Thursday, November 06, 2014

An 11-Year-Old Speaks Out About Inappropriate TV Commercials

Television Commercials Should Be More Appropriate

                “AAAAAAARG! There are children in the room for goodness sake, just wanting to watch a movie!”

            This is how I react to the dumb rated “R” movie commercials. If someone has a rated “R” movie commercial, they shouldn’t be allowed to let it be shown during a family friendly movie. That just doesn’t make any sense. Family friendly means that it is more than likely that a child somewhere will be watching, and that almost seems abusive for children to endure that insane commercial. If someone wants to post their commercial on TV, they should just put it on an already “R” rated movie. If there is a “PG” movie or TV show, have “PG” commercials. If there is a “PG-13” movie, have “PG-13” commercials, and so on. “R” rated commercials in my opinion shouldn’t even exist, let alone “R” rated movies.  Maybe people aren’t satisfied with how they are currently living, and think they need that inappropriate stuff to make them feel satisfied; I suppose they need that nonsense to fill in what God can easily fill. My conclusion is that children, really small, young, dependent, innocent people are being scared by the stupidity of people’s actions on television, and it needs to stop. I know, because I am a kid. Please get rid of the gross stuff from being on TV, because I still need to grow up in this world.
By Novik Isaiah Thomas, age 11

Sunday, October 12, 2014

What a Christian Critique Group Looks Like

This post is not an exhaustive "what to do and what not to do" list; rather this information comes from an email I send out whenever I start a new critique group or invite a new person to one that is already going on. I have been leading Christian critique groups for over a decade now, so I have learned some things that work and some things that don't. Basically, below you will see how I format my meetings, my basic expectations of the members, and a bit of my philosophy.

You will notice that I have not listed a time or date in this which, of course, you would want to include if that information has already been decided on by a group that is already meeting. At the time I wrote this, it had not been, so I included a section a the end (omitted here) to request a consensus on that.

My opener usually goes something like this:

First of all, let me share my personal vision for this new group. I have served as the president for an ACW critique group for about 8 years in Moscow, Idaho, and it was an incredibly valuable part of my personal growth as a writer and as a person. But, there are also some strategies I've learned along the way that I feel are important to adhere to in order to get the most out of the group, so I will list them for you.
And here's the basic rundown:

1. Christian: This will be a writers' group for Christians only, although I reserve the right to invite non-Christian guest speakers from time to time. I don't expect us all to be of the same denomination or to agree on everything. However, I do expect the primary focus for both ourselves and our writing to be to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ--whether it is done in an overt, obvious way or not. We will be holding one another to this standard.
 
2. Cost: You are responsible for providing your own beverage, but otherwise this group will be completely free of fees or dues. Writers spend enough to support their writing habit already.
 
3. Frequency: We will meet twice a month.

4. Location: [NAME OF SOME COFFEE SHOP] (This is subject to change, if necessary.)
 
5. Meeting Format: This is a critique group, not a free-writing group. So, please try to bring one piece of your writing for critique every week--either a 1-3 page, double-spaced work to be read aloud at the meeting OR 5-6 copies [CHANGE DEPENDING ON NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS] of a full chapter or half-chapter of whatever book/short story you're working on to be handed out to the members to take home with them (where they will critique it and bring it back to you next time we meet).

6. Accepted Writing Styles: Both fiction and non-fiction are acceptable; however, if you are writing non-fiction, we prefer creative non-fiction, such as theology, memoirs, etc. Please don't bring in a technical manual on aviation for us to critique. We're also not interested in proofing your Music History 101 papers for you.
 
7. Who's invited?: Serious, Christian writers aged 15 and older. Please leave your kids (and pets) at home. (Feel free to forward this email to others who you think might be interested.)
 
8. Purpose: To glorify Christ, first of all. Secondly, our purpose is to engage with our writing with a genuine desire to improve it to a publishable level. Thirdly, we desire to encourage and challenge one another in their writing careers. So, if you are just writing your memoirs for your grandchildren or writing letters to cousins, this is not the group for you. But, if you have a desire to become a published author, even if you're just starting out, we'd love for you to check us out.
 
9. Critiquing Techniques: Different writers have different editing strengths. Some edit for punctuation only. Others edit for content errors only. However, no matter what your editing style, we ask for you to be both honest and charitable. In other words, identify the work's strengths as well as its weaknesses and be gentle in how you phrase your comments.

10. Punctuality: People arriving 5 minutes late is one thing. People coming in (particularly if it's the leader) 20 minutes late is something else altogether. As your leader, I will do my best to arrive on time, if not early, and I humbly ask for the same effort from the other participants. (Of course, life does happen sometimes, so we can be flexible as needed.)

11. Group Size: 5-8 people is ideal for intimate discussion. But, if more people show up, we will just split into smaller groups after announcements for the critiquing portion of the meeting, so don't let number limits keep you from inviting or bringing friends! The more the merrier!

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

"Longing for Rest" Read the First Chapter for FREE!


e Chapter One f

Crystal sunlight blinked through tree limbs, painting splotches of white across the blankets in the gray of the room. Amy stirred and breathed out heavily through her nose as if to chase the morning away. The speckled pattern of light played on her arm and half of her face each time the breeze blew. The window stood open. The gentle rustling of the leaves and that same annoying crow cawed loudly and repeatedly from a branch of her mountain ash tree. He was chasing away her dreams… strange, lost dreams. Part of her wanted to be rid of them and another part wanted to stay and straighten things out. But it was hopeless. She was nearly awake now.

One particularly brilliant bit of light glared down on her right eye. She opened her eyes. Only then did she realize that her left eye wouldn’t open all the way. It struggled against crusty, dried tears from the night before. And suddenly she remembered.

A terrible weight landed on her chest. Without even looking she knew she was alone in the bed. Reality forced confirmation on her even as she tried again to return to the release of sleep. But there was no going back. She was fully awake now and she knew. Devon was gone. He was with Darla now.

Amy raised one weary hand to wipe the crust from her eye and found the flesh around her eye swollen and tender to the touch. As she rubbed, new tears flowed. Surprising. She thought she had used them all.

The blankets felt heavy. Her arms, too. The very air in the room crushed her. Breathing was a struggle. Amy rolled over onto her other side and realized the motion had been a terrible mistake. With it, her head began to throb with blinding intensity—her reward for giving into the racking sobs that had claimed her through much of the night.

How could this happen to me? How could Devon do this to me? What did I do to deserve this? Isn’t he supposed to love me? Did he ever love me?

The questions repeated themselves in her mind as though put there by someone else. She fought them. She did not want to wrestle with them anymore. There were no answers. There might never be any answers.

Amy forced herself slowly onto one elbow against the protest of her throbbing head and weary body. She caught a quick glimpse of the clock before letting herself fall back onto the damp pillow. 6:57 AM. Thursday morning. In three minutes the alarm would go off, and it would be time to get the kids ready for school.

Why do I always wake up before the alarm? Why couldn’t I sleep even a little longer on this horrible morning? Why do I have to wake up at all?

And then another horrible thought came to her.

The kids! They don’t know yet! How am I going to tell them? What in the world can I possibly say to them? ‘Kids, your father left us.’ ‘Kids, your father fell in love with someone else and moved out.’ ‘Kids, your father doesn’t love me anymore and…’

A new wave of anger washed over her.

How dare he! How dare he leave me to explain all of this to his children! How dare he leave me at all!

The alarm blared. Amy wiped the fresh tears away and swung a heavy arm to turn off the buzzing. Michael and Cassandra still slept soundly in their beds, unmindful of how their world had toppled. Amy dreaded waking them, as she had never dreaded anything in her life. For fifteen minutes she stayed under the covers, trying to think of how she might tell them—what she would do, what she would say. But nothing sounded right. Nothing would ever be right.

Amy remembered with renewed dread that Devon had told her he would come by today on his lunch break. He wanted to collect some of his things. He’d be lucky if he didn’t find his things sitting out on the curb when he drove up! But even that thought was not fully felt. Anger had not fully settled on her yet. It was all just so… unreal. No… maybe it was too real. And she didn’t know how to understand it—how to believe it. But he would be there soon… too soon. How could she face him? And how could he face her? How could he come and look her in the face after what he had done?

I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Forcing herself from the bed, more of the scene from last night threatened to replay itself again in her memory. She pushed it back and stood, only to lean again on the side of the bed. She noticed a line of tight pain across her left side. She still wore her bra from yesterday. In fact, she had slept in her clothes—a blouse, now covered with wrinkles, and jean shorts. Amy stumbled against a new onslaught from her headache and made her way into the bathroom where she tried to avoid seeing the disheveled hair and the wan, puffy aftermath in the mirror. She downed four ibuprofen tablets. Amy then ran a washcloth under cold water and held it to her face. She pressed the coolness against her swollen eyes, hoping they would return to normal. How she wished everything would just return to normal.

Not now. Not this morning. I can’t tell them this morning. There’s no reason it has to be now. Let them go to school. I’ll find some way to tell them later.

She took a deep breath and decided. Now she focused on hiding the effects the night, with its many sorrows, had left on her.

 

à à à à à

 

“We will be touching down in Spokane, Washington in about ten minutes. Please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts. Return seat backs and trays to their full, upright position. Please turn off and store all electronic devices. Thank you for flying Delta.” The flight attendant’s nasally voice clicked off the intercom followed by a ‘dong’ indicating that the seatbelt light again demanded obedience.

“Okay, kids,” Monica said. “It’s time to put your seatbelts back on.”

Charity, sitting by the window to Monica’s left had already latched her tray back into position and fumbled for her seatbelt. Monica glanced to the right at her son, Angel, and saw he hadn’t even heard the announcement. He sat listening to Toby Mac through the earphones of his IPod while simultaneously reading a skateboarding magazine he had picked up during their layover in Salt Lake City.

“Angel…” No response. Monica pulled on one of the speaker wires until the speaker head popped out of his left ear. “Angel,” she said too loudly, “it’s time to turn off your music and put your seatbelt back on. We’re almost there.”

Angel obeyed by pushing the tiny button on his IPod but fought a scowl. “No me gusta cuando me llames eso,” he mumbled just loud enough for her to hear.

“Please speak English. This is a good time to start practicing. None of my family speaks Spanish, you know, and I won’t have you being rude to your relatives. And I’m going to call you by your name, not that silly nickname, so you might as well get used to it.”

It had been a long trip, and Monica was in no mood to get involved in the same old argument with her fifteen-year-old son. She realized she had snapped at him and, while part of her felt guilty, the other part just felt tired and annoyed. His name was Angel—not an uncommon name for a Mexican boy—but he disliked it. He felt it wasn’t masculine enough. Monica couldn’t understand this since, to look at him, he was perhaps the most masculine of any in his circle of friends. Though tall, he had long since lost that spindly look. And his habit of weight-lifting since age eleven had added meat and muscle to his already broad shoulders. When standing next to him she already felt dwarfed. Monica was petite, slender and no more than five feet, three inches in heals. Her son looked like a man of twenty while most of his friends looked like they still needed babysitters.

Regardless, his friends had given him a nickname, which—for a reason unbeknownst to Monica—he seemed to prefer. They called him “Negro” or, sometimes, “Negrito”, which means “Black One” or “Blacky”. He had earned it due to his dark complexion, black eyes and jet-black hair. Though Monica was white, she had the darkest complexion of her family—dark brown, wavy hair, just past shoulder-length, and chocolate brown eyes. Whatever fair-skinned genes she had missed Angel completely. He was as dark, if not darker, than his Mexican father.

All the boys his age had nicknames—at least any boy who had friends—and these names generally centered on their less than admirable qualities. Only the lucky few received names that were due to a skill or an accomplishment. Most ended up fighting for -respect throughout adolescence. One of Angel’s friends had been given the nickname “Cinturas” which means “Belts”, because, though he wore belts every day, no one could ever see them under his large roll of belly fat.

Monica tried to remember Cinturas’s real name but couldn’t. She had started calling him “Cinturas”, too, she realized. But Cinturas didn’t seem to mind. In fact, none of the boys seemed to mind their nicknames, preferring instead to wear them like hard-earned badges of honor. She supposed it was a way to feel accepted by the group—like they had good enough friends to be mercilessly teased, or some backwards philosophy like that. Oh, well. She didn’t mind when they called her son “Negro” but she certainly wasn’t going to call him that. Let alone around her family! She could just hear it now—Louisa saying in her gringa, militant voice, “Negro! Who is Negro? Why in the world would you call your son that?”

Louisa. Monica sighed. Will Louisa be there yet?

Louisa had married Monica’s brother, Kevin. Monica often wondered how those two had managed to stay married all these years. Now she wondered if what she had heard from her mother the last time they had talked was true. Were they really doing better, or had they just put on a happy face to please Mom? She would soon find out.

Lord, please help me deal with Louisa and watch my mouth, she prayed. And maybe You can help her watch her mouth, too, she added.

Kevin and Louisa were probably already there, she realized. In fact, they might even be waiting with Daniel in the baggage claim area in Spokane.

Daniel was Monica’s oldest brother. He lived in Moscow, Idaho, where her mother also lived. He had told her he would pick up her and her kids, and that the drive to Moscow would take about an hour and a half. It would be nice to see Daniel again. She had missed him.

Kevin, Louisa, and their youngest son were supposed to be driving up from Texas. Monica hadn’t heard if their oldest was coming. He attended grad school in Florida.

 He was smart to get away from them, she thought and then regretted it.

But the truth remained that their oldest, Clark, seemed to be doing better than their youngest, Kenneth, who, at 21 years of age, still lived with them and had no ambition nor sense of direction at all.

Maybe things have changed, she told herself. It’s been three years since I’ve been home. Too long. I should’ve come sooner. I just didn’t think I’d have to say goodbye to Mom so soon.

Monica tried to silence that thought. She didn’t want to think of her once vibrant and energetic mother lying in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of her. She didn’t want to face losing her mother while her husband was still stuck in Tijuana trying to get his visa renewed. It had all happened so suddenly. She hadn’t been ready for that early morning phone call or for Daniel’s voice on the other end telling her their mother’s kidneys had failed, and that she was in critical condition in the ICU.

Monica took a deep breath and steadied herself. She couldn’t cry again—not now. They were almost there. What would the flight attendants think? And Angel was embarrassed enough by her already. She looked past her daughter out the window and watched the ground getting closer and closer, faster and faster. They heard the roar of the engines and both felt and heard the bump and then a bigger bump as they touched down.

Charity yawned and Monica found herself imitating her daughter, waiting for that satisfying feel of her ears popping and sounds becoming clearer. They still moved quickly along the ground, but she could feel the gentle tug of the plane slowing.

Charity stopped looking out the window long enough to return the book she had been holding to the backpack under the seat in front of her. Monica glanced at Angel as Charity zipped it closed. He looked back at her and must have read the worry in her face. He smiled. An encouraging smile. Monica had often thought her son to be short on smiles. She felt particularly grateful for this one. He had forgiven her for snapping at him, and she knew that even though her husband couldn’t be there yet, Angel would be a support to her.

Such a nice name, Angel… I can’t understand why he doesn’t like it. It just suits him somehow.

 

à à à à à

 

How could he bring her here? Amy stood in her kitchen watching as Devon pulled up. He actually had Darla in the car with him, and they seemed to be having an animated discussion, hands flopping about, mouths agape. Devon opened his door and got out as Darla turned away from him with a look of annoyance. She rolled down her window and found a magazine.

Suddenly, the anger that had eluded Amy yesterday came upon her with a force that robbed her of her sanity.

How dare this woman come between my husband and me? How dare she step into my life and rob me this way? I hate her!

Amy experienced an overwhelming desire to run outside, reach through Darla’s window, grab her by the hair and start banging her head on the windowsill of the car. She may have done it, too, if Devon hadn’t opened the front door just then. Her attention shifted for a moment. There he was. Devon stood before her, eyes cast to the side and downwards, not looking at her.

A part of Amy rebelled against the way he had just walked into the house—claiming ownership of a space they had shared—a space he had forfeited. He said nothing. He kept his eyes down and seemed to be waiting for her to say something—perhaps to yell at him or even throw something.

Amy looked at his familiar face, light brown hair, dimpled chin. But she saw only a stranger.

Who is this man? Do I know him at all?

Devon cleared his throat and shifted from one foot to the other.

“Well,” he said, “I came to get my things.”

Amy found she could say nothing. All that had been swirling through her mind and tormenting her through the night—the many angry accusations, the questions full of hurt, the pleadings for him to come back. None of them seemed appropriate somehow. They all demanded an intimacy that no longer existed. The only thing that mattered right now was that he seemed intent on continuing with his plan to leave her, to move in with Darla, and to do his best to forget the fifteen years he had spent married to her.

Devon must have decided she had nothing to say to him. He turned abruptly on his heal and headed to their bedroom—no, her bedroom. Amy heard him opening drawers and then realized she had been holding her breath. She released it and it came out in a tattered, ragged sob. She quickly covered her mouth with her hand, fervently hoping he hadn’t heard. She didn’t want him to see how deeply he had wounded her. But she couldn’t get hold of herself. A second sob followed the first. Then another and another—each more devastating to her composure than the last. Amy realized with unexpected rationality that she was becoming hysterical. She grabbed a chair and sat down heavily at the kitchen table.

Stop it! Stop it! Get a hold of yourself!

She put a hand on her chest and pressed, focusing all her strength and willpower on getting herself under control.

More rustling noises came from the bedroom. She realized they had stopped for a moment but now the sounds of packing resumed. He must have heard. He must have. She covered her mouth again, now only whimpering through heavy, sob-like breaths. She fought for control.

I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.

Then Amy made the mistake of glancing out the window. When in the kitchen, she often enjoyed a glance upon her front garden that bloomed all year round and the quaint stone path that meandered through bright green grass. Seeing these things had always given her a sense of pride to live in such a well-kept home. Now she only saw Devon's car parked in front with Darla sitting in the passenger seat—in Amy’s seat—looking bored.

The rage returned in an instant. Amy stopped crying. She stood up and a wrath-filled cry of fury wrenched from her. She sounded like a lioness on the hunt but this time gave not a thought to the fact that Devon would have heard her. Somehow her hand found a rolling pin that had been left lying on the counter. With weapon in hand Amy tore from the kitchen, out of the house, and toward the car.

That tramp thinks this is boring? Just some little inconvenience in her day? Does she think this is some kind of a game?

By the time these thoughts had processed, Amy was already at the car.

“What are you doing?” Darla screamed, terror distorting her pretty face.

“You’re going to find out!” was all Amy could get out before sending the rolling pin smashing into the windshield of the passenger side. “You think you can steal my husband?” Another splintering crash and a scream of panic from Darla. “You think you can come to my home and destroy my family?” Another crash. This time the rolling pin went all the way through, and shards of glass sprayed across Darla’s face. A few of them landed in her open, screaming mouth. “You think you’re playing some kind of a game?”

Amy raised the rolling pin to smash more of the glass but found that it caught in mid-air behind her. Before she knew what was happening, Devon’s strong arms wrapped around her, restraining her. His touch made her stomach turn and her heart feel like it might explode into flames. She struggled and kicked and screamed, “Let me go! Let me go!”

“Stop it! Stop it!” he yelled as he wrenched the weapon from her with his free one and threw it to the ground.

“Let me go! Don’t touch me!”

Devon released her, and she slumped to the ground. Sobs overtook her again, and she sat in a heap and buried her face in her hands.

What’s happened? How have I been reduced to this? What has become of me?

Darla had stopped screaming, and Amy thought she heard the sound of her whimpering, spitting—glass, probably—and brushing off her clothes at the same time. Devon stood over Amy for a moment, saying nothing.

He pities me, she thought, disgusted with herself but still unable to manage her sobbing. He pities me. I’m pitiable. I lost my husband and now I’ve lost my dignity. I have nothing left.

“Have you gone mad?” Devon finally said in an angry whisper. “What are the neighbors going to think? I mean, look what you did to the car!”

He’s crazier than I am, Amy thought with dismay, but didn’t look up.

“Get me out of here!” Darla finally got enough glass out of her mouth to screech at him. “Why are you just standing there? Your wife just tried to kill me!”

Devon glanced at her and answered in an annoyed voice, “She did not!”

Amy found his defense strange.

“Get your stuff and let’s go!” Darla ordered.

Devon seemed hesitant. “Look,” he said finally to Amy. “I’m going to get my things now. And for heaven’s sake, don’t do anything crazy!” He picked up the rolling pin before heading back to the house. He went quickly, shooting a nervous glance at her before disappearing inside.

A few seconds ticked by. Darla fidgeted in her seat. “Look,” she said. “I’m sorry this is so… so… hard on you right now.”

Amy ignored her, still crying, face in her hands, hiding from the world.

“It just wasn’t working out between you two,” Darla foolishly continued. “You’ll both be better off in the long run. He just needed to make a change, that’s all… he needed—”

“Shut up!” Amy said, pronouncing each word in measured staccato. She stood. Somehow her composure—or some of it—returned. She approached the window, and Darla scooted as far away as the seatbelt allowed. “Don’t think you can tell me anything about my husband! I’ve known him for eighteen years! I’ve been married to him for fifteen of those, and in that time I’ve gotten to know him a little better than you do! So, spare me the explanations! Spare me the advice! Spare me the—”

“Hey! What are you doing?” Devon’s worried voice came from the porch. He came swiftly to them, a suitcase in each hand. “What are you doing?” he repeated. “Get away from the car, Amy.”

“It’s my car,” Amy replied with deathlike calmness.

Darla stared at her with a mixture of hatred and fear. Devon stepped around Amy and opened the back door. He threw the suitcases onto the back seat and slammed the door shut again.

“Have you told the kids yet?” he asked as he opened the driver’s side door.

“I thought you should tell them,” Amy lied. She wouldn’t dream of allowing him to have a chance to lie to them, justify himself to them, or manipulate them—but she wanted him to squirm, to realize how difficult a position he had placed their family in.
He rewarded her with a look of anger and consternation. He seemed unsure of how to respond. “Fine!” he yelled. He got in and slammed the door. His anger intensified when he found prickly shards of glass under his buttocks. He started from the discomfort and then shifted to brush them away. He started the engine but, before driving away said, “I’ll call them tonight.”

Monday, September 29, 2014

"Longing for Rest" Now Available!


New Release! Now available at www.thedramaticpen.com and Amazon. Formats: paperback, Kindle, & Nook. Retail: $7.99 for paperback. $2.99 for e-book.

What Readers Had to Say About This Book:

"This is some of the best inspirational fiction I have ever read (which is really saying something). I would gladly buy this book. Great work. …It was a wonderful story…. Even though it isn't something that I would have picked up off the shelf at a bookstore and purchased had I just seen it out of the blue, I am so glad that our paths crossed and that I might be greatly enriched by reading your story. It has been a real blessing to me. I loved it. I love the characters. I loved the story. I loved the plot elements. Add to that that everything flowed naturally. No plot element or interaction felt forced. I felt like it could have been a true account of something that really happened." Jared King

"I will say it again, you are good writer! A great writer! I am trying to get into a book right now and it is hard to adjust to its rhythm. I keep thinking, as I am trying to read it, "I wish Susan had written this, it would be so much easier to read!" …When I read [your book], I felt like I was right there experiencing it!" Wendy Waltner

"I can't wait to read more! Talented is an understatement! God has truly blessed you with a gift! ...I... say that this book is a great one. You are so very talented!" Summer Rath


Monday, September 15, 2014

The False Teachings of Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts" (Video Series & Workbook)


I admit, I haven't read the book itself. In fact, I'd never heard of it until this past weekend when I attended a ladies' retreat with my church. The agenda said that, over the course of three days, we'd watch five video sessions and split into groups after each one to discuss the correlating discussion questions and assigned Scripture readings. Sounds great, I thought.

The first session was quite beautiful and insightful. Ann Voskamp has a unique and soothing poetic style that, though it was difficult to get used to at first, I really enjoyed. I'm a lover of poetry and of the written word, so it appealed to me personally. She talked about how important it is to make a conscious effort to recognize the everyday gifts God gives us--curls tied with ribbons, the smell of fresh baked bread, freckles on little boys' faces--you know, the beauties God has woven into the fabric of our existence--things we often overlook or take for granted, especially in times of trouble. Recognizing God's thousands of gifts (big and small), she taught, will multiply our joy and help us recognize God's grace. I agree.

Then we went on to session two. And I started to get uncomfortable with the direction she seemed to be heading. By the end of session three, I knew I was done.

Now, I don't know what she says in the book, but in the video in session two, she said, "What if our troubles are only feelings?" Um, no. Say that to a mom of young children when she has just been diagnosed with cancer and given only a few months to live (even with treatment). She'd be within her rights to give you a good punch in the face.

And a question in the study guide for that session (top of pg. 31) reads, "What if the things that feel like trouble are gifts of grace?" 

And, what if the things that feel like trouble, are actually trouble?

John 16:33 Jesus says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

And, Paul writes to the Romans, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)

These passages should make it clear that the troubles themselves aren't grace, but Jesus is the source of our victory over those things. If troubles themselves are gifts of grace, then what need do we have to be delivered from them? They must actually be good, right? What right do we have to acknowledge a loss? What right do we have to mourn? What need have we of comfort?

But Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." (Matthew 5:4)

The video session for the third lesson got even more convoluted. Talking about hardships (in her case, the example was of watching her boys fighting at the table), she said (and I'm quoting from memory), "I feel like a greedy child taking candy from God's hands, but refusing the trouble." The implication here is that God doles out both blessings and troubles (I can only guess this means suffering, hardship, evil, and trials of all kinds, as she makes zero distinction between them), and we should be equally thankful for both.

She also said, still speaking of all kinds of trouble that, presumably God hands us, that we should, "give thanks for all things."

She uses no Scripture to support this--probably because the Scripture passages that come the closest to her subject say something very different.

Matthew records Jesus's words in Matthew 7:9-11 (which is also recorded in Luke 11:11-13), "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

So, would God give us trouble? Should we ever consider bad things as God's gifts? Obviously not, from what Jesus adamantly proclaims here.

So, if God doesn't give us bad things, why does Ann Voskamp tell us we should thank him for "all things?" The Bible doesn't even ask us to do that. I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to "give thanks in every circumstance." That little preposition "in" is very important. It does not mean "for" which, when Ann uses it, means something completely different. God wants us to recognize God's victory and power within every circumstance--the good, the bad, the ugly. As David says, in Psalm 9:9, "The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble." But, He never asks us to thank Him for the bad or the ugly, as if He was the instigator or the source of the evil in the world.

According to Ann, God dishes out the trouble. According to the Bible, God is a refuge from it.

Ann uses very little Scripture that directly backs up this point, and the Scriptures she does use, she misinterprets. On pages 44-45 of the study guide, she has us read Luke 9:37-43, provided below:

"The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not." "O unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here." Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God...."

In reference to the above passage, Ann asks the question, "How did Jesus see good and beauty in situations where everyone else saw only a mess?"

No. Let's think about what actually happened here. Jesus didn't see "good" or "beauty" in this situation. He saw evil, and He cast it out.

Throughout this session, both in the video and in the study guide, Ann keeps repeating the phrase, "All is grace." At first I had trouble wrapping my mind about what she meant by that... until I started analyzing all of the above misinterpretations of Scripture, mis-directions, and flawed assignations to God's character. So, let's look at that phrase in light of all the other things she's been saying. Naturally, if you believe that God is the sort of being who is the source of both good and evil, as Ann seems to, then this makes sense. Perhaps it could be true that "all is grace" if there is no genuine difference between good and evil. But even as she blurs the lines between them when she claims both come directly from God, she continues to claim that God is good. Wait... what's the definition of "good" then? And what is "evil"? Do these words even mean anything anymore?

When you take a word pregnant with meaning, like the word “grace,” and strip it of its opposites, the word ceases to mean anything. If "all is grace," that means that "grace" has no opposite. Evil is also grace. Sin is also grace. Intense, meaningless suffering is also grace. And it all came from God.

No, Ann. No.

What about the young lady whose father has been raping her from the time she was three years old until she turned 16 and finally ran away, only to be sucked in by a sex trafficker? Is that grace? Did God do that? Is that one of the "good gifts" from His hand?

A woman at my table during the second discussion said, "So, if that's true, then does that mean that God killed my babies?" She has suffered four miscarriages.

Do you see how insidious, how false, how dangerous it is when we start to blur the lines between good and evil? Do you see how God’s character is being maligned when we teach that He is the source of evil? Do you see how easily it would be for people to, not only get confused, but to grow to deeply loathe a god like that?

If “all is grace,” what moral responsibility could there be for us when we sin? After all, the suffering we cause others must really be just the gift of grace to them from God’s hand, right? So, nothing I do could ever really be blameworthy. And that poor raped girl has no right to feel angry or hurt by what Daddy did. Because it was really all arranged by God. And, in some baffling twist of logic, it was good.

If “all is grace,” what is Satan’s job? The Bible calls him “a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”(I Peter 5:8) Ann ignores him completely.

If “all is grace,” what need do we have for Jesus? Why did He have to die? If every good thing and bad thing are equally gifts of grace from God’s hand, then we would have no need of rescue. And when evil and sin lose their meanings, so do goodness and grace.

Actually, I could probably make a list of one thousand things that aren’t grace:

1. Fear
2. Hatred
3. Sin
4. Satan’s fiery arrows
5. Temptation
6. Denying Christ
7. Murder
8. Rape
9. Lies
10. Cursing
11. Unhealthy relationships
12. Disease
13. Envy
14. Lust
15. Manipulation

…Need I go on?

When Ann ignores Scripture in favor of her own view of God, she plays right into the hands of those who would use her arguments to deny God altogether.

Sometime between BC 341 and 270, Epicurus wrote these famous words, called “Epicurus’s Riddle.”:

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?"

How would you respond to him? Will “One Thousand Gifts” equip you to do so? No, it most certainly will not. It will do the opposite. It actually does more to prove his point. However, the Bible does equip us to understand that at the root of this argument is a great deal of brokenness and suffering caused—not by God, as Ann would claim—but by struggling through life in a world plagued by the disease of sin. And God’s Word goes further, to teach us how to gently speak the truth in genuine love to those who struggle with the philosophical and theological problem of evil. But most of all, God’s Word shows us that the answer to sin and evil and suffering—is not to adopt some Buddhist, Zen-like, attitude in which we try to distance ourselves from our desires and emotions, convince ourselves sin and evil and suffering are “just feelings”, and thank God for all of it—but to look to Jesus—God Himself, the definition and standard for good—and “cast all our burdens on Him” (I Peter 5:7) as we place our trust in Him. After all, He left His Heaven to step into this mess we created (Romans 5:12-17) and became the Solution to the problem of evil (not the source of it). He took on this life and then He gave it up again so that He could prove to us how much He loves us. Then He picked up that life again to prove to all of creation that death and sin and evil have been conquered once and for all.

If you are still not convinced that Ann is mistaken in how she very oddly credits God as the source of trouble and hardship and evil, making no differentiation between them, just look up the word “evil” in your concordance at the back of your Bible and glance through the verses that deal with the subject. Right away, in Genesis 2, we see that there is a tree called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The dichotomy between these two things is already present in the opening chapters of God’s Word. Then I see phrases like, “he feared God and shunned evil,” “Far be it for God to do evil,” “Beware of turning to evil,” “keep your tongue from evil,” “Turn from evil and do good,” “he who pursues evil goes to his death,” “wash the evil from your heart,” “Your [God’s] eyes are too pure to look on evil,” “who reject the truth and follow evil,” “Avoid every kind of evil.” And the list goes on and on. Obviously, God, in His Word, draws a very strict, thick line between good and evil. And so should we.

Isaiah 5:20 reads, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What Christian Feminism Is About


 This post is a response to The Matt Walsh Blog. Click here to read the original article.

Dear Matt Walsh,

I just read your blog article, “Christian Women: Feminism Is Not Your Friend,” posted April 22nd.

I have to say, that although I’m glad to meet another brother in Christ, I found your attitude toward feminism and, apparently, women in general disappointing. First of all, it should be pretty obvious that, as a man, you are standing on somewhat precarious ground when you choose to preach to women about how they should think and what they should and should not expect in terms of how they should be treated by men. Given our vast history and continued battle for equality with men, any man who does so with the purpose of getting women to give up the fight could be accused of succumbing to a conflict of interests. However, I am not writing accuse you of this and will try to simply provide a response to your concerns, taking them at face value.

First, let me point out that you are working under the false assumption that feminism is about securing equal rights. That’s only part of it. It’s about changing the culture. It’s about recognizing that women have value in and of themselves without any reference to men. It’s about teaching women that they can just be who they are without feeling guilty. It’s about creating an environment where women can be safe in their relationships with men and one another—safe to speak their minds without being told they are stupid or should think more like a man, safe to say ‘no’ to sexual advances without feeling like they are taking something that doesn’t belong to them, safe to walk down the street at night without fearing being beaten and then raped to death.

Because you are a man, it’s unlikely you fully understand the genuine fears and self-doubt and emotional sacrifices women are forced to make that have absolutely nothing to do with whether she is paid as highly as a man or whether she can vote. Were those important victories for women? Of course. But, that is not the final goal of feminism. Feminism is about identity, safety, value, being.  And, because feminism is only, in a very small part, about legal rights, it is by no means made obsolete when some male judge condescendingly agrees to “let” us do something (that should’ve been a human right, not just a man’s right)—and probably does it just to get his own wife off his back. Can’t you see that the denial of freedoms and rights are only a symptom of the bigger problem? The problem is how femaleness is viewed—not only by society and the men in our lives, but by ourselves.

Consider the following current trends in the United States today:

“Child sexual abuse is not rare. Retrospective research indicates that as many as 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18. However, because child sexual abuse is by its very nature secretive, many of these cases are never reported” (“Child Sexual Abuse Fact Sheet, 2009.” The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from: http://nctsn.org/nctsn_assets/pdfs/caring/ChildSexualAbuseFactSheet.pdf)

“Men spend $10 billion on pornography a year. 11,000 new pornographic films are made every year. And in those films, women are not people. In pornography, women are three holes and two hands” (Jensen, Robert. “A Cruel Edge: The Painful Truth About Today’s Pornography—and What Men Can Do About It.” Retrieved April 24, 2014 from: http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/freelance/pornography&cruelty.htm)

“Cultural representation of glamorized degradation has created a situation among the young in which boys rape and girls get raped as a normal course of events (Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth. William Morrow & Co.: New York, 1991. 167.)

“In 2007, intimate partner violence resulted in 2,340 deaths; 70% of the victims were women” (Clark, Cat. “Intimate Partner Violence.” The American Feminist, Fall/Winter 2011, pp. 12-17.)

Females (76%) experienced more domestic violence than males (24%).” (Morgan, Rachel E. and Truman, Jennifer L. “Nonfatal Domestic Violence, 2003-2012.” Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from: http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4984)

“Implicit messages such as those found in the Twilight series appear elsewhere, too. A newspaper story might describe a crime in a titillating manner or encourage readers to blame the victim. A novel might suggest it is noble for a woman to allow an abusive partner back in her life. A popular song might devalue or objectify women, or a movie might portray domestic violence as a ‘lover’s quarrel’ leading into a romantic interlude,” (Clark, Cat. “Intimate Partner Violence.” The American Feminist, Fall/Winter 2011, pp. 12-17.)

Approximately 90% of rape victims are women (“Get The Facts.” Rape Crisis Center. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from: http://www.rccmsc.org/resources/get-the-facts.aspx.)

Women are more likely than men to think victims should take responsibility for their assault, and women ages 18-24 are, of all female groups, most likely to believe the victim is responsible. (The Havens. Wake Up To Rape Research: Summary Report. 2010: 5.)

And as bad as this is in our country, that doesn’t even touch what happens to women in other countries. Consider, for example, this report on the ongoing child bride phenomenon: http://www.soroptimist.org/whitepapers/WhitePaperDocs/WPPlightChildMailOrderBrides.pdf

After seeing all of this—and this is only the tip of the iceberg—can you still claim that women in this country are just as valued as men? That we have been endowed with all the rights and securities due us? That we have somehow “arrived?” That we have nothing more to fight for? No reason to raise our voices against injustice? No right to demand equality?

But, of course, lest I forget, you also make the mistake of defining “equality” as “sameness.” This is not at all what is meant when women demand equality. We do not demand that the government pay for us to be given sex changes so that we can be men. We don’t want to be men. We want to be fully woman—in all the beauty and even the mess that entails—and know that that’s enough. If a woman believed that the only way she could become equal to men was to become a man, that would completely defeat the purpose of “feminism.” But, frankly, we are already equal (meaning of equal value and capability and responsibility) before God; we just want our husbands and fathers and sons and friends and pastors and bosses and co-workers to wake up and recognize that fact.

A third mistake you make is, I’ll admit, and understandable one, but a mistake nonetheless. You assume that being a feminist and being pro-abortion are inseparable. You assume that it was feminism that created the monster of abortion. First of all, I think it is easy to conflate the ideal of feminism with the feminist movement. These are two very different things. Just as there is the ideal Christian (follower of Christ) and there are the Crusades, which will forever be recorded in the annals of “what you shouldn’t do in the name of Jesus.” So, your claim, “Feminism, they say, exists largely to combat the patriarchal evils of pro-life Christianity,” (aside from being divorced from any reference to whom the “they” is referring to) is deceptive.

Feminism exists because women have consistently throughout history been viewed as “the weaker sex,” “less than men,” “second to man,” “subservient to men,” etc. (And, yes, these are all current, modern ideas.) Culture often teaches us that this is our lot, and we must accept it to be good, desirable, and worthy of love. Men are often sent the message that they get to control, manipulate, belittle, and use women, and they are heartily congratulated when they deign to give women respect (that she should’ve had all along). Feminism exists because there is something wrong with this picture. And, frankly, Christianity has not solved it. (And by Christianity, I do NOT mean Christ or the Bible. I mean the traditional religious practice itself.) Why? Because Christianity is led almost exclusively by men who find these ideas convenient for them and, like an ego-enhancing drug, difficult to avoid.

You wrongly follow the idea that modern, pro-abortion feminists have embraced abortion “logically” somehow stemming from the early anti-abortion feminists. No. Their arguments are anything but logical. There is no such thing as a pro-abortion argument that is an exercise in good logic; they are each one absolute perversions of reason. I have a master’s degree in philosophy, know logic well, and have studied all the arguments on both sides of this issue. Trust me. The pro-abortion ones are bad, bad, bad—often not structurally valid, and always unsound. They utilize every logical fallacy known to man, including blatant lies, straw-man arguments, red herrings, and skewed emotional arguments that hinge on misdefinitions.

But, logic aside, you seem bent on laying the blame of the tragedy of abortion at the feet of feminism. Or, more accurately, at the feet of women. This is baffling to me.

Which gender has exclusively controlled the White House since President Washington? Which gender has consistently held the most seats in the Senate and House of Representatives? Which gender holds the most public offices, attorney degrees, and police officer positions? Which gender holds the most seats as university presidents, deans, provosts, and professors? Which gender owns the most businesses and hires the most employees? Which gender leads the most churches and synagogues and temples? Which gender holds the most positions as physicians, and surgeons, and abortionists? Which gender is most active in the sale, trade, and use of pornography and (mostly female) sex slaves? Which gender is more able and statistically more likely to leave a domestic situation if it doesn’t conform to his personal desires?

The answer to each of these questions is: MEN.

So, who is most in control of our legal system and our culture and how we live our lives? MEN.

And who most benefits from abortion? MEN.

The noisy, angry voices of a few very messed up women make it easy for men to step aside, just like Adam did in the garden (who was right there with Eve the whole time—Gen. 3: 6), and let women take the blame and suffer the consequences for their mistakes. God didn’t let Adam off the hook, though. And He’s not going to let men off the hook for the tragedy of abortion, either, be assured.

Do you know the number one reason why women have abortions? It’s not because they want an abortion. No little girl dreams of growing up, getting sexually used and then disposed of by men, and having one abortion after another. So, why do women have abortions?

“The reasons most frequently cited were that having a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%).” (“Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives.” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2005, 37(3):110-118. New York: Guttmacher Institute. Retrieved on April 24, 2014 from: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3711005.pdf)
 

When I see this, things begin to add up for me. A woman has an abortion when her husband or boyfriend refuses to help support her or the children he creates, when her boss says, “We have no way to help you find childcare,” when her school says, “You are going to lose your scholarship and be kicked out of student housing if you have a child,” when her pastor says, “If we support you, that means we’re condoning what you have done.” The truth is that society (again, largely led by men), does not see pregnancy and childbirth as a natural and expected and beautiful part of womanhood. We see women as good for sex, but burdensome when that sex leads to a baby. So, we tell women that they have a “choice,” when really we mean they have only one choice: abortion. But, abortion is in no way pro-woman. It deeply wounds the woman and pits her against her own children—all the while letting her male user and abuser get away free of consequences so he can mistreat the next woman he meets. As the pro-life feminist group, Feminists For Life (www.feministsforlife.org) says, we force women to choose between her own life and the life of her child; but women should refuse to choose!


Yes, it’s hard to be abandoned by the man who claimed to love you. It’s hard to be a single mom. It’s hard to find a job and support and an education with a child. It’s hard to place your child for adoption, even when he or she came from an unplanned pregnancy. But, when society, including “feminist” organizations like NOW (National Organization for Women), NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League), and Planned Parenthood, tells a woman that she can’t handle these hardships, that she’s not strong enough to do it on her own, that she can’t get by without the job she wants or the education she wants or the love she wants, what are we saying about womanhood?

We’re saying women are weak! That they can’t handle the tough situations! That, without a man, women can’t make it! I wholeheartedly disagree! You see, I was that woman! I was the girl who believed that girls were lesser than boys, who fell in love with an abusive, controlling, self-righteous, manipulative man, whose emotionally abusive boyfriend then kept pushing and pushing and pushing for sex, who finally gave in, who got pregnant, whose boyfriend then demanded she have an abortion, who refused, whose boyfriend then threatened to steal her child but dumped her and abandoned his child instead, whose parents were disappointed, whose school said, “You can’t be here anymore,” who lost her job when the baby was born, who lived on $100 a month, who felt completely alone!

...except for that precious little girl’s smile that lit up the dark places of my world. And a family who came around and helped me out as best they could. And a Church who forgave me and supported me and welcomed me back with open arms. And a God who said, “Despite your mistakes, I’m going to bless you with a beautiful daughter who you will love with your whole heart for the rest of eternity—because I’m a God who loves and romances and blesses, even when you don’t deserve it, just because I can and because I want to.”


Now, I am a Christian woman. I am also emphatically pro-life. I am married to an amazing man and mother to an intelligent, hardworking daughter and two sons who are equally so. But, I am also a feminist. I am a feminist because I understand the difference between feminism, the ideal, and the issue-driven, political, feminist movement. And, I am a Christian because I recognize the difference between Jesus Christ and His followers.

Feminism itself simply means being pro-woman. We’re, literally for woman, meaning not against woman nor indifferent toward woman. And, Who defined what it means to be a woman? Who decided to make woman in His image? (Gen. 1:27) Who was the first to honor woman? Who gave His life and conquered death for woman? Who gave woman a free and clear, direct path to relationship with God—without having to go through a parent or spouse or priest first? Jesus did these things! Jesus, who is also the Creator (John 1:1-3), and a member of the Triune God, was the first feminist. He was the first to be pro-woman. As it happens, He’s also very pro-man, having done all of this for man, too—showing that one need not be anti-man to be pro-woman or vice versa.

I am the founder and president of The Coalition of Christian Feminists (www.facebook.com/christianfeminists)—a small group of men and women who recognize that feminism is an ideal defined by God Himself, who seek to bring our worldviews under His direction in all things, and who take the Triune God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) as the correct relationship model for marriage (Jesus, Man, and Woman)—with perfect harmony between the three. We avoid getting distracted by particular issues, such as whether or not a woman should be a pastor, but place all these things at the feet of Jesus, seeking to keep Him in sight at all times.


Just because certain self-proclaimed “feminists” are angry and noisy, doesn’t give them the exclusive right to define the term “feminism.” Because feminism is an ideal, and because right and wrong, good and bad, only make sense in reference to our Creator, isn’t it preferable to let Him define it for us?  

One amazing thing about God is His ability and proclivity to redeem. He doesn’t wipe everything out and start over from scratch. He takes the little that is there and does something new with it—imbuing it with His own self. Even in Genesis 1:1, we see that His act of creation of Earth and mankind was an act of redemption. It was not, in that description, creation ex nihilo (out of nothing); there was something there, variously described as waters, the “deep” (which had a surface), darkness, chaos, a void. And, so God stepped into this mess, became the Light in the darkness, and turned something ugly and empty into something beautiful and full and valuable. He did the same thing as Jesus Christ. He stepped into the mess and offered a way out through His own death and resurrection.

So, I think it is a mistake to allow people who deny their Creator to define our ideals. Yes, the word “feminism” has been taken to mean something ugly, something confused, something perverse. But the word itself is a good word. It has a good base meaning. And, I think it’s time we take it back, give it to Christ, and let Him do what He does best—redeem it for His glory. We’ve given up enough territory to the Enemy. It’s time we started taking some back.

May you be blessed,

Susan