Fewer Rules, Higher Standards

More on Leviticus (sort of).

Along with describing the rules of animal sacrifice, Leviticus shows just how much the Jewish people were required to do with regard to cleanliness, disease diagnosis and control of its spread, and also criminal punishment (see Leviticus 24:17-22).

Then Jesus comes along and turns much of that around. We are no longer required to make animal sacrifices to atone for our sins, or expect an “eye-for-an eye.” Instead, Jesus became that sacrifice, so it’s no longer necessary. That’s not to say we don’t have to ask for forgiveness or atone for our sins in other ways, however. If anything, what God requires for forgiveness is a bit more difficult. Instead of sacrificing an animal, we have to sacrifice our pride, ourselves. It’s a sacrifice of the mind and heart that requires (gasp!) humility.

Aside: Does that mean we give up who we are and become mindless automatons? Not remotely! God wants us to continually seek him out, ask questions, sometimes, yes, even struggle with him when we’re angry or frustrated. That’s how human relationships work sometimes. What we must never give up, however, is trust. Although we may not understand what God does (or doesn’t do), we have to trust that he knows what he’s doing, and will always have our best (and eternal) interests in mind.

Many of the laws laid out in Exodus (the Ten Commandments) and in Leviticus, include punishments that were based on a person’s actions, whether murder, thievery or adultery to name a few.

While Jesus told us to forgive other people’s sins (accepting the legal consequences of those sins, whether they be murder, stealing and the like is a different conversation), he also changed the standards.

No longer are we guilty of murder if we literally murder someone; we are guilty of murder when we hate someone. We ‘re no longer guilty of adultery if we sleep with someone other than our spouse; we commit adultery when we lust after another man’s (or woman’s) spouse.

Not only did he raise the standards, it’s also God’s way of telling us yet again (because he also states this many times in the Old Testament, too; the New Testament is just a bit more emphatic about it) that sin always starts in the heart, not when we commit the act. If we refuse to entertain sinful behavior in our heart and mind, we can’t act on them:

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” ~ Philipians 4:7-9 (ESV)

Next up: How the verse above can be misinterpreted.

About What’s Not Said

I’m reading Leviticus which is basically a manual of instruction for the Levites–the tribe of Hebrew priests.

A lot of it is repetition as far as animal sacrifices, when someone is considered “unclean,” and how to be cleansed. Some of it seems harsh, especially how women are treated with regard to their menstrual cycle, and how long they had to be sequestered after they gave birth. The time of sequestration also varied depending on whether they had a boy or a girl.

I have to remember, that was a very different time, and they didn’t know as much about hygiene as we do–much of which we take for granted today.

But I digress.

The Hebrews, before the Exodus were surrounded by people who worshipped false gods, many that made human as well as animal sacrifice.

Why God felt it wise to continue the animal sacrifice I can’t answer, but I trust that his reasoning was both important and logical for the Hebrews at that time.

Again, I digress.

Why did people sacrifice to their gods? What’s the first thing you think of? For me, in stories I’ve read and movies I’ve seen, people sacrificed to their gods in order to find some kind of favor.

In Leviticus 8, God requires sacrifices for forgiveness or thanksgiving (and animal sacrifice only. No human sacrifice, another stark difference with their neighbors). Leviticus says nothing about sacrifices in order to receive anything else such as wealth, status, children, and long life. I can’t help but wonder if that’s on purpose, as another means to set the Israelis apart from their neighbors–and to show that God can neither be bought nor bribed.

It occurred to me then that sometimes what’s not said is just as important as what is said.

Not My Tribe

We live in an era in the States where people have tribalized themselves. At first glance it’s not a terrible thing. That we seek to spend our time with those who share the same interests and points-of-view is a natural part of being human. We want to be loved, respected, and understood. Generally speaking, we’re terrified of feeling isolated, especially in a group of strangers who think, behave, and believe differently.

Unfortunately, we’ve taken that natural tendency to the point of seeing those of un-like mind as an enemy. We see those differences as a threat to our own world-view, perhaps even our very way of life. As such, we no longer want to simply separate ourselves, but destroy those who aren’t a member of our chosen tribe.

One of my pet-peeves is when people misuse scripture. Two misused verses in particular make me grind my teeth:

“…If God is for us, who can be against us?” ~ Romans 8:31b (ESV)

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” ~ Matthew 12:30 (ESV)

As to the first verse, there’s one word that people tend to gloss over: if. Some assume that they’re doing God’s work, and anyone who disagrees or actively fights against them, they are going against God and is therefore God’s enemy.

They often use the second verse to bolster their point of view, but they forget (or ignore) that Jesus is talking about himself. No follower of Jesus, or any other human can claim it for themselves.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” ~ Matthew 5:43-44 (ESV)

A scribe once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. He responded, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:29-31 (ESV)

When I see all this tribalism and hatred or contempt of anyone not within that tribe, I not only think of the scripture above, but ask myself how God sees it all. Can we really expect God to take our side over another? Would a parent take the side of one child over another when they fight to the point of calling the other child an enemy deserving of death?

God hates none of his children, and because he calls us to be like him, we must love our enemies, no matter what tribe they belong to (see Isaiah 56:3-8 and Galatians 3:28).

Must. Write. Story.

Two people so far have directly responded to my short story in “Beatitudes and Woes”:

“Andra I think you deliberately ripped my heart out. I loved the story but that ending. Oh my gosh, how could you do this to me! I hope it leads to a series of yours.”

“You’re story was fantastic. You’ll have to tell me what happens to him.”

When two people want more, how can I not? I mentioned it on Facebook, and they both told me how thrilled they are.

So far I’ve written a rough outline, and plan on writing the actual story in the next few days. Based on the outline, it’ll be novella-length for certain. I’m not sure it’ll reach full-novel length, but being a pantser (short for flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer), I can never guess how long my story will be until it’s done.

I’ll also be participating in a group called “October Write Fest” on Facebook. It’s similar to the idea of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, but in October, and less strict as far as reaching a 50k goal. We can set smaller or larger goals, short stories instead of novels, for example. Plus October has one more day and fewer important holidays to interfere.

Oh. Pertaining to my previous entry: “Ignorance is Preferred – For the Moment,” my first instinct was right. The letter was indeed a rejection. As usual, I allowed 24 hours to feel sorry for myself, but after that, it’s back to work. That includes writing this next story, and querying more agents. I have a good list, so it’s only a matter of tailoring my letters to each agent and sending them off. I’ll keep you updated.

Ignorance is Preferred. For The Moment

I wrote previously about meeting with an agent at the Realm Makers writers conference, and how he asked me to send a proposal. I decided to send it via regular mail, because he mentioned once during a Q & A session that he preferred it over email. Emails tend to pile up and get buried. If it’s on his desk in an envelope, he’s more inclined to read it faster.

Yesterday when I took the mail out of our mailbox, I spotted my SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) stuck between a dental cleaning reminder, and a stack of store coupons.

My first response: “Great. Another rejection.” Especially considering the thinness of the envelope indicating it contains but one sheet of paper.

I couldn’t open it. I was already in a sour mood last night (no particular reason; I get that way sometimes). Why make it worse by intentionally reading a rejection letter?

Still it sits on my dining room table, buried under those coupons and dental cleaning reminder. We’ll see if I’m brave enough to read it after work today. Chances are good, regardless, because I am curious. That and what if I’m wrong, and the letter is merely to ask to see the entire manuscript?

I think there’s a 25% it’s to ask for more; 75% it’s a rejection. Hence the desire to remain ignorant and hopeful instead of knowing and being disappointed.

The Superior Storyteller

As a writer, I often wonder, am I telling my story (fiction or real) in a way that people will both understand and embrace? Especially as a Christian who wants to relay certain truths (without the sermon), storytelling is my avenue by which I feel called to do it.

Sharing stories isn’t new. It seems to be ingrained in every human, perhaps even in our DNA. Storytelling goes back to cave-dwellers before written language. Scribes wrote down a leader’s accomplishments many times in the form of a story, sometimes true, often embellished to make said leader appear larger-than-life, and thereby worthy of being followed.

The Bible itself is full of stories. Whether you believe they literally happened the way they’re written or not is–as far as stories with a point go–irrelevant. Because the truth (or message) of that story is what matters. Many of Jesus’ words also took the form of stories, because he knew his audiences. To simply say, “don’t steal,” wasn’t enough to drive the point home. By creating characters who stole, and showing how those characters had to face sometimes devastating consequences, the listener (or reader), can better relate to the story, remember it, and hopefully apply the lesson to his/her own life.

I’m reading “Engaging Unbelief: A Captivating Strategy from Augustine to Aquinas,” by Curtis Chang. The author also talks about telling stories, but on a macro, societal level. On page 29 he says, “The one who can tell the best story, in a very real sense, wins the epoch [or era]. History is replete with examples of epoch-defining power gained by superior storytelling.” He then goes on to use examples of the Nazis (negative), and the American civil rights movement, namely Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and his “I have a dream” speech (positive).

To use a cliche “the pen is mightier than the sword,” in many cases this is true. Hitler wielded words that turned Germany from the biggest loser in WWI to a world power in only a few decades. Dr. King wielded words that gave minorities a bigger and more influential voice in American society and politics. Their speeches often included narrative that, as Chang put it, “[took] every thought captive.”

As a storyteller, I and others like me sometimes forget the impact our words can have on others. Too often we think our words will never matter. While we may never spur a new epoch in our history, what about that those who take our words to heart, and in turn influence others who do change the course of history?

If you’re not a writer, and have no desire to be one, nevertheless, tell your stories. Show others the lessons life (or God) has taught you, so they may avoid the mistakes you’ve made, and instead enjoy more success.

Be a superior storyteller; take people’s every thought captive so that those who might otherwise lead them astray can’t.

Time to Produce

The best (and most thought-provoking) part of attending the RealmMakers writers conference a few weeks ago was spending time with Terry Brooks. He was gracious enough to read the first few pages of my fantasy (you can read more specifics here if you haven’t already).

What stuck with me was this part of the conversation:

“How much time do you spend per day writing?” Terry asked.

“About an hour.” (On a good day).

He scowled at me a bit and said, “If you’re not willing to give up everything for your writing, your writing will suffer. I’m not saying you have to, but you must be willing.”

I haven’t been able to get that out of my head, but at the same time, I haven’t yet seriously asked myself that question. Simply saying “yes” isn’t enough. I have to believe it.

I like what I’m doing other than writing too much. Note the qualifier “too much,” because I do many things that do little more than waste time; things that I can afford to rid myself of. That includes television and much of social media (not all, because publishers look for authors willing and able to market themselves via social media. I just have to manage my time on social media better [more on that in a future entry]).

If I’m serious about writing and publishing, I have to take it seriously. After all, once I get a book contract (and yes, I am assuming I’ll eventually get one), I will have to meet any deadlines. If I’m not willing to sacrifice my time now to write, how can I hope to sacrifice it later?