What’s Wrong With Christian Pop Culture (Part Thirteen)
“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”
Time for my own “come to Jesus” moment.
I created and published the Serenity Christian manga series.
As with my work on G.I. Joe, I am very proud of what I did, but I am also deeply troubled by it.
The pride is in getting something done that was even a halfway representation of what I intended.
The trouble is that I’m not at all sure my efforts may not have produced as much harm as good.
The road to hell, as has been noted…
The Serenity project began at the ill-fated Stan Lee Media venture.
It was suggested to Stan that SLM publish a Christian comic, and as the only identifiable Christian in the crowd, the task fell to me.
We’ll save the long sordid / silly story of SLM for another day.
Suffice it to say, I didn’t come up with a Christian superhero (which was what Stan was expecting) but rather “a comedic teen soap opera about an unhappy girl who finds a happy ending.”
See, I take my faith seriously and sincerely…but not pretentiously, much less portentously .
While it’s capable of producing moments of religious ecstasy, that’s not the point of The Way (as the early Christians called their belief, before the C-word got hung on them).
It’s very much a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to-work faith, not work for self-enrichment but work in service of others.
Love. Compassion. Justice. Generosity.
Jesus focused on his followers being a light to the world, the salt that gives the earth its flavor. His parables and teachings are about helping one another, not starry-eyed devotion to some ascetic ideal bordering on masochism.
Yes, he expected sacrifice and service from his disciples, but he also shared great joy and comfort with them.
A life worth living.
Despite the preponderance of his teachings being on living a good life in the here and now, he also looked to the life yet to come.
Many of those attracted to his teachings wanted to know how they could gain eternal life.
Jesus never put obtaining eternal life at the top of the list of things for his followers to worry about.
Be like me, he told them. Do what I do. Let me live in you, absorb me, drink me in, become what I am in your dealings with others and you’ll have nothing to fear in this life or the next.
That’s what I wanted Serenity to be about:
A young person on a self-destructive course learns from friends how to change her life for the better, to treat others the way she wants to be treated, to refuse to return evil for evil, to forgive instead of judge, to go the extra mile.
And in return, not only does her life improve, but the lives of those around her.
Just by being alive, she makes the world a better place.
But wait – there’s more!
I do not intend to stop there.*
Serenity’s story does not stop with her high school years.
I have plotted out her entire life, the ups, the downs, the highs, the lows.
The joys. The heartaches.
Her romantic rival in high school? Ha! Small potatoes compared to what she’s going to run into with her mother-in-law when she arrives on the scene (actually, Serenity fans have already encountered her, they just don’t know it yet).
There’s much I want to say and do with Serenity…and there was much I wanted to say and do with her when we first got the graphic novels off the ground.
I’m not going to speak ill of people who helped me, but the Serenity project is an interesting study in…well…not exactly conflicting motives, but certainly not motives that were fully in synch.
My original plan was a monthly magazine with a 24-page Serenity story and other pages of text and comics content.
I plotted out Serenity’s initial story arc, from foul-mouthed pot-smoking pill-popping self-centered hedonist to the very nascent first stage of her true spiritual growth.
Three years was the minimum time I saw this growth taking place.
Three years, because I didn’t want her spiritual growth to be some quick fix fad with no roots, but rather something that reflected a deep and very real change in her life and character.
The publisher who took us on wanted to launch Serenity as a series of original 90-page graphic novels.
They wanted her to be a full-fledged professing believer by the end of volume six.
Well, okay, they had the money and the distribution system, six graphic volumes were better than no Serenity stories at all, so we agreed.
And, had we stayed with our original publisher, we would have continued apace with Serenity, throttling back on her growth and development to make it more believable and in character, but putting her through her paces.
The best laid plans,
as Bobby Burns
For business reasons that had nothing to do with our books (we were, in fact, best sellers in the Christian market), our contract was sold to another Christian publisher.
We’re not going to talk about them, other than to say for all their platitudes about reaching teens and being a positive influence on their lives, the bottom line was that the bottom line was all that mattered to them, and we were cut loose.
To be frank, I took it quite badly, but now I am relieved it happened the way it did.
We would have been forced into one series of compromises after another -- well meaning, to be sure, but compromises nonetheless.
The frankness and honesty that I wanted to be a hallmark of the Serenity books was already starting to rub certain gatekeepers in the evangelical / fundamentalist churches the wrong way, and the fact that we could reach teens they could not -- including teens who were supposedly already Christians enrolled in their churches and schools -- did not sit well with some of them at all.
What they’re selling is not the real message of Christ, but rather a get-rich-and/or-feel-good-quick scheme, where every problem can be handled with a couple of prayers and a healthy donation.
And to tell the marks that Christianity doesn’t work that way, that it’s a discipline (‘cuz why do you think it refers to disciples???) and not a get-out-of-hell cure-all really undercuts the gatekeepers’ way of making a buck.
In the end, that is the problem with Christian pop culture.
It is treated as a commodity, not good news to be shared openly and freely.
It rings phony and fake at the hands of too many practitioners.
We don’t need more Christian pop culture.
We don’t need more Christians making pop culture, either.
We need better Christians making better pop culture.
The rest will take care of itself.
* Yeah, do not; I ain’t done with Serenity by a long shot; it’s a mater of finding the proper venue now.
© Buzz Dixon