Why We Love 'Add a Word, Ruin a Christian Book'
Her.meneutics writer Rachel Marie Stone began the hashtag #AddaWordRuinaChristianBook Monday morning. By that evening and late into the night, it became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in the U.S., with Christian leaders, authors, and bloggers joining in the online fun.
#AddaWordRuinaChristianBook is exactly how it sounds. Thousands of Twitter users inserted a new word into a popular Christian book title to change its meaning, then shared their new titles along with the #AddaWordRuinaChristianBook hashtag. (For example, in Rachel's honor, Annie Dillard's Teaching a Stone to Talk becomes Teaching a Rachel Stone to Talk.)
The results were ridiculous, clever, silly, and creative. In other words, they were just what the Christian Twittersphere needed, she said.
Trends like #AddaWordRuinaChristianBook may be short-lived and fun, but they also "require sense of religious literacy and tell us about popular opinions" among people of faith on social networks, according to Heidi Campbell, director of the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies at Texas A&M University. Religious memes, she says, are actually a clever 21st-century religious pursuit.
Stone—the author of Eat With Joy and a Presbyterian missionary living in Malawi—talks about her hashtag-gone-viral in a quick Q&A. Read all the way through for some of our favorite "ruined" Christian book titles, and suggest your own in the comments.
What made you start tweeting #AddaWordRuinaChristianBook?
Well, you know that thing that lots of people have pointed out: Christian sees secular thing and Christianizes it…#AddaWordRuinaMovie was giving me some good social media laughs over the weekend, and Monday morning I thought: "Why not try it with books?" But of course, there are too many books in the world. Better to narrow it down to one (broad) category of books. And then, of course, the guilty pleasure of making hamburger from sacred cow occurred to me.
Why is that a guilty pleasure?
I've always loved to play with words, and my dad's a pastor, so, naturally, I've been mocking Christian songs, books, and turns of phrase all my life. When I was very young my mom told me that "we" don't mock the words of hymns and such because it isn't nice. And yet, I've never been able to help myself.
I laughed harder than anyone the other night when my five-year-old son did some "Jesus Loves Me" improv and came up with Jesus loves me when I poop/Even though it makes him droop. (Presumably, from the odor.) Now, I realize that some folks might think that's a bit crude. But to me it gets at some significant things: first, that it is slightly naughty (and therefore funny) points to the fact that even at a young age, my son knows he's being irreverent by putting "Jesus" and "poop" together. But he's also—unwittingly of course—affirming something that's theologically essential: we have bodies, bodies that poop, and Jesus loves us. Poop and all.
What makes the best "Add a Word, Ruin a Christian Book" tweets so funny?
Let's make sure to really analyze that, because aren't all jokes better when you explain them? Ha!
Seriously, though, the great theorists of humor have often agreed that we laugh hardest and most about the things that make us uncomfortable, or that are otherwise taboo. We laugh about poop and we make jokes about death, and these things are right on the border of what we loathe, fear, or simply feel embarrassed by. Laughing lets a little bit of that tension go. And, of course, a lot of folks feel conflicted about God and about religion, and I think mocking Christian books is a little bit of a release valve for that tension. So for Reformed folks, Acne Break Out and I Declare Bankruptcy by Joel Osteen are guilty pleasures; for progressive evangelicals, Recovering FROM Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem releases another kind of tension. And books like He Touched Me Inappropriately by Benny Hinn release some of the ambiguity and frustration we feel about his deceitful antics in the name of God.
But most of the tweets have been pretty non-sectarian, and that makes me really happy—what's made me smile a ton over the past 24 hours—is seeing folks from all points on the theological and ecclesiastical spectrum joining in the joke. It's fun to see Cameron Strang of Relevant, Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition, Tim Challies, Susan Isaacs, and Eric Metaxas joining New Monastic folks, other neo-reformed people, progressive evangelicals and non-believers having a good laugh all together. It's just such a refreshing change from the frequent state of affairs in the Christian blog and Twittersphere, when people are at each others' throats.
So besides all that, what do you think made it go viral?
Oh, who knows? Dumb luck! But it's a great example of how creativity actually flourishes under constraints. 140 characters is a great length for book titles, even with an extra word, so no one's daunted by the fear it won't work. And the whole point is to be as absurd as possible, so no one's afraid to look silly because silliness is kind of the point. It's been so fun to watch. I'm usually the curmudgeonly one wringing my hands over how addicted everyone has become to their smartphones, but I've really enjoyed watching people chiming in and making what feels like Life Together, Laughing by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. G.K. Chesterton said that it's "the test of a good religion whether you can make a joke about it." Right now, it feels like #AddaWordRuinaChristianBook has helped us pass that test.
For the moment, anyway.
And now, some favorites:
The Book of Common Colds Prayer - @sarahbessey (The Book of Common Prayer)