Archive for May, 2011

This blog is written largely for a general audience, which means I try to stay away from the more inside-baseball aspects of Christianity. Somewhere in the Bible we are instructed to not air our dirty laundry of The Church in front of every one. Reading through the comments on an old blog entry here I was reminded why. One commenter, using a ‘church-language’ shorthand said something extremely offensive to a reader of another faith. While I thought the subsequent conversation about the issue was illuminating it hit me just how bad it is to conduct family business in the public square.

But I think this one conversation is probably ideal for this space because it addresses not only Christianity but my place in the secular world. And how to make it best work.

Much of the weekend at Mike Duran’s seemed to be consumed with Christians discussing the different approaches to writing fiction, which morphed into the different approaches to viewing and (ultimately) living life. It boiled down to how we all see the Biblical mandate of being “in the world but not of the world.”

There is no one verse which addresses this concept; there are five main verses which talk about the dichotomy (see halfway down the page here) , and of course the examples laid out in the four gospels and the book of the Acts of the apostles buttressed by the Pauline Epistles. In other words, pretty much the entire Christian Testament talks about the concept in a detail that can’t be boiled down succinctly into a bromide suitable for engraving on pencils.

I tend to be a lot less rigid on how I interpret the concept than some others. I watch R-rated movies, cable dramas about police and drug dealers and Romans and gunfighters building western towns. I read books about the same ideas and I listen to rock and roll music. I eat at restaurants which serve beer, wine and liquor, I wear pants and occasionally makeup. My ears are pierced. My dog is named after a Bob Dylan song, my house after a Warren Zevon lyric. (Given that Zevon died a Christian that may not count.)

But I’m a writer. We are many of us very practised at the idea of being here yet being on the fringes to watch the rest of the folk going about their business. My new friend Johne Cook does speculate that perhaps we become writers because our oddness stuck us on the fringe first. Given the fact that I was a fringe-dweller before I was out of the closet as a writer, he’s probably correct. Nevertheless, I’m quite used to the idea of not quite fitting in. (For what it’s worth, I don’t quite fit in the Church culture either. No kids=automatic outsider.)

So what do I think it means to live In the world but not Of it? To me it means weighing everything I hear and see against my head-knowledge and heart-knowledge of the faith. It means striving to always remember in every setting that my words and actions reflect on the beliefs I’ve proclaimed. Granted, it’s a lot easier to be Not Of This World if I never talk to non-Christians except to hector them for doing non-Christian things. But I find that lifestyle boring. I happen to think God gave me certain skills and gifts because God wanted me in specific places doing specific things. I’m sure there are others whose gifts dictate that their version of In, Not Of looks quite different from mine.

God made every person, and therefore every Christian, unique. So how we deal with our humanity is going to vary. The important thing is that at the end of the day the rest of the world know us for the Christians we claim to be AND don’t walk away from interacting with our Christian selves with a bad taste in their mouths.

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I had sworn I wouldn’t read these, because I’d been told they had cannibalism. On the short list of things that freak me out (clowns, heights, the dentist), cannibalism is at the top. I can handle a lot of topics but anything to do with people eating other people makes me upset in a way that transcends description. So I figured these weren’t the books for me. There were other run-ins with people that prejudiced me against the books (one woman who thought Harry Potter was evil but this book about children killing children was just dandy, ripping fun) and I figured I could live without reading them.

Fast forward to this spring, when two people whose intellectual mettle I respect both read them for the first time. I gave in and bought the first one, saving it to read for my birthday.

The only cannibalism in the first book was a mention that it had happened before and was now outlawed. So I was at ease and breezed through The Hunger Games in about three hours. It was one of those quick, compulsive reads. A good story told with an economy of words that fit the subject matter. I didn’t feel like I was drowning in gore or grimness and the world of the story came well alive in the manner of fairy and folk tales. I liked the book very much. So I dived right into book two, Catching Fire.

That second book expanded nicely upon the world building, showing the protagonists what life was like outside of their walled district. We learned more backstory of ancillary characters and repeated the jeopardy scenario of the first book in a way that worked oddly well. But by the time it was over I found myself rooting through our medicine drawer in search of an old SNRI scrip. The relentless misery of the world of Panem was overtaking me. It was either the Vanity Fair of The Capitol, the Dickensian poverty and lash of the Districts or the desperate, senseless violence of the Arena. What love exists in the book is mocked and denied by the heroine. Katniss clearly knows how to wound, with or without a bow.

I knew I was in trouble when, in an author interview, the books’ creator listed her favourite books. I do not kid when I say that her favourite books were my LEAST favourite books. All of them are dark and dismal accounts of the world–Lord of the Flies, Anna Karenina, Slaugherhouse Five–and that was the story she ended up telling.

Collins clearly had a gripping idea that would have made for a solid one-off novel. We could have had the whole first book, the first half of the second book and the rounded it out with a conclusion which was thematically consistent and true to the characters.

Instead, Collins pads the second book with a rerun (“let’s do The Hunger Games AGAIN”) and then completely goes off the rails in Book Three.

I hate books where the author so obviously has a contempt for her audience and her characters. That contempt blended with her realization that the popularity of the first two books gave her a bully pulpit. So she threw everything that people loved about books 1 & 2 (strong heroine, intriguing romantic options, real and surrogate familial relationships, sense of place) and threw them out the window. In their place Collins gives us an “eff you, war is hell/suck it up” mishmash. She gets to belabor the point about War, What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothin’ for page after page. Katniss turns from self-sacrificing, self-assured huntress to a cowering, selfish mess. The characters who aren’t killed in order to keep hitting us over the head with her point get to become wholly unrecognizable and completely unsympathetic.

I venture to guess that most readers of these books knew already that War Is Teh Badness. They read YA books about strong heroines conquering darkness as an edifying escape. But Collins wanted to be more than a YA storyteller. And she became less.

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“They’re reading us a book in SuperChurch!. And it’s about WITCHES. Mrs. Dubach said it was okay, though, because it’s a Christian book.”

Despite the reassurances of Margo Dubach, my 10-year-old self was not entirely sure my parents–the same parents who forbade Bewitched and witch costumes at Halloween–would be on board with this new scheme. SuperChurch! was what we kids were supposed to do during the regular service, and I was already miffed at that idea; I preferred the sermons and reading the sex parts of the Bible during announcements to stomping around in Fellowship Hall to the vaguely antisemitic theological void that was “Father Abraham”. Having a witch book of all things read to us seemed to be pushing it.

“It’s okay, honey. It’s by C.S. Lewis. He’s a Christian writer and the story is actually about Jesus. It’s an allegory.”*

That was the first time I realised that there was some sort of Cloak Of Invincibility around this Lewis fellow. Shortly after that exchange, a dog-eared copy of That Hideous Strength appeared in the book rack of our motorhome and my father read it on one of our weekend camping trips. My father. Read a science-fiction book. The cover left no doubt as to what kind of book it was, and it had been a long time since I’d seen my dad reading anything without spies, WWII planes or vicars being poisoned.

Who was this Lewis fellow, and what made him so great?

It’s thirty years down the road. SuperChurch! is long gone, as is my father’s brief flirtation with Sci Fi and our Southwind camper with the brown-and-rust interior. But C.S Lewis is still around, and like Ben Kenobi he grows stronger after death, his spirit directing all around him. I myself love the man’s ways of thinking and writing. He holds a special place in my heart for holding several of the same ideals as I do–a love of theology and a love of the fantastic, the whimsical, the escapist. He’s also a writer, and while I’ll never be half the writer he was, I still feel like we swim in the same odd streams that others of the non-scrivener life just don’t understand.

But I’m getting concerned. Because lately it seems like the late Irish Oxonian has been elected as the First Saint of the Evangelical Church. People who used to hang Psalm magnets on their refrigerators have moved on to cooler decorations with the words of Lewis. Two Christmases ago my mother bought my husband a C.S. Lewis devotional; devotionals to accompany scripture are as common as air and as varied as fish, so that’s really not that big a deal I suppose. But everywhere I go it seems that Lewis is being held out as the SuperChristian! whose imprimateur sanctifies the basest of activities. Scratch the “saint” thing. I think he may be our Pope.

Now it seems that about six months ago there was another chapter in the Pope Pius Clive I saga. HarperCollins has released a C.S. Lewis Bible.

MMM-HMMMM. Yep. A Bible. Not by God. Or Q. Or Whomever you hold with writing it, but “by C.S. Lewis”, according to HarperCollins. (Insert atheistic fairy tale joke here, Sean.)

And now some Christians are mad because this particular Bible is, unlike Lewis (as if they could read his dead mind), a gender-neutral and egalitarian version. In short, God isn’t always called “he” or “him”. According to the fellow who started the petition against the Lewis Bible, such a philosophy goes against his (Lewis’) beliefs and is therefore inappropriate for a Bible bearing his name.

Huh? Not that it is inappropriate to have a Bible bearing a person’s name…no. We’re just fine with that. Even though unlike other Bibles bearing a teacher’s name this is not the C.S. Lewis STUDY Bible. Just the C.S. Lewis Bible. Because, after all, it seems that many of us are starting to believe that C.S. Lewis was born not in Belfast but Bethlehem.

*I had a weird upbringing. Or I was a weird child. Or both. But yes, I DID know what an allegory was at 10.

**Readers of this blog and other writings of mine may have noticed that while I generally hold to Complimentarianism and Difference Feminism, I also believe that God is transcendent of gender. When I write or speak of God I strive to stay away from either gender-indicative pronoun. (In fact, I stay away from pronouns altogether, with the exception of I in I AM, when speaking or writing of God as I personally have come to believe that a pronoun for God is dismissive and disrespectful. It’s not a belief rooted in anything other than eccentricity)

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I really and truly am content with my life and the way it has played out.

But every now and then I will come across an item we bought in anticipation of the baby we were trying to have for years and years. There’s the Humphrey’s Corner lamp we got at Tuesday Morning, the anniversary edition of A.A. Milne’s complete Winnie The Pooh and several old baby books from my last job. Most of the things are put into storage against I know not what. Souveneirs of a life that might have been, I suppose.

It doesn’t make me sad to come across them. Not in the same way I am sad when I pass by the ashes of my departed Casey. It makes my heart ache for that other woman who lost all those years to disappointment and heartache. It makes me wistful for my twenties–a decade many people spend hanging out and going to parties and barbecues and waterskiing. A decade that woman spent in the gynecologist’s office and hovering on every fertility chat group and website ever created. I know that woman was me, but in a way she really wasn’t entirely the me I am now because she hadn’t learned to let go of the bad dreams and embrace the good things right in front of her.

I’m glad I’ve got those souveniers, from the time I toured heartache and stubbornness and ingratitude.

It really is very appropriate that all of the items are childish in nature.

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In case you hadn’t picked up on it from reading a post here and there I need to be upfront and say that I love books. I think that writing is nearly God’s greatest gift to mankind, superceded only by our eternal souls and the salvation thereof. Libraries are hallowed places to me, where ideas are freely available. Lending libraries are, to me, allegorical to God’s Grace. There is that great gift, mystical and nearly painful to ponder at length and all free for the taking.

So, yeah. I’m in to books.

But the volumes themselves–the cloth, board, binding and paper–are really just vehicles that convey the true essence (or soul, if we want to belabour an already fraying analogy) of the author’s work. While I get a real kick out of the feel of a heavy cream stock or a deckle-edged signature of pages I am not wedded to that method of delivery.

As a zealot alot about Kindle, I’m used to the number one objection from Bibliophiles and poseurs alike when presented with the concept of e-readers in general. “I just really like books.” Okay. The more I think about it the more it would be like saying “I just really love my parents” as a justification for parking forty Chrysler Sebrings in my yard. The people and ideas you love are seperable from the vehicles in which they travel from place to place.

So now that Borders has finally decided to partner with Kobo and get on the e-Reader train they are flogging the upcoming Kobo Touch e-reader with e-Ink. In a promotion that has all the flopsweat of a dying man juggling for the king to avoid the axe, Borders is emailing save-the-dates to everyone. They want to boost excitement so they’ve decided to tout the (for now) unique operating structure.

Yep. Just like reading a REAL book.

Just. Like.

You know, I did, until yesterday, feel very sorry for Borders. I really loved going on buy ‘n’ browse trips to the West End Store, and many a perfect date with my spouse included that element. They did a great job merchandising their products and their buyers had a knack for selecting products that underscored the romance of the reading experience. I hated that their buggywhip paradigm was crippling them in this dawn of a new medium. Until yesterday.

Because any book store that doesn’t get the fact that a Real Book is the collection of thoughts and ideas conveyed by the author through words and pictures doesn’t deserve to call itself a book store. They can call themselves a paper/binding/cloth/board/glue store. Because that is apparently what was REAL to them.

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For a few decades now I have been possessed of a bizarre superstition. I believe that how I spend the first day of a year will serve as a template for how the rest of that year will play out. I know it sounds odd to treat a day like a thesis statement for a block of forward time, but over the years I definitely see how it is not without merit.

Example: Last year on my birthday I’d had a new dog for exactly a week and was exhausted, sick and tired. I spent most of the day in bed and in pain but actually forced myself to leave the house for some food so that I wouldn’t be sentenced to a year of housebound pain. But I will say without hesitation that I had a very painful year last year, even by my already-odd standards.

So this year I’ve been pushing myself to do the things I want to be doing all year, making sure that I have a much more entertaining, much less bleak thesis statement. So I’ve studied, written, read, interacted, exercised and laughed. In fact, I’m pounding out this second blog entry of the day in a clear effort to bribe this next year into giving me more fruitful writing times.

I am well aware of how queer this practice is. How “start as you mean to go on” doesn’t mean what I seem to be acting like it means. But it IS fun to in some small way write your own story of your own days.

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So this is another week where my GoT Liveblog is delayed by my real life goings-on. I finally had the long-awaited (by me, at least) GoT viewing party. There were two dab-hand book fans in the room, one book initiate and one complete novice. And we burned through all six hours of show with meat and mead and day-early birthday cake.

I was fine when the lance with through Ser Hugh Of The Vale’s throat. I bore up well when the horse was decapitated, when the daggar went through Jory Cassel’s eye and when Dany choked down the horse’s heart.

But when Tyrion rolled over to the edge of his cell in the Eyrie I let out a primal scream more often heard in horror movies than real life. I think I terrified everyone there–aside from my husband who has watched me go literally catatonic on the “improved” Tower of Terror. I am, you see, slightly afraid of heights.*

*I once made the server at the now-defunct Planet Hollywood Nashville move us to a table away from the railing on the oh-so-perilous second floor. Nobody ask me why I live in a house with an open interior balcony. It was part of my therapy.

Now that we’re slightly more than halfway in I think I’m getting used to the rhythm of the show. I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that it isn’t going to be the rich tapestry of the books, and I’m striving to be content with what I’ve been given. Still, I’m a bit miffed that we’ve had to add in “Roz, The Winterfell Town Bicycle” and at the same time had to lose the dire wolves. I know that it would get tedious, perhaps, to some folk to see what might seem like endless scenes of wolves ripping out throats. It’d start to feel like Westeros Judge Judy (Oh no, not another frakking Pit Bull Case….) But honestly, I have to be honest and say that the dire wolves were what kept me reading in the first place. And I know that they are the mythos around which Martin crafted the whole story. So having them not even on-set during Winterfell scenes feels hollow to me. Let alone not having the wolf involvement in the Wildings’ attack on Bran.

But that’s such a small quibble for a show that gives us so much to love. How much of a gilty pleasure was that *clank!* when Viserys’ whiny head, encased in molten gold, hit the ground?!? As grand as that was in the books, there was a more visceral sense of conclusion to both see and hear it happen.

Of course you and I both know that Tyrion’s confession at the Eyrie was going to be one of those scenes which passes into legend. It’s too perfect in it’s utter ballsy-ness, while at the same time makes anyone else my age miss Chunk from Goonies. Don’t fret too much, you boob-sucking Robin. We all want to know what happened with the Jackass and the Honeycomb in the brothel.

With all those wonderful goings-on, my money for Best Scene is at the moment placed squarely on the scene where Stark tells his daughters they are all leaving Kings Landing to return north. It was one of the few scenes where the writers decided to step out of the way a bit and let the actors cooperate in telling the story with facial expressions, gestures and light dialogue. The byplay between Ned and Arya while Sansa** is pining away for that roachturd Joffrey is delightful, and more necessary then it would at first seem.*** And as the girls’ totally realistic sibling-sniping starts to penetrate Ned’s thick skull, we realise that Westeros has been invaded by the Mystery Machine. The meddling kids solve the Great Mystery for Ned and the can of incest worms is opened at last. Mama Ptolemy there’d be days like this….

**I found out from another book that those shrunken heads in the Amazon from which all the brains and guts have been removed are called Tsantsas. Pronounced the same way. Tell me Martin did that on purpose. Please.

***That’s going to be one of the moments Arya looks back on when she’s ‘Arry and Cat Of The Canals. And it will be part of what keeps her going.

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This is the last Friday that I’m 40. My birthday is Monday and I’m partially psyched.

I always love my birthday, and wax rhapsodic about it. But a MONDAY birthday? Eh. That’s like having a colonoscopy on your wedding day. “Don’t worry, sweetie! You’ll get the bad stuff out of the way in the morning and then you can celebrate in the evening.” Please.

I imagine it’s worse now for the little kids. At least when I was a child parents were allowed to bring in cupcakes, candies or other assorted birthday treats. For awhile there–from about third to fifth grade–it started to turn into one of those Mother One-Upmanship deals where all the moms tried to prove to the others that they were the coolest by bringing the most inventive treat. Man, was that awesome! Cupcakes baked into icecream cones, tiny baskets made of rice krispie treats and filled with candy…it was a child’s paradise. Now I hear that those sorts of things are banned by the health patrol (what a fascist state this is turning into) so any kid with a Monday birthday is just left with a Monday birthday.

I’ve begun to infer from the culture around me that it is appropriate to make up new rules about one’s birthday once one turns 40. Some people stop celebrating them, which is sort of like refusing to take a shower because of your water bill. Other people refuse to acknowledge their actual age, thinking it cute to say they are “39 PLUS!” Man, I fought all my childhood to be grown-up. I think it’s a cheat to turn my back on adulthood now. I love being 40, almost 41. Granted there are times where I am shocked at the thought of how little time I have left, but I figure what the heck. It goes down easier if you celebrate. Anyway, the rule I made–and I think I may have said this before–is to always celebrate on Memorial Day weekend now. It’s always right there rubbing shoulders against my birthday anyway. Depending on how the calendar falls it sometimes IS my actual birthday. So I’m embracing the national holiday as a chance to Memorial my Birthday and not being so bummed about this Monday Birthday deal.

I also need to warn you all who know me about next year. Next year is the big birthday and I intend to celebrate it in monumental style. It’s my 42nd and we will be having a gigantic Don’t Panic! She’s Mostly Harmless! Meaning of it All Celebration. Save the date now, friends.

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Never subscribe to a health magazine run by drug companies.

All of their health tips are pulled off Wikipedia OR involve the drugs made by the company who runs it.

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If you’d asked me ten years ago how I’d feel about having every episode of Sports Night available to watch whenever, wherever I wanted I would have been so enraptured you would have had to scrape me off the ceiling. I loved that show with its smart, savvy content and witty banter.

Now it is on Netflix Instant Viewing and the other night I watched three episodes in a row. Boy, does Aaron Sorkin’s method become both obvious and tedious after awhile! It’s funny because I’d still say that Sorkin is my favourite writer for visual media because he manages to create intelligent dialogue that at least partially captures the nuance of controversial positions. Even though he and I are diametrically opposed on just about every major category, I still appreciate his work. But I have a new rule. No more than three Sports Nights in a row.

I was watching those shows to take a break from reading. I’ve been in a pretty heavy read cycle and I’ve learned that when that happens I need to force a break from the book world to let my mind ride a different track for awhile. I used to just switch books but I’ve started to realise that doesn’t prevent brain-cramp as well as a total change. It’s hard because more and more lately I’ve been hit with the realisation that life is finite and so are the amount of books I’m able to read. So I’m cramming them down as fast as I can.

Although I must say that with more and more of them I am realising I won’t regret leaving them unread.

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