The Worst List of All Time
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
I found something disturbing recently while looking for ways to promote The Opposite of Art. It’s a list over at GoodReads, called “The Worst Books of All Time.” In the top (bottom?) 50 titles or so, I found books like: To Kill a Mockingbird, Billy Budd, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Red Badge of Courage, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Forest Gump, Fahrenheit 451, Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Pearl. As a novelist and as a Christian, that list saddens me.
While discussing it with some fellow novelists, one said many books by Christians are poorly written. She then felt the need to qualify her statement by affirming that she thinks there are lots of well-written novels by Christians. Probably she didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings, and that's laudable, but it seems to me she had it right the first time.
It’s true many novels by Christians are poorly written. That's also true of many other kinds of novels. In fact it’s true of most novels of every kind, but its not a particular indictment of mediocre writers or the readers who enable them. Most people don't really care about excellence in architecture, sculpture, painting, or dance . . . or government, commerce, marriage, or anything else in life that ought to matter.
What interests me, is why. In our discussion about the “Worst Books” list, some of my author friends speculated that so many people dislike those novels because they were forced to read them in school and disliked them then. But these books truly are works of genius—most of them are, anyway—so why didn't we love them in the first place?
The answer has to do with what it means to live in a fallen world. As creatures made in the Creator's image, we were designed to use our gifts to their utmost, and to savor excellence in our neighbor's use of their gifts. It's impossible to imagine the words "good enough" being spoken in the Garden before the Fall. But we did fall, and one of the things we lost was our ability to throw ourselves into living with complete abandon. "Good is the enemy of great," as Jim Collins wrote (paraphrasing Voltaire). Thus, in settling for good enough, we have rampant mediocrity in the world.
Another thing we abandoned in the Fall was our ability to perceive the true extent of what we've lost. So when expediency and ego dilute the full potential of even our best writers and artists, the audience, being also lost, doesn't know enough to care. Therefore they applaud what little they can get, and their applause rewards mediocrity. This in turn inspires the production of more mediocrity, and the cycle builds more and more support for itself until mediocrity seems normal, or even (God forbid) good, and because that lie has become pervasive, the truth is difficult for even Christians to remember. Thus we have rampant mediocrity even in the church.
The faithful Christian's life will always include a sense of resisting mediocrity at every turn. It's a command and a duty. "Whatever you do, do it will all your heart, as if for the Lord and not for men." (Col 3:23) It's no coincidence that this command includes the same requirement for wholeheartedness as the Greatest Command of all, to "love the Lord your God with all your heart...."
How can we love the Lord with all our heart? By living every part of life with all our heart. By not settling. By always striving to improve. In other words, as with all of His commands, the Creator simply wants us to live (write, marry, work, etc.) as we were originally created to live...with complete abandonment to what we truly are, which will reveal itself in the constant exercise of excellence in all our gifts.
Don't believe the lie of "good enough." You're so much better than that. Strive for excellence in everything you do, including what you write and what you read.
Live with all your heart.
Posted byAthol Dickson at 8:51 AM