Monday, June 29, 2015

Long View, Short Sight

This past week, I had several opportunities to talk to people who were discouraged. Some were troubled by recent world events, and others more concerned with personal matters. I think we can all sympathize with how they're feeling. Sometimes life's just plain hard, and it's easy to get wrapped up in the problems and allow the magnitude of our worry to consume us. In doing so, however, we may take on responsibilities that God never intended us to have, often feeling crushed under the burden.

A careful search of Scripture demonstrates that the antidote to this problem is in practicing Long View and Short Sight. 

Long View

Many people who invest significant amounts of time watching the news, keeping current with political trends, and investing major amounts of emotional energy in society's ebb and flow feel that what they are doing is important. Many of them, however, become discouraged by what they see, and rightly so. The world's wracked by sin and morally adrift. 

To those discouraged by world events, I encourage you to mediate on the Long View. 

Consider the arc of history, from creation until now. Societies grow and change. Churches bloom and wither. Governments rise and fall. Cherished values have their moment in the sun, only to be tossed aside in favor of something else. 

Temporary popularity of biblical morals is no more a victory for God than temporary unpopularity is a loss. Through every rise and fall, Jehovah still reigns, secure and unchanging.
Our little systems have their day; 
They have their day and cease to be:
 They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they. 
(Tennyson, In Memoriam A.H.H.)
"The arc of history is long," says Russell Moore, riffing on an old quote, "but it bends toward Jesus." 

Where we live along that arc is unknown to us, but we can rest assured that God is bending the curve to suit his will. 

Short Sight

It's important to remember that as Christians, our citizenship is in heaven, not on earth; and as citizens of heaven, we've been given specific instructions regarding how we are to invest our energies. Most of these tasks are couched in terms of the immediate: ask for daily bread; pray for grace in time of needRejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances. Seek God now; show kindness to the poorshare the Gospellove God and love your neighbor

Let's be sure we're not so busy hand-flapping over Long View events that we neglect the daily tasks God's given us. 

Not that the Long View events aren't to concern us, but we need to put them into proper perspective. In doing so, we can commit them to the providence of God through prayer as we seek strength for our daily work. 

After all, it's only through these "short-sighted" efforts that we can have any real impact on the Long View. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Proper Care and Feeding of Writers

If you've decided to care for a writer of your very own, allow me to congratulate you. You've taken on a noble task, and the world owes you a debt. After all, without proper care and support, few writers would accomplish anything.

Although writers come from all walks of life, encompass all personality types, and run the gamut of body types, religious beliefs, political opinions, and shoe sizes, it's almost guaranteed that your writer struggles with the same core issues as all other writers. 

The Proper Care and Feeding of Writers

Tip One: Expect your writer to keep to a strict schedule. The evidence is overwhelming: creative inspiration is largely a myth, and writers who keep to a regular writing routine accomplish more than those who only work when "inspired." Because of this, expect your writer to adhere to a strict schedule. 

Just as you wouldn't expect your brother-in-law to find it easy to brush off a morning at the office to pick you up from the airport, don't expect your writer to find it easy either, even if he works from home. 

Especially if he works from home. It's likely that your writer works on spec, not salary; and he never knows how many drafts he'll have to write before he gets paid. That makes his time even more precious. 

Bottom line: If your writer does not work, he will not eat. Worse, he knows that even if he does work, he still may not eat. So respect his schedule. If he says he writes every morning from 8:00-11:00, consider those hours sacred. 

Tip Two: Don't expect your writer to keep to a strict schedule. Although creative inspiration is largely a myth, that doesn't mean the muses never speak. Getting caught up in the whirlpool of creative inspiration is a heady and dizzying experience, and your writer knows that once she's sucked in, it's best to ride the current until it ebbs.

Once surrendered to the bliss of creative flow, your writer will not notice the passage of time. She will forget not only mealtimes but perhaps even the existence of food itself. She'll clamp her hands to the keyboard, tuck her chin to her chest, and write the hours away while sunlight inches across the wall, shadows lengthen, the moon appears, kingdoms rise and fall, and her coffee cools in her mug--flat and undrunk.

Bottom line: If your writer doesn't take advantage of these creative bursts, she runs the risk of hitting a creative roadblock. So respect her need to blow off her schedule occasionally. If it means that she misses a dinner or cancels a coffee date, just consider it the price you have to pay for being friends with a creative. 

Tip Three: Ask your writer what he's working on. This shows a pleasing level of interest in his life's work and provides him with an opportunity to let off intellectual steam, float new ideas, show off his research, and give voice to the topic that's been his mental obsession for weeks/months/years.  

Bottom line: Everyone needs a safe space to vent ideas. Order a coffee, sit back, and prepare to let him ramble indefinitely. Prove yourself a trusted listener, appreciative audience, and encouraging critic, and he'll love you forever. 

Tip Four: Don't ever ask your writer what she's working on. Most writers are sensitive about unpublished work. Perhaps overly-sensitive. But there are reasons. 1) No matter how much work she invests, the manuscript might always come to nothing. Every time someone asks "What ever happened to that book you were writing about the personality typing of dolphins?" she will have to say, "I never finished it," or "My editor said that readers would like it, but publishers wouldn't, so who even knows what that means?" or "Sixty publishers have rejected it so far--but I swear it's really good!" 2) New work is terrifying and almost impossible to talk about without sounding like an idiot. 

Bottom line: Sometimes it's best just not to ask. 

Tip Five: Know when to step in. Occasionally, your writer will need to be talked down off the ledge. It will be up to you to know when to hide the laptop battery and take your writer for a walk; to understand when to offer stern words of edification and when to offer a shoulder to cry on (or to punch); to ensure that after a bad writing session, your writer doesn't take an actual flame thrower to the laptop. 

Bottom line: There's a fine line between creativity and insanity. If you suspect that your writer's toeing the line, don't be afraid to step in.

Tip Six: Back off. Just because someone's creative doesn't mean she's crazy. Respect your writer's need to indulge her creative process; to be equally emotional about success and failure; to talk to herself; to talk to her book; to talk to the wall. These behaviors are worrisome, but they're not necessarily signs of a tipping mind.

Bottom line: We're all a bit quirky. Because writers tend to spend more time alone than others, their quirks sometimes become magnified. 

I know one writer who routinely works out bits of dialogue while pacing back and forth in her driveway, in full view of God and all her neighbors. 

And she's fine. I have it on good authority.

* * * *

The Actual Bottom Line: While caring for a writer can sometimes be a grinding, emotionally-messy task, it also carries great rewards. You have the comfort of knowing that due to your care, the world has the chance of being blessed with one more delight, one more diversion, one more message, one more masterpiece.

And we love you for that. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Out of Context

Have you ever considered the fact that certain song lyrics, when heard out of context, actually sound like the titles of horror films?

"The Hills Are Alive"

"Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend"

"The Night Has a Thousand Eyes"

Those are just three examples. I'm sure there are more.

But that's not the point.

The point is that these lyrics come from songs so far removed from the horror genre that it's laughable to think of them in that context; and yet, without a working knowledge of these songs, you really would have no idea based on these little snippets that they were never intended to be scary. 

Something similar happens when people with little knowledge of the Bible mine its text to support their own agendas. They start with their premise already worked out, and then sift through the text looking for verses to shoehorn into their arguments. 

Without examining each passage's context--without considering who's talking, whom he's talking to, and what he's talking about--without regarding the literal reading of the text in light of the historical context, the grammar of the original language, the literary genre of the book, and how the interpretation fits in balance with the rest of Scripture, there really is no telling what someone will come up with.

The bottom line is that if you don't consider the context, you really can convince yourself that the Bible says almost anything; and if you're a Christian not properly grounded in the Word, you could be the next one taken in by heresy.  

And that's really scary. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

On Handling Rejection

Someone who knows about my publishing struggles asked recently how I handle rejection so gracefully. I found this question hilarious because in truth, I don't always handle it well.

Any time some of my work is rejected, I face a mini emotional crisis. (And let's be clear: this happens a lot. For every one thousand words I've published, I've written about fifteen thousand unpublished ones.) Rejection hurts, and there isn't really any way to keep it from hurting. 

There will probably always be a sting, but I've found that unless I pick my wounds, they tend to heal without festering. So I mope for a few minutes, then switch on the coffee pot, power up my laptop, and crank out a few thousands words just to keep my hand in. 

I think the process of recovery is aided by the fact that I do not consider my self-worth to be based on my writing, nor do I gauge my overall success in life by the state of my career. 

This is not true for many Americans, however. According to a study by the University of Phoenix, nearly half of all Americans report that career success contributes "equally or more" to self-worth than other factors, including family and personal lives. 


In a way, though, these numbers make sense. As ones created in God's image, we've been designed to work and enjoy working; however, because sin has tarnished the image of God in us, we're also capable of twisting this enjoyment into something it was never intended to be: the basis of our self-worth.

Real joy and fulfillment in work come as a natural outflow of God working through the gifts he's given, rather than us working to prove ourselves to him or the world. Timothy Keller is excellent on this point:
While ancient monks may have sought salvation through religious works, many modern people seek a kind of salvation--self-esteem and self-worth--from career success. ...But the gospel frees us from the relentless pressure of having to prove ourselves and secure our identity through work, for we are already proven and secure. ...All work now becomes a way to love the God who saved us freely; and by extension, a way to love our neighbor. (Every Good Endeavor)
God gave me the desire to write, and as I've learned to see the craft as a way to love God and serve my neighbor, I've become happier in the work itself and decidedly less mopey when I don't "succeed." 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Christian Cop Out #4 - "This is just how God made me."

Welcome to a series highlighting one of the most offensive trends in modern Christianity. My purpose is not to make us all doubt the sincerity of the people around us, but to encourage us to examine ourselves and ensure that we're not the offenders. Psalm 139:23.

Christian Cop Out #4 - "This is just how God made me."

Yes, God made each of us individuals. We're potent blends of gifts, flaws, talents, and vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, there seems to be a real human pattern of taking personal credit for our strengths and blaming God for our weaknesses.

Along with Lady Gaga, we stomp our feet and belt out the chorus:
I'm beautiful in my way
'Cause God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way
Don't hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you're set
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way.
Come, now.

Are we really letting a pop star in a meat dress provide the basis for understanding human existence and behavior? Something tells me we're better than that, yet some of us have adopted the mindset that it's somehow acceptable to make our flaws God's fault.

I know I acted like a jerk, but this is just who I am. You know that. Stop being so sensitive. 

I'm sorry I cheated on you. I wish I could be more faithful, but this is the way God made me. If you have a problem, take it up with him.

Don't like my hot temper? Too bad. I was born this way. 


God shaped your form and gave you life. He stands ready to teach, mold, and guide you as you submit to his Spirit and acknowledge truth (the first and most basic truth being that you are a sinner in need of grace). He desires to strengthen the weak, lift up the fallen, pull the grieving from the depths of their suffering, and make the crooked straight and the rough places plain.

So stop using God as the excuse for bad behavior. Nobody's buying it but you.

Instead, admit you're wrong and ask for strength to change.