Happy Thanksgiving 2018

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Wanted to wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

And I thought this proclamation from earlier American President during a very tumultuous time in our country might be worth taking to heart.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

***

Have a wonderful day.

Whence Cometh Evil?

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Plenty is happening on the writing front but I want to post something on a serious note.

In the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, my wife and I attended an interfaith service at the Cape Cod Synagogue last night. Not the sort of thing I would have done earlier in my faith and religious walk. Not at all. But sometimes, things changed for the better.

No, I haven’t embraced warm and fuzzy, Kumbaya ecumenicalism; we were invited and I believe it’s critical to be numbered among those who stand against savage acts of violence and hatred.

Hundreds in attendance, the facility packed beyond capacity, I admit I was astonished by the level of the response, encouraged by it in many ways. Our society grants us the privilege and liberty to find common ground and see our common humanity.  I also admit I was discouraged in that as far as I could tell, there was zero Evangelical representation. I have distanced myself from that particular religious label with all its baggage in these past few years but still…  Not everything has to be a Revival Meeting – a little empathy, respect, and solidarity speaks volumes.

The service went on for 90 minutes or so as speaker after speaker came to the pulpit to offer comfort, express support, and grapple with the enormity of the tragedy. And to try to offer some facet of explanation and guidance. But in all the talk, songs, and even poetry, the topic of Evil, particularly human evil or depravity, wasn’t really mentioned. Sure, there was the menu of generic ills: hatred, bigotry, senseless violence, intolerance… And the common recommended cures: love, tolerance, faith, compassion, seeing the sacredness and divinity in human beings…. Nothing wrong with that, not at all.

But for all the feel good, hopeful optimism, spiritual ideals, and the huge show of solidarity, I left the synagogue worried, worried that for all the activity, there was no real advance. No actual traction. I woke up thinking about it still uneasy because I didn’t hear a clear call to personal action, change, or responsibility, precisely because for whatever reason, that one vital issue – human evil, AKA ‘sin’ – was skirted or ignored.

It was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who pointed out ‘The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.’ That’s really the matter at stake here. It’s always struck me that at the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus commands that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…”

The idea there is that individuals must turn from not only the world’s wickedness, or that of their family, tribe, generation, whatever… but their own brokenness, isolation, and defiance to God. Like it or not, that is the defiled wellspring of contempt, cruelty, envy, resentment, violence, hatred. Not out there, but in us, all of us, each of us. In me.

It’s only after that acknowledgment and change of mind, that primal shift from Self to God, that ‘remission of sins’ takes place. To me, that word ‘remission’ says the internal corrupting influence can be, will be, checked. Not completely removed, mind you, not in this life. But its spread and power, its decay and deception, is beaten back. Then I can heed the better angels of my nature, see that Imago Dei in others and treat them with a measure of the grace God has shown me.

Exercise can change a body, Education can change a mind, Discipline can change a habit, but only God can truly change a heart. (even then cooperation is required) In my understanding, He is the cure we so desperately grope for in times like these. God – not religion – is the answer. God who is Love, who is able, who is willing, who is present and yet for all that it seems somehow we never quite grasp on long enough or deep enough to let Him actually do the work only He can do.

Why do I say that? Because we’ve been here too many times before.

How long, Oh Lord? How long?  

***

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

– 2 Cor: 13:11

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Sunrise photo from Anton Gorlin Photography

 

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

 

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LET THE STABLE STILL ASTONISH

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child–
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place”?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
Of our hearts
And says,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place.”

–  Leslie Leyland Fields
***
I post this every Christmas for lots of reasons, my faith being the main one. 32 years following after Him, I still believe Jesus’ birth was critically important and that despite the dysfunction of organized religion, His  life and words are worth serious consideration.
I also appreciate this little poem because it takes the manger away from being a seasonal Disney-fied religious scene and brings it back to earth. It presents Jesus not as some magical, special ingredient to smooth life’s bitterness and edge – like flavored coffee creamer – but as a real solution to my deepest needs. It speaks of a God who knows and loves me despite myself. It points to transcendent mystery intervening in the sordid particulars of the sad, strange mess of human history. It speaks of intention, of hope, of grace.
And for that, I am truly grateful.
Merry Christmas to you and yours. May the next year be filled with happiness, health, courage, and compassion.
I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.
 – Jesus of Nazareth Jn. 10:10b
*yes, I know the wise guys weren’t in Bethlehem but showed up quite a bit later with their gifts. I just like the picture.

Twenty Things

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So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”  

– Psalm 90:12

 

Lately, I go over this list whenever I turn on my computer.

***

  1. You’re going to die and you have no idea when.

Stop pretending that you’re invincible. Acknowledge the fact of your own mortality, and then start structuring your life in a more meaningful way.

  1. Everyone you love is going to die, and you don’t know when.

This truth may be saddening at first, but it also gives you permission to make amends with past difficulties and re-establish meaningful relationships with important figures in your life.

  1. Your material wealth won’t make you a better or happier person.

Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who achieves his or her materialistic dreams, money only amplifies that which was already present.

  1. Your obsession with finding happiness is what prevents its attainment.

Happiness is always present in your life–it’s just a matter of connecting to it and allowing it to flow through you that’s challenging.

  1. Donating money does less than donating time.

Giving your time is a way to change your perception and create a memory for yourself and others that will last forever.

  1. You can’t make everyone happy, and if you try, you’ll lose yourself.

Stop trying to please, and start respecting your values, principles, and autonomy.

  1. You can’t be perfect, and holding yourself to unrealistic standards creates suffering.

Many perfectionists have unrelenting inner critics that are full of so much rage and self-hate that it tears them apart inside. Fight back against that negative voice, amplify your intuition, and start challenging your unrealistic standards.

  1. Your thoughts are less important than your feelings and your feelings need acknowledgment.

Intellectually thinking through your problems isn’t as helpful as expressing the feelings that create your difficulties in the first place.

  1. Your actions speak louder than your words, so you need to hold yourself accountable.

Be responsible and take actions that increase positivity and love.

  1. Your achievements and successes won’t matter on your death bed.

When your time has come to transition from this reality, you won’t be thinking about that raise; you’ll be thinking about the relationships you’ve made–so start acting accordingly.

  1. Your talent means nothing without consistent effort and practice.

Some of the most talented people in the world never move out from their parent’s basement.

  1. Now is the only time that matters, so stop wasting it by ruminating on the past or planning the future.

You can’t control the past, and you can’t predict the future, and trying to do so only removes you from the one thing you can control–the present.

  1. Nobody cares how difficult your life is, and you are the author of your life’s story.

Stop looking for people to give you sympathy and start creating the life story you want to read.

  1. Your words are more important than your thoughts, so start inspiring people.

Words have the power to oppress, hurt, and shame, but they also have the power to liberate and inspire–start using them more wisely.

  1. Investing in yourself isn’t selfish. It’s the most worthwhile thing you can do.

You have to put on your own gas mask to save the person sitting right next to you.

  1. It’s not what happens, it’s how you react that matters.

Train yourself to respond in a way that leads to better outcomes.

  1. You need to improve your relationships to have lasting happiness.

Relationships have a greater impact on your wellbeing and happiness than your income or your occupation, so make sure you give your relationship the attention and work it deserves.

  1. Pleasure is temporary and fleeting, so stop chasing fireworks and start building a constellation.

Don’t settle for an ego boost right now when you can delay gratification and experience deeper fulfillment.

  1. Your ambition means nothing without execution–it’s time to put in the work.

If you want to change the world, then go out there and do it!

  1. Time is your most valuable asset–you need to prioritize how you spend it.

You have the power and responsibility to decide what you do with the time you have, so choose wisely.

 

In Between

Thoughts on Faith and Disability

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A long-ish article that’s part testimony, part experiences as a Christian with a disability. I made it a separate page. There’s a drop down tab in the Header under About HSSJ or you can click on this link. Feel free to comment.

I’ll get back to cyber-enhanced soldiers and half-breed orcs now. Have a good weekend.

Thoughts on the Conventions of Genre and Faith

 

” Those French have a different word for everything.”

– Steve Martin as huffy ‘Merican tourist

 

***

I’ve come to accept the fact – but not really comprehend – there are people who don’t read. Like, at all. It’s an exertion, painful on the same level as a marathon or a colonoscopy. And of those who do read as a past-time, there are some who don’t read fiction, especially speculative fiction. My brother for example sees no value in the Lord of the Rings, which to him is a bunch of short people and pretend creatures running around a make-believe land after a stupid piece of jewelry.

So… yeah.

(we are related – I checked.)

Sure you’ve got those dark suit, bowl-cut, body odor, Bible-quoters who hold any entertainment to be vain, carnal, and worldly.  “It’s all going to burn, brother.”  (real-life quote example, that)  Like the poor, they will always be with you, so leave them alone to mutter and scowl in the corner. In general though, I think fiction like poetry has lots of folk who don’t ‘get it’. Lack of or poor prior experience, too intellectually lazy, or some other reason. Other folks simply aren’t wired that way. They’re eminently practical. Fiction is just not their thing, and I’m OK with that too.

Not so for me. I remember walking into the Big Hall at GenCon 2000 and realizing I was part of a huge, weird, cool secret society. The Cult of Geek. It was as much a relief as revelation. Since then, transitioning from genre reader to genre writer, I’ve come to understand even more that Sci Fi, Fantasy, Horror… Spec-Fiction Genres are languages. They are distinctly different vocabularies from Normal; the jargon of real, day-to-day, life. In fact, I’ll go further and say Genres are separate countries, entire worlds even. Speak at length with a Hard Core Star Wars or Warhammer 40K Nerd and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Genres have evolution, histories, archetypes, symbols,  idioms, nuance…it’s incredible, and implicit to good genre-writing is a deft handling of those dynamics in manners that satisfy, even stretch and exceed the audience’s expectations. It’s hard to pull off, to be fluent, and not everyone will understand, but those that do, appreciate it. That is the mystery and magic of allegory, of parables. I think my first point here is that Discrimination – in the sense of a select audience – is perfectly OK.  Not everyone is going to enjoy, understand, or accept my work. It’s high time to stop being surprised.

The next hurdle I see is the challenge of approaching creative endeavor with an ideology, in my case a theological one. Don’t kid yourself: all art makes a statement  – overt or otherwise, religious or not –  because it springs from the mulch of the artist’s life. Having a defined worldview makes the challenge that much stranger because it either forms a strong foundation or  reduces it to propaganda. So not only does the fiction writer have to hone craft but they have to avoid capture. Sort of sculpting smoke while waltzing through a minefield. The wisps of imagination have to form an entertaining, yet credible make-believe world (a ‘lie that tells the truth’) without  shrinking or spoiling the medium.

I get that some people will scorn or be hostile to my faith. Getting your worldview shat on is part of the package. (part of Life, actually) The last thing I want though is my stories to be Terrariums for Pet Rocks: painfully, obviously contrived, tiny, artificial environments for my cherished doctrines.

So as I hammer away at my next novel, consider October’s Viable Paradise workshop, and view the recent Hugo dust-up in light of my own faith and artistic struggles, I’ve still of a mind to sink my roots deeper while growing wings. For me, it’s not an ‘Either/Or’ dilemma – it’s translation problem. God help me to learn the language and be an effective communicator.  An oracle, even.

 

 

 

Just my .02

Preachers often rail against the lure and message of Hollywood and there’s something to be said there in certain instances. But Life and the world being what they are, is it any wonder people seek escapism?

In my experience, ministers called to declare ‘the greatest story ever told’ often fail to make it captivating, fail to engage the audience. Can you really fault them when the wonder of an Almighty God, His everlasting kingdom, the mystery and promise of redemption, get replaced by insipid platitudes or petty indignations? If those are the proposed alternatives, is it any wonder people prefer to spend time with Tolkien’s Bilbo rather than their Jesus?

Don’t blame Hollywood – they are who they are, doing their job. Nature abhors a vacuum – sometimes the empty seats are on you, reverend.