Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why, yes – I WILL have an order of cheese with my book!

A scene from the upcoming Starz
series, Outlander... featuring
gratuitous shots of men in kilts...
Here’s some embarrassing stuff… I’m completely addicted to something you probably don’t even know exists! It’s a genre of “literature” called Highlander Time Travel Romance. Well, I don’t know if that’s the official name of it, but that’s what it is. Romance novels about people who get transported to another period of Scottish history and meet big burly, super-buff Highland warriors. I know – super cheesy!

I guess the time travel element is because a modern gal such as myself won't find many kilt-clad Scottish warrior types in the present day... and I’m not sure why kilted Scottish men seem so exciting – maybe because something in my Scottish genetics is drawn to them? Is it because they’re “bad boys”? After all, the Romans did wall off Scotland because its inhabitants were particularly violent. Much easier than trying to conquer it! 

...AND shirtless men in kilts!
Anyway, the granddaddy of this genre is Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. This baby is a hefty read about Claire, a WW2 nurse who gets sucked back to Scotland in 1743 or so - just before the Jacobite rebellion. The characters, history and descriptions of everyday stuff are great – especially how she tries to fashion modern remedies from the materials at hand – but what really revs my rocket is her new BF Jamie — a tall, handsome, strong, red-headed, smart, funny, kind dude – IN A KILT. Nothin’ hotter. 

This is the wall the Romans
built to keep the Scots out!
They have adventures; they fall in love; they have sex. It’s an addictive read. Thank goodness there are so many of them. It just keeps getting more and more interesting as they come to America, settle in North Carolina (where I live!!) and participate in the war of independence. I can hardly wait for the next one to come out - JUNE 10, 2014!!!!!! Nor can I wait for the STARZ series premiering in August!

Of course I prefer my books to be well-written and chock full of historical details and well-fleshed out characters, as Gabaldon's books are, but… I’m not terribly picky. In pursuit of a bracing, lusty read, I’ve devoured many a bad-to-mediocre tome. Fortunately there are other authors who do a fair job of it. Karen Marie Moning writes books involving chiseled Highland warriors AND fairies! I love fairies! Oddly enough, her fairies are also perfect, beautifully-muscled guys as well. 

“...his lips were pink
and firm and
sensually full.”
Of course they were.
Here’s a description of a guy from one of her books: “He had the sculpted physique of a professional football player, with wide shoulders, pumped biceps and pecs and washboard abs. His hips beneath her were lean and powerful.” And of course, his face is “savagely beautiful” with “dominant male virility.” That’s right. “Black lashes swept his golden skin, beneath arched brows and a silky fall of long, black hair. His jaw was dusted with a blue-black shadow beard; his lips were pink and firm and sensually full.” 

Yes. That’s exactly what it says in Moning’s Kiss of the Highlander. And I read this crap. How many men do you know that warrant this description? Not many. It actually has occurred to me…. “This is ‘man porn.’ ” I mean, it’s not gross porn like you pay for on the computer, but it does sell an unrealistic picture of men. It’s a good thing guys don’t read these books. I hope they don’t anyway. They might get complexes - like women do when they see skinny models in fashion magazines. Or like I do when I read the description of the perfect woman in Proverbs 31.*

Two of my favourite things:
Liam Neeson. A kilt.
In addition to looking like male models wrapped in tartan plaid, these guys sweep the heroines off their feet and into their velvet-curtained feather beds, loving them FOREVER with a gusto that would be quite difficult to maintain over the long term. I guess if the books were longer we might see the couple settle into a more comfy, sweat-pants kind of relationship... The Outlander books actually venture into this territory... at a certain point Jamie and Claire become grandparents and purchase spectacles in Edinburgh. But for the most part, that’s not what this genre is about. It's about Highland adventure and rescuing and romance and fresh-smelling**, well-choreographed love-making that satisfies everyone completely EVERY TIME. Sometimes several times in a row!

Even when the text points out a man’s flaws, it’s something dumb like … he’s tone deaf, or he doesn’t know how to wink. Or maybe he’s too bossy and treats women like … well, like a man from whatever century he’s from. But even then… well, apparently some women crave the dominant male – these books exist, after all. (And I’m reading them…?!) 

Somebody PLEASE
put a kilt on this guy!
(Not that he needs it to
tickle my tartan...!)
That said, if my husband acted toward me as if he were from the eighteenth century, we’d be seeking counseling and FAST! And since we’re talking about my husband - well, he could actually pass for a Highlander. Though not exactly chiseled (who is these days?), he’s fairly fit, and an imposing figure of a man – 6'2", red(dish)-headed and ruddy complexioned. Put a kilt on him*** and you’ve got a bruiser straight outta these books – and full of strength and honor and loyalty and justice and protective instincts. But... I guess his uncut body qualifies him as more of a side character – one of the hero’s trusted companions… or maybe he's our hero once the lovers have relaxed into the comfy, sweatpants phase of the relationship. 

And that’s just fine with me! ‘Cos that’s where we are! And you know what? I love sweatpants! Especially this lovely soft, comfortable, cozy, worn-in-all-the-right-places pair! Not that it’s never romantic and sexy – because it actually is...**** But it’s also sublimely real in a way that these books just… aren’t.

We might be comfy like that
perfect-fitting pair of sweats,
but we've got a good 

amount of fire, too!
*On my last read-through of Psalm 45, I wondered if the impossible guy it commemorates is the men's corollary to Proverbs 31.

**The men in these books are usually described as smelling like different combinations of the following: sunshine, whiskey, leather, horses, musk, sweat, heather, grass, fresh-tilled earth, etc. And even if they smell like horses and sweat, the heroine finds it appealing! Huh? I personally love a dude who smells like himself and Dial soap.

*** PLEASE put a kilt on him!!!! That is a sight I wouldn't mind seeing!

**** 'cos you know, you can wear sweatpants really low down on your hips, right? 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Things I think about when I think about Psalms

This is David. He praised
God upon the harp. He also
pondered God, questioned
God and begged God.
Having “finished” Job (as if anyone could) I’m plowing through the Psalms at a blazing pace of approximately one per day. (Of course when I get to #119, I’ll definitely stretch it out over several days!) Anyhoo, I have a lot of random thoughts regarding these tasty literary treats… and the more I read the more my head has to stretch to contain them. 

I mean, the Psalms seem to be a lot of things. They’re songs, of course… The Oxford Companion to the Bible says that the title in Hebrew means “praises,” then it’s translated into Greek as the word “psalm” is from the Greek translation, ψαλμοί psalmoi, which means "instrumental music" and, by extension, "the words accompanying the music.”

This being the case, some of the intros to the Psalms talk about what tune they should be sung to, what instruments to use and what occasions to use them on. For example: “For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David” introduces Psalm 22. (This Psalm which pretty accurately describes Jesus’s suffering on the cross serves double duty as prophesy! Is there anything the psalms can’t do?!)

This is Larry, Edge, Bono and Adam.
They want to know, "How long?"
...just like David did.
Lots of the songs we sing in church today are lifted straight from English translations of the Psalms. When I’m reading them, anytime I know a song that has similar words, I can’t help but hearing the tune in my head, and I most likely will have it in my head all day… which can’t be a bad thing! I need all the good thoughts my brain can think! For instance, Psalm 61 gives us this plaintive tune by Matthew Ward, and Psalm 40 is one of my favorite pleas from U2. I’m telling you, this one gives me chills… and I think it only partially has to do with the good-lookin’ Irishman belting it out!
Moving right along, I get the impression that some of the Psalms are also written as literary exercises. That is, some of them are written in certain patterns like we might write sonnets or haikus. I know this, because my particular Bible has a bunch of notes at the bottom that give historic, linguistic and literary background for just about everything. These helpful pointers tell if a word could also mean something else, or if there is a literary tradition behind what is written and also the meaning ascribed to the passage by the majority of scholars. 

One of the things the writers of these notes like to talk about is how each Psalm is structured. For instance, Psalm 119 is an acrostic. It is actually divided into sections and named for the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and each letter gets 8 verses.

This is a song that
has a lot in common
with Psalm 119.
It’s almost like that old M-O-T-H-E-R song by Howard Johnson and Theodore Morse… you know, “"M" is for the million things she gave me…”

So if I were writing something like this it would be like

A... Almighty is our God. He rules over all the Earth… 
B... Beautiful and bountiful are the gifts He gives His children…
C... Complete is my devotion to the One who made me…

This is Pete Townshend.
If you try really hard, you can
figure out how to pray the
songs on this album.
etc. I know you’re thinking, don’t quit your day job - writing Psalms is not your bag, baby. And you’re right! I’m just showing you what I mean. Though he didn’t write this one, I can imagine David – the author of many of our psalms – on the run, hiding out in a cave coming up with similar stuff – praying so hard and constantly in his head that he started to give shape and structure to his heartfelt cries to God. Not unlike the time I had a eight-hour drive and I put in Pete Townshend’s White City and decided I was going to figure out how each song could be about God, and pray it.

Because the psalms, are, of course, prayers… This is easy to see - many address the Almighty directly: ie. “Oh Lord, how Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth,” or “Have mercy on me, Oh God”… that sort of thing. And they are the beautiful, poetic kind that I could never dream of coming up with on my own (see above). 

My prayers are much… shorter… and less artful, to say the least. If I say I will pray for you, I most certainly will… but I am not a verbose and flowery prayer despite being kind of a bigmouth. It’s more like just saying your name, holding you up to God – after all, He’s the one who can actually help you. This seems much easier that spinning my wheels trying to do what is beyond my ability, right? 

This is Arya Stark. She's thinking about
all the people she wants to kill.
Yeah - my prayers are more like… well, I’m reminded of Arya Stark in Game of Thrones. See, in this grand epic by George R. R. Martin, young Arya Stark has lost most of her family because of the treachery of a rival family, and every night before she can sleep, she lies there naming out loud each member of the horrible Lannister family and their minions: “Joffrey… Cersei… Tywin… the Mountain…” Of course, she is not praying for her enemies, as we have been instructed to do; no – she’s naming each person she intends to kill.

Which actually brings us to another cool thing about the Psalms… the guys who wrote them were not one bit embarrassed about saying exactly what they thought to God… whether it was “You’re awesome!” or “How long are you going to make me wait? I’m dyin’ here!” or even “Kill my enemies!” 

I guess it makes a difference that Arya intended to kill her enemies herself, where the writers of the psalms ask God to wreak justice… Again, this seems much easier… 

This is Tom Petty.
He knows a thing or two about waiting.
So… I’d rather lie in my bed and pray for you than insert myself into your situation, and even my prayers are short… Am I coming off as a huge lazy-ass? I could deny this, but I’d be lying. That said, I’ve always believed that letting God be God is one of the most taxing jobs there is… That’s right – giving a need to God and WAITING for Him to act is one of the most tedious and anxiety-producing things I've been asked to do! The Bible is full of stories of folks who got sick of waiting and took matters into their own hands… and every one a cautionary tale. Yes, my friends, the waiting actually IS the hardest part.

So… maybe the Psalms are written by a buncha waiters... People who are cooling their heels, thinking about their situation, then about God and what He’s gonna do. It’s no wonder they get so emotional. And we could write our own Psalms while we wait for whatever it is we're waiting for... but not all of us are poets, are we?

This is Belgian singer
Selah Sue. 
Sometimes after 
saying saying something 
particularly profound, the 
psalmists will say, "Selah,"
which means 
"pause and think of that." 

Fortunately we already have these beautiful, emotional, and spiritual works of art to meditate on… We can pray them along with the psalmist, taking comfort in the knowledge that people from everywhere and everywhen have felt just like we do... 

We also learn what it looks like to be a human who is tight with God. In the Bible, David is called "a man after God’s own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14,) and his songs show us just what such a thing looks like… to be intimate with the living God, to interact with Him on a personal level… sharing your whole heart and soul, good and bad… It’s not like God is going to be surprised by any bile that we spew, right? He's just glad we're talking to Him. And if we don't know what to say, the Psalms make it easy. And beautiful. 

Just this morning I read Psalm 62, which sort of sums up what I’ve read in the Psalms so far: It’s about a guy who's having a very bad day.... He ponders his circumstances, asks God to help him... then announces to the world: “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.” Selah.*

*The Amplified Bible translates selah as "pause, and think of that."