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More Thoughts from a Weary Worship Warrior

I wrote a post a while ago about some of the chips on my shoulder regarding criticism of contemporary worship. I’d like to revisit it here, but this time to look at some things I think we could do better. And I’d love your feedback and other suggestions in the comments.

Why Do We Do Contemporary Worship?

Some background first, because misunderstanding this one point will lead us down all the wrong paths. Contemporary Worship (or any worship, really) is not about evangelism. It is not about drawing a crowd, or “reaching the young/lost.” Contemporary Worship is about worshiping God in the language people speak. It is about using music and language that people can relate to, and can connect with God through. Because worship (traditional, contemporary, and everything in between) is for believers. It should never have been used as an evangelism tool.

Now certainly, many people do make their first connection to God at a worship service. But that is a happy byproduct. We should not be making decisions about the worship service based on drawing those outside the church; we should be making decisions based on what helps believers best worship God.

Continue reading “More Thoughts from a Weary Worship Warrior”

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Slade House by David Mitchell

Book Score: 2

David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks, and many others, is a very good writer. And his latest, Slade House, has its moments. Sadly, it is only three-fifths of a good book.

Thumbnail summary: twin brother and sister who are “soul vampires” must feed upon an Engifted once every nine years to maintain their immortality. Each section of the book is through the eyes of one such Engifted as they fall under the spell of Slade House and the twins’ operandi.

First, the good. This is an accessible book and a quick read, and the character sketches of the first three victims are interesting. The third victim, a college student named Sally Timms, is the highlight of the book, as you genuinely feel for her plight. It would have been nice to read an entire story from her perspective.

The writing also sparkles at times. When discussing the issue of loss and closure, one character remarks that “Sometimes I envy the weeping parents of the definitely dead you see on TV. Grief is an amputation, but hope is incurable hemophilia: you bleed and bleed and bleed.”

But no amount of clever turns of phrase can breath life into the long bits of expository dialogue that are used to fill in the gaps in the fourth and fifth act. And yet for all the explaining, the final resolution still comes out of nowhere, and not in a good way.

But Mitchell’s worst sin is that, for a ghost story, it just isn’t all that scary. This isn’t as noticeable in the first three acts, when the characters are interesting. But it becomes more obvious as the story grinds to a conclusion, and leaves the reader wondering what happened to the good book he started reading just a few days before.

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Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell: A Review

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

Book Score: 3

Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a short story collection from Karen Russell. I first came across Russell not from her award winning novel Swamplandiabut from a novella called Sleep Donation, which I found to be beautifully written but frustrating. (Read the review here.) Since then, I’ve kept her filed in the back of my mind as an author I should try reading again. When I came across Vampires in the Lemon Grove in the discount stacks at Barnes & Noble (along with Zadie Smith‘s NW  — more on that in the next review), I had to pick it up. And I’m glad I did.

In addition to the titular story about a vampire who subsists on lemons, there are some real standouts here. “Proving Up” is solid ghost story during the settling of Nebraska under the Homestead Act, as the Zegners try to prove their claim. “The New Veterans” is a creepy piece vaguely reminiscent of Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man about an masseuse and an Iraq war vet with a tattoo of his friend’s death day across his back.

But for my money, the best was the unlikely “The Barn at the End of Our Term,” a farce where deceased US Presidents are reincarnated as horses. It is fun and funny, yet somehow also melancholy and sad, as the Presidents adapt to their new station. Russell truly shines in creating a believable world out of an unbelievable premise.

There were some clunkers too. “Reeling for the Empire” left me flat, and “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Arctic Tailgaiting” felt like filler generated by a creative writing class prompt. But overall, the collection is solid. Definitely worth your time.

Catching up

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences: A Review

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagán

Book Score: 1

A couple years ago, I decided I wasn’t reading enough women writers. So for about a year, I read nothing but women writers. It was a good experience. I’ve backed off a bit, but I still read a lot of women. So should you.

A few other things to set up this review: I get most of my books from Amazon, I like discovering new writers, and I’m cheap. And if you didn’t know before, Amazon does a crappy job of separating real literary fiction from pulp fiction. This isn’t all bad news. It’s how I ended up finding Liane Moriarty. Not all fiction that sometimes gets labeled as Chick Lit is crap. But some of it…ugh.

All that to say that sometimes I find myself accidentally reading the bad kind of Chick Lit. The Lifetime movie kind of Chick Lit. And Life and Other Near-Death Experiences is one such book.

Libby Miller finds out she has a rare form of cancer. Then her husband of eighteen years comes out as gay. On the same day. FML. Seriously, Pagan could have just called the book that and it would have been a better title.

Libby proceeds to wrestle with mommy issues (her mother died of cancer when Libby was a child) and relationship issues as she decides whether to seek treatment or just let nature take its course. She runs away. A romance ensues. But she comes out of the experience a better person. Of course.

This probably isn’t fair, since I’m clearly not the target audience, but I found myself hoping Libby would just die already at several points along the way. The writing is fine as far as it goes, but the story is beyond manipulative. It’s pure pulp. Just don’t. You know, unless pulp is your thing. Then by all means, enjoy!

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In My Solitude

Some backstory: my friends (and now my blog readers) know that I struggle with depression. This summer, with all the rains we had here in Tampa Bay, was especially not good for me, so my doctor and I thought it might be time to tweak my meds. But instead of just upping my dose (since there are unpleasant side effects when the dose gets too high), we added something else on top of what I usually take. And it’s worked wonderfully for the depression. But it also wakes me up between two and four o’clock every morning. And not just “roll over and go back to sleep” wakes-me-up. Wide awake type wakes me up.

So I’ve been puttering around the house a lot in the middle of the night, trying to be productive, but trying to stay quiet too. I’ve also spent a lot of time just sitting. And I’ve learned a good bit about solitude this last month or so.

  1. I like it! Actually, that’s not quite right. I already knew I was the kind of person who liked and needed alone time. But what’s been surprising is that I go to bed looking forward to getting up at 3 AM. That I like it that much.
  2. You have to prepare for it. It doesn’t really matter what time I go to bed; I’m still waking up around the same time. And I still need to get a decent amount sleep. This means I have to go to bed earlier than I’m used to.  And when there’s a good ball game or movie or whatever, I do sometimes have to remind myself of #1.
  3. Dogs do not understand it. Seriously, I love my dogs. But they don’t understand that just because Dad is up at two in the morning, doesn’t mean it’s time to play and bark at the neighbors. So we’re still navigating how to handle my furry companions.
  4. The biggest distraction to well-used solitude has always been me. Even when the dogs settle down, and house is quiet, and I should be able to sit and just be, too often I can’t. I can’t shut off the internal monologue. But when I do — usually around four — it’s very rewarding sitting here in the library, with just me and my tinnitus. It is peace.

So I encourage you, if you can, to disconnect and try to find solitude once in a while. It is rejuvenating. Even if the dogs are still annoying.