Thursday, March 29, 2018

"Cross Roads"

The startling success of "The Shack," by Wm. Paul Young, sparked discussions about forgiveness and the nature of God. The central human character in the novel was Mackenzie Allen Phillips. True to his initials, he helped "map" in story form how God's love might work itself out in the midst of tragedy.

Now, in a subsequent novel no less imaginative, Young takes on the self-centeredness of one Anthony Sebastian Spencer. In "Cross Roads" ($15 in paperback from FaithWords; also for Amazon Kindle), readers learn that Tony Spencer wants control.

When Loree, his wife, "bowed out gracefully" after Tony's inattention, he wooed her back, married her again, threw a big celebration, and then promptly divorced her. A product of a failed foster care system, disbelieving the "God stuff" he had heard as a child, he "had quit crying about it. He had made mistakes and hurt people, but who hadn't?"

Then Tony is hit by a medical trauma that puts him in a coma, and as he lies dying at an Oregon hospital he "awakens" to an outdoor setting with hiking paths and a number of oddly caring strangers.

Jack makes clear the difference between real and true: Not believing God's love for Tony "becomes what is real to you, and you then create a world that holds not believing the word of this God, or the love of this God, or even in this God at all, as a fundamental cornerstone of your life's construction…. Does your inability to believe the word of this God make what this God has said not true?"

A Jesus-figure enters, giving Tony the ability to physically heal one person. A woman called Grandmother helps Tony see himself for what he truly is.

Who will he choose to heal at the hospital? On that hangs the fantastical tale, by turns funny and full of tears, of what it means for selfishness to be transformed into self-giving love. There is hope, the novel says, for us all.

Wm. Paul Young is the scheduled guest at the Jesus Center's third annual spring luncheon fundraiser on Saturday, April 21 at the Lakeside Pavilion in Chico. Tickets are $55 with more information at

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Jason Bayani (, now headquartered in the Bay Area, has been a National Poetry Slam finalist and is one of the founders of the Filipino American spoken word troupe Proletariat Bronze.

His printed collection of poems, "Amulet" ($15 in paperback from Write Bloody Publishing), cries out to be read aloud. Sometimes it just cries out as the poet attempts to make sense of the power of words and the seeming powerlessness of his lived experience (especially in Texas).

In "Pulling Threads," "Everything in my head is the sound, word/ without shape. …/ I'm not dreaming this. Poems are what happens/ when you close your eyes. Stars are fathomable.// Yesterday she asked what must 'happy' look like for me? I gave her/ the answer I thought should go on my epitaph. This is why, she tells/ me, I can only speak in front of a microphone. … I owe something more than poems. Maybe a really good/ chili recipe, or a second word for thunder…."

In a series of sonnets the last line becomes the first, expansive, line of the following poem, encountering bar fights, hip-hop, and turntablist DJ Qbert: "The thump is the beat, the beat is a wild zephyr,/ that must be why the creation of Art/ feels like caging the wind. …"

"I hold every unruly poem inside my skin," the writer says in "Continuum," and in "God of Misplacements," the question becomes: "What is the speed of living? Too much/ wanting lining over the base. The difference between/ needing to know, and knowing my place. The line/ keeps moving over us. You can't see it. The line keeps/ moving over us and every time we push, the push back/ comes harder. We can say it shouldn't be there anyway./ All I got is to work with what is until it isn't anymore."

Bayani is the scheduled keynote speaker for WordSpring 2018 on Saturday, April 28, at Butte College. Registration for the creative writing conference, which features workshops in poetry, fiction, and more, is $45 for students and educators, and $80 for community members.

The conference is sponsored by the college's English Department, Associated Students, and several local businesses. More details are at

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"Mere Science And Christian Faith: Bridging The Divide With Emerging Adults"

Greg Cootsona, who pastored for many years at Bidwell Presbyterian Church in Chico, has a deep concern for "emerging adults," those between the ages of eighteen and thirty. They marry later and often don't fit in to church activities geared to couples or families.

Many also feel estranged from what evangelical churches say about science (if science is even addressed) and withdraw from Christianity, becoming the "nones" and "dones." This is especially acute in Oakland-San Francisco-San Jose, but also in the Chico-Redding area.

Cootsona, now teaching at Chico State University, is also administering a grant project through Fuller Theological Seminary that seeks not only to find out what this group thinks about science and religion but to develop guidance for churches seeking to engage emerging adults.

"Mere Science And Christian Faith: Bridging The Divide With Emerging Adults" ($17 in paperback from InterVarsity Press) is, writes Cootsona, "both a manifesto and a field guide. As a manifesto, it's designed to convince you that the church must embrace mainstream science for its future."

As a guide, it shows how churches can enter with emerging adults into the conversation about human origins, climate change, the findings of cognitive science, the meaning of technology, and questions about sexuality and gender.

"Emerging adults," Cootsona writes, "hear about conflict, but they seek collaboration or independence." He focuses on integrating science and faith, where possible. "This means that no discovery can dictate our theology or ethics, but also that no form of human insight and knowledge is outside of Christ. Put simply, God knows far more about science that Albert Einstein."

Accessibly written, personal and even poignant at times, the book is essential to any who are interested in emerging adults. It goes a long way toward achieving the goal of weaving "together mainstream science and the good news of mere Christianity into a narrative that's truly beautiful and beautifully true."

Cootsona is scheduled to present a "Mere Science" seminar, based on his book, on Saturday, April 7 from 8:30 - 10:30 a.m. at Bidwell Presbyterian Church. Cost is $10 per person with childcare and a continental breakfast provided. To register, visit

Thursday, March 08, 2018

"Maraschino Cherries: Travel Stories Of A Teacher Abroad""Maraschino Cherries: Travel Stories Of A Teacher Abroad"

When her granddaughter Michelle asked Chicoan Elisabeth Stewart for a story, she stopped short. "I don't have a story," she said. But Michelle insisted: "How is that possible, Oma? You have been around the world and lived a very long time. You must have a story!"

And indeed she does. In the early Eighties Stewart had completed fourteen years teaching Home Economics at Paradise High School and needed a change. She got it--with the help of the Department of Defense.

The tale is recounted in "Maraschino Cherries: Travel Stories Of A Teacher Abroad" ($6.99 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle). It's a personal story of overcoming fears, reaching out to strangers, and finding love, told with kindness and simplicity. Stewart was witness to history (such as the fall of the Berlin wall), confronted sadness and even death along her own journey, but a quiet optimism prevails.

It began with a phone call to her apartment one hot Chico afternoon in July.

The representative of the Department of Defense Dependent Schools had an offer to teach home economics in Frankfurt, Germany. Betty Thompson (her name then) had applied weeks earlier, holding her ground as the interviewer announced that sixteen applicants would be questioned. She was number seventeen. It took a bit of old-fashioned resolve, but she got an interview, too.

Later that summer she found herself in Frankfurt with her fifteen-year-old daughter, Barb, ready to settle in. First, though, was the "new teacher processing procedure" from the Office of Personnel Management. "The OPM person had a stack of folders on her desk easily five inches high. She opened the first folder and we began the work…. My head filled with a fog as sound blurred and drifted away from me, vision faded, and I dozed."

Word got around about an American woman who fell asleep during the orientation. Then she met Robert Stewart, a science teacher, who was also part of the program. It's safe to say her eyes were opened.

Saying "yes" to a proposal "was the easy part"; turns out that getting married in Germany was "a whole nother kettle of bratwurst" and only the beginning.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

"Have Your Cake And Be Happy, Too: A Joyful Approach To Weight Loss"

Weight loss coach Michelle Hastie of Paradise is convinced that most diet programs get off on the wrong foot. They're all about limits and can't-haves. Her alternative "asks you to lose weight while living your life. In fact, this method of weight loss requires you to be so incredibly full of life that your body has no choice but to transform."

What that means is spelled out, encouragingly, in "Have Your Cake And Be Happy, Too: A Joyful Approach To Weight Loss" ($14.95 in paperback from Absolute Love Publishing,; also for Amazon Kindle). "You are going to lovingly step inside of your body and communicate with the deepest version of yourself," Hastie writes. "You become an expert not in nutrition or exercise, but in you and your body."

There are seven "steps" in Hastie's program ( which focus not only on "total body transformation" but "total life transformation." "Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full," but do so in a context of living "connectedly, intentionally, joyously, truthfully, abundantly, deliciously, fully."

It's easy to indulge in pity parties and excuses when one "blows it." "If you feel like you can't tell the difference between excuses and truth, listen to your feelings. In yoga, there is an emphasis on body communication. The belief is that your body sends you messages through symptoms and feelings. … Always follow what makes you feel better. … If you are feeling lazy, either get up and move or be lazy and proud!"

Meditation and spirituality are important. "Whatever higher power or universal law you decide to trust … you can be assured that this higher power believes that you don't have to struggle. … When I don't know how to solve a problem, I close my eyes, breathe, and thank the universe for sending me the answers I am seeking."

In listening to the body's call for balance, moving from "can't have" to "choose not to have," "the body responds to your intentional and clear actions by loosening the waistline of your pants once again."

For Hastie, that's the bottom line of the bottom line.