Humility

The opposite of pride.

I have a lot of pride, which leaves little room for humility.

When humility does finally make an appearance, it’s particularly painful.

I hate it, but I must embrace it. How else am I to learn and grow? After all, no one likes an arrogant know-it-all. Not even me. Maybe because I sometimes act like one.

I posted this on Twitter today:

“Ever have a discussion and call it quits because you will otherwise lose the argument quite spectacularly? I did that today and it bums me out. Still, we learn more from our failures than our successes, so I will endeavor to use this experience to do better next time.”

The person I engaged with accused me of not reading his posts before responding. After thinking about it, to an extent he was right. He didn’t hear me as clearly, either, but that’s the disadvantage of trying to make a point in 280 characters or fewer.

What frustrated (and embarrassed) me the most is how he played me like a well-tuned violin. He inserted “what-ifs” in the discussion that led me to make almost the opposite stance on the issue than I started with. Ugh. I should have seen it at the start and found a way to avoid the trap.

But in my knee-jerk and myopic pride, I stepped right in it. I bowed out of the discussion without concession, but I hope with some grace as I thanked him for being civil the entire time. Which he was. Mostly. He threw out a few subtle insults to my intelligence, but not enough for me to get upset over.

What I learned from this humble (and slightly humiliating) moment is the importance of listening and understanding any opposing view.

This video by Owen Benjamin expresses it better — and by far more entertaining — than I can (some adult language):

If you can’t argue the other side . . .

Forlorn

That’s me.

First I saw this on Twitter:

Then I saw this:

I’ve also been watching “Runaways” on Netflix, and in episode 9, the Karolina character out of nowhere expressed her physical attraction to Nico by kissing her. I say out of nowhere because I saw nothing to indicate Karolina was attracted to anyone, let alone Nico.

It’s almost as if the writers sat down after episode seven and decided, “We need gay characters. Who should we pick?”

It seems we can’t watch a single movie or television show that doesn’t at least suggest one or more characters are gay, especially in the speculative genres. Even animated films geared to young children aren’t free of it (such as “How to Train Your Dragon 2”).

As a writer who wants to see my stories in print, I can’t help but wonder if I have wasted decades improving my craft. I don’t avoid writing gay characters; it’s that most of my characters aren’t gay. Nor will I make them gay simply because some want gay characters, even if it makes no sense, and doesn’t move the story forward. It’s an unnecessary distraction.

I’m also tired of agenda and politics-driven storylines, whether they’re pushing homosexuality or so-called climate change. I just want to read and write good stories with interesting characters.

Some might accuse me at this point of being a climate-change-denying homophobe.

To the first. Climate changes. That’s its nature. As for whether or not it’s all caused by Man, sorry. I haven’t seen enough evidence to convince me.

As for the homophobe accusation, the short answer is “no.” Truth is I couldn’t care less a person’s sexual preferences. I’ll say it again: I don’t care. No one will never make me care, and I wish they’d quit throwing it in my face. How do you think they would feel if someone walked up to them and said, “I’m heterosexual. I really like to kiss and have sex with the opposite sex. Now love and accept me, because if you don’t, you must be a heterophobe!”

But I digress. As a writer, what am I to do? Are there still enough people who don’t need or want to read about at least one gay character in every story whether it’s organic to the story or not? Or am I a social dinosaur where everything I write deserves to be tossed on the trash heap of the unenlightened and set on fire? Should I therefore give up, and take nature pictures instead? After all, no one can accuse me of being a name-your-phobia-du-jour for posting pictures of clouds.

A Pixelated View

Have you ever zoomed into a digital photo so close all you see is a bunch of fuzzy, colored squares? If someone were to walk by the computer screen, they’d never guess what the photo actually shows, or that it’s even a photograph.

Only after zooming out does the picture become clear.

I think politics does the same thing, especially if we spend so much time delving into it, and from a single point of view. For instance, I mention President Donald Trump, and some people will react with a visceral loathing while others will want to cheer “MAGA!”

Polar opposite reactions over the same human being.

For the last few months, I’ve grown tired of politics. Anyone with a phone or computer uses their electronic soapbox to opine, and usually with either a progressive or conservative point of view. It’s tiresome and predictable.

As one also armed with multiple electronic devices, I am tempted to follow only those who fall in the same political spectrum as me. After all, why follow those I disagree with when all they do is cause anger and frustration?

Still, I refuse to give in to the temptation, and the answer is simple: I don’t like pixelated photographs. They look choppy, out of focus, little to no contrast to make the subject pop, too few colors, and the details are non-existent. Uninteresting. Boring.

Another word people use to describe looking at things from a single point of view is “myopic.” It means “lacking imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight.” Isn’t that a great word? And so accurate!

Since I never want to be accused of having no intellectual insight, I’ve decided to zoom out, and attempt to see the world as a whole in all its shadows, 16 million-plus colors, contrast, depth and richness.

I resolve to push my political biases behind me, and when I see a post or article I’ll likely disagree with, I still read it, gritted teeth and involuntary shakes of the head notwithstanding.

In doing so, I’ve stumbled on a few gems of wisdom. Did I agree with everything I read? Not at all. Sometimes as a little as ten percent. But still, one piece of new knowledge or wisdom out of ten is one more than I had before.

The impetus of this entry comes from comments made on a political website about commentator, Ben Shapiro. The comments were particularly viscous for the simple reason he was critical of Donald Trump during the primaries — a so-called “Never Trumper.” I often listen to his podcast, and while he’s still critical of Trump, he also gives him credit when it’s due. The funny part is, the commenters refuse to give Shapiro credit when it’s due. Since I know their political leanings, they would find more in common with Shapiro than not. Based on their responses when I tried to defend him, however, they are suffering from their own myopathy. Or to stick with my original analogy, they prefer to stare at pixelated photographs.

It’s a shame, really, because we are so much more than our labels, and opinions. Yet too many of us aren’t willing to step back from staring at a smattering of pixels to get a larger and deeper understanding of the entire photograph.

Spiritual Fatigue

With 2018 less than two weeks away, one can’t help but take stock of the previous year, what we accomplished, and didn’t accomplish, our pains and our joys. We also look toward our goals and hopes for the next year.

One of my goals is to avoid politics (it’s an off-year election in the States, so I expect things to get almost as heated and divisive as both 2016 and 2017, if not worse), and spend little if any time on social media.

A few times this last summer, we camped at a local lake called Lake Tschida. With the heat and drought, however, the lake bloomed with blue-green and slimy algae that few dared to swim in. I was not one of them.

That’s what social media feels like to me lately. Just perusing it with all the vitriolic politics and constant hate and nasty insults to those who simply disagree on a particular subject feels like swimming in a bathtub-warm, and algae-choked lake. I leave feeling slimed, emotionally and sometimes spiritually drained.

In 2016, I took a full year off social media except my author page on Facebook and other writing sites. Not only did the spiritual ick leave me, but I wrote many blog entries and finished three languishing novels. All told, I wrote over 200,000 words in those twelve months.

I hope to meet or exceed that number this year.

First I need to write my 2018 Lenten devotionals which are due by the end of January. I’m not stressing about those, though. Yet.

My other writing goals are to write more entries here on multiple subjects, rewrite my fantasy, and perhaps submit it to ACFW’s Genesis contest. As with the First Impressions contest, while winning is great, the real benefit is the judges’ critiques. Having outside opinions of my work can only help me improve my skill.

My other writing goals are to continue to submit queries to literary agents (four down, fourteen to go of my current list). I’d also like to write and submit more short stories, but we’ll see. I’ve started two so far, but am having trouble finishing. I think it’s due to my spiritual fatigue. I lose both motivation and confidence when I’m so drained.

But I am also an eternal optimist. Having endured spiritual angst multiple times already, I know it’s a seasonal thing, and like every time before, I’ll get through it and hopefully a little wiser in the end.

Oh. And read. A lot.

If this be my last entry for 2017, I pray you have a stress-less holiday season, and 2018 ends up the best year ever for all of us.

And the Results Are . . .

On a whim, I decided to submit my latest WIP (work in progress) to the yearly ACFW (acfw.com) First Impressions contest. Contestants submit their back cover blurb of 500 words and the first five pages of their WIP.

In November, I discovered my story made the finals along with two others in my chosen category.

Two days ago, I received the phone call that my story won. Was I excited! Making the finals to start meant that the judges believed my story was good enough to continue on, and to win is a writer’s second-best validation (The first is for readers and/or publishers to actually purchase said story).

Aside from winning, the best part of the contest is the judges’ score sheets and comments on the submission. The score sheets ask questions such as:

• Did you want to keep reading more when you reached the end of the five pages?

• Did the author hook you in the opening page, enticing you to keep reading?

• Was the dialogue engaging and interesting?

Even if my story hadn’t won, the comments and score sheets are invaluable. I now know — in general — the story’s strengths and weaknesses. None of it came as too much of a surprise, because I know what my weaknesses are. Although I did discover my weaknesses aren’t as weak as they used to be, such as too little detail while at the same time being too wordy.

In short, taking all the comments into consideration — especially where the judges agree — I have one more major edit to go, and it might be ready for submission to prospective agents.

Sins of The Christian Voter

I’ve heard a lot of talk to the effect of: “How can you call yourself a Christian for voting for that candidate?”

From both Christians and non-Christians alike.

Let’s use Alabama’s most recent senatorial election as an example. Of the two main candidates, one is pro-life and an alleged sexual predator. The other has no sordid accusations, but is staunchly pro-choice.

The Christian is faced with a hard choice: Vote for the alleged predator who believes life at all stages deserves protection, and the second candidate who thinks abortion should be legal up until birth, but was never accused of preying on young women.

This Christian voter needs to decide which sins the candidates have committed is the more and least egregious.

The Christian can also not vote, or write in a better candidate. Perhaps a third party choice if one is listed.

That’s not the end of the struggle, however. Once the choice is made, the Christian has to decide to never reveal the choice, or openly support said chosen candidate.

This is a difficult one. By staying silent when unfair criticism of chosen candidate arises, the Christian can continue to remain silent, or risk being counted as (and accused of) supporting either sexual assault or infanticide.

Most Christians expect criticism from the worldly no matter what they do. After all, the world hated Jesus first (see John 15:18).

What Christians don’t expect is to hear such vitriolic criticism from fellow Christians. Aren’t they all members of the body of Christ, united in a common cause and inseparable?

Here’s how I see it.

Government is a secular institution. Any person we vote for is a fallible, sinful human being, and they seek to occupy an office equally secular in nature. It’s neither a religious nor spiritual occupation. Therefore, I think our standards shouldn’t be the same as voting for a new pastor or priest at a church. The qualifications and expectations are too different.

Aside: Do we all want good, moral people to lead us? Absolutely! Still, even moral people are flawed, so no matter how good they appear, they are still sinful (That and what society considers moral is in constant flux). Voters, Christian and otherwise, are too often faced with deciding which candidate holds to their own world-view the closest — the least of evils to use a cliche. Perhaps not vote at all, and let the chips fall where they may.

What concerns me is how willing so many Christians are to judge, condemn, and divide over political lines.

Paul warned us against divisions in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, and how we’re all parts of a single body with different roles to fulfill in 1 Corinthians 12.

When we allow the world generally, and politics specifically, to divide us, the Body falters, and we lose both sight and effectiveness of our mandate to lift up others and spread the Good News. Those we seek to save instead laugh at us. Because of our petty and public arguments, and the constant finger-pointing, we deserve to be mocked.

The only remedies are to quit mixing in politics when discussing spiritual and Godly matters (especially in public), vote our conscience (including not voting at all), and remain silent about both our choice, and the choices others make. Let God judge the heart and intent of the voter, because the rest of us are far from qualified.

In other words, watch for those planks instead of scrounging around for specks (Matthew 7:5).

Never Complain . . .

About being bored, or out of stuff to do.

I learned that at an early age. I once told my mom that I was bored, and she eagerly eliminated that boredom by giving me chores to last at least the rest of the day.

Same goes for my job. I tell my boss I’m out of work, and my desk is soon drowning in incomplete projects.

My last entry I complained about how my motivation and desire to write had waned, and that no idea seemed good enough to start, let alone finish.

I received this email today:

Hi Andra,

I help coordinate a team of devotional writers who periodically (and hopefully more frequently in 2018!) write short devotions to encourage faith development and unity at Legacy. As I was pulling together information for next year’s Lenten Devotions, your name came to mind. I recalled that writing was a passion of yours and wondered if you might want to help out with the next round of devotions?

Here’s how it typically works:

1 I obtain Bible focus/sermon planning information from pastoral staff

2 I develop Scripture focus for devotions (number of devotions vary-for example we usually have 33 Lenten Devotions about 5/each week of Lent) and create document for writing assignments

3 Writer’s Group is invited to sign up for specific devotions

4 Devotions are written by individual writers and submitted for review and grammatical edit

5 I submit entire project to JoAnn for design and printing

Attached are some guidelines that might answer some initial questions, but feel free to let me know what questions you have. Does this sound like something you’d enjoy?

Of course I agreed, even though I haven’t written devotionals in a while.

I had to chuckle, though, because the opportunity showing up right after my last entry seemed too coincidental.

I’m reminded of a short conversation between Sherlock and his older brother, Mycroft from the BBC series “Sherlock.”

Mycroft asked Sherlock, “What did I tell you about coincidences?”

“The universe is rarely so lazy.”

I replace “universe” with “God,” when coincidences like this happen. Today I was also reminded of how my mom would invariably give me something to do when I was bored.

I think God heard my complaint and thought, “She’s not writing, and not liking not writing, so I need to give her something to write about. Here you go.”

I’ve heard it said that if we ask God for patience, he will place us in circumstances that teach us to be patient. It’s an example of “be careful what you with (or pray) for.” God just might say yes.

The best part of writing devotions is it forces me to study the Bible more, something I’ve lacked of late as well. Writing devotions will help me learn, study, further build my relationship with God, and perhaps help others do the same.

That’s my hope anyway.

Since I’ll be writing the devotions for someone else, I don’t know yet if I can share them here. I’ll try, though. If not, maybe I’ll write more than I need to. We’ll see.