Browsing articles from "November, 2010"
Nov 29, 2010

Church Hunting

church huntingDisclaimer: This post is not about books.

Wake up early, on a day when you don’t work, go stand in a big, probably cold room with a bunch of strangers, and there may or may not be free coffee. Oh, and everybody’s going to sing. Including you.

Sounds like fun, eh?

That’s what I like to call, “Church Hunting”.

Church hunting in Wheaton isn’t a leisure activity. It’s more like an Olympic sport. According to Wikipedia, Wheaton has 45 within the city limits, 30 in the surrounding unincorporated area, and, reportedly, more churches per capita than any other American town.*

So I’ve got a lot of options. Seventy-five without leaving my new home town.

It’s overwhelming.

I think my biggest problem is that I don’t know exactly what I want. I do know want a church that’s theologically sound. I want a church with a good community. But other than that…well, my want list is pretty blank.

I belong to a generation that doesn’t quite know what to do with itself, churchilogically. We’re tired of the 90’s seeker-sensitive, praise song model. It’s loud and bright, but a bit empty. The emergent church seemed like it was going to be great: “Let’s return to our roots, but cooler! Let’s burn incense, but we can still wear Ray-Bans!” But then, in their quest for spirituality, they forgot some pretty important things, like inerrancy and omnipotence. Great glasses, though.

I am looking for a third option.

Here’s what I’ve tried so far:

The Dead Church

I was excited about this church because it’s exactly three minutes from my house. I love short travel times. I was still about ten minutes late. I figure, they might as well get to know me now. I walked in, and made eye contact with the usher. I was expecting a whispered welcome and a bulletin. Instead, he blew me off. Yup, the man whose job it is to welcome me, snubbed me. The sermon was great. But I don’t think anyone in the church cared. The pastor cracked a few relatively funny jokes, but they were lost on the congregation. No one smiled or laughed. I have a feeling that they may have been zombies. There was a pot-luck afterward, but since I don’t really eat brains, I got out of there.

The Mega Church

There was nothing wrong with this church. The people were friendly, they loved me even though I was late, and the sermon was solid. The usher was not only a Moody professor, but he helped me find a seat and made sure I was taken care of. The sermon was on racial reconciliation, and the church seems like it really wants to take care of the surrounding community.

There was nothing wrong with anything…but it seemed a little bland. Like I could have gone to any church of 2000 and heard the same sermon and read about the same programs. This is a perfectly good option. But it’s the easy option, and I don’t think I want that.

The Church-Clothes Church

Then there’s the ultra-traditional: the hymn-singing, organ-playing, no-you-may-not-wear-jeans church. That’s where I went this morning. And…as I was surprised to find…it was refreshing. There was nothing affected. The pastor didn’t mention any television shows. He wove a sermon around a passage. He told a complete thought. He did not make three alliterating points, and there was no PowerPoint. I think, I’m not sure about this, but I think he read the whole thing from a manuscript. My soul was stirred, yes, but I left with my brain turning. The sermon left me thoughtful.

It was reverent. In the church bulletin, they ask that you sit quietly after the sermon to reflect. It felt like Sunday.

It reminded me of the best parts of being at Moody.

Now, Church-Clothes Church is a little big. Three services. That worries me. And so does their propensity for trumpet solos. But I haven’t left a Sunday service feeling so filled up in a long time. It’s like I just ate a nutritious meal and now I can handle the long week ahead of me.

I’ve got more churches to try, and I want to give them all a fair shot. I’d like to to go Little Neighborhood Church, and I’m thinking about trying Church of the Incense. Are there any church-types that I’m missing? Any denomination you think I should check out before I settle into a church?

*If I weren’t so eager to find a church and get involved, I’d A.J. Jacobs this shoot, visit every church, and blog about it. I’d call my blog Church Hopper. And I’d get a book deal. You can have that idea. Just give me a nice shout-out in the acknowledgments.

Nov 15, 2010

Top Ten Most Terrifying Villians

I’m jumping in on The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday party. They host it every week. Check out the other lists here.

I can’t think “villain” without thinking “Disney”, but this list is supposed to be about my top ten book villains, so “Maleficent, Maleficent, Maleficent…” would not be appropriate. Just know that’s what I’m thinking while I make this list.

So, here is my list of top ten non-Disney villians, in no particular order…

Lady MacBeth in Macbeth by William Shakespere

Without Lady MacBeth, there’d be no story. MacBeth’s conscience would have kicked in, and there would have been quiet and peace among the people. Everyone would have gone home happy. Shakespeare could have written a comedy about the Weird Sisters and their cat. But no, Lady MacBeth comes in and challenges every excuse that MacBeth tries to make to get out of the murder he has to commit.

The White Witch from Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardobe by C.S. Lewis

I love the White Witch because she’s consistent. She turns up in at least three of the seven books. She’s always there with the same temptation for the kids: power.

She’s beautiful and cold, and surrounds her self with coldness. She gives the children Turkish delight. Have you tried that stuff? Totally villainous.

And, she reminds me of Maleficent.

Imaginary Jesus from Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos

This villain isn’t quite so overtly terrifying. Well, I mean, I guess he’s as terrifying as you make him. Imaginary Jesus is the Jesus you invent to supplant the real thing. I just re-listened to this book, and it reminded me of how easy it is to be distracted…and how scary that is.

Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

I’m not cheating here. I don’t mean the Disney one. The literary Cruella is much scarier than the movified one. She’s the opposite of the White Witch: she’s craves heat. Her house is always kept 10-degrees higher than comfortable. She eats so much pepper that it becomes a natural defense system when the puppies try to bite her.

Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

He doesn’t start out as a villain. He starts out as a nice young man. Then, he falls in love with himself. I love this book because you watch the villain become the villain. Instead of getting the Cruella De Vil-type, the ready-made baddie who is bad at the beginning, continues to be bad, and then dies before they stop being bad, you get Dorian: he starts out good, grows a little less good, gets really bad, has a small (possibly fake) turn for the better, and then dies fully bad.

Nellie Olson from Little House on the Prarie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The spoiled brat. The one who has everything, including the blond hair. She goes out of her way to make Laura’s life miserable. It’s a relief when the Ingalls family moves away from Walnut Grove, if only to get away from Nellie. Laura gets a few quiet years (you know, poverty, hunger, Mary going blind. Typical, quiet prairie life). but then, wonder of wonders, Nellie shows up again in De Smet. Same thing: she goes out of her way to ruin Laura’s life. Not only that, but she goes after Almanzo. The nerve.

Miss Minchin from The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The woman who made a pauper out of the poor Little Princess. Well, she didn’t make her a pauper. But she hurried it along. She didn’t like poor Sara Crewe from the beginning, and you know she was just waiting for a way to make Sara’s life miserable. No one needs to put a 12-year-old girl to work. She just did that out of spite. A lot of my little-girl hate went toward Miss Minchin.

Evil Stepmothers from…95% of all fairy tales.
I lived on Grimm’s fairy tales when I was younger, and believe you me, Evil Stepmother is a scary lady. All they ever do is order limbs cut off and organs cut out. I think they had too much time on their hands, what with their stepchildren doing all the housework. Maybe they should have learned to knit.

So here’s what I’ve learned while making this list: one, woman are way scarier in men, at least in literature. Two, I need to read some more books with straightforward villains in them. Seriously, how many times can I read “man vs. himself” before my brain falls out for lack of, I don’t know, adventure. And three, when I was little, and should have been reading books about adventure and villains, I was reading books about conversations. Maybe I should have let ol’ LMA rest for a bit while I fought some pirates.

I’ve been reading more genre fiction lately, and it’s been quite pleasant. More real villains. I could get used to this.

Yeah, still can’t help it.

Nov 12, 2010

Insert Pun About “In the Frey” Here

What the heck.

James Frey has a YA fiction sweat shop.

I have so many problems with that man.

He thinks he’s the Messiah of Fiction.

Only cooler.

Because no one is as cool as James Frey.


To expand his greatness, Frey’s hiring MFA students, paying them about $500 for several months’ work, and having them write commercial YA fiction for him, so that he can sell the books to Hollywood and everyone can make lots of money. Mostly him, but other people will benefit too. How nice.

You may remember that Frey wrote a book about his addictions and arrests, fabricating details like how long he was in jail and how deep into addiction he fell. When the public, and specifically Oprah, found out that they had been tricked, there was a negative-media explosion.

Frey was dropped by his publisher and his agent, and he had to apologize to Oprah. (This happens to me all the time.)

Now, if you’re going to write a semi-fictional memoir, please go right ahead. If you’re going to write creative non-fiction and embellish so that the reader understands the way the events effected you, even if it isn’t a full representation of the events, do it.

Just say that that’s what you’re doing.

Frey, on the other hand, marketed his “memoir” as truth. When he got caught, he apologized to the plebes, but he was really only sorry that they didn’t understand his genius. Silly little Americans, they’re so obsessed with truth!

Here’s my issue: After all his highfalutin crap, he’s writing books and including fancy swords in them so he can sell Happy Meals to the kiddies. It’s totally contradictory. In Million Little Pieces, he wrote what was “true to him” or “true to the artistic vision of his life’s soul struggles” or whatever. Now, he’s writing books in tandem with Dreamworks.

That’s only “true to his desire to make rat-loads of money”.

I call “hypocrite”. And some other words.

I need to go pray.

Here’s an article about a writer who worked with Frey for a short time.

And here’s one with more details.

And here’s a link to the trailer of a movie that Frey has successfully sweat-shopped and sold to Hollywood.


Am I overreacting? Should I give the guy a break? What do you think about books (specifically  fiction) for money’s sake?

Nov 5, 2010


This has been a particularly good week of Internet. I’ve had something exciting to read every day this week, and I’d like to share some of my leftovers.

But, of course, I wouldn’t just throw a bunch of ABC links at you. Instead, I’ve thrown them all together into this lovely link casserole. It’s called Linkaroni. Old family recipe.

First off, you need to check out the giveaway this week at the NLT blog. They’ve got a Mosaic Bible for somebody. It’s really the prettiest Bible I’ve ever used, and I love the concept behind it. They include artwork and writing from every continent and every century of Christian history. So, they took bits of all sorts of different pieces of the Body and put them to ether to give you a picture of the whole Church. Like a mosaic…see what they did there? (Oh, disclaimer, I work for the people who make the Holy Bible: Mosaic. But I’d like it no matter where I work.) It ends today, so hurry.

This is one of the more important articles I read this week. It’s a very good, simple description of why ebooks cost as much as they do. Whats that? You want your ebook for free because no trees died to bring it to you? Actually, a tree’s life just isn’t worth that much. I’m sorry to break it to you like this. When you pay for an ebook, you’re paying for…well…here, just go read it.

In case you didn’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month, or #NaNoWriMo on the Twitter. Millions and billions of people have dedicated this month to writing a novel. The goal is just to get the whole thing on paper, regardless of quality. However, if a whole novel is a bit much for you, jump in on Open Book’s crow-sourced novel on Twitter. You can find it by searching Twitter for #OpenBooksNovel.

John McIntyre, who writes one of my all-time favorite blogs, compared an editor to renovator: “…when the job is completed, he checks to make sure that it conforms to the design and intent, and he sees with satisfaction that he has brought something to completion.” Marvelous.

Oh, and you can give me this for Christmas. Or just as a regular, everyday present. I don’t really care how you choose to bestow it upon me, I’ll appreciate it just the same.

What about you? Read anything good and Internetty this week?

Nov 2, 2010

Mysterious Case of the Secret Staircase

As I said before, I’ve recently moved. It was a quick, spontaneous sort of move, and I only packed the essentials: a bed, a dresser, and some books.* This left me with a lot of books and no where to put them. I tried piling them around the room, I didn’t like to do that with my poor books, and I think it caused my long-suffering roommate some concern.

My apartment is the second story of a converted house. It has one bedroom, a living room/dining room/Wig Out! room, a Barbie kitchen, and closets that are bigger than the rest of the place put together.

It also has two staircases.

The first staircase is the entryway. It leads to the kitchen. It’s terrifying and steep.  The second staircase leads to nowhere. This is the creepy staircase. At one time, it would bring you from the upstairs hallway down to the living room, but since the conversion, it leads to a window, a door, and a creepy chair. (The chair was there when my roommate moved in. We don’t know where it came from or where it’s going.)

This is where my mother had her brilliant idea. What if we used those unusable stairs as a bookshelf?

And so I did.

Note the creepy chair

The curtain rod was there, and I just happened to have my great-grandma’s scarf in my sock drawer, which makes an excellent curtain.

Nana's scarf. The creepy chair.

When I have some time, I plan on spending a few hours in the chair, brooding. Maybe glaring. It’s the perfect spot for it.

Oh, and then I put my books on the stairs.


Now, these aren’t all of my books. I’ve been trying to bring them to my apartment in carry-up-the-terrifying-stairs-able loads, and there are still a few books that I have to argue about with my family members. (I don’t get Little Men until my mother…leaves us…and my sister insists that Little Women was a greater part of her childhood than it was mine. Neither of them could tell you what Louisa May Alcott ate on her ham sandwiches. 12-year-old me could write a dissertation on the woman. I’m going to win this one eventually.)

It has become an excellent library. Every shelf is also a seat, I’ve got lots of shelves to organize, all sorts of room to expand my collection. It has a little bit of a secret-passageway feel to it, and only the best libraries can pull that off. And it has the creepy chair. I just love that chair.

Where do you keep your books? Do you pile them? Shelve them? Use them as bricks to build castles?

*And clothes and shoes and coffee and like four other things. Allow me some poetic licence.