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/

Taking Pride

“I am proud to be a woman!”

Even as a woman, statements like that make me cringe. I take pride in many things; being a woman is not one of them. The answer is simple: I didn’t choose it. Do I like being a woman? Sure! Granted I have no experience being anything else, but I still wouldn’t change it if given the chance.

Taking pride in anything that requires no action on my part is foolish. How many of us take pride in our eye color, the fact our innards work how they’re supposed to, or that we breathe? How is taking pride in my genitalia and other genetic traits any different?

Other things I don’t take pride in: any other physical features, my heritage, or my ancestor’s accomplishments. I am responsible for none of that, so claiming it for myself isn’t right. It also diminishes those who did the work.

While I didn’t choose the country I was born in, I can still take pride in that, because I choose to stay. I also contribute to my country, my state and community’s success through my hard work, purchasing ability and voting in elections.

I take pride in my work, my home and immediate family, because my success is theirs, and their success is at least partially mine.

What I’d like to see, instead of claiming pride in our sex, heritage, etc., we express our gratitude to God for creating us the way he did.

It was You who created my conscience; You fashioned me in my mother’s womb.

“I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your work is wonderful; I know it very well.

“My frame was not concealed from You when I was shaped in a hidden place, knit together in the recesses of the earth.

“Your eyes saw my unformed limbs; they were all recorded in Your book; in due time they were formed, to the very last one of them.” ~ Psalms 139:13-16

Story Matters

An author recently posted on Facebook asking for feedback on one of his series. Unable to turn down an opportunity to read a book in one of my favorite genres (two actually. The series is a combination of sci-fi and fantasy), I eagerly accepted.

I ended up loving the story and characters, and the author graciously sent me the other two in the series as well as a prequel novella.

In one of the emails, he mentioned that he was pushing the release of the final two (out of five) due to an illness. I was bummed, but I also know the importance of one’s health takes precedence.

Yesterday, the author posted that his cancer had returned, and the doctors gave him about two months to live.

My completely selfish response was what you might expect. I thought, “Oh, no! I’ll never read the rest of the series now!”

As you also might expect, I mentally berated myself for thinking such a thing. I did post a comment saying that I would pray for him and his family, but it felt hollow as I typed.

Do I want him healed, or if not, that his family experiences God’s strength and comfort? Absolutely. But my prayers still feel tainted by my selfish and silly desire to read the final books, when a man is dying and a family is soon devastated. What’s an incomplete series compared to that?

Or am I wrong?

I heard a story years ago where a woman dying of cancer wrote Stephen King. She asked him to tell her what happened at the end of his “Dark Tower” series, because she wouldn’t live long enough to read the remaining — and as yet unreleased — books.

Sadly, he couldn’t answer, because even he didn’t know at the time.

Studies have found that those who read fiction are statistically more empathetic. Understandable when you think about it.

When reading about fictional characters, we learn their thoughts, motivations, loves, hates, fears and desires. Something we don’t always see or get in real life, because few of us lay ourselves bare with the exception of a scant few — if that. As we read, we place ourselves in the shoes of the characters, and we can’t help but correlate their experiences, thoughts and feelings into our own life and those around us.

To give an example, I’ve never been clinically depressed. I didn’t understand how debilitating it can be, and I used to quietly scoff at those who did. Until I read “Becoming Olivia” by Roxanne Henke. The book is about Olivia who has a great life, but can’t shake the depression that seemed to come out of nowhere.

After reading it, I will never again scoff at anyone who suffers from depression again.

Now it may seem at this point that I changed subjects on you. First I talked about selfish prayers, then I jumped to how stories make us more empathetic.

What both illustrate is the importance of stories in our life. They not only entertain, but can convey certain truths. Stories, like most other arts engage us emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. They can also live beyond the creator’s own life. Plus we never want the story to simply stop with no end in sight.

We are built to both create and listen to or read stories. They’ve been used since the advent of language to remember our past as well as convey truth. Even non-Christians know the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, and Jonah and the whale (although technically, it was a fish). Whether they literally happened is always up for debate, but their messages still stand many millennia later. The same goes for Dicken’s “Oliver Twist,” and “A Christmas Carol,” Shakespeare’s plays, many Greek tragedies, and countless others.

Stories matter. My selfish response and a dying woman’s letter is evidence of that.

Still, I do hope God will ignore my selfishness behind the words of my prayers, because I never want to see a person die so soon, and his/her family left to pick up the pieces.