Why I prefer nonfiction over fiction

35244821086_e8236a33a9_z1-300x200Since I was a child, I’ve dreamed of becoming the next great American novelist. I have published a few novels, and yet none of them are quite as dear to my heart as my two memoirs. I realized something critical about myself the more I’ve devoted myself to nonfiction writing (mostly about the intersection of faith and politics): I’m not very good at making things up.

If there’s anything I’ve learned during my time as a graduate student of creative nonfiction, it’s that memoir writing, and even literary essays, can follow a story arc similar to what you’ll find in fiction: there is a beginning, a development of conflict, a set of characters (even if the only character is the writer herself), a middle, and a resolution. Like fiction, nonfiction doesn’t require a neat, tidy ending. But a decisive finishing point is required just the same.

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Richard Rohr and “double belonging”

I just finished reading Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr, which is one of those Christian books that’s part devotional and part self-help. The book focuses on “two halves” of spiritual development, or what members of the resistance have dubbed “being woke”: at some point in your spiritual life, you begin to realize that just because a group calls itself “Christian” does not mean everyone within it is alike. Not every Christian has the same questions, the same doubts, and the same experiences.

When lived experiences conflict with what you’ve been taught about God and the Bible, spiritual stretching is inevitable. It may be that some of our spiritual needs are better met in places outside of church or bible study.

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Christian women gather in Washington to protest feminism

The idea of women gathering to protest against feminism makes as much sense as vegans marching in support of cheeseburgers, but a group of Christian women recently gathered on the Washington Mall to dance, pray, and protest about a movement they feel does not represent them.

Where Two Or More Are Gathered

“For years, the feminists lied to us,” Christian author Lisa Bevere shouted from the stage. “They said for us to be powerful as women, we needed to act like men.” The women gathered on the Mall raised their hands in praise.

It’s a fact of history that women have had to “act like men,” if not impersonate them completely, to get ahead. To be published, for example, women had to adopt male pseudonyms. To be in theater or attend universities, women would have had to pretend to be men. Perhaps this accusation of being “like men” is more a criticism of patriarchy than feminism itself — but I digress.

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I confronted my rapist via Facebook

tat4(1)Two years ago today, I had my first paid freelance piece published on xoJane. Two years later, with an unrepentant rapist as president, and allegations of abuse against film executive Harvey Weinstein, this piece is still relevant.

There are real consequences women face when they come forward, which is why many choose to stay silent. It doesn’t mean the abuse didn’t happen – it means that the innate sense of self-preservation outweighs the benefits of pressing charges. Statistically, less than 3% of rapists ever spend time in prison. And if they do, it’s often a shortened sentence, as was the case with Stanford rapist Brock Turner.

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Relationship deal breakers and mental health

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I’ve done a great deal of thinking, journaling, and praying over the question of what my ‘deal breakers’ are when it comes to differences in beliefs. I generally consider myself a tolerant person, or at least I try to be. I pride myself on having friends of all kinds of religious and political backgrounds. I enjoy friendly debate about controversial issues, and learning others’ perspectives.

But as my depression worsens, I’ve had to make some difficult decisions in the name of mental health. I debated cutting ties with certain friends based on the amount of time I’ve known them – some since elementary school – but people don’t remain the same forever. I know I’ve changed, and so have they: to a point where compatibility is no longer possible.

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Mother! shows us what toxic forgiveness looks like in evangelical culture

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This post contains spoilers

Conservative Christians aren’t usually fond of how Hollywood portrays them on-screen, and Mother! is no exception. In a review on Plugged In, the entertainment blog of Focus on the Family, reviewer Adam R. Holz calls it “The most scathing, contempt-filled attack upon [Christianity] that I have ever seen.”

The Humanist summarizes the plot as follows:

Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) is Mother Nature and her husband, Him (Javier Bardem), is God. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer’s characters — we never get their names — are Adam and Eve. Harris’s Adam is overindulgent. He drinks and smokes too much (and has a wound on his right side). Pfeiffer’s Eve is lecherous and eager to know the sexual details of Mother and Him’s relationship. Him invites Adam and Eve to stay at the couple’s home — carefully cultivated by Mother, who faintly protests them staying but eventually gives in. After some time, the Adam and Eve characters’ sons (Cain and Abel) arrive and, following scripture, one kills the other. Mother and Him host a wake for the dead son. The house is filled with strangers who eventually start trashing (as well as renovating) the place. Mother begs Him to make everyone leave, which he begrudgingly does. At this point, it begins pouring rain outside (the Flood).

The second half of the film is the New Testament. Mother is pregnant. Him — a famous poet suffering from severe writer’s block — finally finishes another poem. The media and Him’s fans begin showing up at the home. Mother tries to keep the aggressively intrusive guests out but fails. She again begs Him to make them leave but he loves their affections too much to turn them away. The house is overrun. Him’s fan-followers start looting, ripping off even chunks of the walls.

Neither theory — “mother” as a nature metaphor, “mother” as religious allegory — holds up all the way through, though if the film is interpreted through Christian lenses, let’s put it this way: the God-like figure, played by Javier Bardem is definitely not a nice God. Actually, he seems quite a bit insane.

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NEW RELEASE: Refocusing My Family by Amber Cantorna

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I was so fortunate to have had the opportunity to read early drafts of Amber Cantorna’s new memoir, Refocusing My Family: Coming out, being cast out, and discovering the true love of God. “Refocusing” is a play on the name of the fundamentalist organization, Focus on the Family, of which Amber’s family is affiliated. Tragically, yet predictably, her family chose to cut off all contact with Amber after coming out.

For Christians on both sides of the gay debate, this book is timely and important. Now more than ever, we need to pay attention to the stories of LGBT teens and adults whose inability to change who they are is costing them their homes, their financial security, and more. Fortunately, Amber was an adult when she came out to her parents, so she was not dependent on them for safety as a teenager might be. Still, those scenes are heartbreaking, and nothing at all like what I imagine Jesus would want parents to do. Nothing in the world should ever break a parent’s bond with their child. I’m not a parent myself, but that seems obvious enough.

On why she felt compelled to write this book, Amber says,

Refocusing My Family’ is releasing at a critical time in our nation’s history. Now, more than ever, we need the voices of LGBTQ Christians to rise up. ‘Refocusing My Family’ humanizes this hot political topic and brings it down to a very personal and intimate level. The goal in sharing this true and heartbreaking story is to lend strength and hope to others wrestling in the closet of conservative faith communities and call attention to the crucial need for acceptance and inclusion from their family, peers, and loved ones. The suicide statistics related to LGBTQ people that come from rejecting families is astronomical. Having barely survived these odds, I feel compelled to speak up and expose the truth of my own Focus on the Family upbringing in order to increase awareness and invoke the pressing need to transform our culture and repair the damage being done to LGBTQ people in the name of God. I believe that embedded in my identity is a responsibility to be a voice for change, and the time for change is now.”

Fortunately the story has a happy ending. Today, Amber is happily married to Clara, and is the mom of two dogs.

You can purchase Amber’s book on Amazon, as well as read an excerpt here.

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Christians who support Donald Trump have no business criticizing Hugh Hefner

Within hours after Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died on Wednesday, evangelical Christians began writing predictable eulogies about how he exploited women and encouraged immorality.

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But one glaring hypocrisy ruins the sincerity of their words: Many of these evangelical promoters of sexual purity voted for Donald Trump, remained silent while their Christian allies voted for Trump, or weren’t disturbed enough by everything Trump did before the election to vote against him.

You can’t trash Hugh Hefner when your rhetoric against the president is either mild or non-existent.

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I have a Patreon! Please support my writing!

zobooksWhat started as one self-published book has now turned into six, with several five-star reviews and bestseller status on Amazon more than once in the last few years. As my writing platform slowly grows, so has my network as a freelance writer and editor, granting me the ability to work from home doing what I love. I owe all that success to you guys: my readers.

But as you may be aware, the income of a freelancer isn’t always stable, nor is the income exactly the same every month. Much of my income goes toward creating advertisements with carefully targeted audiences on social media to help boost my reach. This can make it difficult to put much in the bank.

To help facilitate this, I’ve set up a Patreon page, where you can pledge to donate a custom amount each month, anywhere from $1 to $100. You can also make one-time donations via PayPal, using the email address Sbeth1188 (at) gmail (dot) com. Every little bit helps!

If giving financially is not an option for you, that’s totally fine! I am deeply grateful to everyone who has reblogged or retweeted my posts, or shared them across other social media platforms. And to everyone who has purchased my books: thank you. Having strangers read my work is a big check mark off my bucket list (bonus when those strangers turn into friends!).

Once again, thank you, and hope to keep hearing (or reading, more accurately) your voices in the discussion threads here.

SB

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Tim Kaine can’t care about poor people, because he’s pro-choice

In a recent editorial for Christianity Today, Wheaton College professor Ed Stetzer took Sen. Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton‘s running mate, to task for using the Bible to appeal to Christian compassion.

According to Stetzer, one can’t properly care for “the least of these” — the poor, the hungry, the sick, the downtrodden — while also holding a pro-choice stance on abortion.

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Kaine, who identifies as Catholic, wrote a piece for CT comparing the Body of Christ that Paul references in the Bible with the diversity of the American people. Just as Paul believed that everyone in the Body ought to care about and help each other — no man is an island, so to speak — so, too, should Americans embrace diversity of thought in the on-going debate over healthcare. That means having bipartisan discussions on the future of health care, Kaine says, not, as we’re seeing right now, a Republican Party that wants no input from elected Democrats as they work to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

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