Guest blog: Untamed faith in English class

My daughter, JillAnn, asked if she could borrow a post on my blog to share something on her heart. I was only too happy to hand over the space.

First off, thank you to my dad for letting me steal some of his blog space. I’m John’s daughter and a junior at a small, southern liberal arts college. You may remember me by my alias, Christian Girl at College, under which I blogged my freshman year. I guess the blogging bug never goes away because when my academic and faith lives crashed together this week, my first instinct was to write. I had to riddle something out: what do you do when you’re obligated to overlook your Christian convictions?

In college, I’ve been exposed to different people and challenged by new ideas, which is exactly why I chose a liberal arts school in the first place. I fancy myself open-minded. So no one was more surprised than me at the email I wrote to my English professor last night.

A little background: I’m taking a class this semester that studies modernist British fiction. One of the required texts is Crash by JG Ballard, which you may know from the movie adaptation with Holly Hunter. The novel centers on car crash fetishists, and includes graphic depictions of sex and violence. I know that many people, including my professor, consider it a profound work of art. I don’t want to get into a debate over aesthetics, but to me, this book is degrading, desensitizing, and pornographic.

I believe whole-heartedly that God doesn’t want me to read this book. Let me be clear here: I am anti-censorship and never in a million years would I tell someone else that they can’t read a novel. I also don’t think sex is evil or wrong. It’s just that, in my opinion, Crash crossed the line. I felt emotionally and mentally violated just reading it. “Hear no evil, see no evil,” remember?

I had no idea what to do, how to respond. I am required by the course to read a book that I simply cannot read. I froze. I wasn’t prepared for my ideals and my aspirations to clash. I’ve never heard about this conflict in a sermon or a Bible study. Maybe that’s one more sign that the church has become too enmeshed with its surrounding culture. After all, if we agree on everything, there’s nothing to fight about. But Christ calls us to more complicated, more important living.

In my head, I know that. I know that we’re called to sacrifice anything and everything for Christ and this was hardly facing a lion in the arena, but how am I supposed to tell my professor that? I don’t want to play a “religion card.” I don’t want to fail the class and ruin my future!

It got me to thinking about way bigger theological thing-a-ma-jigs than one novel in one college class. We live in a secular world and a secular country – sorry, televangelists. And if we are living our faith as untamed as Christ calls us to live it, there will be times when our faith does not jive with the demands of that world. Sure, we’re supposed to be working for the kingdom to come, but in the moment? I mean, it’s just a little thing; I can let it slide this one time; I don’t want to make a scene.

Except that Jesus never let an opportunity slip by to transform his world. What if it would’ve caused too much trouble to talk to the woman at the well? What if the stakes were too high to save the adulteress? Radical change is the very foundation of the Christian life. That doesn’t always mean toppling oppressive regimes or exposing Foxconn or eradicating racism. Sometimes it’s the everyday choices about what TV shows you watch or who you eat with at lunch.

The end of my story is that the prof replied graciously, saying that he understood my concerns. It was my choice if I read Crash or if I attended class – though, thinking about it now, he didn’t say I wouldn’t be penalized. I split the difference; I didn’t read it, but I sat in class today and tried my best. Probably not the best solution. I guess we learn by doing.

Has your faith ever made trouble for you? How do you handle it when you’re called to disrupt the order?


6 thoughts on “Guest blog: Untamed faith in English class

  1. Jillian, I applaud you for taking a stand. You are so right that we, as Jesus followers, are called to live our faith. We may not be called to being down evil regimes or topple an evil dictator. But we are to stand for what we believe is right and against what we believe is wrong. It’s not always easy living our faith. Kudos to you for standing up for your beliefs.

  2. Nicely said. The trouble is that the world is wrong but we are beholden to it in so many ways.

    Knowing that there are young people like you gives me a great deal of hope. Your Dad should be very proud of you.

  3. JillAnn,

    What an outstanding post! If your father actually stops blogging at any point because of school, you should pick up his slack. I’m really encouraged to read about someone abstaining from material like this for the sake of holiness. I’m more used to seeing Christians participate in things like this merely for the sake of “relevance,” or because they see no conflict – no grades on the line.

  4. Thank you for a thought provoking post, Jill Ann. Before I comment, let me suggest that you ask your professor if you can do an alternate assignment. It should be standard policy to allow that option. I’m surprised he didn’t suggest it.

    I’m sure you know that it is important for liberal arts students to read widely. Students need to be exposed to a wide range of views and perspectives that are not their own. There is merit in that. It helps students to become “critical thinkers”.

    A few years ago, I was watched a video of Shakespeare’s play, “The Merchant of Venice”. I was horrified by the anti-Semitism that permeated the entire work. Still, the play certainly had literary merit. I am also horrified as I read the works of Edgar Alan Poe, although I respect Poe’s sophisticated vocabulary and writing skill. I could go on and tell you that much of what is considered to be great literature is “great” precisely because it pushes the boundaries of convention and is shocking. As an English major, I read a great deal of material that as a Christian, I now find distasteful.

    Because of your intense reaction to the novel, Crash, it seems to me that you may have a genuine spiritual gift of discernment which could prove to be of great value to you in life. I think you were right to approach your professor as you did. But in the future, when you have a strong negative reaction to a book, you might try to put your reaction down on paper. Work at articulating your reaction in writing. NAME your disgust. Identify the garbage you come across as garbage. You may be doing a community service as you learn to do this well. (Blogs are a great forum for literary criticism by the way.)

    I would also like to see more delightful, positive novels added to the traditional cannon of great literature. Good novels need articulate champions, so that might become your goal as well.

    The “order” of our day is badly in need of disruption by holy troublemakers. So I say, take the risk, but cover your bases (ask for an alternative assignment.)

  5. Hollyboardman wrote valueable suggestions. Discern if a task is damaging to your faith, or is a challenge to make your faith stronger. Seek alternatives that might be acceptable to the boss. This is true not only in college, but thoughout one’s working career.

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