Thursday, August 20, 2009

gone, long gone

My beloved laptop, Ivan's Brain, has finally died. It's going to be a week or two before I can get another computer (happily it's near the time of year when my husband's work sells off their old ones), so I'm mostly email-less. Just wanted to let folks know - I have access occasionally, but won't be posting much for awhile, and will probably be slow in answering emails and comments and such.

On the other hand, without blogs to read or emails to check or time-wasting forums to be tempted by, the mental silence during the day is proving remarkably refreshing. I have the feeling God has some things to say to me about how computers are "tools and not for toys meant/take and use at Christ's employment". I'm planning on listening. (I've learned it's best to listen when He has something to say.)

But I wanted to explain why I'm not around much online right now.

Hope you all are well!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica snell

Monday, August 17, 2009

What I've Been Reading, Part III

Part I was here, and Part II was here.

It’s been fun to keep track of what I’ve been reading this year. Even though I’m so behind on my list of “what I want to read” (I still have Christmas gifts I haven’t read yet – yeeps!), it shows me that it’s not that I haven’t been reading.

I think it shows me I’m a distractible reader. And it also shows me that good as my intentions are regarding non-fiction (and there is non-fiction I really, truly love), I’m a fiction-lover at heart.

-Lord Valentine’s Castle – Silverberg, Robert. This was one that my husband and I read together during our evening chores. It was long. Silverberg is a great world-builder, but it was long.
The Surgeon’s Lady – Kelly, Carla. I love Kelly’s writing. She’s the best romance writer living, for my money.* Kelly’s characters win my heart, every time. This book was no exception. Kelly is also a historian, and so her books are always well-researched. But unlike some historical writers, the books are always more character-driven than research-driven. Great writer.
The Other Queen – Gregory, Philippa – this was staid, as Gregory books go, but interesting. It was about Mary, Queen of Scots, unhappy woman. My only disappointment was that the most interesting character never appeared in person, but was only written to (but, of course, Gregory was compelled to that by the historical record).
Handle With Care – Picoult, Jodi – great writing, as always, though there were times when the exposition was a little too obvious (“I cut myself because it’s takes my attention away from my emotional pain”), and I thought the ending didn’t work. But worth the read anyway for the fascinating situation and well-drawn people and setting.
Hood – Lawhead, Stephen. Lawhead’s reimagining of the Robin Hood legends. Fun.
On a Whim – Gunn, Robin Jones. More on Gunn’s old characters and enjoyable.
The Scarlet Pimpernel – Orczy, Baroness. I was skimming this for research, and ended up getting caught up in it again. Didn’t read it word for word, but was enjoyably preoccupied for long, long passages. Made me want to read more about Sir Percy and his band, so I have El Dorado out from the library right now. If you haven’t read it, do. (And also – and maybe first – watch the movie version with Anthony Andrews and Ian McKellan.)
A Thousand Words For Stranger – Czerneda, Julie E. A new sci-fi author! The people rejoice! Well, new to me, anyways. This was really good. I’ve never read anyone who has imagined better alien races than Czerneda. The biologies and cultures she comes up with are fascinating. Also, she mixes her sci-fi with romance, and that’s a combination I always approve of.
Survival – Czerneda, Julie E. More Czerneda, different series. Also good, though heavier on the “sci” than the above novel.
Little House in the Big Woods – Wilder, Laura Ingalls. This was read with my eldest daughter, and it was lovely to read it again. Am I the only one, though, who’s read this through as an adult, and suddenly identified more with Caroline than with Laura? My goodness, that woman worked!
The Hunger Games – Collins, Suzanne. I would recommend this with a caution: it’s gruesome, and it gave me a book-hangover for several days. It is, however, well-done and thought-provoking. Makes you consider what you’re doing when you watch reality television and makes you ponder the morality of getting pleasure out of watching others suffer. (Even if in our world, unlike in the world of her book, people willingly consent to suffer on those shows.)
Ties of Power – Czerneda, Julie E. The sequel to A Thousand Words For Stranger. Also good.

* I would warn readers of this blog that Kelly is published by Harlequin, so there are what you would call “warm” passages here and there. But, fwiw, they’re consistently after the couples in her books are married (I can think of one exception, and that was a flashback of a reformed character, and it was in the one romance of hers that I ended up not liking), and tend to be well-handled (as these things go, and no pun intended). I’ve gotten the impression that she’s a Mormon, and hence her standards on not having unmarried characters sleeping together. Never read that explicitly, but that’s been my impression.


Never Silent: How Third World Missionaries Are Now Bringing the Gospel to the US – Barnum, Thaddeus. This was probably the best book I read, in this recent batch. It’s about the men who started AMiA (Anglican Mission in America). They were, largely, Rwandan, and they started this outreach to beleaguered orthodox Episcopalians because of what they had learned from the Rwandan genocide. (Not kidding. These men are amazing.) What they learned was, when evil is being done, Christians must never be silent. Seriously, this is an amazing and humbling story.
The Bilingual Edge: Why, When and How to Teach Your Child a Second Language – King, Kendall and MacKey, Alison. I skimmed a few chapters in this (the ones that didn’t apply to our family’s situation), but got a lot out of the rest. Very encouraging reading for anyone who doesn’t want her kids to grow up monolingual.
The Midwife – Worth, Jennifer. I’m sure this was fictionalized, but it was mostly memoir, so I’m sticking it in the non-fiction section. It’s the account of a midwife who worked with Anglican nuns in the docks of London. There are some great stories in here, including one about a couple who had a successful marriage, raised over twenty children together, all without ever learning to speak each other’s languages. Ha!
The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite – Kessler, David A. This was an analysis of why Americans overeat, especially the brain chemistry of why. Basically, his explanation is that we’re addicted, and it’s the ubiquitous combination of salt, fat and sugar (layered on more salt, fat and sugar) that addicts us. You may think he’s excusing our behavior here, but he doesn’t. Instead, he explains that, like any addict, there is behavior modification we can engage in to change our habits. Fascinating.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Writing Tricks: Beginning a Novel Before the Beginning

When I go back and reread novels I’ve written, I usually find that the first few chapters aren’t very good. They start with back-story instead of action, or the characters seem a little too cut-out (i.e., Handsome Lord Eligible meets Lovely Lady Marriagable). By about the second or third chapter, the story picks up steam, and I know who the hero or heroine are, and things get interesting. But oh! those first few pages always need a lot of work when I get back to them.

And I hate rewriting. I do it, but I hate it, and in this current novel project, I am doing everything I can think of to minimize the rewriting that’s going to be required after I finish it. But, on the other hand, I need the experience of writing those first ten pages to get to know my characters. It’s how they come to life for me.

So I’ve thought of something that – I hope – will solve my problem of slow or cliché beginnings: I’m going to start writing the story a chapter or two before it starts.

For instance, the story I’m writing now starts when the hero is arrested. He and the heroine are traveling from Paris to Calais when the Treaty of Amiens is broken, and an order goes out from Napoleon to arrest every Englishman in France. (This really happened, btw, and trapped a couple thousand tourists overseas for years.)

You can see why the book should start there, right? It’s where the action commences! It’s the first big disaster!

It’s exactly where the reader ought to start the story. But I am coming to see that it’s not exactly where the writer should start the story. I need to start a couple of days earlier, when the hero and heroine leave Paris. I need those hours in the carriage, where they have a few casual conversations, getting to know one another (suitably chaperoned, of course). I need to see what she notices in the countryside they’re passing through and what’s going on in his head as he prepares to see his family again.

Even though I think I know these two characters pretty well, I need ten or so pages of writing their dialogue, transposing their thoughts and observing their body language before I drop them in the middle of the first disaster. Because when the curtain goes up and the action starts, I want to know exactly how they’ll react. Not how I’d react, or how Cardboard Lord Wonderful would react, but how these two – how Thomas and Eve – will react to being suddenly caught on the wrong side of a war.

I bet it’s going to be exciting.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Links: homeschooling, Spock, and all of us doing our duty

As I've designated August my official month of "Homeschooling: Time to Get It Together, Jess", I really, really liked this post on Homeschoolers and the Modified Stationary Panic. Plus, I mean, it references Patrick McManus, how could you go wrong? (Hat tip to Anne Kennedy.)

Jen's post on Duty Before Holiness is worth reading and thinking about.

I think I want to try these buried treasure rocks with the kids.

I like Anne's post on children and work. (In many ways, it seems to go with the theme of Jen's, above.)

Don't you wish you had a "Spock Rocks!" afghan? After watching the Wrath of Khan ("Khaaaaaan!") with friends this weekend, I'm really digging this crochet masterpiece.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Objections to the "diversified parish" at Blessed Sacrament, Placentia

This is my take on my parish’s plan for a “diversified parish”, outlined in this blog entry by our rector, Fr. David Baumann. (Fr. Baumann also wrote about this plan in the Living Church, but the only copy of that article which I could find online looked like it had been illegally copied, so I won't link to it here.)

Since I'm going to be explaining why I disagree with this plan, I want to preface it first with this: from everything I know of him, Fr. Baumann is a good man, who cares deeply about his parishioners and loves the Lord Jesus. Though I disagree with him on this matter, I want to emphasize that he's a good pastor, and I have no doubt he means the best by everyone he meets. He also has years more experience than I do in the Episcopal Church. Though I’ve done my best to study everything that’s come into my hands about this situation, it’s almost certain that I’m still ignorant about parts of it, and likely that I’m ignorant about my ignorance.

Enough to say that:
1) I don’t doubt Fr. Baumann’s good intentions, or those of the discernment committee. These are good people, and being in a parish with them has been a blessing in our lives. We’re sorry to leave. We'll keep praying for them and I have no doubt they'll continue to hold us in their hearts.
2) I hold my opinion firmly, but I know that I’m not an expert in ecclesiology. Please don't take my words on this as the final words on the subject. It's very difficult, and my guess is that I'm not right about everything. Forgive me for anything I get wrong.

I am deeply affected by my parish’s plan though, and that’s why I’m posting my take on it. Sometimes I feel like I oughtn’t to have an opinion on it, but that’s like being in the 13 colonies and not having an opinion on the Revolution. Hopefully this post will be helpful to other people as they think about these issues (I know my thinking has been clarified by talking to and listening to people I disagree with).

Also, going back to my first point above, it’s my impression that this plan was adopted precisely because the leadership of our church cared so much about the community. It seems to me that the desire to hold the community together was what led them into this plan. Because of that, I’d be interested in hearing what readers who don’t share that motivation (i.e., don’t know the parishioners involved, and so don’t feel motivated to keep them together) think about this plan.

(In my opinion, this plan fails partly because it puts community above theology, when community can only come out of a shared theology. But, again, I could be wrong.)

[edited to add: comments on thos post have already taught me that I put the above statement badly. Please see below comments - especially comment 4 - for clarification.]

If that sounds like a lot of caveats, well, it is. I'm trying to say "I love you" and "I disagree with you" at the same time, and I'm not sure that's ever easy.

I suppose the first thing to say is that I believe that the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) and the Roman Catholic Church are different entities for profound theological reasons. I think the biggest problem with the “diversified parish” is that it assumes that we can meld these three entities into one simply by saying that we’re going to do it. I don’t think a church can simultaneously be Episcopal, ACNA and Roman Catholic, and I don’t think that Blessed Sacrament has the ability to make it so just by saying it’s so. Our fiat doesn’t have that power.

I think my friends who disagree with me would say, “but we’re not all one church; we’re just one parish.” And my answer to that would be that one parish ought to all be one church, or what’s the point? We meet every Sunday because we like each other? (That sounds sarcastic, but it's not meant that way - I really don't understand my friends' reasoning at this point.)

“’I have consistently rejected the common but always ill-fated rationale, "Their heresy demands our schism.’”
←I have disagree, because I don't think that a Christian who is not a Roman Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox can logically call schism because of heresy an "always ill-fated rationale".

“We have had about half a dozen vocations to ordination in the past four years.”
←We have, but he fails to mention that in at least two of those cases the candidates were unable to be ordained in the Diocese of Los Angeles precisely because of the candidates’ orthodoxy.

“We recognized that putting the decision to a vote would be disastrous. Voting assumes at the beginning that there must be a division with "winners" and "losers. We rejected any decision in which there could be winners and losers. "

<-- My experience as a member of the parish was that "rejecting any decision in which there could be winners and losers" wasn't possible. I believe that the leadership really wanted it to be possible, so they declared that it was. However, refusing to hold a vote didn't get rid of the disagreement, it just disenfranchised those of us who disagreed. In essence, it meant that, denied a vote at the parish meeting, the only option we were left with was voting with our feet.
-Also, refusing to have a vote meant that those in favor of the "diversified parish" had only to present their plan; they did not have to vigorously argue for it. Voting would have subjected the plan to rigorous examination. However, instead of working on convincing people of the wisdom of this plan (as would have been necessary if it was going to be put to a vote), the plan was simply imposed.
I can see how such imposition would sometimes be necessary in church governance but I wish the leadership would have called this what it was.

although details still have to be worked out"
<-- this one phrase masks a load of difficulties. The truth is that, at the present time, only one group of the three really has a home at Blessed Sacrament, and that group is the Episcopalians. Everyone else is being asked to be happy with less than a whole church. To my knowledge, the ACNA group has so far tried at least two different ways to be in ACNA and still at Blessed Sacrament, and neither has worked out. It's still unclear if anyone in ACNA will be willing to take this part of the parish under its wing, while still being willing to let them be part of an Episcopal church. Maybe it will happen, but hasn't yet.
Also (and I know less about this), as far as I know, the Roman Catholics in the parish, while they have priests who are willing to let them take communion in an R. C. parish but attend mass (without taking communion) at Blessed Sacrament, are permanently stuck as half-members, unable to take communion with their fellow parishioners.
So, while those remaining Episcopal have a home, the other two groups do not. In other words, the idea of a "diversified parish" has yet to prove itself possible in real life.

-Also, it’s not mentioned in this article, but most of the people I’ve talked to who are in favor of the plan admit that it’s a temporary solution; the consensus (!) seems to be that it’s going to buy them about five years at most, and that will only be true as long as we keep the same rector and the same bishop.
The problem with this is twofold:
1) Five years is a long time to spend with such a makeshift solution. How many kids is that going through adolescence in a compromised parish? How many people is that that I don’t invite to my church because I feel it’s not a good place for new converts? Those two reasons alone – the hostility of this environment for new Christians young in years and the hostility of it for new Christians young in the faith – should be enough to push us to find a permanent solution. If we stayed under this model, at the end of five years my eldest would have spent half her life under this “temporary” solution. Half a lifetime is a long “temporary”, yet that’s what the leadership has imposed on the children of the parish.
2) Why wait five years? What changes in those five years? Other than our rector retiring and the situation in the Episcopal Church getting worse, I can’t think of anything.

Finally, there are some things very right about this article. Just one, for instance, is Fr. Baumann's suggestion that those staying act like the ancient prophets in uncompromisingly bearing witness is an apt analogy, I think. I pray Blessed Sacrament will be a very great witness indeed; God bless them as they engage in this ministry.

I guess I would finally add that this remark seems strangely ironic to me:
"The Church that had touted itself in 1992 as being a Church of “no outcasts” has self-contradictorily engaged in “theological cleansing” of traditionalists to the point that its inherent fatal flaw has become obvious."

I find it ironic because for my family, Blessed Sacrament's refusal to either be a traditional Episcopal parish, or a traditional ACNA parish, or even a traditional Roman Catholic parish - in interests of keeping the community together - is part of what has made it impossible for this very traditionalist family to stay there.

Again, I welcome comments, but please keep them civil; everyone involved in this is very dear to me, or very dear to those who are dear to me, and I'd like to keep the discussion centered on the merits or demerits of the plan itself, and not the people promoting it. Thanks.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Almost Done

Next Sunday is our last Sunday at our parish, and though I have a few more things I'm planning on posting about that situation, including our letter to the vestry, I think I'm almost done.

But before I post those last few, I wanted to say something, just in case it hasn't been clear:

I love the people of my parish. When I've mentioned that I'm glad our family is almost out of the Episcopal Church, I do not mean that I'm glad that I'm leaving the people in our parish. I'm heartbroken about that. I don't talk about the heartbroken part that much, because, as someone smart once said: you can't fix normal. I can't make the heartbreak go away - it's a normal emotional response - so I don't talk about it much; I just accept it.

When I say, "I'm glad it's almost over," I mean that I'm glad the stress of it will be over soon. When you've something awful to go through, it's nice when you reach the other side and don't have it looming over you anymore.

So, that's that. I am glad it's almost over. I'm still not glad it's happening.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

thrift store find: advent wreath candle holder

One small part of my vacation - after we got back from the Sierras - was to go thrift store shopping. I love thrift stores, and I've found great stuff there over the years, from pretty things like the beautifully-framed Constable print that hangs in our living room and to ordinary household items, like our bathroom scale.

But this time I found something I've been wanting for about six years now: the perfect candle holder for our yearly Advent wreath.

Ugly, eh? Yes, that's what was on it when I found it at the thrift store: ratty old pink flowers and an incongruous Christmas ribbon. It looked hokey. But I realized that neither the flowers nor the ribbon were permanently attached and underneath them was a simple and serviceable brass candle-holder with a spot for each of the four candles of Advent, and a spot in the middle for the Christ Child candle:

And even the pink flowers helped me see how to use it: with an evergreen wreath in their place, it'll look just right in December.

And I also noticed that when you look at it from overhead, it's cruciform:

It seemed like the sort of subtle, solemn reminder that was perfect for Advent.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Oppressive Week and God's Love

Last week, my family and I went camping in the Sierras (grand and breath-takingly beautiful), and I hope to write about it soon, but before I did, I wanted to blog about something that happened just before we left.

What Happened First
The week before vacation, I felt like I had a hangover from General Convention. We’d left church after arguing with one of the deacons about whether GenCon mattered or not – he seemed to think nothing of the fact that they’d declined to pass a resolution stating that Christ was the only way to the Father. We, of course, saw this as denying the heart of Christianity itself. (To be fair to the deacon, I think he meant that it didn’t matter politically, not theologically. I’d argue about how entwined those two are. Still, not how you want to leave mass.)

Anyway, the week got harder as it progressed. By Thursday, I felt like I was in the middle of a storm. I hadn’t had a day that bad in ages – I felt like I did back in the days when I had a baby or two awake at all hours of the night and inconsolable during the day. I felt like I was getting beat up all day long – really. I remember standing in the kitchen feeling like I was trying to remain upright while someone was hitting me.

It did occur to me at one point “this feels like spiritual warfare.” And I managed several times to cry out to the Lord Jesus, asking for His help. And I believe He did help me: otherwise, I would not have bit my tongue as many times as I did. It would have been a lot worse without His help; I believe He kept a rein on my temper that day, when I was no longer able to. I think He spared my children a lot of yelling and granted them more kindness through me than was in my heart to give.

It was also a swimming-through-molasses day. Every time I looked at the clock, I was dumbfounded by how little it had moved.

Finally it ended. The next day was Friday, and Adam was home, in preparation for our vacation. That day was hard too – I kept wanting to snap at him as well as the children – but his presence was, as always, a grace, and things went a little better.

But that night, one of the babies, Anna, cried for hours after she had fallen asleep. We kept comforting her, telling her it was okay, but she kept waking us with her cries. Then, I myself woke up from a nightmare.

It was a demonic nightmare. It was easy to tell, because it was saturated with that particular feeling of hate and terror. That message of “we are going to kill you; be terrified”. Also it was easy to tell because as soon as I realized what it was, and spoke the name of Jesus in the dream, the demons revealed themselves, jumped at me and I woke up. They always end that way. No demon can withstand the power of Christ.

When I woke up, Anna was crying, and I realized that she might be being oppressed by the same things I was, so I prayed properly, and prayed for her, and told them to leave in Jesus’ name. She slept soundly the rest of the night, and so did I. (I prayed for the rest of the children too.)

What Happened Next
Now, here is where it gets interesting.

The first interesting thing is the dream itself. In it, I found myself in the company of other people who had left the Episcopal Church. Adam and I were living with them, and we were surrounded by the enemy. Once I woke up, I realized that this dream confirmed what my horrible week was about: it was spiritual warfare, and it was about what’s going on at church.

It sounds strange, but having that dream ended up being a relief! Even as I fell asleep afterwards, I was laughing in my prayers, laughing at the cleverness and the frugality of our Lord: He let me be oppressed for a time, but He made even the oppression serve His purpose, by making His enemies reveal why they were oppressing me. (And, as always, by letting the presence of my enemies remind me to hold myself closer to Him.) Truly, He is the Lord of all – even the wind and the wave obey Him, even the storm, even the fallen angels. Jesus is Lord of Heaven and Earth.

The second interesting thing is that back in the middle of that oppressive week, I got a very encouraging email from my mom. I didn’t think much of it at the time – its compliments on my mothering seemed very far removed from my then very cranky self – but it was a bright spot in a hard week.

But on the weekend, I told her about my weird week, and about its culmination in my dream, and she laughed and said, “Oh, that’s why the Lord told me to pray for you! Do you remember that email I sent you? He told me when I sent it that you wouldn’t be able to hear what I was saying, but that I should send it anyway, and not say, ‘you might not see yourself this way.’ That I should just send it. You were on my heart so much, and I prayed for you a lot.”*

Do you see what this means? It means that in the midst of that dry, horrible time, when I felt like the worst of sinners, and was struggling just to take a breath without cursing, trying to be faithful when it felt like there was no point, that AT THAT MOMENT, the Lord Jesus was seeing me and loving me. He was prompting someone else to pray for me. He had not forgotten me.

I know this is true all the time, but it is so rarely I am shown it so concretely. This time though, He gave me the privilege of seeing His love for me. Looking back I can see that in the moment when I felt the worst, when I felt dry and beaten and discouraged, He saw me, He loved me, He helped me. And He was kind enough afterwards to show me that it was so.

I know it’s corny, but I’ve loved that poem Footprints since I was a small child. A beach house we stayed in once had it on the wall of the bathroom, and I read it over and over. And that week, I got to see that the idea I loved as a child was true: in our darkest of hours, when we feel most besieged, our Lord is not just with us, He carries us.

Call on His name, for He cares for us.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*When I was talking to my mom, and asking her what she thought about my experience, she told me she was going to answer like we were back in the village she worked in as a missionary. In that village there was a lot of witchcraft, and things that are usually hidden here in the States were much more open there. (You can read more about the reality of spiritual attacks in Jen's post here. My own take on it is still there in the comments, and the discussion following that post of hers was really good, I think.) Anyway, Mom pointed out that spiritual oppression is exactly what you ought to expect in a church that just coporately denied Christ. Leaving individuals (and even individual parishes) aside for the moment, at GenCon, the coporate church declared that they didn't need Jesus to save them. To be frank, when you take yourself out of the protection of Christ, you're vulnerable to the forces of evil.
-And because of that, I add my second note: please, when you think of it, pray for my friends who are still in the Episcopal Church. The Christians who remain there remain on hostile ground. They are beseiged. It's a dark place to be and they need your prayers. Thank you.