Books You’d Like To See In Print One Day


woman using computerMost writers beyond the beginning stage understand the value of feedback, especially informed feedback. That’s why they join critique groups and snag writing partners and look for beta readers.

Occasionally there are contests such as the one Spec Faith held some time ago in which writers could post their first 250 words and receive feedback from visitors. All these methods of receiving feedback are valuable, but what all writers crave is constructive criticism from an industry professional–a published author or better still, an agent or an editor.

Once upon a time there was a secret industry insider who called herself Miss Snark who gave selected writers a beatdown helpful insights about their work. She was pretty blunt and yet incredibly helpful.

When she hung up her snark hat, the writer who first received her biting assessment took up the mantle and began a site called Miss Snark’s First Victim. She’s expanded the purpose of the site to include contests that can put winners in touch with agents and editors.

Starting today she is running her 2013 Bakers Dozen Agent Auction. She held a submissions period during which she selected 60 entries, 35 YA or middle grade stories and 25 adult. For the next few days anyone can read the blurbs and openings of these stories and offer their critique, but two published authors and two agents or editors are guaranteed to critique. As many others as wish to join in may do so.

Then Tuesday, December 3 the actual auction begins. The cool thing is, the agents’ bids are the number of pages they would like to read, up to the entire manuscript (which is obviously the highest bid–and I’m assuming the first agent to make that bid “wins” that manuscript).

Anyway, I thought that would be a fun thing for readers to take part in. I’ve already looked over a handful of the entries and I’m impressed with the quality. One or two, I wish I could read more.

Here’s the link if you’d like to join in the fun: WELCOME TO THE 2013 BAKER’S DOZEN AGENT AUCTION! By the way, you might consider starting with the entry #1 which appears last since it seems most people start at the top with #60. And of course you get to pick and choose which you want to read and which, if any, you want to critique.

Just for fun, make note of the number of fantasy entries. It’s still the hottest genre going, it would seem. 😉

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Published in: on November 29, 2013 at 6:53 pm  Comments Off on Books You’d Like To See In Print One Day  
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The Anatomy Of Thanksgiving


pumpkin-cart-630567-mIn some ways, in contradiction to my Tuesday post entitled “An Argument Against Thanksgiving Day”, this post could be called, “In Favor Of Thanksgiving.” My goal for these posts this year is to take a deeper look at the holiday, at the act of giving thanks, and at the heart attitude behind it. So today I want to dig into thanksgiving analytically. (I know, it sounds boring. I hope it isn’t 😉 ).

My first observation about thanksgiving in general is that it is a responsive action. People give thanks because they have first been given something or have benefited from some condition or in some other way have experienced favor or provision. In other words, we don’t start out being thankful. We become thankful as we realize what we have received.

Thanksgiving, then, requires a level of humility. If we think we have earned all we have, if we aren’t acknowledging the fact that we received from another’s hand, we won’t be in a mindset to give thanks.

In that regard, Thanksgiving also requires a measure of reality. We need to see the truth about our circumstances. We need to have clarity of vision so that we realize both what we have received and what we would be like if we hadn’t received.

True thanksgiving, having been properly caused, seems to erupt from within. As someone on another site noted, thanksgiving can’t be mandated. No one can be thankful by order of the President, even if that President was Abraham Lincoln. Rather, thankfulness flows from a heart of love and relief and appreciation, not only for the thing received, but for the person who made it possible.

Third, thanksgiving is expressed. Real thanksgiving has legs. It moves from being an emotion to being a demonstration, through words or actions. People giving thanks aren’t silent and they often aren’t still. Thankful people give smiles and hugs; they pack bags and fly hundreds of miles across country; they send cards and presents; they sing songs; they put offering into the plate at church; they get up a half hour early to pray. In short, thanksgiving is not passive.

I can’t help but think of the story Jesus told Simon, the Pharisee who hosted him for a meal.

“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41-42).

Jesus didn’t say, which will be more thankful? He said, which will love him more? Thanksgiving isn’t passive. It turns into love and service and shameless adoration. At least, real thankfulness does–the kind that recognizes the great gifts which have been bestowed and receives them in humility.

In the end, I guess that explains why we so often take time on Thanksgiving Day to think about the things we’ve been given. An awareness of what we have that we did not earn puts us in a place where we can experience thankfulness and then respond.

So let the count begin of all the blessings God has bestowed upon us. Let’s not forget the things God has revealed about Himself that are treasures in and of themselves: He is infinite in love, His mercy extends to the heavens, He is abundantly trustworthy to the point that He will never fail us or forsake us, He is righteous in all His works, His goodness is untainted with even a shadow of wrong doing.

And the list goes on!

Published in: on November 27, 2013 at 5:16 pm  Comments (2)  
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An Argument Against Thanksgiving Day


horn_of_plentyWhen I was in school, our teacher would inevitable give us an assignment as Thanksgiving approached that required us to write down all the things for which we were thankful. From what I remember, I put the big things on my list: my parents, God, my home, my brother and sister, our cats and dog, my friends, school and teachers (OK, maybe I didn’t put those on the list. 😉 )

The point is, I was thinking of all the good things I had, in particular the ones I took for granted, but when I paused, I really was glad I had each one.

Never once did I think that Thanksgiving could be a day for digging deeper. In fact, this “count your blessings, name them one by one” approach to Thanksgiving trained me to think of the good things I was thankful for as the tangible evidence that God cared.

I didn’t stop to think that He might also care just as much for a little Christian girl in an orphanage in India who had no parents or home, and sometimes went to bed hungry.

I also didn’t realize that many, many of the people recorded in Scripture who started well, who said they would obey God, turned from Him on the heels of receiving His blessings.

King David comes to mind. He’d survived Saul’s attempts to kill him, ascended to the throne, and led his people to victory after victory. Then, as he enjoyed the fruit of his labor, he decided to stay home while his commander led his army into battle. And that’s when David saw Bathsheba, ignored the fact that she was married, and committed adultery with her.

David repented, but others never turned it around. King Asa, for example, ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah, walked with God and experienced great success against the enemies because he turned to God for help:

Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, “LORD, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; let not man prevail against You.”

God answered that prayer, and for thirty-eight years Asa ruled as a man dependent upon God. But there came a day when he decided to buy his way out of trouble instead of pray his way out.

His scheme worked, but here’s what God told him:

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.” (2 Chron. 16:7-9)

Asa could have repented too, but instead he threw Hanani into prison and he oppressed some of the people. He ended up sick, alone, and bitter. He had the blessing of answered prayer and God’s protection and power, and he turned his back on the Giver of all those good gifts.

I could go on and on. Solomon, Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Uzziah, Miriam, Nadab and Abihu, Jonah, Gehazi, and many more.

It seems as if the good things either became an idol that moved in front of God as the most loved, or the individual took credit for the good things and moved himself in front of God as the most loved.

When the people of Israel were in want, they turned to God. When they experienced His abundance, they turned from Him.

So it seems to me, having a thanksgiving day in which we simply tick off the good things we have is a way to set ourselves up for failure. Not that we should deny the good things, but it seems to me the true approach to Thanksgiving should be an enumeration, not of our stuff, but of God’s attributes–the things He’s revealed about Himself that give us a look into His character. And not just an enumeration, but an all out face plant at His feet, thanking Him for who He is and what He’s done.

After all, who God is lies behind what He’s given us and why. Who God is will outlast any of the stuff we enjoy today. Who God is, is a treasure that outshines any other.

It’s certainly not wrong for anyone to celebrate a national Thanksgiving Day as we are here in the US this coming Thursday, or for anyone to have a personal day of giving thanks. For myself, though, I want to change my focus. I don’t want this to be about the good things our God gives but about our good God Himself.

I wish I was clever enough to make a video that would go viral or savvy enough to get this trending on Twitter. What I’d like to see is believers unite to say, I’m thankful because God is merciful. I’m thankful because God is just. I’m thankful because God is generous. I’m thankful because God is my salvation. I’m thankful because ___ Your turn! 😀

Published in: on November 26, 2013 at 7:37 pm  Comments (3)  
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Cultivating Thankfulness In A Disaffected Society


The_First_Thanksgiving_Jean_Louis_Gerome_FerrisIt’s hard to be thankful when more seems to be going wrong than right. It’s freezing outside and you catch a cold, but can’t skip work because you have no more sick leave. Besides, there’s this important thing due, and you CAN’T be late. Or unprepared. Because rumor has it, your job is on the line.

Then there’s the latest news story that says something in our water is probably killing us, if the terrorists don’t figure out a way to do it first. The economy is a mess no matter what the stock market is doing, and every day one government official after another is being exposed as a jerk, a lawbreaker, or a corrupt politician.

Then there’s the disappointing mess that the new health care law has become. How many of your friends are like you and are about to lose their present policy?

Are we thankful yet?

The specifics for each of us may be different, but it seems a lot of people would identify with the sentiment that there’s more going wrong than right.

Add to all the pressure and bad news, the constant message from our computer screens and TVs that we deserve better than what we’ve got. We deserve better treatment, a better gadget, a better policy. Advertisements bombard us with the idea that we can, and should, do better, if only we’d get with the program and buy their stuff.

So, how are we doing with thankfulness?

Oddly enough, the people that originated a celebratory feast as part of a day of thanks, had a whole lot more problems than we have. According to the Scholastic article “The First Thanksgiving” the Pilgrims arrived in the New World during the winter. Their perilous two-month voyage across the stormy Atlantic had lasted far longer than expected, and had already taken a toll. Their supplies were nearly depleted, and they became ill because of the conditions on board ship.

As it was, because of exposure, malnutrition, and disease, nearly half the original 102 settlers died before the coming of spring. At the lowest point, only seven people were healthy enough to take care of the sick.

Without the help of the Native Americans living in the region near the place where they settled, it’s likely they would not have survived another winter. Other colonies had failed, and future colonies would be wiped out by attacks from a different group of Native Americans.

The survivors, of course, were committed to this dangerous adventure, and needed to figure out how to provide properly for themselves in order to avoid another disastrous winter. The Indians gave them invaluable help.

In April, the Mayflower headed back to England and the small band of settlers were on their own.

Well, not quite. God was watching over them. By His providential care, they made friends with the Monhegan Tribe, and became acquainted with Squanto who knew English and translated so that the Indians could teach them when to plant corn, how to catch fish, how to use the carcass as fertilizer, and who knows what else.

So it was, they dug in, built homes, and cultivated the soil.

The Pilgrims’ entire male working force consisted of twenty-one men and six of the older, stronger boys. With this small force, they tilled and planted with heavy hoes, (having no horses nor domestic animals), twenty acres of Indian corn, six acres of wheat, rye and barley, as well as small gardens near the homes consisting of peas and other small vegetables. (“The Pilgrims Story and the First Thanksgiving”)

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREAt the end of the summer, they reaped a bountiful harvest. And from a deep sense of gratitude, they held a feast of thanksgiving. Ninety Indians came and celebrated with the fifty-eight Pilgrims for three days.

Why? They had all lost loved ones, were in a strange land with no way of returning, and winter was coming.

They didn’t have health care. Or grocery stores. Or cars and freeways, let alone the Internet and Skype. They were cut off and alone. But they celebrated thanksgiving.

They were grateful that God had provided what they needed for that next season. And they trusted that He would do it again and again.

Perhaps our disaffected society isn’t particularly thankful (and I’m talking year round, not whether or not we remember to say thank you to God or to our family on Thanksgiving Day) because we don’t remember what it feels like to be without.

Maybe we need to take a short term mission trip to an underdeveloped nation or volunteer at a homeless shelter or walk the streets of a big city urban center to see what “being without” looks like.

Maybe we should pray that God would open our eyes to the countless blessings we enjoy–and keep our eyes open so that we live in joyful contentment rather than in disaffected greed or coveteousness.

Fantasy Friday – Remembering C. S. Lewis


CSLewis MemorialWhile many news outlets look back fifty years and recall President John F. Kennedy’s life and assassination, some are joining a host of book industry professionals and readers to commemorate C. S. Lewis who also died November 22, 1963.

One particularly interesting article compares Lewis, Kennedy, and a third notable man who died that day, Aldous Huxley, particularly looking at the differences in their religious beliefs: “50 years ago today, Kennedy, Huxley and Lewis followed different paths to the grave” (Desert News). Another excellent article, this one from the Religion News Service, interviews James Houston (who turned 91 yesterday), founder of the C. S. Lewis Institute, and a colleague of his at Oxford–“Why C.S. Lewis remains popular: a friend reflects.”

Over at Patheos, the Christ and Pop Culture contributors did something similar to what I did this week–they highlighted the books that meant a great deal to them. One writer chose The Problem of Pain, another A Grief Observed.

In “Why C. S. Lewis Matters Today,” agent Steve Laube commemorated Lewis with a video documentary which includes a five minute segment about “Rediscovering Christian Imagination” about which Mr. Laube says, “We in the publishing industry should have this reminder placed before us on a regular basis.”

Another significant video is that from the UK showing the ceremony held today honoring Lewis in which he was given a memorial in the Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.

Meanwhile, Moody Radio aired Dr. Alister McGrath, former atheist and now Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education at King’s College London, talking about his research into C. S. Lewis’s life.

Another great resource is a free e-book, C.S. Lewis – A Profile in Faith, made available by the C. S. Lewis Institute.

For those who love the many quotes from Lewis’s books, one site posted an accumulation of lesser know lines from his books or articles, including a wonderful paragraph on Lewis’s thoughts on death.

Still a different site gave a rundown on his “seven lesser known books.” They opened with Surprised by Joy, Lewis’s spiritual autobiography, which happens to be on my list of favorites of his books, and follows it with Till We Have Faces, my all time favorite Lewis book. Check out the other five rated as lesser known.

As for me, I was also impacted by Lewis’s better known books–his stories. The Great Divorce was especially significant because I had been afraid of dying as a child.

Back in those days people didn’t talk about dying and preachers didn’t preach much about dying. Or Heaven. Or Hell. At best, I had a fuzzy understanding of the afterlife. Then I found The Great Divorce. I suddenly grasped the fact that the eternal is what’s real, what’s solid, and this temporal life, as James so clearly says, is just a vapor that passes away. All my previous ideas had the two reversed.

Narnia impacted me in so many ways, not the least being inspiration to write fantasy. I loved the inventiveness of the world Lewis build from his imagination, but I also loved the way he brought truth to life in those stories. I wanted to write like that!

Till We Have Faces is such a great book, showing the effects of sin and the change yielding to the Master can bring. It’s steeped in mythology, but the end is such a beautiful picture of Christ clothing the repentant believer in His robes of righteousness. Again, for me, this story brought to life the reality of the spiritual.

While I appreciate Lewis’s nonfiction, one particular book had a lasting impact. I’ve already mentioned it: Surprised by Joy. Lewis expresses better than I’ve ever heard before the longing I’ve felt when I am at peace, happy, content, sometimes a condition induced by a piece of music or a rainbow amid a bank of pink sunset clouds or . . . a list of awe-inspiring things. But behind the beauty and the glory and the joy is that one moment of longing–that the beauty and glory and joy could stay and be that way always, only deeper (or, as I’ve since learned, a longing that I might be able to go further up and further in). This is what Lewis identified and what played a big part in his becoming a Christian. For me it crystallized something about my faith.

Perhaps others have said this before, but Ravi Zacharias just tweeted what I think best encapsulates C. S. Lewis’s writing: “C.S. Lewis had the ability to take people to the front door of reason through the back door of imagination.”

I don’t think I can overstate the influence that one man, that one apologist, writer, storyteller, thinker, child of God, brother in Christ, has had on my life. May God continue to use his words to impact the next generation and the next, as long as Christ should tarry.

Remembering C. S. Lewis – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


The-Voyage-of-the-Dawn-Treader-coverContinuing with my tribute to C. S. Lewis, I want to share another one of my favorite scenes from Narnia. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third (by order of publication) installment of the Chronicles, begins with a memorable few lines:

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence and his schoolmasters called him Scrubb. I can’t tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none.

The story features only Lucy and Edmund of the four Pevensie siblings. In a surprising manner they, along with Eustace, are pulled into Narnia. Eustace proves to be an insufferable companion, and through a little magic working on his own greed, he turns into a dragon. However, he doesn’t stay a dragon long, which is a good thing because he carried a deep wound on his arm that likely would have killed him.

When Edmund discovers Eustace is once again himself, Eustace relates how his change took place, a truly beautiful picture of the change God works in the life of every Christian:

Last night I was more miserable than ever. And that beastly arm-ring [the source of his wound] was hurting like anything–”

“Is that all right now?”

Eustace laughed–a different laugh from any Edmund had heard him give before–and slipped the bracelet easily off his arm. “There it is,” he said, “and anyone who likes can have it as far as I’m concerned. Well, as I say, I was lying awake and wondering what on earth would become of me. And then–but, mind you–it may have been all a dream. I don’t know.”

“Go on,” said Edmund with considerable patience.

“Well, anyway I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly towards me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it–if you can understand. Well, it came closer up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it.”

“You mean it spoke?”

“I don’t know. Now that you mention it, I don’t think it did. But it told me all the same. And I know I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden–trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.

“I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells—like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe, it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.

“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

“But just as I was going to put my foot into the water I looked down and saw that it was all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as it had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

“Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

“Then the lion said–but I don’t know if it spoke–You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know–if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off–just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt–and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me–I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on–and threw me into the water. I smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . .

“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me–”

(pp 87-91)

Published in: on November 21, 2013 at 6:44 pm  Comments Off on Remembering C. S. Lewis – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  
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Remembering C. S. Lewis – Prince Caspian


Prince_Caspian_coverFor me, some of C. S. Lewis’s most memorable lines, images, and scenes are in his Narnia tales. I want to share one of my favorites from Prince Caspian, the perfect illustration of “trust and obey,” and more.

Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy return to Narnia a year after they had become kings and queens in Aslan’s world. But everything is changed. The animals no longer talk–at least most don’t–and the people have forgotten Aslan.

Eventually, with the help of a Dwarf named Trumpkin, they realize that hundreds of years, perhaps a thousand, have passed during their earth year. To put things to rights, they aim to join up with Prince Caspian who believes in the old stories.

To reach him, they must cross a river which is now in a deep gorge. They are discussing how to navigate around this obstacle, then this:

“Look! Look! Look!” cried Lucy.

“Where? What?” asked everyone.

“The Lion,” said Lucy. “Aslan himself. Didn’t you see?” Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.

“Do you really mean–” began Peter.

“Where did you think you saw him?” asked Susan.

“Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”

“Where, Lu?” asked Peter.

“Right up there between those mountain ashes. No, this side of the gorge. And up, not down. Just the opposite of the way you wanted to go. And he wanted us to go where he was–up there.”

“How do you know that was what he wanted?” asked Edmund.

“He–I–I just know,” said Lucy, “by his face.”

The others all looked at each other in puzzled silence.

“Her Majesty may well have seen a lion,” put in Trumpkin. “There ae lions in these woods, I’ve been told. But it needn’t have been a friendly and talking lion any mor than the ear was a friendly and talking bear.”

“Oh, don’t be so stupid,” said Lucy. “Do you think I don’t know Aslan when I see him?

Eventually the five of them take a vote and choose to make their way downstream. After a hard march they encounter an enemy force and turn back. They camp, but during the night, Lucy hears someone call her name. She gets up and makes her way to a clearing where she finds Aslan.

“Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan,” sobbed Lucy. “At last.”

The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.

“Welcome, child,” he said.

“Aslan,” said Lucy,”you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

For a time she was so happy that she did not want to speak. But Aslan spoke.

“Lucy,” he said, “we must not lie her for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost today.”

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so–”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I–I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that . . . oh, well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right–somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh, dear,” said Lucy.”

“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me–what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

Do you mean that is what you want me to do?” gasped Lucy.

“Yes, little one,” said Aslan.

“Will the others see you too?” asked Lucy.

Certainly not at first,” said Aslan. “Later on, it depends.”

“But they won’t believe me,” said Lucy.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.

After Aslan reassures her and fills her with his lion-strength, she says she’s ready and goes to wake up the others. They’re all very sleepy and don’t believe her because they can’t see Aslan themselves.

[Susan said], “She’s been dreaming. Do lie down and go to sleep, Lucy.”

“And I do hope,” said Lucy in a tremulous voice,”that you will all come with me. Because–because I’ll have to go with him whether anyone else does or not.”

“Don’t talk nonsense, Lucy,” said Susan. “Of course you can’t go off on your own. Don’t let her, Peter. She’s being downright naughty.”

“I’ll go with her, if she must go,” said Edmund. She’s been right before.”

“I know she has,” said Peter. “And she may have been right this morning. We certainly had no luck going down the gorge. Still–at this hour of the night. And why should Aslan be invisible to us? He never used to be. It’s not like him.”

At last, despite all the objections, they set off, with Susan complaining the whole time.

Lucy went first, biting her lip and trying not to say all the things she thought of saying to Susan. But she forgot them when she fixed her eyes on Aslan. He turned and walked at a slow pace about thirty yards ahead of them. The others had only Lucy’s directions to guide them, for Aslan was not only invisible to them but silent as well. His big cat-like paws made no noise on the grass . . .

For a long way Aslan went along the top of the precipices. Then they came to a place where some little trees grew right on the edge. He turned and disappeared among them. Lucy held her breath, for it looked as if he had plunged over the cliff; but she was too busy keeping him in sight to stop and think about this. She quickened her pace and was soon among the trees herself. Looking down, she could see a steep and narrow path going slantwise down into the gorge between rocks, and Aslan descending it. He turned and looked at her with his happy eyes. Lucy clapped her hands and began to scramble down after him. From behind her she heard the voices of the others shouting, “Hi! Lucy! Look out, for goodness’ sake. You’re right on the edge of the gorge. Come back–” and then, a moment later Edmund’s voice saying, “No, she’s right. There is a way down.”

Published in: on November 20, 2013 at 5:46 pm  Comments Off on Remembering C. S. Lewis – Prince Caspian  
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Remembering C. S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters


lewis_Screwtape_Letters_coverThis year marks the 50th anniversary of C. S. Lewis’s death. He, like President John F. Kennedy and author Aldous Huxley, died November 22, 1963. As part of the tribute (over at Spec Faith I’ve already written this post and this commemorating his life and writing) to this man who has influenced so many Christian writers, I thought it appropriate to let his writing speak for him.

So here is a flavor of The Screwtape Letters, one of my favorites of C. S. Lewis’s fiction.

My Dear Wormwood,

I note what you say about guiding your patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naif? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the daily press, radio, television and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous–that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awaken the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real.”

Remember, he is not, like you, a pure spirit. Never having been a human (Oh, that abominable advantage of the Enemy’s) you don’t realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the Metropolitan Library. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said “Quite. In fact, much too important to tackle at the end of a morning,” the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,” he was already half way to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of “real life” (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all “that sort of thing” just couldn’t be true. He knew he’d had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of talking about “that inarticulate sense for actuality which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberration of mere logic.” He is now safe in Our Father’s house.

You begin to see the point? Thanks to the processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes. Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things. Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch or see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don’t let him get away from that invaluable “real life.” But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is “the results of modern investigation.” Do remember, Wormwood, you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE

(pp 21-23, The Screwtape Letters)

Published in: on November 19, 2013 at 5:55 pm  Comments (4)  
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On Being Silenced


Speak no evil monkeyThere’s apparently a brouhaha among certain elements of those professing Christianity that started on Twitter as a result of a conference with an overwhelming number of male speakers. One person evidently pointed this out, and an exchange of Tweets ensued. Next came blog posts.

I’m uninformed about the particulars. However, a familiar claim jumped out at me–one that surfaced in the discussion I found myself in a month or so ago. The common thread is that people who take a different approach, who counsel unity, who disagree are trying to silence criticism.

Here are the lines that jumped out at me:

I don’t like being divisive. Believe me.

But I don’t like being silenced either. (Emphasis in the original)

So “don’t try to silence me” appears to be the current trump card in disagreements. The troubling thing to me is that those calling for unity are being lumped in with those “trying to silence people.”

The implication is that a call for unity requires the person raising a criticism to back down, and therefore to be quiet.

There is the possibility that this is precisely what the critics need to do. I’m astounded when I read about organizational infighting as if it is a power struggle. Here’s an example:

The reality is, some folks benefit from the status quo, and it is in their best interest to characterize every challenge to the status quo as wholly negative and a threat to Christian unity. This makes it difficult for those who perceive inequity within the status quo to challenge it without being labeled as troublemakers out to make Jesus look bad.

In other words, the advantage goes to the powerful because things rarely change without friction. (Excerpt from “On being ‘divisive’. . .”)

Status quo. Challenge. Threat. Inequity. Powerful. Are we talking about a government, a business? Since when is the Church all about getting into have and have-not camps? Since when are we looking at the Body of Christ as specialty groups, one in a “position of privilege” and another “speaking from the margins”?

Let’s say for the sake of argument that these groups exist. What does God’s Word say about quarrels and conflicts that might arise? James takes the hardest line:

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. (4:1-2)

There are all kinds of other passages in the New Testament that address the issue of Christians and how we are to treat one another (with love), how we are to view one another (as one body–not as Jews versus Greeks, circumcised versus uncircumcised, male versus female, rich versus poor), and what it takes to accomplish this goal (the humility of Christ).

I want to stress what James said, though: You do not have because you do not ask.

Would our good God not care about inequity within the body of believers? We know He does because Acts records an inequity in the church with certain widows (the most marginalized members of that society) being forgotten. The Church leadership dealt with the problem, so we know this was not an insignificant matter. God cared for those widows and He cared for us in the 21st century to have the example of how the 1st century church handled the situation.

So why, I wonder, are those who are concerned about the number of women speakers at a host of Christian conferences not content to ask? Primarily I believe we should be asking God to change any problems in the Church. He cares for His temple of living stones being built up, founded on the choice and precious cornerstone of His Son.

Will God ignore us if we ask?

James again:

You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (4:3)

So yes, it’s possible prayer for women to be put in higher profile positions within the Church might not be answered. I have no way of knowing what motive women have who think it is better to hear a woman speaker than it is to hear a man. I have no way of knowing if they have brought their concerns before God in prayer.

I do know that we are to speak the truth in love, not in snarky tweets. And it is the way we speak to each other, not our agreement on every point, that is to set us apart from the rest of the world.

Published in: on November 14, 2013 at 6:56 pm  Comments Off on On Being Silenced  
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The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3


shadow lamp cover

A Review

Having spent some time on a couple aspects of The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead to which I responded less than favorably, I now want to give a full review of this installment of the Bright Empires series.

The Story. Thankfully Mr. Lawhead provided a succinct, well-written summary of what took place previously in the first three books, as well as a list and brief description of the characters. These helps made it quite easy to pick up the various story threads and follow them. And there are quite a few of these threads now, and the number seems to be expanding right along with the omniverse about which Mr. Lawhead is writing.

The two characters I still think of as the protagonists, Kit and Mina, have been reunited and now, along with a group of lesser characters, are trying to return to the Stone Age where Kit had seen the spirit well. To do this they must acquire new shadow lamps, but the key ingredient which makes them work is something they can’t determine. They need to analyze the little they have of the mysterious ingredient, acquire more, and return to 16th century Prague in order to have the lamps made.

Meanwhile, Lady Haven Fayth and her servant Giles have stumbled into a place and time they didn’t intend to visit, or at least to stay. Lord Burleigh and his mean (as opposed to merry) men decide to force Etzel the baker to reveal Mina’s whereabouts, and Charles Flinders-Petrie decides to defy the will of his father and retrieve the skin map from his grandfather’s tomb.

Of course there are other goings on, even a new player, and chronology is fairly meaningless.

Strengths. Mystery pushes this story along to a degree. There’s a great deal to learn, and an increasing amount of information that can lead to discovery of the ultimate prize, which looks less and less like a treasure.

However, for me, relationships make this book. I am most engaged when Kit and Cass begin to open up to each other, when Etzel proves his faithfulness (though most of the way he seems less important in this book, he proves in the end to be a man made of the stuff of heroes), when Tony is searching for his daughter, even when Lord Burleigh selects and trains his men.

I found the pace of the book to be somewhat leisurely. I took my time meandering through the omniverse with the various characters–which seems to fit since time is more or less a moot point in this space/time travel.

For example, in one scene readers look back to the occasion when Lord Burleigh selects his four henchmen, then takes them on a voyage to China where they are to learn to do as he says and to become the fighters he wants them to be. Before long, however we are again in Prague with the trained foursome stalking Mina and Kit at Lord Burleigh’s command.

Mr. Lawhead is a master of setting his scenes, and I always felt as if he was in control, as if I had enough information to know which character I was following and where we had landed.

Each group seems to have a fairly defined set of motives, too, except perhaps Lady Fayth and Giles. Both of them seem as if they could surprise us readers but also a character or two with an unexpected betrayal or much needed support.

There’s still mystery surrounding Douglas Flinders-Petrie and some gaps with Lord Burleigh as well (how did he get involved in the search for the skin map in the first place?) But Mr. Lawhead’s writing assures me that readers are in good hands. He will deliver the answers to the questions he’s raised and will join the threads he’s unraveled.

The overarching feature, of course, is ley line travel, and this came out as more of a factor than ever with the recovery of the map from the tomb where it had been placed, the question about the energy source for the shadow lamps, and the theorizing about the formation of ley lines and their part in the omniverse.

In short, the writing, the story, the characters, the setting are all stellar.

Weaknesses. My first question is whether or not this five-book series can indeed be wrapped up in five books. I trust Mr. Lawhead as far as believing he has a plan for each of the threads he’s brought to the forefront, but from my perspective, I can’t see how they will all conclude in one more novel.

As a greater concern, I felt this story included too much didactic exposition. There were several large sections–one, an entire chapter–devoted to laying out theory.

One particular theory was intended to raise the stakes and show that the cosmos was at risk. I didn’t find this compelling, perhaps because of my own worldview of the cosmos. In question is the continued existence of creation.

But that raises theological questions. A key chapter draws to an end with this line: “It would be the end of everything.” This statement can’t be true if God is self-existent and not part of creation. Since He is, presumably this “end” would not be the end of God. And since He has promised His people an eternal inheritance, presumably it would not be the end of the place He is preparing. If this cosmic “everything” includes God, it’s heretical, and if it does not include God, it lacks potency.

There’s also the question of God’s sovereignty. There’s the idea that something has gone wrong and will end the cosmos, not at the Omega Point which God planned. I can’t help but wonder how these characters know this cataclysmic end isn’t the aforesaid Omega Point. There’s some suggestion here that they might know more about what’s going on than God does.

Recommendation. The story itself continues to grow, and I will eagerly look forward to the final Bright Empires volume. Mr. Lawhead knows how to artfully present an incredible story, complex without being confusing. This one isn’t my favorite of the books so far, but it moved the story along and certainly is a must read for anyone invested in the series. It’s thought provoking, even if I found some of the conclusions the characters reached, outside the scope of sound theology.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.