Happy Blasphemy Day!

Jesus does the Y-M-C-A

Jesus does the Y-M-C-A

Not familiar with Blasphemy Day? Don’t worry. It’s relatively new.

Though anti-religious sentiment has burbled across time, the celebration of a person’s right to express their anti-religious views was made to coincide with the anniversary of some satirical drawings of Muhammad in one of Denmark’s publications. Remember that? It was only nine years ago.

To my surprise, blasphemy is still on the law books in my state (Michigan) as a punishable offense. And that seems really strange to me, given that the United States has long been a haven for religious freedom (even freedom from religion) and free speech. So it goes.

“But Josh,” you say, “I thought you were a Christian. How can you support something like Blasphemy Day?”

Here are my thoughts:

  • It does not offend me when people attack my beliefs. They have the right to see things differently.
  • If people avoid specific topics of religious conversation for fear of retaliation, how will people ever get their questions answered?
  • I don’t need to fight God’s battles or tell God what needs to be done. He’ll deal with people as He sees fit.
  • I’ve often been ashamed of how people who call themselves Christians have treated other people in God’s name.

So do I then advocate that everyone start cursing their creator or spouting off blasphemous statements? No. But maybe we could use this day as a way to tear down the walls of the religious establishment and meet people where they are to talk without bias or fear of punishment about who they think is really in control in the world.

So get the hell out there and wish someone a Happy Blasphemy Day!


I am a door’s worst nightmare.

It happened once already. We knew it was only a matter of time until it happened again. My 3-year-old daughter locked her bedroom door–the only door in the house for which we do not have a key.

When it happened the first time, our older daughter was in the room as well and we were able to explain how to unlock the door. But this time, our youngest was all by herself. I didn’t even realize that she could reach the lock until it was too late.

Our first effort was to explain how to unlock the door. This was the method that had worked with her older sister. But after a few frustrating moments of door knob jostling, it became apparent that she was just trying to turn the knob and not the lock. My skills to explain what was needed were sadly lacking.

We then tried the credit card trick to jimmy open the door, but my skills in such arcane arts are rusty at best.

DSC02022So I decided to take decisive action. After making sure that my daughter was nowhere near the door (thanks to my wife getting her attention from outside of her window), like so many big, bad wolves, I huffed and I puffed and I kicked the door in.

The Pros of Kicking In a Door:

  • I now know for a fact that I can open any interior door in my home, locked or unlocked, having previously only being theoretically sure that this was the case.
  • My daughter safely got out of her room.

The Cons of Kicking In a Door:

  • I now need to fix the door frame and replace the door.
  • These things take time and money, both of which are limited commodities.
  • The door and frame will look ugly until I can fix them.

The Things I Had Not Considered Until After the Fact:

  • My wife is a better communicator than I, and she may have been able to explain what was needed to our daughter.
  • There was no pressing need for the door to be opened when I broke in. My daughter was not crying, was not hungry, did not need the potty, and wasn’t locked in with any wild animals.
  • *THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE* I had not communicated my plans to kick down the door to my wife, an action which (understandably) made her think that I was greatly disturbed at the time (which I wasn’t).

So here’s the lesson of the day, if you need to get into a locked room, use a firm kick (not a shoulder) near the door handle, BUT EXHAUST ALL OTHER OPTIONS FIRST. Also, communicate well with your spouse before taking any dramatic actions.

Friday 5 | Click-worthy Links

Wireless Computer Mouse with Wheel

Here are 5 more places online worth checking out:

  1. As a fan of both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, I found this article about the rage that drives Terry’s writing career to be fascinating. Maybe you will too. What do I know?
  2. What was the first webcam used for? Coffee. Sweet liquid energy. True fact.
  3. Children’s books are known for their great pictures, but could a children’s book with no pictures be a success? B.J. Novak (of The Office fame) thinks so.
  4. Have you ever wondered how R.L. Stine cranked out so many Goosebumps books in so short a time? Wonder no longer. 
  5. Let’s take a look at Tolkien’s inklings of Middle Earth as it sprang from a single poem.


Rise of the Unhappy Ending

*It’s possible that I’m going to write some spoilers in here, so consider yourself warned.*

L9780060850524ast year, I wrote about my favorite Banned Book (Brave New World by Aldous Huxley), and with the rise of dystopian literature’s recent popularity, I’ve been thinking. Are we so jaded as a culture that we’ve come to embrace unhappy endings?

In the times when they were written, 1984 and Brave New World served as cautionary tales, warning their readers of possible futures if society simply carried on as it was. Unfortunately, many of the warnings proved prophetic (Big Brother is Watching), so they obviously fell on dear ears.

But today, we seem to revel in unhappiness. The Hunger Games trilogy is fraught with violence, cruelty, authoritarian regimes, and arguably sad endings. Game of Thrones is popular as both a book series and a television show, each seeming more cruel than the other. But these are not warnings. These are entertainment.

It is strange that our modern world is as messed up as it has ever been and we seek to escape it with equally violent options.

But maybe there is a good reason for us to do so. Maybe we seek entertainment that mirrors our messed up situations because we want to see how strong characters deal with impossible odds. When things go badly–and we are sure that they must–we need assurance that in spite of the loss of everything we hoped to save, there is hope.

Katniss lives. Even with kings dying left and right, the Game of Thrones continues to be played. Perhaps these books are banned because of the bad things they contain, but we should read them anyway for the hope that they offer.

How to Write a Banned Book in 5 Easy Steps


It’s Banned Books Week!

Today, we’re going to look at a few of the elements that go into the bestselling books that make it to the Banned/Frequently Challenged Book Lists. Given the success of all the books on these lists, I think there are a few tips to be found for writers seeking their fortunes.

  1. Write a book that is unsuited for the target age group – Don’t dumb down your content. Rather, write over the heads of your intended readers in order to make them grow. Show them what is really happening in the world. Craft it in a way that they can learn something by such exposures. (Example from 2013 – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)
  2. Write a book that takes a political or social stand – Don’t be afraid to offend someone by saying what you think is right. You will probably sway a few people from the fence atop which they sit, but you will surely draw the ire of those in the opposite camp. (Example from 2013 – Bone by Jeff Smith)
  3. Write a book with profanity or adult language – Have your characters speak how real people speak. Don’t say “poop” if your character isn’t a stay-at-home pastor’s wife (though I know some pastor’s wives out there who can swear like a sailor). But don’t throw in vulgarity for shock value, either. Just write true and use the proper vernacular. (Example from 2011 – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)
  4. Write a book that acknowledges sex – Guess what! People have sex! Sometimes with people they love, sometimes with horrible people, sometimes for really bad reasons. But it happens. If it is relevent to your plot or your character development, don’t neuter your book in order to please a few puritans. (Example from 2010 – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley)
  5. Write a book worth reading – Don’t go off and write something inappropriately aimed with a strong social stance littered with profanity and sexual references and pretend that it is going to be a bestseller on those merits alone. Sure, it may happen. But if you don’t have a narrative voice worth listening to, no one is going to tune in. People tend to put garbage down quickly (though there are exceptions to this, even on the banned books list (Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey)). Don’t give readers an excuse to put your book down. Write strong. (Example from 2004 – Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck)

There you go. I hope to be reading about the visceral reactions caused by your book in the near future!


On Banning Books & Self-Censorship


It’s Banned Books Week! Time to thumb your nose at “the man” and read a book that someone said was evil. Or not. How do you decide whether content is worthy of reading?

To be honest, I’ve never understood the point of banning books. To make something taboo is to make it attractive to our human nature. Prohibiting an idea only seems to make it more popular.

So maybe we shouldn’t ban anything. Sometimes I think we’d be better off without the taboos.

And yet, as a parent, I am constantly aware of things I do not wish to expose to my kids. For one thing, I know that my language choices are influenced by the presence of my children. In fact, I recently apologized to one of my kids because I told her that she was acting like a jerk (She offered her sister a toy, withdrew the offer, then pushed her sister away when she tried to take the previously offered toy). Even if my accusation was justifiable by her actions, I don’t want to give my daughter ammunition for name-calling (“jerk”) when that phase will inevitably come.

So there is this struggle inside of me between wanting complete freedom to consume whatever type of literature I would like and wanting only to expose my children to the content that I think would help their mental and social development. This is the struggle of every parent.

I think this is where banning books comes in. In essence, I think banning books is lazy, communal parenting. Rather than giving people the tools of discernment, we are making decisions for them. If that continues, we’ll stunt their growth as people.

So how do we keep our kids safe while also showing them the dangerous things of the world? For my wife and I, we consume content with them and discuss it on the spot.

For example, every now and again, we’ll treat the kids to an episode or two of one of our favorite cartoons, “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.” Though we don’t have to worry too much about the language on the show, there are instances of name-calling and words that we don’t want them using, as well as a fair bit of comic mischief and violence (think “anvils dropping on cartoon heads”). But whenever we see those things, we’ve pointed out that the characters aren’t being nice or that we don’t say things like that. Now, when our kids see someone acting mean, they’ll be the ones to say, “Be Nice!”

We do the same with them for the books we read together, some of which are actually on the banned books list. I know that I can’t shelter my kids from the world forever. I just want them to be able to tell for themselves what is good and what is not.

What are your thoughts on banning books? What tips do you have for parents on navigating the minefields of content out there today?

I Am Battle Dancing Unicorns With Glitter

EngineofaMillionPlotsFor those of you unfamiliar with Five Iron Frenzy, do yourself a favor and pick up their latest album, “Engine of a Million Plots”. It is an awesome record and I will think more highly of you for owning it.

I’d like to talk about the eighth track for a moment. Indulge me.

The title is “Battle Dancing Unicorns With Glitter” and these are the lyrics:

Shut your face /  high school jerks /  We’re about to show you how this works
Are we cool? /  Laser beams /  We’re about to awesome all your dreams
And you’ll say, “What are you, some kind of computer?”
and we’ll say, “A cyborg pimp from the future.”
And I’m going def for sheezy /  I’m feeling a bit uneasy.

Let’s get this straight: /  oh yeah, we are the champions
We’ll be battle dancing unicorns /  oh yes /  Battle dancing unicorns
It’s not too late /  you could gamble on the heavy hitters
while we’re battle dancing unicorns /  with glitter

Twelve-o-clock? /  Party rock /  We’re hip- hoppin’ and we can’t quite stop
Aggro hair /  Grizzly Bear /  Bet you’ve never met a thousand-aire
Then you’ll say, “Whatever, I think you’re moronic.”
And we’ll say, “Not really, we’re only bionic.”
And you’re still in high school /  but have to acknowledge
that we are professors at Robot Spy College.

To be what I just can’t /  impale myself upon the horns
I’m fighting just to be relevant /  I’ll battle dance some unicorns

I’m battle dancing unicorns /  with glitter.

I love this song. It is everything I’ve come to expect from Five Iron Frenzy. It is clever, sarcastic, and steeped in emotion.

To give you some background about the band and this album in particular, Five Iron Frenzy, or FIF, rode into popularity (at least in Christian circles) on a (short-lived)wave of ska enthusiasm in the late 1990’s. With passionate messages dipped in acerbic wit, they’re songs inspired a dedicated fan base that stayed loyal, even when the band disbanded in 2003.

Then in 2011, a miracle happened. When a countdown to a new website design was misinterpreted as a countdown to a band reunion, the former members of FIF began to discuss seriously the possibility of a comeback tour. And when they launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $30,000 in order to record a new album, their fans met that goal within the first hour of launching and raised over $200,000 by the end of the 30-day campaign. Thus was the new album born.

In “Battle Dancing Unicorns With Glitter”, we get to see the deep-seated insecurities of a band whose popularity is somewhat anachronistic. Is it possible for a band whose heyday was a decade ago to be relevant to its original target audience of high schoolers? In an age where fads pass faster than ever, FIF decides to give it a try, even if they get impaled.

Perhaps the reason this song speaks to me so strongly is because of my interest in writing Young Adult Fiction. Can I be relevant to kids whose language I struggle to understand (for sheezy?), much less speak? The only thing I can do is what Five Iron Frenzy did. Try.

I’ll just ignore the fact that there is no pent-up demand for the release of any books from me in the same way that there was a demand from FIF’s loyal fans. Because some times you just need to bluff it until you make it, right? I mean, am I cool enough to write in the first place?

“Laser beams.”

Friday 5 | Click-worthy Links

Wireless Computer Mouse with Wheel

Here are 5 more places online worth checking out:

  1. 6 Lessons in Management Everyone Should Know
  2. Fellow Harry Potter fans, what do you think of this poster that spans the entire series in comic form? I agree. It IS awesome.
  3. One step closer to Iron Man in real life. Run faster with jetpacks!
  4. Old, weird news. A man a cow suit steals 26 gallons of milk from a Virgina Walmart. Really.
  5. Learn to Read Russian in 15 Minutes.


Book Review | The Baker Book House Story by Ann Byle

This coming weekend, I’ll be attending the Baker Book House staff appreciation party with my wife. I’ve been working for the bookstore for a full 10 years now, and I can’t imagine working for a better business.

9780801016585In my time at Baker, I’ve picked up on bits of trivia here and there, but I never knew the full story of the company prior to reading Ann Byle’s book, The Baker Book House Story. And it is a really good story.

Starting as a used book shop during the Great Depression, Herman Baker’s bookstore has grown to become a destination bookstore as well as one of the top Christian publishers in the world. Through it all, Baker Book House and Baker Publishing Group have remained family owned and loyal to the ideals of their founder.

I know that books like this don’t have a wide appeal to people who either don’t work for the company or who are unfamiliar with Christian publishing, but I really think this is a good book on its own merit.

Reading The Baker Book House Story has impressed upon me the great honor that it is to work for the Baker family. If you live in West Michigan, appreciate a good success story, or simply want an uplifting, quick read, pick it up and spend a pleasant afternoon with your nose in this book.

And if you just happen to start shopping at my bookstore more loyally afterward, I couldn’t blame you.