Monday, August 22, 2016

How to treat 'the stranger' among us



Last week five year old Omran Daqneesh put a face on the Syrian war.

He reminded us that it doesn't matter what the politics of the situation is. What became readily apparent is the human suffering that comes from war.

Omran's face put the cost in terms that every reader could instantly understand.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the end of 2015 there were 65.3 million refugees on earth. Half of them were children.

The cause of defending the stranger and foreigner is deeply rooted in most faith traditions, including Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian. There are plenty of Biblical references for how to treat 'the stranger' among us. Most all of them are calls to treat them with love and kindness.

In Leviticus 25.35 the Israelites are encouraged to treat each other "...as you would a foreigner and stranger..."

When Job is defending himself from the verbal attack of his friends, who accuse him of being unrighteous, he says, "I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger." (Job 29.16)

Not surprisingly Jesus himself had something to say on the subject. He gave this exhortation in the gospel of Matthew, in a section that's subtitled The Final Judgment, in which Jesus is giving his impression of who will and will not make it into heaven.

"'Then the King (God) will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home..."

When those in the crowd ask Jesus, "Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty or a stranger?"
He replied: "Whatever you did for the least of these, you did to me." (Matt. 25.40)

This is one of the few passages in the Bible that gives us a direct glimpse of the bottom line of what being a person of faith is all about.

What if we began to include refugees, our neighbors, those living in poverty, as the 'stranger' among us?

If you need more convincing of our faith-based heritage to reach out to strangers, Paul offers at least two compelling arguments to care.

"You were, at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. " (Ep. 2.12) Paul isn't just speaking to Christians here, He is suggesting that we were all once spiritual refugees without hope.

There is an interesting chapter in Hebrews where Paul lists quite a number of heroes of the faith, including Abraham, Noah, Sarah and Issac.

Paul says that each of these individuals had something in common. "They were strangers and foreigners on the earth." (Heb. 11.13).

And if we still need a gentle prodding of our spirit to get involved, Eugene Peterson offers this beautiful rendition of of why we should care about the refugees (strangers) among us. "Dear friend, when you extend hospitality to Christian brothers and sisters, even when they are strangers, you make your faith visible." (3 John 1.5)

Peterson would be the first to say that the apostle John's words were meant to be an encouragement to people of all faiths.

If you are looking for a way to help refugees, the strangers among us, there are many reputable organizations that are doing great work. Including:

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Pre-emptive Love Coalition

World Vision

Doctors Without Borders


Ann Voskamp who wrote A Thousand Thanks, has been an outstanding advocate of supporting the refugees among us.

You are also invited to learn about local efforts aimed at welcoming immigrants through the welcoming initiative.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it's a start.

And what about Omran Daqneesh? He was treated successfully and returned to his family. Unfortunately, his ten year old brother Ali, died because of the same airstrike.

Photo Credit: www.npr.org













Monday, August 15, 2016

Meet Author Ed Cyzewski


Ed Cyzewski regularly writes about Christian living and prayer on his blog, The High Calling and Christian Today. His work has also appeared in Leadership Journal (print) and Christianity Today (online). He’s especially interested in writing about prayer and the unique challenges writers who are Christians face. His work has appeared on HuffPost Live, focusing on evangelicals and politics.

He has a Master of Divinity, but feels more like a beginner in divinity most days. Ed didn’t go into ministry because he’s an introvert. Reading Richard Rohr has helped him accept all of that.

His guest post credits in the publishing industry include posts for leading bloggers such as Rachelle Gardner and Jane Friedman. My post, “Can You Promote a Book without Making Yourself Miserable?” has been featured in Digital Book World and The Passive Voice.
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You have a master’s degree in divinity from a seminary. Can you explain where the writing career fit in? Did that come before, after, or during your seminary training? What was/is your motivation for writing?
Writing started out as a side project. I had planned to attend seminary and then go into ministry. After working in a church for a few years, I immediately knew that I wasn’t cut out for ministry. I kept working on writing and tried out the nonprofit sector for a while. However, when my wife went back to graduate school full time for her PhD, I felt freedom to explore writing as my full time job. Having said all of that, the writing that I do on my blog and in most of my books has a pastoral focus. I never stopped sensing the call to be a pastor of some sort, and I find that I do quite a lot of pastoral work through my writing, comments, and emails that I receive from readers.

In your book, A Christian Survival Guide (CSG), you mention the importance of ‘listening prayer.’ Could you elaborate on that? Why is it important to hear God’s voice?
It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that prayer depends on us somehow calling down God or grabbing God’s attention. I know a lot of evangelicals are especially anxious about prayer and worry that it just doesn’t work. Listening prayer or contemplative prayer takes us out of the driver’s seat for prayer and helps us rest in the truth of scripture that God loves us. We should still offer prayers of thanksgiving, praise, lament, and petition, but so much of prayer should also involve waiting on the Lord in silence.

I should add that “listening” prayer doesn’t necessarily mean God is actually going to speak to us. Listening prayer is much more about rest and trust. The church’s contemplative prayer teachers warn us against the desire for spiritual epiphanies. Rather, silent or listening prayer teaches us to rest in the trust that God is present to remain open for however God will minister to us—even if that “ministry” is something we can’t quantify.

You also mention a ‘conservative’ vs. ‘liberal’ view of the Bible. How does this influence a person’s view of life (world view) and of God?
The impact of this conservative/liberal divide probably depends on your church background. Generally speaking, conservatives believe that the Bible must not only be completely historically accurate, but in many circles it must be historically accurate within extremely stringent guidelines in order to be the Word of God. This has led to Christians engaging in acts such as interpreting the poetic creation story literally or obsessing over the chronology of the kings of Israel and Judah. This results in conservatives potentially missing out on the encounter with the risen Christ that the scriptures speak of, which was the exact problem Jesus addressed in John 5:39. We don’t have to concede that the Bible is erroneous, but we should get our priorities straight and use scripture in order to find the risen Christ. Coming out of a conservative background, I find it far more compelling to let the Bible defend itself in the lives of the people in the church. Does the stuff described in the Bible actually happen in the church? That’s borrowing heavily from John Wimber of the Vineyard, and I suspect that he’s onto something.

Painting with broad brush strokes, liberals may tend to back away from the historicity of the Bible. In some cases this is an overreaction to conservatives who have picked many historical hills to die on. From the conversations I have with my friends who are liberal Christians, they believe that liberal Christians struggle to find the love and compassion of God for them even if they engage in activities that are very loving and compassionate.

In CSG, you pose an interesting question: “What if we thought of reading the Bible as simply having a good time with God?” Could you expand on that?
The Bible first and foremost testifies of God’s great love for us and the way that God restores us through his indwelling Spirit. This is a God who is present with us, loves us, and desires nothing more than for us to love him back—this is why Jesus said that loving God is the first commandment. The Bible had long been something to defend in my conservative background, and I had lost the simplicity of the joy of the Lord.

There’s another question you pose in CSG that’s quite thought provoking. “What would happen if we spoke completely honestly to God about everything we don’t understand or struggle to believe?” What do you see as the results of this type of communication with God?
I think we would come up with theological problems that we cannot solve to our satisfaction or to the satisfaction of others. We may spend years struggling to come up with answers, or we may never find answers. Most importantly, we need to learn to be OK with this. Jesus never promised us all of the answers. He promised to remain with us until the end of the age. Jesus promised us presence, not problem-solving. I wonder if we have a lot of atheists today because we assured them that they could find all of the answers of God in Christianity, when in reality, Christianity promises something far better: God with us.

In another section of CSG you wrote: “Having the right information about the love of God isn’t the same thing as living in that love daily.” Can you offer additional insight? Or an example of this? (On pg. 39 of CSG you quote Frederick Buechner, “Believing in Him (God) is not the same as believing about Him.”)
Perhaps the best way I can answer this is to address the tongue in cheek nature of the book’s title: A Christian Survival Guide. This is a book that aims to clear away the clutter of “Christian Survival,” pushing away all of the things that we are told we need in order for our faith to survive. My goal is to point us to the love of God because that is the only thing that can truly ensure the survival of our faith. It is very possible in my experience to intellectually believe in the love of God and to still fail to believe that God loves me and the people around me.

If you had the opportunity to speak about what you considered the single most important aspect of maintaining a relationship with God and growing in it, what would you say?
I’m sure this will depend on the season of faith for each person, let alone the life stage, as the younger we are, the more we need concrete statements, and the older we get, the more we can handle uncertainty and nuance. However, the thing I keep coming back to after 37 years is the simple practice of believing that God loves me and that I can find my identity in that belovedness before God. I am the sheep the God sought out, I am the lost coin that he turned the house upside down to find, and I am the prodigal son that he will always run out to meet. That is the message of Jesus from the incarnation straight on through to the Resurrection and Ascension. God loves me. God loves you. This is what we must spend our lives untangling, living in, and remembering even when we can think of reasons to suggest otherwise.

What’s your favorite book of the Bible? Or verse? And why?
I used to really love 1 and 2 Corinthians because they were just such a mess, and I think that helped me remember that the early church wasn’t this utopia of spiritual perfection. They really struggled and at times it seemed like they weren’t ever going to make it. However, these days I lean heavily on the Psalms. It makes me wonder why I haven’t leaned on them sooner.

Who are some of your favorite Christian writers? Writers, in general?
I don’t think I have read anyone who can write with the power of Brennan Manning, especially in his book Furious Longing of God. HenrĂ­ Nouwen writes with a spare prose and striking focus that I also find jarring. He packs so much into his tiny books, and they are well worth reading, savoring, and re-reading. It’s basically required for a Christian writer to love Anne Lamott. I mean she invented spiritual memoir as a genre with Traveling Mercies.

You also pose a very thought-provoking question to your readers in CSG. “What do you want out of life?” Would you mind giving us your answer to that question?
It’s such an important question because I think the answer shifts and changes. One moment I am focused on resting in God’s love and the next moment I’m trying to survive financially in a tough situation and then the next our family really needs to spend more time together. It’s one that I return to often because it’s so easy to get caught up in the “tyranny of the urgent.”

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Folks can find me at www.edcyzewski.com. I’m on Twitter at @edcyzewski and have an author page on Facebook. My new website that offers daily prayer prompts is called www.thecontemplativewriter.com. Folks who are interested in A Christian Survival Guide may want to check out my book Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life, which I have just re-released on Kindle (and other eBook sites) for just $2.99 (price subject to change).

Photo Credit: www.edcyzewski.com

Monday, August 8, 2016

What Would a Spiritual Olympics Look Like?



We're right in the middle of the Summer Olympics.

Events include: Swimming, Field Hockey, Basketball, Gymnastics, Diving, Judo, Fencing, Rugby, Soccer, Tennis, Cycling, Fencing and Rowing.

Hopefully, you've had a chance to watch some of the events and seen the spectacular level of talent among the athletes.

Which got me to wondering: What would a Spiritual Olympics look like? What events would it include? Maybe things like...

Understanding.

Those competing in this event would need hefty amounts of thought, purpose, and meditation in order to make the final cut. Of course knowledge would be an essential ingredient, but not the final result. (Sort of like muscle development is the by-product of sustained physical exertion).

Praying.

Absolutely essential, don't you think?

If praying is direct communication between us and God, then it would most likely be billed as one of the premier events. Of course, there would be sub-categories, like intercessory and healing prayer.

Thanksgiving.

Another premier event. How do we get anywhere in our walk with God without the ability to thank God for everything that God's done for us? This category could be divided up among areas of life where we're thankful for God's presence, like family/home life, work, friendships, health and finances. And speaking of God's presence, how about...

Seeking.

Although elements of praying and thanksgiving come in to play, seeking God is so important that it would most likely qualify as a separate category. It would include determination and fortitude necessary to compete at an Olympic level.

Faithfulness.

Where would we be in our walk with God without faithfulness! To the well-seasoned spiritual athlete, faithfulness is essential to maintaining an ever-growing relationship with God.

Wisdom.

Just like knowledge is linked to understanding, understanding is linked to wisdom. Veteran Spiritual Olympians would know that there's a difference between wisdom and understanding. Applying yourself to learning brings understanding. But true wisdom comes from God. Spiritual exercise, spending time in God's presence promotes wisdom.

Love.

How could we leave this one out?! Jesus gave the commandment to love one another (John 13.34). A few years later Paul wrote down a pretty good description of what love looks like (1 Corinthians 13.4-7). It's the most powerful social and spiritual lubricant around. And makes the next event possible...

Forgiveness.

This event goes hand-in-hand with love. You can't have one without the other. At least not this side of Heaven. It's absolutely essential for emotional, spiritual and mental health. In fact, it's so important that when Peter, almost wistfully, asked Jesus, "Master, how many times must I forgive? Seven?" Jesus answered: "Seventy times seven." If you do the math it totals out to 490 times. But of course, Jesus wasn't talking numbers. His point was to keep on forgiving, not tallying up the cost or the number of times it's necessary.

Awe.

All of the above events contribute to this one. Simply being captivated, entranced by God's presence brings awe. It's also made up of reverence and respect and old-fashioned fear (being defined as an awareness of the magnitude of God).

Come to think of it, all of the "events" in the Spiritual Olympics tie in to each other. They each have an important part to play in our spiritual development.

And remember: Even if you'll never be a contender in the Summer Olympics, each of us has an equal shot at being part of the Spiritual Olympics. In fact, it's exciting to note that each of us could receive several "gold medals" for our participation!

Photo Credit: www.humanosphere.org












Monday, August 1, 2016

Martin Luther King, Jr. Speaks To Us Today



On December 18, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

He came into town on the heels of a major snowstorm to address an audience of 2,000 that had gathered as part of a Conscience of America symposium.

Dr. King spoke four months after having given his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the Washington Mall, and he had much to say that seems to directly address those of us living in the United States over five decades later.

In fact, considering the current state of political, racial, ethnic and religious antagonism that exists, you could say his 1963 speech was nothing short of prophetic.

"The wind of change is blowing all over our world today. It is sweeping away an old order and bringing into being a new order... The old order of colonialism is passing away, and the new order of freedom and human dignity is coming into being.,, With this new sense of dignity and this new sense of self-respect, a new Negro came into being, with the new determination to struggle, to suffer and sacrifice in order to be free."

Change never comes easy. And some of that difficulty lies with the majority order letting go of prejudice and privilege.

Dr. King went on to address the current state of world affairs.

"The world in which we live is geographically one. Now we are challenged to make it one in terms of brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools. This is the great challenge of the hour. This is true of individuals. It is true of nations. No individual can live alone. No nation can live alone."

After giving the example of a recent visit to India, where he found hundreds of millions of people without enough to eat, Dr. King said;

"I started to think about the fact that we spend millions of dollars a day to store surplus food. I said to myself, I know where we can store that food free of charge, the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God's children that go to bed hungry at night. All I'm saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated. That somehow we're caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be."

Dr. King then directly addressed segregation.

"We are challenged to get rid of the notion, once and for all, that there are superior and inferior races...There was a time when people used to argue this notion on the basis of religion and the Bible. It is tragic how individuals will often use religion and the Bible to misuse religion and the Bible to crystalize a status quo and justify their prejudices."

Then he spoke about two myths that get in the way of social change.

"One argument is the myth of time. This myth says in substance that only time can solve problems that we face in the area of human relations. So there are those who say to individuals struggling to make justice a reality, Why don't you wait and stop pushing so hard? If you will just be patient and wait...the problem will work itself out... The only answer that one can give to this myth is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively...Somewhere along the way we must see that time will never solve the problem alone but that we must help time. Somewhere we must see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God."

"The other myth,.. is that legislation cannot really solve the problem...while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless."

At the time Dr. King was referring to civil rights legislation, which still needs to be safeguarded and monitored. Witness recent efforts to curtail voter registration among minorities in the south. 

His remarks are just as apropos in arguing against any suggestion that we need to limit immigration or deport members of various religious or ethnic groups.

And Dr. King spoke to the importance of love in non-violent resistance.

"The Greek language has a word, 'agape.' Agape is more than romantic or aesthetic love. Agape is more than friendship. Agape is creative, understanding, redemptive good will for all men. It is an overflowing love that seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that this is the love of God operating in the human heart. When one rises to love on this level, he loves every man. He rises to the point of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. I believe that this is the kind of love that can carry us through this period of transition. This is what we've tried to teach through this nonviolent discipline."

As Dr. King came towards the conclusion of his speech, he remarked that modern psychology had given us the term 'maladjusted.'

"But I say to you my friends... there are certain things in our nation and in our world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of goodwill will be maladjusted  (to)... I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence..."

And his final thought was a profound and powerful hope for the future of our world and our country,

"In spite of the difficulties of this hour, I am convinced that we have the resources to make the American Dream a reality... Somehow, with this faith (in God), we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new life into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. This will be a great day. This will be the day when all God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God, Almighty, we are free at last!'"

Here's a transcript of the entire speech.

Photo Credit. www.seattletimes.com



Monday, July 25, 2016

Honoring God



Recently over breakfast, I had the opportunity to catch up with a friend.

Our conversation at the Cornerview Cafe lasted over an hour. But it was one of those moments when time seemed to pass by at the speed of light.

He talked about his family and how he was doing in walking out his relationship with God.

Towards the end of our time together, my friend said, "To me, the most important thing is honoring God."

Then we got up, paid our bill and walked out into the parking lot to say good-bye.

What my friend said has stuck with me. And it's got me thinking: How does anyone honor God?

The whole idea of honoring the Creator of the Universe can seem daunting. Almost impossible.

Until we stop to consider that, if God is a being, and we are made in God's image, then we can begin to answer the question in terms of deepening a friendship.

So, starting with that foundation, the following few tips are offered:

We honor God by spending time with God.

We honor any friend when we think enough of them to spend time with them.

Think of your best friend. What motivates you to see them face-to-face? Why isn't phoning, or Facebooking, or texting or emailing enough?

What is it about the face-to-face encounter?

Only then can we see into their eyes as they are speaking. Only then can we fully appreciate the tone of their voice. Only then can the unspoken become part of the conversation.


We honor God by listening.

It sounds so easy and simple.

But how often are we in the middle of a discussion without being fully present? How often is the dialogue interrupted by our own distractions?

Far too often, three minutes into a chat we're already gone. Our bodies may still be there, but our minds are elsewhere. Or we can dominate the conversation blocking out opportunities for grace to express itself.

While listening isn't always silent, it's helpful. (See Proverbs 46.10)


We honor God by our conscious appreciation.

I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to missing opportunities to express my appreciation. How frequently do we remind our close friends how much they mean to us? How often do we tell God, out loud, how much God means to us?

It's not like God needs to know this. After all God is supposedly all-knowing, right? It's mainly for our own benefit that God encourages us to show appreciation.

Worship is one way. Prayer is another. Taking 15-20 minutes at the start of your day to dwell on an aspect of God's character (called Centering Prayer) is a practical tip to accomplish this.

Here's a one minute video explaining some of the benefits, that includes a link to a centering prayer website.


We honor God by loving.

Loving God should naturally flow from spending time with God, listening to God and appreciating God.

During the Last Supper, Jesus (God's Son) encouraged his apostles to love one another.(John 13.34). In one of his epistles, the apostle John continued, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God...for God is love." (1 John 4.7)


We honor God by becoming like God.

It's not much of a leap of faith, or logic, to reach this conclusion.

After all, don't we tend to be influenced by the company we keep? The imprints of friendships are found throughout our lives.

How much more so should it be with God. Spending time with, listening to, appreciating and loving God will all impact and deepen our relationship with God, and, in turn, every other friendship we have.

Photo Credit: www.goministries.net

















Monday, July 18, 2016

Meet Rene Gutteridge, Author

Rene Gutteridge is the award-winning and best-selling author of twenty-four multi-genre novels and is a seasoned collaborator in both fiction and film. She has novelized six screenplays and movies, including her newest, Old Fashioned, with writer/director Rik Swartzwelder. Her romantic comedy with screenwriter Cheryl McKay, Never the Bride, won the Carol Award in 2010 for Best Women’s Fiction.  Her new titles include two more novelizations with Cheryl McKay, Love’s a Stage and O Little Town of Bethany. Her seven suspense books include Possession, Misery Loves Company, Ghost Writer and Escapement.
Her indie film, the comedy SKID, was deadCenter Film Festival’s Best Oklahoma Feature Film Winner in 2015 and also won Best Oklahoma Feature at Red Dirt and Trail Dance. She is a creative consultant on Boo, a script based on her beloved novel series, which is in development at Sodium 11 Entertainment with Andrea Nasfell (Moms’ Night Out) as screenwriter. Her novel My Life as a Doormat was adapted into a Hallmark film called Love’s Complicated which premiered in January of 2016 and scored 2.1 million viewers.  She is a full-time writer for The Skit Guys.
Find her on Facebook and Twitter or at her website, www.renegutteridge.com

You have had quite a diverse career as a writer. Is there anything, in particular, that you’re most proud of?

I guess I’m most proud of not giving up. When I set out to be a writer, when I decided that was the thing I was good at and how God wanted to use me, I had no idea what I was doing. I had studied screenwriting in college, and I knew the nuts and bolts of it all, but there really is nothing at all that can prepare you for the climb.  For every individual writer, it’s not like you’re climbing Mt. Everest, it’s like you’re the first person to ever climb it.  It’s so individual to each person, that there is nothing that can prepare you for the exact path that is going to be yours to take.  It may be riddled with failure. It may be a soaring success. It may take a turn you never saw coming. And so there’s really no roadmap. I tried to stay true to who I was as a writer, while also being humble enough to learn. I really had no business sense at all when I started out, so quite frankly, I can’t believe I made it at all. I have to thank God’s goodness and a lot of gracious people who cheered me on and offered advice along the way. I’m just really glad that I didn’t give up, because there were some awfully trying days. There still are.


You’ve written in several genes, including suspense (The Storm Series), romance (My Life as a Doormat) and mixing it up with comedy and a bit of detective work (The Occupational Hazard and Boo series). Is there one genre you enjoy over any other?

Not one above the other, really. I always say I follow the story, not the genre, so each one is enjoyable. I feel suspense lets me play more and I am able to enjoy the process, not worrying so much as I write.  Comedy is the most difficult, but it has the biggest pay off for me.  When you write that thing that makes someone roar out loud with laughter, it’s the most amazing feeling. But it takes so much work. I don’t think people know what precise detail goes into writing comedy.  That one funny line that made you laugh took twenty lines to set up, all in an exact order, all with particularly chosen words leading up to a big moment.  At the end of a day of writing comedy, I usually have a headache.


Speaking of series work, you’ve done at least 3 of them (Storm Series, Occupational Hazard and Boo). What was the motivation behind going beyond one book?

Some ideas lend themselves better to series. They’re usually stories with a set of characters that will be interesting no matter what kind of setting you put them into. Boo, interestingly, was my third book and I did not set out to write it as a series. But when it came out, it kind of shot right out of the gate and it was so peculiar I think it sold well just because it looked and seemed so weird.  But it did well enough that the publisher came back and said, “Hey, do you have another idea for a book like this?”  I didn’t have an idea, but I did have a title: Boo Who. So I sat down and wrote out an idea that went that title.  I did two more after that, both of which were based solely on the title that I had first: Boo Hiss and Boo Humbug.  It was a little magical for me…it was like these books had their own little way about them and they just needed a writer to find their way out.


You’ve novelized a few films (OLD FASHIONED for instance). What was the attraction for you?

Novelizations have for the most part come from the publisher’s end. They’ll typically buy the novelization rights to a movie and then seek out a writer they think would be a good fit for the project. I’ve been very fortunate to do several of them and they’ve all been a blast, and I always felt very humbled to be a part of them.  The other novelizations I do, from script to book, before the movie is ever made, come from my relationship with screenwriter Cheryl McKay. I got to know Cheryl after I novelized her movie THE ULTIMATE GIFT. She showed me another script she’d written called Never the Bride. I read it and loved it and decided to see if I could pitch it as a novel. We’ve done four script-to-novel projects so far. They’re really fun.


You’ve had two of your novels turned into films (Skid, and My Life as a Doormat, which became the Hallmark Channel’s LOVE'S COMPLICATED). What was that like? Can you describe your involvement in both of these projects?

They were both really amazing and in completely different ways.

SKID was a small indie film that we filmed locally in Oklahoma.  It was fully funded, paid for in cash by one investor. That hardly ever happens and I can’t explain what a gift it was. It took a full three years, from beginning to end, to finish and it was the hardest work of my life.  It was immensely rewarding because of all the creative involvement I had. I wrote the script, adapted from my book, but I also got to be on set every day and make big and small decisions along with the producer and director. It was a very emotional experience for me. I remember walking the actress who played Lucy to the set, and she was in costume and we were just chatting and I was just struck with how surreal it was to be walking next to my character and talking with her! She’s living and breathing right off the page!

Hallmark was interesting because I had literally nothing to do with the making of the movie. My project was in the hands of other artists, and they adapted it how the envisioned it. It was thoroughly thrilling to watch it unfold. Having worked in both the adaptation of novels to movies and movies to novels, I think I have a unique perspective on the process, so I can really appreciate how difficult it is to adapt a book to a movie.  A movie to a book is a far easier process. It was thrilling in every sense of the word to see writers, actors and the director interpret my original vision. I’m thankful for their talent.


How about your work with The Skit Guys? How does skit writing differ from writing a novel?

If you talk to my screenwriting professor, he will undoubtedly tell you that I stuck out from the crowd because every semester of screenwriting I would write a full-length screenplay, instead of the thirty pages that was required.  I’ve always been a long writer, so I knew Skit Guys would be particularly challenging for me. They do high-level short film work so I had a lot to learn. But what I brought with me was years of experience writing Christian comedy sketches. It’s been an absolute thrill working with them. They’re really good at what they do, but also very humble and encouraging. I’m one part of a large team of people who work to uplift others with their talents.


You are such a prolific writer! Do you have a writing routine that you follow?

You learn pretty early on as a professional writer that discipline should be as close of a friend as creativity.  I’ve navigated a lot of different seasons. I became a professional writer at the age of 22, and I’m now 43. I’ve had so many different seasons to work through as far as the discipline of writing goes. I’ve had newborns, toddlers, seasons of health problems, teenagers. Every season presents its discipline challenges, so you find your way.  Right now, with my kids really very busy and self-sufficient, I do a lot of work at coffee houses. It’s been a good change of scenery from my years at the desk.  But in every writing day, I try to read the headlines. It takes me out into the world for a little bit, before I go into my imaginary world.  My biggest rule, though, is that my kids have access to me at any time during the day. It has helped them know they’re more important than anything I’m doing on the computer.  When they were little I had this sign hanging on my door that said: No entry while writing! (Unless you’re John or Cate). They loved that.


What’s your biggest challenge as a writer?

Well, the challenges have always been the same: believing in myself, trusting my gut, working through what seems impossible. Every story starts the same way, with a big, blank, white page. And it’s always intimidating.


One of your earlier novels (Listen) has a distinct moral lesson driving the plot. Looking back, was your writing process for Listen any different than for your other books?

It wasn’t. But it has an interesting story to it. I wrote this book about the power of words, and then as I was finishing the final editing, we learned that our son was enduring some horrible bullying at school.  It was such a strange whirlwind of a time. I ended up speaking about bullying and the power of words in a very personal way that I hadn’t expected when I set out to write the book.  I did one radio interview where they set me up as sort of this “bullying expert” and it was difficult because I kept thinking, “I’m no expert. I’m a novelist and now the mom of a bullied kid. I’m heartbroken, but no expert.”  But I also knew, if I could tell our story, I could help others. So I did, as painful as it was. 


Speaking of writing process, overall, how would you say yours has developed over the years?

Well, hopefully for the better! I’ve learned to write tighter, that’s for sure. And I think I’ve learned to have more fun in the process…worry less, play more.  I’ve never enjoyed the editing phase, so I’m still one who tries to write a very strong first draft.  I have friends who just spill everything out on the page and then love the editing process. I can’t do that at all.


What is your definition of success, as a writer (artist) and as a person?

As a writer, success to me is always loving it. The writing business can be harsh and beat you down a little. If I still love writing a story at the end of the day, then I feel successful.  As a person, it’s simple for me. Love God and love others.  And not eat a gallon of ice cream in one day.


Who are a couple of your favorite writers? And why?

Right now I’m mesmerized by the writing of Karen Thompson Walker.  Age of Miracles blew me away. I’m a very eclectic reader, so I just sort of follow what interests me. But I always, always love C.S. Lewis.


Considering your own success, I’d be remiss not to ask if you had any lessons you’ve learned that you’d like to pass along to aspiring writers.

Never hold on too tightly.  It can wreck your life.  Love books. Write books. Enjoy books. Work hard. Write hard. Learn as much as you can. But don’t let success or failure wreck your life. A wrecked life really robs all creativity. It stifles the artist’s heart.


You also helped develop Write Well. Sell Well. Can you describe what that’s all about?

It’s a regional writer’s conference held in Oklahoma City.  We’re affordable and smaller, and pride ourselves in equipping writers creatively and on a business level as well. We have a lot of fun too.  You can find out more at www.writewellsellwellokc.com.

Photo Credit. www.tyndale.com






Monday, July 11, 2016

Surviving a 24/7 news cycle



This has been quite a summer.

Politics heating up. Racial tensions heightened by killings. Brexit.

Those of us who visit social media sites with any kind of frequency have been lambasted with the news and opined to death.

Rather than give yet another take on all of these happenings, I'm simply going to offer my own survival guide.

Limit your news/social media intake.

The thing about the news business is it's a business.

And it's on 24/7.

You are under no obligation to keep up with the news cycle. I'm not advocating total withdrawal. But set up your own safe zone and know your limits.

And realize that not all news sources are created equal. For instance, there's a vast difference between radio talk shows and news. The main purpose of many talk shows is to stir up your emotions about a topic, regardless of facts. Be smart, turn them off.

Do yourself a favor and don't rely only on televised news. Many network news programs actually fall into the entertainment category. Seldom getting beyond reciting headlines.

Consider limiting your social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.) as well. When the social discourse turns ugly, resist the urge to hit below the belt. Instead take the time to gather facts that will help guide you towards positive solutions.




Give your soul time to breath.

Life goes by quickly.

Often the beautiful gets drowned out by the sensational.

Take the time to be purposeful. S-l-o-w down. Reflect. Regenerate.

Your soul and spirit aren't like your brain. Although they are connected to it.

We need time to absorb things in order for them to make sense.

If we don't allow for that process to happen then a disconnect can occur among our brain, soul and spirit, leading to all sorts of consequences. Ideally, what we're striving for is internal unity not cognitive dissonance.


Nurture your sense of humor.

A sense of humor is essential to survival.

It's also the canary-in-the-coalmine of your emotions.

That is, if you find that's it been a while since you've laughed out loud, then there's a good chance that current events are sucking the oxygen out of your life.

According to www.helpguide.org, "Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain."

A cautionary sidenote: Being cynical and sarcastic as a way of life isn't the same as laughing.


Do something spiritual.

I'm not trying to convert anyone.

But I am suggesting that we, as human beings, have a spirit. And that spirit needs to be nurtured just as much as our soul.

Prayer helps.

According to Psychology Today praying improves self-control, makes you nicer, makes you more forgiving, increases trust and offsets negative effects of stress.

So the next time you read or hear about some bad news, try praying about it.




Practice being thankful.

This is sort of related to doing something spiritual.

Ann Voskamp wrote an outstanding book on this subject called One Thousand Gifts.

She takes a biblical perspective (i.e. Book of Psalms) on why being thankful is good and expands upon it, using her own experience.

Simply put, being thankful lifts your spirit and soul and renews your mind.  It gets us in the habit of seeing life from a deeper, fuller, richer perspective. Voskamp suggests keeping a thanks journal, listing the things you are thankful for each day.

She would be the first to point out that being thankful doesn't deny that terrible things happen. But it does help to temper the shock.

Finally, if you're so inclined to watch, here's a clip of Amy Grant singing, "We Believe in God" which, in my opinion, is one of the most honest worship songs I've ever heard.




Now it's your turn: Feel free to leave a comment regarding how you deal with the 24/7 news cycle.

Photo Credits:
www.buzzmachine.com
www.tumblr.com
www.boundless.org