Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I'm a travelling man

I'm out of town, and haven't had much access to a computer; hence my lack of posts and dropping by. I'll be back in a few days.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My article in good shape, other writing no so much

I received the assignment to write the article for Internet Genealogy last Friday, April 17. In my query letter I included an outline of what I thought would be in the article, so I had a pretty good place from which to start.

I started the next night, but then didn't work on it until Tuesday. My thoughts gelled a bit more yesterday, and the words began to flow. By the end of yesterday evening I was up to about 600 words, out of 1500 to 2000 for the article. I don't think I'll have any problem filling the words, as I still have much more to write. Cutting some words will be more likely.

However, I have not made a lot of progress on anything else. Last night our pastor came up to me before church and said he was enjoying my Harmony of the gospels, and wanted to know if I had anything more written on the appendixes. The version I gave him had one appendix, the only one written, so he could see the sorts of things I'm planning on doing for them. No, I said, nothing more yet; been working on other things. He seemed disappointed, and said he is anxious to see what I'm going to do with them. So I guess I need to get back to work on that.

Yesterday I submitted my short story, "Mom's Letter," to three magazines via snail mail. I hope to submit to three or four more today. All of these accept simultaneous submissions. So that item is done on this month's to do list.

I have finished teaching Life On A Yo Yo in life group (my co-teacher will teach the last lesson this Sunday while I am gone), and it's time to take my notes and write them up in a somewhat presentable fashion. This could then become a potential Bible study I could market and write.

Any real writing on my latest Bible study, "Good King, Bad King", will have to wait for a couple of weeks at least.

On books, I've done nothing of late, except dream. I outlined the next seven chapters of In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People, but have not written any more on it. I don't think I will for a while, while working on platform-building activities.

Will that platform building make a difference in being accepted by a royalty paying publisher? Who knows. The experts in the industry say so, and since I am not an expert I will have to rely on them. Time will tell.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Productive Days

I have one more post to make on King Asa. At least I think I do. Right now I can't find the notes on what the last post was to be about. But I need a break from that, so today I'll just make a general progress-of-life type post.

Late last week and the weekend were productive days, for writing and for other things. I worked hard on my Good King, Bad King study for our Life Group. Right now it's only two classes, on the life of King Asa, who is both the good and bad king. I'm going to teach it a couple of Sundays in May while we wait for our new quarterly study to arrive. This will be a good Bible study, and I plan someday to expand it into eight to ten lessons, maybe even more. However, the amount of research I did for this tells me this may have to wait until retirement.

Friday night Lynda got it in her head to try to find a couple of books we've never been able to find since we moved to Bella Vista from Bentonville in 2002. Our basement has lots of boxes, but very few we haven't gone through. Friday evening we went through those, didn't find the missing books, but found other things we had forgotten about. Some of it could easily be discarded, as it related to employment at places where we are not now employed. Other was simply mis-boxed, and could be easily taken to other, similar things. We found several boxes with not a whole lot in them. We consolidated some of this, the entire process concluding Saturday evening. The end result is our "stuff" stuffed in the basement is less than before, though we have much more similar work to do.

My genealogy work continues, and I'm trying to find a way to do a little bit at a time. Normally when I get the genealogy bug, it consumes me and I become a basket case. Not so at the moment. I am slowly going through the life of Peter Cheney, son of John Cheney of Newbury Massachusetts. He lived 1638-1696, and is Lynda's gr-gr-gr-gr-gr-gr-gr-grandfather. My document of events in his life is up to five pages (with source footnotes), and I feel good about it.

Writing wise, I have posted six times about the life of King Asa of Judah, and three times at The Senescent Man blog about the Baby Boomers, and why I call them the Candy Store Generation. I have one more post to make in that series. Also this weekend I completed a sonnet, one that has been buzzing around in my head for a couple of years, which finally gelled Friday night and was finished by Saturday afternoon. This morning I posted it for critique at Absolute Write.

Reading wise, I kept up with my Bible reading, and with pleasure reading in the two books of letters, one Tolkien's and one C.S. Lewis'. They are different style letters. The selected ones in the Tolkien book are mainly about his writing and publishing. The Lord of the Ring is heavily discussed. I'm at the point where he had just finished the book and is weighing two options for publishing. The CSL selected letters are on Christianity, letters to various Christian friends, or people considering Christianity. They are denser than Tolkien's, and I find I have to have absolute silence to read and comprehend them. Tolkien's I can read while the television is on.

The other big item is: I have my first freelancing writing assignment! Last Thursday I went to Barnes & Noble after work in search of a certain book I wanted to buy and give to someone. It was not available, though another, similar book was and I got that. Then I went to the magazine racks to look for a couple of mags to research and see if I can write articles for them. One of them, Internet Genealogy, I discovered at Borders in Overland Park last month. I read then it while drinking a large house blend, mainly for my love of the subject.

Then, last week it hit me that maybe I could write something for that mag. So I got a copy, read it in the coffee shop while drinking a large house blend, and took notes and began to think of what I could write about. The on-line database I've been using to research Peter Cheney is at a site that genealogical researchers might not expect, so that seemed a good place to start. Thursday night (actually Friday morning about 4 AM) I couldn't sleep. Got up at 5 AM and drafted a query letter to Internet Genealogy proposing that article. I sent it via e-mail on my noon hour on Friday, went for my noon walk, came back to my desk and had a reply from the editor: yes, write the article.

This will be for pay--not huge pay, but certainly enough to make the work worthwhile. This will be for platform building--not a great platform, but something to show editors and agents. This will be to demonstrate that my writing is good enough to be published. We'll see.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Jerusalem Assembly: Good or Bad?

The Bible records two major military issues for King Asa: first the invasion of a combined Cushite and Libyan army from the south, and later a threat from the sister nation Israel from the north. The first one drove Asa to prayer, as he knew his forces were outnumbered and they had no hope for victory if God did not intervene. The second drove Asa to form an alliance with Ben-Hadad, king of Aram, in so doing plundering his own temple and personal treasury. In other words, he either bribed Ben-Hadad or hired him to provide mercenaries.

In each case a prophet came to Asa. The first was Azariah, who gave Asa a message of hope and encouragement. The second was Hanani, who chastised Asa, told him he had chosen poorly, and advised that as a result God's intentions had been thwarted. The second time Asa continued to behave badly, apparently to the end of his days. The first time, he instituted more religious reforms and called for an assembly of the nation in Jerusalem to renew their religious zeal.

The Jerusalem Assembly. Let's see what the scripture has to say about it.

Then he [Asa] assembled all Judah and Benjamin and the people from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon who had settled among them, for large numbers had come over to him from Israel when they saw that the LORD his God was with him.
.....They assembled at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of Asa's reign. At that time they sacrificed to the LORD seven hundred head of cattle and seven thousand sheep and goats from the plunder they had brought back. They entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul. All who would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman. They took an oath to the LORD with loud acclamation, with shouting and with trumpets and horns. All Judah rejoiced about the oath because they had sworn it wholeheartedly. They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So the LORD gave them rest on every side. 2nd Chronicles 15:9-15

On the surface, this sounds pretty good. They sought God wholeheartedly; they found Him. They did this with oaths and with loud acclamations. Wait, this is what troubles me, both the oaths and loud acclamations, the trumpets and horns and shouting. The enthusiasm of the moment may have caused many to be carried away and do things and make oaths that were not wholehearted--that and the threat that if they didn't do so they would be put to death. What would you do if everyone was shouting and declaring oaths to God, with trumpets and horns blaring and saying anyone who didn't take the oath would be put to death?

I'm sure many were sincere, but just as many were either caught up in the moment or afraid not to make the oath.

Throughout the history of the church, the whole business of enthusiasm has waxed and waned, been in favor and out of favor. During Wesley's days it was generally frowned on. Get too enthusiastic and people wondered about you. During the 18th century revivals in America, it was embraced. Certainly some enthusiasm is good. I hope everyone who considers themselves a disciple of Jesus is enthusiastic about being so. But could a lot of enthusiasm cause one to lose his head, declare impossible oaths and promise things that cannot be delivered? I wonder.

The idea that anyone who did not follow I AM in the nation should be put to death is found in the Law of Moses. Today it seems harsh, little better than the jihads of radical Islam. If we dislike the Islamic practice of converting to Islam or be killed, how can we embrace the Israeli practice resulting from the Jerusalem assembly?

And what of its effects on Asa? It would appear he got carried away with his assembly. Everyone agreed with him, either wholeheartedly or not. When a king has no one to disagree with him, he will tend to get puffed up. Thus, twenty plus years later, when Hanani confronted his error, rather than humble himself, Asa threw the messenger in jail. This led to a downhill progression, where he oppressed his people and failed to seek I AM when he had a need.

Was the Jerusalem Assembly under Asa a good thing or a bad thing? All I know for sure is, before that assembly, Asa did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and after that assembly he made bad choices and was chastised by God's prophet. The enthusiasm of the great assembly vs. the quiet affirmation of a person in a one-on-one conversation with God. I like the former, but I think I like the latter better.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Another Prophet Confronts Asa

As I said in yesterday's post, King Asa, when faced with war with Israel, sought an alliance with the ungodly Aram rather than muster his own army. The result was that Ben-Hadad, king of Aram, attacked Israel from the north and the Israeli king backed off from his border with Judah and turned 180 to fight the country he had had a peace treaty with. Asa then took the occasion to build up his own defenses: "[He] issued an order to all Judah--no one was exempt--and they carried away from Ramah the stones and timber Baasha had been using there. With them King Asa built up Geba in Benjamin, and also Mizpah." [1st Kings 15:22-24] Never mind that the Law of Moses allowed certain exemptions from service such as this. Asa said no one was exempt.

Then came Hanani the seer to see Asa. This is the second occasion recorded where a prophet came to give God's word to Asa. Azariah did so after the Cushite war, encouraging Asa. Might Hanani be about ready to do the same thing? Nay:

Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand. Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the LORD, he delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war. 2nd Chronicles 16:7b-9

Wow! This prophet doesn't mince words. Asa's use of reversal of entangling alliances as a means to avoid war was a bad thing, not a good thing. That phrase "the king of Aram has escaped from your hand" is a curious addition. At the time when Israel threatened Judah, Judah was not at war with Aram. But Aram was aligned with Israel, and Israel was about, so it seemed, to war against Judah. Might this have dragged in Aram to assist their ally? If so, Judah would have found itself fighting both Israel and Aram.

But it seems that was God's plan. The prophet said Aram had escaped from Judah. God was probably intending to deliver Judah from those two nations, expecting that Asa would cry out to Him. Unfortunately, Asa did not cry out to the LORD his God. He proceeded with his own best judgment, which turned out not very good.

But a man can make a mistake and recover from it, right? Doesn't that happen again and again throughout the Bible. Yes, so let's see what Asa's response was.

Asa was angry with the seer because of this; he was so enraged that he put him in prison. At the same time Asa brutally oppressed some of the people.
........In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the LORD, but only from the physicians. 2nd Chronicles 16:10, 12

So it seems Asa did not repent. In fact he got worse. He imprisoned God's messenger to him, then seems to have gone off the deep end, brutally oppressing people, and forgetting that I AM could help him in his illness.

A sad, sad story. Even though Asa did great things, won great military victories, instituted great religious reforms, had great personal piety, and was honored by the people at his death, Asa's last days do not reflect what they could have and should have been.

What caused this? How does a man go from the pinnacle of success to the depths of bad behavior? I'm going to explore this in the next post.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Asa responds to a threat from Israel

In the thirty-sixth year of King Asa's reign, neighboring Israel began to make threats. The king of Israel "went up against Judah and fortified Ramah to prevent anyone from leaving or entering the territory of Asa king of Judah."

So, the wars with Israel that had plagued his father and grandfather finally reached Asa's house.

We have a bit of trouble with the timeline here. The scriptures, both 1st Kings 15 and 2nd Chronicles 16, say Baasha was the king of Israel who fortified Ramah. However, 1st Kings 15:33 reads, "In the third year of Asa king of Judah, Baasha son of Ahijah became king of all Israel in Tirzah, and he reigned twenty-four years." So, in the thirty-sixth year of Asa's reign, Baasha had been dead for nine years! Something is obviously wrong. The commentaries I read suggest that the 36 years should be counted from the division of Judah and Israel. That would put this event half-way through Baasha's reign. I have another possible solution: It wasn't Baasha who was king then; it was Omri. He became king in the 31st year of Asa and reigned twelve years. Why would the two Bible books say Baasha when it was Omri? One was source for the other, and the writer of the first simply got it wrong, confused over his kings. Either the year is wrong, or the king is wrong. I suppose it is also possible that a copyist, very early in the history of the original document, may have written "36" when the original said "26", and that error was perpetuated. We'll never know.

All that is tangential to the story. The real story is how Asa faced this new threat, only four miles from Jerusalem:

Asa then took the silver and gold out of the treasuries of the LORD's temple and of his own palace and sent it to Ben-Hadad king of Aram, who was ruling in Damascus. "Let there be a treaty between me and you," he said, "as there was between my father and your father. See, I am sending you silver and gold. Now break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so he will withdraw from me." 2nd Chronicles 16:2-3

Huh? Israel threatens by building a border fort and closing the border, probably as a precursor to renewed open war, and you go to Israel's treaty partner for help, stripping the public and private wealth to do so? Something is wrong here. Gone are the days, twenty or so years previously, when faced with a graver threat from superior Cushite forces Asa prayed, "LORD, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O LORD, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you." God answered those prayers and gave Judah victory. Could not the similar crying out to God bring the same results now?

What motivated Asa to take this course of action? He was now about 55 years old, and had reigned 35 years. He had seen war before, both with the Cushites and probably some other border skirmishes with Israel, but most of his years he had been at peace with his neighbors. Had he lost his nerve for war, perhaps never really having it in the first place? Did he figure he could use worldly wealth to hire someone else to fight for him? In other words, did he buy off Aram because he could?

An interesting question in trying to figure out why a good king would take this route. Or would some people consider this a good move, a smart move by Asa? To save his army from fighting a war was a good thing, no? Perhaps, in twenty years of peace, Asa had disbanded most of his army and he would have to recruit, equip, and train them all over again. Perhaps he felt he didn't have time for this, that the threat from Israel was more imminent.

Whatever his motives, Asa chose the route of entangling alliances to solve his military problem. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is nothing new in the Middle East. Here we see it employed in antiquity.

Tomorrow we'll see what God's prophet said to Asa about this, and how he reacted.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The High Places in Judah

After conducting religious reforms as a young man, after he defeated the Cushites and Libyans with God's help, after the encouragement from Azariah the prophet, King Asa went back to his religious reforms. 2nd Chronicles has this to say about this second round of reforms.

When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah...he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the LORD that was in front of the LORD's temple.
........King Asa also deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive Asherah pole. Asa cut the pole down, broke it up and burned it in the Kidron Valley. Although he did not remove the high places from Israel, Asa's heart was fully committed to the LORD all his life. He brought into the temple of God the silver and gold and the articles that he and his father had dedicated. 2nd Chronicles 15:8, 16-18

Well, quite a bit of reform. Initially, as described in yesterday's post, Asa had: expelled the male shrine prostitutes, got rid of the idols his fathers had made, removed the foreign altars, removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, cut down the Asherah poles, commanded Judah to seek the LORD. Now he goes about doing even more--except, he does not remove the high places.

This business of the high places is, I believe, a key to understanding Israel at this point. 2 Chronicles 14:5 says Asa removed the high places. 1 Kings 15:14 and 2nd Chronicles 15:17 say he did not. A careful reading of the text leads me to conclude that these are describing two very different events. At first, as a young man and a new king, Asa removed the high places. However, while he was busy with administering a country, building fortified cities, raising and training and equipping an army, and fighting the Cushites and Libyans, the Jews must have rebuilt the high places. So Asa, having been encouraged by Azariah, begins a second round of reforms. Idols--gone. Altar--repaired. Silver and gold--to the temple. Grandmother Maacah--deposed because she is a bad influence. Her Asherah pole--cut down, broken up, and burned. The high places--oh, not again! I just removed them (was it really a decade or two ago?).

This time he did not remove the high places. Why? He did it once. Why not again? What's wrong with these Jews? They keep setting up alternate places of worship. Maybe they worship I AM there some of the time, but they also worship the other gods. I can't keep up with it; I can't keep removing them. And so Asa did not remove the high places this time around.

I don't really find fault with Asa for this. Maybe I should, but I don't. He should have removed them again, and again, and again, as many times at it took for Judah, Benjamin, and remnants of the other tribes to get the message. But he didn't. Perhaps he thought there was enough worship of I AM going on at those places that they did some good. I don't think he grew weary of well-doing. As I'll write about in another post, the assembly he held in Jerusalem showed the extent of his zeal.

The high places exist today, not in Israel, but in America--places where we worship amiss, where we fall short of what I AM wants of us. As this post at The Path of Truth so well explains, the high places do exist. We tear them down and rebuild them, perhaps growing weary in well-doing. We need to keep removing them.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

More on Asa - His first religious reforms

Asa is much on my mind these days. I'm spending much more time on him than is justified by the length of the lesson series I'm going to teach, only two weeks. But I'm finding Asa to be a fascinating story. His time as good king-bad king are perfect for the lessons. And trying to find the reason why he went bad is a good thing. I had planned today to write about something I discovered in the letters of C.S. Lewis, but I shall hold off on that. All the time I've had to spend on taxes has made my mind unable to fully appreciate CSL.

Asa was a young man when he became king. The scripture doesn't tell us how young exactly. Some commentators say perhaps ten or eleven years old. After studying 1st King 15 and 2nd Chronicles 14-16, I think he more likely was 18 or 20. Rehoboam, Asa's grandfather, was 41 when he became king. The Bible does not tell us how old his son, Abijah, was when he became king, but it was 17 years later. Assuming the successors were the first sons, and assuming these men had their first children at a normal age, say between 20 and 25, the timeline works out like this, setting the year of Rehoboam's birth as year zero.

Birth.........................yr of coronation/
Year.....King.............age at coronation...yrs of reign...age at death


Edited on 16 April 2009: I found, in 2nd Chronicles 11:18-25 the story of Rehoboam's family. Abijah was the first son of his second wife, Maacah, daughter of Absalom. All together Rehoboam had eighteen wives and sixty concubines who bore him twenty-eight sons and sixty daughters. So this would tend to drive Asa's age down just a little. If Rehoboam waited a year or two before taking his second wife, this would put Asa's probable age at ascension at 16-18. Of course, Rehoboam, being crown prince at the time, may have taken wives in rapid succession, and Asa still could have been close to 20 when he became king.

All of this is only for the purpose of figuring out how old Asa was when he became king. Certainly, if Rehoboam and Abijah had their first children at an older age, Asa could have been as young as 10. I go for an older age for Asa because of what the Bible says about Abijah's family: "He married fourteen wives and had twenty-two sons and sixteen daughters." [2nd Chronicles 13:21] Clearly he began this polygamy quite a while before he became king. So Asa was a young man when he began his reign.

The scripture tells us something about Asa's reforms.

Asa did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as his father David had done. He expelled the male shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of all the idols his fathers had made. He even deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive Asherah pole. Asa cut the pole down and burned it in the Kidron valley. Although he did not remove the high places, Asa's heart was fully committed to the LORD all his life. He brought into the temple of the LORD the silver and gold and the articles that he and his father had dedicated. 1st Kings 15:11-15

That is a pretty good report about Asa's personal piety, and how that became part of his public policy. He followed two kings who were foolish, taking bad advice, and not having any particular religious convictions. Somehow Asa turned it around. The account in 2nd Chronicles has this a little different.

Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God. He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asharah poles. He commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to obey his laws and commands. He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah and the kingdom was at peace under him. 2nd Chronicles 14:2-5

Although these two accounts differ concerning the high places, and whether Asa removed them or not (although 2nd Chronicles has more information about that later, and about Maacah), it is clear that Asa began well. How does a young man, with bad examples in his father and grandfather (and his great-grandfather Solomon, for that matter), with a grandmother or mother who builds an Asherah pole and worships that foreign god, turn his life around?

We are not told how, but I think it had to be some godly tutors. His father was busy with all those wives and with training to become king when Rehoboam died. That happened somewhat sooner than expected. Asa was likely in the care of his mother, and under the tutelage of someone appointed by Abijah. This unknown, unsung person seems to have done his job exceedingly well. Asa, 20 years old at the most, proves to have more wisdom and fortitude than his two immediate predecessors.

This leads me to think of the many unsung heroes in the Christian community, in the church down through the ages. We hear about a few of these, such as in the oft told story of the chain of conversions from Dwight L. Moody to Billy Graham. But most remain unsung.

Today, I sing their praises.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Nugget in the Scriptures

My best laid plans to blog on the weekend went astray. I had two or three things I had in mind to write on, but busyness all day Saturday, followed by brain-deadness Saturday evening, and an Easter fairly full as well, caused me to not have the wherewith all to write.

I'm studying the life of King Asa of Judah in preparation to teach a two-week study on him in Life Group, possibly in mid-May. The study has been quite interesting, and I'm glad I'm doing it even if circumstances result that I don't teach the lessons. The title of the lessons will be "Good King, Bad King." And it will be about King Asa only, as he exhibited both traits at different times in his life.

Asa was the third king of Judah (after Israel divided into two kingdoms). He followed two kings who were not so good, his grandfather Rehoboam and his father Abijah (or Abijam), both of whom made major mistakes, politically and religiously. Asa came in and immediately began religious reforms. The accounts in 1 Kings 15 and 2nd Chronicles 14-16 differ a little, but both describe a king who was zealous to follow I AM.

Then Asa was faced with an invasion by the Cushites and Libyans. Possibly a million foot soldiers and a few hundred chariots marched against Judah. Asa was able to put an army of 580,000 men against them, but seems to have been hopelessly outnumbered. Asa did what he could in preparation, then turned to I AM in prayer. The result: the invaders were defeated in battle, and the Judeans gathered much plunder. Their southern border was secure for many years.

After this, the scripture tells us, "The Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded. He went out to meet Asa..." [2nd Chronicles 15:1-2a] So the king, triumphant in battle, having done everything right so far--or at least so far as we know, relying on God when he should, received a message from the prophet. And the heart of that message is this:

Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.... But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.

Good words for the triumphant king! How easy it would be for Asa, after the battle where his men performed heroically and brilliantly, to forget that it was I AM, in answer to Asa's prayer, who enabled those men to fight better than the enemy. It was not Asa's generalmanship that won the battle: it was the hand of I AM.

"Be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded." Good words for out times.

Friday, April 10, 2009

An Unexpected Guest

Wednesday night after church I stopped by Braum's to buy a half gallon of milk, then headed the truck toward Bella Vista, twelve miles distant. I was about two miles from the house when my cell phone rang--or vibrated, actually. I dug it out of my side pocket and answered without checking to see who it was, expecting it to be Lynda. I can't really see the display well enough when I'm driving to see the name or number.

It wasn't Lynda, it was an old friend, Richard. We met Richard and his family in church in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia in 1981 (yes, there are clandestine churches in the land of the house of Saud). He was in town, had just called the house, gotten my cell phone number from Lynda. I was to go to the McDonald's where he was waiting and guide him back to our house, where he would eat supper and spend the night. I had already passed that place, five or six miles back, but I did a U-turn and went and fetched him in.

We had a great time visiting until midnight, when I had to turn in to be able to function the next day, and he had to do the same to be able to drive to Tulsa and Oklahoma City the next day. A brief time in the morning was all we had after that. He followed me to the place where Arkansas 279 meets Arkansas 72. I went left; he went west. I last saw him and his wife and son in 2003 at his son's wedding, before that in 2001 at our daughter's wedding, before that in the mid-90s when their older son died of leukemia. We talked about the need to get together more often and Richard asked, "How do we make that happen?"

I wish I knew. When we are in St. Louis (where he and his wife live), we are always on a forced drive, trying to make tracks to Chicago or parts east (as we will be late this month) or on the return trip and anxious to get home. We all have busy lives, and spend them with our closest family. Keeping in touch with friends from decades ago is tough enough, let alone getting together. Still, we can work on making it happen.

So I am a day behind in everything I hoped to do. Last night I finished my Federal income tax. Yeah! Subject, of course, to mathematical checking and a last review against the instruction book. I should have it copied and in the mail on Monday. My Arkansas taxes should go pretty quick. I might start working on them tonight and try to have them done Monday as well.

I completed reading the book I had committed to critiquing, and enjoyed that. I have put aside all the books I was surreptitiously reading that have never been added to my reading pile, and am concentrating on a Bible study. It looks as if our Life Group may have a two week gap between lesson series in May, so I'm trying to put together a two-week lesson on one of the kings of Judah. It's a fascinating study for me, whether I have to teach the lesson of not, as the accounts in 1st Kings and 2nd Chronicles differ both in time line and details, and I'm studying to reconcile them.

This weekend, hopefully, I will be back to a few writing activities. Actually, last night I read once more through "Mom's Letter" and did a few minor edits, and I finished my research into potential markets and made my decisions on where to send it. This weekend I intend to make the e-mail and snail mail submissions. Next week, who knows? Perhaps another angel will visit us, and my best laid plans will again go astray.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Book Review: Mark Twain's "Letters From Hawaii"

I found this book, Mark Twain's Letters From Hawaii, (Edited by A. Grove Day, c. 1966, The University Press of Hawaii, Honolulu, ISBN 0-8248-0288-8, Pacific Classics Edition 3rd printing 1979), in a place where they sell used books, either a thrift store or a garage sale. I put it midway through the first half of the reading pile I put together last August, and came to it in mid-March. I read a little of it in February, on that business trip to Phoenix, but read it mostly over the last two weeks (when I wasn't distracting myself with the letters of Tolkein and Lewis).

Mr. Day begins his Introduction with a question some of my readers may be asking: "Why should anyone today want to read the travel letters written by Mark Twain from the Hawaiian Islands more than a hundred years ago?" I chose the book because I want to read more of Mark Twain's works. Why not this one? And of course it was cheap, an oldish paperback at a used book sale. It's been decades since I read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, the only two things by Twain I've read. I downloaded a book from the Gutenberg Project, Letters of Mark Twain, Volume 1, but I haven't done anything with it to date.

Why indeed would anyone want to read this? It's history. It captures Hawaii in a snapshot in time, 1866. Twain was 31, before he achieved literary fame, and was working as a journalist in Nevada and California when he wrangled himself an assignment from the "Sacramento Union" to travel to Hawaii for several months and write a series of travelogue type letters for publication in the newspaper.

The letters he wrote are full of information and humor. He described the scenery, the people, the government, the missionaries, the agriculture, the inter-island travel, the volcanoes, the commerce. He created an imaginary travel companion, Brown, who became a foil for Twain's epee thrusts.

While Twain was in the Sandwich Islands (as they were still mostly called at that time), two newsworthy events happened. The crown princess, who was to become sovereign queen upon the death of the king, herself died at age 27. Twain's description of the month-long mourning and funeral rites tells much about the people. And, while he was there, survivors of the clipper ship "Hornet" arrived at the island after 43 days in lifeboats following the burning and sinking of the "Hornet". Twain's account is gripping (to use an over-used word, but it works in this case) as he tells how the men survived and made it across the miles to Hawaii. That one letter did much to begin Twain's rise to fame in the States.

I could give many examples of how Twain's humor comes through. I'll just give this one, about his inter-island trip on a small, coastal ship. "The first night, as I lay in my coffin [how he described his berth], idly watching the dim lamp swinging to the rolling of the ship, and snuffing the nauseous odors of bilge water, I felt something gallop over me. Lazarus did not come out of his sepulcher with a more cheerful alacrity than I did out of mine. However, I turned in again when I found it was only a rat. Presently something galloped over me once more. I knew it was not a rat this time, and I thought it might be a centipede, because the captain had killed one on deck in the afternoon. I turned out. The first glance at the pillow showed me a repulsive sentinel perched upon each end of it--cockroaches as large as peach leaves-fellows with long, quivering antennae and fiery, malignant eyes. they were grating their teeth like tobacco worms, and appeared to be dissatisfied about something."

With such colorful language and use of metaphor, Twain paints his pictures of the beautiful Sandwich Islands. The book is well worth the time to read, if you ever come across it. I don't know about going out of your way to try and purchase it, however. Would it be worth full price at a bookstore, if you could even find it? Probably.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Only my journal

This weekend I did almost nothing on writing, except as far as reading the works of others is to writing. I suppose the critique time I spent on the YA novel I'm a beta-reader for would count. I did about 40 pages, leaving me about 20 to go. I should finish it tonight.

I continued to read in Mark Twain's Letters From Hawaii, which I may finish tonight and be able to review tomorrow. On Friday evening I read some in Tokein's letters, and both Friday and Sunday evenings I read some in C.S. Lewis' letters on spiritual development. I found them difficult to apply my mind to. I guess I should expect that with CSL.

Besides that, I read in my Bible to prepare to teach Life Group yesterday morning, and I prepared the lesson. In as much as any lesson I teach could find its way into a proposal for publishing a Bible study, I guess that could be considered writing related. And, since it looks as if we will have a couple of weeks to fill in between major lesson series, I read some other places in the Bible to begin preparing a lesson for late May. So maybe that is writing related.

But certainly my income taxes are not writing related, nor cooking a meal or two, nor clean up in the kitchen and elsewhere. Shopping at Wal-Mart wasn't. I didn't even go by the books and magazines. Didn't monitor the writing blogs I follow (though most of them don't post on the weekends). Didn't write any new works.

Except a couple of pages in my journal, wherein I began a list of my current or completed writing projects. After making my April goals, I felt kind of scatter-brained in terms of writing. Too many things started; not enough things far enough along; nothing really new. So I began a list of my projects (I say began because after I wrote the list Friday night I realized I forgot a couple and have to work on the list some more), with annotations as to the status of each project. Maybe this will help me focus more, after I finish the taxes (which will probably be tonight or tomorrow). Maybe then I can get to a couple of submittals I should make.

I need to figure out how to generate a little income from writing, because today, having survived yet another corporate layoff last Friday but getting another pay cut (15 percent this time), I'm working for 31 percent less than I did a year ago.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

April Goals

It's difficult to set writing goals for this month, when I'm stuck in the morass of preparing my income taxes. They aren't difficult; just time consuming, and difficult to stick to. Last night for example, after a late supper after church, I went to the Dungeon to work on them, but took one look at the papers and computer screen and decided I couldn't that night. So I played mindless computer games, and did some other things before going back upstairs to read and to bed.

Still, I must set goals, and I can always come back later and edit them, after I finish the taxes and clarity of mind and intentions return. So here they are.

1. Market "Mom's Letter" to at least five markets. Some of the markets I've selected close to submissions in May, so I have to get that done this month.

2. Begin work on "It's Over Over Here", my article on Dad's work with The Stars and Stripes during World War 2. Even if I don't get the assignment from the magazine, I'd like to write the article.

3. Complete the beta reading project I've committed to. I was doing good on this before my illness, and before tax diversion. I'm 2/3 of the way through this short, young adult novel. I can do this this month.

4. Write at least one chapter of In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. I outlined seven chapters last month; surely I can get one of those written.

5. Blog 12 to 14 times. This seems to be the thing that is easiest for me, so I'll bump up my goal a little this month.

6. Monitor five writing blogs/web sites. This is also easy, and I'm learning much from these sites.

7. Complete the political essay I started on the Baby Boomer generation, and post it to The Senescent Man blog. I'm almost halfway done with this.

8. Get back to writing, at least a little, on the notes and appendixes of the Harmony of the Gospels. I'd like to spend about an hour a week on this, which will give me continued progress by inches.

I'm not planning on attending writers critique group this month, for a number of reasons. I don't know about my long term participation with this group.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The March Report

Ah, time for my monthly report. Naturally this would happen on a morning when I forgot to set my alarm the night before, got up more than an hour late, therefore got caught in the height of rush hour and my 25 minute commute took almost 40. So, I'm posting this on my employer's time. I'll make it up after hours. Here are the goals posted on March 1, and how I did on each.

1. Blog 10 to 12 times. This seems very achievable, based on the past three months. >>> Blogged 15 times, so achieved this.

2. Complete the few remaining tasks for A Harmony of the Gospels; print; put in the hands of two beta readers. >>> I sort of finished this. I completed the basic writing and typing of the Harmony itself, completed one appendix, started another, and worked on several of the passage notes. I gave it to one beta reader, my pastor, but not to a second.

3. Attend at least one writers critique group; present one of my Documenting America columns. >>> I attended critique group twice, each time sharing a Documenting America column. One they hated; the other they sort of liked. Of course, I am the only one in the group on my side of the political spectrum.

4. Monitor 5 writing blogs. As I mentioned in my last post, I may have to find a couple of new ones. >>> I monitored the blogs. Dropped one, as it hasn't been updated since January. Found another, a writing coaching blog. So far so good.

5. Complete beta reading of a YA novel for someone at an on-line writers site. I received this late last week, and hope to begin tonight and finish before the end of the month. >>> I did not complete this. I got 2/3 of the way through, with, I think, good comments for that writer. Completing it in April, taxes allowing, should be no problem.

6. Write at least one chapter of In Front Of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. >>> Alas, I did not do this. Instead, I outlined the next seven chapters. I really wanted to get back to the writing of this, but my food poisoning episode happened just about at the time when my schedule would have allowed for it. Always an excuse.

7. Market Mom's Letter to at least five markets. Did not get this done. I did manage to complete the marketing research, and narrowed the list down to about ten magazines, but didn't get to the next step.

One other thing, a big thing, that I accomplished writing-wise that was not on my list was to submit a query about a World War 2 article. No response yet, but it's only been a couple of business days since they got it, due to an e-mail glitch at home.