Tuesday, June 25, 2013

No Blogging Mojo

How long has it been since I've added a post here? I should have looked before I began writing. I find myself in a blogging funk, so to speak. I have two finished books I'm ready to write reviews for, but haven't been able to sit down and do it. I have a great Life Group session from Sunday to report on; don't feel like it. I recently published two items; my novel Operation Lotus Sunday and a short story, "Kicking Stones". I should post about them. Can't find the mojo.

I've been working very intensely on my writing, and on publishing activities associated with my writing. I guess that's sapping a lot of energy, leaving little for blogging. I've also been doing a lot of walking, and taking time to think about what I eat and to fix those foods. It's working, as I  feel that I'm in better health. I still have a long, long way to go in that department, but I'm moving in the right direction and need to do more, not less, to bring good health to reality for me.

So, I may or may not blog much for a while. I'm not planning on publishing much more any time soon. I have another short story done, and will send it out for critique soon. I'll publish it in July or August. I'm working on converting something I wrote for work into a professional essay to publish. I actually started on that, but don't expect to be publishing it till  August. I have about four items, any one of which could be the next thing to work on. They are all book length, so I won't be doing much with them right away.

So, if you are hoping for three or four posts a week here, I'm not sure I'll be able to keep up that pace. I'll try to be here more frequently though, blogging about life, liberty, and the pursuit of writing.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Israelites Crossing the Jordan

This Sunday just past we continued our summer journey in The Journey series our pastor is preaching and we are studying in Life Group. This lesson was about the Israelites as they were about to cross the Jordan River and take possession of the Promised Land. Moses doesn't feature in this story, as he was dead.

Ah, but Moses did make a cameo appearance. For the story of crossing the Jordan actually began about 38 years before, when Israel was about to go up into the land. They were at Kadesh Barnea, a desert oasis a little south of Israel proper, or I guess I should say Canaan proper at that time. They were two years (or so) removed from being slaves in Egypt. They sent 12 spies into the land to make an assessment of conditions and fortifications. You know the story. Ten of the spies said the land was very nice but too strong for the Israelites to take it. Two gave the minority report, was that they should go up and take the land, because God would help them.

The Israelites cried out about this, and decided they would not go and take the land. God was so angry he told Moses he was going to kill all the Israelites and begin anew, building a great nation from Moses' descendants. Moses pleaded; God relented; but then He said would not allow those that were fearful of entering the land to ever enter it. Israel would wander in the desert until that generation died out. It would be 38 (or so) years before Israel crossed the Jordan.

The route they were on the first time did not require a Jordan crossing. They were coming from the west and the south, an were already on the Canaan side of the Jordan. By the later years they had made a wide sweep to the south and east, and had come north on the other side of the Jordan, setting the stage for another miracle from God.

What new insight did we gain from this very familiar story and the scriptures about it? As I prepared to teach this I was reminded of how we tend to be critical of the people that Moses led. They saw the miracles of God in the plundering of the Egyptians before they left, the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of Pharaoh's army, the provision of manna, the provision of quail, the pillars of fire an cloud. How could they not do what He said at Kadesh Barnea?

In the past I've thought of how this people, not yet a nation, was just removed from slavery. The familiar, even though unpleasant, is still familiar and still the basis for a frame of reference. However, another different is this: At the Red Sea, the people were running for their lives. The unpleasant parts of slavery still dominated their viewpoint. God was leading them from something. at Kadesh Barnea, they were far enough removed from slavery to have pushed the unpleasant parts out of their minds and remember only the comforting parts: the permanent housing, the dignity of a task to perform, the variety of food to eat.

Also, at Kadesh God was leading them, not from something but to something: to war. We assume that the people of Canaan were not going to abandon their cities and farms. If the Israelites wanted them, they would have to fight for them. Yes, God would be on their side, but it would still be war. Israel balked, and as a result they died in the desert.

We aren't so much different than Israel. When God is rescuing us from something evil, we're all in. But when He leads us into something new, without the appearance of rescue being needed, we hesitate, just as they did. The leading from vs. leading to was the new insight I received from this lesson. I need to ponder this more, for how to correctly recognize this in my life and, with such recognition, do what God wants me to do without having to spend years of desert wandering.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Kicking Stones

Last night I went to a new writers group. Well, it's not new; it's new to me. I heard about it just a little over a week ago. A friend from church told me about them. They meet at a coffee shop less than a mile from my house. Well, I should say they met at a coffee shop not less than a mile from my house. That coffee shop is going to close today due to lack of business, so last night was the last meeting for the writing group in that location. Henceforth they will meet at the Bella Vista Library, shifting the meetings from Thursdays to 2nd/4th Mondays, the only day the library is open late.

This group works differently than the others I've been involved with in the past. Rather than bring your work and read it to the group and have them comment on it, they e-mail their items for critique ahead of the meeting. The others print them and critique the printed copy; or some may make comments on the electronic document, make comments during the meeting, then e-mail the doc back with the comments. I know many groups work this way, and those who do say it's a superior way to do things. Since I entered in the middle of a cycle I can't comment one way or the other.

But I found the group and had the e-mail addresses early enough to make a submission this month. I gave them my short story "Kicking Stones". This is the third story involving Danny Tompkins, a boy who loses his mother when he is 13 years old. The first one was "Mom's Letter", telling about the time that Danny first learned that his mother's death was imminent. The second was "Too Old To Play", where Danny deals with the wake after her death, and especially with all the people who came to the house after the funeral. Each of those stories began with a scene of Danny as a boy, then of him as an adult and his adult memories of those incidents.

This one takes up the story two weeks after his mother's death, when the new school year begins. It's all in the present, the adult Daniel remembering how that first day of eighth grade he began kicking stones on his way to school. He's on a visit to the area and drives by the old house and, full of convention food, decides to walk the mile to his junior high school to get some exercise. The adult Daniel finds a stone on the sidewalk and kicks it, just as he did those many years before. He hasn't kicked stones while walking since he walked to that school. Why not, he wonders.

In this story I try to make metaphors. And I'm shooting for the play on words. "Kicking" can be both a noun and a verb. He's kicking stones down the road, and the stones he kicks are "kicking stones"—stones for the purpose of kicking. The story includes a poem, written by the adult Daniel about those childhood memories. The metaphor and word play feature in the poem as well.

I was thinking I might publish the story this weekend, but may take more time to edit it. In the meeting last night one of the writers said, "You have a great opening paragraph. Unfortunately it's in the middle of page 3." She's right: That particular paragraph is a good one, and with the change of one or two words could be the opening. But then I need to decide what to do with the two and a half pages before it. Do I blow it away, or work it into the latter parts of the story? This will take some time to work out.

But I will work it out, and I'll publish it in a week or so. Then I'll move on to the next story, then the next, or maybe it will be a book. Kind of like Danny repetitiously kicking stones as a schoolboy, I'll knock out story after story, at least for the next few years.,

Monday, June 10, 2013

Anything New About Moses?

Saturday afternoon I was at work in The Dungeon, formatting my latest novel, Operation Lotus Sunday, for publishing. A call came in from the co-teacher of our adult Life Group at church. The next day was his week to teach, but he wasn't sure he would be able to because of a bad knee. He said he would decide Sunday morning if he could teach or not. He just wanted me to be prepared in case.

I've explained before on this blog (I think), how this co-teaching works. Marion is a veterinarian. In his partnership he has to be on call every-other week, and then on certain holiday weekends. Except, his partner doesn't do large animal work, so he can be called out at any time on that. So I try to be prepared to teach every weekend, because I could get the call at 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday, him saying he has to deliver a cow or a horse.

So I was going to prepare anyway. In fact, I had begun brainstorming a lesson earlier in the week, just in case. This summer our church's sermon-based series is called "The Journey," and it's going through the lives of several Old Testament and New Testament people. Last week was Abraham; this week was Moses.

Moses? We just did a series on him, and then had a week where he was featured. Okay, "just" means some time in the last five years. But seriously, Moses has been studied to death. What else is there to say? We could go over the things we've done before. It's never boring, and it's important stuff, but figuring out what to teach was a problem. We had some teaching aids prepared by our assistant pastor (or perhaps pulled from a source; I couldn't tell which), so I studied those.

The teaching method I decided to do was to have one member of the Life Group play dumb, someone who had never been in church before, and whose knowledge of Moses came from the movie The Ten Commandments. That person would stop us anytime we said something that wasn't basic, that didn't need prior reading and knowledge to understand. Of course, they also said that "dumb" was not politically correct and we needed to find a different word. It took a while, but we finally found someone who would play dumb—er, ignorant of the subject matter.

We went into the discussion of the circumstances prior to Moses' birth. We looked at timelines and Egyptian royal decrees. We pondered whether the basket was purposely placed at a location where pharaoh's daughter would find it (the Bible doesn't say). We then spent a lot of time on Moses' introduction to the Hebrew culture. How much did he get in his pre-weaned years from his mother? Probably enough that it never fully left him in those many more years of being an Egyptian. How long was he watching his people at their hard labor? (Ex 2:11) Was it a short time, or maybe over a period of some months? Why was he in trouble for killing someone? He was the step-grandson of a pharaoh, probably step-nephew of a pharaoh. He shouldn't have been in trouble for that.

The main difference in our study this time compared to other times discussing Moses was thinking about the amount of time between Ex 2:11 and Ex 2:15—i.e. between when Moses went out to observe the Hebrews in their slavery and when he watered the flock of the seven sisters. He had gone from being a prince to doing women's chores in probably a very short period of time. We dwelled a bit on this.

All in all it was a good lesson on a very familiar passage of scripture, with lots of class participation. Alas, our person playing dumb only stopped us twice for clarification of non-basic information. He was quite familiar with the stories and wound up participating rather than critiquing our discussion. But that was okay too.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Why Don't Men Sing in Church?

Last week I became aware of a post about why men don't sing in church. It's at a website I haven't seen before, patheos.com. See the post here. As of this posting it has 93 comments, which are well worth reading.

I've been thinking about this. Actually, I'd been thinking about this for a long time. The conclusion of the article is that now that words are displayed on a screen, and people aren't holding songbooks, and now that the platform has near-professional singers belting out the song, led maybe by a professional song leader, that the congregation doesn't feel the need to sing as much, and that this is true for men more than for women. Another factor suggested is that new choruses are introduced almost every week and people just don't know them, don't have time to learn them before another new chorus is thrown at them.

The comments are equally informative as the original post. Some say men don't sing because the notes generally aren't in their range. Some say men are by nature less emotional than women, and so are less likely to sing, which is, after all, expressing emotions in more than mere words. Some say singing has simply gone out of style in general. There are fewer women singing as well as fewer men, and since men tended to sing less already, it's more noticeable for men.

I suspect all of these are contributing factors to why men don't sing in church, but I have in mind the reason that I think supersedes most other reasons in importance: We have become a nation more and more used to passive entertainment.

Think of it. During most of the 19th Century, and for all time before that, entertainment was a mix of active and passive, but more active than passive. At times some kind of traveling show would come through town (a circus, an acting company, a band), and people would see a performance—if they had enough disposable income to pay for it. Otherwise, what entertainment did they have? They perhaps gathered around the fireplace and sang folk songs, perhaps to a guitar or fiddle or, for the wealthy, a piano or harpsichord. Maybe someone would read from a book, or they took turns reading from a book. Children put on impromptu skits. Maybe a couple of families would get together and do this. Maybe on a Saturday night the town would get together for a dance.

Worship isn't entertainment, of course. It's us demonstrating our love for a God who is almighty and deserving of our highest praise and devotion. However, the act of singing during worship is akin to what is done during active entertainment. So I see a relationship.

The days, instead of taking part in active entertainment in the evening we watch television, which is totally passive. When we go from farm to market (i.e. to the grocery store), instead of singing on the wagon we listen to the radio—passive entertainment. When we're not watching television we are probably playing a video/computer game. That's sort of active, but it's solitary, and the lack of two or more people participating gives it a passive feel. We might get out to shows more, though I think movies are more passive than are a stage performance by a traveling troupe. A concert is somewhat in between. It's more active than a movie, but still seems somewhat passive.

This shift from active entertainment to passive entertainment is the result of technology. First Edison gave us the record player. We went from playing instruments to listening to recorded music. Maybe we sang along at first, but soon we realized the professional on the recording sang better than we did, so we took to listening. Then the radio came along. That was so captivating, and it included book-like programs as well as music (e.g. ...the Shadow knows), that I think that began to replace even reading as an active entertainment practice. Once television brought the audio-video combination into our houses, active entertainment was essentially gone. We became glued to the tube, and totally passive.

One other aspect of this is the thought that television, radio, movies, even concerts create in us an "entertain me" mindset. We sit back, fold our arms, and say "Entertain me." If one channel isn't entertaining enough we change it. If one movie isn't entertaining enough we go to a different one. If one band doesn't excite us enough we watch a video. We have so many passive entertainment options that we will be entertained.

All this, I think, bleeds over into our expectations in a worship service. We don't say this out loud, nor even think it consciously, but we are so used to being entertained by quality, professional entertainers, that we expect that level of "performance" in a worship service. We are so used to not actively participating in our entertainment that we don't even think of actively participating in worship. If worship at one church demands too much activity of us, we go to a different church.

That's my opinion. Any comments?