Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A slight retraction

Can you retract something slightly?

If so, then I do temper my last post. I finished Dwelling Places by Vinita Hampton Wright last night and truly enjoyed it. The first paragraph was haunting and the story tragic, sad, and sweet. And nothing was tidy. The dialogue was even realistic, normal. There was even a couple of sex scenes! *gasp*

"In Beulah, Iowa, widow women all over town garden in the clothes of their deceased husbands. From a distance, they often look like small-framed men. They keep their husbands clothes because it's wasteful to throw away hats and shirts that still have wear in them. They wear the clothes in the memory of the men they have survived, even after the scent of them has been laundered away."

That's how Dwelling Places begins. The story of a farming family who has lost its identity and grip on the world once farming is no longer their vocation. Their ties to the land and each other slip away and each attempts to navigate the foreign world in their backyard. Mack has spent two weeks in a mental hospital after his wife finds loaded shotguns. His brother, Alex, drank himself to death. His wife, Jodie, contains her anger and seeks the smile of another man. Kenzie, their 14 year old daughter, prays and meditates on a picture of Jesus until she can see his eyes move. Young Taylor, named after his grandfather whose death was tragic and mysterious, dresses in black, wears makeup, and speaks as little as possible. And matriarch Rita does and does and does, trying to keep them all together.

I won't say too much more except to recommend it. It's not Brothers Karamozov or anything but a worthy, modern novel of a modern family trying to find their way and their faith.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Velma Still Cooks

A few months ago, our book club heard Lauren Winner speak at RTS on her book, Real Sex. She mentioned how ashamed she was that she had not included anything about sexual violence in the book and would redress that omission if there was ever a future edition. She cited Velma Still Cooks in Leeway by Vinita Hampton Wright, a Christian ficiton novel with a storyline of rape and abuse within the church. She called Wright one of "our" best Christian novelists. I was curious enough so I suggested we read it for the next book club meeting.

Now, generally speaking I do not read Christian fiction (at least not anymore)and I'm kinda proud of the fact that our book club of intelligent, insightful Christian women has not read any Christian fiction until this novel. I glance through the flyers from the Christian bookstore and I'm generally disgusted by the plot summaries. Yes, I did read just about every Janette Oke book as a kid (my mom worked at the church office for my middle school years so I read just about everything appropriate and interesting in the church library). I read the Mitford novels the summer I was pregnant with Rebekah, partly because I was bored and partly because Lauren Winner mentioned them in Girl Meets God. I did not really like them. And I'm beginning to wonder about Winner's taste in fiction.

Velma Still Cooks in Leeway does concern, in part, the rape of Shelleye by a high school friend during a date. The boy and his well-respected family are members of her church as well. Little is done about the rape by the church's pastor or board of elders and the girl, now pregnant, initially leaves the church. But the thrust of the novel really is about Velma and her relationship to the town she cooks for at her diner. There are several (too many, I think) additional storylines that Velma comments on since she seems to be connected to everyone through either her restaurant or her janitorial work at Jerusalem Baptist Church, both occupations condusive to eavesdropping or at least knowing all the news of the town. Maybe the discrepancy between what I thought the novel would be about and what it actually was contributed to my disappointment. I commend Wright for tackling a tough subject but I wish more of the novel would have focused on the Shelley and the boy who raped her. There is a much tighter and better-written novel within the one I read.

Reading Velma has highlighted my general disgust for things with the adjective "Christian" in front of it. I thought the same things while watching Facing the Giants. Apart from poor cinematography and editing and acting (I know they didn't have a Hollywood budget) the script was blah! (I can't think of the word I want that is not too mean.) Why does "Christian" fiction have to be so trite, so poorly written, so cheesy? And what does a writer (of fiction), who is a Christian, write about so that his or her work does not come out so cheesy? Is anyone producing contemporary fiction that is good? The Christian life is anything but trite and cheesy; why does it come out like that? Or is it just me?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Maybe we've been listening to NPR too much....

This afternoon, as R gets dressed up in some mismatched clothes as a costume of some kind:

"Mom, I'm getting ready to go to the neutral party."

Actually, it's from Click, Clack, Moo, where Duck, the neutral party in the conflict between Farmer Brown and the striking cows and hens, delivers the ultimatum that there will not be any electric blankets. Also great is the follow-up, Giggle, Giggle, Quack.

For real?

I leave tomorrow afternoon for a weekend women's ministry retreat in Sarasota. I haven't been on one of these since college. That time I went with the ladies from my home church--the ones I used to babysit for and who taught my Sunday School classes. The speaker then was Nancy Groom, the theme, "This is My Story." She has a remarkable story of sin and grace, depression, redemption, hopelessness and faithfulness. Her books are incredible too, if you can find them.

This weekend will be different, I'm sure. For one, the location is fabulous; Lido Key in Sarasota, on the beach. I'll be there with women who are more my peers, though I'm pretty sure I'll still be about the youngest one there. Of course, this time my thoughts may be divided between there and home. I've never left B overnight and I've never left R for two nights and I've never left them with D. (I've stocked up on chicken nuggets, peanut butter, and milk and made sure every bit of clothing in the house is clean.)

The speaker this time is Linda Werner, who I mentioned a few posts back. The theme, from best I can tell, is about understanding your purpose. I think this is a big theme for Linda in her ministry. I struggle off and on with this. I don't doubt my role as wife and mother and I've relinquished the career ambitions for the most part. Occasionally I do long for a more academic or intellectually challenging task--though coming up with workable definitions for some of the words R asks is keeping me on my toes. Sometimes I'm able to dismiss those feelings, sometimes I can channel it into something else (blogging helps a bit and I've even made power point slides for an invisible classroom). I also struggle with self-confidence or self-assuredness. Now for my family and husband who have seen my hubris, my resoluteness, and my insistence on my opinion, that's sorta funny to say. But as much as I can be prideful and confident--or at least look the part--I truly doubt my abilities in many things. My years of teaching wrecked havoc on me as I felt like a failure most days. I still honestly don't know what I'm good at and how to use it. I usually don't believe people when they compliment me; I have a hundred reasons why they're wrong in their perception. And I flee failure by not attempting anything that I may not be successful at. I don't think I'm going to figure it out this weekend, by any means, but I'm hoping God may speak to some of this.

I do have some plans in the works for '08 so I'm glad this retreat comes so early in the year. I think it will be a great kick-off for the year. I'm not a resolution person though so we'll see how it goes. Also, I tend to get, well, a bit cynical about how girly women's retreats can get. I'll try to keep it in check.

So pray for me this weekend--and the rest of the ladies--as we have some time away and out of our normalcy for rest, retreat, and reflection. I pray that this will be a remarkable weekend in whatever way God wants to use it.

P.S. And pray for the man of the house. R already said this morning that they'll go to Chick-Fil-A for lunch and dinner.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Tell Me What You Know

Of all the new music I got this Christmas (which seems to be when I get partially caught up), I was most excited about Sara Groves' new album, Tell Me What You Know. Her voice is captivating and her lyrics poetic, insightful, and inspiring. This latest album sounds very similar to Add to the Beauty, which is not a bad thing and is not to say that the song sound the same. After taking a few chances on The Other Side of Something (which I still loved), she stays in the vein of beautiful, classy music with interest and variety.

The inspiration for most of the songs on this album come from stories and travelling she has experienced through the International Justice Mission. She has tried to capture the dignity of people victimized by human trafficking and genocide and hope in the face of defeat. "It's too heavy to carry and impossible to leave. I can't just fight when I think I'll win. That's the end of all belief. And nothing has provoked it more than a possible defeat." (The Long Defeat) The song "Abstraction" wrestles with our American Christian security and the abstract idea of the numbers lost in war, disease, famine, and other unpleasantness that we don't think through to reality.

I do think my two favorite songs (at least at this point in listening) come in the middle--"Love is Still a Worthy Cause" and "When the Saints." Granted, they are both upbeat, belt-it-out tunes to sing to but both also touch on the central theme of our hope in Christ, because of His love for us and the rescue mission that He accomplished. And that we have been given examples of real people that through His strength have cried out for freedom for God's people. That enables us to press on.

On a personal note, I'm just amazed at her accomplishments and creativity, all while being a mom (to three now) and wife. It actually sorta shames me. I keep whining that maybe if I just had time to think I would come up with something. Here she has traveled to Rwanda and New Orleans right after Katrina, read all the materials that she quotes as her inspiration, and writes/sings/records fabulous music.

Oh, and this came with a DVD of a concert and some footage of their travels. There's a full length video of her trip to Rwanda and this gives a few clips from that. But in the concert she sang a few songs from her kids' album, Station Wagon Songs for Parents. I may have to get that one too. One was about her son looking like an angel when he sleeps--and like Charles Bronson when he cries. The other was about wanting her kids to be independent, to grow up, and to leave--but don't forget to write, call, visit all in her most manipulative guilty mom way. And she says she's discovered that you can put hand sanitizer gel in a water gun and just squirt it at kids who come near yours. Ahh, a mom after my own heart.