Sunday, May 31, 2015

Hitler was a Christian, and other stupid arguments

Nothing irks me more than people spreading ideas without substantiating them.

Why would anyone think Hitler was a Christian, because he was probably baptized as a Catholic as a baby?  His belief system was occultism.  This is as specious as the argument, Hitler was a vegetarian; therefore, all vegetarians are Nazis.  (he was a vegetarian and animal rights advocate).

Additionally, the "Christians don't help the poor" meme is way out of line.   What in the world does that even mean?  This article explains the stupidity of it:  Truth about Christians and poverty

Now, that being said, do we do enough?  Probably not; even if we give enough money, it may not be effective, which means every concerned giver has also as much responsibility to understand how the money is stewarded after it leaves our pocketbook.

But I was reading this morning in Daniel 4.  After Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar what is going to happen to him (mental illness, or fruition of what probably was mental illness, because Neb could be pretty up and down in his moods!), he urges Neb to repent and "show mercy to the poor."  Not build a temple to God, not study, not get rid of all but one wife, but "show mercy to the poor."  That is enlightening.

Remix: Democratization and Myth-Making

Democratization and Myth-making of all types

Coming home from church, I was listening in (I jumped around since one of the interviews was disturbing) to The Best of Our Knowledge. They had two sessions called “Dangerous Ideas.”  One was that there should be a reality show about the real lives of teachers (p-12), which is something I thought about a long time ago.  But the guest admitted there would be too many privacy issues involved in that.  They other was about a fellow saying that role-playing board games were an example of democratization of myth-making, where we no longer have to depend on “priests or emperors or ivory tower elites” to write our myths for us.

As someone who studies and teaches the epublishing phenomenon, and who just wrote a grant proposal for an open source textbook, I think about this a great deal.  I call it the democratization of creativity.  There don’t have to be gatekeepers any more for any thing.  The ability to create a book and get Amazon to publish it (assuming you go by their rules and can figure out how to format your text for them, something I am struggling with right now!) is open to everyone.  Everyone is (potentially) an author.  If you don’t want to be on Amazon, get a website and sell pdfs on it with PayPal. 

If my colleagues and I get this grant, we will publish an open source textbook that others can “remix” with their own content, as long as they give us credit for the original.  This is what Creative Commons, digital publishing, and generous grants allow.

Additionally, I just learned about WattPad, an interesting way to get readers for short pieces of writing that can even be done on one’s phone.  (Too restricting for my fat fingers)  We don’t have to mess with publishers any more!  We can get (according to the commercial for WattPad on YouTube) tens of thousands of readers overnight (doubtful).,

It doesn’t end there—musicians have their outlets. So why stop at publishing and music.  The creativity explosion open to all is now extended to faith.

It is not that we don’t have to go to the traditional religious sources to say, “I am one of those,” but that we can remix.  We all have a Creative Commons license when it comes to our beliefs systems.  A colleague was telling me about her experience speaking to a class about her religion, which was Judaism.  She said that one student, a male, was particularly inquisitive and tried to pin her down about specific beliefs, but her view is that being a (fill in the blank) is not the same as the faith itself.  What matters to her is that she tries to be a good person and is connected culturally to her faith tradition.  In the same sense, for many being a Catholic, or calling yourself one, doesn’t mean you follow all or even much of what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.  That is a common view today.  I would say more than a few Baptists and Presbyterians follow this thinking

This is not the same as people who are nominally Jewish, Catholic, or Baptist.  The people I am talking about in the previous paragraph think about spiritual issues and those are important to them, but they cobble together what seems right to them and discards what is not. 

Every man and woman is now his/her own mythmaker, religion-creater, standard bearer, faith-originator.   They are their own gatekeeper, just like I will be my own editor, book designer, publicist, and critic when I publish the two books through Amazon I plan to publish this summer, one a novel and the other a study of leadership in Daniel.

As a conservative evangelical, I notice this phenomenon and have two thoughts.  One is that such a thing is not an option, really, for Christ-followers, but even so is a really strong temptation.  We don’t get to make up our own myths and beliefs.  They are passed down to them.  Take them or leave them, but you don’t get to make them up and remix them to suit.  You don’t get to add reincarnation to the doctrine of penal substitution, transcendental meditation to intercessory prayer.  If you do, admit to the syncretism but don’t say it’s Christianity.

Second, our faith is based on historical fact (although some dispute that, which is odd), not myths we make up.  I can see wondering about this Darius the Mede character in Daniel 5 (because he is not found in secular texts), but not denying Jesus Christ lived (especially if you don’t deny Buddha or Mohammed). 

I am not interested in creating my own set of beliefs based on me and what suits me at the time.  What would be the basis?  My experience?  My emotions?  My reflexivity?  My education?  My limited travels?  Thousands of smarter minds than mine have gone before to create the Christian tradition and theology. This is not a refusal to think for myself, but a recognition of the limits of considering oneself a source of knowledge. 

However, I write this because I see now so much more clearly how central this “remix” mentality is to the modern age.  Maybe that is a definition of postmodernism, but it sounds like the very old description of Judges:  Every man did what was right in his own eyes.  Every man believes what is right in his own eyes, and does not defend it because there is no need for defense because everyone does and believes what is right in his own eyes. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Coming Soon!

I have decided that the 87,000-word novel I have had sitting on my computer for three years while I did doctoral work and that has been vetted through several people who know literature and writing well--needs to go public.  Within the next couple of weeks, it will be available.  I will send a free PDF to anyone willing to read it and write me a review on Amazon immediately after it goes live on CreateSpace and Kindle Direct.  I don't want to start publicizing on social media until it gets several reviews.

I am not entirely happy about the self-publishing gambit, but I am too old to go through years of rejection and I want it out there.  It's very good and different from anything I've written--no religion (other than people go to church on Easter), no politics, no issues, no violent crime.  Well, maybe. 

I did contact a publisher this week, two actually, and found out they want lots of money to publish it.  CreateSpace will do it for free, more or less.  Since I would end up doing 95% of the marketing, what's the point of that?  I've got a track record and don't need their help.  I can edit better than they.

This is my pep talk to myself!  So, anyone interested?  Send to  

Please consider helping in this GoFundMe campaign

Although the title Kill Fred might sound odd, it is legitimate and this woman is very ill and needs help during her cancer.  I have known her family for many years.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Handwriting and Paper Lives

So happy to hear this story on NPR this morning!

I have to say that I have tried over the years to save time in writing by going all laptop/all the time.  I can't say my writing is better, just more and faster.  This gives me food for thought!

From to Pew Research

Since I left home at 7:05 this morning, I was able to hear two excellent programs on the radio:  I am posting each link in separate updates.

This one I agree with wholeheartedly.  Christians are still the "majority" (as if we had a right to being the majority) but in the coming years we will have to get real about our faith, our theology, and our practice.  Russell Moore is quoted here as this research meaning that the chaff is being blown away (not his words, but his ideas) and people are more honest about their beliefs.

I think the real emphasis here is the loss of community and the "Bowling Alone" meme (I have read that book and it is fascinating, though very long and detailed).  Do we have to lose our individuality to have community, and vice versa?  That is a vital question.  How can we preserve both, and yet not be extreme in either?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Name that Plot: A new game for Hallmark movies

I had on a Hallmark movie last night.  The name of it really doesn't matter because the plots are all basically the same.  Within ten minutes I knew exactly what would happen.  If I had really been paying attention (I was writing at the same time), I probably could have done it sooner.  I am in the wrong business!

Johnny Guitar, Creativity, and Insanity

Last Wednesday my husband talked me into (sort of) sitting through Johnny Guitar.

If you do not know this film, don’t worry.  It’s bizarre and you don’t need to waste two hours of your life on it.  I had watched it before a few years back and was perplexed by it.  It was laughably bad but I wasn’t sure why.  Was it intentionally campy or did the director shoot for something and miss it, resulting in a mess? 

My husband kept insisting that there was value in it, because he reads Wikipedia and IMDB while we watch movies and he said it was a veiled metaphor for McCarthyism.  (By the way, much of what we have been led to believe about Joseph McCarthy is not entirely true.  We have believed Hollywood’s narrative, covering up the fact that they were defending being communists in a time when Mao and Stalin were killing millions of people.  If a Hollywood actor today were a member of ISIS or Al-Quaeda, would we think they were heroes for not speaking to Congress about it, even if the actor hadn’t killed anyone himself?)

So I sat through it again, appalled by Joan Crawford’s lipstick, huge eyebrows, monochrome outfits,  and b-tchy acting.  (or was it butchy?)  Sterling Hayden absolutely cracks me up—how can someone be deadpan and overact at the same time--and Mercedes McCambridge is maniacal in her scenery chewing.  The rest of the cast seems confused about why they are there.  The young gunslinger who gets killed has too much makeup on, and Ernest Borgnine plays a cowboy from Brooklyn in his pre-Marty days.

Apparently, whatever Nicholas Ray (who directed some great films) was going for he just didn’t achieve.  His creativity exceeded the bounds of what was acceptable to audiences at the time (the French loved it, though) and what seems logical or believable for us today.  Or perhaps his skill, and that of his actors, did not reach the heights of his creativity.

That is the curse of an artist, and perhaps one of the reasons for madness of the creativity.  The vision in our heads is unreachable, or it is reachable but not accessible to others.

Czickzentmihalyi (I need to spell check that!) claims that creativity only matters if there is expertise in a domain (field of knowledge), the work is new, and the work is accepted by those who are the gatekeepers in the domain. Most of us would question that last one, but the gatekeepers let the work get an audience.  In this day of self-publishing, we authors can skip the gatekeepers, but that doesn’t mean the work gets a wide audience (despite the capability of it in a digital world) or that the first two criteria—freshness and expertise—are met.

I have a number of writing projects:  at least two scholarly articles, a grant application, a book on leadership in the book of Daniel, several novels, and possibly another speech textbook, plus a journal to edit.  I could spend 40 to 50 hours a week writing, which would mean about that much frustration.  I don’t think it will drive me to drink.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Thoughts on Eternity

I have taken on the responsibility of leading a small group study along the content of Joni Tada's video series on Heaven, and this has led me to some reflections.

Joni is one of my heroes, so nothing in this should be seen as negative towards her in any way.  If a person does, he/she is looking for an argument and totally missing the point.  But it occurred to me that Joni is a good one to talk about heaven because she is so limited in a physical way.  As a quadriplegic (for over 40 years--unimaginable!), she is in constant awareness of how much she cannot do.  We do not live that way--we think we are capable of just about everything. 

It's a poor comparison, but her inabilities in reference to our own physical mobility are an analogy of ours to God's, or to what we might be in eternity.  We do not desire heaven because we cannot imagine an existence better than this.  Joni, who lived "normally" until she was 17, has memories of a different life, of an athletic, healthy, moving life. 

We do not have memories of another life because this is all we've ever known, but is not what we will know (thinking we were in heaven before birth is a Platonic idea, not a Christian one).   We see through a mirror "darkly"--a cracked and dirty mirror--but then face to face. 

A Non-fairytale look at marriage

Riding home from church I usually listen to TTBOOK, an NPR program from Wisconsin that goes by the name "To the Best of Our Knowledge."  They often have interesting book reviews and thoughts.  Today, not so much, so I turned over to the Christian station and heard this song.  It struck me as apoignant, truthful, realistic, and rather rueful look at marriage.

What do you think about when you look at me
I know were not the fairytale you dreamed we'd be
You wore the veil, you walked the aisle, you took my hand
And we dove into a mystery.

How I wish we could go back to simpler times
Before all our scars and all our secrets were in the light
Now on this hallowed ground, we've drawn the battle lines
Will we make it through the night.

It's going to take much more than promises this time
Only God can change our minds
Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete
Could we just be broken together.

If you can bring your shattered dreams and I'll bring mine
Could healing still be spoken and save us
The only way we'll last forever is broken together

How it must have been so lonely by my side
We were building kingdoms and chasing dreams and left love behind
I'm praying God will help our broken hearts align
And we won't give up the fight.

The lyrics are by Mark Hall and Bernie Herms of Casting Crowns. Casting Crowns is affiliated with a church in McDonough, GA, where the annual BCM conference is held, so I've been there three times.  I believe this capture the wonder and pain of marriage, especially the line, "We dove into a mystery."

In a way that we can't explain and can't live up to, the Christian view of marriage is a spiritual mystery and symbol and that's why we seem close-minded to others about it.   Two wrongs do not make a right--in both senses of "right."  

Saturday, May 23, 2015

An American Tragedy--Several Times Over

My Facebook page is exploding with photographs and links to the Duggar story.  For some reason, I feel compelled to write about it, which shows something more about me than the facts of this case.  The blogging world empowers us to have a voice or enables us to think we have something to say with that voice.

I have read several of the “articles” on the Internet, including Christianity Today’s and many blog posts.  The whole story is just tragic, and I am not going to qualify it in any way.  I don’t see anything good about this, any good coming out of it, either for the children who were victimized, his own children, his wife, his parents, him, the organization he worked for, the evangelical community as a whole, or the sniping secular audience who says things like “one of their kids is probably gay.”  I am not sure what that has to do with anything, but comment sections are often bizarre.

What I haven’t read, and don’t understand, is the fundamental question.  Why were these people on television in the first place?  I don’t mean why did that network offer to produce a show about them, but why did they agree to be on a show?  Would any of the people reading this seriously want camera crews in their houses filming their lives?  Why would you do that to your children, whether one child or nineteen? 

Is the money and fame worth it?  Was it, or is it now?  Was it about politics?  To make a statement about how great huge families and homeschooling and courtship dating is? (And I have nothing against those three things per se, but out of context they make little sense to most secular audiences).  And why would anyone watch this? 

Perhaps it’s my world view and training, but I always step back and think—how are they doing that?  When I watch a nature show, I am as intrigued by the fact that there is a camera operator in as much supposed danger as the “snake whisperer” or anything.  I watch special effects and wonder what went into them.  This doesn’t make me enjoy it less, but it’s how my mind works.

So I approach this whole Duggar tragedy the same way. If someone lives by the media, they might die by the media.  Exposing your children to the world and making your five-year-old a media “star” means there is an end to your privacy.  Anything negative is going to rise to the surface.  It did in this case.  Now the victims have to be exposed, as well as the perpetrator.

I am often a curmudgeon on this blog, which I wish were not the case.  I would love to paint happy pictures here, but in my lifetime I have become discouraged by the trends in present-day Christianity—the cult of celebrity, the dumbing down of knowledge and worship, the political slavishness, and the moral laxness.  I have known many families like the Duggars, but none of them would have allowed the media to infiltrate and ruin their lives.  I am perplexed by this whole situation.

I would like comments on this. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Little Lebowski Goes a Long Way

My son talked me into watching The Big Lebowski last night because it was on Netflix.  That is two hours of my life I will never get back.  What a waste of time.  I didn't laugh once and felt assaulted by the bad language and just general stupidity of it.

Yet, because it is a Coen movie, I gave it the benefit of the doubt that there was more there than my first viewing.  However, I won't be giving it a second one.  I don't have the time.  There were no normal people in the film except the waitress in the diner and the Mexican nurse.

On the positive side, it seemed to be a remake of The Big Sleep if Humphrey Bogart were a stoner.  There are a lot of parallels in the plot, mainly its convolutedness.  As someone wrote on the IMDB reviews, there's a reason it's a cult classic--what kind of people are in cults, anyway?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Comfort, Normality, and Reality

I have a post-it-note (TM) on my computer at work:  "We must become comfortable with being uncomfortable. "

The world is messy; our lives, whether we want to admit it or not, are messy.  Achieving order and balance in life is a good, ongoing goal, but it will never be achieved 100%.  We are a nation of OCD-types, thinking we can erase the messiness but all we are doing is creating a veneer of perfection, like a Southern Living magazine cover.

This is not to say that disorder, clutter, and filth are in any way acceptable; only that there will always be dust bunnies and cobwebs in the corner, there will also be an unpaid bill or unanswered letter, there will always be uncompleted tasks. 

Deeper, though, I am talking about being uncomfortable knowing there is ISIS killing our brothers and sisters, there is hunger and poverty and slavery.  We should be uncomfortable and stay that way, irritated and annoyed and looking for answers because it is human nature only to look for answers when there is disequilibrium.

I say this as I plan to go clean out my basement this morning!  An unfinishable task.

Woman's Best Friend, too

Our little dog Bumper, whom we inherited from my mother after her death last July, woke up yesterday with a back leg that didn't want to work.  He laid around most of the day, declining to move until well into the afternoon.  Because we had to euthanize a little dog in 2013 who developed back problems and because Bumper seemed to be acting like Buddy did, I took him to the vet.  I found out he has arthritis and needs some analgesic, which she "gave" (re:  sold) me for way to high a price, although I don't think we can give him the human equivalent of a nonsteroidal anti-inflamatory. because of his size (only 20 pounds).  Buddy's problem was much more serious--broken back.  I knew it wasn't too serious with Bumper when he heard the garage door open and he recovered enough to run out of the room.

Of course, Bumper is nine years old, or 63 in dog years as they say.  If I suffer from a stiff back every morning (especially after three hours of heavy gardening yesterday), I suppose he is entitled to arthritis in a knee.  Nala the pit bull, whom I call "Princess Poopsalot," is 28 and well past old enough to move out and get her own place.  Nala and I have a love-tolerance relationship, although the balance changes.  I do not love her and often tolerate her at best, although I play with her and treather well.  I just don't want to use the word "love" on a dog because it cheapens it from a spiritual sense.  She usually expresses love to me, especially when she wants something.  She is very intelligent, though, but headstrong.   My husband thinks she is amazing; I just roll me eyes. Bumper is not as smart but wants to be in the room with me all the time. 

How they infiltrate our minds and hearts!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Review of Lila by Marilynne Robinson

I recently finished, on Kindle, Lila by Marilynne Robinson.  It is the third in her series Home, Gilead, and Lila.  Unfortunately, I read Home quite a while ago and have not read Gilead, although I have it somewhere.  (I have an inordinate amount of books in several places, a fault.  So I am not entirely sure where my copy of Gilead is).

The first question is always, in this world of marketing, would I recommend it.  That depends.  Not to buy--there are few books I would recommend to buy at full price, and would say go to the library and check it out or borrow a friend's, or get it used from the behemoth of online books sellers (no plugs here, although of course I got mine from the behemoth.)

It also depends on (a) whether someone had read one of the previous books, (b) one is at least familiar with the Christian world view, (c) one is willing to think, and (d) one is okay with stream of consciousness writing.  I am not sure that is what it would be called, but it seemed so to me. 

There are no chapters; only at one point are there three asterisks to indicate some kind of a break.  No chapters means no easy places to stop, which is not a huge problem in an ebook, since it opens right back to the stopping point and there aren't pages in an ebook anyway.  But the lack of chapters does make it hard to keep up with a chronology.  There is one in the book, but it is written from Lila's point of view and she goes back and forth in time so much, at the drop of a hat, so to speak, that the story moves slowly.  Most of the story is in the backstory of her life before coming to Gilead and meeting and marrying John Ames, but we do not see it directly, only in her memories. 

As one reviewer called her, Lila is near-feral.  I think that is unfair, and shows that the person writing the review does not realize that some people do live outside the walls of polite society.  Lila is "stolen" as a toddler by "Doll," a mysterious character, who takes care of her, just barely, as they travel around in the '20s and '30s as migrant workers in the lower midwest (I think; Lila does not give dates and seems to have no consciousness of them; she only went to school for a year, and she doesn't mention states or towns until she is well into her own twenties and no longer with Doll.  Lila doesn't know her last name.  She is not feral, but she is a survivor in a hardscrabble life, even working in a cathouse for a while but more as a housekeeper than a prostitute, because she isn't nice to look at like the others. 

Eventually she makes her way to Gilead, meets Pastor John Ames, and that part of the story, matches the past story of her life, begins. But slowly.  What happens in the book happens slowly.  This will annoy many readers.  It did not me.  I liked the pacing of Lila, perhaps because it was a refuge in all the things going on in my own life.  And of course Robinson's prose is beautiful.  I will avoid spoilers here.

The brilliance of the book is that Robinson does a pretty convincing job of Lila's point of view and voice.  At times it seems effortless and artless; occasionally it lapses, but not to a detriment.   

In the end, Lila is about grace and love in their seeming randomness, their mysterious origins, their great power to transform.  Robinson writes and lectures on theology, notably Calvinism, and I have another of her books on that subject.  Calvinism is important in Lila, and forms the worldview background, so to speak, although Lila doesn't accept it. 

So, I recommend it for someone willing to put some effort into the reading and be reminded of the sovereign grace of God in a fictional mode.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

We vs. I: The question of the age

Self and selfie hood

I think we should change all the hymns that say "I" to the "we." 

Here we are to worship, here we are to bow down.
Here we are to say that You are our God.
You're altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to us. 

(The rhymes may get messed up, but the theology would be better.)

When we survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died.
Our richest gains we count but loss, and pour contempt on all our pride.

Well, it would work better for some than others, and I definitely don't want to rewrite Isaac Watts!

Saturday, May 02, 2015


 This article makes the most sense on this issue and I agree with it wholeheartedly.

I had a discussion with my son about pot legalization and Christian use of it  I said, sure, it's at least equal to alcohol in its effects, but from a Christian point of view, legality is not a standard.  Would a person trying to walk with and grow in Christ want to be in an altered state of mind?  Is it compatible with being led by and full of the Holy Spirit?  What does it have to do with holiness?

It's time to call for a much higher standard than  "permissibility."

Public Speaking Online, Part IV

During the Web Speech             One of the helpful suggestions from the business writers used for this appendix ...