Thursday, May 26, 2016

Giveaway! Win a copy of "Not Alone"

Today, I'm honored to be over at author Anna Weaver's website, sharing a little bit about "Not Alone". The interview includes a giveaway -- please come on over and enter to win a copy!

Here's a little snippet of the interview Anna conducted with me about the book - in this paragraph, I have a chance to explain the book's crazy-long subtitle! :)
The book I'm featuring today is "Not Alone: A Literary Companion For Those Confronted with Miscarriage and Infertility". 

I know that's a mouthful of a subtitle! But we wanted readers to know what they were picking up. 

"Literary" because it's a book of essays. So very many people have shared this kind of suffering and so we wanted to feature a multitude of perspectives. 

"Companion" because the longing for a child -- either one you've lost or one you've never had -- can be a very lonely kind of suffering. We wanted people to know this book was full of people who had been there too, who want to walk beside you in your grief. 

And "Confronted" because this isn't something you ask for. It's something that comes upon you when you never wanted it and weren't looking for it. 

This is a book that doesn't pretend that these things are easy, but also confirms that God is good. And those two truths: that there is real sorrow and a good God who loves us ... those can be hard to reconcile. The contributors to "Not Alone" were really honest about *both*, and I think it's that honesty that makes the book so valuable.

Please head on over to Anna's place to read the rest!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Book Notes: "Grimm: The Killing Time", by Tim Waggoner

"The Killing Time", by Tim Waggoner, is a novel based on the TV show "Grimm", which tells the story of Nick Burkhardt, a Portland homicide detective who has inherited the ability to perceive and hunt down fantastical creatures who can masquerade as human.

I'll be honest: if you're not a fan of the show, this probably isn't the book for you.

But I love "Grimm". It's one of those shows that hires fantastic character actors (the supporting cast is the best part of the show) and lets the writers go wild with their imaginations -- while still making sure to tell a satisfying, compact story ever week.

Reading "The Killing Time" felt very much like watching a good episode of "Grimm". It introduced a new, scary creature to cause havoc throughout Portland ("keep Portland weird" indeed!), and also featured all the supportive teamwork that makes it easy to root for our group of heroes.  I liked the complication that our villain was a shapeshifter; when he took on Nick's identity, it made for some great complications for the good guys and their quest to protect the city.

Content warning for violence and gore, and one implied sexual situation (nothing explicit).

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sanctification & Damnation in Season 7 of Star Trek: DS9

So, we've been introducing our kids to my favorite television series, Star Trek: DS9*, and we've finally reached the last season.

One of the reasons I love this show is that, of all of the Star Trek series, DS9 most seriously engages with the impact religion has on human experience.

Well, ostensibly, I suppose it's on alien experience, but it's no secret that the aliens on Star Trek are stand-ins for various aspects of humanity. Still, while Gene Roddenberry was alive, the Star Trek shows largely avoided tackling the subject of faith. Roddenberry was all about humanism.

And DS9 doesn't abandon Roddenberry's humanism - it's still the main faith (ha!) of the Starfleet characters. But DS9 also gives us the Bajorans, an alien race who place their faith in "the Prophets", the gods of their planet. By taking the Bajoran faith seriously, this show is able to play with a whole new aspect of life. (DS9 is also remarkable in the Star Trek universe for the fact that it stays in one place and doesn't allow its characters the easy out of skipping over to the next star system in their fancy ship, thus avoiding the consequences of their meddling in the local culture.)

DS9 was one of the first shows to use long-arc storytelling on television. You know the long arcs you get now on prestige series like "Breaking Bad"? DS9 did that first. It did still use the "freak of the week" style of episodes you'd get on bubblegum shows like "Smallville" but, more and more as it matured, DS9 pioneered long plot arcs, arcs that pulled in characters, cultures, ideas, relationships, and more into stories that spanned the weeks and months of its broadcast.

This long-arc storytelling reached its zenith in the final season, which tells the story of the final, epic conflict between the Federation (our good guys) and the Dominion (our bad guys).

And one of the most interesting parts, to me, is how it also told the story of those who served the gods well, and those who finally, disastrously, decided to serve themselves.

I love the spiritual themes and the character arcs in this last season of DS9.

One of the best is the arc of Kai Winn, a Bajoran cleric who has been, throughout the series, a thorn in the side of the series' lead, Captain Sisko.

The thing is, that though Kai Winn has been a self-serving, opportunistic, snobby pain throughout the series, she's also been largely sincere. She's a nasty politician, sure, but she's on the side of her people and their Prophets.

But in this last season, she is overwhelmed by jealousy. She has served the Prophets all her life, but what have they ever done for her? They chose a foreigner (Sisko) as their Emissary, and left her to her barren prayers.

And so she is tempted by darkness, by the enemies of the Prophets, and she gives in. The demons, at least, have a use for her.

It's a perfect picture of Milton's idea of damnation: she would rather "reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven".

Her (doomed) character is matched by the character of Major Kira, a devout woman who, despite all her flaws, is willing to offer her service to her gods without reservation. She is always willing to put her body, heart, and mind at the service of something greater than herself.

At a critical moment in the last season, when Winn is most tempted by evil, she comes to Kira, begging for counsel.

Kira, who has every reason to hate Winn (seriously, Winn has done her terrible, irreparable wrong in the past), has the most amazing reaction: when Winn professes her willingness to do the right thing, Kira is happy for Winn. She is delighted at Winn's seeming readiness to repent. Even though she could play the older brother, scowling at the prodigal's return, Kira is clearly blessed by the idea that this horrible woman is finally, finally turning around.

In this attitude of complete kinship, Kira urges Winn to renounce her station, her power, all the public admiration she's accumulated, and simply devote herself to the Prophets' service. Humbly. Willingly.

It's an extraordinary scene. Because Kira is clearly sincere. She is, despite her dislike of Winn, doing her very best to help Winn do the thing that would be best for Winn.

But Winn, who swore moments ago that she would "do anything" in order to please the Prophets, physically draws back at this suggestion that she'd give up her position and power. The conversation is over at that moment, for all that they continue talking a little while longer.

Winn thinks she wants to worship, but she really wants to be worshipped. She wants to be the gods' best servant. The one all the other servants look up to.

It's sobering.

And the lovely thing about it is: it's not the end of the story. No spoilers, but the way Winn's arc eventually plays out is intense and well done.

I'm not suggesting, of course, that the writers of DS9 share my own Christian faith. But I am saying that, in a world made by our Lord, truth shines through everywhere, and especially in good art.  And this is good art, because it shows us ourselves. It draws us in, it delights us, but it also warns us and sobers us.

I wish there were more shows like Star Trek: DS9.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

*With some judicious editing, of course. It's not all fit for consumption by children.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Weekend Links: Pentecost, and more!



"Pentecost" - This is Pentecost Sunday, and Mere Fidelity came through with a podcast all about the day of Pentecost as seen in the book of Acts, and how it relates to the rest of Scripture! Great stuff.

Throughout the Bible, there are specific calls for women to be kind, gentle, pure, and respectful (Prov. 31:26, Titus 2:5, 1 Peter 3:3). We could assume such traits would result in likeability, yet none of these character values presuppose that we’ll make our decisions by prioritizing how to stay in someone’s good graces. Christ’s upside down kingdom, where the first is the last—or perhaps for this example, where the cool is the uncool – doesn’t leave much room for seriously caring about being liked.


-"When Dementia Reveals a Cultivated Love": God help us to have this woman's beauty of spirit at the end of our days.

Have a great weekend!
-Jessica Snell

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Content Creation

this is a real garden

“Content creation” is a big deal these days. You consume content all day long online: articles, listicles, memes … it’s everywhere.

And someone has to make it. And so someone is making money off of it.

Many people, actually.

Anyway, as someone who is a content creator, at least occasionally, I’ve been thinking … there are really two kinds of content.

There’s the content that we create content about.

And then there’s the content that is just itself.

The first kind might be a review of a movie.

The second kind is the movie itself.

And of course, every kind of human creation is derivative in some sense, simply because we are ourselves created beings, and so there's no creation ex nihilo from us ... but still ...

Have you ever run into content that’s about content that’s about content?  I have.

Sometimes I’ll listen to a business podcast and think, “How do you actually make any money? You are making money by talking about how you make money by teaching people how to make money.”

It just gets a little recursive.

I get that some of that is expected, and some of it is even helpful. Yes, you can be a speaker who speaks about speaking. Because surely professional speakers sometimes like hearing someone speak about their own profession.

But it can get a bit ridiculous.

Anyway, where I ended up in my own recursive circle of thoughts was to ask myself: What do I do in my life that is REAL CONTENT? That’s not writing about writing about writing? (Because, um, yes. I do that.)

And here are the first things that come to mind (not in any kind of order):

            -I write fiction. My novels and short stories? Are not writing about writing. They’re just the original stories themselves.
            -I cook. Real meals. That my family really eats.
            -I mother (and have other real relationships, in meatspace. Talking with real people using real words that actually vibrate the real air molecules).
            -I worship. The real Lord. The Creator we all are imitating, in our little tiny self-spun worlds of content creation.
            -I edit. (Yes, this is working on someone else’s work. But it’s making a real difference, just as someone who sands and varnishes a piece of wooden furniture is making a real difference.)
            -I knit. Actual finished objects come off of my needles!

What about you? Do you ever feel like you’re consuming content that’s about content that’s about content? Ever just toss it all in favor of throwing around a football outside?  :D

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Book Notes: "The Dean's Watch", by Elizabeth Goudge

"The Dean's Watch", by Elizabeth Goudge, is a historical novel set in a cathedral city and, as such, it reminded me very much of Susan Howatch's Starbridge series

But Goudge is so much warmer, so much truer, so much more joyful.

You can read my commonplace entry for some quotations that might give you an idea of Goudge's style, but here's a short summary of the plot: 

Mr. Peabody is a watchmaker who has scratched together a creative and satisfying work life while still suffering the depression and spiritual terror that is the legacy of his abusive father. The Dean is a powerful, intelligent, and yet socially shy man who serves God with dedication while lacking (or denying himself) the human connection he craves. Miss Montague is a disabled old woman who has learned how to love, and so changes almost everyone she meets. These cathedral town denizens -- and many more beautifully drawn characters -- all interact in a drama of pain and redemption and sorrow and joy.

I loved this book. 

I have to start with that, because anything else would be less than honest. I didn't know Christian fiction could do this. I didn't know it could be this honest, this real -- and by that I mean that it could be this truthful both about the weird, twisted ways sin hampers and distorts us, while also being gloriously, beautifully honest about the transforming, transporting love of God.
The characters are recognizable. Sometimes even painfully so. Goudge's portraits of unhappy families, and the ways they are unhappy, are so true to life. The big and the tiny things that keep us separated from each other. The ways that we long for each other but just cannot get past ourselves.

The way God sometimes helps us to get past ourselves anyway.

I loved the Dean and his earnest, courageous courtesy. I loved Miss Montague and her endurance.

And for their sakes I even loved the poor Mr. and Miss Peabody.

There were a few weird details that reminded me that I was reading a book from a different time and place, but that's to be expected when you're reading an author who isn't looking through the lens of your own cultural concerns.

But that's the only sour note I can think of, and it isn't even that sour. This is just a spectacular book. I read it slowly, and savored it, because every time I opened it, I felt like I had walked outside into the fresh, rain-washed air. I borrowed it from the library, but I don't think I was even halfway through before I ordered my own copy. It was that good.

Go read it! And be refreshed.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Commonplace Book: quotations from Elizabeth Goudge's "The Dean's Watch"

"The Dean's Watch", by Elizabeth Goudge, is a beautiful book (full review coming tomorrow). I quoted it once already on the blog here, but here are some other quotations I particularly loved:

Could mere loving be a life's work? Could it be a career like marriage or nursing the sick or going on the stage? Could it be an adventure? -ch. 7 

It was then that the central figure of the Gospels, a historical figure whom she deeply revered and sought to imitate, began at rare intervals to flash out at her like live lightning from their pages, frightening her, turning the grave blueprint into a dazzle of reflected fire. Gradually she learned to see that her fear was not of the lightning itself but what it showed her of the nature of love, for it dazzled behind the stark horror of Calvary. At this point, where so many lovers faint and fail, Mary Montague went doggedly on over another period of years that seemed if possible longer and harder than the former period. At some point along the way, she did not know where because the change came so slowly and gradually, she realized that He had got her and got everything. His love held and illumined every human being for whom she was concerned, and whom she served with the profound compassion which was their need and right, behind the Cathedral, the city, every flower and leaf and creature, giving it reality and beauty. She could not take her eyes from the incredible glory of His love. As far as it was possible for a human being in this world she had turned from herself. She could say, "I have been turned," and did not know how very few can speak these words with truth. -ch. 7. 

She lived too close to despair to have any strength left for self-knowledge. -ch. 8.

It was years before he was to realize that a sense of identity is the gift of love, and only love can give it... -ch. 9.

She was slow, too, now that she was old. With time a thing so soon to be finished with, it was right to let the last strands pass slowly through the fingers. One had liked time. -ch. 13.

He spoke of love, and a child could have understood him. He said that only in the manger and upon the cross is love seen in its maturity, for upon earth the mighty strength of love has been unveiled once only. On earth, among men, it is seldom more than a seed in the hearts of those who choose it. If it grows at all it is no more than a stunted and sometimes harmful thing, for its true growth and purging are beyond death. There it learns to pour itself out until it has no self left to pour. Then, in the hollow of God's hand into which it has emptied itself, it is His own to all eternity. If there were no life beyond death, argued the Dean, there could be no perfecting of love, and no God, since He is Himself that life and love. It is by love alone that we escape death, and love alone is our surety for eternal life. If there were no springtime there would be no seeds. The small brown shell, the seed of the apple tree in bloom, is evidence for the sunshine and the singing of the birds. -ch. 17.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)