Thursday, March 31, 2011

Book #8: The Confession

The Confession by John Grisham

I hadn't read a John Grisham book in years (my fiction tastes have changed since high school), but my mom let me borrow this book over Christmas, and I'm all about free books.

It's an interesting plot - three days before convicted murderer Donte Drumm is sentenced to be executed, the actual murderer arrives at a Lutheran minister's office and confesses to the crime. He tells the minister that he has an inoperable tumor in his brain and will be dead in less than a year, so he feels he should confess.

The rest of the book is a frustrating, slow (soooo slow!) paced "race" to get the right people to listen to the right people in order to stop the execution.

I didn't enjoy this book one bit. There isn't any moment where the reader can breathe and relax a little bit - everything is tedious and tension filled. It's also such a blatant platform against the death penalty that no matter which side of the fence you may fall on with that whole thing, you begin to resent Grisham's soapbox speeches thinly disguised as plot.

And my biggest problem with this book? It has the worst ending ever. Ever. I won't ruin it for you, but I was left filled with rage by the last page.

I'm pretty sure I'd made the right decision in avoiding John Grisham novels altogether.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Love Disappointed

I am not good with criticism. I never have been.

I have gotten in more trouble with friends and family about my defensive behavior than anything else (well, that and my completely transparent facial expressions - I have an insanely hard time keeping a "neutral face"). For some weird reason, I seem to perceive any kind of semi-negative opinion as some huge judgment. My hackles immediately go up and I either respond in a snappy "oh no, you DID-n't!" way or I shut up and get paranoid around the person who made the comment.

What's worse, I can literally block out the nice comments that others have made about me and zone in on the one not-so-nice one. Isn't it amazing how we always remember the negative things others have said to us rather than the kind things? I still remember the one time my seventh grade history teacher spoke harshly to me because I was talking in class. I was mortified. And if I ever run into her again, all I'll be able to think is "You yelled at me once."

Stupid, I know, but I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this. I've tried to work on this character flaw as I've gotten older, and sometimes I succeed. And a lot of times, I completely fail.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Jesus as the person that He was when He was on Earth.

What was it about Him (besides the whole being God's Son come down to Earth to rescue lost mankind) that made people love Him so fiercely when He was among them and dedicate their whole lives to Him even after He had physically gone? I tend to forget that even though they were His disciples, those disciples were first and foremost His friends. They traveled together. They ate together. They talked about their lives, their fears, their concerns. Jesus listened to those fears and concerns, and He shared His own with them. I mean, sheesh - they let Him wash their feet. I'm just saying - you've got to be friends with someone to let them touch your nasty sandal-wearing-dust-ridden feet and not be totally mortified.

The thing is - they LIKED Him.

And Jesus wasn't one of those always easy-going friends, either. He wasn't afraid to call folks out on their faults. He straight-up told Peter when he was being a moron (several times), got exasperated and said so when the disciples couldn't stay awake with Him, told the woman at the well that um,'ve had five "husbands," and asked Martha to calm down when she went into psycho cleaning mode.

I read those portions of Scripture and think "would I have smarty pants-ed a reply back to Jesus?" I can't say for certain, but I don't think so.

I don't think so because I don't think that people back then are so different from me. And not one of His friends returned His constructive criticism with insulted rage (or at least the Bible doesn't record it that way). They actually listened to Him. They agreed with Him. They changed.

Why? I think it's because He loved them, and they knew it. They knew it deep in their bones. His reprimands didn't come from a place of bitter annoyance and comeuppance. He knew they were better than their behavior. He made his friends want to be better. They didn't want to disappoint Him, so they tried to please Him.

Of course, that's not to say that Jesus never got angry - He did. He threw some tables across a room in the temple. He even called Peter "Satan" once. If that's not anger, I don't know what is. And Peter, the King of All Hotheads, didn't blow a fuse, slamming doors on his way out. Because he knew that Jesus' anger was pure and justified, and he couldn't argue with that.

There's an Eagles song that says "Anger is just love disappointed." I think that's such a beautiful illustration of righteous indignation, and of the kind of anger that Jesus occasionally demonstrated. He showed us the right way to be angry with those we love.

I'm going to try and bottle up these thoughts in my head for the next time a well-meaning friend tries to point me towards a better version of myself.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

This comes from one of my all-time favorite soundtracks to one of my all-time favorite movies (and books), "Pride & Prejudice."

Mr. Darcy walking through the mist? "I love...I love...I love you"? Intense rain moments? Yes, please.

He can bewitch me any time.

"Arrival at Netherfield" - "Pride & Prejudice" soundtrack

Monday, March 28, 2011

Photo Nostalgia

Something about this photo (spotted here) reminds me of the house my Grandma Iva had when I was really little. I think it's the lighting. Whatever it is, I like it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book #7: The House of Lost Souls

The House of Lost Souls by F.G. Cottam

Ohhhh, this is my favorite kind of fiction - ghosts, romance, sinister flapper-esque settings, dark and stormy nights, and British characters.

The story reminded me a lot of another of my favorite books, The Shining - mainly because the story revolves around the fictional Fischer House, an abandoned house from the 20's (very reminiscent of The Overlook Hotel), that is just inherently evil. Anyone who encounters it either dies in a horrific accident or is left literally haunted by ghosts from their past. The main character, Paul, is the only one of the house's victims to escape with his life somewhat intact, although he is wracked with guilt and nightmares of his time there. Years later, someone in the house wants him back, and a tragedy forces him to go back to the one place he swore he would never return.

My only gripe with this book was with what I feel was a hurried ending. The story built to a fantastic climax, and Cottam had a great opportunity to really zing! the reader with a great twist, but didn't. It was satisfactory, but a little bit of a letdown.

But all in all, I really liked this. I was reading it in between piano lessons and got so lost in the story that when my next student showed up, I jumped out of my skin. And in my opinion, that's a sure sign of a good ghost story.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sure, it's a dead language, but I agree.

a mocha from Urban Standard, an adorable coffee shop in Birmingham that I went to with my friend Bridgett a few weeks ago

"Sine coffea nihil sum."

Without coffee, I am nothing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book #6: Hipster Christianity

Hipster Christianity by Brett McCracken

This was fascinating - McCracken explores the "cool" movement that is sweeping through churches in North America (and sometimes out of it). He spent a good amount of time in research traveling to all kinds of hip churches (Mars Hill, various Greek and Latin-named structures) and interviewing emergent-ish pastors (Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, etc.) and writers and asking them all about what place "cool" has in modern Christianity.

I have to say - part of this book made me want to be a hipster. Living in Alabama, I think it's safe to say my community and church suffer from a bit of a dearth when it comes to cool thinking. You would be hard pressed to find any skinny jeans or neat beards in our congregation. I don't want a neat beard myself, but I sometimes get an eensy bit tired of seeing only blue haired old ladies and men in suspenders who aren't wearing them in ironic appreciation. I think it would be refreshing to hear a Sufjan Stevens song in sanctuary worship.

But the last part of the book deals with the notion that we as a culture have become obsessed with cool, and Christianity doesn't cater to culture's obsessions. Christ points us towards truth and grace in a straightforward and bold way, and He isn't concerned with whether or not I'm wearing the right skinny scarf or have an appropriately indie song playing in my car when I speak to Him.

Definite food for thought.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

"I'm Not Who I Was" - Brandon Heath

I know this song has been out for a few years, but it's been on a pretty constant rotation in my apartment. I'm really identifying with the lyrics this week.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My apologies...

...for my blog absence.

I'm sure that all eight of you who actually read this blog have been nervously wringing your hands and thinking "Where, oh where, is Amanda right now? Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?" (Please, please recognize the extreme sarcasm there.)

The truth is, I've not been doing too well in most areas of my life. I've been in a funk - a huge, what-am-I-doing-with-my-life-is-this-how-it's-always-going-to-be? funk.

I've found myself looking at fresh-faced kids and teenagers with jealousy because they have their whole lives in front of them - for the most part, none of them have made life-altering missteps and mistakes. (The real low point was when I started weeping while watching Will Smith's daughter, Willow, perform "Whip My Hair" on the Oprah show.)

I've been reminiscing about things I wish I'd done differently - high school decisions, college roads not taken, etc.

Basically - I've been having a little bit of an Amanda Pity Party - an APP, if you will.

I took off from work yesterday and did a lot of soul searching. I turned off my email. I didn't check Facebook. I sat in a chair in my living room and thought and prayed. I sat in silence. And I realized that the way I've been going about my life - regretful, bitter, panicked, and sad on the inside while most likely annoyingly upbeat on the outside - is simply not working.

Feeling bad about things that happened ten years ago does nothing to improve the here and now. Calling my best friend to complain and talk about trying to do something different with my life while actually doing absolutely nothing just makes me feel worse.

Enough. I've had enough. For the first time in a really long time, I had a long, honest conversation with God. It wasn't all pretty. There was some shouting and some tears. But there was also peace when it was over. I woke up calmer and happier than I've felt in a really long time.

I know this isn't going to be an overnight change. I have a lot of habits and integral personality traits that are going to take some time to overcome. But I have a plan. It's pretty simple. I'm just going to try. And for now, trying is huge for me.

So I hope you all bear with me. Don't worry - all my posts aren't going to become tributes to my existential crises. I'll still be plenty shallow at times, I'm sure.

But I'm tired of the fake Amanda. She isn't real. She's a product of apathy and fear. She's a movie character with no basis in reality. I have no more time for this pretend version.

I want to meet the real Amanda. I want you all to meet the real Amanda, too. She's so, so much more likable. I promise.