Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bookmarks -- Letters to Malcolm

Letters to Malcolm:  Chiefly on PrayerLetters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After spending several hours of my life reading about the subject, I have come to the conclusion that Prayer is something better discussed than taught. In fact, I will go so far as to say that most "instructional" books on the topic may do the reader more harm than good. They either box the reader in with formulas, often on only one type of prayer, so that when the prayer is successful (whatever that means) a cult member is created, and when unsuccessful (which usually means they didn't get something they didn't need), the reader is left frustrated and lost, thinking she/he didn't have enough faith or wasn't doing it right or is cursed by God.

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer is the kind of book that could and should be read by people faith (even non-christians). I found it quite edifying to read this half-dialogue between two intelligent individuals which covered topics as diverse as whether God is changed by prayer, why pray when God knows our thoughts, and our mental images of God during prayer. Instead of directions and dogma, I found open conversation (Lewis does a good job of letting us know Malcolm's thoughts), that left me in an encouraging state of awe.

We get Lewis' trademark insights into human thought and foibles. On The Lord's Prayer, he writes, "It seems to me that we often, almost sulkily, reject the good that God offers us because, at that moment, we expected some other good." I loved the humor and openness of his remarks on Communion: "The command, after all, was Take, eat; not Take, understand....All this is autobiography, not theology." And I found it comforting to read, "One of the purposes for which God instilled prayer may have been to bear witness that the course of events is not governed like a state but created like a work of art to which every being makes its contribution."

I probably learned more about Prayer from Letters to Malcolm than I have from dozens of books on the subject (some of the best of which have quoted it). I gave my personal reactions to a handful of passages because I'm sure not everyone will respond to this little volume as I have. Maybe that is the beauty of the book. I think it has something for everyone. Like Prayer.

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Bookmarks -- Apocalyptic and Dystopian Tales

Apocalyptic and Dystopian TalesApocalyptic and Dystopian Tales by Celesta Thiessen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

These stories have potential, but read like rough drafts. The ideas are engaging, but that isn't enough to sustain the narratives. Some are more like sketches for novels than developed and smooth short stories. The author has clearly read a good deal, particularly the Book of Revelation. I think she needs to study the form of the short story a little more and revise.

This all seems negative. I found the story "The Carefully Wound Clock" particularly interesting. I do not believe the writer needs to "tone down" her message or ignore her influences. I'd prefer the stories were not so heavy-handed, but that vision of them is more a matter of my taste than the flaws of the material. There is something to build on here. What Celesta Thiessen has to say is worth telling.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Man of a Certain Rage

Everyday I see more and more evidence that television is not supposed to be for people like me. And by "like me," I mean old enough to remember days when people would write about the Kardashians on bathroom walls instead of in tabloids. As I try to make my way through the middle of summer, I am going to get my crotchety old man on. So turn down your music, pay attention, and stay off my lawn.

Am I the only person who is annoyed by that fake cowboy in the 5-Hour Energy commercials? And by "annoyed," I mean I wanna crush his hat and make him cry so he'll go away. These commercials have two guys (no women) who are smiling and drinking coffee, and Sheriff Stick In The Mud comes in and starts riding them about how coffee will only give them energy for about 45 minutes. Doesn't that guy know that we don't drink coffee for energy? We drink coffee to wake up. We drink coffee because it's cool. We drink coffee because it is part of a social ritual. Have you ever been at work and had someone say, "I'm going to take a 5-hour energy break. Want me to bring you back some?" Any guy ever ask a girl out to a cozy cafe for an "energy shot"? I don't think so.

I do like and admire Abby Wambach. But I have to take her to task for her recent Gatorade commercial. In it, players are coming off the field at halftime of a soccer game. She has this interior monologue where she says this woman "is easy to spot," and the camera shows us an opposing player who is clearly exhausted. During her speech we see the opponent drinking water (gasp!) and Wambach drinking Gatorade. At the height of the monologue, Wambach says, "She's also easy to break." Then we see Wambach shredding defenders and making the other team look like they are stuck in mud. Thanks a lot, Abby! Why not undo any progress we parents have made in getting our kids to be healthy. Way to make it even harder for youth soccer coaches to get their kids to drink water during games instead of sugar filled sports drinks that taste better, but only give kids a ten-minute rush.

And speaking of girls soccer, I watched an interview with speedy Alex Morgan before a friendly between the U.S. Women and Canada. Off the camera there were several young girls watching the talented player,and the interviewer remarked about them and asked questions about being a role model to young girls. And I wondered, why can't she be a role model to young boys too? Why must role modeling be gender specific?

The fact is I have not gotten over the cancellation of two of my favorite shows. Men of a Certain Age was one of the smartest, funniest shows I'd seen in years, and I guess because I happen to be in the age group of the main characters, I  found myself identifying with them. Mostly, I enjoyed the dialogue between the characters, remembering all those breakfasts and lunches of serious hilarity. Okay, the show had low ratings, but it shouldn't have. It won a Peabody and had two Emmy nominations in only two seasons. Curse you, numbers, for you have foiled me again!

And then I find out that another favorite, Harry's Law, has been cancelled as well. Here is a show that actually did have high Nielsen ratings, but not in the 18-49 demographic, so it got axed. I can't figure this out. The show does well, but not with the right people? Why didn't dull stupid Matlock suffer the same fate? Harry's Law dealt with interesting and timely issues, had good drama counterpointed with excellent humor, quirky and thoughtful characters. It was well-written and well-acted. It starred Kathy Freaking Bates! But no, it had to go, I guess because it didn't sell enough acne cream or hot pants to the Bieber crowd.

Sigh. I guess I should resign myself to the fact that if I like something it is not going to last long. (Don't tell the people at CBS that I like Big Bang Theory or The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.) And complaining about it has gotten me tired. So I'm taking a nap. Wake me up when my stories are on.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Meditation XXI -- Appropriate

I am continually surprised when I read the Gospels that anyone considered unclean in Jesus' time ever became clean. There were prescriptions for becoming clean in the Old Testament. But it seems that those who would be in the best place to aid such people instead stood as barriers against them. It is no wonder Our Lord called them "whitewashed tombs"!

Only a couple of chapters before in Matthew's gospel we hear Jesus telling the people, "You will recognize them by their fruits." And what was fruit of the Pharisees? Nothing. If anything, they merely produced more Pharisees. What was the fruit of Jesus? The "unclean" and "untouchable" brought to repentance, serving
and loving God.

Lord, help us to obey You and be willing to dine with the lost, worrying less about what is appropriate and more about being a friend to sinners who need You. Let us all, no matter how unworthy the world says we are, sit at Your Table and dine with You, our compassionate Savior. Amen.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Meditation XX -- Speak

It was curious to me that after Peter said this to the authorities who threatened them, he and the other believers gathered together to pray for boldness. Before Peter said this, he had spoken about the resurrection of Jesus and the priests and elders had noted he and John’s boldness.

Before the coming of the Holy Spirit, these men hid in fear. With good reason, they worried that they would suffer the same fate as their leader. They didn’t worry about what to say, but whether they would survive. Easily, they could forget Jesus’ words: “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what to say.

Peter here has no reason now to fear the authorities unless he is only concerned about his body or his standing in the synagogue. No sane person wants to be put to death or booted from her or his church. But a sane person might be willing for either if the cause is right. Peter is more concerned with what is right. And he is compelled, now that he has been filled with the Holy Spirit, to speak of the resurrection. For Peter, Christ’s resurrection was reality. The priests and elders did not want the resurrection to be a reality, and they reacted as fearful men do.

It is not that we must challenge others with the Gospel. The
Gospel is challenging enough. Remember that the leaders confronted Peter and John, not the other way around. Our call is to obey as these disciples did, and between times to pray.

Lord fill us with your Holy Spirit, that we may be Your Hands to heal. Shake the places we pray that we see You working in our hearts. Give us the wisdom of words, but also the wisdom of work in silence, so if the world cannot see tongues of fire, it may see arms of Love.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Meditation XIX -- Fear

And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.

Fear, we know, is a powerful motivator, but it is often an evil one. It is too easy to miss the line between self-preservation and bigotry and hatred. And let us not presume that good people are immune.

The word dread here shows that what may have begun as caution on the part of a leader had turned to an pervading, irrational, and consuming emotional force. Earlier in the chapter we are told "there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph." That king led his people into forgetfulness. Once they forgot history, forgot the good Joseph and the people of Israel had done for his kingdom, it would take little time to assume a threat where none existed.

We must cast fear aside, not only for our own well-being, but also that justice and peace may prevail, permeating our culture rather than fueling oppression. The scriptures tell us, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." And so we must labor, doing the hard work of love; otherwise we live in destructive dread.

Lord God who is Love and teaches us love: Perfect us in love that we not live as slaves to fear, but have the courage to mirror your Love and live in Peace with You, our selves, and the world. We ask this in the Name of Him who is Our Peace, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Publication Notes -- Summer/Winter Sale

During the month of July, I will be participating in the Summer/Winter Sale at Smashwords. This means that my ebooks will be either available at a huge discount, and some will be free.

The following books will be available:

Fiction: Rope ($2), Die Laughing ($1), and Quick (free).
Poetry: Wrestling Light ($2), Three Laments ($1), Making Rounds (free), and Walking In Circles (free).
Personal Essays: They Live With You ($1.50)

These deals are only available at Smashwords. Use the coupon code SSW50 when checking out. 

Go here to see my profile and to read a little about each book. Thank you much for supporting my work. And if you like it, spread the word!

Bookmarks -- Man-Fate: The Swan Song of Brother Antoninus

Man-Fate: The Swan Song of Brother AntoninusMan-Fate: The Swan Song of Brother Antoninus by William Everson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story goes that when Brother Antoninus had completed his public reading of the opening suite in this collection, "Tendril In The Mesh," he removed his monk's habit and "fled the platform" in a symbolic gesture in his return to secular life (and the name William Everson). But the decision was not as easy for him as taking off his clothes.

This is difficult book, not because the poems are hard to read, but because the conflicts Everson addresses in here are difficult to watch and read about. And I suspect most readers cannot "relate to" (how I've grown to loath that phrase!) the mental and emotional difficulty of turning one's back on religious vows, especially since he does not turn his back on the religion. But such difficulty should not presume that the subject is not worth writing about. Even when the poet gets into uncomfortable territory (particularly frank discussions of sex), I was thoroughly engaged.

Some of the passages were a bit prosy for my tastes. Yet for every awkward line, there are two remarkably beautiful ones. I found the third section of the book, a suite entitled "A Time To Mourn," quite moving.

In some poems, the speaker addresses his lover. In some, God is implored and praised. In many, the poet weaves narratives and observations concerning his arduous wrestling matches with his soul. The poems do not carry the theological impact of St. John of the Cross or the raw power of John Donne, but they reach into similar hemispheres to reveal what are modern (albeit neglected) dilemmas.

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