Von Doehren: When I Became a Christian, I Stopped Writing

Relief Journal Assistant Editor Heather von Doehren on writing as a believer:

To be honest, once I became a Christian (which was just four years ago) I stopped writing—not because I stopped having things to write about, but because I didn’t know how to reconcile being a Christian and a writer. How does someone write about Christian topics without sounding cheesy or cliché? As an atheist, I perceived Christians as annoyingly perfect people (I know…naïve…), who existed in a world that just did not exist. Yet Christian writing almost always portrayed this same polished (censored?) angle on reality. I didn’t know how to write as a Christian because, upon this transformation, nothing was mystically easy, censored, or anything like 7th Heaven.

Once I became Christian, I felt as if all of my actions, words, and thoughts were being held to the highest of all high standards—and not just from other Christians. I didn’t feel like I could be honest about what I was struggling with; in the past, my poetry expressed my human flaws, and in becoming Christian I felt as if I had to censor all those flaws. And no one can write like that. Yes, carrying the label “Christian” means we should be more like Christ; however, just because we aim, doesn’t mean we always hit our target. In reality, Christians aren’t perfect people. But if you look at most Christian writing, you’d think we are.

This is an excerpt from an interview with Heather von Doehren and Relief’s Editor-in-Chief Kimberly Culbertson.

When I see my title clear

Courtesy of Writer’s Digest Magazine, here’s this cute little engine from www. lulu.com that analyzes your book title, to discern whether it’s bestseller quality or not.

Naturally I plugged my own titles in. Personally I think I’m pretty good at composing titles, but the utility doesn’t entirely agree with me.

Two of my titles earned 63.7% ratings, which isn’t bad–Wolf Time and The Year of the Warrior.

But Blood and Judgment only rated 26.3%, as did the original title I wanted for Wolf TimeWind Time, Wolf Time (which I still think is a great title, no matter what anybody says).

Personally I like to have words that start with W in my titles. W has an evocative sound. It reminds me of wind and water.

And Walker.

Relief Journal Short Story Contest

Finding the Profound in the Profoundly Ordinary” is the theme of a short story contest by Relief Journal and Faith in Fiction. From the announcement: “Andre Dubus writes of cooking an omelet and it becomes a holy moment. Marilynne Robinson takes the act of baptism and communion out of their churchly garb and gives them new resonance and depth. Inspired by examples like these, the “Daily Sacrament” short fiction contest will challenge you to explore the everyday in light of the eternal — or the sacred in the surroundings of the commonplace.”

Have you subscribed to Relief Journal? There are benefits to those who donate or subscribe before November 15.

The Staunch Atheist and Moral Clarity

Columnist Janie Cheaney has a short take on Sam Harris’ new book, Letter To a Christian Nation. She’s says it’s a short book from a “hard-boiled atheist of the kind C.S. Lewis lamented back in the ’40s.” He wants to eliminate faith from our minds. Interestingly enough, he complains in a recent column about radical Islam and the fact that those speaking with the “greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right.”

Sam, what basis does an atheist have for recommending moral judgements to others? Isn’t it just an appeal to individual reason that your way is the way for us all to get along better? That’s what Richard Dawkins seems to argue in his book, The Selfish Gene, but he states our biology works against this idea of everyone’s better good:

The genes are the master programmers, and they are programming for their lives. They are judged according to the success of their programs in copying with all the hazards that life throws at their survival machines, and the judge is the ruthless judge of the court of survival.

Whenever a system of communication evolves, there is always the danger that some will exploit the system for their own ends. Brought up as we have been on the ‘good of the species’ view of evolution, we naturally think first of liars and deceivers as belonging to different species: predators, prey, parasites, and so on. However, we must expect lies and deceit, and selfish exploitation of communication to arise whenever the interests of the genes of different individuals diverge. This will include individuals of the same species. As we shall see, we must even expect that children will deceive their parents, that husbands will cheat on wives, and that brother will lie to brother.

So he urges us to find morality outside of biology. Why?

No tricks, a couple treats, and I’m a Halloweenie

Cartoonist Doug TenNapel has reached a million hits on his blog, and (if I understand correctly) has retired from posting. Good luck, Doug. I’ll miss you. Your blog was one of my daily treats.

Another treat (though not daily) is Yucky Salad With Bones, a Minnesota blog. It’s not the kind of blog I ordinarily like, being mostly day-to-day reports of family life written by the mother. But this woman has such a mordant sense of humor I can’t resist her. She’s my kind of gal. Unfortunately she’s already married.

I’m not doing Halloween. Instead of putting out a pumpkin I’m hiding my house light under a bushel. I have two main reasons:

1. I consider it prudent for any unmarried, middle-aged man to avoid contact with children as much as possible.

2. The Wiccans have pretty much appropriated the festival, aided and abetted by Christians. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe in magic and I don’t believe in witchcraft. But that doesn’t mean I want to encourage these people. I can remember when Halloween was fun. I can remember a lot of things that aren’t true anymore.

I pretty much agree with Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost. Especially on Jack Chick.

Happy Reformation Day!

Kerry’s Botched Joke

You may have heard that Senator John Kerry commented on education the other day and has since tried to explain that it was a botched joke. The would-be joke: “Education, if you make the most of it — you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart — you can do well. If you don’t you get stuck in Iraq.”

Yeah, I know what he meant. If you don’t make an effort to be smart, you get stuck blogging.

If you’re already depressed, don’t read this post

The sky was dimming as I left work today. It wasn’t evening yet, but the afternoon was effectively shot. That’s how it is in Minnesota, the first Monday after the time change. It’s always a shock, like somebody dropping something on your roof with a thump.

One of these years the first big blizzard will occur on the first Monday after Fall Back. And when that happens, half the population of the Great Plains will commit seppuku in concert.

The guy who runs the used book shop I patronize recommended the author Phillip Margolin to me, noticing that I’d pretty much run through all the Jonathan Kellerman. So I picked up Wild Justice.

Short review, after 45 pages: Hackwork. Uninspired writing and flat characters. I’m not going to finish it. Since I’ve decided to stop buying books for a while, to save money, I’m going to finish Volume Two of C. S. Lewis’ Letters now, and then I plan to re-read The Lord of the Rings.

On Saturday I drove down to Faribault to join Aunt Ada and Uncle Ralph, along with several of their children and grandchildren, for a committal service for an uncle and aunt I’ll call… oh, George and Martha. George passed away recently and was cremated, and while cleaning out his apartment Cousin Brian found Martha’s ashes in a cupboard. So they arranged to inter them together in my maternal grandparents’ plot.

My brother Moloch, who as you may recall is a pastor in The Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless, led a short service. We sang “Abide With Me” and “Amazing Grace” in a chilly breeze.

Moloch is sanguine about George and Martha’s final destinations. He’s a sacramentalist, believing that once you’re baptized you’re pretty much guaranteed salvation unless you perform a black mass and storm the heavens or something. I found the occasion rather more melancholy than he did.

Not that George and Martha were awful people. Martha, my mother’s sister, was an extremely amiable person—desperately amiable. She was as insecure as I am, but she handled it in an equal and opposite manner. She was an incessant talker, saying anything that came into her mind anytime the conversation threatened to slacken. She believed (I always suspected) that silence would give people an opportunity to think bad things about her.

I remember her saying, one day at Grandpa’s house, “The point of any religion is to do the best you can, after all, isn’t it?”

I didn’t correct her. Kids didn’t correct adults’ theology in our family. Perhaps her blood is on my hands because of that.

George probably led a pretty good life, according to his lights. He didn’t like to work and he did like to drink. He worked some years for an agricultural implement company. When they closed down and laid him off, he gave up working, living off Martha’s small income. He had enough money to pay the rent on their shabby apartment, play some golf and drink pretty steadily. He seemed content with that.

I’d like to say something more profound about him, but I really didn’t know him. He wasn’t the kind of man you had conversations with, not sober anyway.

I’m going to stop this post here, because there’s nowhere to go that isn’t depressing.

Happy Autumn.

We Love the Lord. You Don’t.

I’ve been wanting to write one or two posts on political language or some of the talk I’ve read about current issues, but I’m a slow blogger as you can tell. This one will be quick, and then I’ll take my wife back to the midwife. (She feels good, btw, and her body is healing.)

On political talk in Tennessee, Harold Ford, Jr. (D) is campaigning against Bob Corker (R) for the U.S. Senate. Apparently, the Corker people were at a rally for Ford in Paris, Tennessee, where Congressman Ford said:

“My friend Lincoln Davis who chairs our campaign says there are, there’s one big difference between us and misfortunate Republicans when it comes to our faith: he said that Republicans fear the Lord; he said Democrats fear AND love the Lord (applause)…”

I suppose that’s public knowledge which could go without comment, but I want to note that I often pray for our leaders and candidates to fear the Lord no matter which party they are in.

Book Coverage in Newspapers

I just learned of this new ArtsJournal blog on books: BookDaddy. Jerome Weeks has been book columnist for The Dallas Morning News before starting this blog, and here he describes the state of book coverage at that paper, if not in newspapers generally. On increasing revenue for book coverage, he suggests:

If the [American Association of Publishers] wanted to do anything, it could try to convince advertisers that the readers of books pages may not be the young illiterates with poor impulse control that marketers currently want but neither are they the old and the dying, as conventional ad wisdom has it. They’re a well-off, often media-savvy and intellectually- and socially-involved audience. This is not some wildly unconventional, radical re-think: TV networks have come to respond to an older audience (the kids are all off in the clubs or on the computer) and has long positioned “geezer” ads for its news programming. Why not the arts pages?

Sounds good to me. I want to be concerned about newspaper coverage, but I don’t subscribe to any of them. I have picked up a few Friday Wall Street Journals because of Terry Teachout, and I look at the local Sunday paper at my parents house, but I don’t care to spend the money on a subscription I wouldn’t read. I do that with other things already. (Thanks to Books, Inc. for pointing out Mr. Weeks’ blog.)

Publishers Turn to Fan Fiction

From our Shameless Profit Desk comes this report that some publishers are looking into fan fiction. “A librarian in Idaho recently received a $150,000 advance from Simon & Schuster to publish a three-novel trilogy about a character from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In Brooklyn, a fan fiction writer known for turning out Lord of the Rings imitations landed the same fee for a similarly inclined fantasy series.”

Can’t see it happening. Fan blogging on the otherhand . . .

Daylight Saving Time: A Change Is Coming

This post is offered as a service to our readers (If I had an Amazon Tip Jar, I’d direct you to it).

Daylight Saving Time ends tonight. Set your clocks back one hour before you go to day or you may be late for church tomorrow.

Next time we do this, we will do it sooner. “Beginning in 2007, Daylight Saving Time is extended one month and begins for most of the United States at 2:00 a.m. on the Second Sunday in March to 2:00 a.m. on the First Sunday of November.”

I don’t expect this to affect the Christmas shopping season.

Update: These cuckoo clock museum owners in London will take all weekend to turn back their 500+ clocks.

Update: Dave Lull directed my attention to this humorous article on the origins of Standard Time and Daylight Saving Time. When Standard Time was proposed to meet the desires of the railroad industry, some said it was “puzzling, saddening, or infuriating [to assume] that time was arbitrary, changeable, susceptible to the whims of the railroads or defined by mere commercial expediency. Surely the world ran by higher priorities than railroad scheduling.”

I would television scheduling to that.

Confederacy of cats

I was intrigued by Florence King’s review of Dixie Betrayed by David J. Eicher over at the American Spectator blog today.

My attitudinal history as regards the Confederacy has traced a sine wave profile over the years. As a child I was a Lincoln buff (still am), and a rabid partisan of the Union (I was born just in time to have the Civil War Centennial pretty generally in my face during my early teen years, and I loved it).

Later, as I found myself drawn to federalist politics, I started thinking more highly of the South. I find the argument pretty compelling that the Constitution would never have been ratified if anybody’d been told that secession would be forbidden. Lincoln’s constitutional argument, so far as I could tell (in spite of my reverence for the man himself) seemed to be basically, “We have to preserve the Union because I think it’s a good idea.”

Which is nice, but one might argue whether it was worth 600,000 lives.

But I had no idea what an organizational mess the Confederacy was, if Eicher is correct in his analysis.

Maybe the best thing Lincoln could have done would have been to have told them, “Bye-bye, have a good life,” and then waited for them to go to pieces, then crawl back and ask to be readmitted.

I have a sad feeling that somewhere on one of those battlefields a man died who would have written or preached or sung something that would have made America a better, happier place today.

Then again, maybe Lincoln was right when he said in his second inaugural address.

“Yet, if God wills that [the war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Book Reviews, Creative Culture