Friday, February 28, 2014

Silence by Alan Reynolds.


            Silence is golden, our grandmothers used to say.  And though we don't often remember it, it is true.  Silence is golden!

            I stand on my skis on Holly burn Ridge where two trails cross.  No one else is around.  Around me the air is thick with fog, and heavy.  The mountain is socked in with heavy cloud. Everything is not only quiet, but completely muffled, absolutely still.  Green trees fade into grey ghosts twenty or thirty yards from where I stand. 

            The snow lies on the ground and on the trees about me. Flakes that are almost rain fall softly, silently.  There is not a sound. 

            I stand and listen.  The silence seems so good.  It feels so right.  In the words of the twenty-third psalm, it "restores my soul." 

            So much of modern life is noise.  The radio is blaring.  The television is on, constantly it seems.  People are always talking.  And around us, in our homes, there is always the sound of a motor -- the refrigerator, the furnace, someone's electric razor or hair dryer.  We don't hear them consciously, but something is usually buzzing.  Always noise. 

            Many years ago, far away from here, I stood on a country hillside, beside a farmhouse, in the chill darkness of a winter's night.  A clear, still night.  A night when you could hear the stars.  On the slope the other side of the valley were the lights of distant houses and the occasional bark of a dog.  I still remember, years later, the silence of that night, when every sound was audible.

            "Be still and know that I am God," the Bible says (Psalm 46:10).  

            Sometimes it's only in the silence, in the stillness, that, listening, we can hear, and know!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Arts and Drama - God's Tools - Tracy Krauss

I love the arts. I write novels, but I am also a visual artist, playwright, musician, and director. Sometimes it's hard for me to choose between all of these creative pursuits because I love each and every one. (Or maybe I've got multiple personality disorder.) It's true, sometimes I don't know whether I'm coming or going depending on which hat I’m currently wearing. But there is one thing I do know - GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF CREATION! In saying that, I believe that God, the divine and ultimate creative force, loves to see His children emulate Him in creative ways.

The fact that many of the artistic disciplines have taken a less than godly turn does not mean that they are inherently evil. What better way to point to the divine than through the arts? It is up to those of us involved in the arts to take them back for God.

Most people will agree that God is using music, literature, and even the visual arts to some degree. Religious art has a long history, and landscapes point to the awesomeness of God’s creation. Many folks can even stretch themselves to include abstract art or secular music and literature if they can make some kind of emotional connection. Art, as a form of communication, should and MUST encompass all aspects of the human condition. A lengthy discussion about the merits of the arts in general will have to wait for another day, however.

What I really want to talk about is the theatre. Ah, the theatre! The devil's playground, indeed!

Of course you know I'm kidding, but I have to be honest here. I’ve written and directed a multitude of plays over the years in my role as a drama teacher and I have been surprised on more than one occasion by the ‘church’s’ attitude toward involvement in the dramatic arts. Unless it’s an Easter Passion Play, the nativity, or short evangelistic skits, drama makes Christians uncomfortable.

Let me share a real life example. All of my children were very interested in the theatre when they were in school. (Wonder where they got that from….) When my eldest was going into Grade Eleven, she wanted to attend a boarding school about five hours away that offered a theatrical immersion program. Basically, students eat, sleep and breathe drama for one whole semester and while doing so they incorporate English, Social Studies, Physical Education etc. Naturally, I was almost as excited as my daughter.

We were pastoring at the time, and low and behold if several well meaning people didn't caution us against the school. They were sure it was going to irreparably harm our daughter spiritually. I'm not sure what the basis for their fear was. I think the fact that it was a 'theatre school' was enough to bring images of debauchery into their minds. We had more faith in her than that, and since I'm a theatre nerd myself, I understood how drama could transform a person in so many positive ways. It ended up being such a wonderful experience that when another daughter expressed an interest a few years later we didn't even hesitate. By the way, they are adults now and serving the Lord.

Christians want positive entertainment options to combat the flood of negative content. Yet if we aren’t encouraging and training young people in the dramatic arts, how can we expect quality work? If we ever hope to reach a dying world, funded my million dollar machines, we better get on board. Christian people need a forum in which to learn.

It reminds me of my experience as a visual artist. I majored in Fine Art at University and yes, I had to take classes where we drew or painted from nude models. When done in a non-sexual context, one soon gets used to it and I don't believe anyone can truly learn to represent the human figure without it. Imagine expecting a doctor - even a Christian one - to perform his duties without a detailed knowledge of human anatomy? The same goes for artists of all kinds.

Even more important is the fact that the world needs us. We are to be salt and light to a dying generation and if we're cowering away in bubbles of our own making, it is pretty hard to do. God Himself wrote the ultimate epic drama when he inspired the Bible. (And there are some rather graphic scenes included.) To shun or ignore the theatrical arts, a powerful and vital tool of expression and evangelism, is a shame indeed. Maybe the fact that it is so potentially powerful and useful is why Satan has invested so much time in trying to ruin it.

Artists, writers, actors, and musicians – it’s time to rise up and take your place in the body of Christ. Don’t let anyone–even fellow believers - squelch your divinely given creative drive if it doesn't fit neatly into a church appropriate box.

Tracy Krauss writes romantic suspense novels and stage plays while teaching Drama, Art and English at the secondary school level. She lives with her husband in beautiful Tumble Ridge, BC. For more visit her website:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Eaters digest – and other things - Gibson

So many little willpower? I know.
So many cakes…so little willpower? I know.

I’ve fallen into some shoddy habits. My waistbands sit tight, and my resolve falls loose. Our scale and mirrors speak truth: I’m getting fat. Again.

King Solomon was right: “Better to stick a knife in one’s throat than to let appetite get the best of you,” he warned in Proverbs, adding that the food of kings (rich food) is deceptive.

Have you noticed that dogs don’t worry about what they eat? At Christmas, since our son couldn’t come home, we sent him a parcel that included some home baking. I tucked in a few packages of individually wrapped candy in cello bags.

“I didn’t try the candies,” he told us. “Phi found them first. He ate everything. Candies, wrapping and cello bag.” The two-year old golden retriever had no unhappy effects from either end, our son said. A few months earlier, Phi had wolfed down a half-pound of butter—still in its wrapper. No problem then, either.

A friend’s dog, a three-year-old daschund, has a similar constitution. Unnoticed in the excitement of last Boxing Day, Dexter snatched someone’s milk-chocolate Toblerone bar. By the time they discovered it, the short-legged wonder had eaten bar, foil and box, leaving only telltale remnants.

Knowing that chocolate is poison for dogs, his panicked owners made a rush visit to the vet. “Good thing it was milk chocolate, but that’s a lot of fat and sugar,” the vet told them. He administered charcoal to encourage the dog to return the Toblerone, but Dexter knows a good thing – give up my Toblerone? For why? (I identify.) Several hours and several hundred bucks later, the Toblerone stayed put.

Back home, Dexter spent the evening charming a houseful of dinner guests. He remained happy through the rest of the holiday season – with one odd consequence. “He had sparkles in his poop,” my friend said, adding an entirely new twist to holiday decorating.

Humans, however, prove the truth of Solomon’s warning – some sooner than later. Feeling overstuffed and queasy one evening after a season of too much holiday food, a good friend opened her fridge and reached for the bottle of pink medicine she uses to settle a rolling tummy. Unscrewing the lid, she chugged down a few gulps. Only after she swallowed, did she realize it “didn’t taste all Pepto Bismolly.”

Picking up the bottle, she read the label. Panicked. Stuck her fingers down her throat. Swallowed charcoal. When the pink medicine didn’t return, she grabbed her phone and called Poison Control. “Uh, MY SON just swallowed a bunch of Calamine lotion,” she managed, feeling both mortified and terrified. “He thought it was Pepto Bismol. What’s going to happen?”

The Poison Control nurse predicted a long life.

Dogs may dodge their bad habits—for a time. So may we humans. But we have something over the dogs—the option of listening to wisdom. Of making choices that honour the bodies God provided.
I’m working on it. I’m not alone.

But it’s a long road back without Toblerone. 

Phi. He prefers his candy (and butter) with wrapper, thank you. 
Phi...golden dog...loves gold. Butter, foil, butterscotch...etc.

Various Western newspapers published this Sunny Side Up column earlier this year. Find more at

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Can Art Change Culture?

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Writers are culture makers, culture changers. We observe, we interpret, we are thinkers. We challenge the status quo. We are the first to be muzzled, imprisoned, and intimidated by oppressive and tyrannical leaders. Art has always been a vehicle for social change, social commentary – but the art must come first not the message.

The difference between great art, and art that creates culture is the message behind the art. All the great artists were great because they had something to say. Shakespeare has as much to say to people today as he did to his own contemporaries.

Artists want two things: opportunity and favour. They want the opportunity to put their art before an audience and have that art judged on its own merit not some historical, sometimes stuffy, arbitrary list of rules and etiquette.

But great art, great artists, not only entertain, beguile – they have something to say. Independent artists are shaking their fists at the gate-keepers and using modern marketing tools to reach new audiences. The books the gatekeepers say aren’t marketable, are finding new audiences online. The established rules and parameters and ‘comfort zones’ of the few in power is being challenged by those who write for a niche market, who blur the lines, who blend genres.

Culture Making
Andy Crouch in his book Culture Making writes that change affecting culture begins with a small group who innovate. “All culture making is local. Every cultural good, whether a new word, law, recipe, song or gadget, begins with a small group of people – and not just a relatively small group but an absolutely small group. No matter how many it goes on to affect, culture always starts small. And this means that no matter how complex and extensive the cultural system you may consider, the only way it will be changed is by an absolutely small group of people who innovate and create a new cultural good.”

Art gives a voice to the voiceless, allows the unseen to become visible, shines a light on what we do well and how we mess up. And we don’t always have an answer. Artists who are Christian have something important to say, value to offer, and the art we create can’t simply imitate the existing culture but must innovate with the highest level of quality and excellence.

This principle is expanded upon in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point with his law of the 3 – 12 – 120. The innovation begins very small, with two or three people, then expands to a close group – the 12, which then requires investment by a larger but still small group – the 120. This is played out in the arts repeatedly.

When does art change culture? Gladwell puts forward this idea in the afterward to The Tipping Point in the 2nd edition: “On playing fields and battlegrounds, challenges that would be daunting and impossible if faced alone are suddenly possible when tackled in a close-knit group. The people haven’t changed, but the way in which the task appears to them has.”

So What

When love stops being the reason for creating the art, when your message is not one of building up but tearing down, you lose the respect of your audience and other artists – and whatever message you have is easily dismissed.

How many Christian bloggers tear down the Church, and attack individuals and groups? They aren’t starting a conversation, asking questions, they’re using a platform to shoot darts.

I’ve been to conferences for Christian writers where those who don’t write for a Christian market are shunned. *raises brows* She writes romance – for the general market. If all the artists who are Christian only made art for other Christians what kind of inbred culture would that create? We are called to be salt and light, not to insulate and isolate. Isn’t there a place for the Christian artists who make art for other Christians, and those who just make art?

As an individual artist, a lone writer, I see the task of using my art to say anything important as insurmountable. But when I join with other artists both traditional and indie, a small group who builds up and supports art through love and mutual respect things can happen – and when that message reaches a small but larger group who understands the message, who are passionate about the message, word of mouth takes over and maybe, just maybe, something impossible becomes possible and culture is affected and changed for the better.

Do you think artists (of any discipline) are culture changers? In your opinion, should the art or the message come first?

Lisa Hall-Wilson is an award-winning freelance writer and syndicated columnist in the Canadian faith-based market. She writes dark fantasy novels and blogs at Lisa's teaching a class called Beyond Basics: How To Write Effective Inner Dialogue on March 8th. Use code 'Lisa20' for 20% off, or take advantage of a WANA2fer for even more discounts. Watch for her debut novel out spring 2014.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Almost - M.Laycock

"Tell me your story," my friend said.

I smiled and warned her that we might be there for a while, but she said she wanted to hear all of it. And I was excited to tell it, not because it’s my story but because it is, from beginning to end, God’s story. It becomes obvious to those listening and even more, to myself, that God's hand of protection has been over all of my life. There were so many times when disastrous things almost happened; times when I almost died.

As my husband has said, "You walked into the fire and right out of it again with hardly a scratch!" Well, the smell of smoke often lingered, but he's right. I can relate to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

There was that day I should have drowned but was saved, that night I could have been raped and even murdered but was left alone, that time I ingested a poison but it left no ill effects, the times I trusted strangers who could have been demons but turned out to be angels. Over and over again God protected me.

Oh yes, I have had my share of tragedies and trials, but even in those circumstances, God was there. There was the moment when I heard those mind-numbing words, you have cancer, the days when the chemo treatments were almost too much and others when I almost could not make myself walk through the doors of the clinic where I would lay on a table and allow radiation to burn my body. There was that day I was almost overcome when I realized the child I carried would not be born alive and the day I got the phone call telling me my father had died. There were those years when the pain of the circumstances almost drove me to curse God.

In all of those times it was God’s presence, and above all His love, that kept me sane, kept me going, and kept me in the shelter of his wings. It was Jesus who kept me from going beyond ‘almost.’
I love that old song that says, “The Name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it and they are safe.” The words are true. The name Jesus keeps us safe, even in the midst of the fire or in the midst of a raging storm – not always safe from pain, but safe from separation from Him. And that is the only agony we would not survive.

These words are also true: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed” (2Corinthians 4:7-9).

That is our testimony, our story as believers in Christ Jesus. When we have Him we will always have that word, almost.
Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. Her second novel, A Tumbled Stone was short listed in the contemporary fiction category of The Word Awards. Marcia also has two devotional books in print and several ebooks. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. 

Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers can be downloaded here. Visit Marcia’s Website

Thursday, February 20, 2014

February Schemes/MANN

February may be the month for hearts and chocolates, but it is also a month when people experience decreased exposure to sunlight.
S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) caused by the loss of light, increases feelings of sadness and can result in loss of sleep, irritability, overeating and difficulty in concentrating. A decreased amount of light passes through the eyes during fall and winter, which reduces the release of serotonin, an important brain chemical. Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, has also been linked to S.A.D. Depressive symptoms can begin to occur when this happens.
   Winter blues is similar to S.A.D. in some ways, but the symptoms are reduced. Winter Worsening is another condition that deepens over the winter months.
 By February, grievers who enter the depth of winter already sad, already depressed and feeling that their grief is getting worse, bring with them intense feelings of loss that they've been carrying for an undetermined length of time.
Often grief is misinterpreted or misunderstood. Their symptoms may be similar to those of S.A.D., Winter Blues and even Winter Worsening, but their recovery can be quite different.
Grieving through winter months is often very difficult. Grievers look for ways to survive their personal loss. The root words for survival come from the Latin words 'sur' meaning beyond and 'vivo' meaning live. To survive, then, means to find the resources (experiences and knowledge and support) to 'live beyond' personal loss.
Dull winter days are not very helpful. The landscape reflects personal emotions: colourless landscape, various shades of grey against grey, bushes and trees against grey sky, black tree trunks of various size as they poke through white grey snow.
The elements often offer uncertainty in weather conditions. When you do decide to get out of the house and go shopping or visiting, you are limited.
So what can a griever do during the month of February? Here are a few hints that might be helpful:
*Find a suitable place or person with whom to share your feelings  
*Buy an amaryllis and watch it grow
*Go to a flower show
*Look through a seed catalog and plant a winter garden or indoor flower pots
*Buy a bright coloured piece of clothing
*Volunteer in a children's program
*Visit a senior's residence
*Purchase a vanilla scented candle  
*Leave extra lights on in the house – hang light reflectors in windows – place mirrors in noticeable places.
*Make a habit of going outside for a walk or just to clean the snow off the veranda when the sun is shining
*Keep your curtains open during the day as much as possible
*If you haven't bought a computer yet, make the investment, it’s a great way to get past you and into the world
*If you have a computer and have email, send out ten. When people respond, "You've got mail waiting" is like a breath of fresh air in the morning."
*Choose several positive people and send them an e-greeting card 
Even though depression may last longer than winter months, one can anticipate the warm sunny days of spring as an additional resource. (

Keep on keeping on!
Donna Mann

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