Wednesday, August 31, 2016

This Is For All Of Us

I used to have the idea that most people in the United States, or at least my personal area of the United States, knew who God was. Had a basic understanding of what Christianity teaches, whether they believed it or not. Knew who we mean when we say "Jesus Christ."
I think it's the most innocent lies that are the most dangerous. This one, born of misunderstanding and naiveté, is as ugly and insidious as a false oath or a dishonest life. It lulls one to sleep. It gives an excuse for apathy and disinterest, a protection against the idea that because of my silence, because of my fear, people I am talking to are lost in as much darkness as a tribesman in the Congo or a child in the Orient. 

There are people in Central Oregon, in our own backyard, who have no idea what the gospel means. Even if they have heard of Jesus, sometimes even if they've been to church, they don't understand God's love. They see Christians as moral policemen, in the world to hand out speeding tickets for envy, or demand prison sentences for lust.
They are lost, broken, and alone, and unless we are there for them, they may never hear the truth, or understand that God loves them. They move in circles we never come in contact with, they do things we'd never dream of engaging in, and we never see them, never speak to them. They might as well be on the other side of the world.
And some of them are children. Eight-year-olds whose parents are separating, who think God is punishing them for a lie they told last week. Six-year-olds wondering where God is while their father goes to prison. Thirteen-year-olds looking for love in sex and fantasies. They have no one to answer their questions, no one to teach them the truth, no one to tell them Jesus loves them more than anyone they've ever known.
There are several ways to reach these kids. One is to participate in a Good News club. One afternoon a week, for around an hour, you teach Bible lessons to children in local schools. If there's not already a club at a time that works for you, you can start your own. The ministry is already well-established in the area. all the organizational infra-structure is in place. The lessons are ready to be learned and taught, the visual aids printed, the notes taken. The only thing missing is people to teach.

It does not matter if you are “called” or feel like Good News Club is “your ministry.” If you wait for the perfect ministry to fall in your lap, something that fits your natural inclinations and makes you feel good about yourself, you will waste your life in the sanitized bubble of your own structured life, never interacting with the broken and needy. 
Very few of us are naturally good at public speaking, or teaching concise and applicable Bible lessons, or answering hard questions from hurting children. But that should not stop us from doing it anyway. Even if you don’t have medical training, would you still stop to help a bleeding, hurting person by the side of the road? Imagine that man died because another person refused to try to stop the bleeding? Would you accept the argument: “I didn’t help because I’m not good at stopping bleeding. I don’t know how to do it as well as a doctor would.” It isn't any better if you're saying that you're not good at teaching, or you can't answer questions as well as a pastor would.
We know that is a weak and cowardly excuse. I've been there. I've used those excuses. I'm not good at teaching, I don't know what to say to hard questions, I don't naturally interact well with elementary school age children. I've used those things as excuses to avoid getting involved.
But those are lies and they keep us from helping the needy. They stop us from doing the job in front of us.
Teaching Bible lessons to children is not unreasonably hard. If you’re not good at it, learn. If it’s hard for you, push past it. If you feel like you’re not the right person for the job, do it anyway. Stop making excuses for yourself, building weak walls between yourself and the hurting and broken. They need you. They need us.

 Look at your life. Find the time to make a difference. Whether it's with CEF's Good News clubs or some other ministry, get out there and interact. Be on the front lines. Reject the excuses, the lies, and the temptation to stay comfortable. 
Don't wait for the perfect moment to act. That moment is now.

To get involved with Good News clubs in Central Oregon, call the CEF office at (541)365-2233. Or find other ministries, other outreaches, or after school programs. They're out there and they need you.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

I don't know Jesus

Saying I know him is like saying I know the sky. I can read about him, like I can look up. But I don’t understand him any more than I understand what I see when I see a distant, blue curtain. I know about him, just like I know about the stars and the planets and the clouds, but there is so much more, and I can never learn as much as I think I should learn. 

There’s this thought, in my head, kind of all the time, that I need to get to know him, that sometime (sometime more convenient, when I’m not busy) I should apply myself, with prayer and fasting, or maybe even just focused thought, or a pilgrimage, or something, to get to know Jesus really well and then I would have earned a close knowledge of Jesus. Like knowing him is a prize for best behavior.

Maybe no one can really know Jesus, he’s too big for a person to get their head around, like the sky. He seems bigger on the inside than the outside, like the garden in The Last Battle. On the surface it’s all there, but when I try to see past it, to understand him as a person the way I get inside the heads of characters in stories, or the way I analyze other people, figure out their motivations, their values, something goes wrong. My mind feels like the parts are floating apart. I don’t know who he is. Something superhuman, something trans-human. Incomprehensible. 

But I want to know him like I know my friends. I want to know what he wants, what he’s going to do next, what he likes. Like my husband, my sister, my buddies. I want to walk around with him, talk to him, hear his voice in my ears, as sure and certain as I smell smoke or taste water or touch the ground. 
Then, I think of showing him what I’m working on or telling him what I think and suddenly I decide I don’t want that after all. That sounds too close and too personal. Too invasive. I want, after all, to run my own life. I have always wanted that. Even more than running my own life, I want to run my own thoughts. I want to decide, what I believe, what I think, what I am going to do or not do about it. Is that wrong? Am I capable of not wanting that? Maybe it’s a problem, maybe that’s why I don’t deserve to know Jesus.

I see other people that seem like they know Jesus. Maybe they do know him better than I do. Maybe they just pretend they do. Do they really understand him? Maybe they’ve done the prayer and fasting thing and earned their brownie points, earned a voice in their head or an angel on their shoulder, a direct communication line with Heaven that I think I want. I say I think I want it, because even in my best thoughts there is a part of me being distant and self-aware, or thinking about how this, this particular feeling or thought of piety, is surely making me more worthy of knowing Jesus. Even now, I am aware of how I sound, how I am going to look, what people are going to think. (That I’m crazy? That I’m being transparent, or honest? That I’m obviously not a Christian? Because real Christians know Jesus? Or that I’m not putting the effort into my faith that I should?) 

Maybe that’s why I don’t deserve to know Jesus. I shouldn’t give a damn what they think. (Maybe it’s the swearing. Why I don’t deserve to know Jesus.)

But it’s so true, I don’t deserve to know Jesus at all. I’m a self-satisfied beast. I like to think of myself as very intellectual and superior, because I ask a lot of questions. But as I go about questioning everything, sometimes I’m not sure whether I doubt because I love truth, or I doubt because I love to doubt.

I don’t even know myself, and I certainly don’t know Jesus. Nor do I deserve to. 
Yet he knows me.

There’s no good reason to know that, no explanation of it (which I hate), it’s a mysterious, intangible thing that isn’t even corporeal enough to be called a feeling but I know that despite my own pathetic, narcissistic, selfish soul, God has loved me enough to know me. And I? I haven’t put in any particular effort to know him back. Nothing very difficult, anyway. Nothing like what he went through to know me. I see myself and I see nothing worth knowing, and even thinking that, I have a smug feeling, because I’ve heard that one should see one’s self as worthless. What in me did God find that was worth giving everything for? God must know of something beautiful that I don’t. He finds me worthy of love. For isn’t that true love? Caring about someone enough to get to know them intimately?
This God, this God I do not know, that I do not love back, not nearly as much as I should, still loves me, still knows me. I can question his existence or his goodness, I can walk away, I can run to his arms, I can sin or I can live my entire life in righteousness, and none of that will make him love me more or less. 

Let me learn to love him back. To trust him. To let him know me until one day I can know him, whether that is terrifying or comforting, whether that means I lose my self or find it, whether it means people see me as stupid or smart. Whether they think I am devout or irreligious. Right or wrong. 

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24

Monday, September 14, 2015

Color Spells

We lose so much when we allow our vocabulary to dissipate into red, blue, and yellow clouds. It was recently brought to my attention that using color in one’s writing is an incredible way to evoke emotion, add impact, and invigorate descriptions. I love visuals. I love the amount of information that can be transmitted through a single image. I love the emotion that a person can communicate with one look, one glance. I love the aura of a landscape, the difference between the mountains and the desert, the ocean and the swamp.  All those things require the application of powerful magic to transform into words on a page that, in their turn, will transform, with an even more powerful magic, into images in some other person’s head.

In the pursuit of magic then, here is a kaleidoscopic assortment of hues, tints, shadows and saturations. Words far more powerful than mere “orange” “green” and “purple.”

On a car ride through the cascades, my family and I brainstormed words for the changing leaves outside. We got saffron, pumpkin, scarlet, russet, cinnamon, flame, rust, honey, lemon, topaz, and
ochre. Then we talked about the greens that were flashing by. Fern, lime, ivy. Dad suggested spirulina, which, while not a beautiful word, has strong chromatic connotations. Katey, after peppering us with things like “grass-green,” “tree-green,” and “bright green,” suggested “pea-green.” I reluctantly thought of chartreuse. I resent that chartreuse is not a deep, warm red, like burgundy or puce. Chartreuse sounds red, a Mediterranean, dramatic red. Not the greenish-yellow that it is.
From there colors came in a festive shower, rose, ashy, charcoal, fuschia, teal, algae, iron, periwinkle, smoke, cherry, cobalt, snow, muddy, walnut, ice, mustard, moonlight, plum.

Then I started extorting words for eye colors as interest faded, forcing our jaded imaginations to come up with five alternative adjectives for green, brown, hazel, blue, gray, and black.
We got mahogany, coffee, clove, clay and dust for brown eyes, moss, mint, fir, pine, and summer leaves for green. To describe grey there is stone, iron, steel, ash, and pepper. Onyx, tar, shadows, and obsidian for black, along with this gem: chocolate chip. “The child grinned mischievously, his chocolate chip eyes sparkling.” Blue yielded denim, marine, indigo, distant mountains, and glacier. And yes, I know several people with eyes that are a light, icy blue for which “glacial” is a perfect description. Hazel, not surprisingly, was the hardest, but we finally came up with cedar, chai, juniper, olive, and a winter field. 

To wrap up this florid revel, consultation of the internet gave me vermilion, verdigris, cranberry, garnet, pomgranate, wine, heliotrope, amethyst, smalt, azure, blush, jasper, and cannon.

Lots and lots and lots of magical words. Way better than abracadabra or bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Inmate

In an ancient, crumbling prison
By the royal order old
Lies a long forgotten inmate
In the dungeon shadows cold

By the sentence spoken long ago
He rises but to stand
The chains tug at his ankles
And the shackles weigh his hands

And though the chains are shadows
And the manacles a dream
To him the whip is waiting
If he dare but stir his feet

Lost in darkness and the cold
Unfettered and unknown
Ignored, the call of freedom
And the chance of going home

To him, the door is bolted fast
The guards are at the gate
The doors for him have opened
But they have unlocked too late

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Deep Waters

This picture actually terrifies me...
I think I'm in over my head.

To begin with, I'm writing a novel about a sea voyage, when the only time I've ever been on the ocean in a vessel of any sort was going crabbing with my grandfather.
Oh yes, and I was four.
It's a sailing ship, too, and I was on a sailboat once, on a lake, in a twelve-or-so-foot boat with one triangular sail. This ship is a cargo barque with at least three masts and probably at least two rectangular sails per mast. I've read a number of books about sailing boats, though, so that should count for something, right? I feel like it has.

My story is set in the 1850's. A time-period that, as I now know, I know very little about.

It begins in the Caribbean. An area I have never visited. See that picture of a map? You now know more about the Caribbean than I did when I started this process.

The sea journey, my ignorance concerning which has already been discussed, takes them to Victorian era England. I think it's telling that my first reaction, when I realized this, was "Oh! Steampunk!" It took me about thirty seconds to realize that wasn't going to work. Not without holding the story at gunpoint in order to shove it in.

So I know nothing about my setting or time-period. No big deal, right? Google and all that sort of thing. Research. It's all easily remedied.

I haven't even mentioned the plot yet.

To begin with, I'm shamelessly borrowing from Shakespeare. I didn't set out to do that, it just so happened that my initial story idea had strong resemblances to one of Shakespeare's works, and when I realized that, I decided I'd make my story a retelling of that work. Which I fondly believed to be "The Tempest." Which I hadn't read.
Well, it turned out that the play I was thinking of was "A Winter's Tale," but I hadn't read it either, so it didn't make that much difference.
And yes, I have now read it.

Then, I decided that I would borrow from Dante and all my chapter numbers would be planned out and each part would have a number of chapters that was divisible by three and good grief, was that ever a stupid plan. I shudder to think of the amount of trimming and slimming I'm going to have to do in the editing stage thanks to extra chapters desperately dragged out just to make those numbers work.

Maybe trying to borrow from two greats at once isn't such a great plan.

And to wrap this all up, I'm incorporating literary alchemy, also something I'm learning about as I go, planning out the plot ahead of time, which I have never done, and my chosen blueprint is ring scaffolding. The frantic research on ring scaffolding is just beginning.

One more thing.

I just set a deadline for myself to finish this beast before Christmas.
(Cue hysterical manic laughter)

Ladies and gentlemen, I might possibly have my first draft done before Christmas, but there is no way in the galaxy that I will have it published before Christmas. I know this, and yet I persist in working like I think it's going to happen. Even if did happen, the amount of error that would slip past me is terrifying. Did I mention that the only thing I know anything about in this whole story is my characters, and that only because I invented them all myself? Am I considering the amount of research I'm going to have to do to make this work? Have I learned nothing from all the time I've spent researching already?
Apparently not.

It would seem that I'm not only insane, in all this persistently going beyond my depth, but that I like it.

Oh well. What better way to learn about English colonization of the Caribbean, the trade routes across the Atlantic, the history of the Kalinago people, post Industrial Revolution London, the Golden Age of sail, the different between a brigantine, a barque, and a clipper ship, how to use a sextant, the island of Dominica, which docks in London were used by the West India Trading Company, the Tempest, the Winter's Tale, the psychology of unreasonable jealousy, Shakespeare's life, the Divine Comedy, Dante's use of numbers, Dante's life, literary alchemy, the symbols for nigredo, albedo, and rubedo stages within the story, the history of the science of alchemy, ring scaffolding, the history of ring scaffolding in literature, and redemption, renewal, and transformation in human lives?

I misspoke. I don't merely like this. This is not just some project involving interesting study.
I love it. This is my element. I could talk about this stuff for hours.

It's not really that I want it done by Christmas. I just want an excuse to obsess over it from now until then.

And that's a particularly good excuse.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Book Review: The Seven Basic Plots; Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker

That was a lot of book, and there is so much that I could discuss!
"Let me explain--No, there is too much. Let me sum up!"

Booker basically used over 700 pages to communicate a very simple idea: Stories are about the struggle between good and evil, and man's separation from God.
Booker says that stories say men and women embody opposite and complimentary aspects of human nature, that when they come together at the end of a story, it symbolizes a person becoming whole. (Ephesians 5:22-33, marriage between a man and a woman is a picture of Christ and the church.) That stories say people are separated from an essential part of the universe, and without gaining a greater understanding leading to faith in something beyond themselves, will destroy themselves in sin and despair. (Ephesians 2:12-14, man is separated from God and without hope, but is saved through faith in Christ.) That stories are a representation of a battle between good and evil, both in the outside world and within the human psyche.

Unfortunately, Booker seems to be locked in his own lack of understanding, darkness, and un-whole-ness. In vague, inconclusive, humanistic language, he phrases all of that in muddy terms like "light figures" "dark figures" "reaching maturity" "realizing the Self." One has to wonder, in the dim, muddy spirituality of his weak animism or perhaps spiritual-ish humanism, what meaning "maturity" or "self-realization" ultimately have. He seems to believe that man must be re-connected with God, without believing in a God to re-connect with.

Overall, I would recommend this book as a fascinating study of story-telling, an insightful simplification of plots into seven basic archetypes, and an interesting social commentary by a man who believes firmly in morality and spirituality, without believing that there is a God to give meaning to those things.

Monday, May 18, 2015

No Other Answer: My discovery of Fyodor Dostoevsky

I have this Hall Of Fame thing in my mind.
Favorite books. Favorite authors. Favorite songs. Favorite movies.
None of which I can think of when someone asks me, "What's your favorite book/author/song/movie?"

I'm stuck scrambling around in my mind, which, if you could see it, would look like like my desk, or my house, since now that I'm married my whole house is basically my desk. Rushing about, pushing aside random scraps of paper and scanning stacks of books, tripping over backpacks full of rock climbing gear that I left in the hallway, and noticing with annoyance the irrelevant but urgent fact that the fish bowl needs to be cleaned again. Muttering, "C.S. Lewis, I know it's by C.S. Lewis. Sort of." Or, "World War Two. Isn't my favorite movie about WWII?" And compromising by saying the first good idea that comes to mind, in the most non-committal way I can, with a vague sense that I am betraying a friend.

That's still better than when someone asks me what my book is about. *shudder*

Anyway, I began this train of thought when I realized earlier today that my Favorite Authors Hall of Fame has a new member. That venerable institution, long presided over by C.S. Lewis; that welcomed G.K. Chesterton and George MacDonald with joyously open arms; that slowly accepted J.R.R. Tolkien after a four year debate; whose ranks are filled with old-time friends like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, and L.M. Montgomery; and swelled by the delightful additions of Elizabeth Enright and Jonathan Rogers, has quietly and without my express permission added a new member.
One that, until last year, I had never heard of.
And that is a real problem.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1821-1881
I'd heard of Leo Tolstoy, of course. Hasn't everyone? But his countryman, Fyodor Dostoevsky? I had no idea. I don't know whose fault it is that I'd never heard of him. But I blame the world at large.

Last year, I read a book by Phillip Yancey called Soul Survivor: Why I am still a Christian, (which was an excellent book, I highly recommend it) and it mentioned both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as novelists who had brought Mr. Yancey to a greater understanding of who God is, and how much he loves us.
I have since read Tolstoy's War and Peace, which I liked.
But Dostoevsky? The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment... I loved them.
Someone told me that Dostoevsky's books were dark and weird. I don't see them that way. Yes, they handle difficult subjects. The Brothers Karamazov is about a dysfunctional family torn apart by hate, lust, and murder. But it's also about a man clinging to faith in the face of heartbreaking events. About brothers showing love to each other despite vastly different world views. About hope and love triumphing over sin and pain.
And Crime and Punishment is about a young man who commits a pointless act of violence. About how he tries to justify and rationalize it. About how guilt breaks him down and destroys him.
But it's also about a love that passes all understanding, and a redemption that can find even the most broken, even the most evil. Even those who think they are above it.

"For no one can judge a criminal, until he realizes that he is just such a criminal as the man standing before him..." ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

An artist's depiction of Dmitri, Ivan, and Alexei,
from The Brothers Karamazov.
“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”
~ Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Dostoevsky attacks the greatest questions, the haunting doubts, the dangerous philosophies. And he doesn't exactly answer them straight out. But somehow, they feel answered. Dostoevsky's books are full of what this quote by C.S. Lewis means: "I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. No other answer would suffice."