Faith,  Writing

Garbage In, Garbage Out?

many red dirty garbage bins against a gray brick wall (copy-space available)There’s a saying I heard a long time ago: Garbage in, garbage out. Essentially it means that whatever we put into our minds, hearts, mouths, handbag – whatever – will come out the same in the end. It’s a dire warning to watch what content we are subjected to on a daily basis. But does it hold any water? Are we able, as Christians, to constantly control what content we are exposed to? And even if we could control all content we’re exposed to, does it mean we should shield ourselves from every evil of the world?

The first time I heard this saying was about five years ago at a book signing I did here in Mesa, Arizona. I was handing out postcards with information about my novel when a woman who was standing about ten feet from me took one. She said nothing at first as she scanned the cardboard flyer. Then her eyes turned up at me and she smirked, proceeding to ask me what my angle was, what point was I trying to get across with my writing.

I wasn’t sure how to answer that so I told her that I wasn’t really trying to make a point, just write compelling fiction. I described my writing as a mix between the Christian symbolism that was evident in some of C.S. Lewis’ works and the edginess in Stephen King’s style of writing. Apparently she didn’t like that. She told me those two things contradict each other and that they can’t coexist successfully. I motioned to my books and told her to buy one, read it, and find out for herself if I was successful in pulling it off.

NX_witch_hand_sideThat’s when she said, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Then she told me she was extremely careful with the types of books she reads. I told her I understood and once again pointed out that she could purchase my book for only $10 and tell me what she thought. She asked me if I had read any of C.S. Lewis’ books like the Screwtape Letters or Mere Christianity. I said no. I tried to be more clear and explained to her that my writing held a lot of the Christian symbolism that C.S. Lewis has in his Chronicles of Narnia. Then she said she was going to challenge me to go deeper into my faith and that I really need to take a harder look at C.S. Lewis before I go comparing myself to him or his works.

I realized at this point that she was trying to start some kind of religious debate with me at my table. I wasn’t going to have any of it. I figure if someone wants to discuss theology and the angles that my book presents, then we can, but if someone is going to call my writing garbage before they’ve even read an excerpt of my book, then they are only out to prove their own points, in this case how evil Stephen King is or how evil I am…not sure exactly which one.

I handed the woman an excerpt and told her to read it while she browsed the store, just to get a feel of my writing. She took it and walked off. A woman nearby had overheard the conversation and told me that she too was a Christian and didn’t understand what the other lady was getting so upset over. I explained my novel’s story to her and she told me she enjoyed Stephen King’s writing and that my novel synopsis sounded intriguing. Then she told me that I handled the other woman’s attempt at debate quite well.

There’s a huge contrast between these two individuals. Both claim to be Christian, and yet both have differing opinions on what content is appropriate for a Christian to indulge in.

I have to say I used to be like the woman who stormed off with my postcard. I was very ‘sheltered’ in my view on the world and on the things of this world, and I always thought that anything that contained horror, sexual themes, or otherwise edgy content was not to be touched, looked upon, or even breathed upon.

And then I grew up and developed what I like to call discernment.

If you’re noticing the sarcasm, it’s there on purpose. Yes, Christians should abstain from participating in evil acts. Yes, Christians should take caution regarding what content they indulge in. No, Christians should not act like everything in this secular world carries the plague.

I heard a sermon a few Sundays ago, based around this verse:

Mark 7:14 – 16: After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

My point of view? Well, in the context of this verse, Jesus was really addressing thebackground-with-isolated-jesus_Gy3J3AFu Pharisees, who were so insanely ‘by-the-book’, that they needed a nice Jesus slap across the face.

This verse is by no means excusing us to engage in any form of entertainment that we want to. It’s telling us to use discernment about the things that go into us, and make sure that when they come out the other end – either through our words or actions – that they encourage, lift up, edify, and otherwise build up the body of Christ. If they can’t do that, then maybe it’s time we reevaluate them.

Pornography does not provide a resource to pull from for these things. Just using that as an example in case some of you wanted to twist around what I’m saying. Remember, it’s called discernment, and it will be your best friend on this Christian walk.

I’ve come across those who are so closed off from the world that they isolate themselves from anyone or anything that could potentially deepen their faith or relationship with God. I completely understand that some people are very careful with what they read, and what they watch, mainly because there are many very real temptations in this world. But there’s where discernment comes in. Only you and God know what your boundaries are. If you’re easily tempted by lust, stay out of the local strip club. In fact, you should probably stay out of there anyway.

In this scenario I encountered at my book signing, it seemed that just because I was comparing myself to Stephen King’s writing style and C.S. Lewis’ Christian allegory, this woman took it as me comparing Jesus to Satan. Good and evil aren’t always so black and white. We must peel back the layers to see what the motive is behind everything.

That woman eventually returned to me and set the excerpt back down on the table. She said it was exactly what she thought it was. She said I was part of a cult. I told her to have a nice day and smiled as she left the store. Good riddance.


  • Kat Heckenbach

    Love this!

    I haven't yet had someone call me evil, but I've worried about it because I've written stories that I consider “allegorical horrors.” By the way, Stephen King writes books that would fall into the “Christian horror” genre if they weren't full of sex and cussing. Try reading “Desperation”–it's got a *clear* Christian message. And “The Stand”–King himself calls it a Christian book! (You can tell people from now on, too, that King is actually close friends with Jerry Jenkins–there was an awesome interview with the two of them together in the May/June 2009 issue of Writers Digest.)

    Good for you for standing up for your writing! We Christian writers don't always fit into a neat little box.

    One thing I keep in mind as an answer to those who question my genre–if and when that ever comes up–is that maybe you can't bring “dark” into a light room, but you can bring Light into a dark one.

  • David N Alderman

    Very well put, Kat, about bringing light into a dark room. By the way, I also saw that interview in Writer's Digest when it was posted and I found it fascinating. I agree with you that we Christians don't always fit into a box, especially when some of us are writers. 🙂

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