Monday, January 26, 2009

A Study in Contrasts

I was struck this week by a study in contrasts. The contrast? Our new president.

I was very glad when President Obama made executive orders involving Gitmo. I think that our nation's stance on abusive interrogation and unsubstantiated arrests without a speedy trial are unjust, immoral and a nasty scab on the face of our nation. I never really had a problem George W., but I sure had a problem with his administration and their views on this. I think that George W. went wrong when he chose his running mate and the majority of his cabinet. Their counsel led to so many of the international issues we face today, and the fallout from Gitmo is one of the worst. Totally ungodly. Totally wrong. They made us as bad as the bad guys, but then justified it.

So, I was so very glad to see President Obama move in the right direction.

However, I was so confounded that one individual could be so vibrantly focused about the value of one group of humans' lives and yet so blinded to the value of another. How could Obama make life-giving decisions with suspected criminals and terrorists, and yet be willing to remove a ban on monies going to snuff out the life of innocent ones?

I understand that the debate on abortion centers around the idea that not everyone believes human life begins at conception. Even if you can look past the fact that embryos have the same DNA as us, heartbeats, and the ability to feel pain among other things, what if you're wrong? What if they are, in every sense of the word, human? At what cost does that decision come? Our society and our world is only going to be as strong as our willingness to take care of our weakest members. So, with each abortion we've weakened our ability to flourish.

People can talk to me about the suffering of children with this, and they have. Most of those people have never set foot in an orphanage, so they really don't have a clue. Even if they have, though, I know that the solution is not to snuff out a life. The solution is to embrace their lives. To provide homes for them. To spend our money on giving them life, rather than spending our money on SUVs. That solution gives life to not only the "unwanted person" but to the parent as well.

Instead, like Bush's administration, we, as a society, choose the low road and then make ourselves the same as the bad guys. Only we justify it.

People have tried to convince me that it's okay in the case of rape. Yet, I personally know people whose conception happened as a result of rape. Both they and their mothers argue differently.

People have tried to convince me that their is a quality of life issue. If a person is severely disabled then it would be better if they weren't alive. I can only feel sorrow for a person with such a misunderstanding of life, and such a shallow understanding of humanity's ability to over come.

I live each day with 3 beautiful people that many in our world would have thought were "better off aborted". They live life to the fullest, with total disregard to the shallowness of most people's understanding. They are more human than the lot of humanity, and the world is a better place because they were not snuffed out, but instead given the opportunity to live.

So, these "human rights" groups that practice abortion? I've pondered how a group that is dedicated to the rights of humanity could find in their solutions the option to kill. All I can think is that this is where human rights cross the line into self-rights. It's no longer about the rights inherent to a human, it's about what an individual is allowed to do to themselves, or more correctly, for themselves.

So, what would prompt President Obama to have this dichotomy in thinking? Politics? Perhaps, as he owes his successful bid to office in part to those who prosper from abortion and those who champion it as their cause. However, I would like to believe that it has more to do with his blindness. As all people, he is blind to the dichotomy in his own thinking. What he sees as compassion, he has indoctrinated himself to see that way.

So, as I pray for myself that God will remove the blinders that hold me in my schizophrenic thinking, I will pray for President Obama that God will as well.

In the meantime, I will mourn that humanity is will lose more of it's human-ness and around the world so many people will lose the opportunity to love and be a part of a story where someone over comes.

"The Shack" -- a Good Reason for the Public Library

Not to pound something until it is dead, but yesterday I remembered that I had two other issues with "The Shack".

The entire time I read the "The Shack", I felt like I was being played, manipulated. The reason why? "The Missy Project".

First of all, Missy is not a real person. So, to have a "Missy Project" is ridiculous. It sounds like her picture should be on the back of a milk carton. She doesn't exist. Hence, part of my disdain for the book. As I said before: when God is still alive and at work in this world in miraculous ways, why would we settle for made up stories about Him?

I really do like fiction (good fiction), so my issue is not that. I even like good redemptive fiction like Les Miserable or Ben Hur. I like God in my fiction. But I like my God stories to be true, since they can be.

The other issue with the "Missy Project" is that it is a sham. Yes, a sham. Movie rights have been sold for books that have sold far fewer copies than "The Shack". So, whether or not it becomes a movie is not directly tied to how many books are sold.

The beginning of the blurb about the "Missy Project" said, "A group of us who have been touched by The Shack" or something to that effect -- yes, that group would be the publisher and the author. The more books you buy the more money they get. "The Missy Project" struck me as a deceptive way to advertise and manipulate people into buying more copies of their book. It subtly tells you that in order to spread the Gospel "buy my book".

It reminded me of when I was in college and this guy who a barely knew told me that I HAD to vote for him for class president. Not because he would do a good job, but because he was a Christian. He had the audacity to try to use my faith to manipulate my will for his purposes. I felt this the entire time I read "The Shack" because of the "Missy Project".

If "The Shack" is truly such a great book that a movie maker wants it to become a movie, then let it stand on it's own merit.

I realize that I'm riding a fine line here, since my book will be released this summer, however, I would never start an "Anna Project" or anything so manipulative or cheap. There's a difference between promoting a book or a message than trying to manipulate people into generating income for you.

Another issue of honesty, I found on the publishers website. "A funny thing happened on the way to helping a friend with his new book. We couldn’t find a publisher who would treat it the way we felt The Shack needed to be treated to find its audience. Christian publishers thought it too controversial and wanted to dull its edgy side so as not to risk alienating their core audience. Secular publishers shied away because they felt the content put it clearly in the ‘Christian’ marketplace."

First of all, if a secular publisher had thought that it would sell, then they would have bought it. I highly doubt that Harper Collins would have turned it down on the basis of it's spirituality. In fact, many secular companies have either an "inspirational" market, or, as for fiction will just publish anything. If you read a lot you know that.

Secondly, there are Christian publishers that gladly publish controversial books. Specifically, I've seen some pretty funky stuff coming from Thomas Nelson as of late.

My issue here isn't with the fact that it was tossed out of other publishing houses. My issue is that they feel the need to make up reasons. Many a publisher has passed up a great manuscript because they don't know what they're doing. I'm sure Harper Collins would have loved the revenue from "The Shack". The issue was, probably, nobody thought it was a good book.

So, friends of the author started a publishing company. In essence, "The Shack" was self-published, maybe friend-published. So, BE HONEST ABOUT IT.

All of this just led me to feel like I read through one big marketing scheme as I read. Promoting a new publishing company started by the author's friends, trying to be convinced I should advertise for free for them. Trying to be convinced that I should help them try to make this a movie.

The entire time I read this book, I felt defensive, like I was being manipulated. It made for a frustrating read, in part because of the author/publishers behavior in marketing. It's hard for me to feel like I can be touched by God when I feel like the person writing the book is trying to get into my wallet as much as possible.

Perhaps it's a character flaw on my part, but I feel as though I should be able to read a book and the message, without interference by either the author or the publisher, should be able to get through.

So, "The Shack" -- if you want to read it borrow it from a friend or get it from the library!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Americans are Made

Before becoming a delusionally bad poet due to my current illness, I’d been reading “50 Facts that Should Change the USA” by Stephen Fender, an American born in San Francisco but educated and residing in the United Kingdom. The book is well written and fairly balanced. I enjoyed expanding my knowledge surrounding facts that I already knew: There is one car for every adult in the U.S., Over twice as many Americans claim to go to church as actually do, Only 18% of Americans hold a US passport (our entire family does...I'm just not sure where that "special place" is that I put them to keep them safe), and When Bush cut taxes for the rich in 2004 the family that owns Walmart increased their wealth by $91,500 per hour.

Well, I didn’t know the specific numbers, but was fairly aware of those facts.

I also enjoyed learning some facts about America as well: that we’re generous with our time (donating more hours to volunteer work than the Japanese, Spanish, Italians or Australians), and that it’s the red states, the conservative states, that are the most generous with their time and money. New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont have a few things to feel ashamed about in this area, I guess.

But, by far, the essay I enjoyed the most was, “Americans Aren’t Born; They are Made”. Now, of course, I like this one because I’ve seen it play out so fully in my life.

He begins the essay by briefly laying out the fact that our nation was founded, something not all nations can lay claim, and that that founding was ‘advertised’ by our Declaration of Independence. In retrospect, doesn't it make sense that we would have an ad as one of our first great documents? Continuing on, that founding was codified by the Constitution. Fender terms the Constitution as the “greatest artifact of the collective imagination” and states that it makes becoming an American “as much a contract as a country.”

He points out that for an immigrant to become an American you must test in its laws and that by understanding and agreeing to those terms you can choose to be an American. Now, my girls became Americans through their adoptions, so there was no test. Rob and I did, however, have to sign a paper stating that they had no intention of practicing polygamy, dealing in drugs or becoming involved in terrorist activities. It was a lot to take on ourselves as no one knows for certain just what a 2 or 3 year-old is planning to do. I did vouch for them, though, and when the plane wheels hit the ground in Detroit, they were immediately American.

In other countries you can test and become a citizen, but Fender essentially contends that while a person might become a citizen of that nation, they don’t become one of them. The example he gives is a man name Robert Maxwell. Maxwell was born in Czechoslovakia, but became a full-fledged, military serving Brit. Despite living his entire adult life in Britain, raising his children as Englishmen, participating in military service, political service and financial work, the citizens of his adopted nation never considered him fully British.

In fact, in his obituary, the London Daily Mail claimed that he never fully understood what it meant to be an Englishman!

Fender compares that to Henry Kissinger in the U.S.

“Born in Germany just 14 days before Robert Maxwell, Kissinger never felt the need…to smooth out his gravelly European accent. Did he still feel like an outsider in America? Whatever they may hold against him for his foreign policy, will his memorialists say that he never learned to understand what it meant to be an American… How absurd it would be to expect anything remotely similar being said and written by and about Henry Kissinger. He became fully-fledged as an American when he was naturalized as a United States citizen on June 19, 1943. Since then, he has been at the center of the American establishment, even serving as the country’s senior official representative to the rest of the world, as Secretary of State. As an American, he was made, not born.”

John Steinbeck pointed out that all Americans are descendants of criminals or adventurers, which is, while a very romantically Steinbeck point of view, probably only partially true. I would add to that many Americans are also the descendants of the natives whom survived what was essentially a genocide or slaves that survived horrors of slavery. And, then there are the kids, like mine, who are the survivors of life in orphanages. So, it does seem that there is a spark of some sort that unites anyone who does make it in this country, especially when you consider that a large number of people who tried to immigrate here actually ended up returning to their original country.

I've seen in my girls how, in this country, you truly can be fully American, and yet not need to snuff out what was there before. They don't have to give up a love of their birth country, in fact they can even celebrate the heritage that they left. It's like a marriage, in that there is no need to give up who you were before you married, only the need to craft yourself into a new unit, to merge those two personalities into one.

While I know that everyone who has come to this country has not had the success story that Henry Kissinger had (and that many would argue if Kissinger was truly successful), I'm proud to be a part of a country where there is hope. A friend of mine from Africa told me, "In this country, at least a child can dream and there is a hope that the dream can come true."

So, tomorrow, my Kazakh-Ukrainian-American family will watch the inauguration of our country's first African-American President, and, for the first time in a long time, my heart will be very proud that I am an American. I may not agree with all his politics, but it is so inspiring to see that God has begun to heal one of our nation's greatest wounds.

Plus, maybe now we'll start seeing a little diplomacy coming from Washington D.C.

I wonder what Henry Kissinger would think about that?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Winter -- a really bad poem by Deb

Winter how do I reflect upon thee, oh killer of my joy.
You pound my house with ice cold winds, enough to freeze my toes,
Yet somehow never cold enough to kill off all my foes. (note: viruses and bacteria -- not people, except maybe car salesmen and IRS agents).

My toes, they are as cold nearly as my nose, and my nose it
runneth over because my windows must stay closed.
Resultant of our encased home, the viruses flow free
No place to escape to the outside world, so happy to rest on me.

You, oh winter, season of hell, you do this every year.
You produce this lovely environment that produces infections of the ear....
and the throat and the eyes and the sinus cavity.
Making me a grumpy Mom and writer of such bad bad poetry.

How do you accost me? Let me count the ways.
First, you cost me money, which goes a long long way
towards me never thinking of you fondly, and wanting to keep you at bay.

I purchase gloves and scarves and mittens and coats for my little knaves.
Lest not forget long underwear or sweatshirts of the color gray.
For e'er they ever outgrow them, they lose them one by one.
Then the work I once completed is now quite undone.

The heating bill -- don't force me there.
I hate you even more, when the mailman brings
The Duke energy bill to my very cold front door.

Uncomfortable? Yes, another way you accost me on this frigid day.
Wind in my face, biting my nose. Wind on my hands, fingers aglow.
Scraping my car, waiting for it to heat
adding an extra 10 minutes to my drive down the street.

Oohhh... ice... always fun when you have a to carry a well-bundled young one.
Or when your 9-year-old wears a prosthetic leg,
And believes that she can simply race across all surfaces no matter how slick
The least terrible would be to end up in a ditch.

I used to love winter, all the fun in the snow.
Then I grew up and realized the work that came in tow.
Or perhaps I moved to Cincinnati where snow is myth
And winter means little more than coldness,
with some rain and ice to mix.

So, I'll sit here plotting my move to Florida
Sneezing, coughing and knowing all along,
I'll be sick again next winter in my less-than-snug cape cod.
I'll never move to Florida, although I'd love it so,
So next year I'll be sick again and writing bad poetry
In a land of cold that has no pretty snow.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Confessions of a Renegade Christian

I love Jesus.  I love the Holy Spirit.  I love God.  

I didn't like "The Shack."

I realize that this will probably make me quite insane to so many people, but the book had far too many holes in it to be a good read.  Sorry.  I still feel a tad bit guilty about not liking a book about the being I love the most, but I believe the problem isn't Him, so I'm probably not in too much trouble.

First of all, the book was preachy.  I can't even imagine trying to take so many theological issues and even begin to think I could explain them all away in one quickly written book.   While I understand that the book was suppose to focus on Mack's pain and  healing,  it felt like Papa (so, in consequence, the author) just had all the instant answers.  

Another issue I had was why Mack?  With all the stories of pain in the world, what was so special about Mack that God would appear to him and not others?  Was God "especially especially fond of him?" 

In addition to that, with God so active in the world today, why do we read fiction stories about what He could do rather than real stories about what he is doing? 

Moving on, why in the world was the story being told by Willie?  That made no sense to me whatsoever.  Now, I have to admit that I did end up skimming big chunks of the book so I may have missed a part, but the book would have been immeasurably better if it had been told by Mack's daughter or even the man who killed his daughter.  Could God have closure there as well?

All the dialogue was forced and felt  fake.  I found myself skimming and saying, "yada yada yada" through much of the book.  And, while there were a few unique analogies and creative sections, the descriptions were by and far dry and bland.   

I appreciated the message of the book, and the depiction of the Trinity as a relationship between the God-heads.  I appreciated that the female aspects of God were revealed.  I also appreciated the way love was obviously portrayed as the most important thing.  Perhaps if these were things I hadn't read about, or thought about before, I would have found the book more eye opening and exciting. 

I just don't understand why the book wasn't more polished, with more effort put into thinking through the plot and the explanations.  As I read the book, I had the feeling that it needed one or two more revisions to be a really great read.  

It saddens me that what could have been a great book ended up being a mediocre book because no one took the time to really make it shine. 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Caroline Kennedy, is Like, You Know, Wanting to be, You know, like a Senator

In what must be one of the most amazing quotes I've ever read, Caroline Kennedy announced her desire for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. She claims, according to Time Magazine, that in her family, "There's a sense of having to work twice as hard."

Maybe she meant yell twice as loud in order for the butler to hear her?

I'm trying to get my mind around this, because from what I could tell, in her family, you just had to be rich. Her brother, upon dying, was said by the media to have been snuffed out of a great political career -- possibly a future president. That he had incredible business sense and great social insight.

Maybe personally he was a great guy, but professionally, from what I can tell, all he had accomplished was a failed magazine for men. I also never saw him on any presidental ballots.

I guess he didn't do the requisite "work twice as hard." But, he was really rich, and he was a Kennedy.

What I'm really trying to get my mind around is this whole idea that Caroline Kennedy thinks she should be a senator, when she isn't even a regular voter, something for which she can't provide an explanation. I think she can't because there isn't a good explanation. It appears that her best arguement for getting the appointment is that her Uncle Ted really wants her there.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who can't figure out exactly what she stands for, or what she plans to do. According to Karen Tumulty of Time Magazine, "On policy questions, her answers have run from cautious to vague, except for her declared support for gay marriage. She does not appear to have given much thought to the specifics of what she would try to accomplish once in office -- even on education, which presumably is her area of expertise..."

She even refused to get into a debate with the New York Times about abolishing tenure and establishing merit pay for teachers. In addition to that, the British Daily Telegraph noted that she used the phrase "you know" 142 times in her interview with the New York Times.

You Know, if she's not going to, you know, give her perspective on these, you know, things, it's patently obvious that she hasn't, you know, given any thought to them as well. You know?

She's like the Sarah Palin of the democratic party! At least, though, with Palin, you knew where she stood on things. She wasn't afraid to state her opinion. I would guess, too, that she regularly voted.

I do agree with Palin on one thing. It will be interesting to see how the media handles Kennedy as opposed to how they handled Palin. My guess is that they will take it nice and easy on her.

Maybe New York can console itself with the fact that she probably doesn't cry as easily as Hillary Clinton.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

She's a genius!

Our youngest, daughter, Nappy, is one smart cookie. In addition to balancing her time amongst all her siblings and friends, she always has time for her pretend sister, Monica. Today, she told us about her new "pretend sister", Soydid.

I, of course, immediately asked her if Soydid ever told love stories. "Soydid Love Stories"?

Nappy didn't find that any more funny than you did.

But, her newest skill is spelling! After just only two years of speaking English, this kid is actually spelling words! It started with her constantly asking us how to you spell things.

"How do you spell Christmas?"

"How do you spell car?"

"How do you spell nose?"

"How do you spell cow?"

And, on and on it would go, until one of us would start feeling like we were in a solo spelling bee contest, and then refuse to spell any more.

Well, today, as I laid on couch, sick with a monstrous cold, a little voice scooted up to my ear and said, " How do you spell dog?"

"Oh.... I'm too tired to spell," I responded. "You'll just have to figure it out yourself."

"Okay..." she paused. "Dog. duhduhduhduhduh...D! Dog. duh--aw--aw--O! guhguhguhguh...G! Dog. D-O-G!"

"What?" I sat up, a little amazed, "You just did it!"

"Give me another!"

"Okay, spell 'cat'."

And, then she proceeded to spell cat, hat, cap, cup, rat, tub, and paper, among many other words.

We are shocked. However, we really shouldn't be. We were told that kids with arthrogryposis were usually gifted intellectually.

At my parents house, the kids enjoyed playing "The Same Game" on their Tivo. We were shocked when Nappy not only cleared the board, but also kept reading the score:

"Look! I got 450!"

"Look! Now it's 510!"

Okay, no one has EVER taught this kid how to read numbers past 10!

So, now, Nappy, or Dr. Egbert as she currently referring to herself, is amazing us not just with her physical challenges, but also with her incredible brain.