Friday, January 30, 2015

Defending Trashing Religious Books (Part 2)

Yesterday I posted a blog to answer some of the criticisms and complaints both in my inbox and on one of my Facebook threads. Sorting through those books mentally was more fatiguing than I imagined it would be, and with my inability to be succinct, I cut it short. (If you want to find the original thread on Facebook, it's here.)

Again, just so we're clear, I don't mind the criticism. If I'm going to post a strong opinion, I have to be willing to back it up. As far as I'm concerned, criticism is nothing more than a door to discussion, evaluation and if need be, change. That's why constructive criticism is a good thing.

Okay, here are a few more:

1. Were you hurt when you were young? Why do you seem so angry all the time?

Yes. I was hurt when I was young. I'm human. As for "being angry all the time,"I can assure you that I don't walk around growling all day. (Okay, sometimes I growl at myself, but I work in a school, this is normal.) I'm actually quite genial. If we spoke in person, I would be kind and interested.

That said, I am angry about the state of the world. We'll never fix it, humans are broken, but that doesn't mean we don't keep trying like hell to get it done. Shit, the whole point of living a #Kindlife is to point out the things that need to be changed and do what we can to change them. That means keeping my eyes open. It also means I'm obligated to wade through a lot of human shit -- be it behaviour or systemic or whatever else -- and when I post about it, I'm not going to sound nice. Am I supposed to be all cool and happy when I find out that Wal-Mart's factory farms use gestation cages, about the cruelest possible fucking way to raise pigs? It's a life of torture. And you want fucking rainbows?! Hell, yes, I'm pissed! And I'm furious that certain people don't give a shit about the lives (both human and animal) around them. Given that I can't punch everyone of them in the face or take a baseball bat to their knees, all I can do is post the information, inform others, and stew. Hence, I will occasionally seem angry.






Thankfully, I have the most amazing wife/teammate in the world, I love to laugh, and rum. Oh, and NBA2K.


2. How could a writer criticize a best-sellers list, when you should know how much work it takes to get there?

I never go after young writers, especially those who write fiction. I won't do it unless the books are destructive with their stereotypes or misogyny or whatever, books like 50 Shades of Crap and Twilight. Most of the books on the "Christian" bestselling list, however,  do not represent "writers." Instead, they represent a bunch of finely tailored junk peddlers selling snake-oil and calling it Christianity. They've all made a tonne of money off people who aren't educated enough to know better. It's disgusting.




3. You use profanity, and yet you claim to be a Christian?

Hell, yes. Honestly, I don't trust people who think swearing is analogous to faith. It always speaks to fear and "being nice," neither of which appeal to me. I think we should enjoy the breadth and depth of the English language, but I don't appreciate people dropping f-bombs like they're playing high school football. And I do have friends who never swear and are completely awesome, but they don't care if someone swears around them. Do you see the difference?

Also, Shakespeare, the greatest writer of the English language ever (yes, better than Joyce) added some ten thousand words to English, a number of which were curse words and insults.

My Shakespearean mug of cursing. Hilarious! (And geeky. Yeah, I got that.)



There are more (believe it or not), but I have to stop for today. Time to work on the novel. 

-Steve




Thursday, January 29, 2015

Defending Trashy Religious Books (Part 1)

A few days ago I posted this pic (from Pulpit and Pen) on Facebook. My comment? "Don't buy this garbage, and if you're looking for a good Christian book, try Rachel Held Evans' new one." Or something like that.


Because I keep my thread open to everyone, within a few hours I had numerous comments and complaints and criticisms. So many, in fact, I decided to respond with a blog post instead of spilling a few hundred words on a thread.

Before I answer those complaints, let's be clear. I have no problem with people ripping me on Facebook. There are limits, of course, but as long those boundaries aren't crossed, I don't mind people having strong opinions that differ from my own. If I'm going to post something like this, then I'm inviting commentary. (I just didn't think it would happen for these books. Apparently, there are some sacred cows on this list. Who knew?) I'll answer the complaints and criticisms like I would answering a mailbag.

COMPLAINT #1

The criticism that I misused KindLife hashtag by calling these books "garbage," and that I hadn't even read them, so how could I comment? 

ANSWER

I use #KindLife  often, and it's tied in to what I do on this site. It's not complicated. I'm simply trying to promote kindness. However, we have confused "niceness" with "kindness." They are different words with different implications. I know a few narcissists who are very nice. The guy down the street beats the shit out of his girlfriend, but he's nice. Kindness implies more than simply being "nice." So, no. My post wasn't "nice." And if I'd used #NiceLife, then that would be a fair criticism. 

Most (not all) of the authours and ideas on this list represent an ideology that is anything but kind. And if I haven't read that particular book, I've read the authour before and are familiar with their worldview and teaching. 

1) Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
This book actually looks interesting. Maybe I'd hate it, but the idea is pretty cool. And the "New Age Spirituality" criticism never bothers me, if only because most Western Christians don't realize that their faith has more in common with Platonism than Ancient Orthodox Christianity. In other words, I disagree  with the first comment.

 2 & 3) Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo


A "true" story of a three-year-old boy who goes to heaven after a near death experience. It's a 'heaven tourism' book, which would harmless if that's all it was, but its not. (I watched the movie, didn't read the book.) In some ways, it's far more pleasant than the inexorable GOD IS NOT DEAD, a movie filled with so many hateful stereotypes  (Muslims, women, atheists) that you understand immediately that only a white fundamentalist could have written it. But for all that pleasantness, it promotes an unnecessary and phony cultural divide between Todd Burpo and everyone who disagrees with him, who must clearly be Satan worshipping devil lovers, or at least, not "real" Christians.

Again, these fundamentalist movies (they aren't written for all Christians, they specifically target a certain niche group of conservative fundamentalist Christians) do far more damage than good. They paint Norman Rockwell scenes and cater to the "remember when" crowd, without ever addressing that whatever progress we've made when it comes to equality has been thanks to overcoming the very group these movies target. There aren't two sides. There are many sides. To everything. If only because they refuse to acknowledge that simple piece of philosophical framing by consistently creating a false dichotomy, these types and movies and books are indeed garbage, particularly when the paint the main character, a white, straight, Christian male, as being persecuted. Maybe he's being persecuted because he's an idiot. He does hold EVERY SINGLE CLASS POWER CARD in Western society.

(Also, Todd Burpo writing about how great Todd Burpo is. Hello, Antoine Fisher?)


4) The Five Love Languages

A useful counselling book unrelated to religion. (I own a copy. I do recommend it.)

5) Four Blood Moons by John Hagee

Hagee promotes a type of faith based on fear and ignorance. (And of course, a non-inclusive faith) Academically, Hagee is a joke. Even if you don't have a degree in Theology and didn't go to Seminary like I did, it shouldn't be hard to spot. Anyone who sells cartoon pamphlets detailing what will happen during the Rapture (ignoring the simple fact that Revelation is describing events that have already happened) and presents it as serious eschatology should not be allowed near a pulpit. I write fantasy, he teaches it as religious fact. (And who listens to an overweight dude who writes a weight loss book or instructs women how to be 'fetching.'.) Garbage.


INTERMISSION














Hold on, just give me a minute. I'm still contemplating a John Hagee book on a Christian list of any kind. Wait. I need to go to the fridge....

(3 beers and 2 hours later) Okay. Let's get back to this.


6) I am a Church Member by Thom Rainer

Rainer runs Lifeway books. I'm a struggling writer. I resent this, because if you think that his book is on this list based on merit, I have a few acres in Greenland to sell you. Don't worry, it's very warm there.

7) The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

Uh, yeah. Money management. Why is it on a "Christian" list? (Shrug) Maybe it's helpful.

8) You Can, You Will by Joel Osteen

Anyone who thinks the shallow, commercial and individualistic shit Osteen puts out has anything remotely to do with Jesus of Nazareth is smoking crack. This dude sells Triumphalism and calls it Christianity. So no, it does NOT promote a KindLife.

9) The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren

It's a diet plan. Sorry, it's a diet plan for fundamentalists, with enough "God and faith" thrown in to contribute to the $5,000,000,000 a year that people spend at evangelical/fundamentalist drug book dealers. A diet plan that somehow first stresses "faith in the way we believe in God for change." So basically, Warren wanted to lose weight. And he didn't just do it and encourage his congregation to do it, he got a few big names (like Dr. Oz) to headline a plan that you have to buy, with all the fundamentalist fat (see what I did there) thrown in. It's a way to make money by promoting something exclusively to evangelicals and fundamentalists. Commercialism and religion and exclusivism. No. Not a Kindlife.

10) The Mystery of the Shemitah by Jonathan Cohn

What? Like, what?!?



"God has visited warnings upon the United States in seven year cycles dating back many decades." Listen, there's only so much stupid in this world. If you actually believe that, if you actually believe this type of silly, Manifest Destiny, historically absent, brain-dead trash, then what can I say. It isn't even about living a kind life. This book promotes stupidity, but I understand that half of the world is below average intelligence. I can deal.





Conclusion

I split this blog into two parts because I didn't think it would it would take this long. My failure to be succinct continues. I'll answer the other complaints in my next post. (And if I wasn't "nice" to these books, I'm sorry, I refuse to acknowledge trash. I'd do the same for Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight.) Some things are destructive, and the ideas in many of these books are not only toxic, they teach a faith so far from Jesus of Nazareth that it boggles my mind how many Christians don't even notice. Who the hell needs Jesus when I have Hagee's new cartoon, or Warren's commercial food plan, or the Mystery of the Friggin' Shemitah?! Sigh. I need a shower.

-Steve







Monday, January 26, 2015

You were a Pastor?!



"Steve in seminary? That's hilarious."



Craig's voice echoed down the school corridor as the students piled in from recess. Craig was a big man, about six foot three with a booming voice. We had coached a variety of teams together the past two years. He taught Grade Seven. I worked with special needs students.

"Dude, I'm serious. I not only went to Seminary, my undergrad was in theology," I said. "I used to be a pastor."

He burst out laughing as he escorted his students up the stairs. I was stunned. What? Did he think I was lying? When I'd escorted my student up the stairs, I bumped into Scott, another staff member who'd worked at the school with me for the past three years. Scott was one of the friendliest people at the school, and when I told him what Craig had said, about doubting that I'd actually been a minister, he gave me a dubious look.



"Well, I don't know, Steve," he said.

"What do you mean 'you don't know,'" I said, smiling but a bit exasperated. "I studied for four years at a Bible College. I have a degree in theology. I was a pastor. I moved here in 2007 to go to Seminary. I went to Tyndale in North York, ran out of money and met my wife-to-be!" (Authour's note: those two events are not related. )

Scott ducked his head. "I don't know, Steve. You're a pretty good storyteller."

I stared at him and finally shook my head as I went back to class. I didn't know what to say. They both knew that I was a writer. Both knew that I wrote fiction. I didn't know if I should have been encouraged that they thought I was capable of making that up. Or if I should I be concerned that I apparently had left them with zero evidence that my faith meant enough to me for them to even consider the possibility that I'd been a pastor.

It's been a week since the incident and I still don't know how I feel. It's pretty funny though. I'll give them that.

-Steve

Authour's Note: All names on this blog concerning co-workers and friends are changed unless I ask permission to use them. The only real name I use is that of my amazing wife, Bethany, who's stuck with me for life. Sometimes I change the physical descriptions as well. (Don't worry, everyone looks better on here) The stories are all true, however.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A New Year Means New Challenges

It's difficult for ex-athletes to stay in the gym sometimes, if for no other reason than you get used to preparing for events. My wife (who, like me, also works as a personal trainer) and I have never really left the gym, but this year we decided to challenge ourselves. So we signed up for this:



Looks insane, right? Well part of being a dreamer, which every writer and artist is, means continuing to challenge yourself. For us, that means six days a week of physical training until race day in August.

Add that to a schedule of two jobs, coaching two teams, writing two thousand words a day, website reconstruction, and STILL leaving enough time for me to rant about my teams' terrible play (Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors) makes this a particularly difficult challenge. But so far, so good.

Don't be afraid to challenge yourself this year. Remember, all you have to do to live the dream is put boots to it.

-Steve

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