Tag Archives: reading room

Deconstructing My Christianized Self, Part 1 (republish: “Best Of”)

Editor’s Note: This was one of our top 20 most read essays in 2010. We’re republishing it as we continue through our “revisiting 2010 the ‘best of’ series of 2010.” Thanks.

Like so many others born and raised in the buckle of the Oklahoma “Bible belt,” I was Christianized from an early age. My father was a pastor, and as a PK (Pastor’s Kid), I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. Flannel boards, K-Love, VBS, purity rings, Precept Bible Studies, DC Talk, and potluck lunches – all of this just came with the territory.

Somewhere early on, I absorbed the basic Calvinistic idea that the material world, like the material body, was colonized with eeeeviil. Most importantly, I was hard wired for eeeeviill. Every thought, impulse, feeling, and desire contained latent Dionysian energies roiling within them.

I distinctly remember attending a youth bible conference where the speaker confronted us on masturbation. Gulp. Blanch. Awkward. Stare at the floor. Crickets.

Continue reading Deconstructing My Christianized Self, Part 1 (republish: “Best Of”)

Chicken Soup for the Blogaholic’s Soul

In casual conversation, I am likely to mention treatment options for Kate, Bowen, or Jessie, or how the Stone family is doing these days.  What you won’t know, however, is that I don’t actually KNOW these people, at least in the traditional sense.  You see, I follow blogs…lots of them.

Most of my favorite blogs were created in times of tragedy or in response to a medical crisis. I often have to steel myself to click the links, as these posts certainly aren’t mindless reads.  My heart seizes at the news of an agonizing decision to be made and I regularly shed tears over the unfathomable experiences of these families.  They are desperately reaching out for help and support, and I find myself magnetically drawn to them.

Some find my hobby a bit morbid and wonder why I torture myself by actively taking on the pain and grief of strangers.  While the subject matter is indeed difficult, the rewards are many.  First, however, I have to get past being a selfish human.  Just like many children create imaginary friends who have problems – fear of the dark, aggression, etc. – as a safe way to talk about newfound issues, I think reading about the sad and tragic side of life helps me process emotions about my own worst fears.  However, in acknowledging the really hard realities of life, I sometimes develop the “I’m glad it’s them and not me” syndrome.  I have to squelch those thoughts so that I can focus on the people and their needs, and not just the fears their stories evoke.

As a result, I can attest to the tremendous beauty and inspiration that often rises from the ashes of tragedy and helplessness.  I am refreshed by the way in which I can touch and be touched by people’s hearts across so much distance.  The written word is incredibly honest, heartfelt, and the authors are completely transparent.  In a world where the truth is often buried beneath layers of you know what, reading something so raw and heartfelt is meaningful.

When I stop the whirlwind of life to catch up on these families, I feel a renewed sense of faith in humanity.  I admire the strength that resonates from their words and I deeply hope that I would have equal fortitude in their shoes.  As strong as they are, they are also at their most vulnerable, and this allows them to put on paper the thoughts that most people could never speak.  I think this is a strong connection point for me personally given that I’ve always been better at expressing myself in writing than in face-to-face conversations.

Part of that ability is simply dissociating from what the world expects me to be or say, and simply writing what I feel without the risk of immediate and sometimes awkward reactions.  I love real, but being entirely real is usually the exception and not the rule.

Finally, in addition to the gift of inspiration I receive from these blogs, they also provide me the opportunity to give back in a profound way.  I’m not a doctor, so I can’t heal the sick.  I’m not a millionaire, so I can’t offer riches to fund medical treatments.  However, as a woman of faith, I can add my voice to those interceding on behalf of precious families who need guidance, hope, and strength beyond what they can muster on their own.  I believe firmly in the power of prayer and that giving away my heart and prayers, whether to close friends or virtual strangers, simply expands my capacity to do so over and over again.

It’s only fitting that I include information on a few of my favorite blogs, and I encourage you to post a comment with additional links.  There’s nothing like a shared bowl of chicken soup to warm us all up!

http://renziandleeannestone.blogspot.com/ – Oklahoma City couple Lee Anne and Renzi Stone lost their almost one year old son to a sudden epileptic seizure.  They honor little Isaiah by sharing their daily challenges and joys.

http://www.audreycaroline.blogspot.com/ – Angie is the wife of Selah singer Todd Smith.  While expecting, Todd and Angie were told their daughter had many life threatening conditions and would not survive outside the womb.  Her book, “I Will Carry You,” details their experience and utter reliance on God to make it through to the other side.

http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/mcraekate – Kate McRae is a six-year-old Arizona girl living with a very rare form of brain cancer.  Her mother writes regularly about treatment options, highs and lows, and specific prayer requests.

http://www.carepages.com/carepages/JessicaBoone – Oklahoma teenager Jessie Boone suffered massive head trauma during a ski accident last year.  Her mother chronicles the numerous touch-and-go moments, months in hospitals and Jessie’s current journey.

http://www.kellyskornerblog.com/ – Kelly is an Arkansas gal who began writing when doctors said her newborn wasn’t expected to live.  After a difficult beginning, she now has a healthy and happy daughter and another on the way.  Having also suffered infertility for many years, she is an inspiration to those women desperately hoping for a baby.

http://bowensheart.com/ – Matt Hammett is the lead singer of the Christian band Sanctus Real.  Their son, Bowen, has a severely underdeveloped heart.  They are journaling their experience and sharing the love of God through their words and stories.

Stories Written in Blood

by Josh Bottomly

Not long ago my wife, Amy, posted a picture of my night stand on her blog.

It was a picture of the books propped up on my stand.

From left to right.

Tim Keller’s The Reason for God.

Abraham Heschel’s God in Search of Man.

C.S. Lewis’s Quotables.

Eugene Petersons translation of the Bible, The Message.

And, N.T. Wright’s Matthew for Everyone.

An anonymous blogger saw this picture and posed this question directly to me (and indirectly to all Christians):

Why do so many Christians just read Christian books?

My first mental response was of course immature, arrogant, condescending, and reactionary:

How dare you try and pigeonhole!  I peruse the Fiction and Literature section at Barnes and Noble more frequently than I do the Spiritual Devotion section.

I have a undergraduate and graduate degree in English literature.

You name a classic or contemporary author, and I’ll bet I have studied him or her.  Shakespeare.  Check.  O’ Connor.  Check.  Camus.  Check.  Kerouac.  Check.

But later, after I had calmed down, I sat down to think a bit about that anonymous person’s question.  It’s an appropriate question, really.  And it was probably not meant to stir up conflict. But conversation.

So after some reflection, this is how I responded to this blogger.

Simply put: I’m interested in reading any story that is written in blood.

Take East of Eden by John Steinbeck, for example. Now that’s a book written in blood. Who of us hasn’t felt an acute sense of displacement? It’s not that we are living in the wrong place; just the wrong way. Or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  I’ve got a son now and the thought of dying for Silas – not a iota of fear. But the thought of Silas having to live beyond my dying love – nothing but fear.

Any story then that struggles with what it means to be human, what it means to walk upright in a bent world, what it means to live within tensions and questions and doubts – that’s a story I want to read and participate in because it is written in the author’s blood. Whether it is written by a Christian. Or agnostic. Or atheist. Or Buddhist. Or Muslim.  Because all truth is God’s truth.  And part of the theology of common grace includes the animating belief that when we tell the truth about our experience of being human, regardless of our “worldview” or religious belief system, somehow, in some mysterious way, a “gleam of the evengelium”, as J.R.R. Tolkien argued, shines through.

J.R.R. Tolkein, smoking his famous pipe.

So I pose this contagion of questions for you to ponder – Christian or not:

What books have you read that are written in blood?

What stories have spoken and resonated with your deepest humanity?

What narratives have shaped the way you understand the narrative we live in?

No doubt, I’m always looking for a good read. And by good, I mean a story where the author simply has the courage as Fredrick Buechner puts it,  to “open a vein.”