Back to Hackney’s: The Sequel

I really did write a sequel to Hackey’s Novel Shop. There was more that had to be said. You can’t stop Art and Thinking and all that sort of thing, you know.

Back to Hackney’s

Clouds loomed and the wind lashed against the glass front doors of the Novel Shop (B. Hackney, proprietor). Someone scurried in from the wet and cold, jangling the bell above the door. It was the recently-celebrated author Faith Tritely, whose book A Heart’s Cry had made a big hit in the Christian fiction market. “And I owe it all to Hackney!” Faith would say fondly.

Today, as she shook the water from her coat and umbrella, she looked around the shop inquiringly. It wasn’t like Hackney to leave her waiting.

“He’ll be here shortly,” a clerk assured her. In a hushed voice she added, “It’s been a trying day.”

In a few moments, Hackney himself appeared. He looked dapper and, as always, delighted to see her. But there was a tightness about his mouth that concerned Faith.

“Is everything right?” she asked.

“Yes, yes, quite all right.” He paused, and drew an elegant hand across his brow. “I had a difficult customer with the most unsettling requests. Gave me a turn. How refreshing to see you, my dear Ms. Tritely!” His smile returned. “Am I to hope you’re here to announce…” He paused significantly.

Faith beamed. “Yes! I’m going to do a sequel!”

“Marvelous news! Congratulations!” Hackney cried. “Let’s waste no time! What can I do for you?”

Faith hesitated. “The story has been coming to me almost unbidden. I can see if unfolding in my mind’s eye. I hope it isn’t… I hope you have…”

For a fleeting moment, Hackney’s smile slipped. His face took on a white-lipped look of ferocity. But almost as soon as it came, the look vanished, replaced by his usual good-humored expression. Faith told herself that she must have imagined it. “Tell me, Ms. Tritely. I’m confident I can help.”

She began diffidently, but soon warmed to her subject. “Well, the story concerns the daughter of my first heroine. I think I’m going to call her Angeline – you understand the reference, of course?”

“Of course!”

“Well, her father has died in a tragic accident, and Angeline feels compelled to discover his roots. Her quest takes her to the South — the war-torn, ravaged South, still on its knees after the fire and blood of the Civil War.” She paused for breath. “She’s inherited a derelict old mansion, you see. Along the way, she meets a nice young minister. But their carriage is held up by a irreverent young highwayman who heeds to pleas not to steal her money, but demands her amethyst necklace and a kiss from her.”

Hackney’s smile was genuinely sunny now. “And that highwayman is really a courageous fighter for the poor – ”

“ – against the false minister and his band of thieves and thugs, yes!” Faith exclaimed.

“And the Christian message is – ”

Together, they sang out, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart!”

Faith gazed at him in amazement. “Mr. Hackney, you are truly astonishing!”

Hackney bowed and beamed. “I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to do business with you. Now, let me show you our war-torn South settings!”

They headed for the green door with the gold lettering. But before they reached it, the sound of a muffled bell stopped Hackney abruptly in his tracks. He whipped around, and Faith saw it again — that expression of white ferocity. He glared over her shoulder, and she turned quickly to see who could warrant such a passionate dislike from the affable Mr. Hackney.

It was a middle-aged man, dripping from the rain, still with his hand on the bell to keep it from ringing out. He saw the look that Mr. Hackney gave him, and didn’t seem surprised. He let go of the bell and gently closed the door behind him. Every line in his body begged an apology before he even spoke.

“I’m sorry to disturb you. Just one more question…”

“Leave my store!” Mr. Hackney warned.

“Just one thing, I won’t take much time, just one question -– ”

Mr. Hackney was breathing hard through his nose. “I do not sell settings of small towns without dark horrible secrets.”

“I know, it’s not that -– ”

“And I do not sell good-hearted heroes who are nevertheless thirty-five pounds overweight.”

“Yes, you told me that -– ”

“I do not sell short, plump heroines with bad teeth!”

“That isn’t -– ” But the man interrupted his own protest. “But why not? I mean, I live in the twenty-first century, and my teeth are terrible. You know teeth in earlier eras had to be hideous. They probably didn’t see it as the stigma we would…” He saw Hackney’s expression and quickly added, “But I didn’t come back to discuss that. What I want to know…”

Suddenly remembering Faith, Hackney blushed a deep red and turned to her. “I apologize, Ms. Tritely. I should not have subjected you to my own temper like this. I apologize profusely.”

But Faith understood now. Imagine coming into this store and asking for bilge like that! “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” she snapped. “This is a highly-respected fiction store. It doesn’t carry imperfect and… ugly merchandise!” She turned to Hackney. “I completely sympathize with you. My audience wouldn’t want to read about a plump heroine with bad teeth, honestly!”

The man looked frustrated. “All I want to know is if I can buy one of your heroines.”

Hackney and Faith looked at him suspiciously. “Which one?” Hackney asked. “You didn’t like any of my stock.”

“The brown-haired one, with blue eyes.”

Still suspicious, Hackney replied, “She is flawless and beautiful, with perfect teeth.”

“Yes. All I’m going to do is give her a prominent nose.”

His ire flared again, and Hackney waved at a clerk. “Show this man out! Get out of my shop, sir!”

“But we aren’t all beautiful,” the man protested, backing away from an advance of clerks. “Wouldn’t it be inspiring for readers to identify with a… a pleasant face who can attract… no, wait, listen… attract love anyway… you write Christian romances –- doesn’t God use even the ugly and defiled to show His beauty?” he finished desperately.

The effect was electric. The clerks stopped in mid-stride. Hackney and Faith stared at him, then at each other, in wonder. The man looked from one awe-struck face to another, and suddenly seemed to realize a great horror. He sagged against the doorframe and groaned. “What have I done?”

Hackney called to his head clerk. “Sam! Get the warehouse on the phone! We need to discuss a design for a new heroine. What was it, brown hair, blue eyes, and a prominent nose?”

“But good teeth,” Faith added quickly. “No need to make her repulsive. Just plain.”

“Until love brings out her beauty,” Hackney added. “Why have I overlooked this aspect all this time? Ms. Tritely, I would be honored for you to be the first to use this new line of heroines.”

Blushing faintly, Faith stumbled, “Oh, Mr. Hackney! I –- The possibilities are thrilling! I’d imagined Angeline with raven-dark hair and flashing blue eyes, but she could be plain instead. Until the highwayman sees her inner beauty, and that’s how she finally realizes that God sees it, too!”

They fell into eager conversation, until suddenly Hackney looked up. “And we must thank you,” he said graciously, turning to the man.

But the man was gone, the bell jangling harshly after him. “What have I done?” he was heard to groan as he staggered into the driving rain.

Faith looked at Mr. Hackney, who gazed out the rain-spattered door after the man. “A strange man,” he murmured. “But even the strange ones can come up with a good idea every now and then.”

***

My soul now rests in peace.

Hackney’s Novel Shop

About ten years ago, I read a book that made quite a big splash in the world of Christian romance. It still comes up in conversation occasionally; it deeply resonated with some women.

I guess you could say that it resonated with me, but not exactly in the same way. I mean, those other women felt validated and even healed of past wounds. I, um… well, I wrote a parody of it.

Hackney’s Novel Shop

The bell tinkled as an author pushed open the front door and walked into the shop. The proprietor looked up and smiled. “May I help you?”

The author didn’t answer immediately. First-timers were always a little overwhelmed by the shop. Finally, her eyes stopped on the large, friendly-looking sign above the check-out station:

Your One-Stop Shop for People, Plots, and Places
B. Hackney, proprietor

“Can I help you find something?” B. Hackney prompted gently.

As if shaking off a daze, the author said, “Um, yes. I’m writing a novel.”

Hackney nodded, still patient.

“And I need… well, pretty much everything. A friend recommended me, said you could set me up.”

“My pleasure!” Hackney exclaimed. “May I ask who I have the honor of serving today?”

She blushed slightly. “I write under my pen name, Faith Tritely. You’ve never heard of me.” With a lift of her chin, she added, “Yet.”

“Delighted to meet an up-and-comer, Ms. Tritely. If you’ll follow me, let’s start with the setting. That dictates the rest of your choices, you understand. Can’t have a Southern belle in an ancient Persian palace, for instance.”

Faith’s eyes lit up. Hackney shook his head firmly. “No, no, I don’t at all encourage mixing-and-matching. Very rarely works. Best to stick with the package. Trust me, all our settings have been great successes.” He moved quickly across the floor to a large, ornate door. It was painted green, with gold lettering that said, Settings and Backdrops. Opening it, he ushered Faith inside.

It was an expansive room, with floor-to-ceiling rolls of tapestries. Faith looked at the nearest tapestry: it was a green-and-gold forest scene, with a large castle just visible through the trees. A crowd of colorfully-dressed people made their way down a winding road to a village market in the distance, past a row of thatch-roof cottages.

“That’s our Medieval setting,” Hackney said. “Very, very popular.” Indeed, there were a few threadbare places visible here and there, especially around the castle, the tourney, and the romantic moonlit bower. “Is your novel a medieval one?”

“No,” she said, regretfully turning her eyes away. “No, it’s a California mining town, circa. 1850.”

“Ah! A popular choice as well.” Hackney pulled down a roll and gave it a firm jerk. The tapestry spun off and settled on the floor, where Faith studied it with a pleased smile. It was all there: the dusty air, the muddy streets, the ramshackle houses. Horses plodded along with fully-outfitted cowboys on their backs (most of the cowboys wearing red bandanas and brown hats). Along the bare dirt Main Street were four wooden buildings: the Bank, the General Store, the Jail, and the Saloon and Brothel.

“I’m going to need a church in mine.”

“Certainly! That’s an add-in for only $1.49.” He fished in a plastic bucket and pulled out a white clapboard church with a steeple. “And a school too?” he added, holding up a red schoolhouse.

“No, just the church. Thanks. This is exactly what I need.”

“Great!” said Hackney. “I’ll have them wrap this up for you. Let’s move on… Characters, would you say?”

They stepped through the green door, and Hackney led the way to another door, this one painted yellow and marked, Characters, Main and Supporting.

This room was smaller, but brightly lit. Several round racks were hung with full-size cardboard people. Faith read the signs posted above each rack: Heroines. Heroes. Best Friends. Master Villains. Minor Villains and Thugs. Assorted. One rack proclaimed, Clearance! The rack was full of soft, plump, lacy Victorian heroines and hard-edged misogynistic action heroes.

She looked through the Heroine rack, taking her time with the decision. She finally narrowed it down to the tall, slender, red-haired one with flashing green eyes, or the tall, slender, golden-haired one with the alabaster complexion. “Just so hard to decide!” she said. “But I think I’ll go with this one.” She lifted off the blond heroine. Hackney smiled and set it aside.

“Now to heroes,” he said.

This choice was easier: “I’d know him if I saw him on the street!” she exclaimed, thumbing through the choices. “And here he is, exactly.”

“Ah, the tall, broad-shouldered, hard-bodied working man, with blue eyes and dark hair,” Hackney noted, and propped the hero next to the heroine.

“Now for the villain,” Faith said.

“We have several popular Master Villains in stock,” said Hackney. “Here’s the rude and shrewd one… No? Here’s the violently angry one… Not that one? How about this one, the polished and polite, sinister one? Yes, definitely a good choice. You’ll see that he comes with three free phrases: ‘My dear, you look lovely; Oh, my, what a temper you have!’ and ‘I do hate to have to make things messy!’”

“Perfect!”

“And today we have a special. Buy one Master Villian and get a Minor Villain half-price.”

The offer was too good to resist. She chose the dumb, dirty, and violent Minor Villain.

For the next hour, Faith browsed the other racks. She finished with an impressive collection of supporting characters, including a Villain-Who-Reforms, an entire set of The Benevolent Family (“they take in my heroine when no one else will,”) a Loyal Friend, a Wise Friend, and a “Uses Heroine For Greedy Schemes” Villain.

“Excellent, excellent!” said Hackney. “I’ll have these wrapped up for you. Before we move on, please look through this bin of Motivations. Our customers often find helpful tidbits there.”

She ordered the Deeply Hurt and Iron Will cards for the Heroine, and the Sensitivity and Understanding cards for the Hero. Hackney smiled, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Do you have any pre-packaged scenes for my particular setting?”

“Oh, do we!” Hackney replied happily, and led the way to a large shelf along the back of the main room. “Let’s see, 1850s mining town… Here you go. This entire section contains applicable scenes. You’ll see that your Motivation cards have a colored dot on them. The scenes are color-coded to reinforce the Motivations.”

It was a happy half-hour as she sifted through scenes to include in her novel. She chose a Childbirth scene, complete with flustered husband, serene wife, and pots of hot water. For the Hero and Heroine, she chose a Playful Run Through the Field (useful for breaking down the Iron Will, according to the scene’s specifications). She found several brothel scenes, and chose one with world-weary harlots exchanging hard-edged dialogue during their off-hours.

“Just one more thing for now,” said the author. “My novel is a romance…”

“Say no more!” Hackney led the way to a pink-painted door marked Romance and Erotica. This room looked much like the Settings room, but was quite stuffy. The far back of the store was obscured by an opaque fug. “Light romance or…”

“Light,” Faith said quickly.

Hackney walked up to a roll marked “Western” and pulled off a length of bright red. It steamed slightly in his hands.

“Um, it’s a Christian romance…”

“Right. We’ve got those.” Hackney re-wound the red and turned to another roll. He pulled off a shorter length of pink, which was merely warm to the touch. “How many do you need?”

“Well, none of them too long, but a lot of them throughout.”

“Great! I’ll have those wrapped up for you. Now, if this is a Christian romance, you’ll want to look through our Morals box and see if there’s anything that will help you. Self-Sacrificing Love is a very popular, as is Knowing God By Falling In Love.”

At last, laden down with packages, Faith watched a clerk ring up her purchases. The price pleased her. “This is so much more economical. I heard that J.K. Rowling had a lot of her stuff customized, and it was over the top expensive.”

“Yes. I always recommend going with the pre-fab, at least when you’re starting out,” Hackney agreed.

As he escorted her to the door, he said, “If you need anything else, please come back! We’ve got a new shipment of Crisis and Catharsis Scenes coming in next week. Great for resolving relationship problems quickly.”

“Yes, thank you!”

“And remember,” Hackney added, “we have a special buyers’ program for sequels.”

Faith Tritely’s eyes glowed. “I’ll be back,” she promised.

**

And then I wrote a sequel!

Fifty Shades of Fiction

pexels-photo

Am I coming out as a secret fan of Fifty Shades of Grey?

Well, the books began as a fan-fiction retelling of Twilight. I will say that I don’t like Fifty Shades as much as I liked Twilight. 

And I utterly despise Twilight.

No, I’m not a fan. I did try to read the first book. The writing was abysmal, the characters were intolerable, and having been fed toxic patriarchy in my younger years, the forced-submission stuff made me want to cry. A good sex story shouldn’t make you cry.

So why have I linked to the video below? Well, sorry, it’s actually not as salacious as secret sex dungeons and thinly-veiled abuse. I’m linking to one section of it where he talks about fiction vs. reality, because I think this is an area where people haven’t really thought through things.

I’ve heard many times, “How can a woman support the #metoo movement against sexual harassment when she reads things like Fifty Shades of Grey?” Or any erotic fantasy, really, because the genre so often blurs the line between consent and compulsion. This argument frustrates me. What people enjoy in fiction is often exactly the opposite of what they want in reality. In fiction you want conflict, drama, danger, and uncertainty. In real life, you want trust, reliability, peace, and security. Granted, I look askance at the fact that Fifty Shades was ever so popular because, really, it’s a very terrible series on many levels. But I don’t think that enjoying erotic fiction means a woman has no say in whether her boss can pat her butt or require sexual attention for her to keep her job.

The video explains it better, though. Why do we look for situations and stories in fiction that we don’t want in real life?

If you’ve got time, I recommend watching the whole thing, because he goes on to take apart 50 Shades (book and movie) and explain why it doesn’t work even in the context of fiction.

(Note: I have friends who like Twilight and Fifty Shades. Especially for Twilight, it really seemed to hit people on some deep level while they were dealing with difficult issues in their lives. I have no idea why, mostly because they can’t tell me either. They like it, I don’t, we’ve agreed to disagree.)

The Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention

“Your an example of why women should stay silent.”

The putdown was posted by some brilliant wit on Twitter. I said it better, and more grammatically, in The Fellowship:

“I don’t think God wants me to stay silent if I see something out of line.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. God hasn’t appointed you to a position of authority. He doesn’t expect you to do anything except obey.”

In both scenarios — one real, one fictional — a young woman was questioning a pastor about his teachings. And in both settings — one real, one fictional — the challenger was shut down.

The Fellowship takes place in a small Southern cult, where the women must wear long dresses and can’t work outside the home. Not very many people have lived in that specific setting.

But I guarantee you’re familiar with the story as it unfolds.

My newsfeed has been full of the scandal of Paige Patterson, misogynist ex-president of Southwestern Theological Seminary. If you aren’t caught up, here’s the statement by the Board of Trustees of Southwestern as to why they fired Patterson. And well they should have. But what about all the years leading up to this? Surely someone thought he was going too far when he counseled wives to return to abusive husbands? Or any number of other questionable teachings?

On a related note, I’m not Catholic, so didn’t follow the fallout of their abuse coverup very closely. I never was part of Sovereign Grace Ministries, so that didn’t register on my radar much either. But I almost could have lifted my novel material from those scandals.

Meanwhile, the #metoo movement, highlighting the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and sexism, proved the downfall of several prominent men in the entertainment and political realm.

It’s all the same story as my little Southern Bible cult. No one could challenge these men. They silenced their accusers and protected their power.

Your details might not be the same as my fictional Bekah and her struggle to be a woman under an oppressive patriarchal system. But the structure is the same. Authority without accountability, used to protect the powerful.

This structure enables abuse, encourages misogyny or misandry, and its ultimate goal is to protect the institution over the victim. Every time.

The insult I quoted at the beginning was part of a long Twitter battle in which women tried to engage a pastor (again, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, which is in serious need of repentance and reevaluation — and maybe a good disinfectant). You can read the synopsis here.

That particular aspersion was cast by a supporter of the pastor, but don’t worry, the good Brother gets in quite a few jabs himself. The sexism aside, it’s obvious that the pastor’s goal isn’t to empathize, or even engage opponents in a debate — but to silence the challenges to his power.

When I wrote The Fellowship, I was drawing from my own experience with Bill Gothard (Institute in Basic Life Principles/Advanced Training Institute) and Doug Phillips (Vision Forum), and my husband’s experience with an older New England cult. I kept saying, “My little novel is for a niche audience. Not many people will ‘get’ it.”

Three years later, as the voice of the oppressed grows louder and people are less willing to tolerate injustice from those in “authority,” I now realize that my book joins many others in telling and retelling a familiar story. It’s the story of our time.

 

Men Sin Better than Women Do

The recent “Nashville Statement” by the Coalition for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (catchy name!) has a lot of people in my online neighborhood talking. I discuss a little of it below.

What I’m writing about here, though, isn’t the Nashville Statement, but the 1987 Danvers Statement by the same people. It’s just as much fun.

This statement by the then newly-formed CBMW outlines their views of male and female roles according to “God.” By this time in my life, I can shrug off the Danvers Statement. I don’t ascribe to their inflexible view that women are specifically created to be subordinate to men. Nor do I credit their assertion that God built in “masculine” and “feminine” traits as part of the created order. (Male and female refers to biology; masculine and feminine refers to behaviors. One is mostly concrete; the other changes from culture to culture — or, indeed, from person to person.)

But, one part made me laugh. They’re explaining how men and woman are different (but equal! Except when women want to do things that only men should do). They explain that, as far as the church is concerned:

  • Sin “inclines men to abdicate spiritual responsibility and grasp for power.
  • Sin “inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.”

In other words:

Sinful man: I SHALL BE AS GOD AND RULE ALL! Bwahahaha!

Sinful woman: THE OFFICE OF ASSISTANT PASTOR WILL BE MINE! Hahaha!

Seriously, of all the horrible things a sinful woman can do in a church body, this is the worst you can come up with? What about spiritually abusing other women? What about spreading dissension and gossip to get rid of a leader she doesn’t like? What about ruling her family and/or her Bible study group with anger and twisted Scripture? What about, I don’t know, abdicating spiritual responsibility and grasping for power?

Nope. Just resisting limitations and not using her gifts in “appropriate ministries.”

This is why I don’t credit much of what the CBMW has to say about my identity as a woman. Their vision for me is so very small. I can’t even sin as good as a man does.

 


A thought or two on the Nashville Statement.

If you managed to get me into a conversation about this issue, you’d find me a lot more flexible about it than my evangelical pedigree and faithful-to-the-historical-faith husband would indicate. The conflict between overarching theology and the impact it has on individual human lives is a tension I continually wrestle with.

I understand the theological underpinnings of this statement. But I found a few phrases that I disagree with, and knowing the culture in which these words are drafted and disseminated, I find the small differences alarming.

For instance, I can see the justification for Article 10 if it said:

Article 10

We affirm that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes a departure from historically-accepted Christian faithfulness and witness.

We deny that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is an issue about which otherwise faithful Christians may agree to disagree.

What it actually says is:

Article 10

We affirm that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

We deny that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christrians should agree to disagree.

What this article says is that if I even approve of a homosexual or transgender relationship, it’s the same as denying essential doctrines such as the deity of Christ or his resurrection. It invalidates my “true Christian” qualifications.

(Also, for the record, I don’t consider it “a matter of moral indifference” so stop assigning motives, okey-dokey?)

This statement was signed by some “big names” in Christian circles. They evidently agree that the church must make its people choose between “gays” and “God,” but last year many of them scrambled down from their moral high ground and endorsed Donald Trump as president. They were willing to approve of a man who doesn’t even pretend to adhere to traditional Christian sexual mores, just to preserve their political power. I find that blatantly immoral.

Back to the point — isn’t it seriously overstating the case to place one’s view of sexuality as an “essential” element of Christian faithfulness and witness?

Not to the CBMW. These people do consider a view of sexuality as central to Christianity. They have a driving need to know who is male and who is female, because their entire theological hierarchy depends upon knowing who is in authority and who cannot, according to God, be in authority.

Otherwise, everything gets all muddled up. You don’t know who is grasping for power and abdicating spiritual responsibility, and who is just sinfully discontent with the imposed limitations of their role. And the world just can’t take chaos like that.

Picking Over the Bones

Tasty meat bone

Discussing a First 5 devotional by Wendy Pope.

I wouldn’t be so bad at Bible studies if they weren’t so irritating.

Granted, I am irritating too. That’s why I’ve steadfastly declined any invitations to Bible studies for the last several years.

But someone shared this “devotional” in a group I’m part of, and in a moment of weakness, I clicked through.

And what do you know — it’s from Irritating Bible Studies for Women, vol. 3!

It’s actually one of a series of devotions called “First 5,” which feature the writings of Lysa Terkeurst and (according to this one) Wendy Pope. I really know nothing about them except reading short posts like this one.

You can click on the link above to see the entire post. I’ll discuss excerpts. Irritably.

Today’s Bible Reading: Job 15
“The “friendly” dialogue between Job and his companions enters round two. Eliphaz is quick to continue his criticism and his retort is quite intense. … Job is suffering; therefore, he must be wicked.

If this is the warm and fuzzy encouragement that comes from a friend, I would hate to meet an enemy of Job’s. But, there is some wisdom sprinkled in.  If we read closely, we can find some ways to help us stay right with God. [emphasis mine]

Okay! Let’s come to a screeching halt right here!

This method of “Bible study” teaches us that we must pull out some kind of personal application from every passage. It ignores the narrative arc of the story, ignores the themes, and even the soaring poetry. It’s a mechanical process that separates ideas from their context, leaving a spiritual nutritional value about equivalent to a pile of picked-over chicken wings.

“Eat the meat and spit out the bones” is glib advice given to those of us who call out bad teachings. It means to reject the bad but keep the good. And you know what? That’s a good way to starve.

Quick recap: The book of Job tells the story of a very righteous man who was devoted to God. “Oh, sure,” says Satan, “that’s because he’s rich, he has children, he’s in good health. Take all that away and see how devoted he is!” So, the story goes, God allows Satan to rip away everything from Job except his life — and even that was miserable because of the boils that broke out all over his body.

As he lay suffering, three of his friends come to sit with him. They all indulge in long-winded monologues that always come to the conclusion that Job must have done something wicked to deserve these calamities, because God rewards good people. Job maintains his innocence, although he does rail against God for the unfairness of everything. In the end, God rebukes the three “comforters” for their faulty understanding of the God of the Universe, and commends Job. Doing “righteous things” doesn’t always mean you actually know who God is.

What this devotional author, Wendy Pope, does is take a bone-filled speech from one of the “comforters” and pick out the little bits of meat. Now, I’m not really arguing with a lot of her points here. Yes it’s good to be wise, to seek God, to listen to the older generations. But to take this story and turn it into a lesson on how to do the right things so we don’t lose God… 

Seeking wisdom from God builds our relationship with Him.

Fearing God keeps our relationship with Him spiritually healthy.

Prayer and a daily commitment to the study of God’s Word are key components to maintaining a right relationship with God.

In the end, our desire is to become more like God, and wisdom from those older than us can be of great benefit.

Hang on, choking on some bones right now.

Starting from a faulty foundation lends itself to bad advice. After all, this “wisdom” comes from someone who doesn’t, in fact, understand Job or God. So Pope has to conclude,

Lord, I want to be a friend who speaks truth in love but I also want to be a friend who receives truth whether it is spoken brashly, rudely or with refinement. My desire is to become more like You no matter what the cost. I long to be completely devoted and always revere You. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

No.

I reserve the right to reject “wisdom” from someone who lacks compassion, or whose intent is to hurt or control. “He’s says good things, even if his way of saying it is abrasive.” That’s not to say that I dismiss everything a person says; but when it comes to seeking out wisdom for my own life, I will find it from people who are safe and who care about lifting burdens, not adding to the ones already on my heart.

My recommendation is to skip the devotional and read Job. Find a pastor or seminarian… or heck, even a poet… who understands structure and story. If all you get is mechanically-processed Bible verses with no sense of their context, you’re left with the idea that you have to do a lot of things — including allowing people to hurt you — because you want to keep God on your side.

Job’s comforters would be thrilled with this a pile of mostly-meatless bones.

And I find that irritating.

The Fable of the Two Game Players

The other day while playing the game Castles of Mad King Ludwig, I decided to challenge myself by playing what I guess could be called a Phantom Double Solitaire version. (The official rules don’t actually spell this one out.) I set up a second “player” to build a castle against mine, and we’d see who won.

I, Player Green, always gave myself the first choice for which room tiles I wanted to buy. I also got to choose my own bonus cards (the bonuses at the end often decide the winner). Player Yellow got to buy whatever she wanted to, but only after I did. She also got bonus cards, but I didn’t look at them so I didn’t know which tiles would actually maximize her points.

Other than those two conventions, we both stuck to the rules. I played Yellow’s turn with as much dedication to winning as I played Green’s.

In the end, Player Yellow (the second-choice player) finished in the high 80s. That’s a very respectable solitaire score. As for me, Player Green, I scored one of my highest scores ever, 130.

In my mind, Player Yellow was dissatisfied with our game. But why should she complain? She could start by being grateful she was even allowed to play. Secondly, both of them played the game by the same rules. Thirdly, she got a decent score — not as high as Green’s, sure, but nothing to complain about.

Green didn’t cheat, didn’t do anything to sabotage Yellow. She just played the best she could.

Well, okay, because she always got first choice and got to choose her bonuses — it was easier for Green to get ahead and stay there. Good decisions paid off better, good luck went farther. Bad decisions didn’t set her back quite as far.

Put simply, Green had an advantage — a privilege — that Yellow didn’t. And Green won by 50 points.

There’s a not-very-subtle social justice moral to this tale, if you wish to see it.