Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pride and Prejudice

I'm not a prejudiced person. I'm not racist or homophobic or sexist or a bigot.

Am I?

It's easy to test, right? Take homophobia, for starters. I am completely comfortable and at ease around gay people. I can make jokes without worrying I'm coming across as offensive. I don't wince when I see a man kiss a man or a woman kiss a woman. I support marriage equality. I totally get it; love is love and it doesn't bother me who loves whom. I can be totally myself around LGBT folks without feeling I have anything to prove - eg prove I'm not homophobic. Except... when I meet someone who is gay (either openly, obviously or assumedly), I immediately want them to know "we're cool". I immediately have the desire befriend them. Without even knowing them (knowing if they are nice or mean, boring or interesting, someone I'd have anything in common with or not), I want to like them, because, you know, "we're cool".

I have to wonder - is that just prejudice in reverse? Am I overcompensating somehow?

Or take sexism. Anti-feminist comments, sexist remarks and patriarchal attitudes infuriate me. I am completely against gender stereotypes and the boys-will-be-boys mentality or the pretty-in-pink girly girl thing. I believe women are just as capable as men, and men are just as capable as women. Yet when I first heard about the documentary Women Aren't Funny, my very first thought was they aren't. Replaced immediately by self slap on the hand and a recognition that that's exactly the problem; even we women are accepting the anti-female attitudes and lies. Or the first time I met a stay-at-home-dad, I had to correct my knee-jerk mental reaction dead beat.

Does having that instant reaction to women (or men) mean I'm actually a total sexist?

Take racism. I'm not racist. People are people, skin color is decoration. But I live in the whitest of white towns, and I am white. I acknowledge - with embarrassment - that I've got white privilege just dripping all over me. My parents and grandparents, while not wealthy, have also had white privilege serve them well, so somewhere down the line, my parents, easily obtaining jobs and living in nice, fairly safe towns, never being sent to inferior schools and forced to drink out of special water fountains, were fortunate enough to send me to private school for several years, pay for school trips to Boston and mission trips all over the world, and later pay for the college tuition left over after my scholarships, which has left me a well educated and well traveled young woman. Since then I've easily obtained many jobs, I've been pulled over a couple of times by police officers but sent on my way with just a warning, I've never been viewed suspiciously by strangers because of my hair or skin, and even when I totally look like I'm shoplifting by putting my hands in my coat pockets, I've never been questioned. In fact, my whiteness has been so advantageous that I actually don't even have a clue what setbacks black people or other minorities experience day to day in areas I take totally for granted.

When I start to dwell on just how lucky it is to be white in the United States, I feel guilty. Isn't "white guilt" just another branch of racism?

Or when I walk out of a store late at night in one of the surrounding non-white towns, and I see a group of black guys hanging around the parking lot looking at me and I feel an instant pang of worry followed by an instant rebuke of "wow, that was racist of me". Does this prove I am actually racist? Maybe, but I hope not. I mean, I immediately realize that any group of guys staring at me while I'm alone and vulnerable will make me feel nervous (because while I might be white, I am also female), but maybe I'd be less worried if they were white guys instead...

Isn't that racist too?

So, I often ask myself, am I a prejudiced person after all?

Do our first gut reactions of discomfort or disdain of the unfamiliar make us bigots? Or is it the following moments of realization and restructure that count for more and better define how tolerant we actually are?

A picture recently went viral of a woman in a bikini that had everyone cheering this mom on for being confident enough to show her imperfect belly on the internet. I was annoyed by the sexism implied - yay, a woman is showing her body and it's kind of flabby, good on her! - as if perfect bodies are the norm and she was a trailblazer for being imperfect. The question was asked, do people judge women for their bodies or do women just perceive they are being judged? (The answer is both.) My friend admitted that her first instinct often IS to judge, followed immediately by a self-check of non-judgment. I didn't think she was being anti-feminist by this admission; she was being honest. Human. Is it simply human to not understand what is not known? Is it going beyond human instinct to recognize we are uncomfortable by what is not known and to correct those feelings when we discover them?

I used to be uncomfortable with gay people. I couldn't get out of my head the idea of "ew, boys and boys in bed together". It was as if I assumed the whole point of their existence was to be gay. It wasn't until I realized my faulty thinking and began checking my discomfort over and over that I was finally able to see gay people as just people, like me. Who really are more than their sexual orientation.

I used to be very un-feminist. I believed women weren't funny or good musicians, and that they were unfit for leadership (because they were too emotional) and were designed to be helpmates for men. It wasn't until I recognized this faulty thinking and began to check myself over and over that I began to shed this socially ingrained attitude towards gender that I became comfortable with gender equality (and gender identity, which is something I am still in the process of checking myself on). I realized men and women, girls and boys, cisgender or trans, are just people, like me. Who are actually more than their gender.

I used to be uncomfortable around black people. When I left high school, I went to university and joined a gospel choir. I had never, in my white high school life, been in the minority until I joined that choir, where there were forty or fifty black students to seven of us whites. It was there that I realized how uncomfortable I was around black people (and how embarrassed I was for having come from such a segregated town). I realized that while I knew us all to be the same, I felt consciously different, separated by culture. I began to check myself and acknowledge when I felt "other". Since then I've come to recognize that racism in the US hasn't expired, and that it happens in ways I don't even notice. Like with sexism, some things are so socially ingrained, I don't always notice their effects or influence, but when I do notice, I check myself, restructure my thinking, because people of all colors are really just people, like me. Who are much more than their skin color.

So the question I wrestle with is: Are we all actually to greater or lesser degrees prejudiced people? Aren't we all, by default, bigots? Until we recognize the biases we have inside our own minds and hearts, we cannot help looking at the "other" as something to distrust. It's probably evolutionary, but we've long since out-grown the need for it and now it's just a roadblock, cordoning off the road to progress.

I'd like to believe that the more we each individually open our own eyes to our own prejudices, peel away the deep layers of fear and distrust, and teach the next generation how to do the same, our society will grow into a much more inclusive one, where "otherness" is something we love and enjoy and use to our advantage rather than quake and fight over.

I think it's okay to say I'm not a prejudiced person, because in my heart I don't want to be.

P.S. To follow up with a little bit of light-heartedness...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I Believe in the Traditional Definition

Marriage, ya'll.

In case you're just joining us here, I'm a person born with lady parts married to a person born with man parts. If you need proof, we have three biological children which can be verified as ours genetically through a simple DNA test. (No, I will not actually let you verify this via testing, so you're just going to have to trust me from here on out about that.)

So, just letting you know where I'm coming from.

I am also a very strong advocate for marriage equality. I 100% understand the arguments against it; I just think they are irrelevant. I think it is completely irrelevant whether one disapproves of homosexuality or not; it's not about approval or disapproval but about equal civil rights. If you are morally opposed to same-sex marriage, fine! Cool! Preach against it! Tell us all what you believe!! You can still be legislatively in favor though. Because - and maybe I'm going out on a limb, but I hope not - you are likely a really nice chap who really loves mankind and realizes that people are different, even if in your humble opinion they are wrong.

Last night I inadvertently kicked off yet another argument on Facebook (because somehow I can't post anything remotely political or religious, even if it's just about Hillary Clinton and includes the disclaimer "should be read by liberals", without causing an insurrection) and the subject rolled around to marriage equality, among other things.

Ahem.  Briefly, please, adjust Serious Volume to 10:

I am so tired of civil rights still being an argument. The bitter taste of Jim Crow is still on our lips; we are not so far past it to that we can forget how churches preached racism from the pulpit and legislation was passed to condone it. The generation before me can still remember the freedom fighters and the day the Civil Rights Act was passed and where they were when they heard of Martin Luther King, Jr's assassination. In the almost fifty years since, churches are still blushing at the way they preached against integration and interracial marriage and in large part have changed their practices and beliefs for the better.

And yet here we are again, banning legislation that would free LGBT human beings from discrimination and refusing to allow them equal rights. It's embarrassing. It just is.

Readjust Serious Volume.

So, after this uprising on Facebook, I got to thinking. This whole marriage equality thing could be put to rest if we could just think about it all in the context of...


I personally believe in the traditional definition of a book.


1. written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers.

2. a bound set of blank sheets for writing or keeping records in.

A book, as far as I'm concerned, is something I can hold in my hands, something I can smell, something that is beautiful and lasting. I cannot fathom why ANYONE would be attracted to...

An e-book.


1. an electronic version of a printed book that can be read on a computer or handheld device designed specifically for this purpose.

E-book?? I mean, what? Why? WHAT could be the attraction of an e-book? It is so... plain. So cold. There is no personality to an e-book. I will never be able to understand why anyone would look at a beautifully designed hardcover book with it's slick, attractive slip cover and it's crisp white pages covered in perfectly justified text printed in black ink, that fits perfectly on display on a bookshelf, and then look at an e-book, which isn't even a thing, and choose the e-book. I just don't get it.

But you know what?

If reading e-books floats your boat, knock yourself out. If for some crazy, depraved reason, you'd rather choose an e-book over a paperback, well by all means, go buy your Kindle, download a few e-books and read it to your heart's content. What you do in your personal reading time has no bearing on mine. I may not understand it, I may not like it, I may think reading e-books is pretty much a mortal sin, but I'm not the perpetrator. As long as you don't try to take away my physical books, I won't try to take away your digital ones.

People, gay couples getting married doesn't affect straight ones. It's not about beliefs or trying to usurp them or infringe upon them. People do not have to approve. One's deity does not have to approve. But we do not live in a theocracy. We live in a democracy, one that includes people who are different from each other, with different beliefs and different feelings and experiences. And those different people, have rights. They just do. They don't want to insult anyone else's experiences or beliefs. They just want what everyone else is allowed to have. They want equality.

Blacks wanted equality and had to fight hard (wait, "had" in past tense? sorry, "HAVE" to fight hard) for it. We are (or ought to be) embarrassed about this. Do we need to run around in the same circle again with our gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (etc) friends and fellow Americans? Really? Because the Bible tells me so? (Repeat: Civil Rights Act. Embarrassing, shameful times.)

Oops, forgot to ask you to adjust that Serious Volume there. Anyway.

Can't we just let people read whatever kind of books they like to read? Please? So we don't have to be embarrassed again in fifty years by our backwardness?


P.S. Did you know some people like paper books AND e-books? Crazy.
P.P.S. I do not think e-books are the same as gay people, because, well, that's just illogical.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why, Hello There.

So those of you who follow my blog (blessings to you all), I apologize for my recent silence.

I just finished writing my book. I am empty of words!

In fact, even just gathering up the energy to type a short little blog post to say "Hi, I'm still here! Haven't been hit by a bus or caught malaria or fallen into a deep depression over the sudden loss of purpose now that my book is complete!"

(That last one is a very real possibility, though.)

I have, however, been spending my time:

1. Reading.

2. Playing horsey on the floor with Jaguar. (I feel I sort of abandoned him in those last weeks, where I submerged myself in writing, coming up only for air and cups of tea made by my long-suffering husband.)

3. Showering. Did you know that writing makes you forget to shower? (Too much information?)

4. Eating desserts, which I always regret the next day like a bad hangover.

5. Sewing. I made myself a bunch more bookmarks (I might have the Guiness World Record on how many bookmarks I now own) and headbands and even a Spiderman skirt, which I was going to wear the other day when it got really warm, but then the cold front came in behind it, and also Jaguar is offended by my wearing Man-Man on a skirt and keeps trying to yank it off me, saying "Mine! Mine!"

6. Selling Girl Scout cookies with my daughters. (Going once, going twice! One more week!)

7. Watching Netflix. I missed Netflix in those last few weeks.

8. Book Clubbing. Okay, it was one night, but dang, I love book club and the book club girls!

I promise you some substance soon, and even have a blog post in my mind waiting to be put down in actual print (type?).

Until then, thanks for supporting me! I am doing all the post-writing crap that goes into publishing a book (and I'm thinking, if I started a GoFundMe, would people actually send me money to get my book professionally edited? Because it's, like, not cheap) but I will have my book available to order soon. Probably in god-forsaken ebook format to begin with. I am sorry. I apologize to the book gods for that. But unless you guys REALLY want to hook me up with a few thou for printing, it's gotta be ebook. I'll send you a bookmark if you purchase it (that you won't be able to use because it's a freaking ebook).

Anyway, thanks for all your support, dear readers!

Monday, March 09, 2015



After seventeen months I am done.

I have finished my book.

Sort of.

It'll never be finished, not really. It's now being read by "beta readers". But even after I ignore or take their advice, it won't be eternally finished. Not even if it gets published. I'm sure even then I'll be thinking, "Egads, what a stupid metaphor!" and "Ohhhh not ANOTHER split infinitive!" and "I totally should've said THIS not THAT." But you know. I finished my book.

I feel like this:

I also feel like this:

"A book’s journey is all about rejection.

During the writing process, a writer will reject numerous passages and drafts in favour of a completed draft for submission.

If a writer is successful in their query, chances are a literary agent or publisher will reject their book title and change it to something more marketable.

Once the book is the hands of the publishing house, the book cover designer will see various cover designs rejected before everyone agrees on the final version.

The publicity campaign will also suffer countless rejected ideas for promoting the book prior to formulating a strategy of release.

When the book is finally released, some readers will reject it on the grounds of genre."

But hey.

I finished my book.

I feel like this:

[Edited to Add:]

Here I am talking a little bit about my story/book on YouTube!

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Say Yes To the (11 Year Old) Dress

Everyone knows it's good to clear out your closet every once in a while and to use the "If I haven't worn this in six months, get rid of it" rule.

Well, while I waited nervously for my husband to get home in this brewing ice storm (took him two hours!) I distracted myself by having a good clear out. I've been working really hard since last summer to lose all the depression weight I put on last year, eating generally low carb and working out at the gym regularly, and I am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel... just a few more pounds until I'm at my target weight - a number I've not seen on the scale since college! So tonight, I tried on just about everything in my closet and chest of drawers, and everything that is too big now (and can't be taken in with my sewing machine) and everything I simply never ever wear got thrown into the garage sale pile.

But the really exciting thing is, I also got to go through my "One day I will fit back into this again, dammit!" box and pull out lots of old things I just could not part with "in case I ever lose enough weight to wear it again."

Well, folks, let me just tell you. There is nothing wrong with keeping a box like this, whatever the rules state. Even if it's eleven years later, you might just surprise yourself.

December 2003

March 2015

Someone please go back and tell 21 year old me to take off that sports watch.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

No Fear In Love

Once upon a time, my Papaw and Mamaw took me to their Assembly of God church’s production of Heaven’s Gates Hell’s Flames©. This is a play that Christian production companies take on tour to churches all over the world, using the members of the local congregations as the actors, which tells the stories of various people in their last moments of life and their subsequent first moments of eternity. Will they end up at Heaven’s Gates or will they succumb to Hell’s Flames?

The good people, and perhaps one bad person who at the end of his life begged for salvation, all met a meek, white-robbed, shaggy- haired Jesus who graciously and lovingly drew them to the shining bright light on Stage Left where they would spend eternity in peace, comfort and eternal bliss. The bad people, however, and maybe one person who “thought” he was good, were dragged kicking and screaming by demons to the red satin streamers flapping onto the stage by the fan of the flickering red lights of Hell’s Flames, Stage Right. The moral of the story: You never know when your last moment will be (car crash, falling to your death from work scaffolding, gunshot, or if you’re simply lucky, old age), so get prepared now. Ask Jesus into your heart now (there will be an altar call at the end of this production to assist you as you make your lifelong commitment now) or risk dying on the way home and being dragged to your eternal doom by the scariest red Spandex-wearing, black goatee-sporting Satan you could ever imagine.

At the end of that production, when the pastor asked the non-believers in the crowd to raise their hands to be saved – and requested the rest of the audience bow their heads so they wouldn’t see whose hands were raised – I nervously lifted my hand. I had already asked Jesus into my heart a couple of times before, but now I had to be sure, doubly sure, triply sure that I was saved, just in case. I did not want to be dragged Stage Right. I was terrified of being dragged Stage Right, for all of forever, never to be released. My Mamaw next to me gently tugged my arm back down. I was so confused. Was she ashamed that I wasn’t already saved? I was afraid of disappointing her so I put my hand down and stayed in my seat. I remembered that I could just as easily get saved from my seat as from the altar, so there in my chair, I begged God to please save me from going to hell, but I was still afraid that by not actually getting out of my seat and going forward, that my pride had kept me from actually being heard by God.

I was eight years old.

Image courtesy of

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18, NIV) This is what we are taught. We are told that it is God’s love that draws us to him, not fear. Yet at the very end of it all, the threat of hell dangles ahead of us, always warning us, always keeping us in check. When we doubt our faith, when we doubt God, when we are tempted to do wrong or go our own way, images of hell flicker in our minds. Eternal separation from God, misery, agony, death that never lets you die, the arrogant, maniacal laughter of Satan – though he too is burning – drives us from taking steps too far from God. The closer we tiptoe to the edge, the more real hell becomes. The flames lick our feet, the smoke singes our hair, and we run full force back into the arms of Jesus. Once we are there, we claim it was Jesus’ love that brought us back, but really, it was the proximity to hell that drove us home.

Fear is a motivator. Parents, teachers, police officers, judges and madmen use it all the time.

Do that again and you’ll get a spanking.
Study harder or you will fail.
Break the law and you will go to prison.
Use protection or you will get pregnant or an STD.
If you ever turn gay, boy, I will beat your ass.
Scream, bitch, and I’ll kill you.

Consequences are directly linked to fear, for better or for worse, and we use consequences and fear constantly to assure cooperation. Some consequences are logical, natural consequences: throw that toy out of anger and it will break, rob that liquor store and you will get arrested, cheat on your spouse and you could lose your marriage. Others, however, are illogical and unnatural: hit your sister and you will get spanked (e.g., hit by me), forget your homework once and fail the class, talk back to an officer and get shot. Fear is a factor anytime consequences are considered, and some fear is helpful in making positive decisions. But when fear is taken to an unnatural extreme, it can be abused as manipulation.

I know already what the Christian wants to say: “But hell IS a natural, real consequence, and the worst consequence, and it would be wrong of us not to warn you!” Putting aside, for just a moment, the fact that there is no actual evidence that hell is a real, natural consequence other than an ancient book sort of, kind of, if you read it a certain way, says so, I have to wonder just what kind of all loving, Heavenly Father would actually choose eternal torture as a reasonable punishment.

Parents discipline their kids in various ways. Time-outs, loss of privileges, rectification, smacks. The purpose of discipline is supposed to be character building. We teach children about natural consequences so they will understand how to make better decisions in the future. We explain right from wrong. We try to show them how wrong decisions affect and hurt others, and why right decisions are always right, even when they are hard. We fill our box of parenting tools with the tools we believe will be best suited to these purposes. In general, we all try to do our best to reach the same common goal of bringing up children who are good. This is what God the Father is supposed to be doing too. Teaching us lessons that will make us stronger, better, more righteous people.

When we hear of parents who have beat their children to a pulp or who have kicked their children onto the streets, very few of us agree these parents have done right. A boy who is beaten by his father for being gay or the girl who is kicked out on the streets for getting pregnant are examples to us all of how not to parent our kids. Yet even in the worst possible way, those parents are in some dim, misguided, heartless way trying to teach their kids a lesson. Trying to “improve” them, in most cruel and irrational ways. These are what we call “bad parents”. Yet when we look at hell, we see something crueller than even that.

We see a loving Heavenly Father who gives his children hardships to strengthen them, who allows horrible things to happen to them to bring them even closer to him. Abusive relationship parallels aside, the most innocent and well-intentioned view of this is that God just wants us to be the best we can be, making us more like his Son Jesus, which is the goal. But that is only one side of him. The other side looks at those who are not his children (even though they are his creation) with total disregard, or worse, with vengeance. He gives salvation freely but not to these people. And for his creation that he disregarded, he has a plan for ultimate punishment – eternal torture in a fiery furnace of misery, agony, complete separation from all good things like love and companionship and holiness, forever and ever and ever with no chance for redemption. No chance of redemption. No chance to learn from their mistakes and become better.

Even the worst parent who beats his child does it with some kind of sick belief it will do the child some good.

Unless God the Father is like the father who beats his child for his own sick pleasure and nothing else, God is no Father at all. The God of the Bible that Christians taut as all-loving, who Christians insist to your face loves you has designed a place for you where you will suffer for eternity for absolutely no reason other than not believing in him. He withholds his grace from you (remember, faith is a gift that only God can give) and will punish you for it. Unless you want to spend your eternal afterlife in this miserable place, you better get yourself right with this all-loving, all-compassionate Heavenly Father who has the power to make you burn. Fear of hell is the ultimate motivator.

A few weeks ago I went back to see a production of Heaven’s Gates Hell’s Flames©; I wanted to know if it was really as frightening as I remembered. It was. Everything was exactly as I remembered it, except Satan wasn’t wearing red Spandex as he did in my mind’s eye, but instead a black cloak, a menacing white and black mask with evil facial features and had reverb in his loud, booming voice. Hell was still Stage Right, with smoke and satin flames and flickering red lights. He still dragged both bad and good (though all of course always pre-warned, because that’s how the world really works) people into his lair, begging and screaming their bloodcurdling pleas for forgiveness all too late. Even as a thirty-something year old post-Christian, I watched in horror, as my chest tightened with memories of that childhood terror, the childhood dreams of demons dragging me to hell, the fear I was never really saved and would one day die to hear my supposed Savior shout, “Depart from me, I never knew you!” Unchecked, I myself would’ve been swayed by the naked fear it instilled in me; that primal fear of hell may never go away.

It was a sad realization. The trauma we go through as children will always be with us. It will always be there, hidden in somewhere in our psyches, long after rationalization and logic take over our conscious thoughts.

There were several children in the audience, some who looked too young to even be in school. To their credit, the production staff did warn at the start that the program was not suitable for children under ten and encouraged parents to send their kids to a children’s program located elsewhere in the building. Many kids went to that, but many stayed. I wondered how many parents who kept their kids with them had actually seen the play themselves previously. I wondered if they had, if they would still insist on keeping their children in to watch teen suicides, domestic violence, murders, car and plane crashes, school shootings and of course the Devil Himself unfold right before their baby eyes.

My heart ached when I saw a tiny little girl, no older than six, lift her own skinny arm at the altar call at the end, seeing myself in her tiny blond bob, seeing her future before her, one of fear, even if also mixed with love. Fear will be with her as she grows into a woman.

After the final scene, where a screaming unsaved mother is dragged away from her screaming, begging Christian teenage daughter by the billowy, echoey hooded Satan and his demons at the gates of heaven, and the girl is hugged by Jesus then sent on her own to enter the pearly gates looking forlorn but okay, the production director came on stage and began the obligatory altar call. At first, he asked that all would bow their heads and close their eyes, just as the director did twenty-five years ago. He asked that anyone who wanted to invite Jesus into their lives slip a hand in the air. He then asked them to stand, and anyone else who was too afraid to lift their hands the first time to also stand. Then he requested that all the backslidden Christians also stand. Even with my head bowed, I could sense all the bodies around me standing. He then invited them to come forward to the altar at the front. Bodies filed past me, many crying, many looking guilt-ridden, a few looking relieved. As the director kept insisting there were more backsliders who hadn’t yet come forward, and more “backsliders” filed past me to the front, I felt the same familiar rage build inside of me. These are good people! You are all good people! I wanted to scream. I was burdened and angry at the guilt heaped upon guilt being laid on thick on all the spiritual masochists in the room – and all the normal people too – who were all searching their hearts and determining that he – no, God – was speaking to them. I waited. I wanted to stay to the end if I could.

Then he said, “Christians, I want you to turn to the person next to you, even if you don’t know them. Maybe put your arm around them. I want you to ask them, ‘Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?’"

I couldn’t take any more.

Before the sweet looking teenager next to me whose friend had just gone forward could turn to me, I turned to the aisle and marched not forward to the altar but backwards to the back of the room and out the back door. Eyes followed me, but I did not care. I had no intention of making a scene, but I’d seen and heard enough. Frustrated, I knew that many people interpreted that in their own Christianese as me hardening my heart to the Spirit, but it was far from being that. It was like having to leave a scene of abuse that you have no way of stopping. Like having to walk away from something that is so wrong and out of your control that you cannot bear witnessing it any longer. Like turning your head away from a car crash on the freeway instead of rubbernecking. I had seen enough of my past and these strangers’ futures to watch any longer. The anger bubbling up inside me was too explosive. I’m afraid of what I would’ve said to that sweet teen next to me. Afraid of what would have come out of my mouth. My purpose in life is not to insult other people’s sincerely held faiths. But it is also not my purpose to condone psychological abuse.

Luckily no one followed me outside, though I was worried someone might.

Reflecting later that night, one more sad realization struck me. Fear is the overarching theme of this play. The scenes of people going to hell dominate not only my recollections of last night, but my memories of the play from twenty-five years ago. I remembered so distinctly the damned being dragged to hell Stage Right. But how is it that I did not remember that the saved walked up a huge flight of stairs center stage to enter heaven through a shiny curtain at the top where they were greeted by Jesus? I realized, I only concluded that the Christians went to heaven Stage Left because actually, I couldn’t remember at all what happened to the saved. That was never the point of the play. How did I recall every detail of hell in the wings twenty-five years later but forgot that the entire stage was decorated in gold and silver, with sparkling steps running up the center, surrounded by angels who stood on stage the entire time, with a humble Jesus waiting at top, arms outstretched?

Jesus is not the point of this play, that’s why.

Jesus never speaks a word. Not one word throughout the whole production. He never makes a single active motion aside from hugs to the people who climb the steps towards him. In only one scene does he seem to intervene in a situation, the one in which a troubled teen commits (accidental) suicide. Both Jesus and Satan approach her silently, then Satan flees when she calls out to Christ. Even then, Jesus only stands there smiling gently. He does not actually do anything for her until she is in heaven and he silently wipes his hand across her arm, removing the scars from years of cutting, before sending her through the curtain.

Conversely, Satan has lots to say. In his booming, echoing voice, he taunts the sinners, laughs at the arrogant fools who thought being a good person was good enough, and then addresses the audience with one-liners about how he loves to watch anger CONSUME people’s hearts and how pornography is his SPECIALTY. Then he flaps back to hell with guffaws that echo through the room after blackout.

Jesus is entirely forgettable. I do not recall anything that Jesus did twenty-five years ago on that stage. But Satan was everything I remembered. It could have been the same actor, the memories are so exact.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Challenge Accepted! -February Books

The Reading Challenge continues!!

With 50 books to check off (52 actually, since one category is a trilogy), I need to read approximately four and a half books a month to complete the challenge.  With some books being longer or more difficult than others, I'm doing my best to check off as many books as month as possible.

This month I read seven.

Silence by Shusaku Endo (A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit)
I've been wanting to re-read this book for a while now. I first read it a few years ago when I was in the throes of spiritual uncertainty, and it literally changed my life. Now that I have moved on from there, I wanted to read it again to see how it would affect me now. Here is the comprehensive review I wrote about the book when I finished it the second time.

I was able to tick off a box in the reading challenge because Japan is a place I have always wanted to visit. From obento to kokeshi, I've had a long-standing fascination with Japanese trends. One day we will visit. Until then, I'll read books.

 Love Wins by Rob Bell (A book with bad reviews)
In my Christian days, I loved me some Rob Bell. We watched all the Nooma videos at Bible studies, and some of them blew my mind. His way of explaining the Bible intellectually and putting Biblical stories into their proper historical context were enlightening to me. (And those videos - Can't we all remember that moment when the car pulled out of the airport parking lot? We all do.) He is educated and insightful and - to sheepishly borrow a Christian buzzword - relevant. So I have an immense amount of respect for Rob Bell.

Then suddenly, with the release of Love Wins, everyone's favorite hipster pastor "fell from grace". Suddenly he was the Church's greatest insider enemy. Mainstream evangelicals shunned him. They hated this book. So, of course, I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I ordered the book.

Love Wins proposes an alternate concept of hell from the usual lake of fire/ separation from God/ eternal punishment and torture bit. Bell goes back to Scriptural mentions of hell - which is pretty sparce; Sheol, Hades and Gehenna are actually not appropriately translated into the Heaven's Gates Hell's Flames version of the everlasting fiery torment we think of today. Bell then proposes a different idea of what might befall the ungodly - but I'll let you read the book to see what that is.

I really liked the book. However, I had two complaints. The first is Bell's assumption that you are either a loving, good, at-peace person with Jesus or you are a discontent, lonely, depressed (and then of course, possibly downright bad) person without Jesus. While he admits there are very good people who do not follow Jesus (and that there are some very bad people who do), he seems to assume those good people are still wandering around aimlessly, looking for that ultimate fulfillment that will give their lives meaning. I beg to differ.

The second complaint, though, is that while he used a lot of Scripture - and the very modern, mainstream concept of a loving God - to back up his points, he seemed to gloss over all the not very loving aspects of God all through Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. If I were still a mainstream evangelical, I'd have thought of it more as glossing over "the wrath of God", the part of God that wants to punish all the people who didn't follow him. As a Calvinist, I'd have laughed the whole book right off. However, IF God is the God of Love Bell describes in the book, then his book would be pretty close to the mark. IF there is a God and IF he is all-loving, then Bell's assessment that eternal torture is not compatible with His nature would have to be pretty near spot on.

If the subject of hell bothers you, I'd recommend picking up this book. It's an easy read, despite the heavy subject matter, written in a very "bloggy" style. And Bell is just so darn charming. I'm glad he's still out there, despite all the backlash, being relevant in the Christian world.

 Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind(A play)
The day I was finishing Love Wins, my copy of Spring Awakening arrived in the mail. Even though it was about 11:30 at night when I finished Love Wins, I was eager to read this little play, so I dove straight into it and read it in one sitting. It was about 2am before I got to bed that night.

A little personal background. I first heard of Spring Awakening as a rock musical. When I was doing Footloose, my first return to amateur dramatics in Scotland, another local drama group was holding adutions for SA. I didn't audition, because I was already in a musical, but also because I knew nothing about it. Curious, though, I bought the soundtrack and went to see my new friends perform it when the time came. Turns out, the musical (based on this German play from 1891) was shockingly controversial. I actually found myself cringing horribly at some parts. The music is great though and the subject matter important. I found it hard to believe that this was actually based on a play from the 19th century, so for a while I'd been wanting to get my hands on the original.

Surprisingly, shockingly even, the original play is even more gritty.

Basically, the rock musical deals with homosexuality, teen sexuality and pregnancy, suicide, sexual abuse, masturbation and abortion. The play deals with all of those topics PLUS masochism, sadism, and child prostitution, all thrown in with a dash of dark humor. Ouch. Even the modern rock musical doesn't try to be funny about it. Even the modern musical softens Wendla Bergman's taste for masochism and Melchior Gabor's blatant rape scene (which is performed as not rape in the musical). The musical ages the characters too; the original play has the children ranging from eleven to fourteen.

I'll just say this book was disturbing but intriguing. It's almost impossible to imagine a 19th century writer with the cajones to shamelessly write about gay romps in the grass and circle jerking with such bluntness, and particularly for the stage! Not to mention the unsettling mental health issues so many of the child characters display. And then to do it all with a twisted dark humor...

It was a good play.

(And the musical is good too.)

God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer by Bart Ehrman (A book you own but have never read)
Originally, I was going to check off "A book a friend recommended" but when I told that friend I'd read it, he said he had actually recommended a different book. Oops.

I own a lot of Bart Ehrman books. Ehrman is a New Testament scholar and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I first heard of him on NPR discussing his most recent book How Jesus Became God with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. I subsequently ordered that book and read it, followed by several others of his. Ehrman is an agnostic, who left evangelical Christianity after attending three religious colleges and universities. He alludes to his reasons for leaving Christianity in his other books but said that the full story is fleshed out in God's Problem in which he discusses the problem of suffering. I've had this book on my shelf for about a year now and finally decided to read it.

This book is a very, very thorough review of the Biblical answers to why we suffer. He moves through Old and New Testament authors and demonstrates their understanding of why we suffer. The answers are all very different from one another and actually very comprehensive, even while being contradictory. From believing suffering comes from God as punishment for sin to coming from the forces of Satan to being a matter of free will to being a result of living in a fallen world to being a means of bringing us closer to God to having literally no meaning whatsoever, the Bible seems to have covered basically every reason we can think of for why there is suffering in the world.

The problem Ehrman has, and that I share with him, is that none of these explanations are compatible with an all powerful, all loving God. And none of these explanations - with the exception perhaps of Ecclesiastes which basically says suffering just happens and it totally sucks - are satisfactory. Some are even appalling. It was this problem with suffering that led Ehrman to eventually leave the faith altogether. It also resonates deeply with me, being a problem I wrestled with often: How can an all-powerful, all-loving God allow so many African children to starve daily, allow tsunamis and earthquakes to kill millions of innocent people yearly, allow so much unbearable, senseless pain and suffering without lifting a finger to do anything about it? The "answers" are all there in the Bible, but none of them are good enough. None of them really cut to the chase.

In fact, this book echos back the problem of God's silence in Endo's book too. From Silence to Love Wins to God's Problem, there was a definite trend going on in my February reading - can God truly be a loving God if he remains silent during suffering or punishes millions upon millions of people for eternity just for getting the details wrong?

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (A book that became a movie)
After four rather emotionally exhausting books, I decided it was time for some fluff. My friend Elizabeth loaned me Fight Club. After reading a fan site claiming that Marla is not real, Scott and I went back and watched the movie again. Then I read the book. (For the record, I'm still on the fence about Marla. Mebbe, mebbe not.) It was a good book, but of course, having seen the movie already a dozen times, there were no surprises. I'd have liked to have read this book before ever seeing the movie, then allowing the movie to amaze me even further. Regardless, it's one of those books I'm pleased to say I've now read. Makes me feel more movie-literate, if that's even a thing. I can't really discuss much about the book (or the movie) without spoilers, but then seriously, if you haven't already seen it, I have to wonder if you've been living in a cave.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (A book with nonhuman characters)
Following Book Club, where this book came up, another friend Tosha dropped her copy off in my mailbox for me to read. She was sure I'd love it, having lived Britishly myself for several years. (She too is married to a Scotsman.) This is one of Scott's favorite books, so it was high time I read it anyway. It was, however, one of those books that has been so built up for me that I was afraid reading it would be a disappointment.

After literally LOLing three times in the first chapter, though, I figured that wasn't much of a concern.

This book is funny. It is absurd. It is modern day, sci-fi Candide. I read through it quickly and immediately started in on the second book of the series Restaurant at the End of the Universe. The story of human Arthur Dent saved from the obliteration of Earth in the process of creating a galactic bypass (plans of which had already been scrapped, oops) as he hitchhikes through the galaxy with humanoid alien Ford Prefect, ex-Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox and fellow human Trillian is unpredictable, improbable and hilarious. The Britishness of the humor makes me feel warmly back in Scotland in turtleneck jumper drinking a perfect cup of tea. I'm eager to read the rest of the series, which may or may not tick off any more boxes of the Reading Challenge but will certainly be worth my time! So fluffily, funnily delightful!

Four by Veronica Roth (A book with a one-word title)
I'm not one to read two books at once, but I saw Four at the library, and even though I'm currently in the middle of Restaurant at the End of the Universe, I checked it out and read it in two days. Like the rest of the Divergent series, it's an energetic, fast-paced story that keeps you turning pages until you are through. This book gives some prequel story lines about the character Four that we meet in the earlier books. Four is a really interesting character, so I'm sure I speak for all fans when I say I'm glad she wrote this book, telling us more about him.

My only complaint - and it was one of my complaints about Allegian too - is that Four doesn't have his own voice. He speaks and thinks just like Tris, using the same imagery and descriptions. That's not a character fault, though, it's an author's. I can't blame Four for it. (I kind of love him.) Regardless, it was easy to push that little bit of literary snobbery aside and just enjoy the plot line.

(Okay listen. If we were playing Truth or Dare, and you asked me who my fictional crush is, I'd have to say Four. There. The truth is out.)

So the Reading Challenge continues. 13 books down, 39 to go! Anyone else willing to jump in?

To see what else I have read this year: