Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hiatus for Now

This is my 795th post.  I had hoped to get to 800 by Lent, but this week I am attending a conference and had to prepare a paper, there are piles of work at the office, etc.  And the truth is, I just don't have anything fresh to write about now (that paper took it out of me).  Some of these posts are good; some are rants.

My editor says she is working on my next novel now, so I hope to be reading those proofs.  I want to work on some larger projects now, the Christmas novel to be sold through Kindle, a book on Bible study and one on communication in Proverbs, classes I am teaching, the possibility of grad school, some other fiction.  

The other problem is that I want to cut back on media consumption for Lent and focus on spiritual preparation.  The final problem is that with the election coming I will be tempted to write about certain political figures and it's best if I stay out of that.

So, goodbye for now.  If you Google partsofspeaking and just about any other subject, you will find something I wrote on it.  Have fun.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Good news about giving to poor

On an earlier blog post I wrote about my priority in giving for the poor, clean water.  This article shows it as a top strategy for helping the poor. 

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/february/popular-strategies-helping-the-poor.html

The article also says, however, that it is not one of the most hyped and therefore not one of the most "lucrative" types of charitable efforts.  Let's change that, folks. 

Downton Abbey Part III

Am I the only person who doesn't like Mary Crawley?  Are we supposed to like her?  How are we supposed to feel about her? 

Like her father, she is concerned about the state of the estate, and will do what is necessary to "keep it in the family."  Like her mother the American, she is blunt and says what she thinks (but is she lying to Carlisle?). 

At the same time, she is just plain mean.  She was mean to Carson and to Anna, so she has a grating sense of entitlement that everyone acknowledges (especially Mrs. Hughes).  I don't want her to end up with poor Matthew, no matter how she feels about him.

I think one of the problems the series has the season is that it has become more plot-driven than character- driven.  We were introduced to great characters in believable contexts, and this season the characters are doing atypical and illogical, out-of-character things to move a plot along and get more "drama" and emotion without it seeming realistic or necessary.  Yes, some of them are changing and showing their better (or worse) sides, such as O'Brien with the soldier who had PTSD (shell shock in the old days).  And Thomas has realized his place in the world.  But I'm not sure everyone is making sense.  If nothing else, the plot is just going too fast (and we are not realizing that eight years have passed.)

 Some people on the discussion boards post (like IMDB.com) post very witty comments, such as "what I've learned from Downton Abbey"--"the Spanish flu either made one very ill or very horny."  I enjoy reading those, but some people are very critical of the plot and character inconsistencies.  It does seem that the writers were under pressure to keep an audience (due, I am sure, to the excessive costs of production) so they added some things that haven't been totally thought through. 

But I am still hooked, and watched it a second time last night (until Person of Interest came on).

Thoughts?

Writers Resources

I am rereading a book that is foundational to me as a serious fiction writer, John Gardner's The Art of Fiction.  Not to push Amazon (I know there is a big controversy over whether it is good for writers or not, so I only provide this link for more information): 

http://www.amazon.com/Art-Fiction-Notes-Craft-Writers/dp/0679734031/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1329493321&sr=1-1

Warning:  although this book "changed my life" (sorry for the cliche) as far as writing goes, and I will giving a more thorough review in the future, it is not a how-to book for writing a mystery or a romance.  It is more from an academic, literary critic point of view but in no way pompous or condescending.  Even if one wants to write mystery or romance or westerns or true crime, I believe one needs to read the best there is (at least some of it, not of course all of it) before getting into specific genre.   However, he does say not to write what you know, but to pick a genre and learn it.  I have to agree with that wholeheartedly.  The unread and inexperienced writer does not understand the power of genre. 

I am coming up to my 800th post, and I am also coming up to Lent.  I am seriously considering giving up blogging and some other media for Lent so that I can focus on more important, especially more spiritually important matters.  However, I will try to get up to 800 by Wednesday and finish up what's on my mind until then.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Writers Resources

I would recommend any fiction writer, new or more experienced, to join CreateSpace, through Amazon.  You don't have to publish with them to get their newsletter or attend their webinars.  I just finished a webinar on marketing, and it gave me some new ideas.  Unless a writer is extremely lucky or extremely well known, he or she will have to do (a lot of) the marketing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Downton Abbey Part II

I wasn't expecting two hours Sunday night.  That was fun, but I have to agree with some critics that some of the storylines are devolving into major soap opera.

Things I liked:
Matthew walking.  He's so sweet, the real star of the show.
As always, Maggie Smith's lines.  Don't be defeatist.  It's so middle class.
That Matthew told Mary to take a hike at the end.

Things I didn't like (and would like to get out of my head):
Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) in bed with Anna.  Isn't she like thirty years younger than he?  That was icky.
Matthew walking.  It's too neat.
Some of the dialogue.  Oh, please.  If not stereotyped, it's anachronistic.
The pacing.  Way, way too fast.  One of the reasons I liked the first season was the pace.  Now it's insane.

Things I wasn't surprised by:
The Lord and the maid.  I saw that coming from the first scene they had together.  It didn't bother me, only that it was short-lived and not well-developed.

Things I was surprised by:
Lavinia dying.  Poor thing.  What a tragic character.

Things I am not sure about:
Branson and Sybil. 
Bates killing Vera. 
The burned guy.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Shakespeare Chattanooga

I was introduced today to a new phenomenon.  A group of professional and semi-professional actors present Shakespeare in well-acted ways but with minimal sets and costumes.  What a way to spend a cold Sunday afternoon.  A friend invited me along to see their production The Merchant of Venice.  It is without irony that this play, which has some virulent anti-Semitism (or I should say anti-semitic lines) was presented at the Jewish Cultural Center.  That was the intention from the beginning.

Since reams have been written about this play, which in the after-discussion was referred to as a problem play,  I won't venture any literary criticism.  But I had forgotten how harsh the lines about Jews are, and I am tempted to think Shakespeare was too much a product of his time and cannot be excused thoroughly by saying, "he is portraying racism realistically."  The fact that the loss of his money is more important than the loss of his daughter is a give-away that Shylock is a villain, in Shakespeare's eyes, and not just because he is a villain, but because he is a Jew also.  But I may be, and probably, am wrong.  I do not idolize writers--even as great as Shakespeare--or think they are incapable of inhuman actions and words, as some do.  Faulkner, for example, didn't go out of his way to portray blacks sympathetically, and you would think they barely existed in the south.  Writers, no matter their genius, are humans and aren't writing holy scriptures.

To a lesser degree I feel this with the Taming of the Shrew; but that play is so much fun that it is easy to dismiss the misogyny. 

However, Merchant is a great play--not Hamlet, but still great--and made for a wonderful performance.  The actors are to be commended.  I won't names, but I did have favorites (a human foible!).

Hear, hear, for Shakespeare Chattanooga, a serendipitous discovery.

Downton Abbey Rocks

I am one of the number who has to watch Downton Abbey every week, usually twice.  The complexity of the story lines mandates two watchings or more.  Why am I a fan.

The clothes.

The actors, who are able to make us care about a time and place we really shouldn't.

The clothes (sorry)

The witty and intelligent dialogue.

The fact that, despite the soap opera plot, there are universal themes and noble people portrayed.

The historicity.  Rarely do we see movies or plays about the Great War, the war so few Americans understand.

The understated emotion.  My husband got choked up when William died (could anything be sadder).  And he even stopped watching the Super Bowl to watch DA.  How cool is that.

The production values.  This show must cost a fortune.

I'm sure other people have other reasons.  Join in.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thought for Feb. 11.

Strong faith in a weak plank over a creek will get your wet, but weak faith in a strong plank over a creek will get you to the other side.  But in both cases you have to walk forward.

The Limits of Prayer

Facebook can be a wonderful way to be blessed by news from old friends.  A former classmate posted yesterday that he and his family were praising God for healing his adult son of nonHodgkins' lymphoma.  Apparently, the cancer is gone, one of those instances where the treatment was prescribed and suddenly there was no need for it.  I have known many of these incidents, either personally or through friends. 

I rejoice with this brother, and if my son were in that situation, I don't know how overwhelmed and devastated I would be.  However, I can't help thinking that we limit our prayer.

If God can heal individuals of cancer, and we believe that, why aren't we praying for other miracles and interventions? Specifically, for the bloodshed to end in Syria so that  free and just society can come to that area and so that the gospel can go forth?  Specifically, for the iron hand of oppression to be lifted from North Korea with the death of that nutcase, Kim Jong Il?  Specifically, for the militias and "people's armies" of central Africa to be subjugated so that women and children and the poor can have a life again?  Specifically, for all the believers (and yes, nonbelievers) who are imprisoned for conscience's sake?

Please do not interpret this as a snarky put-down of those who pray for healing.  It is a vindication that our God is all power and that we are the ones who limit prayer.

Why People Don't, Part II

The second reason (see post below) is pride.  This type of pride comes in two varieties:  Pride in one's intellectual abilities, and pride in one's wisdom to run his/her own life and not submit to a higher authority. 

Hamlet tells Horatio, "There are more things in this world than are dreamt of in your philosophies."  (Sorry, not exactly verbatim.)  To reject the Christian faith because it goes outside one's experiences or current knowledge is not only prideful, but unimaginative.  This kind of pride often uses another excuse to mask itself.   People with this kind of pride are often self-deluded. 

The third reason is, and this will make some people mad, honesty.  Some people just honestly cannot accept Christianity, even if they would like to.  They don't want to play the game, act like they believe something they don't, and have a strong sense of inner consistency.   They understand the faith, they appreciate the faith, they know and respect people of the faith, but they don't or can't accept the faith (and I mean the one once delivered to the saints), so they don't.  There is hope for these people.

The fourth reason a person rejects the faith is apathy.  They don't care.  They see no connection between the faith and themselves.  There might be good reasons for this, but one might be that they judge the whole world as "what's in it for me, what will I get out of it."  If someone professes that he/she) comes to Christ on that basis and gets no further, they will probably be like the choked weeds in the parable.

The fifth reason is ignorance, which is the fault of the church, as we all know.

Why People Don't Come to Christ

I try to make provocative titles to get more traffic.  A tad cheesy, but there's a lot of good stuff on this blog and if I don't do it, nobody will know.  To see part II, click on the blog title above.

This question has been bouncing around my  head.  The famous statement by Gandhi, "I would become a Christian if it weren't for the Christians" or something like that is often used, I suppose to either justify somebody or to try to inflict even more guilt on Christians, that it is all our fault that the whole world is not evangelized.

By the way, I resist the pressure to think that anything that came out of Gandhi's mouth must be true.  He deserves respect, but not reverence.  He was a flawed human being and very much a product of his culture.  For example, there's a quote in my Franklin-Covey planner for today, "To give pleasure to a single heart by a single act is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer."  I would refer someone to Revelation 5.

At first I thought I would approach this with a neat three-point approach, but that is obviously too simplistic.  My original points were pain, pride, and honesty.  Now I would add apathy and ignorance to that, or a combination.

1.  Pain.  This is the one we most overlook.  There are simply millions of people who have been abused--in any number of ways--by some figure they associate with God,Christ, or his body the church.  Sometimes this abuse is real and devastating; sometimes the "abuse" is just a slight or a human mistake.  To the person perceiving it, it doesn't matter, although in the case of some slights the real reason bleeds over into pride more than honest pain. 

This reason is also responsible for more people leaving than the faith as well as some never coming to it.  I know lots of people who were in fundamentalist groups and who feel they were greatly mistreated simply by the inconsistencies or "legalism" (these same people are legalistic in their own ways, they just don't recognize it.  Legalism is within us as well as within a system or church.)  Some of those people don't recognize that they participated in their own oppression; however, that does not excuse the oppressors.  As I have gotten older I have become more sensitive to both the "oppressed" (I use that term loosely) and the "oppressors," many of whom thought they were doing a good thing or were oppressed themselves. 

A professor I had in grad school (one of those who smoked in class back in the 70s!) once said that we cannot feel the level of another's pain.  I think he is right.  I have been greatly mistreated by people, even people close to me, and I choose not to let it control me.  However, I have to admit that it may do so at a subconscious level I don't know about.  I am very conscious of how men in the church treat women.  Few treat us as equals, spiritually, intellectually, in terms of gifts, or otherwise.  I choose not to make it a guiding principle in my life to be angry about this, but I realize now how much my anger came out in my first novel.  Virginia Woolf said we should not write from a position of anger (in A Room of Her Own), but it is hard to see it until much later. 

So, what is the answer?  Just say, "Well, some people won't come to Christ because of pain, so let's forget them?"  No, obviously not.  The key is what I'd like to call "agenda-free relationship."  More about that later, and more about this subject later.  I have to run to the bank!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Since when?

Since when did the President of the U.S. decide what individual hospitals do?  In this controversy over President Obama's demands that Catholic hospitals provide insurance coverage for birth control for its employees, a foundational question seems to be missing.  Where in the constitution does it call for the chief executive officer of the republic to concern himself about such a matter?

What next?  Telling me which grocery store I can shop at?  Seriously. Tonight on TV I hear Jay Carney say, "the president is committed to women having contraception without their having to pay for it."  What?   Why is that any of his business? 

I am concerned about this violation of religious liberty, but I am also concerned by the incredible abuse of executive power.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Theology and Taxes

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/februaryweb-only/prayer-breakfast-irony.html

I am not sure how many people saw the president's speech at the prayer breakfast.  It sort of amazed me (re:  irked) that he would try to defend forced income distribution in a secular society based on biblical principles when he rejects other clear biblical principles.

Now, I will be the first to agree that the Bible asks of its believers and Christ's followers that money take a back seat, that we should be stewards, that the truly poor should be the recipients of help, etc.  I greatly agree we are far too materialistic as a society and that the church is wrong in its tacit pursuit/approval of the idea that financial blessings equal godliness and that we should pursue wealth for its own sake.  But many of the verses about giving to the poor are within the Old Testament in a theocratic context and just don't apply in a pluralistic and nonChristian society.

There is some research to indicate that conservatives give more than liberals do, although that data is obviously debated and debatable, so I won't state it as fact.  However, for the government to take my money to help others (who often are only slightly less wealthy than I)  is not charitable giving from my heart, and some would say it is a form of robbery and unconstitutional (I can't go quite that far, but sometimes feel that way.  A person on food stamps with a cell phone and a $20.00 nail job really rankles me, as do my students who are covered with tattoos but say they can't afford textbooks).  For me to choose to give my money is a virtue and a blessing.    If he wants a truly biblical society, then lots stop abortion, paying people not to work, gay marriage, and change how we do war.  We are not a biblical society.  We should be a just and law-abiding society.

President Obama should know better than to wade into these waters.

Komen, Planned Parenthood, and Money

I like Russell Moore.  I heard him speak once at my church and was amazed by his honesty and boldness.  Here he goes after the real issue with Komen and Planned Parenthood.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/februaryweb-only/bad-komen-lessons.html

My original post on this subject was far too harsh and opinionated.  It also was based on a one-side view of the facts.  So I am amending it, and apologize if the first sounded like I didn't care about breast cancer survivors, because I do and have many friends and acquaintances in that number.  Many, many breast cancer survivors has received immeasurable help and support from the Komen organization.  I also heard that the foundation was instrumental in getting breast health care to women in underserved countries, which is greatly commendable.

However, it would be wonderful if all the money Komen gives to Planned Parenthood really did go to mammograms for poor women.  Because of the link, that's why I am dissuaded personally from giving money to Komen, no matter who is walking somewhere.  Other people have to live their conscience, and many breast cancer survivors are very passionate in their devotion to the "pink."   I am glad for that. There are other organizations that support breast cancer research, and we all have to decide what cause is nearest and dearest to ourselves and our mission.  Mine is clean water, nutrition, and health care in the truly poor nations of the world, not disease organizations in this country.  Some organizations are very high profile and collect lots of money, and it is incumbent on all of us to know how they steward those finances.

Perhaps crisis pregnancy centers could start doing mammograms as well as sonograms.  It's a thought.  

To stick my neck out again, here's another controversial link. 

http://links.mkt3980.com/servlet/MailView?ms=MzIyNjIyOQS2&r=OTQ0MjIyMjM4S0&j=Mzc2ODI4MzIS1&mt=1&rt=0

Remember, this is a Jewish person's writing, not some wild fundamentalist.

Bullies, Bullying, and Ourselves

I had a disturbing experience last night.  I was walking my pit bull in my neighborhood.  I usually do this after dark or at dusk because I get home from work between 5:00 and 6:00 and right now it's dark then; in the summer I do it because of the heat and I want to stay out of the sun.  I am blonde and very fair and have had lots of bad sunburns in my life and don't want to risk too much sun.  So, I am the weird old lady who walks by night in XXXX Estates subdivision with her dark brindled pit bull, instigating a lot of barking frenzies from the fenced in dogs. 

All that is background.  Coming back down the hill, I heard a father yelling, yes, yelling, at a young boy.  "Get him out of here.  I told you to get him out of here."  I couldn't see them, but the man's voice was overloud (we have a lot of that here).  I assumed it was an animal that "him" referred to.  A few steps later, I saw the boy, maybe eight or nine, whipping at a little dog on the front steps.  The cord that he used didn't look all that fearsome but the dog was cowering.  After watching a few seconds, I called to the boy but didn't make my consternation as known as I should.

What I was witnessing was a case of second-hand bullying.  The father yelled at the boy; the boy, upset by his father's scolding, took it out on the dog.  I am a dog lover and this upset me; but I love children more and that the boy was angry enough to abuse the dog was even more upsetting.  Now, I don't know if the father's too-loud scolding was the real root of all the boy's whipping of the puppy, but it must have been part of the cause.

This experience, and some others lately, and some self-spection (word I just made up) have led me to think about bullying.  Bullying is not limited to men (although I've experienced more of it from men than women, more than my fair share, some of it intellectual, some religious, some physical and emotional).  I am not a woman that would usually be seen as a threat to other women (not scheming, not hot, not young, not ambitious, not covetous of their men, not gossipy), so I have experienced only a little bullying from women, and that as a teenager. (I have learned to stand up for myself and people are far less likely to mess with me now).  However, women are quite capable of bullying, and I've seen plenty of it, especially on children in grocery stores. Bullying is also not limited to a class or race or religion (or non-religion). 

Being bullied is also not limited to any group, especially not in terms of sexual orientation.  To listen to the media, one would think only "gay" children are bullied.  It may be that extensive bullying tends to lead a child to believe he or she is gay, whatever that means for a child, when he or she is not.  The prevalence of the word "gay" as a pejorative among children (and teens and older!) certainly doesn't help matters. 

Children are bullied whenever they show vulnerability due to size (big or little), family status (adoption, foster child), difference (disability, unusual appearance), clothing, or perceived lower social class. 

It's probably best I define terms now.  Bullying is abuse of power or authority, pure and simple.  Power may come from size or age or popularity or position.  Bullying does not have to be secondhand, as in my example with the boy and the dog, but I think it is more so than we want to believe.  Research has shown that it is not necessarily caused by poor self-esteem or poverty. 

As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."   (and only people my age or older know Pogo--he was a cartoon character in the newspapers, way back in the post-WWII years.  Pogo was a muskrat or small mammal of some sort, who lived in a Florida swamp and philosophized.)  I am not saying everyone is a bully, but all of us have bullied and are susceptible to bullying unless we realize we are.  I have bullied my son, I hate to admit, by yelling and saying demeaning things rather than speaking rationally and kindly to him.  Why?  Frustration, passing it on, fear of what others would think of his behavior (which was rarely, rarely ever a problem), lack of self-awareness, lack of being led by the Holy Spirit to produce the spiritual fruit of peace and self-control.  I have bullied students, especially I fear in my past life of working with "funnymentalists." 

Many people bully because they don't know any other way to communicate!

The answer:  recognize that bullying is not something little kids do, but we are all capable of, and think before you speak.  The old "count ten when angry" is good advice, hard to do, but good advice.  The better step is to destress and wonder why we are so pushed, angry, frustrated in the first place that we displace our dealing with the sources of the stress and anger onto others, which is what we are doing.  For the more extensive bullies, ask yourself why you feel power is your due, why you are entitled. 

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Writers' group, Part II

A couple of days ago I wrote about my writers' group.  We had gotten into a discussion of the difference between a traditional writers group and a critique group.

Here is a different view on the matter.

http://www.stephenwrites.com/2012/02/confessions-of-a-rogue-writer-dont-waste-your-time-with-critique-groups/

I think this blogger is right--and wrong.  The best groups would be of persons who have writing experience and some credits.  I think our group has these and therefore does not fit the mold or stereotypes he describes.

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 28:1-8, second pass

The passage is unclear as to whether the two women saw the resurrection here, but I don’t think so.   They would probab...