“Empty Promises” review

Empty Promises coverEmpty Promises: The Truth About You,
Your Desires, and the Lies You’re Believing

By Pete Wilson
Thomas Nelson Publishers
10 April 2012

I feel like I always start these reviews with, “Well, I was interested and the book looked promising, but I was disappointed in the end and I just wanted something more.” Unfortunately, I fear that’s the case with Pete Wilson’s Empty Promises, too. And—pardon the play on words—this book just seemed like it was filled with empty promises.

For whom is this book actually written? From the title, it sounds like I should’ve been more convinced by the author’s argument/explanation (which is, simply put, that Jesus and the god of Abraham are the only way to true happiness) than I actually am now that I’ve finished it. Based on the content of the book, the title is misleading. It’s full of contradictions: Wilson states on one page that humans have no inborn desire for celebrity (and he writes it as though it’s obvious), and yet on the very next page he employs gender essentialism. (Wilson also oh-so-helpfully makes use of ageism and white guilt and infuriatingly misuses the word “jealous” throughout.) He writes that praying brings us closer to the god of Abraham, but beware because praying for prayer’s sake is actually a distraction!

Maybe I should’ve known that this book is for Christians because it was written by a Christian pastor and it deals with spiritual matters, but I was really hoping that it could speak to me, too. In that respect, I wasn’t disappointed, though the things I discovered about myself I doubt the author intended. The premise of Empty Promises is based on the idea that people inherently have an emptiness that only the god of Abraham can fill and that to (attempt to) fill it with anything else is not only foolish but also sinful. I discovered, then, that I don’t believe that people necessarily have an inner emptiness. (I believe it’s possible and certainly many people have feelings of deep emptiness, but I don’t think it’s inherent.)

In roughly the middle of the book, the author tries to debunk the idea that all love is conditional (ie: “If I do [X], God will love me”) and writes that the god of Abraham loves us no matter what, despite our sins and failures and that “adding to the gospel” is actually what makes us think that God’s love has limits/conditions. I discovered (it was quite the 3 AM epiphany, actually, no joke!) that all love is conditional, it’s just that the condition may surprise us. In this case, God’s condition is Jesus. “But God loves people who don’t believe in Jesus, too!” you say. Well, it’s possible (as anything is possible), but according to Christian scripture, Jesus is still the only way to God and everyone else is SOL/going to hell. Is that conditional, or not? You tell me.

“It’s just Jesus,” the author writes, and not “Jesus + _____________”. Is it really so obvious? No, I don’t think it is. Jews, for example, would say that Christianity “adds on” to Jewish scriptures. So, what “counts” as gospel, and what’s been added? Well, if you’re a Protestant, the Book of Mormon has been added. If you’re Jewish, the entire New Testament has been added! Not to mention that Wilson actually adds things himself later in the book: Jesus + patience, or Jesus + knowing [God’s] word, or Jesus + keeping [God’s] commandments, etc.

Empty Promises raised more questions than it gave answers, and I can’t decide if that was the author’s intention or not. At one point, Wilson asks, “What do you do when your religion isn’t big enough for God?” Now there’s a good question, and I didn’t even have to think of it myself!

DISCLAIMER: I received Empty Promises free from Thomas Nelson Publishers in return for a review of the book. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Ascent from Darkness

Ascent from Darkness coverAscent from Darkness:
How Satan’s Soldier Became God’s Warrior

By Michael Leehan
Thomas Nelson Publishers
04 October 2011

This book has been sitting in my room for months after receiving it, waiting for me to do something with it. I chose it because I’ve been learning about the god Lucifer recently, and was interested to learn if a story with a Christian end could have a non-hateful view of other things non-Christian. Well… not so much, it turns out.

I finally sat down and read it and… well, sorry, Mr. Leehan, but I’m kind of not impressed. Ascent from Darkness is a kind of personal testimony to how far a person can “fall” and still experience the saving power of Christ’s grace. While it’s clear that the author needed saving, I don’t think a lot of the things he considered to be “Satan’s soldiering” actually are. As someone who’s not a Christian, it’s easy for me to have this view because (1) I actually think Lucifer might be a decent guy, and (2) I don’t have any investment in any god saving me from anything, even myself.

The story follows Michael Leehan’s struggle with depression, addiction, and poor behavior (generally speaking). I wouldn’t go so far as to say it involved spiritual warfare, but he certainly thought that after the fact, and I can’t argue with his feelings, so I’ll say this: a lot of shitty things were done to him as a child. He didn’t feel loved. He was abused. I sympathize. Truly, that really sucks.

But then he grew up and instead of asking for help or trying to prove all those horrible adults wrong or even taking revenge on them (all reasonable reactions, I’d say, though they all come from different human needs), he instead made a lot of shitty decisions on his own (who hasn’t? I mean, really)—some because he was depressed, some because he was arrogant, some because he was scared—and now he’s blaming those decisions on Satan? And his subsequent decision to stop making poor decisions on his conversion to Christianity? Wow. Way to take responsibility for your own actions, man. Good job.

I mean, Leehan’s life was in a downward spiral toward complete self-destruction, so anything that saved him from that is a good thing. I just think that he didn’t give himself enough credit for the positive changes he made in his own life. Then again, he didn’t really take credit for all the crappy things either, so I guess that’s par for the course.

DISCLAIMER: I received Ascent from Darkness free from Thomas Nelson Publishers in return for a review of the book. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Pagan Survey

B A S I C S

Do you have a magickal name? I’ve had one in the past, but I don’t anymore.

How did you find Wicca/Paganism? I read an article in Teen People when I was… 13? I think? Maybe 12. I don’t remember.

How long have you been practicing? um… 13 years. Or 14.

Solitary or group practitioner? Solitary.

What is your path? Polytheist.

Are you out of the broom closet? Not really. To a few people, yes, I guess; but generally I don’t talk about it one way or the other.

D E I T Y

Who is your patron God? I have no patron god, though I revere Hermes.

Who is your patron Goddess? I don’t have a patron (matron?) goddess, either, but I listen for Athena and Artemis.

Do you fear darkly aspected Gods/Goddess, or rather respect them? I fear them sometimes, but I fear lightbringers, too, so I don’t know what fear really has to do with it.

Do you worship the Christian God? No, I don’t.

Do you ever worship animals? No, but I believe that god is everyone and everything…

Or plants? … including plants. And rocks.

N A T U R E

Do you regularly commune with nature? Not really. I mean, I walk to work sometimes, but it’s on a street the whole way and the freeway is RIGHTTHERE, so it’s not like I can really even hear any nature that’s not human-made, you know?

Ever walked barefoot in the woods? Yes, but not recently.

Taken a camping trip just to talk to nature? No.

Describe the moment you felt closest to Mother Earth? The day Bennett took me up to the roof of a building overlooking Central Park when The Gates were still standing. That was powerful.

What is your power animal? I don’t have one, though someone once jokingly told me it should be Pikachu, and Hermes thought that was the funniest shit ever and wouldn’t let me hear the end of it for a long time. >_>

Do you have a familiar? No.

Have you ever called upon the powers of an animal in ritual? No.

Or a plant? No.

Do you hug trees? Haha, yes, I have.

Give them gifts? I try not to litter and stuff, but I don’t know if that counts as a gift.

What is your favorite flower to work with? Lavender, Rose, Poppy, Forget-Me-Not, Bluebonnet

What is your favorite tree to work with? The ones close to me. I don’t have enough knowledge of trees to work with any certain type.

W H E E L . O F . T H E . Y E A R

What is your favorite holiday? Imbolc

What is your least favorite holiday? Honestly… Yule.

Have you ever held a ritual on a holiday? Yes.

Ever taken a day off work to celebrate a pagan holiday? Yes, though I didn’t specify why I was taking the day off.

Do you celebrate Yule on the 21st rather than the 25th? Yes, though my family is Christian, so I tolerate their Christmas traditions, too, including the birth of Jesus on the 25th and whatnot.

Have you ever felt the veil thin? Yes.

Ever danced the Maypole? No.

Know what the Maypole symbolizes? Yes, and that’s the least a person should know before they dance around it.

How do you usually celebrate the pagan holidays? Quietly and alone.

D I V I N A T I O N

Do you use Tarot? Not often.

Do you use runes? No, though I own a set.

Do you use a pendulum? Yes.

Do you use dowsing rods? No.

Do you use astrology? Sometimes.

Any other form of divination? Mirror scrying, tea leaf reading

S P E L L S

What was the first spell you did? Damn… I haven’t cast a spell in such a long time. I don’t even remember.

What was the latest? Like I said, I don’t remember the last spell I cast. It’s been a long time. Like… years.

Ever done a love spell? Yes.

A job spell? No.

A healing spell? Yes.

What was the most powerful spell you’ve ever performed? I can’t properly write about it, poor writer that I am.

What deities do you usually call on? Athena, Artemis, and Hermes. Sometimes Brighid, the Morrigan, or Quan-Yin.

C R Y P T O Z O O L O G Y

Do you believe in Vampires? Not in the traditional sense, no.

Werewolves? No.

Shapeshifters? I haven’t thought about it.

Elves? I… don’t think so?

Faeries? Yes.

Dragons? No.

Nymphs? As in “wood nymph”…? Not really, but I wouldn’t be surprised either way.

Sprites? No.

Mermaids? No, but it would be cool, right?

Sirens? Absolutely yes, but not the kind of legend.

Satyrs? No.

Ever seen any of the above? No.

Ever talked to any of the above? Yes.

Ever used any of the above in magick? No. Well, not to my knowledge.

Do you have one of them as a personal guardian? No.

R A N D O M

Do you see a rabbit, a man or a woman in the moon? I guess… a man. I don’t know. I never thought about it.

Own a cat? Yes.

When you mediate what does your happy place look like? It’s too complicated to explain and I wouldn’t even if it was simple. Sorry; it’s personal.

Do you work with Chakras? No.

Do you believe in past lives? Yes, and future ones, too.

If so, describe a few briefly: I don’t know any of my past lives in much detail.

Do you believe in soul mates? Yes.

Do you have a spirit guide? Not that I know of.

Is it always love and light? No, nor should it be.

How I do the season

So, I work in a retail store wherein Christmas songs are playing nonstop every single day from November 15 until Christmas Day. I don’t dislike Christmas songs, generally speaking, except for “Santa Baby” and “It’s Cold Outside”, but hearing any song over and over and over for any extended period of time is going to make me hate it.

Here’s how I do Christmas where I work. A customer says, “Merry Christmas!” and I say, “You, too!”

A customer says, “Happy holidays!” and I say, “You, too!”

A customer says, “Happy Hanukkah!” and I say, “You, too!” I’m sure you get the idea, here.

I’m not against anyone celebrating their own version of the winter holidays. Seriously, I’m not. And I say it as non-curmudgeonly as I can, which—I admit—after a few hours, isn’t saying all that much. But I honest-to-gods try to be nice about it.

What irritates me is two-fold. First, that people assume I celebrate what they do. That’s… overlook-able, I suppose, since (1) people are afraid of what they don’t understand, (2) they incorrectly assume that everyone is like them, and (3) it’s in the “giving spirit” of the holidays, no matter what words actually came out of their mouths.

Second—less common and more irritating—that when they find out I that I don’t celebrate what they do (let’s just be honest here and say that it only happens with Christmas because it’s never happened with anyone except the Christians) they get offended and either (1) try to convert me on the spot, or (2) immediately tell me that I’m “part of the problem” in the “war on Christmas” (seriously??), or (3) immediately try to guess whatever holiday-of-the-moment I do celebrate and then explain how that’s actually just another way of celebrating Christmas because Jesus is in everyone no matter what.

I mean, really. You think all that is going to get me into the “spirit of the season”? Ugh.

Since before November 15, I have been complaining trying really hard not to complain about the Christmas music, putting up with the ridiculous Santa hats and reindeer antlers, tolerating everyone’s apparent (and, I hope to gods, temporary) lack of taste in clothing (when else, after all, is it acceptable to wear such gauche sweaters and jewelry?), and trying not to be bitter about everyone suddenly being “nice” and “caring” when I would rather just have them be decent all year round instead of hateful the rest of the year and sickly sweet for a month at the end.

So, fine. I’m Scrooge. I’m the Grinch. Whatever. During the holiday season, I just (1) accept presents that are given to me—because who doesn’t like presents?—and (2) try not to strangle anyone.

2222

This is, somehow, my 2222nd published post. Since December 2001, I’ve actually published more entries than this landmark shows because this past August I deleted a bunch of my old posts up through about June 2006. (Hahaha, bet you hadn’t noticed that.)

This month, my family and I celebrated International Pocky Day (11/11/11), so named because it’s possible to use Pocky to write out the entire date!

Now, it’s my 2222nd journal entry here at duncan heights.

I’m waiting for something with 3333 in it. If that happens in the next month or so, I’ll have to add an extra sprig of holly and ivy to my altar to Athena. She’s been on my mind a lot recently, and I think it might be because She wants me to either (1) get my act together for once in my life, or (2) just let my life finish falling apart so she can help me pick up the pieces.

We’ll see.

Here’s to 2222 more entries!

“Surprised by Oxford” review

Surprised by Oxford coverSurprised by Oxford: A Memoir
By Carolyn Weber
Thomas Nelson Publishers
09 August 2011

Carolyn Weber, it seems, has asked many of the same questions I’ve had about Christianity. She attends Oxford University in Britain and during her first year there, leaves agnosticism for Christianity. Unfortunately, the answers she received were either (1) not written in this book, (2) not answers I would have accepted very easily (maybe she’s easily pleased?), or (3) not answers at all and she eventually just “accepted God’s grace”. Skipping over a lot of the theology of her conversion may have been a wise choice, actually, in terms of writing this memoir, but it didn’t help me for her to say something like, “We stayed up late into the night arguing about women’s role in the church” and then never tell me what exactly the arguments were. But then again, there are entire books written about subjects like that without the personal aspect included, and I suppose I could read them if I really wanted the debate, right?

In some ways, I really enjoyed this book, and I actually had to finish reading it before deciding what to write about it, something that is—at least for me—very rare. I loved the frequent and elegant use of quotations from classic and modern literature. As an English major in college, I read many of the pieces she quotes, and I felt right at home with her intellect and obvious intelligence. If you’re not a reading type, this book will probably not interest you. It’s not exactly beach reading, and it has so many references to other works that even I had to look some of them up. (To help in that regard, Weber includes a “Notes” section at the end, separated by chapter, that essentially acts as an annotated bibliography.) I also liked her character descriptions, even though I could never keep her friends apart from one another. It turned out that didn’t matter much, though, because Weber uses the characters—aside from herself and “TDH” (short for “Tall, Dark, and Handsome”)—only as conduits to tell of her arguments, discussions, and eventual conversion; unfortunately, it seems the characters act mostly as foils.

In other ways, however, Surprised by Oxford felt lacking. It’s a good 450 pages, for one thing, so the more casual reader might not even pick it up (not “lacking” in its length so much as intimidating). The entire thing is very well written, and I like that it follows Oxford’s school year (starting the summer before her first year there and ending the summer after), but the further through the story I read, the more I felt bombarded by the author’s preaching. It’s clear she loves God and wants everyone to have the peace and grace that she has, but the book became a pedestal for her to say, “God loves you; believe in Jesus and be saved!” (not her actual words) more than the story of her own transformation.

In the end, I kept coming back to three lines that haunted me from the moment I first read them near the beginning of the book until I finished the last chapter and epilogue. The author and her friends are talking about how becoming an honest-to-God Christian is seen by many people as crazy, even when they themselves live in a “Christian” nation.

“Cynicism is the last refuge of petty minds,” Linnea said with her usual flair.

“You don’t believe either,” I shot back at her.

“Unlike you, however, my dear, I’m not looking for reasons not to believe,” she shrugged.

(Page 92; emphasis mine.) And, I guess, I’m not looking for reasons not to believe, either. I just don’t.

DISCLAIMER: I received Surprised by Oxford free from Thomas Nelson Publishers in return for a review of the book. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. You can find Carolyn Weber online at her blog, Pressing Save.