Let the Querying Begin!

I’m Querying!

I’ve finally begun querying agents, having done everything I possibly can to perfect my novel. This is the novel I began writing in 2011, finished in 2016, and have been editing and rewriting for over two years. It’s been through five beta readers and three rewrites. And now it’s ready to go out.

This is the hard part. Querying is a daunting task. First you have to write the query letter, and good luck finding consistent advice on what to include and in what order! Some sources suggest opening with an introduction, including the title, genre, and word count of your book. Others suggest diving right in there with a hook. Some emphasize the importance of listing “comps,” meaning comparable titles. This is supposed to help the potential agent or publisher identify the marketability of your book based on the success of similar stories. Others say comps aren’t that important.

I chose to dive right in with a hook. I begin with a provocative question (which is really a Bible quote), then continue with two paragraphs summarizing the plot. My third paragraph gives the title and word count. The fourth paragraph includes a brief bio and my publication credits. I end with common courtesy.

I decided to do it this way after reading a number of examples of query letters that worked. I’m a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and they have a section that helps aspiring authors. It includes advice on querying, pitching, even suggesting some agents. And they provided examples of query letters that worked for some of their members.

My Query Letter

Dear [Agent,]

Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. That’s what Hope was taught to believe, anyway. But when her mother dies in childbirth, fifteen-year-old Hope must take over raising and homeschooling her ten younger siblings while keeping her father’s house. Her family’s religion teaches that women are happy and fulfilled as helpmeets and mothers, but all Hope feels is exhaustion, frustration, and despair. Her only chance for escape is courtship and becoming a helpmeet in her own right.

But after her father’s disastrous second marriage ends in divorce, Hope is forced to give up her dreams of having her own family and remain under her father’s authority, instead. As she and her siblings grow into adulthood, Hope watches her family disintegrate on the altar of faith. By the time she’s ready to abandon her father’s religion, however, she discovers that a lifetime of submission has compromised her ability to claim independence.

Told from the perspective of Hope, her father, and the woman who becomes her stepmother for a short time, Virtuous Women reveals the darker side of patriarchal Christianity and the high price paid by women who have no choice but to be virtuous. It is complete at 109,000 words.

I am a former parish pastor and have served congregations in four states. Several of my sermons have been published on DesperatePreacher.com, and I’ve had an essay published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen (2014). Last year I self-published a nonfiction book entitled Luther’s Catechism: A Modern Reflection. I also homeschool my two children. Between homeschooling and my ministry background, I’ve had several interactions with the patriarchal Christian community I depict in my book.

Per your submission guidelines I have attached [whatever you asked for.] My sincere thanks for your time and consideration.

Regards,

Karen Goltz

Choices

One of the reasons I started with the hook is because my wordcount is higher than recommended for a debut novel. The magic number is usually around 80,000. At 109,000 I’m definitely pushing it. But my first draft totaled nearly 140,000, so I have cut a lot. I wanted to get the agent interested in the story before she ruled it out on a technicality.

The bio is less important for fiction writers than nonfiction writers, but I wanted to highlight my personal connection to the material. My novel is steeped in religion, which is something a lot of writers get wrong. I needed to explain why I felt I could do it justice.

I left out comps because I can’t really find any. Aside from the The Handmaid’s Tale there hasn’t been a lot of popular fiction written about Christian patriarchy. And I’m not about to claim I’ve written the next Handmaid’s Tale.

Of course, this letter is only a template. I’m personalizing each letter a bit, but not much beyond the agent’s name and particular submission requirements. Although I did submit to one yesterday who specified he wanted a single page letter in a specific format. The first paragraph had to justify what was so great about my book, the second paragraph had to summarize the plot, and the third paragraph had to explain why I was the right person to write it. I tailored my query letter according to his specifications. In that one I did mention the success of Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale as being one of the reasons why this book is so timely. Rather than a possible dystopian near-future, my book is about the living reality of many women today, and it’s not that different. We’ll see if he requests more.

Cautiously Optimistic

Yesterday I sent out two query letters before I ran out of time, and I planned to do more querying today. This morning one of yesterday’s agents emailed a request for the full manuscript and a synopsis. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but it’s hard. If this agent doesn’t offer to represent me, I hope she’ll be able to give me some feedback I can incorporate going forward.

At any rate, at least I know my first attempt at a query letter isn’t totally off the mark!

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The God You Perceive

I listen to a podcast called Holy Heretics, hosted by a former Evangelical pastor named Jon Scott. In a recent episode he stated, “The God you perceive is the God you receive, and the God you receive is the God you project.”

Wow.

Think about that. What God do you perceive? The Christian tradition only recognizes one God, but there are countless different perceptions of that God within Christianity. High church traditions emphasize God’s holiness while low church traditions emphasize God’s accessibility. Liberal Christians proclaim the transformative power of God’s grace while conservative Christians proclaim the transformative power of God’s grace. Some people are drawn to God’s love and acceptance while others are repelled by God’s judgment against sin. The Son’s death on the cross is an act of supreme love and sacrifice or a heinous example of child abuse, depending on how you look at it.

The God you perceive is the God you receive, and the God you receive is the God you project.

Today is the beginning of Lent, and I invite you to use this season to reflect on Jon Scott’s statement. The answer’s not as straightforward as you might think.

How do you perceive God?

A lot of people don’t really give this question much thought; God is God. Maybe you learned about God in church or from your family, and you’ve never really questioned those teachings. I invite you to question them. Not in order to cast doubt on your beliefs, but in order to better understand what you believe. Who is this God you worship? Or, if you don’t worship God but are brave enough and open enough to consider the question, who is this God you don’t worship or believe in? What does the bible say about God? How has God acted (or not acted) in human history, and what does that tell you about God’s character? Spend some time in the bible with an eye toward who God is, what God has done, and why. Look at your favorite go-to verses but also look beyond them. Anyone can cherry-pick through the bible and see what they want to see, but I encourage you to look at other verses, as well. And not just the verses, but entire passages, chapters, even books. What is the context of these verses? What was going on? Who was involved, and how?

If you’re not all that familiar with the bible, or even if you are, I suggest starting with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Read them in any order you wish. Those four books focus on explaining who Jesus is and why he came, and the entire Christian tradition centers on those questions. You might want to read the Acts of the Apostles immediately after Luke, as the book of Acts is written by the same author as Luke and continues the narrative beyond Jesus’ death and resurrection, showing how his followers responded to those events in the months and years following them. And that should be more than enough to keep you busy during the six weeks of Lent.

How do you receive God?

Once you have a better idea of what you believe about God, consider how that belief affects you. Does it affect you? Does your understanding of who God is inform the way you live your life? Maybe it only impacts some aspects of your life and not others. Consider whether or not there are areas of your life that you believe God doesn’t apply or belong. There’s an old story that claims a Roman emperor had his legions of soldiers baptized en masse, but they all kept their sword hands out of the water. The common interpretation is that we all keep something back in our lives that we won’t give over to the lordship of Christ. Is there something in your life that you intentionally keep separate from your life of faith? Why? How does that fit in with how you understand your faith and what you believe about God?

Consider your feelings about God. Do thoughts of God invoke fear? Love? Admiration? Respect? Loathing? Really think about that and reflect on it. It’s not navel-gazing unless you never move beyond it, but it’s a valuable question to ask as part of an overall process.

How do you reflect God?

Once you’ve articulated to yourself who God is and how you have received God into your life, think about how others might perceive God through your words and actions. Be careful here: there’s a profound difference between what we want people to see in us and what people actually see in us. Try to step outside yourself and look at yourself with someone else’s eyes. Imagine you’re someone who knows nothing about the Christian understanding of God. Look at your social media posts. Think back on conversations you’ve had. Examine your calendar and your credit card statement. How do you spend your time and money, and what values do they reflect?

You might notice a disconnect here. Don’t be afraid of it. Describe how someone might see God if they had only your words and actions to go by. Write it down or say it out loud, to yourself or to someone you trust. Be honest. Does that description match the God you worship? If not, take another look at your beliefs about God. Are they really what you say they are?

The God you perceive is the God you receive, and the God you receive is the God you project.

Who is God to you?

What Do You Want from Me?

What do you want from me?

This is a real question. I’ve been writing this blog off and on for almost seven years, and I have no idea what I’m doing. First I wrote reflections on things in the news that caught my attention, as well as observations about what it’s like to live life as me. Then I got into some theology, followed by writing, peppered with homeschooling insights and experiences. I’ve begun series and abandoned them (not to mention other entire blogs I’ve launched then quit). I wrote on politics during the 2012 presidential campaign, but remained mostly silent during the atrocity that was 2016. I just couldn’t write intelligent commentary on that whole farce.

After years of no coherent theme, inconsistent postings, and broken promises, I really want to get this right. So I’m asking: What do you want from me?

Of course, the biggest problem with me asking this question is the fact that I have no subscribers. None. Zero. Will anyone actually answer me? I’ll post this on Facebook, where I might get a response from a couple of friends, and Twitter, where it will be ignored, and that’s it. But it’s a question I need answered.

If you’ve read this far, do me a favor. Two favors, actually. First, answer the question in the comments here or on whatever social media you saw this. Second, share this on your own newsfeed with a personal request that people read and answer this.

Some of you have been reading off and on for years. Thank you. You know which of my posts have had the most impact on you. Tell me.

If you’ve read this far and have no clue who I am, THANK YOU!!! I want your opinion, too. I’m not going to ask you to read through six and a half years of blog posts to decide what you like best, so I’ve included links below to some of my old stuff that I think gives a pretty good representation of what I’ve done. If a title interests you, read it. Or click through the category cloud to the right. Let me know what speaks to you.

And if most of you tell me to shut up and go away, I’ll take that under advisement. But I make no promises.

So take a look at some of my old stuff, or read the ‘About Me’ section and just tell me what you’d like me to post about, and how often. And thank you for your time and your engagement.

2017

Repeal and Replace – Words Matter

Will God Fix Climate Change?

2016

Middle Aged and Frumpy

I’m Not That Mom

2015

Biblical Marriage, Gay Marriage, and Scare Tactics

The Fallacy of Biblical Inerrancy

2014

Endings and Beginnings – A Poem

Income Inequality and the Myth of Redistribution

2013

Click “Like” If You Agree

Whose Christianity?

2012

Todd Akin and His Mission from God

Dear Real Estate Industry

2011

Do College Students Have Justification for Joining the ‘Occupy’ Movement?

Identifying with the Church-Harmed

A Modern Magnificat

The Original Magnificat

 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’ Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

 

A couple of weeks ago Father James Martin, SJ posted this on Twitter:

 

It’s been bugging me ever since.

I don’t have a problem with the idea of writing my own song of praise to God; I think that’s actually a really good exercise for all practicing Christians. But a song of praise in the style of the Magnificat is something entirely different.

Let’s look at some of the more popular praise songs in the current hymnal for the ELCA: Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Most of them fall in one of three categories: call to praise, expectation based on who God is as revealed in the bible, and personal response.

Call to Praise

These hymns encourage (or command) people to praise the Lord, usually by repeating the same phrase over and over again. #819 Come, All You People exhorts us, “Come, all you people, come and praise…” throughout its three verses. #853 When Morning Gilds the Sky repeats “Jesus Christ be praised” twice in each of its five verses. #872 Praise Ye the Lord has four verses giving a variety of ways in which we should “Praise God.”

Expectation Based on Who God Is and What He Has Done

This was the most common type of praise song in the hymnal. They include such favorites as This Is My Father’s World (#824), The God of Abraham Praise (#831), Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise (#834), Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee (#836), Beautiful Savior (#838), Crown Him With Many Crowns (#855), and How Great Thou Art (#856). Each of these hymns tells about the wonderful things God has already done in the world (the beauty of creation is a popular theme, as is God’s faithfulness to Israel and the atoning sacrifice of God’s only Son), and how we can continue to expect God’s merciful and redeeming activity.

Personal Response

Finally we have those songs which describe one’s personal response to God’s grace and salvation. These include Shout to the Lord (#821), Lord, I Lift Your Name on High (#857), and I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me (#860). While I appreciate the sentiment behind each of these songs and I recognize that they are, in a way, witnessing to what God has accomplished in an individual’s life, I truly detest singing these songs in a worship setting. There’s more of an emphasis on our response than on what God has done, and it feels like we’re singing praises to our own piety and worship.

 

But I digress, because none of this has anything to do with why I struggle with the Magnificat.

There’s no call to praise in the Magnificat. It begins with Mary’s personal response to God (verses 46-49), and then quickly moves into what God has done to cause that response (verses 50-55). And that’s where I struggle.

Mary was a young Jewish girl in ancient Palestine, engaged to be married, who was told by the angel Gabriel that she would be overshadowed by the power of the Most High. As a result she would become pregnant and bear a child who would be the Son of God. Shortly afterwards, the newly pregnant Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was also miraculously pregnant with a child heralded by Gabriel. And when the two women greeted each other Mary burst out in the song we call the Magnificat, in which she praises the God of Israel for fulfilling the promise he’d made so long ago.

But at this point in the narrative, God hadn’t done any of those things yet. The infant Jesus was barely formed in Mary’s womb; he was months away from even being born. The proud had not yet been scattered; the powerful were still on their thrones and the lowly were still low. The hungry were still hungry, and the rich were still rich. His servant Israel was living under Roman rule. How could Mary sing praise for things God hadn’t yet accomplished as though they were her current reality?

The answer is hope. Mary had hope. And hope is what I struggle with. I look at the world as it is, and my hope withers and begins to die.

That’s why I’m not blogging much, despite my best intentions. I can’t comment on what’s going on in the world right now, because it’s too painful. I follow the news much less closely than I used to, and rather than informing me, I find it’s building my prayer list. All I’m learning from the news is who else needs prayers.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Prayers are good. It helps to bring us closer to people we don’t know, who are suffering in ways we haven’t experienced. But to proclaim Christ’s victory as already accomplished? In a metaphysical sense, I’m fine with that. But in an experiential sense, I just can’t go there.

And that’s exactly where Mary went. She had hope that the child God had put in her womb would scatter the proud, bring down the powerful, lift up the lowly, fill the hungry, and send the rich away empty, and so she lived with the expectation that those things were already accomplished. And it was also with that expectation that she raised her son. His work is not yet finished, but he certainly began it, and it has continued throughout two millennia.

We’re still not there. The proud still stick together and look out for their own interests with the help of their powerful friends. The lowly are still low, the hungry are still hungry, and the rich are becoming richer. But to give up on hope, to not hold onto the expectation that those things will change, is to accept that that reality is here to stay. And once we accept it, then we approve it.

I cannot give the status quo my approval. I have to believe that there is a better way. And I believe that that better way is through Christ. So here is my Magnificat, created out of hope and desperation:

My Magnificat

My soul clings to the Lord,
and my spirit depends on God my Savior,
for he sees the struggles of his people
and strengthens their resolve for justice.
For the Mighty One has supplied his creation with abundant resources,
graciously ensuring that no one need experience want,
and his mercy inspires many to share what they have.
He has endured throughout the years, undefeated by tyrants as the lowly continue to
resist.
God’s love and compassion have brought down the regimes of those who cultivate
hate and fear
and he has enabled us to see the other as ourselves.
His Spirit works in those who love peace to speak truth to power,
and sacrifice comfort and convenience for justice and equity,
continuing to insist upon the reality that all people are created in God’s own image
and his mercy, compassion, dignity, and love will ultimately rule the world.

Finding Balance

Well it didn’t take long for this post to become necessary. Six weeks ago I announced the resurrection of my writing and publishing activities. I noted how I was almost finished publishing my first book through Quiet Publications (now done), how I needed to update the Quiet Publications website (still in progress), and how I was bringing back Quiet Devotions (still on schedule to begin on November 30). I also noted that I was working on the final edit of my novel before I begin searching for representation (still editing), and that I would publish on this blog weekly.

A week later I did publish another post on this blog. My next post appeared two weeks and one day later. That was three weeks ago. Do you notice a pattern here?

Once again I’ve overestimated my abilities. If I could write full time, I could probably do what I said I’d do in that first post. But I can’t. In addition to writing, I raise and homeschool two children. I run all of the administrative aspects of my husband’s software consulting business, including payroll. (And by that I mean I actually do the payroll myself, not just send the information to ADP or some other payroll processing company.) I’ve stepped up my volunteering commitments at my church and at my kids’ homeschool co-op. And I’m still doing the whole stay-at-home wife and mother thing, which, while often considered less demanding than “real” work, takes a fair amount of time and energy. In addition to all that, I feel I need to pay more attention to my overall health and wellbeing, which also takes time and energy.

What I’m doing isn’t working, so I’m trying to find balance in my life.

In January of 2012 I published a post about following a New Year’s Rule of Life instead of making new year’s resolutions. The rule of life is based on the four categories in Jesus’ greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” I wrote that almost six years ago. Finding balance is clearly an ongoing theme for me. Even though we’re still more than a month away from the new year, I think it would be beneficial for me to give this some thought now. After all, January 1 is an arbitrary date, and there’s no sense in putting off something beneficial (hopefully) because the calendar says it isn’t time yet.

So here’s how I hope to find balance in my life moving forward:

Heart: I define this as the ways in which I nurture the important relationships in my life. The most important relationships I have are with my husband and with my children. Tom and I are already taking time every evening and some mornings to focus on each other, plus we go on a biweekly date night. As two busy parents of two active children, this is the best we can do right now. But we are taking time for each other every day, which is important. Figuring out how I’m nurturing my relationship with my children is more difficult. So much of what I do is for their development, education, or wellbeing, which are important, but don’t necessarily nurture our relationship. I guess the “heart” things I’m doing for them include regular cuddle times (I’m thrilled that they haven’t outgrown this yet, even though they’re 8 and 9) and occasional surprises like movies together or ice cream.

Soul: This past September I became a Benedictine Oblate at Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, Massachusetts. When I did so, I vowed to practice Benedictine spirituality to the best of my ability in my own life situation. I can’t pray all the daily offices (much as I’d like to), but I can get up a little earlier than everyone else in my house so I have some quiet time to focus my thoughts and prayers on God. Ideally I’d like to practice Lectio Divina every morning, but the reality of my life situation is that I can’t, and I’ve given myself permission to not feel guilty on those days when my quiet prayer time is shortened because of health or family obligations. Saint Benedict was serious about balance and dealing with life’s realities, and there’s room in his Order for local and situational adjustments. I just need to take care that those adjustments truly are necessary, and not excuses. (That’s why I’ve removed GardenScapes from my phone and try not to check email, news, or Facebook before my prayer time. Emphasis on try.)

Mind: I think my writing falls into this category. All of my fiction, nonfiction, blogging, and publishing activities have to share this space, and that means I can’t do as much of it as I might like. I have to prioritize. For the short term, my top priority is updating Quiet Publications to handle online orders and setting up the first few weeks of Quiet Devotions. After that I need to finish editing my novel and querying agents. For the moderate term my priority will be keeping Quiet Devotions up to date, while also getting started on my next nonfiction book. My long term plans will depend on how successful I am with my short and moderate term plans, so I’ll hold off identifying those just now. Posting to this blog is part of my ongoing plan, but at the bottom of the priority list. If something’s going to get missed, this is it. (Please subscribe so you don’t miss any of my erratic posts!)

Strength: As has been true for most of my life, I need to lose weight. But losing weight is not one of my goals right now. This category is called “strength,” and strength is what I need. Once again my family is without health insurance, and my margin for error is shrinking in regards to my health. My diet and exercise programs are focused not on weight loss, but on building physical strength and improving my overall health. I choose my food based on its nutritional benefits to my body (most of the time), and I’m trying to include cardio, strength training, and yoga in my regular routine. I’ve finally accepted the truth that there are a lot of good reasons to exercise, but weight loss is not one of them. My weight is determined in part by genetics (which I can’t control) and in part by my diet (which I can). So my focus is on my overall health, and if I happen to lose weight in the process, great.

As much as I would like to take those four categories and call it done, I can’t. Grocery shopping doesn’t fall into any of those categories. Neither does managing the household finances, or doing laundry, or working for my husband’s company, or even homeschooling my children. All of those things go to support my family, but none of them really nurture relationships or benefit me spiritually, mentally, or physically. But they are all necessary. So I have to add a fifth category: Necessities of Life. This one is tricky, because it’s difficult to determine what is truly necessary and what only feels necessary. I can only do the best I can, and keep reassessing my choices.

Then there’s the fact that I look at these priorities, and they’re all about me. My health, my family, my wellbeing. One thing that really got drilled into me at seminary is: It’s not about you. To a point that’s good advice, but taken too far it becomes toxic. (Hence the number of pastoral burnouts and broken marriages.) But without some focus outside of yourself, you become completely self-centered and self-serving. That’s not how I understand myself as a Christian, and it’s not how I want to live as a human being. So I have to add a sixth category called Giving Back. That’s where I put my volunteering for church and homeschool co-op. I need to be careful not to take on too much, though. It’s too easy to get sucked into the service vortex, where it’s almost impossible to say ‘no’ to others’ legitimate needs. But those needs are endless, and one person can only do so much. Even Jesus turned his back on people who came to him for healing, because he had other things he needed to attend to. (Mark 1:32-39)

Finding balance isn’t easy, and I won’t always be able to dedicate equal time to each of these categories. But this at least gives me a framework.

I will blog here as I can, hopefully at least every other week. But there will be times when I have to let this go, and I hope you’ll understand. And I wish you luck in finding balance in your own life, too.

Literary Pursuits – October 2017

It’s been two years since the last time I did a Literary Pursuits post (and two weeks since the last time I posted to my weekly blog, but we won’t talk about that). I won’t try to cover that entire time, though. I’ll just focus on the last month, which has been busy!

What I’m Reading

Not much, to be honest. Nearly all of my book reading has been for the kids. I’ve been working my way through the entire Harry Potter series as their bedtime story, and we’re now on the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Son has already read ahead and has finished the book (twice), but knows better than to ruin it for Daughter. They both love the series. Daugher was Hermione for Halloween.

In the car we’ve been listening to the Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer on audiobook. The series started off well with Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy. A twelve year old street urchin from London disguises herself as a boy and is taken on as ship’s boy aboard a Royal Navy ship. The kids and I both loved her antics and spunk, and I loved the fact that it’s set in the early 1800s, so there’s a lot of history to discuss. The series remained decent through the fourth book, but began to go downhill by the fifth. Among other problems, there’s a lot of sex. We’re currently in the tenth book, Viva Jacquelina! Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Over the Hills and Far Away, and even though she’s still technically a virgin (barely), Meyer hasn’t been shy about describing the situations that tempted or threatened her. Last book we even had to endure banter about penis size. I’m hoping a lot of this is going over the kids’ heads, but I’m not counting on it. Oh well. They still love it, and we only have two more books to go.

As part of our unit on the Civil War, I assigned Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the Civil War by Steve Sheinkin. I found it funny, engaging, and informative, but the kids didn’t. I had to quiz them after each chapter to make sure they actually read it.

For my own reading I’ve been trying to make it through The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, but I’m finding it a challenge. That’s a pity, because the description seemed promising and the futuristic dystopian world he created is fantastic, but the story is a real drag. I’ll finish it, but only because I’m stubborn.

On my phone as part of my devotional reading I have Selected Writings by Hildegard of Bingen. I didn’t like her writings the first time I attempted them, but I have a better appreciation of them now that I have a better understanding of her historical context.

I also subscribe to two magazines. You know, the old fashioned kind that are made out of paper and actually mailed to you? One is Writers Digest and the other is The Christian Century. I’m on the current issue of Writers Digest and I’m running one issue behind on The Christian Century. Oh well.

What I’m Writing

I’ve been a little more successful here. For the past month I’ve been focusing on editing, rewriting, formatting, and printing my first book through Quiet Publications. I mentioned it here a few weeks ago. It’s called Luther’s Catechism: A Modern Reflection and it’s now available for purchase (hint hint!). I’m still trying to set up QuietPublications.com as an ecommerce site, but that’s all new territory for me and it’s slow going. In the meantime the book is available at the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA, in-store and online.

 

I’m also doing final edits on my novel. I’ve received feedback from a few beta readers, which was incredibly helpful. Once I’m done with this round I’ll start querying agents.

That’s about it for October. What have you been reading and/or writing? Please share in the comments!

Me Too

On Sunday night actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” By Monday morning, tens of thousands of women had answered her call, and, at the time of this writing (Wednesday morning) people are still tweeting the #MeToo hashtag.

Milano wanted to offer a glimpse into the number of women who continue to be victimized, and the size of the response has taken many by surprise.

Me too.

It’s taken me by surprise. Because #MeToo. I have a legitimate claim to that hashtag, even though I never considered myself a victim.

I thought what happened to me was a normal part of being a woman. The sad thing is, I was right.

I remember in my teens it was a point of pride to be catcalled on the street. It meant you were “pretty enough to f–k.” Not being catcalled meant you weren’t attractive to men, and that was shameful and humiliating.

That was normal.

When I lived in my first apartment, the male friend of a friend came over to help install a ceiling fan. When he was finished, he started kissing me. I’ll admit, I was fine with the kissing. But then he led me over to my bed and tried to turn it into more than kissing, and I wasn’t fine with that. I told him—nicely—to stop, and he ignored me. I told him again—nicely—that I really meant it, and I wanted him to stop. He still ignored me. I stopped being nice and told him in a very firm tone that he needed to leave now. He stepped back and apologized for scaring me. And he left.

He wasn’t the only guy to apologize for scaring me when I took that tone with them, but I only ever took that tone after they ignored my less assertive attempts to get them to stop. These weren’t strangers. They were men I’d liked and chosen to spend time with, and I didn’t think it was necessary to become confrontational the moment they crossed the line. Sometimes they honestly didn’t know where that line was. But simply telling them wasn’t enough. I had to be ‘scared’ in order for these ordinary, non-rapists to leave me alone.

I wasn’t scared; I was pissed.

These are men who consider themselves good guys because they would never force a woman.

This is normal.

A coworker I’d become friends with began making suggestive comments and passing them off as harmless dirty jokes, only to accuse me of having no sense of humor when I told him I didn’t appreciate it. When he continued even after I told him to stop, I informed him that what he was doing was sexual harassment and I would report him. The dirty jokes stopped, and were replaced by snide comments about how I was a prude and wanted to destroy his career. Several other coworkers—men and women—kept their distance from me after that.

This is normal.

Even when I was groped on a crowded subway, I wrote it off as it being “my turn” that day, because it happens to everyone. It’s normal.

It’s normal for women.

And it shouldn’t be.

There’s a meme of comedian Peter White saying, “I think the golden rule for men should be: If you’re a man, don’t say anything to a woman on the street that you wouldn’t want a man saying to you in prison.”

I appreciate his sentiment, and it may serve to help men understand what it’s like for women. But think about it. Really think about it. Men in prison are in a hostile environment where they have to be on their guard all the time. That’s normal, everyday life for women.

With the possible exception of my experience on the subway, what I’ve described here usually isn’t even considered sexual harassment or assault. Why not?

There’s a photo of a man walking in a crowd of women. He’s wearing pants but no shirt, and he’s holding a sign that reads (in Spanish): “I’m half naked surrounded by the opposite sex…and I feel safe, not intimidated. I want the same for women.” Understandably, this photo went viral. It shines a spotlight on a twisted reality that most people don’t notice or realize, because this reality is considered normal.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the man holding this sign has a history of domestic violence. But the truth of the message should not be diminished by the hypocrisy of the messenger. A scantily-clad woman walking alone in a crowd of men would not feel safe. Furthermore, she would most likely be blamed for anything that happened to her. “What was she doing there in the first place?” “Why wasn’t she wearing something less revealing?”

This is normal.

This should not be normal. What happened to me should not be normal.

So I say me too.

#MeToo

Exciting News

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, and I know saying “I’ve been busy” is no excuse.

But I’ve been busy.

And that busyness has resulted in some pretty exciting news that I get to announce. The only question is, where should I begin?

Perhaps the most exciting news is the fact that I’m nearly finished publishing my first book through my publishing house, Quiet Publications. The book is called Luther’s Catechism: A Modern Reflection. It came from a midweek Lenten series I wrote for my church earlier this year (and published on this blog, if you care to look). I’ve taken those brief reflections, expanded them, and added discussion questions after each chapter. The book is appropriate for confirmation, new member, and adult education classes, as well as individuals. It goes deeper into the content than Luther’s Small Catechism but it’s not as dense as Luther’s Large Catechism.

The book being published is the first bit of exciting news. The fact that it’s being published through Quiet Publications is the second bit. After letting it languish for years, I’ve finally decided to do something with my publishing house. In addition to Luther’s Catechism: A Modern Reflection, I’ve also begun work on two other books. One of them is based on a bible study I wrote and taught a few years ago, and the other is from a sermon series I preached. I’m not going to say any more about those, though, until they’re closer to publication.

First, though, I have to redo the Quiet Publications website so it can handle online orders. Please have patience with me if you go over there to check things out and see a mess.

At some point I plan to accept submissions from other authors, but right now I have too much to learn to be able to offer them much. I’d rather make all the big mistakes on my own work, rather than someone else’s.

In the past, Quiet Publications published a daily devotion based on the daily lectionary reading as it appears in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006). That’s coming back beginning Thursday, November 30, which is the first day of the new church year (Year B, for you church nerds out there). Conveniently, the last time I published Quiet Devotions was Year B, so I’ve already got a head start. If you subscribed to Quiet Devotions in the past, I have to ask you to subscribe again once the new website is up. My current subscription list has over 1,600 email addresses, and as much as I’d like to believe I’m that popular, I know that most of those are spammers. I’m going to purge that list and start over with a list managed by MailChimp.

My writing hasn’t been limited to Quiet Publications projects, either. I’m now doing my final edits on the novel I’ve been writing since 2012. It’s been through two rounds of beta readers, and once I finish these edits I’ll begin searching for an agent. I’m perfectly happy to self-publish my theological nonfiction, but I want my fiction to be published traditionally. So far it’s gotten great feedback, and I’m optimistic about my chances. I don’t want to reveal too much about it just yet, but more will come later.

So that’s my exciting news: I’m finally beginning to pull it together as a writer and publisher. I’ll have a much stronger presence on Quiet Publications and here, with blog posts appearing weekly. I’ve already planned out what I’m going to write each week through the end of the year.

I hope you’ll come along with me.

Repeal and Replace – Words Matter

So Republicans are struggling again to repeal and replace Obamacare. They’ve been promising this for years, yet even with Republican control of the presidency, the House, and the Senate, they can’t seem to follow through. Conservative Republicans feel the new bill is too similar to Obamacare. Moderate Republicans are concerned that their constituents who rely on Obamacare’s provisions will suffer. Democrats are demanding that Obamacare be improved, rather than repealed and replaced.

Let me make a suggestion. As the first order of business, let’s just change the name. Let’s not call it Obamacare, or even by its official name, the Affordable Care Act. Then maybe conservatives can stop rejecting out of hand anything that is currently part of the law, regardless of how reasonable it might be.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, words matter. The name ‘Obamacare’ matters, because it’s far more polarizing than ‘Affordable Care Act.’ In February a research and media company called “Morning Consult” conducted a poll about the existing health care law, and the results were remarkable. 80% of Republicans polled strongly disapproved of Obamacare, but only 60% of Republicans strongly disapproved of the Affordable Care Act. 35% of all people polled didn’t know they were the same thing. 45% didn’t know if repealing Obamacare would mean the Affordable Care Act would disappear.

So let’s just change the name to something neutral, like Bob. And then ask the Republicans to identify what it is they want to do. Because ‘repeal and replace Bob’ is not a viable legislative agenda.

The word ‘repeal’ matters. Repeal means to revoke or cancel. It means to remove the legal force of any law (in which case it’s no longer a law).

The big Republican promise for the last several years has been to repeal Bob. Bob attempts to provide affordable health care to all Americans. (I said attempt; my own family is on its second stint of going without health insurance since Bob became the law of the land, so I’m certainly not going deny its flaws and failures.) Does that mean Republicans don’t want affordable health care for all Americans? I fervently hope that’s not the case. In any case, I’ll go ahead and obey the eighth commandment and interpret everything my neighbor does in the best possible light. Let’s assume that Republicans do want affordable health care for all Americans, but they disagree with how Bob approaches it. Fine. Fair argument. I’m listening to your ideas, Republicans.

But all I’m hearing is REPEAL AND REPLACE!

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) objected to the Senate’s American Health Care Act proposal by saying, “[W]e want the bill to look more like a repeal [of the Affordable Care Act AKA ‘Obamacare’]. We’re afraid that when we read the bill, it actually looks more like a reiteration or a keeping of Obamacare…To my mind, the most important thing is [Republicans] promised to repeal Obamacare. The current bill looks like we’re keeping large parts of Obamacare.”  That was his objection, that and the fact that the subsidies to help people buy the insurance were too high and the whole thing would cost more than Obamacare Bob in the first year or two. The joint statement he made with Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Mike Lee (R-UT), stated: “[I]t does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs.”

Is repealing Obamacare the most important thing the Republicans can do? Or would ensuring affordable health care for all rank slightly higher? To listen to these Republicans, the content and quality of the replacement bill are far less important than repealing the existing law, and that’s a problem. If that’s not the case, then Republicans need to do a much better job of choosing their words.

Lowering Americans’ health care costs is a fine goal–one shared by Bob, actually. But the emphasis on repeal and replace has been heavy on the repeal and short on any plan to replace it. In fact, as much as I want to obey that eighth commandment, I don’t have any real confidence that many Republicans in the House or Senate really do care about the health needs of the American people. And I base my lack of confidence not on their words, but on their actions. It’s based on the number of Republican congressional representatives who intentionally avoided facing their constituents after voting on the House bill in April. And it’s based on the fact that the Senate crafted their bill in secret and tried to put it to a vote before anyone could thoroughly read or analyze it. Are those the actions of people who are genuinely concerned about the needs and realities of the everyday people they’re supposed to represent?

Health policy is broken in the United States. It was broken before Bob, and it’s broken in a different way now. Fixing this situation is going to be difficult enough without getting caught up on what to call it. Words matter. For instance, health care and health insurance are two entirely different things, yet no one in government has acknowledged that fact. It seems to me that Democratic plans aim to provide health care to all, and Republican plans aim to control health insurance costs and premiums. Both are important, but not differentiating between the two is like rolling routine maintenance plans into insurance plans for vehicles and coming up with a single plan for everyone, regardless of whether you drive a Bentley, BMW, Honda, Dodge, or take the bus. It just doesn’t work. Until our legislators start talking about the same thing and agree on a common goal, this whole nightmare is only going to get worse for more and more people, and people are going to die.

Words matter, people. Lives matter more. Forget about repeal and replace. Forget about Obamacare and the Affordable Health Care Act. Forget about the American Health Care Act. Forget about Bob. Figure out what the people of this country need (the living, breathing people, not the corporations who have legal personhood and boatloads of money for lobbyists) and craft a plan to provide for their health and wellbeing. If you’ve been elected to office, listen to the constituents you’re supposed to represent. All of them. That means Sens. Paul and McConnell need to listen to the Democrats in Kentucky and Sen. Sanders needs to listen to the Republicans in Vermont. (Yes, there are Democrats in Kentucky and Republicans in Vermont.) Come to think of it, forget about Democrat and Republican. Forget about liberal and conservative. Let’s think as Americans.

Better yet, let’s think as humans. If we can recognize the humanity in each other, maybe we can stop all this demonizing and name-calling, and get to work at taking care of each other.

 

[Thanks to an astounding number of spammers, comments have been turned off for this post.]

Will God ‘Fix’ Climate Change?

By now it’s old news that Donald Trump plans to pull the United States out of the Paris climate change agreement. I’m not writing another article explaining why that’s a bad idea (even though I think it is because of this, this, and this). Instead, I’m going to address the religious arguments that support climate change denial.

The week before Trump’s announcement, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich) said in a town hall meeting, “I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I think there are cycles. Do I think that man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No. Why do I believe that? Well, as a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”

First I want to give credit where credit is due. Yes, there have been cycles of climate change since the beginning of time. The first link above begins with NASA stating “The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization.” So Rep. Walberg and the majority of the scientific community agree on that one. And I’m glad to see he acknowledges that humanity does have some impact on our environment. But the word “some” hides a multitude of sins. How much impact? By what means? In what ways? Rep. Walberg doesn’t address these questions because in his opinion humanity can’t “change the entire universe,” meaning we can’t be a real threat to our environment.

He’s correct that human activity can’t change the entire universe. It can’t even change the entire galaxy, or even our entire solar system. Science doesn’t disagree with that. But we don’t have to change any of those things to be a threat to our environment. We only have to change the climate of our own planet, and we are doing that.

Science doesn’t give much weight to the assertion that God is bigger than us, but I do. I’m also a Christian, and I believe in the same God that Rep. Walberg does. I believe that God is just as powerful as Rep. Walberg claims he is. But I don’t believe he’s in the business of cleaning up our messes. There’s a big difference between ‘can’ and ‘will,’ and in regards to God fixing climate change, I see nothing the biblical record to suggest that he will. Quite the contrary, the bible shows me a God who expects and commands people to act with justice, kindness, and compassion, but allows the suffering and carnage that result when people don’t.

Rep. Walberg’s appeal to Christian belief to deny or minimize humanity’s impact on the earth’s environment is neither revolutionary nor a product of Trump politics. Back in 2012 Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) gave an interview to Christian Youth America’s radio program Crosstalk with Vic Eliason, in which he cited Genesis 8:22 as the source of his belief that human influenced climate change is impossible.

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22 (NIV)

In regards to that quote he said, “[M]y point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

What’s so outrageous about that? People have been taking what God has given them and perverting, destroying, or changing it all along. In the first chapter of Genesis God gave Adam and Eve paradise, including “every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it,” but as a result of their actions God changed what he was doing and told Adam:

“Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you will eat bread till you return to the ground.” Genesis 3:17b-19a (NIV)

If two people could change God’s plan for creation with a single act, I can’t see why several billion people can’t change that same creation by deforesting the earth, destroying the ground in the search for and extraction of fossil fuels, and burning those fuels in large quantities.

Senator Inhofe also used Genesis 8:22 to make the case that “God is still up there,” tying the endurance of the earth to God’s existence. But that’s not what the verse says at all. It ties the days, the seasons, and the agricultural rhythm of life to the endurance of the earth. What happens when the earth ceases to endure? One can only assume that days, seasons, and life will end with the earth. And God will still be up there.

It’s important to remember that Genesis 8:22 is the promise God gave to Noah after he and all the people and animals with him left the ark. A few verses later the covenant continues:

“I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Genesis 9:11 (NIV)

God doesn’t promise to keep life on earth safe from calamity for all eternity. He doesn’t even promise to never take an active hand in destroying it again. God’s promise, which is repeated again in verse 15 of that same chapter, is that God will never again destroy the earth with a flood. There are so many ways in which God can still destroy the world without breaking his promise, and there’s nothing in that covenant that prevents us from destroying ourselves.

I would also like to point out Psalm 102:25-27 to Senator Inhofe:

“Of old You founded the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.

Even they will perish, but You endure;
And all of them will wear out like a garment;
Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed.

But You are the same,
And Your years will not come to an end.” Psalm 102:25-27 (NIV)

The earth and all of creation is finite. God is not. “God is still up there” is no guarantee that life on earth will continue. It’s not arrogant to claim that human activity can negatively impact God’s creation. It’s arrogant to claim that we can do whatever we want to God’s creation and God will save us from the consequences of our actions.