Culture > Books

Sometimes, hope sells

"Sometimes, hope sells" Continued...

Issue: "Top 40 Books," July 3, 1999

It hasn't all been so easy, however; Miss Karon readily admits to failures and dark times, though undergirded by a steady growth. An outspoken person, she is tempted to anger and annoyance and has to work at controlling her temper and learning patience. A recent trial, sadly, has had to do with her church affiliation. When the priest of her Episcopalian church denied the deity of Christ, Miss Karon and others confronted him, first individually, then as a group, finally taking their concern to the bishop. After a year with no change, she knew she could no longer stay and for the past few months has been searching for a church home with strong biblical preaching.

Miss Karon is as careful to seek God's way in her work as in the rest of her life. She has refused television and movie contracts for the novels because she "will not sell the rights to anyone who does not understand and honor this work." She has, on the other hand, allowed Hallmark to begin making Mitford products (greeting cards, coffee mugs, etc.), because Hallmark is "an old family-owned company which is driven by the same kind of values that drive Mitford."

In her books, she uses Scripture freely because she loves it. "I was starving for Scripture," she says about the time following her conversion. And she bathes her work in prayer. Not only does she begin every writing session with prayer that the work will honor God, she turns to Him at any difficult point. When she needed to give Father Tim a prayer of concern in A New Song, she felt overwhelmed, praying, "Lord, I feel as if I've been coming all my life to this moment, to this particular prayer, and I don't know what to write. Please help me." The words began coming immediately, she said, and "I was so enthralled and grateful that I bawled like a baby."

The evidence that God has used her work lies in reviews and readers' letters, which tell of people who are not merely entertained but are challenged to live more Christianly in their daily walk. And Miss Karon tells of an incident at a North Carolina promotional event for A New Song. Amidst the many women, a big, shy man, alone, approached to shake her hand. "I was Buck Leeper," he told her simply, referring to the bitter drunkard in the novels who finally gives his life to Christ, and disappeared into the night.

The Mitford books provide a welcome antidote to both the fashionable despair of the cultural elite and the self-help optimism of the New Age. People are desperate for hope, desperate for miracles-and the Mitford books ring true because they are based on the reality of God's work instead of man's. Because they show us ordinary people in ordinary life, they give us hope that we, too, could become better.

The Mitford series is not your usual run of bestsellers: No steamy bed scenes occur, licit or illicit, no graphic violence, and not a single swear word. Miss Karon quotes Jean Henri Fabre, 19th-century French naturalist and writer, "I am convinced that it is possible to say marvelous things without using a barbarous vocabulary."

Good clean stories with a gentle mood and credit given to God by characters and author alike: That such books sell-At Home in Mitford is still on the lower end of The New York Times bestseller list at 30, and A New Song has been in the top 10 since its April publication-suggests a craving within our self-indulgent culture for something better than what the mainstream offers. The Mitford books show us Christians who are very much in the world, enjoying life and relating to believers and unbelievers alike in love, but not of the world, genuinely seeking God's perspective for their actions and attitudes.

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