Tag Archives: purpose

Right Privilege

It’s another Sunday morning… with another service in a nice church building where sunlight streams in through the stained-glass or colored-plastic windows…

A crowd of people shuffles in, some awkwardly mingling, others choosing spots for solitude, while some popular praise song plays through the speakers.

The band has another set of songs we’re about to play, with a lot of familiar words like “amazing” and “unfailing” and references to the usual miracles, et cetera, and so on.

Another sermon is prepped, with another take on a well-known passage, with a few solid points, some clever anecdotes or cultural references, and maybe a decent invitation to respond. It’s the Good News or whatever… but more like the Good Olds, because we’ve heard it all before.

Oh, it’s Communion Sunday too, so there’s another stack of serving trays with another round of thumb-sized disposable plastic cups of grape juice and another batch of white fibrous wafers.

Another week in the house of God.

Not just any god… THAT God. You know the One… the “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life john three sixteen” God.

Yep.

The first song on the list is “This is Amazing Grace” by… well, I didn’t check, but no one’s going to care. It’s upbeat. It’s a perfect
“get the blood pumping” song. It’s familiar to the congregation. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and all that.

The second song is “Do It Again” from Elevation Worship. Some people probably don’t like it because Steven Furtick says some questionable things, and good on them, because you should test all things and throw out anything that isn’t one hundred percent of God. But it’s a song about how “Your promise still stands, great is Your faithfulness” and that sort of thing, and that’s pretty good. Reminds me of the old hymn and stuff.

The third song is “Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace)” with its pretentious two titles thing going on. Artsy songwriters know that two titles means the song has depth. As the second title implies, the John Newton refrain figures in, with only the 900th alteration to the melody, 890 of which are probably Chris Tomlin songs.

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that I’m not going to bother typing because we both know you know the words and stopped reading already.”

Sermon is preached. Elements are distributed. Do this in remembrance of Me. Sing the closing song. The Lord bless you and keep you. You’re dismissed.

Church services as spiritual shampoo: lather, rinse, repeat a week later.

They say familiarity breeds contempt, but I think familiarity breeds complacency and presumption. It feels like we’re singing, “This is the same old grace… this is expected love…”

We might as well be, if we’re just going through the motions because ‘this is what Christians do.’

In preparing for this particular service, I thought about how ho-hum my heart can get about the Gospel. Growing up in church, being a part of worship teams for years, there’s a risk that I am so accustomed to the good news that it’s no longer good nor new. It’s just “what it is.”

In Luke 7, Jesus has dinner with some religious leaders as they’re trying to sort out who this upstart is and what is He really preaching. A woman with a bad reputation bursts into the scene, falls at His feet, weeps over her sinful state, washes His feet with her tears, and wipes His feet with her hair… and all the while, the
religious folk are like, “Dude, doesn’t He know what kind of nasty skank is touching Him?”

Jesus talks about two debtors, both of whom had their debts forgiven. One owed twenty bucks, the other five hundred. (Yeah, I’m paraphrasing. If you’re getting hung up on “well actually He said” then I implore you to stick with me and consider my point, not the particular unimportant details.)

“Which one do you think would be more grateful,” Jesus asks. Well duh, obviously the person who owed five hundred. Jesus agrees, and explains that “whoever has been forgiven much, loves much.” He also calls out the religious folk, as usual, and reaches out to the outcast, as usual.

(In fact, it strikes me that the forgiveness goes in reverse compared to what Jesus describes. He forgives the woman AFTER she expresses all this passionate brokenness and worship.)

I think on any given Sunday, I tend to come in feeling fat, dumb, and happy spiritually – if I’m feeling anything spiritual at all. Most often, I’m probably just distracted and ready to get on with the rest of the day. I’m so used to the fact that God loves us, and has a plan to prosper us, and works all things together for our good, and… yeah,
all those promises that still stand, according to the song. I don’t need to know what they are or think about them, I’ll just sing that they still stand, and that’s pretty good, right?

No.

Paul calls me out when he writes to the Ephesians (Eph 2:1-4) and says, “Hey, remember? You were DEAD in your trespasses and sins, walking or even being carried along with the current of the world,
under the power of darkness. We all lived according to the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling our desires, being in our very nature children of wrath, doomed to punishment.”

Remember?

“BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love…”

We’ve been bought out of slavery, saved from condemnation, given a new life and a new hope, all our garbage and filth and sin exchanged for the pure, clean, stainless, righteousness of Christ before God… and yet all those words sound like more of the same-old.

Without getting too political, I think of the concept of “white privilege” and discussions of race relations. I don’t come from a culture that has a strong, recent history of slavery or past prejudice
affecting my current situation. I’ve got it pretty good where I live… both culturally and spiritually.

How often do I show up to church and enjoy my “Right Privilege” as a
Christian? Am I so accustomed to the message of the Gospel that it’s no longer amazing? Just kind of accepted, just assumed? Is the grace of God expected? Is the love God shows deserved? If I’m honest with myself, is that where I’m at?

Is it even a thought in our minds that the God of the Universe made provision for us, coming down to intervene in our wayward path, redirecting us from the course of sin and death on which we walked? Is that something we consider, or something we’ve heard so many times that our reaction and reception becomes empty and hollow?

“I love you.” Yeah yeah I know.

“I love you.” Right.

“I love you.” Got it.

“I love you.” Haha, are you just going to keep saying that?

“But I love you.” I mean, as well you should.

“But I love you.” But we kind of knew that already. That’s who You
are, isn’t it? God IS love. It says so.

We act like our grace is earned and no response is required. That’s
woefully mistaken.

“I love you.”  Ugh. Thanks, but I’m busy. I’ll get back to you.

How about same time next week?

Day Twelve: I’ve Got Options

With the word “dungeons” as a part of literally the name of the game, it’s surprising how easily these can be forgotten. I know that, for me, if my players are going to have to explore one, it needs to matter.

It’s day twelve of 30 Days of D&D, and the topic is Favorite Dungeon Type or Location.

Video games like Skyrim are awesome for the quality of the sandbox the player is placed in. I remember hearing that as soon as you finished the tutorial / intro, you faced an unstated choice:  Follow the road to the next storyline quest location, or wander in whatever direction you liked, exploring the region and its assorted scenic points.

D&D can be like that. Some DMs prepare that way, sprinkling the setting with a whole lot of everything else that’s going on in the world. I think that’s a good component of a game, especially if you’re trying to maintain a sandbox style or at least feel.

At my best, I keep a few of those parts of the world at the ready in a computer file or hard copy folder, just in case the players decide their current plan isn’t as interesting as some bit of news or rumor they hear, or some random clue they find in the wild.

On the one hand, I don’t want them to feel like they’re on rails in any way–“You can only go east because, um… reasons.” Namely, because that’s where the thing I prepared is on the map. (I did have to admit that to a group of players once. Didn’t like it.)

That said, I also don’t mind if they end up mysteriously coming across the orc cave I’ve prepared, regardless of whether they turned north toward the mountains or east into the forest. It feels natural and unexpected, because I haven’t tied myself down to “this dungeon exists at this partiuclar spot, period dot, end of story.”

Even more than location, what matters to me about dungeons is purpose. Every dungeon or mini-dungeon I build is meant to have some kind of meaningful end result.

I don’t remember what, but something powerful and BAD happened at that altar, carving a deep ditch through the stone.

Maybe it’s finding out more information about a bigger threat to the region or discovering an item necessary for the Big Bad’s ultimate evil plan.

Maybe it’s a plot twist or even a low-scale moral conundrum. Those goblins you thought were a threat? They’re actually in trouble, oppressed by the kobolds who moved in with the young dragon they serve, or deceived by their newfound friend, the hag. This sort of thing has led to some great role-playing and even a few recurring NPCs of an unusual variety.

Ancient Ghost
A picture card I made for an ancient ghostly NPC the players had to deal with in order to enter a key structure within a ruined city…

Maybe it’s just some object of great power, the knowledge and details of which have been lost to time. I don’t know why, but I always love the “ruins of the ancient, more advanced civilization” background to a dungeon, with objects that exude strange powers, interact with the players in various ways (usually bad), or reveal secrets about the world on a much larger scale.

I care far less about the location or type than about why it matters for these heroes to stomp through this particular network of tunnels and caverns.

A Stolen Moment

A few days every week, one to three of my older kids participate in a youth program on base. When I’m off, it’s a great excuse for me to park my butt at the nearby coffee shop and write. After all, I’m trying to finish off the draft of my NaNoWriMo project (50K words wasn’t enough for the story I had planned), and then I have fantasy book 2 to write…

Sometimes it feels like a constant “should” hanging over my head. I could be writing. I want to write more. I need to finish the next book, and the next one, and the one after that. I don’t want to waste my time flipping through Facebook and tapping through Twitter.

And yet, when I parked at the coffee shop yesterday, I noticed once again the stone benches placed between several banyan trees. I saw the sun shining through the clouds and the leaves. I heard the birds chirping out their warnings. I paused to sit and enjoy the moment, and then I tried to capture it in my journal.

On that page, I wrote these words, hoping to immortalize the memory for myself if no one else, and the moment of contemplation got me thinking about how many times I’ve passed that spot without stopping.

The things we want don’t come because we wish for them; they come because we work for them.

I recorded my thoughts and a reading of the text in my journal on YouTube here:

Here’s the text of my notes, in case the wind got in the way.

The branches and sections of trunk tangled and wound together like a four-year-old’s shoelaces…

roots like elephant trunks curling this way and that between octopus tentacles that poke through the waves of green grassy seas…

birds on all sides, singing the same few notes over and over, like someone with a song stuck in her head who can only remember one or two lines…

warm sunbeams cast long, cool shadows, and ants march across my pencil case in search of something edible…

cars drive by, carrying men and women on other business who will forever be oblivious to THIS moment, THIS time and space…

and I do not judge, for so often I have been likewise blind by necessity or obligation, forced to focus my attention on some other task, marching like these ants toward an unspecified but presumed-important goal…

All of us are pulled and twisted in many directions like the trunks and branches of these trees; all of us are motivated by unavoidable consequence to avoid “wasted” team and move with purpose to the next task…

But can I be cautious and conscious, careful to find here and there in life a moment and space like this?

Can I pause and be still, and listen to the world?

Though pulled and twisted by demands, can I sit like a tree, elegant in the pose like a dancer stretching upward?

Intentional

Early this year, a click-bait style post came across one of the writing groups I follow. “This one notepad will get rid of all your productivity apps!” or something like that.

For whatever reason, I clicked and watched the introduction to the Bullet Journal (a.k.a. BuJo).

The system is intended to be minimalist: fast, easy, helpful for tracking what you’ve done, focusing your efforts now, and planning your future.

“Interesting,” I thought, and moved on with my mindless Facebook browsing. But then the concept kept bouncing around in my head. Soon I found myself looking at ideas in their blog posts, discovering co-workers who already follow the system, then looking through piles of new ideas posted to Facebook groups. The artistic versions caught my eye.

Also a set of colored pencils and pens appeared randomly, demanding use. (And I learned to make an origami bookmark, because reasons.)

One of the spreads I’ve seen in numerous Bullet Journals is the “word of the year,” something that captures a person’s intended focus area for attention or improvement. I liked the concept, but there are so many words! Who could choose just one to capture everything they really want for 2017?

I chose intentional as my word of the year, because of how often I find myself wasting time and energy on superficial garbage through lack of decisions or purposeful effort. For example: “I never have time to write, I’m sooo busy. I think I’ll take this hour to play phone games and scroll through Facebook some more.”

Googling images others have used to capture the idea of “intentional” resulted in two personal faves: a brick wall being built out of Lego, and a direction sign shaped with a pointed end. The bricks convey the idea of step-by-step effort toward any goal. Results don’t appear out of thin air, but usually out of doing the same, simple task over and over until it becomes easy. I liked the sign as a way of capturing motion in a chosen direction instead of flailing around aimlessly through life.

To incorporate both, I drew a brick wall with the pointed sign hanging on it. Over the year (or however long my journal lasts) I can incorporate new words that strike my fancy or contribute to a fuller picture of what I mean by intentional living.

img_2326
A more complicated BuJo is also a fun artistic outlet.

All of it goes back to my favorite verse right now: 1st Corinthians 9:26 (ESV) – “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” The Chinese translation puts it, “So I run not as one without a destination.”

I’m still digging into what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ll do a full intro / personal take on the process once I get my new journal set up and going. (The Leuchtturm 1917 A5 dot grid seems to be the most popular option.)

Anyone else BuJo? What spreads work for you? Let me know in a comment.

A Year of Words

This year I aimed to log a daily word count, and this blog post will place me right above 215,000 for 2016. (I should go home and write a thousand words or so, in order to get 216K for 2016… Obviously!)

The management principle is you can’t achieve higher goals without changing what you do, you can’t change what you don’t measure, and you can’t measure what you don’t track. Hence the love-hate relationship many office minions have with spreadsheets, trackers, databases, and anything involving counting beans.

Maybe I won’t be a vile, languid slug with the rest of New Year’s Eve, and I’ll raise the final count a little more… NAAAAAH!

215K per day divides up to under 600 words a day. I know there are programs dedicated to encouraging a minimum 500 words per day, so yay, I met that (on average). Of course my goal–realistic or not–was to hit 1K per day, so I’m way off.

The other day, I went to the gym with a couple co-workers, and made a suggestion. “Whatever else we do, let’s try a pyramid of push-ups and sit-ups,” I said, since those are two of the four components of the Air Force fitness test. If you haven’t done a pyramid before, it’s one push-up, one sit-up, then two of each, then three… Up to some number (ten, I suggested) and back down to one. 

I hadn’t done one of these in years, and honestly wasn’t sure how well my ponderous flesh-husk could handle the challenge. The answer was “not well.” I found out right quick where my limits lay. 

In the writing arena, much like that pyramid, maybe I bit off more than I could chew by setting a goal like 1k a day. I don’t know, because I never tracked my word count before. Now I have data, so at the end of next year, I can see “Am I doing better? Am I doing about the same? Did I slow down?” To be fair, I understand there can be explanations and reasons for those ups and downs, and I’ll take those into consideration. But having some baseline gives me something to compare against.

It’s the same reason I do well on a diet or fitness plan when I log what I’ve been doing and eating. “I walked the other day, and I did a sit-up of sorts when I got out of bed. I only ate half that pizza. Doin’ pretty good!” I’m far too kind to myself when I don’t have the harsh reality of data challenging me. 

Sometimes the word count tracker showed the results of a tough effort. That’s great–part of the benefit. NaNoWriMo of course is a good example (58K in November), and when I tried Camp NaNo in April, that momentum carried into May, my second best month (just under 24K).  Sadly, those months of “high” effort are offset by too many relaxed months where I barely topped 10K. I’ll log word counts again next year, even though there are swaths of blocks with a big angry 0.

I know this is a time for new resolutions and personal commitments. A big part of setting that goal is finding a way to track progress — the ‘M’ in the SMART goal setting acronym is ‘measurable.’ 

Whether you aim for something new, something familiar but better, or simply contentment with where you are right now in life, I wish you a happy 2017 and thank you for hanging out with me here throughout the year.

War on Christmas Over!

“It’s okay to say that now. ‘Merry Christmas’ is back.”

Or so declared a number of Fox News voices on a mash-up video from a left-wing site, posted by one of my friends from that political camp. On the video, President-Elect Trump makes a show of proclaiming, “Merry Christmas” to the crowd, and the video cuts to supporters going wild. The newscasters delighted that the war on Christmas might now be over.

So I guess we win, or whatever. Religious Right, assemble! On to the next vile foe we must defeat to preserve America’s position as God’s favorite!

One of many battlegrounds!
One of many battlegrounds!

That a secular government–by design and by the Constitution–would take pains to be inclusive by not singling out one religion over another should come as no surprise. “Happy Holidays” is a way of recognizing “Maybe not all of you are Christians and some of you might celebrate something else during this season.”

But it’s been spun up for years as a “war,” as if not saying “Merry Christmas” is akin to denouncing the faith or outlawing worship. What if coffee shops don’t offer Christmas cups? What if a store clerk says, “Happy Holidays” to me? This is just one step in the advancement of the liberal agenda to destroy America, of course, so we’re told. Because we have to remember how bad “they” are and how imperiled our freedoms are, so that we keep a good, rabid voting base to get the GOP candidates elected.

Dear Christians, is the President-Elect saying “Merry Christmas” the victory we want? Is that the Good News we proclaim? Christmas is back now, guys; it was gone for the last eight years or something, but Trump said the word and now everything is better!

This changes nothing, and we’re foolish if we think it does.

Is saying the word “Christmas” the important part? Or maybe it’s a blow to politically correct culture that we celebrate? “I’ll say, ‘Merry Christmas’ and if you don’t like it then too bad!” Which totally sounds like the love of God revealed.

That’s what Christmas is about, right? The love of God revealed in the Son of God who entered a broken world and became one of us? That Jesus came in the image of fallen humanity in order to show us how to live and free us from the power of sin? We celebrate Christmas because it starts a story that leads to a cross and an empty tomb, not because “boy it really gets under those progressives’ skin when I say it, hehehe.”

My thanks go out to those who are actually on frontlines that matter:

…those ministering to the poor,

…those reaching out to the wounded and hurting during tough times,

…those who preach the Gospel around the country and around the world,

…those working to fight human trafficking and sexual exploitation,

…those providing comfort and counsel to military members deployed worldwide,

…those speaking life and hope in prisons so that men and women don’t continue down the same paths that got them incarcerated, and so on.

I’m pretty sure these are the wars Jesus won at the cross and the empty tomb. These are the war-zones where His victory needs to be proclaimed and His compassion displayed.

Those wars–where we battle not against Leftists or Democrats or Liberals, not against flesh and blood–those are still ongoing. That’s where we’re needed, because that’s where lives can be changed.

To my fellow believers, merry Christmas. Let’s not forget what it is we say we’re celebrating.

Whispers in the Wind

It’s time to write now,

Right now, this moment, create!

A world of options

_
To think that somehow

The prose, the poems that we make

Can last beyond us

_

A word legacy

Waves of rolling syllables

Flowing in our wake

_
“What’s the point,” I ask,

Afraid I know the answer:

Maybe there is none.

_
The question becomes:

If we’re mere whispers in wind

Will we not still speak?

Shadow-Boxing

A friend posted a cartoon that caught my eye. The character looked over a list of resolutions and expressed frustration, knowing this year’s efforts – like so many others – were doomed to failure. Then he changed the list to negative versions. “Get fat. Become weak. Watch more TV.” That kind of thing.

The last scene has his son looking at the list, while he lifts weights and sweats in exertion. His son says, “You’re off to a horrible start on these, Dad.” And he replies, “I know.”

I like that. 

I thought about 2015 and what I accomplished:

  • published three books available on Amazon and CreateSpace
  • regained an additional aircrew qualification in the military
  • Deployed to the Middle East for three months 
  • flew 89 sorties in the fiscal year (October – October) — roughly 1 every 4 days
  • beat out the rest of my coworkers on flights (one friend made it to 85… the next highest had 20 less than us)
  • started a family devotion time with my wife and kids
  • knocked out 5 separate debts
  • crawled out of the unfit mess I’d gotten myself into
  • started a walk-to-run program after not running for about five years
  • reached my lowest weight in about 10 years
  • used my talents in professional settings – performing vocals for the Japanese and American anthems for a co-worker’s retirement and playing Christmas tunes for social hour at our squadron holiday party
  • Played and sang for the chapel while deployed

All that said, I know “the rest of the story.”

  • I struggled for years to put those books together and can’t shake the feeling they could’ve been better
  • I’ve dropped several balls at work that now need to be addressed
  • I’ve let my relationships with my wife and kids grow stale or routine
  • I’ve done the same with my faith
  • I continue to make terrible spending decisions based on convenience, impatience, and selfishness
  • We’ve added or increased a couple debts while eliminating others
  • I crawled back into the unfit mess by ignoring fitness while focusing on other things
  • I’ve gained back most of the weight I lost
  • I’m still not doing anything on a regular basis with the talents I possess.

So this year, I’m not making empty promises to myself about what I will or won’t do. Like the comic, my list is full of anti-resolutions–the bad answers to questions I ask myself whenever I consider what 2016 holds. 

And I took a cue from a friend who recently posted a verse she chose for the year. My selection speaks to my frustration and my desire for better answers.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭9:24-27‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/1co.9.24-27.esv

I look forward to what this year holds… not because I expect some “new me” to appear. I just want to find the one I know already exists deep down.

Echoes part 1

WattPad is running a contest / writing challenge for 2015. The goal is to write 10,000 words of a story within 30 days–originally within the month of August, but they’ve extended the deadline to September 30th to allow for those who may have started late. 

After NaNoWriMo last year, 10K seems like nothing!

I’ve posted the first chapter of my Echoes story to the site. I plan to have some fun exploring the world inside Hope’s head, and the interplay between Forsephore and her soon-to-be-revealed nemesis. I’ve already got the climactic confrontation sorted out in my head, more or less… but I feel there’s a lot of winding paths along the way that I can explore.

Care to join me? Check out Echoes

Here’s a glimpse of Hope and the host of Echoes that exist within her.

   

Considering Why

A blog I follow on writing posted this lovely YouTube video of my favorite author, Brandon Sanderson:

His personal story is compelling to me on several levels.

I’ve said elsewhere on this site that it feels like I do a number of things at the “karaoke” level — well enough that people are impressed, but only when it’s free. Writing is one such endeavor.

Songwriting for Christian worship services is another. I have over a hundred songs inspired by sermons and Scripture over the last seventeen years. Some have been used in church services for a season, many have been files taking up space on a hard drive. Similarly, I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words, including two complete novel manuscripts and several short stories. But most of those are (for now) using up cloud storage space and nothing more.

Positive feedback from alpha readers is helpful. But let’s be honest; these are my friends and acquaintances over the years. They’re willing to pick up and read a novel because we already have a connection. I won’t be so lucky with your average reader browsing through a pile of self-published e-books on Amazon.

A friend of mine sent me this picture, which I took as much needed encouragement:  

So… why write? Am I willing to put forth the effort to craft the seven or eight novels bouncing in my head at present, knowing they may do nothing more than collect dust and entertain my kids? Am I willing to pen songs for personal worship knowing they might never be played in a public setting? Am I willing to throw a handful of words onto this webpage and click “Publish” knowing I might never have a bunch of Likes or hits?

Yes. I hope you are too.