Monday, December 31, 2012

What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You by David Murrow

Despite the societal push for gender blurring, this book presents a rather black and white picture of the male mind and heart vs the female mind and heart. David Murrow has after all, only the male mind and heart by experience, but I am a female, and consequently the book brought this contrast to me as Murrow’s painstaking honesty about what was going on inside gave me a window through which to view it.
Males, he asserts have fears that are often unspoken. These fears drive the behavior of most men. By stating them, Murrow tears down the formidable wall that often separates men from their wives. His goal isn’t division, but rather understanding. There’s a bit of pop psychology thrown in for good measure, and virtually no scripture, although Murrow is at the forefront of the movement The Church For Men. Picture a mechanic-style preacher, and you will have pegged Murrow, practical and tool oriented-no platitudes. It’s what you should expect for the author of Why Men Hate Going To Church. He puts is all on the table. I found it refreshing.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in return for my honest opinion of it.

Two Tales in One

Three Mexican fishermen adrift at sea, fishing over the side of the boat to survive, with little hope of rescue. A former high ranking American businessman for a major motion picture company with a severe addiction problem, now jobless, with a failing marriage. The author weaves an almost unbelievable tale of connection between these two unlikely entities. He should know the story well. He was the businessman who met the fishermen and interviewed them after their miraculous rescue, which became a part of his own personal rescue.
With painstaking detail and a stranger-than-fiction quality this true story brings the reader to the realization that God is Sovereign in all of our paths, the good and the bad, and that He is in the business of rescuing.
I was given a complimentary copy of The Fourth Fishermen from Multnomah Press in exchange for my honest opinion about the book.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Skyfall: A Review

One can't help but think of A Series Of Unfortunate Events, for more than one reason, when watching the new 007 blockbuster, Skyfall.  Daniel Craig and Judi Dench play a complex version of employer and employee in what must be the world's most intriguing and formidable foreign intelligence agency.

Being shot by your own co-worker and falling off a moving train only to tumble into a gorge which holds a foaming river culminating in a rapid waterfall is just a part of Daniel Craig's very bad day.  Any day that  begins with the death of your partner has only one direction to go, but in true 007fashion, more peril awaits. There are damsels in distress and dragons to fight in Shanghai, among other things.

Bad guy Javier Bardem plays a close second to best villian ever (it's hard to beat Heath Legend's Joker in Dark Knight).  Yet, even more fascinating than a day in the life of 007 is creative directors  fantasmagorically brilliant opener, featuring graphics and music that still linger in the memory, long after the gunfights, fistfights, and explosions are over. The Lemony Snicket credit roll, another work of brilliance, had the same feel.

So as not to spoil it for you, I will only divulge that the ending is another very bad day for 007 in more ways than one. Still, why does it leave you with the feeling that you somehow envy his life?

And his first name? James. Still one of the most popular boy's names of all time. Coincidence? I think not.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Not Sure If…Downton Abbey, Gunsmoke, or the Gospel?

What do Western reruns, PBS, and the 700 Club have in common? At first glance nothing but non-prime time channels. But a deeper look reveals much more common ground than you might expect.
Elements of the Christian gospel story are threaded into the popular PBS serial drama Downton Abbey and   the same archetypes can be found in the good old weekly western. If you haven’t ever watched Gunsmoke or Downton Abbey pull up a chair and I’ll explain myself. 

Marshall Matt Dillon is the strong silent type, a fair-minded, expert gun-slinging law man in Dodge City during the days of the American Wild West (yes, the ‘get out of Dodge’ Dodge) The local saloon is run by Miss Kitty, a mature but sparkly-eyed, seasoned red-head who runs a tight saloon, mostly with those eyes. Miss Kitty is a woman of principles, but somehow you know that somewhere along the line, some of her principles have taken the practical low road. The thing that promises to redeem Miss Kitty (she does run a brothel, after all)  is Dillon’s regard for her, which is obvious in every episode.  The hour long segments include a sideshow from deputy Festus, a Barney Fife- like character with a southern twang, and Doc Adams, a crusty old country doctor who does most of his procedures with the anesthetic of a good stiff drink, one for the patient and one for him, afterwards. Festus and Doc put up a good show of hating each other, but no one really believes it. The TV series had a 20 year run, after quite a bit of popularity as a radio show, and ended in 1975, and as far as I know, with no overt romance between Dillon and Miss Kitty.

Across the pond, but not too far away in time, the British household of Downton Abbey is finding its way in a changing world. The head of the house has three daughters, neither of whom can legally inherit his estate. Mary, the eldest, has a secret concerning her virtue that keeps her from the obvious choice, the heir apparent, Matthew Crawley, a man of honor and humility who desperately wants to do his part to save the family fortune. Shame keeps Mary from Matthew, but his regard for her is obvious, and the viewer feels that if he were privy to the incriminating information, he would still love her. The many sideshow characters include the ever proper butler, Carson and prim housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, cook Mrs. Patmore and scullery maid Daisy, all servants in the ‘downstairs’ storylines. Rising above the tapestry of this intertwining drama is the redemption of Mary. It is Matthew’s love for her which imparts to her the worth she cannot see in herself. At the end of the second season, Matthew and Mary are still in romantic gridlock. Although the previews for season three are out, they show nothing of the culmination of Matthew and Mary’s predicament.

The real corollary I see in these two cinematic creations is in the male savior figure (both named Matthew, incidentally) and the female in need of redemption. Nowhere is this story more poignant than in the New Testament narrative of Christ the bridegroom and a broken world-the church as His bride. I believe it is our knowledge of the reality of our own personal redemption that causes stories like these to resonate and capture our attention. Nor is their appeal gender-specific. Gunsmoke had wide appeal among men, and Downton Abbey has primarily female followers.

“God made Man because He loves stories.” said Elie Weisel. Indeed, we are His story. But it’s not the final season. Never have we needed redemption so much. Never has a story been in such need of a happy ending.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In Hope of a Better America

I have a dream.
It is a faintly fading dream, but it is by no means dead yet.
I dream of parents patiently explaining or calmly restraining their small children in public instead of verbally abusing them through the grocery aisles.
I dream of schools where students use praise for each other and their teachers instead of profanity.
I dream of teachers who are involved with the students lives and work in tandem with parents to educate the whole child, instead of using 'homework' which masquerades as rigorous teaching to cheat the students out of a home life.
I dream of an America where it is acceptable to speak openly about your personal faith, and where judgement is directed inward, instead of  towards those who may disagree.
I dream of politicians laying down acrimonious accusations and instead taking responsibility for their actions and expenditures.
I dream of businesses honestly offering services and products made locally for a decent profit, instead of bilking the public by promising more than they actually deliver and abusing people in other countries to turn a cheap trick on their customers.
I dream of  banks and financial institutions who use George Bailey as a role model rather than Mr. Potter.
I dream of charity organizations whose CEO's aren't embarrassed to report their earnings instead of making a killing off the heartstrings of America.
I dream of consumers who live within their means instead of blaming their high personal debt on the economy.
I dream of a place where winning the lottery isn't the total sum of the American Dream.
I hope I'm still sleeping, because I haven't seen it yet.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Dear Mr. President

I am writing to you, Mr. President, as I cannot have the luxury of meeting with you in person.

Thank you for choosing to serve America as the highest leader of the land. It is an honor you have worked hard to achieve. I remember at your first inauguration you addressed the voters who did not cast their vote for you and I am one of them. You promised that you would be my president, too.

On that promise I have a specific request. There is a very active dialogue and decision making process going on between the three branches of government regarding tax cuts, tax reform, government spending and various aspects of the 'fiscal cliff'. I cannot begin to imagine the complexity and magnitude of the office you hold. I only ask that as you govern, you consider the diversity and intensity of feeling in the matters which threaten to divide the fabric of our country. When I hear statements that lead me to believe that your mind is made up beforehand, I wonder why? I ask you to please engage in meaningful dialogue and active listening to all parties involved in the discussion. Some of those who have opposing views to your own are people I and a majority of the country have voted for to represent us. I am not so naive or close-minded as to believe that either party always has a corner on the best ideas for the bettering of America. That is the very reason that all three branches exist. All are needed to create the perfect Union we have been striving to achieve for well over 200 years.

I happen to align myself more closely with the Republican party, but my brother, an assistant chaplain for the United States Army who usually votes as a Democrat, often challenges my thinking to the point where I must concede that it is all too easy to only listen to the people who say the things you want them to say. And so it is that my own family is a representative of the partisan-like situation that I see in the government. I don't always agree with his conclusions, but still, I love my brother and consider him one of the most caring and sincere people I know. It would never be appropriate or wise for me to dig in to my own opinion and refuse to hear what he has to say. All I ask is that you do the same.

Thank you for being my president!


Amy L Maris

Thursday, November 15, 2012

#amwriting Posting Blogbook Soon

Please stay tuned, faithful blog readers. I will be posting my latest project here in installments, that is if my writer's club friends don't advise against it. I'd fall over in joyful delight if any of you would comment with constructive criticism, etc. Good or bad impressions are welcome.

In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday. It's one last day to remember all that we have to be grateful for before the Christmas onslaught tries to make us 'want things'.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


ARGHHHHH! It isn't your grandmother's America. I get that.
But it's not mine anymore, either.
I may be overreacting.
I doubt it.
-More after I get to the acceptance stage of this grief.

Friday, November 2, 2012

For Women Only

 I've always had a love/hate relationship with my body. I love having a body. It allows me to exist in a sensory world, and eat, sleep, walk and talk. If you're like me, the fact that I often compare my body to some nebulous (and sometimes tangible) ideal is where the hate comes in.

Yes, most of us girls, when pressed, would admit that if given the chance we'd make a few changes here and there. Thicker hair, thinner waist, smaller nose, shapelier legs...and on it goes.

Every female body is really quite a masterpiece, and I often forget this, while I'm gazing at a model or a movie star in a picture or video. My mistake is that I forget that a movie star or model body has a different purpose than mine. Theirs is to entertain, to portray an image, to sell lingerie. Of the 54 years I've lived, the chief purpose of my life have been to nurture children, to serve my husband and family. My hands, my feet, my eye and ears, even my chest with it's modest padding is well eqipped to do all of these things. My body has served me well so far. If, on the other hand I had pursued a life of spotlight entertaining (I have dabbled, I must confess) then forcing my body into a certain 'look' would be important. This is not to negate caring for my body, and keeping it in good shape, and I'm not suggesting we mothers all default into a 'barefoot and pregnant' sort of stupor. By the way, the 'haggard grandma' look is just as bad a default. But, the comparison game is tricky, It'll sneak up on you at all times of the night or day.

Take a minute to take stock of the wonderful things your body does for you each day:

Carries you to your loved ones, and allows you to caress them, and feel their caresses.
Gives you energy to prepare nourishing food for them, and to perform jobs that earn money to help take care of your and their needs.
Lets you read, educate yourself and watch the world around you, including those you love.
Allows you to touch your family in meaningful ways.
Gives you the ability to go places and spend time with people.
Offers a sensory soundtrack to your life.
Gives you the privilege of speaking, singing and communicating with your world.

Without bodies, even imperfect ones, we'd be wandering spirits without the capacity to give and receive love.
The funny thing is, when you ask most men what they'd change  about their wives bodies, they say nothing at all. Men like women's bodies, period.  While looking at a model may make you feel envious, remember that envy is just a feeling, and it does absolutely nothing to nurture your own sense of self. It is a shaming, cheating liar that doesn't tell all the truth. Most models and movie stars have plenty of envy of their own.

So give your unique body a few positive words, and a loving pat or two. It has served you well. Be thankful for the skin you're in. It's the only one you've got.

(Well, guys, if you must read, then please pass this on to your significant other female)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What I Wish the Church Would Change Part 3

Now that's what I'm talking about! The unique re-purposing of an old organ. I'm a keyboard player from way back. Piano, however, is my specialty - not that I have anything against organs. If they did this to a piano (I've seen it) my stomach would lurch a little. 

Speaking of stomach lurching, as I have surfed the representation of the church in cyber pages from around the world, all too often I've observed that those who call themselves believers use the internet to spread a doctrine of judgmental jabs and frankly, pure hate, masked as faith. Sadly, facebook or twitter may be the only Jesus some people ever see. As I see it, it is not our job to morally reform the masses online. The missing element  involves the most desperately needed commodity on the planet. The thing I wish would change involves the face of Christianity that  the world perceives.

What then is the essence of the church? If it was boiled down, what would be left in concentrate?The people that make up the global church are unique in many ways, but there is one defining core characteristic that has the power to rivet the attention of almost anyone. It transcends methodology, style, and all other outward signs of religious activity. What is it? I thought you'd never ask.They will know we are Christians by our doctrinal statement? By our strict adherence to a set of social issues? By our political party policies or affiliation? No, by our love. Period.

What would happen if, instead of wowing the world with our ability to be culturally attractive, or morally correct, or politically moderate, we re-purposed our outward 'shell' to be the equivalent of a coffee sharing center of hope, comfort and grace?

I received so many thoughtful responses to my last post. Many of you echoed my feeling of being stuck in a rut, and some shared experiences of new and interesting ideas that remind me of this poor old organ - refitted for a new purpose. It's my hope that you personally may be revitalized with courage to spread everywhere the hope and love of God. All the other stuff may just be bauble.

Friday, October 19, 2012

What I Wish the Church Would Change Part 2

So much has changed in the world since I went to my first church service as an infant in the 50's. I'm pretty sure that I could recreate every Sunday from the subsequent memories I had growing up as a pastor's kid: prelude, three or four hymns, prayer, announcements, offering, special music, sermon, closing hymn, postlude.

Half of a typical church service involves music and related art forms. I maintain that the art itself might inform the worship experience in ways that are non traditional.

A typical church service in 2012 would be along these lines: piped-in pre-music, several worship songs, announcements, offering,  sermon, closing song, piped-in closing music. The only real variable is the musical style.

To look at a  church service from the previous century you'd think God inhabited only praise of the organ and chordal hymnody. Enter cultural revolution. A look at the modern church might make one think God's favor rests on the guitar, drum set and syncopated crooning. God, of course, isn't the one with the preferences. We are. And sure we've changed from the 50's, but we're still in a rut of another kind. Must we be limited to an era-correct group of composers? My apologies to Hillsong, but they are not the end-all answer to corporate worship.  Are we limited to "christian music" ? Doesn't God own all song, all melody, all rhythm? Have I lost any of you here?

After centuries of musical revolution, millions of choices present themselves. What if churches were open to all forms AND styles of music? What if they sung or performed something from Les Miserables or Rent, *gasp* in order to illustrate a point in a way that most Americans are going to experience at least once in their lives outside a church setting. What if the congregation brought their personal forms of art to share publicly? Some of these ideas have been implemented in some of the mega-churches but they are still considered somewhat avant guard. It's not the way we've always done it. We might be able to integrate contemporary music but don't mess with the song and sermon template.

What if a church Christmas program consisted of Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol in it's original form? Stravinsky's Rite of Spring just before Easter, and Handel's Messiah after? What if the organ and the guitar could lie down together? Kneeling benches AND hand raising?

What if we turned off the amps every now and then? What if the singers sang without a microphones, or we sat while we sang and stood up while the preacher spoke, like they did in Shakespeare's plays. For that matter, how about a Shakespearean play at church? There's some pretty pithy stuff in the The Merchant of Venice, for example, that still resonates. Isn't all wisdom God's too? Or, a simpler solution might be encouraging members to attend a local theater production and then host a discussion time at a local coffee shop about the concepts the performance explored. Most Americans spend time and money at Starbucks and the Cinema. Why doesn't the church join them there, spreading the fragrance of Christ intentionally in everyday places as the main focus of their ministry? It would also save a lot of time and money by cutting the number of corporate services.

Can you tell I'm feeling restless? I confess I'm more than a little bored of songs, message, go home,  and come back on Sunday and do it all over again. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for meeting together as believers. I just think a little 'pull focus' could revitalize our mission.

If God is God, He is bigger than life. It's time we began integrating our real lives and our worship experience.  Who's ready to stop trying to pretend that we're satisfied with worshiping Him through a pinhole when the universe itself cannot contain Him? Christians, of all the people on earth should be the ones presenting the vastness of God and His creativity to the world.

Monday, October 15, 2012

How To Win a Customer Back - Ask Mimi's

I'd like to be sitting down with you in my favorite restaurant to really give you the flavor of this post. But, since there's only one of me and I can only be in one place, I'll settle for imagining I'm tasting a Mimi's Carrot Raisin Muffin as I type. You can too!

In case you didn't catch on, I'm promoting Mimi's Cafe today! But they almost lost my business after one bad night. Let me tell you what happened and why I'm still devoted to Mimi's!

My mother and sister and I have been patronizing Mimi's for years. Not only is the food excellent but the service is always great! This summer when they gave out the promotional codes to win a trip to Paris, we sent in a lot. Which means we had eaten there a lot. So when my friend visited from Michigan I went in to Mimi's to get some take-out muffins to go.

The hour was late. It must have been after dinnertime, but well before closing. The restaurant was not very full of patrons. I asked the girl behind the corner for a dozen muffins. She seemed flustered as she looked under the counter, and then popped up, saying they must be out of containers. 

She walked behind a walled area, and I mindlessly watched the baseball game on a flat screen in front of me. Serveral employees filed in and out of that area, about six in all. One asked me if I'd been helped. I said yes. After a few more minutes, a young man in an apron came out and without speaking to me began to watch the game as well, his back to me.

At this point, I wondered if the waitress who'd taken my order had forgotten me. I waited some more.

Finally, she came back with a dozen muffins in two separate clamshell containers. (I'd been expecting them in the lovely cardboard and plastic wrapped box that I'd gotten before)

I paid and left, feeling it was a very "un-Mimi's-like" experience. I had been spoiled by my previous excellent service. So after coming home, I filled out the survey on the receipt essentially telling them what I just wrote here. Someone wrote back immediately, and apologized  and within days I had a Mimi's gift certificate in my hands.

My faith in the chain was restored and I was so impressed that I wanted to share what I think is an excellent example of customer service in the 'teeth' of a bad experience.

I took a picture of our waitress, Debbie. She has served us many times and was not involved in the incident above. I told her I'd put her picture on my blog and she reluctantly agreed.

Have you had an experience with good or bad customer service? I'd love to hear about it!