I’ve Just Had an Apostrophe

If you’ve never seen the Robin Williams/Dustin Hoffman awesomeness that is Hook, track it down and watch it.  Laugh uproariously when the truly wonderful Bob Hoskins says the above line.

What he means is “epiphany,” which is “a moment of sudden revelation or insight.”  It’s also a Christian holiday that falls on this coming Tuesday and officially ends the Christmas season.  (That’s right, technically we’re still in Christmas—that’s where the 12 Days of Christmas concept comes in, because Epiphany falls 12 days after the holiday proper.  Take that argument to your altar guild when they want to take down the poinsettias before the first of the year, hah.)

Epiphany is definitely one of the secondary holidays of the Church year with some murky beginnings (you can look them over at the Catholic Encyclopedia, where the answer “we don’t really know” is given in some of the best scholastic jargon around).  This may be because the Eastern and Western churches have had, shall we say, a rocky relationship and Rome wasn’t all that keen on borrowing “Eastern” holidays, or it may be because it took so long for anyone to figure out exactly what the point of the holiday was.  (Man, I love church history.)  The long and short of it, though, is that this is now considered the day when the Magi get to reach the nativities in living rooms all over the world (except mine, because I never got around to setting mine up this year—for shame, I know) and Jesus and the Gentiles (represented by the terribly not-Jewish Magi) hang out and introduce themselves.

I don’t know how “sudden” 12 days is, but this is the revelation:  hey everybody, this Kid’s for you.

As a Gentile, I’m pretty happy about that.  (I think there may actually be some Jewish blood several generations back, but once we got to the States, the families pretty much agreed never to speak of Ye Olde Eurasia Land.)  So this holiday, beyond allowing me to switch the altar cloth from blue/purple to white/gold, gives me an entrance ticket to the possibilities of this Kingdom ushered in by this Baby we just spent four weeks preparing for.

I’m relatively new to this holiday, despite having grown up with Catholicism in the mix of denominations around the house(s), but I like the idea.  I like that we have Christmas, on which the outrageous scandal of a God born as a human baby happens, and then we have this next holiday on which we get to focus on the outrageous scandal of that baby God having been born for everybody.  The nativity, once the Magi have arrived with their mostly useless but fancy presents, represents the fact that this new Kingdom ushered in by this crazy God is for all—Joseph of David’s line for the hardcore Jews, Mary for the womenfolk, the Magi for the non-Jewish humans, the shepherds for the lower classes, the animals for the whole of creation, all gather to marvel at this new mewling boy that will somehow change the world.

Talk about faith.

But we, in the 21st century, get to know that He did change the world.  Whether you believe all the things people say about Jesus or not, you have to admit He did pretty much shake things up; the West would not be the West without the general concept of Him.  (And in some ways that might be better, to be honest, but that’s because we’re human and we suck at interpretation and kindness sometimes.)

So Epiphany falls on a Tuesday this year, which is a pretty unremarkable day in my life.  I know friends of mine will be having choir rehearsal, and maybe some other friends will be gathering for games, and we’ll all of us be going to work, and hopefully I will bully myself into doing the dishes that are probably soon going to gain sentience in my kitchen.  Mundane—but then, this thing of which we’re mindful was a baby born in a stable; perhaps not mundane, but most definitely unremarkable.

Except that God makes even the most unremarkable things remarkable, if He has a mind to.  So, on Tuesday, take a minute to find the amazing parts of your life.  If you’re into the God-thing, find the God in your life, or in yourself.  If you’re not so much down with that, just find the moments where you can stop and say, “Damn.  This life thing is kind of incredible.”  Let me know about it; I’d love to hear where that happens for you.  I’d love to hear your epiphanies, Reader.

And your apostrophes.

 

And [the wise men], having heard the king, went their way; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.  And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and worshiped him; and opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.  (Matthew 2:9-11, ASV)

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Lessons of Ladybugs

Every weekday, I have to be at work at 8 a.m.

What this usually translates into is me rolling into the office at about 8:10, 8:15…8:25.  Today was an 8:25 day, mostly because I couldn’t even haul myself out of bed until about 7:45.  I’m entering my third week of no days off and quite literally only being in my house to sleep.

I do it to myself, I know, but whatever my choices or lack of choice or job or calling or anything, I’m running out of steam.  This is not helped by my ear acting up again and my having a concert on Sunday in which I have a solo (and let me clarify why that’s A Thing:  I do not have solos.  I do not do solos.  The concept of singing in front of a large crowd of people by myself is freaking me out to such an extent that I’m treating it like a Tyrannosaurus Rex:  if you don’t move, it won’t see you [and I don’t care if that’s not true, Jurassic Park taught me that and I’m sticking with it]).

All of this is to say that I don’t anything clear to say, because when I get super tired I have real difficulty focusing on the life-giving parts of my day-to-day routine, and I also just stop talking to God.  I don’t have much to say to Him, which is bad because at least I could complain at Him about how tired I am, I suppose, like I am to you.  But I feel like, at this stage, it’s more that moment when you just take a day with a friend and marathon mindless films together, not really talking because each of you knows the other is beat.

Well, I’m beat, anyway.  If God is beat, I think we’re all in trouble.

So anyway, instead of continuing to tell you in one hundred different ways how I have constructed a life that is slowly draining my lifeblood in the name of things like “experience” and “duty,” I will instead tell you two things:

1)  Next month is NaNoWriMo.  If you don’t know what that is, I encourage you to poke around the site and explore.  Short version:  write 50,000 words in 30 days.  I’ve been doing this for years now (and even hit the mark once), and I’m planning on doing it again this year, so be prepared for me whining about how my characters refuse to cooperate with the very clean path of plot I wish for them to walk.

(I hear it now—but Christiana, didn’t you just say that you’re so very worn out and it’s all your own fault for adding things?  Isn’t this adding a thing?  Yes, it is.  See also “life-giving activities,” which I really, really hope this will be.  Because if I continue to live a life in which I’m only taking minutes for meetings and creating spreadsheets of averages, I may lose my soul.  I’m only partially exaggerating that.)

2)  There is, at this moment, the zombie apocolypse of ladybugs outside of my office window.  Yes, this is noteworthy, because this is the third or fourth time in the last week or so that there have been literally hundreds of ladybugs swarming my building, buzzing distractedly against the window I hurriedly close so as not to be finding their shell-corpses in my light fixtures for months.  Is this a farmer’s almanac type thing, that tons of ladybugs means there will be a bad winter, or a mild winter, or a confused groundhog?  I don’t remember ever seeing them like this, which then makes me chuckle about having somewhere passed the threshold of being able to say “I don’t remember” as though I have a memory bank large enough to actually measure things like this.  Yet I sit in my office with the teetering stacks of flattened tree pulp sacrificed to our need to document each other for an accountability we grasp distrustingly and I hear the one ladybug that got in before I could shut it out.  She—or he, for how does one tell?  Am I not also one who dresses outside of what is considered my gender and expects others to allow that without confusion?—is up in the blinds at the very tip-top of my long rectangular window, desperately trying to escape to the wide sky s/he can see through this mystifying mostly-clear force field.

The thing of it is, though, that I know s/he won’t go out if I open the window.  This happens with all of the insects that find their way into my office (since I usually have the window cracked to remember that there is air in the world not cycled through decades-old vents dripping cobwebs of crystallized dust particles); I don’t know whether they’ve injured their minds by banging against the glass or whether the sudden intake of wind confuses them, but they don’t leave.  They often fly in the opposite direction until I take a piece of paper and scoop them out, hoping they remember the power of their own wings before they hit the ground four floors below.

Ain’t that a peach, though, to fall directly into a well-worn comparison?  Way to interrupt the movie marathon, God—for how on earth shall I judge the ladybug?  Do I not also stand right next to the open window and fly my little self the other direction?  There are a couple of areas being highlighted in this time of no rest, no sabbath, in which I find I cling fiercely to outdated perceptions, expectations, and reactions that are actually wounding me as I wrap myself around them.  I will be one of the shell-corpses in the light fixture, and yet when God and the various people He sends show me the way out, I refuse.

I can only hope, then, that when He decides to scoop me out, I remember He gave me wings enough not to hit the ground below.

 

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  (Exodus 20:8-11, ESV)

Because Heaven Has Jesus

It’s been amazing to watch the rolling waves of reactions to the death of Robin Williams earlier this week and the conversations beginning about what it is to understand those battling with depression and addiction.  I don’t know if it holds true for other parts of the world, but this country is awful at discussing things like that—we are the country that loves those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps, we are the country of the lone cowboy riding off into the sunset, and we are the country that does not readily tolerate the idea that some things are not in our control.

I come from a family with many and varied addictions and understand the debilitating blackness that is depression.  Neither are favored subjects of mine, and one of the many reasons I loved Robin Williams so was that he was not afraid or ashamed to say this exists, this is a problem for me, and I am working to be more than that.  It is a special kind of bravery not only to name that which holds you tightly but also to understand and proclaim that there is more to you than this, there must be more and it deserves being seen.

My mother called me earlier this week, heartbroken at this news (of course, she still believes Princess Diana is not, in fact, dead but on an island somewhere having faked the thing because she tired of the paparazzi; my mother loves her celebrities deeply and does not deal with loss well).  She had recently seen Heaven Is for Real and wanted me to reassure her that Robin Williams was in heaven and that this film about heaven made it true, that it would be a place God would love to invite Williams.  (No, I’m not okay with being her go-to for all things religious, and honestly I would appreciate your prayes as I figure out what God is wanting me to do with that aspect of this relationship.)

I’ve not seen “Heaven Is for Real,” so I don’t know how believable or anything it is.  Here’s a summary, in case you haven’t heard of it.  What Mom wanted from me was an answer on whether I believed this boy and whether God loves those who commit suicide, which are two different conversations but point back to an uncertainty about this looming death, this awfully big adventure.  The best thing I’ve found to answer the idea of how the Church (in this case, the Catholic branch) views suicide is here.  As to the idea of whether or not I believe the original story of the kid who went to heaven, I realized I don’t much care.

I mean, if the kid went to heaven (since it’s based on a true story), cool.  Far be it from me to say that God stopped being able to transport living people like that (*cough Elijah cough*).  But if not, that’s fine too, because I think sometimes people need the idea of heaven being lovely when earth is less so.

The thing of it is, though, that we get really caught up in what heaven looks like and who all is there.  We want to map heaven, which is kind of silly if you think about it, especially considering how much difficulty maps here have introduced.  Does heaven have clouds?  Golden streets?  Kids with wings?  (I hope not that, I’m really not a fan of kids—and flying kids would just be awful.)  Sure, why not.  I doubt one person’s heaven looks exactly like anyone else’s heaven, partially because physical won’t mean the same thing and partially because I don’t think a loving God would make me spend eternity in your Pepto-Bismol pink cotton ball.  I realized I don’t really have much of a concrete belief in heaven beyond “yup, there is one.”  I have a few more ideas on hell because I read up on it, but even that I don’t think about it in a visual sense.  (Odd, considering how spatially oriented I am.)

But the other piece of it is that the kid in the film and my mother were both really concerned about who was in heaven and who wasn’t.  Is Robin Williams in heaven?  I’d be delighted if that were the case, and I do very much hope so, but that’s kind of not my area.  God called Peter to stand at the gates, not me.  (At least, that’s what all the jokes say.)  And the bigger thing for me is this—if we keep our stories and our hopes of heaven about the people we miss, we’re missing the point.  Yes, it will be super awesome to see lost friends, and I can tell you there are a lot of historical figures I demand to head to the heavenly Starbucks with me for very long conversations.  But, with apologies to Sartre, I don’t think heaven is about other people.

Heaven is about God.

Think about it:  in heaven, you get to hang out with the Deity Who created you forever.  There is no more second guessing, no meetings that interrupt either of you, no miscommunication because God had a nebulous Facebook status that ticked you off, no phone calls He has to take, no worries about whether the way you phrase something will upset Him.  You and God are totally present with each other.

How freaking cool is that?!?!

Cartoon by David HaywardI am not heaven’s bouncer (thank goodness), and I have no doubt I’ll be utterly surprised by the people I meet there.  But for right now, I have been given the commission to create a bit of heaven right here, in the Kingdom that Christ built (with the rat that ate the malt) by being present with us, His beloved creations.  I have not been asked to decide what happens after people’s deaths—I have been tasked with going to them while they live and saying hey, I’ve noticed you, do you need anything?

Reader, do you need anything?

 

 

Some of the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the kingdom of God come?”  Jesus answered, “God’s kingdom is coming, but not in a way that you will be able to see with your eyes.  People will not say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ because God’s kingdom is within you.”  (Luke 17:20-21, NCV)

People of the Books: Dracula by Bram Stoker

I realize this isn’t quite the expected review to pop up in a religious blog in July; in my defense, I did read it around Hallowe’en (told you I was way behind on reviews).  It’s one of those books that are classics not in the sense that everyone had to read it in school (looking at you, The Great Gatsby) but in the sense of everyone kind of knows what it is and references it a lot but usually hasn’t actually read it.

So I picked it up…somewhere…years ago and finally said, “Yes, I will read this.”  And I did.  All 502 pages of my incredibly poorly edited Scholastic edition.  But it rewards return; I would come back to it when I finished other books and it welcomed me to the story with never a word dropped or confusion on re-entry.

Here’s the thing.  Of the history of spoiler alerts, Dracula reigns pretty high up there.  If you live anywhere near anything having to do with the U.S. or England or Western civilization in general, you know Dracula is a vampire.  (And if you didn’t know that and I just spoiled it for you, know also that the Titanic sinks, Moby Dick is a whale, Gandalf isn’t dead, and Superman is Clark Kent.)

You may also know about Lucy’s fate, because this book has spawned films, books, musicals, plays, satires, and spin-offs of spin-offs of spin-offs.

Bram Stoker being a genius comes in the face of this–how can a book be a thriller when everyone knows who and what the bad guy is? I don’t know; I don’t know how he does it, because I am not a genius. But Stoker (in his Victorian fifty-words-are-better-than-five way) actually does build tension. He draws out the relationships around this shadowy villain; shadowy not least because Dracula really doesn’t figure in much of the book. The best kind of thriller is the one where the evil/monster is juuuuust offstage most of the time, where the only hint you have is the hairs standing up on the back of your neck because when you turn around, there’s nothing there.

Stoker can do that.

He’s also a genius in writing style. This would never have worked as a straight-up prose narration, so we get the story through people’s diary entries, through letters, through telegrams and newspaper clippings and memorandums to friends, through doctor’s notes and meeting minutes. We get the life of the story, and that helps make the characters themselves feasible. They explain that they’re writing because they have a moment and want to record this fantastic horror, and we believe them rather than feeling the presence of The Author needing us to know something.

Yes, there are all sorts of idiotic moments of women being frail and simple and men being burly and stupid, because it’s Victorian fiction. If you can’t handle pre-feminism, don’t bother. You’ll be missing out, though, because this truly is one of the weirdest love stories ever. The men are stupid because they love in their own stuffy English way. The women are beautiful in their simple strength, shining at the end as they step to the front of the cast to really drive the narrative. And sexy sexy Dracula (because really, snacking on the bare throats of sleeping women while their loved ones are IN THE NEXT ROOM? If you missed the innuendo there, you haven’t been paying attention to the Victorians) who stealz ur ladiez is just brilliantly understated and creepy in his present absence.

But why is this on this blog?  Because the entire concept of Dracula is that he is evil, represents evil—this is why he’s not so good around things like crucifixes and sunlight (although the garlic thing is a mystery to me).  Evil, in Stoker’s world, cannot co-exist with good and will be utterly destroyed by it.  The travesty of Dracula turning Lucy is only partly because now she nibbles on kids:  most of it is that her soul is now kept from God in the worst kind of hell her over-protective and clueless menfriends can imagine.  The language when she is freed (again, spoiler alert) has everything to do with this dichotomous knowledge of Good and Evil:

There, in the coffin lay no longer the foul Thing that we had so dreaded and gown to hate that the work of her destruction was yielded as a privilege to the one best entitled to it, but Lucy as we had seen her in life, with her face of unequalled sweetness and purity.  True that there were there, as we had seen them in life, the traces of care and pain and waste; but these were all dear to us, for they marked her truth to what we knew.  One and all we felt that the holy calm that lay like sunshine over the wasted face and form was only an earthly token and symbol of the calm that was to reign for ever.  (285)

In the 21st century, thankfully we are trying to stop thinking about women as sweet and pure puppets, but we’ve also kind of stopped thinking of evil as a real thing.  It’s a concept, a nebulous malice Out There.  And I think Stoker had hold of something in making it a very concrete and present person—partially because Dracula is a good villain, but partially also because the idea of Evil in the world has a lot of reality to it for folks who have faced it.  Not to get all evangelical on you, Reader, but I have met the minions of the Adversary, and they are pretty intense.  I think we do ourselves a disservice if we scoff at embodiments of evil—not that we should all start believing in vampires, but that we should understand that the things that go bump in the night really aren’t just chemicals in our heads sometimes.

I’m totally down with modern science and I’m not calling for the return of burning demoniacs, don’t worry.  I just think that books like this that acknowledge the idea of calling God “Savior” comes with the idea that we are saved from something are worth reading.

Also, it’s just a really decent thriller.  (Except for the ending—seriously, Stoker, WORST LET-DOWN EVER.  It was so incredibly underwhelming I wanted to throw it across the room.  WHAT HAPPENED, STOKER?!)

 

Rating:  4/5 stars

God’s on Film

I know, it’s not every day you get a strange 80s metal reference, especially about a song as risque as Girls on Film.

So, Christian films are usually not that great in terms of cinema.  I’ve seen the Left Behind films, The Omega Code, Fireproof, and others.  So I count myself qualified in saying that, at least when they’re blatantly faith-driven, Christian films kinda suck.

So seeing the film God’s Not Dead surprised me because, well, it doesn’t suck.  It’s not Dr. Zhivago, for sure, but it has actors who I believe might be human, a script that doesn’t sound like it was written in ten minutes for the children’s sermon, and mostly decent cinematic understandings of camera placement and direction.  (Mostly.)

Christian film is a tough thing because it’s usually fairly low budget without much star power, but also because it sits at the uncomfortable intersection of entertainment and information.  Trying to do both is incredibly hard, which is why summer blockbusters rarely cause introspective journeys and focused documentaries rarely sell out worldwide ticket counters.  But this film manages to be somewhat entertaining and also gets its message across without too much of the AND THEN YOU REPENT BECAUSE JESUS DIRECTED THIS FILM Gospel stuffings faith films tend to have.

The premise is a little irksome—arrogant philosophy prof challenges wee baby Christian freshman to prove God exists.  I say “irksome” because I’m tired of the dichotomy of faith and academics—trust me, not all professors are atheists, and definitely not all atheists are professors.  But as the film goes on, it does start to address the fact that Christians don’t have to check their brains at the door—in point of fact, some of the most beloved theologians were brilliant scholars in their own right (C.S. Lewis and the entire cast of the Middle Ages, for starters).

So I liked the film, but there were 4 main things that made this film just that short of really good:

1)  Villains:  The thing that drives me totally nuts about Christian films is that the characters are horribly flat.  The good guys are always a little rough around the edges but basically nice at the core, while the adversaries are freaking Satan (until they learn to love Jesus).  “God’s Not Dead” gives a little more dimension than usual, but it still draws a giant black line of division in case you missed that the atheists were The Bad Guys.  While it does make script-writing easier, that’s crap.  I know a lot of good, funny, moral atheists (and Jews, Muslims, pagans, agnostics, etc.).  I also know rather a lot of asshole Christians.  People are grey like that, and it’s so frustrating to me when Christian films flatten out those complexities as if saying “Yay Jesus!” flips some kind of personality switch.  It doesn’t.  Trust me.  I still have my fair share of bitchy days and really great days, and so does everyone else.

2)  Other faiths:  The presence of other faith systems in Christian film is rare.  Usually it’s the general non-believers and the Christians, which is again totally not how the world works.  This film introduced an Islamic family—yay!—and proceeded to make them intolerant, harsh, and—well, I won’t spoil it, but the outcome of that subplot isn’t good.  Which is such a foolish move on the filmmakers’ part, because it’s not like Christianity and Islam are BFFs to begin with, so slamming their faith onscreen when they would be crucified (!) for doing the same to yours is just mean.  And unnecessary.  We’re not getting anywhere as a global culture if we continue to caricature each other.  It has to do with respect, not agreement.

3)  Believers:  Seriously, not every Christian has memorized the Bible.  Or has the perfect words as a gift from God at exactly the right time.  We’re not that smooth.  Trust me.  Sometimes, it happens, and this film tried to have a believer who wasn’t totally “on”—but she was so obviously “off” that I couldn’t take her seriously.  Again, grey areas, y’all.

4)  Conversions:  It’s just not a Christian film until some unbeliever comes to the light.  I get that, and that’s fine, but conversions are hard to film because staging them inherently ruins the authenticity and impact.  I get the point of the conversion in this film (I’d say spoiler alert, but really, you know it has to be there).  But that scene was AWFUL.  SRSLY, EVEN I CAN’T SUSPEND MY DISBELIEF THAT FAR.   I would definitely spoil things if I explained why the big climax scene was stupid and fake, but I will say that there is no universe in which I could buy that particular exchange actually happening (well, actually there is one, but no one wants to be around that universe.  It’s annoying).

All of that being said, I reiterate that I liked the film.  It was well done, and entertaining, and I have a particular love in my heart for the main Newsboys song because I first heard it at camp and it was intense.  The biggest thing that stuck with me, though, is that at the end of the film the audience is asked to text “God’s not dead” to everyone they know.  And, as the credits rolled, the couple in front of me actually started doing so.  I was blown away; no way could I even think about doing that, not because I’m afraid of the repercussions but because I can’t do random, out-of-context texts (they irk me) and also because I can’t do bumper sticker theology like that anymore (thanks, Interpreter).  But man, it was both utterly dismaying and super cool that this pair was systematically going through their contacts informing them that God has not, in fact, kicked the celestial bucket.

What a fascinating conversation starter that would be if you had a contact who didn’t know that already.

So go see it, if you get a chance.  Then come tell me about it; I’d love to hear your reaction, Reader.

101 Dalmatians and Thank Yous

Reader, this is my 101st post.  Craziness!  It has been a little over 2 years of whining, celebrating, questioning, hoping, encouraging, rambling discovery—and I thank you for your part in it.

Thank you for reading.  Thank you for responding.  Thank you for relating.  Thank you for laughing.  Thank you for subscribing.  Thank you for thinking.  Thank you for letting me talk.  Thank you for never asking my real name.  Thank you for “liking.”  Thank you for giving me space to wander.  Thank you for never posting slams.  Thank you for telling others.  Thank you, sometimes, for not telling others.  Thank you for never using what I share against me.  Thank you for allowing me to be religious.  Thank you for allowing me to be not religious.  Thank you for letting me give you names that might not be your own.  Thank you for encouraging me if and when you meet me outside of cyber space.  Thank you for being patient when my brain isn’t as poetic as I’d like it to be.  Thank you for reading the book reviews as well as the more obvious posts about myself.  Thank you for coming back when you can.  Thank you for thinking of me.  Thank you for praying for me.  Thank you for calling me.  Thank you for discussing things with me.  Thank you for not discussing things with me and simply letting me know you know.  Thank you for not judging.  Thank you for writing compliments.  Thank you for your diversity.  Thank you for your experiences.  Thank you for being patient when I’m having technology issues because I don’t get these newfangled inventions.  Thank you for letting me geek out about medieval things.  Thank you for understanding that I do this because I don’t know what I’m doing, not because I necessarily have an outcome in mind.  

And, as the remaining 68, thank you to each and every one of you subscribers, whether you actually read this every week or whether it gets buried in your inbox, and thank you to any who read this without subscribing but simply stop by when you have a moment.  Blessings to you, Reader, and may your own journey be as filled with support, love, and characters as mine is.  I don’t know where this is going, but I am beginning to understand the beauty of getting there amidst the anger and frustration and lostness.  Let us see where the next milestone lands.

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.  I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now.  (Philippians 1:2-5, GNT)

People of the Books: The Hem of His Garment by Argye M. Briggs

I have no memory of how I came into possession of this volume, but it has seen better days.  The dust jacket was literally crumbling to pieces as I read it, dated as the blurbs of praise that laud this as a “rewarding book particularly for young women.  But older women too will find inspiration…in these crowded, pulsing pages.”  So says Dr. Daniel A. Poling, who most likely only minored in condescension.

And that’s the thing of this book—The Hem of His Garment has to be read with the awareness of the crumbling dust jacket.  It was written for a Calvanistic Christian publisher by a southern schoolteacher/mother in 1951, so yeah, feminism is scarce.  But that doesn’t make the characters any less real.  As a 21st century schoolteacher without kids, I did indeed have a hard time connecting to a main character whose life revolves around her children and wanting to be a good mother.  But I have been in love, and I know what it is to want to make someone else smile, to have that smile make your whole day brighter because their happiness adds to yours.

In my job, one of the hardest things for me to handle has been the fact that it’s an admin position, and pretty much everyone at my level is a white, older female, so people look at my job and say “secretary.”  I can’t even begin to tell you, Reader, how much that annoys me, how much I just want to shake the professors who call me their secretary or the people who talk to me as if I need shorter sentences so I can understand them.  A part of me wants to add “M.A.” to my nameplate on the door in silent, constant protest against the idea that what I do makes me less, somehow, than the rest of the “academics” in the department, in the university, in the town.

So to come back to this novel, where the main character is so bent on making her husband happy and so focused on being the perfect 50s woman after a less-than-stellar childhood, is hard.  Here is everything I don’t want to be, or be associated with, even though I totally respect the amount of things that women of that era got done.  Yet here, too, is kinship; Sharon marries one of her teachers, a move I very much wanted when I was in high school crushing on my calculus instructor.  She gets so focused on making the people around her comfortable that she completely misses the simple but strong faith of her grandmother-in-law, and glosses over this Jesus Guy to Whom her husband’s family is so connected.  She breaks.  She rebuilds.

Yeah, I don’t know anything about any of that.

This isn’t a stellar book.  In fact, most of the characters drove me nuts in their Pleasantville aspects, because I don’t know or understand that culture.  But I do understand the desperate frustration underneath of trying to be perfect and failing miserably, of being broken but wanting so badly to be healed that even grazing a Healer’s clothing is good enough.

The opening third or so of this actually read a lot like Joyce Carol Oates’s The Gravedigger’s Daughter, in that choppy uncertainty that keeps you off-balance as much as the characters.  It’s not nearly as dark, though, no matter the many (many) times the main character’s “dark” side is discussed, the Evil Sharon that comes out and is disobedient or surly.  Also, the Christian overlay—especially toward the end, to fit the title—felt shoehorned in, as if Briggs remembered almost too late to make the relationship with God explicit.  She would have done better to leave it at hints, I think, and let the power of that run on its own steam.

I don’t know that I recommend this as anything other than a curiosity, but I do appreciate the reminder that even the people with whom you have nothing in common are walking this walk, figuring things out, falling and rising, and seeking Someone Else, just like you are.  We are bound by our thirst for this, we secretaries and professors and housewives and preachers and mechanics and executives and human-born humans.

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars