Friend: It was good. Christmas Eve service was fantastic. Why can’t all sermons be like that?
Me: Short and sweet?
Friend: No. Holy and warm.
Me: Maybe it’s not about the sermon. Maybe it’s about the people hearing the sermon.
I don’t know about you, but for me, the Christmas Eve service marks the point of the holiday season where I can finally put on the brakes. No more gift shopping or shipping, holiday baking, finding something to wear to so-and-so’s Christmas party. Christmas Eve service is when I’m gathered with family in a candlelit venue (ours is a junior high cafeteria–yours may be a church building) and FINALLY turn my heart towards the reason for the season. Oh, I’ve been MEANING to focus on Jesus daily…But, you know, I’ve been BUSY! Now I have time for the Christmas story. I’m done with all MY stuff. That’s how it’s supposed to work, right?
Maybe not. Maybe if I were to approach each day with the gratitude worthy of the sacrifice God made for me, for you, then every sermon would be like the Christmas Eve sermon–Holy and Warm. Maybe if we approached each Sunday morning as an opportunity to worship a God whose love is so compelling, so intimate, so extravagant that we would allow our hearts to be captured. For the first time or for the hundredth.
Last Saturday I was scrolling through the latest Facebook fodder and came across this post from Christian writer Tricia Goyer’s timeline:
And while the majority of the responses (and there were several) were not in favor of limiting themselves to only Christian Fiction, I was surprised that there were some who felt that Christians should not read fiction that was outside the genre of “Christian”, arguing that we should not expose ourselves to the bad language, sex and violence so often found in mainstream works of fiction. Although to be fair, most stated that this was a personal conviction not a condemnation of those who read secular work.
It bugs me.
Maybe it shouldn’t. It’s certainly none of my business what people choose to read or not read, but if art imitates life–and I believe that good art mirrors real life–then much of what passes the muster of “appropriate” Christian Fiction is a poor imitation of what makes a good story. It’s a white-washed version of realistic prose. There are words that cannot be used, acts of violence and depravity that can only be suggestively danced around so as not to offend a Christian audience.
And that bugs me…
Writing for a Christian audience. So much so that I put in my snarky two cents:
Do you know what the hottest thing in Christian Fiction is right now?
I’ve struggled to understand why this is so popular, but I think I’m beginning to understand. Just as teenage vampire romance novels are an escape from the banality of everyday life, Amish life (or at least the idealistic version of it) is an escape from an increasingly crude and immoral one. And I suppose both have entertainment value, but neither imitate real life. Pre-teen Twilight audiences are spoon-fed sexuality disguised as taboo vampire romance and Amish fiction audiences are spoon-fed an ideal, profanity-free communities where bad things may happen, but really bad things never happen to good Christian folks.
But that’s not real and that’s not real redemption.
Many of you know that I’m a big fan of Stephen King. There are those who refuse to read his work because he uses, among other things, profanity. I once read a discussion board where several posters maintained that his use of cuss words is simply laziness. That his books could be every bit as compelling if he left out the profanity.
To them I say, bullshit.
Take this passage from The Stand concerning a young deaf mute’s encounter at an orphanage:
He stopped wanting to communicate, and when that happened the thinking process itself began to rust and disintegrate. He began to wander from place to place vacantly, looking at the nameless things that filled the world. He watched groups of children in the play yard move their lips, raise and lower their teeth like white drawbridges, dance their tongues in the ritual mating of speech. He sometimes found himself looking at a single cloud for as long as an hour at a time.
Then Rudy had come. A big man with scars on his face and a bald head. Six feet, five inches tall, might as well have been twenty to runty Nick Andros. They met for the first time in a basement room where there was a table, six or seven chairs, and a TV that only worked when it felt like it. Rudy squatted, putting his eyes on approximately the same level as Nick’s. Then he took his huge, scarred hands and put them over his mouth, his ears.
I am a deaf-mute.
Nick turned his face sullenly away: Who gives a fuck?
Rudy slapped him.
Nick fell down. His mouth opened and silent tears began to leak from his eyes. He didn’t want to be here with this scarred troll this bald boogey. He was no deaf-mute, it was a cruel joke.
Rudy pulled him gently to his feet and led him to the table. A blank sheet of paper was there. Rudy pointed at it, then at Nick. Nick stared sullenly at the paper and then at the bald man. He shook his head. Rudy nodded and pointed at the empty paper again. He produced a pencil and handed it to Nick. Nick put it down as if it were hot. He shook his head. Rudy pointed at the pencil, then at Nick, then at the paper. Nick shook his head. Rudy slapped him again.
More silent tears. The scarred face looking at him with nothing but deadly patience. Rudy pointed at the paper again. At the pencil. At Nick.
Nick grasped the pencil in his fist. He wrote the four words that he knew, calling them forth from the cobwebby, rusting mechanism that was in his thinking brain. He wrote:
Then he broke the pencil in half and looked sullenly and defiantly at Rudy. But Rudy was smiling. Suddenly he reached across the table and held Nick’s head steady between his hard, callused palms. His hands were warm, gentle. Nick could not remember the last time he had been touched with such love. His mother had touched him like that.
Rudy removed his his hands from Nick’s face. He picked up the half of the pencil with the point on it. He turned the paper over to the blank side. He tapped the empty white space with the tip of the pencil, and then tapped Nick. He did it again. And again. And again. And finally Nick understood.
You are this blank page.
Nick began to cry.
Tell me how that could have been written as powerfully without the use of profanity.
The difference between that passage and one written without profanity is the difference between hitting a sacrifice fly with one out in the bottom of the ninth to win by a run and hitting a grand slam with two outs and a full count in that same inning.
The end results may be the same, but the latter is infinitely more memorable.
I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t read Christian Fiction. I happen to know that some of it is excellent. All I’m suggesting is that we don’t limit ourselves to it thinking the hand of God only moves the pens of those who call him Father. Rather than looking for the devil under every secular rock, maybe we should open our mind’s eye to see that God is at work in the most unexpected places and even through those who don’t know Him.
It’s been a crazy, busy summer filled with things decidedly un-summery–summer school, football and band camp, and other scheduled events which made an escape to the beach this year impossible. But I have my memories of last summer to get me through. This is one such post from last year at this time.
It’s Thursday, late afternoon. I’m walking down the beach looking for shells and watching the waves roll in. Tomorrow will be the last full day here at the beach. I’m not ready to go home. I’m never ready to go home when I’m at the beach.
But truth be told, it would be enough for me just to walk on the beach every day. To dig in the sand and wade in the water. The crab catching, castle building, dolphin and stingray sightings are like extra gifts–unexpected and much appreciated.
I’ve often wondered if living at the beach would take away its hold on me. If knowing I wouldn’t have to leave would make me less inclined to appreciate it. I’ve said before I feel closest to God where the earth meets the vastness of the ocean. Here there is so much of Him and so much less of me. And while I know this is the case wherever I am, knowing it and knowing it aren’t necessarily one and the same.
I am never enough and God is always enough.
But here at the beach, there is peace in knowing that with Him, I am more than enough.
Now, if I could just find a way to bring that knowing home with me.
I suppose every storyteller–whether their tools be pen and paper or the gift of gab and a captive audience–have their own way of getting to the end of a story. The processes are probably as varied as the storytellers going through them. As I began painting a mural today, it occurred to me that mural painting isn’t too much different than my writing process.
I begin with an overall theme or idea and a blank space.
The theme is an ocean and this particular blank space is a room at a chiropractic office designated specifically for children. There are certain “must haves” requested by the client: dolphin, sea turtle and mermaid, but everything else has been left up to me. (These are my favorite kind of clients, by the way.)
But the blank spaces are rarely ever truly blank.
There are cabinets, electrical outlets and light switches to consider, not to mention the furniture that will be in the space once the painting has been completed. When we share our stories, we bring our past experiences with us, good and bad. In either case, we can work around them or choose to incorporate them into the picture.
When painting and when creating a story, it’s good to remember that things often get messy. Lines are blurred and smeared. You have to work towards the picture in your mind and rest assured that you have the talent and the tools to get you there in the end.
And speaking of tools, you’ve got to work with what you have in your tool bag.
This brush has seen better days. The tiny nails that fasten the brush head to the handle have worked themselves loose over several uses, which makes it necessary to grasp the brush at the base of the handle rather than the handle itself. There are bristles in the brush that are permanently stuck together which cause the paint to streak on the wall. I’ve got better brushes at home. I’m not sure why I grabbed this one. But you know what? A better brush wouldn’t have created the perfect, water-like streaks when I pulled the glaze and paint across the wall. Imperfection can help create unexpected beauty. Old and well-worn doesn’t necessarily mean useless, quite the contrary.
I’ve lost count of how many walls and ceilings I’ve cut in with this brush. It’s hardly a thing of beauty, but when I put it in my hand, I know exactly how close I can get to a ceiling or a baseboard without getting paint where it doesn’t belong. I trust it to do what I need it to do. I can’t say that about a new brush, which is why I rarely buy them. I do my best to take care of the parts that matter–the bristles–and accept the ugliness of the parts that don’t.
I’ve only just begun this mural. Many elements and layers still need to be added before it looks anything resembling an underwater seascape. But I know what I’m doing. I’ve done it before.
I’m confident that when I’m packing up my paint and brushes on that final day, it will mimic finished room I have in my head.
I can be confident of a good outcome despite the messiness I now see. Me–a person who has never taken an art class, someone who has just figured things out through trial, error and experience–how much more confident can we be that the Creator of the Universe, the One who knew your story before you took your first breath, can see the masterpiece He created in you.
His masterpiece in the mess.
This post is part of the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival: Much, hosted by my friend Peter Pollock. To read more posts on this topic, please visit him at PeterPollock.com
As a life-long reader with a particular love of fiction, it has long been my suspicion that an author will–intentionally or otherwise–infuse the main character with many of his or her own characteristics, flaws and values. Now, having worked with an author through the writing and editing of four books (2 published, 2 yet to be released), I know this to be the case. At least if they’re writing honestly, and fiction doesn’t work for me unless it’s honest.
Which is why I was so delighted to read Glynn Young’s debut novel Dancing Priest.
Book Description (from Amazon):
Michael Kent… A young man studying to become a priest finds love, and learns that faith can separate. A university cyclist seeking Olympic gold finds tragedy, death and heroism. A pastor thousands of miles from home seeks vocation and finds fatherhood. Sarah Hughes… A young woman living abroad finds love and loses family. A university student meets a faith she cannot accept. An artist finds faith and learns to paint with her soul. Dancing Priest is the story of Michael Kent and Sarah Hughes and a love, born, separated, and reborn, in faith and hope.
I’ve never met Glynn in person, but I feel like I have a sense of the kind of person he is through his online presence: kind, generous, humble with a heart turned towards God.
So much of him seems to be infused into this story. It is a novel in the traditional sense, but it is so much more. It is a testimony of God’s grace and mercy weaved into the lives of its characters. It is a powerful reminder to live intentional lives for Jesus. That while there is loss, heartache and pain for every one of us, there is also great joy.
If your faith is waining and you need a good infusion of hope, I would highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself.
Confession: I’m a little overwhelmed right now. Not in a bad way. Not all all. But I’ve got pages to read and projects to contribute to, and then there’s the kiddos at home for the summer with whom I want to spend time with because I know I’m going to blink my eyes and they won’t be kids anymore. There was a time when I posted here seven days a week–two guest posts plus five from me. I have no idea how I ever did that, but I do enjoy blogging immensely. Since this has been a pretty crazy-busy week, I haven’t set aside time to write like I typically do. But rather than run a repost, I wanted to share a quote I found earlier this week while I was researching my latest Why I hate Writing post.
As I’ve said many times before, I think Stephen King is a fantastic writer. I don’t read his work because I’m a science fiction or horror fan. I read King because he is a master storyteller. I’ve read some interviews with him and know a little of his background–he was raised Methodist, his wife Tabby Catholic. I’ve also read that he reads the Bible, believes in a god, just not necessarily the God, and I’m pretty sure he’s not a huge fan of organized religion.
Anyway, this quote from his epic novel The Stand has me pondering some things about trusting God. Not about whether or not to trust Him–I’m hoping to trust Him more each day–but rather how it is that some seem to have a blind trust in God. And for the record, I don’t share this quote because I necessarily agree with his assertions or his characterization of “religious mania”, it’s just got me thinking. Here’s the quote:
The beauty of religious mania is that it has the power to explain everything. Once God (or Satan) is accepted as the first cause of everything which happens in the mortal world, nothing is left to chance…or change. Once such incantatory phrases as “we now see through the glass darkly” and “mysterious are the ways He chooses His wonders to perform” are mastered, logic can be happily tossed out the window. Religious mania is one of the few infallible ways of responding to the world’s vagaries, because it totally eliminates pure accident. To the true religious maniac, it’s all on purpose.
Can blind faith be deep faith? And can a faith that’s never tested be faith at all?
The release of Rob Bell’s controversial book Love Wins and the public discourse among Christians before and after its release hasn’t exactly been the greatest public relations coup in the history of the church. And let’s face it, we can say we love God and love people until we’re blue in the face, but if we don’t back up our words with the way we live and the way we treat each other, let alone those who aren’t Christians, we probably deserve much of the bad press we’ve received. I’m not suggesting we simply agree to disagree and not speak out against what we believe to be bad theology or legalism, we just need to do a better job with how we present our beliefs. The world is watching us.
I’ve often said that you can relate just about any life circumstance to an episode of Seinfeld, and I was only partly kidding. Funny how a show about nothing seemed to have covered just about everything. In the following montage, Puddy reminds us how NOT to be salt and light:
(Sorry, you’ll have to watch the clip on youtube because of copyright stuff.)
What important life lessons have you learned from Seinfeld?
I’m pretty opinionated here. Which is why I’m always a little surprised I don’t get negative comments. I mean almost never. In fact, the only truly angry comment I’ve ever received was for this post way back in May of 2008:
image courtesy of photobucket.com
Is it just me, or does watching a Rob Bell video remind anyone else of “The Chris Farley Show” of SNL fame? Here’s what I mean:
Do you remember the story,
when Jesus walks up to those dudes,
and I will make you fishers of men?”
the dudes, like
drop their nets,
and follow Him?…
That was awesome!
Now before anyone shoots me a comment about how Rob Bell is just the coolest, most relevant dude of the 21st century, and shame on me for making fun of him, I’m not dissing the message, just the delivery. I only say this because I once shared this observation with a youth pastor friend of mine and he looked at me like I had just said, “Jesus sucks!” And let’s be honest…he does kinda talk like that! Thoughts?
image courtesy of photobucket.com
Even though I made a disclaimer that I was not dissing Rob Bell’s message, I still got the following comment from your friend and mine, Anonymous:
How can you crack a joke on Rob’s excellent video series if you’ve never even met him or even watched any of them? Maybe you were just having a little fun, but it defies all logic and makes you look like a ignorant babbling fool! I need to get back to my Nooma videos, you know, something that will actually add value in my life!
The ironic thing is, I expected a comment like that. Because some fans of Rob Bell are so completely, rabidly devoted to him that they go around looking to defend him from any and all detractors. At the other end of the spectrum, you have people who believe Rob Bell is the anti-Christ and a heretic leading countless followers to the fiery pits of hell.
And speaking of hell… (Excellent segue, katdish)
Rob Bell has a book coming out on March 29 entitled Love Wins which is causing quite a firestorm. Here’s a video trailer for said book:
“Millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message, the center of the gospel of Jesus is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus. So what gets subtly taught sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that? That we would be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good? How can that God ever be trusted? And how could that ever be good news?” – Rob Bell
Predictably, many in the Christian community were quick to challenge Bell’s (presumed) declaration that a loving God would not send people to hell. Justin Taylor penned a blog post entitled Rob Bell: Universalist?, which John Piper tweeted prefaced by the words: “Farewell, Rob Bell”. It pretty much snowballed on twitter and Christian blogs after that point.
I’m not going to defend either side of the argument here. Do I believe there’s an actual, physical hell? Yes, I do. Do I think the entirety of Rob Bell’s teachings should be dismissed because I happen to disagree with him about certain interpretations of scripture? No, I don’t believe that either. Because this is what I know to be true:
Rob Bell is not
Justin Taylor is not
John Piper is not
Francis Chan, Erwin McManus, Pete Wilson, Vince Antonucci, Alan Hirsch, Matt Chandler, Matt Smay, Neil Cole,Tim Keller, Mark Batterson, Brennan Manning, Donald Miller, Mark Driscoll, Ed Stetzer, Andy Stanley, Charles Stanley, Rick Warren, Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Lee Strobel, Joel Osteen, T. D. Jakes, John Calvin, Oswald Chambers, Martin Luther, C. S. Lewis…
And their books and writings may inspire you or enrage you. They may cause you to question your faith or confirm what you’ve always believed to be the Truth, but they
The Word of God
The Bible is.
And you have the same access to it as anyone else.
Equip yourselves to defend
The Gospel of Christ
“The only thing worse than the joke you don’t get is the explanation that is bound to follow: an explanation that, while it may help you see why you should have seen the humor that you so lamely missed, is little likely to make you laugh. It may provoke you to muster a sympathy snicker so as to avoid more of an already tedious and misdirected lecture. It may inspire a mild giggle of recognition, but it will hardly ever raise a real belly-laugh, which was the original desired effect. And so, here I go — me and a dozen thousand other people — trying to explain a joke that we would do better to learn to better tell. I am setting out to explain again why Jesus is the only true hope for the world, why we should put faith in Him, and what all of that won’t mean. I am collecting the information, selecting from what I hope will be usable as evidence, arranging my findings into arguments, framing it for presentation and recognizing that, while it may be fine as far as it goes, it doesn’t go far enough…
So, here I offer what is possibly the worst thing that can be offered: an explanation of a joke. And, what makes this more inexcusable than the fact that this is that, is the added fact that this is an explanation of a joke you’ve already gotten. I offer it anyway. I offer it in the hope that it might somehow encourage you to live out your lives and, by your living, tell the joke that I, in my writing, so feebly attempt to explain.
Love one another, forgive one another, work as unto God, let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts. Make it your ambition to lead quiet lives. Obey. Greet one another with a holy kiss. No one will argue with that.”
~ Rich Mullins
Editor’s Note: In case anyone’s interested, I thought I would let you know that I belong to an independent, non-denominational Christian Church. If you’d like to know what we believe, you can find out at our website. I figured if this turned into a theology debate, you may as well know where I’m coming from. Not that I necessarily want this to turn into a theology debate, mind you. Just didn’t want y’all assuming I was a Baptist. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)
I’m fairly certain that by the time I finish reading Anna Karenina someone who reads this blog on a regular basis is going to tell me to shut my pie hole about this book. Fair enough. I will probably have that coming. I’ll be honest and tell you that there are parts of this 864 page saga that I have to force myself to get through. The extensive commentary on the various social classes and society in pre-communist Russia? Sorry, I’m just not interested in that. Even though I’m sure it’s fascinating to people who are.
The last post I wrote about this book was The mind of an artist. What I find so amazing about Tolstoy was his outrageous honesty. His characters express thoughts, beliefs and feelings that make me uncomfortable. Not because I find them distasteful, but because he forces me to acknowledge my own lack of honesty. Not so much with others, but with myself–about how I approach my writing, my life and my faith.
I have several passages bookmarked in this book. In the following passage, I relate (often painfully so) to Kitty:
Kitty followed her. Even Varenka struck her as different. She was not worse, but different from what she had fancied her before.
“Oh, dear! it’s a long while since I’ve laughed so much! said Varenka, gathering up her parasol and her bag. “How nice he is, your father!”
Kitty did not speak.
“When shall I see you again?” asked Varenka.
“Mama meant to go and see the Petrovs. Won’t you be there?” said Kitty, to try Varenka.
“Yes,” answered Varenka. “They’re getting ready to go away, so I promised to help them pack.”
“Well, I’ll come too, then.”
“No, why should you?”
“Why not? why not? why not?” said Kitty, opening her eyes wide, and clutching at Varenka’s parasol, so as not to let her go.
“No, wait a minute; why not?”
“Oh, nothing; your father has come, and besides, they will feel awkward at your helping.”
“No, tell me why you don’t want me to be often at the Petrovs’. You don’t want me to–why not?”
“I didn’t say that,” said Varenka quietly.
“No, please tell me!”
“Tell you everything?” asked Varenka
“Everything, everything!” Kitty assented.
“Well, there’s really nothing of any consequence; only that Mihail Alexeyevitch” (that was the artist’s name) “had meant to leave earlier, and now he doesn’t want to go away,” said Varenka, smiling.
“Well, well!” Kitty urged impatiently, looking darkly at Varenka.
“Well, and for some reason Anna Pavlovna told him that he didn’t want to go because you are here. Of course, that was nonsense; but there was a dispute over it–over you. You know how irritable these sick people are.”
Kitty, scowling more than ever, kept silent, and Varenka went on speaking alone, trying to soften or soothe her, and seeing a storm coming–she did not know whether of tears or of words.
“So you’d better not go…You understand; you won’t be offended?…”
“And it serves me right! And it serves me right!” Kitty cried quickly, snatching the parasol out of Varenka’s hand, and looking past her friend’s face.
Varenka felt inclined to smile, looking at her childish fury, but she was afraid of wounding her.
“How does it serve you right? I don’t understand,” she said.
“It serves me right, because it was all sham; because it was all done on purpose, and not from the heart. What business had I to interfere with outsiders? And so it’s come about that I’m a cause of quarrel, and that I’ve done what nobody asked me to do. Because it was all a sham! a sham! a sham!…”
“A sham! with what object?” said Varenka gently.
“Oh, it’s so idiotic! so hateful! There was no need whatever for me…Nothing but sham!” she said, opening and shutting the parasol.
“But with what object?”
“To seem better to people, to myself, to God; to deceive everyone. No! now I won’t descend to that. I’ll be bad; but anyway not a liar, a cheat.”
“But who is a cheat?” said Varenka reproachfully. “You speak as if…”
But Kitty was in one of her gust of fury, and she would not let her finish.
“I don’t talk about you, not about you at all. You’re perfection. Yes, yes, I know you’re all perfection; but what am I to do if I’m bad? This would never have been if I weren’t so bad. So let me be what I am. I won’t be a sham. What have I to do with Anna Pavlovna? Let them go their way, and me go mine. I can’t be different…And yet it’s not that, it’s not that.”
“What is not that?” asked Varenka in bewilderment.
“Everything. I can’t act except from the heart, and you act from principle. I liked you simply, but you most likely only wanted to save me, to improve me.”
“You are unjust,” said Varenka.
“But I’m not speaking of other people, I’m speaking of myself.”
Like Kitty, I feel like a fraud when I attempt to do things “to seem better to people; to myself; to God”. I want to help others and to serve Jesus out of love–for Him and for them. It may sound noble, but at times it feels so childish. Because what if love isn’t enough?
Are you a person that acts from the heart or from principle and obligation? And if you’re of the latter category, do people like me drive you crazy?
October 11, 2010 was the official release of Snow Day by Billy Coffey. (Available at a bookstore near you. Buy early, buy often.)
This is Billy’s time in the spotlight, so I won’t take up too much of your time. But I wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to some people.
First, to my family—who have graciously allowed me to spend countless hours on the computer that could have been spent with them. For understanding that sometimes you give of your time and talents not for personal gain or recognition, but simply because it’s the right thing to do. You’ve been my own personal cheering section.
To my bloggy pals who have been with me from the early days of Hey Look a Chicken. You believed in and supported Billy’s work because I asked you to. And even though his work never needed my endorsement, just the fact that you believed in him because I did means a lot. Y’all are friggintastic.
To Billy’s readers/friends, and for those of you whose paths I’ve crossed somewhere along the way—thank you all for welcoming this brash, outspoken, sometimes snarky and often ridiculous blogger into your midst. It’s been wonderful getting to know you all.
To Peter Pollock—I could never say thank you enough for all that you’ve done. Billy’s website would never have happened without you. You took the vision in my mind and translated it flawlessly into reality and you continue to provide excellent technical and moral support to my very demanding self. You truly are a prince.
And finally to Billy—
It’s been quite an adventure, no? Thank you for putting your trust in a virtual stranger almost 2 years ago who had no idea what she was doing, but let me figure it out along the way. Thank you for allowing me to read your words before sharing them with the rest of the world, and most of all, thank you for not giving up on your dreams, even when they seemed so far out of reach. The world would be a darker, less hopeful place without your stories.
Of all the lessons you’ve learned during this roller coaster ride—about faith and trust, about honor and friendship, if you take nothing else away from this experience, I hope you’ve learned this one undeniable truth: