NEW BLOG LOCATIONS

I've moved to another two blogs, one on writing, and one on general stuff like this one. Please come visit! MY NEW BLOGS:

http://amydeardon1.blogspot.com

http://thestorytemplate.blogspot.com


Saturday, December 25, 2010

One Solitary Life

One Solitary Life
By James Allan Francis (1864-1928)

He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty.

He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never went to college.
He never visited a big city.
He never traveled more than two hundred miles
From the place where he was born.
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty three.
His friends ran away, and
One of them denied him.
He was turned over to his enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing,
The only property he had on earth.

When he was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind's progress.

All the armies that have ever marched,
All the navies that have ever sailed,
All the parliaments that have ever sat,
All the kings that ever reigned, put together,
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Speaking of the 12 Days of Christmas...

This acapella group does an amazing rendition! Even if you find this song tedious, you won't for this performance.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christian Code in the Song: Partridge in a Pear Tree

There is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me. What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won't come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?

This week, I found out.

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

-The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.

-Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

-The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

-The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

-The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

-Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit--Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

-The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit--Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

-The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.

-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

-The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

How Much Do You Know About Religion?

The Pew Research Foundation surveyed 3412 Americans on general religious knowledge between May 19 and June 6, 2010. How does your knowledge base compare with the average American? You can take a test to find out at http://features.pewforum.org/quiz/us-religious-knowledge/index.php.

This study found that, on average, atheists and agnostics did best on this test of religious knowledge, closely followed by Jews and Mormons. Protestants did less well, and Catholics even lower.

Educational level was the single best predictor for general religious knowledge, and other good predictors were reading Scripture (and religious commitment in general), and talking about religious ideas with others.

For what it's worth, I answered 15 out of 15 questions correctly, which puts me in the 99th percentile of Americans. I found the questions basic and easy, since I love this stuff and read/discuss it extensively. It probably isn't fair to have me compete with the "average" since I'm certainly not average in my interest level.

On the other hand, I believe that "Who Is God? (if He even exists)" is the single most important issue that anyone ever faces. Life is good, but even if you live for 120 years, and earn more money than Bill Gates, you still die.

Where do you go after that? Heaven? Hell? Are you simply stuck in the ground and your body chemicals recycled for the next generation?

I came to my faith through studying the historic circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus, and believe there are really true and really false answers to the questions: Who is God? How do we get to know Him? What does He want?

If you're interested, take a look at my website at www.amydeardon.com, where I discuss my faith journey from a skeptic to a Christian. And if you have any questions, or disagree with me, feel free to drop me a line! As I mentioned, I love this stuff and appreciate honest questions and/or a good debate.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Holiday Mail for Heroes

The Red Cross will be collecting holiday cards again this year for distribution to the soldiers in hospitals, rehab centers, and overseas. This effort will be spearheaded by PITNEY BOWES (http://www.pb.com), a company that provides software, hardware and services that integrate physical and digital communications channels, specifically specializing in mailing systems, postage systems, shipping, and other related services.

Please join in! To see some examples of cards that have been well-received in the past, go HERE.

Cards will be collected until December 10th, and each card will be screened for hazardous materials. The address is:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Here's a video that gives a few more details about this super project!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Heaven

The heavens of faiths besides Christianity are specific. For example, we’ve all heard of the Islamic paradise for the martyrs, with 70 virgins and green-cloaked cushions, fruit, and four rivers of wine/milk/honey/water forevermore. The Mormon idea has the option for the very faithful to get their own universe and be God for the new people they will create; they believe our God was once a man. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe there are only 144,000 who will live in heaven, but everyone else will live on a refashioned perfect Earth. The Jews mostly believe that you live, you die, you go into the ground but God remembers you. The Catholic idea of Heaven is Christian (since they have Christian beliefs), but there is also a steep hurdle to first get over: Purgatory, which is Hell but only for a limited period of time.

These are the monotheistic types of Heaven. If you are a pantheist (god is all things -- you are god, and so is this blade of grass) you probably believe that things keep recycling and eventually will combine. If you are an atheist (no God), you believe that nothing happens after death.

In contrast, the Christian heaven is nonspecific. When you read through the Bible’s descriptions of Heaven, they sound either strange (Elijah’s wheel) or, let’s face it, not too exciting. In Revelation and other places, Heaven just seems to be an ethereal praise-fest to God, without much of a world. You have gates that are pearls, and the foundation of a city that is made of 12 layers of stones, and streets that are transparent gold (whatever that is). The city itself is a cube about 12,000 stadia/1375 miles on a side. There is no ocean. There doesn’t seem to be much to do or to see or interact with here.

Well, I am a Christian, and a scientist (but not a Christian Scientist, smile). There are good objective reasons to believe in God, and furthermore in the Christian interpretation of God. You can check out my website if you want to read about my faith journey to see how I reached this conclusion. The question I ponder today is, why does the Christian Heaven seem so vague when other ideas of Heaven are concrete and frankly so attractive and inviting?

The first thing I notice with the heavenly descriptions of other religions is, in general, there is a fulfillment of Earthly desires, Earthly pleasures, things that we already understand on this Earth, whereas the Christian Heaven can’t even be articulated. Many of the other descriptions don’t even talk about God, but simply about what the people will do when they get there.
But think for a moment about WHO IS GOD? Many people pray to God to do XYZ for them, but they’re not thinking about anything but themselves. God acts like a genie in a bottle; sadly not a reliable genie since many prayers go unanswered. They are like the cat in the old joke who says: You feed me, you pet me, you give me toys, I must be God.

Contrast this with what the dog says: You feed me, you pet me, you give me toys, YOU must be God.

As we spiritually mature, and specifically as the Holy Spirit works within us, our focus turns away from the inward, the self, and outward to God. God is a Spirit, not a man made of flesh and blood (except when Jesus came to Earth). Doesn’t it make sense that God’s focus is on Spirit things, not Earthly things that WE as people crave?

Christians believe that God gives His people a new character molded through His Spirit; we become conformed to His image. However, we cannot understand these things beyond the barest inkling until we move beyond our sinful nature that pulls us down, and we cannot be liberated from our nature’s influences until Earthly death.

Thinking about this, then, I would expect Heaven to be something beyond what I can understand. I would not expect it to be focused on Earthly pleasures and life and ambitions, but rather focused in a new way on the God who is truly worthy of worship. My sin nature does not find this attractive, but once I am liberated, it will be my entire Heart’s desire.

People often rebel at the thought of God calling people to worship Him. While you wouldn’t want to say this, it may seem self-centered and power-grabbing of God to require all creatures to worship HIM. However this view stems from the self-centeredness of our own human spirit. We cannot understand in this life just how beautiful and Holy God is, how worthy He is for our praise. Heaven is simply this: an ongoing recognition of who He is. As Paul says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Knowing God Book Launch: for November 5th


I recently joined the John 3:16 Network put together by Lorilyn Roberts, which is a marketing network for Christian authors.

I am pleased to announce the book launch of KNOWING GOD by one of the John 3:16 members, Sana Edoja. She is attempting a bestseller status on Amazon by encouraging book purchases for tomorrow, Friday November 5th. If you purchase the book on this date, simply send her your order receipt and she will send free gifts -- chapters from some great books by various authors -- as a Thank You! Here is some information about her:

*

Born in the south of France, the eldest of a family of five children, my origins are French and Moroccan. From the age of thirteen, my favourite hobby was writing French poems and songs. I initially pursued a degree in business administration, but a few years later developed a strong desire to sing. Unfortunately, circumstances didn’t allow me to pursue this promising career. In 1995, I came to the United Kingdom to improve my English. Struggling to make a living while in the UK, my life turned around when I believed and was baptized into Christ Jesus, confessing Him as my Lord and Saviour. I saw the power of God at work in my life. It was this experience that motivated me to write my first book “Knowing God”, which I believe will help those who are seeking God to get a better understanding of the riches of the Kingdom of God.
Blog: http://sanaedoja.wordpress.com/home-page-my-book-called-knowing-god/

You can purchase my book by clicking HERE:

“Knowing God” can be very challenging in the world we are living in today, especially with the circumstances of life shown to us by the media. I have written this book with the clear intention and determination to help those who are looking for the truth to have a better understanding of God as the Bible intends. There is nothing more beautiful and exciting than having a wonderful relationship with our loving God. His powerful Word promises us that if we seek Him, we will find Him. “You will seek Me and find Me; when you seek Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). My personal experience with God motivated me to share with you what God has revealed to me about His character. I will also share with you how you can develop a personal relationship with a wonderful Saviour; how your needs can be met and how you can live in righteousness through the power of the Word of God in a practical and conventional way.
I pray that this book will be a source of encouragement and enlightenment to those who are seeking God and want to know Him in a much deeper way.

May God bless you all forever and ever.

Sana Edoja

Help me achieve best-seller status by buying from Amazon.com on November 5.
Don’t forget, Friday, November 5, is the big day to order and receive lots of free gifts. To purchase your copy on Friday, click this link:

To receive you free e-gift after you have purchased your book, please email your order number from amazon to the following email address:

Email: sana.edoja@yahoo.fr

*

SOME REVIEWS OF SANA'S BOOK KNOWING GOD:

Reviewed By: Janice S Ramkissoon from Write2Shine:

‘Knowing God’ is a collection of articles, forming an introductory style bible study guide. The Author’s aim is to help others understand that “There is nothing more beautiful and exciting than having a wonderful relationship with a loving God.” And in order to bring this point across, Sana Edoja has chosen topics that are likely to affect individuals who haven’t yet come into a relationship with Christ.

The book is broken down into different headings, based on the title of the articles. The reader can therefore, choose topics of interest and be able to have easy access to bible references dealing with that particular aspect of their life. Sana also urges readers to heed Paul’s advice according to Acts 17:11 as they study this book, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures everyday to see if what Paul said was true.”

I believe the message that the author would most like to drive home is found in article 17, and in its title: “We have authority and victory over the enemy through Christ”. In this article, Sana reminds us to focus on Christ. Using the scene of Matthew 4:6, she reminds her readers that the devil also knows scriptures and that “there is no greater lie, than one that’s mixed with truth.” For this reason she urges readers to Focus on God, for “when we know the word of God like Jesus did (2000 years ago) and confess the scriptures throughout our life, using them to combat the lies of Satan,…” We will win the battle.

The author shares her experience in little bite sizes particularly in article 33 “God has given us free will” and others such as “Overcoming Temptation” and “Sexual Immorality” relating the practical side of what takes place when one does not focus on Christ. Having found Christ we are now responsible so article 40 is fitting towards the end of the book as she asks the question: “Are you fit to be God’s disciple?” Sana once enjoyed “clubbing on weekends”. Having found Christ, she lost interest both in that hobby as well as in the music. “I found that clubbing and worldly music were doorways for sin…” listing a few of these sins as “lust, violence, drugs, sex and alcohol” and points out that “they don’t satisfy the craving needs of our souls for love.” And so it is important to not conform to the ways of this world as article 41 highlights.

My recommendations, in order to get the best out of this book, would be to treat it as a reference guide rather than a book you sit down and read from cover to cover. It would be a great gift for a new-born believer, to help towards spiritual growth.

…………………………………………………………………………….

KNOWING GOD by Christian author SANA EDOJA: A 5-Star review for this 144 pages encouraging and enlightening book. Well presented content and context with a well defined cover. A book to consider when gift buying – in any season. Top marks to this very able author Sana. God bless.

Review contributed by Eliza Earsman, author of Days of Elijah (Revised): A True Story (232 pages) and also A Collection of Verse – 108 pages nonfiction.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Am I Crazy?

This is turning out to be a busy fall. I plan to start blogging again, 3x a week, in January. I may put up a stray entry before then; we'll have to see. In the meantime, enjoy the holidays.

Here's what's going on:

* A release is planned in December or January for my E-Book organizing my blog entries on writing, and I'll let you know when it goes up. A print edition is planned for Summer 2011. The tentative title is: WRITING AND PUBLISHING: STRUCTURE A STORY, WRITE A SUBPLOT, EDIT YOUR WORK, FIND A LITERARY AGENT, SELF-PUBLISH A PRINT BOOK, AND E-PUBLISH ON KINDLE WITHOUT KNOWING HTML.

* For the month of November, I have decided to accept the challenge of the National Novel Writing Month: to write 50,000 words in thirty days. I've already organized a story outline and drawn up a clean log into which I can record my daily output. I will aim for 2000 words per day, 6 days per week. This week I've been freezing dinners so that I won't have to interrupt a writing jag to cook for a hungry family. My logline is: After a near death experience, a medical student falls in love with a young woman who doesn’t seem to exist, and must discover who she is before his life runs out a second time.

* Finally, I am happy to announce that A LEVER LONG ENOUGH is a finalist in EPIC's annual e-book publishing competition. I don't know how many finalists have been chosen, but it is out of a field of almost 500 so I feel honored. The winner will be announced in March 2011. Keep your fingers crossed!


Monday, October 18, 2010

Getting the Words Down

I have a very simple trick to finish long writing projects such as a novel. When I use it, it's magic. When I don't use it, nothing gets done. Are you ready?

Two steps:

1. Determine a daily or weekly writing quota of WORDS PER DAY. (Not hours per day since you want results).

2. Make a chart, and put it on your refrigerator where you always see it. Every day, write down what you've done.

Doing these two steps is amazing, I promise.

I'm keeping this blog entry short because you shouldn't be on the internet anyway! Get back to work!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Vacation

I may not be on every MWF for a few weeks. I'm learning e-pubbing and putting an e-book together that pulls my blog entries and other thoughts on writing together. It should be ready soon! I'll need endorsers and influencers, so stay tuned.

Monday, September 20, 2010

God Lives Under the Bed

This is a whimsical yet thought-provoking piece I ran across last week. As I did, I hope you enjoy pondering this.

*

God Lives Under The Bed
by Kelly Pinson Adkins

My brother Kevin thinks God lives under his bed. At least that's what I heard him say one night. He was praying out loud in his dark bedroom, and I stopped outside his closed door to listen. Are you there, God?" he said. Where are you? Oh, I see. Under the bed." I giggled softly and tiptoed off to my own room.

Kevin's unique perspectives are often a source of amusement. But that night something else lingered long after the humor. I realized for the first time the very different world Kevin lives in. He was born 30 years ago, mentally disabled as a result of difficulties during labor. Apart from his size (he's 6-foot-2), there are few ways in which he is an adult. He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and he always will.

He will probably always believe that God lives under his bed, that Santa Claus is the one who fills the space under our tree every Christmas, and that airplanes stay up in the sky because angels carry them. I remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different. Is he ever dissatisfied with his monotonous life? Up before dawn each day, off to work at a workshop for the disabled, home to walk our cocker spaniel, returning to eat his favorite macaroni-and-cheese for dinner, and later to bed.

The only variation in the entire scheme are laundry days, when he hovers excitedly over the washing machine like a mother with her newborn child. He does not seem dissatisfied. He lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple work. He wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove before dinner, and he stays up late twice a week to gather our dirty laundry for his next day's laundry chores. And Saturdays - oh, the bliss of Saturdays!

That's the day my dad takes Kevin to the airport to have a soft drink, watch the planes land, and speculate loudly on the destination of each passenger inside. "That one's going' to Chi-car-go!" Kevin shouts as he claps his hands. His anticipation is so great he can hardly sleep on Friday nights.

I don't think Kevin knows anything exists outside his world of daily rituals and weekend field trips. He doesn't know what it means to be discontent. His life is simple. He will never know the entanglements of wealth of power, and he does not care what brand of clothing he wears or what kind of food he eats. He recognizes no differences in people, treating each person as an equal and a friend. His needs have always been met, and he never worries that one day they may not be. His hands are diligent. Kevin is never so happy as when he is working. When he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet, his heart is completely in it. He does not shrink from a job when it is begun, and he does not leave a job until it is finished. But when his tasks are done, Kevin knows how to relax. He is not obsessed with his work or the work of others. His heart is pure. He still believes everyone tells the truth, promises must be kept, and when you are wrong, you apologize instead of argue. Free from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid to cry when he is hurt, angry or sorry. He is always transparent, always sincere.

And he trusts God. Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he comes to Christ, he comes as a child. Kevin seems to know God-to really be friends with Him in a way that is difficult for an "educated" person to grasp. God seems like his closest companion. In my moments of doubt and frustrations with my Christianity, I envy the security Kevin has in his simple faith. It is then that I am most willing to admit that he has some divine knowledge that rises above my mortal questions. It is then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap......I am.

My obligations, my fear, my pride, my circumstances - they all become disabilities when I do not submit them to Christ. Who knows if Kevin comprehends the things I can never learn? After all, he has spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, praying after dark and soaking up the goodness and love of the Lord.

And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed at how close God really is to our hearts, I'll realize that God heard the simple prayers of a boy who believed that God lived under his bed.

Kevin won't be surprised at all.

Monday, September 13, 2010

September 11th

Let us never forget.















Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a king riding in the woods. In the distance he saw a peasant maiden. She wasn't beautiful, but even so he fell in love with her and decided he wanted to marry her. He rode away, thinking about how he might be able to do this.

He was a good and wise king. The king was so wise that he knew love --true love, sacrificial love -- was more valuable than anything else. If he came to the maiden, majestic in his kingly robes and surrounded by servants, then of course she would go with him, but he didn't want this. He wanted her to go with him without being overwhelmed, because she wanted to. He wanted her to love him.

After long thought, he decided he might be able to have her fall in love with him if he came to her door dressed as a peasant, and humbly wooed her. However, this posed a tremendous risk for him: he might be rejected. As king, he was used to having his slightest wish obeyed instantly. Dare he risk rejection?

He dressed himself in rags and knocked at her door. The maiden almost shut the door in the king's face, but he smiled at her and she decided to take a walk with him...

**

This is the fragment of a fairy tale that I don't know where I heard it from. It's all I remember, and I've never run across it again -- possibly when I was very little my babysitter just made it up for me. I've always loved it. I've kicked around the idea of adapting this into a premise for a modern novel, so if I do this you'll know where it came from.

Story is a powerful medium, I believe, because it can resonate. At its best, story touches something deep within our hearts and therefore allows messages to penetrate into the mind. While writing my first novel, I became fascinated with the structure of story, and in my typical obsessive-compulsive manner tore apart many films and novels to see how they were put together. I timed or word-counted each scene, calculated percentages etc., then laid different stories side by side to understand the patterns that might be present.

Recognizing the pattern in story is not a formula. I liken it to sketching a face. An artist will tell you that a person's eyes are about halfway down the head, and are separated by another eye width. The tips of the ears land at an imaginary horizontal line about eyebrow height. The bottom of the nose lands an eye-width below the bottom of the eyes, and so forth. Faces are infinitely varied, yet if the artist ignores these rough proportions, no matter how beautifully drawn the face will always look "wrong."

As I analyzed story after story, I was struck with how there was only one pattern. It is as if we humans have an innate sense of story that is detailed, yet unvarying. The closer the novel or film conforms to this innate pattern, the more it resonates within us. I am currently developing an algorithm for step-wise story development, and writing up my findings.

Interestingly, the story of the last week of Jesus' life before crucifixion as recorded in the Bible completely follows the story pattern:



Ordinary World: Jesus is an itinerant preacher...

Inciting Incident: who decides to enter Jerusalem for the Passover by riding in on a donkey.

Argument: He antagonizes the Jewish authorities who don't know how they can get rid of him.

Door: Then, Judas approaches the authorities and offers to betray Jesus.

Adaptation to the New World: In the meantime, Jesus preaches, visits friends, then prepares with his disciples for the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Last Supper).

Midpoint: Judas runs off to tell the authorities where Jesus is.

Solving Hidden Need: After dinner Jesus leads disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane and prays for strength.

Antagonists Get Stronger: The authorities arrest Jesus.

Protagonist Disintegrates: The apostles scatter and run away.

Slide: At trial the Sanhedrin find Jesus guilty and worthy of death. In the morning Jesus appears in front of Pontius Pilate so that Pilate can ratify the verdict. (nature of the climax is now clearly seen; this point includes the characteristic "whiff of death" identified by Blake Snyder).

Darkest Moment: Jesus is crucified and dies.

Help from Outside: Two days later Peter and John go to the tomb and find it opened.

Climax: Jesus appears as a conqueror of death that demonstrates his death was sufficient payment for sin.

Resolution: Jesus stays on Earth 40 more days before ascending into Heaven.

**


Since I believe that everything is related to everything else, sometimes I wonder why it might be that the story is shaped like this. I've previously mentioned that I came to faith in the Christian God under protest through study of the historic circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus -- there is good objective evidence for the resurrection; check out my website HERE for some of my thoughts on this. I like to think that maybe God Himself placed this story structure within us as yet one more way that humans may respond to His call.

Hmm. It's nice to think about, anyway. Have a wonderful day, my dear friends.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Viral Marketing

Viral Marketing

John Kremer is one of the best-known authorities for promoting book sales. He tends to think “out of the box,” as anyone who has read his 1001 Ways to Market Your Books will tell you.

One interesting tactic he promotes is the theory of Viral Marketing. Kremer argues that as more people read your book, more people will talk about it and pass it on. I’m not quite sure about this, at least unless you have many titles, since once a person has a copy of your book and reads it he’s probably not going to get it again unless maybe for a gift. If you the author don’t have anything else to sell to him, then the relationship is over. There IS a role for giving books away, say for endorsements (ARCs), book reviews (ARCs), or prizes, but for what my experience is worth I saw a lot of my *free* books being sold on amazon (used and new option) or ebay. I didn’t see consequent increases in sales even though my book was supposedly getting to more people.

But that’s just me.

I wonder if a happy medium might be to offer a few chapters for free, and if the reader likes the book he can read more. Kindle already does this automatically, but it might not be a bad policy for e-books in general. Of course the sample chapters should contain valuable information, or else the person may decide it’s just not worth purchasing more of this drivel.

For anyone who is interested in viral marketing, Kremer has set up two web sites offering free e-books for fiction and nonfiction. I’d love to hear what you think of this!

Friday, September 3, 2010

All the Good Things

I was trolling Snopes.com for an interesting story, and found this one here. Snopes certified this as verified. The point is something I really believe: we don't know how our actions, good or bad, can affect people. Remember always to encourage, to be kind to the people around you. And teachers and parents, remember that you hold such great power in your hands.

*****

He was in the first third grade class I taught at Saint Mary's School in Morris, Minnesota. All 34 of my students were dear to me, but Mark Eklund was one in a million. [He was] very neat in appearance but had that happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischieviousness delightful.

Mark talked incessantly. I had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. What impressed me so much, though, was his sincere response every time I had to correct him for bisbehaving: "Thank you for correcting me, Sister!" I didn't know what to make of it at first, but before long I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.

One morning my patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often, and then I made a novice teacher's mistake. I looked at him and said, "If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!"

It wasn't ten seconds later when Chuck blurted out, "Mark is talking again." I hadn't asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class I had to act on it.

I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. I walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark's desk, tore off two pieces of tape and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark's desk, removed the tape and shrugged my shoulders. His first words were, "Thank you for correcting me, Sister."

At the end of the year I was asked to teach junion high math. The years flew by, and before I knew it Mark was in my classroom again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to my instructions in the "new math," he did not talk as much in ninth grade as he had in third.

One Friday, things just didn't feel right. We had worked hard on a new concept all week, and I sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves -- and edgy with one another. I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of hand. So I asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then I told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish the assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed me the papers. Charlie smiled. Mark said, "Thank you for teaching me, Sister. Have a good weekend."

That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each students on a separate sheet of paper, and I listed what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday I gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. "Really?
I heard whispered. "I never knew that meant anything to anyone!" "I didn't know others liked me so much!" No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another again.

That group of students moved on. Several years later, after I returned from vacation, my parents met me at the airport. As we were driving home, Mother asked me the usual questions about the trip -- the weather, my experiences in general. There was a light lull in the conversation. Mother gave Dad a sideways glance and simply said, "Dad?"

My father cleared his throat as he usually did before something important. "The Eklunds called last night," he began.

"Really?" I said. "I haven't heard from them in years. I wonder how Mark is."

Dad responded quietly. "Mark was killed in Vietnam," he said. "The funeral is tomorrow, and his parents would like it if you could attend." To this day I can still point to the exact spot on I-494 where Dad told me about Mark.

I had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. Mark looked so handsome, so mature. All I could think at that moment was, Mark, I would give all the masking tape in the world if only you would talk to me. The church was packed with Mark's friends. Chuck's sister sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Why did it have to rain on the day of the funeral? It was difficult enough at the graveside. The pastor said the usual prayers, and the bugler played taps. One by one those who loved Mark took a last walk by the coffin and sprinkled it with holy water.

I was the last one to bless the coffin. As I stood there, one of the soldiers who had acted as pallbearer came up to me. "Were you Mark's math teacher?" he asked. I nodded as I continued to stare at the coffin. "Mark talked about you a lot," he said.

After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates headed to Chuck's farmhouse for lunch. Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting for me. "We want to show you something," his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. "They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it."

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. I knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of Mark's classmates had said about him.

"Thank you so much for doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured it."

Mark's classmates started to gather around us.

Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, "I still have my list. It's in the top drawer of my desk at home."

Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked me to put this in our wedding album."

"I have mine too," Marilyn said. "It's in my diary."

Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. "I carry this with me at all times," Vicki said, without batting an eyelash. "I think we all saved our lists."

That's when I finally sat down and cried. I cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.

By: Sister Helen P. Mrosla

******

Here's the Snopes commentary:

Sister Helen Mrosla, a Franciscan nun, submitted "All the Good Things" to Proteus, A Journal of Ideas in 1991. Her article also appeared in Reader's Digest that same year, was reprinted in the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book in 1993, and was offered yet again in 1996's Stories for the Heart.

Sister Mrosla first met Mark Eklund in her third-grade classroom at St. Mary's School in Morris, Minnesota, in 1959, and she encountered him again in 1965 when she served as his junion high math teacher. In April 1971, Mark was sent to Vietnam as assigned to the 585th Transportation Company in Phu Bai where he worked in a truck parts depot, and he kept in touch with his family and friends (including Sister Mrosla) through letters. In August 1971, as she was returning from a vacation, Sister Mrosla learned of Mark's death from her parents. (Although he died in Vietnam, Mark Eklund was not killed in combat -- he died in his sleep of a pulmonary and cerebral edema).

Sister Mrosla corresponded with Mark throughout his tour. He told her about nightmares and listening to a firefight while lying in his bunk. She told him stories about her classroom, and that she was praying for him.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Muslim Eschatology

I've been taking a little time to study Islam. One thing I've found fascinating to ponder is Muslim Eschatology (study of the end-things), and compare it to Christian Eschatology.

Let me first say that I have traditionally found Christian Eschatology something interesting, but not something I've spent huge amounts of time on. I know the broad outlines and some general thoughts and theories (pre-millenial, post-millenial, dispensationalism, and so forth) but remain a firm agnostic with much of this. I made the mistake at a conference of stating to the person next to me at the dinner table that I wasn't convinced a worldwide "rapture" of believers would occur, where believers would suddenly disappear right before the Antichrist is revealed. Talk about a fools-rush-in moment. My dining partner happened to be a member of Tim LaHaye's Pre-Tribulation Research Center, so I had to spend the next hour and a half defending my position (and listening politely) to something I wasn't terribly interested in pursuing. Oh well.

My sense with Christian Eschatology is that it is of course a worthy subject to study -- the book of Revelation even promises a special blessing for this -- but just as many of the prophecies of Jesus' first coming to Earth were misinterpreted before he came, and only understood after his Earthly life (Isaiah 53 is a good example), so the fine points of these end-time prophecies are likely to be misinterpreted.

During the "Left Behind" craze of 10-15 years ago, it seemed to me that some Christians were so caught up (excuse the pun) with the idea that they wouldn't be around for the bad stuff, that they had a fatalistic outlook on negative political and social trends that appeared. In my opinion, we as Christians must always resist evil. But I digress.

We were talking about Muslim Eschatology. My understanding of this stuff is very basic, but let me give you what I can. First, you probably know that Muslims divide themselves into Shi'a and Sunni, depending on who they believe took up the leadership line following Mohammed. Philosophically the Sunni (the majority of Muslims) tend to be more centered on pragmatic values, whereas Shi'a are more abstract and philosophical. This is not to say that Sunni are not spiritual as well, just that the outlooks seem a bit different. (I am open to correction if I have this wrong -- this is my impression from my studies). For example, Saddam Hussein with his ostentatious wealth and pragmatic ruling style was Sunni, whereas Ahmadinejad trying to usher in the Mahdi's return is Shi'a.

Nevertheless, I believe that Muslims whether Sunni or Shi'a understand the end-times as written in the Quran and especially the hadith (part of the Sunna, that records the sayings of Mohammed) in more or less the same light, just as Christians whether they believe in end-times or not can understand the events as delineated in the Bible. There are certainly points and so forth to disagree with, but I'll be talking about the broadest outlines where there doesn't seem to be disagreement in interpretation. Again I am not a scholar, and am getting information from commentary books by Muslims and Christians.

Like Christians, Muslims believe in a definite end to the world followed by Judgment Day. In the Quran there are three personages that will appear during a specific 7 (or some commentators say 10) years of the end times. The first is the Mahdi, the 12th caliph of Islam that will rule the whole world. The second is Isa Al-Maseeh, whom Muslims believe is the returned Jesus, who will clarify to all the unbelievers that he taught Islam, and he will assist but be subservient to Mahdi. These two figures will allow Islam to rule throughout the world, and will fight anyone who stands in their way. The third figure is the Ad-Dajjal, the one-eyed enemy figure who will defend Jews and gather a resistance against the Mahdi.

In Christian Eschatology, Christians believe there will be a final 7 year period before the end in which the Antichrist will rule absolutely, religiously and politically. He will be assisted by the False Prophet, and they will both speak blasphemous things and show many false miracles and signs. Antichrist will enter the Jewish Temple at the end of 3 1/2 years and declare that he is God.

This stuff is hard to wade through. The narrative goes that Muhammed repeatedly visited a cave and was seized by a spirit that taught him the religion of Islam. It is said that he was afraid at first, but submitted to the angel and learned, then passed on, these teachings. He lived among Jews, Christians, and especially the polytheistic religions of Arabia, and the Quran and other writings contain many references to the Bible. In fact, I believe the Bible is also considered one of the Holy books of Islam, although it is considered to be corrupted.

With the broadest understandings of these religious outlines, these end-time prophecies seem to be like photographic negatives of each other for predicted future events.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Chemistry at Midnight

Chemistry at Midnight

Kiddos start school tomorrow, and my daughter is finishing up the chemistry summer packet. I wasn't organized this weekend to do a blog entry, so just will post this to let you know, I'll be back soon. Hope you're well!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Advice from Bill Gates

I got this in my email. This is supposed to be advice from Bill Gates: a speech that he gave to a high school. I don't know if he's the author, but the advice is great, whoever wrote this.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2 : The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3 : You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4 : If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5 : Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7 : Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8 : Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and t hey'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9 : Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10 : Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Socialism

An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before but had once failed an entire class. That class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.

The professor then said, "OK, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism. All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A.

After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy.

As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little. The second test average was a D! No one was happy.

When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. The scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.

All failed, to their great surprise, and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.

Couldn't be any simpler than that.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Gummy Bear Song

This one is guaranteed to make you smile! Happy Monday.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How Many Days Until November 2nd?

More and more citizens in this country seem to be turning away from the current governmental policies. Another turn occurred last week, when President Obama lectured the American people that all faiths should be respected and should have their places of worship. No one is arguing against this! It is simply that Ground Zero in New York City, the site of so much death and destruction, is hallowed ground. Polls state that about 70% of the people think a giant Islamic mosque should not be built here. As someone who attended the funeral of a serviceman killed at the Pentagon, for myself I cannot imagine anything so offensive. To me it implies that the Islamic faith, of which the terrorists claimed allegiance, would be celebrating its victory and ultimate dominance over this site. It would be as if we Americans built a mini-Statue of Liberty next to the Japanese memorial site in Hiroshima. No one in America took joy in bombing this city and Nagasaki, and we do not celebrate this action or wish to rub the Japanese noses into our victory. These bombings were seen as a regrettable yet necessary actions to force the Japanese to surrender and thus end a terrible war. We do not celebrate this action, as a memorial would suggest.

This is a great video that reminds me of our costly freedoms we Americans are in danger of losing. Now, how many days until November 2nd?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Guarding the Heart

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket -- safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God's will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness... We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as a way in which they should break, so be it.

from CS Lewis, The Four Loves

Monday, August 16, 2010

Funny Edits

Here are some fun headlines --

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Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter

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Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says

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Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers

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Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over

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Miners Refuse to Work after Death

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Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant

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War Dims Hope for Peace

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If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile

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Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures

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Enfield ( London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide

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Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges

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Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge

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New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group

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Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft

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Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

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Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half

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Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors

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Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Heaven: The Ultimate Border Control


Last week a 23-year-old illegal immigrant to the US drove drunk, and ended up smashing into a car of nuns, killing one and critically injuring two more. This was apparently his third DUI. Deportation proceedings had been begun earlier but he was "released on his own recognizance" and thus still in the country driving drunk.

This incident was the springboard for my boy and I to discuss the problems of illegal immigration, and why it's such a thorny issue. On the one hand, we have many illegals in this country who work hard and are otherwise "good citizens," and it's difficult to imagine doing a complete purge. The countries they come from probably offer quite harsh conditions and real difficulties to even scratching out subsistence. On the other hand, there is a long line for LEGAL immigrants, who spend much money and time waiting for the honor of becoming an American citizen. Is it fair that others push ahead? Furthermore, most of the illegals are unskilled, and tend to utilize many of this country's resources: public schools, subsidized health care, food stamps, and on and on. Money they earn is often sent back to their country of origin rather than being recycled into the American economy. They often do not wish to learn English. Gangs, drugs, and crime are imported from a few of these illegals, causing an unsafe environment for the "natives" (Americans).

My son wondered what you do with, say, the kids who had nothing to do with their parents illegally entering the country? What do you do with the illegals who live quietly and positively work and contribute to this country?

Well, I'm not going to pontificate on a perfect solution because I'm stymied. Let's just say the problem is tangled and complex, and it got me thinking about borders in general. More specifically, about the border of another country, the permeability of which seems to be often assumed but not necessarily pondered.

HEAVEN.

A 2004 Gallup poll showed that about 80% of people believe in heaven, and about 70% believe in hell. Furthermore, a similar poll in 1988 indicated that about three-quarters of people who believed in hell thought they'd go to heaven instead.

Many people (and many movies!) seem to think that Heaven is simply something beautiful and a wonderful place to be. The concept of "God" isn't usually mentioned except as a diffused and passive presence, a Light that permeates all things. "Go into the Light," as they say.

Like the Gallup pollees I also believe in heaven and hell (although I WISH I didn't believe in hell). As a Christian I hold to Jesus' statement: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: No one comes to the Father but by me. (John 14:6). Through a year-long research journey objectively studying the events surrounding the death of Jesus, I concluded that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. I moved from skeptic to Christian, and you can read something about my reasoning at my website HERE.

The beliefs of a Christian are quite specific. A Christian believes that God is Holy and cannot tolerate any sin, not even "little" ones. No one can possibly be holy as God is, and therefore cannot be in His presence. However, God is also a God of Love, and therefore sent/became Jesus, who was both God and man, to live a sinless life. Jesus was offered as a sacrifice on the cross so that He would take on our sin, and we could have His righteousness imputed upon us -- therefore, we CAN be considered righteous to be in God's presence. To become a Christian, one simply has to acknowledge that he cannot measure up to God's standards, then accept Jesus' sacrifice to cover his sinfulness.

Going back to the previous topic, some Americans are incredibly annoyed by illegals because they feel that illegals want to take advantage of the USA without contributing anything in the way of taxes or even learning the language. It struck me that many people look at Heaven this way also: they want all the "goodies" of God's presence (love, peace, beauty) without wanting to love Him or to bow their wills to His or otherwise learn to know Him.

The question then becomes, how permeable are Heaven's borders?

Monday, August 9, 2010

How to Find a Literary Agent

I've been reading some of Noah Lukeman's books. He is a literary agent and gives lots of advice to wannabe writers about how to edit, how to write query letters, and how to actually make contact with agents. He notes that some writers give up too soon, since they only approach maybe 3-4 agents, and those agents may or may not be appropriate for the work. Lukeman recommends approaching a minimum of 50 agents, more if you feel ambitious.

From his e-book, How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent, he recommends some free resources to find agent names. They include:

www.publisherslunch.com -- a (free) daily newsletter that gives publishing news and publishing deals. Agent names with the works sold are reported here. There is also a paid version for this newsletter.

www.publishermarketplace.com -- a website that includes a search members link to find accurate contact information, links to the "Top 10" most visited agents, and general news etc. about publishing. Again, there is also a paid access area, but what's described here is free.

www.publishersweekly.com -- contains a "deals" link, although the agents reported here will tend to be established and therefore less anxious for new clients, free articles and information, and a free weekly newsletter.

You can also do Google searches and Google Blog Searches to find listings for specific agents and editors. The blog search might be useful even for general terms such as "literary agent" or "literary agency."

Twitter: there are agents and agencies on Twitter. You can search for these using http://twitter.com/agentquery

You also can look through the acknowledgements pages of similar books. You can find more books that mention a particular agent by going to www.books.google.com, then in the Search box type the agents name in quotes, and then the word "Acknowledgements."

www.writersmarket.com -- offers a free newsletter.

www.writersdigest.com -- has free articles and a free newsletter. They also do an annual list of 101 best websites for writers.

www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog -- companion blog to WD Guide to Literary Agents.

www.agentquery.com -- has a free searchable database of agent and agency information.

www.absolutewrite.com -- some resources

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NOTE: This list was compiled from Noah Lukeman's e-book, How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Two Competitions for Published Books

I've just learned of two competitions for recently published books that, considering your circumstances, you may want to enter. Here they are:

1. FOR E-BOOKS

EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection) is holding its annual contest for e-books published between June 1, 2009 and May 31, 2010. You need to hurry for this one, since the deadline is August 15, 2010. EPIC was established in 1998 and currently claims "hundreds of professionals from all facets of the electronic publishing industry: authors, publishers, editors, artists, and others." The winners will be announced at their annual convention in Williamsburg VA to be held March 10-13 2011. There are also some good resources on EPIC's site that you may want to check out.

2. FOR SMALL CHRISTIAN PRESSES

CSPA (Christian Small Publisher Association) Book of the Year Award is for print books (perfect-bound paperback or hardback). Books must be published and for sale in 2009 or 2010, and nominated by the publisher. The deadline is November 15, 2010. Books will be judged by Christian readers, retailers, and publishing professionals in February and March 2011, and winner will be notified by email on May 1 2011.

Good luck!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Meanderings

I'm back! Waking up after being on a westerly time for a week is tough, but slowly I'm readjusting. It's hard to believe that it's August already -- kiddos got out of school at the end of June, and they go back in about 4 weeks, but I'm just now starting to feel "summer-ready."

OK, it'll be slow but I'm hopefully refreshed and ready to start in again. I've been assessing my areas of expertise and options to move ahead with my writing -- and think I'm probably my own worst enemy when it comes to getting work done. It seems futile.

Doesn't Solomon in Ecclesiastes start out with this same idea? ALL is futile in this world, except for knowing God.

Heavy sigh. Hope you're all well!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Blog Vacation

It is always such a delight to visit with you, and I smile to read your comments -- and your patience with visiting, even if I miss a day or two to post.

Well, I'm taking a little time off from posting until the beginning of August. In the meantime, enjoy the summer!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fruits of the Spirit

These are from notes I saw a long time ago from a Beth Moore study. I memorized these because I liked them so much:

LOVE never fails.

JOY comes.

PEACE reigns.

PATIENCE waits.

KINDNESS tenders.

GOODNESS does.

FAITH fights.

GENTLENESS bows.

SELF-CONTROL frees.

*

GALATIANS 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Taking Chance



For July 4th yesterday, our family watched an excellent HBO movie called TAKING CHANCE. I highly recommend it.

This movie reaffirms the great cost of our liberties and freedoms. It depicts the true story of Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Strobl (Kevin Bacon) as he accompanies the body of a young Marine from Dover DE to Wyoming. The soldier, PFC Chance Phelps, was killed in Iraq in April 2004 from an attack during a routine mission.

It was interesting to watch the complex operations it takes to bring a soldier home, from preparing the body and sewing the uniform, to sealing the casket, to carrying the personal effects and flags that are presented to the family. This film was humbling to watch the effect of this young man's death on so many "everyday" people from the baggage handlers to the people on the plane to those who watched the military casket drive through. The high cost to the family, and the pride and honor with which they suffered their loss, was wrenching. The narrative of this story originated from a journal that Col. Mike Strobl kept during the week-long journey, and after asking permission of the family sent copies to Phelps' comrades in Iraq and a few others close to him. The idea for the film snowballed from there as more people were deeply moved by this simple story.

Strobl had not known Phelps, and heard stories about him when he sat with his comrades and with his family. It reminded me very much of the time I was honored to play flute at the Memorial of a soldier killed in the Pentagon during the 9-11 attacks. So many people came, more than 400, that the church had to open doors and seat people in corridors and nearby. The service went on for more than 2 hours as many people recounted what this soldier's life had meant to them. I remember looking at the photographs of the man, and the grieving family, and thinking in a way that I was glad I hadn't known him since I don't think I'd have been able to play if I had. It was a tremendous honor and so humbling to be in the presence of all of these brave men and women -- brave not only for their service, but simply for their quiet courage while they grieved.

It is good to think on these things, and especially during Independence Day. July 4th is not just eating ice cream and watching fireworks, but it is remembering with gratitude all that has been sacrificed for us to live free. I would just like to say, thank you veterans, thank you families, who sacrifice so much for all of us.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Yogi Berra's Commencement Speech

"Thank you all for being here tonight. I know this is a busy time of year, and if you weren't here, you could probably be somewhere else. I especially want to thank the administration at St. Louis University for making this day necessary. It is an honor to receive this honorary degree.

It is wonderful to be here in St. Louis and to visit the old neighborhood. I haven't been back since the last time I was here. Everything looks the same, only different. Of course, things in the past are never as they used to be.

Before I speak, I have something I'd like to say. As you may know, I never went to college, or high school for that matter. To be honest, I'm not much of a public speaker, so I will try to keep this short as long as I can.

As I look out upon all of the young people here tonight, there are a number of words of wisdom I might depart. But I think the most irrelevant piece of advice I can pass along is this: "The most important things in life are the things that are least important.

I could have gone a number of directions in my life. Growing up on the Hill, I could have opened a restaurant or a bakery. But the more time I spent in places like that, the less time I wanted to spend there. I knew that if I wanted to play baseball, I was going to have to play baseball. My childhood friend, Joe Garagiola, also became a big-league ballpayer, as did my son, Dale. I think you'll find the similarities in our careers are quite different.

You're probably wondering, how does a kid from the Hill become a New York Yankee and get in the Hall of Fame? Well, let me tell you something, if it was easy nobody would do it. Nothing is impossible until you make it possible.

Of course, times were different. To be honest, I was born at an early age. Things are much more confiscated now. It seems like a nickel ain't worth a dime anymore. But let me tell you, if the world was perfect, it wouldn't be. Even Napoleon had his Watergate.

You'll make some wrong mistakes along the way, but only the wrong survive. Never put off until tomorrow what you can't do today. Denial isn't just a river in Europe.

Strive for success and remember you won't get what you want unless you want what you get. Some will choose a different path. If they don't want to come along, you can't stop them. Remember, none are so kind as those who will not see.

Keep the faith and follow the Commandments: Do not covet thy neighbor's wife, unless she has nothing else to wear. Treat others before you treat yourself. As Franklin Eleanor Roosevelt once said, 'The onl y thing you have to fear is beer itself.'

Hold on to your integrity, ladies and gentlemen. It's the one thing you really need to have; if you don't have it, that's why you need it. Work hard to reach your goals, and if you can't reach them, use a ladder. There may come a day when you get hurt and have to miss work. Don't worry, it won't hurt to miss work.

Over the years, I have realized that baseball is really just a menopause for life. We all have limitations, but we also know limitation is the greatest form of flattery. Beauty is in the eyes of Jim Holder.

Half the lies you hear won't be true, and half the things you say, you won't ever say.

As parents you'll want to give your children all the things you didn't have. But don't buy them an encyclopedia, make them walk to school like you did. Teach them to have respect for others, especially the police. They are not here to create disorder, they are here to preserve it.

Throughout my career, I found good things always came in pairs of three. There will be times when you are an overwhelming underdog. Give 100 percent to everything you do, and when that's not enough, give everything you have left. 'Winning isn't everything, but it's better than rheumatism.' I think Guy Lombardo said that.

Finally, dear graduates and friends, cherish this moment; it is a memory you will never forget. You have your entire future ahead of you.

"Good luck and Bob's speed."

Monday, June 28, 2010

God's Shadow

When you push a point, you get a line. When you push a line, you get a plane. When you push a plane, you get a solid. When you push a solid, you get a four-dimensional shape.

The shadow of a four-dimensional shape is a solid. The shadow of a solid is a plane. The shadow of a plane is a line. The shadow of a line is a point.

So, what is the shadow of a point?

We live in a world of shadows. This little game got me thinking about them. What is a shadow like?

First of all, a shadow tells me something about the object that casts it. For example, if I'm walking along I can usually tell what makes the shadow of a fence or building or person, even if I don't see the original object. I don't have ALL the information, though: I can't tell, for example, what the building might be made of, and I won't see the details like the windows or the doorframe. Furthermore, depending on the position of the sun the shadow's shape may be distorted. It's easiest to recognize the shadow if I already know what the object looks like; if I've never seen the particular object, I'll have a hard time imagining it from the shadow although I can take a guess.

A shadow also can give a false impression. For example, if you ever played those shadow games with your hands when you were little, you know you could make all sorts of things that looked like they are there: A bird. An elephant. But really the shadows are just from contortions of your fingers, and you can even make your fingers look as if they are on top of each other when you hold your hands apart. The information conveyed in the shadow is sometimes misleading.

To summarize:

1. A shadow doesn't exist on its own, but must be derived from an object and a light source.

2. The shadow gives a hint about the nature of an object, although it's difficult to understand very much about the nature of the object from the shadow.

3. It's fairly easy to draw false conclusions about the casting object from its shadow.

4. Very different objects can cast a shadow that looks the same.

While thinking about shadows, I can't help taking this to a theological bent wondering if this world is a shadow of the next world, the "real" world where God dwells. If this is so, the shapes of Heaven we see cast onto the screen of this Earth are very limited, possibly distorted, bits of information of the real world.

In this world we have not seen the objects casting the shadow, although humans seem to have a universal understanding of some of these objects. I think this is because our souls are attached to the three-dimensional filter of our bodies in this world, but the soul is a "real" object, not of this Earth. An example of our understanding of an object without its being here is moral behavior or a sense of right and wrong. Every culture since the beginning of time has had a sense of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Furthermore, the same things are always present: it's wrong to murder. It's wrong to steal. It's wrong to sleep with your neighbor's spouse. Where does this moral sense come from? An atheist would say this sense has an evolutionary value. Maybe. But how is it evolutionarily advantageous for a fireman to sacrifice himself for strangers in a burning building? Richard Dawkins worked with this problem in The Selfish Gene, but somehow I never felt that he made a compelling evolutionary case for the advantages of sacrificial, moral behavior.

Another example of our understanding something that doesn't exist on this Earth is our sense of immortality. Death is the most natural and pervasive element on this world, is it not? So, why should people be surprised when they learn that someone they knew has died, or that they themselves have been diagnosed with a terminal illness? Where does this sense of "living forever" come from? Every culture seems to have or have had a sense of life beyond the grave.

Although there are many opportunities and an incredible variety of human lives, the human life cycle seems in some ways quite limited. We are born, we are children, we become adults, marry, have children, work to survive, grow old, grow sick, and die. The heights of human experience are fairly stereotyped: love between two individuals, or a great accomplishment in a field of endeavor. Thought of in this way, these high experiences could be like shadows, showing a simple edge but no detail and possibly distorted. In Heaven, there are probably multiple types of very different and great high experiences, all casting shadows that look similar here on Earth.

I don't know if I'm expressing this clearly, but I like the idea of thinking of this human life on Earth as a shadow. The single important task of this life for each individual is to recognize God, while He has drawn the curtain over Himself so that we are not coerced into responding to Him. He is so overwhelming that once this curtain is drawn back at the moment of death no one will be able to resist His presence. But He wishes for His creatures to follow Him of their own volition not force, to want to be with Him, the incomparably beautiful Being from whom all good things flow. This moment, now, is the only time we have to choose Him.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lemon Meringue Cake

This cake worked out fabulously! It's perfect for summer.

Lemon Meringue Cake

Bake an angel food cake in a round tube pan and let it cool upside-down for a few hours. Remove the cake and put on an oven-proof plate (I used a pizza pan covered with foil). With a bread knife cut the cake into three horizontal layers.

Filling: combine 3/4 cup lemon juice, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch in a pan. Heat to boiling, stirring often. Lemon sauce will thicken. Let it cool for half an hour or so, then spoon half the filling onto the bottom cake layer. Put on the second cake layer and spoon rest of sauce on that. Top with final cake layer.

Meringue: in metal or glass bowl, grease-free, combine four egg whites and 1/8 tsp cream of tartar (to stabilize). Beat at high speed until foamy. Keep beating on high and add 1 1/3 cups sugar a little at a time so that it dissolves. Beat meringue until stiff peaks form and it holds its shape (beat about ten minutes). Be careful not to overbeat, though.

Spread meringue over cake. Put cake in oven at 400F for about 10 minutes, until meringue is lightly browned.

That's it! Let the cake cool a bit, then eat and enjoy. You should probably refrigerate this puppy if you don't eat it right away.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Arthur Laffer's Scary Predictions




Arthur Laffer is an economist whose "supply side" theories guided Ronald Reagan's economic policies in the 80s. He wrote an editorial in The Wall Street Journal on Monday June 7th 2010 about the future of the American economy that is cautionary and worrisome.

His thesis is that the tax hikes that will occur in 2011, due to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts (and many new taxes) will probably cause coporate profits to tumble and the stock market to "collapse." Some of the coming tax hikes that will hit us Americans include:

* the highest federal personal income tax rate will go from 35 to 39.6 percent;

* the highest federal dividend tax rate will increase from 15 to 39.6 percent;

* the capital gains tax rate will rise from 15 to 20 percent;

* the estate tax rate will soar from zero to 55 percent. (If you're dying, do it before December 31 2010 :-)

Laffer says that “Tax rate increases next year are everywhere.” He thinks that the coming hikes, along with the prospect of rising prices, higher interest rates and more regulations next year, are causing businesses to shift production and income from 2011 to 2010 to the greatest extent possible.

“As a result, income this year has already been inflated above where it otherwise should be and next year, 2011, income will be lower than it otherwise should be,” Laffer says.

Laffer is the originator of the "Laffer Curve" that theorizes that under certain circumstances decreases in tax rates can result in increased tax revenues.

"It shouldn't surprise anyone that the nine states without an income tax are growing far faster and attracting more people than are the nine states with the highest income tax rates,” he says.

Laffer observes that Reagan's delayed tax cuts, which were passed under the Economic Recovery Tax Act in 1981 but didn’t take effect until 1983, were the mirror image of President Barack Obama's delayed tax rate increases. In 1983, the economy took off like a rocket, with average real growth reaching 7.5 percent in 1983 and 5.5 percent in 1984. Mr. Obama's experience with deferred tax rate increases will be the reverse.

Laffer predicts that the USA economy if it continues along current policies will collapse in 2011.

"Incentives matter," Laffer says. “If you thought deficits and unemployment have been bad lately, you ain't seen nothing yet.” If the government taxes people who work and pays people not to work, the result will be that fewer people will work.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Satan's Apple


Have you ever been tempted? Not by something little, like whether you should eat that chocolate brownie, but a big thing that takes your breath away. A million dollars. Revenge. The leadership of your organization. The love of your life.

What do you do if you could take what you desire, but you know you shouldn't?

One of my favorite quotes about temptation is from CS Lewis' Mere Christianity: "No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because he was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means -- the only complete realist."

Fighting a temptation is hard work, and it can be a lasting fight: for days, months, occasionally a lifetime. So what keeps someone from succumbing to a temptation?

Let me suggest one remedy: Love. Of course there are different types of meaning for that word that we use: love of self, affection, friendship, eros (romantic/sexual), agape. I'm talking about the agape selfless love. As described by Lewis, "Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained." (Answers to Questions on Christianity). It is the love that recognizes how your actions affect others for good or for ill, the decision to be willing to sacrifice for the other. The highest form of Love. While showing agape may seem unreasonable, don't we all admire this, for example in the man who goes back into a burning building to rescue a child? Let me suggest that aiming for this standard will inevitably lessen the temptation's bad effects, if not the pain of the battle.

If you haven't been greatly tempted yet, don't be like the man Shakespeare describes when he says, "He jests at scars that never felt a wound." (Romeo and Juliet, act 2 scene 2). The temptation may come to you in a way or form that you might not expect. Decide, now, that you are, that you must be, strong enough to overcome.

Since I'm sticking on CS Lewis today, let me tell one more story of his, from The Magician's Nephew (One of the Chronicles of Narnia). In the book, Aslan the great lion tells a little boy that he must go on a journey to fetch a magical apple that will protect Narnia. The little boy retrieves it, but then is tempted by a witch that the apple could instead restore his dying mother. He struggles but withstands the suggestion, his heart's desire, and instead brings the apple back to Aslan.

Aslan says, "Well done. For this fruit you have hungered and thirsted and wept. No hand but yours shall sow the seed of the Tree that is to be the protection of Narnia." The little boy plants the apple, and a tree quickly grows. Aslan then invites the little boy to take an apple back to his mother. "The stolen apple," Aslan explains, "would have healed her, but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness...[but] it is not what will happen now. What I give you now will bring joy."

A fairy tale? Maybe. But I believe Lewis tapped into a rich truth of the universe, that good and bad do exist, and that our actions do matter. Stand strong. You don't know what unseen forces may be set into play.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

When I was very little, I remember my mom saying this to me. I didn't get it, but I'm older now, and now I'm understanding the deep wisdom of this saying. Missed opportunities and bad choices are heavy burdens to carry. Even when a decision is carefully weighed and wisely acted upon, events can occur to retroactively make that decision a bad one.

This weekend I was moping about Lever. I called a store last week to see if they'd carry it, and the woman I talked to was breezy, just said, "of course, we'll need to see it first." I figured out what bothered me was that she hadn't asked first what the book was about, only about the discount, before telling me to send it on. Yup, another book, ka-ching. I've done this route before -- calling stores and at least describing the book to fire up a little interest before sending it on. Even with this preparation, I've had zero success with this particular tactic (although I'm still convinced it's a good strategy).

I've hit the 400-books-sold mark, and my friend who owns a self-pubbing company gave me a high five and said this makes me a self-pubbed bestseller! It doesn't feel like it though. I've had to push hard for those sales -- book signings, and talks, and calling calling calling different venues. I've started receiving a few emails from people who read the book through word of mouth, but frankly I'm tired and my trick bag is empty. I've tried to get in stores, to get in catalogs, to get a print review. I pass out cards and leave them in restaurants and dentist offices. Despite the fact that I've got great endorsements and 4.5 star average on amazon, and hopefully a great book, no one wants to carry Lever. Heck, even a friend who attends a book club hadn't thought of suggesting my book although I have such great book club questions :-) -- and I still haven't been invited there, but hope springs eternal :-)

See what I mean about moping? I'm losing focus. This is God's book, and He will bring it to those who might benefit from the message, whether it's two or two-million people. Lord, please forgive me and help me keep my eyes on you.

So, this brings me back to the saying:

TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE

Like most people, I carry different burdens and regrets and "if-only's" but really, these are not glorifying to God. Doesn't He say that He will guide our steps? So, today, I'm going to look ahead and leave the past behind.

I want to write books, plural, before I die. For the past few years I haven't written anything new (for good reasons), but it's now time to begin. I started this year by entering Genesis with a brand new story idea, and while it didn't do as well as I wanted it to the criticisms were good, and after all this was first draft. I also am developing my story template algorithm into a book, and possibly a computer program. This takes a lot of work, but I break down tasks with a spreadsheet and find a schedule that I can live with to actually make this happen. Third, I'm beginning to write shorter pieces, articles and short stories, to start getting my name out there. I've decided I need a little positive reinforcement :-)

What does the rest of YOUR life look like?