"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Easy now!

While searching for a local church's web site, I happened upon a site claiming to have news and information about the church. Apparently the site, formerly the official church web site, had nothing good to say about the church, which indicated the site administrator had become discontented, disenfranchised and discombobulated. I chose not to delve. I did, however, contact the church office to voice my concern and to find their current web site. Once there, I used the current administrator's e-mail address to reiterate my concern, and suggested they make themselves easier to find than the other site. Okay, moral time: First, NEVER alienate your site administrator. Second, follow the Biblical imperative, "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath." (Eph 4:26) Third, beware! "Righteous indignation" isn't always righteous. Too often, it is self-righteous indignation, and becomes a rationale for vengeance. And that, friend, is sin.

Saturday, November 27, 2004


Maddy was immersed in her own olfactory world, nose to the ground, assimilating information humans can scarcely imagine. I on the other hand, held my head high, in my own visual world, eyes to the night sky. About two hours into its nocturnal journey, the full moon played behind a horizontal, roughly oval cloud, one of a sparse band of low-lying clouds. Behind the moon, and the silver-lined clouds hiding it, a field of stratus clouds picked up the lunar brilliance, streaked as a fine silver platter carelessly polished. Cast far beyond that silvery idyll, almost directly overhead, tapering, transparent shafts of silver light penetrated a star-specked, deep blue sky. How many precise, meteorological elements did God have to arrange in the heavens for me to behold that magnificent, sky-filling display? Yet, it was but a small thing compared to the Gift of His Son's blood, spilled to cleanse my sin, to transform my life, to open my eyes to His nature and His creation so I might praise Him.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Treasure Hunt

Today's Our Daily Bread suggested to me a new interpretation of Matthew 6:22-23 "The lamp of the body is the eye. Then if your eye is sound, all your body is light. But if your eye is evil, all your body is dark. If, then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" Those verses always seemed an opthamologist's creedal statement. But consider the verses preceding it, Matthew 6:19-21 "Do not treasure up for you treasures on the earth, where moth and rust cause to perish, and where thieves dig through and steal. But treasure up for you treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust cause to perish, and where thieves do not dig through and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Now it's obvious the "eye" means priorities, goals, aspirations -- anything you set your sights on. And the "body" means the spirit, the soul, the seat of consciousness -- the very center of your being. Now hold onto your hat: We have a values judgment to make, despite the politically incorrect overtones. It is possible that your "eye" can be evil, darkening your soul with wrong, that's right, wrong priorities. Okay, what in the world would be a wrong priority? I submit that would be anything that might lead you away from God, and bearing the fruit of His Holy Spirit. The Bible is replete with lists of specific acts and attitudes that lead people away from God. One of them says, "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." (1 John 2:16) At first, that seems a pretty broad stoke, but the Bible's most telling verses deal with principles and concepts. For those who need something more specific, try this on for size: "Now the works of the flesh are clearly revealed, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, fightings, jealousies, angers, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and things like these; of which I tell you beforehand, as I also said before, that the ones practicing such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Gal 5:19-21) For contrast: "But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. Against such things there is not a law." (Gal 5:22-23) Need I say more?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Giving Thanks

I can't help it! The government names a day, "Thanksgiving Day," and somehow I have to give thanks. Makes me feel like one of Pavlov's dogs. The truth is, I love giving thanks. How else can I endure the countless blessings God has poured out for me? And how else can I appreciate His many wise and wonderful, albeit painful, lessons in living? Blessings are lessons, and lessons are blessings; its all the same. This mortal life is far too short for casting recriminations about what seems, at first, like crap, but in retrospect always works to our betterment. If my estate has an extra ten bucks or so, I intend to have the words, "Always Give Thanks," engraved on my grave marker. That is the most valuable lesson I've learned during my brief, wisp of life, and if I convey nothing more through it, I will not have lived in vain.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The New Tolerance

I hope Chuck Colson will forgive me for borrowing a brief quote from his Breakpoint column; I know my local newspaper editor won't have a problem with that. Today, I will unload on my blog instead of his Letters column.

Today's progressives like to consider themselves open-minded, diversity-honoring Humanists. Their compassion for the downtrodden is eclipsed only by their thirst for scientific enlightenment. Such is their modest self-adulation.

Historian Garry Wills, writing in the New York Times, called November 2 the "day the Enlightenment went out." His characterization of American society, and Christians in particular, made it sound like you can expect your doctor to prescribe leeches at your next visit. -- Chuck Colson, Breakpoint 11/22/2004

Today's literati consider "censorship" the most obscene word in our language--as long as what's published doesn't offend them too much. They defend primary school libraries that stock their shelves with graphic apologetics for the homosexual lifestyle, natural science books that openly ridicule the Biblical world view, cultic, and occultic, scripture and instruction books, and revisionist history books. But honoring the extra-constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state, they strip their shelves of anything that might shed a favorable light on Christianity. Our cherished right to freely express ourselves depends on what we want to say.

Again, those who most vociferously defend freedom of expression are the very ones who label conservative values as "hate." Didn't Jesus say some pretty harsh things to the hypocrites of his time? Contrary to popular belief, today's hypocrites, as well as those from any other period, are found lots of places besides in evangelical churches.

Monday, November 22, 2004

I think I have the vapors!

If thoughts are but a vapor, why do I put such stock in them? Though conceived without form or substance, thoughts take shape and mass when I apply words to them. But what use are those isolated, abstract products of my neural chemical reactions? Like the round stone, the spontaneous fire or the deep lake of ages past, I fail to recognize their potential at first. Perhaps my words serve as playthings, at once, serious and fun: parts of a construction kit, from which I might build useful or fanciful ideas. I gather my ideas, sort them out, and assemble them into concepts. And concepts are the versatile, sturdy stuff that form my body of opinions, beliefs, attitudes, and prejudices. Will they prove useful, or vain? Will they languish in a journal, on a weblog, or combine to form compelling, lifechanging stories? But take care of your words! Unspoken, they are a reservoir of potential power. Held in check and released as needed, they flow out to irrigate the fertile ground of uncounted souls downstream. If the dam breaks, however, they will gush forth, uncontrollable and irretrievable, to wash away the soil and destroy what was sown.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Where’s Scrooge Today?

Though my mother was eighty-nine years young, to my family, her passing last week seemed premature. Having heard horror stories of older people receiving less than stellar medical treatment, we can’t help asking questions about what steps the medical professionals followed during her decline. But all we get is what those in the business call, “damage control.” Before corporate medical care, the kindly country doctor grabbed his black bag containing all the medical tricks known to science, and traveled to his patients’ homes. Poor folks payed him in chickens and cucumbers, expecting--and getting--his best effort. When he guessed wrong and bad things happened, he mourned with the family. To him, they were family. The Hippocratic Oath once expressed the medical profession’s intent to do only good. But that was before “We, The People” began taking our constitutional guarantees for granted. That was before we began expecting more--always more, unaware that expectations seldom deliver what’s promised, their bitter fruit setting our lives on edge. That was before we discovered insurance companies and lawyers, mistaking them for money-trees. That was when avarice was still a sin, and not the crowning virtue it is today. That was when Dickens caricaturized the greedy capitalist in Ebenezer Scrooge. Today, we’re likely to find Scrooge working on an assembly line, driving his kids to soccer practice in his SUV tank, or lounging on his sofa, mesmerized by his home entertainment system. In fact, we’re likely to find today’s Scrooge looking back at us from a mirror. Of course, we could try to make ourselves feel better by continuing to blame the "thems" of big business and fat-cat politicians for today’s mess. But confession heals the soul. Let’s admit “We, The People” have multiplied Scrooge’s greed millions of times. With, or without the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, let’s repent of our societal avarice, one Scrooge at a time.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

It's Harder Than It Looks

I used to fancy myself a writer. Part of my networking included participating in Writing.com, a supportive online community of aspiring writers. I submitted several of my writings, expecting all the authors and editors who frequented those hallowed pages to praise my obvious talent. And, yes, some reviewers said I was really good. So, after buying all new hats, I decided to share my expertise by reviewing others' work. First I learned that lots of unpublished writers are a whole lot better than I am(What did I do with those old hats?). And second, critiquing the newbies proved an exercise in frustration. It wasn't long before I noted a pattern among them: Too often they write like chimps turned loose with a keyboard. by this, i meant, they ofgen rote like this, ant thuoght it was artsie. We have a generation of progressive education's byproducts whose work closely resembles digestion's byproducts because they believe the system's three-fold lie: 1; Everyone has equal talent. 2; Technique and craft should fall a distant second and third place to "creativity." 3; The real world, like sensitive, compassionate, bleeding-heart teachers, gives "Attaboys" for halfarsed work. That fact, and all those folks who believe their desktop publishing software makes them "publishable," conspire to flood traditional publishers with unsolicited or inferior manuscripts. Of course, that's a boon for vanity "publishers." Thousands of poor--and soon to be poorer--souls suffer the delusion that getting "published" makes one a best-selling author and guarantees they'll soon be rolling in dough. They'll be rolling alright; rolling in debt and the pain of disillusionment. Though I didn't fall for the vane appeal of vanity publishing, the disillusionment I experienced through the normal process of rejection taught me several valuable lessons: 1; People who believe they are good authors, good Christians, or just good people, share a common trait: they aren't. Instead, they are impossible to live with. 2; Being good isn't good enough. 3; Striving for greatness is a wonderful aspiration, though usually not realistic. 4; Perfection is as reachable as the end of any other rainbow. 5; It's not what you know, or even who you know. What makes you successful is both of those, plus knowing yourself--including your weaknesses--and believing in your calling and your craft strongly enough to persist despite unimaginable rejection and discouragement.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

New Definitions

Is any high school graduate of the boomer generation not haunted by memories of struggling over endless word definition lists? Those painful experiences likely scarred us for life, and who knows the extent of psychological dysfunction such oppressive “educational” methods inflicted upon us? Never fear! The era of fixed, precise word definitions is ending. Just think: No more long lists to memorize! No more restrictive concepts to cramp our style! If we feel an idea’'s traditional definition is too insensitive, intolerant or irrelevant, we can just redefine it any way we like. Public figures enjoy this new flexibility when weaselling out of misconduct accusations with statements like, “"Well, that depends on how you define (fill the blank)."” Even benign, soft-spoken, mild-mannered social progressives have joined the movement toward conceptual flexibility. By redefining, or castrating, such biased concepts as truth, good, bad, right, wrong, morality, evil, character, community, culture, home, family and marriage they are reinventing society's archaic, unfashionable wheels and setting them on the road to Utopia. Victims of our oppressive history join such social progressives, screaming from their pauper's graves for more sensitive, tolerant and relevant social definitions. The quest to remedy that intolerable intolerance began over forty years ago, when our government educational establishment, along with the more progressive private schools and many of the old-line religious denominations, began realigning their philosophies and teaching their constituents to be more sensitive and tolerant. And look at our progress! Though right-wing extremists try to argue against the benefits we've reaped from our social revolution, today's more compassionate, sensitive and tolerant culture benefits everyone. Religious fundamentalists enjoy pointing out the few insignificant statistical anomalies such as single-parent, broken and non-traditional families and the paltry number of resulting dysfunctional and violent relationships. But they won't mention how resilient the affected children can be. After all, the state doesn't mind placing them with the child-welfare system or relegating them to the loving hands of our clean, safe, well managed prison system. Our legislators are wrestling with the Federal Marriage amendment. Its passage would do irreversible harm to the progressive social climate we've tried so hard to implement. And that just wouldn't be fair!

Saturday, November 13, 2004

"No Man is an Island"

John Donne sermonized, "No man is an island. No one is self-sufficient; everyone relies on others." Nowadays, you don't often hear that quote. It flies in the face of modern "reason." Maybe our rugged individualism started with the self-reliant spirit that enabled pioneers to populate North America. And maybe that is a fiction.
A little time-travelin' music, maestro.
Let's travel back in the collective history of our minds; how's that for a touchy-feely, new-age term, "collective history," cool, huh? Anyway, imagine yourself as a pioneer, camping for the night. Stand next to your covered wagon, after you've unhitched and grazed your mules, of course. Take a look around, and what do you see? Wagons are parked in a circle, portable walls for the portable community. But you're not interested in others' wagons. You watch the folks, hurrying around near their own wagons, forming hunting parties, preparing meals, repairing their wagons and tack, and trying to rein in their playing children. Do you see isolated people, rugged individuals refusing help? Not likely! The fabled, pioneer spirit of Hollywood westerns and pulp novels didn't exist among the American pioneers who struggled each day for survival. And the real cowboys didn't ride out alone with six-shooters slung low on their hips, but loaded their horses with the tools of their trade and rode in teams. The people of the old west were skilled at plying their trades, but depended upon each other for survival.
We, the neurotics!
No wonder "we the people" are collectively so screwed up! Our collective, revisionist history, or pop-culture base, is pure fiction. We need help, but won't admit it. Why? Because we are a culture of perfect people--or should be, according to the Tube and trendy magazines. Eventually, our--your--personal demons will claw their way through your superficial shell of respectability. Eventually, personal issues will arise that bravado won't cover and psychobabble slogans won't assuage. The imagined, self-sufficient you will become the isolated, vulnerable you, and if you can afford it, you will secretly join the quest of millions to find "professional help." So, what do you look for in "professional help" when you've reached the end of yourself? The best therapists don't tell you what to do about a problem; advice--isolated and without probing--is worth little, no matter the price. Like smoke, it fogs your vision and burns the eyes of your soul. The best therapists help cut you open, revealing inner issues that need attention. The best therapists can help you heal. But, what if you can't afford "professional help," or have already spent a fortune on it, and found no relief? There seems no option but to suffer your demons' pitiless onslaught, acting out where you can, or retreating inside to a fetal position, figuratively sucking your thumb.
Therapy you can't afford to pass up.
The best therapist of all, the chief soul-surgeon, is God's Word, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Heb 4:12 NASB) God's word will cut you open to expose your carefully hidden "issues," the source of your infection, and help you excise the malignant pustule; that is the only cure. If you need more help, spiritual, God-honoring counselors with the pastor's gift will ably assist in the surgery. Such therapy requires--shudder--yielding yourself to God's healing, allowing him to place your self-sufficient pride on Christ's rough, wooden cross, and enduring the agony of its reluctant death. But for writers--those who must write to go on living, who write whether or not they make a cent on it--God has another able assistant. Since he knew we would be the most vulnerable of patients, the least likely to survive his surgery, he blessed us with a passion for self-expression and gave us the process of writing fiction and poetry. The blood produced by our surgery flows onto blank pages as words forming thoughts, thoughts forming ideas, ideas that form healing stories. We are the fortunate ones. God doesn't strap us to an operating table to passively endure the surgery. Rather, he straps us to a tablet, typewriter, or keyboard, and frees our minds and fingers while he cuts deeply but theraputically. So, why do we strive to sell the products of our soul-surgery to a critical and profane public? Is it because of some hidden, masochistic bend within? Perhaps. But if they're sucker enough to buy our stuff it sure helps to pay the bills. And maybe, just maybe, our process of healing will point the way for someone else.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The "Literary Fiction" Question

I think Tricia Goyer, along with Melody Carlson, have hit upon the distinction between literary and genre writing; a distinction I've been chasing for months. To quote Tricia's Writing Quote of the Day: November 12, 2004 "This is the oldest rule, but still true today write what you know. But don’t limit that to what you know in your head. Write about what you know in your heart things you’ve lived and felt and experienced. Sometimes it’s our biggest life challenges that produce our best writing. And, if nothing else, it’s cheap therapy. But, honestly, I believe God can use our toughest trials to communicate from the deep places of our souls to others." –Melody Carlson To read the complete article on Melody’s writing tips, go to: http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/cms_content?page=815162%20&sp=72136 Tricia’s Thoughts: Write what you know . . . in your heart. I like that. Dig into those dark places. Those bright spots too. Remember your emotions and feelings when going through specific situations--the ones that really stand out in your mind, then transfer those feelings onto the page. No two of us will deal with the same circumstances in life. Yet we all understand pain, joy, fear, hope. And it’s at these levels that we connect, and our writing will transform from mere words on the page to experiences that touch hearts. Happy Writing! Tricia Goyer www.thegoyers.com The label, "Literary Fiction," might be a misnomer. From what I've read on "literary" web pages, the term seems to imply the more classic approach to fiction where one might find chapters of pre-history, pages of narration and multiplied paragraphs of detailed description; where plot and associated action supports the characters, rather than the other way around. I dream of writing about people changed by circumstances. For that to happen, the character must be little more than a player, overtaken by a crisis that threatens her personal, status quo. The key there is "personal." I suspect most of us don't even know what that is UNTIL it is threatened. As Tricia said, "Dig into those dark places. Those bright spots too." Though she referred to the author's personal dark and bright places, fictional characters must also possess them. The only way to produce authentic, honest characterizations is to follow Tricia's advice of mining both the coal and the gold from the raw ore deep within. Faith in Fiction, David Long's blog, pursued the issue of stakes vs. theme vs. agenda vs. conflict a few weeks ago. Try this on for size: From that discussion I postulated that for a story to happen, a threat to the characters' needs must arise. The story's theme reflects the nature of those threats, and the world view from which the characters work to deal with them. Those are the story's corporate stakes, and genre fiction deals at least with them. Those stakes produce the characters' agendas, which fuel the action that resolves the conflict. The distinction in literary fiction is when the main characters undergo threats--either internal or external--to their personal, often unconscious, needs. Their individual world views guide their reactions to the threats and weave the story's tapestry of themes. The interaction between those themes and the story's stakes produce the various characters' agendas--usually reflecting the author's ideological agenda. Conflicts appear likely to thwart those agendas--either between characters, or a conflict arising from an external threat and the characters' corporate agendas. The last element is Resolution. Whether the various agendas succeed or fail, the author must resolve the conflict in the end. It's as simple as that. (Yeah, right)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Who says I'm normal?!

Pop culture views superficial imperfections as glaring faults, and markets catalogs full of remedies to correct them. That attitude fuels our dependence on psychoanalysis and psychoactive drugs that level our extremes, mollify our temperaments and weaken our wills. It substitutes "normality" for "character." Is that why much of today's fiction is so weak. Our heroes are largely ideal people with a few carefully inserted quirks to make them seem real. And our villains are evil personified with the occasional redeeming trait ... also to make them seem real. The operative term on both sides is, "seem." I dream of creating imperfect characters whose values and beliefs turn them into either heroes or villains. In other words, what single change in Hitler's character would have made him a savior instead of a savage? Wouldn't THAT make an interesting study?! Okay, confession time: I use Prozac. If that makes me a hypocrite, fine! Count that as a personality glitch that makes me real. If I didn't use it, I'd spend my days curled up in bed, sucking my thumb(slight exaggeration for effect). That fact forces an internal conflict: As a Christian, I believe God's personal promises, the bottom line of which is, for me, "God's doesn't make junk." Yet, when I don't take my meds, I'm virtually dysfunctional. I had to suffer a heart attack to prove that. My rationale to resolve the conflict? God allowed me to suffer disabling issues, then gave me the means to overcome them, so I could possess the rare gift of empathy. The pills I have to take continually remind me of my weakness, preventing my latent pride from rising up like a cobra from a basket For that, I praise him! Pride is one cobra that will, eventually, bite. Jim Thompson -- Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1Pe 1:3)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Thoughts about creative writing

Creative writing is as much craft as art, and as much art as craft. The art consists of imagination and self knowledge. Most writers already have an overactive imagination. Many, to the point that their imaginative writings are about as coherent as a monkey would be, playing with a keyboard. Self knowledge is harder to come by. Without it, we have no framework on which to hang our imagination. It's like a Christmas tree. The tree itself, sitting in the middle of the living room without decorations, is beautiful but plain; not very exciting. The decorations without the tree are flashy, but lying in a box or on the floor, they are entirely without purpose. Combine the two and you have a thing of beauty. The tree, like self knowledge, provides structure and symmetry for the sparkle and flash of imagination. The craft of writing is another thing entirely. Journalists by the tens of thousands around the world do a credible job of reporting using the five "Ws": Who, What, When, Where, and Why. But without a murder or a kidnaping to report, it's all academic. The same goes for technical writers. Give them some information to convey, and they can do a great job of writing. But what do all those words tell us about the person writing them? Simply combining imagination and self knowledge does not guarantee excellent, or marketable, creative writing. The truly great creative writer has to be a world-class liar. She has to be able to spin a convincing whopper with no internal contradictions. That means making a fantastic yarn plausible. That means making it taste the same throughout all its layers, like an onion. And yes, well-written fiction has layers. Imagine a pool of water, smooth as glass. Drop in a pebble, and you have concentric ripples centered on where the pebble went in. Now, throw in two pebbles. The concentric ripples from each pebble will intersect those from the other pebble, forming a complex pattern. Now, throw in three, then four, then six pebbles. The pattern of those intersecting ripples will reach a complexity almost beyond imagination. Each of those pebbles is a character or a plot element. If you had to keep track of each intersection of each ripple of each character and plot element, you'd go bonkers trying and still not catch them all. And even if you could, you'd loose your readers in short order. This is where the art and the craft of creative writing tie together. The story's overall impression, not capturing the intricacy of minute detail, is where its beauty lies. The story needs enough detail to seem real, and that detail must be consistent enough to seem authentic, but the key to its success lies in furnishing enough, but not too much. To achieve that end, one must step back from the work long enough to gain a fresh perspective. Then, read it anew with openness to change. It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules. After he has learned, by their guidance, to write plain English adequate for everyday uses, let him look, for the secrets of style, to the study of the masters of literature. From the Introduction to William Strunk’s The Elements of Style. Remember, your imagination is your servant, not the other way around. Crack the whips of structure and style, to make your imagination express its dark stories in beautiful prose. That doesn't happen automatically.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Judgment of Saint George

The Judgment of Saint George
Confession time: I am conservative. By some definitions, I may even be a conservative. And yes, I proudly confess to voting for President Bush.
Without knowing him personally, my impression is that he is a decent, plain spoken--but passionate--man with above average--but not exceptional--intelligence, and about as honest as we're likely to find in national politics.
Does that qualify him for the Oval Office? Apparently so.
Does that qualify him for Canonization? On listening to several conservative commentators, especially those of the Evangelical Christian establishment, apparently so. And therein lies my concern.
Evangelical Christians formed one of the most cohesive voting blocks for President Bush. But we can be a fickle bunch. For example: remember when Amy Grant went through her divorce? One minute she was the apple of our collective eye. The next minute, we dropped her like an apple eaten by worms. So easily, we forget how vulnerable we--that's each and every one of us--are to stumbling morally. But while conveniently suffering temporary amnesia, we castigate our brethren who seem to have stumbled.
Saint George, Beware!
When President Bush's halo slips and he compromises one of our sanctified cows, how will we Evangelical Christians react? Based on our history, I have no question that reaction will be a knee-jerk condemnation.
Rather than prove to our critics once again how narrow and judgmental we can be, why not learn from the example of the Author and Finisher of our faith. When Yeshua stood before a mock trial, his close friend, Simon-Peter, denied him three times, yet our Savior forgave him at the first opportunity. When the Roman soldiers flayed, and beat him beyond recognition, rammed nails through his wrists and ankles, then jeered when they hoisted his naked body up for display, what were Yeshua's words? "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Little Christs?
We claim to be little Christs, believing and following his teachings, and accepting his blood-sacrifice for our sins, yet we cop the plea of human frailty when we stubbornly refuse to follow his example of forgiveness. How can we wonder why so many refuse to accept our Savior, while laughing at our foolishness? How can we expect to escape judgment for the millions of souls our arrogant, worldly attitudes have alienated?
It's time, dear brethren, to examine ourselves. It's time to bow low to the ground and beg the forgiveness of those we have unrighteously judged. Before telling others to repent, it's time we ourselves repented.

Friday, November 05, 2004

On What Should We Stand?

The following is my entry to the Power of Purpose contest that concluded in August, 2004:
On What Should We Stand?
My name could draw blank stares. My occupation could dazzle no one. My purpose could change the world. Did someone say, “What’s all this hifalutin talk about purpose? It’s all I can do to keep food on the table and shoes on the kids’ feet.” So, there you have it: Survival, personally and for one’s family, drives all of us. Or does it? Science--that is, evolutionary theoreticians--tells us we’re nothing more than highly-evolved animals perched atop the evolutionary ladder. If we are, in fact, over-achieving animals, our driving force should be that of all other animals, albeit highly-evolved: the species, family and individual survival instinct. Such a conclusion leaves an unsettling question: When forced to decide between denying our beliefs or facing torture and death for ourselves and our families, why do we lofty, evolutionary ladder-perching animals, ever choose suffering over security? Doesn’t our tendency to value fidelity over survival seem to deny the presumed, highly-evolved survival instinct? That it does, unless said survival instinct views ideological compromise a greater threat than extinction. But if that were the case, wouldn’t the survival instinct contradict its own definition? Don’t take this too hard, scientists, but you’ve leaned your evolutionary ladder on the thin air of invalid assumptions, with its bottom-half stuck in muddy, Popular Scientific rationale. Part of the blame for that tenuous reasoning falls on two ideas that we generally misunderstand: instinct and purpose. Rather than being near-synonyms, they are outright contradictions. One of the many inferred meanings of purpose is: “A characteristically human motivation that counters instinct.” Whether for good, or for ill, a conscious sense of purpose separates us from the rest of creation.
A Marriage of Convenience
Society has witnessed the unlikely wedding of its academic establishment and its mass-communications industry. The happy couple is currently populating our schools and TV sets with their offspring: Biased Academic Entertainment, Amusing Editorialized Journalism, and Socially Irresponsible Programming. All three precocious children favor their parents’ aversion towards value-judgments. We’ve all heard well-meaning teachers, psychologists, and every other -ologist imaginable, say, “You shouldn’t say should or shouldn’t,” or some other antinomian tripe. An alarming number of our youth’s teachers and counselors refuse to validate any moral standard for fear of appearing moralistic, or worse yet, religious(perish the thought). Their hype calls it, “Values-Neutral Education,” saying it allows children to discover their own, personal values. If they are right--though by their stated beliefs they can be neither right nor wrong--there would be no difference between Mother Teresa’s purpose, and that of terrorists. They’re both purpose-driven. They’re both extreme in their religious or ideological adherence. And they’ve both changed the world in that pursuit. Yes, that claim is ridiculous, but unimpeded by a moral code, that kernel of reasoning grows inexorably to extremes. So we face a quandary: If humanity is indeed purpose-driven, what standard should govern that purpose? As painful as it must seem to you, O amoral academia, this calls, not for societal values-neutrality, but for personal values-judgment. History has validated, despite wars and genocide: Humanity’s highest aspiration is betterment, while that of the animal kingdom is survival. As lofty as that sounds, everyone seems to have different, often conflicting, standards of what constitutes a better condition. While reflecting on that ambiguity, a discerning sage once said, “HELP SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING ” Doing something requires taking a stand, but on what should we stand? All the great religions, ideologies and institutions bear certain similarities, one of which is the preemptive value of human life, and its corollary, quality of life. But these values are not as simple, or obvious, as they might seem. Intellectuals have written volumes to cover their exigencies and ramifications; dry, academic tomes of interest only to other sympathetic intellectuals, the authors’ colleagues, and their mothers. In all the millions of words written to “encapsulate” these values, is there no universal moral filter that all reasonable people might accept? Is there not some kind of “Golden Rule” through which humanity might qualify its manifold contradictory aspirations?
As a matter of fact, there is
While all the world’s great religions teach a version of this “Golden Rule,” Christians harken to Jesus’ words in Luke 6:31 of their New Testament. The New American Standard Bible* translates it: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” What a simple code What a seemingly impossible ideal for the human family to attain But, why not have our governments pass laws dictating the Golden Rule? That’s a great idea, and there’s only one slight wrinkle we’d have to iron out: Passing such laws may give the legislators purposeful feelings and job security, but if the Golden Rule is not written on individual hearts, history has shown legislation will never put it there. “Turn to Religion, O man, and thou shalt find the Bounty of Goodness.” Okay, it’s not a quote from scripture, but it sounds nice, doesn’t it? Religionists have pounded their pulpits with some version of that message since a certain couple failed to walk away from a certain serpent. Yet, religion’s history reveals anything but applying the Golden Rule to its purposes. “Give me one generation of youth, and I will transform the entire world.” Comrade Lenin’s higher purpose has already peaked, but where is the transformation? “Education holds the key to change Give our schools enough money to fulfill their purpose, and the ghettos will turn to gardens; violence will vanish.” In this Values-Neutral academic environment, does school write anything but facts on our kids’ minds? “We have but to push the boundaries of our scientific knowledge ever further, until we know all there is. Then we shall be as gods.” Haven’t you noticed, O serpent, that science’s noble purpose has produced myriad ingenious death-machines, along with sundry other, helpful inventions? “The Truth is out there.” Great sound-bite for an FBI agent regardless what letter he assigns to his files, but since religion, politics, education and science have all failed to implement the Golden Rule, how can humanity survive its apparent purpose of extinction? All of these purposeful institutions and endeavors are products of our highly-evolved, innately destructive human nature. The only purpose contrary to that, is the only purpose outside human nature: That of our non-religious, non-political, non-educational, non-scientific, cognitive, infinite, loving, redemptive and personal Creator. He is the Jews’ Messiah, the Gentiles’ Christ, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, before whom every knee shall one day bow in worship. He is the Solid Rock on which we must stand to reach any purpose worthy of His unique creation. * Scripture quotation taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Re: F*i*F post for 11/03

Dave voiced concern that Faith in Fiction might become nothing more than an echo chamber where like-minded writers can find affirmation. Here's another analogy for in-bred exchanges: When you step between two mirrors, you see yourself reflected over and over again in an apparently infinite corridor. Cool illusion, but what does it do but give you, the viewer, a false sense of depth. Modify that illustration to a ruby cylinder with perfectly parallel ends coated to slightly different degrees of reflection. Introduce light into that cylinder and it bounces between the two ends until it escapes through one end as a coherent beam of light--a lazer beam. Depending upon the beam's characteristics, it can destroy or heal. What one commentator considers an echo-chamber, another might see as a lazer. Personally, I see F*i*F as a ruby cylinder with light bouncing madly between reflective ends. Will the resulting projection illuminate, or burn? Jim

Self-Destruct Mode

In today's F*i*F posting, Dave effectively pointed out the fact that Christian writers lack credibility in the literary world partly because we write from an obvious agenda. That's called following the Great Commission using the gift we possess. How we use it is another story. Missions aren't unique to Christian writers. Everyone, that is, every single writer worthy of publishing holds a worldview based on their beliefs--even if their belief is in the nonexistence of something or someone. Secularistic authors propagate their beliefs through their writing as consistantly as do Christians, though most are loath to admit it. So, what's the diff? The issue of Christian writers being trivialized springs from the secularistic worldview that pervades our society--tragically, even the evangelical minority! We call CBA works "predictable" because the Christian worldview is narrower than the secular worldview. We look to Christ, whereas they chase phantom saviors. We've come to expect better quality, more entertaining stuff from the world because they don't have to try as hard to vary their message. By nature, their message is as varied as their gods, and by their standard, "variety is the spice of life." Christians know that is a lie! We are the salt of the earth, the true spice of life. When we convey our redemptive message as mediocre pablum, in a significant way, we have blasphemed our God. Yet, to be included in the tent of "Christian" publishers, that's what we have to do. It's as if the CBA industry itself believes the lie that people of faith can't handle the toughest social problems, even though the object of their faith offers the only viable solution.