There's a difference between literature and propaganda.

Literature is an art form. Any message the author wishes to convey is usually secondary to the story. Propaganda is any kind of communication used to send a message and influence the audience. The story is secondary to the message.

Despite the negative connotations we think of when we hear the word "propaganda," not all propaganda is bad. Some of it is actually done quite well. But any time you read something that smacks of preaching and sermonizing, know that you're reading something intended to influence you, and you need to have your guard up and think before you accept what you're being told.

Some propaganda doesn't even need that disclaimer.

"When God Whispers Loudly," by Chris M. Hibbard, is spectacularly un-subtle. We can see it from the title. We can see it from the blurb. We can all but predict that the topic will be handled with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to a nail. This will almost surely be a sermon in story form, and like many other Christian works before it, it will sacrifice artistic expression for preaching.

Then again, if you're looking up this story in the iBooks app of your iPhone, you may not be impressed. Nor should you be. The cover of this short story is a picture of a lake or a river, with smoke (or fog?) drifting through the trees, and the whole scene looks like it was run through a Photoshop filter.

There's not a lot of eye candy to really get anyone's attention. The biggest selling point is that it's free.

Maybe the moral is, "You get what you pay for." I guess we'll find out.

He was late, rushing to his daughter's piano recital from a job that took all his strength to leave while it was still daylight. Driving just a little over should get him to the recital before his daughter finished playing.

So far, it's decent. Within two sentences we know exactly where we are, what's happening, what the stakes are, and how this could go. We have a Christian character who's actually deeply flawed and somewhat relatable. He was expecting a promotion but found out it went to a bad coworker, and it may be our hero's fault. He's been putting his family first—which a good Christian dad should, natch—and apparently, he spent so much time with his family that his boss thought he was too busy to take the promotion. And now our hero's seething with resentment and indignation. He's hoping that when he goes to work tomorrow, he won't see the loser sitting in that office that he wanted so badly.

I kinda care about this guy.

But now the story starts to suffer. Check out this segue:

As if it were related . . .

Which means it IS related. Work on your subtlety, Hibbard; it's so unsubtle as to be obvious.

He felt disappointed his commitment to his family hadn't affected his children the way he'd hoped. In reality, he was angry it cost him his dream job.

In other words, he's spent so much time away from the office trying keep his children on the straight and narrow that, apparently, it cost him the promotion. So apparently, God's going to make him spend more time with his family by teaching him a lesson in an unusually harsh way.

And we know how He's going to do it.

The winding road on his route led him past an empty field before a sharp turn and a sign which read CAUTION.

Naturally, our witless wonder has no clue.

He thought of his wife's email, reminding him to leave work early for yet another of his children's activities. "Why do I have to sacrifice everything, and she only asks for more?"

Why does she want more of him than he's giving her? Probably because he's a workaholic and he won't take the time he needs to be with his family. Either that, or he's forgotten his Bible, which says wives are the "weaker vessel" (1 Peter 3:7) and created by God to be utterly dependent on their husbands.

I'm going with the first option. I doubt this guy is a total pig.

Anyway, our witless wonder is so drunk on his fury and so distracted by his shit day, he doesn't notice how dangerously wet the road is. Or that he's drifting out of his lane. Or that he's in the path of an oncoming lumber truck.

Maybe I should call him Wile E. Coyote.

As he swerved he prayed, "I didn't mean it—save me."

You could actually see that happening in a Looney Tunes episode.

Picture it: Wile E. Coyote's at the wheel and hoping to turn Road Runner into Road Kill. Just as the clueless canid rounds the bend, his face falls: Road Runner's driving a lumber truck straight at him. Right before the epic impact, Wile E. Coyote could hold up a sign while looking floppy-eared and bug-eyed into the camera: "I didn't mean it—save me."

Fortunately, that doesn't happen in our story. Our Wile E. (the human version) swerves and misses the truck. Unfortunately, there's an oak tree in his path. He hits it at an angle and the car goes a-tumbling. It does two flips and lands on its roof, and now our hero's hanging from his seatbelt.

That's the last thing he remembers before everything goes blank.

(Damn, I'm starting to feel sorry for this guy.)

The next thing Wile E. knows, he's in the hospital. There's chaos all around. He can't move. He's trying to stay awake—he's probably because he's wondering if he's paralyzed—but everything goes blank again, hopefully because the propofol and Versed are doing their job.

When he comes to, he's at home.

He sees a woman and a bunch of teens or twenty-somethings around his bed. Some are smiling, some are crying, some have their eyes closed (in prayer, no doubt). He recognizes the older woman—it's his wife—but he doesn't recognize the youngsters. At first, he thinks they're a youth group holding a prayer vigil—which of course means they're not. (I'm guessing they're his kids.) But of more immediate importance is whether he can actually move, which makes sense, because he couldn't move when he was back at the hospital.

Fortunately, Wile E.'s not paralyzed. (Hooray.) In fact, he's able to sit up. So he was comatose so long that he was released so he could be cared for at home, and now he's coherent enough to sit up. How long, exactly, did it take him to get his senses together?


Now his wife throws his arms around him. He feels completely awkward—not the kind of awkward we're feeling, but the kind of awkward that he'd feel if he were hugging a total stranger. He's been unconscious for so long that his own body doesn't even recognize hers. How long was Wile E. unconscious? Years? Or did he die and wake up in an incredibly dull version of Heaven?

Arms still around her half-conscious husband, Mrs. Wile E. delivers the most stilted, most unrealistic "welcome-back-from-the-halfway-dead" line ever:

"You're back, you're finally awake—I knew you'd come back to us."

Apparently, ladies and gentlemen, that's how we Americans speak in the twenty-first century.

At long last, Wile E. pops the big question: "How long was I unconscious?"

Mrs. Wile E. says, "Hmm, well, let's see. I've had an affair, another four kids, won the lottery, bought a house in Cozumel, Donald Trump made America great again, Joe Biden was President until the Cabinet invoked the 25th Amendment and made Kamala Harris the President, and then Kanye West became the President—"

OK, she doesn't say that.

No, she just tells him he's been comatose for fifteen years.

Yeah. He's been in a freaking coma for fifteen years.

Apparently, this is the god Chris Hibbard worships. This god won't do something more humane, like let you get fired from your job (cf. George Barclay in Adventures in Odyssey). Instead, he'll allow (or force) you to drive like an idiot, and He'll conveniently place a lumber truck in your path, so you could serve away and careen into a tree and nearly get yourself killed, and that way you can go into a coma and lose the next fifteen years of your life, just so you can learn to spend more time with your family.

That god is a dick.

That said, this sort of heavy-handed, spectacularly grotesque teaching tool is preventable. Just don't drive with your brain in your butt.

Problem solved.

To be continued...