Perhaps the greatest single failure in the Christian life is the refusal to give thanks. Thanks that is dependent upon success or the fulfillment and pleasure of our own will is indeed thanksgiving – but is weak indeed. It is easy to give thanks for our pleasures and self-satisfactions (though even then we often forget to give thanks).

Fr. Stephen Freeman (source)

You could say that thanksgiving to God in every circumstance is the mark of a Christian; it is our daily activity, the source of our joy, the fountain from which our hearts beat and our days become something more than rote and given. They become life and joy and full.

It is absurd and appears to be the height of foolishness to give thanks for the cancer, for the persecution, for the abuse, for the sufferings of all sort. It appears wrong, as those tyrannies have fled far from the will of God. Those horrors that afflict us (and we inflict on others) are blackness.

Yet we may give thanks. In spite of the darkness, in spite of our misery, as an act of faith and opposition to our Enemy.

As an act of faith in our God, who is Good, who is Love, whose ways are so far beyond that they are darkness to us, whose light is beyond light so that we cannot perceive, whose Love is beyond our fickle and stuttering affection.

Let us give thanks to the Lord.thanksgiving image

Blog Update on Church Father Sermons

church fathers imageI realized that I hadn’t posted any excerpts from the Church Father’s sermons lately, but I have a good reason. I’ve been preaching a sermon series on The 10 Commandments, so I haven’t been referring much to my Fathers’ resources of late.

I’ve been trying to use the lectionary readings as texts as much as possible, though honestly a few of the sermons have only referenced them in a vague kind of way.

The series ends next week, and I will return to my regular lectionary preaching, so too, the Church Fathers will have a chance to speak to us again here as well. That is, if this still interests you.

Mormon Education

I had to take my daughter to school at 6:45 this morning to get ready for a band trip, but on the way had to pick up a friend of hers who needed a ride. We were to pick her up not at her home, but at her church. Her Mormon church. At 6:30 in the morning.

It sounded fishy to me.

But we arrived, and there were other cars in the parking lot, and her friend came out and on the way to school I chatted with her about what she was doing and I learned a lot.

From grades 9-12 on every school day she had “seminary” from 6:00-7:00 am. Every school day. For four years. I asked her if every Mormon church does it that way and she said some of them are able to offer it as an elective in the High Schools and have it during the day. I asked if some Mormon churches have it after school and she said they don’t because of sports.

It suddenly clarified so many things about Mormonism to me. They receive so much instruction in (presumably) Mormon doctrine during the high school years it is no wonder they retain so many members who are so dedicated and quick to evangelize, if you want to call it that.

It shouldn’t have surprised me at all that they refrain from after-school activities either–Mormons are adept at accommodating to the American experience.

Is there anything Christians can learn from this?

Tools and Toolishness

screwdriver pictureSo, Scrivener for Windows was just released. Scrivener is a writing program for Macs which is immensely popular and used by hundreds of published authors. Since I use Windows machines, I’ve been out of luck to even look see what it looks like until last night. But I’m impressed. The Windows version is “early Beta” which means I discovered several bugs already, and the final release is not planned until January or February, but even at that, it is a nice piece of software.

I’ve also tried using Liquid Story Binder, which is very cool…in an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink-kind-of-way, but which is not as well loved or used (Sorry, Jesse, it’s true).

Mostly I’ve used, though, is  a combination of Word and Microsoft Onenote to keep track of characters and events and outlines. Onenote could be very, very good…but not quite setup for writing in terms of storyboarding and such.

Now that I’ve bored you all to tears…here’s my point: tools are good only insofar as you use them to do other stuff. Playing with them, thinking about them, waiting for the newest and best to come out, designing around them is all foolishness. Tools are made to be used to make or do or fix things. Not to be collected, obsessed over, fiddled with or whatever.

Which tool you use matters, of course, but not so much as actually doing the work. One may be easier, another may be more elegant, a third could be more powerful, but it’s all for naught if it’s not actually put to use. It’s far better to choose a tool and use it than to whimper and fidget, tremble and vasillate over this and that and never do anything.

This goes for whatever your hobby may be. Or whatever your religion. It’s one thing to be about, another to do and engage. It’s one thing to collect and plan and dream, another to drop the dreams and just make due with what you have and get something done.

I’m for the latter.

Noah’s Frog

The day that Noah accidentally stepped on a frog and had nearly been crucified by the enraged eighth graders had turned sour by lunch. It was 1:15, and while eighth graders didn’t get recess-it was a kid thing-they did have blacktop time” after lunch, when they would mill about in small groups, talking with each other, flirting with each other, and otherwise acting awkward and out of place, trying to be cool. And failing. It was on the blacktop that the first conversations with girls that were beautiful and boys that were cute took place, where childhood friends since kindergarten were casually betrayed by the cruel-but-true story about dirty underwear and a sleepover back in Mrs. Rotter’s class second-grade. It was jungle, fenced on three sides. If that fourth wall had also been fenced in keeping them off of the grass, it would’ve been a prison yard. All it needed were some plastic shivs and searchlights.

Read the Rest…

Getting to Know the Protagonist

I had my editor (Marjorie) read my short story I was all ready to post here. It’s not quite ready for prime time, sadly. So instead of a story, I thought I’d post about writing stories.

I’m working on a supernatural YA novel right now. It’s about a boy who finds himself caught up in a conspiracy of aliens (or what might be aliens) trying to gain a foothold in our world. He’s got a McGuffin* that they need and is on the run with a neighbor girl.

But I found myself having a problem with the main character. I really didn’t know him well enough, and feared that he was a cloudy mish-mash of myself and a childhood friend at best and a cloudy ball of cliches at worse. To make matters worse, I am reading a brilliant piece of literary fiction (see this post) which is all character, and my protagonist appears even more unrealized and lame next to Franzen’s characters.

I decided to write a prologue chapter to get to know my protagonist better. I knew he was having trouble at school in chapter one of my novel, so I wrote a story about the day it all came to a head for him, timed well before my novel begins. While I was writing it I was not thinking about how it would work in with my existing story or plot. I didn’t write it worrying about tone or foreshadowing or action. I just wrote a story about my protagonist and why his school was obsessed with frogs.

What came from it was strong enough to stand on its own, as it turns out, and was a great way to get to know my character a little better, so spend some time in his skin that didn’t hinge upon plot points or the narrative arc of the novel. Just a chapter, a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

It was a great exercise in helping me get to know my character. I plan on writing another chapter-or short story-for some of my other characters as well. And they just might end up working themselves into the novel too.

Right-Brained Insomnia and Convalescence

It was one of the those nights you long for the sun to rise. I was hopped up on 10

insomnia image

by naraosga,courtesy stock.xchng

mg of Lortab after my nasal septoplasty, and being jarred awake at every lash of rain against the french doors and crack of thunder. The storms drifted in and out and around Enid all night.

Around 1:30 I was awake and on a creative binge. I thought of this blog re-design, that all ten of you have no doubt already discovered. Don’t worry, I cheated and used a template again–don’t give me too much credit.

I also began mentally exploring my main character for next month’s National Novel Writing Month. It will be told in the first-person I decided–the first time I’m attempting that. I’m not going to give too much away yet, but I may share more in the weeks to come. I also thought of the beginning of how to write down the series of stories about Pattatat the Mouse Adventurer and his brother Rappatat, and envisioned some of the illustrations I would like to use for it.

It was a creative high, I tell you. Why can’t these happen at a more civilized time, in a more civilized way, when I am not sporting nose bandages and high on prescribed narcotics? Perhaps it was the narcotics, God forbid! (May I never turn into Gregory House–for so many reasons). Let’s all try to foster our creative growth in the future, unaugmented.

On a note not unrelated, my friend Emily said she wanted to read some of my fiction, so in my blog re-design I’ve set aside a category for Fiction that I’ll share with you here. I’ve a story nearly complete–perhaps I can publish it tomorrow as my convalescence continues until my appointment Thursday afternoon.

Real Characters?

picture of girl reading

So I am reading The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen. I’m not the biggest fan of contemporary “serious” fiction, though. I put the book down last night and said to Marjorie, “This book is amazing. I’m 85 pages in and there is absolutely no story.” True. No disruptions in the lives of the main character, no major plot point. Nothing much has happened.

But the characters! Holy Cow. The main character is a royally messed up anti-hero (so far), but he’s there on the page and real in a way that no King or Koontz character has ever been. I want to keep reading for his sake–not because the plot has pulled me in, but because this wreck of a human has pulled me in.

I most enjoy reading thrillers and fantasy, even some true crime, but Franzen’s characters are the reason to read literary fiction. In just ten pages he has more memorable, vibrant characters than in ten of the last Dean Koontz novels I’ve read–and they have been very good novels.

Reading novels with excellently drawn characters is important. It’s even theologically important. Needful, even. From those pages we get glimpses into human nature, into the way people work, into the way I work and act and react. We get insights into how other people think and what they value. It is good for the preacher, but also good for the person who wishes to be authentically human, which is nothing more than a human living in the grace of God.