A Glimmer

Sometimes success comes from unexpected places.

On a whim I submitted a flash fiction story to Havok Magazine, and surprise of surprises, it was accepted!

I don’t have the date of when it’ll be published, but I’ll be sure to let you know so you can read it (you can even vote on it if you sign up). It’s just shy of 1000 words, so it won’t take long to read. That and it was fun to write. Having concentrated on writing novels, I wasn’t sure I could pull off writing flash fiction. I guess I can after all. At least once, anyway.

But that’s not all!

Someone posted on a Facebook group of Christian speculative writers that someone should create a speculative anthology based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, specifically the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-11) and the three woes (Luke 6:24-26).

So many people jumped on the idea, including a publisher of a small press who offered to publish it, that I barely managed to grab the first blessing (blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven). The stories need to be from 1-10k words with 7k the optimum.

There’s a catch, though. It has to be finished by February 7th. He’s in the military and deploying this spring, so he wants everything completed before then. Plus there’s no guarantee he’ll publish it if he doesn’t think it’s good enough.

How’s that for a challenge? So far I’ve written about 800 words. I don’t know if I’ll reach the optimum of 7000, but I figure I’ll reach at least 3000-4000.

Defend Yourself!

“I learned a long time ago that anything worth doing is worth defending.” ~ Mike Rowe

Does God call us to follow him blindly and without question?

Some like to accuse Christians of being blind sheep, ready to dive off a cliff simply because God said so. I’ve heard some Christians accuse others that to doubt and question is a lack of trust and faith in God — and could even be considered blasphemous (I was told this once as a teenager when I revealed that God makes me angry sometimes).

In a previous entry, I talked about how God appreciates when we doubt. A friend commented thusly (in part), “Though a Christian may from time struggle with the no fear part of our faith, I believe when we still follow God’s word despite that fear, that God rejoices in our faith, love for him. So submit to His Word!”

To which I respond:

I’m not suggesting God doesn’t rejoice in our faith. Of course he does! Nor does doubt mean we love God less. All I’m saying is God understands and even expects us to doubt. Having doubts is part of who we are in this world. Nor do I recall him ever saying we should never ask him questions, or to never get angry at or frustrated with him (acting out in that anger is a bit different. When God told Moses he couldn’t enter the promised land because he acted out in anger, and as such didn’t give God credit a good example [See Numbers 20]). As if we could hide our doubts from him anyway.

Doubt isn’t always a bad thing, as long as we come to him with those doubts.

Moses argued with God, as did Abraham (which saved Lot and his family). David and Job had doubts. Lots of doubts! Jonah tried to run away, and got angry with God when Nineveh repented. Naomi believed God had abandoned her (as did Mother Theresa for most of her life). Peter argued with Jesus, Thomas doubted him. Paul worked against him, and Ananias felt a little betrayed when he was asked to heal and forgive Paul who had persecuted so many of them.

So what does all that have to do with defending oneself as the title suggests?

Because when we struggle and doubt (and as long as we turn to God with those struggles and doubts) he teaches us where we have fallen short or are mistaken in our assumptions. When we learn through those doubts and struggles, we grow stronger in our faith, and as such can better defend that faith.

God often compares us to sheep, because sheep are stupid creatures. They will literally jump off a cliff following other sheep, never realizing the danger until it’s too late. That does not mean, however, God wants us to remain like sheep. He wants us to be able to defend our faith to those who also question and struggle (including ourselves).

Proverbs 2:1-5 says, “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Emphasis mine).

Other such examples of the importance of seeking God and his wisdom, and for defending our faith:

Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

1 Peter 3:15: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (Emphasis mine)

2 Corinthians 10:5: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,”

Titus 1:9: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

In short, yes, we need to submit to God and his word, but by submitting without question or not attempting to overcome our doubts, we can neither grow, understand, or defend our faith.

Prove It!

I see a lot of this on social media: Someone makes a charge or claim, and someone else asks for verification or citations of said claim. Instead of providing any evidence, he/she says something like, “I’m not your research assistant. Google it.”

Nope.

If you make a claim, it’s your responsibility to provide the evidence. The same goes for me, too, by the way. If I state a certain fact, I better have the evidence ready to back it up.

The US judicial system is based on the idea that the accuser has the burden of proof, not the accused. I see discussing and debating issues the same way. The burden of proof is on the person making a claim, not on the person who questions it.

After all, if someone states something as fact, that person had to arrive at that conclusion somehow. Logically, shouldn’t that person have the evidence already? Why try to force someone else to do the research all over again? It’s rude.

When people make statements like the above, it implies to me that they have no real evidence, and instead don’t want to be proven wrong. I’ve lost count on how many people have blocked me, or refused to respond because I dared to ask for evidence.

Ignorance really is bliss, I guess. Or they prefer a delusional world of their own making instead of the real one. Scary either way, because, as a character in one of my books said, “Reality will only kick you in the face that much harder.”

Carbon Copy Christians

How do you like my alliteration, there?

Yesterday someone posted this on Twitter which states: “To the “Christians” who gave money for a GoFundMe to build Trump’s Wall, there are children & veterans without shoes, sick people without healthcare, a city without drinking water, and immigrants fleeing from certain death. Please reevaluate your Christian values and try again!”

I responded thusly: “Do you have proof that Christians who donated for the wall don’t also help children, veterans, the sick, etc.? If not, then your assumption is false. Christians can do more than one thing and donate to more than one cause, you know.”

This isn’t about the wall, or politics, but how some perceive Christians in general. They seem to think we’re all monochromatic in our beliefs and actions. Truth is, I know many Christians who:

Believe homosexuality is a sin;

Believe homosexuality is not a sin, and some even go so far as to say Jesus and the disciples were all gay;

Believe God condemns abortion;

Believe God approves of abortion;

Believe God condones the abuse of women and children;

Believe God both condemns and expects punishment of all abusers;

Believe Jesus was a pacifist;

Believe Jesus was a warrior;

Believe God would be for gun control and that all guns should be banned;

Believe God would not expect people to give up their ability to protect themselves with firearms or other weaponry;

Give to liberal causes;

Give to conservative causes;

Vote Democrat;

Vote Republican;

Want a border wall;

Don’t want a border wall;

Want bigger government;

Want smaller government;

Want lower taxes;

Want higher taxes;

And the list goes on.

People insulting Christians, or non-Christians telling Christians how they should act is a pet peeve of mine. I can’t judge how a Jew, Buddhist or Muslim how to act or worship, because I don’t know enough about their religion to make that call. Now, if they do something illegal or harmful to others (Christian and non-Christian alike), then yes, I will shamelessly point fingers. Not as far as how someone decides to spend their time or money, however, because it’s none of my business. In the end it’s between them and God.

Still, although it bugs me, I don’t get as upset as I used to, because someone reminded me of a verse where Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18).

Therefore, I should be more surprised when people (non-Christians especially) express love and admiration for Christians.

A sidetrack here: You might wonder how people within a single religion could have so many opposing beliefs. There are many reasons, I think. One is we’re all individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, and therefore points of view. Because the Bible is so big written by many authors, and with many messages and stories, it’s easy to approach it with our own colored view, to see what we want to see, and be blind to the rest, especially when those parts seem to contradict each other.

I’m reading “The Rational Bible: Exodus” by Dennis Prager. He said (paraphrased), that God always leaves us room for doubt, including doubt in him and whether or not he even exists. Now why would he do that? He’s God, after all. Couldn’t he reveal himself to everyone in a single moment to where no one could deny his existence? Sure, but he also wants to be chosen, just like we like being chosen and having choices–whatever those choices may be.

No one doubts the Sun gives heat, or that winter is cold and summer is warm. Why? Because they’re obvious based on mere observation. They’re undeniable. Therefore, there’s no need for faith in whether or not the sun will continue to give off heat, or that I will need to wear a jacket in the winter and put on sunscreen in the summer.

God wants to be sought after, and yes, to be doubted. Part of it is because he loves it when we ask him questions, to seek truth and understanding. Doubt spurs us to ask those questions. No questions can be asked if we already know all the answers. Mystery is a fabulous thing, because of the joy in making the discovery.

Someone once asked Dennis Prager why he’s a Jew and not Muslim. He said (again, paraphrased), “Because Israel means to struggle or wrestle with God whereas Islam means to submit. I prefer to wrestle with God than submit.”

So do I. Sure, God always wins in the end (even if he does cheat sometimes. Just ask Jacob [Genesis 32:22-32]). I have grown more in my faith wrestling with God than simply submitting to him. Why? Because I gain more understanding of who God is and why he does what he does after that struggle.

And don’t we all want people to ask us questions, to be noticed, believed and understood?

I’m Not Dead

Although the silence of my blog might have indicated I might have. I’ve been busy! I’m rewriting a sequel — which may seem kinda silly since the first one isn’t published, yet. A friend read the first one and asked to read the second. I realized that I should probably polish the second one before sharing it, though. I’m about a third done.

I’m also co-editing a flash fiction magazine called Havok. The first edition will be released January, 2019, so if you like flash fiction in multiple genres (mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, comedy, and thriller), go check it out. So far the stories we’ve acquired are amazing (and no, I’m not getting paid to write that). For the first month alone we received over a dozen stories in the fantasy genre alone, so even for the first edition, there’s no shortage of stories.

Now I need get over this cold my son gave me yesterday. I accomplish a lot more when I’m not sneezing and coughing all over my computer.

Agendas in Stories. Good or Bad?

When I first started writing, specifically Christian Fiction, I went to many Christian writers conferences. Out of all the classes I attended, one piece of advice was stressed above all others: Don’t preach. At the same time, many agents and publishers ask one question about the story: What’s the main message or take-away?

It seems like a contradiction, but it’s not. As I’ve written previously, stories matter, not because of the message, per se, but because they’re engrossing, entertaining, and sometimes terrifying. Stories immerse us into worlds and cultures we’ve never experienced, and give us characters we can love, hate, and everything in between.

Should all stories contain a message? No, but I also think few stories don’t have a message, however subtle. Like it or not, writers can’t help but bring their own biases, and yes, agendas to their stories.

For instance, I wrote my first novel because I was frustrated with the current selection of stories in my favorite genres. At the time (the early 2000s) I found little to no Christian science fiction, and few science fiction stories where God played any role at all. Most science fiction, in fact, was by and large hostile to any religion or idea of a higher power beyond a Force or ethereal Universe.

As I was silently lamenting my frustration, a little voice in my head said, “Then you write it.”

I doubt I’m alone in writing certain stories out of similar frustrations.

Plus it’s difficult to find stories without some message, even (perhaps especially) a lot of classics: George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Charles Dicken’s “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol,” and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” I could name a hundred others.

While many of the messages the authors sought to convey shined through, I doubt many readers would call them preachy. The plot, setting, and characters always came first.

All that said, a few days ago I saw the following conversation on Twitter (with permission):

“The best stories have no agendas. They’re not shoving social justice down our throats or giving us a limited narrative to make us learn. They just grip us with their excellence and beauty, the thrill of their surprises and the poignancy of their narratives. #books #writer” ~ Jessi Lyn Robbins (@jessilynrobbins)

And:

“I think I can safely say I’ve never learned anything from a book that set out to make me learn a lesson. Well, maybe I learned never to read anything else by that author.” ~ Gillian M Kendall (@GillianMKendall)

Does that mean I disagree with them both? Based on what I’ve written so far and my response below, you might think so:

“It depends on the story and how it’s written. I read a book where the MC struggled with clinical depression. I used to silently scoff at those who suffered (I’m a pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of person). I’ve never scoffed (silently or otherwise) at sufferers since.”

Ms. Robbins graciously responded: “From the sound of it, I’m not sure that book has the kind of agenda I’m talking about. It sounds like it’s extremely well-researched and well written with serious subject material that made you really feel something. Agenda books are not written like that. They’re not genuine.”

To which I added: “Perhaps. I agree too many books have “social justice” agendas. They make me leery of reading newer books. When I want to be preached to, I’ll go to church. Then again, if someone wants to add a message, write it in a way that I find it on my own. Don’t bust my head open with it.”

So no, I don’t disagree with either Ms. Robbins or Ms. Kendall. They both are expressing the same frustrations I have with so many newer books. The authors writing agenda-driven stories haven’t learned the lesson that I learned so many years ago: Don’t preach.

Their — and my — complaint is when the agenda or message becomes more important than the story. Too many seek to convert the reader through intellectual and emotional force instead of inviting the reader to see a different point of view through the plot and characters.

Stories should be an invitation, not an invasion, because the former shows trust in the reader whereas the latter does not.

UPDATED: “Moby Dick” was written by Herman Melville (I accidentally attributed it to Charles Dickens).

An Update on Story Matters

If you haven’t read my previous entry, yet, I recommend you do before continuing (https://almarquardt.blog/2018/10/22/story-matters/).

I have since discovered that the last books will be completed by another author.

In the meantime, if you enjoy fast-paced epic fantasy with science fiction elements, and with deep, colorful characters struggling to find their way in worlds they never before imagined, I highly recommend you check them out. The first novel can be picked up on Amazon for a mere $0.99.

To find out more about Brandon Barr and his “Song of the Worlds” series, check out the attached link.

My thanks to Brandon for writing such a fabulous and memorable story, and to #BrandonsBuddies for taking up the torch on his behalf.

https://www.facebook.com/EpicFantasyFanatics/posts/569164893515956

Or if you don’t use Facebook:

http://epicfantasyfanatics.com/brandons-buddies/