy. Just like Jamie, I too have to learn from people that aren't like me. As a Christian, it is important to learn from other cultures as well as our own. My favorite line from the book is this, "And I said What's The Koran and she said It's sort of like The Bible. And that is the thing about Christians and Muslims - they both have a God and they both have a book. They are just called different names."
Pride and Prejudice truly is one of the greatest love stories of all time but it took me a long while to realize this. I saw the movie a good amount of times and couldn't quite wrap my head around what was going on let alone how Liz and Darcy fell in love! I read the book and still didn't really understand the large appeal. I guess I needed to mature a little to really begin to comprehend the depth of this love story. I read it again and just wanted to cry from the beauty of the piece! Hollywood has watered down love today and to many love consists of lust and sexual attraction. What Pride and Prejudice contains is a love story that will last. It is truly a masterpiece of what it means to love and to be loved in return. It also speaks silent volumes about the love that God wants and expects from us for each other.
I've grown up with this story but I had never actually read it until this past year and it is now one of my favorite novels. I don't think it is that much of a mystery as to why this made it on the list. Scrooge is heartless man who is destined for hell until his old business partner, Jacob Marley, returns to him as a ghost in chains and sends three spirits to change Scrooge's attitude so he doesn't experience the same fate as Marley. It is a simple novel about the lesson of love and not loving for the wrong reasons. The novel forces the reader to reflect on his/her own life and remember to do good for all.
The news contains so many stories of people who have died and come back to life. Many of these people write books to tell the world about their experience. But I often shy away from these accounts because they often don't reveal to me anything that I don't already expect from Heaven and death. The Lovely Bones, however, reveals a lot of truth about death and about life after a death/tragedy. Susie Salmon is brutally murdered at the young age of 14 and is stuck in purgatory where she watches her family live their lives without her in it. This book reveals so much about letting go while also allows the reader to reflect on the small moments in life that we often look past. The Christian symbolism, while very faint, is most definitely there. In a way we are all stuck just like Susie and we must let go in order to find happiness in Jesus Christ.
While J.K. Rowling denies that she put any religious symbolism into these books, we know better! Watching young Harry journey from abused 11 year old boy to victorious 17 year old wizard is nothing but a spiritual journey! We all have a purpose on this earth just like Harry is the chosen one who has to defeat Voldemort. In Harry we see a Christ figure who does not run away from his fate but dives in head first to save the world. He is so vividly human and flawed and yet he is also very wise and moral. Not only do we learn from Harry as a Christ figure but we also learn about love, death, truth, and bias. To say that these books carry no spiritual weight is a serious misjudgment.
So there you have it! My top 5 books that have influenced my spiritual life! I highly recommend all of them because they are all amazing reads! I also hope to hear from the you! What books have influenced your spiritual life that aren't labeled "Christian"?