Monday, March 2, 2015

Word of the Week - Shucks


I say it a lot, just to be cute. Aw, shucks. Every time I type it, I add an imaginary foot shuffle. No doubt inspired from some cartoon.

But it never occurred to me to wonder where it came from. When I looked it up, it was kinda a "duh" moment.

Appearing in writing in 1847 in two different sources, shucks comes directly from shuck. I'm familiar with shuck as a verb--shucking corn, shucking oysters. Said verb is from 1819. The noun actually predates it by several hundred years, tracing its appearance back to the 1670s and meaning "a pod, a shell." Something discarded.

The interjection Shucks! then comes from this idea of it being a toss-away. It's kind of like saying, "Nonsense." or "It's nothing." One of those first appearances in 1847 was actually "not worth shucks."

So there we have it. =) Hope everyone has a great first week of March...though as usual, the end of February took me totally by surprise.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . God, Science, and Agendas

Michelangelo's Creation of Adam



There seems to be an idea today (okay, for quite a while), that faith and science are at war. I’ve heard scientists say only fools believe in God as the Bible paints him. But what concerns me more is that lately, from every direction, I’ve been bombarded with Christians who say that science can’t be trusted because it doesn’t agree with the Bible. I’ve seen tracts that point out where science is wrong and the Bible right. I’ve seen videos, heard interviews, and been debated on Facebook about the “dangers” of science.

I’ve even heard people claim that if you believe in evolution to any degree, you’re not a real Christian. (So…what do you call dog breeding, dude? Are you aware that that is what Origin of Species is actually addressing, not ape-becoming-man?? Have you read it, or are you just judging it on what others have told you about it?) I’ve had people tell me that if I even let my kids hear about evolution, I’m introducing evil into their lives. And if a Christian doesn’t believe the earth is 6,000 years old? Watch out—you might get excommunicated.

Now, I’m not a scientist. I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of the specific arguments, because they usually make my eyes glass over. I won’t judge the scientists for their erroneous claims about faith, because that’s not my place—Paul’s pretty clear on that. He warns us that we’ll be called fools by the world’s “wise.” But I will say this:

Too many Christians today are turning into Pharisees over science.

I’m not supposed to judge the world for being…well, the world. But I am supposed to call out Christians for not being Christ-like (I Cor 5:9-13). But only if I can do it as Christ would—with love. I sure don’t feel any love from someone who says I’m not a Christian if I’m not willing to sign a statement of belief that says the world was created in 6 24-hour days, period. (I’m using Young Earth and Evolution as my two examples because they’re the ones that have come up for me so often lately.)

To them, I’d like to ask this. Do you believe that there’s an ocean above the skies? Not moisture in the atmosphere, but a body of water? Do you? Well if you’re going to read Genesis literally, you should. And it was a big, hot-topic debate about 150 years ago. Moses is pretty clear that God divided the firmament from the waters, and there were waters above and waters beneath. Today, we assume that’s just pretty-talk for water and sky. That’s an understanding that has come by reconciling our understanding of science to our reading of the Word. It wasn’t always so. Theologians in the 1800s got fired up over this, and those who dared to say, “No, there isn’t water above” were branded as heretics by those who wanted to stick to the very-literal meaning.

We can see who ultimately won that argument.

Does it mean that God has changed? That the Scriptures are fallible? No! It means our understanding is fallible and changing.

That’s the thing that really gets my knickers in a bunch. All these people who seem to think that if they can’t reconcile an idea with their traditional understanding, then they should just accuse the idea of being wrong and ungodly. Yo, dude. Maybe your understanding is faulty. Can we please stop pigeon-holing God into the narrow slip of the world that we can understand and instead praise Him for being so much greater than we can understand?

I get that it’s hard to challenge the way you’ve always thought of a thing. I do. But just look at how many different interpretations there are of Scripture. Once-saved-always-saved sure isn’t accepted worldwide. How about beliefs about baptism? Communion? Evangelism? Hell? Speaking in tongues? The other gazillion issues that have divided one denomination from another?

Why not accept that thoughts on science are similar? Science as a whole knows that its understanding is incomplete. And while, sure, you’re going to get adherents to a specific theory that will argue with that theory’s detractors until they’re blue in the face, science as a whole will readily admit that there’s much they don’t know. To them, that’s what fuels discovery. That’s what makes them stretch themselves out toward new knowledge.

Why are Christians so ready to claim that “new” is evil?

That leads me back to my statement about us turning into Pharisees, which I sure hope got a rise from you. Pharisees knew the Law and the Prophets. They could quote it backwards, forward, and upside-down. They were kings of saying But God said… “But God said ‘keep the Sabbath holy,’ Jesus. Why are you healing on it?” What did Jesus say? That He’s Lord of the Sabbath.

The Pharisees said, “But Moses said we can divorce our wives!” What did Jesus say? That Moses was writing to the hardness of man’s heart, but that was never what God wanted.

You get that? Moses was writing to fallen, limited man. But Jesus challenged us to open our eyes to the God behind the words. The intent behind the Law.

Maybe God did explain the universe to Moses in terms of atoms and neutrons and black holes and cellular functions. But Moses was still a man, and one without the scientific base that we have. Moses had limited words. Ever try explaining a dream? You can see it, but there just aren’t always words for it. So you end up saying, “I flew to LA, but when I got there, it was London.” They’re the best words you have…but they’re not enough to explain what you really saw and experienced in that dream. They’re not enough to make it make sense. I daresay Moses experienced something similar. I mean, seriously. Can you imagine having eternal truths revealed you and then having to put them into words?

I’m not saying Moses explained it wrong. I’m not saying the Word of God wasn’t inspired. I’m just saying that it was crafted with human tools, and that those are limited. I’m saying that God is bigger than any explanation. I’m saying that though the Bible is the inspired, infallible word of God, it isn’t all of God. He’s too big to be constrained to 66 books.

You know what? The Pharisees didn’t much like Jesus challenging them to expand their understanding. They stuck with what Moses said, thank you very much. And then they killed him for his trouble.

Here’s the thing. I don’t know how the earth was created—I just know God created it, and then He rested. Were the days 24-hours long? [Insert shrug here.] Strict readers of Genesis would tell me they were, of course they were, and then some would look at me with profound sorrow in their eyes for doubting the word of God.

I’m not. But I am realizing that I sure don’t read “day” as “a literal 24 hours” in chapter 2 when God says “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” We’re happy to call that one metaphorical (though it’s the same word used in “On the first day…”) because we can see the evidence that Adam and Eve did not die on that day.

But we can’t see Creation. We can’t see any particular step of evolution (though duck-billed platypuses do make some wonder, LOL). We can just look at the evidence left behind and try to understand it.

If we’re not married to a literal understanding in chapter 2, though, why are so many married to it in chapter 1? Why are we willing to alienate an entire generation over it? I’m not saying it couldn’t have been 6 literal days. I’m just saying it’s not worth arguing about. I’m saying that the most profound thing you can admit is that our understanding is limited, incomplete, and fallible.

I’m saying that my faith isn’t so weak that it hinges on a particular understanding of a particular verse. Why should it, when I intimately know the unlimited God? When I can see how He’s bigger than the average man in the Old Testament believed Him to be? God hasn’t changed, nosirree. But man has. And oh, how glad I am to have the Spirit dwelling within me, guiding me through new discoveries!

You know what I took from Origin of Species when I read it? Wow, God is so awesome! He made His creation so adaptable, because He knew change would come! Know what I generally think when I hear physicists musing about a big bang versus an eternal universe (new theory), expanding versus contracting? Wow, look at God’s fingerprints on the universe! How awesome and vast and unknowable it is—and how comforting to know that though I’ll never know the Truth of it, He does.

He created us with curious minds. Minds that long to know more. Do we latch onto beliefs about our world that are wrong? Absolutely. But it’s not just science that does that. It’s us.

We’re not at war with science, Christians. We created it, after all. Modern science was based on the idea that the world must be orderly, since God made it, and so we have a hope of understanding it. Sure, plenty have gone astray from that. Too many scientists try to reason away God.

But maybe that’s because too many Christians have deemed science evil instead of letting go of their own limited understandings.

Science, in its purist form, shouldn’t be trying to prove God-or-no-God. It shouldn’t be trying to prove evolution-or-creation. Science shouldn’t have an agenda, and that goes for a “Christian” agenda as much as an atheist one. It should just be observing, and then wondering about the observations. That should make us questions our understanding. That doesn’t mean we have to question our faith.

Jesus proved that faith is so much bigger than the words Moses penned. Those words are meant to be a guide toward God, but they cannot get us to Him, otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have had to come. So why are so many Christians today clinging to an Old Testament understanding about the world? Why are they ready to crucify any who say that maybe there’s more to it?

If you got in a time machine and showed up in medieval Europe with a cell phone, you would be burned at the stake for witchcraft. If you told that early church that man would walk on the moon and the earth was round, you’d be labeled a heretic. Not by science (our idea of science--modern science--didn’t even exist then), but by the church.

Prove to me we’ve changed, people. Prove to me that our faith is stronger than this. Prove to me that you’re capable of seeing that, no matter whether you’re debating photons as particles or waves or some combination or are happy to leave it at “Let there be light,” God is the ultimate authority, not you. Science is just trying to understand the world. Faith is trying to understand the creator. Most of the time, they use very different language, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

When you put them together, it isn’t war. It’s beautiful…at least until the Pharisees (anti-science Christians) and Sadducees (atheist scientists) show up. But let’s not let them ruin it for the rest of us. It’s a beautiful day, folks. A day when we can get a bit more of a glimpse than ever before into the wonders that are our God. Let’s not ruin it with our limitations…let’s just look to the Unlimited One and thank Him for leading us toward a fuller understanding. Even if that means letting go of our previous one.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Remember When . . . We Sailed by Ash Breeze?

We just finished up in our home school reading a truly amazing book. Though for young readers, I can attest to the fact that it's entertaining--and inspiring--for any age.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is the Newbery Award-winning novel based on the life of Nathaniel Bowditch, a man who truly embodies the American dream. From a boy in poverty during the Revolution to a man of wealth, respect, and honor, Bowditch changed the world, and his own life, by nothing but sheer determination...and a fair dose of brilliance.

A quote from the book that had a profound impact on the character of Nat:

"When a ship is becalmed--the wind died down--she can't move--sometimes the sailors break out their oars...oars are made of ash. So--when you get ahead by your own get-up-and-get--that's when you sail by ash breeze."

Some would have said Nat was becalmed when his father indentured him at the age of 12. But he pulled out his oars instead.

If you want to learn more about him, hop over to where I talk about he forever changed the world on Colonial Quills!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Word of the Week - Sniper

Last time I blogged at Colonial Quills, I was talking about George Washington took advantage of the new rifled barrels to scare the wits out of the English, who thought every American to be an expert marksman. And indeed, we changed the rules of warfare by "sniping" British officers.

But of course, that wasn't a word yet.
Photo by JJ Harrison

Sniper dates from 1824, and it comes from snipe hunting. These birds were considered a quite challenging target for even expert shooters, and so snipe hunting was a sport that was a way to prove your skill. The hunter would hide himself and rarely employed dogs, which was the norm in other bird-shooting. So the hunter himself became known as a sniper.

Before this, sharpshooter was used...but not for long before. It dates only from 1800 and is a translation of the German Scharfsch├╝tze.

Before that...well, it wasn't really needed all that much, because there just weren't any until rifling came on the scene. ;-) So in the 30ish years when guns were suddenly more accurate but before these words were created for it, they just called them "expert marksmen." =)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Cover Design - I Always Cry at Weddings


A while back WhiteFire acquired a spunky, urbane contemporary called I Always Cry at Weddings. Set in Manhattan and featuring a modern woman who makes the crazy decision to follow her heart instead of what society says she ought to pursue, this is a novel unlike any we've published before, more geared to cross over to mainstream readers than our other titles.

I'd been stewing over the cover ever since we signed the contract, wondering what direction we'd go for it. When the author got her questionnaire back to me and pointed me toward popular trends in mainstream contemporaries, I knew we'd be treading new--fun!--ground.

See, almost all my other fiction covers had called for a model photo. This one didn't. For this one, we deliberately wanted to avoid an actual photograph of a person. Something that featured either an object or an illustrations...or maybe a combination thereof. We wanted something more like The Help.

Or Me Before You.

Or Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing.
Feeling the joy of flowing creativity, I started brainstorming. We toyed with the idea of an NYC stoop, which is important to the story...but that just didn't mesh with these ideas. So instead I thought, "Let's focus on the wedding part."

My first thought was cake toppers...
I liked the irony of this one, which tied in with the fact that the heroine, Ava, breaks off an engagement. Of course, I didn't want a line of grooms. And I thought it would be fun to put the bride in a red dress (which features later in the book) rather than a bridal gown. So I came up with this.
Of course, they needed to be on a cake.
And in casting around for a background, I decided an illustrated NYC skyline would be fun.
Putting it all together, I came up with this as our Option #1
A solid enough first try...but not quite it. I kept working, going at it from a different angle. This time, I starting thinking Statue of Liberty. Does anything scream NYC more than the Statue of Liberty? I found an actual photo, isolated, of Lady Lib.
I plopped her down in front of the same illustrated skyline.
You'll notice she's not holding a torch. That's because I had an idea. Again, I wanted to draw on that rather crucial red dress. So what if, I thought, Lady Liberty was holding it up? In the book, the dress becomes a symbol of Ava chasing a dream through all its convoluted paths. The dress, in some ways, represents her liberty from expectations. I thought it was fitting. So I created an illustrated dress, a hanger, and had it flapping from the statue.
I thought this was great fun, so I slapped a title on there, and the author's name. I chose the font Broadway for "I Always," "at" and "Sara Goff," and used You're Invited for "Cry" and "Weddings."
We very, very nearly went with this one. But early feedback got us some interesting perceptions. Like the one who said, "It's too patriotic, having the Statue of Liberty." And then the other who said, "It's too un-patriotic, having the Statue of Liberty holding a dress."

At the very least, it got a reaction, LOL. So we still very nearly went that way. But I thought, "Okay, let me try one more thing." I went back to searching for illustrations and fond one of a bride on www.all-free-download.com. I hit on this one.
I liked the silhouette, though the colors were all wrong, and I knew all the swirlies and flowers would interfere with my simplistic design. But thanks to the wonders of Adobe Illustrator, I could open the file in there and select just the elements I wanted--the dress, the torso, the hair, and the veil. Copying those back into Photoshop, I then adjusted the color of the dress, again, to be a brilliant splash of red. Not a wedding dress any more, but I kept the veil because, well...it's part of the story, LOL.
In this, I also changed the font of "cry" and "weddings" to Corinthia. And Sara and I both agreed that this was great. "But," she said, "I'm concerned that it comes off at first glance as too sweet."

I saw what she meant...and I thought it was the bouquet doing it. So I took it out of her hands...and then had to put those hands somewhere. "Attitude," I thought. "Ava needs to have some attitude." So I erased her current arms and drew her some new ones. And this was it!
See how that subtle change in stance changes everything??!! We both loved it! (As a note, I did have to fool with the title a bit more. With the bouquet deleted, "weddings" wasn't centered anymore, so I nudged it over...and then figured I'd add one more cute touch and looped the D through the Y.)

And voila! Something totally new for me, but the reaction has been fabulous. Everyone loves the feel, the look, the colors, and the pop of red. And I know the book's going to be a hit too. Written with a very modern voice, about a very modern woman, this is a story that tackles the realities of life for most women today...and then puts a unique spin on it all. Like so:

Ava Larson is going to bring all the other brides to tears. 
Engaged to a wealthy NYC socialite's son, Ava is ready to set the city abuzz with her glamorous wedding. At least until she realizes her relationship isn't what it should be. Then, in a move as daring as a red satin dress, she does the unthinkable--she calls it all off and makes a promise to God that from now on, she'll save sex for marriage.

She's convinced the future is hers for the taking, especially when an undercover cop promises a new romance...and an unexpected friendship with the homeless guy under her stoop brightens her days.

But when her carefully balanced life teeters out of control, weddings aren't the only thing to make her cry. Ava has to figure out what life she really wants to live...and what in the world love really means

So what did you think? Do you like where we settled?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Review - The Red Tent

For a decade, people have been telling me I need to read The Red Tent. Like, pretty much ever since they heard I wrote biblical fiction. I've heard it from multiple sources, but I just never had...until my sister asked if we could read it for our book club. Seemed like a fine opportunity, so we set it as our January book (which we ended up discussing last week when we got iced out of our January date).

And boy, did I come away with some opinions, LOL.

I'll begin with what I loved.

The culture--oh, the culture! SO RICH! Ms. Diamant paints such a vivid picture of life in the days of the patriarchs. You could taste the dust. You could smell the camp fires. You could feel the sun scorching the road.

I loved how she brought to life the women's world. How she painted the relationship between Rachel, Leah, and their two handmaidens. Certainly I loved getting a perspective on the little-mentioned Dinah, and what it must have been like to be the sole daughter among 12 brothers.

I love that in their culture, womanhood (and the coming into it) was something to be celebrated. I loved seeing how midwifery was a sacred calling and earned characters such respect.

There was a lot to love. And had it been a story about any other family at that time, I would have just deemed it awesome and left it at that. But...

But this isn't just a story about any family at that time. This is a story about THE family. About Jacob and his parents and his sons. This is a story about Israel. This is a story about these men who dared to believe in one God (whom the author calls El) when surrounded by a world that believed in the pantheon. This is a story about people who became more than a family. They became a nation. A culture. A faith.

But it wasn't.

Oh, it captured perfectly how a family becomes a nation and a culture. But a faith?

Nope. It wasn't there. We get a few glimpses of the power of El. Jacob does wrestle with him. Joseph is forever changed after visiting the place where that happened.

But the other gods and goddesses have just as much power, if not more. Dinah herself has the power to curse and bless. The women never worship El, they continue to worship their own goddesses, and Jacob's totally cool with that.

I'm not.

I wanted to see the idol worship, yes. It was not just part of the culture of the day, it was the culture of the day, and when the author painted that so vividly, I fully approved. But knowing the author is Jewish, I was assuming she believed her God to be more powerful than these stone figures, so I thought we'd get a glimpse of why a whole nation abandoned their other gods to follow Him. I wanted to see God triumphing over the other gods.

I didn't.

Instead, the opposite. I saw a god called El who demanded but never repaid. I saw a god of men but not of women. I saw followers of this "strange and mysterious" god who were awful, dirty, mean, cruel, distant, abusive, murderous, cowardly, whining, greedy, selfish...

There were no good men from the line of Jacob. None. Not a single one. At first we like Joseph okay, but by the end, even he is painted as lucky, not blessed. Self-centered. Cruel. And with an eye for the handsome young men in his employ. He comes to Dinah to whine to her, but their childhood sibling love is pretty much forgotten.

See, I'm totally cool with painting the patriarchs as real men. Men who made mistakes. Men who sinned. Men who stumbled. But in my opinion, Diamant went way too far and painted them as men who did nothing else. Oh, we see some affection between Jacob and his wives (which was awesome) and we see him through their eyes to know why they loved him. But the older he gets, the more we lose sight of any of those good qualities.

It's like she had to systematically dash our respect of EVERY biblical figure we grew up respecting. Abraham. Isaac. Rebekkah. Jacob. Joseph. I left the book despising all of them (as she painted them). I left the book wondering why anyone in the world would have followed their way instead of the more-powerful Egyptian river god. I left the book hugely disappointed.

I admit it's largely because I have expectations. These are personal expectations. Not everyone (or even most) share them, and I don't try to make them. But to the me, the beauty of a novel set in biblical times is painting the culture and then showing the power of God shining through it. Emerging victorious. Showing us why He became a God whose name is to be feared.

Personally, I left The Red Tent feeling like a great opportunity was lost. This was a beautifully written, amazing book that could have shown a generation the God of Israel. Instead, it showed a generation how savage and cruel the patriarchs could have been, and how their savagery and cruelty forced even their own daughters into idol worship.

I always thought one of the coolest things about God in the Old Testament was that He, unlike every other god, wasn't just a god of one thing, one people. He is Lord of sun and rain. Of harvest and childbirth. Of the river and the sky. Of the earth and the heavens. He is Lord of all. Of men AND women.

Dinah didn't agree. She wanted nothing to do with the God of her father, and given the evidence presented, the reader doesn't blame her in the least. That makes me so, so sad.

So my final pronouncement--it's a good book. It's well written and easy to read and has some really great qualities. As pure fiction, it does a fabulous job of telling a story. But I left the book feeling as though it missed the point. I left the book quite disappointed...and more than a little disturbed.

My final judgement--if you want a look at the Dinah story that doesn't exalt idols (but includes their prevalence in the culture), take a look at Mesu Andrews's Love Amid the Ashes instead!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Word of the Week - Sunday School

I was critiquing a few chapters for a friend of mine last week, and it led me to do some quick research--in which I learned something new, yay! =) Namely, about Sunday school.

The phrase Sunday school dates from 1783. However, it wasn't religious instruction. On the contrary, it was regular school, offered on the one day a week poor children who worked in factories were free--Sunday. It began as a philanthropic movement, meant to educate England's poorest to give them a hope at a better life.

So this school on Sunday would be teaching them reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. Though granted, the Bible was their primer, so there was still some spiritual lessons involved. =) The idea of Sunday School traveled across the pond during the Industrial Revolution and took up work in America too. But it wasn't until the 1870s that it became a school time attached to church, whose sole objective was to teach Biblical principles. That was a change that happened first in America and then worked its way back to England.

Interesting, eh?

Hope everyone has a great week! On my blog this week you have the following to look forward to:

Tuesday - Book Review of The Red Tent


Wednesday - Cover Design post on I Always Cry at Weddings



Hope to see you all back here over the next few days! Stay warm!!