Conversations is a new column which replaces our two previous columns Under the Grill and Inside the Church. First up, it's Michael Collie, national director of Christian literature organisation, SparkLit. He speaks with DAVID ADAMS...


What did you do prior to joining SparkLit?

"Our family is resettling in Melbourne after working for 16 years as CMS missionaries with Christian publisher Certeza Argentina. I am doing globally with SparkLit what I was doing locally in Latin America: encouraging emerging Christian publishers."

 

SparkLit National director, Michael Collie


"What makes a book ‘Christian’? Is a book that is consistent with Christian values a Christian book? Possibly. But, to say that a book is Christian because it promotes compassion, sacrifice or forgiveness is to risk claiming that Christians have a monopoly on these virtues.
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I gather that the history of the organisation in Australia goes back to the First Fleet?

"Australia’s first library arrived at Port Jackson aboard the HMS Sirius, the flagship of the First Fleet. It was a gift of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge in London, and consisted of 4,000 books and tracts including 100 Bibles, 400 New Testaments, 500 Psalters, 400 children’s readers and 100 spelling books. The vision, which understood the importance of literature in the foundation of the new colony, continues today. Where the Gospel is preached, literature will be needed!

     "On 8th August this year the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge Australia became SparkLit. It exists to advance God’sKingdom by empowering Christian writers, publishers and distributors. SparkLit equips publishing professionals, nurtures publishing enterprises and makes Christian books available, accessible and affordable where support and resources are scarce."

You recently hosted the 2013 Australian Christian Book of the Year Awards. What was the pick of the books entered this year?

"Forged with Flames by Ann Fogarty and Anne Crawford (Wild Dingo Press) is the 2013 Australian Christian book of the Year. Ann Fogarty’s ordeal began in Upper Beaconsfield, Victoria, when the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires left her with life-threatening burns to 85 per cent of her body. She brings to her writing the same humour, honesty and courage with which she suffered the pain, doubt and despair. This book is an unusually eloquent answer to the question: Where is God when it hurts? It is profoundly comforting to follow her growing assurance of God’s presence and loving care."

How do you define what a Christian book is?

"What makes a book ‘Christian’? Is a book that is consistent with Christian values a Christian book? Possibly. But, to say that a book is Christian because it promotes compassion, sacrifice or forgiveness is to risk claiming that Christians have a monopoly on these virtues.

     "Is any book written by a Christian author automatically a Christian book? Perhaps. But many Christian writers engaged in public debate resist being labelled as Christian writers because they aspire to write impartially for a general audience.

     "I would say that a Christian book somehow points people to Jesus."

What sets the best books apart?

"The Australian Christian Book of the Year Award criteria require that candidates ‘meet a need for Christian writing in Australia’. So, what do we look for? Originality. Quality. Relevance. But above all, courage."

What's your favourite book of the Bible and why?

"My favorite book of the Bible is the book I have most recently studied! While preparing to preach on I Thessalonians, I was touched by the depth of Paul’s affection for the Thessalonians. He describes the pain of separation as ‘unbearable’. The conclusion of our season in Argentina was also both painful and gratifying."

Apart from the Bible, can you name three books that have impacted your life?

"1. Jim Davis (John Masefield, 1911) made me cry. I was12-years-old, alone in bed and enveloped in a ripping tale of treachery, loyalty, companionship and separation. I stared at the open book and wondered how I could have been stirred so deeply by a yellowing page.

2. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (T E Lawrence, 1926) is an epic cross-cultural adventure writ large and keenly observed.

3. Science fiction typically renders extra-terrestrial society as dystopian. However, in Out of the Silent Planet (C S Lewis, 1938) and Voyage to Venus (C S Lewis, 1943), Earth alone is fallen. In an unrivaled flight of imagination, Lewis contemplates sinless and unspoiled realities elsewhere.

4. I will be forever haunted by the examination of human agency, responsibility and guilt in the The Reader (Bernhard Schlink, 1995).

Oops. Can’t count!"

And lastly, what are you reading at the moment?

"I am currently reading an unpublished manuscript in which God appears on earth as a troubadour in Australia in the 1960s. Stay tuned!"

~ www.SparkLit.org