Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Writers and the Power of Definition (I)

by
Donn Taylor
            I'm repeating this subject because writers must necessarily deal with definition for any writing, and they (we) can do that better if we make it a conscious process.

            Years ago an astute editor compared the rhetorical struggle for definition to a movie scene in which hero and villain struggle to possess a gun. The one who controls the gun lives, while the other one dies. Thus in any rhetorical dispute, the one who first defines the issue seizes the rhetorical high ground, forcing his opponent to fight an uphill battle.
            We see this principle operating in the news every day, often with emotions not too different from that struggle over the gun. In discussions of abortion, is the fetus defined as a human being or as a mass of tissue not greatly different from a wart? Is the Confederate battle flag defined as a symbol of slavery or of courage against an oppressive federal government? And how is religion defined under the First Amendment? Is "religion" restricted to what is done on Sundays in churches, or is it the guiding force of every action of the devotee's life? If the latter, what defines the difference between a Christian's refusal to support an event that violates basic tenets of his faith and a Muslim's practice of honor killing? If being "judgmental" is defined as evil, what is more judgmental than defining someone as judgmental?
            Many of us have run afoul of the term "lifestyle." On the surface it sounds like a useful and harmless term. But in practice it defines profound moral differences as mere differences in style. When we speak of "the Christian lifestyle," we imply that the choice between following Jesus and, say, practicing hedonism, is no more morally significant than choosing between a bow tie and a four-in-hand.
            Our definitions affect our everyday life. In Lightning on a Quiet Night, I imagined a town that had wrongly defined the Christian religion. The citizens of that town had unconsciously defined Christianity as primarily being virtuous and performing nice deeds. As Shakespeare described that kind of thing, "'Tis mad idolatry/ To make the service greater than the god." And, of course, when the townspeople saw that they were getting good at being virtuous, they were backing into the sin of pride. (To make the novel go I had to, so to speak, throw a large skunk onto their complacent conference table.)
            Similarly, Christian writers who wish to write about real-life situations must take prayerful care to correctly define the issues they write about. This applies not only to today's hot-button issues named earlier, but to universal questions that define the writer's worldview. How does the writer define the universe we all live in? Is it the random interplay of material things and forces? Or is it the working out of a vast design by an all-powerful Designer? The nature of the small fictional universes writers construct will depend on their definitions of the greater universe outside.
            "Naturalistic" writers (Thomas Hardy, Theodore Dreiser, etc.) defined the universe as merely an impersonal or even hostile operation of natural forces. Other writers have defined the universe as absurd, a succession of chance happenings that have no logic or purpose. Examples in point include Albert Camus' story "The Guest" and (I believe) Larry MacMurtry's Lonesome Dove novels.
            On the other hand, Jonathan Cahn's The Harbinger portrays 9/11 and the 2008 stock market crash as a minutely detailed working out of God's purposes according to the pattern of Isaiah 9:8-21.
            As all writers must arrive at their definitions of the universe and work within those definitions, so they must define for themselves the truth and the moral implications of each conflict they write about. And they must take care not to be fooled into accepting someone else's definitions.
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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

IS OUR WRITING A FLASH OR A FLAME?






My daughter-in-love, Bea, made an observation Christmas evening and I can't quit thinking about what she said. On Christmas eve she and the family watched It's A Wonderful Life. Bea had watched this movie as a child, but after watching it as an adult it had a powerful impact on her. Tears welled up in her eyes as she told me how the movie had inspired her.

It's a Wonderful Life premiered in 1946 and was nominated as Best Picture at the Academy Awards along with four other movies. It lost out to The Best Years of Our Lives. Huh? Never heard of that movie. Of course, I wasn't born until 1955. And yet I have a copy of It's a Wonderful Life and I watch it a couple of times a year.

After listening to Bea share the lessons the movie instilled in her, my mind went another direction. The 'write' direction. Even though Wonderful Life didn't take the top award, the content of the movie is full of life principles and has inspired audiences for years. Best Years won the coveted award but faded in away in Hollywood's film archives.

We all want the coveted award, whatever we deem it to be. However, if we write something so powerful that it impacts audiences throughout the decades, isn't that better? I think so. My daughter-in-love would also concur.

My thoughts are these: if we win that award then AMEN and PRAISE GOD.  But, if we do not win the award, the recognition, the place on the list and yet impact reader's lives, then we truly are the winners. We can have the flash of fame or the flame of steady inspiration. If given the choice, I choose the flame.
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Friday, December 23, 2016

A Miser, a Manger, a Miracle--The First Christmas Carol: A Book Review

Ebenezer is an innkeeper in the usually sleepy town of Bethlehem. At the moment, though, he's experiencing a bumper crop of desperate patrons in town for the Roman census, and he couldn't be happier. Miserly, mean, sarcastic, greedy, and unfeeling are some of Ebenezer's finer character attributes, and he's in fine fettle bossing his employee, Aaron, around and kicking out visitors who don't have enough money to rent the last room in his inn. As luck would have it, Ebenezer's inn is the one at which Joseph and Mary inquire and are turned away by the money-grubbing innkeeper.

There are a host of other characters that correlate with Charles Dickens' The Christmas Carol, including a little crippled boy named Timothy, the son of long-suffering and devout Aaron and his wife, Martha, and Ebenezer's nephew, Isaac, the son of his beloved sister who died giving birth to Isaac. The storyline is similar to Dickens' classic, but blends well with the Christmas story and the night of the Savior's birth. Ebenezer is visited first by the archangel Gabriel and then by three angels who take him through his own life (bringing back both happy times and wrenching memories), and then the life of Christ, from that night in Ebenezer's stable to His crucifixion.

I enjoyed this book by Marianne Jordan and would highly recommend it to Christian readers, although I think secular readers would also enjoy it. I found it particularly enjoyable because it's the Christmas season, of course, but it would be a great read at any time of the year. The characters are well-drawn, you can taste the dust in Bethlehem, and Jordan has done a fine job of blending two classic stories into one.
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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Five Tips to Stay Motivated During the Holidays

by Lisa Lickel

For eight weeks of the year, a sort of bridge between Thanksgiving and Epiphany, or later for some family/office parties, America likes to think it shuts down. And we pretty much do in order to go crazy shopping, baking, reminiscing, and reuniting face-to-face or through writing with family and friends from the past. It’s a time that’s both a culmination and a catalyst, the end of a year and the explosion to get the engine of imagination and work restarted. In the frenzy, how can we stay fresh and working?

1. Plan Ahead as much as you can. Figure out when you need to fix meals, bake, clean, attend programs, who and how to gift, if/and/or support your spouse in these activities. Traveling? Hosting? A working schedule will help you use your time efficiently, even for SOTPansters.

2. Chart Deadlines in a way you can readily access them. I like to make lists and cross things off—gives me a keen sense of accomplishment. Maybe you like to use your portable phone and program chimes or make lists and email yourself reminders. Automating some of these goals helps unclutter your mind so you can grab free, unencumbered moments to write.

3. Think Small batches of time instead of great stretches. If you already write like this, grabbing moments while waiting in line, or after the kids go to bed, you understand. I have to rearrange my schedule to feel like I’m taking time “off” to bake a batch of cookies, or decorate the tree or wrap gifts. I think smaller, as in 10 tweets instead of an hour roaming Pinterest; write 500 words, not conquer chapter 10. Spend an hour here instead of the afternoon there.

4. Network during this time. Many of us get together with or communicate with people we don’t see all that often. It’s not pushy sales time, but sharing time. Be able to answer, So, what are you up to these days? And listen when you ask the question. If you’re freelancing, use your in between moments to make connections and write a reminder to follow up after the new year. Take some moments to research markets, find new groups to join, new writing opportunities. Writing is much more than putting words on paper. Pick up the latest books at the library, find a book discussion club to join, gift your work to others, comment on interviews, write reviews, make three goals for next year, and read, read, read!


5. Give Yourself Permission to set work aside. If you’re anything like me, you feel guilty if you’re not multi-tasking or spending at least a full workday of hours on your manuscript. But the one commandment Christians seem the most willing to fudge on is that Sabbath one—Number Three: REST from your labors, keep some holy time in your week. It’s okay. You’ll be more productive when your eyes aren’t drooping and your mind isn’t trying to solve four problems at once. God made it so. The least we can do is agree.
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Saturday, December 17, 2016

THE GRACE IMPACT by Nancy Kay Grace





THE GRACE IMPACT
CrossRiver Media Group


Chapter after chapter, verse after verse, the Bible shows a loving heavenly Father lavishing His grace on us through His Son. In her book, The Grace Impact, author Nancy Kay Grace gives us a closer glimpse of God’s character. In all things at all times, His grace covers every detail of life, not just the good things, but the difficult, sad, and complicated things. That knowledge can give us the ability to walk confidently through life knowing our heavenly Father is with us every step of the way.

Review: In these current turbulent times we all need reminding of the all-encompassing love of God. This 30-day devotional help us to reflect on God's grace, his love for us, and also provides guided questions for us to meditate on and pray about. The book is divided into four sections: 


  • Section one is about the grace found in God and how he reveals himself
  • Section two tells of grace's potential
  • Section three speaks of the sustaining power of grace in times of trial. Nancy has intimate knowledge of this. 
  • Section four encourages us to share our grace with others.


Grace's book is a light in the darkness of troubled times and I highly recommend it.








Nancy Kay Grace is captivated by God’s grace and loves to share about embracing it in everyday life. She has contributed stories to several anthologies and published magazine articles. Nancy is married to her best friend, Rick, who is a senior pastor in northwest Arkansas. They have served the Lord for more than forty years, seeing His grace at work in many countries. Now they enjoy the stage of life with two married children and an increasing number of grandchildren.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Understory by Lisa J. Lickel

 







Three things you need in order to read this book.


1. A really warm blanket, because this book takes place in a Wisconsin winter, and trust me, you'll feel it. Hot cocoa might help, as well.

2. A seat belt, because you are in for a wild, edge of your seat ride.

3. A box of tissues, not just for the tender spots in the story, but because you'll be sad you can't invite Lily, Kenny, Cam, Sven, and Ole over for Christmas dinner. Bummer.

The cover of this book says Every story is a layer of trust and lies... That perfectly describes the plot of this story. Unscrupulous family members tied up in a human trafficking ring cause problems that lead to a kidnapping and attempted murder. Lily cannot trust her stepfather or her brother, and her sister cannot be trusted to mother Lily's nephew, Kenny. Can she trust Cam?

Cam recovers from a stint in the Middle East as a medic, the tragic death of a loved one, and a false accusation by a college coed. He does not need to find a nearly frozen lump of flesh in a pile of snow on his property. Especially not a woman in trouble. Who is this woman, and why won't she explain herself to Cam? She won't even tell him her name, so he has to make one up.

Colorful and quirky characters find their way into this mystery, and into the heart of the reader.The multi-layered plot challenges the reader to look on the inside, rather than judge the outside of a person or situation.  Highly recommended.




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Monday, December 12, 2016

A Christmas-Season Dialogue (Recycled)

by
Donn Taylor

            Thirteen days from now we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. The tradition in our home is to begin that day by reading aloud the story of His birth from the second chapter of The Gospel According to Luke, for that presents the genuine meaning of Christmas.

            Nevertheless, it is sometimes permitted to have fun with the secular mythology that has built up around the Holy Day. So it is in that spirit that I present the verbatim NSA wiretapping of a conversation between Santa Claus (S) and Mrs. Santa (M), which NSA has solemnly filed under the heading of "Christmas Pun-ishment."

S: Well, Honey, it looks like the calendar has this Christmas treed.

M: A bad pun like that makes me pine for a better one.
S: You're needling me again.

M: That's because you talk like a sapling. But Christmas is getting close. Do you have all your gifts planned?

           
             S: (scratching head) I've had some ideas, but I haven't written anything down.

            M: I thought you looked kind of listless. (Pause.) But tell me some of your ideas.

             S: One corner of my workshop is designated a football corner. Have you seen it?

            M: It has some strange things in it, but the strangest is that paper with writing on it. What's that?

            S: It's a diet for that guy Pay Ton Manning. If he weighs that much, he needs to lose weight.

           M: You've got it wrong, Santa. The name Pay Ton refers to his paycheck. 
         
           S: Maybe I should give him a wheelbarrow to carry the money.

           M: A pickup truck would be more like it. But that corner also had a case of Jack Daniels. Who's that for?

           S: The Tennessee Titans. You can't be a Titan without something to get tight on.

          M: Very considerate of you. But what about the rope ladder you had made?

           S: I'm giving that to the New Orleans coach. His Saints aren't having too good a year. After Christmas, his team can be called the ladder-day saints. (Pause.) But I don't know what to give some people--like that couple in Houston who plan to get married on Christmas day.

M: No problem, Santa. We're giving them two brooms.

S: Two brooms? Why is that?

           M: So that after they're married they can sweep together.

            S: That one swept me off my feet. I guess you saw the piano I'm giving to that musician in Austin

           M: He doesn't need a piano. He already has a Steinway.

            S: Yes, but last year, he lost all his hair. Now he has to play a Baldwyn.

           M: That gift is bare of all merit. Have you made any headway on getting ready for your trip, like preparing the reindeer?

           S: They're all ready except Rudolph. I can't stand his wisecracks. Every year when I put the harness on him, he says, "Oh, Santa. You sleigh me!'"

M: He'll pay through the nose for that.

            S: I've warned him: if he says it this year, I carve him up into cutlets and serve him for Christmas dinner.

M: He'll know he's playing for high steaks.

            S: I thought the idea was well done. But speaking of my flight with the reindeer, I'm worried about the air traffic congestion around Houston International Airport. Oh, I forgot. They've changed the name to Bush International.

           M: They've changed it again. Now it's called Houston Intergalactic.

            S: That's an ambitious name. How do they justify it?

           M: That's easy. The city of Houston has a habit of annexing prosperous areas nearby so they can increase their tax base. They like to plan ahead, so they annexed the Andromeda Galaxy.
         
           S: That ought to get them some revenue by A.D. 3000.
          
          M: But there's one last gift I'm curious about. In one corner of your workshop, I saw switches and ashes. Who gets those?

          S: They're for a fellow named Taylor down somewhere in the Texas woods. Lately he's changed from serious writing into trying to write comedy. When you make a dumb switch like that, you're bound to make an ash out of yourself.
         
         And a Merry Christmas to all!

          
      
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