Monthly Archives: August 2012

Reading is fundamental, yo.

I once threatened the possibility that “What the Faith” would someday do a book review. Well, that day is come – I read a book that I loved, and I think you all should read it because you’d love it, and goddammit I just gave away the whole review, didn’t I? Is it too late to ask all of you to maintain a sense of wonder and curiosity about how I feel about this book? Could you, maybe, pretend I didn’t just gush all over it?

Shit. I suck at this.

Anyway, the book I’m going to review is Lauren Martinez Catlin’s The Other Side of Silence.

 

Spoiler alert: It’s rad.

 

In the interest of full disclosure, I know Lauren in real life, in a somewhat passing, “Hey, she’s pretty cool” sort of way. She attends the church that I’ll be attending after my move to Minneapolis, and I met her at the Midwest Blue Ocean Conference I attended last January. She gave a talk at a breakout session, I participated, a good time was had. I don’t think I spoke to her again until maybe this past July, when we found each other hanging out at a trendy local bar after a night session of a different conference. I recognized her, and I asked if she remembered me.

“Sure I do,” she said, “and why is it that you always mention Pete in your blog, but you’ve never mentioned me?”

Touché, Lauren Martinez Catlin. Touché, indeed.

But all that being disclosed, now, let me affirm that I’m not writing this review (this clearly about-to-be glowing review, thanks again, me) because I know Lauren a little bit, or because her baby is adorable, or because her husband is awesome and looks like Kevin Smith, or because I never mentioned Lauren on “What the Faith” even though I could have. All of these things are true, sure. However, I’m reviewing the book because it’s a book worth reviewing, regardless of whether or not you have ever held Lauren’s baby.

So. Let’s move on to the book, shall we?

The Other Side of Silence is one of those books where the main character doesn’t get revealed outright. While there are many different characters, each written from a first-person perspective and each getting their own chapter, the real focal character – the one person without whom this book would fall apart – is God. Or more accurately, it’s the Holy Spirit. This isn’t a surprise, given that those who know Lauren know that she is an active Christian.

What is surprising is that at no time does this book feel like it would fall under the umbrella of “Christian fiction”. Surprising as this is, I found it delightful. Readers of this blog know that Brandi and I have a fondness for certain, shall we say, “spicy” words that have made their way into the English language. To me, a healthy f-bomb is like a bite of jalapeño in my nachos – sure, some people might not like jalapeños, but I couldn’t imagine eating nachos without ‘em. In my experience, most fiction books written for a Christian market tend to keep the language – and the ideas – squeaky clean. As soon as I started reading the first chapter of the book, and was introduced to Miguel, an alcoholic Brazilian-American with a mouth like a marinheiro and a soul-crushing case of self loathing, I realized that this book was not a milquetoast pat-on-the-back story written for people who already considered themselves “saved”. Instead, The Other Side of Silence takes place in the fucking real world, where messes happen, and mistakes are made, and sometimes people – yes, even Christian people – are just simply assholes.

Even though every chapter focuses on one first-person narrative, the book doesn’t read like a collection of short stories. All of these people are connected, in ways obvious or subtle, by the works of the book’s real main character, the Holy Spirit. When Miguel undergoes a powerful spiritual experience, his spontaneous decision to say something kind to a complete stranger gives that person – the focus of the next chapter – the encouragement he needed at a low point in his life. In this way, the Holy Spirit of Lauren Martinez Catlin’s book reminds me the mysterious briefcase that drives the events of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Much like Tarantino’s attaché case, the one with the mysterious golden glow inside of it, Lauren’s God works his way through the story lightly, indirectly, by influencing the reactions of those who experience his touch at their time of direst need. In fact, the way that the disparate stories touch each other, how the culmination of one acts as the catalyst for the next, also adds to the Pulp Fiction vibe of the book. After you’ve caught the rhythm, you’ll read each chapter with a sense of anticipation – who is Isaac, the young Christian-on-campus at the big secular school who is confronting questions about his own sexual identity, going to influence, and how? What part does Ellie, the spritely daughter of chapter one’s Miguel, have to play in this story?

In a way, this novel is the unnatural love-child of Pulp Fiction and Pay it Forward – it has the gritty, low-down coolness of the former, mixed with the hopefulness of the latter. What keeps the story from devolving into a super-saccharine, Lifetime movie Kleenex fest is the realism with which the characters, their struggles, and the world around them are all portrayed. There is some high drama in this book, but it’s the high drama of life – stained, smelly, inglorious conflict that happens in a world that occasionally resembles a warzone, where bad things happen to good people and a “moral of the day” is often not provided. In portraying the bad as bad, Lauren shows us that even though life is not always fair, God has the tools he needs to make all things work together for our good. Many times, we are those tools.

In closing, I can’t think of a single person I know who wouldn’t benefit from reading The Other Side of Silence. Long-time Christians may take offence at some of its language, and some chapters (Isaac’s in particular) offer challenges to Christian culture that are both healthy and frightening to people who don’t make a habit of questioning where their church’s stances on issues come from. Some Christians may be offended at the way the Holy Spirit doesn’t work inside a Christian box, and some people find faith – GASP! – without the Sinner’s Prayer, or an altar call, or even hearing Jesus Christ mentioned by name. But I think those are reasons that people who are longtime Christians should read this book. Atheists, agnostics, and skeptics won’t read anything in this story that offends their belief system – after all, when the Holy Spirit shows up in the hearts and minds of these characters, it could just as easily be explained away by pop psychology, for those who must explain things in terms of pop psychology. Secular humanists will be moved by the frequent themes of social justice found in the novel. But really, anyone who appreciates good writing, believably human characters, and a story with just enough hope to be uplifting (but not so much as to slide it into hokeyness) will enjoy this very rewarding read.

So there you go, Lauren Martinez Catlin. You’ve been mentioned on “What the Faith”, in front of literally scores of readers! Now write something else, will you? And all you other folks, if you haven’t checked out The Other Side of Silence, and you are scared of embedded hyperlinks, I’ll include the Amazon link below. 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Other-Side-Silence-Novel/dp/1620830000/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1346274374&sr=8-13&keywords=the+other+side+of+silence


Read it and weep, suckers.

I hate to disappoint any readers who come to What the Faith to see what I’m ranting about any given week, but as my friend Jenn pointed out in a recent blog post,  it can get hard to maintain a sense of rage, sometimes. In fact, lately, it seems that my “anger gland” (or whatever squishy thing inside of me that produces rage) has been on the fritz. I wish I could say that it’s been because I’ve been happy, but really, it’s been because I’ve been worried sick.

As I’ve mentioned before, the What the Faith folks are moving to Minneapolis. Probably. With 97% probability. But it’s a messy, messy thing. The people who own our home (who decided, quite surprisingly, not to renew our lease – even though they swore up and down that they would, that they wanted us in there for a long time) will not allow us to pay another month’s rent, and our house sale could close as late as the end of September. Because I can’t afford to put a family of seven (including four grown-ups) into a hotel for a month, we have to let the owners evict us.

Stress.

And then there are the appraisers – for some reason, they keep claiming that the credit card number we’ve given them is getting declined, even though a) the bank swears there have been no attempts made by anyone for the appraisal, b) we can clearly see that there is plenty of money on the card, and c) we’ve totally given the loan officer the correct number, like, seventy times.  Every time we have to confirm with the loan officer that the credit card is right, that the appraiser must be typing it in incorrectly, we have to wait another 3 or 4 days for them to call us back saying it’s not working. So far it’s tacked about 10 days onto the closing process, and since we’re trying to avoid coming before a judge to beg for more time to complete this sale, you can imagine that it’s giving me an ulcer.

Not literally. Yet.

Now, the point of this post isn’t to whine and cry about this stuff – it’s just to give you a context for why the following article by comedy website Cracked.com made me cry three times during my lunch break.

http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-true-stories-that-will-restore-your-faith-in-humanity/

Read that. Have tissues ready.

Let it all out, big guy.

Have you ever had a moment where you’re so thankful that you can’t put it into words? That’s what happened to me, when I read that article. I was thankful to God for giving us broken humans an instinct to occasionally be awesome. I was thankful for Cracked editor David Wong putting that article together, and giving me something besides cynicism and worry to think about, even if just for a day. I was thankful that people have taken such adorable videos. Really, I was a mess of leaky-eyed thankfulness.

So I’m sorry to any readers who like to get a dose of cynicism from me. I know I’m usually pretty good at it – and don’t worry, I’ll be back to that as soon as my anger gland starts working again.

One final request – we are asking for prayers from anyone and everyone to help us get through these obstacles that we’re facing. We have a sneaking suspicion that there may be a spiritual aspect to the troubles we’re facing, and we’re asking for prayer that God clears us a path. But since this is What the Faith, and you (probably) came here hoping for something fun, let’s make this prayer request unique, shall we?

Would you pray for God to do something horrible to any spiritual oppressors the Mitchells are facing? What terrifying fate would you wish upon our demonic foes? Is it a “Twilight” marathon? An “all you can eat” lutefisk buffet?  A “One Direction” album? A swift kick to the nether-regions? Please pray for your punishment of choice for the Enemy that the Mitchells may be facing, and let me know what it is! Maybe word will get around, and the oppression will stop for fear of the righteous retribution that comes from the prayers of the world’s most twisted Christians! 

“They asked God to do what to my what?”


I love things that are great.

I have a confession to make – or rather, a series of confessions.

1) I love new shirts. I bought two new shirts on clearance the other day, and they’re awesome. They still have that “new shirt texture”, and since many of my shirts are extremely threadbare, wearing some new ones is damn-near luxurious.

2) I love my courageous friends. Several people that I know are coming from places in their lives where they are recovering from something – pain, or weariness, or complacency. They’re thinking new things, or doing new things, or questioning old things – even though they occasionally get punished for it. Mostly, they are, all of them, exploring what it is like to give up certainty and comfort for the uncertain pleasure of truth for its own sake. They are warriors, and I love them for that. You guys know who you are.

3) I love the cool winds that usher in the dog days of summer. Cool winds remind me of the breath that God blew into Adam’s nose, and they’re very uplifting. Also, I haven’t worn my beloved hoodie in months, and I’m ready to re-hoodify myself. Why can’t it be fifty-five degrees every day?

4) I love realizing that I am in a place of piece for a moment. Right now I’m not theologically torn about anything, and I’m excited about the future. It probably won’t last long – as Brandi often says, if I don’t have something to stress about, I’ll make up something to stress about. And on that note. . .

5) I love Zoloft. It works much better when you take it.

6) I love the idea that sometimes, the world gets a little better, instead of a little worse.

7) I love finding out when that happens.

Let’s all take a minute today to calm the fuck down. God is good. What do you love? 


Look how sharp!

This weekend, Brandi and I met one of our blog readers for the first time. I don’t want to say who it was, because she might value her privacy – and she might not want to be associated with such scoundrels as we Wily, Trouble-making Mitchells. So for the purposes of this conversation, I will give her a pseudonym that adequately describes her coolness without giving away her identity.

I’ll call her Machinegun McThunder-Rad.

 

Artist’s rendition.

 

This weekend, Brandi and I met Machinegun at a local café, where we drank iced coffee and took up space for something like two hours. We talked about all sorts of crap – school, jobs, families, boyfriends (I haven’t had any, but I managed to keep up with the conversation nonetheless), children, home schooling, demonic influences, church controversy, salvation by grace, salvation by works, church folks we know in common, church folks Brandi and I don’t know but want to meet (so we can kick them), siblings, modeling, God, the Bible, missionaries. . . and probably a few things I’ve forgotten. We had a fun time drinking iced coffee with Ms. McThunder-Rad. When we parted, we did a round of hugs – she hugs like a pro would hug, if there was such a thing as a job that paid you to hug – and then we promised to do it again, sometime. Then Brandi and I went to lunch and spent most of the time talking about how awesome Machinegun is.

It was a very “Proverbs 27:17” moment.

 

Surely you know the moment of which I speak.

17 As iron sharpens iron,

    so one person sharpens another.

That’s what makes community so cool – you lift people up when you’re down, and people life you up when you’re down. You sharpen each other, and drink coffee, tell stories, and walk together – but don’t run, because you’re now sharp, and somebody could get hurt.

All this is to say – Machinegun McThunder-Rad, we love you. You’re the coolest and you blessed us to pieces.

 

Tiny, burning little pieces.

 

On another note, the What the Faith family will be moving fairly soon – physically, that is. As you might know, we currently live in the twin ports area of Duluth, Minnesota and its plucky sidekick, Superior, Wisconsin. Well, those days are numbered. We have made an offer on a house in Minneapolis, where we will be moving in six to eight weeks. Sadly, we will be leaving our church family at Hillside Church in Duluth – but it’s okay, we’ll still see each other! As a result of the move, Brandi, family, and myself will be attending River Heights Vineyard Church  after the move, where we will plague pastor/friend Pete Benedict in every way we can think of. I’m not suggesting that Brandi and I are going to show up at his house at 3 AM on a Tuesday morning and pee on his bushes without telling him, but. . .

. . . we’re probably gonna do that, Pete.

 

“Dan, my roses look wilted and smell of Irish whiskey. Care to explain?”

 

More to come on this stuff as it progresses.

Question of the day – who in your life sharpens you? Have you told them lately that you love them? You should tell them that.