Magazines for Christ?

I confess: I have a weakness for so-called women's lifestyle magazines. Not the really trashy ones, but I have paid money for Oprah, Vanity Fair, Victoria, Vogue, Mothering, Child, and House Beautiful, just to name a few. I have actually subscribed at various points to Martha Stewart Living, Elle, and San Francisco. When I was on bedrest during my second pregnancy, I even subscribed (briefly) to People. Hey, it came every week, it kept me up on a basic set of news stories, and it didn't tax my brain or my heart rate, which is just what I needed in that couple of months. This weakness runs in my family. I enjoy reading my mother's Women's Day and Ladies Home Journal and my sister's Sunset and Redbook. I really like advice columns, from "Ask E. Jean" to Glamour "Dos and Don'ts" to "Can This Marriage Be Saved?"

I've mostly given this habit up. I now spend much of the same time and less money reading blogs. But I still look at them occasionally in the grocery store rack. So the other day I was just looking at all the covers when I noticed a magazine I'd never seen before. Lily, it's called. A Christian lifestyle magazine. I think it was just a trial issue that came out right before Easter. It looks like a lot of other magazines. It has articles on how to store your good dishes and plant an herb garden. It has profiles of women who are beautiful, organized, fit, happily married with several children and committed to some good cause. Articles on marriage, raising kids, homekeeping and taking care of yourself - all the staples of a good women's magazine, with a little Christian twist on it all, occasional scripture references, etc.

On the one hand, I thought "Great, there's probably a huge market for this kind of thing and it looks like they're doing a good job of it. Nice production values but not too flashy, straightforward about their angle but nothing overtly offensive to non-Christians, so what?"

On the other hand, this is just so wrong. Is Christianity about selling all you have and giving to the poor or about embroidering quotes from Jesus on throw pillows? The whole thing is pernicious. Look: you can have your cake and eat it too. Have a beautiful house and children with a husband who pays for it all. Just be a Believer, and everything will be all right. Give a little to your church and the deserving poor. And the featured columnist on family issues is Dr. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family. I didn't buy it because I didn't want to give them my money.

Now, I don't know what the long range plans are for this magazine. Maybe they're planning to run articles on how Christian women can escape and help prevent domestic violence. Maybe they'll educate homemakers on the beauty and benefits of organic vegetables for their families. Maybe they'll have editorials against watching television and letting your kids play violent video games. (You know, espouse MY values. Would it be okay with me then? Hmm.)

But it sure was a contrast to Plain magazine, which I've been reading this week, and whose principles I'm violating right now by writing about it on a computer. I only have four issues that someone gave my husband about ten years ago, but I think it ran for several years. I also heard that the founders stopped publishing it a few years ago because it involved them in too much technology and diverted their attention from their primary goal of living a plain life. Plain could also be described as a lifestyle magazine, although Scott Savage, the editor, would hate that term. It is about having a life, not a lifestyle, that includes respect for and participation in manual labor, caring for the earth and all creation, radical simplicity in dress and home, and a commitment to building strong local economic, social and religious communities.

The phrase that comes to mind is Meister Eckhart's line, quoted in Thomas Kelly's essay, "Holy Obedience," in A Testament of Devotion. "There are plenty to follow our Lord halfway, but not the other half." In fact, according to Eckhart, the first half is "to give up possessions, friends, and honors." How many of Lily's readers are even ready to go that far? Kelly writes that "We have plenty of Quakers to follow God the first half of the way," but not "to follow Him the other half, sincerely to disown itself, this life that intends complete obedience, without any reservations..." I almost didn't finish this post, I got so caught up in reading the rest of Kelly's amazing essay. It is so much easier to read than to write and I could spend a long time contemplating, "How close am I?" Or rather, it is easier to measure, "How far am I from that perfect obedience?"

I look around at the piles of worldly things in my home and I know it is very far indeed.


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Blogger Richard said...

We have magazines on all sorts of topics and from all sorts of perspectives, having one more certainly cannot hurt.

Defining what is Christian is ... uhm ... hard. Even amongst ourselves there are a multitude of divisions – rather than our language confused (Gen 11:1-9), it is our faith that has been confused.

So calling yourself a Christian magazine is hard – yet, I suspect it is the sort of thing people might want. Humans have a fantastic need to belong, to be part of some group. Taken the other way, humans have a remarkable facility for dividing themselves from one another and attaching to small groups.

The interesting thing about people is that they will work quite hard to ensure they are "in" with the group. It doesn't matter if the group is a religion, the latest fashion trend, the people at the skateboard park – the prospect of being out, of being alone is too hard for most and so they conform, even if it is irrational.

I think the more I write, the further away I get from the original topic ...

4/19/2006 3:49 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

When I read your description of the magazine Lily, my first thought was, "How unlike the Jewish magazine Tikkun!"

Then again, Tikkun doesn't really speak about mystical Judaism, but neither does it present itself as a Jewish "lifestyle" magazine.

Surely there's gotta be a Christian magazine that would fill your 'zine zeal...???


My mind and heart are still full of recent activities I've been through, so I'm keeping this comment short.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

4/19/2006 5:26 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Richard, one of the things I worry about a magazine like Lily is that it smacks of the old sense that worldly prosperity is a sign of God's favor. And it helps to continue to divert people's attention from helping their brothers and sisters in need towards having the right slipcovers for the summer. And because it's superficially Christian, some people will think that this is Gospel Order.

For a short while at the end of my last job, I subscribed to the online version of Christianity Today. It was interesting, but not my cup of tea, really, but no more offensive than Vogue, just in a different direction.

I do still subscribe to Friends Journal, and my Meeting gives all members a subscription to Friends Bulletin. So I am getting my fix. The last couple of issue of Friends Journal have been amazing. I'm still re-reading both months.

I also think of QuakerQuaker.org as a kind of subscription.

4/19/2006 10:48 PM  
Blogger Marta said...

Great post Robin. I'm going to chew on it awhile. I too have issues with James Dobson. He wouldn't have been my first choice for an advice columnist of a WOMENS'S magazine. :-)

4/23/2006 7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i stumbled upon lily at barnes and noble and i gave it a try. i loved it!!! I being a new mom at 24 and at home want to be able to decorate and cook healthy and read uplifting things that at the end of the magazine i dont feel like i need to go spend money on new clothes or have some type of plastic surgery to look good. By reading lily i thought it was great having a magazine out there that doesn't relate to worldly views. The calenders with the scripture on it and the fun ideas. I loved it i would get a years subsription. I have referred it out to many friends and have heard nothing but awesome comments on the magazine. So my take on it is AWESOME and i hope it does well. I think that a few of you look alittle to in to things. And i dont know why a guy is reading it anyways. i appreciate the fact that some one has made the effort to make something worth looking at. I was in fashion for 5 years and there are lifestyle magazines that truly make you focus on yourself and not what this life is about. I would give it to any of my non christian friends anyday!!!

4/25/2006 4:37 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thanks Marta, let me know what you think.

Christoner, I'm glad the magazine helps you to feel like you don't have to spend money on new clothes or have surgery. I'm sure that Lily will do well.

4/27/2006 2:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is great that everyone is given the opportunity to voice their oppinions. My feeling is that everyone that bought the book was obviously looking for a refreshing change to the usual garbage and repetitiveness of magazines and news rags that are on the stands today. I enjoyed reading it and would buy it again. I buy many magazines and enjoy variety. KEEP ON READING - Teach a child to read!!!

4/27/2006 8:11 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


Dropped by from the link at gathering In Light.

I find the comment from Christoner interesting: I think that a few of you look a little to in to things.

When I start talking about Jesus as a political radical and the thieves he was crucified with being freedopm fighters -- my co-worker expressed the same (almost word for word) sentiment.

7/22/2006 1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stumbed by accident on your website and was intrigued by your stance against the magazine. Personally, I absolutely loved Lily. When I want to relax and read something that is spiritually uplifting and yet 'easy to digest', Lily is perfect for those days. When I read it, I feel refreshed and energized in my spirit and certainly do not want (as you suggested) to buy the 'right slipcovers'. There is a place for magazines like this and it does not have the effect that you envisage.

3/25/2008 4:27 AM  

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