Shannon Dittemore
  • Bible Stuff
  • October22nd

    10 Comments

    Conflict is what makes a good story. It’s what I look for when I’m scanning back covers, what I hope for when I flip the pages. But in my very real, every day life, I hate it. I hate everything about it.

    I wasn’t always so paranoid about disagreements. Confrontation didn’t bother me. Conflict was a natural thing, and should be dealt with just as naturally. But after a handful of sour experiences several years ago, I just don’t have the stomach for it.

    And now, I find myself doing anything and everything to avoid that kind of situation. At first, my efforts weren’t big ones. More reactionary. I’d avoid certain people, certain situations. I’d skirt issues that were sure to frustrate me. I patently refused to talk about politics or other uncomfortable topics. And while all of these things are probably okay–and sometimes wise–when done in moderation, it wasn’t long before I noticed something. My efforts were–and sometimes still are–keeping me from participating in the things I love. Not only do I actively avoid frustration, I have a tendency to run from it.

    Because I’m afraid.

    Afraid of losing friends. Of losing my mind. Of  the battle that ravages my gut when people are disappointed in me.

    I run from conflict because something tells me that’s easier. Until, in my messy efforts to avoid one frustration, I run smack into another. Because, guess what, people are everywhere. Life happens. And perhaps the hardest thing for any of us to swallow: not everyone agrees with me. *shock*

    But this whole running thing is ugliest when the inevitable downside rears it’s ugly head. When I am forced to deal with conflict, I find I’m out of practice. I’m rusty. And my efforts to resolve even the smallest of frustrations are awkward and leave me angsty when all is said and done.

    But I’m onto it now. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally realized that avoiding conflict is impossible. So I’m navigating the strange choppy waters of my own self-esteem and reminding myself that even complete anonymity won’t keep some people from disliking me. Haters will find me. They’ll find you. But if we hide from the possibility of frustration, we might just keep out the people who actually like us. Who care about us. Who are close enough to actually hurt us from time to time.

    I’m a work in progress, people, and I’m learning. The Bible says all sorts of things about dealing with conflict. Most notable is the passage in Matthew 18.

    But if I’m honest, the thing that helps me most when I’m adrift on waves of emotion, is to remember that God’s love for us surpasses all these things. He’s knows our brokenness. And even when we’re hiding, when we’re frustrated and lost, when we’re terrified of dealing with the inevitable conflict around us, nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from God’s love.

    Cling to that when it’s hard. When you don’t have the strength to face another conflict, remember God’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9: My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.

    I’m learning that my own strength is never enough. There’s truth to the insecure little voice that spouts, “You can’t do this alone!” But there’s peace in the idea as well. Because I’ve never been asked to face the frustrations of this life alone. And I think I can do just about anything when I’m wrapped in God’s love.

    Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.–Romans 8:35, 37-39 

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  • March5th

    6 Comments

    Had a hilarious and self-evaluating experience in church yesterday morning.

    Our children’s Sunday school format has changed a bit, allowing kids past pre-school age to spend the first half of the morning with their parents. I love this change, by the way. It means my 7 year old gets to sing and dance and worship next to me.

    The hilarious part? He hasn’t quite figured out that us church folk have an unofficial list of approved dance moves.

    The Pentacostal two-step? No problem. Holy Ghost Hop? Absolutely. A little cheerleading step clap? Why not?

    But, Justus was devastated to learn that walking like an Egyptian and the Michael Jackson moonwalk have yet to make it through the approval process. Of course, I had no idea he intended to use such moves until service started and he busted them out. Right there. On the front row.

    He deflated a bit when I–like a good mama–pinned him down and explained.

    But, I’m worshiping, he said.

    I just gave him the eye. You know, the mom eye. Yeah, that one.

    Defeated (and slightly dramatic) he stripped off his sweatshirt. Staring at him, my face flooded with little pin pricks of heat. Due to our prominent placement, the entire congregation was looped into a little secret he’d been keeping. His Lego Batman t-shirt was on backward.

    I like it that way, he said.

    Because he’s a smart kid and could tell that I, the mama, didn’t like it that way, he slipped his arms into his shirt and attempted to turn it around.

    He tried, God bless him, but he was all sticky and sweaty from the moonwalking and what should have been a quick little change, turned out to be a two-minute experience full of face making and little boy grunts.

    At least the music was loud.

    Next, we worked on clapping to the beat–the drummer’s beat, not the one he normally marches to. Who could have known such a thing would be so difficult? I was exhausted by the time he skipped out of the sanctuary and headed to class.

    And I felt a bit like Michal. You know, Michal, King David’s wife. Staring out the castle window she watched as her husband danced down the street. He was worshiping and thanking God and it embarrassed her. The Bible says she despised him in her heart.

    Oh, I wasn’t despising my little guy, but I was feeling the embarrassment. I mean, I’m a good Christian mama. Shouldn’t my kid know how to worship? Shouldn’t he know what to do?

    But, the reality is more complicated than that.

    First off, our approved dance moves may not be the only dance moves out there. I know it’s shocking, and I’m not advocating the Running Man, but I’m thinking being childlike isn’t a bad thing. Jesus Himself championed childlike faith. Squashing those tendencies in my son seems like an awful thing. A tragic thing.

    Of course, the book of Proverbs also tells us we’re to train up a child in the way they should go, so that when they’re old they will not depart from it. I’m not sure Proverbs is talking specifically about dance moves, but worship certainly falls into the category of things we should teach our kids.

    So, there’s this balance, right? As his parents, Matt and I are to teach him. We’re to show Justus that “worship” isn’t just dancing to music. He needs to understand why we gather together, why we have a song service at church–what all those instruments and singers are for–and we’re to teach him the kind of worship the Bible tells us God is looking for.

    But, we also have to let him stumble along in his own relationship with God and worship like a child. Because the truth of the matter is this: God’s looking at his heart and not his moonwalking feet.

    Of course, Sister So-And-So in the third row might be looking at his moonwalking feet, so it’s important that he learn not to be a distraction, but I’m happy to report we’re learning. All of us.

    Yesterday afternoon, my AMAZING and incredibly intelligent husband, opened the scriptures with Justus and they talked about worship. They wrote out what the scriptures said. They had a glorious discussion about dance and instruments and standing before the Lord in silence. They talked about worship as a lifestyle. I folded laundry and eavesdropped. The entire thing was both inspiring and highly educational.

    This morning, Justus asked if he could take his Bible to school.

    So, if walking like an Egyptian and a sweaty Lego Batman shirt taught my kid to love his Bible a little more, I have to assume we’re on the right road.

    And I like this road. I like where it’s heading.

    It’s a bit undignified at times, but I don’t want to be like Michal. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to worship alongside my son because I’m concerned about what people will think. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to teach him because I’m embarrassed or frustrated.

    Now that the chagrin has melted away, I find myself inspired by my son’s childlike faith. Motivated by his desire to dance with God.

    And all of a sudden, undignified doesn’t seem quite so… well… undignified.

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  • May22nd

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    I won’t lie. Yesterday, at 6:02pm PST, I looked at the clock and smiled. It’s not that I think Jesus coming back is a joke, it’s that misguided gents like Harold Camping make it increasingly difficult to take him seriously.

    And while Camping’s rapture promise is behind us (for now) I can’t help thinking that for some, heck, for quite a few people, May 21, 2011 really was the end of the world.

    Yesterday, a friend of a friend lost his fight with lymphoma. Yesterday, twenty boys and four adults were buried alive at an orphanage in a Malaysian landslide. Yesterday, sixteen people were killed in Pakistan when a remote-control bomb detonated a tanker truck carrying fuel for NATO.

    These, among many, many others, took their last breaths on May 21st. And while Harold Camping’s prediction was false, I wonder just how much damage he, and others like him, have caused.

    Twitter and Facebook feeds were full to the brim with jokes (some of them chuckle-worthy) about the rapture and the end of the world. Apocalyptic references to everything from zombies to the Left Behind books were retweeted and passed off as original. And while much of it was good-natured and silly, partway through the day I couldn’t help but compare Harold Camping to the boy who cried wolf.

    And I had a thought:

    Harold Camping is wrong, sure, but that doesn’t mean the end of the world won’t come.

    Oh, there won’t be zombies and I’m not sure Tim LaHaye has it right either, but the Bible does promise that Christ will return one day and that we’ll each be called to account for our actions in this life. And, there’s one action in particular He’ll be looking for:

    Belief.

    In Christ. In His virgin birth and sinless life. In His divine nature. In our sin crucified with His broken body. In His resurrection (Did I just lose some of you?). In your life redeemed by His sacrifice and His sacrifice alone.

    See, you must believe.

    Cause one day, He is coming back. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Matt 24:36)

    Still, I wonder with all this crying “rapture” going on, how many souls will allow themselves to laugh off the reality that the end of the world has been determined. Because the God of all Creation has willed it so.

    There’s good news though. The Bible also speaks of a new heaven and a new earth after the old has passed away. (Rev 21:1)

    Now that’s something I want to see. And while the Harold Campings of this life wander about proclaiming doomsday, the reality is that God has made a way for each of us to spend eternity with Him. When the immature run about shouting “rapture, rapture” you can be sure your place next to the creator of the universe is secured.

    How?

    Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart.

    That’s what the Good Book says.

    “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9)

    And if you believe, if you really, really believe, you won’t have to wonder if every boy who cries “rapture” is onto something.

    When Christ returns, you’ll be ready. Saved by His grace. Redeemed by His blood.

    Utterly protected from the wolves of doomsday.

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  • April21st

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    My son was just a few weeks old when I realized he would never remember the early days of his life.

    I swear, I wept for a day.

    Moments that inflated my heart to near-rupture would be tucked away in his past, a building block perhaps, but buried by countless others and impossible for him to recall.

    Silent snuggles, late-night feedings, living room dance sessions, back yard romps–the very things that filled my days would fade from his recollection as life inevitably moved forward.

    An ache materialized that day, but it was nearly a year before I had an answer. It took me–A WRITER–the better part of 365 days to figure out how to capture what little I could so my boy could reflect on those moments later.

    The week Justus turned one, I started a journal. And though I enjoy the journalling process, I didn’t do it for myself.

    I did it for him.

    I’m not very consistent, nor am I overly detailed, but I do my best to write down the highlights. I do my best to convey how a day feels, what an incident taught, how hard we laughed when he made donkey noises, how awful I felt when he knocked his tooth out (parent fail, by the way).

    But mostly, I try to capture something beautiful that shows my son just how very loved he was on that day.

    It wasn’t long ago that I realized just how similar the Bible is to this memory book of mine. Without the Bible I would never understand God’s love as revealed in creation, or His love as revealed in redemption. I’d never know all His works in Israel or Egypt. Without the Bible I’d never know of the mighty men and women of faith who lived in generations past. Without the words recorded in scripture I’d be left to piece things together on my own.

    Without the Word of God, I’d be lost.

    But, because our Heavenly Father knew just how frail and forgetful His children would be, He saw fit to leave us a memory book. He gave us the highlights. He gave us a record of His love and His character extending back to days we have no way of remembering.

    And as a parent, I have some idea of how important that record is to Him. There are lessons to be learned, lives to be studied, and chapter upon chapter of God’s love written down for us by a hand that needed us to know.

    When my daughter was born, I went out and bought a journal for her as well. The two journals are identical save the picture on the cover. My son’s book has a picture of him and I alone on it, while my daughter’s has a picture of just her and I. I wanted them to know how personal the book was–that it was from mother to child.

    And, as tempting as it is to assume the Bible was written for somebody else, I pray that the words of this hastily written blog would have you consider this simple truth:

    God’s Word is a record of His love…

    And it was written for you.

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  • April10th

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    Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints. –Psalm 116:15

    Today, we celebrated the life and legacy of an amazing woman who left this life and is, even now, in the presence of her savior.

    Now, I’m a preacher’s brat and I’ve been to more than my fair share of funerals. More than most people’s share, I’d say, but this service was different than every single one of them.

    If I may be immature and brash for a moment: It was my favorite.

    Ann walked this planet for 96 years and was a member of our church for about fifty of them. Her face has been in the pews throughout my entire life. To the delight of our congregation and her family, we didn’t host her memorial at a graveside or at a funeral home. We celebrated right in our own sanctuary. With the people she’s spent her life ministering to and worshiping alongside.

    That’s not so different, you’re thinking. And you’d be right. Lots and lots of memorial services are held in churches. But what made this one so distinct was that we held it right in the middle of our Sunday morning service.

    And you know what we do on Sundays? We worship. We sing and dance. The Bible is opened and we learn. We praise God for all He’s doing and for all He’s done. We acknowledge His sovereignty in the earth and we ask Him to break our hearts for the things that move Him.

    We did all of these things today while remembering a woman who would have wanted nothing less.

    As our worship team led us into an AMAZING song service, I was overwhelmed at how every song, every verse, was filled with the words of eternity. As we shared stories of Ann’s life and her many passions, I found myself grateful, once again, that I get to live and breathe in a world created by our Father. And I was very aware that I will one day give up my mortal body and be in the very presence of our King.

    Just like Ann.

    Just like the many, many saints who have gone before her.

    Ideally, it will be my children and their children who make the arrangements for my funeral. But, in case I go before they’re old and gray (sob!), you should know that I want my memorial service to be just like Ann’s.

    Do it on a Sunday. Worship. Crack open the Bible. Have someone sing “I Hope You Dance.” Pray for the city. Pray for the world. Grieve a bit, sure, but remember, as Pastor quoted today, “we don’t grieve like those who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

    Cause I’ll be good. I’ll be in the presence of the one who created me. Of the one who died on the cross to redeem me. I’ll be in the presence of the God who vanquished death. And nothing, NOTHING, would make me happier than to know you’re remembering my life gathered around His table, in His house.

    After all, our days on earth are like a shadow.

    It’s in eternity that the real party begins.

    “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”–Jesus

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  • March15th

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    The cherry blossom trees are blossoming again. As I pass by–several times a day–I am reminded that God, in all His wisdom, knows that we need seasons.

    Seasons run their course and the wisest of us understand that this thing–whatever it is–will not last forever. As I grow in my faith, this singular fact is both comforting and daunting.

    When I’m struggling with the pain of letting certain things die, my God reminds me that “For everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”

    This wisdom, though often hard to accept, remains true and awakens an attitude so grateful for His providence.

    For His insight.

    For a loving God who knows His Creation so well.

    And then, as my children curl up against me for evening prayer, as their tiny fingers take hold of mine, again, I hear the still small voice of my Father, “This too shall pass.”

    The sweet sadness of these tender moments are enough to keep me from wishing away the days and hours when the trees are fruitless, the sun too hot, and the season I find myself in lingers past all earthly comfort.

    With the cherry blossom trees now in full bloom, I am overwhelmed at God’s grace and His beauty. The other day, reveling in the wonder of impending spring, I took another lap around the block just to view them.

    As I passed the precious sight, my heart faltered.

    There, in the midst of the cherry blossom trees, just near the end of the row, was a sobering sight. Between two trees flowering white, sat a tired-looking specimen.

    It wasn’t a cherry blossom tree–that much was obvious. I couldn’t identify it, but its leaves had just browned and as the breeze picked up they were pulled from its branches and scattered on the wind. I drove on, leaving the row of trees behind me.

    As I parked the car and unloaded my children, the Spirit of the Lord brought comfort.

    See, I’ve been that tree. The one not flowering with the rest–the girl walking through a bitter winter while everyone around her seemed to be enjoying blue skies.

    I’ve wondered just why I was surrounded by those in favorable seasons while I endured the rain. Was I planted in the wrong field? In the wrong time? Just why was I so out of place?

    There aren’t easy answers. It comes back to God’s providence. God’s choice. We might not understand why we go through the things we go through, or why the world around us seems to be a season ahead, but I am grateful that God acts in seasons. That He moves me through life in phases. I am learning to revel in every one of them, because the winter and the fall can also be beautiful.

    And, what is springtime and sun without the rain and cold?

    I don’t know why I go through times where the world around me flowers and I falter, but God has recently seen fit to plant others of my kind near, and I’ve been delighted to run through this season with companions.

    So, today, I want to encourage you.

    If you find yourself blossoming in the midst of death, or dying in midst of life–if you find yourself pleasantly marching through season after season or struggling to understand why–remember, we serve a good God.

    As King Solomon reminds us in the book of Ecclesiastes, “To everything there is a season. A time for every purpose under heaven.”

    Every. Single. Purpose.

    Be blessed, friends.

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  • February10th

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    My first time on skis was also my last.

    I don’t blame the beautiful Tahoe snow, I don’t blame my companions–though a crash course would have been nice–and the idea that I’m to blame is laughable. No, the burden of culpability lies entirely with the gear I borrowed from a much taller, much more experienced friend.

    The skis were too long and I had no idea what to do with the poles. My toes took a beating as they slid back and forth inside the inhospitable boots, the gigantic hot pink snowsuit made me look like a short, fat flamingo, and by far the biggest mistake I made was assuming my taller, more experienced friend had lent me something for my head. But, after scrounging the bag of attire–something I should have done before arriving at Sugarbowl–I was devastated to find no hint of a beanie. No stocking hat. Nothing to keep my mane of curls dry.

    Fantastic.

    Mere seconds after mounting the ski lift, my waist-length hair was covered in icicles, my hands were lost in the cavernous depths of my sleeves, my skis were crossed, and I’d jabbed the unlucky friend sitting next to me with each of my poles.

    And then the bunny hill came into view.

    I’ll not bore you with the tragedy that was my exit from the ski lift, but as I picked up speed down the steeper-than-expected beginner’s slope, my friend began to yell, “Snowplow! Snowplow!”

    Did I mention I could have used a crash course?

    Well, I got it. Right into my homeboy who really should have explained what it means to “Snowplow! Snowplow!” After a few more exhausting attempts to wrangle my outfit into compliance, I retired to the ski lodge abdicating victory to the mountain of snow and insanely excited to disrobe.

    And that was it. No more skiing. And all because my clothing defeated me.

    We’ve all heard the story of David and Goliath. You ever think about what would have happened if that little shepherd boy had attempted to wear King Saul’s armor into battle? The Bible says he tried–this pubescent teenager tried to fit into the battle gear of his much taller, much more experienced king. But after drowning in Saul’s coat of armor, his overlarge helmet, and after strapping a chunky sword on top of it all, David knew that fighting a giant in someone else’s armor was futility at best.

    “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” (1 Sam 17:39)

    Smart kid.

    David understood something that I, in all my ski bunny glory, did not. When marching into battle–and let’s face it, sometimes God sees fit to place giants before us–we’re better served fighting with the gear we’ve tested and tried. Instead of fighting our battles in someone else’s shoes, instead of weilding someone else’s clunky sword, we’re better off brandishing a smaller, leaner slingshot–a weapon we’ve mastered–and stones we can carry without ceremony.

    I wonder what the flannelgraph of David and Goliath would have looked like if David had chosen to fight in Saul’s armor? Would God have given him the victory? Would David have found himself in Saul’s favor? Would the Israelites have ended up as slaves to the Philistines?

    I don’t know.

    What I do know is that a pimply-faced teenager armed with only the weapon he’d mastered and a heart that declared, “The battle is the Lord’s” defeated a giant who rendered an entire army of swords and shields useless.

    And that’s something. Unencumbered by the well-intentioned protection of another, David defeated the giant and the course of history was altered forever. There’s something about using the tools we’re given. Something unique about a person who refuses to pick up the sword of another to fight his own battles.

    How different would our own lives be if we depended less on the things given to stronger more experienced men, and more on the God who secures the victory and the weapons He’s taught us to fight with?

    At this point in my walk with God, I’m asking Him to help me master the tools He’s given. They may be smaller and less glamorous than the tools He’s given to others, but they’re mine and they were given to me by the God who secures the battle.

    And I’d rather be a kid moving freely and flinging a stone into the forehead of the enemy than weighted to the ground by weapons I was never intended to heft.

    Sounds like freedom to me.

    And an awful lot like victory.

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  • November21st

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    So, I’m sitting on a bar stool at my cousin’s baby shower and I’m having a heck of a time keeping the plate of hors d’oeuvres balanced on my lap. In one hand is a cup of coffee and the other is attempting to dip these little round crackers in a yummy, but rather stiff mixture of gouda and cranberries.

    All the while, the square plate is tipping this way and that. And then of course, the other guests, many I haven’t seen in years, stop by and want to chat or hug, but you know what I’m thinking?

    If I move, this plate of gouda is going to splatter all over the floor.

    I know, I know. I do. I know what’s going through that perceptive mind of yours. Why don’t you just set the plate down? Or the coffee? Why don’t you find a seat near a table where your hands can be free?

    And my answer? I have no idea. I think back on it, and I think, maybe, I was caught up in the balancing act of the whole thing. I’d sat down, with the cup and the plate. I’d made every effort to appear all lady-like and cross my legs. And I’d been quite successful at carrying on a conversation with the few friends that were near me. When others stopped by expecting a hug or a handshake changing my position or my location didn’t even occur to me. Looking for a place to unload some of my yummy cargo, didn’t cross my mind. I was immovable.

    Until… (Of course there’s an until!)

    Until, all of a sudden, my sister–who was also attempting to balance her plate–lost control, and her bite-sized snacks went tumbling to the floor. Did I help? Nope. I’m still on the wire. Still balancing. I can’t be bothered to move. But, I did laugh. Hey! I wasn’t the only one. We all laughed. But, but. It was my undoing. My giggle was too much for the poor square plate and this thing I’ve spent twenty minutes protecting went skittering to the floor. D’oh!

    You know what. While I was bummed about the gouda, I was a bit relieved. No more pretty little crackers. No more dip. Just me and my coffee and nothing left to balance.

    I feel like this a lot. In the real world, I mean. Balancing my kids and my husband, my church and my writing. Balancing our schedules and my emotions. Not only do I run out of hands, I run out of energy. The littlest things can throw me off kilter and send the entire balancing act crashing down. Sometimes, it’s only sensible to relinquish my assumed role as a juggling circus clown. Sometimes, it’s only right to set a responsibility down and walk away.

    Why this is the last option to run through my mind, I can’t precisely say, but I know it costs me something to let a project go. It costs me a bit of pride. Maybe someone else could balance my life better. Maybe someone else could take the cards I’ve been dealt and find a royal flush where I can only see a disappointed family staring back, but the reality I’ve got to accept is that this balancing act has the potential to kill me.

    The Bible has much to say on our priorities, but the one verse that always presents itself when I am overwhelmed and searching for a reprieve is found in Matthew 6.

    “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

    When I find myself balancing to the point of silliness, I come back to this verse. It’s like a sieve. I take all my priorities, my responsibilities, my emotions and my frustrations and I dump them into the filter of this verse. If I’m wise–and I do have my moments–I’ll walk away carrying only the things that make it through the other side. All the other stuff, the stuff I choose to balance–out of pride or misguided obligation–I can leave behind with no guilt, no condemnation.

    I don’t know about you, but when I’m keeping kingdom things first, the rest of my crazy life seems to fall into place. That’s not to say things aren’t hard from time to time, and I certainly seem to stay busy, but my anxiety level drops. Like the verse says, I don’t have to worry about tomorrow. And what a blessing that is! To let tomorrow care for itself and to take each day as it comes. As the Lord gives it to me.

    So, if you find yourself in a place of balancing craziness, take some time to reevaluate. Slide your life through the filter that is Matthew 6:33-34 and allow yourself the freedom to set down some misplaced responsibilities. Be wise enough to know that you can’t balance everything forever. Sometimes setting down that awkward square plate is the only way to really connect with others, and it may be the only way to truly press into the things God has for you.

    Which is what we all want, right?

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  • September16th

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    Hello friends! It’s been a while. Thought I’d jump back into the fray with a little rant. Join me, won’t you?

    With my very first novel out there like a bloodhound, sniffing the carpeted hallways of publishing houses, I have lots and lots of conflicting emotions ravaging my gut. It’s not a bad thing, I’m sure, but often I wonder if the butterflies flapping away in there have developed fangs and venom. Still, the overriding…. sensation–if you will–is that the fate of my manuscript is entirely out of my hands. ENTIRELY. There’s nothing else I can do at this point, but wait.

    And waiting is what incites the manic butterflies.

    It also kicks my brain into overdrive.

    Lately, I’ve been thinking about our responsibility as writers. “What responsibility?” you might ask. Well, we have them. Writers do. Just like any other trade, we have a responsibility to learn the craft. To do our very best to understand the rules and to decipher just when those rules should be bent and broken. We have an obligation to read. For entertainment. For the sheer love of it. And we have a duty to take the books we’ve read, even the bad ones, and learn from them. As the genius that is Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time – or the tools – to write. Simple as that.”

    So as writers, as those who pen thoughts and stories, as those who write to further our own agenda or simply to entertain, as those who sit in front of a computer screen and bleed ink, we have responsibilities.

    But, what defines me is not my drive, desire, or ability to write. As a Christian, what defines me is my adoption into God’s family. As a Christian, what defines me is who my heavenly Father is. As a Christian, what defines me is the cross. So, perhaps the premise is flawed. No THING defines me. It is Christ–His life, His death, and His resurrection–that define me. If I am a Christian, those things must come first. Before my responsibility, before my duty as a writer.

    In a practical, time-is-of-the-essence kind of way, this is easily remedied. Christ stuff takes first priority. Other things, including my hours at the keyboard, take a backseat. It doesn’t mean they’re not priorities. It doesn’t meant they’re not important. But, in the grand scheme of things our God commitments come first.

    Most Christian writers I know don’t struggle with this to excess. It’s in the actual business of writing that we get off-kilter.

    Let’s talk for a second about the concept of “artistic liberty.”

    First let me clarify. I’m a fan–a huge fan–of artistic liberty. Of taking something and switching it up to entertain or shock. I’m a fan. On stage, between the covers of a book, down the ivory bones of the piano, or on pointe shoes. I am a fan. I think artistic liberty makes us unique. As a writer, it is a fantastic tool to carve niches. With it we break molds, we jump into waters unknown, we dare to break glass ceilings. Artistic liberty, when taken and handled with a level of precision, can produce art in the highest forms.

    That being said, I struggle with stories that claim to be representing the God of the Bible and then take artistic liberty with His ESSENTIAL ATTRIBUTES. I am not talking about ethereal, fantasy representations of a god-like being. Not at all. In fact, if I can get past the excessive descriptions of trees and wood elves, I enjoy a great fantasy or sci-fi read. I am also not talking about fairy tales or allegories. I am talking specifically about books claiming to represent the God of Scripture and feel that to adequately tell their story they must change Him.

    This post, I am sure, will rile some of you. While I speak and write emphatically, I am certainly open to discussion, and I can find beauty in many, many things. But, that doesn’t mean my gut doesn’t clench when I read something that represents the God of the Bible as something other than what He is. Even in fiction. Even when it’s a throw-away line in a movie. Especially if it’s what makes the movie popular.

    And please hear me–I believe that characters can and should misrepresent God when the story calls for it. That is very real. That happens all the time, and quite often it happens by Christians. The question is this: What conclusions do your readers draw about God when they read your work?

    No, I don’t think every book has to be about God. No, I don’t read strictly Christian fiction. Yes, I’m a fan of Harry Potter and Twilight. And not a single one of those books claim to represent the God of Scripture in any way.

    But, does your book? Are you striving to represent God and having to mold and carve away at Him so He’ll simply fit into your story? If you are, I am concerned. If you are, I wonder if your primary responsibility as a Christian is taking a backseat to your duties as a writer. And, don’t get me wrong. We all have to evaluate from time to time. We all need to examine ourselves. Examine our lives and our craft. And we must, MUST be honest about who are audience is and who we are leading them to.

    If we’re representing God incorrectly, we’re adding to the confusion already swirling about who He really is. As a Christian, that has to be my first concern. Ahead of story lines, turns of shock and awe, and surprise endings. Ahead of finding our place and making a splash. If we choose to represent God, we must heave the burden of representing Him accurately.

    If we don’t, our stories, successful though they may be, have already failed.

    Thoughts?

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  • August17th

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    For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.–Mark 9:49

    This is a crazy verse, friends. As I read it this morning, I had trouble wrapping my mind around the words. Consider this mental image:

    You. Going about your daily life. Your creator looking on, caring, concerned. Loving you more than your human mind can ever comprehend. Taking joy in the life He molded and knowing you’ll never reach your full potential if the status quo is maintained.

    Hanging from his shoulder, like a messenger bag, is a satchel. A glowing, burning satchel. His hands, still scarred with the price of your redemption, reach into the satchel and pull out tiny rocks of fire. They blaze as He releases them. Sparkling, dancing through the heavens, they land with a painful sizzle on your heart.

    They hurt. So bad. You fight them at first, pushing at the offending circumstance, at the hurt before you. But, fire must do its work, and soon–maybe not soon enough–but soon, the fire dies, having consumed all there is to consume. The flammable impurities you harbored deep inside are gone. You are stronger, wiser. You may not understand the nature of the flame, but you are better for having been burned by it.

    You have been seasoned with fire.

    And now, another being enters. You can’t see him, of course. He’s spirit, like your creator. Only different. Very, very different. Never grasping the full potential of fire, he craves only its power to destroy. From his own satchel, burning bright like the creator’s, he pulls a handful of flaming rocks. Similar, so similar to the fiery salt of the creator. Before he can tip his hand though, before the fire makes its way to your heart, the creator stops him.

    “Open it,” He says.

    And the evil one does. He has to. Has no choice. As much as he craves freedom, he is still subject to the creator’s will. Finger by finger, the malevolent hand opens, and there, his own brand of seasoning sits, sparking and biting, anxious to consume. The creator sweeps away this flame and that, knowing, ever-knowing the limits of His created. From the hand of evil, your redeemer flicks pains and hurts not intended for you. He understands your purpose. Made you for a reason. This fire is to season, not to kill.

    But, there in the hand of evil, He sees a pain that furthers His design for you, for His created order, so He leaves it. Allows it to stay. Were you there, you may question the decision, but it would not be yours to fight. He is the creator. You are the created. Regardless of the hand it comes from, this fire will make you strong.

    And so, it falls–this pain, this hurt, this tribulation or trial–into your life, onto the ground of your heart. The evil one smiles at the ache it causes, at the blister that will scar, but your creator knows that fire can only consume the excess, the fat. It cannot harm metal most pure. The process is similar to every other seasoning and in the end, because your creator knows you best, the salt of fire has pulled you closer to perfection.

    I’m sure it’s a bit different. I doubt God really carries a satchel full of flaming rocks. But, the idea that every single one of us will be seasoned with fire, that we’ll all face pain and hurt that will leave us scarred, reminds me of the flannel-graph characters I learned about in Sunday school. I’m reminded of Job, who said, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.”

    I’m reminded of Daniel who survived a den of lions because an angel kept their mouths shut.

    I’m reminded of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: Three men who were thrown into a furnace for refusing to bow down to the idol of a human king. Their words stir something deep inside me and today I hope they stir something in you. Resolve, maybe. Tenacity. The courage to stand when the world seems to be tearing itself apart at the seams.

    To Nebuchadnezzar, they said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

    Even if He does not. Did you see that phrase? EVEN IF HE DOES NOT!

    Now, that’s faith. Faith that God’s plan is better than our plan. That His created purpose is more important than anything I cling to. Faith that recognizes a seasoning of fire. Faith that trusts God regardless of what my eyes see. Faith to leave my life in His hands, because His purpose is more important.

    I want faith like that.

    The kind of faith that can survive the fire.

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