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What Would Magda Do?

Updated: Sep 25, 2019

About thirty years ago, a youth pastor in Michigan wanted his teens to think about what it meant to live a life committed to Jesus Christ. Inspired by the phrase "What Would Jesus Do?" in a novel by Charles Sheldon, he commissioned plastic bracelets with the letters "WWJD." These turned out to be so popular that by the mid-1990s, you could find "WWJD" on everything from keychains to kites, T-shirts to women's panties (great for abstinence, I'm thinking).

I missed all of that. In the 1990s, I was getting married and having kids, caught up in a clamor of baby monitors, pre-nap meltdowns, and school soccer games – a world that felt so all-consuming that only the really major news stories of that decade caught my attention. Monica Lewinsky, the Iraq War, Waco and Columbine and the LA Riots. Those I got. And the death of Princess Di.

Now, though, my kids are grown and mostly gone. (One daughter, my architect, is living at home for awhile while she gets her license.) Their departure, while acutely heartbreaking, has cleared some space in my brain, space that I have been filling with creative writing. And when I'm working on a writing project, I often wake up in the morning to find the characters in my head. Talking to me. When I was writing The Good at Heart, it was usually Johann and Marina, sometimes Rosie and Sofia. Never Oskar or Erich. Edith visited only once or twice.

These days, I have a new companion – Mary Magdalene. For those of you who don't know her, she was a close friend of Jesus Christ. Some say she was an apostle in her own right, some say she might have been his wife. What she was NOT – despite what centuries of church history (instigated by the lily-livered Pope Gregory) would have you believe – was a prostitute. Let me repeat that for clarity: Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. If you don't believe me, I officially dare you to show me where in the Bible it says that she was.

Anyway, Mary Magdalene talks to me. (No doubt this is because I'm writing a book about her.) Her name, by the way, is Magda. She is chatty, has lots to say about most things. If I'm thinking about something, she's right there, offering her two cents, and more. So I thought, why not share her wisdom? Why not ask, "What Would Magda Do?"

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