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Genre clashes

Books | Fiction, like reality, can remind us of man's condition and our desperate need for Christ

Issue: "Tick, tick, tick ...," May 7, 2011

Netflix can't figure out my wife and myself. The website tries to determine from past film orders what kind of movies we're likely to rent, but we watch films from just about every genre except horror. I imagine the Netflix computer-searching for German/Romanian/French romances punctuated by car chases, explosions, and philosophy-becoming increasingly frazzled and finally, as in old cartoons, exploding.

Genre clashes appear elsewhere as well. I suspect that WORLD readers who like Andrée Seu's poetic writing will also like Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts (Zondervan, 2010), a book I mentioned a month ago. It's set in a farming area but includes a vivid account of chaperoning a church's youth group on a mission trip to a poor area of Toronto. Suddenly a man with a wild mane of graying hair puts on a clown mask and starts yelling full frontal obscenities at the children: "I'm masking the real me! I'm *&%$* messed up. Know what I mean?" Voskamp knows what it means: big trouble, potentially.

Then the wild man continues: "Look at me! Fried my brain on crack." But then he cautions them: "Don't do crack, know what I mean?" Voskamp writes, "He steps into the company of young people. Some look away. . . . His rage shakes us. Shakes the drowsy, shakes the slumbering, shakes us to look at what we really came to see, to look straightway into it and really open the soul wide to see and it terrifies."

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There's more, a reading of Romans 7 and 8, beautifully rendered, with Voskamp at the end saying, "Thank you." She thanks the broken wild man for shaking her and the church youth, for making wretchedness clear to them, for making the desperate need for Christ not an add-on to a mission of good deeds but the ground of our being: "What a wretched man I am."

With Israel's Independence Day celebration coming on May 9, take a look, if you dare, at "Israeli family of five killed by terrorist," a short video miserably watchable on YouTube. The announcement of those March murders led to wild celebrations in Palestinian towns. I watched that video shortly after reading an email from one reader upset that my wife (and I agree with her) recommended a spy novel by Daniel Silva, whose hero is Gabriel Allon.

The fictional Allon is a superb restorer of classic paintings and, as part of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, a killer of terrorists. He doesn't slaughter the innocent. He executes justice under his government's authority when Arab or Russian governments do the opposite of what they should. Our reader was angry both that we praised books with high body counts and that we support Israel.

Well, we do. We also support Christian Palestinians who have been ground between millstones. We're sympathetic to Palestinian Muslims who oppose the brutal slaughter of children, as many do. We don't doubt that Israeli soldiers have unintentionally killed Palestinian children, but I know of no instances where they have invaded a Palestinian home and beheaded children in their beds. Israel's government, like others, does many things wrong, but it has official inquiries when Palestinian civilians are killed under suspicious circumstances.

I sadly expect all kinds of bad things to happen in a fallen world, but March's small holocaust, like the Big One two generations ago, is sickening. If you want to understand why the Israelis feel they're all alone against the world, except for the support of American evangelicals, read Daniel Silva novels (but don't read them unless you accept some brutality in fiction, and bad guys using bad words).

Silva, in a genre opposite that of Ann Voskamp, also writes wonderfully, and can serve the same purpose for some of us that the wild man in Toronto did for her. That man said, "Look at me." Silva says, "Look at this world."

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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