Story Notes: “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good” available at FIYAH Magazine

Should’ve posted this earlier this month, but yes! I got another short story out! “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good” has been published in FIYAH’s Music issue, which you can buy now! It also comes with a poppin’ Spotify Playlist and another gorgeous illustration!

Ain’t that gorgeous?

If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you’ve heard about this one a lot. A few years ago, I stumbled onto the rockin’ blues gospel music of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, which I didn’t even know was a thing. That got me listening to more women who played guitars in the 1930s and 40s, and when I came across Memphis Minnie, I knew I had to get them into a story together. Also, I am so stoked that this was published a couple of months after Sister Rosetta Tharpe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. Now if we can only get Minnie inducted…

I also wanted to write a story featuring my hometown, specifically, the south side of Chicago where I grew up. Fun fact–the real Sister Rosetta and Minnie actually did live in Chicago in different parts of their lives, but there’s no evidence that they’ve ever interacted. Seeing that most gospel musicians considered blues artists as heathens, I’m not surprised. On the flip side, Sister Rosetta came under a lot of fire for putting gospel hymns against “devil music”, so who knows.

The story give a couple of callouts to the history of the Chicago’s South Side: The Regal Theater, which was big for black entertainers in the 30s and 40s; the Ida Wells homes, a series of low-income housing mostly populated by blacks, and the Bronzeville and Bridgeport neighborhoods. And my favorite: Rita Moy, daughter of Frank Moy, mayor of Chinatown, who really did like to dress in men’s clothes. There’s even a picture of her!

Finally, I wrote this story because I wanted to show a relationship between two women of different beliefs. Sister Rosetta was an evangelist through and through, and she was also queer. Memphis Minnie, on the other hand, had a rough life: busking on Beale ave, doing a stint with Ringling Brothers Circus. Although Rosetta and Minnie never met in real life, it was fun imagining the sort of conversations they could have. You can read more about these women in their biographies: Shout Sister Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie’s Blues. (Also for Minnie, there’s a description of her written by Langston Hughes)

And finally, listen to these women songs. I can repeat myself enough: they…are…AMAZING. Here, I’ll even get you started.

Review: Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As of late, I’ve been struggling with the question, “Is God speaking to us today? If so, how?” I know He speaks through the Bible–some would say that it’s the only way he speaks. But is that true? Are there other ways he can speak through?

Karen Swallow Prior believes so. In her memoir “Booked”, she lists 8 books and several poems that influenced her faith. Most of the books are classics; the most recent are Charlotte’s Web (the only book I fully read on her list) and Death of a Salesman. She also didn’t have any books from authors of color. But the books she mention are still interesting, and I’ve got many on my to read list.

I think the book worked best when she was in “teaching mode”. I was most struck by how she dove into John Milton’s Areopagitica and used that to form her reading philosophy of how books should be “promiscuously read”: the best way to counteract falsehood is not by suppressing it, but by countering it with truth. Pretty cool coming from an anti-censorship tract. I also enjoyed her chapter on Jane Eyre (dealing with identity), and her chapter on Gulliver’s Travels; having always grown up on the child-sanitized version, I didn’t even know it was originally adult satire…nor did I know about all the innuendos.

The memoir sections took a while for me to warm up to, particularly in the Charlotte’s Web chapter, where she talked about horse raising. And towards the end, it felt like she was running out of things to pull out of her life to put in the book. Perhaps it would have been good for her to include other people stories along with her own. Or maybe used the rest of the book to deal with harder questions–she did this with the last chapter: The Poetry of Doubt, but I felt it could have been expanded…

It felt like my original question: “Is God speaking to us today?” wasn’t answered as I wanted (the answer I came away with was: yes…through classics). Still, it got me to thinking what influenced me in my faith over the years. For me, it wasn’t just books: my faith in God has been shaped through graphic novels and movies, songs of all types and short stories. Even webcomics, I’ve found, can strike me as profound when I’m struggling with a certain issue. And when it’s backed up by Scripture, it makes me giddy. So yes, God is still speaking to us today. At least, from my point of view.

I’m glad I got Booked. At the very least, it gave me some old classics to put on my reading list, and if there was ever a way I could go to a class taught by Prior, I’d do it. This gets 3 books out of 5, and extra points for the phrase ‘promiscuous reading’, even though it is from Milton.

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Review: Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling
Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed reading this. This book opened my eyes on the nature of culture. The culture of world. The culture of church. The culture of science fiction. And knowing that you must know culture in order to change it.

I was struck most by his four postures Christians use to respond to culture outside of the church: condemning, critiquing, consuming and copying, and found myself applying it on numerous occasions. For instance, Jon and I went to the mall were we went to a restaurant called Kato’s Cajun, which was based on the same restaurant as Sarku Japan, except all the Asian dishes had “Cajun” names. Jon went up to get a sample, and when he came back, he said, “The Cajun chicken tastes just like the Bourbon chicken.”

I then start grouching that sticking a ethnic name in front of a dish doesn’t magically make it so, but then I started thinking about it. Here I was, condemning the fact that mall food courts are slapping ethnic labels together and calling them fusions just to get people to eat their food. I’m critiquing that they think their customers are clueless enough not to know Asian cuisine from Cajun. But I’m consuming the food anyway because labels aside, it’s delicious and is (hopefully) better than eating McDonalds. And let’s face it, when I cook Asian dishes at home, I put my own spin on it, thus copying the culture of fusion cuisine.

I like how Crouch also intertwines how God uses culture in the Bible into how culture is so relevant today, and how we can work with culture instead of hiding from it. We’re not guaranteed to make any differences. But the mere fact that I’m writing a review (there are instances in the book that is delightfully meta) and putting it up for people to read does show that I can add my own voice to culture and thus, while not change the world, at least to touch it through my readers. Four omelets out of five.

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IV Arts & SALT 2013 (con) Report

So remember in my last post where I said I should go to a Christian con in 2013? Funny how I mentioned that….

A week after I wrote that post, I learned about a consultation that the organization I work for, InterVarsity, was doing to help support their arts ministry. Any staff who either worked with art students, or who were artists themselves, were invited to attend. I’ll report on the consultation in a bit, but wanted to write about the couple of weeks before the consultation.

You see, before I went, I experienced the worst imposter syndrome ever. So much so that I nearly did not go.

Not that this was visible to anyone. I told people I was going and they were excited. My coworkers thought it was a perfect fit. My husband thought it would be a good way to nurture the writer side of me in a Christian setting. Everyone felt I should go to this. And the fact that hotel and meal expenses were paid, I would have been stupid not to go. But I struggled with it. I really did. I really, really did.

There were many reasons, but the main one I want to write about here as that up to that point, I saw genre writing as separate from, “Christian art”. Seriously, when have someone gotten up in church to read a page from Harry Potter during the sermon? Well, uh okay, nevermind, apparently I’m at the wrong church…but that’s besides the point. The point is, the Christian arts seem to only promote those that are done corporately.

I remember last year, I learned there was an Arts seminar thing being held at one of the churches around here. I thought it was cool…until I took a look at the actual workshops. They had panels for worship leaders. Ones for musicians. They had an art gallery for those who painted. For writing, they had a “drama category for writing skits to incorporate into worship”….

…and that was pretty much it.

And then there was last year, where my small group did a study of spiritual gifts. My gift came up as (duh) writing:

“How do you plan to use your gift?” asked the leader.

I said, “Well, I use it a lot when I’m writing stories. I tend to put in a lot of faith elements–”

“No, I mean, how do you plan to use it for the church?”

“……………”

When writing is incorporated into worship, it’s more along the lines of spoken word/poetry that had to refer to God. I remember back at Urbana 09, I read an excerpt from “She’s All Light” during the black lounge open mic. All the other acts were pretty much gospel songs/spoken word/rap that was pretty much psalms. A lot of people liked my reading, true, but still, it made me feel sort of weird, like my science fiction story was the oddball out.

From my experience, singing, playing instruments or performing in drama skits, all worship skills, are valued higher in the church than, well, writing stories. Wait, let me change that–writing speculative stories. Granted, I could write and/or edit church bulletins. Heck, I can even write drama skits if I wanted to. At best, I can write worship poetry, and that’s a whole different set of neuroses. I remember a long time back, before I’d started writing, when a worship leader at our church asked me and my friend to write spoken word pieces to read during worship (because this was an awesome church that had the creativity to do that). This was before I started professional writing, and I had very little experience with poetry, so I pulled some stuff together from a journal and threw in a bunch of “God make stars, made mountains, is awesome, blahblahblah” sentences. And then I read it straight, because, well, it was poetry. It was okay. On the next song, though, my friend came up and read hers. She did spoken word. With attitude. And it was awesome.

And at that point, I realized–I don’t have a gift for writing spoken word poetry. I deeply appreciate it, moreso now than I did back then, but it’s a different set of writing skills altogether.

Here’s the thing. I love stories. I love wrestling with deep truth in them. I love tales of growth, tales of woe, tales that would have you on the edge of your seat. Even my poetry are stories–just in a different format. Stories are my way of having deep conversations with people disguised as narrative. Plus, my characters get to do awesome stuff. I just had one of my main characters in Willow do a flip off the side of a building and nail a bad guy between the eyes with a knife.

That…probably won’t hold up too well if that’s read before a sermon.

I’ve come to terms that my writing life, at least the story part, and my church life, would be pretty much kept separate. Notice I didn’t say Christian life–I’ve have many good conversations in fandom with atheists, feminists, what the church would consider “secular”. I also am quite blessed to work at an religious organization that has as many geeks as it does, so I’m not hurting for that. It’s just that with the actual church, I pretty much have to check my writer side at the door. And that was one of the reasons why I really struggled with going to the IV Arts conference. If it was just going to be a bunch of worship leaders there talking about church stuff, then I didn’t belong.

But luckily, it wasn’t that.To go to the conference, you either had to be a staff worker who ministered to arts students, or you were a staff worker who was an artist.And that included writers. Even genre fiction writers.So I went.

The consultation was two days, and was a more like a Christian retreat, than a con. The third day was called SALT, and was more of a day seminar, where Christian student artists met on Wheaton campus to discuss being an artist and Christian at the same time. I got to meet many other artists–graphic artists, filmmakers, opera singers, tap dancers, harpists, small theater actors, costume designers—all who worked in Christian and secular settings. And I even got to connect with a student who drove up from Urbana because she had written several fantasy novels, but haven’t sent any out yet because she’s constantly revising them. And she had never been to a con before. At that point, I think I went supernova, I was so happy. I dare say this was the first time that my InterVarsity staffworker side and my writing side intersected.

Of course I told her about Wiscon and Viable Paradise. Who do you think I am?!

So in the end, I’m really, really glad I went. It was exactly what I needed. And I came away with my creative meter/spiritual meter refilled. And it got me rethinking the question how do I plan to use my writing for the church? Part of it may involve blogging more about my spiritual journey. As for the church, perhaps I shouldn’t be thinking in corporate worship terms but in relational terms. I happen to know there are a couple of fans who like to play RPGs. I could start up a gamer group at our church.

After all, if there was one takeaway I got from the conference, it was this: artists are bridges between the church world and the secular world. Evangelism works both ways.

===

Edit: And it appears that the arts conference at that church I wrote about earlier is coming back again in April. Again, the workshops appear to be more worship oriented. Hmmm…should I go and represent anyway?

And before you say, “OHYOUSHOULDGOJARSOFCLAYWILLBE THERE”…um, I never was a fan of Jars of Clay. I heard their songs, and they’ve never really stuck with me, so, meh. And this does happen a week after Oddcon. I dunno…

Con Reports: Mo*Con V

Well, here I am after doing a 16-mile bike ride to the Capital and back. I’m sore, I’m achy and my butt hurts. Perfect time to finally get to my con reports, right?

Back to back cons. Wow. I truly must be insane. Actually, it wasn’t bad. I had planned it that way. And both can be summed up with one word:

Incredible.

Mo*Con first.

I met Maurice Broaddus at Wiscon last year and had been completely unaware of his work. Luckily, I scored a copy of Dark Faith.  I’ve never been to a horror convention before. But when I saw the topic for this year’s Mo*Con, "Homosexuality, the church and the arts" I had to go. I thought Madcon had been an extremely small con. Well, Mo*Con’s smaller. It took place at the bottom of a church basement. There was only three panels. And we all left the church around 8:30ish.

But ahh…the conversation. And the food! Mo*Con was sort like a pre-con party held in an really, really, really far hotel room. I didn’t do much that Friday because most of that time was spent in Chicago construction, and I was also visiting my former boss. I spent Saturday morning with a friend of mine, then headed to the church to hear the main panel mentioned above. Mainly it was several panelists talking about their experiences in the church. All their stories were interesting, though the stories I found most interesting was comic book illustrator who grew up in a fundamentalist church and became gay, and the pastor who grew up gay and became hetero. Maurice also spoke, and he had a line that deeply impacted me: "If I’m a Christian, the first thing you should receive is my love. Period."

After the panel, I asked Maurice if he had considered bringing in a Christian panelist who was against homosexuality, and he said he had. "But then, we wouldn’t have had an open discussion. It would have been more of a debate. This wasn’t the type of panel I wanted. This way, people would be more vulnerable, more open, to sharing their experiences."

Is it possible for Christians and LGBT to have open, honest, vulnerable discussions with each other, even those who have differing opinions without privilege lording over the conversation?  Thinking about it. But that’s a blog post for another day.

Anywho, what made Mo*Con well worth it was what happened afterwards, when we hung out at Maurice’s house. I got to hang with horror writers Chesya Burke and Lucy Snyder, and and meet editors from Apex Publications and Coach’s Midnight Diner and Relief: A Christian Literary Expression. We talked about the upcoming Festival of Faith and Writing. I also got to learn about Worldcon, which is coming to Chicago next year. Looks like my 2011 is shaping up to be a busy time.

I really liked how Mo*Con melds horror writing with spiritual matters. Definitely adding it to cons that I plan to go to when I have time. Plus, they feed you. A definitely plus in my book.

Next report: Wiscon. Right now…bed.

It happens in the Christian world, too.

http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2009/12/zondervan_makes_critics_book_r.html

The above article gives an interesting coda to what’s been happening for the past month in the Christian publishing world. It shows that, yes, even in the Christian world, RaceFail lives. It also shows that while we still have far to go, changes can be made, both graciously and lovingly. Here’s another perspective. The writer, Al Hsu, was one of the main people who put together the Multiethnic publishing seminar at InterVarsity Press this past March.

At that seminar, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Soong-Chan Rah. Great guy, reminded me a whole lot of the Angry Black Woman in that he is passionate about bringing racial injustices on Asians to light.  Of course, it’s interesting to read the comments on Rah’s letter to Zondervan asking them to remove the Ninja Viper materials. Lots of different perspectives, mostly support for Rah, but also those who felt that Rah was reading to much into it and to lighten up, in fact–an Asian could have written a same thing. My favorite rebuttal to that came from Irene Cho:

"The statement was meant to imply that most Asians who are familiar with their Asian culture/heritage/language, would not have mixed up the cultures like the authors did. In fact, it’s one of the grievances that’s high on the list. It’s insulting when you’re constantly asked, “Oh you’re Asian. So you’re Chinese? Ah so you know Karate?” Many of us have spent much of our lives answering these questions: Yes, I’m Asian. No I’m not Chinese. And no I don’t know Karate and Karate is Japanese by the way. So what I meant was that in my opinion, most Asians wouldn’t publish a book that treats Karate, Kung Fu, and Tae Kwon Do as if there’s no difference. A book would not have been published that doesn’t specify the difference between Chinese, Korean and Japanese writings. And most of all, most Asians wouldn’t have written that someone’s name sounds like a disease. AND even if they did, it’s one thing to make fun of yourself, it’s quite another to have someone else of a different ethnicity say that my language sounds funky or like a disease and mix everything up and treat all the cultures as if they were the same."

You tell it, sister.

So how do I feel about all this? I feel good that the creators of Ninja Viper and Zondervan did offer an apology and pulled back the books. I feel sad though for all of those who said that it was a shame because it was a legitimate leadership source. And that is true, it is. I just wished the creators researched it better. I do feel that we need more multiethnic people involved in publishing, which is why I support Verb Noire and black writers like Nisi Shawl and Nnedi Okorafor. And goodness knows I’m trying my hardest to add myself to the list. But I also feel what we do is a mere drop in the bucket—that nothing will change, and that those in the media will continue to put up what they like because, hey, they’re the majority and there’s more of them in the media industry than there are of us…

And then I read blog posts like this one which talks about getting minority teens to think about entering the publishing industry, and then I get the December issue of Parents Magazine, which has an article that strives to teach an even younger audience about race relations, and well, we’re trying. Most of us are working on it. It’s just a matter of time.

Book Review: The Shack by William P. Young

So how am I supposed to review "The Shack"? As a Christian? As a black woman? As a writer? All three? I know reviews for the book are wide and varied, like "This is the best book ever! It goes right up there with Pilgrim Progess!" and "This is the worst book ever! It clearly screws with real theology!" It took me a long time to get around to reading it, and it took me even longer for me to think it through before I could sit down and write this review.

I first heard about the Shack from a couple of co-workers. Soon, it seemed our entire office was reading it. I held off reading it though, for a lot of people told me that despite its popularlity, the man who wrote it is not that skilled of a writer–and suddenly I got shades of "Angels and Demons" (I really like that one Simpsons episode where Bart wanders into a literary gathering and yells, "Hey! Dan Brown is still on the NY Times Best Seller List!" at which point all the literary folk fall to the ground, holding their heads in pain. Ah, good episode).

But then it got nominated for reading in my book club, so I buckled down to read a copy. And yeah, everyone is right. The book does get you to thinking. And it truly was written horribly. I have the feeling that I would’ve liked the book more, bad writing and all, if it hadn’t been for a video game.

On the JayIsGames website, there’s a short point-and-click game that used to have an offensive stereotype as one of the characters. The creator of the game, being an international person, caught wind of this and wisely got his artist to redraw the character. But that didn’t stop the comments to veer into some discussion about race and stereotypes in media. Some just didn’t see what the big deal was, so someone put a link to The Jim Crow Museum to help explain the offensive character. Seeing that I had just heard about RaceFail, I decided to check it out, and whoa. I highly suggest going to the site yourself and doing some reading. It opened my eyes to a lot of things I took for granted.

If I had read The Shack before I had gone to that site, I would have thought, Whoa, God’s a black woman. Awesome! But after reading the museum’s info on mammies, when I reached the part where we meet Elousia for the first time, I went: Ouch… And how Mack kept describing her "large" and "black" and "beaming" had me going: Ouch, ouch, ouch…And when Elouisa described herself as ‘housekeeper and cook’: Owowowowowowow!!!!

Which sucks, because I couldn’t really enjoy the book like I wanted to. It’s like Young was so eager to go for a different view of God, but he wasn’t really experienced enough in the creative department to think of a different face for God, so he fell back on well-worn stereotypes of different ethnicities: the mammified black woman, the mysterious asian woman, the Middle Eastern man with the big nose, and Guest Starring Wisdom as the exotic looking Hispanic woman. Ouch.

Granted, I actually liked the idea of the Holy Sprit being an ethereal woman. It was a beautiful portrayal. And I really liked how he brought Wisdom into the picture. But still, it was disappointing to see the Godhead in such tired stereotypes. Personally, it would’ve rocked if he made God the Father the Hispanic woman, the Holy Spirit a (thin) black woman and Jesus as South Asian. Wouldn’t that have made for an interesting read. But oh well.

There are the other things that made this a badly written book–a whole lot of broad grinning going on, awkward sentences, things the characters did that made no sense, an occasional ‘light’ swear word thrown in to show that ooooo, Mack’s mad, he has a bone to pick with God, ooooo…And the real story didn’t start until what, Chapter 5?

But once you get past all that, well, the book gets somewhat interesting. In parts.

I found all the philosophy discussions fascinating. Whether or not it was correct theology didn’t bug me. I knew this was a fiction book when I picked it up, and I knew that the theology reflected the sentiment of the author. There were some nice views in there that I agreed with, and there were some where I, with no seminary background to my name, questioned. For instance, when Mack and the Holy Spirit talk about the Tree of Good and Evil, Mack never asks the obvious question: "If the tree was off-limits, then why was it placed smack dab in the middle of Eden, unprotected, in the first place?" I would think that with all the questions he was asking God, that would have been the question to ask. But it never came up. Or if it did, I must’ve missed it somehow. I skipped a lot through the book.

That’s when I realized that Young was attempting to manipulate the reader to where he wanted them to look. "Manipulate" is such a strong word, but it’s actually what a lot of us writers do. We want to manipulate the reader into going along with the main character’s troubles, to feel what he feel, to agonize and rejoice with him. But this was the first time that I was aware that my feelings was being manipulated, and I wasn’t so sure that I liked it.

Think of it: a man who lost his daughter in the most violent way possible is called back to the place where they found evidence of her death. That’s bound to bring on strong emotion, no matter who you are. The story had its best moments when it focused on Mack wrestling with his pain of his daughter’s death. Who wouldn’t be affected by that? And when Mack sees his daughter for the last time, or when he forgives his father, or when Papa leads Mack to his daughter’s resting place, you can’t help but be drawn in, because all the philosophical discussions, ethnic stereotypes, and horrible writing aside—buried within all that is a somewhat decent story. Heck, I cried when Mack finally was able to find his little girl.

Of course, Young manages to wreck the bittersweetness of the whole thing by carrying the book too far when it should have stopped at Mack leaving the shack. He commits the worse sin a writer can do at the end of the book–an stupid, stupid occurence that comes so out of left field, I was jolted. Then I started cracking up, because, man….what a stupid, stupid, stupid ending.

So, how do I rate the book? I can’t give it five stars–it’s a pretty crappy book. But I can’t give it one star either–there were some things in the book that genuinely made me think. I guess I’ll just settle for two broad grins out of five. I like to see how many times a normal person "broadly grins" in a given day. Certianly not as much as these people in this bizarro land. I think I’m going to clear my head by reading InterVarsity Press’s response to the Shack.

Was this something that deserved to be on the Best Seller’s list? Well, here’s my opinion. This whole thing started with a guy who felt God’s mercy so much, he wrote a book about it to give to his friends. And their friends gave it to their friends. And on and on and on. This book was never meant to be place on the mass market. When it did as well as it did, the author got surprised. So he supplied the demand for more. If Young had been a pro writer, with a strong editor and a better handle on the characters and story, this could have been an awesome book–one that truly would be worthy to be the next Pilgrim’s Progress. Personally, I’m much more interested in Young himself. It seems he has lived through the "Great Sadness" of his own, and I think his biography would be much more interesting than hiding behind this mediocre ‘fiction’ book.

And this brings up another question: if God can use medicre works to proclaim his glory, and there’s no doubt that many who read this book has had their walk with God affected so that they worship him easier, when will a really great artist get inspired to write something. Does God even use real artists anymore to inspire, or are there great works out there–they just haven’t clicked with the general mass audience who prefer more simplistic works like this?

Think about it.

The Power of Words

Disclaimer: The Cafe in the Woods usually do not serve posts of a political nature unless something has pissed off the owner so much, she will drag a soapbox to the middle of the cafe and force the patrons to listen to her rant while waving a serving ladle in a wagging, nagging manner. This only happens on occasion. You need not fear the ladle. But do fear the hot pumpkin soup that’s being flung off–oh, and the rant that follows.

This past Sunday at church, we received voting guides from the Family Research Council. It’s usually standard practice; in fact, I never really thought about it. I always felt that it was good to know where candidates stood and how they were seen from a Christian point of view. These had questions and charts, complete with footnotes and sources, so I was pretty sure that the information they had gathered was from a reliable source.

Then I reached the last page. It just had a grid with a question on top: “Where do the Presidential Candidates Stand on Abortion?” Then it listed several categories, like “Taxpayer funding of Abortion” and “Provide Care to babies who are born alive after an abortion”. In the boxes next to these categories, they had a column for McCain and one for Obama, showing if they supported or opposed the category. That’s it. Nothing else. No footnotes, no source. Just “OPPOSES” or “SUPPORTS”.

Naturally, McCain was show to be against anything to do with abortion, while Obama was shown to support it.

What was interesting though was “Provide Care to babies who are born alive after an abortion”. It shows Obama opposing it. Now, it just so happened that a couple of weeks before, I was reading a “Reality Check” article that dealt with this very issue. Quoting from the article (you can read the whole thing here) from a television ad:

The ad says: “Sen. Obama, why did you vote against protecting infants that survived late term abortions, not once but four times?”

This needs clarification, a WISC-TV analysis found. First, people need to know what he was actually voting on.

In 2001 and 2003, the Illinois state Senate debated a so-called “born alive” bill three times. The measure was meant to provide extra protection to babies who survived a rare type of abortion.

The bill defined infants born at any stage of development as humans if they could breathe or had a heart beat and said a doctor would be required to make efforts to save them. Obama voted against the bill twice in committee, twice on the floor, on a total of three bills.

He explained to senators he believed the wording of the bill could undermine Roe v. Wade, “essentially barring abortions.”

The article goes on to add that later on, Obama signed onto the “Freedom of Choice” act, which aim was “not to completely roll back the ban on partial birth abortions but to allow them only if the health of the mother was in jeopardy.” Oddly enough, on the FRC guide, it gives the aim of the “Freedom of Choice Act” as it “overturns most state right-to-life laws”.

The same Act. Two different meanings altogether.

Now, obviously, Obama and I have very different views on abortion. But in knowing what I know from that article, it puts the wording that the FRC guide used in a completely different light. Suddenly, everything in that guide was suspect. Are they telling the whole truth, or are they twisting and bending words to present candidates in the way they want people to see them?

But why should I be upset? This happens all the time. The candidates do it. Organizations do it. Hell, the news do it. Nothing’s really unbiased. Why I am so ticked off about it?

I’ll tell you why. Because they’re sending crap like this to the church.

It’s something that’s being preached in all pulpits. “Be educated.” “Know what the candidates stand for.” “Do your homework before you go to the polls.” And then they distribute crap like this, expecting that this is the answer key that you need. Anything that has “Family” or “Values” in it must be right. It’s most likely that many Christians will take guides like the ‘FRC’ to the polls with them, blindly accepting what’s in them as truth.

Oh wait. Many Christians did take guides like this to the polls. Four years ago. And look what happened.

What really ticks me off about this is that these guides pass themselves off as “Christian”. And they’re the ones who are undermining Christian ministries who genuinely serve those people whom those guides rail against. Instead of using reason, wisdom, and love to have people make honest decisions, these guides use fear-mongering, deception, and sly twists on words to force Christians into run blindly to the polls, and you better vote their way or else the country will fall into death, despair and flames and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT!

Recently, a friend of mine let me know about a letter that was put out by the Focus on the Family Action called “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America”. I read it, thought about it, then sat down to write this post.

On the one hand, I don’t deny that our country is heading down a slippery slope. There’s no question about that.

But on the other hand, to offer something like that and blame it all on Obama and a “Far-Left” Democratic government? It’s not only wrong, but it’s downright hypocritical. What exactly is the writer trying to gain from this? For people to stop and think? To get people to start boarding up their windows and doors? And what makes him think that a 2012 McCain America would be much better? I’d like to see a letter from that period, just to see what it’s like.

Oh wait. We happen to be living a McCain America at this very moment.

So to all those “Christian Family” organizations that are supposed to have “my” best interests at heart: watch your words. All the hate and fear-mongering you’re spreading is doing nothing but making the rest of us Christians look like fools. And it’s not going to sit well with you when you give your accounting to the Lord on Judgement Day. If you’re going to reach out to Christians, do it the right way: provide solid facts, and let us decide. No word doctoring. No fact-hiding. No bias spinning. Do your homework so we can do ours. “Wisdom is proved right by her actions.” (Matthew 11:19)

Postclaimer: This has been a political rant by yours truly. The opinions expressed within this rant completely reflects the opinions of the Cafe itself and should be taken as such. Yours truly is now off to tend to her soup before it starts to burn.

Book Review: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

All right, all right already. I finished the book. It took me two months to do it, but I read it, so I might as well sit down and write this review. You guys been bugging me about it, so I guess I have no choice.

What did I think of the book?

I don’t know. I’m still sorting out my thoughts on it.

In some ways, I didn’t like the book. I didn’t like the way that it challenged my Christian beliefs. There were so many things in this book that had me mentally screaming: “Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” before my brain stepped in. LaShawn, calm down. Of course it isn’t true. It’s FICTION.

But there’s more than that. As much as I like Authurian retellings, I didn’t particularly like this one. I know Bradley wanted to tell the story from the women’s point of view, and it does sound pretty intriguing. She uses Morgaine as the main protagonist, but other women also tell the story: her mother Igraine, her half-sister, Morgause, her aunt Viviane, who is also Avalon’s Lady of the Lake, and of course, Queen Gwenhwyfar.

There’s just one slight problem in using the women of the Arthur legend. They’re boring. They’re incredibly, incredibly boring. Igraine’s history was the least boring–it shows her trapped within a tolerable marriage when she learns that she will instead marry her lover at the cost of her current husband’s life. She struggles with being a pawn of Avalon and loving Uther, her lover. But once the book switches over to Morgaine’s life, things slam to a halt. Morgaine grows up at Avalon, meets Merlin, thinks a lot on how Christianity sucks and serving the Goddess is far nobler, falls in love with her cousin Lancelot, have sex with her half-brother Arthur under the influence of a pagan rite…

And that was the other reason I couldn’t stand this book at first. Part of the time, it felt like the characters did nothing but argue with each other “God!” “No, Goddess!” “No, GOD!” “NO! GODDESS!” The other part of the time was “HAVE SEX WITH ME!” “NO! I MUSTN’T IT AIN’T RIGHT! BUT I FEEL BAD, SO I WILL!” There’s a scene where after Arthur and Gwenhwyfar are married, Lancelot abruptly decides to make out with Morgaine, a very unpleasant image came to my mind. I saw Bradley watching “Days of our Lives” and scrabbling madly, Okay so lets have Morgaine start lusting after Lancelot, who’s lusting after Gwenhwyfar…and then we’ll marry Gwen to Arthur, who doesn’t know that Morgaine is carrying his child…and at some point, I should have Gwen and Arthur and Lancelot do a threesome…”

Ugh. There were times that I almost gave up on the book. Just for that alone. But I was determined to finish it. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment or something.

The sad thing is, most of everyone’s actions are done out of love. When Gwenhwyfar wasn’t being a naive, shrill Christian fundamentalist harpy, (and sadly, that’s how she’s portrayed), she is truly tormented over being in love with Lancelot because she’s been taught that she is only supposed to be in love with her husband (never mind that she had no say in her arranged marriage). Morgaine is broken over what happened with Arthur and runs away from Avalon, torn over her guilt of handing her son over to fosterage. She even gets caught in fairy world for a few years (I actually found that interesting), but mostly, she sits and spins and sees visions from the Sight, but doesn’t really do anything other than sit and mope and spin…

Things do change from soap-opera-like to more Shakespearian Tragedy-like when actions from the first half of the book come home to roost and everyone starts to die. Oops…gave it away there, didn’t I? But really, people are dying, left and right, and even then the bitter war of paganism vs. Christianity continued even there.

I guess what really got me about this book is that this wasn’t so much a retelling of the Arthur legend but only a bunch of Authurian characters sitting around arguing about Christianity and Paganism, so much so that it felt like the book was really a debate in disguise of a story. Since reading the book, I read Bradley’s reasons for why she wrote the book, which can be found on her webpage. I think she wanted to hold a mirror up to the church (and not just the medieval church, who certainly did corrupt the teachings of Christ–but also the church of today) and show what an outsider would think of Christianity based on what that person saw of the church. If this was a commentary or an article, I’m sure that she would have gotten a lot of interesting feedback from the theological world.

Unfortunately, people don’t read commentaries or articles for entertainment. They just don’t care to think that hard. So I think Bradley decided to couch the concepts she struggled within the retelling of the Arthur legend through the women’s point of view. But I don’t think she did it all that well, at least to me. Because most of her Christians portrayed in the story come across as uneducated, arrogant, oath-breaking, bigoted weaklings. Meanwhile, the pagans come across as noble in their intentions, open-minded, loving, respectable and wise. At least, on the surface (there are a lot of things that the pagans did in the name of the Goddess that made me shudder). Those pagans who do come to Christianity, such as Igraine and Kevin, don’t really say why they do so. (And as far as I know, Igraine only ‘appeared’ to convert, but she remained a pagan at heart.)

But this isn’t a theological paper. It’s a book review. So what do I think of the book? Questionable. In many places, boring as hell. In other places, a lot of headshaking. Would I recommend it? Not really, though I wouldn’t mind looking into what others think of the book. I’ve heard that many attacked The Mists of Avalon for being anti-Christian and having an extreme pro-feminine agenda, and yet I also heard that Madeline L’Engle praised the book. It is the type of book that gets me thinking, that’s for sure.

I will say one thing. Being a woman, it’s oh so tempting to fall into this book’s theology, that paganism is on the same level as Christianity. There’s a part of me that is enthralled by ritual and the respect of nature, women dancing in moonlight, that sort of thing. I believe, and here is LaShawn’s very own personable opinion, that one could be a pagan Christian, lighting candles and being champions of nature. I think there are many ways to worship him. But I cannot say, God, Goddess, it’s all the same thing. That’s just not what I believe.

I don’t know. At this point, I would give a rating to the book, but seeing that I’m still trying to figure it out, I honestly can’t. If I’m forced to, on the book’s literary merit, it rates two 1/2 out of five chalices, but what is the power that’s holding the chalice? God or something else?

Feh. I think I’m thinking too hard on this. I’m going to go rent Monty Python and the Holy Grail. That will put things back into perspective.

 3/13 edit: Found an critique on the newly redeveloped Internet Review of Science Fiction called “The Magic Mundane: Re-examining the Supernatural in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon“. There are some places that your eyes will cross from the large words, but otherwise, I found it an interesting take on the book. Check it out, why don’t you?