Monday, December 2, 2013

At War with Christmas?

 

I agreed to review The War on Christmas because I felt that it might get me into the Christmas spirit and motivate me to start the process of getting ready for Christmas: testing lights, planning a menu, issuing invitations, and baking extravagant desserts. From the title I thought it might be a good book for my international guests to help them learn something about the holiday we celebrate. It was neither. Instead what I received was a collection of quickly written, lightly edited, diatribes pitting Christians against the rest of society in (as the subtitle proclaims) Battles in Faith, Tradition, and Religious Expression. I have to ask: Whatever happened to Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men?

On page 41, I finally found the author/editor’s frame of reference: “Sadly, there are many people within the Church who accept the supposed millions of years, instead of the truth as given by Genesis. Because of this, they don’t have valid answers for people like my friend [who had asked why Christians did everything in their power to stay alive including organ transplants instead of welcoming death and heaven], but instead would ignore his questions and relate the story of the babe in the manger in the hope my friend would start believing this.”

Ignoring this tract’s poor writing, I am offended because the author believes that in order to communicate the gospel—the good news of Christmas—I must also believe in the author’s “young earth theory.”

Contrary to the author’s position, the Apostle Paul, in the book of Romans (specifically Chapters 5 and 6), clearly states that we were once under the reign of sin, allied with Adam the first man. But, once we give ourselves to Christ, we are under God’s reign in a kingdom of grace. Jesus was born to give us a life of freedom just as he himself lived freely in an occupied Israel. As long as we stay connected to him through the Spirit who gives us life, we are free to choose organ transplants or to reject them, to choose to be buried or cremated, to choose to worship together in many different forms and manners, to choose to eat meat or become vegan. We are free to live believing the earth to be thousands of years old or millions or billions of years old and to use the best scientific methods available to defend our beliefs. Indeed, Christians are free to celebrate Christmas or to ignore it entirely.

The book contains some good information. The author/editor explores the original meaning of words such as Christmas and holidays. They explain the meaning of the X in Xmas (from the first letter of the Greek word for Christ), but leave it up to the individual believer’s conscience whether to write Xmas or Christmas. Traditions such as manger scenes are explored and compared to scripture and the inn which had no room is debunked using archaeological exemplars.

The War on Christmas concludes with information about the author’s employer Answers in Genesis and its Creation Museum. I believe that this book was written as a gift shop item for that museum. If you are interested in researching the origins of Christmas, a plethora of information exists on the web. These books may also be helpful:

The Top 40 Traditions of Christmas: The Story Behind the Nativity, Candy Canes, Caroling, and All Things Christmas by David McLaughlin

The origins of Christmas by Joseph F. Kelly

Stories behind the great traditions of Christmas by Ace Collins

How will you celebrate Christmas? Will you discuss the Big Bang Theory or contemplate the earth’s origins? Will you declare war on our culture and its repression of the true story of Christmas? Why don’t you join me in celebrating the birth of Jesus and showing our culture what a little peace on earth looks like as we demonstrate God’s good will to all mankind. And this Christmas if your friends ask you why Christians do this or that or some other thing, take the opportunity to tell them about the time when God broke into history and gave us a vision for what it meant to live in His kingdom, a kingdom where when we follow Jesus completely and live more freely than ever before because his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

I received this book free from the publisher and was not required to give it a favorable review.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

We Are Failures

We do fail. Over and over again. Some people think that we should never think of ourselves as failures.  But God is the God of failure (and possibility)–just look at who he chose to be his Judges, Kings, and Prophets.  Read through the book of Judges and see if you can find more than one or two who were not failures.Route_66_car_petrified_forest (1)

Yet, can and must benefit from failure.  We must learn from them, accept their consequences, and present them to God along with our successes.  It’s the only way to truly move on. My formerly income producing business is winding down–does that mean I’m a failure. Maybe. But it also encourages me to consider new avenues, perhaps retirement or new ways of marketing.

I’ve never forgotten the story my undergrad professor told about the buggy whip manufacturers who went out of business when the automobile arrived. Except for one. That one observed his whips and took a long look at the automobiles. He let his mind work and soon came up with a new description for his old manufacturing business: Flexible cables. And that’s what we need to do to succeed. Reframe our position in the light of present circumstances and see where that takes us.  Where has a failure caused you to change course, change description, or change a job?  Has it caused you to make some other change?

Photo By Finetooth (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stress: The Bane of Life

Stress.  It happens to me when my dream’s delayed. Michelangelo_Buonarroti_010 My husband sees it and says I’m eating myself.  My fingernails are so short they can go no further, the side of my lip has a wound on it.  When eating  I overbite into my lower lip and there’s a sore on my elbow where I picked off some dry skin.  Yes, stress can eat us up and destroys us from the outside while it works on us from the inside.

The remedy?  For me, it’s continuing my daily activities, but taking rest breaks to garden, hike, and read.  Gardening connects me with God’s provision as the earth shoots forth new life in its time and each insect, plant, bird, and animal contributes.  Hiking works similarly but takes me out of my area into a place where I am the stranger.  There, in the woods, my only job is to watch and listen.  And as I do, God reminds me that He is great and I am small and that all will be well in His timing. 

And finally, I read (or watch a good movie or TV show).  Reading takes me away for awhile to a place where problems are solved or wrestled with, to a place of hope.  For in truth it is hopelessness that leads to my stress.  Once I see the way ahead, I relax.  What am I reading?  I’m finishing these two books which you wouldn’t think would be related, but they are: 

God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

Also on my reading pile: 

Half of a Yellow Sun

And to contrast it:

Snow Day: A Novel
Slow Way Home

What do you do to relieve stress?

 

 

Picture by Michelangelo Buonarroti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

North of Hope: A Review

 

I rarely read memoirs, and requested this book by mistake because I thought it was fiction. What else could it be when a couple is mauled and killed by a grizzly bear? That just doesn’t happen in real life. To my chagrin, the book that arrived was a memoir, North of Hope by Shannon Huffman Polson, the daughter of one of the people killed by the grizzly. I opened the pages, not quite knowing what to expect, and was greeted by two old friends: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Christian Wiman. “This has promise,” I told myself and waded in, identifying almost immediately with Shannon’s need to know answers—under the premise that sufficient knowledge will turn back the clock. But as she discovered, there really are no answers that satisfy.

I followed Shannon through the funeral, cleaning out the house, and resuming her own life, hoping for a point of connection; I recently buried my mother. But the numbness of death continued through the reading of this well-crafted memoir, and despite its heavy subject, I could not get past the craft to probe the depths. Here’s a look at the funeral:

A few days later, one of Dad’s colleagues shook his head and looked into the distance. “It’s hard to believe,” he said. “I saw him every day of the work week and some weekends for twenty-five year. I can’t believe he’s gone.” I felt a twinge of jealousy. He’d spent more time with my dad than I had. . .

The cemetery in Healy sits on a hill framed by mountains of the Alaska Range. Dad and Kathy’s friend Shorty, who lived nearby, said that he walked his dogs there every day. It was the place with the best view of the northern lights when they danced in fall and winter night skies. The tundra was decorated with early fireweed and lupine, a fence of spruce trees. Shorty had dug a perfectly square grave facing east to hold both coffins and hauled away most of the fill. . . Dad’s army friend George and his wife, Joanne, stood off to the side next to a lone pine tree, as though unable to step any closer to that hole, as though standing next to the tree might protect them somehow.

Father Jack performed the service for our small group standing on the Alaskan tundra. The mountains stood witness, watching familiar scenes of death and grief that played like shadows on their slopes each day.

I stood at the corner of the chasm closest to Dad’s coffin. My breath came shallowly, a susurrus leaking oxygen to thick reluctant blood. I knelt. I kissed the hard, cold surface of the coffin. The week caught up with me like a rifle shot. I touched the coffin with faltering fingers. Again. And again. The dark, gaping hole. The cold boxes. My legs gave way. Pages 113-114.

Shannon, an avid adventurer, decides to retrace her father’s path and raft along the same wild Alaskan river.

It was a sacred journey. A pilgrimage. But surely it was not only about a river. The river flowed by, running, always running. I wanted it to stop. I wanted it to flow in reverse. I wanted there to be a dam in the river somewhere far back in the mountains, a lake to catch the water and keep it safe for swimming, for drinking, for watching sunlight dancing on the surface of still waters. But the water flowed mercilessly north. There was healing in the tyranny, and tyranny in the healing. North of Hope, p. 124-125.

On her journey she begins to realize something about herself and some things about life.

“This, it now seems to me, is a difference between people of the land, and people on the land, between humility and hubris. It is why a part of our Western culture looks with envy at indigenous people’s beliefs: they come from a deeper wisdom of themselves and their world than we can hope to reclaim. We envy this, while ignoring the potential of this wisdom in the name of supposed progress, even as such progress continues to erode that wisdom or the possibility of our ever recovering it.” p. 169.

I would not spend too much time pondering these words. It is a mistake to believe that indigenous people (whoever they might be) have cornered the market on wisdom. The Bible speaks often about wisdom because God is the Father of Wisdom. We can stop worrying about losing the wisdom of indigenous people when God’s wisdom is available to any who seek Him.

Shannon did come to realize the limitations of her trip, indeed the limitations of life. “This trip won’t make it okay. It’s never going to be okay. . . . It’s not supposed to be okay. “ p. 178. She realizes this on the river and when she visits her dying grandmother. “I understood why it is said that hearts break. I’d understood for a while now. Underground rivers of sadness scald like fire. And so I felt that ripping and burning of a soul and a heart, breaking in relief at talking to her, breaking in seeing her face and holding her hand, breaking as I felt Dad and Kathy’s absence and knowing they would want to be there too, breaking because I was losing her and I didn’t know how much more loss I could bear.” p. 185

This memoir moved in and out of Mozart’s Requiem and gave me glimpses into the life of grizzly bears and the untamed beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. It was eminently readable. I had hoped that it would give me insight into grief, but it didn’t, perhaps because the author, herself, has no insight to share. This memoir left me as cold as the frigid water of that Alaskan river, and although the author continually tossed me crumbs she was unable to satiate me. But maybe that’s her point. There are no satisfactory answers to life’s most devastating losses.

I received this book free through a book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Ollie Chandler Collection: Skip 2 and Read 1

Ollie Chandler is a police homicide detective.  So, now you’re primed to read a detective novel, right?  Wrong.  Sure Ollie follows police procedure with the assistance of newspaper reporters, but the first two novels (Deadline and Dominion) in this collection are abruptly interrupted by fantasy when we are given long, seemingly endless conversations of the dead in their afterlife and Ollie is only a supporting character to the reporter.  After dutifully keeping my eyes glued to the pages for the first half of the first novel, I decided that if I was ever going to finish the books, I would have to skip the heavenly scenes.  And so I did.

By the time I reached book number 3, I couldn’t wait to finish and be done.  Fortunately, the author tastefully limited the scenes in heaven in Deception.  In fact, I found it to be eminently readable and enjoyable and Ollie was a character I could root for.  So skip the collection and read Deception.

The first two books also contained anachronistic elements.  No one used cell phones and rather than pulling out a smart phone, it was a PDA.  That took me back and not in a good way.  Those elements could have easily been changed in the reprinting of the novels in this collection.  In fact, the author could have polished the first two books to make them more like the third. 

The first book was filled with every political and societal ill that would bother a right-leaning Evangelical Christian.  Yes, the author left no stone unturned in bringing the chip on the shoulder to light. 

The second book provides a thoughtful look at racism.

But it is only the final book, Deception, that steps into its own as a novel that carries you through the story’s twists and turns to the end. 

The Ollie Chandler Collection is selling for $12.99 today, but you can get the paperback of Deception for $6.40, so your choice should be simple. 

 

I received this book free through a book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Their Eyes Were Watching God

  Their Eyes Were Watching God
There is nothing better in life than reading a good book.  A book whose words draw you into a place beyond yourself.  Outside I watch snow clouds plummet like dead owls releasing their hold on the tree branches and dropping into the creek with such force that wet circles expand to mark the burial vortex.  But I digress.

I finished reading Their Eyes Were Watching God and it finished well.

The words hung with me.  I was transported.

Here are some of them (note: I read it on my Kindle, so I don’t have page numbers for these quotes).

Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took.  Spices hung about him.  He was a glance from God. 

Anyone who looked more white folkish than herself was better than she was in her criteria, therefore it was right that they should be cruel to her at times, just as she was cruel to those more negroid than herself in direct ratio to their negroness.  Like the pecking-order in a chicken yard.  Insensate cruelty to those you can whip, and groveling submission to those you can’t.  Once having set up her idols and built altars to them it was inevitable that she would worship there.  It was inevitable that she should accept any inconsistency and cruelty from her deity as all good worshippers do from theirs.  All gods who receive homage are cruel.  All gods dispense suffering without reason.  Otherwise they would not be worshipped.  Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion.  It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom.  Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers.  Real gods require blood. 

If you kin see de light at daybreak, you don’t keer if you die at dusk.  It’s so many people never seen de light at all.

The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time.  They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.

Soon everything around downstairs was shut and fastened.  Janie mounted the stairs with her lamp. The light in her hand was like a spark of sun-stuff washing her face in fire.  Her shadow behind fell black and headlong down the stairs.  Now, in her room, the place tasted fresh again. The wind through the open windows had broomed out all the fetid feeling of absence and nothingness.  She closed in and sat down.  Combing road-dust out of her hair.  Thinking.  The day of the gun, and the bloody body, and the courthouse came and commenced to sing a sobbing sigh out of every corner in the room; out of each and every chair and thing.  Commenced to sing, commenced to sob and sigh, singing and sobbing.  Then Tea Cake came prancing around her where she was and the song of the sigh flew out of the window and lit in the top of the pine trees.  Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl.   .  .  The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall.  Here was peace.  She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net.  Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her should.  So much of life in its meshes!  She called in her soul to come and see.

If only I could write sentence like those.  Filled with sound and truth and motion.  Words that make the heart sing and tears flow. 

Do you have some favorite sentences?  Paragraphs?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Sadness of Shopping

When my husband and I purchased our first (and so512CommunityClosetThriftStoreItems far, only) home, I furnished it with thrift store finds from a repurposed buffet in the living room to a round table in the corner of the bedroom, a sofa for the rec room, and an assortment of lamps and other objects.

Over the past week I have scoured local thrift stores to furnish my newest acquisition:  a large vacation rental property which I will be closing on in the next couple of months.  I need cheap items to furnish it because I won’t have enough money to buy new.  What did I find in those thrift stores? 

Where once there were entire large sections of floor space devoted to furniture, now there is almost none.  Where once I found great looking, quality lamps, now there are only a few worthless ones.  And the shelves in those stores are filled with junk.  People I see are shopping only for clothing and children’s items. 

And that makes me sad.  Sad at the vast aisles of other people’s once carefully purchased clothing.  Sad that I’m seeing the end result of the treasures they paid top dollar for at some department store.  Sad that much of my mother’s carefully acquired items and my own with one day be worthless.

Where has all the good stuff gone?  My husband attributes the dearth of quality lamps and furniture in the thrift stores to the economy.  He says that people are keeping their useful items.  But, I know that’s not entirely true.  I see furniture in garage sale listings and auctions at a much higher price than I would have paid at a thrift store.  And, maybe that’s the answer.  People are selling everything outright rather than giving it to the thrift stores. 

If any of you have things to sell cheaply or know of someone who does, please let me know.  I hate wasting my time attending garage sales that don’t have what I need.  I need lamps, end tables, decorative items (I’m especially looking for black metal and wrought iron).  I need things that are durable, preferably wood and metal rather than glass and ceramic.  (I just won an end table and wooden lamp for about $5.00 at an auction, but that is an anomaly.)  In the future I will need a dining table or two and outdoor furniture.  So, keep me in mind when you or someone else thinks of disposing of things in the next couple of months.  

 

 

Picture By Sparklingdawg (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Curious? I Am.

Curious_Cub

I am and have always been curious.  Curiosity fuels investigation and discovery.  This morning I was reading from my latest non-fiction book, which begins with brief history of how theologians discerned the age of the earth and continues with a brief history of geology and earth scientists and how they came to discover fossil composition and the earth’s structure.

The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth

These scientific discoveries burgeoned in the 1600’s.  But there was a curious lack of scientific exploration and discovery prior to that time.  By anyone’s calculation, thousands of years passed before someone discovered stratigraphy and the principles of original horizontality and superposition.  Stratigraphy is the study of the layers of earth’s sediment, while the other two principals explain that sediment is deposited in horizontal planes and the layers at the top are younger than the bottom layers.  There, you’ve learned some geography.  But all of that seems self-evident in the 21st century. 

Here’s my millennial question:  why did it take soAll_Gizah_Pyramids long?  The Egyptian pyramids were built around 2600 BC.  The library at Alexandria was a center for scholarship beginning in 300 BC until it was destroyed, possibly around 48 BC.  When the Egyptian architects excavated the blocks for the pyramids was no one curious about stratification?  When the scholars gathered in the Alexandrian library, did no one debate fossil finds?  Were they simply not curious?

I can imagine many reasons why an individual would not delve into scientific inquiry.  Their job might be so demanding that it leaves room for little else.  An ancient mother might be completely occupied by home management and child card.  A man might be put on the line hauling stones for those pyramids.  But, what about the scholars who designed the pyramids or the scholars who frequented the library?  Was no one willing to investigate natural science? 

Granted, some discoveries could only occur after the invention of the microscope.  But one scientist learned much by dissecting animals in the 1600’s.  Were there no sharp knives prior to that time?  How then did someone slice an onion or a tomato?

I am curious.

Can anyone satisfy my curiosity?

Bear By Bobtomasso (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pyramids By Ricardo Liberato (All Gizah Pyramids) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, February 25, 2013

More Filling than Food!

Lakhovsky_Conversation

Good words satisfy like a fine meal;

yes, good conversations are sure to satisfy.

Proverbs 18:20 (The Voice)

Last Saturday I enjoyed a meal with good friends.  The meal was delicious, appetizing, filling, and met all the requirements of a fine meal.  However, it ended that evening and was quickly digested.

The conversation before, during, and after that fine meal lingered on into the week.  My husband, who had missed the dinner, heard snatches of it whenever we were together.  One person mentioned a seminar she had attended; it prompted me to locate and begin reading a geology book I had purchased months ago, but delayed opening.

The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth

Other words that passed between us spurred memories, prayers, and laughter at the time which have remained to enjoy this day.     

Conversation is its own meal.  As Full_meala poor appetizer, one friend told us that there wasn’t much happening in his life.  The entrĂ©e covered many topics and the dessert brought sweet morsels from my earlier non-disclosing friend:  his new website, job leads, and head hunters. 

How do you have a conversation that satisfies like a meal?  Take your time.  Listen.  Digest.

Have you had a satisfying conversation recently?  Or one that has stayed in you head for far longer than a meal?

Meal By Nandinissaha (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, February 14, 2013

3 Practical Steps to Combat Despair

My friends are still out of work.  Cancer pervades our Ht15_Charles_Stanley_Reinhart_a_'forlorn'_Gradgrind,_ultimately_humanised_by_despairlives.  The government is in turmoil.  Stocks have not regained their former heights.  Home prices are still low.  Interest rates are very low.  No investment is certain. No job is secure.  What are we to do?
Stay calm; there is no need to be afraid of a sudden disaster or to worry when calamity strikes the wicked, for the Eternal is always there to protect you.  He will safeguard your each and every step. (Pv. 3:25-26, The Voice Bible.)
The juxtaposition of the commands in Proverbs gives us a clear outline of what to do when we don’t know what to do.  It’s not so easy to merely remain calm; we need something to do, some course of action.   And that is exactly what the next few verses give us: a game plan.  Steps to take to keep the peace.
Do not withhold what is good from those who deserve it; if it is within your power to give it, do it.  Do not send your neighbor away, saying, “Get back with me tomorrow, I can give it to you then,” when what he needs is already in your hand. (Pv. 3:27-28, The Voice Bible.)
What do you have available that will do good for someone else?  Freely give it to them.  It may be a book, a ladder, a lawnmower, but whatever it is don’t be afraid to loan it to your neighbor.
Make no plans that could result in injury to your neighbor; after all, he should be more secure because he lives near you.  Avoid fighting with anyone without good reason, especially when no one has hurt you; you have nothing to fight about.  (Pv. 3:29-30, The Voice Bible.)
Do you feel more secure because of your neighbors?  Then make them feel more secure because you are there for them.  Watch out for their children and their pets.  Drive cautiously.  Let them know if your house is in peril from termites, water or ice.  Then they can check their own houses.  What would make you feel more secure?  Do that same thing for your neighbor.
Do you fight?512px-Water_Buffalo_fight  No, you probably don’t raise your fists to fight with your neighbor but do you butt heads?  Do you disagree to the point of antagonistic standoff?  Do you stop speaking, try to avoid them?  If they haven’t hurt you, you have nothing to fight about.  So keep the peace.
Proverbs early on gives us these three steps to take to stay calm in times of turmoil:
  1. Trust in the Eternal
  2. Do good to your neighbor
  3. Cause no injury to your neighbor
I have noted some ways to help our neighbors?  Can you think of others?

Black and White illustration by Charles Stanley Reinhart [Public domain because the copyright has expired], via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo By Ben & Katherine Sinclair (Water-Buffalo fight) via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, February 8, 2013

In Peace Will I Lie Down and Sleep

This year I am reading through The Voice Bible.  It is a St_moré_cavecontemporary translation with literary elements added in italics.  Today I read Psalm 11 as I had never read it before.  We live in a cataclysmic time.  But, there is One who is not subject to cataclysm. Psalm 11 illustrates that beautifully.  (I have changed the line spacing for emphasis):

 

I am already in the soft embrace of the Eternal, so why do you beckon me to leave saying,

“Fly like a bird to the mountains.  Look! the wicked approach with bows bent, sneaking around in the shadows, setting their arrows against their bowstrings to pierce everyone whose heart is pure.  If the foundations are crumbling, is there hope for the righteous?”

But the Eternal has not moved; He remains in His holy temple.  He sits squarely on His heavenly throne.  He observes the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, examining us within and without, exploring every fiber of our beings.

The Eternal searches the hearts of those who are good, but he despises all those who can’t get enough of perversion and violence.  If you are evil, He will rain hot lava over your head, will fill your cup with burning wind and liquid fire to scorch your insides.

The Eternal is right in all His ways; He cherishes all that is upright.

Those who do what is right in His eyes will see His face.

 

So, live well today and sleep tonight in peace.

Shalom!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What’s Your Fallback?

When Moses failed to return in a timely manner, hisYou’ll_have_Something_to_Fall_Back_on_After_the_War followers decided to fall back to the way they knew, to a way that worked for them, or at least to a way that did not leave them searching.  Isn’t that what we do?  Isn’t falling back to a position that works the best way? 

The easiest fallback position in literature is literalism.  I see this frequently in Bible reading.  There is safety in literalism.  After all, if you want to know what to do, simply read the words.  Right? Instead of thinking through a problem, take the words literally even if it hurts.  How many people have cut off their right hands?  Ok, let’s make it simpler.  How many people limit their giving to 10%?  How many people read “day” or any multiple of days and treat them like 24 hour segments? (and this in an epoch that did not measure time in hours.)

The danger of literalism is that, like the Israelites who made a literal god to follow, we too create something with no truth.  We waste our time fashioning our own golden calf which has no power, no energy, no value past our own materials and labor.

Truth requires labor, but labor of a different sort.  You must exert effort in waiting for that moment of truth and pursuing it with all your heart and mind until you capture it.  You must persevere even though no hope of success is in sight.  You must guard yourself from falling back into literalism.  And finally, you must exercise grace to accept your own and others’ errors while searching for what is truly true.

Note:  some things are meant to be literal.  It is part of the work of reading accurately to discern what is literal, what is metaphor, and what is indicative of a certain style of literature and must be read according to that style’s guidelines.   The Bible is a book of stylized narrative history, poetry, prophesy, letters, and apocalyptic literature and each type must be read according to its own internal rules.
 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

And So It Continues . . .

Here is the 1st paragraph of my second novel.  If you Ignaz_Günther_Elias_BNMhadn’t read the first, would you feel comfortable with knowing where the protagonist (Eli) was heading.  Does this paragraph give you sufficient background to continue?

 

I never thought the life of a prophet of Yahweh would be any less than a minor degree of earth-shattering glory. Oh, I knew how hard it was for Moses, but after the hardship came the success: the plagues, the parting of the sea, and thousands of dead Egyptians. Was something like that about to happen to me? At the moment, I didn’t feel anything like a prophet. I was leaving the prophet’s school which had been sequestered in a cave, or should I say five caves in the Carmel Mountains. I was seated among supplies in the dark covered bed of a quarry wagon while my Aramean friend, Talib and my other friend, Jon talked over the din of the horses hooves and the clatter of the wagon wheels. Only a year ago I hadn’t known either of them. Only a year ago I had only one friend, Ben, the friend of my youth. Who’d have thought that my best friend was an Aramean when Arameans had murdered my parents? Who’d have thought that Yahweh would ever choose an Aramean as his prophet? Yet, Talib was the one who had found me through a dream, a dream that must have come from Yahweh.

Now, do you feel caught-up or do you want more background before we delve into the story?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Waiting until . . .

I’ve been reading Exodus (the book in the Bible, notFranz_Roubaud_Warten_auf_den_Zug_1882 the novel).  Here’s what happened. (I’m skipping a lot to make this shorter.) God came down and gave His decree to all the people.  The listened and said, “All that you have commanded, we will do.”

Then God spoke alone with Moses telling him to bring Aaron, and his sons, and the tribal leaders—70 in all.  They came partway up the mountain.  God met them there and they ate together.  Then God invited Moses alone to join him on the mountain top.  Moses told Aaron, his sons, and the tribal leaders to wait until he returned.

How long did they wait?  Let’s back up.  What did they think when Moses was invited, but not them?  Were they put out?  Did they wonder what they had done wrong or what Moses had done right? 

Then, during the wait, did they think about all of their responsibilities back in camp.  Did they wonder how their wives and sons were faring?  Did they worry about their livestock?

As time passed, did they wonder about Moses?  Did some of them believe that he must have died?  Did they return to the camp?  What did they eat on the mountainside?  What did they drink?  How did they take care of their bodily functions? 

Did the people left below bring them food and drink?  Did they bring them news? 

And how long did it take them to stop waiting for Moses to return.  The Bible says 40 days and nights, but that phrase is a cultural term which means a long time.  If I told you something would happen in 40 days, it wouldn’t seem very long, would it?  But, what if you didn’t know when the event you greatly desired would happen?  Wouldn’t the time seem long until the event actually happened?

When my mom was given her cancer diagnosis and told she would die, no one would give us a date (and rightly so.)  At one point a nurse said a couple of weeks, but when that passed with no change, it looked like her suffering would go on forever.

After she died and I computed the time, it was only about 4 months, or maybe 40 days after the nurse made her 2 week prognosis.  In hindsight that seems like very little time.  But, when I was in the middle of it with no end in sight it seemed very long.

Put yourself in the place of the 70 waiting people.  If you were one of them and the time was going on and on and on with no sight of Moses’ return, wouldn’t you leave a representative few and tell the remainder to go back to camp and take care of business? 

A good thinking, reading, and writing exercise would be to consider what went on among the 70 on that hillside.

Friday, February 1, 2013

There’s Just Something About the South

I realized this morning that many of the writers IPearl_River_backwater_in_Mississippi (1) count among my favorites are from the south—writers like Flannery O’Connor from Georgia, Michael Morris from Alabama, William Faulkner from Mississippi, and Charles Martin from Florida.  Why is that? 

Even in southern Ohio I feel it.  It’s that laid back way of life.  If something doesn’t get done today, it’ll get done tomorrow or sometime.  There’s no need to rush.  There’s always time to stop and chat.  Doors are made to be opened.  Sofas and tables are placed for conversation.  It is the moment that matters and every moment has meaning.

That’s what puts southern writers in a class with Jane Austen and the best authors of a bygone era.  They take time to lead us into their world, to settle us in, and to make us their friends.  They force us to take time to consider the theme and substance of their words.  They allow us to sit by their fire as they tell us stories that make us think.

So, if you haven’t read these authors make it your New Year’s pledge to do so.  Here are four recommendations for each.

  • Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are where she shined, but if you want to delve further, the collected works don’t cost much more and her correspondence is worth as much as her short stories.
  • Michael Morris:  it’s a toss-up between Slow Way Home and Man in the Blue Moon.  I thoroughly enjoyed both, but might give the edge to Slow Way Home.
  • Jane Austen:  Pride and Prejudice is the most popular, so that’s a good place to start.
  • William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is as good as it gets. 
  • Finally, Charles Martin.  I saved him for last because of the way I found him.  I don’t normally frequent the library because I am rarely near one.  One day, I was close by, had extra time, and decided to look for a novel to read—not a schlock novel with the obligatory sex scene halfway through--something good.  I pulled first one book then another off the shelf until I found The Dead Don’t Dance (and its sequel Maggie).  I took it home to read and could not put it down.  Filled with compelling characters, humor, pathos, and excellent writing, it is a modern classic. 

This ends my ode to southern writers.  There are many more excellent writers from the south that I haven’t mentioned.  Which regional authors that draw you in? 

 

 

Picture By Charlie Brenner from Jackson Mississippi, USA (Pearl River backwater  Uploaded by Allstarecho) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Is Writing?

For some, writing is merely putting words on a page, much as RRFUNERAL-mourners_writeI have done here.  For others, it requires intense concentration and labor.  That’s what happens when I work on a poem, novel, or essay.  It's hard work and not always a labor of love.

I was reminded of that today when I was thinking about how long it had taken me to write the first draft of my novel and how long it has taken me to edit it.  Think 1 year for the writing and 2 years for the editing, but keep going because I am still editing with no end in sight.

Yes, that’s the truth.  Writing is fairly quick until you try to make it good, to make it worthwhile to read, to make it interesting, even compelling.  The rewrite requires word-by-word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph analysis. 

Are the words spelled correctly?  Are they the right words?  Would another word work better? Is a word vague, needing description? Do I have too many pronouns, too many adjectives?  Can I make my verbs stronger?

Is the sentence all that it could be.  Should it be shorter?  Should it be longer? Does it even belong here?  Would it read better if the sentence was omitted? 

Where should I break the paragraph and start a new one?  How do I write one paragraph so it flows into the next? What might work better in another paragraph, another place in the book?  What should be removed?

The questions about words, sentences, and paragraphs overlap because they are subsets of the whole.  It’s a process that dedicated writers go through every time they edit their work.  My novel has been cut and pasted and added to and subtracted from all in the hope of making it stronger. 

Two sources I rely on to help me in this process are readers and editing tools.  Good readers point out problems I may not see; editing tools, such as a Thesaurus, give me ideas, while others analyze my document and show me overused words.  These all have a place in my editing arsenal.

What tools do you use?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year’s Fare

Something different.  Not being a renowned cook, I decided to try something simple for New Year’s Day.  I DSC_0001found some meaty almost boneless pork ribs at the store.  I had some Hungarian paprika that my Hungarian friend had given me.  I found frozen sauerkraut in the freezer.  I had caraway seeds in the refrigerator, bay leaves in the cupboard, and onions are always present at my house.  Here is my simple New Year’s fare: 

  • Wash the ribs and dry with paper towels
  • In a plastic bag, mix 1/3 c. flour, about 1/4 cup paprika, 1/2 t. salt, and pepper to your tasted.
  • Toss the ribs in the flour mixture
  • Brown in a fry pan with a little oil over medium high heat.
  • Cut the onion in thin slices
  • After the meat has browned place it in a crock pot.
  • Put the onions in the fry pan with a little more oil, if needed and sprinkle in any remaining flour mixture.
  • Cook stirring constantly until the flour begins to brown and the onions are evenly red from the paprika.  Some of the flour will stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Add 1/2 cup white wine and stir quickly. to get the bits off the bottom of the pan then pour it all over the ribs in the crock pot.  Pour another 1/2 cup chicken (or beef) broth over.
  • Add a package or can of drained and rinsed sauerkraut, a pinch of caraway seeds, and a couple of bay leaves. 
  • Cook on low for 6-8 hours, then enjoy.

 

I serve it with sour cream, mashed potatoes (Idahoan tastes most like real mashed potatoes), and green beans.