On writing, keeping God first, and Elizabeth Scalia’s new book: Strange Gods

On writing, keeping God first, and Elizabeth Scalia’s new book: Strange Gods

There’s a simple line from the Book of Wisdom, that comes from Solomon’s prayer for wisdom…

“For both we and our words are in his Hand.” (Wisdom 7:16 rsv)

One of the things I love about God is that He is a Creator, and very much, a writer. The Bible is his book. He wrote laws, prose, prophecy, and poetry. And He gets writers. And he is pleased when writers words inspire and point to him. He not only chose to use human writers to pass on his divine revelation when He breathed his life into the Scriptures, but he shares his divine life still today — in the Spirit — for “in him, we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This doesn’t mean that what we modern Catholic writers are writing is scripture, but if we are writing anything worthwhile, it had better be based on the truths of scripture.

As a member of the Catholic Writers Guild, and as a writer at many Catholic websites and periodicals, I’ve been blessed to meet several writers who strive to be agents of the new evangelization, to write, as it were, in a certain sense, for God, and for making his words and his ways better known throughout the earth in whatever genre or media we may be using. As a spiritual and writing practice  each day, as we take up our pens and keyboards, I suggest it would be good for us to recognize this simple truth from Solomon, one of the great biblical writers, that both we, and our words are in God’s hands. That God is, really, our all in all. And we should let nothing, nothing, get between God and us.

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Elizabeth Scalia is a writer I’ve long admired. Her posts at The Anchoress, Our Sunday Visitor, and her weekly column on Tuesdays at First Things, have been staples in my weekly reading for several years.

In recent years, when I’ve been asked to give talks to new media newbies for the Catholic Writers Guild, and elsewhere, The Anchoress’s blog would be one of the few that I would cite for new would-be bloggers as one of the premier blogs that we might all hope to emulate. Good writing. Crisp analysis. Witty. Engaging. And more good writing.Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 11.02.57 PM

One summer day in 2010, when I was giving that same new media talk to a gathering of Catholic writers in New York, much to my surprise, Elizabeth Scalia was in the audience. We had never met before, and we later struck up a little conversation after her very constructive comments were given from the floor to the group in an open Q&A. I believe the subject matter at that moment was that I was exhorting future and present writers to be of service to one another — to help form a community for the cause of Christ, and to view one another with charity, not as competition within the same media, but as potential allies and friends, where friendly “iron sharpening iron” could take place without tearing down the other, knowing that we are called to call each other forward in this great endeavor. In this way, we’d foster the new evangelization by first being evangelized ourselves by the law of love… remembering that we and our words are in His hand.

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Elizabeth Scalia and me, Catholic New Media Conference, 2012.

In the three years since that day, I can say that I truly have been a personal recipient of that kind of generosity of spirit in the blog space that is offered by The Anchoress. Plus, I’m privileged to serve as one of the column writers at Patheos and grateful for my piece of real estate over there that came after Elizabeth asked me to write a short piece for Patheos after our first meeting back in 2010. From there came Elizabeth’s first guest appearance on Among Women, and a whole lot more that I never really expected. Yet like her surprise appearance in my audience that summer afternoon, she has remained someone that has contributed a great deal to the conversation that is my life, both as a writer, and in person, including her kind endorsement and support of my book, and now it is my happy thrill to share a publisher with her in Ave Maria Press.

Elizabeth wrote one heck of book in Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life. There are amazing people who have endorsed it. Frankly, it would be easy for me to say, just go read it and be done. I’ve reviewed it over at the Patheos Book Club, let me tell you why you need to read this: This woman’s words are in God’s hands. This book is one very thought-provoking meditation on just one line from Sacred Scripture… the first commandment: “I am the LORD your God… You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex 20: 2-3 rsv) Yep, that’s it. That’s the text and thesis of the whole book. And its one we need to recall and bring to mind, and contemplate in a daily way, because for many of us the words in that commandment have grown dull. Or maybe, we’ve never really given them much thought at all.

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Here’s part of my review of Strange Gods at Patheos…

The Ten Commandments first declare, “I am the LORD your God… You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex 20: 2-3 rsv). And yet, we do. This thoughtful and thought-provoking book, Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life, exposes to our chagrin, yet ultimately to our benefit, that this premiere command of the Decalogue cannot be overlooked if we are to ever dare to live the other nine. Armed with faith in the graces that that sustain us in our failures, plus witty sensibilities regarding the nature of fortitude and wisdom, author and blogger extraordinaireElizabeth Scalia, offers us mortals in search of grace, a thorough reality check:

“We dismiss the golden calf story and its lessons at our peril. It’s true we are no longer literally flinging our precious metals into a crucible and buffing up stolid beasts of burden to worship. In some ways matters are worse, for we do not know the idols we bow down to. Our present-day idols are much less obvious, but they are also less distant and more ingrained within us. Idols begin with ideas. From there we shape them in the psyche, grow them in the ego, and then engage with them intimately, throughout our lives, in our families, our culture, our entertainments, and our political discourse. We create idols out of our norms of behavior, our material possessions, and social status. We even create them out of our faith.”

Who among us has not bowed down to something we have really wanted?  Or maybe we’ve used different language for it — we might be flinging ourselves toward someone or something, or actively achieving something that consumes us — even the seemingly good things in life? Or what about all the trophies we line up for ourselves — the way we make plans, use time, or even play or work with technology? Whatever captivates or demands our attention has the distinct potential to become an idol standing between the verity that is our true life with God — an encounter we may miss, delay, or betray in favor of our strange gods. Ouch! Do you really what to read this book? Yes and yes.

1-59471-342-1Yes, open this book, and prepare to feel, perhaps momentarily, panicked that all of your life is an unexposed idol minefield, fraught with spiritual missteps that you can never avoid. But, YES, take courage! Like an experienced special ops mission commander unlocking the mysteries of night vision goggles and other tactics to detect the presence of The Enemy at close range, Scalia teaches plebes and veterans alike how to see more clearly so they can wisely navigate the previously unseen dangers of modern idolatry.

A particular strength of this book, and why it will be successful in furthering the new evangelization, is that Scalia offers a self-effacing demeanor and candor in describing her own idol worship. But more than that, Scalia affirms, ultimately, that Christianity as a yes — at its heart is a benevolent and loving God Who really is worthy of all attempts at idol smashing.

The rest is here.

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Among Women listeners can look forward to a guest appearance from Elizabeth Scalia, coming in June.

 

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    On writing, keeping God first, and Elizabeth Scalia’s new book: Strange Gods