What Are You Reading Wednesday?

Books of the Pastphoto © 2007 Lin Kristensen | more info (via: Wylio)

Sitting in my comfy blue recliner, sipping the lovely creamer rich coffee, reflecting upon the upcoming day–I have become more enamored with the quiet stillness of mornings. Chilly mornings always make me thankful for a warm bed and even more thankful for a large mug of coffee. For me, cold fall and winter mornings should be best spent snuggled up in a thick blanket, sipping coffee, and reading.

Today, I am reading Mary DeMuth’s book Thin Places. So far, her words are healing, beautiful, and filled with blessings.

Question: What are you reading today?

For Those Days….

We have all had one of those days! At some point, we need to laugh, cry, think, or just simply stay in our pajamas all day, drinking coffee, and reading a novel…

ON this my last day of being 28, I would love to stay in my pajamas, snuggled up with my puppies, and read since the weather is gray, rainy, and perfect weather for laziness. But I can’t.

So, today, I’m giving your something funny…

Something to make you cry….

Something to make you think….

Question: What things are you thinking about, listening to, or writing? Share your blogs, thoughts, whatever you like….

Why I Write…

Why I Write….

I write to give life to the ideas swirling inside my head…

I write to free my soul from the death grip my nagging inner monologue of doubt has on it…

I write because I have a love affair with the English language—its beauty, its complexity…

I write to express my faith, my doubts, my fear…

I write to ask the questions no one in church says out loud…

I write to gain perspective on what I think I know, what I do know, and what I need to know better…

I write…

Why do you write? Or better, Why do you NOT write?

Pitching an Internet Sized Temper Tantrum

Today on Anne Jackson’s blog, she wrote about how she is a person not a brand. As a successful blogger and author, she can’t always respond to everyone’s comment, tweet, or email. I love her blog, her writing, so much so I subscribed so I wouldn’t miss a post. But I am horrible as a commenter, not because she has never responded, but the usual mundane business of life gets in the way. When I read the comments on her blog, I realized how many other people expected a comment or response. Which begs the question:

Are we bloggers only commenting/tweeting etc. for what we gain from it?

I wish the answer wasn’t YES, but we are selfish beings. And I don’t sit here accusing anyone because I can be just as bad or the worst when it comes to this area. We are more interested in using people for our own gain–if I guest post for a super huge blog then my stats will go up, if I comment only on blogs with lots of followers then I might just get more followers, if I review this blogger’s book then I will get more comments on my blog. And heaven help the world if that poor blogger doesn’t comment on the awesome, super sweet book review. We become bitter when our expectations are NOT met because all of those expectations were found upon a self-centered, self-loving, selfish perspective.

We are upset that we aren’t winning the blogging popularity contest so we pitch an internet sized hissy fit. No longer do we comment or tweet another blog because they NEVER responded to our hurried comment or even well-though comment. We grumble and complain when we tirelessly and sometimes annoyingly Retweet a blog promotion only to get no response.

So, we act like a child stamping her foot in ground and throwing ourselves a pity party. If she won’t comment on my blog, then I won’t comment on hers. There’s maturity right there for you. But we don’t have to act on our selfish impulses. We can choose to encourage rather than selfishness. We can remind ourselves why we read blogs, write blogs that it is more about building relationships than self-promotion.

Today, I choose to encourage other bloggers through kind comments, loving emails, or the encouraging tweet.

When Faith and Literature Collide

Silence, I am an expert at silencing my own voice. To nod and smile and pretend that I agree with you. After being outside of any faith community for three years, I resolved that this year we would find a church. This church is fairly conservative while I tend to be more progressive and moderate. When we began attending, I knew that this church wouldn’t espouse all of my views or ideas. For the sake of unity, I would simply say nothing and keep the peace with my fellow Christians. But silence has a price. First, those speaking assume that I agree with them, and secondly, silence eats away at my soul.

About a week ago, we attended Sunday School for the first time since the beginning of the summer. Waiting for the lesson to begin, I sat on a plastic chair that squeaked, uncomfortable in the silence surrounding me. The lesson: apologetics, specifically, a lesson that spent more time discussing the ignorance of evolution, the foolishness of academics, and the misguided ways of reading the Bible. I grimaced at the illogical reasonings for proving God created the world, seethed as they blamed academia for its negative influence on Christians, and boiled with anger when told I shouldn’t read the Bible as a literary text. But I held my tongue and said nothing. Now, I have no problem with people disagreeing with me especially when I attend church. I do struggle with the limiting, dogmatic point of view presented—the Bible is not literature. It is your science source, history source but not a literary text; although, some will concede that Psalms and Song of Solomon possess literary qualities.

When I read the Bible as literary work, it empowers my spiritual sensibilities more than simply reading it as a historical or scientific account. To read the Bible as literature acknowledges the social and political constructs of the culture which produced the text, the writers, the cultures and lives of the translators. In order to read the Bible, I have to approach this text as I would Shakespeare or Chaucer; however, I also must keep in mind the sacredness of this work as well. We cannot deny the social context that brought about the Bible. Unfortunately, a New Critical approach to reading the Bible or any text for that matter produces an incomplete picture of the text. The Bible was not written in a social vacuum and cannot be read without acknowledging how all of the cultural influences upon those writing and translating and reading this text. For me, the only way I can fathom the Bible’s grand meta-narrative is by reading it as a literary text.

Through these tensions, I engage with the Bible as a literary text. As I read, the grand transaction of knowledge and wisdom as I bring to the text my presuppositions and fuse them with the Word, the grand Biblical narrative creates new meaning for me. In these moments, I can truly fathom the sacredness, the holiness of the Word in my life.

Question: How do you read the Bible?

The Waiting Room pt 3

This is the final installment of the short story “The Waiting Room.” If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, I have provided the links for you.

Photography by Mark Askins

“Mrs. Smith,” called the middle-aged doctor with thinning hair and a thickening waistline, “I’m Doctor Baker, hmmm, I remember you—your husband came in here for the procedure a few years ago. He handled this like a trooper, now if you will follow me.” Dr. Baker motioned Clara to move into the hallway separating the waiting room from the small nondescript examining rooms. The memory of Ed, the funeral, all the rhetoric flooded her mind. She stood rooted to the dingy carpet as though she stood on the brink of a sheer precipice. Gathering the last vestige of hope and strength, Clara stood next to the doctor and in a voice that was barely above a whisper she uttered the words; she had kept pent up inside, “I don’t want to …”

“ My dear, Mrs. Smith think of the greater good of society, You know the condition that our world is in now. Think of yourself as a pioneer into the beyond…” droned the doctor who was a little bored with this small act of heroism. He politely rattled off the same reasons that Clara had heard before sounding like one of the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. This was not the first time Dr. Baker had encountered someone who resisted the procedure.

“But I don’t believe that anymore, I was wrong. How can it be for the greater good? Annabel, Jason tell him—I don’t want to,” pleaded the desperate Clara to her disinterested children.

“Mother! The one time society asks that you make a small sacrifice, you pitch a fit. How selfish,” demanded her son Jason.

Clara’s heart filled with shame as she turned to walk down the hall with the doctor who was smiling at his sense of victory over the individual nature of this petite woman. Clara glanced back to see that her daughter and son had returned to their previous activities. Each one mumbled some sort of good-bye as the door separating the waiting room and the hallway shut.

The Waiting Room pt 2

This is Part 2 of a short story that I have written. If you missed Part 1, here you go!

Clara started suddenly from her bittersweet reverie. She had been waiting for about an hour when she dosed off on an uncomfortable chair. Her eyes full of tears waiting to flow, but a wrinkled arthritic hand stayed the tears’ course. She smoothed the wrinkles of her navy dress with white roses printed over the fabric. Clutching a small handbag containing the usual insurance information that every doctor’s office requested from each patient, Clara sat in a typical doctor’s office with its uncomfortable gaudy thrift-store furniture. The décor of the room belonged to another decade with its faded gold carpet and orange patterned wallpaper. The artificial light cast an eerie yellow glow to the golden and orange jumbled menagerie of floor coverings and wall treatments. The room had no windows for the natural, cheery sunlight to peek through, but the synthetic light gave the office a deadly stillness.

Shifting uneasily in the chair, she remembered that ten years had nearly passed since the death of her husband Edward—Ed for short. She recalled that day ten years ago when she walked into the same office and sat in the same chair. She smiled as she remembered how his gentle, rough hands felt holding her hands that day—but, no more, Clara chided herself for allowing her suppressed memories to resurface again. She glanced at her two companions her daughter Annabel and son Jason each one engrossed in different activities. Her daughter was once somewhat pretty—nothing out of the ordinary—she was now middle-aged and the effects of aging showed visibly upon her visage. Life had made her complacent and accepting of society’s edicts. Jason was a successful businessman who fell in love with himself for his moneymaking abilities. Clara’s two children had accompanied her to the doctor’s office only because Clara had insisted upon it. Neither one of them would have been there except they believed that it was their duty for Clara. Annabel sat pleasantly cross-stitching while Jason paced about the room speaking harshly into a cell phone. Clara just watched them with her eyes full of memories of their happy childhoods.

“Mother, stop worrying. The procedure is painless—remember? Dad didn’t worry as much when he went through this. Relax,” scolded Annabel, “Remember, he called it ‘embarking on a new journey’ or something like that. Dad was always a philosopher at heart.”

“Yes, dear? I know it is painless, but I’m afraid, I mean, I still want to …”

“Mother, no more of that kinda talk,” snapped her daughter, “what you are doing is for the greater good of society.”

Clara was taken aback by the harsh language of her daughter, yes, she had heard all the rhetoric about the “greater good,” and when she was younger she believed it. The phrase the “greater good of society” was tossed about so frequently that it was now a meaningless catch phrase for every situation or person that did not agree with society. She questioned in her own mind the seemingly harmless decisions of her past now affecting her today.

The One With All the Politics In It…Then NO More Politics

Photo by kevindooley in FLickr Creative Commons
I love fall! The cool nip in the wind, the morning frost, the days shortening, the colors changing to red and blue. Yes, along with the brilliance of the leaves turning to vibrant golds, oranges, and yellows. Other colors begin showing themselves also—those who are red, those who are blue. Or perhaps maybe you prefer animals, those who are elephants, and those who are donkeys.

Ahh, the sweet smell of election season, that wonderful time of year when candidates promise voters EVERYTHING…better economy, better jobs, better education, better….always better. How could things not get better? I mean just look at all those happy people smiling with the candidate, shaking hands, enjoying the benefits of their political community. The whole political commercial genre could in some cases masquerade as a Hallmark card. The miracle of television!

While I will endure the onslaught of political ads again, I have become more acutely aware of the disconnect between the politics and the community in the TV ad and those in the “real” world. Before I could vote, I barely noticed the political divisions of Republican and Democrat. I knew my family voted conservatively. Heck, I remember in 1996 lying in my bed fervently praying Bob Dole would win the presidential election because I thought that’s what God would want for us(I promise I have matured from these naïve views). When I could vote, I remember researching the candidates’ ideas and voting accordingly. I knew that my political views wouldn’t be embraced by everyone, but I didn’t let these differences interfere with my community. We would agree to disagree and still be friends, right?

The election of 2008 brought out some alarming trends, or maybe I just was more cognizant of them. Rather than the agree to disagree mentality, the political dialogues turned to arguing. No one was listening just clamoring over each other. Maybe, you too received the myriads of emails with outrageous claims or the angry conversations ending with hurt feelings and bitterness. Maybe, people unfriended you on Facebook or unfollowed you on Twitter. Perhaps, you endured the annoyed eye rolls or sighs of disgust whilst discussing the merits of one party or another. If you didn’t vote a certain way, people treated you as ignorant, racist, socialist, insert what negatively charged term that you like.

I worry that people in both parties are becoming too exclusivist rather than opening up discursive spaces for productive dialogues. And by productive dialogues, I don’t mean convince everyone my ideas are right and not yours. We talk about bipartisan dialogue more abstractly because we don’t really want our parties to work together. Rather than collaboration, we want to be right because rightness equates to power. Power to bully others into silence, power to control monetary means, power to blame others for our failings. With all this power, we are further fragmenting a broken culture rather than working together, celebrating our differences, and finding commonality.

Question: How do we respectfully respond to another’s political views without demeaning those views? How do you respond when presented with the barrage of political ads, emails, and social media groups?

When Time Travel Would Help…. Or Why We Don’t Learn ANYTHING from the Past

Imagine with me the best Jules Verne inspired time travel craft— strapping shoulder harnesses, blinking red lights, whirling gauges, speeding blurs that peel away layers of history. While time travel has yet to be perfected outside Hollywood’s silver screen, I ask that you imagine this journey through vastness of history’s grand memory. Where are we going? Well, medieval England of course(umm, you do remember I’m an English literary geek, right?), and before you begin seeing horned-hat wearing Viking raiders or the knights in full battle garb, I ask you focus your attention on one man. Not the king, not the pope, but Chaucer, Geoffrey Chaucer, to be exact. Now before you start thanking your lucky stars that time travel doesn’t exist, hear me out.

Perhaps, you are familiar with Chaucer’s work “The Canterbury Tales;” a group of pilgrims travels together on a holy journey telling tales and making merry the whole time. So what? A bunch of dry, boring texts that no one except weird, geeky literary people who are like 3,000 years old ever read(again, I’m not old and you have not been introduced to Miller’s Tale or the Reeve’s Tale. Seriously, NON-boring tales).

Now, why Chaucer?

Throughout the tales, Chaucer skillfully critiques the social structure of his England especially the religious structures. He pokes fun at Friar and Summoner’s duties in the church, the way the Prioress eats, the Pardoner’s used car salesmen antics. I mean Chaucer has every right to criticize the Pardoner—the Pardoner is selling pig bones as saints’ bones. Or the Prioress’s gluttony or for that matter the gluttony prevalent throughout the church.

And yes, Chaucer reserves his harshest criticism for those within the church’s infrastructure. Chaucer’s writings acted as mirror for the church to see how she didn’t love the poor, the sick, or the needy. Rather, the church preyed upon these people. Chaucer’s writings clearly reflect the actions of this ecclesiastical group. But the church turned away from this mirror and many other reflecting mirrors, ignoring the choir of critical voices that begged for it to return to its purpose. And so came the burning of the Lollard heretics, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, deaths of those who asked the established church to see herself as she was—cruel, unkind, far from Christ.

Before we begin dismissing this as history or unimportant or irrelevant, let’s return to 2010 and its church. Are we any different? Are we showing any more kindness, love, forgiveness? Consider how those professing to love Christ are willing to burn sacred texts of the Islamic community, bully those in the LGBT community, deny the poor basic health care, or ignore the unfair wages of those in the developing world. We can easily dismiss the critical voices calling for a much needed re-evaluation. We can repeat history, as in Chaucer’s time, ignore those who are critical and choose those who are singing our praises. If the church ignores her reflection in the mirror of criticism, she will continue hurting the already oppressed.

Question: How does the church need to be more open to a critical voice? How can we use criticism to excite positive changes in the church?

Review: Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson

I review for BookSneeze
The premise for the book is simple: “what is the one thing you feel you can’t say in church?” For author, blogger, speaker, Anne Jackson, this simple question opened up a discursive space for readers to share their confessions—things they couldn’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t say in church. These stories fueled the passionate intensity for “Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art On Fear, Confessions, and Grace.” This beautifully crafted book—from its pages to its artwork to its words—emphasizes not the church’s repression of speech but grace’s miraculous works upon individuals. Jackson skillfully interweaves her personal narrative with biblical examples of grace and hope. Her focus remains unwaveringly upon Christ’s grace rather than her personal struggles. She refuses to glorify her past but offers it to her readers as an opportunity or as she terms it “the gift of going second.”

As I read this book, the chapter that most encouraged me was “the gift of going second.” Jackson describes how the bravery of one person confessing a dark secret can help other confess their struggles also. Through open confessions, healing can begin. Grace can work openly in the hearts of the individuals to forgive sins and restore broken relationships—particularly broken church/church-goer relationships. This chapter resonates with me since I too have experienced pain from those in the church. By writing this book, Jackson has given me the gift of going second acknowledging my pain so that I too can heal. I love her emphasis on God’s healing power rather than her own struggles. This book challenges both the reader and church to speak more openly so that healing can begin.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher Thomas Nelson through the Booksneeze book review bloggers 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 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”