Monday, December 14, 2015

Lesson Learned

The desperate can be charming;
I'll say that for them.

The homeless desperate for home
The unloved desperate for love
The poor, desperate for money.

And, perhaps,
at the back of my mind I always knew that.

Knew that I was being used
by someone poor, homeless, and desperate.

And I forgave the little hidings
The squirreling away of self
The curious carving out of personal space
although my family had freely given her
all our home and heart to roam in.

She kept her heart free of us, though.
And when
her own home, her own life, her own ...her own...
had finally arrived.

She stepped out of our lives
and forgot us
as if we had never existed at all.

Worse than a thief;
If robbers came,
they would have left something.
But she stole our hearts.
And then betrayed.

My heart has become quite cynical.
There is no healing it.
I cannot dream
of being kind again.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Wattpad Block Party - Winter Edition II

I'll be doing the Wattpad Block Party -- Winter edition. And yes, I'll be doing a giveaway of one of my ebooks. If you want to be included in the giveaway, please subscribe to this blog (by feed or by email) and write something in the comment section below.

Post Title: What Writers can learn from a Writing Contest Judge by Carole McDonnell
Username: CaroleMcDonnell
I recently became a judge for a flash fiction short story competition. It was an interesting experience. Note, I do not say "fun experience" because there were moments which were decidedly not "fun." Especially when I had to (gently) critique a story or reject it entirely. So, I thought it'd be a good idea to share some of the writing advice I gave to some of the contestants.
The genres I judged were scifi, fantasy, ghost stories, and fairy tales.  

Follow the Rules
The very first advice that comes to mind is this: Follow the rules, submit your story to the appropriate genre, try to understand all the elements of a particular genre.  
One story, especially, had me quite torn. It was the best story I'd read in the entire competition, probably one of the best stories I'd read in years. But I had to disqualify it. The author had put it in the wrong category, the scifi category.  I suppose the author thought the story was scifi, but having a sprinkling of scifi catchphrases does not a science fiction story make. 
Other authors were rejected either because their stories did not have all the elements of a genre or the authors decided to go meta wink-wink nudge-nudge and parody a traditional scifi, fairy tale, or fantasy story.  It's best to create your own original fairy tale than to play with a well-known one. I cannot tell you how many "not your mother's fairytale" stories I saw. Worse, these "new" twists on traditional fairytales were not so new at all. Competition judges have read a lot; few "twists" are new to us.    
Know when to begin a story
Knowing when to begin a story is difficult. It is not necessary to start the story with guns blazing. A story that begins too close to the action might confuse the reader if it is badly-executed. So, should we start a story a second, an hour, a day, a month, a year, three hundred years before the event in the opening scene? Infodumping background and backstory at the beginning of a story is problematical. Most readers will not remember names, places, and dates, presented to them at the beginning of a story. Those captains, kings, nations you dumped on them in the opening prologue will have to be interwoven into the story again. Remember that people generally don't care about facts unless emotion is involved, and they don't care about a character's history until they've lived a few hours with the main character in the present.  Some writers use flashback scenes and others sprinkle backstory into a story, interweaving past events into the present. One warning about flashbacks: it's best not to use flashbacks too early in a story. In a novel, wait a few chapters or you will halt the forward thrust of the story. It's best not to use flashbacks in a short story unless one can get away with it. (And never assume you are so skilled that you can get away with breaking the rules.)
Know how many characters are needed
A failed story sometimes has too many characters; this just leads to confusion and a list of names the reader cannot connect to. Sometimes a story has one main character in the beginning then changes to another main character toward the end. Sometimes there is a missing character. Just as there can be a missing line in a story that pulls certain thoughts together, or a missing scene or a missing chapter, the missing character is the hardest character to "see." The writer has to step back and see if everyone present in the story is necessary, and if any essential person is absent. 
Talking heads
Narrative beats are not always necessary but long sections of dialog only punctuated by "he said" or "she said" is a lost opportunity to show aspects of the story, characterization, even subtextual metaphors.
Filtering words
Words such as "I looked," "I saw," "I glanced," "I heard," "I felt," or "I smelled" are filter words. They put a distance between the reader and the story's narrator. If one isn't careful, these words can overwhelm a manuscript, at every sentence. Instead of writing, "She saw him that morning wearing a blue-colored shirt," tweak the story to make it more active. "The blue shirt he wore" or "That morning, he wore a blue shirt." Instead of "She listened to the sounds of a bird singing in the woods," write "The caw of a raven echoed through the pine barrens." Avoid words such as "seemed," "appeared," "felt," "had the feeling," and "realized." They are often a sign that the writer is telling. Don't write "She seemed happy" or "I realized he was holding his breath" or "he looked scared." Try instead, "A smile flickered on her face" or "His shoulders relaxed and a silent sigh escaped his mouth" or "His hands shook."
Vagueness never helps
Use the perfect word. Why use "car" or "sound" when you can use Lexus or hooptie? Or splashing or gurgling? 
Lack of Voice
One of the worst problems I encountered was the lack of voice in the stories. Voice is not difficult, and yet it is one of the hardest things for new writers to master. I wil only say that "voice" reveals the narrator's heart. Sometimes it reveals more, such as the author's culture, obsessions, or preoccupations. But at its basic level, voice reveals the narrator's personality and heart.In the same way that a visual artist chooses a particular palette, medium, or subject, a writer chooses --or allows-- voice. Voice is often found in description. The way a character washes laundry can be conveyed in different way depending on the narrator's backstory, present situation, emotional state, age, rank, wealth, hopes. The description of an abandoned house depends on who is describing it. If the description of the abandoned house in your story could fit into any genre or could be done by any author, that description lacks voice. The writer doesn't have to be over-the-top, but merely himself.   
A story is not a summary
Know what a story is, how to tell it, and how to end it. A story is not a synopsis or a memo. Stories have elements of fiction, which include characterization, description, action, a story arc, a geographical or chronological setting. Many of the stories I read seemed to have characters hanging in space. The season, time of day, locations, were absent or had no effect on the character. Some stories were more like descriptions of situations; there was no beginning, no middle, no end. And some stories felt as if the author thought the twist ending would make up for the lack of plot.  
Watch the coarse language
Coarseness doesn't imply honesty, truth, passion, edginess, or anger, especially if a writer uses the coarse word repeatedly. Also, you never know if the judge is religious or easily offended. If you're going to use a coarse word, make sure it's absolutely needed.  
Be careful when attempting versimilitude
Fiction reflects life but in order to work, it can't reflect life too much. The dialog must feel real, have verisimilitude, but it must also be crafted. If two characters are arguing, don't write every word of the argument in order to show how stressed both characters are. Real-life arguments go on forever...but dialog is perfected conversation.  Have you ever seen a movie where characters are having a boring conversation? The boring conversation lasts just long enough for the viewer to understand that it is a boring conversation. Then the scene ends. The writer doesn't give us the full extent of the conversation but manages to cut away after the plot point is achieved. Consider also good dialogs, which are fictionally styled and carefully-crafted but somehow feel real, natural, and free-flowing.  
Pronoun Referrents
When using pronouns such as "it," "its," "she," "her," "this," "of them," "these," "those," "that," "there," or "which," always remember that the reader is not inside your head. Always ask yourself if the reader will understand what "it" is referring to. 
Watch for overly-long sentences 
Some of the sentences I saw in some stories were doing much too much work.  There is just so much information a sentence can hold. And some sentences work so hard they should be paid overtime. Watch, also, if you overdo it with commas, prepositions, clauses, phrases, etc. 
I hope this helps you. And happy creativity, all!

Carole McDonnell 

Jpeg of My Life as an Onion attached to this email.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Weird Western Wednesdays

Today I am guest blogging at
I am participating in Nicole Givens Kurtz’s Weird Western Wednesdays!
My guest blog post appears on her blog, Pulp Reports, which can be found on her website, Other Worlds Pulp (



            I remember the first story that devastated me: it was a fairy tale and it was Hans Christian Andersons The Little Mermaid. A sad work quite unlike the happy Disney film version, it taught me the world was unfair, that a kind-hearted person could work hard for a particular and peculiar heart-loved treasure and yet not receive it. It was not merely the simple act of not receiving the treasure that bothered my tween heart but the fact that the treasure had been stolen, willfully, cunningly, and by someone with a rationalizing conscience. The Little Mermaid had saved the prince from drowning. The Little Mermaid had given up much in order to win the human prince. Therefore the Little Mermaid should if life were fairwin the prince of her heart. But she had not.

            The second story to bother but not truly devastate-- me was the film High Noon with Gary Cooper. The hero was loved by two women. One pale and blonde. The other dark and foreignand somehow used or damaged goods.

I have always loved and hated Westerns. To me there is no difference between a cowboy with a rifle and a warrior with a sword, lance, or quiver. They are often both on quests, they have a right to wrong, they follow the rules and laws of their times, they exist in a solitary often desolatelandscape. Trouble was, westerns were often upsetting me because of the way they treated minority characters.

So, as I watched High Noon, I could not see what all was so bad about the Spanish spitfire. She was quite noble, trustworthy, and honest, and she loved the hero. Except that there was that taint of being the other and somehow not being worthy enough. Like the Little Mermaid, she lost her love as well. I suppose Ive always been more interested in stories when a love story and an underdog were involved. And, like all little minority kids who watched TV in the nineteen-seventies, I developed the art of mentally adapting the story being told on the big screen. It seemed perfectly clear to me that Romeo and Juliet were about two lovers from different religions, and that Hamlets love Ophelia was black. That is how we heal ourselves.

Later, when I found out that Hans Christian Anderson had written The Little Mermaid in order to tell the real-life story about a Jewish girls unrequited love for a Christian boy, I understood why stories about the rejected, the unseen, the wounded other meant so much to me and why I simultaneously loved and hated westerns.

Weird Westerns are not my favorite genre but they are in the top ten of my faves. Probably just after wounded warrior fantasies. Why? Because they combine my love of heroes with my love of the fantastic. And when the story is multicultural, all things come together to make the world right again. If not for the Little Mermaid, then at least for me.

I said earlier that The Little Mermaid devastated me. There are two genres of devastating stories: those that clearly open a childs eyes to the fact that the world is unfair, and those that utterly disregard some aspect of the child, such as race or disability. The Little Mermaid may have been a fairytale but it is inherently true. High Noon is about reality but it is not only true but cruel. Why? Because it is part of a canon that excludes. That is the worse kind of canon. I think stories help to set the world right. They either set the world right by not consciously or unconsciouslyignoring certain aspects of humanity such as race and disability. Or they set the world right by warning us about the evils in the world. In that way, stories point to the obstacles we may encounter in our path. I hope the stories in this anthology will help light and right the way.


Carole McDonnell
    1. Twitter- @scifiwritir


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Should Christian Stories Evangelize

The easy answer is: “yes, we should evangelize.” Evangelism is often about making the world see our light…without us being aware of it.  They see us warts and all, without us being preachy.
However, most Christians are
  1. legalistic and preach the law more than the riches of His grace;
  2. inside a box but don’t realize they are;
  3. don’t seem to understand that it is often the goodness of God that calls sinners to repentance;
  4. are not really good at speaking about other big issues in the world; and
  5. American Christians preach their class, race, agenda, and denomination.
Here is more of what I mean.
1. We don’t know enough about the riches of God’s grace to share that. So often preachers will preach about the many facets of being good and how we should not sin and how thankfully Jesus saved us. This is preaching legalism under the guise of preaching grace. We have to understand the many facets of His grace. We have to widen our understanding of grace. Then we can teach and evangelize instead of always majoring in being good.
2. Christians often think they know what the world is saying, thinking, doing. But really they don’t know. Case in point, most Christians have been so taught that the world really needs to understand John 3:16. But honestly, the world has heard that a lot. The world already knows the gospel. Another case in point, most Christians see every conversation through what their church or denomination teaches. So even when they talk to or debate a fellow Christian, they are often unable to hear what the other Christian is saying because they are so trained to think the other Christian thinks like they do. Can you imagine such folks having conversations with non-Christians? Already imagining where they think the other person is coming from.
Case in point — a recent conversation I had with two Christians in which I used this quote:
“Once our hearts get broken, they never fully heal. They always ache. But perhaps a broken heart is a more loving instrument. Perhaps only after our hearts have cracked wide open, have finally and totally unclenched, can we truly know love without boundaries.”
— Fred Epstein
Every Christian who spoke with me about it interpreted it as Epstein saying “God’s sovereignty created trouble.”  They were self-righteous and angry and could not see that God was not shown as the causative agent at of broken hearts at all. They could not see past their assumption about what the “other” was thinking or about where the “other” came from.
For 3, I will just point you to this article. Note that this writer WAS a Christian and she believed that we go to heaven because we are “good.”
For 4, I will also use the above link. Note also that she speaks of social justice. American Christian evangelism generally only speaks of sin. There are no Romeros, Martin Luther Kings, etc in the United States. Not in a big way. Most of the times Christians talk about anything in the world, they speak of it in order to get a “person” to stop sinning. They ponder only personal evangelism and saving each human or saving The United States (as a nostalgic hearkening back to a rural type of Eden where America is the unique country, the city set on a hill) rather than saving the world.
The problem is that while some folks are focused on their personal sins and will be open to dealing with their own salvation, there are other larger “secular” (so-called) issues that Christianity could touch. And I don’t mean “touch” as “show how sinful it all is.” American Christians are also very divided so they deal with issues in a very me-oriented way. Most white Christians don’t go on marches against guns, poverty, climate change, torture, war. They don’t give flaky lectures in the way New Age philosophies do. Christianity and art. No. Science, sex, and dehumanization …or whatever else. The spiritual joy of sex, artistic creation, linguistics, horse-racing, interior design, fabric design, whatever. Christians are just not good at engaging the popular culture without making it be all about sin.   The upshot is that the world (and the world’s religions) speaks of stuff like this and there is no Christian counterpart. There are Christians who don’t seem to understand that all good gifts come from God therefore even atheists are blessed with talents, etc, and are speaking of God’s beauty and creation even though those atheists aren’t aware of it.
For 5, I will use as an example the following quote:
I ask, “How have you all this wealth?” For the care of the poor consumes wealth. When each one receives a little for one’s needs, and when all owners distribute their means simultaneously for the care of the needy, no one will possess more than one’s neighbor. Yet it is plain that you have very many lands. Whence all these? Undoubtedly you have subordinated the relief and comfort of many to your convenience. And so, the more you abound in your riches, the more you want in love.
— Basil the Great
Even if this might be deemed by some as a bit extreme, a Christian should not look at the quote and immediately start talking about welfare mothers. But this is just what most white Christians do — especially when the quote is mentioned by a black Christian. If the quote is mentioned by a white Christian, then most Biblical American Christians will start talking about commies and progressives.
So then, to your question. How can people who have so much of the world in us, how can people who are so blind to the speck in their own eyes, how can people who cannot see past their own cultural issues truly bring a great wonderful Christ to a sinner without the sinner — if said sinner is perceptive — rolling their eyes?

Earthly things lead to heavenly things

Jesus said, “If I tell you of earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell  you of heavenly things?”

I think Christian fiction could improve by being more cosmology based. And not the usual cosmology of angels but about some personal dear truth that touches the writer’s unique soul.
There is a kind of trust Christians should develop, a kind of fearless delving into the unknowing and letting the creative chips fall where they may. But often we are so afraid of veering into sin, of veering into what we don’t know, and we work from an invisible doctrinal outline. I really think we have to brave the creative process and discover our own emotional issues. The Holy Spirit works in our spirit and in our emotions. The book of Revelation says that he who overcomes will receive a white stone with a name on it which no man knows but the receiver.

I think our personal relationship with God is like that. We are individuals whom God loves — and He works within our individuality and personality. As artists, Christians are so aware of a Christian creative tradition (Lewis, the Arthurian Cycle, and Tolkien, for instance) and so aware that other Christians want something like Tolkien and company that they unconsciously write for other Christians instead of writing from their own unique souls.

I think the problem with many Christians is that they are very conscious of planting spiritual seeds that might grow and mature in the reader’s mind. And some Christian writers even go so far as wanting to write a book that plants seeds, waters them, and harvests them into an altar call at the book’s end. But I think that’s hard to do when there are often so many mental, emotional, and theological arguments that make the mental soil of the reader so hard to cultivate. If the field is the soul of the reader, then Christian evangelism should try to affect that soil/soul. Even if we only cultivate the soil/soul and someone else reaps the harvest, we will have done our part.

One of my favorite books written by a Christian is George MacDonald’s The Day Boy and The Night Girl. One cannot read it and say it “means” anything. Because whatever theology contained in it is pretty unclear. But it touches the soul. There is such a thing as soul. And so many Christian fiction books touch doctrine, or the mind, or the emotions but not the soul.

It’s not an evangelical book but it is a seed-sowing kind of book that breaks up fallow ground. We each know what has wounded us against God or religious people, what has troubled us about the world, what has terrified us about the cosmos, what has enchanted us about the universe. That is our little white stone with our name on it. And sometimes we don’t really realize that what is what our soul wants to write about. If we would simply trust the creative force of the Holy Spirit and believe that we can dive into a piece of writing without being theologically “sure” how it will all turn out, then our souls will peek through.

When I wrote The Constant Tower, I wasn’t aware the story would be about God’s love and spiritual warfare. But since my spirit is joined to God’s spirit, God knew what the story would be about. When I wrote My Life as an Onion, I thought I was writing a romance, but Holy Spirit knew that I was writing about woundedness. When I wrote Wind Follower, I thought I was writing about cultural wars but Holy Spirit was writing about loss.

All these things — loss, woundedness, God’s love — are not obviously about the cross of Christ or His great work of salvation. But they can touch the fallow ground souls of people and will help to prepare the soil by creatively doing the Great Commission Work of healing, cleansing and raising their souls from the dead.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Poetry: The tainted glass

The poet's eye
should not be mirrors
but glass;
To speak of one's self
one must turn one's gaze outward.

instinctively understand this.
Among the greats,
selfies are rare.
And great conversationalists
do not speak of themselves.

Young poets struggle to believe this.
The challenge to put self aside
insults, hurts, them.

But, if they wish to be great,
this is the passage
they must walk through
In art, this dying to self
leads to a purer declaration of self.
This is what craft is about
the hiding which shows itself.

The poem,
being pure glass --
its taint, its color,
will reveal your true self.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Remember Lot's Wife

It's funny. Preachers always preach about Lot's Wife with a kind of sneery petty maliciousness. They always have to see her as looking back at sin and lust. They figure that can be the only reason why she looked back. And they don't seem to realize that when they think this kind of thing they are really not seeing the real issue behind the text. They are either rehashing what other ministers have taught them or they are too addicted to seeing sins in certain Bible characters and judging them.

Jesus has just finished talking about separation. Two will be in bed; one will be taken and one will be left.

It is unclear in the English Bible how many daughters Lot and his wife had. We know that Lot delayed. Why did he? We know that the angels were very specific: "your unmarried daughters who live with you in this house." We know there were daughters' husbands or daughters' fiances who would be left behind. Is it possible that Mrs Lot looked back because of her grief at losing people and not because of her love of sin? We don't know how many daughters Lot had. Two? Two unmarried? Two betrothed? Two unmarried AND to married?

I really want to write a book about Lot's wife that looks at this woman mercifully.

So then, why did Jesus say to Remember her?

Because, won't those who are raptured (I don't care if it's pre, post, or mid) will be grieved at such a terrible separation? Heck, when death comes to some of our relatives, won't we also be grieved at the eterna separation? Heck, when judgement day comes, won't we also grieve at the family separation?

But why don't we concentrate and focus on this aspect of the command. Separation..a terrible separation. Why do Christians insist on using those three words only as a way to be maliciously petty about a woman they really don't know? Because the minds of Christians are very hard to change. Sad, though. Because what stays with me when i see those three words is the terrible separation, not the "oh this is an evil woman who loved sin." Where is the love?  

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Lamech, emulation, and murderous rage

Recently when the reporter was murdered by the aggrieved angry former employee, a TV station was talking about his manifesto in which he talked about other rage murderers. I forgot who. Might have been Dylann Roof. Or Columbine. Whoever it was, there was some identification and emulation taking place. And this is apparently quite normal. Mass murderers, rage murderers, murderers with manifestos are always looking back and praising some mass murderer or rage murderer who murdered before they did. Columbine, for instance, has popped up in several manifestos. Usually something like, "I'm gonna kill folks like the guys at Columbine folks did." Or "XXX who killed all those students/theatergoers etc was right."

So this got me thinking about Lamech, Cain's descendant. Lamech was the first person in the Bible -- that we know of-- who emulated a murderer. He looked upon Cain as a kind of spiritual idol/excuse/validation. Cain got mad; I, Lamech, got mad. Cain was forgiven and I also will be forgiven. Cain was his spiritual pedigree. Ah, we humans! Always looking toward exemplars.

Of course, we are all to look upon others who attain great deeds. Paul said, be imitators of me. Jesus wants us to imitate Him. But wholesale generalized selfish emulation is forbidden. I used to think Paul spoke against emulation because we humans only imitated things that made us lose ourselves in some other person's stylings, antics, etc. But apparently I missed the serious point. Emulation can make us do nasty things to other people because other folks have done nasty things.

Lord save us from wrong emulations.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

God, beauty, the pygmies and me

God is so unlike what we have imagined him to be..and sometimes when we get a gimpse of how God thinks, we are flummoxed for a while and confused. Because God's ways are not our ways.

This post will be about beauty. And about the broadening of my mind.

I like to think I'm clear-thinking and not encumbered by culture. But recently something made me think. It involved the pygmies.

It turns out that there are many evolutionary DNA mitochondrial genome alleles in the world. Certain pygymy populations have an abundance of alleles..more so than other genetic groups. The implication is that the riches of all this genetic material in one group of people may indicate that the pygmies were the first people from whom we all are descended. My crappy description of this evolutionary discipline aside, let's just take a moment to let that settle in.  The pygmies are probably the nearest to the image of Lucy/Eve. Again, let that settle in. But even if I'm not quite understanding what all this is about, and if we ignore the pygmy research....let's pause a moment.

What did Lucy (the evolutionary first mother of us all) look like? What did Eve look like?

Now, I didn't think of myself as racist or even affected by the thinking of European evolutionary types. But as i looked at the pics of pygmies, I actually found myself thinking that God's idea of beauty was seriously wrong. It became clear to me that I believed Adam looked like Will Smith or young Denzel or even Amir Khan.  (I was at least advanced enough to know that Adam would be dark-skinned. After all, his name means "Red" like the earth he was taken from. ) But apparently, I still had the European model. In my mind, Adam had to be 6 feet tall, with mega Abs, etc.  In short, I had this western idea of beauty and the historical Adam did not seem perfect to my narrow cultural mindset.

I found this hard to wrap my mind around. For a while, it seemed to me that God didn't know what he was doing. Why would a perfect God's ideal perfect first human being look like a pygymy and not "a body like Arnold's with a Denzel base"? Why wasn't God's idea of beauty like mine (which was obviousy the truest best idea)? Yes, I was judging God by my limited mind and by my cultural norms and brainwashing. But the entire concept seemed so weird to me it took a while to get over it. But I at last learned how mired I was in my own mired that God's ways just seemed wrong.

I got to thinking about this when someone on Facebook posted yet another meme about Michelle Obama's butt and Michelle being fat. I understand that the default of many white Americans is that their culture is the best, the superior, the perfect. I've seen racist white guys with big noses, guys covered with hair all over their arms, necks, chest, and back, who thought they were superior to black folks because black folks have big lips and dark skins. It's as if their minds are so stuck in their paradigm that someone big lips imply racial inferiority while big noses do not. Or dark skin imply stupidity while a body covered with hair does not.

I have had to remind some racist folks that the way we look is merely a genetic thing and that God does go around rating external beauty. He doesn't have the Hollywood or Aryan standard. It is often very difficult for white Christians to imagine Adam and Eve being dark-skinned with big butts. As part of the Euro-mindset, even if everyone says "man first came out of Africa" ..the average white Christian has an idea of what Adam and Eve's butt would look like...and any bigger or higher the butt would be deemed wrong or somehow made by an incompetent God who did not understand beauty. I'm just saying that the American idea of what is beautiful or fat is not something God even gets into. And his idea of beautiful has to deal with the heart. God made a variety of genetics and all are perfect. Man looks at appearances but God, the angels, the whole host of heaven only see the heart.

God hates racism. There are two times in which God lost his patience where racism was concerned. One was when Jesus turned over the money changers table. The Jewish moneylenders were cheating the proselytes. God's house was to be called a house of prayer for all people, but the money changers were taking advantage of non-Jewish beievers from all nations. The other time was when Miriam was prejudiced against Moses Ethiopian wife. And God symbolically spat in her face.

Sadly, there are many Christians -- good people who believe in their Bible-- who are prejudiced. They don't realize their prejudices are preventing their prayers from being answered. God has said we must love everyone, and he who hates his brother without a cause is a murderer. When I'm on facebook and some cultural issue comes up and good Christians show their hateful racial sides, I often wonder what we wil do with so many good but hateful Christians. It's hard for them to see past their cultural assumptions.

Lord, thank you for challenging my infantility. Save me from cultural prejudice. Save me from stupid assumptions.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A soft answer turns away wrath

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.  Proverbs 15:1

This is a verse that has saved the lives, reputation, and livelihood of many people throughout the ages. It is found in the Book of Proverbs,  book of great wisdom that is designed to protect its reader from sin, shame, poverty, and death. There is much in Proverbs about anger, and it behoves the reader to take these admonition to heart.

It is generally a part of human nature to defend itself, whether the "self" is right or wrong. It is also generally a part of human nature not to allow one's self to be intimidated. Humans are also insightful. They can perceive egotistical and subtle human pride in the rebukes, corrections, and scoldings they receive from when certain teachers, officers of the law, pastors or others use or abuse their "authority" to lecture them and triumph over them.  Rebukes can be given at the correct or incorrect time, with the wrong or right attitude, with a desire to help or a desire to assert the rebuker's pride. Those with power, however, often become so identified with their power that they do not wish to be challenged.

In American culture, there have been many instances of cruelty done by police, slaveholders, financiers, and others in some kind of authority. Sadly, those in power have often won, especially when there was no videotape or fair-minded judge to challenge them. The guilty have often triumphed over the weak even when the laws were fair.  

The Preacher writes in Ecclesiastes 4:1, "Again, I observed all the oppression that takes place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. The oppressors have great power, and their victims are helpless."

The Preacher also writes in Ecclesiastes 7:17, "Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them."

Those who believe in God trust God to defend them and to show them when to speak and when to be silent.

The Psalmist writes: "How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?" Psalm 13:2

He also writes: "O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me."  Psalm 25:2

The Preacher also states, "I said to myself, 'In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds.'"

A victim might or might not get justice inside a court of law, but learning to answer one's oppressor carefully by "biting one's lip" can protect one's life, livelihood and health. As the Preacher says in Ecclesiates 9:4, "There is hope only for the living. As they say, 'It's better to be a live dog than a dead lion!'" The victims of oppression in many countries have learned to survive the unjust authorities over them by knowing when to use gentle --if cowardly-- answers. This is how the ancestors of Black people survived during the early days of lynching and perhaps this will be necessary in the modern day when the counterpart of lynching is also prevalent.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Hebrews 11:31 -- Rahab

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.  -- King James Bible
by faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who disbelieved, having received the spies with peace. -- Young's Literal Translation

In the book of Judges, it is written that Joshua sent spies to Jericho to search out the land. The spies happened upon a tavern where the prostitute Rahab worked. She protected them and told the spies the way to escape. At that moment, she aligned herself with God's people. She was a harlot, yet God chose to have the spies meet her. She did not welcome angels unawares. The spies were not angels but her gift of hospitality caused her to be rescued. The citizens of Jericho, however, are described as "disobedient" or "unbelieving." How then did they not "obey?" Were they given a chance to "obey"? What did they not "believe"? Is Paul writing about all the dwellers of Jericho or only about those who had received the message of possible salvation from Rahab?

Rahab is shown as a messenger of salvation. If she believed what had been told her, she and her household would be saved. How many received her message? The Bible is full of messengers of salvation: There was the Samaritan woman at the well who told her village about the man who told her everything about her life? There was the Gadarene Demoniac who spread the news about his salvation and caused all the inhabitants of the ten cities to meet Jesus when Jesus came the second time to their coasts. There was Cornelius who gathered all his friends into his house because of the angel's message. All these people preached the gospel and had oportunity to share the good news of rescue -- from death, destruction-- with others. The others who heard their message could choose to obey the message or to disbelieve it.  

And what of those who did not hear of possible salvation but who only heard of destruction? The Gibeonites believed and came from afar and used deception to save themselves. The people of Jericho didn't seem to battle the Israelites at all. So, then what does Paul mean by the disobedient. Rahab believed and showed her belief by using the scarlet thread at her window. It is also written that she and her household were saved. Therefore, it can be assumed that her family believed they could be rescued from such a large invading army.
It is a difficult thing to believe that one can be saved when a thousand are falling at one's side and ten thousands at one's right hand. The scarlet thread was a thin string to hang one's hope upon. The scarlet blood of Jesus Christ is a thin string to hold onto, if one does not believe. But to those who believe, the cross of Christ is the delivering power of God.

The Exception on earth is heaven's rule and often one must be courageous or conceited eough to trust that one would be an exception. The spies had promised salvation. If Rahab had not believed in the power of that little scarlet thread and had been disobedient to the promise made by the spies, she would not have lived.  

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Hebrews 11:30 -- Jericho

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.  Hebrews 11:30

Joshua had inherited the leadership of the Children of Israel after the death of Moses. One of his first challenges was to conquer the city of Jericho which had a large protective wall around it. Joshua was told how to break the wall down: The Israelite army, along with its priests, were to walk around the wall for seven days.  On the seventh day they were to walk around the walk seven times. Only the trumpets of the priests would be sounded during the seven days and only on the seventh day were the Israelies allowed to give a war cry or to make any human sound.

The inhabitants of Jericho were already full of terror. What must it have been like for them to stand within their barred city gates awaiting certain doom? But what would it have been like for the warriors in Joshua's army? Perhaps they wished to speed up the taking of Jericho? How difficult was it for them to remain silent during the seven days?

Six days of dutiful treading around the city turned into a seventh day in which the momentum increased. Faith often requires momentum, more action as the days of prayerful waiting advances. Faith added to faith, fasting added to faith, silence added to faith. Then at last, the release comes with a war cry.  

This is another undertaking which requires communal faith.The science behind the fall of Jericho's walls is unclear -- the steady tramping of human feet and the sound of trumpets might have had some effect on the ground and the walls. But it was the faith of Israel's army and the perfect adherence to God's commands that caused the walls to fall.  Later in the book of Joshua, the story is related of Achan's sin: Achan is the only one in the whole Israelite camp who sinned, yet the entire nation suffered. It is also written in the Bible that a little yeast permeates the entire lump of dough. The Church of God is affected by the sins and blessings of every individual believer. How glorious and triumphant would the church be if unity reigned in the church. However, at this time in history, one part of the American Church values the rainbow flag and another part of the American Church values the Confederate flag.

12Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." 13Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I Corinthians 1:13

(We) have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him-- 11a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. 12So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:11

 is divided between  

Monday, July 06, 2015

Hebrews 11:29 - Faith and Division

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.  Hebrews 11:29

In this verse, Paul reminds his readers of the day when the Israelites miraculously crossed the Red Sea. The Children of Israel were fleeing the pursuing Egyptians. However, their route to freedom was barred by a natural obstacle. Some natural obstacles are easily overcome, or can be overcome by natural means. In this way, a natural way of fording the river would have been by ship. But the Israelites were many and time was of the essence.

Moses asked God to help him flee, but God rebuked Moses for asking. God reminded Moses that Moses held a staff in his hand and could command the sea if he so wished. Moses commanded the waves to retreat and the waves stood up high. The former slaves walked through on dry land while the Egyptians were swallowed up by the waves.

Paul writes here that by faith the people passed through the Red Sea. Moses had faith to command the miracle; the people had faith to believe Moses was being used by God; the Egyptians had no such faith and no such leader. Throughout the ten plagues, the Egyptians slowly learned about the futility of their gods. The two magicians and all the other workers of supernatural magic who had stood before Pharoah had seen how powerless their magic and gods were. In addition, Pharoah's status as a god on earth had been shown to be false. By the time the Egyptians were crossing the Red Sea, they had little faith in the supernatural powers of either their gods or their Pharoah. Their gods of war, water and rivers had also not given them any promise of victory. The Egyptians had battled Moses and "I AM" without hearing a word from their own gods. The only God doing any kind of speaking to his people was Yahweh, "I AM."    

Christians believe that there is a difference between those who are Yahweh's people and those who are not. Christians, like Jews, are also taught that Yahweh is a God of miracles.  These miracles often come about to people of faith. In this case, the dividing line between those who are not God's people and those who are god's people comes down to faith. In this particular instance, it is not personal or individual faith that brought deliverance but communal faith and the faith of a community's leader. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Books I've read which I highly recommend for summer reading apropos of nothing. For anyone looking for a good book to read, I highly recommend these books that I've loved.
The Man Who Lived in Inner Space by Arnold Federbush
Oliver and the Sea Wigs by Philip Reeve (kid book)
Larklight by Philip Reeve  (steampunk YA)
The Martian by Andy Weir  -- total math science geek fun
Dark Eden by Chris Beckett  
Slated by Teri Terry -- dystopia YA
All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill -- time travel YA
Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales -- omnibus novel
Living with Ghosts  -- Kari Sperring
The Grass King's Concubine -- Kari Sperring
Abengoni by Charles R Saunders
Acacia -- David Durham
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Shatterworld by Lelia Foreman (Christian Fiction)
Ragnarok Unravels by Jessica Fry
Mermaid Bride by Jessica Fry
Waiting for Appa by Mirtika Schulz
So long been dreaming -- Nalo Hopkinson
Steamfunk -- Milton Davis, Balogun
Dark Matter -- Sheree Thomas
Dark Faith Maurice Broaddus
Jigsaw Nation -- Ekaterina Sedia
The hen who dreamed she could fly sun-mi hwang
Memoirs of Lady Hegyeong
Sunflower Splendor -- classic antho of Chinese poetry
Diary -- Julian Green -- LOOOOOOOVED THIS
Miracle on Voodoo Mountain
A Young Woman's Remarkable Story of Pushing Back the Darkness for the Children of Haiti By Megan Boudreaux
In Capable Arms by Susan Kovac
Where the Wind Leads: Vinh Chung with Tim Downs
The Railway Man by Eric Lomax
And there was Light b y Jacques Lusseyran -- LOVED THIS!
Astonished: A story of Evil, Blessings, Grace, and Solace. by Beverly Donofrio
From Orphan to Physician -- Chun-Wai Chan and David Biebel
Training in Christianity by Kierkegaard
Discipleship by J Heinrich Arnold
NIV God's Word for Gardener's Bible edited by Shelley Cramm, General Editor (for bible lovers who love gardens and plants)
The Book of Job by Mark Larrimore
The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography by Alan Jacobs
Moving Your invisible Boundaries: Heart Physics: The Key to Limitless Living by Dr Jim Richards
Forever Fluent by Gabriel Wyner
Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova
Consider the Eel by Richard Schweid
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hebrews 11:24 By faith, Moses

Before Paul writes about Moses' faith, he wrote about the faith of Moses' parents. He will also talk about the faith of the people.
We hear about Moses life in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. We also hear about it in Acts chapter 7 when Stephen speaks about the Israelite habit of always rejecting those whom God has sent.
Here is a list of what Moses did by faith:
He refused to remain part of the kingly line.
He chose to be mistreated. (He chose ot to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. I suspect that a king's son or adopted grandson would have had a lavish lifestyle.)
He regarded disgrace for God as something more valuable than all the treasures of Egypt.
Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, he was not afraid of the king's anger.
He left Egypt.
He persevered.
He saw Him who is invisible.
He kept the Passover.
And all that was before he even got into the wilderness.  There were many different situations which required different kinds of faith, but Moses went from faith to faith.

24By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. Hebrews 11:24-28
13Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, 14Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? 15I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments.f But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”
16Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
19Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. 20Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. 22And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. 23So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.
24But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.
25“Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a godg!”
26Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. 27Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!
28Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!”
30Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hebrews 11:23 -- By faith, the law was disobeyed

It's interesting the reason given why Moses parents hid him for three months: He was a goodly child.
Consider that for a moment. Is Paul saying that Moses parents would have allowed him to be murdered if Moses hadn't been lovely?
I know nothing about why people commit infanticide. There are many cultures where parents kill disabled children, female children, or the child that is one extra mouth to feed. There are also people who kill fetuses before birth, people who feel abortion is the way out of a complicated situation. I would think that any parent would think that his/her child is the greatest child in the world. Isn't that human nature? Don't we all believe our own children are born to do great things? But maybe some people don't believe that.  
It's interesting that Paul writes about the decision to keep a child after writing about three patriarchs who blessed their decendants and one who almost killed his own son but trusted God would find a way.
But I won't go into a pro-life screed; I will move on.

We are here shown an example of the faith of Moses' parents. Their faith is demonstrated by their decision to simply disobey the law. American Christians tend to believe that God created public authority and that all law and order must be obeyed. Yet, when Paul commanded his believers to obey those in authority, Paul was aware that those in authority were against the growing Christian movement and any kind of Christian misbehavior or uprising could cause trouble for Christianity. In addition, Paul's letters were sent via Tycichus, Paul's traveling mailman, and it would be dangerous for Tycichus for Paul to tell those in Christian churches to rise up against the Roman government. And we cannot say for sure what Paul said in his face-to-face sermons about Roman ruling authority. In Paul's Philemon, however, we see Paul urging Philemon to be a Christian brother to Onesimus a runaway slave. Christians at that time were already considered counter-culture because masters and slaves sat together as equals in home churches. This did not happen anywhere else in Roman society. But Paul was asking even more of Philemon. Another non-Christian "master" would have the legal right to kill his runaway servant.

In addition, much of the Bible has people disobeying authorities in order to obey God's law. Consider Shadrach, Mesach, and Abed-Nego disobeying the king. Consider those who helped David against Saul. Moses' parents will forever go down in history as faithful because they disobeyed the king's law.      

23By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Hebrews 11:20-22 By Faith, the patriarchs blessed

20By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
21By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
22By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.

It is so easy to curse and not bless. Instead of cursing our sick bodies, perhaps we should try blessing our bodies?

These three verses show the patriarchs and their blessings and instructions for their descendants.
Before we examine the aspects of human prophecy showed by these patriarchs, I just have to say one thing.
Paul writes that "by faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future." I don't really know what to make of this so I'll have to ponder this a bit more. Isaac was deceived when he blessed Jacob so he himself wasn't aware of his prophecy. This could be a bit like Noah's prophecy over Ham and like the High Priest's prophecy that "one man should die for the people." The prophecy is there, regardless of the state of the prophet. Sometimes prophecy is about seeing the future God has planned, sometimes prophecy is simply creating the future by one's faithful words. This is when the prophecy is a blessing or a curse. So, it seems as if Isaac believed his blessings for his would come true. So it is the power of belief at work that Paul is praising in this instance.

Jacob's blessing of his grandsons mirrors blind Isaac's blessing. I'm not too sure about this blessing either. The descendants of Joseph didn't exactly live up to this blessing from what I could see. This is also something I will have to ponder more. But I want you to look at the imagery here: Jacob worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. Now staffs are pretty important in the Bible. And Jacob's staff not only would have had the typical markings and notations that Middle Eastern shepherds had to record events in their lives, but it might also have been the staff he also leaned on when he was given the name Israel instead of Jacob, after the angel touched his inner thigh and created a permanent disability for him. Having such a memory of God's greatness, Jacob could easily foresee blessings for his grandsons, once again, letting the younger rule over the older.  
Joseph's prophecy seems to be straight-up prophecy. Having suffered in prison, he seems to have understood that the Israelites would also suffer in prison and rise up out of it. Maybe he had been told that his life would be symbolic of the nation. Whatever the reason, he did not want to have his bones remain in a land that symbolized slavery. Also, by asking his descendants to take his body with them when they left Egypt, he planted the hope in their hearts that one day they would also leave their slavery. They woud have cherished this promise in their hearts as they cherished all the words Abram, Isaac, and Jacob, had said.
All these blessings were spoken as preparation for death.
Consider, how powerful words are. Negative words said by parents curse children and echo in the children's brains forever. Words such as "You idiot!" or "you'll never amount to any good!" Or even well-meant words such as "You're sickly like your grandmother." As children of God, we must understand how powerful faithfilled words are, whether they are words spoken as blessings or curse.  

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