Wednesday, October 30, 2013

C4C Update

Two Weeks ago, I blogged very briefly about the fact that my time was limited due to my building for Creations for Charity, which you can learn more about here. I am happy to say that as of this post, I have submitted my donations, and they are now available in the Creations For Charity store, available for purchase by members of Bricklink.

I proposed a pretty high initial charge for them, but I was very proud of the way these works came together, and I think they're worth asking a few extra dollars to go toward buying Christmas presents for children this year. Below is a picture of each model and a brief description. If somebody reminds me come in November, I will try to post how it all went. Last year I submitted six models, and I sold five. This year I'm hoping to sell all five that I was able to submit.

"Lego Logan Versus Ninjas"

Item Description: If you enjoyed this summer's hit film The Wolverine, or the legendary comic on which it was loosely based, then "Lego Logan Versus Ninjas" is for you. Featuring 3 warriors and Logan himself, this set includes assorted weapons (plus two chrome knives), flesh-tone figs (like a topless Wolverine), and a simple brick-built base. Check out more pictures on Flickr. Shipped from USA

"Wookies Are Known to Do That"

Item Description: We all know the dialogue: C-3PO: "But sir, no one worries about upsetting a droid."
Han Solo: "That's cause Droids don't pull peoples' arms out of their sockets when they lose. Wookies are known to do that." We never got [to] see this event in all it's wonder during the Star Wars films, but NOW you can own a little artistic representation of how that might look in the Lego Universe. Featuring 4 Star Wars mini-figs and a simple, brick-built base, "Wookies are Known to Do That" is a perfect gift for some Star Wars or Lego Fan this holiday (or just a fun piece for one's own enjoyment), which will likely be both a conversation starter and source of laughs! Check out more pictures on Flickr. Shipped from USA

"Call 9-1-1 for Heroes"

Item Description: Every Day in the United States, people need the help of doctors, firemen, and the police! Celebrate the heroism of every day heroes who save lives, fight fire, and protect and serve! "Call 9-1-1 For Heroes" features 4 mini-figs, and a brick built base! Shipped from USA

"Ent & Orc"

ITEM DESCRTIPTION:  Any Lord of the Rings fan will love this Mini-fig scaled Ent inspired by Tolkien's renowned world of Middle Earth. Using a Bionicle skeleton for increased flexibility, this highly-articulated Ent can be posed in a variety of positions and can even HOLD the Orc minion that accompanies him. The Build is sturdy, but rough play will result in his losing a limb. For Lego Fans or LOTR fans in general, this brick-and-bionicle Ent will serve as a wonderful display piece! Check out more pictures on Flickr. Shipped from USA

"Parker-In; Spidey-Out"

Item Description: One minute he's mild-mannered photographer Peter Parker, the next he's the Amazing Spider-man! "Parker-in; Spidey Out!" features a flesh-toned version of Peter Parker with camera running into a building's front door, and your friendly neighborhood Spider-man exiting out the back window! This dual-sided dio captures both characters in one felt swoop! Check out more pictures on Flickr. Shipped from USA

As of this post, none of the Builds have sold, but I am hoping they will by the end of Next Week!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Scripture Memory: John 11:35

The shortest verse in the Bible is one of great value to me.

The context leading to it in John 11 is as follows (and worth clicking the link to read in full): Christ's friend, Lazarus, died while Christ was teaching elsewhere. After Lazarus' passing, his sisters, Mary and Martha, alongside and others in the community, grieved his loss and buried him. Upon Christ's hearing of his friend's death, he returned to the home of Lazarus' grieving sisters, both of whom independently said to Christ, "My Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." To this Christ asked them to take him to the grave of his friend, and he wept, before raising Lazarus from the dead in the presence of many witnesses, whose belief in Christ grew as a result of the miraculous event.

"Jesus wept."

The sentence is about as short as sentences can be, and I find it odd that the independent clause, such as it is, stands alone in the passage. Of course, when I consider it from a writer's perspective, the concept of setting the two words apart as their own verse makes sense for two reasons. The first is that in our Bible's, verse demarcation often forces us to pause during study. Though we know the original text was provided in more of an interrupted format (and I tend to memorize that way as well), the chapter and verse structure of modern Bibles in the west lead us to separate and underscore key ideas by their contextualization and separation. Additionally, the verse offers us a truly wonderful picture of Christ, if we approach the verse NOT as a solitary thought, but a summation of his emotional character, given who we know he is.

Those who have read the Gospel of John to this point know that Christ has claimed to be the Messiah. He has informed the crowds that he is "The way, the truth, and the life". He has spoken the immortal (and, oft, misquoted) words, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free," in reference to himself. He has provided the most well-known verse in the Bible, John 3:16. The doctrine of who Christ is and who claimed to be are well documented in John to this point.

And then we place that knowledge alongside John 11:35. Christ is God's son, the Messiah, the Truth by which men will be freed from their sinful lives. He has great power that he has already displayed, and he is assured that with God the Father, all things are possible.

Given this, he could have approached the mourners with a stoic attitude that all was well and, in fact, good. He could have rebuked them for their lack of faith in his absence. He could have immediately raised Lazarus so as to give those grieving all they wanted at that very moment. Instead, he paused, listened, and wept. He wept.

I do not believe that he wept for Lazarus; I believe he knew full well that Lazarus would be among them all soon. I think he wept for those around him, those grieving over the painful sting of death on this world. According to John, all the world was made through Christ (John 1), and that world was good and without the emotional pangs of death. To be among his Creation and see the toll that its brokenness takes led him to tears. He hurt for those who were hurting; he cried with them because they cried.

Christ was a man of compassion, of mercy, of gentleness, of kindness, and of meekness. Christ was a man of love. In two words the Gospel of John encapsulates Christ's deep resounding empathy with mankind, for he not only died for us but hurts with us and for us, and he died so that we may, in time, join him in a paradise where such grief, turmoil, and anguish are no more.

John 11:35.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Inclusion of this translation does not imply endorsement of this author's thoughts by the copyright holders. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

October Links

Dear Parents, You Need to Control Your Kids
A surprising article about one parent's response to another's dilemma

Dear Parents with Young Children in Church
A great read about "those families" who may or may not even exist in your congregation

Is Your Fire Fading?
A Pastor's 11-year-old asks a valid question for believers of all ages.

13 Rules for Comma Use
A Good "Secondary Primer" on commas

15 Ways to Increase Your Blog Traffic with Irresistable Tweets
This helps

How to Write a Solid Business Plan
Good Stuff, this.

50 Cliches to Ban from Your Script
A solid litmus test/checklist for any writer

75 Years of Heroic History
An Awesome Vid of Superman's Exploits for the last 75 years!

"To the Flying Public, We're Sorry"
A Flight Attendant's Manifesto of sorts

Pope Warns Church must Find Balance or Fail
He's at it again!

What Does It Really Mean to Cause Someone To Stumble?
This kind of goes without saying, but it's still worth saying again.

Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy
Hey, I resemble that remark!

Giving Money to Children Beggars
Some interesting food for thought on charity in the streets.

The Male Architect's of Miley's Wrecking Ball
A great Article by my friend and former mentor, Mark Joseph

Why We Love #AddaWordRuinAChristianBook
A Christianity Today Article on the Trending Hashtag in which I participated
My entries were:
Don't Waste Your Life Cereal
The End of our Exploring Ninjas
Out of the Silent Captain Planet

Was Jesus Political? Undoubtedly
A look at Christ's subversive insurrection

Mark Driscoll: 7 Ways We Kill Sabbath
I don't agree with Brother Mark on everything, but this is legit

Pornography: The New Narcotic
John Piper breaks it down for us.

The Christians as the Romans Saw Them
A fascinating look at how ancient Christians appeared in the eyes of their contemporaries

Friday, October 25, 2013

Review: Real Men Don't Text

Dear Readers, please note, I received this book free of charge from the Tyndale Bloggers program in exchange for this review. 

When I offered to review Real Men Don't Text, I thought the book was written to men regarding how to engage women in real relationship, rather than controllable, safe, text exchanges to keep them at arms' length. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the book is actually written to women in order to warn them about manipulative relationships. While this misunderstanding created initial confusion, I invited the opportunity to learn something from a text written for a demographic other than my own. Sadly, I did not have a great experience with it.

In part, the issue with Real Men Don't Text is tone. Tone is the difference between a person receiving advice or condescension, of feeling understood or insulted. The tone of Real Men Don't Text is dually problematic. Due to its two authors, a husband and wife, the book's tone is inconsistent and, at times, confusing (p86-89). Additionally, both parties can give the impression of finger-wagging, which makes their message less appealing. At times, the content feels like it's coming from folks who have all the answers because life is going good for them right now, and if you would only avoid their mistakes and just take their advice, you'd be as fulfilled as they are. 

Tone aside, I'll grant that the book has some good things to say. For one, the authors are upfront about the difference between when a guy is interested in caring for a woman and when he is merely interested in self-fulfillment; one major theme of the book is "he just doesn't like you" (but is using you, so get rid of him). Additionally, the book is forthcoming about a young woman's responsibility to behave in a way that warrants respect. "You are always teaching people how to treat you," (p21) is a quote I will likely carry for some time. The authors also address the emptiness of sexting relationships (though neither of them engaged in such), and they stress the importance of real interpersonal communication. These are all good thoughts, and at times they are communicated well.

At others they are not. For example, the "text translations" found in each chapter describing what men "really" mean in their texts become tiresome, as do the additional inserted anecdotes of broken hearts and bad choices, many of which come across as generic copies of pain rather than the true heartbreak that occurs in abusive relationships. I would have preferred that only the stories directly told by the authors within the context of the chapter's prose been included, for some of those are startling and authentically poignant.

In fairness, The book is a relatively fast read, which is saying something for a work of nonfiction. Inasmuch as the tone or some issues of content are problematic, any reader will likely find her (or his) way through the text quickly. 

I truly wanted to like this book more than I did, but then again, Real Men Don't Text was not written to or for me. As something of a niche author myself, I can understand that some books just do not work for some readers, but that doesn't mean they won't be a good fit for somebody else (and based on the other reviews I'm seeing, this is almost certainly the case).

You can read other reviews and check out more about the book at the link provided below:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Spreading Wings or Spreading Thin?

Next Friday, NANOWRIMO will begin. In the month of November, I will write the first draft of another novel, my fourth to be specific (though only 1 is published). Frankly, I need to get back to revising prior first drafts rather than completing new ones, and I will--after November. As far as this upcoming month is concerned, I will add another first draft to my shelf. Given my weekly Sabbaths and a handful of unavailable days, I'll get 20 total writing days during month, which means I will need to clock about 2,500 words a day. I am looking forward to it, as I am much more prepared than I was last year (of course, last year I wasn't working).

I have three ideas with which I'm toying. The first is a science fiction piece about two individuals finding attachment to the same robot. The second came from a more organic place and serves as a 20-something, finding-oneself, coming-of-age tale. The third is a fantasy novel about warring factions trying to inhabit the lands of a fallen country. All three ideas are of interest to me in different ways, and chances are I may eventually try my hand at each them.  I've spent a good deal of time on the outlines for the first and second books, while the third has emerged simply from "eureka" moments shaving or driving, which makes it a dangerous one, as it may is clearly not ready.

Of course, prior to NANOWRIMO's beginning, I will need to complete two articles I've promised to others--a review and an editorial. And I have to get my blog posts prepped, as I won't have much time to write anything outside the first draft if I want to complete it in time.

Then there's the children's books on which I'm working, the study guide for Stronghold which went into limbo, and the romance novel about which I wrote earlier in the year.

And Twitter. I am really lousy on Twitter.

I'm incredibly excited about my writing, but I am also exhausted and somewhat discouraged. Some days I really do not think I have it in me. Then I look at the above outlined list, and I realize that I do. I AM a writer. If I can harness my energies, commit to realistic goals, and persevere past the rejections, disappointments, and the failures--I can make it. I believe that the Lord has given me the talent and the tools to do so; I just need to be diligent in using them.

But the present is still hard, and I really have my doubts. I wonder if I am broadening my skill set with all these new endeavors or simply trying to do too much, with none of it being done to my highest potential.

I wrestle with questions like these. Like every other real author out there, I want to create because I feel the work is worth doing and the truth is worth exploring, even if one does not see many results from doing so. At least not yet.

My apologies. This has been quite a rambling session. But this is the life we writers live, at least during some seasons in our career. Thank you for bearing with me as I pursue my dream.

Here's hoping yours is going better,

Monday, October 21, 2013

Turning Shame to Worship

God is patient. Very patient. I know this because he has not finished with me despite myself. Readers of this blog and those who know me personally see some of my faults, which are many; but God knows them all. Those with whom I interact get a picture of my shortcomings and echoes of the evil that lie beneath the surface, but God sees them with complete clarity. He knows them all. With God, I cannot share only when and what I feel like or paint a picture of how I view myself. No, he gets the objective truth, the reality of who I am. And he endures me.

When I consider that he is audience to my narcissistic thought life as well as my often-bitter, begrudging heart, I feel a right sense of shame regarding who I am but also a deep sense of joy about whom he is.

That he bears with my treachery is mercy enough, that he invites me to be his adopted child is shocking. Shocking! Why me? When so many others would better serve or love or honor him, why me? Why form me in the womb at all, let alone call me to his kingdom? Oh how that thought strikes at the core of my being.

God sees all of the evil in my soul; he knows the dark depths therein. But because of my deference to Christ, I say to God, "please, don't look at me. Look at Jesus, your son; he's all I've got. I can't--I can't show myself worthy, only he is worthy. If he doesn't claim me as his own, then I am lost." And God, in his goodness, honors such requests; he chooses to see Christ in me, rather than my sinful life.

Lost in these thoughts, my hope is renewed; my shame gives way to worship. My sin still lives but for only a moment against the grand expanse of eternity. In the face of everlasting life, a few years on this plain (and the sin that abounds in them) seem fleeting. They are not the fullness of who I am through Christ--that reality is yet to be seen. Such realizations are the seeds of worship. How can we do anything else? 

Christ tells those who believe in Him for salvation to be at peace, for their sins are forgiven them. Even when facing the darkness, when the power of evil seems unending and the light in whom we place our hope feels dim or distant, remember the miracle of salvation, of God's pardoning believers in Christ because of what He has done. Though we continue in the muck and mire, he slowly cultivates our souls toward beauty and, ultimately, he will deliver us from ourselves. 

How Great is Our God.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: Gravity

Gravity is the recently released, visually stunning science fiction thriller by Alfonso Cauron, director of Children of Men andHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The film follows a team of astronauts during a routine operation on an American satellite. Of course it's not all routine, for female specialist Ryan Stone has been brought on the mission to implement new proprietary tech personally, despite her having only 6 months of training, during which she consistently failed simulator tests. When the Russians decide to shoot one of their own satellites out of the heavens, they create an orbiting debris field that hits the team and changes their mission from one of progress to one of survival. 

The film is likely going to get nods in multiple technical categories at the Oscars. The cinematography, editing, visual effects, and sound design are all of a rare calibre, and many folks will also applaud the minimalistic screenplay and quiet yet striking direction. Cauron's a talent, to be sure, and the fact that he can now add Gravity to his portfolio will only advance his status as one of the better filmmakers in the game today. The major downfall is the score, which at times made me feel like I was watching "Peter and the Wolf", though not in a good way (because we all know that "Peter and the Wolf" is legit).

Whether the film deserves the many accolades it has received is a subject of debate, as is the film's message. I had a very strong reaction to the film's subtle and not-so-subtle touches, which I believe form something of a tapestry of philosophical concerns and intriguing ideas. I recently explained to someone slightly interested in Gravity that it would satisfy those looking for a tense thriller or an interesting and thought-provoking piece of science fiction filmmaking. This is a rare feat for films to accomplish, butGravity hits the mark.

While I am not going to do a beat-by-beat analysis of the film, I will assert that it is a deft and engaging exploration of the existential crisis the naturalist must not only endure but overcome to live a fulfilling life. I have given the above plot introduction, and I will not spoil more; I will merely present the subtext between the frames and leave those who have seen it to agree or disagree.

The film showed its hand early, when we see Dr. Stone ripped from the limb connecting her to the shuttle. The astronaut rolls at full rotations through space, alone and seemingly lost among the stars. She serves as a picture of each of us, born connected to society (the shuttle), living naively within our tribe (a novice among veteran astronauts), trying to live well and make progress (installing new tech). Of course, when the harsh reality of this world (the violent cosmos, an endless series of cause and effect events) finds us, we are torn from this fragile and false sense of security (the limb on the shuttle snapping, the shuttle being disabled), and by this experience we come to realize the truth, that ultimately, each of is alone, in a world (or living-providing spacesuit) that is hurdling through the darkness.

Over the course of our lives, we reach for human connection (other survivors), we locate other societies or tribes (space stations), and we desperately cling to whatever supposed structure we can (escape pods), but each of these also falls victim to the violent storm that is the natural order of give and take of survival, which is merciless, indiscriminate, and inevitable (the impending storm of debris). As Dr. Stone divulges new information to the viewer via conversations with other characters, so too does each human go through life accepting pain, confessing failure, and seeking connection. We may look to religion, but it's no better than hallucinations and ultimately we must find within ourselves the knowledge and will to live despite the unescapable torrent of violence that continues to threaten our flourishing. When we do this, we become baptized by fire and reborn as one who is aware and enlightened, savoring one's existence, such as it is.

At least that's what I read from the narrative.
Whether or not Cauron intentionally did this I do not know, but I could not help read the film this way given its opening and subsequent visual queues, subjects of conversation, and moments of peril. Frankly, that one shot of Dr. Ryan soaring through space presented such a stunning picture of man's plight (from the naturalist perspective) that I could not think of the film outside of the terms described, and I was moved deeply by such a bold image and honest exploration of a worldview with which I disagree.

I was also more grateful for my faith as a result of the experience. I am glad to believe that we are not merely material denizens in the uncaring darkness, subject alone to the causes and effects of natural order but, rather, we are each a combination of body and soul, beautifully entwined and wonderfully made, ever in view of a Creator who loves us and desires our communion. With that outlook in mind, getting lost in space is just intimate fellowship with the Divine, which doesn't sound so bad after all.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Long Game and the Tortoise

Playing the long game is hard. Doing so successfully requires patience, endurance, steadfastness, and perseverance despite unending obstacles and little encouragement. This, however, is the game of the self-publishing author. I write this not as someone who has already won a long game but one who is still at the beginning of it.

I have released one novel, Stronghold, and I am closing in on six months of release. I'm looking toward year-end and still being in the red. For those not familiar with accounting shorthand, "in the red" means that my income has not exceeded my expenses; I still have not recouped all of my investment on the book.

I should note, however, that in actuality those investments were not made on a single text but on the start of a publishing company and a career. And that's the whole rub of this post. When I consider that fact, then the amount that I have made is substantially more encouraging. If I'm starting to build something larger than a single release, I can afford to be in the red for two years; most businesses are (which is why so many close up shop in that time).

I do not say this to brag, for believe me I have very little about which to brag. I have sold fewer copies in nearly 6 months than some of my peers from Biola university sold in their first week of publication. But success in any venture should not be based on comparing oneself to others so much as enduring and completing  project oneself.

This is the necessary mantra for the self-publisher who wants to play the long game, for doing so is akin to the tortoise running the race one slow step at a time. I have never once heard that old story told with the tortoise paying mind to the hare. Not once. In each incarnation, the reptile is focused on his finishing the race, regardless of the rabbit ahead of him. Of course, the tortoise will also have a very different experience, and he should expect and accept that.

For the writing tortoise, he (or she) may not have a five week whirlwind blog tour, but he may have an interview here or there. The tortoise may also not sell 1000 books in his first week of release, but he may sell ten in week-one, five in week-two, none in week-three and twenty in week-four. This type of cycle may repeat itself month after month after month, and he may never find himself on the bestseller list.

But while book one is still finding its audience, book two is being written. While book two is being revised and prepare for release, book three is under way, and when book two is made available, book three is being edited while book four is just waiting in the pressure cooker. This is the long game, the game self publishers play, the game few will win, especially in our current society where the hare is always seen as the ideal model.

The hare releases one book with more money, more time, more effort, and more energy than the tortoise even has in the queue. The hare does great sales for the first week, but the work, which was produced at a breakneck pace without an editor or second glance, begins to trickle. Because sales do not result in meeting the hare's expectation, he doesn't bother again. The Hare goes to sleep; he may eventually awaken and continue toward the finish line...or he may not.

Friends, I will be honest, after the release of Stronghold, despite all my desire to be a tortoise, my emotional response was that of the hare. Oh how disheartened I was! How frustrated! I was ready to stop. But enough people kept reminding me that just because my emotions resembled a hare, my will resembles the tortoise. For this reason, I have stayed committed to the long game. Novel number two was a big dud, abondoned until further notice after it's first draft, but novel number three is looking pretty good during revisions, and novel number four is about to be written. By the end of 2013, I will have four drafts of full novels completed, and one released. It may be another 18 months before one gets released, then again it could be six months, the point is, I'm not ready to give up the race just yet.

You should not be either.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Creating for Charity

Please excuse my brevity with today's post. I have spent the day building LEGO MOCs (My Own Creations) for the upcoming Creations for Charity store launch, and my time to blog is limited.

Their site will explain the process better than I, but to make a long story short on the charity, Lego enthusiasts build unique one-of-a-kind models that other Lego enthusiasts buy, and all the money goes to coordinators buying Lego that is donated to Toys-for-tots, to be distributed to under-privileged children. Last year, donations reached more than $9,000, and stacks of sets went to children in USA, Croatia, and Chile. Fans support fans and give to the next generation of fans in the process. It's a wonderful charity, and I participated last year with much satisfaction. I stepped my game up significantly in hopes of raising more funds this year, but we'll see how that goes.

Regardless of the money my work generates, I have to admit to you that I have not felt this full in my spirit in some time. I have savored the opportunity to use my creativity in conjunction with my enjoyment of Lego in an event in which I know the endgame will benefit others--others for whom Lego is most intended. These ideas of giving, community, and benefitting others are truly close to my heart's desire, and I feel immensely blessed to be in a position to build for the event this year, and I look forward to seeing how the community rises to give! 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dear Wilmington,

Today I awoke to the sound of a downpour. The constant droplets tapped my windows, and the sky held to darkness well after the sunrise. Gusts of wind caught hold of leaves and dashed them toward the dampened ground. Light reflected off the streets, and a mist hovered on wet fields of green. That solemn scent of dying leaves and rain was unmistakable.

Right now we are in the midst of blissful, gothic fall. The foliage is not gone in full--it runs the gamut of green to hazel, with hundreds of hues between them. Against the overcast sky of gray these colors carry a bolder tone. The temperature is cool but not yet cold, and the gentle breeze leaves as quickly as it comes, allowing for only a moment's discomfort.

This time will pass us quickly. We complained of the heat once the equinox passed, and now we are receiving the rites of this season. We are being granted all we requested. Yes, it will likely keep us indoors; and yes, our plans will change, but do not lose sight of the glorious scene, of autumn on the eastern coast. Savor it while it lasts a short while, for many months will come and go before it returns again.

Smell the air. Watch the leaves. Listen to the rain. And if you must remain indoors, with your grand plans for the days laid to waste, grab a book and a cup of tea (or whatever beverage suits you), sit by a window and read with abandon. Or simply watch the world at work, the natural symphony of earth. Capture the time, for fall is fleeting.

May the hours pass slowly.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Theology for Writers 101

I try to live holistically. My faith is the core of my personhood and identity, and it informs everything else: my thoughts, attitudes, and actions. As Christian, I approach all of life through a Christological lens. How does this act reflect Christ?  Does this feeling align with Christ's? Would Christ approve of this behavior? Do others see Christ in this? I ask these questions often throughout the day.

With this in mind, I often consider my writing an act of worship. As I use the talent that God has given me, as I communicate the truth with sincerity, and as I seek to make Him more beautiful through such action, I believe that I am in a state of worship no different than when I sing to him on a Sunday Morning (and I SING, albeit poorly).

As I've been working more with serious fiction in the last 2 years (my goodness has it been so long), I've come to a very poignant realization that has not only informed my deep love for God but also deepened my lament for humanity's ills.

You see, writers have a distinct advantage in their study and understanding of God, for we're both creators. Not only that, but we're both creators who develop immense love for our creation, and when that creation experiences evil, we feel it.

My fellow authors will know what I mean. At times, when we write, our characters take a certain "life of their own"; their personalities and worldviews begin to inform the next event in the story. Sure, we are putting the words to paper, but in a sense, the choices the characters make are their own--they are choices we may not have wanted for them but were inevitable based on the world around them and their inherent flaws and failures when engaging it. Our characters act in ways we wish they didn't, but sometimes that the truth.

Furthermore, when those poor choices result in their harm, we are pained again.  Yet we know that for the good for the story--for its most true telling--the darkness must be shown real, the pain must be severe, the plight must be felt. We lament for our characters in this, not in an unhealthy way (at least for most us) but in a way that says, "I wish the story didn't have to go" or "I can't put them (or myself or the audience) through this."

But we do. We allow it.

And we do so in the name of truth, goodness, and beauty, to allow the story of our characters to be bold and honest. I believe that this phenomenon we writers experience--that, indeed, we must embrace for our integrity to remain intact--is at the very least an echo of God's own experience.

And be assured, echoes can be heard at a distance. God's experience with us real, sentient beings, pillaging the backdrop of this world that he designed from his infinite wisdom, must give him greater grief than we could imagine. How could it do not?  Rarely do the evils of fictional villains outmatch the weightier sins of mankind. And let's not forget our thought-lives also--theatres of carnality, violence, and hatred that we all too often endure without pause (and, now, in our present age, such mental evil is, in many instances, believed not only private and innocuous but, dare I say, sacred). Yet God sees. And he endures.

Do you not see the patience he must possess to bear with us in our seemingly endless depravity? As a writer I feel for my characters, but they are few and my knowledge of them finite. Their world is a picture, and yet the evil in it vexes me, demanding my attention and calling for remedy. Is not God's position exponentially greater? Oh how he endures the sordid tale of human history! How gracious he must be to directly intervene into it, providing a hope and a better way--the most excellent way--through Jesus Christ. How slow to anger he truly is. How merciful to withhold his justice, if even for one more day.

Because friends, I believe, yes I believe wholeheartedly, that like all authors, the Lord will set this story to its climax, and the highest beauty, the most profound justice, and the most eloquent truth will all be felt at the tip of his pen when he closes the book on this present age and begins the long awaited ever after.

By his grace and for his glory, I look toward it with great anticipation. I hope many of you do as well.

This is how my faith informs my writing. This is how my writing informs my theology. This is my worship, and I cannot help but praise God while I do it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Just some thoughts on Scripture...

A major part of my spiritual walk is Scripture Memory (as if you couldn't tell from the blog, right?). After Christ himself, Scripture is the Lord's most concrete revelation of his character and love toward mankind. Scripture in the Holy Canon shows us God's personhood not through a single lens but through a library of experiences and narratives; the 66 books provide us with a veritable literary buffet showcasing the beauty of the Lord through stories about him, messages from him, and praises toward him.

The Bible is a gift to mankind from God himself, and it is a book that continues to be read daily by millions, gradually changing them from their inside depravity to outward gracious living; and be assured, this is the result of engaging the Scriptures well. If one reads them without a deep desire to understand them, one simply won't. This is not to say that the Bible is a "magic book" or codex hiding meaning to all but a chosen few. On the contrary, the Bible is a book that is accessible to those willing to understand it (it's a "he who has ears to hear, let him hear" sort of thing, not unlike much of human art). The Bible is an extended collection of love letters from God, telling us that he loves mankind, why he loves mankind, and how he loves mankind, not because of mankind's virtue but God's own grace and mercy. For all the misinterpretation that happens (and it does), the Bible is a beautiful work.

In my first novel, Stronghold, I focus extensively on the Bible as the Sword used by The Believer in his battle against sin. He clings to it for security in the midst of tumult, he uses it to vanquish demons who assail him, and he spends time honing his relationship to it. Of course, that's merely in his fantasy. In the real world, he uses the Bible in direct defense against temptation, reading through the Psalms aloud in the midst of battling his deep desire to sin. This portion of the text comes directly from a personal experience of mine. The Psalms from which I read have been presented within a different order and volume within the novel, but the experience described in the pages is still true to the event.

The night in question is, in fact, one of the most poignant memories in my spiritual life. Few other times have I experienced God's nearness and deliverance so vividly. The act of reading the worship, confessions, and supplications of fellow believers filled me with a powerful sense of connecting with not only the Lord himself but the Psalms themselves, experiencing them as they were intended.

What's more, the Psalms I read were not random.  They were Psalms I had jotted into a notebook during a read through the Chronological NIV earlier in the year--meaning that I read them not as they were usually presented in the single book of Psalms but spread throughout Scriptural stories when they were written. I just so happened to read far enough in the chronological Bible to reach them, and I had just so happened to write them for memorization. Months before the evening in question, the groundwork for the Psalms I would read that night was laid. Quite a story.

That being said, if you are reading the Scriptures now and if you are studying, memorizing, and engaging them with a deep desire to understand and be changed, be confident in your efforts. The Lord could be preparing your heart today to hold fast in a situation five months from now, one that you cannot foresee or predict but will be distinctly affected by your studies and how you are putting the Word of the Lord in your heart in the present. You never know how God is working, but he always is.

Stay in the Scriptures. Adore them. And be blessed.

Thanks for reading all,

PS - This post was bordering on overly long already, so I didn't want to toss this in the middle of it, but if you're interested, here are the original Psalms through which I read in 2011, presented in an unabridged early draft of Stronghold.

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak, O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled. …but I have trust in your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. …To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in you. Let me not be ashamed; let not my enemies triumph over me. Turn yourself to me, and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted. …Lord, all my desire is before you; and my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart pants, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes, it has gone from me. …For I am ready to fall, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin. …Do not forsake me, O Lord, O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, My Salvation. …Do not withhold your tender mercies from me, O Lord; Let your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me. For innumerable enemies have surrounded me. …Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to you. When my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. …For you are my hope. O Lord God, you are my trust from my youth. …O God, do not be far from me, O My God, make haste to help me. …O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off.  You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. …For you formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are your works, and that my soul knows very well. …but my eyes are upon you, O God the Lord; in you I take refuge. Do not leave my soul destitute. …I spread out my hands to you; my soul longs for You like a thirsty land. … Answer me speedily, O Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide Your face from me, lest I be like those who go down in to the pit. Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, for in You do I trust; cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift my soul to you. Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies; in You, I take shelter. Teach me to do you well, for you are my God; your spirit is good. Lead me in the land of Uprightness. Revive me, O Lord, for your name’s sake! For you righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble. …As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. …For a day in your court is better than a thousand. I would rather be doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.  …In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul. …I will set nothing wicked before me eyes; I will hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.”

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Inclusion of this translation does not imply endorsement of this author's thoughts by the copyright holders. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Review: Called to Stay

Called to Stay is my first review solicited by another author, and frankly, I could not have asked for a better initial experience. I have an aching suspicion it may taint others yet to come, not because author Caleb Jennings Breakey seems to be such a great guy (which he does) but because the book is just that good (which it is).

The work serves as Breakey's timely call to his fellow millennials to do the hard work of staying in a place that frustrates them more than possibly any other: the local church. Millennial attitudes toward fundamentalism and the Christian faith are no secret. A generation of youth whose core values are identity and passion have come to see gaps between theology and practice as not only unacceptable but repugnant. Breakey's message to his ever-authentic and integrity-obsessed peers is simple: the ethic of Christian love calls not for leaving the broken fellowship of believers but rather transforming churches through loving relationship and Christ-centered personal reflection.

Breakey shows his understanding of the current cultural mindset in more than just substance but also style. His background in journalism is on full display as he concisely expresses large ideas in a form that is brief but dense. Though the book reads at a breakneck pace, every page feels full of useful suggestions and valuable insights.

Of course, to some this may also make the book feel like a series of one-liners, bumper-sticker slogans, and other instances of fortune-cookie wisdom. Ironically, the book may seem to display the sort of pithy church culture against which millennials seem to react so harshly, but I think such a critique is dismissive. Breakey writes as he does with intentionality, because a staccato delivery is the most common way millennials absorb information. Though sections are brief, they are well written and succinct. Those who criticize the book's shorthand "beat-by-beat" cadence have a right to do so, but to them I would simply pose the question, "How would you say it better?" (and let's be sure, "longer" is rarely "better").

One reason that Called to Stay is so useful is that the aforementioned style allows Breakey covers a great deal of ground in digestible bits. I found many moments and points of the book worth remembering, but I connected to these the most:

This quote from page 38 may be the single most poignant moment in the whole book, as Breakey comments on the current exodus from mainline and tradition churches to smaller enclaves started by those who are "going to do it right". He notes, "those who end up leaving the church in order to be the church end up needing the church." His point being that as these smaller churches grow, they develop the same dynamics and issues against which their members rallied in the first place.

An insert on page 51 calls for solving the problems one sees in their local church by challenging the critic to be the solution through personal action and accountability. The table essentially works like this: If the church lacks X, start providing some form of X yourself. For example, "No genuine fellowship? Create genuine fellowship."

Pages 67-71 provide the excellent "Follower Manifesto" which I think will serve for many as the most compelling part of the text, particularly if one adhere's to Breakey's request to read the content aloud.

Pages 82-83 bring the Holy Spirit into focus as a source of not only courage but also inspiration and motivation.  As one who often acknowledges the power of following the Spirit's whisper, I found this section essential to Breakey's message.

Page 99 begins a section on childlikeness before God, and I was pleasantly surprised by not only it's inclusion but also it's content.

On page 146, Breakey writes briefly on the power of story. "Use sin subtley", he advises. This is specifically pertinent to me as my own first book, Stronghold, deals in this method of glorifying God through recounting a tale of his deliverance.

Finally, Breakey recounts one individual's darkest night just before her bright new dawn; and after, he asserts, "What was God up to during that process? What was he teaching? We just don't know. All we know is that under the surface, everything just might be going right." This sentence will probably stay with me for a long time, and I look forward to hunting and memorizing verses that attest to it.

I am picking my personal favorites, but they provide only a taste of the valuable truths and challenges presented by Caleb Breakey. To be honest, I became somewhat enamored with this book. While I'd like to offer more criticism and so forth, I really feel like I would be reaching simply in order to say something negative for the sake of balance. If you know me well, you know that I call it like I see it, esp. here on the blog.

Called to Stay is wonderful, plain and simple, and I was happy to buy it on release day despite my having a review copy already. The book should prove an excellent, potent read for both those within a local church body and those who have left it.

Called to Stay: An Uncompromising Mission to Save Your Church
on Amazon

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Bottom Line to My Writing Choices

So, Nanowrimo is coming. It's only weeks away. I am wrestling with two ideas, trying to decide which one to engage for the 30-day whirlwind. The more personal of the two is winning. It'll be good to write it--cathartic, really. Of course, I think that also means it's going to be the easier idea, and I don't know if I want to do what's easier.

Then again, that may be the best thing for me when my writing time and energy is hanging by a thread. I don't know. It's hard to choose where to invest one's energies, and I feel that my walk as a Christian compounds this. I feel that I am accountable for how I spend your time, and why. I also ask questions before starting a project--questions like, "Will this idea/work glorify God?"; "Will my story make him look more desirable?"; "Will I be able to give an answer for why I wrote this instead of the other 50 ideas I had in the pressure cooker?" These are hard questions for me sometimes.

Ultimately, I am unsure if they matter. I think that excellent work glorifies God in its quality, and some of these questions are more of my personal concern than God's. I want to believe that what I am doing honors him. I want to put my time and energy and effort into stories that I think matter in the most important ways. I strive not for the "immortality" of creations that live well beyond my years on earth but for work that carries eternal, kingdom significance. So I ask these types of questions.

But in the end, I keep coming back to the same answers. And they are hauntingly simple.

Tell the truth.
Be honest.
Be real.
Be sincere.
Bear your soul.

If I want to move people, if I want to honor God, if I want to do what's right, then that's what is required of me. The honest truth, from my soul. I may limit my audience in doing so, but I will connect with that audience. I may sit in the darkness longer than I desire, but doing so will make the light appear that much brighter when I share it. And really, that's my whole life, isn't it? Trying to share that light, in whatever way I can.

Here's hoping I use the opportunity that NanoWriMo provides. More updates to come.