Saturday, December 17, 2005

I love you just the way you are

Remember Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood? I do. I really liked him. Not the show, though. A bit too slow for me. And I just never clicked with the denizens of the Land of Make Believe. But, as I said, I liked him a lot. My friend, Yvonne, never liked him though. She says that as a kid she’d watch him and when he said, “I like you just the way you are!,” she’d think, “How can you like me just the way I am? You don’t even know me.”

That’s Yvonne. Very keen and dedicated to truth. Yvonne is Jewish. And an agnostic. Her dad was killed in Auschwitz. She is one of the most honest agnostics I have ever met. There are remarkably few of those. She will say things such as, “I know there is something...someone...but I just can’t get past this business of God having a personality or desires.”

But back to her assessment of Mr Rogers. You know...she really does have a point there about that saying of his. I suspect we all somewhat feel that way about folks who say they love us. After all, they don’t know us. And the Christian answer – that God loves everyone because He is so loving– well that doesn’t quite sit well with most of us either. We don’t want to be loved by someone who loves everyone. We want to be loved by someone who sees what little goodness or virtue we have.
My question then, today is: “Have you ever accepted God’s love for you? Have you accepted his praise of you? Have you accepted his thankfulness for you?”
Carole, I hear you thinking, are you saying that God praises us? I thought we were supposed to praise Him???!!!!
Well, of course God praises you and loves you...because He is loving to all His creatures. But also because of Who you are.

Didn’t He praise Job? (Yes, I know...look where that got poor Job.) Didn’t Jesus see the young rich ruler’s heart and love him?Wasn’t Abraham called a Friend of God?Wasn’t Enoch saved because he pleased God?Wasn’t David called “a man after God’s own heart?”Didn’t Jesus pick about 400 people who followed him, then established closer bonds with seventy, then of that seventy chose twelve. And of those twelve, didn’t he have three best friends – Peter James and John? And of those three close friends, didn’t he choose John as his best friend?Aren’t there 144, 000 people who are called Companions of the Lamb who will remain at Jesus’ side forever?Aren’t there two thrones especially appointed for two people who will sit one at his right hand and one at his left?

Okay, so now someone else might say that like Mary we are all “full of grace” and “acceptable in the Beloved.” And someone else might say that this kind of thing smacks of favortism. I don’t think so. In favortism, the favored and unfavored ones have no choice. A loving and good child will be loved. No, one does not have to earn one’s love. As has been said over and over, God loves everyone and he knows how frail we are. But – scary thought– the Bible declares over and over that the Lord laughs at the wicked. Yes, I know...we are constantly being told God loves the sinner but hates the sin. Probably...but do you really want to play that game? Do you really want to fall into presumptuous sin and say “I know God hates this sin, but since he loves the sinner...well, I’ll just risk that?

I think – given my druthers– I’d druther shine a little brighter than the rest of my beloved brothers. No skin of the teeth salvation for me, no mere normal regular Godly love for me.
When I look at my husband I think, what a sweet-souled person! I know God sees that. Some of my friends simply amaze me by their sweetness, goodness, and piety. Some aren’t so sweet, but they’ve got such strength of character and such a capacity for suffering for God that well I know God stares at them everyday amazed. Yes, I could name them all. My friend, Rain, who picketed the local Walmart – the only picketer mind you– with a “Don’t sell guns!” sign in her baby carriage. My friend, Milvia, who is battling lymphoma and who helps so many others in addition to picketing the abortion clinic every Saturday. My friend, Yvonne, who is way more saintly in her behavior than many of the Christians I know. Yes, I cannot see the goodness of everyone so I’m not saying that I know whom God loves and doesn’t love. But I do think there are folks out there whom God loves very deeply, and in ways that are more profound than the love he has for the child molester, or the nominal churchgoer. Just as Jesus saw the heart of the rich young ruler and loved him, so He sees the heart of many a Christian and loves them in a uniquely special way. Somehow they become one of the inner circle.

Yes, God loves us just the way we are. But we don't have to stay that way. And our friends love us just the way we are. But why not make our friends' hearts swell with love when they ponder our great souls and noble deeds?

Prayer: Lord, let me live a life where my character and personality make you love me very much.

Easy Way to Write Bible Studies --
Carole McDonnell’s fiction, devotionals, poetry and essays have appeared in many publishing venues, in print and online including, and Her website is She lives with her husband, their two sons, and their ferocious tabby Ralphina in upstate New York.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Unwanted Bedfellows

I was watching the lastest chapter of VH1's The Surreal Life, the Omarosa vs Janice version and ... well, let's just say that Omarosa was downright evil and mean. Hey, Janice Dickinson is not the sanest person, but she didn't seem cruel to me.

Interestingly enough both were religious in their own way. But what amazed me was that at the end of the episodes, after being downright nasty to Janice, self-righteous Omarosa (speaking to her mom on the phone) declares, "She needs Jesus, Mama." Yep, I coulda cringed. Why, oh why, do some Christian people say that in such a self-righteous way? Hey, we all need Jesus.

That kind of situation just makes the rest of us Christians look like cruel pious self-involved folks. It didn't help matters that she was black. Gosh, I cringed.

So that's one bedfellow I have to deal with. Since Ms Omarosa is a Christian and all.
But then there was President Bush. I neither like nor dislike him. He's human with vices and virtues like the rest of us. Although....truth to tell the way many Bible-believers act, one would think he was a prophet sent by God. Call me cynical but I am very suspicious of every human being. Especially ones who use my religion. And it annoys me no end that a mere person could cause so much divisiveness among Christians. I mean, I suspect only the anti-christ would get Bible-believing Christians arguing with each other. It seems as if only the truly elect would know that Bush is saintly or otherwise.

Over the past three years I have lost my liberal friends because I defended the president, and lost Bible-believing friends because I criticized him. Okay, I'm against abortion, against capital punishment, against the Iraqi War, pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian homeland. This is what kinda happens when you're a Christian who is a minority in the United States. But Christianity in America has sooo many political definitions, well....let's just say that we are living in dangerous times when have to totally praise or totally reject politicians, and when we define our faith by what we think about politicians. WWJD?

I am sure there are folks out there who cringe that I am their bedfellow. They want Christians to be seen as nice, kind, nonjudgemental. Hey, I'm nice, kind, non-judgemental. But there are certain things I say -- certain Biblical things-- which will definitely annoy a few folks. "Why does she say that? Doesn't Carole know that talking about Jesus being God's son kinda annoy folks? Doesn't Carole know that talking about Christianity just makes her look like some unenlightened uneducated Black person? We Blacks have outgrown that." That kinda stuff. Well, I believe what I believe. And while many modern folks have given up their faith in Christianity (not other religions mind you, because it seems that only Christians are treated like idiotic unenlightened persecuters) I will not be shamed into tossing away my religion.

So ... as it is, I -- like many Christians-- have strange bedfellows. And if I want to be accepted by many American Christians, it appears I must follow a particular political line. Everything is so darn cut and dried now. In my story, Homecoming at the Borderlands Cafe, which will be published in the Jigsaw Nation anthology in March 2006, I manage to pick on both the red states and the blue states. Alas, why don't I learn to ALWAYS praise one group ONLY and to ALWAYS pick on the other.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Lovely and Amazing

Lovely and Amazing

Well, keep your fingers crossed. I’ve sent off one of my stories to the editors of the “Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror stories of 2005" or something like that. It’s the biggie that Ellen Datlow of edits. It’s a reprint anthology, of course. The story I sent was published this year in Fantastic Visions III, an anthology of fantasy stories published by Fantasist Enterprises.

If I do say so myself, it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever written....probably one of the best stories ever written in this universe or the next. I say this with all humility because Heaven knows I kept reading the published story wondering how the heck such a wonderful feat of imagination came from this addled brain. Writing a good short story is very hard and some of my published stories are workmanlike, competent, but not great. I kinda cringe when I see them, knowing they could be much, much better. Imagine my amazement, then, when I found I had written a perfect story. It’s about a knight crusader returning from fighting evil in the Holy Land who realizes that Christendom is also full of human evil. The knight is noble and yet approachable. He has a worldweariness that is not mere tiredness, but is a yearning to see the good in his fellow man, especially Christians. The story picks on Christendom yet Christianity and the love of Christ is all through the story. I would go on praising myself but you probably won’t believe me so I’ll let all this self-praise rest for the nonce.

Now, am hoping the Year’s Best editors think the story a good one. As a former lit major, I would like my story to make it into posterity, and getting into this anthology would be one of the neat ways to go about that. Whether they think it’s a great story or not – and I hear they really like cutting edge stories and maybe this story isn’t cutting edge– it’s now in their inbox.

So while pondering the story’s possible fate, I ended up talking with my beloved about story characters. There are two basic school of thoughts about art. One school says “art lifts a mirror to life and shows us the world, warts and all.” The other says “art should show the greatness of the human soul.” I tend to fall squarely in both categories. I like lifting a mirror to life but I also like showing extremely noble characters.

I really think that Christian Art should definitely be hopeful, loving, or faith-filled. Yes, it must show the world’s evil. But it should show the evilness of evil, the goodliness of goodness, and the loveliness of love. It’s good to see a movie where human nature is examined and where evil is not excused (or shown as hip) and where goodness is shown as real and brave and not mocked.

I’m sitting here wondering if there are any stories out there that has these elements. I tend to avoid Christian fiction because there is often something preachy or patently false and unreal about them. But strangely some of the most wonderful Christian stories or film have come from secular writers who are either hidden Christians or who have inhaled enough of popular Christianity to come up with a great spiritual story.

For instance, if you ever get around to seeing the Danish film “Festen” (or Celebration) try to see it. It’s about a son who confronts his father for sexually abusing him and his twin sister. The main character’s name is Christian. And his battle with bravery and with his patriarch-loving relatives is near Biblical. Another great film is “A prayer for the dying” starring Mickey Rourke. That’s rated R, I think. A really great Christian film that would never cross any Christian’s door because it has so much sex, perversity, etc, is “The Bad Lieutenant.” Raunchy yet full of redemption. But you have to be able to wade through all that filth to get to the spirit. Some great G-rated lovely films that show the greatness of the human spirit are Endurance – an Ethiopian autobiography about an Olympic runner. It’s a real lesson in faith as a race. There is also Chariots of Fire, and the Hindu Indian film Lagaan, although all those prayers to Krishna might turn many Christians off.

Well, I must finish writing today’s entry. I’ve got mega-work to do and writing this blog seems to be yet another one of my ways of avoiding finishing the great American Novel. I’m still wondering if I should go see “A history of violence” – just to see if I can find anything of spirit in it (while I lust over Viggo). And I’ll definitely go see Narnia. Because’s beautiful and gore-free. And because it is lovely and because Aslan is such a wonderful Christ figure. And because the book is altogether lovely and amazing.

Reality TV and the ritual of judgement

Reality TV and the ritual of judgement.

The current TV season is winding down. The last episode of America’s Next Top Model will soon be here and gone. After the winning would-be Top Model is crowned and I am proven right (or wrong) I shall have a few days of withdrawal before, mercifully, the new season of American Idol arrives. In the meantime, I shall have to tide myself over with Wife Swap, Trading Spouses, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, Iron Chef America, Surreal Life, Judge Judy, and Judge Joe Brown. Yes, I admit it: I love reality shows.

I like them because the best ones are unpredictable, unlike the average Lifetime movie --or the average Indie film which is predictable in its own indie way. In reality tv, one sees real people – not stereotypes created by Hollywood writers. I especially like reality TV shows because they remind me of the Great White Throne Judgment of God.

The Great Throne Judgement? Oh, yes! Definitely! The greatest fun of Reality TV is the ritual of judgment. This is when the truth is declared, the hidden evil or goodness revealed, the sufferer rewarded, the hard work and heartache justified.

As Christians we have been taught that the actual world in which we live is not the real -- or final-- world. St Paul tells us in the sixth chapter of the letter to the Hebrews that this world was formed by the Spirit of God and what appears to our senses was born from what is invisible: God''s Word. We walk by faith, not by sight. On a totally secular level, this means that Christians – especially poor Christians, powerless Christians, minority Christians– are taught to understand that true power is not something the world understands. Here the rich and the arrogant seem to have power, but in reality (spiritual reality) it is the poor in spirit who have true power -- God-- on their side. The power the world respects, however, is often on the side of those who have a gift of appearing better, wiser, more intellectual than their less worldly counterparts. But what does this have to do with Reality TV shows?

Remember how good you feel when the truth --as you see it-- is finally apparent for all to see? Remember that wonderful feeling when the judge is on your side? This is especially wonderful when you were poor, tired, powerless.

Remember the O J Simpson trial? Whether O J was guilty or not, the “Judgment” for his acquittal was seen as a vindication by those minorities who have learned never to trust the police. The Jury “proved” the blind justice system blind. Or, on a personal level, remember your worst enemy, the one who slickly got you fired although you kept to the high road? Remember the day – through no fault or sneakiness of your own– she slipped up really badly and all her hidden evil side was finally revealed?

The last judgment at the end of these episodes is very much like the last judgement the righteous and the oppressed look forward to. They may not see the deliberations, but they see the unveiling of reality and the ceremony when the victor''s crown is given. It is also the judgment the unrighteous fear.

As Christians, many of us have been made poor because we do not boast. We have made ourselves powerless because we do not engage in tit-for-tat vindictive vendettas. The poor, powerless, and oppressed long for the day when a righteous judge will hear their cause, or declare the rightness of their cause. And we want this from a judge we can trust. The judgment of TV judges hold the highest place of honor in my reality-show-loving mind. Schadenfreude aside, we love watching Judge Judy or Judge Joe enlighten the self-righteous plaintiff or unrepentant defendant.

I suspect this is why so many people prefer to air their dirty laundry with TV judges rather than in the local county courthouse. We know Judge Judy. She’s tough but she’s fair. The same for Judge Joe Brown. We don’t trust the local judge...who is either too white, too black, too rich, too poor, too religious, too non-religious to give us a fair hearing.

And so, yes! I LOVE reality tv. And I love God. Yes, as a Christian, I know my sins are wiped away by Jesus’s wounds, and I will not have to face the judgement. And I know I probably am as deluded and self-righteous as some of the folks Judge Judy enlightened this week, but I can’t help it. I still want to be justified even a little bit. Just to hear the words from my Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

One Night with the King

You might not have heard this but another religious movie has been in the works for the past year. This one is being made by a Christian production company and will be called “One night with the king” and it’s based on the story of Esther. Already I dislike the title. I shouldn’t, of course, but the title is so dang romantic. And Esther, which is a great story of God’s protection and timing, is not romantic.
Somewhere along the way, though, we Christians have begun thinking of it as a great love story, and of Esther herself as the perfect symbol of submissive wifeliness. Perhaps the story has been in the hands of too many male ministers. We need to hear a woman minister tackle the story.
Let’s start with the king: Xerxes or (as the name is transliterated into Hebrew/English) Ahauserus. Xerxes was a braggart. Sure he had conquered more than his fair share of kingdoms and certainly had a right to brag. We Christians accept this because arrogance is perfectly normal for a king and certainly an arrogant male needing to be enlightened is considered a fairly popular romantic theme. After all, the woman who tames such a guy...well, it’s the old good girl/bad guy thing. This kind of pairing happens so often in Christian romances that one wonders why Christian women would want to read stories about women taming workaholic braggarts. We should be a bit more enlightened than to be attracted to guys like that, I think.
As the story goes, Xerxes gives a great dinner party, lasting 180 days, in order to show off. And in the middle of all his showing off, he suddenly gets the very drunken idea that he wants to show off his wife. Basically, he wants a veiled Arabian woman from whatever century that was to put herself on display for all his drunk friends. Vashti, his wife, (rightly, I think) refuses, giving him a snide answer. The men in the palace become quite upset about this and convince the king that if the women in the kingdom hear about how uppity Vashti has been to the king, the women will all start back-talking their husbands. And in that neck of the world (then as now) women’s equality with men is a major offense!
Christians have written tomes about how horribly unsubmissive Vashti was to do this. I think they’re wrong. I understand that when Esther enters the story we all want to be on her side, but does this mean we have to demonize Vashti. After all, maybe Vashti wasn’t so proud as all that. Maybe God used her integrity to get her to lose her place as queen. Yes, let’s think about that one for a moment. And for another moment.
Enter Esther. Raised by her uncle Mordechai, she is already shown to be a wounded soul who owes a male authority figure very much. Raise the stakes: she is beautiful. Is this not the perfect trophy wife for a king such as Xerxes? She will never question him, and she is perfect for a king who regards the external. So, she is perfect for him...but is this the perfect guy for her?
Of course not! Esther probably wanted a husband and a house in her neighborhood. instead of all that palace intrigue. Who wants to live among foreigners and away from one’s people? Who wants a husband who has five hundred concubines and secondary wives? Who wants a husband whom one can only see when it please him...or else? And remember, Vashti, the former queen is still in the harem. She’s demoted, mind you. She’s not out of the picture. What gets me is that many Christians seem to think that this story is a love story and that Esther actually falls in love with the king. Where does it say this in the Bible? Alas, nowhere. But films are replete with it. Needless to say, I’m not going to waste my time seeing the film...should it arrive at a theater near me.
Easy Way to Write Bible Studies --
Carole McDonnell’s fiction, devotionals, poetry and essays have appeared in many publishing venues, in print and online including, and Her works appear in various anthologies including “So Long Been Dreaming: Post-colonialism in science fiction,” edited by Nalo Hopkinson and published by Arsenal Pulp Press; “Fantastic Visions III,” published by Fantasist Enterprises; “Then an angel came along,” edited by Julie Bonn Heath and published by WinePress Publishing, “Jigsaw Nation” published by Wildside Press and “Seasoned Sistahs: writings by mature women of color.” She is currently working on two Bible studies: “Hagar, Vashti and other Scapegoats of Bible study” and “The Easy Way to Write Bible Studies" and two SF/F novels based on the Bible, "The Daughters of Men" and "The Windfollower.” Her website is She lives with her husband, their two sons, and their ferocious tabby Ralphina in upstate New York.

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