2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. Thanks, all you the Readership, for joining in the storytelling! Happy New Year! Let’s make 2013 even more storyful.

Storyful? Yeah–maybe you can help with that, too . . .

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 10,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 17 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.


Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus

As the Director of Christian Education at Now Church, one of the annual seasonal challenges is to attempt to help a bunch of children who are pretty amped up about Christmas presents, get at least a little bit happy about the reason there is a Christmas, namely, Jesus. Usually there are Christmas pageants that tell the nativity story. There are Christmas carols with words and syntax that most people don’t ever use anymore, but which also occasionally provide the opportunity to swear in church (Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?). And almost always there is some attempt, though usually not in “regular church,” but in Sunday school or something, to have some kind of birthday party for Jesus. Children know birthday parties. Everybody likes a birthday party, right?

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas, and I love Jesus, and I think it’s really important to maintain the cognitive link between the event and the person. However in my experience, celebrating Christmas as “Jesus’ birthday,” even though that’s what it’s about and even though in Now Church we annually throw these Jesus parties with our Sunday school children, is often easier said than done. I present you with two examples for your consideration.

Case Study 1

public domain image

Fruit cake. Perfect for a newborn.

I’m four years old. (I think.) My family is at my grandparents’ cozy candlelit house, which has suddenly been inundated by a bunch of women and children. My mother says, “Jennie, did you know Christmas is Jesus’ birthday? We’re going to have a birthday party for Jesus.”

I want to know if He’s going to be there. I also want to know if we’re going to give Him presents. It seems only fair, since I’m getting presents later and it’s not even my birthday. I hope I won’t have to give Him mine, but I suspect that might be the right course of action.

There is a cake on the table, and it has candles in it, but the cake is dark brown and has no frosting. It looks sort of lumpy. All the women and children gather round the dining room table. Someone says, “Come on, Jennie. We’re going to sing happy birthday to Jesus.” I want to know if He has arrived yet, but I don’t see Him. This seems problematic, because who is going to blow out the candles? Everybody sings, “Happy birthday, dear Jesuuuuus! Happy birthday to you!” I don’t remember who blew out the candles–maybe all of the children all at once–but I do remember thinking that Jesus’ birthday cake was rubbish.

I really loved Jesus, even as a very small child, although I also remember getting a little impatient with religious activities. But I suspect this birthday-party-for-Jesus experience, since I still remember it, did help me make the leap from Christmas to Jesus a little more easily. All the same, and even considering the motivations of the adults was surely well-intentioned, I still wonder about that cake sometimes. Maybe it’s just my own prejudices (I hate fruitcake) colouring my assumptions, but the impression I’ve always had, looking back on that day from a slightly older vantage point, is that someone received a fruitcake they didn’t want for Christmas, and rather than insulting the donor by throwing it away or stashing it in the garage for future use as a brick or something, they said, “I know–there are kids here–let’s have a birthday party for Jesus!” Which I suppose is polite and non-wasteful of them, but it still seems like if you want to have a proper birthday party for Jesus, in which you hope to communicate something of, say, His joy, you would try to make it a really good party, and either make Him a nice cake yourself, or at the very least buy a decent one–that children will enjoy–from the grocery store.

Then again, I definitely remember forgetting that we were throwing a birthday party for Jesus at Sunday school one year until the day we threw it, and rushing to the store on my way to church to grab one. it was a decent cake, but I guess I didn’t put a whole lot of consideration into it, which seems just about as suspect.

Case Study 2

public domain image

This little light of mine . . .

It is 2001. I live in London. I have, for the last four years, handmade 300 or more Christmas cards for friends and family and financial sponsors. Everybody loves these cards. (Some people still claim they have them, though I don’t make cards like this anymore.) This year I have decided to make the Christmas cards for such people simultaneous birthday cards for Jesus. I always put an interesting image or item on the front of my cards. This year, I have decided to affix birthday candles to them. I go to a party store and purchase–no doubt mystifyingly–350 birthday candles. I take them home. I Plasti-Tak them to the front of all the cards. I address the envelopes.

I am actually going back to New England for Christmas, so I bring back all the America-bound cards with me to mail more cheaply on home turf. I put them in the post. I forget about them.

Did you notice I said this story takes place in 2001? Most Americans–if no one else–remember what happened in 2001. 9/11 happened, that’s what. What sometimes gets forgotten is that in the aftermath of that, another crisis occurred, which was that someone began anonymously sending letters laced with anthrax in the US Mail. The anthrax was a white powder and had pretty dire effects, and everyone across the country was greatly disconcerted.

I didn’t forget about anthrax, but what I did forget, on account of forgetting about my Christmas cards once I threw them in the mail, was that, unless you specify “hand canceling” on the outside of your envelope, the post office uses machines to stamp-cancel your postage stamps. I think you can see where this is going . . .

It wasn’t long before I began getting phone calls and emails, or even face-to-face confrontations. “Jenn–what did you put on your Christmas cards this year? I was afraid to open mine, but I was like, Jenn would never send something dangerous. Only whatever it was was ground to a powder in the mail.” “Jenn–what are you trying to do? Kill us?” One fastidious postal clerk in Minnesota managed to collect 40 of these terrifying missives and figure out the headquarters of the organisation I worked for. This person packed them all up in a giant manila envelope and send them to my organisation, who in turn contacted me and said, “Jenn! What are you sending these people?”

It took a lot of laughter, but also a whole lot of explaining, to make all that right. I never did get to explain to the Minnesotan postal worker. And all I was trying to do was say Happy Birthday to Jesus.

All I Want for Christmas Is . . .

photo by Jennwith2ns 2012

How can you resist this face? You want to help him. You know you do.

. . . for Oscar to get over his chronic anxiety and stop peeing in the house. This is an official plea for help.


If you are or know a dog whisperer, will you please respond to or pass along the following open letter? I could (and still may) go over to The Dog Whisperer’s website and start barging my way into the forums, but . . . I have a lot to say, and I have high hopes for the Readership. You go, the Readership! (Sorry. I pretty much live with teenagers.) In my experience that six degrees of separation thing is pretty accurate, and it just seems like I’ve gotta be not more than six degrees separated from someone who could actually give me some good advice here.


Dear Dog Whisperer,

In 2008, shortly after a bout with cancer, I adopted a rescue dog, a three year old cockapoo whom I named Oscar. From all reports, Oscar used to belong to some sort of breeder down South, who either got bored of breeding or got shut down; anyway, all of her dogs ended up at the rescue shelter from which I got Oscar. From all appearances and behaviour, Oscar had been at the very least neglected, and quite possibly also abused, in his earlier “home.” He doesn’t know how to play, he’s very timid, he gets stressed out easily, he doesn’t really like to cuddle much even though he is obviously very attached to me and he also has a tendency to pee in the house when we are not home. The first two years saw me getting him mostly house trained and leash trained. I also let him sleep on my bed with me (which turned out possibly to be a mistake, but I’m getting to that.

Last year I met the man who is now my husband. We’re both dog people, and in spite of their drastic personality differences (my husband’s dog, Shemp, is also a rescue but is very self-assured, energetic, playful and laid back) both Oscar and Shemp get along very happily. When my husband and I began dating, we were optimistic that Shemp would help “teach Oscar how to be a dog,” and at first it seemed that our hopes would be realised. My husband has a no-pets-on-the-bed policy, and frankly, it would be pretty crowded otherwise, and so we also instituted a new no-dogs-upstairs policy, which was a switch for both dogs. It took Oscar a little while to get used to not retreating upstairs whenever he felt nervous about something, but now it doesn’t seem like he even considers the option anymore.

However, about three months into our marriage, Oscar began to revisit his peeing-on-the-carpet habit of old. At first this seemed to be related to him expecting us to feed him or let him out before we actually did. We started crating him again at night, and I began taking him with me to work, as I used to do when I was single. That helped prevent the peeing, but then he started freaking out in his crate if we didn’t get up at our earliest possible time (5 a.m.). When I say “freaking out,” I mean freaking out. He would shake the crate back and forth, rattle its door, tear up the foam mat and carpet we put in there to make it more comfortable and keep him from dancing his claws up and down on the plastic floor, pant and sometimes yelp, and he would continue to do this until we either yelled at him from our bed upstairs (but he’d always start up again), or until we got up and let him out. We never let either dog out in the morning until 6.30 at the earliest, but sometimes my husband has to get up earlier, and then on mornings that he doesn’t, Oscar seems to fear we’re never getting up or something, and begins what Paul calls “rocking and rolling” in the crate. It’s completely miserable. I tried something Pavlovian with alarms which worked for a little while, but its effectiveness has completely ceased by this point.

Finally, about three weeks ago, my husband decided just to leave Oscar out of his crate overnight again, and it went fine. He waited to be let out with Shemp at 6.30, he stayed home when we weren’t at work, and he was perfectly behaved. Then suddenly this week he has regressed yet again, peeing in the same spot at least once, and sometimes twice, a day. We’re back to crating him, and this morning he was quiet, but we both know it’s only a matter of time before he begins freaking out again. We are at our wits’ end and so, it appears, is Oscar. We can’t afford a “doggy therapist,” and we try to provide as regular a schedule for this anxious little dog as possible, but nothing seems to be working. Can you help us?

Most sincerely, and kind of desperately,


The Search

A number of years ago, Uncle Phil put out a CD named after a British pub in, of all places, Britain, called Three Horseshoes. On it was a song called “Ain’t Comin’ Home for Christmas This Year.” I myself lived out of the country for a number of Christmases, so I can’t be sure of it, but I’m not sure he ever did come back to New England for Christmas after that, until this year. True, it’s not quite Christmas, but this week he brought his two daughters (i.e., my cousins) up to New England and made the family rounds.

photo by Jim Grosser 2012

The family round . . . the table, for example.

It turns out that Uncle Phil is good for my blog, by which I mean the fact that he works for Emmylou Harris is. Apparently a lot of people out in the webi-verse are looking for Emmylou Harris. Like, today, for example–three times. If I look at search terms people used which landed them here (which I did look at yesterday), Emmylou Harris tops the chart, by a lot. And then apparently sometimes people don’t want to find just plain Emmylou Harris, so they search things like Emmylou Harris jeans, Emmylou Harris hot, Emmylou Harris grandmother and, um . . . Emmylou Harris promiscuous. Sorry, Emmylou Harris. Then there are the other Uncle Phil connexions which also often lead here: anything with Elvis Costello or Shaun Mullins, for example, and even Phil Madeira universalist. Apparently people are concerned about that. Anyway, I guess it’s kind of cool that all these famous musicians indirectly benefit my blog, but I kind of wish some people ended up here for me.

Which I guess they do sometimes, because it’s a jenn story has turned up once or twice, and one time just “jenn”. Considering all the Jenns in the world, it’s kind of chuff-worthy to know that a simple jenn in quotation marks sent someone right to this blog. There are also search terms about snake skeletons, children’s book characters made of trash, hippie grandmas, jenn grosser, and wold Jesus have gone out dancing? I want to know the answer to that last question, too. Is there a wold Jesus? Does he dance on the wolds? What is a wold, anyway?

Here are some more of my favourites:

how can i name my hippie bridal shower album – I have no idea what that means, although I guess I can see how those terms conspired to get you here. How can you name it? Or what? Could you just name it “Hippie Bridal Shower Album”?

capybara demotivator – Once I posted a picture of a capybara, but I’m a little unclear about the demotivating bit. Is this blog really that undermining that even capybaras are demotivated by it? Man. That’s a bummer.

i did wear a sari until i went to a wedding – And then . . . it was your wedding, and . . . hopefully the until was actually after? Or weddings somehow put you off saris? In that case, I’d kind of like to know how.

guys i’m dating leaving the country for good – That stinks. Sorry about that.

something like what goes around, comes around like – Filler words in search terms are, like, hilarious.

early christological controversies everyone behaved badly chadwick – Is Chadwick someone who wrote a book you were looking for, or are you speaking to this Chadwick person . . . through search terms. It sounds inefficient, but it could be sneaky. Go for it.


i want a steampunk boyfriend

This isn’t a very original question, but what are some of your own favourite search terms? What kinds of random things lead people to your blog?

Glitter and Puppies

Actually, I don’t have anything to say about either of the above topics, although putting the two together might yield interesting, if not unfortunate, results. It’s just that I’m aware that things have been a little serious around here lately. Even though I have actually gained a few new followers and engaged in some interesting conversation on the basis of the last two or three posts, the fact remains that blog traffic is down, which I guess is not surprising, with post titles like “Tears of Advent” (“tears” = depressing; “Advent” = religious) and “Slaughter of the Innocents” (entire title = curling up into the foetal position, speaking of innocents). And anyway, it seems really shallow and sketchy to profit popularly via posts about such sombre topics.

But a few days ago my Paul observed, “It seems like your blog has changed from light and funny observations about life, to more intellectual and theological topics.” It drives him crazy when I read meaning into face value, so I won’t say this is what he meant, but what I heard was a tactful way of saying, “Um–it’s getting a little serious over there. Could you lighten things up a little?”

So I am. Here:

The other day I was driving home via some roads I don’t usually take, and I saw this:

photo by Jennwith2ns 2012

. . .

First–I think this sign needs a little surgery (or something), too. I was going to say something about how used to be more “taut,” but something about that sounds questionable, so I’ll just say, it seems a little the worse for wear since I saw it the first time.

Second–Guys. Do not believe the words on this sign.

As far as I know, most women have something physical about themselves that they wish were not true. I might have more of those things than most. I have a big nose (with a weird bump on the bridge of it) and terrible skin and my chin is somehow simultaneously receding and overly heavy. I have brown teeth. I have a little cellulite and a few spider veins and a flat chest. But I am also myself, and while I don’t, anymore (like I used to think in high school) think there’s anything wrong with doing whatever is in my personal power to mitigate some of these flaws (eg. make-up and even getting the broken tooth fixed–because it was broken), I also know those basic things are a part what makes me who I am, and if, say, my Paul handed me a parcel on Tuesday and inside it was a gift certificate to this plastic surgery, I think I might have to do something that would render him in need of more plastic surgery than I am. (Not that I would actually succeed in this endeavour–I’m a wimp–but the desire to do that would be my initial response.)

I told him about this sign and he burst out laughing and said, “Talk about buying a gift that’s more for yourself than the person you’re giving it to!” Then he said, “Guess I’ll have to take that gift certificate back . . . ”

But I wasn’t worried. Although on occasion he comes up with some unusual ways to compliment me (they’re G-rated but . . . difficult to explain), this is also the guy who spontaneously told me he thought I was “absolutely beautiful,” in front of my parents and a Visiting Londoner. And that, my friends, is a fine Christmas present indeed.

The Slaughter of the Innocents

(Writer Adele Konyndyk writes about this–once again in connexion with Handel’s Messiah–better here, but I’m still going to put in my two cents because . . . that’s what I do.)

“A cry was heard in Ramah—    weeping and great mourning.Rachel weeps for her children,    refusing to be comforted,    for they are dead.”Matthew 2.18 (NLT)

“A cry was heard in Ramah—
weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted,
for they are dead.”
Matthew 2.18 (NLT)

If I said the timing of my last post, relative to the massacre of children that happened in Newtown, Connecticut, last Friday was probably not a coincidence, would you think I meant that somehow that horrific event was ordained by God?

Because that’s not what I’m saying. Nor do I think my own enlightenment is so monstrously important that such a tragedy was meant to happen just so I could understand God better. Such events usually have more of the effect of making me feel like I don’t know God at all. But I still don’t think the timing was exactly coincidental.

Shortly before I had my heartbroken-God epiphany, I had three separate interactions with three different men, all of whom said something to the effect of, “I could never worship a God who would . . . ” After I wrote “Tears of Advent,” I thought I was going to write a post about not being able to box God, and not being able, really, to say what He will or won’t do, but just before I was able to post it, the Newtown shooting happened and I had to take stock of my own ideas about what God will and won’t do. Maybe someday I will indeed pontificate about God’s role (or lack thereof) in the evil in the world (or you can read some of that pontificating in the comment I posted at Jeff’s Deep Thoughts a number of weeks ago), but right now the theme is too raw. I’m headed in the direction of a Master’s degree in Theology, and I’m doing that because I think theology is important and because I like it, but even I can admit that when the rubber meets the road, personal theology ends up being a lot more visceral than intellectual, and debating whether or not God had a hand in something terrible that happened seems extra crass when Terrible happened close by, and to people that people you know, actually know.

I do believe that God will bring something good out of this tragic mess, because it seems to me, from experience and hearsay and, you know, the Bible, that that’s what He does. I don’t know what the good will be. Maybe it’ll be better gun laws. Maybe it’s the stepping up of personal goodness within people. Maybe it will be the incredible, supernatural gift of forgiveness toward the coward who killed children before killing himself. (I have a hard time imagining achieving that frame of mind, but that’s because it’s supernatural in the end, I guess.) Maybe it’s something I can’t even imagine right this second. But the thing is, people are still grieving. Someone is still going to go through Christmas without some little boy or girl that they loved, who would have reveled in the tree and presents. Someone is never going to view Christmas the same way again.

I guess, in the face of that, what I’m hanging onto is not some debate about the sovereignty of God, but the fact that this shows just how badly we really need Christmas. By which I mean Christ, of course. Christmas never was truly about stuff, and maybe epiphanies are always meant to be bittersweet. Right now, I’m just really grateful for the reminder that God is also a parent whose child was wrenched from Him, and that that wrenching came about because we are broken, and our world is broken, and yet God loves us still. At Christmas, God entered the mess, the brokenness, the tragedy, and is somehow (sometimes in ways more unseen than seen yet, but sometimes we can see the ways, too) making it right. The birth of Jesus is the birth of hope that, God with us, all will be well.

The Tears of Advent

My first car ever, at the ripe old age of 30, was a 1998 Corolla who, at the suggestion of a friend, I named Bela. (Bela Corolla. You know, after Bela Karolyi? This turned out to be an awkward name because I always had to explain it–and also have it explained to me, initially, but it was the best I could do at the time.)

Bela had some problems at the end (which was 2009) and I didn’t get a very good trade-in price for him, but before the end, he was a pretty dependable little car, getting me from New England to Denver and back again, and also across the Rockies in what turned out to be a record-making blizzard, in the interim. The best thing about Bela, though, was that he had a tape deck.

That might seem a little extra-retro, even for me, but here’s the thing about a tape deck: I could still listen to my tapes, for one thing, and I could plug in an adapter so I could also listen to CD’s and–when I finally got one–my “This one goes to eleven” iPod. Kermit, on the other hand, as well as the short-lived and nameless car I had in between Bela and Kermit, is too new to have a tape deck and too old to have a port for an iPod to plug in, so all I can listen to are CD’s–or the radio, which is what I usually end up doing because there’s a great folk station around here and also because I’ve gotten out of the habit of listening to song after song in a row by the same musician.

All that to say that I finally realised that I am excellently situated to listen to the CD’s of Handel’s Messiah a whole lot during this Advent season. I’ve had them for years because I requested a recording of the same once for Christmas, and yet I’ve probably only listened to them three times or something, before this year. There was something about them that put me off–something which, at the time I received them, I think I thought was incorrect or inauthentic, although, having listened to them quite a bit in the last few weeks, the only thing I think it might have been was that on this recording the vocalists don’t pronounce the -ed endings of verbs as a separate syllable. Which objection now just seems . . . well, pretty typical of me, actually.

I was driving when I finally decided I was ready to take one of these CD’s out of its case and actually insert it in the CD player which is good for nothing except playing CD’s, so I just kind of flailed the multi-case around until a CD came out. Therefore I wasn’t aware (nor even particularly concerned, surprisingly) whether I was going to be listening to the first or the second one first.

It was the second one, which basically puts the listener right at the beginning of Christ’s Passion. I’m a firm believer that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is why Christmas matters, so it didn’t seem as incongruous to the “reason for the season” as the fact that I was on my way to cash in a no-purchase-necessary, free-item coupon from Victoria’s Secret. (I deeply dislike and resent Victoria’s Secret, I should say, but I will gladly abscond with legitimate free stuff if I can get it.) I listened through Jesus’ being despised and rejected of men, His bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows and by His stripes our being healed. But we, like sheep, have gone astray and all that see Him laugh Him to scorn. Then, as if to prove it, the chorus began to sing the movement: “He trusted in God that He would deliver Him.”

It’s one of the sections of the Messiah I’ve lately come to love at least musically, partly because it is, for better or worse, very singable, and because when it’s sung well, it effectively conveys the derision and scorn in its repetition of what people said when Jesus hung on the cross:

He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. (Matthew 27.43, KJV. See also Psalm 22.8: He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.)

For some reason, though, as it began to play this time, the words shot into my chest or someplace and I caught my breath and actually started to sob.

Well. I say sob, but it was probably the shortest sobbing ever–it was kind of like I had a microburst of revelation which elicited not more than sixty seconds of actual crying, and then my eyes dried and I got out of my car and ran my errand and went home–but that was almost three weeks ago now, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I’m not too sure I can even explain what I was thinking, but I want to try.

I think what struck me to the heart was this sense of the heartbreaking irony, ignorance and arrogance of this derision. Ha ha, Jesus, you fool! Let God prove that He loves you. A good God wouldn’t let His own Son die, would He? If you really are His own Son. Proud dad, huh?

But all along the Father did delight in Jesus–and had said as much out loud at least twice. His heart had to have been breaking at the agony His Son was going through at least as much as His Son’s was breaking at feeling completely abandoned and bereft by the Father He had served all His life. God was in agony and God–not Father, nor Son nor Holy Spirit–could not halt or prevent it because we, scornful and cynical humanity, had brought things to such a pass we couldn’t even recognise God when we saw Him.

It might be presumptuous to think it, but I wonder if, in those sixty seconds, I actually felt the heartbreak of God and that that’s why I sobbed that intensely. If it was, I suspect it had to be brief because no ordinary human could survive if any of us felt the full force of it. Christians (including this one) like to talk about God’s heart breaking over our sin and our sorrow and suffering, and I believe that is there, too–that was what induced God to subject Himself to us marred images in the first place. But what I hear less about, and what I promise I had never viscerally felt like I did that day, was God’s parent-heart breaking over the murder of His Son.

Think about it. Imagine a parent whose child has just been murdered, and then, instead of the murderers being brought to justice, they just stand around the corpse and yuck it up because the parent didn’t stop them from doing it. And they further have the gall to assume, to the grieving parent’s face, that it’s because the parent didn’t care. Let’s just say it would have to be a pretty incredible reason for any decent parent not to have to at least attempted to intervene; I can’t even think of one. Sometimes people (including this one) use that idea to imply that God is a pretty crappy parent, but what if it just shows how ferociously selfless God’s love actually is? I have a hard time imagining how God could have consistently and continuously loved us enough to think that humanity–scornful mockers that we are–were a worthy trade for the life of His Son. But He must have, because He did it. And suddenly it hit me, all in that moment–the Son’s aloneness and the Father’s grief and longing to reach out to, reassure, rescue His Son–and I sobbed.

Getting Close Enough

Here’s the second reblog of the week (and also month) leading up to me talking about a so-called epiphany I would say I had last week. It comes from my old Jennwith2ns blog, and follows on from the post I reblogged yesterday. It also has to do with Christmas, which, if you didn’t notice, is coming up in a few weeks.

Writing His Own Reality

So, for those of you who haven’t been following along, I’ve been processing the idea of God’s having created and set human history in motion as a way to work through His own issues. I don’t think He did do that for those reasons, but still, sometimes you have to process thoughts you disagree with, too, and give them an honest look.

While I was [thinking] about this, though, I had one of those moments where you say something and then you wonder if it means something more than you meant when you first said it. This was the thing I said:

You feel, if you’re writing a story through which to work out your issues, that you can’t make anything happen that you don’t want to happen to you, so you allow some conflict and stuff, but you can’t let anybody get into really deep water, because you don’t want to get into it yourself. You might end up writing your own reality.

It suddenly occurred to me that here was something God actually did. He wrote His own reality into the human story. I don’t mean He wrote it through the vehicle of the human story. It’s not that He had issues and has been inflicting them on us this whole time. It’s that we have issues and He allowed us to inflict them on Him. I didn’t love my NaNoWriMo characters and so I didn’t want to get to involved. But God? Well, evidently He wasn’t afraid of getting into the deep water Himself.

I didn’t know, before, when people talked abstractly about how amazing it is that God entered the human story, or that God suffers when we suffer, quite what that meant. And I’m not sure I can really describe in words what those abstracts mean to me now. But I have this sense that “amazing” doesn’t even come close, and that God knew what I only discovered by talking about it–that if I got close enough to my characters to create real, transforming conflict in their lives, I’d get close enough to get hurt myself. But God didn’t just know it. He did it anyway.

We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.

(Isaiah 53 segment, The Message)

This Is a Set-Up

I had a “spiritual experience” a few days ago. I talk to God a lot, and sometimes I even feel like He talks back (He probably would do that more if I shut up and listened more consistently), but I haven’t had one of those sort of inexplicable mini-epiphanies where I sense something about God that usually makes me cry a little, in a long time.

I’m going to tell you about it, soon, except it reminded me of some blog posts I wrote on the old blog when I did NaNoWriMo the first time (in 2009). So, since my friend Jayne is here from London and we’re doing fun sight-seeing-y things and stuff, I’m going to reblog two of those posts before I talk about what I want to talk about. They have to do with NaNo, and they have to do with my upcoming topic and they have to do with Christmas, so it seems like a good idea. Plus, I have a sort of different readership than I did the first time around, so I’m curious to know what you think about what I thought. Here’s the first one (with some edits for clarity):

Unloved Characters

image credit: http://thomascotterill.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/working-new-angles-on-psychology/

I actually hope the workings of God’s mind are more complex than this. And mine, too.

Sometimes there are things you know, and then there are things that you confirm by doing, and I can certainly confirm, now, that a writer, a story-teller, an artist, might craft something solely to exorcise his or her own “demons.” (Or, you know, zombies or whatever.) But here’s something else I discovered through the whole NaNoWriMo project:

If the author doesn’t care about the characters, nothing is going to happen to them.

I suppose it’s not really a coincidence that right before NaNoWriMo [2009] started, I read Donald Miller‘s new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. (Or is it A Million Years in a Thousand Miles? Or something else? I can never remember. The book was better than the title.) Miller (or maybe his friend Jordan, actually: chapter eight, page 48) defines story as “a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.”

He makes the point that conflict is a necessary part of story, and if God is telling The Story, and He wants it to be a good Story, then there’s going to be conflict. He even kind of implies or maybe even states outright that at least some of the time God puts the conflict right in there.

It’s maybe a little presumptuous to imagine that every life experience I have can turn into a point-by-point analogy about God. On the other hand, even though I don’t agree with a friend of mine that image-of-God necessitates God actually behaving exactly like human beings (or that we always behave exactly like God), I do think it means that we can learn things about God through our experiences and even our reactions or those of others.

So, while I was writing the Story That Shall Likely Never See the Light of Day (oh wait–that’s kind of all my stories except Trees), it finally dawned on me that if God is really a storyteller, it’s not very likely that this story is just His way of working out His own issues. And I’ll tell you why.

I do believe there is something cathartic about storytelling and that you can process what you are going through by telling a story. But if that’s all it is–if it’s just a psychological-healing exercise–if there’s no actual story being unearthed in its own right, as Stephen King describes it, it’s kind of rubbish. It ends up like the “story” I wrote during NaNoWriMo–boring. If I don’t care about the characters (which I discovered I didn’t last month), I can’t be bothered . . . or even think how to . . . find out what they want or what conflict they need to overcome to get it. I don’t know them, who they are, what they like, even if I’m writing from their points of view. Their personalities change from one day to the next, not because they are developing as characters but because they are subject to my allegory which, it turns out, isn’t a very good one. In a sense, we (the characters and I, too) are slaves to the story, but since it is a lame story, we’re all just stuck and bored. In the end the whole thing–characters, story and author–
grind to a screeching halt.

If you’re in a frame of mind which makes you think God’s writing you a lousy story, you might wish for it to grind to a screeching halt, or think that it already has done, but whatever got you to that point, though painful, was probably not boring, and just might have affected your character a little bit. And I will also posit that it doesn’t mean God hates you, or that He is indifferent to you. To hate a character, I feel, requires too much energy and the author might then just as well become indifferent to him or her. And indifference, as I’ve said, does not elicit conflict or suffering–or peace, either. It elicits boredom and lack of resolution.

I’m not trying to justify God in this particular post, nor am I trying to minimise anybody’s pain, because what do I really know about it? I am saying that, from the perspective of “creates worlds,” I think it’s pretty unlikely that all this creation is a cosmic attempt to sort out the psychological convolutions of the Divine. I thought it was unlikely before, in theory. Now I think it in practice.

A few more writerly thoughts on this still to come.