Where I play with words. I can't promise it'll make sense.
|Once again my church offered an opportunity to write several devotionals for Lent. This time focuses on the book of Mark. Because I have so much reading and editing to do, I chose to write only four (I usually pick five or six).
I’m not one to set aside time for devotions, whether it’s reading the Bible, other devotionals, or scriptural studies. My faith suffers a little for it, but it’s never been enough to change my ways.
The main reason I like to volunteer to write devotions is it forces me to read and study. Even more than that, it forces me to discover how it applies to me, so the reader can apply it to his/her life also. Writing devotions requires study, but also introspection and humility.
Laying one’s heart and shortfalls on a page for hundreds of people to read is never easy. It’s a 300-word journey from ignorance to wisdom. Even more importantly, it should end with a focus on God, not the writer. A difficult task for someone as prideful as me. So much so, this time I’m tempted to tell the editor to add Anonymous to my devotions instead of my name. I want God to shine through the words, not me.
My short story called “The Eye,” will be published February 28, 2019! It’ll be free to read on that day only on https://gohavok.com.
Last night I submitted another short story to a speculative anthology about the Beatitudes and Woes in the New Testament. I chose “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I expected the story (titled “House Rules”) to end up at maybe 3000-4000 words. It ended up just over 8300.
There’s no guarantee it’ll be published, but I’m confident. Either way, I enjoyed writing it. Mostly because I hadn’t thought of that particular verse and what it really means. Considering how prideful I can be, I don’t see myself as “poor in spirit.” I researched the verse, and it felt almost like a treasure hunt and I found a lot of gold.
Anyway, I will keep you apprised, and I will also remind you when my Havok story is released!
|“I learned a long time ago that anything worth doing is worth defending.” ~ Mike Rowe
Does God call us to follow him blindly and without question?
Some like to accuse Christians of being blind sheep, ready to dive off a cliff simply because God said so. I’ve heard some Christians accuse others that to doubt and question is a lack of trust and faith in God -- and could even be considered blasphemous (I was told this once as a teenager when I revealed that God makes me angry sometimes).
In a previous entry, I talked about how God appreciates when we doubt. A friend commented on my other blog (https://almarquardt.blog/2018/12/24/carbon-copy-christians/#comments) thusly (in part), “Though a Christian may from time struggle with the no fear part of our faith, I believe when we still follow God’s word despite that fear, that God rejoices in our faith, love for him. So submit to His Word!”
To which I respond:
I’m not suggesting God doesn’t rejoice in our faith. Of course he does! Nor does doubt mean we love God less. All I’m saying is God understands and even expects us to doubt. Having doubts is part of who we are in this world. Nor do I recall him ever saying we should never ask him questions, or to never get angry at or frustrated with him (acting out in that anger is a bit different. When God told Moses he couldn’t enter the promised land because he acted out in anger, and as such didn’t give God credit a good example [See Numbers 20]). As if we could hide our doubts from him anyway.
Doubt isn’t always a bad thing, as long as we come to him with those doubts.
Moses argued with God, as did Abraham (which saved Lot and his family). David and Job had doubts. Lots of doubts! Jonah tried to run away, and got angry with God when Nineveh repented. Naomi believed God had abandoned her (as did Mother Theresa for most of her life). Peter argued with Jesus, Thomas doubted him. Paul worked against him, and Ananias felt a little betrayed when he was asked to heal and forgive Paul who had persecuted so many of them.
So what does all that have to do with defending oneself as the title suggests?
Because when we struggle and doubt (and as long as we turn to God with those struggles and doubts) he teaches us where we have fallen short or are mistaken in our assumptions. When we learn through those doubts and struggles, we grow stronger in our faith, and as such can better defend that faith.
God often compares us to sheep, because sheep are stupid creatures. They will literally jump off a cliff following other sheep, never realizing the danger until it’s too late. That does not mean, however, God wants us to remain like sheep. He wants us to be able to defend our faith to those who also question and struggle (including ourselves).
Proverbs 2:1-5 says, “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Emphasis mine).
Other such examples of the importance of seeking God and his wisdom, and for defending our faith:
Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
1 Peter 3:15: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (Emphasis mine)
2 Corinthians 10:5: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,”
Titus 1:9: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
In short, yes, we need to submit to God and his word, but by submitting without question or not attempting to overcome our doubts, we can neither grow, understand, or defend our faith.
|I see a lot of this on social media: Someone makes a charge or claim, and someone else asks for verification or citations of said claim. Instead of providing any evidence, he/she says something like, “I’m not your research assistant. Google it.”
If you make a claim, it’s your responsibility to provide the evidence. The same goes for me, too, by the way. If I state a certain fact, I better have the evidence ready to back it up.
The US judicial system is based on the idea that the accuser has the burden of proof, not the accused. I see discussing and debating issues the same way. The burden of proof is on the person making a claim, not on the person who questions it.
After all, if someone states something as fact, that person had to arrive at that conclusion somehow. Logically, shouldn’t that person have the evidence already? Why try to force someone else to do the research all over again? It’s rude.
When people make statements like the above, it implies to me that they have no real evidence, and instead don’t want to be proven wrong. I’ve lost count on how many people have blocked me, or refused to respond because I dared to ask for evidence.
Ignorance really is bliss, I guess. Or they prefer a delusional world of their own making instead of the real one. Scary either way, because, as a character in one of my books said, “Reality will only kick you in the face that much harder.”
|How do you like my alliteration, there?
Yesterday someone posted this on Twitter which states: “To the "Christians" who gave money for a GoFundMe to build Trump's Wall, there are children & veterans without shoes, sick people without healthcare, a city without drinking water, and immigrants fleeing from certain death. Please reevaluate your Christian values and try again!” (https://twitter.com/edkrassen/status/1076875831916535808?s=21)
I responded thusly: “Do you have proof that Christians who donated for the wall don’t also help children, veterans, the sick, etc.? If not, then your assumption is false. Christians can do more than one thing and donate to more than one cause, you know.”
This isn’t about the wall, or politics, but how some perceive Christians in general. They seem to think we’re all monochromatic in our beliefs and actions. Truth is, I know many Christians who:
Believe homosexuality is a sin;
Believe homosexuality is not a sin, and some even go so far as to say Jesus and the disciples were all gay;
Believe God condemns abortion;
Believe God approves of abortion;
Believe God condones the abuse of women and children;
Believe God both condemns and expects punishment of all abusers;
Believe Jesus was a pacifist;
Believe Jesus was a warrior;
Believe God would be for gun control and that all guns should be banned;
Believe God would not expect people to give up their ability to protect themselves with firearms or other weaponry;
Give to liberal causes;
Give to conservative causes;
Want a border wall;
Don’t want a border wall;
Want bigger government;
Want smaller government;
Want lower taxes;
Want higher taxes;
And the list goes on.
People insulting Christians, or non-Christians telling Christians how they should act is a pet peeve of mine. I can't judge how a Jew, Buddhist or Muslim how to act or worship, because I don’t know enough about their religion to make that call. Now, if they do something illegal or harmful to others (Christian and non-Christian alike), then yes, I will shamelessly point fingers. Not as far as how someone decides to spend their time or money, however, because it’s none of my business. In the end it’s between them and God.
Still, although it bugs me, I don’t get as upset as I used to, because someone reminded me of a verse where Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18).
Therefore, I should be more surprised when people (non-Christians especially) express love and admiration for Christians.
A sidetrack here: You might wonder how people within a single religion could have so many opposing beliefs. There are many reasons, I think. One is we’re all individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, and therefore points of view. Because the Bible is so big written by many authors, and with many messages and stories, it’s easy to approach it with our own colored view, to see what we want to see, and be blind to the rest, especially when those parts seem to contradict each other.
I’m reading “The Rational Bible: Exodus” by Dennis Prager. He said (paraphrased), that God always leaves us room for doubt, including doubt in him and whether or not he even exists. Now why would he do that? He’s God, after all. Couldn’t he reveal himself to everyone in a single moment to where no one could deny his existence? Sure, but he also wants to be chosen, just like we like being chosen and having choices--whatever those choices may be.
No one doubts the Sun gives heat, or that winter is cold and summer is warm. Why? Because they’re obvious based on mere observation. They’re undeniable. Therefore, there’s no need for faith in whether or not the sun will continue to give off heat, or that I will need to wear a jacket in the winter and put on sunscreen in the summer.
God wants to be sought after, and yes, to be doubted. Part of it is because he loves it when we ask him questions, to seek truth and understanding. Doubt spurs us to ask those questions. No questions can be asked if we already know all the answers. Mystery is a fabulous thing, because of the joy in making the discovery.
Someone once asked Dennis Prager why he’s a Jew and not Muslim. He said (again, paraphrased), “Because Israel means to struggle or wrestle with God whereas Islam means to submit. I prefer to wrestle with God than submit.”
So do I. Sure, God always wins in the end (even if he does cheat sometimes. Just ask Jacob [Genesis 32:22-32]). I have grown more in my faith wrestling with God than simply submitting to him. Why? Because I gain more understanding of who God is and why he does what he does after that struggle.
And don’t we all want people to ask us questions, to be noticed, believed and understood?
|“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” ~ Luke 2:19
I tried writing down everything that happened at the writers conference last month. The good, the bad, the exciting and the boring. I wrote about the first two days, but stopped half-way through the third.
I couldn’t go any further. Like Mary, I needed to treasure it as well as ponder.
During the conference, I signed up for a fifteen minute appointment with a literary agent. I practiced my pitch in one of my elective courses just prior to my appointment, and I continued to mentally recite it as I walked through the hotel.
The moment I sat down with the agent, I started my pitch. I didn’t get but a few words in when he said, “Show me what you have.”
Okay. Fine by me, because I was stumbling over it, anyway. I gave him my “one sheet” which contains a back-cover blurb, the genre, word count, and my bio which includes my writing credits.
He read the first page of my fantasy (and latest novel), stopped less than a page in and said, “I have a question for you. Why aren’t you published, yet? This is really good.”
“Honestly,” I said, “I haven’t tried that hard. I’ve been concentrating on writing and improving my craft.”
He nodded and continued to read. He spent over half of appointment reading it. I spent that time staring at his two massive football rings, and ached to ask him who he played for, and if they were Super Bowl or division championship rings.
He finally had to force himself to put it down, and asked if I had anything else.
“Did you bring them?”
I did, and took them out of my folder. His expression indicated that he was pleased that I did. I pulled out the first chapter of one and said, “This one is a lot shorter, so it won’t take you as long.”
He skimmed through that one and asked more about the books’ genres, what genre I preferred to write and if the books were YA or adult.
In the end, he not only asked me to send him the full manuscript and synopsis of my fantasy, but the other two as well. He even bragged me up a bit to an editor for Tor sitting next to him, and recommended I sign up to meet with her as well. She was full up, however, and I never got a chance to accost her during meals or elsewhere.
I sent him everything about two weeks ago. I expect to get a response in the next six weeks or so. Hopefully.
I don’t expect him to take me as a client, though (or at least tell myself not to). My books have received interest like this before, and ended up being passed over.
Even so, that the agent literally couldn’t put my story down says -- and means -- a lot. It also shows that all my hard work has yielded good results after all.
|I received the following email yesterday (in part):
I enjoyed speaking with you recently. I would like to offer you the volunteer position of Associate Editor of Spark, if you are still interested. Please let me know at your earliest convenience.”
Although it’s not a paid position, the insights I will gain into the magazine industry (and publishing in general) will be invaluable. Plus I get to read all the stories before anyone else!
For more on the magazine:
|It isn’t the anxiety beforehand.
Nor is it during the interview itself.
It’s the aftermath.
I just ended an interview for a magazine associate editor’s position. This was especially nerve-wracking because I haven’t done an interview in twenty years.
It took place over Google Hangouts which was interesting and kinda cool (I’ll describe why in a second) with two ladies involved with the magazine. They asked me about my writing, my editing strengths and weaknesses, and my expectations with the position. They will be interviewing several others, and will let me know either way within a few weeks whether or not I obtain the position.
Now for why the aftermath is the worst part of the interview.
For the next two hours I will mentally scrutinize every word I spoke, and every action of my face and rest of my body.
Did I stutter too much? Did I blink too much? Did I pick my nose? Did I yawn? Did I talk with my hands too much? Too little?
I could have answered that question better!
I should have said something else!
Why, oh why did I say that?!
The upside of it taking place over Hangouts was they couldn’t smell my bad breath due to nervous dry-mouth, or that my deodorant gave out three hours ago.
|A few weeks ago I posted a question about how one gets through harsh criticism.
Afterward, I decided to back away for a few days before I studied the comments with a more objective eye. Once I did, I decided to apply their critiques (the consistent ones, anyway), mostly to see how they would affect my novel.
I ended up with an entirely new prologue and changed the point of view character in the first chapter.
I think it’s much better.
I’m glad I let go of my pride and decided to look at my story through the critiquers’ eyes instead of my own. It was hard, but hopefully worth it in the end. Time will tell.
And if you're interested, you can read the prologue and first three chapters here: "Born of Fire"
|But first, here’s something I wrote earlier today:
I just received the score sheets from my contest entry, and boy were they critical. Out of a score of 100, it received an average of 50.
What’s interesting is the average scoring for the previous contest was 84 for the first round and 88 for the final round.
For the same book.
What’s even more interesting about the results is how consistent the judges comments are in each contest.
Perhaps the difference lies in that the first contest (where my novel received the highest scores) the judges judged the first five pages, and for the second contest, the judges judged the first fifteen pages.
A few consistent comments:
1. A Christian worldview not evident (which I was aware of; I wondered if it may be more appropriate for a more mainstream audience. Now I know).
2. Who’s the main character? This I thought might be iffy, because there isn’t one main character. There’s three.
3. It starts out slow with too much narration, not enough action, while at the same time not enough world-building details. Sigh. As one who has little confidence in writing intriguing, and story-moving detail as it is, I feel like someone just told me to climb Mount Everest with my stubby legs and arthritic knees.
4. First line (hook) needs work. Ugh.
I just had a thought. While I like entering these kinds of contests, I wonder if the questions asked of the judges are a bit misleading.
For instance, the questions emphasize the importance of the first line. A lot of readers (at least the one’s I’ve asked about it) don’t seem to care as long as the first few pages are intriguing. Then there are the questions about whether or not the main character (singular) is obvious at the start. At least in my novel, I have three, and I’ll state with some confidence that most books have at least two, especially those with romantic plots and subplots. Add to the mix the questions about an obvious “Christian worldview”. Some novels will always be more subtle in that area than others.
Those questions almost guarantee a lower score for books that don’t necessarily fit into that mold — such as lacking an attention-grabbing first line (but the subsequent writing is), has more than one main character, and the “message” is subtle (or becomes more evident later in the book).
I can’t help but wonder if my novel wasn’t the best fit for this particular contest. Something to think about anyway. I don’t regret it though, because the remaining comments and suggestions are worth considering, and may result in a better book in the end.
Nor do I fault the contest, or the judges. I fact, they have earned from me a greater respect for having to muddle through my entry. I will forever appreciate them taking the time to read it, and give me their honest assessments.
In the final analysis, it’s my fault for not studying my own novel more such as its genre, sub-genre and target audience, and comparing it to the overall purpose of the contest.
I just saw this quote, and think it’s rather appropriate:
“Let your thoughts lift you into creativity that is not hampered by opinion.” – Red Haircrow
In spite of my somewhat reasoned thoughts above, my pride and confidence took a significant hit. Those nasty voices wanting me to quit have been emboldened, and part of me wants to give into them.
But I didn’t. In fact, someone posted on Facebook looking for editors for their magazines. I went ahead and expressed interest. They want me to submit a resume where I describe my writing and editing experiences.
What. The. Hell.
Have I gone nuts, or even in spite of my bruised pride and gouged out confidence, I still believe in myself and abilities enough to continue to move forward?
Next up: Writing a resume of my experience. God help me, because I need it. Not today, though. My brain is too frazzled to attempt it.