Chronological {in order} Week 2

I’ve already discovered why I will love reading the Chronological Bible reading plan.  A couple days into reading and I’m already in the book of Job. I think I get bogged down reading the same thing in the same order all the time and this mix up has done wonders for my mind.

And how do I like the Common English Bible so far?  It’s really not noticeable–which is a good thing!! When I start reading, I read straight through without having to re-read sentences or words, which means I don’t get distracted and I read and retain better.
If you’d like to try the Common English Bible, we’re giving away one a week in January.

Comment and tell me your preferred version of the Bible. I’ll pick a random reader (one per week) and the people behind the CEB will send you one.  If you’ve never had a Bible and would  like to start with this one, let me know in the comments and you’ll automatically be the chosen one 🙂

White Castle and Christian Fiction

Alternately titled, Christian Fiction is the White Castle of books.

Three men took a road trip to a conference in Ohio. One saw White Castle and HAD to have some. One did not know about the burger joint. One warned strongly against the consumption of said burgers.

Brian Hatcher, like me, has a strong aversion to White Castle sliders.  He’s vehemently against their very existence and is absolutely right when he says they’ll rot your insides.

Eugene Johnson, however, loves them. 10 in 10 minutes. Even if they do give him a writhing belly ache after. Even if they do, indeed, rot his guts.

Michael Knost had never had a White Castle burger and ordered breaded clam strips from the drive-through instead. And was quite appalled to think Eugene would order 10 burgers!

Later, Brian went on to explain that he wasn’t against the mini-burger genre, it just wasn’t very well done as far as mini-burgers go. To prove his point, he ordered mini-burgers at the Winking Lizard.

To prove my point, let’s just say, I’m not against Christian fiction. I just want a better burger. I don’t want a burger that pretends to be on the cutting edge of burgers. Just like I don’t want Christian fiction labeled “edgy.”

Mike Duran tackled some questions around this word, this Edgy thing. Mike says

To my wife, a steak with any trace of pink in it is “raw.” To me, the bloodier the better. Likewise, to some readers of Christian fiction, any trace of language or sex is “edgy.” But to me, if it’s not “raw,” it’s over-cooked.

The problem is not with the term “edgy” Christian fiction. I think it is more of an internal problem with some of the Christians. Especially the ones who want to dictate and control the moral compass of the general population of other Christians.

The difference I’m beginning to see when I compare CBA and “secular” fiction is that CBA is so enmeshed that for whatever reason one sub-genre cares (and is vocally loud and brash) about what another sub-genre is doing. When I go to a horror conference (just got back from one) there aren’t Harlequin writers there telling me the stories we print are too disturbing, scary, bloody, deliquent. And I’m not going to an RWA conference telling them they’re selling smutty, fru-fru, girly crap.

I can’t help but laugh at  the thought.

Can you see it at a horror con?  “Psssst…hey you, yeah. You. Come over here. We’ve got some edgy horror fiction here for ya. Y’wanna try some?”

Or maybe in the general fiction market. Boy that Cormac McCarthy was edgy writing about the dark and dreary post-apocalyptic world.

It’s just silly.

And it’s an oxymoron.

You can’t write within the confines of the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) and write anything at all that can be considered “edgy” (The guy’s haircut on the front page of the blog lends to the stereotype. Great job guys!!)

You can’t do it because Christian fiction is not at the forefront of anything. Except maybe Amish stories. And really, if you want to be at the forefront of such arcane nonsense? More power to ya.

I would like the world a lot more if the overseers would change the label “Christian fiction” to “G” fiction. Let’s be realistic here, it’s not even PG.

So instead of heading to the bookstore to find the shelves lined with genres, I’d rather them look a little more like my local Blockbuster. “Action/Adventure” or “Horror” or “New Releases” so that I can pick up a book and just decide for myself what I want to read.  Sheesh, people all over the place are doing these book trailers. Why not just go all the way?

When I eat, I don’t choose White Castle. Though many people do.  But let’s call a spade a spade. White Castle is not anything close to a burger made from a grass-fed, organic, fresh butchered side of beef, cooked on a charcoal grill, with slices of  still-warm-off-the-vine tomatoes from the garden.

Just like Christian fiction isn’t edgy.  At least this brand of fiction churned out by the CBA houses is not edgy.

* * *

Eric Wilson challenges: Is it Time for Christian Fiction to Die?

* * *

Want to read some stories with sustenance? Stories that make you think? That bend the rules by asking questions others are too timid to ask? Stories that leave you with more questions than when you started? But also, stories that come from a Christian worldview?

Start with these two.

This is My Blood by David Naill Wilson

Silent Graves by Gary Braunbeck

* * *

The bottom line is that I saw years ago that the CBA wasn’t for me. Specifically when I signed up for the ACFW conference in 2006 and said I was a horror writer and they labeled me a thriller.  Since then I have kept in touch with my CBA friends, but have set out to make sure I was putting my money where my mouth was.

If we want to change things, we have to move forward. So the CBA doesn’t publish stuff I like. Guess who publishes stuff I like now? That’s right. Me. 😉 And of course, in the “secular” market you can find tons of books written from a Christian worldview. I don’t need the CBA for fiction.

People will either lead or follow.

I choose to lead.

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Painting Revelation

Painting Revelation by Debby Topliff

When asked to review this DVD, I jumped on it. I mean, with my focus on Visual Prayers and my Art Scripture Journal how could I resist taking the time to study another artist’s work?

And wow. I liked this.

Debby Topliff was intimidated by the book of Revelation and issued herself a challenge–to study it. She came away with notes and drawings–and put paint to canvas. A 5-foot by 7-foot canvas to be exact. (OH what fun that would be!!)


Her DVD, Painting Revelation is broken into easy to watch sections that can be done as weekly studies or watched all at once (as Zane and I did.) Debby narrates the DVD and starts in her woodsy yard talking about what the Bible says and then moves to zooming in on the portion of her painting while she explains her interpretation.

This is such an incredible experience.

As I’ve been doing my Scripture Journal and Visual Prayers, I’ve been basically doodling, drawing or painting or whatever I feel led to do. I haven’t ever set out to do something, interpret something. So this process was very interesting to me.

In addition to what I’ve already talked about, there is bonus material…

Resources included:

  • Teaching: Show the DVD in segments to present an overview and set the context for preaching and teaching on Revelation.
  • Worship: Project images from the DVD to enhance singing and praise.
  • Family: Share the DVD with your children to introduce them to the book of Revelation.

You can preview the DVD here. You should. It’s beautiful! (and it’s only 3 minutes!)

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to review this.

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Parting the Waters: Finding Beauty in Brokenness

I met Jeanne Damoff (pronounced DAM-off) a few years ago on a message board. Yep, she’s one of those friends. I have a lot of them, but Jeanne is a bit different.

At first, I thought she didn’t like me. She might not know that, but she does now. But seriously, now I understand it was my overactive imagination and nothing more.

We first met at the ACFW conference in Dallas in 2006. I remember laughing with her in the lobby, but what I remember most is feeling overwhelmingly sad when she got a call that someone close passed on. I felt the need to pray and she doesn’t know but I was praying silently when I hugged her. I had also signed up to take a shift in the prayer room, I prayed for her family then, as well.

I really got to “know” Jeanne reading her blog and her every-other-Thursday posts at The Master’s Artist. Then I found out she takes photographs (like really outanding ones!) And though Jeanne’s words are phenomenal, down to earth, and always seem to leave you with an unexpected sense of hope and peace, her photography spoke its silent language to my heart.

This picture of Natalie, Jacob, and baby Lawson Jacob touched me deeper than I realized at first. When I saw it, all I knew was that Jeanne was a great writer, a funny gal who gave points to people who made her laugh, a great photographer, and a woman who loved her family deeply. I sort of knew that Jacob had brain damage, but I didn’t know the story and I was didn’t want to appear rude by asking. Little by little, the pieces came together. Jacob had an accident, he nearly drowned. He lived. He has brain damage. The photos of him are always stunning, there’s so much in his eyes, they speak that silent language, too.

This was my first chapter in the story that is Jacob Damoff.

In August of 2007, I found out that Natalie was Jacob’s best friend. I found out she named her baby Lawson Jacob. Soon after, Relief published selections from Parting the Waters.

And this photo then meant more…look at Natalie. I know that feeling of–what do you call it? Blessed pain? Or as Jeanne appropriately called it: Beauty in Brokenness?

Those moments in life, we all have them, or maybe not everyone does?

I have had them. When my grandma died. It was so hard to watch her go, yet knowing she was finally in peace was peace for me. When my uncle committed suicide. The single most painful event in my life, yet knowing the demons no longer could taunt him and that he’s resting in Jesus now–overwhelming pain and relief simultaneously.

Is that a taste of what Jesus felt when he commanded His spirit to His Father?

My mind captures images and holds them, the first photo is one that comes to the forefront of my mind often. This is the other one.
There’s something in Jacob’s smile that commands attention.

I often find myself wondering what it’s like to be that happy. Then I remember I am, I have only let life drag me down.

Parting the Waters is so brutally honest. The reality of it all is bitter and heartbreaking, yet through it all there is a hope bigger than explanation.

My mind captured an image from the book and will not let go. Jeanne and George had just brought Jacob home after a lengthy period of rehabilitation. Jacob, at this point, was not able to speak. They were at a special chapel service and the pastor, “…at one point said ‘God,’ Jacob pointed first to his own heart and then straight up in the air. “

Imagine that.

Jeanne continues, “After that day, when someone mentioned the Lord, Jacob pointed. Always to his heart first, then to the sky. He hadn’t uttered a single word, but his actions preached a thousand sermons.”

* * *

Another aspect of Jacob’s story that I appreciate, one that helps me in my own life, is hearing everything the family and community did with Jacob while he was in a coma. I mentioned above that my grandma’s recent death has affected me. She was not conscious for a week or more towards the end. I posted the story of the last minutes I was blessed with sharing with her. As Jeanne put it, “What a precious memory you’ll always have of singing her into eternity.” I still struggle with the last breath she took, at such a meaningful moment. I feel like God gave me a piece of this Beauty in Brokenness we’re talking about.

My friend Elaina, said this to me, “Reading Parting the Waters reminded me that we understand so little of the way our brains work and to presume that someone doesn’t comprehend is not a good plan. Even in dementia and Alzheimer’s, they’re still themselves. They just have trouble piecing everything together. I believe she heard you, Michelle.”

Jacob has given me so many gifts, I can only imagine the crowns in heaven adorning his head, and I bet he’ll have that big smile each time another is placed for the blessing he’s been to a number so great, only God can know.

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Order Parting the Waters here.
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This is My Blood by David Niall Wilson

I’m actually having a hard time putting to words how I feel about this novel.

When I posted my review of Field of Blood by Eric Wilson, David N. Wilson–no relation that I’m aware of–let me know (via Twitter) that his novel, This is My Blood was also a vampire story, also an alternate history of Christ’s days on earth. He said it was ahead of its time, and I agree 100%.

In his own words, David tells us this novel started as a short story in the 1980’s entitled “A Candle Lit in Sunlight” which was published in The Year’s Best Horror edited by the late Karl Edward Wagner. This led him to expand his thoughts and eventually publish the book in 1999.

The reason I’m having a hard time putting my thoughts down is because this is really like no book I’ve ever read. But that’s not exactly true either.

Remember when I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy and said I sorta liked it? That was October 2007. Now it’s one of my favorite books. I realized as the weeks and months passed by that I had an ongoing emotional reaction to The Road. Certain things would trigger my emotion. A gray, cloudy day would bring back all of the stark nothingness of The Road. A father and son in walking to their car would take me to The Road. After months of experiencing The Road, I realized there weren’t too many books that could accomplish such a thing.

That’s what it feels like is going on with This is My Blood.

I admit, I am very skeptical of stories like this, alternate histories of the Bible, and of course, one must have an open mind when reading any fiction as far as I’m concerned. With an open mind, I read David’s novel and discovered a hidden treasure.

I don’t want to retell the story, I think you, loved reader, need to get this one for yourself. I’m sure you can find a synopsis online, but that doesn’t do justice to this story. So just order the book.

Let me get what I didn’t like out of the way, because there wasn’t much. You know I have some pet peeves and that’s kind of what I picked at. There are some words that are overused. For some reason that bothers me. I probably do it in my own writing. And there’s a part at the end I didn’t like, but I can’t say it here because it would be a total spoiler. It was the one thing that strayed far enough from my theology that I really wish it would have been different. I understand how it benefits the story, but it seemed to me to make Jesus less God and less capable of His purpose. It, to me, gave power and authority to someone else, and for that, I was disappointed.

However…

It did not take away from the message I saw the story delivering.

This is My Blood is a love story. Jesus’ story for each and every one of us is a story, a reality, of unconditional love. We don’t deserve His sacrifice. We aren’t worthy of the spilling of His blood for our tainted and hardened hearts. It is what He came here for, though. To show us His love.

What about the angels that followed Lucifer in their fall? Are they worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice? Are they able to be reconciled to the Father? That’s a question I’ve often pondered. This is My Blood speaks to that.

One of the most striking elements of This is My Blood is David N. Wilson is writing from a woman’s point of view and it’s virtually flawless. I’ve read a few other things by this author and his writing has a natural, organic, sensual flow. There is a depth of character and emotion that most male writers have a hard time thinking of, let alone getting down seamlessly. For that, I praise David.

There were times I was completely devastated and other times, I could feel my hope mounting, waiting expectantly, as if it was my faith for Christ, my hope in Him, my love. It takes a lot to get me to that point, the point that I’m crossing boundaries of reality.

It is also a story of faith and hope.

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

And it is impossible to please God without faith.

To my knowledge, I have yet to read a novel with a more stunning display of faith, hope, and love. This is My Blood is a phenomenal example of Jesus’ commitment to the condemned that walk this earth.

I understand now, why some readers of This is My Blood have told David that their faith was strengthened by this story. I will not forget this story.

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