Friday, June 27, 2008

Avoiding Sentimentality - Martin


This is the third installment in a series, based on the sessions I taught at Write! London, last March. We were discussing things to avoid in our writing — particularly when we’re writing poetry; in all good writing it is important to avoid sentimentality.

What is sentimentality? We are being sentimental when we paint pictures of people that only include their good attributes, especially when we exaggerate those qualities. Christians might give in to sentimentality when talking of Biblical characters, or more recent Christian leaders and organizations, or even when we’re talking about God. The Bible never does this. We see Jacob as a schemer, David as a murderer, and Peter as a loud-mouth. Think of Mother’s Day cards: they aren’t trying to tell the truth, but say what we think we are supposed to say. Sentimentality is dishonest. James Joyce once said, “Sentimentality is unearned emotion”. Any emotion coming through in our writing needs to come from the deep investment of our lives.

One of the most potentially sentimental of all subjects would be the memory of a pet dog. In his poem “Landscape With Dog”, Paul Mariani in the first half tells of years going by, his dog being faithful, yet how he did annoying things such as chewing on furniture. The second half talks about one day the dog was wanting his attention, but he was too busy — so his dog wandered off alone into the woods to die. He doesn’t tell us that Sparky was the greatest dog ever, or how much he regretted neglecting him that day. He gives us enough so we know he valued his dog, and we can feel his regret without being told.

Sentimentality is always a danger, that must be avoided, when we’re writing poetry about either God or love. The temptation is to say what we think we’re supposed to say. In Habakkuk, the prophet begins with his complaint: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” In the end it’s the prophet’s honesty that makes his book ring true. Specific details, presented with honesty, will make our writing ring true too.

(The earlier installments “Avoiding Clich├ęs” and “Avoiding Didacticism” first appeared here on March 20th and May 27th respectively.)

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
His full-length poetry book, Poiema (Wipf & Stock), will be available in September.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Humility - Aarsen

I was honored to be a part of The Word Guild's conference a couple of weeks ago. The conference took place in Guelph, Ontario and I was one of three plenary speakers. I also did a workshop. But the best honor I received was tying with Linda Hall for first place in the Romance Writing category of the contest sponsored by the Word Guild. When I found out I was in the running with Linda Hall, I was pleased and humbled and, I have to confess, resigned to not winning. Linda was the first 'real' writer I met face to face. She also took me to my first 'writerly' event - a reading by a mystery writer in Edmonton. I was thrilled to be a part of this ambience and to be spending time with Linda, a published author. At that time I was a starry-eyed wannabe. I had no idea that authors actually mingled with ordinary people or were, gasp, ordinary people. Quite a revelation. I wanted to be like Linda. I wanted to write like Linda. But as I worked with words and struggled with story, I realized I had to be me. And me is a romance writer. But the interesting irony is that now Linda and I write for the same publisher, Love Inspired. We are both writing romance. So to be sharing this award with Linda is a delightful irony. I want to congratulate her here and now. And thank her for the encouragement and the push that she gave me when I was trying to find my own stories.

Carolyne Aarsen

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Missing Write! Canada--Gyapong


I missed Write! Canada this year for the first time in years. I hear the conference was--as usual--wonderful. It's interesting though to read Marci's description of some of the elbowing to get an appointment with an editor or an agent.

Gosh, I remember the years I spent when there was such an urgent need to "get published." I could easily have been one of those people elbowing my way, or, if I restrained myself, feeling inwardly cheated if I didn't get a coveted spot.

I realized a couple of years ago, after attending the big American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Dallas, that I was content to be doing my journalism thing and that I could not see myself investing the hard work and discipline for what often proves to be a heartbreaking roller-coaster of elation and disappointment that even authors with many published books continue to face.

And I hear it is getting worse. One of my fellow Master's Artist bloggers Mary E. DeMuth has been doing a series on how to survive as the publishing industry cuts the number of books it puts out each year, and publishing house staff move from one company to another, sometimes leaving authors they brought in having to deal with someone who doesn't have the same interest in their manuscript.

For me, a good part of the motivation for putting all the work into getting a novel published was the dream that it would sell well. It was like a dream of winning the lottery. Maybe if I loved the fiction writing more than I loved the idea of being able to retire on my earnings from my bestseller, I'd still be churning novels out. Who knows? Maybe someday when I have time and no pressure from other writing work or financial considerations, I will write fiction again. But not as a goal or a job or a contract. Just for the enjoyment of it.

One of the great things about Write! Canada is that the conference offers you opportunities to learn the ropes, to go from being a novice to a professional writer, to make all the contacts you might need to get published. But it also offers opportunities for prayer, for spiritual insight, for discovering that God may have a totally different plan for your writing life than the dream you may have of seeing your books in the centre aisle of Chapters.

Over the years of going to Write! Canada, I learned to help let go of the urgency that came from pride and impatience. I learned that it takes years to write fiction well, and even then it's no guarantee you'll get a contract. I learned something profound about how godliness with contentment is great gain. (The hard way, of course!) I imagine that some of those elbowing would-be newbie authors are going to learn some of those same lessons

Deborah Gyapong covers religion and politics in Ottawa. Her novel The Defilers needs to be made into a blockbuster film or become an Oprah pick and then she'll be happy. (Just kidding)
She blogs at www.deborahgyapong.com.


Checking my Attitude - M. Laycock

Like many who are on this list, I attended Write! Canada recently. As many have already said, it was a good conference. There were a lot of teachers there willing and able to share their expertise with new and growing writers. There were editors and publishers willing to listen to pitches and just chat, even through their lunch and dinner hours. I heard good comments about workshops and inspiring plenary sessions. The venue was beautiful and the food fantastic. The organizers had done their work well, with much attention to detail.

But there was one thing I found disturbing.

As at most writers’ conferences, the faculty were to do interviews in 15 minute slots. They posted signup sheets and eager writers swarmed into the gym to reserve time with editors, publishers and advanced writers. They were held back by the moderator, who told them that to be fair, no-one could sign up until a specific time. That's when I noticed things went a little awry.

People began jockeying for position, some even shoving and elbowing and insisting on being first. When the 'okay' was finally given it was like the proverbial feeding frenzy. I confess, as people surged to the wall my pugnacious Irish nature began to rear its ugly head. I had to back away. I had intended to sign up for an interview with an editor, but I knew if I waded into the fray my elbows would go up too.

Later, as I was moderating the interviews, calling "Time" when the 15 minutes were up, I witnessed a few more incidents that were disturbing. Some of the faculty had trouble arriving on time, so people were waiting, and the time slots got pushed further and further off schedule. Some people got bumped altogether. And some were not happy about it. One young woman hovered over the shoulder of an editor and even interrupted him to say that it was "My turn now," even though she knew the person being interviewed had only been there for a few moments.

I understand the eagerness - or should I say desperation? – that drives us to try and put our work in front of those who are in a position to take it to the next level. I understand it all too well. But perhaps there should have been a large banner across the top of the signup sheets, "Honour one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10b)

The week after the conference I received a note from the woman who had coordinated the moderating of the interviews. She said she had appreciated my calm spirit. I appreciated her words, but I know where that spirit came from and it wasn’t me. Without the constant whispers of God’s spirit in my ear, I’d be giving in far too often to that Irish nature I mentioned. I have to recite that verse to myself many times, sometimes many times in one day!

In fact, I found myself getting a little ‘testy’ toward the end of the conference because I was not able to attend the sessions I’d planned to. My need to assert my “rights” kept whispering that it was unfair. It took several days before I could get around that voice, repent of the attitude and be thankful for the opportunity to attend a conference of such high calibre. As I prayed the Lord whispered, “what about the opportunity to serve?” Oh, yeah, there was that.

It’s not easy to go against our nature, which constantly hollers, “me first!” But it is one of the things the Bible urges us to work at. Preferring one another is just one of the admonitions.

Doing it requires a concerted effort to depend on God. It requires tuning out the voices that tell me to demand my “rights” and tuning in the voice that says I have been given much that I might serve others. As a writer I need to trust Him to arrange the interviews and contacts, trust His timing for my manuscripts, trust His plan for my life and for my work.

As a Christian I need to keep sharpening my understanding of the scriptures that teach these things, instead of sharpening my elbows.

Marcia Lee Laycock
Author of One Smooth Stone & Focused Reflections
www.vinemarc.com

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Legacy Continues: Part 1 - Meyer

On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an historic apology to the Aboriginal people of Canada on behalf of the government of Canada for their 100 year long act of cultural genocide – their stated policy to “kill the Indian in the child.”

Some people might be wondering what all the fuss is about. The last Indian boarding school was closed in the late 70’s. Why are we still talking about this? What good will an apology do? What good will more money do? There will even be those who ask: why can’t they quit their whining, get a job and earn a living like the rest of us?

Of course, for many Aboriginal people, they do “have a job and are earning a living like the rest of us.” What most non-Aboriginal people fail to understand, is the huge barriers that Aboriginal people face to get to this place in their lives.

It goes back to what happened 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 generations ago. It is their legacy and it is our legacy. Not a single one of us is immune from the responsibility. We may not have personally killed a buffalo, pushed people off their land or assaulted an Aboriginal child in a residential facility – but we are living off the benefits of what our ancestors did. Look around: we are rich and successful, and Aboriginal people continue to struggle. It’s way too easy to say it’s their fault – that they are lazy and opportunistic (they’re getting money; why should they work). It eases our consciences but it is nowhere near the truth.

In my lifetime, I have personally witnessed the effects of Indian residential school. I know Ojibway and Cree women my mother’s age who were taken away from their parents as little children – some as young as four-years-old. One man I interviewed (just a few years older than me) didn’t see his family again until he was 16. These children were taken to residential boarding schools. Sometimes their home communities were located hundreds of miles away – and not many people, especially not Indians, had cars back then. Parents had to make appointments to see their children and because of poor communication (no telephone either!) they would sometimes miss their appointed times and only get to see their children through a fence. Sisters and brothers were separated. Children were beaten for speaking their own language. I remember being in a country alone for 6 weeks when I was 18 – I could speak some of the practical aspects of the language but could not express the feelings in my heart. When the Aboriginal children were finally released from residential school, they had been there so long and at such a young age that they could no longer speak the language of their moms and dads. Many came home to find their grandpas and grandmas had passed on. Perhaps the most devastating part was the inability to talk of the abuse that had happened during their time at residential school. The priests and nuns were considered to be next to God – it was unthinkable that they would sexually violate little children. When children who had been physically and sexually abused tried to tell someone, no one believed them.

With nowhere to belong and with the unacknowledged abuse buried deep in their souls, many returning teens turned to alcohol to numb the pain.

Dorene Meyer
http://www.dorenemeyer.com/
Author of Deep Waters, a compelling contemporary novel that will give you the opportunity to “walk a mile in the shoes” of Gracie, a First Nations residential school survivor, and experience her reconciliation to Sarah, the daughter who had been taken away from her at birth.

There is no “them and us” – there is only “us.”

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Laura Secord: more than just chocolates - Hird

Many Canadians associate Laura Secord with delicious chocolates. Few realize how strategic her life really was. So often Canada ignores its heroes and heroines. The concept of a hero comes from our Greek heritage, a key foundation of western and Canadian civilization. The Greek hero, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, is a person of superhuman qualities favoured by the gods; an illustrious warrior; one who has fought for his/her country. By those standards, Laura Secord was an unlikely hero. She was gentle, a little shy, and soft-spoken. Yet without her courage, Canada would likely not exist today.

During the War of 1812, the beloved General Isaac Brock lost his life and Toronto (York) was burnt to the ground. Most of the strategic Niagara Peninsula had been captured and was in enemy hands. Only one small section remained under Canadian control: Beaver Dam where Lieutenant James FitzGibbons was bravely hanging on.

Laura Secord overheard Cyrenius Chapin describe plans to have a surprise attack upon Beaver Harbour. Laura’s husband James was badly injured and unable to pass on the vital message. So Laura decided to go herself. James tried to stop her, but Laura confidentially said: ““You forget, James, that God will take care of me.”

Laura’s only chance of avoiding the military patrols was to go through the Great Black Swamp where she faced the three-fold dangers of rattlesnakes, wild cats, and quicksand. For nearly twenty miles, she fought her way through overwhelming obstacles. When she finally reached Beaver Dam, Lieutenant FitzGibbons listened carefully to her warning.

With only fifty soldiers and two hundred First Nation warriors, FitzGibbons was able to convince five hundred enemy soldiers to surrender. Laura Secord’s bravery gave Canada time to rearm, and defend its borders.

Most books about Laura Secord only talk about how brave she was. Few, if any, talk about the source of her courage. Laura attributed her unusual courage to her deep faith in God. Connie Brummel Crook, whom I met at this year’s Write! Canada Conference, is one of the few authors who shows how faith made a big difference in Laura’s life. Again and again in Laura’s letters, she used the expression ‘If God so decrees’. Courage for Laura came from a deep surrender to God’s will and purposes in her life.

My prayer for those reading this article is that we too may discover the same courage and faith shown by Laura Secord.

The Reverend Ed Hird+
Rector, St. Simons’ North Vancouver
Anglican Coalition in Canada


-an article published in the Deep Cove Crier
http://www3.telus.net/st_simons

Friday, June 20, 2008

Yeah For Contests - Mann

Maybe I should have titled this blog 'Protecting our Babies': Writing contests initiate celebration and isolation, ecstasy and sorrow. I have entered several contests in my life: The Word Guild, song writing, and a Miss Pilkington Township Century contest many years ago. I have to admit it’s been a little like the old saying, “Always a bridesmaid and never a bride.” I can honestly say that in all the cases I was content to be short listed and happy for the winners. And in all the situations, what I had to offer would have applauded and supported the winner’s offering in some way. I guess that’s a little like being in a group and having something important to say. In your waiting, someone else speaks to a similar issue and you sigh and say, “Point well said. I rest my case.” So we offer congratulations, accolades and best wishes for more of the same from those who won, especially at the recent Word Guild Contest.

What is maybe even more important is the fine-tuning our writing gets in the process of preparation for submission to a contest. The time we spend with it resembles intimacy with a good friend. We talk to it, about it and sometimes even with it. Stranger things have happened. We protect it, defend it and support it. We sidetrack any new initiative in our life that attempts to rob our time or distract us from finishing, polishing and reshaping our baby.
And when it comes down to the moment of putting that stamp on it and carefully placing it in the mailbox or sending it by email through attachment, we offer a sigh of relief. We have been like the mother killdeer that flips and flaps a few feet away from her eggs trying to divert unnecessary attention away from her yet-to-be-born babies so they can mature and have new life.

Donna Mann


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Write! Canada - Dawson

As I am writing this, I am sitting outside the office at the Guelph Bible Conference office and it is approximately six o’clock in the morning. Yes, I am at the Write! Canada conference and no, I haven’t run out of energy yet. (I may change my mind about that by three o’clock this afternoon)

Around me, the trees and grass have taken on that emerald tone that only comes early in the morning or after a violent thunderstorm. It is a peaceful time and renews me as much as the sleep that I am missing would. Why have I come to this gathering of writers? Why have I chosen to give up my comfy bed at night and bump shoulders with roughly 200 other people?

Too often writers underestimate the value of a writers’ conference. We think of the money we can’t afford to spend, the time we can’t sacrifice and the effort it takes to get there and get all our “stuff” put together. And all for what? So we can bump shoulders and have a bad sleep? Not even close.

Aside from the irreplaceable blessing of putting faces to those elusive names attached to the messages in my list serve email box, I get a chance to network. Ever heard the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? Well, in writing, it’s both. Far too often, I’ve written a good quality non-fiction work that had the potential to affect a wide readership for the better only to have to wait and watch as someone better known beat me to the punch line with something similar. I’ve been left with a redundant article and a feeling of frustration. It didn’t take me too long to realize that I was missing a key piece of the writing puzzle—one that I found at Write!Canada last year.

This is my second conference and I’ve made connections with people here from a variety of publishing medium—Word Alive Press, The Christian Herald, Maranatha News, Beyond Ordinary Living, and so many others. In the past year, because of those connections, I’ve gotten another book published that more readers are enjoying. I’ve received reviews for that book because I knew where to look for them. And I’ve published an article to a wider audience that shared God’s grace and love. I’ve made friends with fellow writers, brain stormed ideas with them, listened to the wisdom and knowledge of those farther along the road than I, and gleaned details from editors, publishers and marketers. All things I couldn’t have done without Write!Canada.

Is the conference money, time and effort worth it? You bet!

Donna Dawson
www.inscribe.org/donnadawson.com

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

From the Mouths of Really Smart Babes - Arends

My six-year-old daughter, Bethany, is doing very well at school but she hates to get anything wrong. Her teacher informed me that if Beth gets even a single answer incorrect on a test, she falls apart. So the other night, we had a heart to heart while I was putting her to bed. "Daddy and I don't expect you to be perfect, you know," I told her. "Mistakes are how you learn. And no-one gets 100% all the time."

"Katie* does," she said. (Katie is Bethany's very bright friend and classmate.)

"Oh," I said, stymied for a minute. "Uh ... well, everybody has stuff they're really good at, and other stuff they have to work harder at."

"What is Katie not good at?" she asked. Rhetorically.

"Uh ..." I stammered. "I don't really know her well enough to say, but I'm sure there's something."

Bethany suddenly smiled. "I know!" she exclaimed.

(Phew.)

"What?" I asked.

"Katie is really good at being tall, and really bad at being short."

I could never have come up with that.

When it comes to my kids, I'm very good at being proud, and very bad at being humble.

Carolyn Arends

*name has been changed to protect the high achieving

www.carolynarends.com
www.conversantlife.com

now available: Wrestling With Angels

"Carolyn observes keenly, reflects deeply, and renders it all poetically. Wrestling With Angels is a book I can give to almost anyone with confidence it will speak truth in the inmost places." -- Mark Buchanan, author

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Barking Dogs and Other Distractions - Harris

Feeling frazzled. Turn off the television, the radio, the dvds. Move that barking dog away from the window. And listen to the silence. Try it for one minute. I bet that minute seems like hours. Try it for two. Or three. Or four.

I bet you are squirming in your seat. Or maybe not. Maybe you have tuned into something that lies hidden most of the time. Maybe you are hearing God's voice.

We are so used to filling the 'dead air' that we often do not time to listen in silence. So used to noise and distractions that we cannot think straight.

For writers who are Christian, not taking time to listen in silence can be deadly to the quality of our work and to our message.

It happens when we rush to fill up the page in the same way we rush to fill up our days with 'stuff.' It happens when we decide to reach a word count that goes beyond the message God has given us to write. When we add our own 'stuff.'

It happens when we are so busy listening to political or cultural influences that we mistake those for the voice of God. I grew up in an environment that said a 'good Christian' was supposed to think and write and act and vote in a way that fits with their peers. A lot of people where I live still think that way. When that happens sermons are more about politics than Jesus. The Christian life beomes more about fitting in than finding Jesus. More lifestyle than faith. (Neither conservative or liberal churches are immune from it.)

So how do we stay on track? I think it helps if we remove ourselves from fray sometimes.

It's that silence we need, along with prayer and meditation, that keeps us 'salt and light.'

Jane Harris

Monday, June 16, 2008

Drive-by Book Signing - Grove

I accidentally invented something.

I think it could catch on. I could get rich from this invention! It's perfect for today's 'go-go-go' society.
Publishers are always looking for ways they can 'brand' an author - ways of getting the author before as many people as possible in order to maximize sales and increase the 'buzz' about the book, the author, and the message.

Well, I've gone and invented the Mother of all opportunities.
It all happened late Saturday evening. I was in Guelph visiting with my sister-in-law and her family. I was tired and somewhat giddy (having just spent the previous three days at the Granddaddy of all writer's shin-digs right there in that very city), and I didn't have my head screwed on right.

I got into the car to go to Brampton (my hubby's parents live there and were driving me to their house for the night, then taking me to the airport in the morning), settled in the back seat and was waving goodbye. Then, my sister-in-law (who did have her head screwed on right) remembered she hadn't paid me for the copies of Hot Apple Cider she had bought. As she ran for the cash, I called out, "I forgot to sign them too!"


Moments later she and her hubby returned to the car, cash and books in hand. I stayed in the car as my brother-in-law handed me book after book to autograph (6 of them). As we did this, it hit us! This is perfect! Drive through book signings! We have drive thru banks, dry cleaners, fast food joints, and coffee bars. Why not book signings? Legions of fans can line the streets while authors, tucked into the back seats of cars can inch along, grabbing books, signing them, and tossing them back into the crowds.

Great, eh?
Of course there could be the problem of an author tossing a book out and it not connecting to the owner of the book. Or, they could, sometimes sign a book they didn't write - I mean they would be moving at a fair clip, right? To accommodate the great numbers of people who want an autograph. Then there would be the issue of innocent bystanders getting smacked upside the head with a wayward flying book (there's insurance for that right?). Hmm...
What's that?
You say that the 'old fashioned' way of holding events safely indoors in books stores is the best way to do book signings? Well, I see your point. Probably a lot less people will end up injured. But it's not very progressive!
Say what?
You think I'm still over tired from the big writer's brew-ha-ha? Maybe I should go lay down until the feeling passes?
Sigh.

Maybe you're right.
Bonnie Grove

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Report on The Word Guild Awards Gala - Brent

We have a guest blogger today: Ann Brent, the Director of National Ministries for Empower Ministries, as well as a writer and Professional Member of The Word Guild. She attended The Word Guild Awards Gala last night and has agreed to share some thoughts.

Another exciting Awards Gala hosted by The Word Guild (TWG) is in the history books.

There is a certain electricity in the air at these events. This year it was held again at the World Vision centre in Mississauga, after a year away in Waterloo. The World Vision facility is perfect for this event and the atmosphere provides the ideal setting for what truly is a “gala.”

The event itself was well orchestrated and went off – apparently – without a hitch, beginning on time and moving smoothly throughout the evening. The emcee, Herbie Kuhn, the in-house voice of the Toronto Raptors, kept the evening moving at a regular tempo, providing the perfect balance of humour, sincerity and compassion in response to each award and recipient. At times, it was evident that he was deeply moved by the winner’s words and responded appropriately.

Special music was presented throughout the evening by Jacob Moon of Hamilton. From the response at his CD table following the event, many were moved by his incredible guitar playing and songs.

The winners were abundant and each was celebrated by an audience filled with TWG members, awards finalists, family members and friends. Full details will be available in a press release available at: www.thewordguild.com

An impromptu comedy routine was injected into the evening when Drew Marshall, host of his self-named radio program heard on Joy 1250 AM, took the stage to accept an award on behalf of his friend, William Young, author of The Shack, who received the award for Best Contemporary Novel. The exchange between Drew, the author (reached via a poorly-connected cell phone) and Herbie, kept the audience in stitches for several minutes.

The Word Guild Partnership Award was presented to John Franklin, Executive Director of Imago, an umbrella arts organization which took The Word Guild under its wing from December of 2001 to Dec 31 of 2007, giving TWG a solid base by allowing it to give receipts for all donations and supervising the auditing of the books.

The final writing award of the evening was presented to Dr. David Dautremont of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, for his alternative historical novel, The Golden Conquest. His words of acceptance were particularly moving as he noted the recent passing of a friend and mentor who had encouraged him in his writing.

Connie Brummel Crook was the recipient of the Leslie K. Tarr award, presented at the end of the evening. Her books for children capture Canada’s history and history of faith. Her acceptance speech was very moving as she noted the importance in her life of the solid support of writers and editors who are Christian. This was the 20th anniversary of the first award presented to Leslie K. Tarr, and also marked the 20th anniversary of Connie’s first visit to the God Uses Ink writer’s conference, now named Write! Canada – which begins today in Guelph, Ontario.

The launch of Hot Apple Cider, the compilation book published by That’s Life! Communications, was celebrated as well. This collection of 30 short stories and poetry by 30 of our The Word Guild members was a project spearheaded by founder N.J. Lindquist. The book has been provided as a gift to all attendees of the Girls Night Out events across Canada. This was possible through the generosity of the authors featured in the book.

The Word Guild Awards Gala – a wonderful evening to celebrate the incredible body of writers and editors who are Christian in Canada! And after last night, it was clear that there is more and more to celebrate.

Ann Brent

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Nature Inspired Poetry – Lawrence



I am so blessed to be surrounded by nature; flora and fauna, wild flowers and wild life abound in my backyard; bird song fills the air.

In the spring time it is always exciting to hear and identify the first bird of each species to arrive from southern climes or the first of each wild flower to bloom. When we see the first trillium in bloom we know that the black flies won’t be too far behind—not a pleasant thought for us humans but so necessary for the birds’ nourishment.

We are still officially in the season of spring and new events are happening each day. On Sunday, June 8th, I heard the Swainson’s thrush one of the four visiting birds that produce flute-like songs. The other three are the hermit thrush, the wood thrush and the Veery. It is a privilege to host these birds each summer and when I hear their lauds and vespers I join my voice with theirs to praise and glorify the Creator.

When I saw a deer come to eat seeds from the bird feeder in our garden I was filled with joy and thanksgiving. I uttered the psalm verse: As the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. Psalm 42:1 NRSV. I imagine it was the sight of a deer that moved the psalmist to write that psalm in the first place. As many poets can attest, sights in nature often produce poems that speak of God’s goodness and love, as well as our longing to feel God’s presence.

As writers, it is our privilege to see and interpret what God reveals to us; and as poets, it is our joy to see and interpret God’s special gift of nature when it is revealed to us.

© Judith Lawrence

Author of Glorious Autumn Days: Meditations for the Wisdom Years; and Grapes From The Vine, Book of Mystical Poetry. Both available at www.lulu.com

Author of Prayer Companion: A Treasury of Personal Meditation, available at Chapters and www.pathbooks.com

Web Site: www.judithlawrence.ca


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Do Something: A True Story - Shepherd

She had the bicycle for five years, and that was a record. Usually her bikes were stolen about once a year. It got to the point where she was almost surprised when she returned to where she left it and found her bicycle still there. She didn’t have a driver’s license. Living in the heart of the city, it did not seem necessary. She could get where she wanted quicker on her bike.

She had biked to the home of her piano student and when she came out after the lesson, her bike was gone. There was no other option but to take the subway home. There she met a new challenge. Perhaps she was emboldened by the injustice of having to once again replace a stolen bike.

As she stepped into the subway car, she became aware of a tense situation. Three high school girls huddled together. Backing them against the wall were three young men in their late teens or early twenties. The most aggressive young man had been into the bottle, judging from the reek of his breath. His instability of focus raised questions about whether he was also high on drugs. She observed until the train pulled into the next station. Several people exited the car, moving swiftly unto the platform and then into the adjoining car.

She could take no more. Moving to the girls she asked, “Do you know this fellow?”

When the reply was negative, she turned to the young man who was harassing the girls and said simply, “This is not acceptable behavior. You have to stop.”

“Who are you to tell me to stop?” He turned on her. “You are just the girl in the brown coat.”

“I am the girl in the brown coat, who is telling you that what you are doing is unacceptable and you have to calm down and stop bothering these girls.” He seemed at a loss about what to do. He remained quiet for a minute and then began his harassment again.

Again she spoke up. She put her finger on the panic button, and warned him. “If you do not stop, I will have to push this button.” He began to move away from the girls. In a few minutes he was back again, accompanied by his two friends.

This time she turned to the friends. “You cannot just stand by and watch your friend,” she told them. “If he cannot calm down, you have a responsibility to help him. This cannot continue.”

His friends made an effort to get him away from the girls. They got him to the other end of the train car. As they did so, the train stopped and the police stepped into the car. Someone else had pushed the panic button.

He was questioned by the police, as were his friends. The girls gave their story to the police. She made sure that the police knew that this one man was the guilty one and his friends were not. Since all three were part of a visible minority, she wanted to be sure they were not treated unfairly.

After the culprits were removed from the train and order was restored, the girls got back on the next train with her. She was distressed when a couple of women twice her age came up and told her how frightened they had been and how they respected her for speaking up. She reminded them that the only way these things can go on is if we fail to act when we can. Yes, there is risk, but perhaps there is greater risk in doing nothing.

As writers we too must be willing to take the risk of speaking up. Someone’s life may depend on it. Dare we?


Eleanor Shepherd

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Sorry, Not Interested - Hird

In the movie What a girl wants, a fatherless North American 17-year-old flies to England looking for her British father whom she’s never met. When Daphne finally encounters her father, his initial response is "Sorry, not interested." As Daphne sadly picks up her bags to leave, her father has a sudden partial change of heart.

Sadly, many young people feel disconnected from their fathers. Some have never known their fathers. Many feel a longing for a close relationship with their dad, but fear that this is impossible. Will their father really be interested?

With Father’s Day coming up on June 15th, I am so grateful to have a growing relationship with my own father. He has shown me time and again that he is deeply interested in my life and activities. I remember when he volunteered to be our baseball umpire, one of the most painful jobs that a loving father can take on.

Canadians are so polite. I have noticed that many Canadians will politely avoid any conversations related to politics or religion. “Sorry, not interested.” Imagine if one of us were having a crisis and decided to pray to God only to hear him say “Sorry, not interested.” We assume that God is naturally fascinated with our lives. And we are right. God never finds us boring, irrelevant, or stupid. God cares for us as his own offspring, his own personal creation, made in his very own image. The Father is deeply interested in each one of us.

Thank God that we are not just a statistic, a number, an accident. Our Father sees us as deeply valuable. Each of us are people for whom Christ died. Each of us are wonderfully and fearfully made.

This Father’s Day, let us give thanks for our earthly fathers, but most of all for the Heavenly Father who loves us with an everlasting love.
The Reverend Ed Hird
Rector, St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver, BC
Anglican Coalition in Canada
http://www3.telus.net/st_simons/

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Freedom to Write - Gregoire


I don't know how many of you have been following it, but our freedom of speech in Canada is under direct attack.
A group of radical Muslims has taken Maclean's magazine before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal (and will soon before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal) to complain about the excerpt from Mark Steyn's book America Alone. It subjected them to contempt and hatred, they say.
The hearing has been live blogged (you can see it at Ezra Levant's site and Andrew Coyne's blog) and is being analyzed well by our own Deborah Gyapong. This is one that we mustn't let go.
It really doesn't matter whether you agree with what Steyn wrote or not (I happen to think he was right; but there are others who were prosecuted by these tribunals that I think were wrong that I also don't think deserved to be prosecuted. Marc Lemire falls under this category). The point is that truth is not a defense. As Maclean's lawyer McConchie pointed out this week, it does not matter if everything Steyn said was factually true. If it caused Muslims to feel intimidated, the tribunal can still declare such speech out of bounds.
For those of us who write from a Christian perspective this is very grave indeed. Imagine if Muslims could take you to a tribunal to declare that we cannot criticize Muhammad? Or imagine if they could take us to a tribunal if we refused to handle promotional material for a gay pride event? Oh, wait. That already happened to Scott Brodie.
Or what if they took us to a tribunal for expressing our belief in God ordained marriage? Yep, that's been taken to the tribunal, too, and in that one the Christian was found guilty. The Bible being declared hate literature? That's been done by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal, too.
In fact, over the last decade the human rights tribunals, both at the provincial and federal level, have declared out of bounds much of mainstream Canadian writing. We just haven't been paying attention.
The Mark Steyn case, though, is getting loads of attention, and most of the sympathy is falling on his side. The Privacy Commissioner has recently launched an investigation into the federal tribunal's method of operation; the RCMP has joined in; and now the federal government is about to launch its own investigation.
Best of all, Liberal MP Keith Martin has proposed a bill to eliminate Section 13 from the Human Rights Act, which would effectively restore freedom of speech in Canada.
The momentum is moving towards freedom's side, and we can't let it drop. I don't mean to be so political, but there has never been a moment in Canadian history when freedom of speech was so much at stake, and when we also had as much of a chance to do something about it. As writers, we need to act.
So let's write. Let's write letters to the editor. Let's write blog posts. Most of all, let's write our MPs, our MPPs, and our Prime Minister and Premiers. Let's restore liberty, or soon we just might find that writing from a Christian perspective in Canada is no longer possible.
Sheila blogs at To Love, Honor and Vacuum. Her columns and articles can be found here.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Famine of feeling - Wright


According to Tom Hayden, the lack of a proportionate response to today’s catastrophic human needs is due to "a famine of feeling". Hayden’s interview appeared in the May 17th Globe and Mail. I had no idea who Hayden was—a California activist prominent in the 60’s student movement—until I read the article.

He makes a good point. "What’s depressing to me is the lack of response in comparison to the need…the very dangerous exhaustion of belief in solutions on the part of the people who are supposed to be the world’s problem-solvers."

I admit to a certain exhaustion with 24 hour news coverage of tornadoes ripping through US neighbourhoods, storms ravaging Myanmar, and earthquakes devastating parts of China. Meanwhile no solution looms for Darfur.

Probably, the wave of popularity for Barack Obama’s platform of change reflects people’s cynicism with old institutions.

Evan Solomon, the columnist who interviewed Hayden, chose a counter-intuitive way to interact with Hayden. He sent him a photo with no explanation and asked Hayden for a caption. Solomon, a writer, journalist and host of CBC News: Sunday and Sunday Night, does this every month. He sends an unidentified image to someone in the public eye. The resulting interaction creates an interesting interview.

I wonder, however, if images aren’t the problem. Confucius, not Christ, claimed that a picture is worth a thousand words. Christ came as the Everlasting Word, without passing on any images. Today we have a billion images bombarding us everywhere we turn and making less and less impact. Perhaps we are suffering from visual exhaustion and need a few more well-chosen words.

The picture Evan Solomon sent Tom Hayden, of hands raised in entreaty, could have been interpreted in thousands of ways.

A church friend recently returned from Liberia with a story about murderous boy-soldiers turned compassionate missionaries. His story evoked many emotions: horror at the atrocities they’d committed, astonishment at their transformation, and praise for the God who did the impossible. Admittedly, the pictures he showed at church helped.

Pictures may supplement our attempts to evoke emotions but they will never render words obsolete. Hence, our mandate as writers to touch people with well-crafted word pictures.
Eric E. Wright, www.countrywindow.ca

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Growing Older - Austin

On a recent trip to Alberta for a family wedding, I spent quite a bit of time with my parents. At 89, Dad is in exceptionally good shape physically. He still does pushups and walks for miles every day. However, selling the house and far more, selling his workshop with all its tools, has stripped him in ways almost beyond measuring. The retirement home they have moved into pampers him and surrounds him with luxury, yet he is lost. The craft room with jigsaw puzzles and origami holds no appeal.

He never was particularly safe in his workshop. He has made multiple trips to hospital emergency rooms over the years, blood streaming from some deep cut. But he found purpose and fulfillment there. More than that, his workshop has played an immense role in the Canadian Leprosy Mission. Dad has stripped insulation off of thousands of pounds of copper and aluminum wire. Sold for salvage, Dad and a partner have for multiple years raised $50,000 a year and more. In that same workshop a ladies group has sorted rags and rolled bandages. Lawnmowers and small appliances have been cleaned and repaired. A Bible For Missions Store in Red Deer, Alberta has been on the receiving end of those contributions, and because of them thousands of Bibles have been distributed world-wide. The workshop was a mission and Dad was a missionary. Now he’s surrounded with luxury, but feeling lost and useless.

A single lonely tree standing by the highway caught my attention on that trip. I passed it numerous times and it became a metaphor of Dad’s life.

Lonely Old Tree

There’s a lonely old tree by the highway.
It is blighted by lightning and hail.
It’s old and it’s worn. It’s alone and forlorn,
yet it spreads branches green without fail.

And the farmer’s sharp curse ever greets it
as he swings his big tractor around.
The branches that sway, just stand in the way,
so he’ll lay its old length on the ground.

For it stands all alone in the fence-row
though the fence has been taken away.
It is ancient and worn. It’s battered and torn.
Small beauty in its branches still sway.

A nuisance to the great cultivator
that rends a dark trail through the earth
where a forest once stood – a quiet, clean wood
and the tree long ago had its birth.

All the others to chainsaw have fallen
and the bight of the bulldozer’s blade.
The tree stands alone. Not a post or a stone
by this weary old source of thin shade.

And it stands half a mile from a neighbor
by the highway’s incessant harsh din.
It was twenty years past – it rubbed branches last,
quiet chatter with its closest kin.

And it is old and it’s worn and it’s battered
as it wearily stands in its place.
Still it pushes spring green, stands worn, but serene,
clothes the highway’s bare banks with quiet grace.

(Copyright Brian Austin)

As I age myself, I think somehow there must be a better way to deal with aging. All of Dad’s physical needs are met, yet he has lost what matters to him most. There was a house for sale just beside the retirement home when I was out there – with a garage. I’d give a lot today to be able to buy it, set up a workshop and then ask someone to check in on Dad a couple times a day. Yes, I’d worry that he’d bleed to death in there. But he’s bleeding to death now, without a visible wound showing. I wonder how many thousands are like him?

An Old Man’s Sorrow

They’ve surrounded him with luxury.
They’ve met his every need.
There’s a winsome smile and a good hot meal,
no need to sweat or bleed.

No need to labour through the hours,
toiling hard from day to day.
He has earned his rest – and earned it well.
Now he has a place to stay. . .

And bask in luxury for a while,
enjoy the pampered life.
He can take up gulf – go fishing,
or go on long walks with his wife.

But his workshop they have taken.
The auctioneer’s cry of “Sold!”
has stripped him of those well-worn tools
. . . left him smaller, weaker, old.

For the workshop’s where he laughed at life.
It’s also where he wept.
And somehow in that dusty place
a part of him was always kept.

And he’s lost it, though it did not sell
for no one knew it’s worth,
and little thought through the auction’s din
of the pain it brought to birth.

Now the dream’s become a nightmare.
Sears his heart as with a knife.
It has emptied from the living
the thrills and challenges of life.

And the luxury he’d surrender
without a second thought
could he just go back to that dusty room;
tools o’er a lifetime bought.

Could he earn a blister? Bleed a bit?
Get splinters in his hand?
Sweep fresh wood-shavings from the floor?
Does no one understand?

His health is good and he speaks his thanks
but still he grieves each day
o’er the worn tools in that workshop
they took and sold away.

The house is sold. The workshop gone.
Time relentlessly moves on
as an old man grieves midst luxury,
drained of purpose, hope and song.

(Copyright Brian Austin)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Colliding with the lives of others - Denyse O'Leary

Just recently, I was reminded of the fact that our work can touch a surprising variety of lives.

An individual calling himself Canadian Cynic was apparently quite upset that The Spiritual Brain was shortlisted for three Canadian Christian Writing Awards. Cynic doesn't like the book and wrote to complain, but of course the office doesn't interfere with the judges.

They're just not Cynical enough I suppose. ..

Clearly, people are noticing the Canadian Christian Writing Awards and the Write! Canada conference that follows them. I don't suppose it is any comfort to the Cynic that Mario and I are up against strong competitors this year. I am pretty sure that the people who hate The Spiritual Brain will be no happier if the other competitors win instead.

At about the same time, I heard that The Spiritual Brain received a "highly favorable" review in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, the journal of the American Scientific Affiliation: A Fellowship of Christians in Science. The reviewer, Bradford McColl of Regent University, "heartily" advocated buying the book.

So you can please some people some of the time.

The key queston for us Canadian writers is whether we will continue to enjoy freedom of teh press to tacked the significant issues of our time. Stay [posted on this presssing question through parliamentary journalist Deborah Gyapong's posts on the "human rights" cases against Mark Steyn and Maclean's Magazine.

Also, I have started a new blog: Welcome to Colliding Universes!

Why the new blog?: Because I hope to write a book with a Canadian physicist about "God vs. the multiverse": Is our universe fine-tuned or are there zillions of flopped universes out there, so that it only looks that way. For now, I will just make notes about things that may (or may not) find their way into the book:

Life on Mars?: Yes, when the Mars Hilton Convention Centre finally opens

Sure as the law of gravity, you say? Okay then, better check the refund policy ...

Stuff I have already written on the bleeping multiverse, for which the multiverse (Inc.) is suing me for defamation ... But not to worry, the writ went to zillions of wrong universes.

Coffee Break question: Why are the space aliens always supposed to have superior technology?

Exoplanets: Will intelligence be common or rare?

Quantum mechanics: Could cosmic microwave background show that it is wrong?

Chuckle of the day: What lies beyond the observable universe?

Letter: Multiverses are nonsense, but so is much contemporary physics

Other universes: Why the materialist needs an infinite number of them
Denyse O'Leary

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