Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wanted: A Few Good Secular Saints

There’s a rather frequent occurrence in the born-again crowd that, frankly, makes me nuts. It’s the tendency—heck, the seemingly implied obligation—by Christians to take whatever artistic work they did before they got saved, turn it 180 degrees, and transform their output to “all Jesus, all the time.” Why? For those of you wondering what bugs me so much about this, let me illustrate. I’m one of the world’s great Randy Travis fans. I have loved him since I started seriously listening to country music again—something I tend to do in fits and starts—and discovered that a lot of the songs that I heard and liked “happened” to be by this guy. I like his deep baritone voice, I like his general style, and I love watching him in concert, which I’ve had the privilege of doing not once, but twice, for free. (The graciousness of US99 in Chicago cannot be overstated in his particular case.) The man simply comes onstage with his band, stands in the center with a guitar, and sings. No frills, no light show, no dancing or prancing around, no flash—in fact, as stage performers go, he is Mr. Laid Back—and yet, for an hour and a half or two hours, or however long the concert is, he has the room in the palm of his hand. You find yourself sitting back in your seat, breathing easier, and just relaxing as that sweet voice—singing those familiar, hokey, wonderful old-fashioned country love songs—washes over you. Or at least you used to be able to. Until the guy got saved. Now, one of the things I’ve always loved about Randy Travis is that, even as a secular country artist, he’s never to my knowledge performed a deliberately “dirty” song. I wish that could be said for country artists as a group; it can’t. Sure, one of his big hits (On the Other Hand) is about adultery—but the lyric line is concerned with the narrator reminding himself not to do it. Another song (The Hole) has these words to live by: “There’s no healthy way to mess with the line between wrong and right.” Not only is this sound morality, but this progression, and Randy’s whole life, illustrates a remarkable transformation and maturation of a former hell-raiser. So even in a strictly secular sense, this man was obviously moving closer to the light for a long time. God spoke to him gently and persistently until he came the rest of the way, opened his Bible, and finally confessed to a saving faith. This is a wonderful thing personally, and apparently it’s been a wonderful thing professionally; now, instead of just winning Grammys for country songs, Randy can win Doves and Grammys for two kinds of music. That is, he could…if he recorded country anymore. But when was the last time you heard any new country by Randy Travis—or maybe I should say any new country music from him that isn’t, at its core, about Jesus? Yes, I understand that sometimes in the heat and light of a new conversion, the only thing you want to think about is Jesus, and the only thing you want everyone to hear about is Him. So maybe that’s what these last several albums have been on Randy’s part—the overwhelming, bubbling joy coming out and expressing itself. And from what I hear and read, Randy’s finally going back into the studio and recording a straight-country album soon. I fervently hope so. But in the meantime—from the perspective of the folks on the straight-country end of things—what he’s done, and what so many artists do, feels a little like an abandonment. And I wonder if that’s really the message that a Christian artist ought to be sending to a fan base, much less to the world at large: “Oh, I was doing the devil’s work before. But now that I’m doing Jesus’ work, everything I sing has to be about Him, and only Him, and if you don’t like that, it just proves you need to be saved, Amen, Hallelujah.” Does it? Really? The world’s dark depravities do need a Christian witness, but that doesn’t mean that everything we put out there has to have the word “Jesus” or even “God” mentioned on every other page to qualify as “Christian witness.” If anything, exactly the opposite is true—that’s yet another example of preaching to the choir, and folks who used to like us before we “got religion” and “got weird” then leave us behind. Naturally, if your entire former oeuvre was based on immorality, blasphemy, or promoting lifestyles that are against God’s laws, of course you make a change (!). But if you were doing family entertainment—albeit secular—with nothing morally objectionable as its foundation or in its execution, is it really always God’s will that you leave all that behind for a more in-your-face declaration of Whom you belong to? In some cases, maybe. I’d say in most cases, probably not. In most cases, you’ll do more good just staying where you are and continuing to do what you do. And I wish there were more Christian artists who would catch on to that. People are remarkably intelligent when it comes to entertainment. Despite the array that’s on much of TV and the Internet, the fact remains that generally, if you give people a horking good product—a good story, a great evening of music, an uplifting theatrical experience, a beautiful painting or photograph—they’ll reward you by telling their friends, and they’ll hang around waiting for more. If we truly believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, we’ll know that He works in all our best efforts…and God is glorified by them. He can’t help but be, simply by the approaches we’ll take and the quality we’ll produce as people who do all things “to the glory of God.” Even “secular” work. Maybe especially “secular” work. Thoughts?


Friday, January 25, 2008

What Do Leonardo Di Caprio and Polar Bears Have in Common?

A: Pretty much nothing, actually. (Except possibly one of them wears real fur, and the other fake?) But that doesn’t stop him from sending me a mailing demanding that I DO SOMETHING about the fact that THE POLAR BEARS ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!! (Note: the something involves money.) You know what the reason is for this imminent demise, don’t you? It’s that pesky Global Warming thing—of which he is no doubt a devout believer. Yanno . . . the same bunch of pseudo-science that thousands of intelligent researchers (and several thousand of us reactionary denial-based stubborn cusses) have managed to avoid buying into for lo! these many years, despite hysterical—er, vigorous—proselytizing—er, education—being done by celebrities (who certainly are MY trusted sources for scientific information!), Nobel Prizes nonsensically awarded, and the continuing looming presence of the Great White Whale (and certifiable nutjob) who is Al Gore? Yeah. That Global Warming thing. But…there’s good news this morning. (For all of us, except maybe Leonardo and GW priests everywhere.) There may, indeed, be a temporary melting of ice caps going on…just as there has been, on and off, for millennia. But what you will never hear about from DiCaprio and his ilk is that the Antarctic ice cap is actually increasing in size (good news for all dem dancing penguins)…or that the commonsense notion that the SUN has the strongest influence on the temperature of our planet might just be (gasp!) true, after all. This guy won’t be heard from in our national media, of course. And this guy probably won’t be up for any prizes in the near future. But in the ways that matter...this is good news all around. So brace yourself, Leo. There may well be another iceberg in your future (!). But no money from here. And with any luck at all, no money from anyone else with half a brain and basic literacy at their disposal. Thoughts? Janny

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

'Tis Better to Make An Unsuccessful Run than Not to Try At All

Just got the (not entirely unexpected) news that my man for the GOP Presidential Race, Fred Thompson, has graciously bowed out. As a “Fredhead” from way back last summer, I’m disappointed...I’m a little disheartened...but I’m proud of Fred for making a run at ‘em. Perhaps he’ll try again in 2012! THANKS, FRED, FOR BEING A STAND-UP GUY! It was truly exhilarating to have the feeling, however short, that we had a fresh voice in the political races. Some say he may be selected as a VP. That wouldn’t be all bad, either. Whatever we do, the important thing is to keep Shrillary from having a second go at the White House china. Eight years with the Clintons nearly ruined this country. God help us all if we’re stupid enough to allow THAT to happen again. Thoughts? Janny

Friday, January 11, 2008

Fair is Fair...and This Sure Ain't

Okay, maybe I should issue a rant warning up front, so be forewarned. And those of you who get a little squeamish about naming names in critical posts might want to absent yourselves as well. Because I’m going to get specific here—not to be vindictive, but in the hope that maybe if I say something here that someone picks up on as they cruise through the blog galaxy, something will be done about this. It surely isn’t being done by more polite means. I’ve just finished reading Kris Billerbeck’s latest, The Trophy Wives Club. I like Kris’s work. I liked her Ashley Stockingdale stuff. So it’s not like I’m not a fan. But this book very nearly hit the wall at a couple of places, and that’s a fate that normally shouldn’t befall a pretty good story. So why the tantrum? In one particular scene, the heroine is talking about how a pregnancy couldn’t be possible for her—since she is then divorced and not having sex with anyone—“except for a second Immaculate Conception.” You can probably picture what happened next, but if you can’t, let’s just say it involved my letting fly with some very irritated and not very Christian words at that point. For those of you who wonder why this would get me so riled up, pay attention. It’s a pain in the posterior to have to keep repeating this. The Immaculate Conception does not refer to the Virgin Birth of Christ. The Immaculate Conception refers to Catholic doctrine that the Virgin Mary was preserved from Original Sin from the moment of her conception. That’s the Immaculate Conception. Mary’s the one to whom this applies, and not as the mother involved, either. So someone saying that they wouldn’t be likely to get pregnant “except by Immaculate Conception” (with or without the caps) is a) ignorant in the extreme of anything Catholic, and b) compounding that ignorance by being lazy, to boot. I’m being too harsh, you say? I don’t think so. What I am is sick and tired not only of putting up with all the stupid jokes about this doctrine—but of having to put up with this out of people who ought to know better. Especially since these cheap jokes could not be made if people knew what they were talking about in the first place…and had any degree of respect for Catholicism. Which brings up the very real question: if you’re purporting to sell Christian fiction, how can you not know this? Don’t tell me it’s because the writer is a Protestant or a nondenominational Christian, or whatever. That’s completely immaterial, in this age of the Internet. With one click, anyone can find out what the Immaculate Conception is. It doesn’t even take a trip to the library, for pity’s sake. Just a click on the Internet, and you’ll have more information on this than you’ll ever need. So why isn’t an author willing to do this work? Why isn’t a publishing house willing to either employ an editor who will make her do it or editors who will do that work themselves? Especially a Christian publishing house, or the Christian line in a major secular publisher? Are they really arrogant enough to assume they already know everything they need to know about Catholicism, because “everybody” knows these things? Are they so arrogant that they not only think they know everything, but that it’s okay for one part of Christianity to make fun of the beliefs of another? Some people may say, “Hey, it’s only a joke. What’s the harm?” Oh, I dunno. Maybe I shouldn’t be so thin-skinned. After all, it’s only doctrine. Never mind what would happen if I tried making light of some non-doctrinal things within evangelical Protestantism. It’d get red-penned so fast your head would spin. But lest we forget, let's review some of the things I can’t do in Christian fiction. I should be able to get away with writing about people drinking alcohol in Christian fiction…but in many places, I can’t. I should be able to write about divorced people in Christian fiction…but in many places, I can’t. I should be able to have my characters go dancing…or to a movie…or play some cards…but in many places, I can’t. And, no matter how severe the stress, I can’t have a character use cuss words, or even words that a minuscule segment of the population considers euphemisms for cuss words—euphemisms I never connected with cussing until some ridiculously scrupulous people started finding “cuss word connections” for the most innocent phrases imaginable. Why can’t I use all these things? Because a segment of the Christian fiction market is sensitive to drinking, dancing, divorced characters, people going to movies, people playing cards, gambling, and all those danged euphemisms—none of which has anything to do with doctrine—many CBA houses are quick to assert that they don’t want to offend those tender consciences. Yet very few of them seem to shrink from allowing their authors to offend a Catholic conscience by poking fun at a basic doctrine of my Faith. And this is okay…WHY? This tired old “Immaculate Conception” joke would be bad enough if this were the only anti-Catholic slam in this book. It’s not. I won’t go into further examples here; the point is…the “Immaculate Conception” line really has no excuse to be used anymore, anywhere, especially not in (purportedly) Christian fiction, which is (supposedly) aimed at all Christians. Especially when I wrote the original publishers of the first book with this mistake, as well as e-mailing the author, to correct them on this issue…and was met with thunderous indifference. I can only assume it was indifference, since the lack of response was deafening, and the error was repeated by the same author. Clearly, they weren’t paying attention. Clearly, they still aren’t. And I'd just love to hear their reasons why not. Thoughts? Janny

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

No Surprises Here...

What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Literature Nerd

Imagine sitting by a nice cozy fire, with a cup of hot tea/chocolate, and a book you can read for hours . . . even when your eyes grow red and dry and you look sort of scary sitting there with your insomniac appearance . . . but you don't care. You fit this category perfectly! You love the power of the written word and its eloquence; you may like to read/write poetry or novels. You contribute to the smart people of today's society, however, you can probably be overly-critical of works. It's okay. I understand.

Social Nerd
Drama Nerd
Science/Math Nerd
Artistic Nerd
Gamer/Computer Nerd
Anime Nerd
What Be Your Nerd Type?
Quizzes for MySpace
Have some fun with this while I compose the next post! Janny

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Congratulations, LSU!!!!

Today it's a great day to be a Michigan Wolverine...

...if for no other reason than that we no longer have to listen to annoying Ohio State fans yammering about (their overrated team) being #1 in the nation anymore. Because they're NOT.
(heh heh heh)

Monday, January 07, 2008

You Are Getting Very Sleeeeeepy.....

Call it the perspective of age, if you like. Or maybe the aftereffects of being so totally burned out for so many years that “overtired” becomes a masterpiece of understatement. But on the heels of complete Christmas exhaustion (a good kind, but still…) and in the flurry of temptation to make lots of New Year’s resolutions about self-improvement, setting new writing goals, finishing more manuscripts, et al, one clear thought broke through over all the clamor and chaos: Sleep. Many sages have talked about how most of us (especially Americans) tend to be “human doings” rather than “human beings.” On one level, we know we don’t really need to fill up Day Planners with “tasks” and track them with a variety of codes that John Nash would have been proud of—but on another level, we are afraid not to. Many of us have a hard time going on vacation because we literally can’t stop working. Worse, we’re “encouraged” (sometimes not too subtly!) to cultivate the ability to be constantly in touch with work even from remote locations, through things like and Blackberries…to the point where if we’re incommunicado for any length of time—even during “time off”—the underlying message is that We Will Fall Behind, and/or We Are Not Performing To Expectations. Well, maybe those expectations need a swift kick. And I’m ready to give ‘em one. Even as we’re communicating more things faster, taking in and putting out more information than air and carbon dioxide, and supposedly getting work done in a “leaner, cleaner” way, health authorities tell us that we do this at a tremendous cost in terms of sleep and rest. It’s an established fact that most of us are chronically sleep-deprived, diminishing our ability to function on so many levels that at times it’s a miracle we get through our day unscathed. Obviously, our energy levels suffer; more pernicious, however, are the other effects lack of sleep has on us all—everything from temper tantrums to an inability to properly digest and metabolize food. We spend a large portion of our days on a thin edge of caffeine and adrenaline—and then we wonder why our families seem unhappy, our emotions and judgments are out of whack, and our bodies refuse to do what they seemed able to do mere weeks ago. Most of us read these things and say, “Yeah, I know, I should get more sleep…I’ll catch up on my days off,” or, “I can sleep in on the weekend,” or, “Isn’t that what vacations are for?” (Maybe so, maybe not. See earlier comment about vacation!) Setting aside for the moment the fact that we cannot ever really catch up on sleep—once it’s gone, it’s gone—I think it’s about time to reassess what we’re really demanding of ourselves, and why…and at what cost. Some of our reasons for shortchanging ourselves in this important area seem to come from good hearts and good reasons. Some of them have to do with taking care of other people, dealing with real crises, or “running Spain” (one of my favorite oblique references from You’ve Got Mail). But our bodies don’t care about running Spain; they need rest, refreshment, and respite. And if they don’t get it, eventually, we get sick. That’s no way to live. And so my resolution for this year, once and for all, is to start giving my body as much rest as it craves. In extreme and wonderful ways, if necessary. The good question is how to do this in the very real world of evening commitments, meetings, or just wanting to watch Monday Night Football. (!) The answer for me will be to go for a really, really early bedtime as often as I can, the moment I need it, whenever possible. To do that, I need to stick to redefining what “possible” is. “Possible” means doing less. One fewer thing after work. One fewer thing before bedtime. “Possible” may entail washing the kitchen floor another night, if I’m pooped tonight. “Possible” means that I can release myself from a lot of “gottas”—not that I allow things to get slovenly, but just that maybe I delegate more. Allow other people to help. Find some ways to work smarter instead of just longer. Bottom line? Six days out of the week, most weeks, it’s “possible” for me to go to bed at 8 PM if I want. 7:30, if I need to. So that’s what I’ve done several times already in the last couple of weeks. And it’s been wonderful. Maybe it’s obvious to many of you out there, but it’s a revelation to me to be reminded that “sleeping in” can happen just as effectively from the front end of a night’s sleep as it can from the back end. For my particular internal chemistry, that’s actually a better way to go: I’d rather get up earlier than sleep in later, even when given a choice. Sure, there are times when I’ll need to be out later. But if the majority of the time, I’m giving myself a full 9 hours or more in bed, those intermittent times won’t wear me down nearly as much. And if I want to watch Monday Night Football? (Or see the Bulls or Cubs when they happen to be on TV, which if they’re home doesn’t happen until 8-8:30 PM here?) That’s what DVRs are for. I’ve already discovered the fun of replaying an internet radio broadcast of a game on my computer at a time when I’m actually home to hear it—and I already record The Closer, which comes on too late for me to watch it and go to bed at a prudent hour here. It won’t be a large step to remember to do likewise for more frequent sporting events; it’ll just take a little discipline now and then. (That, and clearing out old recordings from the DVR if I need to. But I can do that. I’m the Tossing Queen.) That small discipline will make me feel better in the long run than trying to maintain the forced march that comes out of consistently cramming more and more into my day and disdaining sleep as being for little kids or people with “nothing better to do.” Are you as tired as I have been? Maybe this is a good idea to think about for you, too. Because there are times when we all actually have “nothing better”—and nothing more important—to do than stop the world, climb into our pajamas, and give our bodies the rest they need for a change. All we really need to do is be willing to stop the excess, cut back on the “gotta” element, and see if that then doesn’t free us up for a great “sleeping in” experience. Looking forward to clear eyes, a clear mind, and a much clearer year… Janny