Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Life as Wilderness Trek


As she tells the story in Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears, five days after her first round of chemotherapy, Margaret Feinberg kept a commitment to lead a spiritual retreat in Maine. Everything was going fine until the third day and the scheduled nine-mile hike up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.  

Almost from the outset, everything began to go wrong, for Margaret and the group. Some became separated from the main group. Others began to fatigue and peeled off, returning to base. A couple got lost temporarily. Some got sunburned. Margaret herself began to lose energy, decided to hurry back, took the wrong trail (with most of the group following her) and had to climb back up to find the right trailhead. 

That sounds like a metaphor. A metaphor for life. Wrong turns. Enthusiasm finding a harsh reality. Making wrong choices. Making bad choices. Physical problems. Assuming you can do more than you actually can. Disappointment. 

So, she asks, where’s the joy?  

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, right before I read this chapter in Feinberg’s book I listened to the sermon preached by one of our pastors Sunday. The Scripture was Psalm 102. If you haven’t read it, or aren’t familiar with it, it’s a lament. The New International Version has a brief lead-in: “A prayer of an afflicted man. When he is faint and pours out his lament before the Lord.” 

What is the psalmist lamenting? Disappointment. Depression (or what sounds just like it). Listlessness. Purposelessness. Persecution by enemies. Feeling useless. “Withering away like grass.” 

Been there. Done that.  

We’ve all experienced these feelings and situations. All the neo-prosperity gospelites to the contrary, life is not a mansion, big Mercedes Benz, and a timeshare in Monaco. Life is hard. Problems happen. Loved ones get sick. You get sick. Jobs are lost. Dreams are postponed and then cancelled. People do awful things to you. You do awful things to people. 

Whatever happened to “and they all lived happily ever after?” 

Life is, well, hard. Bad things happen to good people, and all the time. Women and children are kidnapped by those who pride themselves on achieving new levels of vicious violence. The wicked prosper.  

The psalmist has an answer, one very similar to what Feinberg discovered. As much as we rebel against the idea, the fact is that life – this life – is not all about us. This life is always about a larger story.  

And the joy is in that larger story. 

Led by Jason Stasyzen and Sarah Salter, we’re reading Margaret Feinberg’s Fight Back with Joy. To see other posts on this week’s chapter, “The Biggest Myth About Joy,” please visit Sarah at LivingBetween the Lines.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A shape defined


A shape defined
by the contours

of what resists it,
what it resists. 

Unseen, it smooths
and roughens
in simultaneous swirls,
depending upon its mood. 

Wraps itself before
dissipating, disappearing,
its shape defined
by absence, loss
before arrival. 

TweetspeakPoetry has a poetry prompt and playlist with the theme of wind. To see more poems on the theme (and listen to some cool music), please visit the site. 

Photograph of snow and wind by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Poets and Poems: Willie Perdomo and Saeed Jones


The five finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry are, on the face of it, an eclectic group of poetry collections. 

Published posthumously, Abide by Jake Adam York is a continuation of the poet’s project to memorialize the 126 people who died in the civil rights struggle between 1954 and 1968. Christian Wiman’s Once in the West has no title poem, instead, the book’s title is a recurring theme throughout  the poems.

The next two finalists in our discussion series continue the eclectic characterization: Willie Perdomo’s The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon and Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones.


To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, March 2, 2015

“So Many Christians, So Few Lions”


About 10 years ago, I was in my office at work, and a colleague came by to talk about a project. I don’t remember exactly what the project was about, but it did involve people who had been critical of the company and its products.

Then, out of the clear blue, my colleague said, “But you know who really frightens me?”

I shook my  head.

“Those Christians,” she replied, shuddering.

“Those Christians,” she nodded. “Those evangelicals. They scare me, always trying to force there views on us.”

Stunned, I sat for a moment without speaking.

“Do I scare you?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“I’m one of them,” I said. “One of those evangelical Christians. Do I try to force my views on you?”

It was her turn to be stunned. I could see cognitive dissonance exploding inside her head.

“Well,” she said finally, “if you are one of them, you must be the exception.”

It was my first experience of “Christianophobia” with a work colleague. I had experienced it before, something on the level of group hysteria, over a school district controversy. My colleague was college-educated, older than I was by a few years, with a journalism background.

If you asked conservative Christians if there is Christianophobia in the United States, the likely response would be a rather large majority affirmative. The evidence has largely anecdotal – court decisions, stories of university political correctness run wild (lots of those), sneering editorials by the local newspaper, fundraising letters by organizations like People for the American Way.

George Yancey
All anecdotal, until So Many Christians, Do Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States? by George Yancey and David Williamson. The authors are sociology professors at the University of North Texas, a public university (not religious) in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The book, while more engaging than the typical sociology book, is still a sociology text. Yancey and Wiliamson don’t sensationalize their subject or write in screaming prose. You have to read slowly and deliberately. The appendices comprise about half the volume.

David Williamson
They make their case. Using existing surveys plus ones they themselves conducted, they make a solid case that there is indeed Christianophobia in the United States, and especially among a rather elite group – highly educated, relatively wealthy whites. In overall size, they would be smaller than the conservative Christians they fear. In influence, position, and power, however, they’ve got it all over the Christians.

In terms of what has been happening culturally in the United States, this is an important subject to consider and discuss. And I will be discussing key parts of the book over the next two to three Mondays – who are the people so afraid of conservative Christians; why do they believe what they do; how do they rationalize what would otherwise be considered intolerant, bigoted beliefs; and what the implications might be.

I do know that my work colleague who so feared “those Christians” fit almost exactly the demographic described by Yancey and Williamson. And that happened a decade ago. 

The situation has not improved since then.



Painting: The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer, oil on canvas by Jean-Leon Gerome (1883); the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The pain shredded


after Psalm 13

The pain shredded
his soul abandoned,
alone
left alone, wrestling
with sorrow
the burying alive
the heart entombed
with a sepulcher
of silence

he cried out

still the silence.

Remembering the blessing
he began to sing.


Photograph by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Good Reads


The meditations and prayers concerning ISIS continue, the need underscored by the kidnapping of more than 200 Assyrian Christians. But with all the darkness, there is still poetry, art, and music to remind us of our humanity and our “image-ness.”

Faith and Society



Defining Islam at World’s End – Rod Dreher at The American Conservative.

Bring Them to Their Knees – Seth Haines.


The Courage of Men – Suzanne Wolfe at Image Journal.

Not Your Typical White Pastor – Nicole Symonds at Urban Faith.

The Rise of the Remedial Christian – David Zimmerman at Loud Time.

Killing Deconstructionists, Raising Culture – Rod Dreher at The American Conservative.

Poetry

21 Sons and The Lovely Things – John Blase at The Beautiful Due.

A Poem of Hope: Two Rows by the Sea - @marilyngard at Communicating Across Boundaries.

Tomorrow is Another Day – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

The City Our Eyes Cannot See – Doug McKelvey at the Rabbit Room.

Photography

More Fern Studies – Timothy Good at Photography by Tiwago.

Music

Remind Me Who I Am – Jason Gray



Photograph by Jane Illnerova via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mike Duran’s “Subterranea”


I read the nine stories that comprise Mike Duran’s Subterranea and I stepped into the Twilight Zone. Nine times.

Duran blogs at deCompose, and is a regular contributor to Novel Rocket, a site for fiction writers (of all genres, but mostly Christian). He also regularly challenges the sacred cattle of the Christian writing and publishing world.

He writes what’s called speculative fiction. His writing reminds me of T.L. Hines, who wrote in a genre dubbed “noir bizarre.” (Hines published five remarkable novels between 2007 and 2010 and nothing since then.) Duran isn’t “noir bizarre,” but he’s occasionally noir with a dash of bizarre (or perhaps vice versa).

Nine gripping stories, all dealing with underground themes.

A man is interrogated about what happened during a subway dig, during which several men were killed in an explosion. Without explanation, a man leaves his front porch and is later found floating in a pool. A group of college students set out to Mexico to disprove the existence of a mythological story. A bar scene that seems straight out the intergalactic Cantina in the first Star Wars movie (1977). Six men die because of a woman. A man recovers, or maybe not, from a horrific automobile accident. Demons chase muses to stop the creative impulse. An overweight man has to be removed from an apartment building. A priest projects compatibility of couples seeking to get married, usually ending with the couples deciding to go their separate ways.

Mike Duran
What Duran plumbs here is the “subterranea” of the human mind and heart. He’s using a speculative, almost Twilight Zone approach in much the same way the old Rod Serling television program did. The stories force you, through odd and unexpected circumstances, to consider motives and actions. The people see familiar; their surroundings do not. And it’s that juxtaposition of familiar and strange that provide glimpses into the human soul.

It’s not a pretty sight. But it’s a true one.

That’s what strikes me most about these stories – they read true. Duran knows his subject, and knows it well.

Related:

My review of Mike Duran’s The Resurrection.


Photograph by Marina Shemesh via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.