Monday, March 31, 2008

April Fools' Contest Winners

Again, many thanks to our entrants - Ello, Jane & Pete.


AND



($40 gift certificate)
Peter D




($10 gift certificate)

It's a tie!!
Ello
Jane


Congratulations, and thanks again to our three authors. A special, fantastic thanks to our prompt author and guest Judge, Precie!


(I'd appreciate the three of you sending the email to which I can send your gift certificate.)

















To stick those cute little winner graphics on your page, here are the codes. Replace the three { with three <, cut and paste!


 {a href="http://insearchofgiants.blogspot.com/2008/03/april-fools-contest.html">
{img src="http://h1.ripway.com/AerinRose/ReaderC.png" height="125" width="200">{/a>

{a href="http://insearchofgiants.blogspot.com/2008/03/april-fools-contest.html">
{img src="http://h1.ripway.com/AerinRose/JudgeW.png" height="125" width="200">{/a>

{a href="http://insearchofgiants.blogspot.com/2008/03/april-fools-contest.html">
{img src="http://h1.ripway.com/AerinRose/HonMent.png" height="125" width="200">{/a>



Contest Winners!!

For Contest Winners, go here.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Readers' Choice Voting

The April Fools' Contest is now finished.

With huge thanks, brightly colored mixed drinks, and a parade to Ello, JaneyV and pjd for entering!

Vote for your favorite ending! Simply use the box to the right.

My lil lecture:

I'm rescinding the rule that you had to have commented to vote, but I'm also taking on faith you all are decent, honest human beings. (I know, my mistake....) Folks, I am trusting you all to be adults, and truly vote for your favorite ending. Once.

If I get to the point I think the voting's skewed, I'll scrap the poll and declare my own Readers' Choice winner. So there.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Entry #3



by Peter Dudley
(aka pjd)

As the plane taxied to the gate, Brandon stood up, opened the overhead compartment and started pulling out our carry-ons. He huffed and glared at me, but I refused to help. A stewardess rushed up to him from the back of the cabin, calling out, "Please, sir, return to your seat and keep your seatbelt fastened until the pilot has turned off the seatbelt sign!"

I couldn't hear the response he growled at her, but it must have been a doozy. She signaled to someone in the back, and almost instantaneously a male flight attendant from Business Class appeared. He repeated the "please remain seated" speech. His stance made clear that it wasn't a request.

I almost laughed aloud as Brandon picked up his carry-on from his seat and then sat down gingerly. I didn't want to be on this trip any more than he did, but his attitude wasn't going to help matters any.


After all, it was his trust fund at stake.

As the flight attendants drifted away, I looked at Buffalo's snowy tarmac. April had begun, yet this awful corner of nowhere still looked like December. Virginal white, the same color I'd be wearing when my father would hand me over, officially, to Brandon tomorrow.

I stifled a laugh at the thought. I had yet to meet Brandon's far-right, ultra Christian family, but Brandon had already slept with more than one of my dad's free-love hippie boyfriends back in San Francisco. No way Dad would be able to hold it together.

But who knew that Brandon's bachelor party studmuffin, Bigus Dickus the God of Love, would also work in Delta business class?

Fifteen minutes afterwards we watched suitcases slog around the baggage carousel. Without warning, I found myself smothered in kisses from a plaster-cheeked, face-lifted, woman with enormous hair. When I finally wriggled free, I had no trouble becoming the gleeful bimbo they expected. Brandon's parents had missed their calling as circus clowns and somehow landed in life as filthy rich people with bad taste.

Even frequent open-mouth kisses with Brandon seemed fun. Brandon clearly wanted to barf, but his parents ate it all up. Within five minutes I had them thinking Brandon and I were both straight.

As my future father-in-law plucked Brandon's luggage from the carousel—I had tied the cutest little rainbow ribbons on the handles—I gazed doe-eyed into Brandon's eyes and held his hands. Then his focus shifted, and his hands went cold and sweaty, like fish on ice. A cool, smooth baritone drifted over my shoulder. "Hi, I wanted to thank you." The male stripper-cum-flight attendant breezed up next to us.

"Um... OK." Brandon's reply wavered and cracked like a Mouseketeer on meth. "Uh... why?" He regretted the question the moment it left his lips. Duh, Brandon. Remember last night? Your bachelor party? Bigus Dickus totally living up to his stage name?

"For your cooperation on the flight, of course." A sly wink accompanied Bigus' extended hand, which Brandon took gingerly. They held a little too long, and I felt Brandon's parents stop and stare. "And," added Bigus, whose Delta name tag read Trevor, "I thought maybe we could—"

"Thanks," I butted in, "but we really have to go." I looked around at my small herd of future cash cows, seeing nervous relief in every face. "Girl stuff before the wedding!" I waved my big diamond ring in Bigus' face.

He frowned, confused. "Wedding?" He glared the unspoken question at Brandon.

"Trust fund," I hissed, hoping only Brandon and Bigus could hear.

Brandon stared into my eyes, and I could see something forming there I didn't like. He was thinking, and that was never a good thing—now seeing his parents I understood why—and I could sense my million dollar payout slipping away.

Brandon dropped my hand and aimed himself at his parents. "Mom. Dad. I need to be honest. The only reason I'm marrying Lily is to satisfy your stupid trust fund requirements." My heart started jumping around like Richard Simmons on fast forward. He was giving it all up, including the million he promised me for being his "wife" for a year. The stupid ass! "You can keep your ten million. It's time I came out of the closet and demanded you love me for who I really am."

He took a deep breath and turned to Bigus. "Trevor, do you want to go have a drink with me?"

The whole world stopped. Brandon's parents looked like people frozen in time. Other travelers stopped walking and listened. Baggage stopped rotating on the carousel. Planes stopped flying. Plants stopped growing. Clouds stopped drifting in the breeze.

Trevor's gaze hopped from one to the next and ultimately met mine. Then he started in with a low chuckle, which turned into a laugh, which became a guffaw. I glanced at Mr. and Mrs. Cash Cow and saw them wavering, so I gave a little airheaded titter, too, then pointed at them and laughed for real. "April Fool!" I screeched.

Soon everyone but Brandon was laughing, and while the world resumed turning, I whispered in his ear, "If you do that again, I'll fucking kill you. I don't want to be on this trip any more than you, but fix your damn attitude, you asshole." Big smile for the Cash Cows. "And get his phone number, idiot."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Entry #2




GOTCHA!
by Jane Volker


As the plane taxied to the gate, Brandon stood up, opened the overhead compartment and started pulling out our carry-ons. He huffed and glared at me, but I refused to help. A stewardess rushed up to him from the back of the cabin, calling out, "Please, sir, return to your seat and keep your seatbelt fastened until the pilot has turned off the seatbelt sign!"

I couldn't hear the response he growled at her, but it must have been a doozy. She signaled to someone in the back, and almost instantaneously a male flight attendant from Business Class appeared. He repeated the "please remain seated" speech. His stance made clear that it wasn't a request.

I almost laughed aloud as Brandon picked up his carry-on from his seat and then sat down gingerly. I didn't want to be on this trip any more than he did, but his attitude wasn't going to help matters any.


“I will remind you again Sir, for your own safety and the safety of the other passengers, please fasten your seatbelt.”

Brandon did as he was told but I could see his jaw visibly tighten. His gazed fixed on the back of the seat in front of him he clicked the buckle back into place. This air steward was obviously not employed for his genius with re-constituted food and instant lattes. Breathing in deliberately and puffing out his (not insubstantial) chest he repeated again, this time with just a soupcon of a threat,

“Please do not UN-fasten your seatbelt until instructed to do so by the Pilot.”

Flight Attendant ..er... Doug I think, remained at attention looking forward, his genitals, right in front of Brandon’s increasingly uncomfortable face. Five seconds turned into ten turned into fifteen. Brandon began to squirm. Just as his levels of discomfiture reached an unbearable climax, Doug looked down, smiled a mouthful of pearly whites at him and said,

“Thank you Sir, for your compliance with the safety and security regulations of this airline. Have a nice day.”

Then he turned in the direction of Business Class and marched off.

“This is all your fault,” Brandon spat furiously. “I told you to stop all contact with my mother but Oh No! You had to keep in touch. And look where we are now! A half hour from the clutches of the spawn of Satan.”

“I told you before, I just sent her an email once a month to let her know you were alive. I did NOT give her our address. Don’t blame me because you got suckered in by all that guilt-trip BS about her having cancer. The decision to come here was yours!”

“No, you just mentioned where I worked, she managed to wangle our address out of the Temp on the front desk. That won’t happen again. I have laminated instructions on ‘what to say when Maisy calls’ for all temporary employees now. You know we’re going to have to move house!”

“I know. I know.”

A lifetime of bitterness and bile at the hands of the most hateful woman alive, finally forced Brandon to cut off all contact with his mother just after our wedding three years before. I could be wrong but I think it was her speech, which began, “It broke my heart when Brandon told me he was going to marry this White Trash....” that finally did it.

Having her in your life, he’d said, was like living with a disease. Sometimes it was necessary to cut it out in order to survive.

And yet she was so convincing in her letter. We were suckered in by the promise of a terminal illness. It wasn’t until we were seated on the plane and I was absent-mindedly looking at the tickets she’d sent us that I realized the date. April 1st. No doubt now, she’d been lying – it was a sick prank. And Brandon’s behavior was becoming increasingly erratic.

“I can’t do this! I can’t do this!”

He was really beginning to irritate me.

Then I saw it. That look he gets when he’s plotting. It hovered for the briefest millisecond and then it disappeared. The last time he’d had it I ended up moving house and job, dumping my cell phone and practically getting a new identity. I knew there’d be trouble.

“Where does that guy get off telling me what to do! Asshole! It’s not like I HAVE A BOMB!”

I keep replaying what happened next in slow motion but it’s always the same. First he says the word ‘BOMB’ really loud and the very next shaving of a second Doug’s pointing a gun in his face.

“SUR! SLOWLY put the bag on the floor and put your hands on your head!”

The plane had barely stopped at the gate when we were boarded by six men in flack jackets and helmets carrying an armored box into which they carefully inserted the hold-all containing our pajamas and toiletries. I have never seen a box sealed so quickly. Then they disappeared in a puff of testosterone while Brandon was being cuffed and read his rights. At least I think it was his rights – do suspected terrorists get those? As he was shoved off the plane, before the Captain had even turned off the seatbelt sign, I saw him grinning.

Apparently even Guantanamo is preferable to Brandon’s Ma.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Entry #1


by Ello

As the plane taxied to the gate, Brandon stood up, opened the overhead compartment and started pulling out our carry-ons. He huffed and glared at me, but I refused to help. A stewardess rushed up to him from the back of the cabin, calling out, "Please, sir, return to your seat and keep your seatbelt fastened until the pilot has turned off the seatbelt sign!"

I couldn't hear the response he growled at her, but it must have been a doozy. She signaled to someone in the back, and almost instantaneously a male flight attendant from Business Class appeared. He repeated the "please remain seated" speech. His stance made clear that it wasn't a request.

I almost laughed aloud as Brandon picked up his carry-on from his seat and then sat down gingerly. I didn't want to be on this trip any more than he did, but his attitude wasn't going to help matters any.


The male flight attendant returned to the front of the plane as the plane coasted to a complete halt. Ten interminable minutes crept by before Brandon flipped out again.

"What the fuck is taking them so long!"

Slamming his fists onto the seat in front of him, to the dismay of the unsuspecting passenger, Brandon rose and began to pace up and down the aisle.

The petite stewardess immediately rushed towards him.

"Sir, we are still on the runway, you must remain seated..."

"Sweetheart, there is nothing you or your little gay friend can say to make me sit. I've been sitting for five hours straight and I'm done. So back off sister!" Brandon flicked a rude hand in the smaller woman's face.

"I've had it with this cheap ass airline! No food, no snacks, $6 for a measly ham sandwich. And you have to be a fucking midget to sit comfortably in these ridiculous seats!" Brandon was raging, going so far as to kick his vacant seat, jolting me and alarming the other passengers.

"Brandon, stop making a scene!" I said. "Everyone feels like you do but you are acting like an ass."

"Who the hell do you think you are talking to me like that?"

"Brandon…" I tried to say, but he couldn't hear me, going off on an increasingly unstable rampage.

"Would you just sit down and shut the hell up!" A tight, British voice spoke up from a row somewhere behind us.

"Fuck you asshole!" Brandon yelled. "Why don't you come and make me!"

"Sir, I have to warn you that I will be forced to take drastic measures if you do not calm down!" The stewardess said.

Brandon had the audacity to laugh down into her face.

"And what is a little girl like you gonna do, hmmmm? Call your gay boyfriend again, huh? Ooooooh, look how scared I am!" He sneered at her. "Please! Get out of my face!" I watched as his big meaty hand shoved the smaller woman, sending her off balance and causing her to fall. A wave of shocked and angry cries filled the air as I stared in disbelief. I knew Brandon's reputation for being a misogynistic prick but this was going too far.

The next part of the story is a bit of a blur to me. I remember it only in bits and pieces now. Somethings jolt into my memory at the oddest times, like the screams, the blood, the smell. But I can tell you that it's the screaming that I remember the most. The screaming and the strange cracking sounds of bones splintering and clothes ripping. The rest I blocked out. But I can tell you what my police report statement said.

The plane was dimly lit as the lights had not been turned on yet. I still sat in my window seat, looking up at Brandon. I remember his arrogant profile turning into one of sheer horror. I turned my head and found myself staring at the massive head of a fully manifested werewolf, still in the tattered remnants of a stewardess uniform. Before I could blink, the werewolf had launched itself at Brandon and bit off his head in one bite. The dismembered body fell first on its knees, arms twitching as in disbelief, before falling forward with a great gush of blood. In the next instance, the sleek black head of the werewolf was thrown back as it issued a full throttled howl. Leaping towards the middle of the plane it ripped out a row of seated passengers and flung it behind. Throwing its body against the emergency exit, the werewolf tore the exit door off and jumped out into the night. It stood for a moment in the lit pool of one of the runway lights as it once again threw back it's head to howl. Answering howls could be heard in the distance. The werewolf pulled off the remains of the stewardess uniform that still clung to its body before heading out towards the mountains.

Monday, March 24, 2008

April Fools' Contest

Welcome! Please, sit down. Get comfortable.

Thank you for joining us for our April Fools' Contest. It's a simple contest: Finish a story.

Not just any story, that would be too easy. The starter (see the orange box, to the right) has been provided by Precie S of Writer at Work, who's placed twice in the Clarity of Night** Short Fiction contests, has a PhD in Literature, and is addicted to Scrabulous and to chocolate.

The purpose of the contest is for entrants to have fun writing. No, really. It's musical chairs via Blogger, a roller coaster at the county fair, a virtual ice cream cone. Just a little spark of fun into the beginning of a blustery spring.

Write what you want - be it funny, serious, short, long (ish). Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? (My mom only let me read one; she said they were as bad as comic books.) Well, now's your chance to choose your own ending.

Think of this as a cocktail party, with door prizes. Thanks for coming!


DEADLINE: 9PM PST on Sunday, March 30 2008.
Readers Choice Voting held ONE DAY ONLY - Monday March 31 2008
Winners Announced Tuesday, April 1.


Entry 1
Entry 2
Entry 3

RULES:
1. Each entry must provide a full ending (rather than a continuation only) of Precie's story.
2. Entries should be between 200-750 words. Titles optional.
3. Each participant can submit up to three (3) separate entries.
4. Email entries to AERINBLOGS at AOL dot COM. Include your name and your URL (optional).
5. Readers' Choice voting to occur March 31. Voting will be by email. Voting is open only to those who commented on the contest or on stories before midnight, March 30 2008.
5. Anyone can enter. I claim publishing rights on each entry through Friday, April 4, 2008. All entries copyright their respective authors. Etc etc etc.

PRIZES:
Prizes shall be awarded on a 100% subjective basis.
One $20 SuperCertificate to the author of Precie's favorite ending.
One $20 SuperCertificate to the author of Readers' Choice favorite ending.
One $10 SuperCertificate by random lottery.
As many HONORABLE MENTIONS as Precie wants to give.

Please email me with any questions.


** - Many thanks to Jason E. at Clarity of Night, from whom I blatantly swiped the contest structure.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

What do Whiners Get?

yet another blog moved here from Oodellaly

A few years ago, my husband and I met some friends half-way between North Carolina and Kentucky. Our designated meeting place was a McDonald’s. When we arrived, their 3-year-old son Alec was finishing his Happy Meal. They also had baby Olivia, and we were cooing and arguing over who got to hold her. Trying to get his mother’s attention, Alec began to pull on her dress and whine that he wanted to go play in the McDonald’s playground. Gently and firmly she said to him, “What do whiners get?” With a dejected expression, in a tiny voice, he replied, “Nothing.” Not being a mother myself, I thought her actions somewhat harsh. He was, after all, only three, and he just wanted to play in the McDonald’s playground.

We visited them again in California a few years later. There was another new baby (this time my own) and just as much fussing as there had been at that McDonald’s meeting. At one point, the now-5-year-old decided he very much wanted us to come and play Toy Story 2 with him. He walked up to my husband, who was holding the baby, and said, “Will you please come and play with me?” In place of the three-year-old whine was a five-year-old articulation of what he wanted, what he needed.

Whining has gained a bit of notice in recent years. There are 5,000 informational websites that teach about whining and another 125,000 websites that are whining forums. You can whine about anything from the power crisis to the continuing debate over social security to results of last night’s Rock Star: INXS episode. There are a number of commercial websites dedicated to the sale of No Whining Memorabilia – the word whining enclosed in a red circle with a red line, like a no smoking sign. My favorite website sells Whine Labels – bottles of wine with customized labels about whatever you want to whine about. “Oh, thanks for coming over for dinner. Would you like some wine? I have a lovely bottle of Can you believe the price of gas?? Perhaps you’d prefer this, a 1999 The church wants money again!” Whining is an epidemic in our society. Why is that? What is whining? What do we think we can accomplish by whining?

Laura Davis and Janis Keyser, authors of Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, write,

Not long after your child starts walking and talking, chances are he will probably learn to whine. Maybe he'll even learn to follow you around the house, whining all the way. Just a "Mommy" in that plaintive, nasal tone can be enough to send shivers down your spine. The thing about whining is that it is practically impossible to ignore. And that, of course, is why kids do it. They want your attention, whether the attention is good or bad.


Another child psychologist writes,

Feelings are an important part of children’s self concept. Children don’t fully understand their feelings, so they will tend to whine when they're hungry, tired, upset, bored, overstimulated, ill or not getting enough attention. According to many experts, then, whining – at least a small amount – seems to be a part of children’s development.


So what’s our excuse?

Why do adults whine?

I looked for examples of whiny adults in the media, and in literature, and in the news, before I realized that the best examples of whining are found in the Bible. The Bible is full of complaining, nagging, pestering – whining. It starts with Adam – “the woman made me do it” – and hits almost every generation afterwards. Cain whines because God favors Abel’s offering, Jacob whines because Isaac favors Esau, the other 11 sons whine because Jacob favors Joseph. Moses whines that he can’t possible help the Israelites – he stutters. David whines because he wants Bathsheba, Jonah whines because he doesn’t want to speak a prophetic word to Nineveh. We get into the New Testament, and we have a bunch of whining disciples. They whine about feeding the masses, as we read in our text today, they whine that they won’t know what to do when Jesus leaves them. The Pharisees just whine, in general. Martha whines because she wants Mary to help her in the kitchen, Mary, Jesus’ mother, whines about having enough wine at a wedding banquet. There is an epidemic of whining. But these were all men and women of great strength, and courage, and faith. Whining is not an affliction of the weak – we all do it. So why do we whine?

Whining, at its root, comes from not asking for what we need. And most of the time, we don’t ask for what we need because we are scared we won’t get it. We are scared there won’t be enough. We buy into the modern myth of scarcity, the fear that what we have today will run out tomorrow. And the deepest fear we have as humans, the fear that we see in all of these Bible characters is a fear that comes from our greatest need. That is the need to be loved. Our greatest fear is that there won’t be enough love for both you and me, and that I’m the one that will be left with less.

In his brilliant, powerful book How Good Do We Have to Be?, Rabbi Harold Kushner asserts that Original Sin is neither disobedience nor is it lust. He writes, “the Original Sin that affects virtually every one of us and leads to other, worse sins is the belief that there is not enough love to go around.”

“And therefore,” he continues, “when someone else is loved, he or she is stealing that love from us.” Our primal fear is that our parents don’t have enough love for us all, and someone else may be getting part of our share.

How clearly we see this as the human condition in the story of the prodigal son. Do you know the story? A young man demands his inheritance from his father, squanders it on wild living, and returns home, willing to work as a servant. His father meets him on the road, embraces him, lavishes gifts and a banquet upon him. But when I speak of the prodigal son as an illustration, I don’t mean the younger son, but the older one. The older son angrily confronts his father, again – whining – that he had been a great son, followed the rules, and never received such treatment. His father tries to reassure him, but we don’t know if the older son ever quite “gets it.”

Kushner writes,

Later in life, when we are passed over for a promotion, when our doctor or our clergyman gets our name wrong, when someone pushes ahead of us in line, we may respond with a disproportionate sense of hurt because the experience reawakens childhood feelings that our parents may love someone else more than they love us.

What he is saying is that sometimes, our fear that there is not enough love has been substantiated in some way. Our parents or care-givers may have indeed played favorites, they might have abused us physically or emotionally, they might just have, in their unfamiliarity with the terrain of parenting, not known how to give us the love we needed. We might have had friends who couldn’t or didn’t stick by us in tough times. Our lovers and spouses may have outright scorned or abused us, or they may have neglected us to fulfill their workaholic impulses. Sometimes, our fear that there is not enough love is, we think, proven to us, in painful ways. And so what is already difficult for us as humans – that is, asking for what we need – becomes an even more dangerous endeavor, because we have evidence that we might not receive that which we ask for.

In the book of John in the Christian Bible, there's a story about abundance. It's commonly called “The Feeding of the Five Thousand,” and it’s the only miracle, other than the resurrection narrative, that is found in all four gospels. That's the signal that there is something significant in this segment of Jesus’ ministry.

I think the overarching theme of this narrative is that there is enough, and I don’t just mean food. The story begins not with the actual feeding but with the fact that Jesus “withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida.” Jesus was tired, a little stressed, and wanted some private time with his closest friends. The masses, drawn to the power of his teachings, followed them. And when they came, Jesus “welcomed them, and spoke to them. . .and healed those who need to be cured.” The story begins with an act of love – an immense act. Few of us welcome interruptions in our “down” times, our own times of withdrawing. We cherish our private time and tolerate no interruptions short of an earthquake or the end of the world. For example, when my brothers were young, I can assure you that my tired and stressed and otherwise loving and helpful mother did not welcome my interrupting her afternoon reading time with questions about what shoes went with the outfit I had on. Jesus, loving and helpful, tired and stressed, welcomed them.

It got late – and what happened? The Disciples started whining. They said, “There are a whole lot of people here, we have no money - better just send them somewhere else. And by the way, what are we going to eat??” (There’s that fear – that there will be more for “you” than there is for “me.”) The Scripture records that there were five thousand men. We know from the other gospels that these men had brought their wives and children with them, so the total head count was probably somewhere around 10,000. The Bible says, “And all ate and were filled.”

And then God throws in the humorous, ironic touch that I love. There were twelve basketfuls left – one for each disciple. Those ol’ whiny disciples, worried about what they would eat, each had a basketful of food.

This is not a story about what whiners get. This story is a story of abundance, of love – immense love – enough love – love for you and me and for us all – love that fulfills us – love that can take away our fears.

When our friends taught their son Alec that whiners get nothing, they were using a parenting technique to provide their son boundaries and a structured, loving upbringing. But they were teaching him a truth pertinent only to their family. Whiners get nothing in their family, but in many families, in many situations in our lives, whining – let’s face it – works. We get so tired, annoyed and worn down by whining, we often give in to whatever the underlying request is, whether the whiner is an adult or a child. And, let’s face it, God loves whiners, too – older prodigal son included.

So what's the point? That whiners get nothing? No, because sometimes they do. That whining is ok? No, because it’s not a true expression of who we are and what we need. The point is that God loves you, truly, madly deeply, abundantly – and that God loves each one of us – you and you and you and me – equally. Enough. More than enough. In the Christian tradition, we have a word for that love.

It’s called “grace.”

Confession

another sermon moved here from Oodellaly

“Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16). Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes,


The grace of the gospel confronts us with the hard truth. It says to us, you are a sinner, a great unholy sinner. Now come, as the sinner that you are, to your God who loves you. For God wants you as you are – You cannot hide from God. The mask you wear in the presence of other people won’t get you anywhere in the presence of God. God wants to see you as you are. . .you do not have to go on lying to yourself and to others.

When we think of confession we think of the Catholic Sacrament. We might go as far back to the Middle Ages to the abuses of the selling of indulgences. We might not know much at all. In the past in the Catholic Church, it looked something like this: A parishioner would come to the priest and begin with a recitation of sins (confession). Then her or she would make an expression of sorrow with an Act of Contrition, and an agreement then to make some satisfaction for their sins by accepting their penance, and resolving to change their ways (conversion).


Why confess? Bonhoeffer believed that in confession there takes place – a breakthrough to community and a breakthrough to the cross. It is a breakthrough to community because sin wants to be alone with people. It takes them away from the community. The more lonely people become, the more destructive the power of sin over them.


A breakthrough to the cross occurs, as well. Bonhoeffer believed the root of all sin is pride, superbia. I want to be for myself: I have a right to be myself, a right to my hatred and my desires, my life and my death. Confession in the presence of others is the most profound kind of humiliation. It hurts, makes one feel small: it deals a terrible blow to one’s pride. To stand there before another Christian as sinner is an almost unbearable disgrace. By confessing actual sins the old self dies a painful, humiliating death before the eyes of another Christian. Because this humiliation is so difficult, we keep thinking we can avoid confessing to one another – and that’s precisely the reason we should. We cannot find the cross of Jesus if we are afraid of going to the place where Jesus can be found.


In Christ, the love of God came to the sinner. Every pretense came to an end in Christ’s presence. This was the truth of the gospel in Jesus Christ: the misery of the sinner and the mercy of God. The community of faith in Christ was to live in this truth. That is why Jesus gave his followers the authority to hear the confession of sin and to forgive sin in Christ’s name. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”


When he did that, Christ made us into the community of faith, and in that community Christ made the other Christian to be grace for us. Now each stands in Christ’s place. In the presence of another Christian I no longer need to pretend. Thus the call within the Christian community to mutual confession and forgiveness goes out as a call to the great grace of God in the congregation.

Sandra DeGidio teaches her Catholic readers that there is a third part to the Rite of Reconciliation: first conversion, then confession, and finally, Celebration. Celebration makes sense only when there is really something to celebrate. Each of us has had the experience of going to gatherings with all the trappings of a celebration – people, food, drink, balloons, bands – and yet the festivity was a flop for us. For example, attending an office party can be such an empty gathering for the spouse or friend of an employee. Celebration flows from lived experience or it is meaningless. The need for celebration to flow from common lived experiences is especially true of sacramental celebrations.


What we need to help us feel more comfortable with the idea of celebration in relation to Reconciliation is a conversion from our own rugged individualism. If all the ultimately matters is individual autonomy, then forgiveness and reconciliation – which are designed to foster and maintain community – are of little importance. Let’s face it – there is something about believing in a super-hero God from whom we have to earn forgiveness that makes us feel good psychologically. It’s harder to feel good about a God who loves and forgives us unconditionally – whether we know it or not, want it or not, like it or not. In the face of such love and forgiveness we feel uncomfortable. It creates pressure within us that makes us feel we should “do something” to deserve such largess – or at least feel a little bit guilty.


Gregory Jones, the dean of the Divinity School at Duke University, agrees with her. In his book, Embodying Forgiveness, he tells the story of psychiatrist Robert Coles, who went to see a devout Roman Catholic friend who had been hospitalized with cancer. One on of Cole’s visits to the hospital, he found his friend quite angry. A priest had recently been to visit and had wanted to knw how the patient was managing to “cope”: The priest processed “In popular American culture,” he writes, “therapy has become a substitute for the gospel.” He recognizes the need for therapy in human lives, but not in place of our theological journeys. As Christians, we have increasingly secularized our own language. We have tended to adopt nontheological language to describe Christian theology and Christian life. For example, instead of baptism, we talk of “getting the baby done.” Instead of sin and grace, we talk about “accepting that you are accepted.” And instead of practices of reconciliation, we talk about “managing conflict” or “coping with difficult people.”


What we can do about the unconditional forgiveness we receive from God is to forgive as we have been forgiven.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

SAVE THE DATE: The Giant April Fools' Contest!

Coming Monday, March 24: The first ever In Search of Giants April Fools' Writing Contest. Mark your calendars and join us back here on Monday for all the details!

Featuring: Celebrated, prize-winning Author, Precie

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Write Where You Are

We've recently done some remodeling on our house. (Read: Threw things in boxes before the contractors started tearing shit apart.) 

As I start unpacking - why do I have an entire box of plastic grocery bags, another of baby food jars, and three or four of nothing but receipts? - I'm discovering the "method" to my writing. 

  1. Inspiration strikes. A particular sentence, or characterization. My god, think I, I'm brilliant. 
  2. Scramble to find the notebook I carry with me to jot these brain flashes into. 
  3. Realize I ripped out pages to use as a napkin when older kidling started spitting chocolate milk all over the car. 
  4. Then used notebook as a tray to carry soft drinks from drive-thru into house. 
  5. Make mental note to get another notebook.

In the meantime, the inspiration is fading. I scramble and pull something - anything - from my purse. Old receipt? Awesome. Worn but unused kleenex? Sure, why not? Cover from a maxi pad? Well, the Pulitzer committee need never know.

Here are a few of the snippets I've been finding buried within the piles of Christmas Cards from 2001 and old airline ticket stubs. These aren't the best of the crop, since I'm obviously saving those for the novel I'm going to write when I get this damn house unpacked (sometime, I think, around 2016.)

About a book, though I know not which one I was reading to make me write this:

there is a depth to her writing, a wryness about and fondness for the struggles that make us human -- they are, I think, too subtly nuanced to be appreciated by a younger audience.


Melodrama!:

I wonder what she thought, that last night, the night she killed herself.


And, the beginnings of the very first inkling that I had a novel swishing around my brain to be written:

She lay curled up in bed, blanket pulled up over her nose so that she looked like a turtle peeking out of its shell. The sheets were cool and soft and decorated with green sketches of palm trees. They'd been on sale. The green didn't quite match the sage she'd painted the bedroom - sage and lavender - but it was close enough and made her feel elegant. And safe. She could hear children's voices downstairs. She knew there were three, though they sounded like ten, or a hundred
.

I know my good friend Precie tends to write in bits and pieces, and then find artistic ways to string them all together, like a mobile sculpture. Does anyone else write this way? Haphazardly? On the backs of business cards? Do share!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Opinion: The Echo-Maker by Richard Powers

The Echo-Makerr by Richard Powers
3 stars


Margaret Atwood's name stands beside the first quote on the back cover of The Echo-Maker by Richard Powers. The book teaser offers a tale about a 27-year old Nebraska man who's seriously injured in a car accident. The teaser explains that although the man's sister (his only living relative) rushes to tend to him, he considers her an impostor. It turns out he's suffering from a rare mental disorder called Capgrass Syndrome. The sister calls on the nation's leading neurological expert to help her brother. Etc, etc.

Based on these first few sentences alone, I thought The Echo-Maker was a book I would enjoy. It won the 2006 National Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2007 the Pulitzer Prize.

I was disappointed.

The writing, overall, is beautiful. Perhaps a little too beautiful. It's lyrical and profound, filled with description, metaphor, observations about nature. The information - from the natural migration of cranes to the intricacies of brain function - is sound, presented intelligently but not condescendingly.

Still, I didn't care for the book. Every 50 pages or so I would think, "Hmm. Maybe it gets good in the next chapter." Mind you, I'm not a plot-driven, need racy sex and action kind of reader. But the pace of this book is plodding, its characterization shaky at best (particularly in the case of the female characters. Powers just can't seem to write them authentically.) And by the end of the novel, I wanted my three and a half hours or so back.

What the book did accomplish was to prompt me to look into the Pulitzer Prizes and their criteria. As I browsed through winners by year, I was struck at how unlike the judges my choices are. The prizes seem slightly arbitrary to me, slightly a case of each discipline patting itself on the back. Very cliquey, very inner-circle. Of course, most awards are this way; I simply hadn't known the story behind these awards. You can read about it here..

OTHER REVIEWERS: Sandra at Fresh Ink Books

ALSO READ: The child-labor revolt story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899, a chapter in Joseph Pulitzer's history that goes unmentioned at the Pulitzer Prize site.


Opinion: "Labyrinth" by Kate Mosse

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
2 1/2 stars

Mosse's third novel, The Labyrinth, takes readers on a quest for the Holy Grail, led by two closely linked female protagonists born 800 years apart. The two battle Cathars and Crusaders and their reincarnated descendants. While the history and culture of the Languedoc region is offered in delectable detail, the plot and writing itself are on shakier footing. More than once I thought, "Wow, this is convenient," or "Where the hell did this character come from?" The premise is sound; the research thorough, but ultimately, I don't think it's a work worth wasting your time on.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Soul

In rearranging blogs, I decided to move some sermons from Oodellaly over here. This first entry, "Soul" is more of a meditation.

In 1871 the city of Chicago was nearly destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire. Over 300 people died from the flames and 100,000 were left homeless. Horatio Gates Spafford, an attorney, had lost a great deal of real estate in the fire. Despite such great personal financial loss and the untimely death of his son during this same time period, Spafford helped to assist the needs of the homeless, impoverished, and grief-stricken by the fire.

After about two years of such work, Spafford and his family decided to take a vacation. Because Spafford was a loyal friend and supporter of Dwight L. Moody, he decided that they would meet up with Moody on one of his evangelistic campaigns in England, and then travel from there to the continent. Just as the Spaffords were preparing to leave the States, Horatio was unexpectedly detained by urgent business concerns. The decision was made that his wife Anna and their four daughters would continue on as scheduled to England.

Their ship collided with an English sailing vessel, the Loch Earn, off Newfoundland. It sank rapidly. Mrs. Spafford was only one of the 47 to survive; all four of her daughters were among the 226 lost. Anna Spafford’s heartbreaking telegram to her husband simply read: “Saved alone.” Horatio immediately set sail for England to join his grief-stricken wife. As the ship that he was traveling on passed the approximate location where his daughters had drowned, it is reported that due to his deep sorrow mingled with his unwavering faith in God’s goodness, he penned the words of his now famous hymn - “It Is Well with My Soul.”

The story of Horatio Spafford confirms what we have suspected - that our soul must be transcendent. How else, how else could he have lost all five of his children and not perished with the grief?

There is no hiding from struggle, and real struggle hurts. We achieve, and we acquire, and we become, and we finally find ourselves just where we want to be and life just the way we want to make it. And now things are perfect, we think, now things are finally settled. Now we are safe and in control and secure, and thinking that, of course, makes us least secure of all.

Everything in life is in flux. Life itself has become a series of life-changing interruptions we are meant to expect and to broach with very little help. Life swirls around us, and the people we count on go their own changing ways. The regularity of small and irritating, great and debilitating losses that threaten the death of the heart, that interrupt the flow of life are of the essence of the fullness of living.

It seems skewed, not quite right. To face tremendous loss and call it the fullness of life? Do I really mean that? I do. It is not the absence of struggle that makes us human, that makes us whole. It is the ability to lose, to win, to feel, to love, to mourn, and to endure. Whatever else it is, our soul must be transcendent, for it lends us the ability to meet another day.

I have a son. He is fourteen months old. And all of the clich├ęs you have ever heard about babies are true. They are soft. They smell good. There is nothing so peaceful as a sleeping baby. You can see the wisdom of eternity in his eyes. Their lives are all of the possibilities of all of the new beginnings imaginable.

Every day the baby’s father and I have to make a thousand little choices about his life, his upbringing, what he eats, what he wears, where he goes, what he is exposed to. He is a constant challenge to my soul, because so often I want to possess him. But he is not mine. He was entrusted to us by God, and I have to answer to God for the choices I make concerning this baby – let alone concerning my own life of faith, my own relationships, my own actions in the world. I’ve spent fourteen months figuring out how to honor my own spirituality while at the same time growing his, and I know I will spend the next fourteen years in the same pursuit.

My own soul rediscovers the joy of creation when I think about the things that my son has yet to experience: the magic of words, through speaking and reading, riding a bike, going to the zoo, watching the sun set over the ocean, his first tooth, his first day of school, his first love – let alone fried chicken, mashed potatoes and sweet tea, so that he doesn't forget that his parents both have Southern roots. And I know that he will also experience more teething, bad dreams, and broken hearts.

But for now, the summer beackons, and the days go by, and more often than not I can meet my own gaze in the mirror and say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Start at the Beginning

So, I didn't place in the Clarity of Night "Whispers" short story contest.  I thought I'd crafted the piece well, so I was a little disheartened.  (Then again, it seemed as though several of the pieces I really liked were overlooked, too.  It was a tough contest.  Lots of great entries.)  I did receive an honorable mention in the "Readers' Choice" category from those writers who entered the contest, which was a lovely gesture.

As I said, I was sort of dejected for most of Monday. By Monday evening, I was over myself.  I knew I needed to write, write, write; practice, pratice, practice.  So I did what any sensible, serious writer would do.

I diverted myself.

 I went to the art store and bought a set of art pencils, a sketch pad, and one of those "You, too, can learn to draw" sorts of how-to books. (And I'm not a big fan of how-to books.)

You have to understand, I don't draw.

I mean, I really don't draw.

When my son comes to me with his notebook and wants me to draw something from his PECS board, I end up drawing something that more or less looks like a blob of goo. "Look, honey!" I say to him. "Airplane!" He gives me the look that says, "Mama, I'm autistic, not dumb" and goes off to find his Aunt Kiki or Dada, people with real drawing ability.

So as I sat in bed last night, putting shape after shape in my sketchbook, I thought about the creative parallels. The art book says that drawing is about logic; anyone can learn.  (Bloody untrue, but whatever.) As I sketched cube-blob after cube-blob and shaded in the cube-blobs with shadow-blobs, I wondered what the building blocks of writing are.

I know the pieces -protagnoist, antagonist, plot, setting, point of view, climax (to start). And all of the tiny details over and in between. But what comes first? What's the one thing you need to be able to start?

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