Thursday, October 27, 2011

Working In Rocky Soil

My cabin has rocky soil.  I did not know the meaning of rocky soil until I tried to plant a tree.  My home soil is a mixture of loamy clay with a stone here or there.  I thought of it as rocky clay soil, but almost everything grew well.

The cabin is a different story.  I decided to transplant a maple tree that had sprung up from seed in a flower bed.  I wanted the maple near the fire pit to provide shade from the hot summer sun. 

My digging tool of choice is a flat blade garden space handed down from my parents’ days of digging. Its blade slices through soil and drills straight down to make deep, straight-sided holes.  Or so it did, previously.

My first push into the soil; the spade went maybe 1/2 inch.  A rock, I thought, so I moved slightly and tried again.  Again it was stopped.  I crouched on my hands and knees and started digging with a trowel to uncover that rock.  I dug around it and under it and behind it and finally, freed it from the soil and tossed it aside.

I pushed my trowel in the hole to see if there were any other rocks.  I dug rock upon rock from that tiny hole for that tiny seedling.  At the end, I had two piles:  a small pile of clay soil and a large pile of rocks.  I had enough rocks to build a small column or to begin a rock wall. 


Did you know that Ohio has a state soil?  No, it’s not rocky clay.  The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a site which will tell you about soil.  That is where I found out that my rocky clay soil is recommended only for growing trees or pasturing animals.  If you are interested in learning about your soil, your county auditor’s map may show soil type; when you know that designation you can find more information on the ODNR site.

This morning I was reminded of the rocky soil (clay) when I was reading Jesus’ parable about the Kingdom of God (Matthew 13).  He compared the growth of the Kingdom to seed planted on different soils; and yes, He mentioned the rocky type.  The rocky soil receives the seed and it sprouts fine in the top 1/2 inch.  But the roots never grow properly, so the plant is stunted and eventually dies. 

Removing rocks from my cabin property is more trouble than it’s worth, because I don’t intend to farm there.  But if you intend to have a relationship with the living God, and cultivate that relationship, the rocks that keep you from living true have to go.  In the old days, people tilled land with oxen or horses yoked together.  Jesus told us, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light;” or as The Voice New Testament puts it, “My yoke fits your curves.” In history and practice, yokes have been used both to train and to enslave.  Jesus’ yoke is the training kind; He trains us to live like the people we were created to be, to live true. 

If we want to live the lives we were created to live, we must do so intentionally.  If I had merely kept shoving my shovel into the soil, depending on how much force I applied, I would have succeed only in either breaking the shovel or making numerous small dents in the soil.  But that was not my intention.  I intended to plant that tree, whatever it took.

It’s the same way with life, we must “systematically and progressively” arrange our lives to obtain the desired result.  Whether it’s planting a tree in rocky soil, or becoming a friend and disciple of God, the principle is the same.  Take on the yoke, study the Bible, associate with other Christians, and chart a path to your objective.  You won’t be disappointed.



This is one of the older trees on the cabin property and what my tree will look like in years to come, after growing true and strong.





Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Getting Started

Someone asked me how to start writing.  Here are some tips:

  • Make the time.  Every day, if you can.  If you can’t manage some spare time every day, take time whenever you can.
  • Use your preferred writing medium:  computer or paper and start writing whatever is in your mind or heart. 
  • Write anything.  Write everything.  Don’t stop until you’re ready. 
  • Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation; you can take care of that later when you edit.
  • When an idea strikes, wherever you are, jot it down so you can use it later.
  • A good book to get you started might be Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  Easy to read with some good suggestions.

Remember, it’s not how well you start; it’s how well you finish.  So start in whatever way works for you and then work at it until you finish.  I tend to write fairly complete first drafts, but my novel may be in it’s 20th rewrite! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Christmas Creeps into October


Christmas music crept onto my IPod this month.  No stealthy invasion this;  first, the IPod error sound then suddenly I am listening to O Holy Night.  A curse that commercializes or a blessing?  I can walk into Lowes or Kmart and see Christmas decorations and shudder at the rampant commercialism, each store trying to beat the others in Christmas sales.  And it jars me because I am not yet ready to think about Christmas when leaves still decorate the autumn trees.


But somehow, this October, the words of O Holy Night do not strike me as commercial, or out of place, or jarring.  In fact, for two days O Holy Night was all I listened to during my morning dog walk (prayer time).  Let me tell you why.

A young woman is gunned down on the sidewalk, meth labs are raided by police, my neighbor clear cut virtually all of his trees, the United States is bankrupt, bills are piling up, and sometimes it's all too much for me to bear.  I don’t even know how to pray. 

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

Now I have the words to offer my heartache to God.  There is someone greater than the sin and error in our world.  “Jesus, let them look to you to relieve them of sin and error.  Heal your land.  Let us see you in your holiness.  Let us know you; Only you give worth to our souls.  When we truly know our worth, we won’t harm, we won’t kill, we won’t destroy.  And then a new and glorious morn will break and we will fall on our knees and hear the angel voices.  Come Lord Jesus, come; we need you.”  And then,

A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

But, there’s more:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
and in His Name all oppression shall cease.

Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother.  In an instant, I am standing with the victims of crime, with the police as they confront drug dealers, with nature as it stands against the abuse.  All who don’t know Jesus’ worth (and therefore, their own) are slaves: slaves to sin, slaves to greed. And such are you and I without Jesus.  The slave is indeed my brother, for only Jesus frees us both and brings us into his family.  “Break the chains, break the oppression,” I ask him.  “Come and make yourself known.”   

I remember that great moment in the movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where Faun Tumnus stood frozen in the frozen land; frozen and cold, bound in frost, unmoving, unthinking.  Aslan appears and breathes upon his most loved friend.  As Aslan breathes, the ice melts and Tumnus is free.

That is the picture of Jesus.  In his kindness and mercy, he breathes new life into us and frees us.  In his name, by his power, all oppression will cease.  Truly he taught us to love one another.  His law is love and his gospel is peace.  It can’t be any clearer than that.

All at once, this out-of-time Christmas carol has breathed new life into me as I pray for Jesus to bring his kingdom and breathe new life into this world.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!



Celebrate Christmas this October and tell me how you did it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Oops! The Ones that Got Away

When I posted about the books and journals I am reading I forgot two of them.  Why?  I’m reading them on my Kindle and forgot about them.  The others were lying around waiting to be spotted.  Kindle books are all neatly organized and hidden.

Riverteeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative:  Not only is this compelling reading, but it’s published by Ashland University in Ohio, so it is the only local journal I read.

Mercury Falls

Mercury Falls—a funny irreverent tale of the Apocalypse.  I ‘m only halfway through and I don’t usually read humor, but this is one cheap impulse buy I’m not regretting.

Dug Down Deep: Building Your Life on Truths That Last—I have a review copy of this I am reading.  I’m starting the 4th Chapter and would categorize this as an easy-to-read guide to theology. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Reading Now


New Letters: A Magazine of Writing and Art—Essays, Memoirs, Articles, Poetry, Fiction , Reviews and Commentaries, and Artwork.

Books and Culture—I rely on this for many of the books I read. . . especially the fiction.  It has taken me into genres I had never considered.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print—Covers POV, dialogue, mechanics, interior monologue with exercises at the end of each chapter.  Good for individuals or a group.
The Voice New Testament: Revised & Updated

An interesting concept.  Writers have added words (in italics) to make the reading clearer.  Text boxes add commentary and all dialogue is present in script format.  Meant for reading silently or aloud, I’m finding this refreshing and insightful
Letters to a Young Novelist—this is a month by month reading for our creative writing workshop.  

T.S. Eliot

I used part of this (IV) in my novel.  It had little meaning until I heard it read.  You can click on the link below to listen, or read it yourself then see how to read it with meaning.

(No. 4 of 'Four Quartets')

T.S. Eliot


Midwinter spring is its own season

Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,

Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.

When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,

The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,

In windless cold that is the heart's heat,

Reflecting in a watery mirror

A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.

And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,

Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire

In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing

The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell

Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time

But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow

Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom

Of snow, a bloom more sudden

Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,

Not in the scheme of generation.

Where is the summer, the unimaginable

Zero summer?

              If you came this way,

Taking the route you would be likely to take

From the place you would be likely to come from,

If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges

White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.

It would be the same at the end of the journey,

If you came at night like a broken king,

If you came by day not knowing what you came for,

It would be the same, when you leave the rough road

And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade

And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for

Is only a shell, a husk of meaning

From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled

If at all. Either you had no purpose

Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured

And is altered in fulfillment. There are other places

Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,

Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—

But this is the nearest, in place and time,

Now and in England.

              If you came this way,

Taking any route, starting from anywhere,

At any time or at any season,

It would always be the same: you would have to put off

Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,

Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity

Or carry report. You are here to kneel

Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more

Than an order of words, the conscious occupation

Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

And what the dead had no speech for, when living,

They can tell you, being dead: the communication

Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

Here, the intersection of the timeless moment

Is England and nowhere. Never and always.


Ash on and old man's sleeve

Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.

Dust in the air suspended

Marks the place where a story ended.

Dust inbreathed was a house—

The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,

The death of hope and despair,

       This is the death of air.

There are flood and drought

Over the eyes and in the mouth,

Dead water and dead sand

Contending for the upper hand.

The parched eviscerate soil

Gapes at the vanity of toil,

Laughs without mirth.

       This is the death of earth.

Water and fire succeed

The town, the pasture and the weed.

Water and fire deride

The sacrifice that we denied.

Water and fire shall rot

The marred foundations we forgot,

Of sanctuary and choir.

       This is the death of water and fire.

In the uncertain hour before the morning

     Near the ending of interminable night

     At the recurrent end of the unending

After the dark dove with the flickering tongue

     Had passed below the horizon of his homing

     While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin

Over the asphalt where no other sound was

     Between three districts whence the smoke arose

     I met one walking, loitering and hurried

As if blown towards me like the metal leaves

     Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.

     And as I fixed upon the down-turned face

That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge

     The first-met stranger in the waning dusk

     I caught the sudden look of some dead master

Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled

     Both one and many; in the brown baked features

     The eyes of a familiar compound ghost

Both intimate and unidentifiable.

     So I assumed a double part, and cried

     And heard another's voice cry: 'What! are you here?'

Although we were not. I was still the same,

     Knowing myself yet being someone other—

     And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed

To compel the recognition they preceded.

     And so, compliant to the common wind,

     Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,

In concord at this intersection time

     Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,

     We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.

I said: 'The wonder that I feel is easy,

     Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:

     I may not comprehend, may not remember.'

And he: 'I am not eager to rehearse

     My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.

     These things have served their purpose: let them be.

So with your own, and pray they be forgiven

     By others, as I pray you to forgive

     Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten

And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.

     For last year's words belong to last year's language

     And next year's words await another voice.

But, as the passage now presents no hindrance

     To the spirit unappeased and peregrine

     Between two worlds become much like each other,

So I find words I never thought to speak

     In streets I never thought I should revisit

     When I left my body on a distant shore.

Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us

     To purify the dialect of the tribe

     And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,

Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age

     To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.

     First, the cold friction of expiring sense

Without enchantment, offering no promise

     But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit

     As body and soul begin to fall asunder.

Second, the conscious impotence of rage

     At human folly, and the laceration

     Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.

And last, the rending pain of re-enactment

     Of all that you have done, and been; the shame

     Of motives late revealed, and the awareness

Of things ill done and done to others' harm

     Which once you took for exercise of virtue.

     Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.

From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit

     Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire

     Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.'

The day was breaking. In the disfigured street

     He left me, with a kind of valediction,

     And faded on the blowing of the horn.


There are three conditions which often look alike

Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:

Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment

From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference

Which resembles the others as death resembles life,

Being between two lives—unflowering, between

The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:

For liberation—not less of love but expanding

Of love beyond desire, and so liberation

From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country

Begins as attachment to our own field of action

And comes to find that action of little importance

Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,

History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,

The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,

To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

Sin is Behovely, but

All shall be well, and

All manner of thing shall be well.

If I think, again, of this place,

And of people, not wholly commendable,

Of no immediate kin or kindness,

But of some peculiar genius,

All touched by a common genius,

United in the strife which divided them;

If I think of a king at nightfall,

Of three men, and more, on the scaffold

And a few who died forgotten

In other places, here and abroad,

And of one who died blind and quiet

Why should we celebrate

These dead men more than the dying?

It is not to ring the bell backward

Nor is it an incantation

To summon the spectre of a Rose.

We cannot revive old factions

We cannot restore old policies

Or follow an antique drum.

These men, and those who opposed them

And those whom they opposed

Accept the constitution of silence

And are folded in a single party.

Whatever we inherit from the fortunate

We have taken from the defeated

What they had to leave us—a symbol:

A symbol perfected in death.

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

By the purification of the motive

In the ground of our beseeching.


The dove descending breaks the air

With flame of incandescent terror

Of which the tongues declare

The one discharge from sin and error.

The only hope, or else despair

     Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre—

     To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.

Love is the unfamiliar Name

Behind the hands that wove

The intolerable shirt of flame

Which human power cannot remove.

     We only live, only suspire

     Consumed by either fire or fire.


What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make and end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from. And every phrase

And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,

Taking its place to support the others,

The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,

An easy commerce of the old and the new,

The common word exact without vulgarity,

The formal word precise but not pedantic,

The complete consort dancing together)

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,

Every poem an epitaph. And any action

Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat

Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.

We die with the dying:

See, they depart, and we go with them.

We are born with the dead:

See, they return, and bring us with them.

The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree

Are of equal duration. A people without history

Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern

Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails

On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel

History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this


We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Through the unknown, unremembered gate

When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning;

At the source of the longest river

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.

Quick now, here, now, always—

A condition of complete simplicity

(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.

Electronic Note Taking

When you visit any website, Amazon, a blog, a journal, any website, you might want to take notes on what you find there.  I take notes on information relating to my novels and short stories, my business, recipes, and other matters.  In the past I have recommended Microsoft One Note and have used it extensively.  The time has come to make a new recommendation.

First, let me explain why I have moved away from Microsoft One Note. Microsoft has put One Note in the place where Apple computers once lived:  in the land of non-compatibility.  In the past, if you wanted to play a certain game or use a certain app on a Mac, you couldn’t.   But Apple has gained wisdom while Microsoft’s petty attitude of superiority is costing it a loyal customer.  Simply consider one Apple app:  ITunes.  You can use it on a Mac or on a PC or on your smartphone.  Now consider the equivalent Microsoft app:  Windows Media Player.  You can use it on a PC or on your smartphone, but only if it is a Windows smartphone.  Get the picture?

The same thing holds true for One Note.  You can use it on a PC or on a Windows smartphone or an IPhone, but not on an Android phone, and certainly not Blackberry or Palm.  What if you want to use a PC, an Android phone, and an Ipad?  Say goodbye to One Note and hello to EvernoteEvernote works on almost every smartphone, tablet, and with Mac, PC, Android, Blackberry, and Palm. 

What are the functional differences between One Note and Evernote?  I set up Evernote on my Windows 7 PC and imported my notes from One Note.  All my notes from all my folders imported into a single notebook in Evernote.  However they were tagged with the name of their folder (Recipes, Cabin, Journal, etc.) so it was a simple matter to set up Evernote notebooks with those names and move the notes to the appropriate notebook. 

I used One Note mainly for saving web clippings.  I copied an article of interest to me and pasted it into Evernote.  It worked as seamlessly as One Note and looked better.  Like Amazon’s Kindle, Evernote give you an email address to let you send notes directly to Evernote.  I haven’t tried it, but it sounds like a good idea.  I can then forward an interesting email to that email address and have it saved in Evernote.  Cool.  Evernote stores your notes online, so you can access them from any computer.  Finally, Evernote is free for a basic account, which is all I and most people need.  If you want the Premium Account it only costs $5 month or $45/year. 

What else can you do with Evernote?  You can share your note by emailing it or posting it on Twitter or Facebook.  I emailed one to myself to test it and I received the body of the note in the body of the email.  I haven’t yet tried posting to Twitter or Facebook, but I expect it will work as seamlessly.

Is there any reason to continue using One Note?  I haven’t found one.  If you have, please let me know.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Whisper of Peace: A Review

A Whisper of Peace is a novel which takes place predominately in the 19th century Alaskan wilderness.  Of all the new novels by Christian authors I have read this year, this one was the most well-crafted and well-written.
A Whisper of Peace is the story of three people who are searching for peace in their lives.  Clay, the son of a pastor ministering to Paiutes, has left his home in the Oklahoma Territory.  Armed with high expectations of following in his father’s footsteps, he tries, with little success, to start a successful church among the Athabascan natives of Alaska.  His half-sister, Vivian, joins him to get a fresh start from the secret which haunts her past.  The first Athabascan Clay and Vivian  meet is Lizzie.  Deserted by her Caucasian father and an outcast from her tribe, she seeks peace through reconciliation with her grandparents and finding her father in San Francisco. Clay and Vivian try to heal a generational rift between Lizzie, and her grandparents, an action which puts Clay and Vivian at odds with the very people they want to help and creates a dilemma between helping the one and helping the many. 
These three characters find their lives taking turns that they had not expected.  Vivian finds that her secret is not as she had believed.  She changes her life to reflect her new perspective.  Lizzie discovers her life objective changed; She changes, too.  Clay realizes that church is not what he thinks it is--a brief note from his father and he immediately feels better.  Predictably Clay and Lizzie fall in love.  You will have to read the book for yourself to find out what happens.
I enjoyed the author’s depictions of wilderness life:  canoeing, hunting, snaring, and fishing, and her description of tribal culture. (You can learn more about the Athabascan people here.) I also enjoyed the two child characters that were links between Lizzie and the missionaries and her Athabascan people.  I found most characters’ physical descriptions believable. 
I have only two complaints about the book.  First, I couldn’t generate any particular like or dislike for any of the characters.  Clay and Lizzie both have clear-cut goals and a strong determination to achieve their goals.  Vivian doesn’t know what she wants.  I wanted to find some point of identification with the characters, but their problems seemed so easily handled.  Indeed, some major problems arise, then without further comment, they disappear.  One example is a head injury which debilitates Clay until all at once it is no longer an issue.  The heavy internal issues that the characters wrestle with don’t seem to consume them as they would a real person.  At the end, the novel skips ahead two years and shows all the characters perfectly happy. 
My other complaint, and it may be related to the first one, is that the book seems old.  Not old in the sense of a timeless classic, but old in the sense that it tries to communicate to someone living in another time period, I’m just not sure where.  I recently reviewed a novel that contained a “chaste kiss;”  For a love story, this novel has no kiss at all and little passion.
Sure, Clay shows great passion for what he wants to do for God, but little passion for anyone or anything else.  Indeed, his passion for Lizzie, the woman he loves, comes only in fits and spurts and he shows very little care for his step-sister Vivian. I want an author to make me feel what the characters feel and these characters feel very little. 
That being said, this is the most well-written new Christian novel I have read this year.  There were no glaring spelling or grammar errors.  If you want to read a book purely for entertainment and to get a small glimpse of 19th century frontier life, pick this up.  But if you want to enter the world of people who lead deep lives that resonate into the 21st century, find another novel. 

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

EBooks and Their Readers

At a past writer’s conference, one of the presenters gave a talk on the ontology of books.  His main point seemed to be that the eBook was a failure. It was a failure because it did not give the emotional satisfaction of a book.  It was a failure because an eBook cost as much or more to produce than a book.  He spoke about the printing industry and the emotional bond he had with his father through his father’s library.

At the time, I partially agreed.  I had no knowledge of the printing industry and how it compared to eBook production and his statements seemed reasonable.  My personal experience with my Kindle was a love/hate experience, but the love slightly outweighed the hate.  Sure the Kindle was expensive, needed to be charged, could be broken, and did not have the tactile feel of a book.  But I did find it convenient to carry.  I am usually reading several books at a time and don’t’ always know which one I will feel like reading in a particular situation.  It is also convenient not to have to move the book light every time I turn a page.  Yes, I read at night in bed.

As I have used it over the years, however, I have found the benefits to outweigh the detriments.  The Kindle is great for notes.  I don’t carry a notebook when I read; I lose notebooks.  Nor do I carry a highlighter or post-its.  The Kindle lets me mark passages and refer to them later.  If I have forgotten to mark a passage, I can do a search.  The search function is very useful when I review a book.  I can easily count the number of times an author has used a word or term.  And when I am ready to write my review, I can go back through my pages of notes and pick out quotes to use in the review.  My notes give me a link back to their location in the book so I can check context.

What don’t I like?  Sure, the battery lasts a long, long time, but I dread the day when I pick it up to write a review and it says “low battery.”   If that does happen, I can go to and find my notes, but not link to the context.  Kindle for PC or Mac or Smartphone lets you sync with your computer or phone.  You can find your notes and link to the context.  For some books this does not work at all.  If you, as I do, acquire some of your books from a source other than Amazon, you may not be able to see your notes anywhere but your Kindle.  (*Some of the publishers I review for have their own download link for review copies.)

Library books are available for the Kindle but they are limited.  I had been hoping that borrowing with the Kindle would provide a better experience than the library.  I don’t usually borrow library books, because I have trouble returning them by the due date.  EBooks can be borrowed for two weeks only.  That short time really doesn’t bother me because there are so few books available that I would want to read.

As a writer, I keep track of the publishing industry.  The latest figures show eBooks outselling paper books.  And why not?  An eBook is instantly accessible, never smells musty, never becomes damaged.  It’s a different method of reading but the words and thoughts are the same.  Whether you prefer paper or eBook is up to you.  I’ll push to have my novels published in both forms, but will read them on my Kindle.  They were composed on a computer; why not read them on an electronic device?  Let me know what you think about eBooks and Ereaders.  Are you using them?  Do you love or hate them?

Friday, October 7, 2011

When I Wanted to Quit the Church

Have you ever wanted to quit church?  Perhaps you never started.  Here is the story of why I wanted to quit church and why I ended up staying.

Seventh grade was the worst year of my life. 

Fourth grade had been the worst year.  New school, new city, no friends.  Even though I loved the quiet area where we lived, I felt like I was drifting through life, like I was being done to rather than doing.  I wasn’t yet old enough to see the light ahead. 

Following fourth grade, fifth grade was the worst year of my life.  New school, new city, no friends, and a densely populated area.  Life was horrible at home and I only wanted to hide under my desk at school.  My walk from school took me past a library.  I hid in my room and read books.

After fifth grade, sixth grade was the worst year of my life.  Same school, same city, no friends.  I grew my hair long and continued to cart home as many library books as I could carry.  In school I hid behind my long hair and at home I hid in the books I read.    

But seventh grade was the worst of all.  Same city, new school, no friends; it was the other changes that brought new lows.  I no longer passed a library on my walk to school and I was expected to go to school dances and participate in school  and church activities. 

The high points:  I had a poem published in the school paper and I met a friend.  It wasn’t a particularly good poem and we were friends for all of the wrong reasons.  We were the kind of friends who never spent the night at each other’s house.  So what made us friends?  We were the ones who didn’t fit in.  We went to dances and agreed not to dance so neither of us could feel bad that we weren’t asked.  We went out for cheerleading knowing that we both would fail.  This friendship of avoidance and failure ended when I left that school after two years. 

The low point:  my search for meaning.  I was enrolled in catechism classes that year.  They were taught by the pastor of the church.  I loved church.  I loved the music, the liturgy.  It was a place of safety and security.  The one place with the promise of “all is well and all will be well.”  My heart leapt with the words of the Te Deum Laudamus (We Praise Thee, O God) which we sang as a sort of chant. 

We praise thee, O God :
    we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee :
    the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud :
    the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim :
    continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy :
    Lord God of Sabaoth*;

Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty :
    of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world :
    doth acknowledge thee. . .

But the same man who led that church couldn’t be bothered with the questions of pre-teen girl  searching for meaning.  I don’t remember what I asked; nor do I remember the response.  I only remember that his response ridiculed me in front of the others in that catechism class.   I begged my mother to let me drop out, but she refused.  I begged to stay home from church, but she refused that, also. 

I finished the class and to this day remember only these words:  “I will fear and love God,” a phrase that appropriately states the ambiguity of faith.  But I had no room for ambiguity in my life; fear overwhelmed love.  I finished that class without asking any more questions, donned the white robe, and was subsequently accepted into the church, a church that was no longer safe and secure.  A church of hypocrisy and fear.  

And yet, I knew there was something more. Somewhere. 

Now an adult,  I know that all churches are filled with the same types of people we find anywhere else:  the broken narcissists, the depressed hypocrites, the maudlin pundits.  (Yes, I had to throw them in to lighten this dire non-diatribe.)  But the churches I respect most are those where the people realize their own lack and look to Jesus, where they acknowledge that we live in a stasis between what is and what should be, and where none of us is bigger than God. 

Yes, I said “we” and “us.” I cannot leave the church because, as it hobbles along, its crutch is Jesus and that’s the same secure aid I need in my life.  And the people hobbling with me are the ones I need to be with in my worst of times and my best.

But I will never stop searching; not for the best church or the best people, but for the best life lived in Christ in his church.  I want to stand in the church of the here and the yet to come, the church of the crumpled and crushed, the church of the damaged and destroyed, the church without pretension.  As part of that church, I am part of something bigger and more important than an Ohio State Football game and its fickle fans (no pun intended.).  As part of that church, my life has greater purpose than I could have ever envisioned.

Church is the place of the holy ones of God who are called together through wars and hardship, wins and losses, struggles and pain, to lie prostrate, kneel, or stand and worship the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  Here is where I join the saints, angels, and martyrs to shout, sing or whimper, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Here is where “the saints go marching in” and I do, do, do “want to be in that number.”

We are trav'ling in the footsteps
Of those who've gone before,
And we'll all be reunited,
On a new and sunlit shore,
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
And when the sun refuse to shine
And when the sun refuse to shine
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the sun refuse to shine
And when the moon turns red with blood
And when the moon turns red with blood
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the moon turns red with blood
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the trumpet sounds its call
Some say this world of trouble,
Is the only one we need,
But I'm waiting for that morning,
When the new world is revealed.
Oh When the new world is revealed
Oh When the new world is revealed
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the new world is revealed
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

Does your heart cry to be in that number?  Do you feel outcast, rejected?  As I was writing this, I happened upon a video that may say it better.  And no, going back to church doesn’t have to happen on September 18, December 25, or any other propitious date.  Whenever you go, it is the right time. 

If you are looking for a church like the one in the video or the one that I want, don’t be afraid to ask me for a recommendation.  Here are two I recommend:  Vineyard Church of Columbus, Vineyard Chillicothe.  And there are many others.  Please leave a comment and let me know whether your pain kept you from church or brought you to church. 

I leave you with a lighter song from the early 1980’s.

*Sabaoth is the Anglicizing of the Latinizing of the Greek of the Hebrew word for “armies.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Soul Reader By Gerard D. Webster: A Review

The Soul Reader: A Novel of Suspense
The Soul Reader has a name.  No it’s not simply the name of the book but also the description of the protagonist, Ward McNulty, who has the power (but only in sufficient light) to discern a person’s spiritual state.  Like any good hero, however, he fails to recognize his own failings. . . until the middle of the book.

This novel begins as a perilous adventure to discover the mastermind behind a series of murders.  McNulty, a journalist, has hit bottom: jobless, homeless, and crippled, when his erstwhile girlfriend, Carrie, hands him a book deal partnership where his investigative journalism skills come to the fore in their quest to expose the mastermind behind the murders of members of a large commercial fraud, including the murder of McNulty’s father.  The story unfolds with the involvement of a retired police detective, a member of the FBI, a Colombian saint, and an Italian businessman.  And let’s not forget to throw in the assassin with no identity other than “Culebra,” until the middle of the book.

Yes, it’s the middle of the book where the loose ends start to be tied while the novel falls apart.  First, let me state that if you are a traditional Roman Catholic, this novel may enthrall you.  But for other readers, it is a mess.  Disturbing news reports of McNulty’s demise cause McNulty’s mother and wannabe girlfriend to sit together and recite the rosary.  It calms them. Then McNulty, in the midst of danger, starts to say the hours, decades, or centuries. I’m not sure which, because I have no idea what any of it means.  To top it all off, I find my first textual error: a misspelled word.

You might think I am anti-Roman Catholic.  I’ll leave that to your perception.  I thoroughly enjoyed and recommended a novel where the lead character was a Roman Catholic “sister,”  and have great respect for other Roman Catholic authors including Flannery O’Connor, J.R.R. Tolkien, Malcolm Muggeridge, Walker Percy, Henri Nouwen, G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, and Thomas Merton.  What made “The Passion of Mary-Margaret,” a contemporary Roman Catholic novel, readable, was the simple and clear explanations of Roman Catholicisms.  And that is where The Soul Reader completely fails.

And now I must digress.  The two women find comfort in repeating “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”  They repeat it over and over.  I have been to Roman Catholic funerals and seen and heard this.  Why not pray scripture?  Perhaps one of the Psalms?  From my perspective, reciting those words over and over is no different from reciting any word or words for meditation reasons.  Whether the word be Om or Jesus or Holy Mary, such repetition may be designed only to clear the mind for meditation.   If a Christian is in distress, as I believed these women were, why wouldn’t they call on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith?  Why wouldn’t they tell him how they feel?  Why wouldn’t they use an appropriate Psalm?  I often pray Psalm 121 or Psalm 139 in my distress.   One of the women says that she thinks of Psalm 61 while she is reciting the rosary, but that’s as far as it goes.  The Psalms are all directed to God in joy or distress or thanksgiving.  It seems to me, that if we’re calling on God is our distress, we’re going to want to directly entreat God as did our examples in the Bible,  and not call on the mother of Jesus, a practice nowhere mentioned in the Bible.   

But, digression aside, let’s return to the text.  It is in the center of the novel where I became aware of Culebra’s identity before any of the novel’s characters knew his identity, and where I began to see the secret behind the Italian businessman.  At this point, I wondered if I even wanted to read through to the end.  I have read so many bad novels by Christian authors in the past year; I would love to be proven wrong about a book that started with so much promise.

Did it prove me wrong in the end?  Partially.  There were a couple of twists I hadn’t anticipated.  There were also a couple of misspelled words, bad placement of the word “only,” one word used for its opposite meaning, and an office pulled out of thin air.  I was also irritated by the 28 times the author used the word “feature” instead of “face” or spiritual “state” or “condition.”  The author used the word “basically” three times in a single paragraph.  He used the word animal magnetism only once but once is too often in any writing.  I also found problems with simile and comparison.  Perhaps I am too literal, but does this work on any level? 

. . . as insensitive to the feelings of others as a buzzard would be to the feelings of roadkill.

Or how about this comparison?

Mercy was more foreign than Mercury. . .

No, there was no science fiction or space travel in this novel and no consideration of the night sky.

This Soul Reader was a good start for this author.  With a good editor, he could lose the middle and the very end and add some real passion and emotion rather than a “chaste kiss,” He might then have a book full of exciting moments.  As the book stands, however, only a Roman Catholic reader might truly enjoy it. 

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Scroll by Grant R. Jeffrey and Alton L. Gansky (A review)

The Scroll: A Novel
The Scroll is a novel in which many of the characters are archaeologists.  Lest you immediately think of the dull painstaking removal of ancient dust by means of a small paintbrush, these archaeologists get right to business using the latest technology and reluctantly blowing holes in standard archeological practice, while avoiding having holes blown in themselves. 

Dr. David Chambers is the lead archaeologist, ready to change archeological and life direction until called back to Israel by his mentor, Abram Ben-Judah, to lead a group looking for treasure places described by a copper scroll discovered in the Qumran area.  The novel gives the reader a taste of current archeological method including the difficulty in deciphering ancient text and location when spelling, iconography, and geography have changed or disappeared in time.   We are also introduced to new methods of surveying beneath the earth’s surface for long buried evidence.

The story is a straightforward archaeological mystery,  intertwined with a volatile political situation.  There is love and death and subterfuge, but this novel cannot be described as suspenseful or romantic.  Although the character of David Chambers is multi-faceted, the other characters appeared one-dimensional.  I was left wishing for more danger, more action, more emotion, and better characterization.  I was wishing for anything to make me feel something for the characters.  If this novel is made into a movie, I definitely want to see it. 

The Scroll is an easy read for a summer beach or a winter fire, especially if you are interested in Biblical archeology. 

I received this book free from the publisher.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.