Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Afterlife

I've spent a week thinking about death. Some strange thoughts about it.

For instance, death sounds peaceful. Like falling asleep. An end to the endless sense of urgency this planet plans for every day of my life. Death sounds like "my turn is finished, now someone else can have a turn."

Death doesn't correlate with afterlife for me. Death is an ending. A finality. A moment in time from which to mark time and move forward. Afterlife is something else - a "heavenly" fiction (in the best sense of the word). Afterlife is open for debate, speculation, freaky near-death experiences, fantasy, imagination, spaces and places unknown, one-sided conversation with the ones who've "gone to the other side." Afterlife keeps a cushion around what death represents: final painful loss.

When I was little and heard about heaven, I didn't know what could possibly be a better place than this life - this little tract home in Canoga Park with two parents, a brother and a sister, a boxer named Casey and a jungle gym. One week in church, trying to picture my soul resting in heaven, the best I came up with was an image of a heart muscle wearing wings perched on the clouds. I decided I preferred the jungle gym.

By high school, I no longer believed in heaven. I remember distinctly trying to comfort a friend afraid of dying by saying rather glibly at the time: "Listen, when you're dead, you're dead. You won't know that you're dead so it won't be a big deal. Just live now and when you die, you won't even know it happened."

That didn't comfort her, but it sure made sense to me. I found it possible to live that way without any anxiety at all. I was, naturally, 17.

Within a couple years of that declaration, the Christians in my life came up with an entirely different description of the nature of death (there was not just physical, but spiritual death too) and the afterlife (heaven, hell - pick heaven, smart people do) and expected me to accept it. (I pretended to for about two years.) The truth is, I joined up with Jesus Christ not for life after death, but for life while living. But if they needed me to pretend that heaven existed, well, I could sing along.

Then Keith Green died.

Until someone as close to God as Keith somehow missed the Holy Spirit's insistent tapping on his back, "Hey Keith! Don't get in a seven seater plane with eleven people or you'll die!" I didn't think about death.

Suddenly I had to. I had to answer the question: Where was Keith now?

And on a dime: I believed. Heaven. It was the only thing that made sense.

That's when my daily practice of sharing my faith began. I could not bear the thought of anyone going to hell. Just. Like. That. So for a good long while, I believed in heaven and hell, even saving Muslim souls before it was in vogue to do so.

I tallied it this way: Eternity is a really, really, really long time. This life is nearly pointless next to that terrifying stretch of non-time. Better make sure no one goes to the bad place.

But one day I woke up (after years of theological wrangling and deconstruction) and didn't believe any of it any more. Belief in the afterlife evaporated as quickly as it had come. I didn't miss it.

So when Heath Ledger died last week, my only thoughts about him had to do with our collective loss, his family, his last moments. I don't wonder where he is. I do wonder why and how he died.

Theories about where he is now, though, are a big part of the grief process for his fans (maybe his family too). Some speculate that Heath is able to hear and receive all the love being expressed somewhere in the invisible universe where his soul is attentive and peaceful. Others talk about the grand reunion he will have with one of our forum friends who died the same week. There are theories related to numerology that suggest he "had to die" that day. Nothing he could have done about it. Someone else suggested writing Heath a letter, putting it inside a Bible and then asking an angel to take it to him.

The apartment where Heath died has been showered with flowers, posters, memorials, candles, letters, poetry, and flags. All directed to Heath, as though he is still near, hovering to catch the last glimpse of this life before he ascends over the city of New York like Neo in the Matrix. A final exit, not quite made yet.

As I read the heartfelt remembrances and the hopes that Heath is at peace, knows inexplicably that he was deeply admired and loved, as speculations about life after death smoothed the rough edges of loss, I found I could easily wish for all of it to be true, whether or not it is fact.

Perhaps heaven and hell are for us, the living, to help us cope with the losses that death brings. Perhaps thinking about afterlife helps us to live this life more peacefully.

I also know what any of us thinks about it doesn't matter really. No one knows what's on the other side. But the hope of heaven or spiritual life may comfort. And with the short supply of options available in grief, hoping for heaven isn't such a bad one.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Abortion rate declines

Behind the Abortion Decline
Published: January 26, 2008
The best practical strategy for reducing abortions is to focus on helping women avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Almost two-thirds of the decline in the total number of abortions can be traced to eight jurisdictions with few or no abortion restrictions — New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, California, Oregon, Washington State and the District of Columbia. These are places, notes the Guttmacher Institute’s president, Sharon Camp, that have shown a commitment to real sex education, largely departing from the Bush administration’s abstinence-only approach. These jurisdictions also help women avoid unintended pregnancies by making contraception widely available.

Thursday, January 24, 2008 links

I've joined the craze and have added the RSS feed to my sidebar. Most of the stuff on my feed will be related to Brave Writer (my business that teaches writing) because that's what I do most of the time (search for good writing ideas, models, tips for parents and so on). So if you're one of those reluctant writers or a closet novelist or a hack blogger, there'll be good stuff there for you as I find it.

I can't imagine I won't also include good sports writing when I run across it, as I think sports writers are some of the best daily journalists.

Btw, did you know Tiger kicks it off today at the Buick? I need to go see how he's doing, come to think of it. Aha! Through 13, he's at -5 and tied for the lead. Yep, sounds like Tiger.

Heath Ledger (1979-2008) RIP

A hard week for me. Not only did the news of Heath Ledger's death rock me backwards, but once I visited my beloved Brokeback Mountain forums, I discovered that one of the long-time, most delightful participants on that board was in hospice with liver failure due to cancer. She died Wednesday morning. The thread saying goodbye to her is nearly as long as the one for Heath. I feel gut punched twice in one week. Hard to imagine that Jackie (paintedshoes) and Heath both passed within a day of each other. The 5000+ member community is understandably devastated.

There are two tributes I wanted to share here for those interested in Heath's history. The first is the most well-written tribute I've found and that's because it's by A.O. Scott, one of the best writers I read week in and week out (NY Times movie reviewer).

You can read his article here: Prince of Intensity with a Lightness of Touch

I also needed the catharsis provided by these images of Heath set to the score by Gustavo Santonella (BBM) on youtube.

As one writer for Slate wrote, it's not so much that Heath will miss out on future movies. It's that the movies will miss Heath. So will I.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Heath Ledger dies in his apartment

I'm in shock. Anyone who knows how much I loved Brokeback Mountain will know that this tragedy feels personal to me and his thousands of fans.

Here's an article with details.

I can't write anything worth posting because I'm so heart broken. We'll miss you Heath.

Update: reports that Heath had pneumonia at the tie of his death, that there is not yet evidence of suicide and that his family heard from the police first that the death was "accidental." I hope so.

These details help.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Secret Life of Bees the movie

I loved the book by Sue Monk Kidd, now it will be a movie! The cast looks promising:

Written and directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood, the movie stars Dakota Fanning as Lily Owens and Academy Award Winner Jennifer Hudson as her caretaker and "stand-in" mother, Rosaleen. The two soon discover a trio of beekeeping sisters played by Queen Latifah (August), Alicia Keys (June) and Sophie Okonedo (May). Completing the cast is Paul Bettany as T. Ray, Tristan Wilds (Zach), Derek Luke (Neil) and Hilarie Burton (Deborah).

For more info: Secret Life of Bees, the movie

I wonder what Tiki Barber is thinking now....

One year out and his Giants are in the Super Bowl. Do you think he regrets retiring early now?

Gotta wonder if this team pulled together more easily with his cranky disposition out of the way....

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Aberration

In the history of the Christian church (all expressions, ethnicities, denominations), 20th century American evangelical fundamentalism is a blip on the computer screen of time. While it still has some evidence of a pulse, I'd say like Billy Crystal in "The Princess Bride": "It's mostly dead." The short life span is good news for the future of faith. It's not such good news if you were born in the sixties.

That life span, unfortunately, coincided with mine. Bill Bright (Campus Crusade for Christ) turned evangelism into a door-to-door sales strategy with little booklets and Four Spiritual Laws that paralleled (somehow) the physical universe. John MacArthur (Grace Community Church Sun Valley) redefined the sermon with his lengthy word by word exposition that had the look and feel of a college lecture rather than weekly nurturing from the "head of a flock." The US Center for World Mission approximated the number of "unreached people groups," never remembered to update the number and expected young Christians to give up everything to live in some of the most hostile, unreached parts of the world to win the lost to Christ... all by the year 2000.

Dr. James Dobson (Focus on the Family) "took back the family" from Dr. Spock by advocating wooden spoon spanking and following it up with strict patriarchy. Not content to merely take back the family, he created a following bent on taking back the country as well. Randall Terry (founder of Operation Rescue - pro-lifers who gladly went to jail to save babies) proof-texted the Old Testament to shame evangelicals into civil disobedience until he got tired of jail himself and started a bad radio show. John Wimber discovered that Christian pop worship music was big business and then proceeded to believe all he'd been taught about the Bible being literally true. (I admit to admiring that about the guy.) Unlike the rest of the conservatives on the landscape, he tried to "do the stuff" that Jesus did. Depending on who you ask, it's hard to say whether or not he ever succeeded.

Mary Pride led a revolution of large family-ism, home business, home education and home collapse. I remember back in the day explaining to my mother that Jon and I were going to go off of birth control to have as many kids "as the Lord wanted us to have." My mom's memorable response: "We're Catholics. We already tried that. It doesn't work."

New models and methods for "sharing" our faith were being fast forwarded into an exhausted movement of people who had prayed the prayer, had burned bridges with old friends, bosses and family by standing up for the Gospel, who had prayed for intimacy with God in tongues, in closets, on 40 day fasts, who'd studied the Bible until the pages wore out, searching for insights that would reinforce evangelical doctrines. Husbands were keeping promises to wives, wives had given up careers to stay home, children were being raised to distrust the culture, the public schools, Hollywood, and to expect men to lead and women to submit.

Evangelical Christianity became its own self-reinforcing loop of similar people who spoke one language, who saw themselves as embattled good people victimized by the ever-intensifying secular humanist American world. But even more than that, they saw themselves as reflecting true, orthodox, original Christianity, just updated by pop music, Veggie Tales, theater style buildings, television and radio shows, and hip male pastors.

It's so glaringly obvious now that this thing, this culture of evangelicalism, had more to do with a reaction to the slide into postmodernism than anything to do with Christianity of the historic formulation.

Some smart people in my life have tried to tell me that the Christianity I believed in was not the "real" Christianity. Gawd, how that used to bug me. I was living in this massive arena of evangelical interconnections that included superstars, the biggest publishing industry in the country, the most easily spotted Christian movement the media could identify. How could these non-evangelical Christian friends not know what I was talking about or who the heroes of this "true Christianity" were?

Even more, as I began to surf ex-fundamentalist sites, it was clear that there were loads of people like me who had thought that Christianity equaled the evangelical version of it. Proof that the version I knew was legit, representative of real Christianity, literal Christianity... at least by that measurement.

In a classic "baby and bath water" argument, a few of my friends on the outside of this suffocating movement have pleaded with me to reconsider my faith so as to retain a better version of it. Honestly, this is how I wound up in graduate school. I have never liked the "I was this, now I'm that" feel of ex-fundamentalism. I was no more qualified to evaluate arguments for evolution post-evangelical than while living as one. So the quick move to trusting some other "expert" (usually science for ex-fundamentalists) to define my worldview worried me a lot.

Worse, I still found things to like in the Bible, in Jesus and in Christianity. It wasn't all smoke and mirrors. The "commitment to marriage and family" arc of evangelicalism actually served my marriage and family (though I know it hasn't always worked that way for everyone). I loved my community of close friends in the homeschooling movement. I loved the community, period. And the themes of redemption, forgiveness and suffering, valuing the "other," and being a part of lasting change still speak to me loudest through Christian writings, theology and teachers.

Graduate school became the place where I discovered this big huge world of Christianities that I hadn't ever known, loved, understood or considered. It was like leaving the McDonald's playland for Disneyland. No comparison. Made the old version of faith look childish and insufficient.

As a result, I've come to agree with those critics in my life. I was in an aberrant form of the faith.

So now what do I do? Adopt another? Reject them all? Instead of Disneyland, I'm hanging out at the beach for awhile. I'm not ready to get the annual pass; I don't feel ready to commit to one location and call it home. My beliefs? Who really cares? They've not defined me very well for most of my adult life. I'm a bit gunshy of declaring "new convictions" given my history of changeableness.

I decided to try something else. Today, I live by faith, not sight. I got the idea from that one guy in the Bible, in fact. It's a really nice way to live, with lots of different people dropping in for tea and a chat.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

L'Abri and me

Machines make snow

Frank Schaeffer (author of Crazy for God and son of Edith and Francis Schaeffer) would be mortified to see where I ski. He skied Alps. Swiss ones. Those Alps. My little patch of mid-winter bliss is located off I-275 in Indiana on the only hill trying to be a mountain in the entire state. It's always a surprise when you drive up to it. Not a hint of snow, barely a bump in the terrain and suddenly an eruption of pointy white. Today the proud peaks greeted us with snow blowers at full blast like giant white spray paint cans.

Snow! If God won't make it, machines will!

Frank Schaeffer said his favorite times of year were his two week vacations in Portofino, Italy in the summer, and his family's annual trip to Zermatt, Switzerland in winter to ski. Those would work for me.

My favorite day of the week in winter is the alliterative Wednesday. It's my escape from computer screens, washing machines, and the pervasive greyness of Ohio in January.

Crazy for God takes me to lots of familiar places, both physical and metaphysical. There's the Chalet Lez Melezes where I took many of my dinners at L'Abri (the ministry to college students and twenty-somethings in Switzerland), there's the little rickety bus that winds you up the mountain side from the train station in Aigle to Huemoz, home of L'Abri. I remember the wooden shutters over big windows, the long sermon-like prayers of Edith and the well stocked tape cassette library where I listened to Francis lecture on predestination and the sovereignty of God while gazing on daffodils sprouting on green hillsides, huge craggy peaks of white in the distance.

I loved my two stays at L'Abri, though I arrived for the first time in the spring of 1982 after Frank had left in 1980. I met his sisters and parents, but never met him. In 1983, I visited again in the summer for a longer two week stay. But something had changed. The atmosphere of L'Abri felt crumbly, like a cake left out too long on a counter. It had become a memory of itself, a tourist stop to see a by-gone era of young adult free-love hippie soul seekers, now replaced by Reagan-fans who raced through Europe to shop, not to find themselves.

Worse, perhaps, one of the workers introduced me to heresy.

I never have gotten along well with reformed theology. (Just ask my friends.) I worked hard to "get it" in the early days - asking the Holy Spirit to impart the doctrine to me in terms I could grasp, tolerate (I didn't expect to understand it all, I just needed to be able to respect and worship the God I was telling people about).

So after failing to appreciate the doctrine, even after the literally dozens of hours I spent in conversations, reading, and listening to cassettes, I made an appointment with one of the "workers" to have a one-on-one appointment ("workers" often turned out to be those people who got lost in the tulips, loved the alpine lifestyle, and stayed on to talk theology for the benefit of other seekers).

I unburdened myself to this poor nearly 30 year old guy.

What is the point of missions if God has already picked who will or won't go to heaven?

How can God be called loving and only choose some for salvation, since we're all sinners, since none of us deserves heaven? If the choice is random, doesn't that make God a capricious God?

Why don't all Christians accept this theology?

Ah. That was the ticket. That's the question that uncorked the months of bottled up theological fizz-turned-high-pressure-spray. For the next hour and a half, I listened to all of his doctrinal complaints, the way a nurse might listen to an 80 year old woman's body ailments: "I have a creaky knee, and my ankle pops, and yes, that doctrine makes God capricious!"

He had the same problems with predestination I did (and the "years of study and debate" chops to back it up). He had a problem with the trinity. He had issues with the Bible. And all of these he planned to resolve in the most heretical place known to humankind (and L'Abri): Fuller Seminary (the bastion of all things slippery slope to hell). I know. You're shaking in your boots.

Once this worker had declared his seminary destination, his worker status was terminated. While a diversity of seekers were welcome, apparently a diversity of conclusions were not. I happened upon this worker while he was clearing out his books to move to California. He wrote down several titles for me to read. I read one: Grace Unlimited by Clark Pinnock (Bethany, 1975).

I loved it, tried to talk about it with my Campus Crusade friends and staff. Instead, I was told I had exposed myself to heresy. So I put Pinnock's ideas on the back burner and redoubled my efforts to be a good evangelical. Ironically it would be Clark Pinnock's writings again that led to the renewed examination of my faith in the 1990s (and also would become the source of much painful online communication with new friends).

Yesterday, though, was all about skiing for me. Riding up my little mountain, I thought about Frank's strange life in the Alps and what Jan and Stan Berenstain (authors of "Too Much Birthday") might have called "Too Much Theology."

Since May, I've been on an accidental theology fast. It's been good. Skiing even better.

Look at the way the snow blower gets the trees even though everywhere else is green. The snow is an illusion we buy into while we ski. Surreal, isn't it?

Ski day

Monday, January 14, 2008

CNN to report on Cincinnati Public Schools Success

I'm excited to see the airing of a special Lou Dobbs report about the Cincinnati Public Schools tomorrow night.

Ron Paul and Racism

There's a firestorm a-brewin' over Ron Paul's racist remarks from his campaigns in the 1990s demonstrated by articles in his newsletter and in interviews. I've got a couple of links for those interested:

CNN Report (including excerpts)

Latest Politics

American Thinker

I haven't been a Ron Paul supporter mostly because I picked up his white attitude on his own campaign website.

Ron Paul 2008 Racism

Libertarians appeal to me a lot, but not when it comes to complicated issues like race. The solution isn't to pretend that Americans can ignore race, but to address just how they do in fact use race to their personal advantages or to the detriment of others.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Barbed wire farm
Caitrin, Liam and I took a walk last week up the street to the nearby llama farm. I took the camera with me for the first time since I stopped photoblogging on Dec. 26.

What a spectacular day it was for photography! The light was perfect, the sky foreboding and textured, the colors popping. We saw the horses and oxen this time (no llamas). The grass rolled out to the line of trees in surprising jeweled green for January. The red barn is a welcome relic in the land of "little pink houses for you and me."

For all that, I became fascinated with the barbed wire fence. I like the rust, the way they edges pierce the larger, cloudy sky. Took scads of photos. Then didn't know what to do with them. Yesterday, I became fascinated with decoding my site meter to figure out the source of an unwanted anonymous comment to my blog—a barb directed at me by someone who knows me well.

Suddenly these photos seemed entirely relevant.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

NFL Play-off Picks

Seahawks v. Packers: I pick the Packers. Go Brett. This is his year, again.

Jaguars v. Patriots: Has to be the Pats.

Chargers v. Colts: I hope it's the Colts. I have less confidence here, but the RCA Dome should be a big advantage.

Cowboys v. Giants: It's trendy to go with the Giants right now and I admit to having a motherly affection for Eli (in his brother's shadow) Manning. Plus, if the Giants went all the way and the Colts knocked out the Pats, we'd get a true Manning Bowl! But in the end, I have to go with rested Romo (scandal of the play-off season).

Wanna post your picks?

Friday, January 11, 2008

The truth we may discover

The world, dressed in our habitual interpretations, is familiar to us. It may not be exactly safe, but we know how to walk in it. We can get from sunrise to sunset...

What if [we] go straight toward our own truth, what might be lost? Perhaps love is not love, faith is not faith, trust is not worthy. Perhaps a world will be lost. And what will be there to take its place? What price, truth?
(Patricia Schneider, Writing Alone and with Others)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Here's what they've said over the years

Quick caveat: The following post is descriptive of conversations that took place years ago when I was in the midst of change. It is not reflective of where I am today. But it may be helpful to those of you who are in the middle of that transition or who know someone who is. Hence the post.

I've been dusting off various old journals and digital copies of forum posts I've made on the Internet over the last seven years. I stumbled across this post from an ex-fundamentalist site I used to frequent. As I slowly admitted to the unraveling of my faith to friends and family, I collected a variety of responses.

I don't get these responses any more. Amazingly. What I get now is friendliness, acceptance, polite questions and perhaps more often than any other response: silence. But I don't mind the silence now (like I did then). I appreciate it. I feel respected by it. I find that I can now be in my old contexts of fundamentalists, evangelicals, and conservative Christians and feel perfectly at ease. I even find myself able to pray with/for them and to speak their language (so to speak) when I need to.

But I wanted to post this entry because it's so representative of the types of unhelpful responses many of us experience when we're going through these seismic faith shifts. I've italicized what I think are more helpful responses for those who'd like a script for how to treat your disillusioned struggling soon-to-be ex-Christian friend. :) Why not? It's my fantasy.

My conversations went like this (drawn from real interactions):

I said: I can't live with the idea that God damns people for eternity if they've never heard of Jesus or Christianity.

Answer: How do you think God feels? Don't his feelings matter? He created these people and they rejected him...

More helpful response: It is awful to think of human beings suffering forever. How have you felt about the various theological options for reconciling a loving God with eternal damnation? Why don't they work for you?

I said: I realized I had never considered whether or not the Bible was the "Word of God"/ divinely inspired. I had been taught that it was a right belief for Christians, was presented with "evidence" from a Christian viewpoint and was shown in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that if I didn't believe it, I couldn't join up. I had never heard that there were Christians, even, who didn't hold that belief. Let alone scads of rational people who don’t believe it at all.

Answer: You need to get into the Word. You need to have faith that it is God's Word and then the Word will speak to you and you'll know it's from God.

Follow-up from me: Certainly. That's exactly what I've always been told and have practiced. Still, how did you ever hear about inerrancy of Scripture? I mean, you didn't come to that viewpoint without someone suggesting it, did you? How many new Christians get up one morning, start reading the Bible and suddenly think, "These are the very, exact, perfect words of God!"?

Answer: You can't be a Christian without believing the Bible is the Word of God. And it has proven true in my life. (Anyone heard of circular thinking?)

More helpful response: I'll have to think about that. Would anyone come to a view of inerrancy without the explicit teaching of that doctrine? I don't know.

I said: These (various and sundry theological) questions have troubled me for my entire twenty years in the faith.

Answer: (thought and implied) Aha! Evidence for the fact that Julie may never have been saved to begin with...

More helpful response: It must feel really weird for you to have had questions all those years while asserting that you believed the main doctrines and acted on them in spite of the questions.

I said: I'm no longer a conservative evangelical and have questioned every single belief I have ever held. I don't line up with any of the cherished doctrines any more.

Answer: I worried about you and prayed. The Lord showed me that you were still his. I was so comforted. He told me that you were just going about your questions in a different way.

I thought: What "different way" is that? How else do people question something? Glad you are “comforted”... but I wish you would know the me I'm sharing with you, not the one you are creating for yourself so that you will feel more comfortable.

She said: You have a really good mind and Satan knows it and is trying to use it. He is attacking you. And because you have a good mind, you have to be extra careful not to be drawn in to his arguments that are lies. It’s a huge responsibility.

I thought: There's nothing to say to this. I can only thank her for her genuine care.

Someone else said: These are good questions Julie and they all have answers. My husband is really good at theology and he will show you what you need to know so you won't have to have these questions any more.

Someone else said: Let's have coffee. I've been through exactly what you're going through and then I found the Lord again.

I thought: Uh, can't be what I've been through if you came out on the same side you started on...

Yet someone else said: Here are some books you may not have read yet - hands over Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

Ironically, this is the first book I read as a new Christian in college. Moreover, I read all of McDowell's books and any apologetic work I could get my hands on.

Someone online wrote: Read Lee Strobel's The Case for Faith.

And so I did. That's when I knew I had begun a real theological education. His book felt small, un-nuanced and theologically shallow compared with the diversity of opinions I had begun to study outside of evangelicalism.

An old sorority sister said: How does your husband feel about this change in you? After all, he's the spiritual head of the household.

She hasn't returned my emails or phone calls in four years since posing this question to me in email.

A church friend could have said: We could tell you were struggling and we've been worried for over a year. That's why we've gossiped about you behind your back, I mean, prayed and have never called or cared to ask what you think now and why.

And most of my friends from the old days said: Nothing.

I have several friends who've never said a word yet have gradually disappeared from my life...


If you know someone going through a spiritual climate change, the best way to love and support her is to not take her experiences personally. Usually a person in flux is confronting her beliefs for very good (and sometimes painful) reasons. Even if the friend in question was the most radical, committed example of evangelical conviction and action you knew personally, even if that person is the one who led you to faith, the deconstruction process of faith is deeply personal and is not meant to be a commentary on you or anyone else.

Of course rejection of doctrine implies that those who still believe it are not dealing with reality (the new reality approved by the formerly committed believer). Yet interestingly enough, even in the height of my critique of evangelicalism, of the doctrines, of the practices and attitudes that drove me crazy, I didn't feel judgmental of my friends who held onto faith. (I know some do.)

What I did resent was the implication that there was a quick fix for me or that I had never actually known or experienced God before, like they had.

The friends who have served me best during this season are the ones who showed interest in me and my thought processes, who trusted that I was the same person in question mode as I was in committed evangelical practice, who asked me real questions borne out of curiosity, not out of a need to corral and rescue.

If you're reading and you're one of those friends, thank you. I love you.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Wherein I get annoyed by some writers...

I'm going to admit to a personal failing. I'm competitive, though not ambitious. What that means is that I generate petty arguments within myself when reading another writer's work. Not all writers. If you are truly good, if your work catches me off-guard, strings together words I could never have dredged up from within, pierces my puny life with insight, and delights me... then we're good. I simply read in awe, bow down to you on the tatami mat and intone: Thank you for saving my soul with your words.

For instance, I can read E.M. Forster every day of the year, any page of any book and never compete with the man. All I want to do is lick his boots clean and turn him from gay to straight so I can flirt with him. He is that good.

Annie Proulx (short story writer made famous by "Brokeback Mountain") eats my soul for lunch. The apt word is her middle name. The understated insight is her last. Her words are so beautiful (even when meant to be ugly) that I hold my breath while I'm reading until I get dizzy from lack of oxygen. Good writing has that effect on me. It never occurs to me to compete with her as she is completely and totally out of my league. Even if I write until I'm 112, I will never get to where she is at 65.

Similarly, I remember reading Eudora Welty's "No Place for You My Love" nine years ago (in fact, before Welty died). I read and reread that short story so many times, I started dreaming of the phrases in it. I would be sleeping along when words would float in New Times Roman typeface toward me in curlicues and they would be Welty's words. I can still see the images, hear the words, identify the place in the story even having not read it since.

So yeah, I'm a word whore and am happily awed by truly great writing. I don't compete. I recognize genius, sigh and reread.

But when I read a contemporary who is a good writer... well, not so much. I get all itchy and irritable. I recognize the good writing, I appreciate that it makes me laugh or serves up a new metaphor like a new Thai dish. But I also, in the same moment, argue with it. I reluctantly keep reading (because, after all, the writing is good), but I grind my teeth and push the book away from me while I read. I imagine book deals being made by sleeping with editors (surely it can't be the quality of the writing!) and I'm disgusted.

I give the writer credit for timing (Dooce's blog comes to mind) or for good luck or for being famous already. But I hold back praise inside myself because if I admit that this is a good writer (a writer who writes like I do, who I consider not to be genius but good enough), then I have to admit that I haven't done what I say I wanted to do sooner.

It's my ego on the line. If this person who writes well enough succeeds, why have I not thrown open the door to publication sooner? Why do I sit content with blogging, graduate school, writing about writing, teaching writing, reading writing...? Hmmm?

The latest victim of my competitive disdain is Elizabeth Gilbert - author of Eat, Pray, Love. Yes, it's an Oprah book and yes, I did see her on Oprah, and yes, I was crazy with jealousy, irritation and judgments. She wrote her book at age 35. Well shit! I'm 46 already. She wrote her book in three different countries, paid to live there by her book deal. Well, dammit, I'm trapped in the midwest, paying my own way. She talks about God as though she knows something about it and was never a Christian nor a theology student. What nerve!

It's not that I need to be on the New York Times bestseller list (well, maybe I do, but I haven't really allowed myself to ever think about it... is that the problem?). It's that I see others do what they do in their thirties and forties and I get all up in my own grill about what I do with my days, what I said I wanted to do by now.

And I want to write that book... that book that is in me to write. I fear publishers (totally, completely with all the irrational twitchings that come with having grown up as the daughter of a published author who never seriously broke through until 65, though she's written 56 books). Publishers have the power to reject you, to publish and then reject you, to publish and then throw that hard work away into the remainders pile at Half Price books.

Today, I want to take a moment to declare that I'm tired of assuming that part of the pie that could go to me has already been cut up and served to other good enough writers.

2008: One resolution - to write my book. The end.

I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I'm back to yoga and have chosen to love and affirm all those "good writers" rather than making fun of their hyperbole behind their backs.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Barak Obama makes history

and we are alive to witness it! I really didn't think he'd pull off the upset in Iowa. Though I receive his emails every day and in my secret heart of hearts still hope he wins in November, I imagined a long struggle with lots of drama over the next few months, fighting to pass Hillary. To see him capture the Iowa caucus, the first one, the first black man to ever win in Iowa.... well, I was unprepared for how happy that would make me! Almost as glad as seeing Rick Neuheisel become the new Bruin headcoach.

If you grew up in the 1960s and marched for civil rights (I didn't - I was three and throwing tantrums not observing sit-ins), this moment must really be big. Everyone keeps saying we aren't ready for a woman or a black man in office. But Iowa - a mostly rural, largely white population showed up in droves (record numbers) to vote for Obama, to put their stamp on a black man, to say with their votes: we can be led by Obama. Wow. Huge.

What a morning to wake up and hope again, a little bit.

Obama 2008!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

I must have been right next to some kind of

inlet of relief when I wrote my "vie en bleu" post because the days following have been so different than the six months leading up, it feels strange to write this post so near to the last one. It's not that all is perfectly well, but rather I feel I reclaimed some space inside of me that had been all shrunken and withered before.

On Friday, Chuck and Deb (commenters on this very blog!) had Jon and I and two other couples to their home for dinner. We ate paella (very good!) and talked about politics, God and music. As we did, it occurred to me that it had been far too long since I'd been in someone else's home, eating food they cooked, only bringing myself along (even letting Jon drive).

The next night, Tywana (Brian's wife) and I attended a "Free Slam" that Deb and Chuck help host. These are events that I could picture Scrivener, Jo(e), Dalissa or Ampersand attending. Various artistic souls in need of an audience fling their songs, poems, stand-up routines and artwork at the rest of us and we clap, laugh and encourage them. Even when the art didn't resonate with me, I was uplifted by the idea of the group - by the thought that we could help each other through creating safe spaces to risk and share. So that was great!

Then on Sunday morning, Liam and I got up dark and early. We clunked around the kitchen making tea with milk and pouring it into a thermos. We assembled turkey sandwiches, trail mix bars and clementine oranges into our mini picnic tote. Then with two pair of binoculars and extra layers of clothing, we headed into the still black morning and drove 25 miles to the Cincinnati Nature Center.

We met other binocular clad counters who were joining together for the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count. Liam and I were happily assigned to a group of all novices led by one expert (and I mean expert). This guy not only could replicate the calls of numerous birds, he could recognize them from below, by ear, by flock and wing beats. One time we thought we heard a red-tailed hawk when he changed his mind and stated, "Nope. That's a blue-jay imitating a red-tailed hawk. They get close, but their pitch is off." Oh. My. Goodness. Yeah, I'm more the kind of birder that says, "Hey! There's a cardinal. I can see it right there sitting perfectly still and it's all red."

Anyway, we tromped through endless mud and dead leaves already composting into mulch, up hill and over dale. (I've always wanted to write that.)

What struck me about the experience was how quiet it was. Bob, trustee expert birder, told us that bird watching is really more "bird listening." And it was true. We hardly talked at all. Most of the time we stood very still waiting... hoping for some movement, some flutter of leaves or swish of brush.

And I loved it. The quiet reminded me of the library, yet it was outdoors where my lungs filled with yogic breaths of air. Therapeutic. Even after three hours of rubber legs, frozen finger tips and growling stomach, I didn't want to quit. It felt really good to focus all my energy and attention on one little tiny thing: counting birds in the bush. I wonder if this is how golf feels for executives.

We returned to the center to eat lunch and many cheerful birders welcomed us. It might be difficult to appreciate just how odd it feels for me (who lives in her head of ideas and virtuality) to be in a room of people who enjoy conversations about numbers, biological components, ecology, and international tourism that takes travelers to car camping in Kenya as opposed to pensions in Florence.

Again, it felt restful, right, distracting in the best way. Liam and I returned in the evening for the final count which included all the birds of our region. We laughed every time the room gasped when a count was exceptionally high: 3,743 robins or disastrously low: 0 kildeer (the room exhaled a mournful sigh realizing that the kildeer had not survived suburbanization of the farmlands since not one has been sighted for the last six years).

By Monday morning, I felt like a new person.

I also woke up writing this morning. That hasn't happened in awhile. To make sure I didn't lose that well-conceived sentence, I immediately scribbled it onto the back of my library book receipt list (the only strip of paper I could find first thing in the morning). It even reads well now, 12 hours later.

Today, we met the rest of the band parents at Champs restaurant and had the fun of seeing Jacob in the Rose Parade. I got interviewed about our family reaction by the local TV station (and even made it onto the 6:00 news - the video is there if you want to see it). Jake's having a ball in California.

Tomorrow I'll be taking Johannah back to college. I'm not looking forward to her leaving, but I'm not dreading it any more either. Thanks for all our helpful comments and suggestions. I took many of them to heart, as you can see.