Christian Reporting Would Work Better If We Actually Talked About Facts, Not Just Fear

If you follow any sort of Christian news outlets or have Christian friends on Facebook, there’s a good chance you’ve seen headlines like, “California Bans Bible Sales.” Or, as the title of a YouTube video I recently saw states it, CALIFORNIA BANS BIBLES!

The law in question is “California bill AB 2943, a measure that puts strict limits on programs that aim to change a person’s sexual orientation. The legislation, which passed out of the state assembly and over to the Senate, bans any advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual'” (PolitiFact.com).

A quick Google search will reveal that this Bill does not, in fact, ban Bibles. It doesn’t even ban churches from offering conversion therapy as long as they don’t charge for it (FactCheck.org). And the fact that Christian news outlets are relying on the false claim of Bible banning as a headline is undermining their credibility. This is click-bait at it’s worst, designed to scare Christian readers rather than start an actual dialogue about the real dangers of the bill. And anyone (even a Christian) with a logical, questioning mindset who fact-checks this claim will quickly find it’s wrong. And then why should they bother listening to what else the news article (or its source) has to say?

That’s what irritates me most about Christian response to this bill. They/we are not talking about what’s actually going on. We’re twisting facts to scare people. No wonder people accuse Christians of not being in touch with reality!

The reality is that California’s new law bars people who want to determine their own sexual orientation from getting help. It forbids people who have homosexual urges and want to change from seeking counseling, and it also stops people who could help them from offering counsel. There was already a law in place preventing “sexual orientation change efforts” for children under the age of 18, but this new bill restricts the rights of adults to voluntarily seek counselling. I’m sure the people who advocated for this law would be enraged were it reversed (forbidding people who’ve lived as heterosexual from exploring other options).

This sort of law shouldn’t just worry Christians. It should worry anyone who doesn’t want the government legislating their sex life, their access to mental health resources, or their religious expression.

The headline “California Bans Bibles” is inaccurate and misleading. It’s not responsible reporting. And it’s actually distracting from talking about what’s really going on. Why aren’t more Christian websites using a headline like, “California Restricts Adult Citizen’s Rights To Seek Counseling”? That gets to what’s actually going on and it’s something non-Christians might click on as well.

Once we’re talking about the human rights that California’s bill is restricting right now, then we can talk about the danger of it leading to more restrictions in the future. Because when a state assumes the power to dictate what sort of programs a church can offer, that’s a freedom of religion violation. And it’s not much of a leap to go from a vaguely worded prohibition against selling any program designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to banning books, which is a freedom of speech violation. This makes California’s bill a violation of everyone’s First Amendment rights. And that’s a much bigger story than the inaccurate claim that they’re banning Bibles.

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Believing in Fairy Tales

I was chatting on the phone with a friend on Friday and he asked me if I believed in fairy tales. I deflected the question onto, “What do you mean by ‘believe in fairy tales’?” Because it really is a deeper, more complex question than it seems on the surface. Usually, people think of believing in fairy tales as romantic daydreams all day long and a “happily ever after” at the end of every story.

But I’ve read fairy tales. In most of  them, you go through hell several times over before getting to a happy ending (see the Handless Princess tales for one example). And sometimes there is no happy ending at all and they end with death or maiming or losing everything you love (such as when The Little Mermaid dissolves into sea foam).Believing in Fairy Tales | marissabaker.wordpress.com

So I’m not sure what to answer when asked if I believe in fairy tales (though I did have a good laugh after our conversion, when I realized I’d been wearing a shirt that says “I believe in fairy tales”). However, I suppose the short version would be to simply answer “yes” to any version of the question.

  • Do I believe in happily ever afters? yes, but only if 1) you work to make it happen and stay committed to falling in love with that person the rest of your life, or 2) if we’re talking about the Christian hope of spending eternity with God as Jesus’ bride.
  • Do you believe life can be cruel and horrible before you get a happy ending? Certainly. In fact, I’d say it’s much more rare to get happiness without having some kind of trial first. And without the contrast of highs and lows, I doubt we could truly appreciate the good things.
  • Do you believe happy endings aren’t guaranteed and life can feel senseless and hopeless? Yes. I’ve lost two friends close to my age to suicide, one to a car accident, and one to an illness. In my local church group, several families have lost young children or have kids and grandkids battling horrible illnesses. Sometimes there’s just no good explanation for why things turn out the way they do.

All too often, people dismiss fairy tales as out-dated children’s tales that teach things irrelevant to the modern world. I’ve heard the heroines are too passive, the dark tales too dark, the happy tales too unrealistic, the messages outdated. But I would argue the complicated nature of fairy tales is the aspect most relevant today.

Taken as a whole, fairy tales refuse to see life as easily explained. They present the strangeness, complexity, and downright cruelty of life in a stripped-down story form that refuses to be brushed aside. And many do earn their reputation for ending “happily ever after” because even after all the terrible things that happen they insist on hope. And that’s why I believe in fairy tales. I believe in the magic of storytelling, it’s power to hold a mirror up to our world, and our deep need for fantasy that illuminates reality. And I believe that in a world which refuses to make sense we need a hope that defies logic just as persistently.

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Tale As Old As Time

Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite fairy tale. Favorite Disney movie, favorite Robin McKinley fairy tale retelling, favorite original tale … basically, I’m a fan. So you can imagine that I was beside myself excited when Disney announced their live-action remake of my favorite fairy tale. And yesterday, I finally got to see it.

It’s been a while since I wrote about fairy tales, so many of you probably don’t know that I’m not just a fan of Disney. I love the original tales as well. In many cases, I like them more than the lighter, tamer, happier versions. It’s hard to believe there was a time when it was considered normal to read children bedtime stories where stepsisters hack their own toes off, children throw witches in ovens, and princes fall from towers into thorns that blind them.

They weren’t just creepy stories for kids, though. Fairy tales represent a rich folkloric tradition passed along and refined by both male and female storytellers. And plenty of research has gone into documenting these stories’ histories, discussing their role in society, and cataloging the different styles. Beauty and the Beast, for example, is 425C in the Aarne–Thompson classification system. It’s one of a surprisingly large number of animal groom fairy tales and most likely has it’s roots in the story of Cupid and Psyche.Tale As Old As Time: Thoughts on the origins, meaning, and newest adaptation of my favorite fairy tale | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Fairy tales have always generated discussion and debate. This time around, people are talking about bestiality and wondering why this “tale as old as time” has endured for so long with such twisted ideas at its roots. But if we equate the Beast with an animal we miss the point of the tale. Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim believed the “animal groom” stories were “intended to reassure virginal brides about sex” (i.e. he seems scary, but once you get to know him he’s not so bad).

Beauty and the Beast goes deeper than most tales of this sub-type, though. What we know as Beauty and the Beast was first written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740. In this earliest version, as in subsequent versions, the Beast has to prove himself worth loving. Read more

5 Things A Graduated English Major Doesn’t Want To Hear

Even five years after graduating with my English degree, I still describe myself as an “English major.” Do non-English majors do that? or do they all switch from “art major,” “accounting major,” or “biology major” to artist, accountant, and biologist? Maybe it’s because the English major can go so many different directions. Writer, teacher, editor, lawyer, journalist … the list goes on. So if you want to connect with other former English majors, you need to describe yourself as an English major.

Whatever the reason, I still think of myself as an English major. And apparently, people I meet do as well. New acquaintances, and even people I’ve known for a while, make certain assumptions when they hear I’m a writer and my degree is in English. With those assumptions comes a few predictable questions and comments that I’m sure other graduated English majors are all too familiar with as well.

5 Things A Graduated English Major Doesn't Want To Hear | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Aidan Meyer via StockSnap

“Can you edit my __?”

I need to preface this section by telling all the friends who I have edited things for, “No, I’m not mad at you.” I’m perfectly happy to look over the new about page for your blog or proof-read your extremely important email. What I’m talking about is the larger editing projects.

I am a professional writer. That’s how I make money. Just because I like writing doesn’t mean I can do it for free all the time. If someone wants me to read every post on their blog before it goes live, or proof-read their new e-book, or edit a story or novel, we need to talk about compensating my time. Maybe we trade critiques, or you use your website to market my e-book, or maybe it’s a per-post editing fee.

You wouldn’t ask your friend who’s a dentist to clean your teeth for free, or your friend who runs a farm to give away their produce because you’re buddies, or an accountant to do your taxes in their spare time. Ask us for an occasional favor, but don’t put your English major friend in the uncomfortable position of explaining they don’t work for free.

“I’ll probably write a book one day”

Yes, tell me how you’ll just pop out a book some day when you have a little extra time. Go ahead and imply writing is easy or something anyone can do if they cared to bother. I dare you. Because the next person who catches me in a bad mood when they say this is going to get a lecture on how much work it actually involves to draft, edit and re-edit a manuscript, then find good beta readers, edit again, and finally decide it’s ready to publish. And then if they haven’t run off yet they’ll get to hear about how the publishing industry actually works.

“I know you’re judging my grammar”

In-person, on Facebook, here in the comments section …. people are constantly apologizing for their grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. (Strangely enough, it’s not usually the people whose comments are actually hard to read.)

I do think people should make an effort to use good grammar, especially in something they publish, and I am a word nerd. But I don’t just sit around judging and resenting my friends for not proof-reading their Facebook message dozens of times before having the audacity to send it. Am I really such a scary grammar Nazi that you feel the need to make jokes about your terrible writing before communicating with me? That just seems weird.

“How do you spell __/What does __ mean?”

I love words. But I’m not a walking dictionary. This question feels good when I know the answer, but when I don’t it’s usually followed up by some variation of, “So what’s your English degree good for?” *facepalm* Apparently I have failed in my life calling. Here, why don’t I Google  the answer for you using a mobile device like the one you’re currently holding in your hand?

5 Things A Graduated English Major Doesn't Want To Hear | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Nguyen Nguyen via StockSnap

“I hate writing/English/reading”

… and we have nothing in common. I spent four years of my life reading and writing things in the English language, and most graduated English majors are still doing that at least to a certain extent. But the main reason I don’t like hearing this comment is because it instantly shuts-down avenues of connection. I don’t care so much about the fact that you don’t enjoy these things. What I care about is that you’re basically telling me not to talk about my career because you didn’t like that subject in school.

Nobody likes to be told their passions have no value. Regardless of what your conversation partner majored in or does for a living, it’s generally not a good idea to tell them you hate it. Much better to say something like, “Wow, that’s cool. I have no talent for it. Can you tell me more about why you enjoy it so much?” Now we’re having a conversation.

Bonus: “Are you making any money?”

Or any related questions including “Do you still live with your parents?” or “Do you have a real yet job?” That’s just not any of your business, especially from new acquaintances. I’ll tell you about my living situation and finances if and when I want.

My fellow English majors, what are your other pre- or post-graduation pet peeves? Any questions or comments you’re tired of hearing?

Why do we care about old writings?

A few years ago when I was in college, one of my professors organized a small group of interested students and took us up to the Cleveland art museum. The purpose of our visit, a touring exhibit of religious artifacts from medieval Europe, was interesting, but that wasn’t what lured me there. It was the museum’s permanent collection of illuminated manuscripts.

These manuscripts date from the Middle Ages. Every page was carefully copied by hand, and they didn’t just stop there. Illuminating a manuscript with (real) gold, silver, and bright colors in illustrations and elaborate first letters turned them into works of art. The sort of books you took the time to create like this were held in high value (many are religious texts).

Why care about old writings? | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo of Cleveland’s “The Glory of the Painted Page” collection

It’s no secret I love books. But most of the books on my shelves are, in the strictest sense, disposable and replaceable. They were impersonally mass-printed in a factory. Any meaning that particular copy has is unique to me. But for the handwritten manuscripts each copy is unique. They’re irreplaceable. And they were created with love.

That’s also true of the ancient writings I saw yesterday. The Ancient Hebrew Scroll Project is one of only 2 or 3 complete sets of the Tanakh (Old Testament), and it’s the only one you’ll ever have a chance to see. It tours in public and there’s never any admission fee. The oldest scroll is a 600 year old Torah. Others are around 250 years old, with the exception of some scrolls too rare to obtain old copies (those are newly commissioned). Several survived the Holocaust, including a Haftorah that was bayoneted six times by Nazis.

Why care about old writings? | marissabaker.wordpress.com
The beginning of Psalm 119 on a scroll written in 2009. Notice you can see the lines are written in sets of 8, each starting with the same Hebrew letter (that’s why it’s divided alphabetically in your English Bibles; because of the type of poem/song it is)

Every single Bible scroll, the new and the old, was created the same way. Two Levites stand holding a completed scroll open before a scribe. The scribe reads one word aloud, then writes it using a pen made from a turkey feather dipped in ink made from gall nuts, gum-Arabic, and ash. He does this for every single word with the exception of the YHWH name of God. For this word, he will not speak it aloud and before writing it he washes his hands and takes up a pen only used to write the Name.

Once the scroll is finished, the scribe counts every letter to make sure it adds up to the correct number for that scroll. If it passes that test, he gives it to another scribe for re-counting, spell-checking, and format inspection. If that scribe gives it the go-ahead, it’s given to another scribe. Only after two scribes double-check the first scribe’s work is the scroll kosher.

Why care about old writings? | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Latter (aka “Minor”) Prophets. Scroll written the late 17th Century

“So what?” some people ask. Who cares about hand-writing things like this in the age of computers? And yet this is how the Bible was preserved intact and unchanged for thousands of years. It’s the only way any writing from pre-1440 got passed down to us. There’s something about the process itself that lends meaning to the books and scrolls created with such careful attention.

New, fast, and disposable isn’t always better. There’s value in taking time to pour love and great care into something that will last. That’s one of the lessons the old writings teach us. They give us a chance to stop and ponder what we value. Something preserved in this way has to matter or it’s not worth taking the time.

Why care about old writings? (or, On Torah Scrolls and Illuminated Manuscripts) | marissabaker.wordpress.com

If there were no computers or printing presses any more, which writings would you value highly enough to copy by hand letter by letter so nothing was lost?

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Maybe The Telephone Isn’t An Enemy

Some of you might think that title is strange, but my fellow introverts will understand. The hours of mental preparation that go into making a two minute phone call. The sense of dread when the phone rings and you aren’t ready to talk with someone. The pressure of sounding engaged and alert while thinking fast enough to avoid awkward silences. Most of us view the telephone in much the same way the Dowager Countess of Grantham does.

some thoughts for introverts. Click to read article, "Maybe The Telephone Isn't An Enemy" | marissabaker.wordpress.comBut I had a truly enjoyable phone conversation with a friend this weekend, and I realized this wasn’t an isolated incident. When he asked for my number my first instinct was panic, then I realized there wasn’t any reason to. I talk with my sister on the phone for hours almost every day. I chat with my dance team when we’re coordinating practice times. I enjoy the unexpected call from my cousin or a select group of friends. Chatting on the phone really isn’t all that scary.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am in many ways a stereotypical introvert in regards to the telephone. We don’t have caller ID on the landline and the calls are rarely for me, so I refuse to answer when it rings unless I recognize the voice and want to talk with them now. My cell phone is set so it doesn’t even ring unless the number is in my contacts list and, in general, I much prefer written communication. There are times, however, when telephones are a preferable method of communication. Read more