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Archive for May, 2012

They say people get crushes on other people who are unattainable so that the emotions of infatuation can be enjoyed without the threat of actual intimacy with the object of one’s affections. I used to get crushes on older guys in school (I went to a school that had 12 grades, so we’re talking Seniors, not fifth graders) but my parents ended up knowing the boys’ parents and there were mortifying dinners with the objects of my affections. Is it any wonder I began to turn to those who were long dead?

Well, I also claim that my historic crushes are valid because a boy who is a senior in high school may be able to drive a car, a celebrity may be able to get a good table at a hip restaurant. But these men I love in my heart of hearts? They unite nations, create an economy and tower above everyone else as they stand on the twin boosts of myth and power. Of course we’ve all discussed Abraham Lincoln at length–ha!–and my love for him is no secret.

I’ve mentioned before that another one of my less-talked-about-but-still-fervant historic heroes is Eamon De Valera.

De Valera is the fellow in the middle with the mustache. This was taken after one of his many arrests.

Others call him “Dev”, but he was known to dislike this appelation. Sometimes I call him “Val” because it’s less of a tongue twister than the whole thing.

Oh, right. Who is he? Well, the short version is that he’s the son of an Irish mother, his father is a mystery. His mother came to America to have him, and then sent him right back to Ireland with her brother. He became an Irish freedom fighter; his American birth saved him. When others were executed the British government held the bullet for De Valera because they didn’t want to anger the United States by killing one of its citizens. (They were trying to get the U.S. into WWI, I believe.) De Valera lived and went on to become the father of modern Ireland. He’s essentially a mix of Paul Revere, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. (Like Jefferson in France, De Valera turned the fortunes of Ireland with a trip to America whereby the revolution and nascent state were funded.)

So where am I going with this? Well, last week I bought a book called Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show by Frank Delaney.

Have you ever read a book that leaves a bruise on your soul? This was that book for me. It’s so beautifully written that I found myself highlighting thoughts and passages where the words fit together more rightly than words ever have done anywhere else. The story is allegorical, using one man’s struggles with his family to mirror the nascent Irish state. So while the wording is beautiful and the book feels more Irish than any other thing it also bit into my mind with the hot vinegar of venial people. I kept trying to set it aside but there were stirring passages about de Valera scattered throughout, with promises of more to come. So I soldiered on–pun intended–through to the end.

I’m still carrying around all those miserable people and their horrible ventriloquist’s dummy. I wish they would leave my head, but they won’t. At least I also have great images of de Valera in there as well, the Long Fella saving the country yet again.

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I need there to be a top post other than the one I left up from last week. So I’ve dragged my stone-passing carcass down to my desk to put something here. That last post had 72 comments, several of which made me feel all warm fuzzy inside. Apparently reading my blog is, to some people, worse than having a root canal from Laurence Olivier. As a writer the knowledge that my blog is a plague-infested cesspage makes me feel…weird. Oh well. I live weird. I’ll die weird.

So last week I was reading The Unquiet Bones by Mel Starr. It’s one of those mysteries, like Brother Caedfel, that is set in “medieval” times. I put that in quotes because every one of these books is pretty anachronistic in their own way. I’m glad I’m only a part-time medieval scholar. As nuts as some of the stuff makes me, I can only imagine how Certain People (nm, I’m looking at you) feel about it. Anyway, in this book the protagonist is a Surgeon who solves murders for his lord. I read it because I’m a nut for anything involving the history of medicine and historical medical practice. I’d prefer to read primary source accounts but on occasion a narrative with some tidbits of historical medicine thrown in is a fun thing. At least I hope so, given that’s what one of my books is about.

I’m going on about this because one of the procedures the guy (I cannot remember his name. This is the curse of first person story telling.) performed was the removal of a large bladder stone. I will not go into details, but trust me when I say that I honestly think that death would be preferable to what he did. I also think that the pain would be so bad that the patient would pass out. So anyway, on these days when my first inclination is to whine about my lot it really helps to think about the myriad ways I’ve actually got it pretty good.

You know what I find really interesting, and what will amuse some of those people who have known me for a very long time? The fact that so many people who read my last two posts think I’m a liberal. Liberal politically, liberal Christianity-wise. And while some of my best friends are liberals (dolphin, that’s one for you :) ) and I truly love the company of my liberal compatriots, I think pretty much all of them will agree that they tolerate Coble in spite of her conservative positions.

Yes. I did just refer to myself in the third person. I think that’s my cue to stop rambling. Anyway. At least there’s something new when I open the page.

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In my comments section of the earlier post, Dolphin raises a sticking point with me.

A few years ago the Barna Group did a study and found that when Americans aged 16-29 (both christian and non-christian) were asked to come up with a word or phrase that described Christianity, the TOP answer (not one of the top, but the very top most common answer) given was “anti-gay.”[ed. note: added links are mine]

Not “believes in unity with God”; not “feeds the hungry, clothes the poor, opens hospitals around the world”. They don’t know we are Christians by our love but by our anger.

A couple of days ago Christian minister Rachel Held Evans addressed this very issue. Her post title was How to win a culture war and lose a generation.

Most feel that the Church’s response to homosexuality is partly responsible for high rates of depression and suicide among their gay and lesbian friends, particularly those who are gay and Christian.

In her post yesterday, Rebecca Luella Miller–who is a very nice person but also very opposite me on some of these issues–said

Since when did adults surrender standards of right and wrong to our children?

I’ve been pondering these things a great deal. During this internal questioning my mind has flashed back to the Frank Peretti. In one of his books (I’m sorry I can’t recall which one) he portrays a cabal of feminists and homosexual community leaders as working in a unified bloc to conspire the downfall of the Church. I’ve read countless articles and blog entries that say the same thing. There are many Christians who believe that we as Christians are in a war with Satan. Wait. I’m one. I believe that too. But then my question becomes this. What, exactly, are we fighting FOR?

There is one belief that says we are fighting for the rightness of God’s Word. Fighting to assert the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This group seems to see homosexuals as the forefront of Satan’s Army, pushing an agenda to defeat God.

Let’s pretend for a minute that this is completely true.
1. If we believe in the sovereignty of God, why do we fear any group of men?
2. If our God can be defeated by mankind’s beliefs and actions, what use is it to believe in that God? (Dolphin also asks this, rightly.)
3. If this Cabal exists, who are the enemy? The gay people or the Satan who is presumed to be guiding them?

Now, I happen to believe (because the Bible I believe in tells me so, and I’ve seen it and felt it and been in it) that we are in a war with the forces of Evil. Our scripture is pretty plain when it says we do not war against flesh and blood. Gay people are not the enemy. Abortion doctors are not the enemy. Women who don’t shave their legs and believe that abortions are ok are not the enemy. We have an enemy, that’s for sure.

But again I ask “what are we fighting for?”

I have been struck repeatedly over the last 20 years with the growing realisation that our desire to be ‘proven right’ is an earthly thing. I happen to think that this is the way Satan is tricking the Church. Our Fruit of The Tree of The Knowledge of Good And Evil is this. We want everyone to know what is Good and what is Evil. And we seem to be left with death. People are fleeing the churches in great numbers. We are perceived as haters of mankind and hypocrites against our own God’s directions.

Maybe, just maybe, if satan is using anyone he might be using our own pride and desire to be seen as right against us.

Jesus said that if all people were silent, the stones would cry out in honour of God. God doesn’t NEED us to acknowledge the I AM. But God did call us to carry the message of eternal love and
perfect peace to everyone. That’s our mission. That’s what I’m fighting for. I’m fighting for the right to let Hope out of the box. I want by the time I die for that poll to say “#1 They bring hope”.

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I’ve debated about posting this because I know it’s controversial right now. I know many folks are going to disagree with me and I’m prepared to deal with that, I guess. But at this point it comes down to needing to explain my position to folks on both sides of the issue. I feel like I come across in some fora as equivocating.

First, the basics: I am a Christian who practices according to Mennonite faith traditions. I am married to a man I met in college and have been in this marriage for 21 years. It’s one of the happiest and most blessed features of my entire life. I also have homosexuals with whom I am very close.

That’s who I am. That’s what shapes my worldview and gives me this response to the question at hand.

In my mind there are two sides to marriage. My marriage especially. We had to get a license from the state of Indiana, just like we’d get to drive a car or to sell liquor or to put a deck on the back of our house. But then we were also married in the Evangelical Mennonite Church. To do THAT we had to attend counseling sessions with the pastor, make a declaration of faith and have a church ceremony complete with communion, where we dedicated our marriage to the Lord just as we dedicated ourselves when we elected to be baptised. In my mind I have two marriages. The one from Indiana and the one from God.

As far as I’m concerned, anyone of consenting adult age should be able to get the marriage license from whatever state they live in. Once we made marriage part of the State’s business and started handing out little treats and favours to encourage monogamy I think we owe it to people to say “go ahead.” After all, we wouldn’t deny a business license to someone because they were black or Muslim or a woman. We should have the same approach to marriage licensure that we do to others. Yes, there are some restrictions–you can’t drive a car under 16 without a farm waiver. Nor can you marry your sister. You can’t get a non-profit corporation status and earn a profit–nor can you marry more than one person at a time. (I’ll address polygamy another day.) It just makes no sense to me that we are using our religious objections to prevent a civil licensure.

By the same token, my Evangelical Mennonite church of my childhood believes that gays cannot be married in the eyes of God. So I don’t think that they should be forced by the law to allow homosexuals to have their weddings there. Of course that church also taught me that Divorce was an abomination in the eyes of God and that remarriage after divorce was a constant state of adultery. So why they are conducting weddings between people who have been divorced is something I question. We claim to hold marriage to a Christic standard within the church itself and yet we relax those standards in other cases all the time.

Do I believe Homosexuality is a sin? Frankly I don’t think what I believe on this issue matters. I’m not the one who offers redemption from sin. I’m not the one who offers punishment for sin. I do believe that everyone has been separated from God by our human, unholy natures and we enter into a relationship with Jesus so that we can once again speak with God. Part of that relationship is what we Christians call “the indwelling of The Holy Spirit”. That means that we get God with us at all times, affecting how we see the world and how we respond to things. Listening to the Holy Spirit in your life is one of the constant struggles for Christians, because we are so prone to letting ourselves talk over what the Spirit is telling us. But if you’re a Christian you’ve got the Holy Spirit and that will inform you of sin and wrong thought and action. God is God and I’m content to let God be that. I’ll let the Holy Spirit talk to Christians about whatever is in their personal life and how God wants them to handle it. I’m not God’s hall monitor, appointed to hand out tickets to people with their sins listed thereon.

I do know that if you aren’t a Christian you aren’t expected to abide by Christian doctrines and covenants. Why should you be? I’m not a Muslim; I don’t pray toward Mecca five times a day and I drink Coke. I’m not Hindu; I eat beef. So why should I expect people who aren’t Christians to act like Christians?

I do, however, expect Christians to act like Christians. That means, principally, that we love everyone regardless. Just the way God loves us. It also means that if something about someone else offends us or harms us we turn the other cheek. Even if you argue that the existence of Homosexuals being certified as married by the State harms the church-based institution of marriage you….that’s right…turn the other cheek. I personally don’t see how any more harm can be done to marriage than what we as a Church have already done. So it seems very arrogant to say now “we’ve broken our toys, and so you can’t have a toy because ours are broken and your toy will just make ours look more broken and busted.”

Then there’s the issue of Romans. I keep seeing people pulling out that Romans 1 listing of all the sins out there, because that listing includes homosexuality. (Along with a lot of other things…)

But there’s one phrase that keeps getting left out. God gave them over.

Whenever these things are listed everyone insists that we have to curb them in society because they’re sins. But the Bible itself says that God gave them over. What does that mean to us? Well, it means that we can and should tell people about God in whatever strength we’re given. We can and should let them find God using the roadmaps we’ve provided. But God tells us that, unless people are Christians they can do whatever. They aren’t expected to act like Christians.*

So all of this boils down to one thing for me. I think the only response we as Christians can have to the issue of marriage is to allow state-sanctioned marriages to be open to all citizens of the state.

In return I would ask that homosexuals extend the courtesy to the various religions that they continue to practice religious marriage in whatever manner their faith proscribes.

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*There are Gay Christians. And I believe that since they’re Christians they’ve got the Holy Spirit and their chosen church fellowships to deal with and where they stand with God is between them and God.

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I am at the intersection of several articles and comments, and they are setting my brain achurn. Over at the Nashville Scene, Betsy Phillips is talking about her most recent thoughts on the Obesity Frightfest. Over at Tiny Cat Pants, Aunt B. is talking about how scary the world can be for a fat person, especially when we see people hiding behind anonymity to tell us that all fat people are loathsome beasts who lack self-control and self-discipline.

Elsewhere people are talking about how if you are obese you will live to 95, but you’ll spend many of those years ::shock:: disabled. Then the comments veer into disgust at all the fat people one sees in wheelchairs and on scooters who are obviously too lazy to walk and too monstrous to eat like a “normal” person.

Two of my cousins–both of them young men, both of them “normal” weight–have been diagnosed with autoimmune disease in the last six months. As much as I hate it for them, there is a part of me who is relieved to no longer be alone on the island of misfit toys. I’m also very relieved to have other genetic links to the autoimmune chain. My mom put out some feelers to other parts of the family and now we’re digging up multiple relatives who have Crohn’s, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Hashimodo’s, Chronic Fatigue, and the dread catch-all Fibromyalgia. It seems that many people in my gene pool have been stricken. Our only fault is to have been born.

It’s not what we eat–some of us are fat, some not fat. It’s not our education level–we all have some degree of college, some of us have graduate degrees. It’s not ignorance–with the exception of me, all the stricken are either children of doctors or nurses or are nurses or doctors themselves. It’s not lack of exercise–before I was sick I danced and ran and weight-trained. My cousins played golf relentlessly, obsessively. It’s not what we eat–Some of us are vegetarians. Some of us eat red meat every day. It’s not where we live–we are scattered all over the world, from Michigan to Africa.

It’s just how the genetic throw of the dice landed for us. The same genes that gave us all happy homes with hardworking, intelligent parents who believed in sacrificing for their children’s education had to come up snake eyes at some point. And this is that point.

I know we Americans like to believe that our choices can control every outcome. We also have this eerie pastime of looking at others’ outcomes and attempting to divine their negative choices of the past. (“That wouldn’t happen if you didn’t have a baby at 14.” “That’s what happens when you eat too much.”) This culture needs to get over that festering self-determinism, because that is just not how the world works.

Bad things happen to good people because bad things happen to everyone. And they HAPPEN. Sure some things you can bring on yourself. Drive drunk and you just may kill yourself or someone else. Stab yourself and you’ll bleed. But you know what? Sometimes you are struck with depression or disability or disease because that’s just how life happens. The sooner you realise that, the sooner you stop trying to place blame and start trying to learn how to drive around the curves in the course the better off you’ll be.

And the sooner everyone stops trying to dig through the dank middens of other peoples’ pasts to blame them for things the better off we’ll all be.

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I’ve protested in this space before the marketing playbook of various Christian publishers over the last two years. Since series fiction is what most of them do best–or do most, anyway–many of the publishers of fiction aimed at Christian readership have adopted the time-honoured “first taste is free” marketing ploy shared by dealers of all manner of nonessential product. They’ll give you book one of the series for nothing, assuming that you’ll be back for books 2-59.

There are all manner of authors and readers protesting this method, but for the most part things have settled into a pattern. As long as the publishers are upfront about the religious content there isn’t too much dissatisfaction. But after today I have another huge qualm with the “try it instead of buying it” scheme.

Today I read a book from Bethany House publishing called Out of Mormonism by Judy Robertson. It retails for $10 (too much, I think) but I downloaded it for free a few weeks ago.

According to Goodreads, so did many other people.

Most of them are not Christians. But they were curious about Mormonism, as is much of the world with Mitt Romney in the spotlight, so they saw this free book and grabbed away. If they were expecting a book like any of the other “I’m no longer a woman in Mormonism” memoirs, they were disappointed. I’ve read many of those other books–most by women who’ve left fundamentalist sects–and they’re all pretty salacious, bordering on gossipy with lots of thirteen year old girls marrying seventy year old Prophets and that type of thing. This book on the other hand is pretty typical for a conservative Christian testimony, complete with the personal revelation from the Holy Spirit.

And therein lies my problem. There are certain aspects of Christianity which are by no means secret but are also by no means clearly intelligible to people who are not in the faith. A Christian understands when another Christian talks about hearing God’s voice, or having scripture revealed to them by the spirit. It’s part and parcel of participation in a mystery religion. While I’m not ashamed of this and will talk about it freely when asked, I also think it’s very important that we realise how these inside baseball terms come across to those outside the fence.

Frankly, if I weren’t a Christian and I downloaded this book free on Amazon I’d think that Christians and Mormons were equally crazy and that Mrs. Robertson was flat out delusional. She honestly doesn’t make a good case for herself at all; they started out Christian but only “social Christians”* and converted to Mormonism after a hardsell because all the Mormons seemed like “the finest people you’d ever meet.” After seven years of devoted Mormon living, during which she also struggled with depression, Judy Robertson had a moment of revelation from Jesus Christ one early morning. So she and her husband reconverted to Christianity, this time paying closer attention to what they were doing.

Now they make their living out of teaching against the Mormon faith.

So I have to wonder if giving this book away to just anybody is the right call. If we are trying to reach people with the Gospel, what good does it do to throw something like this–poorly written, facile, mean-spirited and full of inside terminology–out there?


*That’s a term used within the church for people who participate in church activities but are not in a devoted, personal relationship with Christ. It is not a term we apply to other people, generally. We don’t say “Hey, Jerry, you’re a social Christian.” But we will say in a testimony that ‘until I was 19 I was a Social Christian’.

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I’ve been hanging out in a few of the fora for Game Of Thrones–The TV Series Suggested By The Novels, which should come as a surprise to exactly no one.

Every week the show inspires the same reactions. People complain about the nudity. People complain about the violence. Somebody raves on and on about some tertiary character they think is “hot” and how much they wish that The Hound or Jaqen or Quorin Halfhand would make them his love puppet. (People are, in fact, weird.)

But then the eternal debate flares up and rages on. Someone–or several someones–will gripe about the show’s increasing departure from the books.* Then someone else will start yelling at the whiner/hater/sensible person that “you better stop criticising or they’ll cancel the show.”

This happens a lot lately, in a lot of fora I visit on a lot of topics. There’s this tyranny of the mediocre that asserts any complaint about a television show or a series of novels is going to cost the life of that end product. The assumption being that people would rather have a product they only partially enjoy.

As I get older I realise that the world is happier if the analytical folks like me tone down the criticisms that we believe are useful but others see as “haters gonna hate” or other nonsense. I really do try to not look at a thing and instantly come up with five ways it could be better–whether that “thing” is my own self or the way they have the condiments and accoutrements lined up at our special olympics Burger King.

But honestly, I wish the world would sometimes meet me halfway.

Frankly at this point I don’t CARE if they cancel the Game Of Thrones series; I’m not particularly enjoying it and I think it leaves people with a false impression of the stories at the heart of the books.

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*(I personally think that last night’s episode ended with the story turning into full-on fanfic. What else do you call it when a main character is faced with a dilemma that is a) out of character and b) so very much not in the books because of a) ?)

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