Wednesday, February 28, 2007
I was in my final year at a Christian college when I first read the book that would not only change the way I viewed God, but would permanently impact the course of my life. Circumstances had broken my heart and I was trying to figure out how to avoid crumbling. A friend loaned me a copy of Storm at Daybreak by B.J. Hoff. I wept my way through it, and as the lead character surrendered herself to the sovereignty of God, in spite of the potential for pain, I did the same.
Less than a year later, I was back home with my family facing even more heartbreak. My parents' faith was quivering under the blows. I wondered how long mine would last. I turned again to Storm at Daybreak, and again wept my way through it. Again I felt the reality of God's presence with me, and again I dedicated myself to walking whatever path He put before me.
For the next five years, I read that book at least once a year. Each time it challenged me to keep trusting my Heavenly Father, no matter how painful or puzzling my circumstances. I went on to read Mrs. Hoff's "Emerald Ballad" series, and then her "American Anthem" series. Though I fall in love with each new character she writes, nothing will surpass the impact of Storm at Daybreak.
My life was changed in another way by this book. Having experienced personally the power of fiction to change a person's relationship with God, I now heard God's calling in my spirit to begin a fiction writing career of my own. The years unfolded, and I wrote and had published six novels and four novellas. I've had the indescribable joy of hearing from readers whose lives have been changed by my stories.
Regardless of the many changes and challenges in my life since then, God has not released me from the call. I know He's given me the storyteller's gift, and I refuse to be the unfaithful servant who buries her talent in the ground. Each day I face my computer again, humbled and delighted, both, to be allowed to share the reality of faith through fiction.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Losing a small child in a large shopping mall and not finding him for an hour (other end of the mall, calmly reading a comic book). So I take young kids shopping only when there is no other choice.
Waiting until for a teenager driving home from up north and being two hours late. He comes in, surprised that I'm up. No problem, just some heavy rain. And he started late. My fear turns to anger, relieving pent-up emotion.
A doctor's diagnosis. Cancer. All through the spine. My father's confused, questioning eyes as the doctor leaves me to explain. My mother's bewildered disbelief. It wasn't supposed to be this way. He was always the strong one. Now I have to take his place.
The expectation of my own death as I spend long hours in agony and helplessness, the small child inside me struggling for life, my strength flowing away like blood dripping from an amputated limb.
Yes, I know fear.
But with each of these fears, I have also known peace. I have never felt alone, for God is always with me. He allows me to lean on him. And I know that whatever happens, he’ll still be in control. And I am able to trust and not fear. Except...
I have another fear. One I try hard not to think about. Most of the time, I even pretend it doesn't exist. It’s the fear that something is missing in my life. A dimension that ought to be there but isn't. God's peace is in my heart, but who will hold my hand?
I see you at church on Sunday and we say, "Hello," and "How are you?" and we talk about the weather or the programs at church or the new people, or the people we haven't seen for a while, and then we go to our homes. Afterwards, I think, “Something was missing.” There I was with so many questions on my heart that I could hardly concentrate. Questions about my value as a woman, about my role in the church, about my family and my life. About feeling pulled in so many directions and...even about pain. And all I said was that I was fine.
Am I the only one who feels this way? You’ve never mentioned similar fears to me. And yet...there must be someone else who shares my questions and even my pain. There must be someone, somewhere.
Could it be we're all too busy looking after our families, and furthering our careers, and keeping the church programs going that we simply have no time for each other? No time to really talk to each other and pray for each other and hold each others' hands, and look after each other?
Or is there a deeper reason? You don't suppose our busyness is just a way of protecting ourselves, do you?
What a strange idea. To think that my greatest fear might be the fear of you? Ridiculous....
The funny thing is I don't feel God's peace in this area. I feel...longing. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could talk to each other? I mean, really talk. And I wouldn't have to be afraid that you would think I was stupid, or peculiar, or not a good enough Christian. Wouldn't it be great if we could let our guards down and I could learn from you and you could learn from me—and we could even help each other in practical ways? No jealousy or pettiness or envy or shame—just help each other. You know—like Jesus would.
Why does the mere idea stir something deep within my heart? Like embers beginning to glow. It would be so great to know you really cared. That you knew all about me and still cared. And we wouldn't have to fear each other.
One of these days, one of us will have to make the first move.
*I wrote this article some years ago, and it was published in the Link and Visitor. From some recent conversations with other women, I thought perhaps it was still appropriate—and not just for women.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Who needs poetry? Well, the short answer is everyone, but let me get specific. My focus here relates to Christ-followers. Anyone who wants to understand scripture needs an awareness of how poetry works, and needs an experience of the non-linear way poetry communicates, simply because so much of scripture is poetry. Since becoming an avid reader of poetry, and a poet myself, I have become a better reader of scripture.
When you study the beatitudes in Matthew, for example, you’ll get a different impression about what Jesus is saying, than if you study Luke’s version. Preachers, because they have a point to make, don’t usually like such ambiguity; they want the scripture to be clear, and so focus on the verses that better make their point. There’s nothing wrong with this, because often the Bible is saying what the preacher wants it to. Poets, however, embrace ambiguity, revelling in multiple possibilities, and divergent meanings.
Often a phrase or image in a poem carries several meanings and serves multiple purposes. This is often true of scripture. Consider David’s cry in Psalm 22 — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Is it a prophetic passage, or is it reflective of what David felt? Poetry doesn’t limit itself to “either/or” interpretations, but is open to “both/and”. What did Jesus mean by quoting it? Do parts of it refer to David, and parts to Christ? Does all of it refer both to David and to Jesus as well? Is it significant that Jesus is David’s descendant? Could it be some of both intertwined? A non-poetic interpretation is far too limited to appreciate what God had in mind here. Since so much of scripture is written as poetry, doesn’t it seem important for us to understand how poetry conveys meaning? Those who first encountered David’s psalm would have been satisfied that they knew what it was about, because they already had a meaningful way to interpret it. Being open to the poetic, opens readers to the possibility of more.
Poets resist the human impulse to form systematic theologies — to try to fit God into a box. Poets delight in mystery, in pushing beyond preconceived ideas, in wrapping in words what keeps slipping out of its wrapping.
Is it any wonder that those who have no time for poetry have trouble understanding the books of Daniel and Revelation — or, worse, claim to have them all figured out?
This is just a beginning of why I believe that believers need to embrace poetry. Let me know your thoughts on the subject, and I just might share some more myself.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Encased in glass and set in a prominent place is The Aleppo Codex. This manuscript was created in about 920 A.D. and is the oldest copy of the Hebrew Bible in existence. It is also the first manuscript to be bound the way books are bound today, rather than rolled in a scroll. In essence, it is the first book.
The history of the Aleppo Codex is intriguing and speaks to the zeal of the Jews for preserving God’s word, and to God’s zeal for doing the same. Though it has been stolen, ravaged in riots, almost destroyed by fire, and lost entirely, (in fact a good chunk of it is still missing), the book has survived.
There was something stirring about seeing it. I wanted to touch it, but of course the glass prevented that. But I still had a sense of profound connectedness. Here was an ancient object, words copied by a rabbi centuries ago, that is still used today to teach about God. These are the words that are in the various copies of the scripture I have in my own home, the words I can sit and read any time I want to. These are the words God has given us. As I stared at that first book, the feeling of being connected to those ancient people and to God himself, was deeply moving.
The experience has given me a new awe for this thing I do called writing. What an amazing gift God gave us when he inspired those men long ago to create an alphabet. How amazing that God continues to call “scribes” to record and create, using the tools of writing, all to his glory.
Friday, February 23, 2007
The name must have a nice beat to it when I say it out loud. It has to flow off my tongue and not cause a jarring sensation. For example, "Samantha Jones." I have to also consider the variations of the name that other characters in the novels can use to show their relationship. "Allegra" becomes "Allie" to close friends and family.
The name has to create a true picture to the reader and reveal the personality and purpose of the characters. "C.J. Tremaine" gives the impression of the powerful boss that he is, while "Petra" tells the reader she values and demonstrates truth, and "Hudson Taylor" sounds like a tower of strength.
To get the perfect name for the characters in my books, I can turn to Baby Name Books or websites which list the meaning behind the name and its origin. Some authors pay close attention to the credits of movies or spy out the phone book for interesting-sounding names.
But what about the ones we're born with? What does our name mean? What traits should it reveal to those we come into contact with? And would it make a good epitaph on our tomestones? An accurate summary of our life?
I looked up my name in the Baby Name Book. "Anna" means "full of grace, mercy and prayer" and "graceful one." I'm sure my Italian parents gave no thought at all to the meaning of my name in relationship to what my character would be, or should be. In fact, I know I was named after my father's sister.
So what do I want my name to say about me? I gave it some thought. Here's what I came up with.
I pray I live up to my name. I hope my characters live up to theirs.
How about you? What do you want people to see when they hear your name?
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
I think that's why it is sometimes hard for us writers to talk dispassionately about our books. When we put those words on the page we are putting ourselves in the public eye. This book, The Only Best Place, was my first foray into Women's fiction and my first attempt at first person. Both were a journey and though Leslie's VandeKeere's journey really wasn't mine, I still knew i had dropped kernels of myself in her.
I don't like to think that as people read this book, they will think they know me. But if I am to be completely honest, if they read this book, they will, either in Leslie or some of the other charaters, see a bit of me. And if I am to be the best writer I can be, this is what I should do. Open that vein and put my unique take on life into this book. Use the viewpoint that God has given me in my life in my stories.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Recently, I attended a talk given by Doug Sprunt, one of the owners of Salem Storehouse, a Christian bookstore in Ottawa.
He had been working part time on staff of a local church, but felt called to return to work at the bookstore full time. Why? Because he and his partners realized that though they were successful in selling books, CDs and so on, they had not accomplished the full vision of ministry for the store.
When they'd started the store years ago, they had hoped to make it a place for people who were broken could come and find healing.
Sprunt said he recognized the growing need for that vision when he saw people coming into the store who didn't have a church. They called themselves Christians and were coming into the store to build relationships.
He's also recognized that the Christian bookstores are not reaching new markets and the market they do reach is getting older. Music used to bring in 25 per cent of the income, but that's dropped because of legal downloading on the Internet. As for books, they can be easily ordered online and Sunday school curriculum can be downloaded.
But one thing he can offer is community. To that aim, they are renovating the bookstore to include meeting rooms for people to hold Bible studies or prayer sessions. They already have a cafe offering free coffee.
Another bookstore owner was in the audience. She said she seemed to be getting the same message from God.
As Sheila Wray Gregoire said in yesterday's post, the new media are changing the way we tell stories. These changes are not only affecting us as writers, but they are affecting the people who sell the books we write. But new media is not the only trend out there we need to contend with. The other is the growing number of people who think they don't need a church home, but are desperately in need of the Body of Christ.
I found Doug's talk inspiring. I can see myself heading down one of these days with my laptop and doing some writing out of his cafe and plugging into the community he's building.
Anyone else see this kind of thing happening in their local Christian bookstore?
Many of my ideas for my books have come to me this way. My first two books are about marriage. To Love, Honor and Vacuum was written to help women who feel like they are holding the entire house together and nobody appreciates it or seems to want to help. We have this mistaken idea in Christian circles that domesticity will be a form of bliss for all women, and when it's not, it can be a big burden to bear. My second book, Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight: Help for women who want to feel more in the mood, talks about exactly what it sounds like. My husband liked the research.
My next two books were quite different: one was a compilation of my syndicated parenting columns, and one was a short grief book. My agent really thinks I need to stick to marriage. I need to build my name recognition to sell more books in this area.
But I'm increasingly wondering if writing books is the best way to get the messages that God gives me across, anyway. More people receive my weekly column (now in about 85,000 households) than have bought my books. It's quite likely that my columns are more widely read than my books. I certainly get about ten times as much email in regards to the short, 700 word snippets that I write than the 250-page books that I love, that I birthed, and that took so much of my time. And at my speaking engagements, more and more women are eschewing the books in favour of the CDs of recordings of some of my previous messages and conferences. They want something to listen to, rather than something to read. But even those who do want to read seem to read in a different way. My website now has about 300 unique visitors a day, with thousands of daily hits, and almost a thousand people have signed up to receive my free weekly ezine.
I look at these trends and wonder what the future is for writing in Canada. If we are to reach Canadians with the messages that God has given us, I don't think we can be confined to books. People want their messages in small, easily consumed bites. It's a hard adjustment for an author to make, because we like writing. That, of course, is why we do it. Also, how does one make money on the internet? We're only starting to figure this out, though I know some writers who make so much advertising money in their ezines that it has become as lucrative as writing books.
I don't want to give up on books, because I think Christian publishing is so important in Canada. But the idea of what constitutes Christian publishing, I think, is shifting as people want downloadable material for their Palm Pilots or iPods, and not just a book they can leaf through. Personally, I could never read a book on a Palm Pilot, but it seems that there are many who prefer it that way.
It used to be that writers were loners who would retreat to a lakeside resort with only a typewriter and let God give them inspiration. Today we need so much technology it's overwhelming. And we need to stay on the cutting edge, something authors aren't necessarily known for. But this year, as I've been lamenting the future of my authorship, and wondering why God isn't opening more doors for more books, I've slowly been realizing that He's opening doors with speaking, and with the internet, and with audio sales, which can reach a whole different crowd.
These things, of course, are circular. As we authors become known on the internet, our book sales will increase, and bookstores will benefit from that. But more and more we need to think beyond the bookstore and into other areas of writing. It takes more time and a different part of our imagination. But in the future, perhaps the ideas that God will be sending us won't just be about what to write; they will be about how to say it. That's a different kettle of fish altogether.
Monday, February 19, 2007
She taught me how to exercise faith in many situations, how to dream, and how to pray. She shared many of the lessons she learned as she traveled her faith journey. During her unique pilgrimage, she encountered the challenges of fragile health and early widowhood. She shared with me the resources that sustained her, and helped me learn not to accept easy answers. She encouraged me to keep searching until I resolved the tough issues and to learn that I could and must at times live with contradiction.
Catherine taught me that God is there, even when disappointment and unanswered prayer shout otherwise. She shared the pain of losing her precious grandchild, her namesake who lived only six weeks before following her older brother to Heaven. Like the Psalmist, Catherine bravely explored the depths of emotion this experience brought her. I learned from her that God can handle our emotions even when we feel we cannot.
This gentle mentor showed me how praise can transform our lives. It releases God's power in our lives in a way that ignites tremendous creative energy. I learned the joy of a grateful heart.
From Catherine's wisdom, I learned the power of forgiveness. She took me beyond God's forgiveness of me to see how important it was that I learn to forgive others. Eventually in my own intimate relationships I realized what a wonderful gift she had given me.
The mentoring my beloved teacher provided on the difficult subject of obedience has been crucial in the development of my own prayer life. Her vast knowledge of the Scriptures, on this topic as well as on many others validated her teaching.
As a young adult, I naively believed that evil was some kind of nebulous influence in our world. However, my mentor, Catherine, convinced me that we are living in a battleground where real forces for good and evil strive to control our lives. She helped me understnad the enemy of our souls likes nothing better than to lull us into thinking that he is harmless, and not a threat to our faith. She awoke me to the reality of spiritual warfare.
A complex issue that Catherine never allowed me to avoid grappling with was the question of healing. Together we looked at the reality that sometimes God grants physical healing and sometimes He does not. Her own experience and intensive study of Scripture furnished benchmarks for my own explorations. What I learned from her, I had to apply when four years ago my son became a quadriplegic in a car accident. People around the world have prayed for him, yet still he remains paralyzed. Catherine's mentoring has helped me hold on to faith when I cannot understand God's silence.
Following the pattern of the Lord Jesus, whom she loved so much, Catherine made sure that I understood that I would have a mentor, even after she was gone. She pointed me to her own mentor, the one Jesus promised. As Catherine did, I discovered that I could have the Holy Spirit as my teacher. As through the years my faith has grown and stretched, I have been aware of His gentle prodding and the lessons He is teaching me. Although I missed Catherine when she died, I knew that she had prepared me to keep learning from Someone even wiser that she was.
My mentor, Catherine was a dreamer and a dream catcher. She taught me to value the dreams that God plants in my heart. She encouraged me to nurture my dream of being a writer. Her encouragement has kept me going as I have seen article after article appearing in print. It has kept the dream going through the discouragement of rejections. Her example has helped me encourage others to pursue their dreams as well, especially potential writers.
I look forward to the day when at last my mentor and I will be able to talk together about all the dreams we have seen fulfilled. I can't wait to tell her in person how much she has meant to me. One day, I will meet my mentor, the author Catherine Marshall, in heaven. Until then, I will continue to put into practice what she taught me and mentor those who follow.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Where they sell those heart-shaped boxes of chocolates he wasn’t quite so terrified, but he’s not so dense that he hasn’t been aware of you complaining that just looking at chocolate adds to your hips. Now if there were only one or two styles of boxes, he might cope, but there are eighteen verities, each promising to melt the heart of his beloved. He’s not sure what a melted heart looks like, but he’s quite sure it is not healthy – and there are so many to choose from. Now in the hardware store choosing among twenty hammer-drills that range from a throwaway model at $24.95 right up to a professional model at $184.95 is not a problem. But how does he weigh the merits of artery-clogging decadence? He knows you’ll say he shouldn’t have – and he knows you’ll be right, but all the signs hint at wedded bliss if he does and dire, unnamable consequences if he doesn’t. It’s enough to bewilder any man.
Greeting cards are another ordeal. “How do I luv thee? Let me count the ways.” He stares at the verse, turns the card over to see if the back shows French or Italian, then stares at the verse again. He puts that one back on the shelf and grabs the next one. The flowery font is beyond him. He thinks he can make out the word “love,” but doesn’t know if he’s promising to take you on a world cruise or just a supper for two. He made a rash “Let’s do it,” comment once years ago – when you spoke longingly of some dreamed of outing. He may not be any wiser now, but he is more cautious. The foolish cards, those gag types you buy for brothers when they hit fifty – he can understand. But he’s heard rumours that at least at Valentines, they are grounds for divorce – so he goes back to the ones in a language he cannot read. He finally closes his eyes and grabs. He’ll make a final check to be sure it isn’t calling you his loving Mother-in-Law, but won’t risk reading further. At the cash register he’ll gulp and give a sick grin, mumble something to the girl behind the counter, try – and fail – to pretend he is an accomplished flirt, and blushing and sweating, run from the store. He might have the envelope with him. He might not. He might remember to sign it. He might not. But if love is a verb, the effort it has taken him, regardless of what the card actually says – speaks of deep love.
Your man has a limited vocabulary when it comes to romance. He’ll gladly let you model something from Victoria Secrets. If he doesn’t have adequate words to express his appreciation, his eyes will tell you much. And he’ll gladly share some of those artery-clogging chocolates, just to spare your hips of course. He really wishes he could understand those greeting cards and come out with the sweep-you-off-your-feet lines that James Bond seems to have down pat. He agonizes over that lack. – And he really does try to remember to put the toilet seat down. If the curtains are drawn so the neighbours can’t see, he might even push the vacuum around. If he forgets to plug it in, that doesn’t lesson the love behind the act.
So if he hasn’t quite fulfilled all your dreams this Valentines Day, please understand that he has made intense efforts to do so – efforts that have cost him in ways beyond your understanding. And believe it or not, he loves you enough that he will go through the same agony next year, though the results will probably be the same. So snuggle up beside him. Shock him by sharing the same chocolate at the same time. Who knows, he might find other ways to show you how much he loves you – and you just might burn off at least as many calories as you have eaten.
I shamefully admit my reaction to trials is generally panic, not praise. “Lord, why are you letting this happen?” I whined. It took a while to acknowledge that Father always knows best. Had my brakes gone out while I was on the road it would have been much worse—I visualized being towed to a truckstop in boonytown with a maniacal wrench-wielding mechanic telling me he’d ordered the parts but they wouldn’t arrive for a week. I hastily recanted, asked forgiveness for my attitude, and then solicited help from The Word Guild’s prayer team. In faith I sat down and wrote a blog professing I would be at the show without a clue of how I was going to get there. The result was that the repairman, who’d told me on three separate occasions the work could not be done on Saturday, because he was already booked solid, ended up squeezing me in and then stayed two and a half hours past his normal closing to get the job done. I was back on schedule. Oh, and did I mention, it only cost $400.
The point is, in spite on my initial reaction, I did ultimately have faith. I simply could not believe that God, who had just done a series of miracles to prepare me for this show, would not let me attend. I said, “I don’t know how you’re going to do it Lord, but you have to get me there”—and He did.
So what is this thing called, “Faith?” According to the Bible. it’s believing what we cannot see. We know without faith it’s impossible to please God. We know with enough faith we can move mountains, that if we ask believing, we will receive (unless we’re asking for something to satisfy our lust, which, of course, makes our request null and void), and on, and on, and on... Yet, if you’re like me, all too often we say, “I have faith to believe, but I have to be practical. I’ll keep my options open, just in case.”
Excuse me, but that’s not faith. As Ron Hembree, a pastor friend of mine, is fond of saying, “faith is spelled R...I...S...K!” Oh, so true. Faith with an opt-out clause is like Abraham believing God would give him a son, but substituting Hagar because he felt Sarah was too old; or Aaron believing God was big enough to bring the clan through the Red Sea but, when left alone for a few days, deciding that having a golden calf would be nice just in case; or Ananias and Sapphira holding onto some of their cash because they weren’t absolutely sure God would meet their every need. Every one of these, “I believe—but,” examples of faith ended in disaster.
Believing God doesn’t always mean instant success. David could have killed his enemy, Saul, but instead chose to run for his life and hide in caves because he believed God would make him king when the time was right. Joseph, who was promised preeminence over his brothers, was sold into slavery and wound up in jail, but ultimately saw how God meant it for good. Sometimes we have to wade through perilous trials before we see the fulfillment of the promise. More often than not, there are years of struggle.
The question is, are we ready to lay it all on the line believing, in spite of our present circumstances, that God will one day, and in His way, accomplish His purpose? I hope so. I’m tired of saying, “I believe you, Lord, but...” James said we have to believe without wavering, for if we waver we receive nothing. Lord, give me the faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego so I can say, “My God is able to deliver me, but even if He doesn’t, I will not bow down.” Let me be like Job and shout, “Yea though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” I want to know when I stand before God I’ll hear, “Well done thou good and ‘faithful’ servant,” not, “Oh, ye of little faith. I had such great plans for you—if only you hadn’t given up.”
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
“Ethics in journalism - is there such a thing?” one business colleague sputtered. Another pointed out that those terms could be used as a perfect example of an oxymoron.
“But they are only thinking of non-Christian writers,” I mentally re-assured myself. To be Christian and non-ethical fits the oxymoron category perfectly but I didn’t want to discuss that issue.
The conversation came about at a weekly business networking luncheon in which I’d shared my 2007 commitment to continuing education for myself and for those who work with me. In the past, on-going training too often has been relegated to the “if I have the time, I don’t have the money; if I have the money, I don’t have the time” syndrome.
“Not this year,” I told my friends, “Things will be different.”
While the first step in this upgrading process was to commit myself to attend our national Christian writers’ conference in June, the other undertaking involves setting up quarterly seminars in our town and that’s the part that really interested my colleagues.
“The first seminar will be held in March and I have a speaker coming in,” I told them. “He’s the editor of a trade publication and I’ve asked him to talk about the subject of ethics. Of course there are black sheep in every profession,” I said in reference to their comments, “but I know lots of writers who maintain the highest standards of integrity.” Their raised eyebrows and cynical smirks made me drop the subject.
At the time it seemed so noble and so easy to respond to them, one a lawyer and the other, a financial advisor. That was before I got an email from a dear friend who lives on the other side of the country.
“I shared some of my published writing with a pastor,” she said. “He edited it without permission, changed some of the core themes, and used the pieces in a church publication without my knowledge. I’m so angry with him that I don’t want to have anything to do with him,” she continued.
There were no pious platitudes on my part because just two days earlier, an editor and member of the Body of Christ had done something similar with my work. I was still reeling from my own disappointment when I heard from her.
That’s not the end of the story, though. By God’s grace, the end of the battle had come in the early hours of the same day I faced my dilemma.
“My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends,” God told Job’s comforters. “For you have not spoken of Me what is right, as my servant Job has.”
As I’d read that I had prayed, asking God to help me represent Him rightly no matter what the situation. Not for one moment, however, had I realized all that entailed. I just know that I’m glad I did because I’m not sure how I would have reacted to the situation otherwise.
As painful as it was, the whole incident has taught me the power of the Word to cleanse our words. It has sobered, almost frightened me, to realize how God views the unethical presentation of who He is in us and it provided me with the blessed privilege of choosing to represent Him well in my forthright discussion with the editor in question. It’s also given me a new perspective on ethics in journalism.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
OK, I’m old fashioned. But am I the only one who has noticed this decline in good manners? And what about please and thank you? Are they doomed to join the dust-pile of archaic expressions?
Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised. Like the infinitesimal changes that herald climate change, these lapses signal social deterioration. Societies gradually decline, like water seeking the lowest elevation. It’s some kind of cultural law of entropy.
Strange. While secular pundits continue to expand the frontiers of moral freedom our social fabric unravels. Freedom to sleep around. Freedom to no-fault divorce. Freedom to abortion. Freedom to same-sex marriage. And now freedom to have three parents.
Which brings me to our calling as Christian writers—to proclaim liberty to the captives. What captives? The captives Jesus talked about. "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (John 8:34). No matter what our society’s libertarians may declare, God’s moral imperatives are changeless. Almighty God has not repealed the ten commandments.
Like the rails that guide a train to its destination, the moral principles of God guide mankind to freedom. By contrast, disobedience to God’s revealed will entangles mankind in a web of destructive consequences—hence, slavery to sin. The situation we see around us every day bears witness to the biblical diagnosis.
Democratic freedoms owe their origin to the gospel of Jesus Christ. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Gal. 5:1). The advance of anarchy owes its encouragement to the rejection of revealed truth. "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
May I suggest that we use every skill we possess to expose our generation to the roots of anarchy and the sources of liberty. But before we tackle social ills, we would be wise to share Paul’s exhortation with our fellow Christians; "Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1).
Sometimes subtle pressures in our churches become gossamer fetters that bind us to the expectations of fellow Christians, rather than to those of Christ. We will serve God most sincerely when free to express our own personality and gifts.
Monday, February 12, 2007
As a friend once pointed out to me, when we were younger, a journal was a blank book you wrote in, like a diary. Now people talk about “journaling”. We have verbified words like impact, divorce, switch, access and gift. Here’s a crazier example. Lately I learned that “brick” has become a verb (informally): when an appliance or piece of equipment breaks down and becomes useless, it has been “bricked”.
Ironically, the word “love” actually is a verb and yet we commonly use it only as a noun, to describe a feeling. Even when we use it in a sentence as a verb — “I love you” — what we usually mean is “I feel love toward you.”
But if love is a verb — an action word — then isn’t it something we should do? Doesn’t it require some action, some effort, some participation on our part? It’s like saying to your friend, “I trust you” but not confiding in him or not lending her something. It’s not enough to feel trustful toward someone; you must also demonstrate that trust. It’s not enough to feel protective of your children; you must actually protect them. It’s not enough to feel thankful toward someone; you must show them your gratitude.
Feelings come and go. But actions can be carried out regardless of the presence of feelings, because they are intellectual choices that we make. God has given us the ability and the intelligence to do the right thing, to do the good thing, even when we don’t have the feelings that might give us some extra motivation.
The Bible also gives us clear instructions that we are to love. We must love God (Deuteronomy 6:5), our neighbour (Matthew 22:39), our enemy (Matthew 5:43), our husband (Titus 2:4), our wife (Ephesians 5:33), our children (Titus 2:4), our parents (Matthew 19:19), and each other (John 13:34).
How do we love? How do we go beyond feeling satisfied that we feel affection or admiration or sympathy toward someone?
“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 - NIV). When it comes to loving, God spares no expense. He doesn’t count the cost to Himself. He doesn’t ask, “What’s in it for me?” He not only does what needs to be done, but He goes the extra mile.
What about me? What about you? How will you love God, your friends, your family, your enemy this month?
Saturday, February 10, 2007
The valentine that brought me the most smiles was sent by a lady named Maizie to her husband who was a construction worker. I can still remember this gentleman’s face when he came to our home to pick up his mail that day. “Oh, a letter from Maizie!” he exclaimed as a slow grin spread across his weathered face. His tall frame blocked out the light from the winter sunshine as he stood in front of the kitchen window in order to see the words. Much to the amusement of this nine year old, he read his card out loud, “Are you my little pigeon? Are you my little dove? Are you my little sweetheart I’m always thinking of?” His smile grew broader and broader with each line but when he turned the page the smile disappeared. He started to shake and within seconds his smile was replaced by a thunderous belly laugh. “No, you old crow,” he choked out the words as he tried to read what was written on the second page.
The valentine I wish I was able to send would go to my first teacher, Mrs. Richardson. While demonstrating her care and patience for her first graders, she helped every small boy and girl in her class decorate large envelopes in which to put their valentines. When I look back on our classroom celebrations I can’t help but have a strong suspicion she was the person who stuffed our envelopes to overflowing after one youngster boasted, “I’ve got more valentines than you have.” His taunting remarks caused one of the less popular children to cry but the day we opened our envelopes, no one child had more valentines than their classmates.
Of course I’ll give a special valentine to the person who became a lifelong friend after seven of us took a road trip in a Volkswagen in the days before mandatory seatbelts. Three years later this friend became my husband and we’ve celebrated by sharing many valentines ever since.
But besides sending out messages, I’ll spend some time to look at a few I’ve received over the years. One I treasure is a little note written by my great grandmother on the back of a yellowing church envelope. In it she tells us she is leaving her bible as the best heritage she can give and she urges her children and grandchildren to look to it to find guidance for their lives. In following her advice I have found words that express the greatest love of all. Today I join in prayer with St. Paul and use his words to express my wish for each of you on this Valentine’s Day.
And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (Ephesians 3:18, 19 NLT)
Elaine Ingalls Hogg - author, speaker
Friday, February 09, 2007
Returning from an afternoon of house calls, I stumbled up the steps and across the frosty deck of our trailer home. Thankfully the wood-fired heater still held live coals. A great night to be doors!
Home alone–only myself to care for. Feeling a sense of entitlement, I hurriedly prepared one of my favorite comfort foods. I would bathe and...and yes...I would settle into my favorite chair beside the wood heater. I smiled as I spotted the book I was dying to get into.
My heart smiled while I ran the first tub of water; it would warm the near-frozen tub. I drained it, then let it refill while I scurried to shed heavy clothing and slip into my fluffy robe. Evenings like this didn’t happen more than a few times a year!
Dropping the robe on the carpet, I slid into the steaming luxury. Aaahhh! Does life get better than this!!
I leaned back, allowing the cares and concerns of the day to slip away.
A slight movement caught my eye. I thought I saw my robe move. I watched it for a few seconds. Part of one sleeve seemed to have fallen beneath the two-inch space under the door. Funny the way my eyes play tricks on me when I’m tired. I really thought I saw it move.
I closed my eyes and contemplated how comfortable I was living here in the centre of an alcoholic community. I knew most of the folk. They came at any time of the day or night...for rides to the clinic...to use the phone...for a meal...to borrow...and on and on. I was not afraid to be alone.
I glanced idly at the robe. It moved again! Half of one sleeve had now disappeared. I sat bolt upright and watched in terror, as it continued its slow, steady glide.
Who could be doing this? How could anyone have gotten in? I had been home for at least an hour–the doors were locked. My thoughts were in panic mode. Someone was in the trailer when I got home...hiding in the back bedroom! How come I didn’t hear him step on the squeaky spot in the hall? Maybe because I was running the bath water. Rational thought escaped me.
I tried to pray. I couldn’t focus. Frantically I quoted bits and pieces of my favorite Bible verses–God is a very present help in trouble; God is everywhere; God says to fear not; God gives His loved ones peace. My theology told me He was right there with me in the tub; my emotions felt otherwise. Silent screams and wild faxes bombarded heaven.
I vascillated between jumping from the tub and grabbing my robe before I had nothing to cover myself...or sitting still and pretending I wasn’t there. My efforts to see whether I had locked the bathroom door were futile.
The water was now tepid. I needed to make a decision. Oh, please, God, I desperately need your help!
My prayers were heard! A grey furry paw reached under the door and hooked another spot on the robe and dragged it out. Our daughter’s big tom cat wanted my attention.
(This will be one of the lighter-vein stories I tell in my latest book, City of Darkness/City of Gold. Its purpose is to provide balance for events recounted in the City of Darkness portion. The book is an autobiographical account of our eleven years in Dawson City, in the heart of the Klondike.)
Author: A Time to Dance; Elusive Dream; Echo of a Dream
Story Teller, Speaker, Counselor.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
If we think of North American movies or TV, names of Canadians such as Raymond Burr, Neve Campbell, Hayden Christensen, Michael J. Fox, Lorne Greene, Paul Gross, Jillian Hennessy, Margot Kidder, Matthew Perry, Christopher Plummer, Sarah Polley, Jason Priestly, Keanu Reeves, William Shatner, Donald Sutherland, Kiefer Sutherland, Alan Thicke, Sandra Oh and others stand out. I'm sure I'm missing a bunch.
Canada has supplied many of the comedians in Hollywood and on American television: Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Tom Gree, Rich Little, Kids in the Hall, Howie Mandel, Bob & Doug McKenzie, Rick Mercer, Mike Myers, Catherine O'Hara, Wayne and Schuster, Martin Short, Dave Thomas, Leslie Nielsen, Kids in the Hall, much of the cast of Saturday Night Live…Canadian.
In the secular writing world, Canadians have won Pulitzers, Bookers, and other awards, and are sought after all over the world. We have Margaret Atwood, Margaret Avison, Leonard Cohen, Douglas Coupland, Robertson Davies, Timothy Findley, John Kenneth Galbraith, Graham Greene, Michael Ignatieff, W. P. Kinsella, Margaret Laurence, Stephen Leacock, Hugh MacLennan, Marshall McLuhan, W. O. Mitchell, Lucy Maude Montgomery, Farley Mowat, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Paul Quarrington, Mordecai Richler, Peter Robinson, Robert J. Sawyer, Maureen Jennings, Carol Shields and many, many more.
So - how many Canadian authors who write for the Christian market can you name?
After asking this questions to countless readers and booksellers over the past five years, I know that for the typical Canadian. the answer is going to be - not many. Three or four at most.
Hmm. I wonder what the problem is.
Did I mention that most of the mainstream writers, as well as their publishers, have benefited greatly from government subsidies? Or that some years ago, the government of Canada ruled that there had to be more Canadian content on our radios? Until then, most of the music played was American.
The ruling said that 30% of the music had to have a Canadian connection. The result was that Canadian musicians benefited greatly from the increased air play. And Canada is now known for our high quality musicians and singers. Jann Arden, Bare Naked Ladies, Blue Rodeo, Bryan Adams, Paul Brandt, Terri Clark, Celine Dion, Emerson Drive, Nelly Furtado, Rush, Shania Twain, Tragically Hip, the Wilkinsons and the Roadhammers are just a few of the many Canadians who have won international awards and put Canada on the map musically. I recently listened to a CBC radio interview with Jackie Ralph Jamieson of the Bells ("Fly Little White Dove Fly" and she said that the ruling made a big difference to them. And by the way, the ruling was recently upheld.
What's the biggest problem Canadian Christian authors face?
Getting their voices heard!
My investigations tell me that right now, less than 2% - maybe even as low as 0.1 % - of the books in a typical Canadian Christian bookstore are written by Canadian authors.
If given equal opportunities, there is absolutely no reason why Canadian Christian authors would not do just as well as their peers in the mainstream acting, music and the writing worlds. But at this time, with the exception of a few – such as Janette Oke, Sigmund Brouwer and Phil Callaway (all of whom are published in the United States) – many Canadian are unaware that there even are Canadian Christian authors.
I'd like you to ponder this: it's taken from the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) web site - www.crtc.ca
What is Canadian Content? Simply put, it's about Canadian artists and Canadian stories having access to Canadian airwaves.
Why is it important? Culturally, Canadian programs and music give voice to Canadians, to their talent and their shared experiences. Economically, it means jobs for thousands of Canadians – from creation to production and distribution on the airwaves.
Is the voice of Canadian authors any different? Should Canadian Christian authors not also have a fair opportunity to have our voices heard? And what about support for the Christian publishing industry in Canada?
What do we need?
1. We need readers to go to their favourite bookstores and libraries and ask by name for more Canadian Christian authors.
2. We need booksellers to create areas for the books of Canadian authors and publishers as well as putting their books into the subject areas where they fit. Last fall, my husband found a guide on how to do your US taxes in a Christian bookstore in Toronto along with a book on what Independence Day means to you. I'm sorry? Where do we live again? How is it right that those books should be taking up self space and my books aren't there?
3. We need the Canadian Christian media - print, TV, and radio - to make lots of room for reviews of books by Canadian authors and opportunities for people to get to know them. (I'd have to say we've seen some hopeful changes in the last few years.)
4. We need churches and other Christian organizations to give opportunities to Canadian authors and not assume that the crowds will only come to hear "big names" from other countries. Maybe at first there will be some hesitation, but if you're following God's leading, it won't last long.
5. We need people who will pray. This issue really isn't about how many books I can sell or how much fame I can get. In Matthew 13: 53-58, Jesus goes to his hometown of Nazareth to teach people. Instead of listening to him, they say, “He’s only the carpenter’s son. Who does he think he is to tell us what to do?" And Jesus replies with, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his hometown and in his own home.” The sad last line is, “So he did not do many miracles there because they had no faith.”
Many Canadian Christian writers have spent months and years writing and rewriting what God has put on our hearts. When we are ignored or put down, it hurts not only us, but also those who need to hear our message. Who knows? There may be few miracles here until our fellow Canadians listen to what God wants to say through us. At the very least, writers are a vital part of the body of Christ in Canada, and need support from the rest of the body. And if we are given a chance, there may be a few surprises.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
“Ask yourself, why do you seek the Cup of Christ? Is it for His glory, or for yours?”
While you and I may not be on a search for the Cup of Christ, (but if you are, please let me know) the film reminds us of an age old question: Is His glory the chief aim of my life?
I mention this because success and failure both have a strange habit of clouding this perspective. Success implies God is behind it, and failure (defined however you want) implies He is not. And this is not always the case.
A famous writer once said that if you reach 500 rejections it’s time to realize you’re not a writer. I’m lucky that way. I only got to 236 before my first book was picked up. So what does that say about the first 235? I don’t know.
Perhaps you too have looked around and wondered how in the world the jigsaw pieces in your life could ever fit together to form a puzzle. Or maybe your puzzle looks just fine thank you very much and there’s no point in messing with something that’s working.
Either way, I’m reminded to live in such a way that God is looking for his character and nature to be revealed in the world. Maybe that means loving someone in the business world who doesn’t get much love. Maybe that means writing a book or a script for a cause that will change people’s lives. Maybe that means pursuing something that is way above anything taken on before (which seems to be an indication that God is talking). Maybe that means continuing to pursue what’s on your heart even after the big 500.
Maybe that means taking a moment to evaluate what motivates us.I close with a line from the same movie:
“It’s time to ask yourself what you believe.”
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
As this is my first post, I thought I'd just mention that in the middle of last night, I somehow became involved in a controversy about whether a leading atheist author really exists. You might enjoy reading about it here and here.
My other blogs are the Post-Darwinist, detailing events of interest in the intelligent design controversy (including that one), and the Mindful Hack, where I have posted a fair amount of inflammatory material on the question of whether there is a human mind, independent from the functions of the human brain. My lead author on the upcoming book - neuroscientist Mario Beauregard - and I think that there is, and that there is good evidence for it - and we defend our position in that book shortly to be published by Harper (Mario Beauregard and Denyse O'Leary, The Spiritual Brain, San Francisco: Harper, 2007). I have been a busy little bee this last eighteen months as a result. You can get the sense of the kind of thing we talk about at The Mindful Hack.
Here's one topic I wanted to propose that writers might like to think about: Recently, I have been asked to do a lot of blogging for free - not by colleague groups like this one, I am NOT talking about this. I mean blogging instead of writing. The group normally pays me to
write but won't pay me to blog. They say they don't have the "budget" for it. Now, as the world leans more and more toward the blogosphere, that seems to me to be just a way of getting free work out of people they used to have to pay. I wonder if others would comment on that.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
This issue was recently addressed on a Christian novelists' group I belong to when one of our members was approacehed by a Famous Christian Person asking her - through her agent to ghostwirte a novel. The author would come up with the idea and write the book for X amount of dollars (in the case a lot) and then hand the whole thing over to Famous Christian Person who would stamp his name on the front, just like he was the author. The real author would be sworn to secrecy about the fact that it was she who really wrote the book and not Famous Christian Person.
I scratch my head and wonder what kind of brain processes are required to turn this into something that's remotely okay.
When I define ghostwriting, I need to backtrack and tell you what I don't mean. I'm not talking about co-written novels with the real author's name somewhere on the cover. We're all familiar with the Left Behind series. And most of us are aware that Jerry Jenkins wrote the books with theological input and ideas from Tim LaHaye. Both names appear equally on the cover. I'm also keeping my focus here on novels, and not on nonfiction books or memoirs, many of which carry the 'as told to' line on the cover. And that's fine.
What I'm talking about are works of fiction in which the real author's name does not appear anywhere on the cover or in the book.
This practice is deceiving. The public picks up Great Christian Novel by Famous Christian Person and thinks, 'oh my, not only does this guy preach twice a week on the television, but he also writes all kinds of books, and even novels! What a talented person! How does he do it? God must truly be blessing him.'
It also degrades the author. A few years ago a well-known minister 'wrote' a novel which was featured on numerous television programs including Oprah. The author who actually wrote it ended up feeling used and lost and degraded when Famous Christian Person wanted nothing more to do with her. You may well say, "Well, she should have known. She signed the contract, after all."
Unfortunately, the human psyche doesn't work that way. Author Liz Curtis Higgs uses the harshest terms I've heard in describing ghost writing. To her it's nothing short of 'prostitution.'
This also demeans the craft of the novel itself. Anyone who has ever written a novel realizes that it's not easy. It's not something that can be knocked off in one's spare time.
Recently, I signed my name to a letter which went to all Christian publishing houses
as well as to many agents. Part of the letter which was drafted by author Angela Hunt and signed by more than 40 of the top Christian novelists, including Jerry Jenkins, Francine Rivers, Randy Alcorn, James Coggins and moi, stated in part:
A novel is an art form that arises after years of work and studying the craft.
We are committed to excellence in our fiction, and we write to glorify God. For a publisher to propose that a novel be cranked out, stamped with a celebrity's name, and sold to an unsuspecting public demeans our work and dishonors our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the truth and tells the truth.
But I believe that the greatest damage is done to the celebrity. The practice says to the celebrity, "You're someone special. You're far superior and better than this measly novelist. Your name alone sells books."
This fuels pride, something the Bible warns against in the strongest of terms. As well, it feeds our culture of celebrity - or cult of celebrity, the near lust we have for the rich and famous.
For more on this subject, I would encourage you to read Randy Alcorn's excellent editorial on the subject. Click here:
We must end this travesty. Ephesians 4:25: So put away all falsehood and tell your neighbor the truth.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
You can’t ask your family or most of your friends, because they will like what you’ve written simply because you’ve written it. You need objective readers, who know a lot about what makes writing work, who will encourage you with what you’re doing, and will be bold enough to point out what is not working for them. You need a writers group.
From my experience this doesn’t work very well online. You have to see people face to face. Some writers have thicker skin than others (we all need thick skin) but writers with bruised egos, or those who think they’ve just written the greatest poem/story/article seen in recent years, don’t need to hear the seventh little thing that should be fixed. You can tell how a writer is receiving your words by their eyes, and can gauge your help accordingly.
With a writers group you are motivated to write, because you want to have something to read at the next meeting. You begin writing for an audience with a face you can see, rather than the invisible subscribers of the magazines who publish your work. You become inspired by the work in different genres by your friends. You are given leads on marketing, and are able to pass on leads to others. I’ve been blessed enough to be able to direct writers to editors who can use their writing, and to direct editors to writers. It feels good to see your friends’ names in print, and celebrate their successes with them; it’s great to have friends who particularly understand what you’re doing and will celebrate your successes with you.
Even the best writers need this kind of support. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien met in a group they called “The Inklings”, with others such as novelist Charles Williams.
My writers group sees each new poem I write, while it’s fresh on the drawing board, and they help me to make it shine. As my friends share their art with me, it’s good to help them make it even better. A writers group is a particular community for the strange breed of creatures called writers. Even the most solitary writers need such a community.
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