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Thursday, July 31, 2008


I came across this -- I guess it's a poem -- and thought I'd share it with you, my dear friends. It appeals to my darker, sadder, nature. What kind of story might this make?

This is a Photograph of Me
by Margaret Atwood

It was taken some time ago.
At first it seems to be
a smeared
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;

then, as you scan
it, you see in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.

In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.

(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.
I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.

It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion

but if you look long enough,
you will be able to see me.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Presidential Election

Barak Obama or John McCain? How about a third candidate?

It's here!

I'm dying to tell someone -- my first copy of my first book just arrived on the UPS truck! My daughter opened the package and flipped through it for a minute, then handed it to me with a smile. "It looks good, Mom." She's upstairs in her room now, so it's just me holding the book. My book.

It's so funny -- I open the pages, and words that I've read 50 times on a computer screen seem different when bound between two covers. I flip through, sampling the different passages...

I'm so excited!

I want to tell someone. I want to celebrate--the book is gorgeous. There is a long way to go yet, but for right now I'm content to smile and feel like I've done something good. I've gone a far way. Wow.

I'll be getting some advance copies soon to send to influencers. Influencers are the people who read your book, and if they love it they talk about it to their friends, write about it on their blogs, or otherwise attempt to get the word out. Anyone reading this who would like to read the book and become an influencer if they love it, please drop me a line. I'll also be initiating a contest for amazon reviews soon.

Celebrate with me, my dear friends :-)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Stone in the Heart

Many of us have these, I suppose -- a remembrance of someone or something that no longer is. Sometimes these stones dissolve, more often they're eventually covered with a thick encapsulating layer, but sometimes they might never be covered. They can cause bleeding and pain. They're heavy to carry.

Speak kindly to your loved ones, my dear friends. You don't know how much time you may have.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Heaven at the Pump

I chatted with a gentleman at the gas pump not long ago.

He seemed very happy, and we had an enjoyable few exchanges as we filled our respective vehicles -- a good thing, since the station was considered "cheap" at $4.05 a gallon, and I spent more than $60 to fill the tank.

At the end of our brief conversation, he gave me a tract that discussed heaven from a particular religious viewpoint, and expressed an eagerness for me to read it. Then he drove off and merrily waved as he pulled past me; I merrily waved back, but in my heart I whispered a prayer for him.

When I got home I read the tract. It described a beautiful paradise on earth, full of gardens and plentiful food and living space, bursting with health and peace, free of work or strife of any kind. Messiah would rule over this new world. Love would reign. The illustrations showed a park-like setting with happy families cuddling wild animals, and tamed lions and wolves resting next to sheep and deer.

It was very easy imagine.

And therein, for me, lies a problem. You see, I believe that God is infinitely greater than anything we can understand. When I think of the place that God's people will live after death, I remember the quote from Paul, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Cor. 2:9).

Then this morning in my writing group, another gentleman read some excerpts from a book he is writing about heaven. Do you ever feel like a topic is following you around? He was interested to hear questions that either we, or other people, might have about an afterlife.

So I'm asking you, my dear friends, for him. What questions do you have? Is there a heaven? Does everyone go there? If not, who doesn't, and why not? Do we just cease to exist at death? Can we know what happens, or do we just have to guess?

I'll be thinking about this topic and will get back soon with some more thoughts. But really, what I'd like most is to hear from you.

What is heaven like? And does it matter what you believe?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What Do You Focus On?

Going through the WalMart last night, I ran across a new book about Christopher and Dana Reeve called Somewhere in Heaven: The Remarkable Love Story of Dana and Christopher Reeve.

It made me sad to browse through the pictures in the center. Christopher Reeve was the Superman actor in the 70s and 80s who was paralyzed from the neck down after a horseback-riding accident in 1995. His wife Dana, and then-3-year-old son, Will, stood by him as he underwent a long and slow recovery. I remember hearing about his shocking and tragic accident, and the subsequent snippets of milestones: he was weaned from the ventilator, he was able to move home, he started directing, he acted in a remake of Hitchcock's Rear Window with Darryl Hannah. I saw Rear Window and noted how weak his voice was. I couldn't help admiring his foundation for spinal cord injuries, and the research he wanted to promote so that people receiving or with this condition would be able to have the damage limited to a bare minimum. (I disagree with Reeve's desire for embryonic stem cell research, but that's a different story).

A few years before he died he attended some sort of televised awards ceremony, and they showed a digitized clip of Reeve standing from his wheelchair and walking across the podium. It was stunning to see, even if only fantasy. He astounded doctors when, after much physical therapy and personal drive, he was able to move his forefinger.

Christopher Reeve's dream was to someday walk again, and he poured all of his hope and energy into recapturing his broken body's vigor. In an interview by Reader's Digest in 2004, I remember he said something like he was anxious for the research to proceed because he wasn't getting any younger. He died a few months later of sepsis.

One can't help contrasting Reeve with another famous quadriplegic, Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni was seventeen years old in 1967 when she went swimming in the Chesapeake Bay (Maryland) with her sister. She dove off a platform and broke her neck. After 40 years Joni has accomplished more than most people: award-winning books, beautiful paintings, a daily radio program, and an organization called Joni and Friends that provides wheelchairs to people in third world countries who otherwise must drag themselves on the ground.

Contrasting with Reeve's grim determination, Joni projects a much happier appearance in her books and speaking engagements. I've heard her interviewed a number of times on the radio, and she often spontaneously breaks into song. She admits that what she lives with is profoundly difficult, but she is content to go through it rather than insist on being rescued from it.

Why the difference?

Obviously personality plays a part, but it must be more than that. To me, it seems like the difference in focus -- here in this world versus looking to the next -- seems to have a profound effect on the happiness of the individual. I'm NOT saying that Reeve didn't ponder theological matters or have a relationship with God; simply that, based on the snippets that were publicly released, his focus didn't seem to rest there.

Joni is profoundly Christian, clinging to the Lord with every breath she takes. She says that this world is very temporary, and her condition allows her to develop spiritual qualities that otherwise could never be. There is no bitterness; every word that she speaks seems to focus on Jesus and how much she loves him.

I can't begin to understand what quadriplegia is like. Still, I have a physical condition that is frustrating to deal with. I know that when this happened to me, I had the choice of becoming bitter or moving beyond. It's very tempting to sit around and say "poor me," and I admit I did my share of this. I'm happy to say that I finally did move beyond it, though. I'm convinced God exists, and once that truth is established I'm content to trust, and wait, and hope.

For those of you who aren't Christian, this might sound almost like a "sour grapes" philosophy: if I can't have it, it's not that great. But that's not it. Of course I'd love to be healed and do the things I used to do, but it's not essential. There is a great peace in knowing that God is in charge, and although I can't see or touch Him now, He is absolutely real.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Shack

OK, after about two months of marination, I'm finally ready to articulate a few thoughts I had about this book. This entry is a little long, so I hope you can stay with me to the end.

If anyone doesn't know, The Shack is one of the top-selling books in America right now. As of July 7th at 3:20 p.m. it is #4 on amazon, and has 738 reviews, 564 of them 5 stars. It is #1 on the New York Times Book Review Bestseller list, and a movie deal is in the offing. William Young has accomplished a truly extraordinary feat, especially for a self-published author who has written a "Christian" novel.

What's the fuss about?

The plot of the book is simple. A guy named Mack leaves an abusive father, marries a girl, and they have a few kids. One weekend he takes the kids camping, and his youngest daughter is kidnapped. Although her body is never found, the evidence is pretty conclusive that she's dead. Mack slips into what he calls "The Great Sadness," interrupted four years later by a mysterious letter in his mailbox signed "Papa" -- his wife's special name for God. Papa invites Mack to meet him in a cabin that weekend, and he agrees. Mack meets three people: an African-American woman named "Papa," a Semitic man named "Jesus," and a wifty Asian woman named "Sarayu." These are apparently the three persons of the Trinity (respectively Father, Son, Holy Spirit), and for the rest of the book Mack learns that God loves him and can bring good results out of bad circumstances. At the end of the book "Papa" (as a man) shows Mack where his daughter is buried.

People love this book. I've combed review sites and comments, asked my friends what they thought, then sat back and listened. Most answers range something along the lines of, "I finally understand God's love. I understand the Trinity. This book moves beyond religion to explain a personal relationship with the Almighty."

I have to tell you, my dear friends, that I am NOT enamored of this book. I bought it in May because I'd heard it was a successful self-published novel, but knew nothing about the book beyond that. I was a little nervous starting something so sad, but took a deep breath and dove in. The writing, I felt, was pretty good. I read up to the part where "Jesus" accidently spills soup over "Papa," and they and Sarayu laugh as they mop it up. I was so offended I threw the book down. I couldn't help thinking of the Great God of the Universe who spins galaxies and quarks and everything in between, who designed atoms and solar systems and the human body in such exquisite detail that we scientists understand virtually nothing -- nothing -- and yet, Young's "Jesus" couldn't even carry a bowl of soup without problems. How disrespectful is that?

I've since read synopses of the plot, as well as some doctrine within the book that doesn't quite square with Orthodox Christian views (there are many reviews of these; I've pasted a few links at the bottom of this entry). There are many aspects of the book that are troubling. One was the book's emphasis on humanity rather than God. For example, on page 235, Sarayu ("Holy Spirit") says to Mack,“Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same."

I'll quote the following passage from this review:

"A number of times, God praises Mack, but not once does Mack praise God. Instead, Mack speaks to God in profanity, with sarcasm, and in disrespectful tones, which are all approved of, and even encouraged by God. In the midst of it all, God pursues one thing, a journey with Mack. The theology of The Shack presents a God who is concerned above all else with Mack’s well-being, Mack’s happiness, and Mack’s recovery. Even in forgiveness, the God of The Shack is preoccupied with the effect it will have on Mack. Encouraging Mack to forgive his daughter’s killer, Papa says, 'I want you to. Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly.' (page 225) At one point, Mack is encouraged to talk to Papa only if he wants to (page 89) and on the day Mack is to forgive his daughter’s killer, Papa transforms into a male stating 'this morning, you’re going to need a father.'(page 219) In fact, God’s preoccupation with and
service to Mack is so great that it is to the neglect of the rest of the world and His own glory. Truly, throughout the story, God expresses concern for no one other than Mack. It is as if Mack has acquired the undivided attention of God, as if he is the only man on earth."

In my opinion, this emphasis on Man rather than God is natural for us humans, but when developing a relationship with the Lord it must be recognized and defeated. I often think of it like this: I love giving my children presents. However, if they only loved the presents I gave to them, rather than loving me, I would be very sad. I would still love them, of course, but it would be painful that my love was not returned. Similarly, God wants us to value Him, not His gifts. He doesn't want us so self-focused that we can only say "How does God make me feel? How wonderful does He think I am? What is He going to give me now?"

There is an excellent book, Bob Sjogren's Cat and Dog Theology, that explains this dichotomy very clearly.

I used to think (forgive me dear friends; I'm in a "Fools Rush In" moment) that maybe God was self-centered to insist that we focus on Him, instead of the other way around. But no. You see, God is perfect in every way, including not having any need for accolades. Rather, He recognizes that since all good things come from Him, we must focus on Him in order to have any good in our lives. This is a big theological area that I don't want to go into right now, except to say that focusing on Him is the only way that we can become fulfilled.

Aargh. Why do I always put myself in such deep waters?


Let me just finish up with this thought. The Shack packs in some heavy emotional events that make its message easier to penetrate into the mind. In fact, I just wrote about this here, although I promise I was simply explaining what I'd learned about story in general, wasn't even thinking about this book. Be that as it may, The Shack has a great deal of orthodox views mingled with small bits of "new" doctrine. Young's overlying message is Biblical: Yes, God loves us. No, He doesn't want bad things to happen. Yes, He still brings good things out of bad (Romans 8:28). However, this doesn't excuse the disrespectful portrayal of the great I AM or searching for new revelations that don't jibe with Scripture.

I fought hard for my faith, and take Scripture seriously because I'm convinced it's true. We as Christians need to "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." (Jude 1:3) This spring, I saw on display a Bible splattered with the blood of its owner who died defending what was within its pages. We are free to not believe what is written here, but we don't have the right to change or add new truths for a new generation.

Just my thought.


Note: here are a few reviews of The Shack that are cautionary. There are many positive reviews also available.

Chuck Colson writes about The Shack with some links at the bottom:

For a bit of a balance, here's a blog entry from someone who worked with the author to develop the manuscript:

Saturday, July 5, 2008

CS Lewis at the Pub

It seems like the only person I quote on this blog is C.S. Lewis. Truly I read many writers and philosophers, but lately his works seem to speak to me like nothing else. What a great man. I wish I could have had the chance to converse with him, or maybe just sit and listen to his conversations with his fellow Inklings (including JRR Tolkien) at the pub.

This quote touches me deeply. I suspect most of us have sacrificed great dreams and/or watched them die. This quote gives hope.

Have a wonderful day, my dear friends.

Nothing, not even what is lowest and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death.”
–The Great Divorce

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Carpe Diem

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
---C. S. Lewis

We all imagine how life could be different, but until we start acting on our dreams, they just remain irrelevant. My dear friends, I ran across this quote today, and hope it will inspire you to reach for something hard. Take a small step every day towards your goal. You can do it!