Muffling the Cymbals

Theology Thursday

I have been wanting (or maybe I mean “wanting”–with quotation marks around it) to write about God’s relationship (or not) to evil and suffering in the world for at least six months. I thought I was going to start today–that’s what I was setting up last week. But I still can’t get my thoughts and my words together and so I just don’t think it’s the right time.

Especially not after yesterday. Yesterday I called literary agents pimps.

Now, you might think I genuinely meant to call them that, and that now I’m backpedaling because I actually hope to work with a literary agent at some point, who wants to help me get my book(s?) published at some point, and that I belatedly realised it might not have behooven (Beethoven? I dunno) me to bandy such incendiary words about.

And . . . you would be right.

But also this:

I’m doing all this reading for my Spiritual Formation class about (or written by) people whose relationships with Jesus were so much closer than mine, that their understanding and their living make mine look like I’ve never even heard of Him before. It’s not really making me feel guilty–it’s just making me question my assumptions, and want to get close to Jesus like that.

I was sitting here reading one of those books last night and thinking about yesterday’s post and about how often it happens that when I’m thinking of something to say, I’m quite proud of myself (“Raw!” “Edgy!” “Tells it like it is!”–yeah, I know–I’m prone to exaggerate), and then after it’s out there for everybody to hear I realise it was just a lot of self-absorbed noise, or, as some other guy with the same name as my husband once said, “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I call this condition “clanging cymbalitis”–this talking or acting without love. I get it kind of a lot, unfortunately.

Or this whole shebang. (New York, New York. Sunny Greer, drummer for Duke Ellington. By Gordon Parks, 1943. LC-USW3-023938-C)

Or this whole shebang. Nothing against Sunny Greer.
(New York, New York. Sunny Greer, drummer for Duke Ellington. By Gordon Parks, 1943. LC-USW3-023938-C)

I had just finished thinking this (or so I imagined), when I turned the page and was confronted with this:

He who holds his tongue in check controls both mind and body (Jas. 3:2 ff). Thus it must be a decisive rule of every Christian fellowship that each individual is prohibited from saying much that occurs to him. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Zing!

I’m not going to debate the truth or falsehood of my pimp comment. That’s less the problem than the fact that it was said out of self-satisfaction/pride and not out of love. I wasn’t doing what Jesus did and taking account of individual people. I was getting kind of a rush out of writing Something Sort Of Almost Controversial On The Internet, and not thinking about literary agents as people. This is the kind of thing I do all too often (in real life, too, and not always on the internet) and frankly, I think our entire society does this kind of thing all the time. It’s easy and maybe it’s even understandable and sometimes it might be right, but it isn’t right.

I mean, okay. Jesus used harsh words, too. “Brood of vipers” comes to mind, which maybe doesn’t have quite the punch now that it had then, but I suspect was pretty insulting back in the day. The thing is, I don’t think Jesus was name calling to make Himself look better. He was trying by any means necessary to get a bunch of religious people to recognise how far from His Father they had stomped. Also? If Jesus was the only perfect human being, which I believe He was, then He’s really the only one who has the right to judge anybody. I, much as I might like to think I do, certainly don’t.

Do I think the publishing world needs a revamp? Yes. Do I think sometimes messed up stuff needs to get called out? Yes. I’m just not sure I’m the person that needs to do that, and if I am, I probably need to get my own head sorted out a little better first.

All of this basically confirmed my idea of the temporary Blog Pause. I’m trying so hard to produce content that sometimes I’m saying things that don’t need to be said or in ways that I don’t need to say them. (I also posted a sermon in somebody’s comments yesterday. You know who you are. Sorry about that.) I think I need to stop and breathe. And listen. And pray. And find out what God wants me to be writing about. I suspect they’ll still be Jenn Stories. I just hope they’ll be a little better ones.

Unless things go entirely not-to-plan (which, I guess, is always a possibility) I’ll be back. My own idea is that I’ll go silent for two weeks, at which point I’ll decide whether or not I need to go silent for longer, or if I can just post stuff I’ve already written (reblog from the old blog, or post papers from years gone by or something) for a couple of months. I don’t imagine there’ll be any truly new content here until sometime mid-summer, but you never know. All that to say, Watch This Space, I guess.

Oh, and literary agents? I totally get if you don’t want to represent my book, but I’m sorry for being rude, and I hope you’ll forgive me anyway.

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The Blogs Must Be Crazy

Wordy Wednesday

I’m thinking of quitting the blog.

Okay, not actually quitting.

And at the moment I’m only thinking of quitting. I haven’t quit yet. So don’t unsubscribe or anything–at least not until I totally offend you, which might happen in a few minutes. Let me rephrase: I’m thinking of taking a long blogging hiatus. I should probably not be putting this out there because I really haven’t decided, but you might be able to help, I think.

Stopping the blog now is, from all normal points of view, a Total Tactical Error. I have a blog schedule now which appears to have given my blog traffic a pretty solid boost. Every two days or so the blog gets a new follower. Some of you actually talk to me and I feel like I’m making new friends. In the meantime, this new-found schedule, instead of draining me of ideas about which to write, is generating so many new thoughts that I can’t even write them down quickly enough most of the time.

If you want to get noticed in the publishing world, They say, you need a Platform. I’m still not sure how “Jenn Stories” are a Platform, but they’re the only one I’ve got, and somehow they seem to be becoming a slightly broader one than they once were, so that throwing in the towel now would be to lose all momentum. I am not convinced I could get it back.

Baker Street Tube Station. A literary platform.

Baker Street Tube Station, London. A literary platform.

That’s the “normal” point of view. Unfortunately my point of view is often slightly wonky, as in this case. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Contrarian or because I’m lazy or because I’m actually right (what?), but I just kind of wonder if the current trends in publishing are really consistent with a truly Christlike lifestyle. Not that I have one of those, but it’s something to which I aspire.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world. I know that. (Although fortunately neither of my two dogs seemed to have figured that out.)

photo by Jennw2ns 2012

So far? Still content with their kibble . . .

But am I just old-fashioned and unprogressive if, when a Christian writer I admire comes out with a new book and starts self-promoting like crazy on Twitter, I flinch? Is it wrong of me to feel at least momentarily horrified when I submit Favored One to a Christian publisher or agent and they specifically state in their guidelines that I need to tell them how I plan to promote it? Am I being sacrilegious when I feel, in my heart of hearts, that literary agents are the pimps of the writing world and in order to get in the game, I have to become a word-hooker? (I’m pretty sure I just lost my entire The Readership with that one–for a multitude of reasons.) Have I attempted to play the game? Yes. Have I been so enamoured of one or two of my own blogposts that I have manually retweeted them all day long? Yes.

Probably next week (because I’ve already semi-committed to writing about something else tomorrow) I’ll unpack why I’m not sure the publishing world of 2013 is really very godly (and I guess I wouldn’t expect it to be, but . . . ) but for now suffice it to say that I feel like if even Jesus, who actually is God, “did not think of equality with God as something to cling to” and went on and on about His Father all the time instead of Himself, then maybe His people should be a little more like that and a little less like . . . well, word-hookers?

Then again, I have also been sensing lately (or, rather, for a long time but finally I think I might be willing to listen) that God Himself wants me to get a little more proactive with my writing. This new blogging format has been my attempt to step into that direction. Am I actually just having misgivings about “the Publishing World” because my subconscious is trying to give me an excuse to drift back into laziness and unproductivity and–if the above is true–disobedience?

On the other hand, I am writing. I’m not writing fiction at the moment, but in my Spiritual Formation class we have to create a Spiritual Autobiography. I am thoroughly enjoying working through the various journaling exercises but, given the kind of person/writer I am, they take me hours. Plus I have to write a research paper for that class, as well as some papers and an exam for my Christology class. Do I really have time to write blogposts, too? (Answer: no.)

I’m thinking of quitting. No, I’m thinking of taking a break. I’m thinking of seeing what happens if I “trust my blog to God,” whatever that means, and just stop writing for a few months, and then reassess this summer.

But I don’t think I’m quite ready to let go just yet. I’m not quite ready to say good bye.

How about you? What would you do? And, um, if I take a break, will you come back?

My cat has OCD so I put her on fluoxetine and anti-depressants

The Tuesday Reblog

I love this woman’s snarky cartoons . . . This one’s a few weeks old now, and is not immediately relevant to me (my Paul does housework–don’t get any ideas!), but it struck me as highly recognisable societally anyway.

Hollis Plample

My cat has OCD so I put her on fluoxetine and anti-depressants

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One Big Happy Family

Memory Monday

For four years, I lived in the House With the Yellow Door in London. Most of the time I shared that house with Flatmate-Beth. Flatmate-Beth and I are both white American women, at the time in our late 20’s. We were part of a team that worked with some British churches in the East End. We did lots of churchy things, but mostly we worked with refugees. Our other teammate was this African American guy named Ray. He was in his 50’s. He always came to our ESL parties, which was helpful, just in case we needed a trustworthy male presence around.

One time, maybe we did.

For about a year and a half, we lived next door to a sad family with two alcoholic parents. The parents would fight. The mother would take the kids and leave for the week. The father would drink and drink and keep the television so loud that we could hear precisely which episode of Eastenders was on. Then eventually the mother would come back and the cycle would repeat. This was not funny, and I don’t want to make light of the situation for anyone who has had an alcoholic in their lives (I have had, myself), but one night the father did provide some . . . well . . . entertainment . . . for our gawking refugee friends.

Flatmate-Beth and I were having one of our parties. Ray was late. With the Yellow Door wide open so as to welcome our international friends, AlcoNeighbour walked right in, too. What, wondered Alco-Neighbour, was going on? We, frankly, were wondering the same thing. We were also not so sure what to do about it.

“We’re having a party,” we said. London is a pretty ethnically diverse place, but I think our guests were diverse enough in age and background to make anyone, even the uninebriated, wonder how on earth we all knew each other. “What kind of party?” asked AlcoNeighbour, probably wondering where the booze was. (We never served any–except once for Beth’s birthday–out of consideration for our more observant Muslim guests.)

“We work for a church,” we said. “We teach English classes there. These are our students.”

“A church, eh?” said AlcoNeighbour. “Did you know Queen Elizabeth invented the church?”

Um–even supposing he meant the first Queen Elizabeth and was actually talking about the Church of England–no, we didn’t.

In spite of our best efforts to keep things peaceful, AlcoNeighbour was not a happy drunk, and in an attempt to shepherd him back outdoors, one of our male Persian friends almost got in a fight with him right in our front garden. ESL parties had never been so exciting. It was around this time that Ray showed up.

Maybe our drunken neighbour found it comforting that Ray was black, since he was, too. Whatever the case, he allowed Ray to bring him back over to his own house, although Ray had to go in there and sit with him for a while.

Ray ended up missing most of the party. “What happened?” we asked when he returned to say goodbye. “He couldn’t understand what all these people were doing here,” Ray said. “He didn’t believe I really knew you all. So I told him Beth was my wife. And Jenn was my sister.”

Beth as his wife was at least somewhat plausible, although there was a pretty big age gap. But me as his (unadopted) sister? I looked at Ray. I looked at myself. “Did he believe you?” I asked.

“Yep,” said Ray.

Those wild and crazy parties . . . (We played "Spoons" a lot.)

Those wild and crazy parties . . . (We played “Spoons” a lot.)

Well, That Was Interesting

A Saturday Snippet

My Paul will probably be ashamed of me for saying this (which I guess counts for me being ashamed of myself, since the two are supposed to become one in marriage, right?), but I guess it takes national tragedy for me to get at all patriotic. I don’t really know why this is, unless it has something to do with having spent some of my earliest years in another country altogether. The most patriotic I’ve ever been was when I lived in that other country, and thought that the United States was Heaven because:

  1. You had to fly to get there.
  2. You could drink water out of the tap.
  3. “Everybody” already spoke English.

I get that our country is unique and I appreciate the benefits that I get from living here (though probably not enough), but I guess I derive my identity in other ways, so when other people get all misty-eyed or fist-pumping about the good ol’ USA, I sort of glaze over.

I also feel that images of bald eagles are really cliché.

But I’m not going to deny that I felt a little misty-eyed and fist-pumping along with everybody else after they caught Dzhokar Tsarnaev last evening. It was a strange and tension-filled day, even though my Paul and Alicia and I all went on a day trip, and the denouement was a relief. I have friends in Watertown and I could certainly appreciate the sacrifice of time, sleep and personal safety of the security units running around after this kid all day. Like most of the other people in this neck of the woods, I was proud of those people, even though I don’t know them.

Take THAT!

Take THAT!

I’m also not going to deny that I’m hoping that what appears to be true really is true, and that our pair of bald eagles have, indeed, moved into the neighbourhood to stay.

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Theology Thursday (sort of)

It’s Thursday again. I really should set aside one day a week to write all my posts and queue them up instead of just queuing one or two up sporadically. And that day should not be Thursday. On Thursday I go to work and then I go to seminary for approximately seven hours, and writing Words About God takes a long time, so if I haven’t written a Thursday post ahead of time, it certainly isn’t going to get done that day.

Especially if it’s going to be about what I wanted to write about this week. (Although, part of the reason it didn’t get done ahead of time is that I didn’t know what I wanted to write about until yesterday.) So, to save time, I’m going to send you to my God-thinking colleague over at the American Jesus to read this post. Then next Thursday I’ll talk about how I’m not sure but I think I disagree with him.

Homework, baby. If I have to do it, so do you. Happy Thursday!

William Blake got theological on Thursdays, too, evidently. Although I disagree with much of his theology as well. *Contrarian*

William Blake got theological on Thursdays, too, evidently. Although I disagree with much of his theology as well. *Contrarian*

P.S. Did you know that if you google “public domain images of thursday” you actually get results? ^^^

Perfect

Wordy Wednesday

Loose Parts by Blazek

On Monday when I was driving back to work from my Chiropractor appointment, I saw a new billboard for some bite-sized snack which was supposed to take care of your hunger pangs in between meals or something. The snack looked, from the 3,000-times-the-actual-size photograph, totally unidentifiable as a specific food (more specific than “bite-sized snack,” anyway), and I don’t think the name was very specific either–just “Bites” or something. No mention of what they were bites. Still, they appeared somewhat yummy, in an unidentifiable, not-particularly-healthy kind of way.

In the lower left-hand corner of the billboard was a subtitular descriptor of sorts that announced:

Cooked Perfect Bites

Never mind that someone had smudged out a section of the second “o” so that it looks like it says, Cocked Perfect Bites. (I like my bawdy humour as much as the next person, and maybe more than a Christian Youth Group Leader should, but I also like it to have a little bit of intelligence behind it.) The thing that really got me was the Absolutely Horrendous Grammar of this advertisement. Perfect, in this case, is an adverb modifying the adjective Cooked. (Or cocked. Either way, the grammar’s wrong.) But there was nothing perfect about this little claim.

Perfect, as an adverb, needs an ly. But even the makers of this billboard would know that Cooked Perfectly Bites doesn’t work. (It almost works if you’re trying to say, slangily and a little rudely, that being cooked perfectly is, for whatever reason, decidedly unsatisfactory.) It should, instead, say something like Perfectly Cooked Bites.

Sheesh, I thought, as I sailed by the billboard at speeds not conducive to snapping photos on my iPhone, No wonder no one can speak properly anymore! Probably another kind of police would have had something equally snarky to say about my driving, had any of them been around at the time. Fortunately for me, the only police at hand in this corner of Our Fair City at that moment, was this grammar one.

What’s the worst grammar gaffe you’ve ever seen in professional advertising?

Boston Marathon Tragedy

The Tuesday Reblog (2)

Here’s the second Boston reblog for the day. I kind of want to call yesterday’s events The Second Boston Massacre . . . I think it fits. Maybe even better than the first time.

God, help us.

food4thoughtfood4life

It is with sadness that I watch as, what appears to be another terrorist attack spreads injury, death and fear into the hearts of the people here in Boston and indeed touching people all over the world.

American Flag

The death toll currently is at 2 with at least 23 injured. The sadness that I feel is first for those directly impacted by this senseless act. What bothers me deeply is the far-reaching and long-term effects this unnatural act places in the hearts and psyches of the countless multitudes. This day’s horrors will fade just as the countless horrific events of the past do. Unfortunately the long-term effects on how people feel, act, and do will change in varying levels of intensity… probably for the rest of their lives.

Personally my faith is a place where I grab hold of… all the more tightly as these events unfold and my thoughts and…

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Boston, In Grief

The Tuesday Reblog (1)

I was going to write something about Boston last night, but I really had nothing to say. Then I read your blogs. Two reblogs today, in better words than I had to hand. Here’s the first one.

The Carrier Bag Game

Memory Monday

On Saturday I had to pick up all the dog leavings in the yard (appropriately, considering that last dream). There was a lot to clean up and I went through quite a few of those plastic disposable grocery-shopping bags.

These guys? Are prolific.

These guys? Are prolific.

While recovering from the admittedly brief PTSD associated with this task, I started thinking about plastic disposable grocery-shopping bags. In London we simply called them carrier bags. Occasionally I still forget which terms are the British ones and which are the American ones when I’m talking, and sometimes I just like the British terms better. Carrier bag is much more efficient to say (even if it is a little redundant and not overly descriptive) than plastic disposable grocery-shopping bags. What do we actually call those things over here, anyway?

Yeah. Anyway. All this thinking about . . . those receptacles . . . made me remember London and this social norm I discovered there which I soon dubbed:

The Carrier Bag Game

(Don’t worry. This is not a blog game, although you can try this at home . . . maybe.)

Maybe people don’t play this in London anymore; I don’t know if you now have to bring your own carrier bags every time you shop or else buy new ones (I know that’s what they do in Ireland, which is where my parents lived more recently than I lived in the UK). But in the late 1990’s such environmentally responsible practices had not yet been established there, as they still have not, for the most part, here. This meant that every time you went to the shops and actually purchased something, you came home with more carrier bags. Soon you were stuffing carrier bags into carrier bags, and then they were overflowing into other carrier bags and every hook in your Cupboard Under the Stairs (assuming you didn’t have Harry Potter living under there) supported at least three carrier bags full of carrier bags.

It was a lot of carrier bags.

So, in an attempt to off-load some of your carrier bags without being entirely environmentally terroristic and just throwing them away, you would carry everything everywhere in carrier bags . . . and hopefully drop them off at someone else’s house. If you were invited to a home for dinner, you would offer to bring something. Even if your hosts said you didn’t need to bring anything, you would still bring something–cake or a bottle of wine or minced pies (I just threw that into the list because I really liked those tiny little store-bought minced pies you can get over there)–just so you could put it in a carrier bag. If you could get away with bringing more than one thing and put each thing into its own carrier bag–well done, you! Then you got to your destination and handed your host or hostess a veritable bouquet of carrier bags full of goodies which, ideally, you originally took home all in one carrier bag.

My flatmate Beth and I got really good at the carrier bag game, but we suffered severe setbacks about once every six weeks when we hosted our English class parties. We worked with refugees, for some churches which ran ESL classes, and every so often we would invite everybody–students, teachers, parishioners, random passers-by who stopped in for the conversation–over to our house for a relaxed informal gathering. Everyone brought food from their own country to share, and we would sit around and talk and play games and laugh and . . . it was always a good time. (Even the time our alcoholic neighbour . . . maybe I’ll write about that next week.)

But there was a problem. The problem was that, although no one ever verbally acknowledged it, everybody in East London played the carrier bag game. And everybody coming to our house for these parties was bringing something. And everybody was frequently quite a lot of people. For six weeks Beth and I would systematically and successfully whittle down our supply of carrier bags to one carrier bag full of carrier bags . . . and then the party. We never won.

What creative ways do you find to use up your carrier bags? Londoners–do you recognise this game? Do people still play it?

In tacit admission of the universal carrier bag problem, you can also buy bags to carry your carrier bags

In tacit–and capitalistic–admission of the universal carrier bag problem, you can also buy bags to carry your carrier bags.