Friday, March 6, 2009

Reading Your Way to Fitness

Stick with me, I've been fighting with this post for an hour trying to get spaces between paragraphs. I'm losing AT LEAST HALFthe battle, however, so I think I'll just throw this baby up on the board and hope for the best. here goes...

I joined a gym in November. I've started drinking more water (one large glass for every cup of coffee. Believe me, the carpet on the stairs between my writing cave and my bathroom is wearing thin.) and lifting weights and downloading upbeat music onto my MP3 so I can get my groove on. But the greatest thing I've discovered at the gym is the recumbant, stationary bike.

Because I'm not going anywhere, I don't have to keep my eyes on the road. I'm sitting comfortably enough that I can hold a book in my hands and be exercising my body as well as my mind. Since I rediscovered this amazing piece of fitness machinery, (the last time I was on one was back in my days at Belmont University in Miss Betty's Lifetime Fitness class) I have looked forward to my workouts more than ever before.

Together, the unseen Dean Koontz and I have pedaled through Intensity. While I held my elbows up to keep the book from bouncing, James Scott Bell taught me some interesting writing techniques in Plot and Structure. Christa Parrish helped me forget about the burn in my thighs while I went Home Another Way (a CBA title with a snarly, realistically messed up protagonist! Go Christa!)' and later today I'm taking Dean with me again, but this time I'm starting No Fear. Truly, this is exercise a bookworm could get used to!

Yesterday I pedaled for 30 minutes and sweated 10 whole miles while reading a bit from Steven James's musings in his poetry-filled/anecdotal/thoughtful rant Sailing Between the Stars. This is a great book that I picked up from the (wince) bargain bin of my local Christian book store. (sorry, Steven.) One of my favorite lines (and there are many which I've highlighted in neon yellow) is:

"Imagination dwells at the heart of Christianity.
It's a worldview of wonder."
This of course hits my "YES! Preach it!" button like the strong man mallet at the county fair.
I love wonder. I love mystery. I love that God can't fit in a neat little box, no matter how many bullet points make it into tracts and sermons and books and talkshows and songs. I love that he's wild and uncontainable. As Steven James writes,
"Theology is our attempt to capture God in the butterfly net of our minds. But, of course, he's too wild for that....Christians all too often try to break him down into bite-sized pieces that fit neatly into one-page doctrinal statements and three-point sermons. We call it systematic theology, but the problem is, theology isn't systematic. It's narrative. God isn't a subject to be studied; he's a Person to be encountered. That's why the Bible is the story of God and not the lesson about God.... You can never experience the full flavor of a story by dissecting it; you experience it only by devouring it with the wide-open mouth of your soul."
So yesterday, when I heard of a friend whose experience in reading William P. Young's novel The Shack was subtly dimmed by a fellow Christian who has "serious theological issues" with the story, I just wanted to SCREAM, "Yo! It's fiction! Don't get your knickers in a bunch--just see what God has for you within the story and lift your face to see if you can sense his breath on the page! Save your theological criticism for nonfiction expository writing and just enjoy the freaking story already--what he has for you might open up a new picture of Himself in your heart!"
Okay, I'll admit it. Those are not the words I screamed in my internal monologue. But this is a family show.
As a writer I'm continually amazed at the amount of criticism lobbied against fiction, both secular and Christian. Some things I've heard recently:
"Don't read Twilight, because Vampires are demonic."
Um, last time I checked, vampires were, ahem, make-believe.
Or (run on sentence alert) the other critical comment about the Meyer series that makes me laugh with the ridiculousness of it's postulation by people who probably promote those bonnet-driven CBA titles with vomitously perfect Christian men as their romantic leads:
"Twilight gives young girls an unrealistically high expectation of male behavior."
He-llo-oh! I want my daughters to have an unrealistically high expectation of male behavior--I want them to date guys (when they're 25, of course) whose hearts are filled with romantic thoughtfulness! Puh-leeze! Since we've already established that vampires are fictional creatures, I have to say that if my daughter brought home a young man with the upstanding moral fiber of Edward Cullen I would most heartily give my blessing! Granted, Meyer's books aren't timeless classics or great literary wonders--but they've captured the hearts of a generation (and some of that generation's mothers!) with a sweet love story overlaid with strong moral themes defining the story's core (like the importance of family, waiting for sex until marriage, loyalty, friendship... the list goes on.)
But I digress. I was talking about criticism, wasn't I?
Or how about the old standby of the Mouthy Moral Police which is sure to come back into play this summer when Movie Number Six makes its way to the theatres: "Harry Potter is a wizard teaching children to be disrespectful occultists!" (um, right. Give me a break. Unless someone has made it through Platform 9-3/4 and hasn't told me yet, I believe Harry is, also, fiction.)
Sometimes I'm just so grossed out by religion-biased criticism... (notice I said 'religion' which, to me, is a life emboldened only by rules and regulations and fingerpointing rather than a relationship that interacts with both the Divine and the Culture in which they've been placed.) I wish religious critics would remember and value the beauty of mystery; the beauty of story. I wish they would remember that a mirror shows only one dimension of an object while the object itself is multidimensional.
Fiction Mirrors Truth.
So, as I finish my second cup of coffee today, I'm thinking of this afternoon's workout; wondering if No Fear will have the same can't-put-it-down intensity as, well, Koontz's Intensity. I'll have to let you know. Or if instead, I'll get so into my writing project that my visit to the gym will fade into the "oops, time's up!" category of my day.
So next time you go to the gym and get on some demon treadmill (long story--involves me going through a wall. I no longer use treadmills.) go ahead and check out the recumbant bikes. And while you're there, look in the mirror--not the muscle-boy flexing mirror, dear; the mirror of fiction. Breathe in, breathe out... and fog up the glass--then use your finger not to point, but to carve your intials on some piece of the story. Because Fiction Mirrors Truth.

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