Either/Or?

I keep thinking about the whole art-and-faith conundrum. Maybe it’s not really a conundrum. I have a feeling Christians, at least, lost some of our artistic prowess when we started making art into billboards. In the Middle Ages, most art was “Christian,” but it was designed to tell stories (albeit Christian stories), not specifically to convert anyone. I’m an evangelical. I used to be a missionary. I believe in sharing my faith. What’s more, my Messiah told lots of stories with underlying meanings. I give children’s sermons. I just don’t think every single expression of art or of faith needs to be a sermon. The book I consider authoritative for life and meaning is full of stories and they don’t all have point by point, easily-delineated-on-an-easel, applications, though I believe they do have some application. I believe that ideally, the truer and more genuine both things (art and faith) are, the more winsome they will be.

Anyway, all musings about Blue Like Jazz aside, I have to say I’ve faced my own experiences of people not knowing what to do with my “art.”

I’m not the world’s most rapid fiction writer. I want to be a fiction writer. I like writing fiction. But due to some combination of laziness, insecurity, and busy-ness–and the fact that I usually go through at least one really bored phase with whatever it is I’m writing, which probably doesn’t speak very well for any of it–it just takes me a really long time to get from start to finish. In my life, I have written a beginning, middle and end to three novels. One of them I started in high school, finished in London, showed to a friend of a friend who was “in writing,” and learned that it really was as dreadful as I feared. (My “critiquer” didn’t put it that way; she was actually very tactful. But it really was.)

photo by Jennwith2ns 2008

A stack of Trees

The second one was Trees in the Pavement. I started that one in London, worked on it for about six months and decided it was rubbish. Fortunately I didn’t put it in the rubbish. When I moved back to the US, I dug it out, reread what I had written and decided that it wasn’t rubbish at all, but then I just didn’t know what to do with it.

It turns out my skills at researching and reaching out to publishers and agents is about as speedy and motivated as my fiction writing, but fortunately I had a slight connexion to a lovely editor at a small Christian publishing company in Scotland, and they decided to publish it.

Before that, though, I did send it to a couple of other publishing houses, including Carus Publishing, the publishing arm of Cricket Magazine, a children’s literary mag to which I received a couple of gift subscriptions as a child. I loved that magazine. I ate it up. I discovered Trina Schart Hyman illustrations and The Ordinary Princess through that magazine, and I didn’t find out until his memorial celebration, but Lloyd Alexander often wrote the “Old Cricket” column. I would love to have been published by Carus.

As it happened, my query/proposal was kept for a long time before I heard anything back. About four months after I sent it, I got a really nice letter back from one of the editors, that went a little something like this:

Dear Ms. Grosser:

Thank you for sending Trees in the Pavement for consideration for Cricket Book. Your manuscript received several reads in-house, and although there was much we liked about it, I regret that we decided the manuscript is not right for our small list.

It’s obvious that you understand human psychology. Eight-year-old Zari is an observant child, and we enjoyed watching events unfold through her eyes. The family’s nighttime flight from Kosovo is dramatic and unsettling, and after a period of childhood domestic drama in London, the plot takes an arresting twist when Mrs Jamaica comes to visit. Because of the heavy Christian focus, however, it’s our feeling that your book would do better with a religious publisher . . . [Here, one was suggested.]

We appreciate your interest in Cricket Books, Ms. Grosser, and hope you will be successful in placing Trees in the Pavement for publication.

(Yes. I kept the letter. What’s your point?)

It took two more years for a “religious publisher” to snap it up, and I’m certainly grateful they did, but I kind of feel like that wasn’t a foregone conclusion either. I mean, last year (or the year before?) I spoke at a Christian school about writing. The 5th and 6th grade class then ended up reading my book and their teachers (okay, one of them was a friend already) had each one write me a letter afterwards. This was pretty great–my first fanmail! But almost all of them asked me if I weren’t please going to write a sequel where Zari “becomes a Christian, too.” (Sorry–spoilers . . . of what doesn’t happen in my book.)

So here’s the deal. One of the main characters in my book is a Christian (fairly outspoken) and another becomes a Christian, but the primary character isn’t and doesn’t, and I like to think that, while the book may be sort of about crises of faith and culture, it’s a story. An exploration, not a diatribe, nor an attempt to foist my views on someone else–except to the extent that all writing is that, in a way. I find it frustrating that exploring that as honestly as I could at the time, even in the context of a children’s book, needs necessarily to be relegated to “religious” literature. If kids can read books about gossip girls and witches and zombies and vampires–well, let them, I guess, but are we trying to censor their exposure to more “traditional” (as pertains to Western culture historically) religious ideas until, say, they’re old enough to scorn it? It seems like a double standard.

Let me say here that I really appreciated the letter from Cricket. I think it’s very honest, not only in its rejection but in its highlighting what they liked about my book and their well-wishes. But I also feel it highlights quite well the divide between general literature and religious writing, and the sort of bemusement that goes with trying to either combine or separate the two.

We shall discuss this more in relation to the third novel I’ve written, sometime soon. In the meantime, what do you think? Is there a place for frank religious dialogue within even fiction? Is it possible to include it without its being preachy or cheesy? Will the general public ever be open-minded enough to feel that it is? (I include myself in “general public,” since my evaluation of the Blue Like Jazz movie wasn’t probably as shining as they would have liked.) I’d really love to get some feedback on this. I know some of you are atheists, so I’d be as curious about your take as I am about fellow Christians’. Thanks, The Readership. You’re the best!

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Twapped

The 30-Hour Famine is quickly approaching . . . again. Here’s hoping it actually happens here at Now Church this time. I’m blaming its not happening when originally scheduled, for the fact that I now have a Twitter account.

How did I get here?

I was not. ever. going. to. get. a Twitter account. Not. Ever.

Then I had a whole Saturday I wasn’t expecting to have, and my Paul was out visiting a childhood mentor who is in hospice care (or headed that way), and . . . well, mostly what I did that day was clean the house, because the next day was Easter and my Paul’s Siblings were coming over (you already know that). But sometimes when you’re cleaning the house you kind of want a little break, and my little breaks usually involve turning on the computer and playing a couple of words on Words With Friends or something, and that day when I turned on my computer there was a Blue Like Jazz update. I don’t even remember what exactly it was about, or what the potential reward was for doing this, but they said something like, “If you follow us on Twitter, you’ll get . . . ” or “you’ll be the first to know . . . ” or something like that.

There’s something kind of entertaining (to me, anyway) about creating new on-line social media accounts, and maybe since I no longer need to open new accounts at online dating sites, and because of this admittedly not very memorable Blue Like Jazz incentive, I finally hopped over to Twitter and said, “Oh what the heck.”

I’ve hopped over to Twitter before, but never with this result. Even though my family was one of the first families I knew of to have an at-home personal computer in the 80’s (a Commodore Vic-20, thankyouverymuch), I’m rarely ahead of the trends, and when I get behind the trends, it makes me all stubborn and resistant. I kind of take pride in not-keeping-up. I didn’t have a Twitter account, I don’t have an e-reader, it took me ages to get a smartphone. I like being able to do life independently of these things, and I know–I know–once I cross over, I will not be able to survive without them.

I was already one down (someone provided me with an iPhone about a year and a half ago), and now that I’ve caved on Twitter, well . . . I’ve been trying to sell off a lot of my book collection lately because we just don’t have room here at the Cottage, and the libraries don’t always have the books I want–even through interlibrary loan–and so now I feel like I’m just moments away from a Nook or a Kindle. Craziness.

In the meantime, I feel sort of buffeted by tweets. I’m now “following” 108 people or entities on Twitter, and they all have something to say and I, who used to be so verbose with Facebook status updates, feel somewhat quelled. I don’t know these people, and they most certainly don’t know me. If I post a response to a celebrity tweet, why would I expect it to be acknowledged? That’s just silly. It turns out Twitter is not the best place for people with Popular Kids issues. I only have 31 “followers” (and by the way, I really hate that term–makes me feel like I’m taking the Lord’s name in vain or something), and I try not to mind, but it’s so measly, and every time I get up to that number, I post another blogpost and about a fifth of the followers disappear. It’s because I didn’t say I wanted to watch Blue Like Jazz eight more times, isn’t it?

Oh sheesh. My insecurities are showing.

I think I’ll go read a book. I mean . . . yeah, a book.

If This Blog Could Tweet

It would say this right now:

Go here: http://bit.ly/HXOlaw. Listen. Enjoy. Pass it on!

 

That is all. Besides: viral would be good.

That’s Not What I Meant

Actually it is. I did mean what I said about the Blue Like Jazz movie. I liked it a lot . . . I could’ve liked it better. I think that’s fair enough.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t or don’t want it to do well in the box office. Heck, I’m a backer. So . . . I’m kind of disappointed (yet not surprised) that the movie did quite as badly as it did here in New England. I mean–this is New England, land of brilliant New Age liberals and dead churches. (One of those is how we think of ourselves and the other one is how Christian people in the rest of the country think of us. I’m not saying either is the whole story or even entirely accurate.) The chances of anyone even hearing about Blue Like Jazz out here were, I suspect, kind of slim, and . . . well, New Englanders are also known for reticence, so maybe expecting a whole lot of us to engage in unusual publicity stunts to get the word out was a little unrealistic. Add to that the fact that probably anybody involved in the actual production of Blue Like Jazz knows as much about New England as a whole as New Englanders as a whole know about them (so that certain sections of our region–like Our Fair City, for example–did not get targeted and when I offered to “target,” my offer was declined), and . . . well, I suppose one could only expect that, in the entire five-state region, only Massachusetts had any cinemas (three) showing the film, and, after a week, even Massachusetts is down to one. One cinema. In . . . not just a state, but a region. Yes, I know, some people in some places took six-hour roadtrips to see this movie. My roadtrip was an hour and a half. But like I keep saying, this is New England.

Sad times, guys. Sad times.

The thing is, even if publicity had been better out here, I’m still not sure the turn-out would have been great. And this is part of what I mean when I say I don’t think movies are yet at a state where, like some music, they can be “just movies” when they’re made by professed Christians and deal with the topic of Christianity at any level. (I’m talking about Christians because I am one, and because the evangelical Christian subculture does try to make movies, and because I’m not too familiar with other religious subcultures and their attempts to make movies, if any.) Partly, you have the Christians who want the movie to have a blatant evangelistic element and get upset when it doesn’t (this is not all Christians, mind you–certainly not the ones tweeting up and down Twitter about how they want to see the movie eight more times). But also, you have people who don’t claim to be Christians (skeptics, sympathisers, followers of other faiths) who likewise expect an evangelistic element. Then they have trouble figuring out how to “classify” the thing, so you get reviews like the one in USA Today, whose reviewer clearly liked the movie but maybe missed the point when he begins his first line with, “It isn’t likely to land many converts . . .” The thing is, I don’t think that’s what it was trying to do. I think it’s trying to tell a story. The same reviewer cites the film as being earnest (though it isn’t a derogatory descriptor), just like I did, so it didn’t escape that little Christian-art cliche, but whether it succeeds at being “just a movie” like regular movies or not, I think it’s fair to say it does kind of defy expectations in some manner or other.

You kind of get a glimpse of both the pride and the frustration that comes with making art that breaks some molds when you read Donald Miller’s post-opening-weekend blogpost about opening weekend. He says, “This is a hard film for Christians to understand because it doesn’t seem to have an applicable message. They have categorized Christian film as a sermon illustration on screen.” I think that’s quite often true, but I also think that non-Christian people have the same assumption. I like Mr Miller’s description of their screening the film at Reed College (where most of the story’s action takes place): “It got heckled plenty (some very funny one-liners) but they weren’t able to hate it as much as they wanted.” Clearly that’s a good thing–a great thing, even–and speaks well for the film, but it also says something about what people expect from “Christian art.”

It’s a tough line to toe, when you have a non-mainstream worldview which encompasses both your thinking and your living, and you’re of an artistic bent and want to be honest with the art and also with the worldview. For all that we artsy types want to express something new and different and unique, it’s simultaneously delightful when our work defies categorisation, and frustrating when no one seems to really understand or resonate with it.

I guess it seems like a decent number of people understand and/or resonate with Blue Like Jazz. But it does seem like, in some circles at least, there’s a little bit of a “huh?” factor. But maybe in the end, it’s a good thing.

I think I’m going to talk more about categories in art again sometime soon, but in the meantime, for the record, let me just say this: in my previous Blue Like Jazz post, I cited the opening scenes as being over-the-top, including the ones at the fundamentalist church in which the main character grew up. In one of the scenes, the Don character is made to wear a really hokey suit of plastic armour. This part, actually, I did not find so far-fetched, but combined with the other occurrences in that scene, I was kind of having a hard time countenancing it. Then the other day I was in Pastor Ron’s office and suddenly remembered that on Good Friday, on of our youth had to wear this stuff:

Helmet, tunic, breastplate, shield . . . what every well-dressed teen is wearing to church

 

Maybe it wasn’t so over the top after all. Or maybe we all are.

Rough-Cut Carrots

The Readership. Here’s hoping you’re all chefs (and kind of not-hoping the same thing, because if you are I’m sure to feel really stupid), because I have a carrot problem.

No, I don’t mean I can’t stop eating carrots, although that would probably be a good problem to have. As opposed to not being able to stop eating this giant cookie I got as a party favour at a baby shower on Sunday. Which I’m not able to stop eating–the cookie, not the shower. Or the baby. (I don’t even have a sweet tooth, to speak of. But this cookie tastes really lovely with afternoon tea . . . )

On Easter Sunday, my Paul’s Siblings (the local ones, anyway) came over for Easter dinner and it was my task (well, one of them, but honestly, I really didn’t have to work too hard) to make glazed carrots. Glazing them was not the problem. Slicing them was the problem. Slicing them is always the problem. It must be admitted that our knives are not the best, but there have been times in my life when I’ve had much, much better knives, and I still find it impossible to make a smooth cut in an uncooked carrot. It’s not such a problem if the carrot is going to be glazed, because the surface area kind of smooths out, and I guess if I were going for a rustic, dinner-in-the-garden kind of look, that would be okay, too. But if I want thin carrot slices instead of chunks, or if I’m planning on serving the carrots raw, in a salad or something, I’m completely helpless. This is what I get every time:

Don't they look so lovely and healthy and . . . rustic . . . though?

Any tips? Because I love rustic. You know I do. But refined is nice once in a while, too.

Give God the Blue(s) Like Jazz – Part 2

Broken-winged bird

During the time that all this Blue Like Jazz Kickstarter stuff was going on, Uncle Phil, who is (maybe confusingly if you don’t know the story) my actual uncle and the “reason” Uncle Steve is my “uncle,” was working on his own project. He was getting frustrated with conservative Christian political rhetoric and had recently started touring with Emmylou Harris and the Red Dirt Boys, and he had this idea of creating a collaborative album which focused on the love of God for all. Evidently at least a few other musicians had a similar hankering, because at least from this vantage point, it doesn’t seem like he had any trouble finding contributors and coming up with quite an illustrious line-up. Inspired, in part, I think, by the success of Blue Like Jazz‘s Kickstarter foray, he put Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us on there, too, and suddenly I’m a two-time official patron of the arts. (The fact that this is even possible is somewhat mind-boggling–and also a little comical–to me.)

This project is less definitively a “Christian” one than the aforementioned movie. Neither all (any of?) the actors in the movie nor all the musicians on Uncle Phil’s CD are professing Christians, but it seems like music about faith which is not specifically “CCM” has been around longer, so it doesn’t feel like it has to try so hard just to be music, the way so far movies made by Christians have to try just to be movies.

I’m going to hazard a guess and say that Uncle Phil’s approach to the whole God thing is not only a little more universalist than mine, but also than Uncle Steve and Donald Miller’s. (Although I’m not positive about that last part.) Still, I love this CD. I’m not really one of those people who can talk intelligently about music, but in my opinion, musically, it’s fantastic. Lyrically, it’s beautiful and/or thought-provoking. And I think at base, both the aforementioned movie and the CD, releasing within about a week of each other, are kind of about the same thing. They’re about not demonising, and reminding that, as Shawn Mullins sings in the album’s “Give God the Blues,” “God’s gone fishing for the soul of every man.”

Giving God the Blue(s) Like Jazz – Part 1

(Get ready for Link Love.)

Did I ever mention I’m a contrarian? Or did you ever notice?

You’d think that someone who likes to namedrop as much as I do would be a little less fickle, but here’s my deal–once things become mainstream popular (or mainstream-for-a-particular-subculture-popular), I kind of lose interest or else get critical. For example, a few years ago a guy named Jon Acuff started a blog (which was a conscious and self-deprecating Christian rip-off of another blog) called “Stuff Christians Like.” TheBro discovered the blog before I did, and then I loved it and told all my blogging friends. I don’t think telling All My Blogging Friends is what made that blog get so popular, but it didn’t take very long before that happened. After that I stopped reading it. It’s still a funny, funny and blog (at least, if you belong or ever used to belong to a particular Christian subculture)–and insightful, too–but . . . well, it was one thing when Jon Acuff was the random funny guy who grew up in the same part of New England as I did whose star happened to be rising and I was part (even in a very, very, very small way) of “discovering” him. But now that he’s famous–even just “Christian-famous” . . . well, maybe I feel like he doesn’t need my readership anymore or something.

Maybe I’m just secretly jealous that he’s a blogger who “made it” and I’m still pecking away at my keyboard at off moments and obsessively checking blog stats. But I really don’t think that’s the whole story. It’s not that I’m proud of this tendency to drop the Popular Kids like I kept imagining they were dropping me in high school (they never really did, probably because they weren’t entirely sure who I was). It’s just that I recognise it. (Come to think of it, that Popular Kid thing may have a lot to do with it . . . )

A few years before the Jon Acuff discovery, a guy named Donald Miller came out with a book called Blue Like Jazz, which was recommended to me by a young teenaged friend. (Well, at the time she was teenaged. I wasn’t.)  On Friday, the book hit cinemas in limited release as a movie. The book itself is excellent, and I think I probably remained a fan for a good long while because I had a crush on Mr Miller’s writing. I probably started to lose interest after I realised that he was never going to notice my comments among the vast numbers of other comments on his blog every day, and that since he was never going to notice those, I was never going to get an invitation to go out for coffee with him in Portland. (It’s okay, because my Paul is also skillful with words and . . . coffee and . . . stuff . . . but all that was before I met my Paul.)

Probably residually on account of the crush, and also because the movie was the brainchild of (not actually Uncle) Steve (of whom I will always be a fan), when the movie almost didn’t happen and some fans threw it up on Kickstarter to keep it from becoming a distant memory, I became one of the “backers.” I haven’t gone all out with hyping it up like I might have done if I were still in college. Hype–both delivered and received–sort of exhausts me these days. But I wanted it to do well, and I was excited (I mean, to the extent that I get excited) about the fact that Uncle Steve (who has always been a Christian-subculture-envelope-pusher) wasn’t going for G-rated, over-sanitised, “family friendly” Christian schlock. So I did my due diligence and went to the show on opening night and brought a friend, too. (I invited about 100 friends but . . . well, one is better than none, right? And easier to talk to about the movie afterward.)

The thing is, I couldn’t go to this movie totally unbiased. There were so many factors playing into my perceptions that night. The contrarian part of me was getting irritated with constant barrage of emails from the Blue Like Jazz movie enterprise telling me to make sure I and all 800-whatever of my facebook friends were at the movie on opening night. The other contrarian part of me was irritated with my more conservative brethren who purportedly (though I haven’t yet heard this directly from any of them) are all up in arms about this movie and calling for boycotts. The other contrarian part of me (it’s tough being contrarian) was tossing around in my head the Rotten Tomatoes review my Paul and I had read that described the characters as “communion-wafer-thin,” and feeling grumpy about those agnostics who smugly use religious allusions to make fun of religious people.

All this, therefore, is a really longwinded way of warning you to take what follows with a couple of really large salt crystals.

I’m not going to say my hopes for this movie were fully realised, and here’s why: I’m not sure it is yet possible for Christians (who are first and foremost known as Christians) to create art which seamlessly crosses over into uncompromised but believable, everybody-accessible art. At least, not movies. This movie may be one more paving stone on the way to that (To Save a Life and Soul Surfer, in different ways, might be recent earlier ones). I heard an interview with Uncle Steve today in which he talked about art with a religious slant often being “earnest” and his not being sure that “earnestness” is necessarily biblical.I’mnot sure I know what that means, but he may be right. However, I don’t think this movie is devoid of earnestness. It has scenes that might shock some Christians because of the topic, and some non-Christians because of the honesty, and I think that’s the effect everyone behind this effort wanted, but there’s still a little bit of a “Christian movie” feel.

Oddly, I think where it came through most strongly was in the beginning scenes, where it felt like they pulled together a whole bunch of really extreme fundamentalist-Christian stereotypes and a whole bunch of really extreme liberal, “progressive” party-school stereotypes and mashed them together. I spent the first 20 or so minutes thinking, “Seriously? Do they expect us to believe that?” Maybe there are churches somewhere that are that blatantly hokey and offensive (I suppose there must be). Maybe there are party-schools that are that absurdly off-the-rails and offensive (I suppose there must be those, too). Maybe I’m just inexperienced and don’t know what I’m talking about, but the feel, for me at least, was a whole lot of Trying Too Hard.

The breakthrough, for me, came with robot-invasion scene (go see the movie and you’ll find out what I’m talking about), in which, incidentally, Donald Miller himself cameos (and self-deprecates) as a Trendy Spiritual Writer (go get the book and you’ll find out what I’m talking about). All of a sudden the characters got personalities and no, by the end of the movie, I did not feel that they were “communion-wafer-thin.” I quite liked all of them actually. (Particularly “the pope.” That actor was fantastic–mostly because he was utterly consistent with a real person–he seemed like a person I might actually know.) Also by the end of the movie, I felt like maybe I had misjudged the beginning. At the beginning, the main character (a fictionalised Donald Miller) is running away from his fundamentalist Christian heritage, and I kind of felt like that’s what the movie was doing, too, until I realised at the end that maybe the reason I was feeling that was because the movie was letting me into the character’s head. Maybe it was supposed to feel all extreme and unrealistic, because pretend-Donald was reacting to his reality that way. I’m not going to give spoilers, but I have to confess that I got a little teary during the last scene, and partly it was because I discovered to my surprise that, in spite of what it seemed like at the beginning, the Boston Globe review was dead right about this movie: “It steadfastly refuses to demonize.” Anything. And yet somehow, it manages to be not wishy-washy, but, as Paste Magazine evidently said, “witty, provocative and life-affirming.” (For a more coherent review of this movie, which is positive but not uncritical, check out the Paste review in full, actually.)

In spite of my initial, “Come on, guys. Really?” reaction, the more I think about this movie, the more I like it. I still don’t think it completely sheds its “Christian movie” background. I still think the real-life book is better than the drama. But I’d see it again. I definitely think you should. I’m curious to know what you think.

Italics. That’s Right.

Image by Jennwith2ns 2012

An attempt at a Grandma Smiley. No--not a Grandma-Smiley. A . . . oh never mind.

It’s a fact. I have linguistic tics. Some of them show up in writing.

I’m pretty sure its hereditary: Grandma G, before she reluctantly took up the computer, used to write letters full of underlines and smileys. This was before emoticons, but her propensity enabled us to explain emoticons to her much more efficiently than we could many other technological wonders. (Like microwaves, for instance.) Her smiley-faces all had little curlicues of hair on their foreheads, though. AND ears. You can’t reproduce those on the computer, no matter what you say. I kind of miss them.

My dad (Grandma G’s son) in turn, peppers his emails with exclamation marks. His emails usually aren’t very long, but still, it’s like doing a Where’s Waldo?puzzle just to try to find one sentence . . . or fragment . . . or phrase . . . with a common period in there. That’s because sometimes? There aren’t any.

You’ve been here long enough by now that you’re fully aware of my own writing dependencies. Just look at . . . that . . . last . . . paragraph, for example. The ellipsis–one of my favourites. But also (as evidenced by that last sentence)–the dash. And also? Sentence fragments. And Italics. (You knew I was getting to that. You’re so observant. Of the title. In large font over this blog post.)

When I was in 6th grade, our uber-cool teacher taught us how to write in calligraphy, after learning which, even when I was writing free-hand, I usually would literally italicise something I wanted to emphasise, rather than underlining it like my grandmother. (She probably never had anyone teach her to write in calligraphy. But I think her handwriting is probably still better than mine. Even in her 90’s.) Italics and I? We go way back. I know. It’s not cool. It’s not a sign of good writing if you have to put in a visible indicator instead of a verbal one–besides adverbs–to try to get your point across. Apparently adverbs aren’t cool either. Which is probably why I use them a lot, too.

So I’m finding it slightly dismaying, when I go back and read a blog post like the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that–wait, what? You don’t go back and read what you’ve written 10 times in the same day to congratulate yourself on your own cleverness?–to see what look like typographical errors in my posts. (Here’s an experiment: let’s see if the words typographical errors come out as typographical errors when I publish this, okay?)

I know, I know. I do make typographical errors. I do. I’ll take responsibility for them. I just don’t want to take responsibility for html’s typographical errors. When I hit the I button in the toolbar above, I expect the space I typed both before and after the word(s) for which I hit that button still to be there when I look at the newly published post. Or when you do. I also expect the words in question to be italicised. What I don’t intend is for it to look like I’m merging some sort of ancient-writing-form-with-no-spaces-between-the-words (like first-century Greek, for example) with English. Even Bloglish. If I’m going to use an inferior writing-marker, I want it to look like I’m using that inferior writing marker, quite frankly. Not like I don’t know what I’m doing or something.

I also don’t want to keep going back in and hopefully editing and re-editing my posts, with only a 50/50 chance of its actually looking better when I get done. So I don’t. Which leaves me looking like a non-italics-using hipster, I guess. Who doesn’t know where word-divisions are. Maybe you take what you can get.

We’re Talkin’ ‘Bout Good Fixations

Good, good, good . . . good fixations.

Well, not necessarily, I suppose, but I needed a title and apparently the Beach Boys were right there.

Just when you would’ve thought I couldn’t have got more self-obsessed via the whole blogging thing, since WordPress lets you see things like the number of hits your blog has had on a given day, they ramped it up.

Now you can also see what countries people are reading your blog in. As a former modern nomad of sorts, this fascinates me. Now, instead of just trying to find out how many people have wasted five minutes of their precious lives over here, I am also constantly checking to see if those people share my same continent. For a while, they were Beta-testing this or whatever they were doing, and every time I went to my stats page, it would say something like, “Soon stats will automatically show up on your home page, with 100% more country stats. Click here to see what this looks like.” And I would think, “I’m not a facebook change-hater! Why do I have to keep pressing a button to see 100% more country stats? Stop telling me about it and just put them there already!”Part of why I like this, besides that it makes me feel like an internationally-read author, is that I do know people from quite an extensive number of countries; I like to see if I can guess if I know the person from the countries that are highlighted or not. For example, I already know I have a friend in Israel who reads my blog. Actually, we’re friends because she reads my blogs, if you want to know the truth of it. She became in-person friends with TheBro and Sister-in-Lu when they lived in Jerusalem briefly, because she reads my blogs.(I still have never met her, alas.) Anyway, when I look below the little map and see “Israel . . . 1,” I know that K has read my latest post. But what if it says “Israel . . . 4”? Are those people that K knows? Or are they people that just randomly stumbled across this morass of meandering musings?

Or what about the countries where I used to know people? I used to know someone who lived in Bosnia. Today, someone from Bosnia read something on my blog. But my friend who used to live there? Now lives in the UK. It’s all very mysterious.I’m sure none of this fascinates anybody as much as it does me, but that’s okay, because I’m the only one who gets to see my stats anyway. Except for right now.

Can you tell I just learned how to take a screen shot?

Yesterday was a good day. Look how many countries lit up! And Chile! I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone from Chile.

But here’s something else I’m wondering about. Is there some sort of blog-hit Bermuda triangle? Because I could have sworn–sworn, I tell you, that before yesterday, there were 216 “views on my busiest day,” not 212. Where did those four people go? How can you lose blog hits? I realise I have no way to prove that that little spot right there used to say “216.” I was also convinced as a child that one day the hands on the little two dimensional plastic clock in my Raggedy-Ann and -Andy Colorforms set, moved. Laugh all you want, though. Someone’s stealing blog-stats.

Besides Who is it? what I want to know is:

Do you blog? Are you as obsessed with your stats as I evidently am?

Where are you reading this blog from? And do we know each other?

Pretty Sure It’s Sometime

What immediately comes to mind . . .

In spite of the view that is commonly held within more conservative branches of the Church, it is not impossible or unheard of that liberal Christians “read their Bibles” and “believe the Bible.” I made that error in my head myself before I started working at Now Church. Seriously–there was this one day where I came up with this entire self-righteous little speech in my mind (because I often have conversations in my head and then don’t remember if I actually had them in real life or not) where I was going to tell my new employers that, yes, I would be happy to work for them, but they would need to understand that I was going to be teaching the kids the Bible, and that that’s where I get my theology from.

I know I never gave that monologue in real life (thank goodness), because I remember the conversation that happened instead which forestalled it, and that conversation essentially revealed that “Bible-believing” is not necessarily a term to which Bible-thumpers have the copyright. (“Born again” shouldn’t be, either, but plenty of other churches are willing to let the Bible-thumpers have that term. But . . . that’s another rant for another time.) That’s not to say, however, that how we believe the Bible might not be different, or that our interpretations might not be divergent. Obviously, they can be. For example, the passage above. Although I’ve never heard a liberal Christian dissect this one, I suspect it could be (and probably sometimes is) interpreted to mean that of course Jesus is alive again in some way, but that a physical life is not necessitated by the above statements.

I just think that in context, it is. In context of the rest of the New Testament as a whole, and in context of what was going on in the Roman Empire and the fledgling church at that time, and in context especially of what the four canonical Gospels say. It seems to me that those Gospel writers went to a whole lot of trouble to assert that Jesus’ resurrection was nothing if not physical. Here are four different guys, telling the highlights of Jesus’ story in four different ways from four different perspectives, and yet all four of them (even John, whose writing is arguably the most esoteric) give various anecdotes to highlight that Jesus’ body was alive along with His Spirit. So that by the time we get to the Apostle Paul, feverishly scribbling (or dictating) his letters to churches all around Asia Minor, he’s somewhat put out that some of these churches (of mostly Hellenised–Greekified–converts to Christianity, incidentally, not Christ-following Jews except in the case of the letter to the Romans–which is significant, because the Greek philosophies were more dualistic than orthodox Judaism) are asserting that resurrection doesn’t happen. The resurrection they’re asserting doesn’t happen, is the whole-person kind that the Jewish Gospel-writers have gone to such pains to highlight. They’re telling the people in their congregations that after you die, you’re just dead.

So Apostle Paul jumps in and says, “Dudes. If that’s the case, then Jesus didn’t come back to life either.” (I don’t think he’d make this argument if Jesus really didn’t come back to life–if somehow it wasonly His Spirit that “came back”–because then there wouldn’t really be much to argue. I know some people think he was kind of an argumentative jerk, and maybe he was, but I don’t think he usually picked a fight for no reason.) Then he says, “And if Jesus didn’t come back to life? Well then what the heck are we doing here, guys?”

Good question. Especially back then (and in plenty of bits of the world right now), the Jesus-road was a tough one to walk (like, it could get you killed), so if all you had was this life, without hope of coming back and being restored, and in this (short little) life you had to turn the other cheek and stuff in order to adhere to the teachings of some dude named Yeshua? Well, there are more instantly-gratifying lifestyles and philosophies. If they’re all equal-and-then-you-die, pick another one! BUT . . . if this Yeshua guy was actually somehow also God (both fully God and fully human), and He actually came back to life–well He–the entire He–both the God-He and the human-He would have had to come to life at the same time, and then there’s a reason to adhere to His teachings–because it is a road, a process, and you have a goal far beyond this little blip of existence.

Meanwhile, the only way resurrection could have happened to Jesus was if it happened to all of Him–because He’s a unity, not a duality. If you think about it, it wouldn’t be a miracle if just the God-bit of Him somehow came back to life. Then you could just say maybe that God-part didn’t even really die. And then . . . I don’t know. I guess then it just sort of seems like a cop-out. If just some human part (no matter how sinless) died, while the God-part held out, well–how is God even affected, then, and how is that forgiveness, and how is our sin being paid for? It’s just some dude. How does his solely-human goodness have any effect on my sin. I have plenty of sin of my own that needs to be wiped out. I’m pretty sure a mere mortal’s not-sinning isn’t going to cover it. Never mind all the sin in the whole world. Maybe there’s a way to interpret “atonement” (which is a pretty tough word to interpret on its own anyway) without a holistic death, but I can’t comprehend it.

But if Jesus really did come back to life–all of Him, divine and human–well then that resurrection must have somehow irreversibly traumatised the laws of nature in that area, so that other humans (body, soul and spirit) can be resurrected, too.

I believe it did. I believe the Bible says that and, you know, like I said, I seem to believe the Bible. So do a lot of other people. See you on the flip-side!

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Note to people who totally don’t come to this blog for this kind of writing and are wondering if they should get out now: Do not fear. Three whole brainy-theological posts plus a borrowed one are a little much for me. I’m much more comfortable talking about the mundane (although let me just say that I believe the mundane matters because of the resurrection!). Stay tuned for new posts about things like blog stats, skin care, and Chia–all right here! In the Jenn stories!