Thursday, June 29, 2006

Interesting Publishing Trend

Two interesting and separate stories in Publishers' Weekly "Religion Bookline" this week -- I don't know if two such events could be properly called a "trend" yet, but it seems to be tending that way.

Two excellent Christian publishers, InterVarsity and Baker, have recently announced new publishing ventures aimed toward twenty-somethings. IVP is actually launching a new line called "Likewise," as in "Go then and do likewise." Quote from the publisher: "We are trying to empower this particularly activist generation and age, when people are more inclined to be audacious in their faith, by providing them resources to be thoughtfully active and actively thoughtful." IVP is already actively cultivating writers from this age group to write for this age group.

Baker's going to produce a new series of books in partnership with Emergent Village, appropriately called "Emersion." Quote from PW on the publisher's understanding of the genre: "Baker calls “’the emerging church conversation’ a movement of those seeking to explore new opportunities for Christianity, and how the church will meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.”

Two very good publishers. Important, timely approaches. Exciting generation. Stay tuned for some good reading!

The Booper Girl Tells A Story

We're still recovering from the Booper's fourth birthday this past Tuesday. Yes, my sweet girl is four! So hard to believe, but the evidence is in front of my eyes each day. She is growing and changing so much all the time.

The presents have retained their novelty even after forty-eight hours, but of course almost better than any of the lovely gifts from family and friends are the leftover balloons from the party. At the moment my kitchen floor is covered in about a dozen balloons of various colors and various stages of deflation. She spent part of the early afternoon kicking them, throwing them, and just in general batting them around...all the while chatting about what she was doing.

In fact, she informed me that she wanted to make up a story about playing with the balloons. So of course I encouraged her to go ahead and even said I would write it down as she told it, a suggestion she greeted with great enthusiasm. So without further ado, I present to you "BALLOONS," a story dictated to me by my beautiful four year old daughter. Frankly, I think she's got a great story-telling rhythm. And I'm not biased. Not at all. Really. (Smile.)

One day the balloons bounced so high and she caught one! She caught the balloons and threw them right up in the air! One day a red balloon floated so high and she caught it, and she missed it and she tried to catch it but she didn't catch it because it landed so fast on the floor. One day she threw a pink balloon so high and they bounced so high. One day she had lots and lots of balloons and she tried to catch it but of course she couldn't catch it. It was so big and so fat.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

What I'm Reading...Here at Summer's True Beginning

I know summer feels like it's been underway since Memorial Day, but on the calendar, it officially began this past Wednesday. I've had cause to remember it as the Boop was very excited about the first real day of summer, and we counted down to it for pretty much the last week of spring. Now that the season has arrived, she keeps reminding us how many days have passed, as in "today's the fourth day of summer...!" The other evening she prayed "And thank you Jesus for a good second day of summer," which made my heart almost burst with grateful smiles.

I've not done a "reading round-up" in a while, and probably should...though this casual posting will likely take the place of that. I had good intentions when the year started about keeping an official LIST of everything I'm reading, but it just isn't happening. So here, in no order except the order of how they come to me, are a few rambles on where my reading attention's been focused of late.

Current church events/theology. I'm mostly reading blog posts and journal articles on the recent General Convention. Kendall Harmon has the best blog at "titusonenine" -- it's an amazing repository of analysis from all perspectives, which keeps me grounded in both charity and clarity. I'm also busy plowing my way through the 34 page docoument on Trinitarian language recently written/distributed at the Presbyterian General Assembly. There's been a big brouhaha over some of the reommendations made there, and I decided I neded to see for myself what the fuss is about. It's interesting reading thus far, more orthodox and worth chewing on than I expected (at least they're still doing theological reflection in that denomination!) but with some problematic areas.

I'm also reading Brian MacLaren's Generous Orthodoxy (good, thought-provoking read, though not quite as radical as I expected, at least in the first few chapters).

Mysteries. My biggest fiction time lately has been spent with mysteries. I think I've now read every Dorothy Simpson novel I can reasonbly get my hands on, barring inter-library loan. I haven't bothered listing them all here because their names are all alike (and most have "death" somewhere in the title!). After awhile the books begin to run into each other and blur a bit too - she really stuck to a formula but it's one I like so I don't mind. They feel like comfort food. I'm also reading the second Ian Rutledge mystery by Charles Todd. Good stuff, but much harder to get into and stay into than the Simpson, though perhaps more rewarding in the end.

Kate DiCamillo. I love her work. All of it. And I'm especially in love with The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane which I just finished on Friday -- and finished reviewing for Epinions today. Score two for DiCamillo -- this and Because of Winn-Dixie are two of my favorite juvenile novels/stories from the past decade. What beautiful writing. She's up there with Katherine Paterson and Patrica MacLachlan for me now.

Have almost finised Dear Genius -- Ursula Nordstrom's letters. The final third feels like I'm slogging through molasses, which is really weird because the first 2/3 went like lightning. I was staying up late at night to read those letters. I don't know if it's me or the book (I have a theory, which I'll try to work out when I review it) but my interst is waning a bit. Of course it's a lengthy collection.

Devotionally, I'm tackling Tom Wright's Hebrews for Everyone -- trying to read one passage from Hebrews followed by his reflection each day.

Also reading some stuff on homeschooling...but it's late and I just realized how tired and stiff my back is. I work in the morning, which means more hours at a desk. I'd really better call it quits and get some rest.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"Are you a slacker Mom?"

I'm not entirely sure what a "slacker Mom" is, but according to the results of this silly personality quiz I took, apparently I'm not one. In fact, here are my results:

Are You a Slacker Mom? Your quiz results make you a Smarty Pants Mom

Smart parents like you have smart kids. They need plenty of intellectual stimulation and you provide them with all they need, plus lots of love. You know how to help them with algebra homework, and you are superior at kissing boo-boos. Take this free personality test by Clicking Here>> or going to


Well, I don't know about algebra homework -- thankfully we're a few years away from that still. But yes, I'm pretty good at kissing boo-boos. The Boop got her first majorly skinned knee this past week, which has sprouted an impressive scab. Just in time for that fourth birthday party next week!

I knew just how motherood had influenced my very core when I took another one of these silly quizzes when the Booper was about two. It was one of those "which Pooh character are you?" quizzes, and I assumed I was going to come out as Piglet. I've always suspected I have an inner Piglet. But no, somewhere along the way, I'd morphed into Kanga....

By the way, is there a Mr. Kanga anywhere? Milne never brings him up.

Sorry for the silliness of this posting, but I know I've got some more deep reflections coming soon (theology...ecclesiology...history...) so I thought I'd make sure I inject little levity into the week. :-)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Wearing My Church History Hat

I had pretty much decided that I wouldn't post anything concerning the General Convention of the Episcopal Church being held this week in Columbus, OH. In general, this blog is really for my reflections on books...though I've realized in recent weeks the scope of my reflections has been expanding.

Besides the fact that I don't often care to comment publically on church politics, there's the fact that hundreds of other bloggers are already saying what needs to be said. However, as someone who loves Jesus, loves the Church, has been blessed to be a part of the Anglican tradition for over a decade, and who teaches Church History from time to time, I just can't seem to help but make a couple of comments.

I'm grieved but not terribly surprised by the Convention's actions this week. I had hoped that the Lord might yet knock a couple of prominent leaders off their horses, so to speak, shine the light of truth full on them as they travelled the Damascus Road and wake up their hearts. God is in the business of changing lives and hearts. People can repent.

But it seems that, at the moment, God is allowing the Episcopal Church in the U.S. to go on their undisciplined and uncharitable way. I'm not sure why, but I trust his higher purposes for the church -- both the church here in the U.S. and the church around the world.

The fact that ECUSA did not repent of their actions in 2003 was not surprising. The election of a woman as presiding bishop was surprising. Both actions send a very strong message to the rest of the global communion, and it's not a message of reconciliation. I know, to my deep sadness, that many people involved in these decisions view them as cutting edge, revolutionary and even prophetic. What they primarily are, it seems to me, is rude and self-serving, but in keeping with the modernist liberal theology that has held sway over much of the denomination in recent years.

Please hear me: my problem with the new presiding bishop's gender is in a different category than my problems with her theology. I understand, yea I even ache a bit, for the many, many Christians around the world who stand on a long history of church tradition and who do not accept or approve of women priests and bishops, including many of our own Anglican primates. That's why choosing a woman was a particular slap in the face to the the rest of the communion, especially at this critical juncture in our strained relations with the rest of the global church, because it shows that we're continuing to go on our merry way without regard for their feelings and concerns, and without humble recognition of the fact that the ordination of women has a relatively short history in the institutionalized church (I'm not talking about women's ministry, which has a long and hallowed tradition going way back to Jesus). But it's not ++Schori's gender that's the real problem here, it's her theology, and in that regard perhaps nothing much has changed at all, because it's the same ol', same ol'.

I confess I did find it a bit troubling to hear a statement of a theologically conservative diocese (can't recall which one right now) immediately raising questions of apostolic succession because of her election. It's understandable -- because she will be consecrating other bishops then of course that's an issue that will be raised, but what I don't understand is why we don't raise it more often with other bishops in the church, most of whom are male. If one has a completely physical/mechanistic view of sucession, then of course, anyone who has had hands laid on them properly in a consecration is "in apostolic sucession." And of course anyone who holds that because Jesus was male all valid bishops must be male is going to have a major problem with the consecration of a woman.

But my understanding of apostolic succession is deeper than that. If you look at the early history of the church, and of subsequent church history, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit has safeguarded the church and the message of the gospel to a hurting world through bishops and teachers who were faithful to apostolic teaching. That's where the rubber meets the road. If you have a faithful bishop who holds to the gospel, then that bishop is in apostolic succession. And in a less historic but somehow very real sense, every Christian who faithfully holds to the teaching of the apostles carries on in that line (my colors as a daughter of the Reformation really flying high right now!). It seems to me that in many ways the quiet but faithful passing on of the faith in families and communities down through the ages has as just about as much to do with apostolic succession as the consecration of bishops. I'm not saying the church doesn't need faithful bishops -- one reason I'm an Anglican is because I think collegial authority and mutual accountability is a very good thing and necessary thing. But the key for me is that the church needs faithful bishops, not just bishops. And when we lose that kind of faithful leadership, then the whole structure is in danger of capsizing.

More soon. I commend N.T. Wright's comments on the Windsor Report resolutions and Bishop Nazir-Ali's sermon on the Holy Spirit, both documents that have gotten a lot of attention in recent days.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

...And the Passion (and Compassion) of Youth

I have to say how impressed and moved I was by our church's youth group this past weekend. The youth pastor who happens to be my DH (dear husband) coordinated events for a 30-Hour famine. 14 kids and 6 leaders fasted for 30 hours and did service projects in the community to raise funds for World Vision to help hungry children around the world. They also did some service projects in the church as volunteers, most notably some heavy-duty cleaning on the third floor.

The memory I will carry with me was a young woman we've really grown to admire, K.A., standing on the side of the road on Friday afternoon, holding her donation can and calling out to passing cars. The kids did a concert in the gazebo park in the center of town (inviting their friends in bands to play; our church band also did a set). They also sold baked goods and did face painting (Boop got another butterfly on her cheek...I got a flower!). They all worked hard, but I was really struck by the energy and passion of K.A. She kept crying out "a dollar a day feeds a hungry child!" and there was no false guilt-tripping or salesmanship about it...she was not shouting out an empty slogan. She just genuinely implored people from her heart, spoke the truth. These kids felt such passion about what they were doing, a real desire to find some way to meet needs in a broken and hungry world. How good of God to answer those desires by helping them to raise so much. For such a small group, they did an amazing job, and because of World Vision's matching grants, food will be provided to 16 hungry children for a whole year.

That's passion and compassion in action!

The Audacity of Youth

Continuing my delicious read of Ursula Nordstrom's letters, and came across a bit of information that made me recall a wonderfully audacious moment from my adolescence.

Charlotte Zolotow started out in the world of children's publishing as Ursula Nordstrom's secretary. Later on she became a distinguished author and editor in her own right. OK, you say, that's great. So what?

I happen to have a letter from Charlotte Zolotow in my files. An actual typewritten (yes, typewritten) letter with a signature. It was a reply to a query I sent to Harper's when I was sixteen years old. I actually wrote to Charlotte Zolotow to pitch the idea for a picture book I'd already written.

The book was called Homer and was the story of a leaf that turned red on a tree where almost all of the other leaves turned yellow. He was teased and got embarrassed about how different he was, but in the end, he became immortalized in a little girl's beautiful collage. It was, if I say so myself, a pretty good story. I wrote a lot during my high school years, and my love of children's literature had given me a pretty good story-telling sense and rhythm. My dad helped me reproduce the text (we actually enlarged my typewritten sheets on a photocopier... this was still a few years before everyone had a computer) and we pasted the words on cardstock. He did beautiful illustrations for it and we actually bound it by hand. I still have the book -- I've not yet shared it with the Boop because it's sort of fragile now and I think she will appreciate it more later and treat it more gently too.

I'm getting sidetracked. I did not send the book or even a whole typewritten manuscript to Charlotte Zolotow. I knew enough to know that I should simply send a query letter and share my idea, which I did. I don't have a copy of that original letter I wrote, but I do have her very gracious reply. (I just re-found it in my files a few months ago. The fact that I can't find it right this moment is not an indication of how I feel about it but an indication of the utter disarray of my files. Sigh.)

CZ, as Ursula Nordstrom called her, took me seriously. She told me that she didn't think they could offer to publish my book successfully because the theme of someone mocked for being different but triumphing in the end was a tried and true one that had been done before, perhaps best in Hans Christian Anderson's "The Ugly Duckling," which had been one of my favorites in childhood. She told me I'd made an "impressive start" to my "writing career" (I still remember how much those few words meant to me) and encouraged me to read everything I could and to keep writing.

What a treasure of a letter. And what an audacious thing for me to do, to send a letter to such a respected editor at such an established publishing house. Of course, I had no clue then of what a part she had played in helping to publish renowned 20th century children's lit. I don't even think I knew any of her stories. If I'm remembering rightly, I picked her name out of a market listing because...I thought it was pretty. :-)

When I look back on all that now, I have to smile. And I have to marvel at a few things:
  • my early passion for writing
  • my early confidence in the stories I was writing
  • the fact that a letter from an unpublished and naive sixteen year old could get through to a senior editor at Harper's and actually elicit a personal response

The first two reflections make me glad; the third one sad. Harper's, along with most other major publishing houses, no longer accepts unsolicited manuscripts or queries. I suspect a letter from me now, twenty-two years later, would not even make it into a slush pile to be read by the most junior of editors, much less responded to in any way. As I read Nordstrom's letters, and as I reflect on how the world of children's book publishing has changed in recent years, I realize it's lost a certain kind of personal, family-like atmosphere, in which young talent could be welcomed and encouraged. Nowadays it's mostly just bottom-line business (which is one reason I think my recent reading of It's a Bunny Eats Bunny World left me feeling somewhat discouraged about any chance I might have to get published in this field).

Ah well. I've definitely wandered far afield here. Mostly just wanted to reflect on how grateful I am for the audacity of youth, and to celebrate a small (very small) connection with the historic Ursula Nordstrom whose letters I've been enjoying so much this week.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Influence of a Good Editor

I've been reading Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. What an amazing woman and what a lively collection of letters!

Nordstrom was the director of Harper's Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940-1973, and as such, she was highly influential in the area of American children's literature for decades. You may have never heard of her, but among other things, she discovered Maurice Sendak (who was designing window displays for F.A.O. Schwarz) and helped bring to birth such children's classics as Charlotte's Web, Good Night, Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Where the Wild Things Are, and the I Can Read Series that featured the Little Bear stories. And that's just a a sampling. She worked with some of the most innovative authors and illustrators in the business.

And when I say worked with them, I don't just mean discovered their talent, corrected their punctuation, or made a kind suggestion now and again. What's revelatory about her letters is how hard a good editor works over every detail of a book, even a picture book with relatively few words. Nordstrom had a knack for encouraging her writers, lavishing praise on their good work and challenging the work they gave her that she considered less than good. She pushed them to find just the right words, and to create pictures that really brought literature to life. Her letters to E.B. White over the rough drawings by Garth Williams for Charlotte's Web almost made me laugh, she was so earnest about getting things just right, literally line by line. I discovered that I also have her to thank for one of my favorite illustrations from childhood, the picture of Esther Averill's Jenny the cat doing the sailor's hornpipe (where you can just see one paw lifting over the basket). The image was in the text, but Nordstrom encouraged Averill to draw it.

I'm very glad she stayed a children's book editor, as that was her main love. In one of the letters she relates a funny story about a member of Harper's management taking her to lunch to offer her a job as an editor in one of the "grown-up" book divisions. His implication was clear: that she'd be "moving up" if she took such a job. And Nordstrom wrote this to describe her own response:

"I almost pushed the luncheon table into the lap of the pompous gentleman opposite me and then explained kindly that publishing children's books was what I did, that I couldn't possibly be interested in books for dead dull finished adults, and thank you very much but I had to get back to my desk to publish some more good books for bad children."

I hope that quote gives you an indication of the lively quality of her voice and personality, which by all accounts was larger than life. Wonderful letters!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

"Open My Eyes That I May See..."

Tonight at family prayers, we got out some of our older Bible verse cards we hadn't done in a while. One of them was Psalm 119:18, which reads "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law..."

When we first started doing these cards with the Boop, probably a year or so ago, she wasn't talking much yet. I used picture prompts to help her learn the Scripture verses, and our usual method of reviewing them was for me to read the whole verse and just pause before the key word or phrase that was pictured on the front of the card and that we wanted her to be able to remember. This particular card has a picture of a face, a person with very vivid eyes, and the key word was "eyes."

We hadn't done this one in a while, so I went ahead and read the first two words "Open my..." and paused. "Eyes," my little daughter said quickly. I went on to "that I may see..." and decided to pause again to see if she'd remember the last words of the verse. She paused for a moment, and then said, quite simply "good things about God."

And I felt astounded. More astounded really than if she'd remembered the actual words. Every once in a while, in a parent's life, comes a happy and beautiful moment when you realize that the things you're striving to teach your little ones are actually sinking in and taking root. "Good things about God" -- those are exactly what we are praying that her open eyes are learning to see, wherever she goes. I felt proud and humbled and very, very thankful.

Happy Pentecost!