Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Beatitudes of Christian Writing

Our writing arises from who we are, our character. As Christians our character reflects our commitment to the Christian virtues. Among passages outlining these virtues, the beatitudes occupy a prominent place. Upon reflection, they seem to call me as a Christian writer to:
  • Poverty of spirit, the true humility that leads me to admit my imperfections and thus embrace critiques and suggestions for improvement
  • Mourning, anguish for my own sins and the degrading influence of evil on the gentle world that God created
  • Meekness, a commitment to reject blatant, manipulative self-promotion for a patient, hard-working and open trust in the Lord’s ability to accomplish his will in my life and writing
  • Hunger for righteousness, a motivation to write in such a way that readers will themselves long for the wholesome holiness reflected in courageous, sacrificial and kind characters—people who follow the Master—and in articles of a similar nature
  • Mercy, an empathy for those who suffer that moves me to do all I can in my writing to inform the indifferent and lift the fallen
  • Purity of heart, a single-minded focus on the glory of God and the extension of his kingdom
  • Peace, a commitment to promote respect and reconciliation on every level without compromising truth through meaningless appeasement
  • Accept misunderstanding and persecution. The patient, humble, godly life (and writing) God calls me to does not insulate me from disappointment, controversy, resentment, outright opposition—and yes, unanswered questions.
Obviously, I’ve got an Everest of unfulfilled qualities yet to climb, with God’s help.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What's Your Story?

I love telling stories. I’m not good at making them up (which is why you shouldn’t expect me to write a novel any time soon) but I love relating interesting anecdotes and experiences and bits of news, whether my own or things I’ve heard here and there. Of course, this could be a problem if it breaks down into gossip but, used wisely and with discretion, a gift for telling stories can be a very good thing!

The challenge for me is to find ways to tell stories that influence people to seek God, stories that intrigue them about the life and mission of Jesus, stories that help them take that step of surrendering their lives to Him and receiving salvation. Telling those kinds of stories is a bit more challenging than sharing about the typical “funny thing that happened on my way to work.”

The specific circumstances we all encounter on a daily basis are as different and unique as each one of us is. I work in my home office so I will not find myself sitting with co-workers or classmates in the cafeteria at noon… but I may develop a trusting relationship with a client or supplier. Maybe you work in a retail store and interact with hundreds of people every day, or perhaps you are involved in a social activity that enables you to get to know various people on a personal level.

Not only are our situations different, but our stories are different, too. My testimony is not the same as yours. The basic Gospel message that we share with people will be the same… but our stories will be personal and special. And, for the most part, people love to listen to stories. They flocked to Jesus, the parable-teller. They will also listen to us if we are enthusiastic and real and compassionate as we share what Jesus Christ has done in our lives.

If you’re not sure how to tell your story, hang around a Christian who is comfortable telling theirs. Listen and learn from them. Participate in the outreach opportunities at your church. Look for resources that teach about evangelism. Above all, pray about it. Ask God to show you what your story is. You may be surprised to discover how exciting it is… and that alone may be the inspiration you need!

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Internal Conflicts - Austin

Each year as Easter approaches I face a number of internal conflicts. The sanitized, prettied-up cross clashes painfully with even a shallow look at the reality of crucifixion. The crucifixion itself clashes with my tendency to believe my little indiscretions are not really serious, and especially, not really "sin." and the hope of the resurrection, so much deeper than wishful thinking, causes me to literally ache for a reunion.

It is now just over four years since I gazed on a grandson in a tiny casket. I don't know how to measure the difference in pain between male and female, for I have never born an infant in my womb or nursed a baby at my breast. I don't think the male mind can fully comprehend the pain of a mother, five days after giving birth - with her milk in full - laying her infant beneath the frozen ground. I had been published on the subject of grief, but a young mother wrapped with a towel to soak up the milk leaking from aching breasts presents a side to the loss that had never before entered my mind.

Strange contemplations at Easter?

I often wonder about the anticipated reunion. In the timelessness of eternity, is Dylan a four-year-old now? Does he know how eagerly his grandpa (and many others) anticipated holding him? Does he know how deeply he was loved? Does he know his Mommy's aching arms have been blessed twice since, and he is big brother to two beautiful sisters? Does he have any idea how intensely I still long to give him a grandpa's hug, whether he is an infant, a young child or an adult when we meet?

Easter came just far enough after Dylan's death that we were no longer numb. Each year since, Easter, more than the anniversary of his death, brings the pain and hope back into focus.

What a rich season. With memories of a pain deeper than I knew it was possible to experience, the cry from the cross, "My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?" has taken on a vastly deeper significance. My "sin," that part of me I want to describe in kinder language - meant the Son of God experienced total separation from His Father. He experienced that separation within the agony of the most painful and humiliating death humanity has managed to conceive. And He endured it all with the power and authority to bring it to a halt. Nowhere else in all of history does love so clearly become an action rather than a feeling, a verb rather than a noun.

Yes, Easter brings conflict. The sheer magnitude of such love - even with my inadequate understanding - confronts my indiscretions and calls them "sin." It confronts the shallowness of my love and sets the standard infinitely higher. It confronts my deepest pain, shares it and bathes it with hope. The season also reminds me of love poured into our lives and the lives of our family at a time when we were desperately vulnerable, a love we could never have comprehended without the pain. And because of the resurrection, it still promises a reunion. So where the pain seemed bottomless, the riches still to come are even more immeasurable.

Conflict? Yes - but oh so rich and overflowing with love. A season to delight in and savour, to risk vulnerability while trying to understand a little more fully the vastness of God's love's love. A season to lift the communion cup with hands that almost tremble as you contemplate a sacrifice beyond comprehension, and the love behind that sacrifice.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What Lights You Up?

Yesterday, I asked a friend, Mrs. B., if she likes gardening. She replied that her idea of gardening is to toss some wildflower seed at a plot of dirt and say, “See ya’ in July!”

I’d brought the subject up because browsing gardening catalogues is what keeps my soul alive while waiting through the muddy, less than inspiring days of what passes for Spring here in Canada’s northern prairie. We dare not plant anything until after May long weekend, and frost will decimate our gardens in late September, but those twelve short weeks of garden time inspire my days year-round.

The difference between Mrs. B and me is passion.

I have a neighbour, whom I’ll call M. Despite having two dogs and a toddler, and expecting another baby within a month, her house consistently looks like a display in my favourite home decorating magazine. I asked her one day how she did it. She confided that making her house look perfect makes her happy.

While I’d love it if my house spontaneously arranged itself in perfect order and cleanliness on a regular basis, I can’t say the process of putting my effort into making that happen makes me happy. I manage to keep the floors reasonably clean, most of the clutter picked up, and the bathrooms somewhat sanitary, but I’ll never win any housekeeping awards. As my dear husband puts it, “I married a writer, not a janitor.”

Again, the difference is passion. M has a passion for keeping her home sparkling. My passion is arranging words … and digging in the dirt … and sewing scraps of fabric into quilt squares. Dust bunnies and laundry can wait.

It’s not a matter of me being “better than” Mrs. B. because I like to garden or “less than” M because I don’t like to clean house. We just have differing passions.

I can’t exactly go digging in the dirt right now, but the new perennial catalogue from Vesey’s arrived in today’s mail. I think I’ll go make a cup of tea and invest ten minutes in my passion before going back to folding laundry. Ahhh. Life feels better already.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Even the Huskies Are Silent - Sailor

It is dark. Not the kind accented by twinkling star or waning moon. No. It is dark! Black! The kind of heavy dark that drugs the senses and brings disorientation and panic to even the stoutest soul.

January 18 in the Arctic. Outside our fragile trailer home the storm rages on, the relentless wind driving icy fingers of snow into cracks and windows, frosting the plug-ins, covering the frozen earth with endless white.

Inside we huddle ‘neath mounds of blankets, pillows stuffed at the headboard to ward off draft. The fire in the wood heater has died down, no longer roaring and crackling as the flames explode the spruce logs. All is the endless howl of the wind as it sweeps and swirls and threatens. Even the huskies are silent!

Suddenly the night is shattered by a piercing cry, “Let me out! Let me out! You’ve locked me in!”

We struggle to surface from deep sleep...heavy cover... total darkness. Where are we? Who could be calling? As consciousness slowly returns we recognize the voice of our houseguest. She had come the night before seeking sustenance and shelter.

Brenda had been a university student in Montreal. During her five years in the Yukon, she had become one of the back-to-the-earth people who frequented the wilderness. Most lived in tents in summer and worked at tourist-related jobs, then headed south for the winter. Brenda tented year round...usually with a dog or two and sometimes with a friend. Yukoners referred to the weather as being a one-dog or two-dog night depending on the number needed to keep one warm. She seldom came to our house without at least one dog; this time with a young female husky, who obviously had a batch of pups.

As we fumble to find a light, the frozen door releases. It closes and she is gone ...into the howling arctic storm. It is 4:00 a.m.

Sleep flees. Where would she go? Even the most rigorous party goers have packed it up. Houses are in darkness. Struggling into long johns, heavy socks and down-filled everything Jack determines to go after her.

Near the front door her winter boots and heavy arctic clothing lie in a heap on the floor. She is wearing only cotton slacks and a short-sleeved sweater. She will surely freeze to death! Slowly...the is her intent!!

I hear the sputter and complaint of the elderly van, White Thunder, as it coughs into life and is drowned by the storm. Then silence...except for the eerie howl of the wind.

As the heavy covers settle back around me, I lie...praying...thinking...remembering how we first met Brenda. It was our second summer in the Yukon. She had returned from a six-week trek in the wilderness. She looked hot, tired, and miserable as she sorted out her gear across the street. We chatted. It seemed right to invite her for a shower (the northern version of foot washing). She accepted readily, much to the chagrin of her male companion who adamantly refused.

Four years later she reappeared for Easter worship, then came to dinner. We visited long after the others had left. Her many questions revealed a searching and troubled mind. She knew there needed to be a sacrifice, but it was during the meal in our home that it came to her. She would be the hands of her friends.

My husband had spoken gently, assuring her that while she was right about the required sacrifice (for God demands a sacrifice for sin) nevertheless she was also mistaken. It had already been offered. God Himself had provided the sacrifice and Jesus Christ had paid the penalty for all who wish to be forgiven. Her troubled spirit seemed relieved. After accepting Christ’s sacrifice and forgiveness, she went on her way rejoicing.

Over the next year she had come and gone. She had come when convinced that others were trying to poison her; our home was the only safe place. She dropped in one afternoon for lunch. While I made bacon, eggs and toast, she slipped into the shower, emerging with her dripping hair pulled into a bun. Seating herself at the table she looked at the food...then at me...back at the plate. Suddenly, she jumped up, grabbed her jacket, and yelled over her shoulder. “I have to get to the bank...I’ll be right back.” It seemed I had now joined the conspiracy...we were no longer a safe house.

We were pleased that she still stopped in to shower (one day she came twice). We didn’t realize she came only to wash off bad vibes. She wandered the frozen streets at night, hearing voices but seeing no one. She fancied that she and I communicated when she passed my home in the dead of night, and was devastated when I assured her we had not.

We tried to get help. Surely if the churches, social services, medical staff and police department would join forces, we could get help. Each in turn assured us that we could not violate her civil rights.

She was outraged when I asked for her parents’ phone number in Montreal.

We sought advice from a well-known psychiatrist in Vancouver. He explained the seriousness of chemical imbalance. The lack of sun in the winter exacerbated her problem...lack of Vitamin D hindered the absorption of calcium. The calcium-starved brain could not perform normally. Her prognosis was not good. She would probably her own hand. Was this now the time?

I pray, confident she really knows Christ as her Saviour and will go to be with him.

My vigil continues. Jack returns. His efforts are fruitless...her tracks have been obliterated by the wind.

A grey dawn. The RCMP join the search.

11:00 a.m.: The husky returns–crying, whining, hungry, cold. Brenda must be gone. The dog would leave her puppies, but she would never leave her companion and friend.

4:00 p.m.: The police find her body on the riverbank, her hands folded on her breast. The white cotton toque still covers her heavy dark hair. The drifting snow covers her body. Only her face reveals the location of her snowy tomb.

While an unsuspecting community sleeps, and the heavenly bodies hide their light, the City of Darkness claims another life!. And even the huskies are silent!

(This story is an excerpt from my latest manuscript, City of Darkness/City of Gold.)

Ella Sailor
Counsellor, Speaker, Author of A Time to Dance, Elusive Dream, Echo of a Dream

Facing the Giants at Easter

Dear TWG colleagues,

It has been a privilege to be invited by N. J. Lindquist to join your TWG writers network. I have had a second book stuck inside of me for years. Two years ago, it began emerging. In November 2006, the 1st 2,000 copies were printed, and I have since been privileged to speak of five national TV programs about the book "Battle for the Soul of Canada", including "It's A New Day" this past Friday and "100 Huntley Street."

Dr. J.I. Packer of Regent College wrote the foreword for my book, and also did a TV interview for Miracle Channel which can be viewed here or here

This week, the 2nd printing of 5,000 copies are being shipped from Friesens. So far the book is in 44 bookstores, and I just picked up my first distributor, Living Books. So the whole process has been a most interesting learning curve.

I have written over 250 articles in secular and christian newspapers for the past 25 years, particularly on the North Shore of Vancouver. I am including my most recent Easter publication in this posting.

An article for the April 2007 Deep Cove Crier

Some of my greatest joys and greatest disappointments have been movies that I have watched with my three sons and wife. Recently we watched Charles Dickens’ classic Martin Chuzzlewit, a brilliant movie about how family inheritances can devastate family relationships. I was so inspired that I am currently reading the Chuzzlewit book in order to pick up all the subtleties that movies leave out. Sometimes though our family is deeply disappointed by a particular movie and regrets the investment of our time and/or money.

One rental movie that did not disappoint us this week was Facing the Giants by Alex Kendrick. We laughed, wept, and quietly reflected on how one person can make a profound difference in the lives of an emerging generation. The movie is about a football coach, his wife and his team, all of whom have to face giants of fear and failure. Grant Taylor, the head football coach at Shiloh Academy, faces some overwhelming giants in his own life. His best player moves away to another school, the boys’ fathers want him sacked, and his GP diagnoses him as unable to have children. Most of us can relate to feeling like a failure at one time or another. Coach Taylor set his goals beyond mere success to following God.

One of the greatest miracles was how the movie made it to the big screen. With a $100,000 budget, only six weeks of shooting time, and one rented camera, the film made it as high as number 14 in weekend box office earnings. To date, Facing the Giants has made over more than 10 Million dollars. Part of that breakthrough was that Sony, through its Samuel Goldwyn Films, unexpectedly decided to give this movie national coverage. Brandon Gray, the president and publisher of Box Office Mojo, commented that it is rare for an independently made, non-studio movie to open at more than 100 theaters - while Giants opened on 441 screens.

The two most gripping parts of the movie are probably the ‘death crawl’ sequence and the championship game. Our 20th Annual Renewal Mission speaker, the Rev. David Rich+, showed us the "Death Crawl" sequence in Sunday morning worship. Coach Taylor had his top player carry a man on his back while blindfolded. The turn-around in their football season came from this act of giving one’s all. As Lord Baden Powell, founder of Scouting, taught, we can called to D.O.B. (Do Our Best). The Facing the Giants movie teaches that when we choose to do our very best, God will do the impossible.

Alex Kendrick, the producer and writer, puts it this way: “We worship the God of the impossible. I truly believe that God can do anything. He’s certainly not a genie in a lamp. It’s the part where you get to the point that you say, ‘God, I’m in a situation here, and I fully believe that you can give us a solution or do a miracle. But if you choose not to, then I’m going to worship you anyway.”

Jesus, as he was going to the cross on Good Friday, faced the giants in the Garden of Gesthemane. He didn’t hold back but gave his all for us on that old rugged cross. Because Jesus destroyed the ‘Giants’ of death, fear, guilt, and shame on Easter Sunday, we too can live as over-comers. Christ is Risen Indeed...

The Rev Ed Hird+
Rector, St. Simon’s North Vancouver, BC
Anglican Coalition in Canada

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Subtitle at Last! And Some Fun Links - O'Leary

Things have been busy lately, now that we have decided on a subtitle for neuroscientist Mario Beauregard's and my book, The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul. We went through quite a few subtitles, really, so many that I remember telling Mario and our agent at one point, "It's more trouble coming up with a subtitle than writing a chapter section!" But - I will say this - once we found the right subtitle, it seemed worth all the time and trouble. The right subtitle steers to the book those readers who can really benefit from it.

Here are some recent posts that might interest you, from my blog, Mindful Hack, which supports The Spiritual Brain:

Alcoholics: Spirituality corks the bottle

Artificial intelligence: Making the whole universe intelligent?

Theories of everything: A theory of everything must address consciousness

The power of one: Compassion is strictly a one-to-one thing

Intercessory prayer works, according to researcher

And here are some from the Post Darwinist blog that supports my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?:

Historian of science slams Darwin myth-making (ridiculous hagiography)

Showdown in the restaurant at the end of the universe? (What about all these weird new theories about the universe?

Post-normal science: is that where we are now?

Now bookmark this, and get out there and enjoy some spring!

Denyse O'Leary

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Note In A Mailbox

As I was leaving church last night I noticed an envelope in my mailbox. I opened it and found a note from someone who had been impacted by the life story of Charles Mulli.

Mulli was an abused and abandoned African boy who subsequently finds Christ, becomes a multimillionaire and then sells all he has to rescue hundreds of street children from the slums of Kenya. Today he has more than 1000 children under his care at Mully Childrens Family. The sales from the book help support his rescue ministry.

“I was constantly amazed at how Charles Mulli never gave up on God,” the note said. “What an encouragement…the faith that Charles and Esther had in God.” She in turn had passed the book on to a friend of hers who had felt a similar impact.

It’s a reminder of how God uses writing for evangelism. When God lays something on our hearts, it’s an opportunity both to be obedient and to be part of His kingdom building ventures.

I sometimes think that when we get to heaven we’ll have a chance to meet the people whom God impacted through our writing. For now, we hear bits and pieces and it’s encouraging to know that we’re being used by God through different story forms, different media to reach people with His truth.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What Could Be More Useless Than A Poem?

In the tradition in which I was raised the arts were not seen as important. Not only did they not have value in themselves, but they were frivolous pursuits that distracted us from following God. Whatever you did was primarily measured in terms of its utility for evangelism. If you could preach through your ability — such as when a ventriloquist, illusionist, or gospel singer concluded a performance with an altar call — it was worthwhile. Of secondary importance was whatever was needed to earn a living. If your work was artistic, that would be permissible, but in the end it would just be wood, hay and stubble.

Poetry, if it was thought of at all, would have been seen as dangerous. Poetry’s meanings are frequently subjective and keep raising questions, like a wind storm fluttering shingles when everyone would rather pretend they’re nailed down. Those who don’t understand may want poems that promote a message, but that’s not what good poetry does. Poetry is unnervingly honest; it respects its hearers too much to ever tell them what to think. Since poetry doesn’t preach it also scores very poorly on the utility scale. So, why bother with poetry?

Reading poetry is a discipline — an exercise in discernment. Poetry teaches us how to question what we are reading; it teaches us to unravel what a written text is saying, and to ask ourselves if we understand it, and if we agree with it. I’ve read that Martin Luther believed that nothing better equips people for the skilful study of scripture than literary study.

Evangelicalism has had it’s approved preachers, publishers and bookstores for many years, in order to control the ideas coming to its people. Unfortunately in this “safe” environment, evangelicals have learned to accept what they hear or read without thinking. I’ve encountered far too many questionable, foolish, and even heretical statements from such sanctioned sources to ever consider them to be so safe that we needn’t question what we are reading. Thinking Christians need this skill.

In my new poetry chapbook, So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed, I chronicle the years my grandparents spent in China as missionaries. I do not seek to demonstrate that the gospel is true, but simply show what they went through: their faith, their dedication, their sacrifice. God doesn’t need our business models and marketing techniques. He sent Gideon into battle with 300 men after trimming more than 22,000 from his army. In my small way, through my poetry I seek to bring glory to God. This is simply what Christian artists do. What could be more useless?


Monday, March 19, 2007

Do Not Be Afraid

I shouldn't be afraid, but I am, to hear of people straying from the truth of the Bible and embracing falsehoods.

I guess, maybe, I'm afraid because, although I now enjoy the benefit of being grounded in the Word of God, not everyone is. And sometimes, when people hear something fascinating or intriguing, they lean toward it, to embrace it, consider it, and...get swept up by the wind of new doctrine and tossed haphazardly across the wide expanse of blue sky to drop with a heavy thud somewhere far from where they started.

Last year, for example, the buzz surrounding the debut of The DaVinci Code drove thousands to purchase the book. Many Christians felt compelled to read it, also. Saddened, I heard on a Christian radio station many admit to questioning their faith afterward.

A few weeks back, my husband told me it was recently announced on the news that fifteen years ago, a construction crew in Jerusalem uncovered a tomb containing the coffins of Jesus, Miriam, and Jude, son of Jesus. Because the coffins had the names inscribed on them, the assumption by the archaeologists was this Jesus is the Jesus of the Bible, Miriam is another name for Mary Magadalene, and Jude has to be their son.

My heart cried out for all those who would...

...forget the fact that the names of Jesus, Mary, and Jude were popular names so that this Jesus, Mary, and Jude could have been anyone.

...forget the fact the 21st-century science techies do not possess the DNA of the Jesus of the Bible to accurately and unequivocally determine if the remains of this one really was His.

...forget, too, that man has been known to elevate theory to the level of truth and fact and then promote it as such.

Although the Bible does speak of a falling away from the faith, I still find myself wanting to offer...a safety net to catch those tossed around by the vicious wind.

For those who are caught in this current of turbulent air and confused by these new "findings," fear not. I encourage you to remember the truth of the Bible and to not be moved by the lies flying about like arrows of death.

Jesus is the Son of the Living God. (Matthew 3:16,17) He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. (Isaiah 7:14, Luke 1:26-35) As the only sinless One, He took on the sins of all and paid the price on our behalf by dying on the cross so that we may have eternal life. (John 1:1, 14, 19:14-23,30, Hebrews 9:22) On the third day, He arose from the dead. (Mark 16:1-6) He bodily ascended into heaven, sits on the right hand of the Father, and makes intercession on our behalf. (Luke 24:51, Hebrews 10:12, 7:25)

As the celebration of Easter draws near, I feel led to reflect on the words of the angel in Matthew 28:5-6. "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said."

He has risen! He is alive. He is our mighty God.

Let's walk together as children of the resurrection, in victory, and yes, why not, in defiance against all this info hurling at us disguised as the new truth.

God Bless!

Friday, March 16, 2007

reality bites

I posted this picture to my other blog, A Few Words in the Wind and got a number of comments on how beautiful this picture is. And it is quite amazing. To see this many deer in one place is very unusual. And, in this case, very sad. We've had a mountain of snow fall on us steadily since October. This deep snow has made browsing difficult for the deer, so they go where it's easy. This is a logging block and the snow has been packed down and/or pushed away. The deer come to eat the branches and the moss off the branches of the tress that have been felled and limbed. Essentially the deer are starving. So a person can look at this picture two ways. You could marvel at the beauty, or you could feel sorrow for the reality. As a writer I struggle to portray a balance of the beauty of this picture with the reality it also portrays. In my books I struggle to show the life God has blessed us with, with the reality of the struggles this life also gives us. At the same time I have to think of a comment one of my readers said. Their own life is struggle and sorrow. They don't necessarily want to read about the same thing they are living when they pick up a book. Yet, I also know that if the story was too unrealistic, too full of false hope and promises, they wouldn't read it either. So, the balancing act. I want to take my readers on a journey they are willing to take and bring them to a place of hope. I am thankful that as a Christian, I am able through Christ, to point the way to a surer hope through my stories. It's not up to me.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The lost art of letter writing

Recently I read a wonderful memoir by an elderly friend of my mother's: Russia and Beyond: One Family's Journey 1908-1935 by Margaret Zarudny Freeman. It tells an amazing story of her family's survival during the Russian revolution. She was the oldest of six children and wrote with amazing detail how they coped in western Siberia, helped by a couple of loyal servants after their father fled the country to work first in China, then in Japan. While he was away their mother was arrested by the Bolsheviks and later shot.

Here's a description of the book from Amazon:
Russia and Beyond is a young woman's account of herself and her family in
the chaotic years surrounding the Russian Revolution and Civil War of 1917-20,
followed by a long self-exile in Russo-Chinese Manchuria, and the beginnings of
a new life in America in the 1930s. A child's-eye view of violent military
events, and of unflinchingly practical responses to personal emergency and loss
- with five siblings in tow after the death of their politically victimized
mother - matures to an understanding of homeland loyalty, displacement, and
expatriation, in a more international arena. The author, now aged 97, has left
us an inspiring, sometimes chilling, but forever positive narrative of this
harsh intellectual coming of age, and of the mutual love and perseverance that
sustained her, and her young fellow survivors. A comment from Nadine Gordimer
(Nobel Laureate in Literature, 1991): "Dear Margaret, I've read your book with
growing interest and fascination, page after page. It's a remarkable evocation,
a double one: a revelation of the profound meaning of emigration not written
before, and a picture of family relationships enduring the disruptions of
historico-political disasters in what must be no less than a unique survival by
trust and love." Johannesburg, South Africa 10 August 2005

Mrs. Freeman does not spare herself in her portrayal of childhood selfishness, sibling rivalry, and conflict with adults. Her portrait of her father and mother and the servants is the stuff of great literature. One thing that struck me in reading the book was how many letters this family wrote each other. The father wrote as often as he could, even when strife, famine and dislocation made the mails unreliable. He encouraged his children to write him often, and saved the letters. First of all, it amazed me how much family togetherness was stressed no matter what distances separated people. Today, we may live in the same house, but so often everyone's in their own room with their own computer or TV set, often not even having meals together.

Secondly, those letters, saved through periods of unemployment, uncertainty, travel and danger, provided a treasure trove for Mrs. Freeman when she wrote this wonderful memoir.

What's happened to letter writing today? We send emails now, but mostly emails are short, a paragraph or two. And how can we depend on saving them? I have lost my saved email when hard drives have crashed. I have other saved email on hard disks that are soon going to be obsolete on new computers. Many of us have the little portable hard drives that look like squat pens, but who knows how long that electronic format will last.

We are in a period of such rapid technological change that even trying to write a memoir or a novel that specifically mentions a certain kind of technology can either date you pretty fast, or confuse readers. How many teenagers today would know what a floppy disk is? Or an eight-track tape?

I find it hard and cumbersome to write letters. I send the occasional hand written card, but even that is difficult. I am addicted to convenience and have trouble slowing down to write a long, thoughtful, observant letter. What I used to devote to letter writing, I now devote to blogging.

Maybe I have a wider audience in the blogs, but who knows whether 25 years from now, any of what I've written here will be accessible.

We're paying a price for convenience and today I confess my addiction to it. And, this Lenten season, my feeling of contrition makes me aware this addiction is not a good thing. The book also made me realize is that too often I don't take the time to get to know the people I meet. For example, I had met Mrs. Freeman several times over the years and had no idea of her remarkable story.

As we live in our virtual worlds, are we taking time to connect with the real people in our midst?
How alive will our writing be if our main contact is through computers, monitors and appliances? Do you miss the days of letter writing?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What I See In Books by Marcia Lee Laycock

Every time I step into my office these days I am given cause to pause. We will be moving in about four months and the idea of having to sort and pack my books is more than a little daunting. My daughter says we should just put a sign on the lawn, ‘House for Sale, Includes Library.’ The cheek of some people’s children!

I’ve been reading a wonderful children’s book called The Book Thief. The main character is a young girl who steals her first book at her brother’s graveside. Books become extremely important to her, as she lives in the midst of the madness of Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s.

Books mean a lot to me, too. I’ve never stolen one, but I confess when I was young I used to take them out of the library just to touch them, hold them, put them on a shelf and look at them. To me, they were, and are, icons of comfort and security. Lately I’ve been examining why. I suppose a good therapist could write a book about it. (I’d be willing to be the subject as long as I get a copy I can touch, hold and put on my shelf.)

Perhaps the attachment has to do with power. There is power in knowledge, they say, and the best way to gain knowledge is to read. Perhaps it has to do with ownership. Some people have to own a new car every year. Books are cheaper. Or perhaps it’s security. A room full of books gives me the same feeling a pile of firewood did in the Yukon when it turned sixty below. The fear of being out in the cold is kept at bay for a while.

Or perhaps, and truly I think this is a primary motivation for all of us, it is because books somehow give me a window into the mind and heart of God. Not all books do this, of course, but even the bad ones have their moments. Each being written by a man or woman whose essence is eternally connected to his/her creator, God is there. Sometimes His face shines from the pages. Sometimes it’s a shadow that lurks. Sometimes it’s a thread that ties the thing together or the glue that drips from the binding. You might not even be aware of it. The author might not even have been aware, but He’s there and opening those pages reveals Him to us all.

I was telling my husband a bit about The Book Thief as we drove to a nearby city the other day. He asked me if it was a Christian book. “No,” I said. “Not at all.”

But I see God in it.

That’s why I want to touch it, hold it, read it intently and keep it on my shelf.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Reawakening - Sailor

Squeals and hugs permeate the atmosphere as friends old and new greet each other in the foyer of the Travelodge in Saskatoon. Many of us had prayed and wept together when the Lord met us in revival in 1971; now we are here to celebrate the grace of God in our lives over so many years as we gather for the 35th Anniversary Conference of Canadian Revival Fellowship.

Many like ourselves had been called to give up our secular positions and follow the Lord wherever He would lead. Now, 35 years later we weep, laugh and hug as we exchange news of God’s faithfulness to us and those to whom we were sent. Some are now single again as their beloved ones have been promoted to glory. We feel a sense of kinship...of family. We catch a glimpse of what awaits us in eternity as we share, reminisce and worship together..
We draw near the throne as Wilf and Sharon Gaertner lead us in songs of praise and worship. We lift His name on high with joy and thanksgiving...and yes, with tears running freely.
Over the weekend others (younger than we) share their gifts of music–Bert and Liz Genaille, Brenda Geneau, and Ron and Sandy Noble.

Reverend Bill McLeod had prayed for revival for many years; God honored the cry of his heart when revival began in his church in Saskatoon in l971. Despite his 88 years, Bill ministered powerfully and challenged us in our faith.

Platform leaders, Lou and Ralph Sutera, the human catalysts for the 1971 revival, have now ministered for more than 50 years, impacting churches and people in North America, Europe and Africa.

Some folk shared in workshops–others spoke of God’s faithfulness over the years. Three young children, ages 13, 12 and 10, were among those who gave testimony. They had surrendered their lives to Christ in the Nipawin meetings two years earlier, and blessed the entire conference as they shared their desire to follow Him.

Henry Teichrob described the working of God in Regina in the 70s. He was a vice-principal when God called him to join the Sutera Twins ministry. He and his wife Freda traveled with Lou and Ralph for the next three years. He shared how the Revival Fellowship News was born out of hundreds of enquiries from people hungry for revival.

Reverend Kirk Bartha ministered to the youth of Saskatoon, Dorie Van Stone (the girl nobody loved) shared with us her incredible story of redemption, and ventriloquist Harold Field used his considerable skills to share Jesus with the children during the entire conference.

Keynote speaker Dr. Henry Blackaby was pastoring a church in Saskatoon in 1971 when God met him in revival. Since that time he has published a plethora of spiritually enriching messages as well as the well-known Experiencing God. His messages challenged us to listen for the voice of God, go at His command, and represent Him at every opportunity He brings across our path..
We listened in awe as Ralph Sutera interviewed Dr. Blackaby and encouraged him to share excerpts from his journey of faith. God’s path for him has included ministering to the president in the Whitehouse, to the United Nations, to heads of state, to leaders in Africa and around the world. His four sons have also given their lives to serve Christ and are in active ministries in North America and overseas.

Reverend John McGregor, Executive Director of Canadian Revival Fellowship, reminded us that in the past year alone, revival teams have ministered in 27 countries and 300 churches in North America. The hunger for God continues. Let us pray and wait on the Lord as requests are coming in for a conference in Regina in 2008.

The reawakening conference concluded with an evening of testimonies and a powerful revival challenge by Reverend Lou Sutera. An Afterglow with sharing, praying and worshipping continued until midnight.

As we ponder what would be if God had not sent His gift of revival, we are reminded that the government is on His shoulders, and that peace and safety can only reign where we have given control of our lives back to the God who made us.
Ella Sailor

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Living Outside our Comfort Zone

God, the Holy Spirit often challenges me to move out of my comfort zone to reach out to others. My comfort zone is a non-threatening environment where I feel adequate and at ease psychologically and emotionally.

I remember an early call to move out of my comfort zone to become involved with my neighbors. We had recently moved to Winnipeg, and I was a full-time homemaker. Concerned about the salvation of my neighbors, one morning I prayed by name, for the two women I had already met.

About an hour after my prayer, the phone rang. Two weeks earlier, at Christian Women’s Club, I signed up to attend a Bible study in my neighborhood. The lady who called informed me that there was not a Bible study group operating in my neighborhood at the time. She suggested that I invite my neighbors to my home and she would send someone to lead the study. I knew the Lord was answering my prayer. He was calling me out of my comfort zone to invite my neighbors to my house for Bible study.

The neighbors came to the Bible study and long after I moved from the neighborhood the Bible study continued to function and minister to the women of that neighborhood.

As writers, God constantly calls us out of our comfort zone. We become comfortable with the competing ideas that crowd in upon each other in our heads like rush hour traffic. Sometimes they crash into each other and at other times, they move in orderly lanes taking us at breath-taking speed to new places in our thinking. Our call is to risk communicating these ideas in print, so the Holy Spirit can use them to challenge, to comfort or to move others on, in their life journeys.

What happens when we move out of our comfort zones, in practical ways like inviting our neighbours to explore faith with us, or in putting our words on paper or standing before others to tell of our own faith journey? What we do is an act of faith that demonstrates our confidence in the Lord and His power.

In leaving our comfort zone, we follow the example of Abraham, the epitome of faith according to Hebrews 11. He went out from his homeland in obedience to the prompting of God’s Spirit, although he did not know where he was going. His faith was in the one who proved faithful to Him, over the course of his life; although I am certain at times, he wished he could return to the comfort zone of his own country and people.

It is possible for us to do many things, even to take significant risks in reliance upon our own resources and abilities. We are capable of doing great things. We can build the church. We can write award winning books and articles. However, only those things that we do outside of the comfort zone of our own abilities, in reliance upon the Holy Spirit will have eternal consequences.

I used to think the Lord called us out of our comfort zones to attempt things for him so that in those situations we would learn to rely upon His grace. He has never failed to come through when I trusted Him. My experiences have led me to believe the most satisfactory life is one we choose to live outside our comfort zones. To live in Him is to live within the comfort zone of His love and grace, wherever we are and to find our security there. That means trusting Him to use our lives and our writing for His purposes. Then the glory goes to Him and not to us, but great joy and satisfaction are ours.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Writer's Block

I sit staring at the blank screen . . . and staring . . and staring. Nothing.

A massive writer’s block, like an arctic cold front, has frozen all creativity. My fountain of ideas is a block of ice. I shiver. Why, oh why, was I so stupid as to accept this assignment? With the deadline a few days away I feel desperate. My kingdom for a warm idea!

Well, I’ll just check my e-mail. Hum, cheap drugs—cheap stock options on a gold mine—cheap Rolex reproductions. OK, back to the grind.

A blank screen. What gave me the idea I could write, anyway? Why didn’t I take up curling or tiddly winks or knitting?

No use sitting here biting my lip. I’ll work on another project already in process. That should unthaw my idea bank.

Ah, that’s better. An article already roughed out. But as I scroll through the story, a terrible truth dawns. It’s appalling. I darken the first two paragraphs and hit the delete button.

Whoa, Nelly, that might not be wise in my current state. Better to restore and come back another day.

A cup of coffee, that’s what I need. So I measure out the grounds—extra to make it strong—pour in the water, flip the switch and pace up and down until I hear the beep to tell me it’s ready.

Back in my office I set down my steaming mug and stare again at the screen. Take a sip and stare. And stare some more. Take a long slurp and turn my attention to realigning my stapler, flicking some dust off my keyboard, and checking the calendar. Maybe I’ve mistaken the deadline. Wishful thinking.

Obviously, coffee won’t do it. I’ll just check my e-mail again. Might be some new messages. No?

Maybe I need a walk or an hour spent grubbing in the garden. Get real Eric, it’s March.

Get out of the house. That’ll do it. Buy groceries. Wander up and down the aisles of Canadian Tire. Find some useless doodad.

Much later, the groceries put away, I sit and stare again at a blank screen.
Better check the e-mail. What’s this? A note. "Your last article was a real blessing." Well, maybe I’ll keep writing after all but I better call it a day.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

New Life

A very recent loss in my life left me asking a lot of questions and seeking some guidance. At the same time, I'd been thinking ahead to Easter and the material I want to include in the April issue of my church's monthly newsletter, which got me reflecting on resurrection...

The idea of "new life" is probably a common theme for churches around this time of year, especially as spring is around the corner (though you wouldn't know it for the frigid temperatures in Montreal today!) Buds on trees, tiny blooms, butterflies emerging from cocoons... these are metaphors we've heard again and again in sermons about salvation and resurrection. For Christians, physical death is not frightening because we have the hope of eternal life in heaven. And for a new believer, "dying to self" is a sacrifice eagerly made because of the promise of salvation and a new life in Christ.

As powerful as these truths are, we can easily take them for granted as clich├ęs. For me, however, they have a new significance, at least at this stage in my life. I can either mourn the closing of one chapter of my story and shroud my heart in black, or I can anticipate the beginning of the next chapter and rejoice in knowing that God will "make all things new."

If I can believe that Jesus raised Himself from the dead, and if I have experienced new life as a born-again Christian, then how can I doubt that God will take any pain or loss or burden that I bring to Him and turn that into an opportunity for change and newness and blessing?

For you, it may be the loss of a job, the rejection of a manuscript, separation from a loved one, a move to an unfamiliar city, or some other disappointment. It's normal to feel like your dream -- or a part of you -- has died. I believe it's okay to feel grief, just as Jesus' disciples must have wept after His death, but today I also feel like I can encourage you to trust God to give you new life. Nothing can be so dead that it is beyond His power to resurrect!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Disappearing Posts

Somewhere in cyberspace, there is a post floating around. The only problem is, I cannot find it. Set up last night as a draft, then accessed this morning -- the "Publish" button must have thought it was not worth cluttering up this space. Hard on my pride, but perhaps not so far wrong.

It is a strange thing, this compulsion to write -- with the vague hope that somebody might actually care enough to read it. It is even more strange typing without a word-processing program (this is not my own computer and lacks the tools I take for granted). I can't spell-check and don't even have a dictionary close. How do people function without dictionaries? The spell-check feature is a handy tool, but only a tool. A dictionary is almost like another limb. I feel handicapped without it.

I'm always struck by the wonder of creating with words. Poetry feeds some deep soul-hunger in me -- whether I am reading or writing it. I also delight in a wide range of prose. Working in a Bible Book Store, serving as Church Librarian, and trying to convince my wife that a new bookshelf is the best way to redecorate any room -- gives a hint of my love for reading. I want 48 hours a day for reading -- then as much again for writing. And of course, I want to be a model husband, father and grandfather at the same time.

I confess a sense of awe toward the mothers of young families who still carve out writing time. As a grampa with an empty nest, it seems to take a lot of self-discipline to find the time I crave. Yet what a priviledge.

The first two chapters of Genesis contain words that have always fascinated me. Repeated over and over we read: "God said . . . And it was so." Made in the image of God, there is a creative power in our words. What an awsome reality that is -- and what a responsibility. That said, I'm almost afraid to post this -- but -- there are other words in the Bible that fascinate me. In Paul's writings we read: "His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses." Since I qualify so well under those guidelines, and yet have been given gifts as well, I'll risk once more sharing the ramblings of my mind -- while trying to reign in those ramblings a bit and not run in too many directions at once.

What a wonder the writing life is. Frustrating at times, but if it is your calling, the BEST life.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Do The Little Things

March is a very important month to me because I am a Celt—not an Irish Celt, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th, though I love St. Patrick’s wonderful hymn, St. Patrick’s Breastplate, and I think his use of the shamrock to teach the doctrine of the Trinity is excellent. No, I am Welsh; and St. David, the patron saint of Wales, is celebrated on March 1st by many patriotic Welsh people all over the world.

I have many childhood memories of St. David’s Day, including being dressed up, along with many other children, as a daffodil in a play about St. David. On this special day we were given a half-day holiday and we delighted in going home from school at noon instead of late afternoon. There were no lessons on that day! And the mornings were spent in song, dance and recitation and we listened, watched and performed with great gusto. When we arrived home, there would be a special treat of freshly baked Welsh cakes awaiting us.

St. David lived at the end of the fifth and beginning of the sixth centuries. He was of Welsh royal descent and was born near Non’s chapel on the South-West coast of Wales. Non was David’s mother and, according to legend, niece of King Arthur. She was named a saint because of miracles received in her name.

It is written about St. David that he was a gentle person and that he lived a life of abstinence. Purportedly, his diet consisted of little more than bread and watercress, which was abundant in the many hillside springs. He was also known as the Water Drinker as, apparently, water is all he drank.

He was educated in a monastery by a blind monk named Paulinus, and St. David himself became a monk, abbot and bishop and, later, archbishop of Wales. During his travels, he spread Christianity throughout the Celtic tribes of Wales, and founded a monastery on the banks of the river Alun near the present day cathedral city of St. David.

As was to be expected, legends and stories grew up around the name of St. David. One of the best known of which is said to have taken place at the synod that was to decide whether he would become an archbishop. A great crowd had gathered to hear him speak and one member called out to say that they wouldn’t be able to hear or see him. Immediately, the ground elevated into a hill and, needless-to-say, David was elected archbishop then and there.

St. David died in 589 on March 1st. The Sunday before his death, he preached a sermon that included these words, “Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about.” The words Do the little things that you have seen me do, are very important, I think. We are to live like Christ, being faithful in the little things, and giving an example to others. This is what St. David did. He lived faithfully in the little things and set an example for all to follow.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Few Words from Denyse

I am having a rerally hard time keeping up with blogging now that I am proofreading The Spiritual Brain.

Funny, you don't think you write much until you have to proofread it.

Anyway, I put up some stories of interest to people of faith over at the Mindful Hack.

1. Health: Hospitals now factor lifestyle beliefs and practices into wellness

Some hospitals have come a long way toward realizing how important it is to adapt to the life beliefs of patients, especially the older ones, according to a recent article in Jewish World Review:

"The hospital perks of yesteryear - designer gowns, valet parking, Internet access - stressed luxury and convenience. Today, hospitals have found G-d.

Hospitals are now touting "Shabbat elevators" for observant Jews, "bloodless surgery" for Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslim prayer rooms.

The new services show that hospitals have begun adapting to the religious mosaic of patients - and are increasingly marketing to patients not by disease or age, but by belief."

2. Evolutionary psychology watch: Natural selection, not consciousness, accounts for sexual jealousy?

What, you may ask, is the connection between the idea that consciousness is an illusion and the idea that sexual jealousy is simply the outworking of natural selection? Well, if you believe that consciousness is not an illusion and that it can initiate action, you can readily account for the hostility that a person (or dog or cat, for that matter) perceives toward a new favorite. An intelligent life form perceives benefits lost and reacts accordingly. No further explanation in the form of a mechanism is needed because the perception itself drives the process.

(But the evolutionary psychologist is compelled to seek for a mechanism that drives the process, hence the obsession with the search for an illusory driver in the form of natural selection.)

3. On Sam Harris's Letters to a Christian Nation

"The thing is, you can be anti-God in the US, and your books will sell. Try being anti-God in the Middle East and your head may be rolling and bouncing along the cobblestones. The real tragedy of modern-day materialist atheism is that it's quite easy in places where no one takes you seriously and quite impossible in places where everyone does."

And at the Post-Darwinist, I introduce my 13-part series on the recent, widely publicized anti-God crusade. Atheists are very, very worried, and with good reason.

Denyse O'Leary

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Oscars

I love watching the Oscars. It reminds me of how many dedicated artists are out there who strive to create the best. And on this night, some of them get rewarded. Even though the attention sometimes slips to the little statue, the people who receive that award are generally quick to point out that creating art is its own reward.

I get the feeling that by and large the nominees are happy not only because they’ve been nominated, but also because they’ve given 100% at their craft and, often, had the undying support of their loved ones through it all. There’s something genuinely human about how writing for film can connect millions of people.

There were a lot of memorable moments. Al Gore was one of them. His movie, An Inconvenient Truth, won the Oscar for Documentary Feature. It’s a simple, profound account of the ongoing threat of global warming and what we can do to stop it. He timed his earlier speech purposefully to get cut off by the music as soon as he was, supposedly, going to announce his intention to run for President. I thought that was classy and funny. I’m not saying anything for or against either American political party here, I’m just saying that it was cool to see Gore win the way he did at the Oscars.

Someone at the Oscars, I can’t recall who, made a comment to the effect: “While we don’t always agree in Hollywood…” It’s obvious, or at least it should be, that Hollywood is not one coherent, homogenous system of thought. It’s as varied as any other industry. And yet, for some reason it has become the focus of scorn for some groups. I’m not sure why. Maybe if there were more people who focused on creating good art instead of spending their energy on fighting what they consider to be bad art we would have a more common ground to exchange ideas.

Maybe then there would be more people like Jennifer Hudso,n who upon winning the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, said, “Look what God can do.”

The Oscars were great. It’s a reminder of the common language we share through story. And a reminder of the impact story has in our culture.

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