Thinking Out Loud

October 29, 2016

This Was Jack Chick’s Life

chick-tracts

The name somewhat registered in the trending sidebar of my Twitter feed. Sometimes that means that someone has died, but I didn’t really think that Jack Chick needed my attention. I guess you could say I didn’t take the Chick-bait.

But hours later it was still there. So I decided to see what was going on. His death at age 92 was not what struck me, but rather the outpouring of emotion — albeit under 140 characters — from both supporters and detractors. Jack Chick’s impact on the mainstream American culture was more significant than I might have guessed, and it was producing at its peak at least a dozen posts per minute…

frame-from-this-was-your-lifeI first became aware of “Chick tracts” when  my high school newspaper Abacus (motto: The Paper You Can Count On) cut and pasted most, if not all, of one of the tracts into the paper. As a sometimes public, sometimes private Christian I could clearly see that the content was on our side, but by its inclusion, the Abacus editors, who I knew well, were running it for public mockery.

Still, I felt that even in this context, what was being said possibly had the potential to change the lives of my pagan high school cohorts. It was a strange collision of the two very different worlds I inhabited. (My unwavering, passionate, public faith would not materialize until the second semester of university.) Thus made aware of the format, I began to see the little booklets turn up at church and later in other locations…

One of the comments on Twitter had something to do with how Chick inspired other Christians to adopt the power of the graphic novel. I can see that. There is a sense in which today’s The Action Bible and The Manga Bible follow in Chick’s wake.

But I had misgivings, too. It seemed that some common enemy whether it be Masons, or Roman Catholics, or abortion providers were always caught in Chick’s cross-hairs. Although we didn’t have the phrase back then, it was as though we were known for what we were against instead of what we were for

The approach of This Was Your Life, Chick’s bestseller, would haunt me later. As I studied Christian communication at a deeper level, I learned that while guilt and especially fear were good vehicles for making decisions, the decisions often didn’t last when the guilt or fear wore off. Again, we didn’t use the phrase back then, but the tracts resulted in people making decisions instead of making people disciples.

Nonetheless, there were a few comments on Twitter from people who marked the reading of one of the little booklets as the beginning of their journey with Christ…

Our bookstore never stocked Chick tracts. There were a couple of the titles that concerned me, especially when Canada introduced its hate literature law. I wish the same energy had been poured into beautiful portrayals of the love of God instead of the hatred of those who disagree. I don’t know if Chick’s later works spoke to the issues raised in the U.S. by Islam, but I can see how such a title could be incendiary. (In fairness, there are some Bible narrative titles.)

Of course, it was partly because hardly anyone ever asked. Canadian Christians take a different course in sharing our faith, and while you’ll see some fish on the back of some vehicles, Christianity isn’t as mainstream as you find it south of The 49th Parallel…

…This was Chick’s legacy. Wikipedia describes his motivation for using comic art because he “was too shy to talk to people directly about religion.”  If you missed out on this particular aspect of Americana — difficult because the tracts were translated into over 100 languages — you can catch up with the full editions on the Chick Publications website.

 

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