Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Atheists and Unicorns

If there were no God, there would be no atheists.
—G.K. Chesterton

The atheists are out in full force again this Christmas season (or as some atheists call it, "buy a billboard season"). And the same old stories are in the news: Major retail chains are telling their employees to greet customers with a colorless "happy holidays," an atheist group in Wisconsin is trying to remove a nativity scene in a small Texas town, some goofy governor wants to call a Christmas tree a "holiday tree." It’s the same old thing. Only the details change from year to year.

And all the usual atheistic arguments are rearing their sad and tiny heads. It’s fascinating to watch some hapless atheist on TV try to explain his aversion to God and those who follow Him. In a sort of atheistic Tourette syndrome, words like "unicorns" and "Tooth Fairy" make frequent appearances. Not in service of a real argument, of course, but as talismans. Their mere mention is supposed to make Christians admit the error of their ways: "Unicorns? Yes, I see your point. I’ve been wrong all along."

Do I sound harsh? I mean to. Atheists have become bolder and more downright fascist with each passing year, and largely because so many Christians have allowed themselves to be bullied by secularists—and a minority of secularists at that. And here’s the thing: These bullies—the rabid ones, in any case—aren’t atheists at all. They’re not a-theistic, they’re anti-theistic and, truth be told, anti-Christian.

Anger is always directed toward something, and these atheists are a very angry bunch. I can’t stand basketball, and it annoys me when TV shows I like are delayed or taken off the air altogether for basketball games, but I don’t spend my time urging others not to watch basketball. I don’t even mind if some people’s entire lives revolve around basketball. So what drives an atheist to expend so much energy combating a nonexistent entity?

Some atheists say they want to protect us from the evils of theism because religion has caused more deaths than anything else in the course of human history. They often add that Christianity has been the cause of more death and misery than any other religion. Really? Do they read history? Can they count? If their concern is the historic human death toll, why isn’t socialism a target? Why isn’t communism—in places where it still clings to life with its grimy little hands—a target?

Why isn’t North Korea a target? For the past fourteen years reports of people resorting to cannibalism to stay alive have come out of that country. Surely cannibalism is more of a threat than a nativity display. Although the North Korean government recently warned that it would "retaliate" if South Korea displayed Christmas lights near the border. Near the border, not on or over it. It makes you think. Why is North Korea afraid of a harmless light display by a bunch of fools who believe in unicorns?

The fact is, most atheists specifically target Christianity. They don’t mass like irritated termites during Ramadan or disrupt Buddhist festivals. A genuine atheist wouldn’t be bothered with a nativity display in a small Texas town. And if he were bothered, if he chose to make anti-theism his life’s crusade, he would rattle his saber evenhandedly. You can’t fight a multi-front battle by facing in only one direction. Unless you’re not fighting the battle you say you are.

And that’s the secret. That’s what they don’t want you to know. Because if Christians understood that atheists’ target was Christianity, they might fight back.

In the spirit of Christmas, atheists need to know a secret too: Most Christians have at one time or another been angry, even furious, with God. We understand anger with a Being who sometimes seems so distant and uncaring, who holds our lives and the lives of those we love in His hands. In an odd way, that anger is one proof of faith. No one wastes time being angry with unicorns.

So hold onto that anger, my atheist brothers and sisters. At least for a while. It brings you closer to God than you think.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Pagan Origins, My Donkey

My green and silver Christmas tree
This time of year I can’t get enough of Christmas trees. I love all Christmas decorations, really—except for big plastic snowmen—but trees are the quintessential decoration.

Apparently, the first Christmas trees date to the fifteenth century in Estonia and Latvia and the sixteenth century in Germany. Some say the Christmas tree has pagan origins, but there’s no evidence for that. Except that it’s a tree, it’s green, and you bring it into your house—which is enough for some people, I guess. It just seems pagan.

But in Europe, where most American Christmas customs originated, pagans did not cut down entire trees and bring them into their homes for the winter solstice. Goodness knows what other peoples and cultures have done with trees through the millennia. I don’t really think about it when I decorate my tree. I know what I’m celebrating, and I know the One who made the trees.

Other symbols of Christmas—mistletoe, holly and ivy, evergreen garlands—are clearly connected to pagan celebrations, and it doesn’t bother me one bit. If anything, I’m pleased Christians have taken them over and made them our own. They’re part of God’s creation. They belong to Him.

I don’t care what the Celts and druids did with plants when it got cold outside, or what Norse mythology says about mistletoe. Some Christians feel otherwise, but I think they’re mistaken. And I believe they’re caving to secular propaganda: "Pagan symbols are older than Christmas, so Christianity must be a myth." That’s called a non sequitur.

Are we supposed to cast back though human history, vetting each Christmas decoration we wish to use, making sure it was never misused?

When Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, the crowd placed palm branches at the animal’s feet. If only they’d known that the Egyptians used to bring palms into their homes at the winter solstice to celebrate the rebirth of Ra, the sun god, they might have avoided the pagan scandal of it all. And the apostle Paul might not have compared grafted olive shoots to saved souls if he’d known that in Greek mythology, the goddess Athena planted the first olive tree.

Of course, the most frequently targeted Christmas symbol is the date of the holiday itself. I have to chuckle when someone on radio or TV announces, as if for the first time, that Jesus was almost certainly not born on December 25, and that it wasn’t until the fourth century that the date was set (in the West). This is always pronounced in a spiteful, gleeful kind of way—along with the suggestion that Christians chose this date because the Romans celebrated Saturnalia in late December—as though Christianity itself crumbles in the face of the Great Date Affair.

Should you care what the Romans did during Saturnalia? Or what neopagans today do on the winter solstice? Maybe, but only because knowing these things will arm you the next time some anti-Christian busybody tells you that Christianity is a myth because the Norse god Baldur was killed with an arrow fashioned out of mistletoe.

Holly berries, garlands, the trees we decorate when we celebrate the birth of Christ—these are Gods gifts, His creation. They don’t belong to pagan mythology. Or to neopagans, in spite of their appropriation. If anything, neopagans have pirated God’s good gifts and denied him the thanks due for creating them.

Saturnalia, the rebirth of Ra? These were shadows pointing to the real thing to come: the birth of Christ. The God who created the sun—and winter, holly, and evergreens—made use of them all, throughout history. They were whispers: Look. Look what’s coming.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Interview: Cherie Burbach

It’s a pleasure to welcome Cherie Burbach to my blog today. Cherie writes about friendship, dating, family, and relationships at About.com (NY Times) and Life Goes Strong (NBC/Universal). She has penned eleven books and ebooks, including Internet Dating Is Not Like Ordering a Pizza and 21 Ways to Promote Your Book on Twitter, and has published over 500 articles on the subjects of health, sports, and lifestyle. For more info, visit her website, http://www.cherieburbach.com.

Cherie, you have a lot going on in your life! You’re an author of both fiction and nonfiction, a poet, an expert on social media, and an active blogger, among other things. How on earth do you manage your time?

Ha! I don't know if I'm an expert in social media, but I do use it quite a lot in promoting my work. I think the key to juggling everything is blocking off time for various things. For instance, the first thing I do when I get up is check email, update links to Facebook or Twitter, and then I log off. I spend the next few hours updating one of my own blogs, and then I log off of that, and spend the next several hours writing for clients. I trade off each day on the projects I work on, but that's generally how I get it done.

Since freelance writing is my main job, I use weekend hours to do fiction. Poetry I tend to write daily, usually at the end of the night.

Time blocks are key! It's too easy to get sucked into Facebook or Twitter during the day, so when I do have to log on I try and give myself a time limit.

Tell us about your current writing project.

I have a couple writing gigs I just adore right now, at About.com (where I write about the topic of friendship), and Life Goes Strong (where I write about midlife dating, care giving, and spirit.) I really enjoy the topics I'm writing about, and it makes the days go really fast.

On the book side of things, I'm working on several nonfiction books and a novel.

Where do you find ideas for your writing? What inspires you?

Everyday life really inspires me. I'm one of those people who constantly carries a notebook around with her to jot down ideas and notes.

When did you know you wanted to write? Do you have one of those "When I was six, I picked up a pen . . ." stories?

Yes, I do! I always wrote short stories, and when I was in 2nd grade my teacher told my mom that my writing had a "poetic quality" to it and that I should try writing poetry. My first thought was: "Poetry? Ick!" I didn't know anything about it (and to be honest, I still don't.) But poetry was a saving grace for me, and really helped me through a lot of childhood trauma. I still feel like poetry helps me process the outside world. I feel like I've been writing forever.

How do you divide your time between writing and blogging?

Blogging takes up a lot of my time right now because that's where I make my money. I always feel like when I get my blogging done, my writing work (which is usually books) is my bonus time. If I had to divide it up, it would probably be blogging 75% of the time and writing the rest.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I like to cook, paint, and my latest passion is putting glass sculptures together. (One example is here: http://cherieblogs.com/2011/08/17/glass-garden-sculpture/). I love doing crafts and mixed media pictures also.

Just for fun, what was your favorite childhood book?

Any of the Madeline books. I was so influenced by them I even named my dog Genevieve.

Tell us what’s coming up in your writing life.

I'm working on a new novel which is in a very different genre that I'm used to. So I'm doing research and hope to have some time to work up a draft over the holidays.

Any last thoughts?

Thank you so much for the interview! I would encourage anyone reading this to help out a favorite author: write a review, write and let them know you enjoyed one of their books, pray for them, send them positive thoughts, and visit their blogs. There can be a lot of negativity in the writing world sometimes and writers appreciate any bit of positivity that comes our way.

How can readers connect with you?

I've got contact info at each of my blogs (listed here: http://cherieburbach.com/blogs/). Or via Twitter: @brrbach.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Interview and Book Giveaway: Author K Dawn Byrd

It’s my pleasure to welcome K Dawn Byrd to my blog today. K Dawn is the author of inspirational novels in several genres, including romance, romantic suspense, and young adult. She maintains an active and popular blog and is the moderator of the Christian Fiction Gathering group on Facebook. If all that weren’t enough, she holds a master’s degree in professional counseling from Liberty University.

To win an ebook copy of K Dawn’s latest book, This Time for Keeps, just leave a comment at the end of the interview (along with your email address so K Dawn can contact you). A winner will be chosen at week’s end from among those commenting. And now, without further ado, here’s K Dawn.

Dawn, tell us about This Time for Keeps.

India McGuire's peaceful life is shattered when on the night of her engagement to David Richards, she comes face to face with Chase Porter, a long lost love. India must come to terms with her overpowering feelings for Chase and choose between David, the neighbor who says he loves her, and Chase, the man who broke her heart.

Chase's plans of leaving quietly turn to disaster when he finds that it's impossible to disappear without seeing India one last time. Feelings begin to surface that he believed buried forever and he finds himself fighting to win her back even as David struggles to hold onto her.

India longs to follow her heart, but she's been hurt too deeply. Who will she choose? The neighbor who can provide stability or the man she vowed to love forever who may once again heed to the call of the open road?

What inspired you to write this book?

This Time for Keeps actually started out as a WWII romance. I'm a WWII buff and wanted to write a love story about a man who was missing in action and eventually returns from war to find his girlfriend engaged to someone else. For some reason, the WWII era just didn't seem right for my characters, so it became a contemporary romance.

What draws you to inspirational romance?

I love reading, but so much of what's on the market is so full of smut and cursing that I don't enjoy reading it as much as I would if it were clean. I write what I love to read. I'm a Christian and it seems logical to write for the clean romance for the Christian market. All of my books so far have had a least one Christian character.

Many of my blog’s readers like to know about an author’s writing process. Do you outline? Do you keep a writing schedule?

I plot a lot before I get started, so much so that I pretty much have the entire book mapped out before my fingers hit the keys. This allows me to write all my books in 30-day marathons, my own personal NaNoWriMo, if you will.

What do you do when you're not writing?

When I'm not writing I'm reading or marketing my own work.

What’s coming up in your writing future?

I have four releases for 2012. They are:

January 15: Zoe Mack & The Secret of the Love Letters (college-age mystery/romance).
April 15: Shattered Identity (the sequel to Mistaken Identity, young adult romance).
June 15: Zoe Mack & The Case of Fatal Attraction.
December 15: Zoe Mack book 3 (not yet titled).

Any last thoughts?

Thanks so much for hosting me!

How can readers connect with you?

Email: kdawnbyrd@yahoo.com
Blog: www.kdawnbyrd.blogspot.com
Zoe Mack blog: www.zoe-mack.blogspot.com
Website: www.kdawnbyrd.com


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Blog Wins the Liebster Award

I must admit I’d never heard of the Liebster Award before I received it, but now that I know what it is, I’m grateful to author Lisa Tortorello for selecting me.
Liebster, it turns out, is German for "dearest" (as in "Mein liebster, you make amazing strudel"), and the Liebster Award is given by fellow bloggers to blogs with a following of 200 (some say 300) or fewer people. Here’s how it works:
  • When you receive the award, thank the blogger who gave it to you and link back to them.
  • Copy and paste the award on your blog.
  • Choose three to five blogs that deserve a bigger following, give them the Liebster Award, and let them know you’ve done so by leaving a comment on their blog.
There are so many wonderful "small" (200 followers is small?) blogs out there that deserve bigger followings, but here are my five selections:
  • Montana Romance: Up-and-coming Christian romance author Cynthia Bruner’s blog about inspiration, writing, and her Montana home. A fun (and sometimes serious), eclectic blog.
  • Something Deep and Witty: A witty (and deep) blog by Amy Maddox, a writer who will one day take the world by storm. And make cool crafts while doing it.
  • Gwendolyn Gage ~ Serving through Words: Gwen’s blog description says it all: "Thoughts on life, faith, books, novel research, and the story world inside my head."
  • The Eclectic Christian Blogger: Christian romance author Amanda Stephan’s blog, chock full of interviews, giveaways, and reviews.
  • Writin’ 4 Him Café: Author Debbie Dillon blogs about her life as a follower of Christ, writer, wife, mom, church secretary, and coffee lover.
Go forth and Liebster!


Monday, September 5, 2011

Interview: Christian Romance Author Amanda Stephan

It’s a pleasure to welcome my friend Amanda Stephan to my blog today. Amanda is a Christian romance author, the co-founder of Christian Indie Authors, and a homeschooling mom extraordinaire. You can read more about Amanda and her work by checking the websites listed below. And now, without further ado, here’s Amanda.

Hi Karin! Thank you for having me here today, I look forward to getting to know your readers better.

Tell us about your upcoming book.

My new release, Lonely Hearts, is a sweet Christian romance about a lonely mother, two matchmaking kids, and three eligible bachelors. Oh yes. And apple pie!

When Becky Callis moves to a new town, she had no intention of becoming romantically involved. Her children, on the other hand, think she’s been lonely far too long, and decide to take matters into their own hands. Choices range from handsome cowboy, Scott Boone; local preacher, Jack; or rough around the edges rancher, Pearce Morgan. It doesn’t take long before her children find that True love is harder than it looks!
Have you published anything previously?

Thank you for asking! Yes, Lonely Hearts is my second romance novel. My first, The Price of Trust, was released in May 2010. If any of your readers are interested, they can get a sneak peek here.

When did you know you wanted to write?

To be one hundred percent honest, I’ve just always written. I never thought or even considered writing professionally as it was something I just loved to do. When I finished my first, full length book, The Price of Trust, I was excited and told my husband about it. He asked what I was planning on doing with it, and I said printing it out and hiding it away until our kids were older. He asked me to try to have it published, and the rest is history. Since then, I’ve been hooked!

What made you decide to write romance?

I am an incurable romantic. There’s just something about reading how a couple come together that makes me sigh and dream. But, with that said, I’m not one for edgy or graphic books. I’m super picky about what I read, so if it’s inappropriate for my children to read, it’s not in my house.

Do you keep a writing schedule?

Ha ha ha! That’s what I like so much about you, Karin! Always joking around! I suppose I’m rather eclectic in that matter. I find my best writing comes when everyone is in bed and I can let my imagination run free.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m either teaching school (I homeschool), sewing, or reading a book to review.

Name your three favorite books.

My three favorite books? Let’s see, Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice, and 101 Dalmations. When I was growing up, I absolutely tore my paperback copy of 101 D up.

Name your three favorite authors.

That is not an easy question! Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Karin Kaufman! (She’s an up and coming author to be reckoned with, I’ve heard!) :)

What’s coming up in your writing future?

Oooh, I am so glad you asked! I’m currently working on a Christian romance/suspense series.

What would you do if you were tricked into marrying the wrong man? I take that thought and build an entire set up around the couple. As I was writing, new, fresh ideas were coming at me so fast, I had to make it into a series! To tell you the truth, it’s my absolute favorite I’ve written so far. Book one and two are finished, and I’m working on the third now.

Any last thoughts?

Just a quickie before I leave. I’m going to be having a book launch on November 1st, 2011, and I’d love to invite all your readers to participate. There’s going to be some pretty awesome prizes, like a Nook, a Kindle, free eGifts from various awesome authors, and more they can win. If they’d like to know more, they can find the information on my website. Again, thank you for having me here, it was a blast!

How can readers connect with you?

You can find me lurking almost everywhere, but here are the places a frequent the most:

Facebook: personal page
Facebook: author page
Facebook: book page
Book blog
Personal blog

Monday, August 15, 2011

Interview on K. Dawn Byrd's Blog

Christian novelist K. Dawn Byrd, author of the just-released romantic suspense novel Killing Time and the young adult novel Mistaken Identity, interviewed me on her blog today. Stop by and leave a comment at the end of the interview. One lucky blog reader will win a copy of The Witch Tree!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Interview on Amanda Stephan's Blog

Amanda Stephan, Christian romance author, blogger, and co-founder (with Samantha Fury) of the ever-growing Christian Indie Authors website, was kind enough to interview me on her blog about The Witch Tree and other assorted issues, both serious and fun. Stop by and say hello!


Monday, July 25, 2011

How to Spot the Christian Villain: Ten Tips

It happened again. I was watching an episode of the British mystery series Midsomer Murders, one of the best cozy series of all time, and once again the villain of the story was a Christian. And I knew early on, as soon as this character mentioned God, that he would be the killer. Some whodunit, huh?

You’d think TV and movie screenwriters would want to vary the Christian-equals-villain formula just to keep viewers guessing, but the enjoyment they get from sticking their fingers in Christians’ eyes seems to overwhelm their sense of storytelling. Even when they stray from their formula and make someone other than a Christian the murderer, the Christian character is still, somehow, at the root of all of the misery (think Mrs. White in Stephen King’s novel Carrie).

I love mysteries, so although I like to think I can guess who the murderer is, I don’t like to be assured of it almost every time a Christian character appears on screen, and I don’t like to waste my time watching a mystery when I know what the outcome will be. So in the interest of saving my fellow mystery lovers time, I’ve compiled a list of ten ways to spot the Christian villain. When you see one of the following characters, you’ve found your killer—and you can change the channel or go to the next movie in your Netflix queue:

1. If a character has the impertinence to bring God into everyday conversation—say, at a lunch with friends or during a card game—he’s clearly deranged and thus a Christian. At the very least your field of suspects has narrowed. Watch for further clues.

2. If a character is an unbearable prude—often illustrated by her not hopping into bed with a guy ten minutes into their first date—she’s a rabid Christian and she’s killed somebody.

3. Any character who talks about God and has a southern accent is sure to be the villain.

4. If the above-mentioned character (talks about God, has southern accent) possesses less than a full set of teeth, he is more than a villain. He’s a serial killer. The semi-toothed Christian preys on full-toothed agnostics and atheists, particularly attorneys, social workers, and politicians.

5. If a character has "no use for that fancy book larnin’ thing," he’s a Christian. His ignorance and bigotry may have caused another character to snap and commit murder.

6. Does the character get up early in the morning, own farm animals, or dress like it’s 1940? These signify "Christian" to the formulaic screenwriter, so be on the lookout for other important clues. You may have found your killer.

7. Although the religious villain is often portrayed as a cleric in the Catholic Church, if a religious figure is an evangelical, the chances of him or her being the villain more than double.

8. The Christian character will scowl at the mention of sex, alcohol, or laughter (because all three are outlawed by the Bible). Make note and watch for other telling clues.

9. Does a character home school her children? This is a red flag indicating the presence of an unstable Christian mind. Such a character is not only a killer but also a child abuser.

10. If a character says "God," keep an eye on him; if a character says "Jesus," change the channel now, you’ve spotted the killer. (Note: If a character calls God "the man upstairs," he’s probably not your murderer.)


Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

I’ve been slack with the blog posting over the past month, but with good reason. My debut mystery novel, The Witch Tree, will be out on Amazon.com (for the Kindle) in mid-July and on Barnes & Noble (for the Nook) shortly afterward. It’s been a long road—writing the novel, of course, but also learning about indie ebook publishing, something that just a year ago I didn’t know existed as a reasonable alternative to traditional publishing.

As a writer, I can’t claim to have a string of query letter rejections behind me. I have a grand total of two. The second one, in fact, wasn’t really a rejection because it came from one of those "No answer means no" agents. After writing and rewriting the query and following this agent’s extensive instructions to the letter, I got zip in return. Not even a "No thanks" email. That got me thinking.

Then, last January, I came across a post on the indie ebook revolution by author J.A. Konrath on his blog—and that really got me thinking. Konrath has been at the leading edge of this revolution in publishing, and his generosity to other writers in describing his journey—and laying out the hard numbers on it—has amazed me. Frankly, he’s changed the lives of many writers.

After reading Konrath’s blog (for days), I started reading everything else I could find on indie publishing. And I began to wonder: Should I forsake "legacy" publishing for the indie world? Don’t I need the validation of a traditional publishing deal? Well, no. Wouldn’t I regret not funneling my work through the traditional gatekeepers? Again, no.

There are many business issues that affected my decision to go indie—the sea change in publishing, the rise of ebook sales, the shrinking number of brick-and-mortar stores, writers’ need to maintain their publishing rights, the skimpy royalties in most traditional contracts—but I won’t detail those here.

Suffice it to say that as a writer, what I want, first and foremost, is to get my work into the hands of readers. And in mid-July, I’ll be able to do that. As a secondary consideration, I want to control my work, from the content to the cover to the day of publication. Independence.

Before I close this post, let me give a long overdue thanks to all of you who have signed up as followers on my blog. I appreciate every single one of you.

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What's Really Bothering Larry Flynt?

[Sarah Palin] knew from the first month of pregnancy that kid [her three-year-old son Trig] was going to be Down’s Syndrome. It’s brain dead. A virtual vegetable. She carries it to all these different political events against abortion, she did it just because she didn’t want to say she’d had an abortion. How long is it going to live? Another 12, 15 years? Doesn’t even know it’s in this world.

Larry Flynt in an interview with Johann Hari, Independent, May 27, 2011

Larry Flynt

Let’s leave politics aside. I want to look at the bigger picture here. I don’t even want to bring abortion into this. I haven’t been able to get Larry Flynt’s sickening statement out of my mind since I read it.

Flynt, if you’ve never heard of him (lucky you), is the producer of hardcore pornographic videos, the publisher of numerous pornographic magazines, including Hustler, and a self-described free-speech advocate (because nothing says free speech like downloaded porn).

Here’s the curious thing. Flynt wasn’t asked about Palin’s son Trig in the interview. He freely, without a hint of reluctance, gave his opinion on the child. The subject of Trig must have been eating away at him for some time for that comment to fly out of his mouth "a propos of nothing," as the interviewer notes.

Of course, this is the man who, in the same interview with Hari, describes his first sexual experience as that of having intercourse with a chicken when he was nine years old. He so injured the chicken that he had to kill it afterward. (Hari asked him if he felt sorry for the chicken. "What?" Flynt replied. "No. It was a chicken.") Obviously this "advocate" has been deeply disturbed since childhood.

So what’s really bothering Flynt? Does little Trig’s presence on Earth actually distress him? I’ve thought about this, and I think, when you get down to the nitty gritty, Flynt can’t stand the thought that someone chose life and goodness over death and self-interest.

Goodness to Flynt is like Dorothy’s bucket of water to the Wicked Witch of the West—and this is especially true if that goodness becomes public. Thus Flynt thinks that Palin is carrying her child to political events to make a political point. It would never occur to him that Trig, as her child, belongs with her, just as her other children do. He doesn’t think like that. He needs to grasp for explanations outside decent, loving behavior.

Goodness is an affront to Flynt. It is a mirror, and he doesn’t like what he sees in it. Somewhere in his shriveled soul, he knows the depths to which he has sunk. How can someone choose to give birth to a Down syndrome child? It must bewilder him. For his own peace of mind, he has to see that choice as something other than an act of love. He’s not capable of such an act, so in his mind no one else is, and if they appear to be capable of it, it’s a put-on, a ploy.

In Flynt’s upside-down world, he’s not the problem. He’s a freethinker, a crusader, a wise-cracking guy fighting for free speech. No, the problem is women who knowingly give birth to mentally or physically challenged children. Or believe in God. Or believe women should be treated with dignity. How weird are they?

So Larry Flynt calls evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). He marinates in the battery acid of a life lived poorly, the knowledge that there are people out there who choose light over dark gnawing at him. I’m not sure he could live in his own skin if he didn’t ridicule decency and goodness. And in the end, that makes him a man to be pitied.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Yang Caizhen Is Free

Good news on Yang Caizhen, the Chinese Christian woman who was imprisoned in November 2009 for organizing a prayer rally at an illegal "house church" in Linfen, China. Prisoner Alert, a ministry of Voice of the Martyrs, received word late last week that Caizhen was released from prison in February, several months ahead of schedule.

Prisoner Alert’s press release on Caizhen states: "Praise God that Chinese prisoner of faith Yang Caizhen was released from prison in February. Mrs. Yang Caizhen has been ill and in the hospital several times since her arrest. She was released due to her illness. She is reported to look very fragile. Please continue to pray for her as she recovers. Pray also for her husband, Yang Xuan, and Pastor Wang Xiaoguang, Yang Rongli and Zhang Huamei, who were arrested at the same time as Yang Caizhen, and who remain in prison."

Christians around the world protested Caizhen’s imprisonment, sending 544 emails to Chinese government officials and an astounding 1,821 letters to her prison. People in churches across the United States prayed for her, Christian news services worldwide picked up her story, bloggers wrote about her and the Linfen church, videos about her were posted to YouTube, and tweets decrying her treatment spread across Twitter.

It was a drumbeat of faith the Chinese government could no longer ignore.

For background on Yang Caizhen, see here for my original post on her and here for an update.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Guest Blogger Amy Maddox

I’m happy to welcome my friend Amy Maddox as guest blogger today. Amy is a talented writer who is working on her first novel while raising a husband and three children. You can read more of Amy’s thoughts—and see photos of her artwork—on her own blog, Something Deep and Witty. Without further ado, here’s Amy.
For the record, writing is art.

Of course, a lot of other things are also art: music, photography, painting, movies, sewing, gardening, cooking, crafts. The list goes on and on. And when I’m in the middle of making a lampshade (more on this later), it’s easy for me to understand that I am creating art. After all, I have glue and scissors. Aren’t glue and scissors prerequisite tools for art?

But writing? When I’m in the middle of it, I forget that it’s art. I read other people’s writing and can see the connection clearly. But when I’m doing it, I doubt. I struggle to find the words. I type, I delete, I stare into space. But just so we’re all clear, writing—even your writing, even mine—is art.

But back to the lampshade. I recently made one for my office. It was a long, sometimes tedious project, but I am very proud of the results. I’m proud of how nice the shade looks, for the money I saved, for the incredible blessing of having an office to decorate after months of unemployment. But I’m also proud of the expression of myself that is in the shade. In the process of reflecting on the project, I found myself wondering if I love the lampshade.

I don’t actually love the lampshade. It is, after all, an inanimate object with no soul. But there is also something of the eternal in this lampshade because I made it. There is something of the eternal God in me, both because I am created in his image and because he has redeemed my brokenness, and so because of the great care and time I put in making the lampshade, and because it is an expression of the art that is in me—art that is ultimately from God—there is something good and eternal in this shade, this art I have created. And so I guess it’s more accurate to say that I love God, but part of my love for God is reflected in the lampshade. He and I created it together. His expression of beauty and art, and more, his patience and care and grace, are all built into this silly little shade. So if I say I love the lampshade, really what I’m saying is that I love the art that God has created in my life.

I feel much the same way about writing—the writing that is, after all, art. In the same ways I used fabric and glue and thread to create art for my office, I use pen and paper (or, more likely, keyboard and screen) to create art. The lampshade is so much more than the sum of its parts, and so writing is so much more than just the words on the page. It is passion, aspiration, faith, doubt—the sum of the human experience can be expressed and understood in writing just as it is expressed in other types of art.

And ultimately, art is good and speaks to our souls because it expresses something of the eternal. This is the power of writing, of singing, of things we create that words cannot express. We are made in his image, all of us, and something of Elohim, the Creator God, lingers in us. But we who are redeemed—and whose art is redeemed—have a special privilege, a special responsibility. As God created, so we create. As he penetrates the soul with the word, so can our words be used by him. Writing is an act of faith-ing, of speaking, of yielding, of wielding. Our art can show life and light to the world.

And so, God—whether we actually use his name or not—uses art as a revolutionary force. A friend of mine recently said on her blog, "The heart can be a wall. But if you put hinges on a wall, it becomes a door. And culture [or art] is the hinge. What a revelation to me, the culture-lover! No wonder I am so in love with culture–it has opened up my heart to God."

When I was young, I enjoyed the hymn "How Great Thou Art." The words stirred my young soul, and my mind gave image to the timeless words:

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art . . .

The problem was, I didn’t understand archaic English at that age. When I sang "How great Thou art," I thought we were telling God how great his art was. Look at the worlds he’d made! Look at the stars! Hear the thunder! That’s some impressive artwork! It wasn’t until later that the truth hit me like the aforementioned thunder. "How great Thou art" really meant "How great you are!" I felt so silly and childish.

But, oh, isn’t it the deepest truths that sometimes come from little children? In the intervening years, I’ve returned to that original understanding and come to appreciate it, and God, and my own creativity, in new ways. And so when I sing, however infrequently, that old hymn, I choose to think, How great your art is, God.

And how great our art can be, too.

For more on creating art with our words and our lives, see Emily Freeman’s blog, Chatting at the Sky. She has been writing about art all this year.


Monday, May 2, 2011

A Christmas Card in April

I like to take my two dogs for a walk in the cemetery near my house. If I get there early enough, I can let them run off leash for a while, and they love that. A month ago, while Sophie and Cooper were chasing squirrels and leaping over headstones, I found a creased and red-stained Christmas card in the grass. There were no headstones in the immediate area, no indication of where the card had come from. I opened it. The words inside were heartbreaking: “Merry Christmas in heaven. I’ll love you forever. I miss you so much.” It was addressed to a man and signed by a woman (I’ll call her Margaret).

About thirty feet from the card, I found an envelope, also stained red. The front of the envelope read “To My Dear Husband.” I imagine the stain came from a Christmas wreath with a red bow—such wreaths were everywhere in the cemetery, even in early April. Snow and rain had leached color from the bow onto the card. Someone had torn open the envelope, removed the card, and tossed them both to the wind. And for some reason I found them. I’ve been praying for Margaret ever since.

So why did I find the card? If you had asked me ten years ago, I would have said it was coincidence. Forget the fact that if I had arrived in the cemetery just one minute later, the wind, which was wild that day, would have blown the card far from the path I always walked. No, like any sensible twenty-first-century woman, I would have invoked coincidence.

But ten years have passed, and I’ve learned something: To believe in coincidence is to deny God’s infinite creativity. Coincidence is the product of a withered imagination. It reduces God to something more manageable in our minds.

Imagine a God who, on a windy day in April, would send a tattered Christmas card blowing my way. Who would allow one of His children the privilege of praying for another of His children and thereby have her take part in the Great Dance. Who would bless my simple walk in the cemetery. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

Still, some people prefer chance to a wily, artistic God. There’s safety in coincidence. For one thing, coincidence absolves us of responsibility. If coincidence sent the card my way, there’s no reason I should pray for Margaret. For another, coincidence turns God into a cosmic couch potato with little interest in His creation and no stake in how events play out. We hardly need bother with a God like that. He has no claim on us—and sometimes that’s just the way we like it.

Was God surprised that I took the card as a sign to pray for Margaret? How could he be? Did Margaret need prayer? Yes, I think so. And knowing how I think, the God who controls the wind sent the card my way. Only the unimaginative would call that coincidence.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Cloud of Witnesses

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1

Those who make up this biblical cloud of witnesses—Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Rahab—are impressive figures, but most of the time, to me at least, they seem distant and untouchable. Almost not real. And because of that, they’re not quite the examples they’re meant to be.

But I have my own cloud of witnesses. I’ll bet you do too. Here are a few of the people who inhabit mine:

C.S. Lewis. Novelist, scholar of medieval and Renaissance literature, and Christian apologist (1898–1963). How many people can trace their conversion, at least in part, to a C.S. Lewis book or essay? Millions, I’m sure, including millions of children who learned to love the lion Aslan before they knew who Jesus was.
Thérèse of Lisieux. French Carmelite nun (1873–1897). Although Thérèse wanted to remain unknown, she also aspired to greatness—in God’s sight. Being “small” in her own eyes, her path to greatness was her “little way” of small (but costly) sacrifices. Her autobiography Story of a Soul, as it was later titled, written at the request of the prioress of Lisieux and published a year after her death, is one of the most moving and thought-provoking works in Christian literature.

Rich Mullins. Songwriter, singer, musician, and author (1955–1997). In the 1970s Rich Mullins was a youth pastor and music director at his Kentucky church. In the early 1980s he moved to Nashville and started a successful career in Christian music. And in the late 1980s he gave it all up. He went back to school, got a degree in music education, and moved to New Mexico to teach music to kids on the Navajo reservation. Rich probably earned millions of dollars in his lifetime, but he insisted on being paid each year no more than what the average salary in the U.S. was. He gave the rest to charity.

Keith Green. Songwriter, singer, and musician (1953–1982). Keith Green is the first contemporary Christian music artist I remember hearing, though I have to admit I’m not that fond of his music now. (It’s, well, very 1970s CCM.) It’s his life that interests me. Before he became a Christian, he delved into Eastern mysticism and drugs, fighting Jesus all the way. After he became a Christian, he opened his house to homeless kids and prostitutes. When he was released from his last record contract in 1979, he never again charged money for his albums or concerts. People gave only what they could, and the profits went to Keith’s Last Days Ministries. When I read articles and books about Keith, the same word keeps popping up: “radical.”

Corrie ten Boom. Dutch Holocaust survivor and author (1892–1983). Ten Boom was arrested, along with her entire family, for helping to hide Jews and resistance fighters from the Nazis. She was imprisoned at Ravensbrück concentration camp. Her father and sister died in the camps. Corrie survived and went on to write her memoir, The Hiding Place, among other works. After forty years, The Hiding Place is still in print.

What about you? Who is in your cloud of witnesses?


Monday, April 4, 2011

Howls of Derisive Laughter

I recently saw a video of a speech Christian musician Rich Mullins gave in 1986 to a Christian youth organization in which he said he’d given up watching Monty Python movies. “This was a hard one for me,” he explained. “Because I love Monty Python movies, and I had to stop watching them, because I realized that they laugh at life and they scoff at life.”

Here was a guy who dove into living, who railed against Christians who try to construct neat little lives insulated and isolated from the rest of the world. Give up Monty Python? That harmless comedy troupe? Why not talk about giving up smoking, drugs, Tarot cards?

Maybe because laughing and scoffing at life—cynicism, to put it in a word—devalues life in a way that Tarot cards and a host of other no-no’s can’t. Cynicism refuses to treat God and life as good and precious. It views human beings as self-serving hypocrites. It’s too clever to fall for the “lie” that there is a God in heaven and meaning to life.

The cynic avoids natural sentiment because it makes him vulnerable. The Christian risks playing the fool. The cynic sees in Mother Teresa’s struggles with faith a “gotcha” moment—score one for atheism. The Christian sees a woman who persevered in serving God despite her doubts—the very definition of faith.

What makes cynicism so dangerous is that it’s too easy to be cynical in our culture. Beyond easy: you’re rewarded for it. Cynicism is a mark of intelligence, of a willingness to face the world as it is. It’s funny. It’s the robust, grown-up way to look at things.

But cynicism is none of those things. It’s gutless. It dislikes and distrusts beauty. It elevates ugliness simply because it is ugliness. It stands apart from the “unwashed masses,” commenting from on high. It’s passivity, not action. It’s the lousy abstract painting that any monkey with a brush can paint (and then call art).

It’s easy to mock life, to let loose with—as the Pythons say in one of their more famous sketches—“howls of derisive laughter.” All you have to do is cave into the culture. Let your thoughts fall into and roll down that old bowling-alley gutter. It takes effort to keep the ball out of that gutter and treat life as precious.

And I think that’s where giving up Monty Python comes in. We’re told to keep our minds on what is true, noble, just, and lovely (Phil. 4:8), and while that doesn’t mean we should spend our lives skipping through meadows and sipping drops of dew from flower petals, it does mean, I think, that we shouldn’t deliberately fill our minds with things that crowd out the true and noble.

The strange thing is, when I gave up Monty Python—among many other things, since I had such a taste for snarky humor—I found I developed a different perspective on life. I was no longer “feeding the beast,” so to speak, and a world of real, warm humor opened up to me. And Monty Python? They’re just not that funny anymore.


Monday, March 21, 2011

A Little Thing

Last week I was up and out of the house early to drop a couple pieces of mail in the mailbox a few blocks from my house. I was looking ahead to all I had to do that day—not much of it pleasant—and as a result I was already in a gloomy mood. I was steeling myself for the day.

I parked the car and walked to the mailbox, and as I dropped the mail through the slot, I heard a cheery “Good morning!” I turned—on the off chance this happy voice was addressing me—and saw a man, maybe in his late sixties, heading for the same mailbox. Mail in hand, arms swinging, he smiled broadly at me. I replied with my own “Good morning!” and headed back to my car. Grinning.

We didn’t have a conversation at the mailbox, nothing more than a smile and a “Good morning” passed between us. But that man made my morning. And he got me thinking. Maybe if we realized that one smile or a couple of kind words could make such a difference in someone’s day, we’d be more willing to sprinkle those smiles and words around.

There are times when we feel we have nothing to offer. We’re drained ourselves and don’t have a drop to spare, or maybe we’re just in the kind of mood I was that morning and don’t see why we should spare a drop. I wonder what kind of day that man was facing. It might not have been any better than mine. It might have been worse.

It was such a little thing, but here I am, days later, thinking and writing about it.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Christians Continue to Face Persecution

Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s only Christian
cabinet member, was assassinated on
March 2, 2011, for opposing Pakistan’s
blasphemy law, which is often used
against Christians.
After reading about mob attacks on Christians in Egypt this month—largely ignored by the media—I thought I’d research the current state of Christian persecution in Africa, India, and the Far East. What follows is a tiny sample of the persecution Christians in these parts of the world have faced in the past three months. 
  • On March 4, in the village of Soul, south of Cairo, a local imam issued a call to “kill all the Christians.” The imam said Christians had no right to live in the village. Several hours after his call, a mob attacked the local church. They brought down its walls with sledgehammers and set fire to it, nearly killing the parish priest (some reports have it that the priest and three deacons were later killed).
  • On March 5, also in the village of Soul, a mob of almost four thousand Muslim extremists attacked Coptic homes, setting fire to them. (There are an estimated twelve thousand Christians in Sol.) The mob prevented fire brigades from extinguishing the fires.
  • I’ve written about Yang Caizhen before. She was arrested in November 2009, along with other church leaders, for holding a prayer rally the day after four hundred military police raided the church she and her husband pastor in Linfen, China. Last month, for the second time since her arrest, she was admitted to a hospital. This time her condition appears to be very serious. 
  • Pastor Vijay Purusu of Bethel Church in India’s Orissa state says that Hindu extremists’ persecution of Christians in the area "has become a daily occurrence." There have been at least fifteen serious attacks on Christians between December 2010 and February 2011, including an assault on Pastor Mark Markani, who was beaten in his home by a group of thirty-five Hindu extremists, and an attack on Christmas Day in which some two hundred Hindus beat worshipers in a church and destroyed ten houses belong to Christians. 
  • In February, Pastor Hari Shankar Ninama was stripped and beaten by Hindu extremists while he was praying in a home in Ambarunda for the recovery of an eight-year-old boy suffering from an illness. He’d been asked to pray by the boy’s mother. 
  • For the ninth year in a row, North Korea is at the top of Open Doors’ World Watch List, an annual list that ranks countries by the severity of their persecution of Christians. In North Korea, Christians face torture, life in a labor camp, or execution—simply for being a Christian. Out of a population of twenty-three million, there are an estimated four hundred thousand Christians in North Korea, fifty thousand of them in labor camps.
If you want more information on the persecution of Christians, visit Persecution.org, Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, ChinaAid, and Help Linfen. All of these websites offer ways for you to write or email Christian prisoners.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why I Love Christian Fiction

There’s an interesting scene in the 1992 movie A Stranger Among Us, the story of Emily Eden, a tough New York City cop who briefly lives under cover in a community Hasidic Jews in order to solve the disappearance of a member of that community.

In this scene, Emily (Melanie Griffith) is introduced to the community’s rebbe (Yiddish for “rabbi”). Rather than have the sense to meet the rebbe wearing modest clothing, Emily wears what she’s used to: a short, tight skirt. Naturally, when she sits down to talk with the rebbe, her skirt rides up her thighs. In response, the rebbe’s daughter, Leah (Mia Sara), gently and without reproach drapes a blanket across Emily’s lap.

What I love about this scene, and what makes it remarkable, is that even though it occurs early in the movie, by the time the audience sees it, the tables have already been turned. It’s Emily, the perfectly nice and normal cop, who’s the outsider, not the “prudish” Leah. When Leah covers Emily’s legs, it’s not weird or intrusive—it’s just plain common sense.

And this is what love about Christian fiction. There are no apologies for characters whose actions are guided by a profound relationship with God. There are no faintly embarrassed presentations of modesty, decency, or whispered prayers—because in their modesty and decency the characters are acting out of common sense.

Christian fiction is not about unreal worlds populated by unreal people, it’s about the full reality of life, and that full reality includes millions of people who live their lives with God foremost in their thoughts. In secular fiction, just as in most movies, these people have to be explained. They’re the outsiders, the strangers. Or the lunatics and villains.

Christian fiction turns the tables.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Ebook Revolution

Last month Amazon.com announced its fourth-quarter 2010 financial report, and for writers, myself included, who have decided to take the indie ebook plunge rather than go the traditional publishing route, it contains some exciting news.

First, Amazon is now selling more Kindle books than paperbacks. In 2010, for every 100 paperbacks Amazon sold, it sold 115 Kindle books. This statistic doesn’t include free Kindle books, so the figure is actually higher.

Authors, especially indie authors, will frequently offer their ebooks for free, or at a greatly reduced price, for a limited period of time. Check Amazon’s Kindle store and its Limited-Time Offers page for the latest, and if you’re on Facebook and Twitter, watch for authors' announcements of free ebooks and ebook specials. You can also find free out-of-copyright books at the Kindle store, including classics like Pride and Prejudice and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Second, Amazon sold “millions” of third-generation Kindles in the fourth quarter of 2010. That makes it the biggest selling product in Amazon’s history, even bigger than the previous record-holder, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ve got a first-generation Kindle, and I’m dying to get my hands on a Kindle 3.

Third, the U.S. Kindle store has more than 810,000 books, and that number is growing every day.

And fourth, Amazon has launched even more free Kindle apps, allowing ebooks to be read on devices other than the Kindle (including Android phones, iPhones, BlackBerries, and your PC or Mac).

Just a couple years ago the experts were saying that most people would never exchange an in-the-flesh book for an electronic one, but the Kindle (as well as the Nook and other e-readers) is proving them wrong. Publishing is undergoing a sea change. It’s an exciting time to be a writer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands

I was doing more research on wicca and paganism last week and I found this post on a pagan forum:

We have this ornamental cherry tree in the front of our house, and I like to go beneath her branches. . . . I sit under her branches and it feels like she is trying to embrace and protect me. I sing to her sometimes. . . . I lean against her trunk and just feel the energy and vibrations.

Most of the posters on forums like this are in their teens and twenties. They’re interested in spells, spirit guides, animal totems, magic, divination, amulets, and talismans. They want to channel energy, shield energy, scry, cast runes, and perform telekinesis. In fact, for young people, after the need to connect with others, the strongest draw to wicca and paganism is the need to experience and connect with the supernatural.

But what strikes me about the practices they discuss—aside from the fact that they are counterfeits of reality—is that they sanitize the supernatural. They present it in a safe and palatable way. (Hard-core dangerous practices such as astral projection are another matter. While all of the above practices are dangerous, especially in the hands of naive teenagers, some are quicker pathways to trouble than others.)

Wiccan spells are often rhymes invoking mythic figures such as the “Lord and Lady,” pagan amulets are beautiful jewelry fashioned with silver and gemstones, and pagan animal totems are kind wolves and wise bears. Wiccan rituals make use of oils, incense, and candles, and modern-day pagans follow pretty ethnic “paths”: druidry, shamanism, Celtic reconstructionism, Hellenic polytheism. If a path’s accouterments—music, deities, clothing, jewelry—aren’t aesthetically appealing, it has no followers.

When I read these forums, I always get the impression that wiccans and pagans want to keep the supernatural at arm’s length. They don’t want to embrace it, they want to catch a fleeting glimpse of it from a comfortable armchair. They seem more willing to consider the existence of fairies than the existence of God—and all that belief in God would require of them. I sometimes wonder what they would do if they encountered the mind-bending, bone-rattling supernatural reality of God.

The Bible is full of stories of everyday human beings coming face to face with the supernatural. Usually they react with great fear; sometimes they even collapse. One of my favorite such stories, about Elisha and his servant, is told in 2 Kings 6:8-17.

The king of Syria sent an army to capture Elisha at Dothan. The army moved at night, so when Elisha’s servant woke in the morning, he discovered that Dothan had been surrounded. It looked hopeless, and the servant was terrified. Elisha told his servant not to be afraid, that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” But the servant saw only the Syrian army—no help from God. Elisha asked God to open his servant’s eyes so that he could see the unseen reality around him, and God answered Elisha’s prayer. His eyes opened, the servant, to his amazement, “looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

That beats your hawk totem talking to you in your dreams.

The Bible contains many more encounters with the supernatural, of course, including a bush burning but not burning up (Ex. 3:3), water pouring out of a rock (Ex. 17:6; Num. 20:11), birds bringing food to a man (1 Kings 17:6), bread and fish multiplying when passed through Jesus’ hands (Matt. 14:17-21), a resurrection (Matt. 28:8), and—for the young pagan poster who loves his cherry tree—trees clapping hands (Isa. 55:12).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Hillerman Thesaurusectomy

Stephen King once said that “any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word.” I agree. You should never search a thesaurus for a specific word to replace another specific word in your work-in-progress, though I think a thesaurus is useful at other times for unsticking you and opening your mind to words and phrases you may not have considered.

But what King said got me thinking. What if you took a passage from a classic mystery novel and tweaked it using a thesaurus? So just for fun I took this paragraph from Tony Hillerman’s Dance Hall of the Dead. This is how it reads as Hillerman wrote it:

The moon now hung halfway up the sky, the yellow of its rising gone and its face turned to scarred white ice. It was a winter moon. Under it, Leaphorn was cold. He sat in the shadow of the rimrock watching the commune which called itself Jason’s Fleece. The cold seeped through Leaphorn’s uniform jacket, through his shirt and undershirt, and touched the skin along his ribs. It touched his calves above his boottops, and his thighs where the cloth of his trouser legs stretched taut against the muscles, and the backs of his hands, which gripped the metal of his binoculars.
This is what that same paragraph looks like with a moderate thesaurus tweak:

The orb of night now dangled halfway up the sky, the yellow of its ascension defunct and its face converted to scarred white ice. It was a wintertime orb of night. Under it, Leaphorn was cool as custard. He hunkered down in the shadow of the rimrock checking out the commune which called itself Jason’s Fleece. The cold percolated through Leaphorn’s uniform jacket, through his chemise and undergarment, and frisked the skin along his ribs. It manipulated his calves above his boottops, and his thighs where the fabric of his trouser limbs stretched taut counter to the muscles, and the flip sides of his hands, which clasped the metal of his field glasses.
But I couldn’t leave it there. I had to try a complete thesaurusectomy:

The orb of night presently dangled smack in the middle of the sky, the amber of its ascension defunct and its visage converted to traumatized alabaster permafrost. It was a wintertime orb of night. On the nether side of it, Leaphorn was cool as custard. He hunkered down in the obscurity of the rimrock checking out the municipality which designated itself Jason’s Fleece. The frigidity percolated through Leaphorn’s uniform threads, through his chemise and undergarment, and frisked the dermis along his upper trunk. It manipulated his calves above his footwear zeniths, and his thighs where the fabric of his dungaree limbs expanded snug counter to the muscles, and the flip sides of his mitts, which clasped the chemical element of his field glasses.
One thing I noticed, aside from how ridiculous the two thesaurus-ated passages read, is that Hillerman’s paragraph kept getting longer the more I tinkered with it. Hillerman knew what he wanted to say, and he said it succinctly, using just the right words. Even the short sentence “Under it, Leaphorn was cold” loses its punch if you change it, very simply, to “Under it, Leaphorn was chilly.” You can’t change one word of Hillerman’s prose. But that’s why he was a master of the mystery.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Guest Blogger Melissa Nesdahl

It’s my pleasure to welcome guest blogger Melissa Nesdahl. Melissa and her coauthor Pam Stenzel have a new book out, Nobody Told Me, which helps young people understand the physical, emotional, and spiritual risks of sex outside of marriage.


My name is Melissa Nesdahl and I’m honored to be guest posting here on Karin’s wonderful blog.

As readers with a heart for Christian issues and writing, I am excited to share with you my new book with Internationally known abstinence educator Pam Stenzel.

You see, everything that is written sends a message. The type of message it sends is critical because everything read has a ripple effect. It infuses the mind of the reader, influences their thought process, and impacts the conversations they have about the topic with others. There is a social responsibility to writing.

Knowing this—and completely in love with youth ministry (as well as equipping the adults that love them)—we recently released our first book together entitled NOBODY TOLD ME: What You Need to Know about the Physical and Emotional Consequences to Sex Outside of Marriage.

Pam speaks to over a half a million students world-wide about dating and sex each year. I join her in the trenches through crisis pregnancy ministry and together we share our insights and help to help people live out God’s best.

Sadly, today’s teens are often rushed into making adult choices without complete awareness of healthy boundaries. How far is too far? Am I really at risk? Do I need to see a doctor? How do I handle these consequences? What is God’s design? Does He really care? How do I say “no?” What are safe dating boundaries? Is it too late for me? These questions and more swirl through the minds of developing adolescents often times before their faith is mature, and they need helpful, honest, accurate answers now so that they don’t suffer tomorrow.

To help students understand Truth and recognize healthy boundaries, Pam and I took years worth of teens’ shared stories and questions about God’s design for sex, Scriptural encouragement, media influence, peer pressure, abuse, pregnancy, STDs, emotional heartache, and choosing abstinence until marriage and formatted in a way teens like to communicate. Using a fun Facebook-like style, we meet teens (and those who love them) where they are at and provide them with answers to today’s tough questions so that they aren’t the next to tearfully say to God, their parents, a physician, or a future spouse, “Nobody told me. I didn’t know.” Because it is in their authentic voice, it draws them in and helps adult readers to better understand their world.

The best part about this book is that it is applicable to every student regardless of the choices they have made. For those who have abstained, this book will offer a window into the heart of their peers, provide answers to difficult questions they still might have (and be afraid to ask), strengthen them to remain pure until marriage, and offer for them suggestions to help them live that out. If, on the other hand, a young person has made mistakes this book is still for them (making it unique to others) because they will hear stories of young people struggling right along with them, but laced within the message is clarity where there was confusion, hope where there was pain, experienced forgiveness from a loving God, understanding that their past choices don’t have to define their future ones, and practical steps to redeeming their future.

For parents, youth workers, crisis pregnancy workers, mentors, etc. this book is an excellent help because we live in a rapidly changing world. The consequences that they may have faced as a teen are no longer the same as the teens of today. The number of STDs has risen, media exposure delivers wildly different messages, and the people in the home and church haven’t always known how to effectively deliver an abstinence-based message that is both glorifying to God and powerful enough to pack a punch with the students who hear it. This book will place them inside of today’s teenage experience and bring them up to speed on current statistics to help them effectively communicate a message that empowers the teen they love to have a healthy future.

Appropriate for any student 12 and up, this book will help teens’ personal faith blossom, self-confidence grow, expect respect for oneself and the people they date, and live a life a wholeness.

Many Christian leaders have endorsed the book and popular musical artist Rebecca St. James is on the cover stating, “This book is relevant, powerful, and packed with truths that all young people need to hear.”

As Christians, we all have prayerful hearts that students will hear and stand on this counter-culture message. And, as those who care about the writing world, we have a responsibility to write and promote materials that promote a Godly life.

Please join me in spreading the message!

Melissa Nesdahl is a happily married wife, mother, author, writer, and volunteer who believes that when people recognize their identity and value in Christ they will experience life to its fullest. Combining her passion to write with her love of sharing Truth, Melissa frequently updates her Fill My Cup blog, writes product and curriculum with Pam Stenzel, and contributes to ModSquad. Melissa has served as a crisis pregnancy center counselor since 1999 and currently serves on the Board of Directors.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Indie Ebooks: The Future of Publishing?

There’s been a lot in the news lately about how self-published (indie) ebooks are changing the publishing world. I have to admit that, like most writers, I used to look down on self-publishing, but after doing a lot of research on the subject I’ve changed my mind, mostly because of the great opportunities presented by ebooks.

Although publishing an indie print book can be a dicey financial adventure—there’s a good chance you won’t make back your investment, which can easily run into the thousands of dollars—publishing an indie ebook is much cheaper. In fact, if you don’t hire a cover artist (a good one can cost $200-300) or someone to format your book ($150-250 for average-length fiction), it costs next to nothing.

(Note: From what I’ve read, it’s best to hire a cover artist. Covers may be even more important with ebooks since you’re trying to persuade the buyer to purchase a product she can’t touch or see. If you have a good eye for design, though, you can try your hand at making your own covers, and you can even buy software that helps you do just that. You’re also probably better off hiring a formatter, at least for your first ebook, as well as an editor or copy editor.)

There’s another major difference between indie print books and ebooks. With print books, you haven’t got the widespread, easy distribution of ebooks (just try to get a bookstore to carry an indie print book). When you upload your ebook to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords, you have instant distribution—and no worries about paying for bookstores to return your unsold books.

There are four benefits to publishing your own ebook that are particularly appealing:

  • You can bypass the traditional gatekeepers. I’ve never liked the idea of jumping through hoops, especially when those hoops seem arbitrary and consist mostly of waiting . . . then waiting some more.
  • Author royalties are substantially larger with ebooks than with traditionally published books.
  • Sales of ebook readers, such as the Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader, are skyrocketing as the price for the devices decreases and the number of ebooks sold increases. Ebooks are no longer a tiny part of the market.
  • You get to put your work out there. Don’t we write to be read?

If you’re interested in indie ebooks, the first place you should go is author J.A. Konrath’s blog. It’s a goldmine of ebook information. Check out Konrath’s links and his post archives.
Also check out Amazon.com's Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble's PubIt, where you can both buy and create ebooks.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Walk the Line

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Christians can be in the world but not of it. How do we become all things to all people (1 Cor. 9:22) while remaining rock solid in the faith?

We’re told we are the salt and light of the world (Mat. 5:13-14), and at the same time we’re told we shouldn’t be conformed to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2) and we must sometimes shake the dust from our feet (Luke 9:5). It’s a tough balancing act, walking the line between “hard Christianity” and “cool Christianity.”

Some Christians, the hard ones, forget to be salt and light. They’re so intent on making converts and “preaching the Word” that they drive people from Christ. They like being called “hateful” because it’s proof they’re preaching the real Word of God—even if people run screaming from them.

But while hard Christians can do damage, they’re easy to spot. They don’t blend with the scenery.

Cool Christians, on the other hand—cool as in hip— blend with ease. They feel at home in the world. They like being called “reasonable” because they’re living in the twenty-first century, for crying out loud. Cool Christians are “refreshing.” They’re called “loving” by people whose definition of love leans toward lollipop acceptance and away from the image of an enraged messiah overturning tables outside a temple.

Cool Christianity is popular because while it appears to be forward looking—and who doesn’t like to be called forward looking?—it’s simply the path of least resistance. It’s the mind falling into the comfortable rut dug by the prevailing culture.

Which takes us back to the balancing act. It’s hard to be in the world but not of it. Although we shouldn’t speak the truth without love (hard), neither should we play it safe (cool). Christians should be dangerous—without becoming hard. They should pose a threat to secular culture, not embrace it.

It’s hard to walk that line.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Happiness and the New Pagan Chaplain

Norse pagans, Sweden 2008
“If being a pagan makes me a better person and makes me happy, that's all that matters.” —Mary Hudson, the first pagan chaplain at Syracuse University

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.” —C.S. Lewis

In doing research for my novels, I sometimes visit pagan message boards (a task that’s both fascinating and sad), and I’ve noticed over the years a popular theme on those boards: I became a pagan because I wanted to be happy.

Not “I found happiness in paganism,” but “I searched for happiness and found it in paganism.” And there’s a difference. The search for happiness first and foremost will lead you astray every time. In most areas of life, certainly in matters of religion, the search for truth has to come first. You may find happiness—or better yet, real joy—at the end of your search for the truth, but if you search for happiness first, you’re likely to find it in the spiritual equivalent of a bottle of port.

And that leads me to the breathtakingly silly comment by the new pagan chaplain (a self-described “third-degree priestess”) at Syracuse University. “If it makes me better and makes me happy” is the sort of thing you hear from people who haven’t given truth much thought at all. It’s pop psychology. But it sounds good, doesn’t it? How could one object to someone being better or happy?

The first part of the chaplain’s statement depends very much on her definition of “better,” and I’m not that confident of her ability to draw sound conclusions. Her “better,” as I discovered through reading more about her, is a somewhat hazy concept that excludes outside judgment. Even the “deities” don’t judge her, she says. It’s a do-it-yourself kind of thing, putting a gold star sticker on your own forehead.

So how does Hudson define “better”? Being so self-contained, how does she even know what better is? The less-than-better become better by striving toward a something or someone separate from, and better than, themselves. But to do this, they must recognize that they are less than better, an impossibility unless they take notice of outside judgment. The less-than-better who refuse outside judgment have no idea what to aim for—they can’t. They have no compass point.

The second part of Hudson’s statement is nonsense. All sorts of things make people happy. Vapid things make vapid people happy. Evil things make evil people happy. The fact that something makes you happy is not, in and of itself, proof that you’ve found something good—or true. Happiness is a byproduct, not a goal.

But this is modern paganism, and part of why paganism today embraces so many different, often conflicting practices and philosophies. Because it’s not the truth of one or the other belief that matters, or if one actually believes in Celtic or Norse or Greek goddesses, or whether Cerridwen or Artemis could actually coexist, but the happiness it all brings.