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Monday, September 20, 2010
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.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
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
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
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
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.