Thursday, June 19, 2008

Fiction

I have just sent back the proofs to my first novel, with the sincere hope that it will be available for purchase by the end of the "academic summer" (mid-August). Its publication has been held up. I hadn't even read any of it in six months or more! I have been working on the sequels and only referred to it to avoid any inconsistency with dates. Because all three books will be tied into historical events, I have to keep the chronology right.

I have just been reading reviews/comments about The Shack. I don't believe in critiquing something I haven't experienced myself, so that's not my purpose here. I am more interested in the what the commentors and bloggers had to say about fiction in the Christian life and theology. Story truth vs. propositional truth. I think this will become an even greater subject as postmodernism goes on. I personally want to write good stories that engage people on an artistic and emotional level, and that then may, and I repeat, may, lead them to propositional truths, or to think about them. I do not want someone to read my books and say, "She is preaching." That would be the end of it. I want them to read it and empathize with characters and their choices and then judge whether those were valid choices.

All that being said, I think my novel is good. I'll post the links when it's available for purchase. I know enough about the real world to know first-time authors make more money by being asked to do readings at colleges and conferences than by selling books. And I am excited about where my sequels are going.

Finally, IS ANYBODY OUT THERE??? I really wish someone would post a comment or email me at one of the following: humteacher@charter.net or rekcut30736@yahoo.com

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Church Life, Such as it is

Since I am a Sunday Bible School teacher in an SBC church, I am expected to visit prospects. Recently I visited a woman who said she’d come and didn’t. She had had a bad experience at one of our services, not a horrendous thing, but understandably off-putting. Nevertheless, I don't like people making promises to me they do not keep nor have any intention of keeping. I would just as soon they say they can't make it, want to go elsewhere, church is not a priority, or something final. I'm an upfront person and treat people that way. Of course, expecting other people to treat you as you like to treat others is not a necessary corrollalry to the Golden Rule.

I have a lot of observations about these times I have this experience, but the bottom of it is that people who say they are Christians just don’t think they need the church. That is a lie from the devil. It’s like a diet of junk food without some of the things we know are good for us but we don’t like. My son doesn't like onions and can pick them all out or just refuse to eat them. I can't imagine food without onions and eat it (and everything else!) with zest. Most people in the U.S. are like my son and his onions. What I and other churchgoers see as the parts of church that give it zest, others would like to pick out, or they just decide to forgo the whole meal.

In church we get faced with different types of people, even if everybody is white and middle class. In church we have to deal with imperfect people (people on religious TV shows are perfect as far as we’re concerned.) In church we get reminded we aren’t perfect. In church we can’t get away from responsibilities to others. What is it about church that those who claim to follow Jesus feel this way, that it’s an option, a choice among many, a side dish from the smorgasbord of life but not the main course?


The church refers today to four things--the mystical body of Christ, the universal collection of all true believers, local assemblies of believers, and that big monstrosity of all so-called Christians, tradition, liberal, conservative, apostate, etc. But in that day they didn’t have any debates about the church. It was clear what it was. They were living it, and apparently it was the center of their lives. I think that is what I get mostly from Acts 3-5, a section we can’t study in detail like we should. Despite the possibility of confrontation and rejection from family and the synagogue, the church came first. And this was not because they just liked each other and wanted to hang out together. Neither was it because people could get a leg up in society, network and make contacts.

Relevant questions:
What were the early church’s motivations in meeting so much?
How important is the church to our lives?
What do we expect from church?
What happens when we leave church out as a priority?
Do we let bad experiences in church life color our attitudes too much?
How do nonbelievers see the church?
How do we feel when church is not part of our lives?
Why do people get away from church?
How do nominal believers see the church?
Do we put the individual above the church?
What is the place of meeting mutual needs in the church?
What are barriers to meeting mutual needs?
What is the place of meeting needs of non-members or unbelievers?
How seriously should we take the criticism people might have of our church?
What can we do to draw people to our fellowship?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Gardening

This summer I have devoted myself to a vegetable garden. It is less than 100 square feet, and I probably have my seven different vegetables crowded in there too tightly--tomatoes, two kinds of peppers, two kinds of squash, cucumbers (which are particularly reticent to take off), cataloupe, green beans, and lettuce. Nothing is ready to eat, but we're getting close. I wished I'd planted okra.

Watching things grow is a joy. Weeding and hoeing are not, and there is a particularly pernicious weed or ground cover plant that takes over quite quickly. And there is the fertilizing and watering, sometimes necessary although rainwater does so much better. Fortunately it's been damp this spring (but not like it has been in Iowa.)

Barbara Kingsolver, a writer I do not read, has written a book about how she and her family lived on what they grew or could get locally for a year. She lives in Abingdon, VA, somewhat north of here, but far enough south to get a good yield for a long summer. I wouldn't go that far (I'm assuming they didn't give up coffee?) but I do plan to double the size of the garden next year and have more varieties. In this time of rising energy prices, I commend the locally grown movement and feel I am doing my part.

As much, however, as it pains me to say this, I don't think 4.00 a gallon is the tragedy we've made it. No, I don't like paying that much for it, and I have significantly and purposefully cut back on my driving this summer although it will be a temporary solution. We were paying a lot less than everyone else (except Iran, I hear), and we have ridiculous, wasteful (I drive a Civic and an Accord, so I can be a tad self-righteous here) driving habits. I'm all for people scaling back their lifestyles; we are profligate. That being said, I don't see why we can't drill in Anwar and why we aren't getting any oil help from Iraq.

That detour relates to this post in that gardening should become a sign of patriotism and true environmentalism.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The '80s

I came home from my night class tonight and sat down to work on my novel and watch mindless television. My son, 19, has on a VH1 show about the 1980s. It's all pop culture and mostly tacky, but I can't help but laugh at what was "hot, hot, hot" in 1987 and 1988 (the year he was born). The hair was absolutely bizzare, the '80s must have been the time when we got used to the crassness of what became pop culture, and there were some great movies back then, like "Rain Man," a movie that introduced the clueless to autism (in some ways a good thing, in some ways a bad). But what stands out to me is what I thought was the most telling event of 1987.

Of course, that could be a lot of things, but I give that title to the Baby Jessica falling int he well incident. America sat by the TV for three days worrying over the fate of that toddler. Who can forget when she was brought up? Who can forget how the rescuers ran and the heavy equipment that was brought in? What did it mean? Careless parents get lots of media attention? The discrepancy of the American attitude toward children--we'll go to the greatest lengths to save a child's life but we'll neglect them and their real needs and we'll kill them before they are born in record numbers? The power of media to make us feel as if an incident really maters to us whe it doesn't? That we can be riveting by something that a week later we don't care about?

At the end of the year I called it 1987 the tales of two Jessicas, because the other big story was the seduction of Jim Bakker by Jessica Hahn, or vice versa (was that not the depth of sordidity?) They represented to me the extremes of our culture then and now.

Anyway, the show is funny, but crass. These are cheap shows to make, like Mystery Science Theatre 3000--show a corny movie from the past and take cheap shots at it. We love to make smart comments about people who take themselves too seriously; it's a national pastime.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Some more only seemingly random thoughts

Some more observations on the book of Acts, early chapters.

1. What were they all in one accord about?

2. What caused the early Christians to be willing to spend time together, minister together, share possessions?

3. What turned Peter into this orator all of a sudden?

4. What emboldened Peter and John to realize that the Sanhedrin, the "Jewish Senate," the legislative, political, judicial, and religious body, the group that had power of life and death over them, to realize the Sanhedrin was not speaking for God, and what emboldened them to say they must obey God rather than the supposed representative of God on earth. Of course, the subtext might be that the Sanhedrin, as the elitists, didn't have much real "street cred" with the working class any way, and it is the working class that is most represented in the disciples. But Peter and John are doing more than being sarcastic about class differences. They know where that kind of talk can lead them.

The revolutionary nature of the first four chapters of Acts are lost on us 1970 years later, but I'm not sure why. What did all this? Humanly speaking, their experience, but supernaturally speaking, it can only be accredited to the Holy Spirit.

On to another topic. Teaching and Learning. I am reading Dee Fink's book right now, and it really is good. I only wish some of these books could be reduced to what they are saying that is truly unique; it would save me a lot of time. If nothing else, I can believe Fink has actually taught college students.

The problem where I teach is that many of the students aren't really college students. Oh, officially they are, but they do not define themselves as that in their own understanding. It is not, for one, a priority. If asked to define themselves, a lot wouldn't put student first. That is shown by the fact, fairly well documented, that students don't study the requisite two hours per class hour, or six hours per three-hour class. I have toyed with the idea of being so easy that they students wouldn't have to meet the six-hour limi. But I discarded it. Lowering expectations doesn't help anyone.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

When your lifeline is cut off—

That’s very dramatic. As I write this, my computer works but the cable and Internet are down. We are experiencing real withdrawal symptoms (as in frenetic but futile attempts to watch TV and check email), and yet there is a sense of relief that I am not the prisoner of the screen. It seems that all our lives are funneled through screens anymore, and I don’t mean the type that keeps flies out of the house. Flat screens, high-definition screens, screens in church (ostensibly used for PowerPoint projection but also used to “blow up” the pastor, some of which, especially in a Baptist church, don’t need to look any bigger.)

In fact, I warn my students that audiences have been trained to pay more attention to the screen than the speaker, not purposefully, just as an unintended consequence. If that is true, the speaker has to either use the screen minimally, or make sure the screen is not more interesting than he/she or the message, or turn all technology off completely and speak the way the ancients did, with an emphasis on words, not images, on humanity, not machine.

Since our technological lifeline has been cut, I am going to go for a walk and then read a book; at least the electricity (and thus the air conditioner—it’s finally gotten hot in North Georgia) are still working fine. If my Internet is out, I have an excuse not to answer student email. Ironically, the book I’ll be reading is The World is Flat. I’m half way through it (an expanded edition that seems very long), and like most books it belabors a point. Most books today seem to be article length in terms of ideas but tome-length in terms of pages.

I don’t think the world is really flat. That seems to say there is an absence of hierarchy, which is absurd. Hierarchy is alive and well. The world is interconnected and the developing world is giving us a run for our money. From a human being standpoint, I’m OK with that. From an American standpoint, not so much, but I don’t think we can hold on to the economic hegemony the way we have. Why shouldn’t an Indian drive a car and live in decent housing? We’ve been looking down our noses at them for years, implying they were too stupid or backward to live at a higher standard. They benefited from the infrastructure improvements of the tech bubble, just as we did, and from their own work ethic, as we used to.

This is not to say the book is invalid. It's very interesting, but I could use an abridged edition.

The cable company is going to call us when the cable is on. That’s really kind of funny, when you think about it.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Give the Fellow a Break

Yes, maybe Obama resigned his church for purely political reasons. But let's lay off him for that. Let's talk about his economic philosophy and his foreign policy plans. As someone who has chosen to stop attending certain churches, it's a painful and personal decision. Some graciousness seems warranted.

But no, that seems to be beyond Fox News. Sean Hannity, shame on you.

Book of Acts

Since I teach an adult (women's) Sunday Bible class, it seems reasonable that some of my posts should be about that. Today we began the Book of Acts. A few observations.

1. As with most things in the church, we are out of balance. Our doctrine of and openness to (I don't say usage, appropriation, or any other word that makes it sound like we are in control) the Holy Spirit is one of them, probably the largest. We either talk about the Holy Spirit (not it) all the time in search of some self-absorbed ecstactic experience or ignore the Holy Spirit, only mentioning in creeds or in passing. This has bugged me for years. We equate, I fear, the Holy Spirit control with borderline, unsocial behavior. We therefore (think we) have to keep the Holy Spirit at bay, which makes no sense based on John 14:16-18. I believe we are daily prompted by the Holy Spirit to do and say things that honor God and we generally disobey.

2. The kingdom of God didn't go away in Matthew 13. I struggle with this concept, but since Augustine, Luther, and Calvin did, I guess I'm in good company.

3. Acts 1 has a pretty revolutionary verse. The women who came from Galilee, and Jesus' mother, were meeting with the apostles and praying. HMMMM. I have to confess to a long-term gender-inferiority complex. It has only started to heal in the last couple of years. Basically it goes like that: Men are generally more valuable than women because (a) there are fewer of them and (2) if we let the women run everything, we'll have a weak culture. Therefore, I am less valuable because I'm a woman. Very wrong. It's getting better. This verse helps. And notice that Mary Magdalene is not mentioned here, at least not by name. I don't think she comes up again after the gospels. Take that, Dan Brown.

4. Sometimes I think it might be good to make decisions by casting dice or lots, considering how little we pray for real Holy Spirit direction for important decisions.

5. That last comment shows I can be snarky, and while that's a bad thing, it's wonderful that the apostles were themselves. They didn't obsess over being something they weren't. How refreshing.

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 18 in total

I have decided to post all of my thoughts on Matthew 18 at once.  After this I will take a short break from posting about Matthew, not becau...