Wednesday, October 31, 2007
My first reaction was no, I can’t. I have deadlines. I have work to do. My particular job of ‘novel author’ requires me to work seven days a week. I’ve done it for years. It’s the only way I’m going to get enough novels written. It’s not uncommon for me to work all week, then do more work on Saturdays, and then Sunday after church coming home, firing up the computer and getting in three or four hours of work before evening.
When my husband told me this, it stirred something inside of me. I knew he was right. Even God rested on the seventh day. He allowed himself the entire day to stand back, look around himself, wander through his creation and say, “It is good.” I, however, had been working so hard I had no time to enjoy the creating I had done.
I made the excuse, though, that I wrote my novels during the week and then on the weekend I did my other work. I teach a writing correspondence course, plus every other day it seems, I’m asked to be interviewed for this or that person’s blog, or book blog tour, plus write this or that little endorsement for this or that book or organization. And then there’s blogging, answering reader emails, and all the stuff that requires my panicky right-now attention. These were the kinds of things I did on the weekends. And because it was different work, I figured it was okay, because ‘A change is as good as a rest’, right?
But I was only fooling myself. I wasn't really resting. There was no day of the week when I allowed myself to take a walk in the woods and say, “This is good.” So, my husband and I tried a rather bold experiment together. Following the Old Testament dictates, we decided to turn our computers off after supper Saturday and not turn them on until either Monday morning, or Sunday night (sundown to sundown).
At first it was quite odd not to rush to my computer as soon I got home from church, but then it grew to be very freeing. I no longer had to feel guilty if I spent the afternoon on the couch reading that mystery novel. I could go for a walk with my husband and not worry about hurrying back to grade papers.
I also discovered something else. On Monday morning I came to my work refreshed and able to tackle it with renewed vision and vigor. I made my deadline.
Because I have done weight training, I know that the surest way to serious injury would be for me to keep weight training day after day after day with no rest days in between. I am careful about this. Yet, I wasn't careful about this in terms of my mental health.
I have also discovered somehting else - I actually look forward to my "Sabbath". When Friday gets too busy and I feel like I'm drowning in all the work, there is this glimmer of a thought now that comes to me, “Only two more days and I get to do nothing.”
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
I read a lot of poetry. I dive in revelling in the imagery, the metaphors, the music — delighting in the lyricism, the voice, the possibilities.
One of the finest books of poetry I have read recently — perhaps one of the best I have ever read — is Thirst by Mary Oliver. She is an observer; she sees clearly what is in front of her, and reflects on it deeply until meaning emerges. Consider titles such as: “When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention”, or “When I Am Among the Trees”, and you’ll understand that she is a nature poet. She studies what God teaches us through nature, just as a theologian studies what God teaches us through the Bible. It was through her reflectiveness that she embraced Christian faith.
In her poem “Praying” she shares her way of approaching God: “just / pay attention, then patch // a few words together and don’t try / to make them elaborate, this isn’t / a contest but a doorway // into thanks...” Elsewhere she says, “I know a lot of fancy words. / I tear them from my heart and my tongue. / Then I pray.”
If you look into her background you’ll find that her lifestyle was not one that would be approved of in most Christian circles. I do not know to what extent she has repented of her former life, but
I do know that her poetry speaks of someone who has experienced genuine conversion.
She doesn’t hesitate to speak of Jesus, and even reproaches herself for not doing so more. “And I give / thanks but it does not seem like adequate thanks, / it doesn’t seem / festive enough or constant enough, nor does the / name of the Lord or the words of thanksgiving come / into it enough.”
If you don’t read as much poetry as I do, but are open to discovering just how beautiful and faith-inspiring poetry can be, I recommend Mary Oliver’s Thirst (Beacon Press, 2006).
D.S. Martin is Music Critic for Christian Week; his poetry chapbook So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed is available at www.dsmartin.ca
Monday, October 29, 2007
The mandate of this blog is writing - Canadian Authors Who Are Chrstian - so how do I reconcile the amazing events of the past few days with writing? How can a bustingly proud grandmother get away with using words like bustingly and talking about the miracle of life without sounding cliched? How can I make this experience new? When I tell people, how can they not respond to the wonder and amazement in my voice and so visible on my face? But I've gotten condescending smiles and knowing nods. The same condescending smiles and knowing looks I've given to other new grandparents. Now that I am solidly placed in this new adventure of grandmotherhood, I understand. But my struggle is, after being on both sides of the equation, how can I build this world, using my experiences, and create a space people want to be? To make a clumsy extension, how can I, as a grandmother who is also a Christian and a writer, bring others into the place I am? Redeemed by Christ and saved by Him. This is my challenge. But for now, sorry, grandmotherhood is dominating my life and you will look at a picture of this precious little life.
Friday, October 26, 2007
The big "literary" news all over the blogosphere is that J.K. Rowlings has outed Dumbledore, the beloved headmaster of Hogwarts and mentor of Harry Potter. Dumbledore is gay.
So should we care?
There is as big a debate in Christian circles about the Harry Potter series as there is about whether Christian kids should be out trick or treating on Halloween. I confess I have waffled back and forth on that one myself. I enjoyed dressing up and going out trick or treating as a kid, back in the days when I lived in a neighborhood where you actually knew your neighbors. But I think our culture is sinking into an unhealthy fascination with death and horror. I digress. Back to Harry Potter.
Some argue the book has good underlying values, others, including the Pope, have warned the values underlying Harry Potter are anything but good. Some don't like the wizards and spell-casting in the books and that's enough for them to keep their children away from it. Others argue that C.S. Lewis had witches in his children's books, so let's not go overboard. Some parents are just glad to have their children read. Period.
I confess, I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, though I have seen some of the movies and found many marvels of the imagination in them. My nephew loved the Potter books. (He also loved N.J. Lindquist's teen series).
I have been disinclined to read them 1) because I don't think she writes that well, despite the fact that she had displayed a good imagination. I found myself distracted by her overuse of adverbs. 2) Author Michael O'Brien, who I greatly respect, has done considerable analysis of the series, pointing out the underlying dark side to these books.
So....seeing as I have a limited time for reading I want to preserve my time for writers who will either teach me how to write better (by their example) and/or elevate my spirit.
The fact that Dumbledore is gay.....well, some columns are arguing that whatever "backstory" Rowlings or any other author had in her mind about their characters, they have a life independent of the author once they are created on the page.
What I don't like about the announcement is that it sexualizes a character who did not need to be sexualized, especially for 11-year-old readers who do not really need to be thinking about these matters. It smacks of political correctness and of the kind of pressure growing across the Western World to push homosexuality and heterosexuality as equivalent. There's even a story about California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signing a bill into law that prohibits the use of terms like mommy and daddy in schools so as not to offend same-sex parents. There is a not-so-subtle undermining of the biological basis for the family.
LifeSiteNews.com has a host of links on Harry Potter and all the controversies old and new here.
I don't know if these arguments would make me stop a child in my care from reading a Potter book, but it sure would make me have a deep and ongoing conversation with that child. And I would probably then have to read the book myself in order to make sure I could illuminate my points with the same kind of familiarity O'Brien has with the stories. I would not buy a Harry Potter book for a child.
Deborah Gyapong's novel The Defilers won the 2005 Best New Canadian Christian Author Award. She covers religion and politics in Ottawa for Catholic and Evangelical newspapers.
She blogs at www.deborahgyapong.com and www.themastersartist.com
Thursday, October 25, 2007
One of those e-mails arrived from my publisher just after we’d finished the editing on my novel, One Smooth Stone. I was afraid to open that e-mail because I knew it meant an end to the process. It meant the book was on its way to the printer and there was no stopping it. It meant all those words I’d written and re-written were actually going to be read by people who would hold my book in their hands. It scared me to death.
It scared me because I felt the book was not good enough. There was so much more in me, there were so many more words I wanted to include on those pages, so much more I wanted to dig out of my heart and soul and communicate. I wanted another year. No! I wanted a lifetime. But I knew my publisher wasn’t likely to grant it. The book was finished as far as he was concerned and it was out of my hands.
That e-mail should have been reason to celebrate, but it left me feeling strangely empty and even a bit depressed. I wanted to call my publisher and tell him I was truly sorry but I just couldn’t let the book go yet. But I knew my publisher would remind me about the contract I’d signed. He would no doubt be rolling his eyes and thinking “Writers!” while he listened to me whine.
So I whined to my husband instead. He wisely counseled that I give myself some time to get used to the idea that this project was over. “But it’s not good enough!” I insisted. He was quiet for a moment, then said, “Well, isn’t that a good thing? What if you thought this was the absolute height, the best you could do? Where would you go from there? This way you know you’ve got another book in you.”
I sat back in my chair when I realized the truth of his words. Yes. I do have another book in me, one that will be better because of what I’ve learned in the process of doing the first one. Then my mind struck on a scripture verse that has often given me pause. “… for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
My words will never be good enough to change a heart, to transform a soul. But God’s Spirit working through those words can work miracles of change and transformation. I, like Paul, will always have some kind of ‘thorn’ that will keep me from performing at the height of my capabilities, but God will use that to His glory. His grace is indeed sufficient, sufficient even for whiny writers who think their work is never good enough.
The proof of this was not long in coming. One of the first copies out of the box went to a friend. She sat up all night reading it - couldn’t put it down, she said. Then she had to go to a funeral the next day. I was feeling sorry for her until she continued the story. At the reception after the funeral her ex-husband approached and asked if they could have coffee the next day. She was reluctant. As most divorces are, theirs had been messy and bitter. The pain was still quite raw. But she said yes. My friend smiled as she told me their meeting turned out to be one of healing and forgiveness. “And I know why I read your book that night. It gave me so much understanding, and even words to say as he opened his heart to me.”
My words – His Spirit. My weakness – His strength.
Marcia Lee Laycock
Monday, October 22, 2007
For twenty four years, I have been classified as a wife and mother and during eleven of those years the label became home schooling mom. What I didn’t recognize during all of that time was that I had made my vocation into my identity. I had not realized that I wasn’t really a wife. I was a follower of Christ who had the privilege of being married to a Godly man. I wasn’t a home school mom. I was a Christian given the task of teaching, in our home, the children with which God had blessed us.
Fortunately, the empty nest/mid-life crisis was taken in hand ahead of time when God dropped a writing course into my lap well before our youngest moved out. I began to redefine my goals and schedules and in so doing moved from one career to another without too much stress. But that portion of time forced me to rethink this identity issue and I realized, to my shame, that I had allowed my tasks to define who I was. In those several months I was pushed by an unseen, gentle hand, into realizing that I had made duty my focal point—my ultimate goal for being. The problem with that was that duty can end as quickly as it begins—as it did with home teaching and parenting. Time and time again, Jesus calls us to follow him, to take up his cross—to become Christ-like. And I had been content to be a wife and mother—to make that my identity instead of placing it into Christ.
As I stepped into my writing career, I decided then and there that I would never be—a writer. I decided first and foremost that I would be a believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that I would be a follower of Jesus Christ, the son of God--a calling that has no end. And that my writing would simply be a ministry—a ‘next task’—that God has led me to complete in his time. Oh, perhaps I may still refer to myself in conversation as a writer, but you will know the thought that will follow. You will know that I’m not really a writer but a Christian who writes.
Author of Thriving in the Home School
Author of Donna Dawson novels Redeemed and The Adam & Eve Project
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Though I tried to be ruthless, there was one piece of art I was compelled to rescue from the recycle bin. My daughter made it in 2004, when she was three.
Bethany was excited the day she brought her “worship” craft home from church. It had involved cutting out and colouring pre-supplied pictures of children engaged in four different acts of worship, and then gluing those pictures onto the sheet. (OK, that’s not much of a craft, but she was three. You were expecting decoupage?)
She was particularly proud of this assignment because of the gluing part. Bethany really, really, really likes to glue things. I think she may have a future in adhesives.
After I had finished acknowledging the excellence of the glue-work, I asked Bethany to tell me what each of the pictures represented. “Praying” she said, when I pointed to the little girl with her hands folded. “Giving,” she said when I pointed to the boy putting coins in an offering plate. “Reading,” she shouted when I pointed to the girl with a Bible.
I saved the best picture for last – the little boy with his mouth open wide in song. Singing is my favourite form of worship. I knew it would be Bethany’s too, what with her mother being a singer and all.
“Laughing,” said Bethany, when I pointed to the boy with the open mouth.
I stand corrected. Laughing is my favourite form of worship.
I never really thought about it before, but laughter is a bit of an obsession with me. I’ve been unconsciously backing up a Laughter-As-Worship theory for a while now, collecting various quotes on the matter. I was recently compelled to stop reading Anne Lammot’s Plan B long enough to shout a Super-Bowlian “YES!” (complete with fist-pump) and scribble this line from the book on an airplane napkin: “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” I’ve always agreed with e.e. cumming’s proclamation that “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” And anyone who knows much about me will know why I give a hearty amen to this bit of wisdom from Woody Allen: “I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.” (In my case, there was an unfortunate incident involving Diet Coke, and the memory of it gives the “laughter is carbonated holiness” idea a certain poignancy.)
Recently our neighbourhood association asked families to purchase commemorative paving tiles as a fund-raiser for the construction of a water park. They suggested that each family supply their names and a favourite quote to be engraved on the soon-to-be-splashed-upon chunks of cement. We debated, agonized, and nearly despaired of finding just the right saying, until in the nick of time one of us remembered this from Karl Barth: “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.”
Of course Barth had to have meant the good kind of laughter – the kind borne from joy or relief or gratitude or the sweet surprise of community. (“I've always thought that a big laugh is a really loud noise from the soul saying, ‘Ain't that the truth,’” says Quincy Jones.) There is also derisive laughter – the kind borne from pettiness or vulgarity (which is different than earthiness) or cruelty. But that is something else altogether. It’s not hard to tell the redemptive kind – the laughter that is, I believe, reflexive, even involuntary worship – from the destructive kind. (“If you like a man's laugh before you know anything of him, you may say with confidence that he is a good man,” said Fyodor Dostoevsky.)
A good laugh is a release – even if only for a moment – from worry, from strife, from self. It is an abandonment, a cleansing, an affirmation. It is a sudden, often unbidden, confession that someway, somehow, all is well, or at least there is a hope that it can be.
I think it’s telling that we talk about “gales” of laughter. We instinctively recognize that laughter belongs to the world of wind, or Spirit – unexpected joy arrives on the gust of a fresh current and carries us to a different place than the one it found us in. And that is why I suspect that Lamott is right – that laughter is holiness, that it is part of the life of God, and that to laugh from your belly is to worship the Giver of all good gifts.
The Trinitarian theologians use the word “Perichoresis” to describe the mutual indwelling – the happy fellowship – of the Father, Son and Spirit. That relationship is often pictured as a tireless and joyful divine dance. I can’t think about that holy dance without remembering certain dances that have been known to take place in our family room. (For Shy-Repressed-Reserved-Uncoordinated-Canadian-Baptists, we can really cut a rug.) When our kids were toddlers, Mark and I would twirl and spin and dosado them until they were helpless with laughter so hard it was soundless, and then we would laugh at them laughing until we were all worn out with gladness. If we’d have thought of it, we could have quoted the Psalmist as we held our aching sides on the family room floor. “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. … The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (Ps 126:2-3)
It’s serious business, laughter. It’s the kind of sacrifice of praise that puts our insides right. The old cliché is true – laughter is a medicine that reminds us that our sickness will one day be healed and we shall be whole and holy.
We’re not given many specifics about the Other Side, but I am convinced of two things. First, there will undoubtedly be special rewards for Sunday School teachers. These prizes will be awarded according to a “craft index” that recognizes the total number of crafts an individual has had to come up with per years lived. Second, I’m quite certain that in the Father’s house, there will be laughter. It will be deep and delightful, and in abundant supply.
Until then, laughter is the Elmer’s Glue that attaches us to the Goodness that inhabits this world, and to the Gladness that hints at the world to come. Drop by sometime, and I’ll show you the sticky, dog-eared craft that proves it.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
A stuffed filing cabinet doesn't make you a better researcher. A messy desk doesn't make you more creative. And staying at your desk when you really need to get some exercise, doesn't make you more dedicated or professional.
More than that: Shedding old habits, old attitudes, and old stuff frees us to tackle to new opportunities. It allows us to open ourselves up to possibilities God has for us -- to look toward the future with excitement. I believe shedding things that weigh us down will improve the quality of our work.
That overstuffed filing cabinet was a reflection of many areas of my life.
Since August, I've lost 20 lbs, thrown out 22 bags of junk from my filing cabinet and closets, and sent three bags of good, but 'not useful to me' stuff to Catholic Charities.
I've also developed a plan for my career: one that acknowledges that I can't do everything, that I have to make choices, and that I have to ask God what opportunities He wants me to pursue.
Not surprisingly, I'm feeling postive and energized about life right now. But more than that, I feel much more focused about what writing assignments to tackle.
I'm focusing on a few things rather than trying to do everything.
Rather than 'sort of' working all the time, I work hard for a set number of hours. I also have priorities that are not related to work at all. For example, I'm trying to 'really listen' to my husband and kids when they speak. I'm slotting in time to exercise or take a walk in the afternoon. Other priorities for me: Time to pray. Time to paint at least two watercolours per month.
I have a hunch that balancing work with the rest of my life will make me a better writer.
Now, I look forward to going to my desk each morning becaus I'm excited about the projects I'm working on.
I'm think I'm working smarter. I'm think, maybe, I'm on my way.
I was browsing a large bookshop in Saskatoon and nearly tripped over a table pushing a debut novel called Notes on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers (a fellow ‘Toontown dweller). I flipped through and discovered the entire book is a collection of short (even weensy) notes between a teenage girl and her mother. I thought – perfect bathroom reading.
I checked at the cash register. “How’s this one been selling?” The answer was the proverbial ‘hot cakes’ one.
While I don’t think it should be said the novel is being re-invented, I do see it is evolving (or de-evolving depending on your point of view) into something even Yann Martel hadn’t expected. It’s the dawning of the hyper-novel. Devoid of setting, descriptive, and, to a large extent, context, these hyper-novels take time to explore only the essentials. They get to the story and they drive it home fast.
And they sell just as fast. Why?
Because the hyper-novel didn’t just invent itself. It has come about in reaction to the changing demands of the reader.
Some say that the world is an increasingly busy place and busy people aren’t as inclined to take the time to read like they used to. I suppose so, but I think that is only part of the picture. The larger chunk – the one that commands most of the attention is the internet.
Today’s book buyer is not just an internet user; she is internet savvy. She is adept at creating universes in her imagination in milliseconds. She shops online, mentally creating a pleasant store environment where she can browse, buy, and leave with ease. When she requires information she can query international resources within seconds, tracking and comparing answers until she finds what she needs. She chats online with friends and strangers, interacting in space and time without benefit of an actual meeting place. She simply creates the environment in her head and then mentally and emotionally moves around in it.
She doesn’t need help creating the world in which characters can meet, interact, and live out a story line. She can do that herself. Just give her the essence and she will run with it.
Writers are responding to the shift. We hear the drum beat in the jungle pounding out the command: Get to the action! We stop –mid sentence – writing the glorious details of the country garden in which we have place our characters and go in search of short, pithy, pointed descriptions that give the reader the feel of a country garden without clonking the reader over the head with the red, red roses.
We search our brains for what Spunk & Bite author Arthur Plotnik calls the ‘megaphore’. That one-of-a-kind kapow metaphor that sums up (in as few scant words as possible) the universe of which we write. While Virginia Woolf fans weep, and D.S. Lawrence spins in his grave, we, the writers, slice off descriptive. We, as they say in the movies, ‘cut to the chase’. We do so, not because it’s the best way (is it?), but because, if we have hope of being published, it’s what we must do.
There are limits, of course. If your hero needs to dismantle a bomb –timer counting down – you can hardly have him fiddle with some wires and Ga-Zonk! Save the day. Still, it’s enough to know your hero is travelling on a speeding train that’s set to go up like a fireworks factory; the reader doesn’t want you to tell her what color the train is.
The affect of the internet on readership cannot be underestimated. Spend time online, and as you do, think like a writer. Catalogue your experience regarding your ability to create an environment in which you move through cyber-space. Notice how intuitive it is. Examine the few clues you need in order to fully understand and navigate through what is, essentially, a make believe place. And keep this information in mind when you sit down to write.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I think it’s all too easy for us as human beings to want to be around people who are the same as us. I’m not really referring to cliques and racial prejudice. I think I’m talking more about just sticking with what is comfortable, versus stepping out and enlarging our circle of friends and acquaintances.
I’m a naturally shy person, as many writers are, and it’s always a bit difficult for me to meet new people. It is easier if I know ahead of time that I have things in common with them. For example, it’s not as hard to think about meeting new people at Write!Canada because I know that I will have a lot in common with the other “writers who are Christian” gathered there. When I attend a secular writer’s conference, then I might be a bit less comfortable because our commonality is narrowed down to just “writers.”
Again, there would be a certain variance in comfort levels if I were to visit a day program for developmentally challenged adults… or if I were to go to a hospice… or a half-way house for former inmates...
But all of us have found, at one time or another, that our lives have been enriched by our encounters with people who are different from us in some way, people who are going through things that we can’t imagine ever happening to us.
Recently, I was able to offer support to my brother, who is developmentally challenged, as he prepared for his wedding to another developmentally challenged adult. It was an awesome privilege and a real blessing to me to see their joy and their love for each other.
In the books that I write, I try to include a diversity of people. I have characters such as Bobby, who has Down’s syndrome and Missy, who was blind from birth. I have rich tourist camp owners, and homeless people who are chronic alcoholics. I believe that when we include a variety of people in our books, then we are enriching the lives of our readers in the same way that our lives are enriched when we get out and meet people who are different from us in a variety of ways.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
My writer’s group, The Writer’s Crucible, marked its first tour with a visit to Millbrook, Ontario. More than 100 people attended the first event at the Millbrook Christian Assembly, with Pastor Jamie Nelder speaking on spiritual gifts.
This was the first stop on a planned tour of various churches in the next year. The majority of attendees came from Millbrook, but others arrived from Buckhorn and as far away as Haliburton. The day started with a service by Pastor Nelder who addressed the topic, “Spiritual Gifts.” The praise and worship team of MCA joined him. After worship, Sharon Cavers and Jan Cox presented their testimony – specific to their gift of writing – to the congregation. Other members of the group were in attendance at the service. The service was followed by a pot-blessing luncheon where the congregation was invited to enjoy a spread of sandwiches and desserts while mingling with the writer’s group members.
At the luncheon, we set up a table displaying a sampling of The Word Guild’s books, Christian magazines and newspapers, and a collection of our own writing samples including books and specialty gifts. Jan Cox offered fridge magnets with acronyms to help others remember God’s Word. One magnet featured a smiling face with the acronym S.M.I.L.E. – See More In Life Everyday (Romans 12:12).
On a bulletin board, we posted member one-sheets, with an alphabetical list of all the group members and our area of expertise. One member, Len Colp, was listed as the author of Barefoot Days and Winner of the Mississippi Valley Writer’s Award of Merit Achievement in both the Fiction Category and Non Fiction Category.
A sign was posted explaining the history and mandate of the Writer’s Crucible with a sign-up sheet for anyone in the congregation interested in joining our group.
"If someone had told me a couple of years ago that I would be here in Millbrook speaking to a church congregation and not only that but speaking about Christian writing, I would have said they were dreaming," said Jan Cox, member of the Writer’s Crucible and TWG.
“I came to show my support for the group,” commented Cathy Jeffrey, a storyteller from Buckhorn. “I was pleasantly surprised to hear the speeches by Sharon and Jan that supplemented Pastor Jamie’s service.”
As we are an interdenominational group, we plan to rotate to each member’s church over the course of a year in a variety of cities including Peterborough, Millbrook and Cobourg.
Each host is responsible for picking a day and making arrangements with their home church. They also may pick whichever forum best suits them and their church. For example, one writer may decide to offer a workshop to the congregation. Another may want to organize a poetry reading or a story-telling time.
One member plans to offer a display in the church during the weeks that they offer the “Network --Understanding God’s Design for you in the Church” program. Members are encouraged to be creative. The goal is to expose the church family to Christians who write.
Cavers commented, “It is our desire to use the Writer’s Crucible to bring glory to God’s name as we endeavor to share the Good News of the Gospel in our writing.”
“…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV
Friday, October 12, 2007
A few years after I started to write in a serious way, I decided to teach adult literacy. I thought that if I expected people to read my words, I should help those who were unable to read, to learn how to understand what I wrote. Thus, about ten years ago, I joined the South Muskoka Literacy Society and began to teach a woman five years younger than I was, to read and write. In actual fact, she could read words fairly well but she could not understand their meaning. When she read out loud, she took a run at the words, making wild guesses at their pronunciation; she did not stop for punctuation and so her reading efforts gave her no satisfaction. She was eager to improve and I was eager to help her.
I do not teach literacy to adults anymore but I am still in contact with my former student and she still likes to read and write. When I speak to her on the phone she takes great delight in telling me of the new words she has discovered in her daily reading; how many words she has in her current story about her cat and the number of poems she has written this year.
Recently, she has also begun to write a journal. She writes all three of her projects in notebooks. She then transcribes her poems and her cat story onto her computer. Her journal she writes only in a notebook. My former student has realised a very important truth; she is aware that, in order to increase her ability as a writer, she needs to keep honing her skills—she needs to keep writing, she needs to keep reading. The other truth she has grasped is that in order to grow in her writing skills she needs to be open to critique from other writers and readers.
I was born into a household where there were many books around. I was encouraged to read and write from a very early age; and I learned how to use a dictionary and encyclopaedia in order to enhance my writing. My former student had none of these advantages, and it is humbling to see the joy and eagerness with which she approaches her writing when, at times, I perceive my next writing assignment as a difficult task ready to overwhelm me.
The ability to read opens doors to all other opportunities. If we are able to read and write, we can do anything we want to do. The motto of the Laubach Literacy Society is Each One Teach One. If each one of us who is able to read teaches one other person that same skill, we will soon have a nation of readers and a lot more people to read the words that we have written. So, come on readers and writers, join the bandwagon; find a student who wants to learn to read and write; start to teach him or her that skill; then watch your readership increase!
Thursday, October 11, 2007
What are some of those dreams and what prevents them from becoming realities? Some of our dreams arise out of our career ambitions. When we are young and see the opportunities before us in a chosen profession we dream of climbing the ladder to success in our field. With the passing of time, we discover obstacles in our path. Those in authority may not recognize the value of the projects in which we have invested our energy. Colleagues who are no more competent than we are may be promoted over us, simply because they happened to be in the right place at the right time. We then find ourselves in a situation where further advancement seems unlikely and the reality dawns on us that we are not going to rise to the top of the ladder. How do we come to terms with this?
Other dreams may be in the area of personal development. Perhaps there has been one person for whom we have had tremendous admiration. Our dream and our desire have been to be like that person. This dream can fail to be realized in two ways. We may discover that upon closer inspection this hero or heroine has feet of clay. They are not the person that we thought they were, but have the same human faults and frailties that are common to us all. The dream vanishes as we realize the futility of striving to be like someone no better than we are. On the other hand, we may not become aware of the weaknesses of our hero or heroine, but instead discover that because of our own particular makeup we can never be like this person. They may have a reflective spirit and no matter how much we try, our active spirit is limited in its capacity for reflection. They may be gifted with creative hands that enable them to express their ideas while our capacities are limited to the manipulation of words. Despite our heroic efforts, we will never be the same as the person whom we so much admire, since we have an entirely different makeup. How do we come to terms with this frustration?
Another area where we risk having dreams that may never be realized is in relationships. This is particularly so if we have become parents. Our aspiration is that our children will realize all the dreams we have for them. It might be in the areas of academic or material success, or perhaps in finding security and happiness as we define it for them. Our dreams may also be for spiritual or psychological well-being, as we wish to see them fulfilling their entire potential and becoming all that they can be. This is a domain where we are limited in the impact that we can have upon the realization of these dreams. How do we cope with they fail to materialize?
In order to come to terms with dreams that may never become realities, it seems to me that our own spiritual and psychological well-being will require us to look closely at our dreams and examine why they have not been realized. Then we can decide how we will go on and whether we will discard the dream or allow it to determine our future or allow the process to transform us so that we can accept the situation and continue to live with hope.
For example, let us look at the career dream. We have already mentioned some obvious reasons why the dream of career success may not be realized. There might be other aspects of this situation. Do we really have the capacity required to run the business? Are we willing to devote the amount of time required to make sure that the enterprise remains successful? Are there other priorities in our lives that have become more important to us that our career? To respond negatively to the first two questions and positively to the third one, does not indicate that we are in any way a failure because this dream has not been realized. The dream may have been pushed aside by another dream that has become more important for us. In that case, we can dismiss the dream of career success as the motivation of youth and turn our energies to the achievement of the dream that embodies our passion. To relinquish this career dream will cause a minimum of pain.
The dreams we have had in the area of personal development may be a little more complex. The process of sifting through them in order to determine how we will handle our disappointment at their failure to materialize will require us to know ourselves. This will involve evaluating our particular strengths and weaknesses in order to compare these with those of our hero or heroine. Such a process requires a strong sense of our own identity. The process may push us to deal with the existential questions of life, if we have not successfully done so in our youth. It might be for us a second chance. We can ask ourselves, "Who am I?" "Why am I here?" "Does my life have a purpose?" "Where am I heading?" It is when we ask such questions and sincerely search for the answers that we are able to allow the discoveries we make to transform our lives. Honest questioning will lead us inevitably to God who is the author of the best dreams for us. It is in a relationship with Him, made possible through Jesus Christ that we will realize who we are, why we are here, what our true purpose is and where we are heading. We will discover the only hero who will never deceive or disappoint us. He even enables us to become like Him. It is Jesus Christ. With Him, though all other dreams might fail to become realities, we will always have hope.
The dreams that risk being the most complex are those that we have in the area of relationships. These dreams are not subject only to our own responses, but also to the actions and responses of others. This is particularly true for our children. While they are small, we have a great deal of influence on their choices and can in large measure determine the direction of their lives. However, when they begin to develop independence their future becomes their own and is no longer under our control. Their right to make their own choice means that we risk never seeing our dreams for them realized. How do we handle this? We can apply the same criteria we use in analyzing our own unfulfilled dreams. Do they have the capacities to realize the dreams that we have for them? Are their dreams for themselves the same dreams as we have for them? This is a key question.
However, an even more important question we need to consider is, "What dreams does God have for them?" In recognizing our own purpose in life provided by Jesus Christ, we need to realize that He also has a purpose for their lives. This is confirmed by the Bible in promises like Jeremiah 29: 11. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." We need to remember that the Lord loves our children even more than we do and that His plans for them are perfect. What then do we do with our dreams for them that are not realized? The best thing that we can do is to present those dreams to the Lord in offering to Him again the children that He has entrusted to us for a short while. The dreams we eventually see realized in them risk being better than the dreams that we have for them. We can trust them to "…He who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…" Handling unrealized dreams for our children this way, strengthens our hope that is anchored in a certain reality. Discarding the dreams that are not ours to hold on to, can lead to a positive future for us and our children. In addition, we will learn patience as God transforms us into people of hope.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Have you ever wondered why Jesus was called "The Word"? I know that doesn't seem to connect, but bear with me. I think part of the reason is that God speaks to us through language--He converses with us, so to speak, and through that conversation the world was created, His plan was revealed, His people were chosen. Jesus was the ultimate way in which God spoke to us.
Words, then, matter. And I think the written word has a special place, because it's only when we're reading that we can really chew on things. I know new media is shaking up the publishing industry, and in many ways this can be positive. But perhaps, in a more substantial way, our culture is losing something truly important: the ability to read something, digest it, mull over it, and finally own it. When you read something, you're an active participant. When you hear it or see it, you just aren't in the same way. As McLuhan said, the media really is the message.
Now, let's get back to my other points. First, the election. I am so tired of people who really don't know anything about the issues parroting back the soundbites they hear from the media. I suppose that sounds elitist, but we have such a privilege in this nation to exercise a democratic right, and it seems like many people just don't bother to delve too much into the issues. Instead of really figuring out the problems, we listen to 30-second clips from a politician. That isn't enough. We can't run a country, or a province, on that. And yet that seems to be all we're capable of handling.
That is in marked contrast to what occurred in the American revolution. At the time that it broke out, 8,000,000 copies of Thomas Paine's book had already been sold in the colonies. That's almost one per family, at a time when most were farmers. And after the revolution had been one and people were debating on what form the government would take, people had opinions. The federalists and anti-federalists were duking it out across the new nation. They were fighting over things like states' rights versus the makeup of the Senate; The Bill of Rights vs. the rights of the legislative body; and more and more that few would even understand today. And few of these people had ever had education past age 10. Yet they had informed, even educated, opinions.
Somehow we have lost that, and I wonder if my time today with my little 7-year-old friend shows why. She can't read. The schools have taught it to her all wrong, in my opinion, and her mother pulled her out so that we could try to repair the damage before she fell helplessly behind. Here we are with every modern convenience and technology, but we have lost our abilities to think, analyze, and even read. They're too much effort.
What at will this mean for us as writers? As readers? There's definitely a "dumbing down" of books, even fiction, occurring. I'm sure we've all noticed that. Read Pride & Prejudice from two hundred years ago and you'll find it doesn't even compare to the literature we're writing today. And as fewer and fewer people can understand difficult concepts, there will be fewer and fewer such books available for those who want to.
I'm scared of that, because God gave us brains for a reason. He wants us to use them, to stretch them, to try to understand Him. If we settle for soundbites, whether it's in politics or in our faith, we lose something truly precious that generations had before us. That's not a very comforting thought, but I'm not feeling particularly comfortable today.
So go vote. And go read. What else, really, can we do?
Monday, October 08, 2007
Perhaps the reading public is just weary of ploughing through books trumpeted by literary critics. Readers have told me lately of their disillusionment with many modern novels. When queried further they often point out what caused them to let their current reading projects gather dust. They often turn their guns on ‘literary fiction’.
Many complain of trying to keep track of too many characters. Some writers introduce a plethora of people right in the first few chapters. Other novelists bring in a new character in every chapter, or in alternate chapters. Readers have to keep going back to check on who was who. Confusion results.
Other readers express disillusionment with the prevalence of dark stories. Tales of child abuse and rape. Bullying. Wildly dysfunctional families. Serial killers galore. Small towns hiding terrible secrets. Are there no ‘normal’ people left on planet earth, normal but interesting? True, evil exists. But . . .
In an attempt to gain a following, many of today’s novelists seem to be ever on the search for some novel literary device—as if there was anything new under the sun. Many stories project complicated flashbacks, changes of scene or point of view. Where are the stories of one main protagonist that move from A to Z in a linear progression?
What about unbelievable scenarios? The antagonist with a scheme to blast the earth out of orbit, or threaten the globe with some new pandemic. The discovery of some deadly new weapon or the release of some ghastly animal mutation. Then there are the novelists who posit some revolutionary discovery that proves that Jesus never existed, that the Christian faith is based on a lie or that the Vatican hides deadly secrets. Far fetched plots have become too legion to be novel.
Other readers complain that too many novels have no redemptive element. They are not just looking for the traditional fairy tale ending, but at least some change, some growth in the characters.
Then again, there are all the edgy novels that press the boundaries of good taste. Insisting on reality, these writers pour into their depictions anything that is thought by polite society as gross. Eroticism runs wild. Swearing abounds.
Have I heard readers right? Obviously a great variety of tastes in literature exist. But personally, I believe that the novel is not dead but slumbering awaiting those writers who will give us good old fashioned stories again.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
The Reverend Ed Hird Rector,
Previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
Friday, October 05, 2007
The stirring – fall leaves close to their peak, the majesty and artistry of God all around, the urgency of summer tasks passed, time pressures eased, and the air crisp and invigorating – it should get the creative juices going.
“Thank you for submitting – but” letters have come through the summer. Gentle and courteous in their refusal, but still disappointing. Projects I have put my heart and soul into wait in a kind of limbo. A mocking voice in the back of my mind says: “give up and get a real job.” But it is a voice that lacks conviction. Another voice whispers very quietly: “I have called you by name. You are mine.” That voice never promises million selling titles. It never promises wealth or fame in following this calling. Yet it quietly affirms that the hours wrestling with words, whether in poetry, in fiction or in articles, are hours invested under God’s leading. There is rest and contentment in that. It doesn’t mean that every word from my pen or word-processor is God-breathed. It does mean that the words I write matter, and that God will use them.
What a rich life – as a writer. I have a vested interest in reading as widely as possible. I have a vested interest in polishing the craft of writing, in honing my skills and improving my grasp of language. I have a vested interest in being at the computer when the words flow and in being there when every word seems dragged through sweat and tears. And as I yield those words to God, listen to His quiet nudgings and share them as opportunity comes, I have the privilege of watching Him use my creative efforts in ways I never imagined. “God Uses Ink.” I have loved that phrase since I first saw it – since I attended my first writer’s conference. I love it still, for the simple truth is that God does use ink – even mine.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
The old saying tells us that if March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb. I'm here to tell you that it's September I have to worry about, not March. Every year, this month hits me like, well, a lion who hasn't eaten a good meal in days. It seems the adjustment from the summer schedule to the "now we're in school and assorted other activities" schedule leaves me racing to keep up.
Interestingly enough, though, every year, by Thanksgiving, I'm back in the groove. The morning routine unfolds with a minimum of stress, children leave for school with assorted requirements safely tucked into backpacks, and I'm able to closet myself away with my computer a cup of homemade latte to work on the next paragraph, scene, or revision of my writing.
The only other season that impacts me this strongly is spring, when it feels like every pore in my body is straining toward the new sunshine, when the sight of a newly emerged tulip shoot can put a smile on my face for the entire day.
It's good to remember the seasons of life. There are some seasons for which the Biblical phrase, "and it came to pass", seems particularly apropros--seasons in which we're stretched to our limits by pain, frustration, disappointment, or assorted other not-fun emotions. Then there are season like spring, and like the one I'm tasting this week, where life just feels good. The schedules are resolving themselves, I'm meeting the demands of each day, and I'm evening finding time to savour my experiences.
Thank our Lord for the seasons!
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
The great strength of his position is the folly of the materialists. Beauregard continually draws attention to the scientifically dubious basis of their leap of faith. They argue that it must be so and then set about proving it. Their triumphalism - driven by big publishing deals - is their greatest weakness.The nicest thing about a review like Appleyard's is that, agree or disagree, he sees what WE see - plenty of bumph marketed as the "assured results of modern science."
There are plenty of examples ...
As applied to neuroscience, Mario Beauregard and I call it "neurobullshipping."
The thing is, many people don't realize how weak most of the materialist contentions are.
By the way, the Philly Inquirer recently published a review of Mike Behe's Edge of Evolution that identified the book's argument, instead of attempting to discourage anyone from reading it.
And re Appleyard: here is a link to Appleyard's review of Frank Tipler. He agrees with me in finding Tipler interesting - more interesting in his sheer eccentricity as a Christian materialist (!) than many dull drudges who churn out approved sludge.
Also at Mindful Hack:
Yes, Mario Beauregard and Denyse O'Leary really ARE non-materialists. And we utter worse heresies yet ...
Dutch expert on near death experiences loves The Spiritual Brain.
Monk-led protest against Myanmar generals' regime now under heavy assault
Why brain scans cannot tell whether you are religious or not
Smart birds spur scientists to rethink intelligence
And finally, at the Post-Darwinist: The universe next door: Buddhists confront science - and materialism If you are a Christian and want to talk to others about your faith, it pays to be aware of how different the universe might look to them. This column, originally in ChristianWeek, offers a look at the Buddhist perspective.
Note: I am blogging today in place of Paul Boge, who will return shortly.
Monday, October 01, 2007
But not only are we writers, we are writers with an obligation to produce excellent work and to live credible lives. Based on interaction from The
When it comes to powerful wielding of words, we have the example of Jesus Himself: “…which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.”
Not to be ignored is the example of the aforementioned Moses, “…learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and … mighty in words and in deeds.”
The Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Church at Colossea is as potent today as it was then: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
It was the blessing of God upon Daniel and his friends that caught my attention this week, though. While the story of his deliverance from the den of lions is well known by many, believers or not, and the pattern for faithful living is common fodder for sermons, I’d never paid much attention to a key word in Daniel 1:17.
”As to these four lads, God hath given to them knowledge and understanding in every [kind of] literature, and wisdom; and Daniel hath given instruction about every [kind of] vision and dreams.”
I’ve heard a fair amount of preaching about the Jewish boys’ physical fitness, mental alertness and godly commitment but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone expound on the topic of God’s blessing on literature. Might be something worthwhile exploring. In any case, I like that verse and I plan to post it as an encouragement and a spur. Interested in joining me?
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