It’s a dangerous world out there. Lots of things to be aware of. So I think it best to identify a safe place, somewhere you can be assured of not being bothered by all of the bad in this world. And I have found just the place.
It’s your nearby local Christian bookstore.
Yes, you can find safety in your Christian bookstore. Nothing bad ever happens in the pages of Christian books. Life is nothing but an endless supply of cupcakes and roses. The sun always shines in Christian books. Every ending is a happy ending. No one ever sins, and if they do, well, they are really, really sorry about it.
You are always safe around Christian books. Every prayer is answered. Every person is blessed beyond measure. We all learn how to live to our fullest, experiencing life at its best. God is explained down to the smallest detail. Every Bible verse is understood in the one and only way it can be understood. And of course there is only one true understanding of each verse. Science is exposed in the light of faith. No more questions, for in a Christian bookstore all we have are answers. The right answers.
In the fiction aisle we find men and women who may encounter hardship, but they always come through it with their faith intact, their sicknesses healed, their lives fulfilled. At the end of each book is a nice red ribbon that is tied up neatly. The bad guy always loses, and the good guys always win. Just ignore the bad theology and poorly-disguised sermons masquerading as stories. Embrace the fact that the Amish are everywhere and are the perfect representatives of Jesus in our day.
Life in Christian books is nice and safe, just the way God intends for it to be.
Ok, look, I’ll admit I am being sarcastic as I rant against a system and a business that I have been in for many years but can no longer support. And I know there are still some good books to be found in Christian stores. But the whole system is broken beyond repair. I can no longer be a part of this system. And I have a personal reason why. Her name is Marsha Matto.
On July 4, 2007, Marsha and her three young children (6, 7, and 9) all climbed into Marsha’s brand-new Nissan Murano and went to celebrate our nation’s birthday at her ex-husband’s house along with her family and friends. She got there around 3 and went to work fixing dinner. She accepted a drink—vodka with a splash of cranberry juice—as she grilled some vegetables. That, and a sip of a Coors Light (the rest of the bottle was spilled when it was knocked over in a soccer game following dinner) was the extent of the alcohol Marsha drank. When she loaded her kids in the car to head home at 8 o’clock that evening, she was completely sober.
It was dark and raining on the five mile drive home. Marsha’s son John, sitting in the front seat beside his mom, took off his seatbelt. Why? Because he was a nine-year-old boy. But this upset Marsha, and she leaned across to refasten his belt, taking her eyes off the road for a brief moment. She crossed the center line and hit a cargo van at 40 miles per hour. John and six-year-old Morgan were killed. Marsha and seven-year-old Haley were taken to the hospital in Bridgeport, Connecticut where doctors doubted they would live. But they did. After five weeks, they went home.
Marsha’s blood was tested for alcohol at the hospital, but not until after she had had her first transfusion. Alcohol did register in her blood at a level of .12, so she was charged with eight felony counts. For the next two years, Marsha faced the grueling task of learning to walk again (after she had been told she most likely wouldn’t walk) and preparing for her court case. I’ll make this short. She did learn to walk again, and today walks with hardly a limp. And she was acquitted on seven of the eight felonies. To learn how she did this, you will have to read her book. Only you won’t find it in a Christian bookstore.
Marsha is a Christian. She has one of the greatest relationships with God I have ever encountered. The first time I met her she told me, “I have no desire to be a ‘good Christian.’ That is far too weak for me. I want so much more from God.” Marsha told me she didn’t know if she really knew how to pray. “All I do is talk with God about everything. Everything. And then I listen to what he says to me. And because I love him so much, I do whatever he tells me to do.” I’d like to staple myself to Marsha just to experience the closeness she has with God.
So why won’t her story be found in Christian bookstores? Because it’s not safe. I was told by an editor this week that while he loves the proposal I sent, he loves the fact that Marsha is not your pre-packaged “typical Christian,” this story just would not fly with the Christian book-buying crowd. “They would never forgive her,” said the editor. “They would indict her for having a drink when she knew she would be driving her kids home.”
“But she wasn’t drunk,” I said. “How could one drink consumed five hours before make you too drunk to drive?” And I explained to him how that the jury found her not guilty, how a doctor explained why her blood level tested the way it did. The editor said it wouldn’t matter.
“The Christian audience would still think she was guilty. There is just no way we could publish that book. It would never sell in the Christian stores.”
And you know what? He’s right. It wouldn’t sell in Christian stores. It isn’t a safe book. And that’s something we don’t want, is it? A book that isn’t safe.
Marsha’s story is real. It involves pain that is not resolved. There is divorce and alcohol. Children die. Oh, and Marsha doesn’t go to church. And she cusses. And she’s a Catholic. There is nothing safe about Marsha Matto. But she is real. Oh, she is real. And reality is not safe. So her story will not be in Christian stores.
My first job was in a Christian bookstore. To this day it remains one of my favorite jobs. I got to meet many new friends and help people get books that could answer their questions, or at least help them to ask the right questions. It seems that in the 1970s there were a lot more real books available than there are today. Maybe I’m just imagining it. But I don’t recall books that told us just how God wants us to get prime parking spaces at the mall or how that our every need would always be met the moment we asked. There were books about how when one walks with God, it is a great adventure in faith that sometimes does not end with a red ribbon tied neatly. Oh, and we carried one book that definitely is not safe. It’s called the Bible. (But we’ll save that discussion for another day.)
Maybe, just maybe, the store I worked at in 1975 would have carried Marsha’s story. If so, those who bought and read it would have gotten a glimpse of a woman who has not given up on God. And, more to the point, a woman God has not given up on.
Life is not safe. At least real life isn’t. There is pain and sorrow and hard things. We screw up and God stays faithful. We do everything right and life falls apart around us. I have walked with the Lord going on 40 years and I have never once heard him promise me a safe ride. As a matter of fact, the longer I walk with him, the more I am convinced that he is anything but safe. Nor do I think he has ever intended to be.
You want safety? You’ll find it at your nearby Christian bookstore. You’ll find blessings and healings and prosperity galore. But you won’t find reality. You won’t find Marsha Matto. You won’t find me any longer. And, I suspect you won’t find God there, either.
And if our founder, the Internet Monk himself, were still with us, you would not find him there, either.