Weeding the garden: Gretha Wiid under fire

 

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Gretha Wiid. Facebook.

 

Popular Afrikaans lay speaker and self-appointed “relationship expert” Gretha Wiid has been in the news a lot lately. She’s come under fire for the controversial anti-LGBTI views she espouses in books aimed at ten- to thirteen-year-olds. In her Lyfslim (“Body Smart”)  books she writes that same-sex attraction is a choice and typically the result of, among other things, sexual abuse at a young age.

Wiid is in the same camp as Angus Buchan – a position she set up with his approval, hosting “Worthy Women” conferences to complement his “Mighty Men” ones – and espouses the same supposedly theologically indisputable “men are the heads of their households” and anti-gay nonsense that he does. That she’s so popular with women baffles me; as Lilly Nortje-Meyer points out in this illuminating article, Wiid and her staunchest followers are formeninists; essentially believing that a Christian woman’s core value revolves around her relationship to men. This – and the whole belief that men are the “prophets, priests and kings” of their homes – is unbiblical. I’d even go so far as to call it idolatry. But I digress.

I wanted to write about Wiid’s response to her criticism, which has been telling in the extreme. It’s not uncommon for people like Wiid to defend their actions by claiming sovereignty from criticism, which they usually do by saying that any opposition they experience is Satanic in origin. Wiid has done that; a few days after the debacle started, she posted to Facebook that no plans formed against her family would prosper. She skirted around the issue – her bizarre, and might I say entirely unscientific views on same-sex attraction – by saying that she loved gay people because her brother is gay*. Anyway, the non-apology didn’t work, and the South African Human Right’s Commission has confirmed that it’s investigating complaints of hate speech against her.

This even more that her weak-as-tea theology is what bugs me the most: her arrogance. She claims her Scripture-derived inspiration supersedes the inherent value of other people (nonbiblical. Seriously, has she met Jesus?), and she acts as though her interpretation of the Bible is supreme, despite the fact that it is hermeneutically unsound. To Wiid, any opposition must be the work of Satan. If she’s so eager to find Satan’s hand in her circumstances, she need look no farther than her pride and her ego.

I doubt any of what’s happening to Wiid will work to soften her heart; Christians of her persuasion are usually only a step away from a persecution complex, and I suspect that’s what we’ll see unfold in the next few weeks: how South Africa, and the “liberal gay agenda” is causing Bible-believing Christians to renounce their convictions or face punishment. I strongly suspect that she’ll fail to see that freedom of speech and belief does not cover the freedom to espouse absolute bullcrap that devalues the full personhood of others, and to impressionable children no less.

The bigger issue, of course, is how these books of her – published back in 2009 – were seen fit to publish in the first place. Wiid is published by Carpe Diem Media, who also have “perennial shelvers” like Isak Burger and Andries Enslin in their stable. Unsurprisingly Carpe Diem Media are responsible for the women’s magazine Finesse, a publication that centres its content around “modern Christian women” of the soft complementarian persuasion, mixing fashion with diet tips to “keep him interested” with soft-lit covers of local celebrities.

Yet for Wiid to be as popular as she is – more than 120 000 people like her Facebook page, after all – she has to be selling well. Her market is a niche one: white, Afrikaans-speaking conservative Christian women. Proportionately she probably has a big share of this market, so clearly she’s appealing to some people. And that’s most worrisome of all: that in 2017 Wiid easily drums up support for damaging, ludicrous and unscientific claims, all under the flag of “Christianity”, with the consent and even approval of so many people.


*Her brother has spoken out in support of her; interestingly, and probably in no way related to anything, he is also her manager. 

Book review: The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer

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I always swear up and down I won’t read any more young adult fiction – my days as a Twihard haunt me still, though perhaps not as much as they should – but inevitably a YA title makes it way into my reading list, and here we are. Sometimes the experience is unpleasant – Jennifer Armentrout’s “Obsidian” and Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series both come to mind – but YA fiction isn’t always like being stabbed in the liver.

In that vein, I’ve got to say I enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles without worrying how it would look if I died with these books on my bedside cabinet.

Cinder, Scarlett, Cress and Winter – with a bunch of novellas stopping gaps between the major instalments – follow the lives of various heroines loosely based on old fairy tales. In Cinder, we learn about cyborg Lihn Cinder, mechanic and outcast; in Scarlet, about the red-haired, red hoodie-wearing Scarlet, whose grandmother is missing; in Cress, about a girl with tangles of hair stuck in an orbiting satellite; and in Winter, the final instalment, we meet Princess Winter, the beautiful envy of her evil stepmother…

Half of what makes these stories so intriguing is the ease with which Meyer introduces her story world: an earth far into the future that still feels familiar, teetering, as it is, on the edge of dystopia but not quite there yet, although not for lack of trying on the disease and enemy fronts. Meyer tells you about the society through the experiences of her characters, so the narrative isn’t slogged down with her story world’s history.

The other half of what makes it work are the characters themselves. In many ways they’re your typical YA fare: the misunderstood heroine, spotted – against all odds – by the handsome or misunderstood or enigmatic or blasé-but-really-deep-deep-down boy, with the requisite angst, intrigue and romance. But as in all good YA, while the boy fights for the heroine, these heroines fight for themselves and the people around them. There’s a depth to them that colour them interesting.

And, you know, it’s fun. It’s fun reading Meyer’s adaptation of familiar stories into something else, something unexpected without robbing them of their quintessence, and reading it, I was excited to see how she would sketch all these characters into a cohesive narrative. The plot doesn’t slow down – I finished all four novels inside a week – so it’s fair to say that Meyer did a good job.

Why these novels aren’t more popular – the first I saw of them was a random pin on Pinterest – baffles me. I’m assuming it’s because they were published right between Twilight’s last hard fandom encore, and the then nascent Hunger Games frenzy. Meyer exceeds both Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins in technical writing ability, though I suppose you could say that The Lunar Chronicles had a slightly younger audience in mind. Still, it’s a shame that these books were overshadowed by other series when they have such interesting characters and such an intriguing narrative.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter).
Author: Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4/5 for the whole series (Goodreads rating for comparison: an average of about 4/5)
The best feature of the books: The heroines are all pretty cool. Skimming the reviews on Goodreads I noticed that more than one person disliked Cinder, the main protagonist of the series. She’s hardly perfect, but I found her relatable and well constructed. Also, there isn’t a single love triangle in sight; not a one.
The worst feature of the books: If I had to nitpick, I’d say it’s the fact that Levana could have solved a lot of her own problems, but reading the books you understand why she misses obvious opportunities. She’s a pretty despicable villain, but I find it a pity that her despicableness is so related to the typical “evil woman” stereotype – a lost or rejected lover, etc.
Trigger warnings: General creepiness. While aimed at a slightly younger audience, these books don’t mess around when it comes to mentioning things like rape, and there’s quite a bit of graphic violence. There’s also some serious ick factor when it comes to the Lunar gift (a form of mind control).
You’ll like this if… You like YA fiction in general or need to read something interesting but ultimately harmless.

Book review: A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly

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Since the late nineties, Irish author John Connolly has been writing about American ex-cop turned PI Charlie Parker, a charming, dry, danger-loving, knuckle-tough bleeding heart who has good friends, does terribly with women and harbours a dark, blood-tinged past that constantly splashes onto his present endeavours. I was hooked from the first book I read (The Black Angel, fifth in the series) and I’ve been an avid fan since.

The latest instalment – A Game of Ghosts – came out last month, and I think it’s fair to say I inhaled it. Connolly is a gifted writer, effortlessly weaving mystery, intrigue and a diverse cast of characters into an absorbing story that, twists, turns and profligate characters despite remains intense. The writing itself casts its spell without suffocating you in words, functional and hypnotic in turn. It’s lovely.

A Game of Ghosts picks up Parker’s story as he tries to find a missing PI for the FBI, leading him to a group of people who may or may not have struck a deal to keep them from damnation (for Charlie Parker, these things happen). At the same time, he’s faced with trying to figure out what’s going on with his young daughter Sam – and dealing with his increasingly distant ex, Rachel, and a looming custody battle. All while trying to suss out more followers of the Buried God…

A Game of Ghosts is the fifteenth Charlie Parker novel. After fourteen books of essentially the same core characters you’d think Parker’s story would be running out of traction, right? But no. Connolly is often compared to Stephen King (especially to American audiences), but I think Connolly is ten books past that comparison. He’s a great author in his own right, managing the macabre, the menacing and the mundane quite nicely – enough to keep you coming back, book after book, as fast as he can write them (and he generally manages a Parker novel a year).


So, what’s the verdict?

Title: A Game of Ghosts
Author: John Connolly, lover of South African wine
My rating: 5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.52)
The best feature of the book: Intrigue. Angel and Louis.
The worst feature of the book: Rachel.
Trigger warnings: The damned. Reluctant psychics. Ex-in laws from (not literally) hell. Death. Possible dread disease.
You’ll like this if… You like mysteries and the mysterious both.

Some thoughts on the novel “The Shack”

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I picked up Wm. Paul Young’s novel The Shack at a secondhand bookshop a few years ago, recognising the name but not really being familiar with the story.

When I started reading it shortly thereafter, I read it as a true crime/faith story rather than as a novel, and I got quite irate when “the shack” part of The Shack started, and stopped reading it.

Fast-forward a few years and The Shack has opened as a movie starring Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington, and popular conservative Reformed blogger Tim Challies (whose writing I follow as an exercise in endurance) has bravely declared that he won’t be watching or reviewing the movie (he did write a thirteen page review of the book, if you were bored.) I thought it was probably about time I got off my literary laurels and finished The Shack.

It’s not going to win literary awards, but I thought The Shack was quite good. It’s Christian fiction and so it has all the sentimentality that usually entails as it tries to tackle the dilemma of trying to see God in a broken world. As such it’s a healing read and I spent the latter half of the book in tears. If you’ve been broken, you’ll find solace in Mack’s healing even if you do see the plot devices coming.

Having now read the book I find it easier to understand why so many Christians have problems with it. I think most of these problems sprout from the fact that they’re reading it as a theological treatise and not as a novel. Reading it as anything other than a fictional story about a man finding healing in meeting with God misses the point of the book entirely and adds discourse that you won’t find in the novel.

This discourse typically boils down to a few points of complaint, which I’ll address individually.

1. God is represented visually

For our friend Tim Challies this was enough reason for him to avoid seeing the movie altogether, so I think it’s worth looking at. He feels that God being portrayed visually, by actors, violates the ten commandments (specifically Exodus 20:4). To him, it seems comparable to idolatry.

I find this attitude remarkably similar to the one the religious leaders had back in Jesus’ day. They resented the actual Son of God for being an image bearer of God because Jesus revealed a God very unlike their own conception. Which makes me think conservative resentment about God being portrayed visually is really about…

2. God is portrayed as two-thirds woman

We’re very happy to see God as pure spirit, reflective of both traditional genders without being beholden to either one…until people start talking about God as Mother rather than Father. That’s when the wheels come off rather smartly, revealing a prejudice most people probably aren’t even aware of.

In the novel, God the Father (“Papa”) is portrayed as a big black woman and the Holy Spirit (“Saruya”) as an Asian woman (Jesus is a Middle-Eastern man, spoiler alert). They work with Mack individually and together to help bring him to a place of peace. There are specific reasons for their portrayal that become apparent later on in the novel, so it’s not just that the author was flirting with potential controversy for its own sake.

But I wonder if, had God’s representation been purely male, whether this visual portrayal would have been an issue. People don’t seem to have problems with Jesus movies generally. So why the discrepancy? Could it be because…

3. Hierarchy

In its portrayal of the trinity, The Shack does away with the concept of hierarchy in the trinity. It holds that all three persons of God are equal. God the Father is not the CEO with Jesus and the Holy Spirit picking up deputy-CEO spots each (or the Holy Spirit ranking below Jesus). Rather, they are a unit in complete submission and love to each other. They are, in short, three persons in one Godhead.

Little wonder The Shack irks the “eternal submission of Christ” camp. These folks hold that because Jesus submitted to the cross while he was on earth, he is in submission to God for eternity. But that would imply that there are separate wills at play in the trinity, which seems like hoopla to me.

But the “eternal submission of Christ” doesn’t actually have all that much to do with the trinity and everything to do with complementarianism. Submission in the trinity is often used to justify the continued subordination of women to men in complementarian camps. So that a novel (and now movie) does not only depict God as a woman but also denies an argument often used to subordinate women in certain camps… Well. I’ll leave you to your deductions.

The Shack is an inspiring read that might just reinvigorate your own faith life.

For those of us who God has found in more unconventional places, well, you never forget the backroads of faith. And at its heart, The Shack is a story about being found on those backroads.

If you haven’t read it and you’re curious, don’t read it as a statement of faith. Read it as a story of a man finding God again and you’ll surely find glimmers of God’s heart in the narrative.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: The people who stare at trees

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Lately I’ve been staring at trees. Not in a weird way – in a spiritual way[1]. It started with a book called “Pad Na Gebed” (Road to Prayer) by Jörg Zink. I picked it up at a second-hand bookshop and I’ve been reading it slowly, savouring its wisdom. It’s about contemplative prayer. We are always talking to and at God, Jörg Zink says, and so his little book is about listening.

Have you ever actively tried listening for God? It’s tough. I don’t know about you, but my brain is like a fugitive on the lam from mental quietness and has taken me down some very strange paths when I challenged it unexpectedly with meditativeness. It is not unlike a long-time parishioner confronted with hymns newer than the twentieth century: deeply sceptical and sure that this nonsense will pass if resisted long enough!

For some reason I tended to equate spiritual disciplines like contemplative prayer with all sorts of strange things, like ecstatic visions of angels (thanks, Teresa of Avila). Did I have ecstatic visions of angels when trying this kind of prayer – just quietly waiting on God? I did not. But I have come away from these encounters (and that is indeed what they are) feeling peaceful, more comfortable with God and more comfortable in my own skin. Of course I still imagined ecstatic visions of angels would be cool, so I thought that in God’s general direction. No voice resounded, but the impression I got was that it’s perfectly okay just to enjoy some comfortable silence with God. We don’t always need to be talking to him to be in communication – in communion – with the Lord. Perhaps God, too, is an introvert.

19og6lBut to get to the tree staring: it’s a spiritual exercise[2]. Since trees are such a popular metaphor in the Bible, Jörg Zink asks, shouldn’t we try to understand them better? And so he suggests you find a tree and examine it. You don’t become the tree or any of that nonsense: you just look at it like you’ll have to sketch it. You meet it. And in that meeting, perhaps you find that you want to be more like it: steady, firmly rooted, tall, fully inhabiting your “patch of dirt”. To be steady in God’s presence, rooted in his goodness, stand tall in his love, and fully inhabit your life in his grace – all this through prayer, contemplative or otherwise – that’s worth the oddness of standing around staring at trees, I think.

What I’m discovering about prayer as a means to listen for God is that this quietness is spilling over to noisier areas of my life, even if I only try to listen for five minutes a day, and even if the actual silence only lasts two or three minutes. Obviously something about it makes enough of an impression on my brain to be remembered long after the actual silence has gone. And it’s that remembered silence that finds me listening for God even in other moments and in other people; like I am not just listening for his voice, but that I’m listening for him – on his behalf – too. Which in turn leads to more prayer; to intercession.

Interesting how that works…

I’m not going to suggest that you go outside and stare at a tree. You have neighbours, for goodness’ sake. Instead take a few lines from Psalm 16, find a quiet moment, and think about them. Turn them over like they’re puzzle pieces. Taste them like they’re a new kind of cheese. Don’t worry too much about what to do with them – just hold them in your hands. Let them catch the light like they’re crystals. This exercise is not about doing, it’s about being: being with God. We needn’t expect anything more than God and we needn’t fear that we won’t get him because we already have. This is remembrance, not initiation.

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11 NIV)


[1] Party sou sê dis om te ewe. Hulle is nie noodwendig verkeerd nie.

[2] Which you should tell people if they ask what on earth you are doing. If this doesn’t frighten them off, threaten to pray for them.