Waiting For Aslan to Move

What do you do when you are hopeless, in the deepest of slumps. Help is immanent, but it’s not here yet and you can’t bear it any longer?

It feels like darn near everything is going the way of the buffalo.¬†That’s extinction, if you haven’t guessed. I feel like a broken record saying this, because it seems slumps are a regular part of my life and I haven’t been silent about this.

Running is bad right now.

Today was another in a series of crap runs. I stopped at about two miles in and cried. I don’t know why. I just did. It’s a girl’s prerogative to cry whenever she darn well pleases.

Money sucks right now.

Due to issues with the tax man, I’ve been waiting on my return for three months now. Government efficiency and all that. Meanwhile, I, the dreamer of big dreams and the lover of new clothes, have run furiously on the treadmill of my finances, living in hope of that big cheque coming in the mail. It’s become a schtick of sorts. I text my sister as soon as she’s home for lunch.

“Did anything come in the mail?”

“Nuthin'”

“Darn them!”

Wednesday night, after the cheque didn’t come and I aborted my 13 mile run at 9 miles due to persistent hip and knee pain, I cried in the shower.

Girl’s prerogative, to cry when she darn well pleases.

Those two big issues seem to drag everything else down too. I’m lost with my writing. I’m not blogging, and I’m not really present on social media. I just don’t want to.

Self-medication, can you help?

But I realized that I couldn’t keep waiting, putting my life and happiness on those two things: a good run, and a government cheque. I had to do something about it. And I was reminded of this story from Prince Caspian in the Chronicles of Narnia. God does love to give me examples from fantasy literature. He knows me well. ūüôā

The four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are called from England into the land of Narnia as Prince Caspian and his band of faithful Narnians do battle against the usurping king Miraz and his nation of Telmarines.¬†(This is the book we’re talking about, not the slightly sub-par movie–cute Prince Caspian aside).¬†Caspian and his insurgents are besieged in the stronghold of Aslan’s How, at the last of their strength, wits and supplies. Everyone among them has lost blood. And then the four children arrive, late at night, at the How, guided there by Aslan the Lion himself.

But here’s the thing. Aslan doesn’t leap upon the Telmarines and kill them himself. He sends Edmund and Peter into the stronghold to help Caspian. Then he leaves with Susan and Lucy on a tour of the countryside. It doesn’t look like he’s going to help at all.

So Peter proposes a plan. It’s a near hopeless plan. He will personally duel King Miraz, man to man, sword to sword. “Can you beat him?” Edmund asks. “I’m fighting him to find out,” Peter replies. It’s a lousy plan and he knows it, but as he explains, it will take the better part of the day to send messengers back and forth between camps. By the time they set up the duel, Aslan may have done something.

Aslan may have moved.

And he does, by the way. As the duel ends in treachery, and the two armies clash, the trees, which Aslan awakened, sweep down the hill into battle and terrify the Telmarines into submission.

Yes, it is a girl’s prerogative to cry when she wants to, but sometimes you have to dry your eyes and make a plan. Do something, do anything, even if its a lousy plan. Take the first step from your slump, and perhaps by then, Aslan will have moved. Deliverance may be upon you.

So what was my first step, by the way? Yesterday, in anticipation of¬†not receiving the financial deliverance I’m looking for, I made two or three plans of inexpensive things I could do that evening. 1) Use my theatre gift card and see a movie with my sister. 2) Go for a run. 3) Make coconut-lemon icecream out of coconut milk so that my sister (who is dealing with allergies) can have icecream again.

We picked #1.

Today, after my awful run, I decided to pack up my laptop and go get an iced coffee at McD’s. I’m writing this post there. I guess I’d better post it before I don’t feel like it any more.

Repost: Who to Blame for Evil Deeds?

“It’s them! It’s the boss, the American government, the religious fundamentalists, the atheists, the…” Whatever bad thing happened, it is ‘their’ fault, whoever they are. But perhaps it isn’t so simple, nor so easy to squeeze out of responsibility. This is an article originally posted March 28, 2014, that addresses this.

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” –Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

I first heard this quote, from The Gulag Archipelago, paraphrased by Dr. Andy Bannister in a lecture titled “Does Religion Poison Everything?” (borrowing from Christopher Hitchen’s line, “Religion poisons everything”). Bannister said that ‘religion,’ in the quote, could just as well be replaced by ‘money,’ since money causes crime, poverty and resentment. Or ‘politics’, since politics causes bloodshed, strife and war. He said that whatever humans ‘lay ahold of,’ they poison–sort of a reverse Midas touch. That applies to politics, money, government, science–and religion.

But all of those things can–and are–used for good as well. The dividing line runs through our hearts.

I recently repeated Solzhenitsyn’s words to someone who was bemoaning the prevelence of technology–smartphones in particular. I think she was thinking of the ubiquitous iPhone, and the ‘smartphone slouch’ that goes with it, and how people use their phones as an excuse to not talk to each other. It’s a valid complaint, if misdirected. My iPhone (on which I am writing this blog post) is the single most powerful business tool I own, but it is one of my greatest time-wasters, and a gateway to all kinds of destruction. It all depends how I use it.

Another example. I grew up around guns. My family is a hunting, fishing and trapping family. All my life, I’ve been comfortable with guns because I’ve seen them since I was little, was taught how to shoot and how to handle guns safely. My Dad and his gun were what put meat on our table, and they continue to do so. But other people have used guns to kill and cause all manner of human suffering. It depends on the use. The line of good and evil runs through each of our hearts.

We would like to say that it is religion, or politics, or money, or sex, or guns, or just ‘those people’ that wreak havoc in our lives and in this world. If we could only eliminate the gun, the smartphone, the religion, the poison would go as well.

If only it were that easy. Solzhenitsyn, who as a survivor of the Soviet Gulag knew true evil, realized that the horrors he had known could not be eradicated by destroying a certain group of people because evil was in every heart.

The poison isn’t the object, the poison isn’t ‘those people’. The poison is in us, and everywhere we go, there we are.

Malcolm Muggeridge said: “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”

But perhaps it is easier to blame it on the smartphone, or the religion.

My Story of Doubt

I was born to Christian parents. I went to the same church for the first twenty-three years of my life. It’s natural that I’d follow in their footsteps. I believed from a young age. As a young teen, I began reading the Bible for myself, and spending time in prayer. Bolstered by my parent’s faith, I began my own relationship with God. I saw rapid change in my life, as I learned to listen to and obey God.

I was confident in the validity of my faith. As part of my home-school studies, I loved to study ‘proofs’ of God’s existence, especially materials that spoke out against the theory of Evolution. Truthfully, I thought that everyone from the scientists to the ‘poor public school kids’ who believed in Evolution were deluded, maybe stupid.

At age twenty, I enrolled in a local conservative Bible college. In my second year, during a course called ‘Faith and Science,’ I read a book called¬†The Lost World of Genesis One,¬†which espoused the view that as 21st century, scientific minded people, we couldn’t read Genesis one literally, as the Hebrews would have. The creation story was actually a response to the Babylonian creation myth, and didn’t truly mean a literal seven days of creation.

It was frightfully logical. I dove into study, and realized that whether I believed in the young earth creationism of my youth, or that the earth evolved under God’s direction, I could find equally convincing evidence for my ideas.

Was¬†The Lost World¬†correct? And if so, what else couldn’t be read literally?

My protective bubble shattered. I was shattered, and very angry. I began to view knowledge with cynicism, and discount whatever people said about the Bible or God. After all, however convincing, there was probably an equally good argument against it. They might be lying. I wanted to talk about my doubts, but when I did I’d only become angry and cry.

One day a professor suggested that God sometimes causes evil to accomplish his purposes. Causes evil? Didn’t that make him evil? I lay in bed that night, broken and in tears. What would I do? Could I believe in anything anymore?

It’s occurred to me that this is the part where I’m supposed to say, “And so I became an atheist.” Many stories do end like that: “I had questions, and no one could give me convincing evidence, so I ceased to believe.” I sympathize, but that’s not how it ended for me.

Lying in my tears and snot, I asked myself, “Do I believe that God is good?”

“Yes. I do believe that God is good.”

I fell asleep.

My questions weren’t resolved. In fact, on the question of Creation, I simply had to suspend judgment. I had no more energy to expend on it. Is God good? This has been resolved through time.

I’ve seen his faithfulness in the midst of a horrible job and the depression that resulted. I saw his provision when I lost that job and went without a job for over two months. I managed to find enough money to pay all my bills–actually, partially because of an injury while doing casual work. I see how he’s orchestrated my life, brought good from bad events, and led me to a fulfilling purpose to drive me from day to day.

But mostly, I experience his love, forgiveness, friendship and fatherly guidance on a daily basis.

Can I argue from philosophy? Certainly. I still love to study how to defend my faith. I can tell you the logical reasons why I need¬†a god in my life, how without God neither I nor you have inherent value, how without God we must base our lives on the ‘firm foundation of unyielding despair’ (Bertrand Russell).

Does that cement my faith? No.

It is the simultaneously tenuous and bulletproof foundation of God’s love in my life that I build upon. My story cannot be proved, nor disproved. It is only mine. But I hope it will encourage you to probe your own ideas, and seek a firm foundation.

Things We Suck Happiness From

Coffee addicts know that tea is no substitute for the ‘real thing.’ After six days without that rich, brown nectar of heaven, I know this for sure. I don’t know how much caffeine tea has in it, but not enough to stave off the headache and muscle ache of withdrawal.

Poor me. ūüėČ I’m sure going to enjoy my big cup of coffee tomorrow.

Last week I talked about how I’d given up TV for the majority of the month as a way to purge clutter from my life. This week, I added coffee to the list of banned things. When you start to equate a good cup of coffee with true happiness, it’s probably time.

It wasn’t long before I regretted it.

When I work day shift, every evening is¬†scheduled for an appointment, or spent frantically cleaning, cooking, doing laundry and trying to get my writing done. As a homebody, I don’t like these weeks. I just want to be at home in front of my laptop… with coffee. I was sick with a cold this week. I also had a lot on my mind–mostly stuff I can’t go into. While normally I can deal with the stressful schedule at work, this week I often developed shortness of breath and chest pain by the end of the day.

Normally I’d go home, sit in my easy chair with a cup of coffee and watch a few mindless YouTube videos. During the day, I sometimes hold out that chair and coffee mug like the proverbial carrot in front of the donkey. “Just a little farther, and then you can have it.” But this week I’d get home tired, sick and weepy and none of my ‘medication’ would be there.

I grew up thinking that people with real problems used alcohol and drugs to numb their pain. It’s become uncomfortably obvious that most people have their ways of self-medication, inane, ‘harmless’ things to make them feel better. It’s not bad to drink coffee, or watch TV, or drink a glass of wine. But many souls like me use these things like patches instead of facing the real issues.

Then, when we take away our crutches, we fall. We’re sad. A girl I know talked about how sad she was when she gave up sugar and sweets for the month. It was her birthday, and she couldn’t have cake, and she was depressed. You can also observe how upset people get when the weather is rainy in the summer, or frigid in the winter. Are we really basing our happiness on externals like that? Yes, that is the primary way humans attempt to bring happiness into their lives.

What is the alternative? I would posit two–with the caveat that I’m just trying to figure this out myself.

Chris Brady said, “To be happy, you’ve got to give happy.” That is to say that when we’re feeling low, we need to take our eyes off ourselves and bring happiness to others.

Second, we need a solid internal constitution, or foundation of principles to fall back on when our externals fail us. What is our anchor?

Personally, I need to learn to seek out Jesus as my friend, constant companion and life giver. There is no switch I can flip to learn that, but in the bleakness of the workweek, there were sweet moments when I paced back and forth in front of my coating pan or crashed in my comfy chair and prayed. Even if what I prayed was¬†pathetic things like “make me happy, pleaaase.” ūüôā

The 5th Day Without TV

I don’t own a TV, but I do own an iPhone. Therefore I have perpetual access to YouTube.

I am addicted to YouTube, or at least nearly so. It is a pitiful thing. Since my sister and I got wifi in our apartment, I also can stream my favourite shows, and due to the video rental store a block away (archaic, I know) I need not ever lift my head from the screen.

And for the last few months, it seems I didn’t. I’d come home from work, meaning to read, write, or do something useful. But I’d be tired and sit down ‘just for a few minutes’ with my laptop. Before I knew it, it would be time for dinner (or two-thirty in the morning depending on the shift).

So, when I was challenged to a ‘media fast’ as part of my church’s ‘Month of Prayer and Fasting,’ I knew exactly what I needed to do. For those who are not of religious background, ‘fasting’ traditionally meant giving up eating for a time. Many Christians have expanded the definition to mean laying down a good thing (such as food, TV, coffee, etc.) in order to concentrate on prayer, and to submit that thing to God. For the next month, Monday to Saturday I may not watch TV, movies, or YouTube.

Today is the fifth day. And you know? i don’t miss it–not really. I mean, it’s Friday night and often that meant watching a movie with a snack and coffee. Tonight I’m home sick from work, and I’m on a the couch anyway, so a movie would be lovely. Tonight, I do miss it. I’ve ‘settled’ for a radio version of Les Miserables (no singing–yay!).

Every other day, I’ve enjoyed the freedom of having no choice. It sounds strange, but the worst thing about watching YouTube as much as I wanted was the compulsion. I couldn’t seem to resist it. So now my mind is made up for me. And also, I was the master of multitasking. In fact, it seemed I couldn’t concentrate on writing without a YouTube clip or a TV show playing in the background. Now I enjoy music, or silence instead. On the whole, my head feels clearer and I’m more productive.

But we weren’t challenged to fast from media to clear our heads and make us more productive, any more than we’re challenge to fast from food to make us lose weight. Here is the question: have I been using TV and media as a God-substitute? I realize after the fact that watching TV after work was just novocaine. It was a distraction so I didn’t have to face my issues. It was an easy way out.

Does one month of fasting fix this? I don’t know. I’ve never tried this before. It’s my hope that after a month, I’ll be able to enjoy movies and YouTube in more moderate doses, and to REALLY enjoy them without guilt because of it.

Why I Gave Up the Violin

I used to get stuck in doors when I played Call of Duty. ¬†Those controllers were the death of me hundreds and hundreds of times, and when it wasn’t that I was getting lost on the maps, even the small ones. ¬†I don’t get stuck in doors anymore, but I’ve yet to master the game. ¬†I never will.

I simply don’t have the time.

It’s unfortunate for impatient souls like me, but mastery of anything–including fake combat with a plastic controller–takes… time. ¬†Lots of it. ¬†That’s why I quit playing the violin.

I began playing the violin when I was eleven after I won a violin in an auction. ¬†I’d always wanted to play, and my chance finally came. ¬†I loved it. ¬†But it’s so dang hard to play, and after years of lessons I was no master. ¬†I was tired of being embarrassed by my lack of skill. ¬†I was an adult now. ¬†I had a full time job, little time to practise, and no money for lessons (and no one in my apartment block wanted to listen to me screech). ¬†Writing had become my passion. ¬†So I played one last recital, and I haven’t even opened the case since.

That’s also why I don’t play hockey, or paint, or draw anymore. ¬†I hate being bad, and I’ve no time to be good.

But I can’t always quit things I’m bad at, can I? ¬†Case in point: singing in the church choir.

Swearing at the Choir

It doesn’t sound difficult. ¬†You show up and sing. ¬†But as singers, we are considered leaders and we are held to a high standard in how we live and relate to Jesus. ¬†This accountability is excellent. ¬†But I’ve come face to face with reality in the past few days. ¬†I’m a the good Christian nice girl. I’m kind of a bitch. I rant. I swear. ¬†I go into seething fits about inconsequential details, and offences, and misunderstandings. ¬†I critique others mercilessly while indulging myself. I’m addicted to silly things like YouTube and chips.

I’ve been flabbergasted by my inability to connect to, and¬†like the music I sing. ¬†Two ladies were cooing about how much they liked the new Christmas songs, and inside I’m like ‘really? I think they’re lame.’ ¬†This should all be so secondary, because the music is hardly the point. ¬†The point is to worship Jesus through song, and by giving of my time and energy and voice so that others can meet with God.

My leaders have told me is that the frustration I bear owes to the fact that I have a lot of personal and spiritual growing to do. ¬†I know they’re right, and I’m depressed about it. ¬†I want to be fixed. ¬†Now.

And that’s impossible.

A Summer of Masochism

While in prayer yesterday, God reminded me of how I learned to run. ¬†I began Couch to 5K on June 17th, ran my first 5K race on August 19th, and ran 10K on November 1st. ¬†This would have been impossible without 1) a program 2) time 3) lacing up and never missing a workout. ¬†Most of it was great, but there were horrible things mingled in–days when I almost puked from heat an exertion, speed intervals in downpours, black and blue toenails, 5Ks I ran while sick with burning lungs and muscles (probably shouldn’t have done that). ¬†Basically, I was never without pain for the entire summer.

Does that sound like torture? ¬†Well, it sort of was. ¬†But here I am a runner, and I’m so glad.

So I sensed that he was telling me not to be discouraged because I couldn’t be strong that very instant. I need time, training, and discipline. ¬†It’s amazing what a year can do. ¬†But what about two?

I have big plans for next year. ¬†I’ll run my first 10K races, and I plan to run my first half-marathon at the end of the summer. ¬†But there’s a chance that I’m thinking too small entirely, and what I’ll end up accomplishing is a lot bigger than that. ¬†Effort, compounded, can do surprising things over time.

If you’re willing to give it.

Mohammed Ali said, “I hated every minute of training, but I said ‘Don’t quit. ¬†Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'”

 

 

Repeat After Me: There is No Perfect Woman

“I have an iron will, and all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy… I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being, and then I get to another stage and think I‚Äôm mediocre and uninteresting… again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that‚Äôs always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I‚Äôve become Somebody, I still have to prove I‚Äôm¬†Somebody.¬†My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.” ¬†(Madonna, in a 1991 Vanity Fair interview)

I’ve been told that this is predominantly a girl-problem.

Body Envy/Worship Envy

In every arena of life, I relentlessly compare myself to others.  Not men, other women.  There are the obvious ones, like comparing my muscular build to their hour glass figure, or my hipster/writer costume to their sophisticated duds.  The mall is hell for these sorts of things.

But that isn’t all.

I get angry because so-and-so in my church cell group is better at worshiping than me. ¬†They have their eyes shut and their hands raised, while I just got distracted by the sound of my own pure soprano. ¬†And they’re crying and getting all lovey-dovey with the Father and I’m thinking, “Jesus, I really hate this song. ¬†Can you zap this song and make it disappear?”

And then I look at them and think “You’re faking it. ¬†I just know it!”

So women push themselves toward the crippling burden of perfectionism.  Perfect body, perfect hair, jeans that fit perfectly, perfect hostess, perfect Mom.  Not only do I need to run three times a week to fight back the potato chips, but I need to go out in stylish gear so I look hot while doing it.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that ain’t happening.

That is why most people who suffer from eating disorders are women.  Women are more likely to self-harm and commit suicide.

I am Remotely Controlled

But this attempt to control our lives and make them perfect is actually to give ourselves over to be controlled. ¬†We may desire peace and contentment, but the popular opinion of beauty and fashion will not let us. ¬†‘The Jones’ won’t let us be happy until we keep up to them. ¬†Heck, as I’ve talked about in Still Fat on the Inside, we won’t even be able to enjoy innocent pleasures like food.

We will miss opportunities that could be life-changing, all because we were afraid of looking stupid. ¬†I can think of fun activities that I didn’t participate in because I was afraid of failing. ¬†I’ve never been to the gym, because I’m afraid of looking stupid (that will have to change soon–ugh). ¬†I won’t ask for help, i.e. in finances, because I don’t want to admit areas of weakness.

So while I am trying to control how others think of me, they are actually controlling me.

And why?  Tell me: would we like a perfect person?

The Flawed Hero is the Best Hero

As we stood outside my building after a run, my friend Rosie and I were talking about a book series she’d been reading. ¬†The one book had this character who was a¬†good Christian girl, willing to do whatever God asked. ¬†It was like she could do no wrong. ¬†The second book starred a young gladiator who hated God. ¬†Who did we agree was more fun to read about?

I’d say this was part of our comparison and perfectionism, but I suspect there is something else to it. ¬†Our subconscious minds can spot a fake. ¬†The author can sell us that godly goody-two-shoes as reality but in the back of our minds we know that this is just wishful thinking. ¬†There are some really awesome people out there who love God and want to follow him. ¬†But we know ourselves, and we know how hard we have to fight just to do one or two good things every day. ¬†We know that we treat God like we treated our parents. ¬†We do what he asks, while stomping around and kicking the dog to prove that we’re only doing it because we have to. ¬†And only for the briefest moments do we experience the harmony with Him, and that intimate friendship that we so desire.

If we love the loser characters, can’t we accept ourselves too? ¬†Can’t we look into our own hearts and see the weaknesses, and realize that no one is without flaws?

You can’t see what goes on inside another woman’s mind. ¬†You can only see the external accoutrements of her life. ¬†You haven’t seen the price she paid for what she has. ¬†I worry sometimes that people look at me and think I have my whole life figured out. ¬†Like today, I mentioned the awesome run I had to an friend. ¬†She asked, “how long did you run?” ¬†I immediately felt the need to downplay and said, “Well, 10 kilometres–but I don’t run 10K every day!” ¬†I used to think that ‘real runners’ practically floated above the ground, and ran without pain and gasping for air. ¬†Now I know this is a fantasy every time I pull off my jacket and the stench of sweat emanates from my shirt. ¬†I know the perpetual tired legs, and the burning chest, and the foolish feeling one gets when prancing around in skin-tight pants.

So allow others their weaknesses, and own up to your own. ¬†It can be immensely freeing to admit that you’re weak. ¬†I’ve found great relief in telling my friends my struggles, only to have them smile and say, “I feel the same way.”

Repeat after me: there is no perfect woman. ¬†And we aren’t so different after all.

 

 

 

 

 

I ‘John Wayne’ Through Life

Straight out of high school, I worked at a small meat packing facility. My job was to grind three or four hundred pounds of beef every morning and bulk-pack it for shipping. The tubs of beef weighed eighty to a hundred pounds each, too much for the average eighteen-year-old girl to lift. But I figured out a way to shuffle them off the cutting table onto my shoulder. Then all I had to do was stand up under them, stagger to the grinder, and heave them into the grinding pan.

There would have been five or ten strong men at the ready to help, but I didn’t want to ask. I was too shy, or too proud to admit that I couldn’t do it myself. So instead I permanently damaged my shoulder.

This fall I’ve had to grit my teeth and tighten my belt financially. ¬†Last winter I had nice clothes but I’ve since shrunk out of them. No shopping spree could be justified. ¬†So though my coat was shabby to the point of embarrassment, I decided to keep wearing it¬†and wait for the right opportunity.

Well, last week¬†my church hosted their Thanksgiving Food and Clothing Drive. ¬†Free food and clothes for anyone who needed them. ¬†I had an extended argument with myself, going “you ARE poor” and “no I’m NOT” back and forth and back and forth. Whether I fit the criteria wasn’t the true issue. The real issue was shopping among the tables, and then being seen up in the choir in my new threads. ¬†If I walked through those doors, I would admit that I couldn’t provide for myself just then.

I sensed God saying ‘let me provide for you, here.” Still I hemmed and hawed. ¬†Finally, I was running nearby so I wrestled myself into the building, looking like a schlep with my windblown hair and my sweaty gear. Even when I had my bag in hand and was looking through the stacks of gently used jeans, I had a hard time admitting to my friendly church family that I wasn’t there to volunteer. ¬†I was there to ‘shop’.

I found some clothes, but in the end I wonder if it was more a lesson in humility than in provision.

“God gives grace to the humble,” the Apostle Peter said. ¬†I remind myself that independence is good, but when I ‘John Wayne’ my way through life, a lone gunmen against my battles, I miss out on the greatest sources of strength I have: my family, and my God.

Why bust my shoulder, when a stronger arm can help me lift?

Do I Ask Too Much of a Husband?

Am I asking too much of the husband that I don’t have?

Maybe you never did this, but when I was a teen it was popular among girls of my stripe to write ‘wish lists’ of what we wanted in our future husbands. ¬†Since I was a goody-goody nice Christian girl, I wrote a lengthly list containing things like ‘must be passionately chasing after Jesus’ and ‘must serve in a church’ and eschewed shallow things like ‘tall, dark, and handsome’.

Mmm… tall, dark, and handsome.

As I age (yeah, the ripe age of 24, ha ha) my lists have taken on a pragmatic edge. ¬†At fourteen I could barely look a guy in the face. ¬†Now I’ve had the joy and pain of working with heaps of them, including a couple of tall, dark, gorgeous jerkfaces. ¬†The more I know what I definitely don’t want, the more the good comes into sharp relief.

But I’m beginning to think even this new list may be too idealistic. ¬†Let me list off a few items, and you can give me some feedback.

1. Must Not Live With His Mother

I don’t condemn the guys who live in their mom’s basement… exactly. ¬†I know there are good reasons, and given the chance for a do over, I’d stay there a little longer too. ¬†But I moved out of my childhood home at eighteen, and have been autonomous ever since. ¬†I’ve forgotten what it was like to have a self-replenishing fridge, and self-washing dishes, and to get home from work and have dinner waiting for me.

I figure, if I would enter a relationship with a young man who has not lived independently, I will just replace his Mom as the fridge-replenisher and become the bad guy who reminds him to pay the rent bill and pick up eggs after work. ¬†I want to be on equal footing with him. ¬†I’d rather duke it out over HOW to run the home than have to teach him how to use a washing machine.

Is that horrible of me?  It sounds horrible when I read it.

2. Spends Very Little Time on Video Games

It’s not that I’m against video games, but the idea of a grown man spending hours in front of a TV, fighting imaginary battles, playing imaginary sports games and racing imaginary cars is unsettling and borderline on ridiculous. ¬†I’m sorry.

Some might say the same about writing fiction, I don’t know.

Is life so boring that he must escape into an imaginary world? ¬†Does he have no real battle to fight–no passionate pursuit? ¬†Is he just lazy? ¬†I can understand a bit of TV or gaming to unwind. ¬†But hours upon hours of valuable time that can never be replaced?

3. Has Basic Financial Competency

If he can’t make a monthly budget, I don’t care if he looks like a GQ model. ¬†I have worked VERY hard to learn financial skills. ¬†I’m no accounting whiz, but I respect my money and do my best to be fiscally responsible. ¬†Does he have to be wealthy? ¬†Heck no! ¬†Gainfully employed with a realistic picture of his cashflow? ¬†Absolutely.

Now, how does one ask about this without sounding like a nosy gold digger?

4. A Desire to Do Better, Be Better

In a word: ambition. ¬†He may not know what his life’s work will be yet, but he isn’t content to coast through life. ¬†Whatever job he has, he does his best at. ¬†He reads and learns constantly. ¬†He examines himself and when he sees something he doesn’t like, he works on it. ¬†He wants to leave a legacy, not just a grave marker, when he dies.

Turns out, this is a tall order.  I have met very few young men who pursue excellence.  But because excellence is so important to me, I know that if he does not, I will not be able to respect him as he deserves.  It is very important to me that I can respect my husband.  I ask no more of him than I ask of myself.  Not perfection, but a hunger for growth.

5. A Man of Courage and Character

I’ve worked with men who lie when the truth is inconvenient, cut corners to save effort, and would rather ignore (or rant about) a problem then fix it. ¬†I doubt they realize how detrimental this is to relationships. ¬†They lie to save my feelings, or cut a corner rather than correct me. ¬†They want to be liked–I get that. ¬†But I don’t trust them, so their amiable personality means little.

Over the years I’ve learned that truth isn’t as black and white as I thought, and honesty is much more difficult than just not telling a untruth. ¬†But I need to know that he isn’t a coward. ¬†He tries his best to do what is right. He’s not going to lie to get himself out of a hard place. ¬†He’s not going to cheat on something because it’s little and ‘doesn’t matter.’

If he cheats at a card game, he’ll cheat on anything. ¬†It’s just a matter of time.

6. A Man Who Loves Jesus

Honestly, the other four don’t mean anything without this one.

The passionate pursuit thing?  Life experience tells me that the burning flame of enthusiasm waxes and wanes, but love stays the course no matter what.  I have a passion to write. Sometimes writing is fun, even euphoric.  Sometimes writing is drudgery.  But I never give up.  Same deal here.

To love and to be loved by Jesus is transformative, and this man’s life will bear evidence of that transformation.

So How Am I Doing?

Are any of these unrealistic?

I said it already: I don’t ask of him any more than I ask of myself. ¬†And I don’t want him to BE me. ¬†I’d probably kill him. ¬†One of me is enough, trust me! ¬†But could there possibly be a man who lives life as intently as I do? ¬†Or am I expecting too much of the poor sap?

What would you add to the list?

 

 

 

I Don’t Write Christian Books

The Misunderstood Power of Christian Art: Part 3

I’m the person who skips through the ‘preachy’ sections, searching for the part where the romance and adventure begins again. ¬†I’m the person who sighs heavily when the beleaguered protagonist falls to his knees. ¬†I’m the one who rants on demand about how I can’t stand God’s Not Dead.¬† But why?

In Separating the Pulpit from the Novelist’s Pen, I talked about the notion that novels and movies must contain sermons and ‘lessons’. ¬†I’ve often felt guilty for not relating to these parts. ¬†I DO believe those sermons, right? ¬†I do believe that God isn’t dead, and that faith is rational. ¬†Heck, I’m a homeschooled, choir singing, Sunday School teaching Christian nice girl.

Meanwhile, I’ve been writing stories with curses, clones, clandestine romance, gladiator-like fighters and zombies. ¬†I toy with profanity, and dance in the grey areas between darkness and light. ¬†True, wisdom often dictates that I go back and censor myself, but eventually I had to decide that there isn’t something¬†wrong¬†with me. ¬†I was just called to something¬†different.

I am convinced that each artist must fulfill the role that only they can fill–be it in the genre of Christian fiction, or in the mainstream genres. ¬†And mainstream is where I belong.

The Box Opened and I Jumped Out

reading-262425_640I expect that Christian fiction, as an industry, was developed to provide a clean alternative to mainstream book genres. ¬†This is certainly needed, because what passes as a ‘romance’ novel these days is more like soft-core pornography in written form. ¬†Even genres that are not pegged as romantic contain a lot of this material. ¬†Furthermore, the cynicism and nihilism present there might be useful to provoke thought, but as a regular diet it is not beneficial. ¬†Essentially, the mainstream lacks truth.

However, in our efforts to provide an acceptable alternative, I feel we have created a sanitary little ghetto that we dare not poke our heads out of.  We keep to the basic basic plot of mission, failure, wise sermon, repentance, miraculous victory and positive resolution.  We recoil at the mention of sex, wash the blood out of our violence, and skirt wide around vulgar language.

That’s not¬†wrong, but I don’t like it.

In the genre of speculative fiction, writing becomes even more tricky.  Draw in clones, immortal characters, or magic and theology is no longer straightforward.  Christian authors begin day-long debates over if clones can have souls, if magic can be attributed to the Holy Spirit, or if granting characters immortality is unbiblical.

“But immortal people don’t even exist!” I say, “Suspend the theology for a second.”

So I guess you could say I left the genre to get out of the box. ¬†I want to honour God, make no mistake, but I need the artistic freedom to tell a story without having to check off the boxes or screen it through a certain size of filter. ¬†As I said in the first part of The Misunderstood Power of Christian Art, censorship should come from wisdom or conviction–not out of fear of what people will say. ¬†To tell a story I have to go places that are uncomfortable. ¬†I make no apologies for that. ¬†Sometimes one must look past the surface actions and words, and look at the ideas and feelings being imparted, and the questions that may be raised.

The Mainstream Isn’t in the Christian Aisle

The clean offerings of the Christian genre are an excellent alternative for Christians, but are they effective in outreach? ¬†Are mainstream readers buying Christian books? ¬†Some are, perhaps, but for the most part ‘religious stuff’ is unintelligible to them, and ‘Christian’ isn’t a keyword they are searching for.

Christians have their books, their truth.  Who will tell the truth to unbelievers?  I want to.

So many blogs are spreading gossip, spewing vitriol and cynicism.  I want mine to be positive, speaking hope about personal change and good relationships.  The shelves are full of books that glorify violence, sex, self-indulgence and manipulation.  I want mine to be about purpose, integrity in adversity, hope and sacrificial love.

I want to tell the truth in a world of lies.

The First Seed

I see my role as preparatory. ¬†My generation neither knows, nor respects the Bible. ¬†Their gospel is tolerance, and ‘awareness’ is their salvation. ¬†If I quote chapter and verse, I might as well be quoting Dickens.

But do they have a purpose to life? ¬†Are they fulfilled? ¬†Does their life have a foundation? ¬†I once asked a coworker, about my age and an atheist, what he based his life on. ¬†He had no idea. ¬†I don’t think he’d considered this.

That is precisely the kind of question I’d like to raise. ¬†I want to be the salter of the oats, so to speak. ¬†Or at very least, provide a good story that is full of good principles, not lies.

Missional Media

In the past, authors reached the world through a publishing company. ¬†But in this age of the independent author (indie), the writer engages and markets through social media. ¬†The reader might stumble across my book, but just as likely they will meet me first. ¬†I may start a conversation with them on Twitter. ¬†They may read my blog. ¬†I may have met them on Facebook and connected over a shared interest. ¬†Writing is increasingly ‘missional’ that way. ¬†I go to them.

Therefore, what I DO is just as important as what I say. ¬†Make no mistake. ¬†I cannot sit in my basement (as if a third floor apartment could have a basement… but I digress) and write. ¬†I have to genuinely care about people, wade into the stream of social media, notice, encourage, speak out. ¬†I can’t claim to be good at this, but the potential in it is breathtaking.

To Conclude the Series

Christian art is a nebulous thing, if my wobbly definition can be trusted. ¬†But though it’s hard to pin down, we cannot fear it. ¬†It is the primary medium by which my generation absorbs information. ¬†Who better than Christian artists to reach them–especially the young artists. ¬†They understand the technology, the language, the cultural references. ¬†They are the ‘indigenous missionaries’ of North America. ¬†They shouldn’t be minimized, or forced to conform. ¬†Rather, empower them to produce the best music, film and literature they can–full of grace and truth. ¬†And encourage them to take it to as many people as they can.

 

The Misunderstood Power of Christian Art: Part 1

The Misunderstood Power of Christian Art: Part 2

Recommended Reading:

Tim Downs, Finding Common Ground

Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

Dorothy Sayers, “Why Work?” ¬†The whole essay is available in PDF form here.