NaNoWriMo 2015: A Recap

Today is the last day of November, and the last day of my first attempt at climbing the NaNoWriMo mountain. I fell far short of my goal of 50,000 words (clocking in at just over 15,000).

Point of fact, I haven’t touched the novel in a week, which was the best possible decision for me. Rather than frantically trying to meet the deadline, I spent time relaxing with family and friends, and I enjoyed investing in those relationships.

Despite not “winning” this year, I have still greatly benefited from this experience. While none of these are groundbreaking revelations, I (re)learned some useful truths this month:

  • I still love telling stories. When I am grabbed by an idea or a character, and start following it through, I get a charge of energy. On the other hand, if I skip a day or two of writing, I start to lose that excitement, and the voice of the inner critic kicks in. Once I fight through the resistance and sit down at the keyboard, I find that I can pick up the thread and really start having fun with it.
  • It’s strange and exciting when your characters surprise you. No, I’m not invoking the idea of the Muse. However, there were a few times when my characters “said” and “did” things I didn’t actually expect or plan.  One of my female characters changed from a foolish party girl to a wannabe criminal. My main character (a man trying to walk a righteous path) surprised me by lying to someone who trusted him completely. In times like these, when the words start flowing, you just hang on and enjoy the ride. And enjoy it, I did.
  • I need to research. Especially since I was diving into the realm of “write what you don’t know,” both in terms of genre and subject matter, I needed to get more background in order to bring any realism to the story. I ran into that problem several times. So, lesson learned: next year, October will be National Novel Research Month for me.
  • I should spend more time thinking through the “big idea” in my story. Stephen King talks about growing an entire novel from a single image or line in his head. Well, good for him–but newbies like me need to plan better. What I realized after writing 15K words was that I was losing a handle on the story I thought I wanted to tell. The novel was becoming something else, something similar and interesting but not quite right. When I started writing, I didn’t have a clear enough idea of the big idea behind the narrative. While I know that this can also be sorted out in the editing process, I would rather take some time and refine my concept before moving forward.
  • That kind of daily output is gruelling, even for seasoned writers. Even writers who live and breath their craft balk at this level of production. It’s a mad marathon–that was part of the reason I wanted to try. And this month reminded me that pursuing this passion must cost me something. Every day, I had to decide if I was willing to pay that cost. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I didn’t. If anything, this experience has made me more honest (with myself, most of all) about how much I actually want to write, and what I am (and am not) willing to do for it.
  • My life is still a bit out of balance. The most important thing I learned was that my daily life isn’t quite balanced yet. I don’t give the most time or energy to the things that matter most. Maybe I’m not even sure what matters most to me. But this experience has shown me that December should be a time to reflect and decide where I want to invest my time and energy, and which pursuits are most meaningful to me. I think writing will become a more consistent part of that.

So, as reader Jaimie pointed out, NaNoWriMo 2015 was a success–not in the way I expected, but in the way it needed to be. I’m glad I attempted it, and I’ll definitely do it again. And next time, I’ll have a better idea of what it requires.

I’m supposed to post something today, aren’t I?

I wrote a post just a minute ago, actually. But it was really melodramatic, so I trashed it. Instead, I’ll just post this:

  • God is working on me, forcing me to re-evaluate some things. This is hard, but good. (And if that sounds ominous, let me add: we’re not going through anything major–this is all internal, wrestling-within-my-own-heart kind of stuff. No worries.)
  • I’ll post more about it later, probably. Maybe. Suffice it to say: my priorities are being challenged and reshuffled. I need to take a step back and figure out what I’m actually working toward, and if that really matters.
  • On Thursday, I’ll post some random #ThursdayThankfuls. On Monday, I’ll recap my NaNoWriMo experience. And we’ll see where it goes after that.
  • Speaking of NaNoWriMo, I guess I’ll go ahead and say: I’m resigning this year’s NaNoWriMo campaign. I’m still writing (slowly), and I have a smaller goal I’d like to hit this week, but I’m not going to reach 50,000 words anytime soon. And I’m trying really hard to be okay with that.

Thanks for reading, friends. Talk to you soon.

Thankful Thursday: Perspective

A quick post in the “this is where I am right now” vein…

My last week and a half has been full of minor inconveniences and emotional unrest. The technology in my life took on the mantle of “thorns and thistles” and started battling against me, and I allowed it to rattle me. I really got frustrated and anxious and overwhelmed about a lot of really silly and stupid things.

But during the same time period, stories began rolling in of terrorist attacks and natural disasters all over the world. Arguments about the fate of refugees who are fleeing such suffering. Closer to home, friends and family are engaged in health crises, work crises, relational upheavals. When you hear about all that going on, it forces you to be honest with yourself and get some perspective on your own life.

All in all, these are reminders that my life is pretty amazing, and that this is really a gift from God. I have been shielded from the harshest realities of life in this broken world. I have been given countless opportunities, many of which I likely don’t even realize. All my material needs are being met, and I have security and hope for the days ahead.

In the last few days, my technological problems have mostly been resolved. I’ve been able to spend time with my amazing wife in honest communication about what’s going in our hearts and minds, and we are growing ever closer as a result. I’m hopeful for the future.

My life is going well, all in all. Of course, there are things I’d like to revise, improve, reconsider. But on the whole, I am blessed and I am thankful.

So here’s my thankful Thursday: God has been good to me. And no matter what temporary frustrations or minor inconveniences I am facing, I must never let them overshadow this great truth.

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How about you? What’s something you’re thankful for, today? Please post it in the comments below, so we can rejoice with you.

Red Coffee Cups and the Outrage Over Outrage.

By now, you have probably heard about the ginned-up internet controversy over Starbucks’ new holiday/Christmas coffee cup design. While I don’t have much to add to the bevy of really cogent and pointed posts that have been written in response, I do want to make a few brief observations about the response:

One: Have you actually looked up the origins of this debate? A quick internet search today turned up only 2 places that are really making the case that the new Starbucks cup design is part of the “War on Christmas” (TM). Meanwhile, I found dozens of news articles and blog posts recounting and criticizing this argument. You tell me: what did you hear about first–the outrage or the reaction to the outrage?

I would propose that the emotional posts of a few Christians on a few websites may have done a bit more to confirm cultural stereotypes of “American Christianity” than they ever could do to preserve “American Christianity” (such as it is). But the resulting dogpile from other believers may end up having the same effect.

Two: Consider the tone* of the posts from Christians that are critiquing this internet controversy. I can’t help but pick up a certain level of smugness from some articles. When (admittedly) ridiculous examples of misdirected religious outrage arise, this seems to give too many of us a chance to tap out a social media post or blog article on how shameful it all is that Christianity is cheapened by benighted simpletons. (“I thank you, Lord, that I am not like other men–those who are less culturally aware, those who boycott corporations, those who stand on corners with signs. I thank You that I am nuanced and thoughtful, so that I do not embarrass myself or others…”)**

Here’s my point: Christian, if you are reading these stories about people who claim to be Christians and feel outraged over coffee cups, and you feel that disdain or derision creeping up in your heart as I have, listen to me: we are in danger here–because spiritual pride is just as spiritually deadly as unrighteous anger.

The Scriptures don’t let us off the hook either. Those who are spiritually proud are warned frequently against hypocrisy. They are told to be careful that they themselves don’t fall.

When we encounter believers who may be immature or may have more sensitive consciences–even about issues we think are no big deal–the mature Christian response is not mockery and derision. It’s graceful speech and patient instruction.

I’m going to say that again for the people in the back who didn’t hear me the first time: the mature Christian response to the foolish controversies of fellow Christians is graceful speech and patient instruction.

YES, pastors and teachers are charged with confronting error and correcting it. YES, Christians are commanded to discern truth from error. YES, we are told to remove the speck from our brother’s eye after removing the log from our own.

What I’m saying is that we have some big, proud logs that need moving before we get too critical about internet outrage. 

Brothers, sisters, I write this, acknowledging that I am smuggiest smug blogger I know. I have been guilty of online arrogance many times over. Even as I write this, I must watch out for the trap that my own prideful heart lays for me.

Rather than being smug, let us be gracious. Let us be winsome. Let us speak the truth in love. Let our reasonableness be known to everyone.

And the next time the alarm sounds for a fresh wave of outrage, let’s take the opportunity to demonstrate Whose disciples we are.

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*”Oh no! He said ‘tone’! Here comes the Tone Police!”  …No. I’m someone who acknowledges that tone and tenor is part of communication, and I recognize that how you say things matters.

**Am I in danger here of doing the very thing I’m critiquing? Yes. Yes, I am. And there’s the rub, I’m afraid. Our wicked pride lies in wait, and even as we seek to do good, our rebel flesh is there to sow tares. Who will save us from this self-righteous body of death? Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has rescued us from our prideful, blinded selves through the shed blood of the Holy One.

Thankful Thursdays 2015: People

November is upon us, and aside from the previously-mentioned novel-writing, another activity common to November is focusing attention on gratitude. So, during this month of thanksgiving, I’ll be devoting my Thursday posts toward expressing thanks for the incredible blessings God has given me.

This week: a short list of people* I’m particularly thankful for this year.

My wife. While the list of my wife’s admirable qualities could be a series of lengthy posts in and of themselves, I will focus specifically on one way she’s blessed me lately: she has demonstrated in recent weeks that she believes in me more than I believe in myself. She encourages me to be creative and bold, to make tough choices and not second-guess myself. She trusts in me. She is proud of me. I can’t begin to explain what that means to me.  Beloved, I am thankful for you.

My folks. I haven’t been a great son at times, especially in this season of life in which I’m trying to figure out how to relate to my parents as an adult-child. But I regularly see in new and surprising ways the imprint of my parents upon me–how I think, how I relate to the world, even how I speak. My parents aren’t perfect people or perfect parents; they never claimed to be. But they were and are good parents, who have shown each of their children love, support, and encouragement. I would not be who I am without their constant presence and impact.

My sisters and brother-in-law. It has been a pleasure watching my sisters grow into young women. They are pretty much total opposites, but they share the same strength, loyalty, and generosity of heart that my parents have. I am blessed to have these 2 women in my life. And last Christmas, I had the added blessing of gaining a brother, a man of gentleness and generosity, whose good-natured sense of humor and quietness makes him a perfect match for the older of my 2 sisters. I’m glad to call the three of you my friends, as well as my family.

Our Care Group at Redeemer. When my wife and I joined our new church, the first worry I had was about building relationships. Our previous church had a vibrant young-adult group, and we have many friends there. Our hope was that, when we joined our new church, there would be at least a few people we can get to know. God has blessed us beyond our hopes, by placing us in a community group with about 10 people (and a half-dozen kids) who have welcomed us with open arms and open hearts. It has been a joy getting to know this group, and every time we leave your houses after a meet-up, my wife and I always say, “We’re so glad these are our friends.”

Our tribe of friends at CFBC. That said, we still have deep roots and strong connections with people from our previous church, and though we have moved across town, we still are trying to keep up with the old group. We may not see y’all as often, but know that you are still in our hearts.

My unexpected online tribe of friends. In the online world, we too easily confuse acquaintances with friends, but I can say with confidence that I have made true friendships with people all over the place through social media and through this blog.  Guys like Webster, Michael, Darin, and others have been a blessing to me personally, through email and online chats. I’m thankful for y’all.

You. Yes, you, dear reader. Whether or not we know each other, or have ever interacted, I’m thankful that you are taking the time to read this blog. I know that your time is valuable, so reading this far is a gift from you to me. I appreciate that.  I hope that this blog will be a blessing to you now and into the future.

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Your turn: Is there anyone for whom you are particularly thankful this year? If so, here’s your 2-part assignment: a) Comment below, and share a little bit about the person(s) for whom you are thankful; and then b) Go tell them yourself.

It’s November. It’s as good a time as any to be thankful. So go do it.

*I feel I should clarify: Non-divine people. So Jesus is not on this list. He’ll be back later. *wink*

The4thDave Reviews: “Onward” by Dr. Russell Moore

I have to admit: my relationship with Dr. Russell Moore’s work has been…evolving. Dr. Moore’s book Tempted and Tried was a challenging book that I have recommended to others in the past. I heard the man speak during a lunch for prospective seminary students, and his words stirred me and confirmed my desire to pursue full-time Christian ministry down the road. To be honest, it was Drs. Moore and Mohler that clinched Southern Seminary as my school of choice. But then, over the last few years, Dr. Moore has said and done things that left me scratching my head. I have found myself disagreeing more and more with Moore’s tendency toward coalition-building across denominational and even religious lines.

So when I had the opportunity to read and review his new book Onward, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do so. Having finished it, I can say that I’m glad I did. Onward is, above all else, an incredibly hopeful book about the opportunities that lay before the American church in the coming century.

Commendations

The heartbeat of the book is the idea that the Church must accept that it is becoming more and more counter-cultural in America. Moore repeats the refrain that the days of “traditional Judeo-Christian values” and the Moral Majority are at an end, but that this is ultimately a good thing for America and for the American Church. As Christians let go of any perceived cultural power, we are freed to act like the ordinary radicals we were called to be–people who hold to “bizarre” sexual and relational ethics of chastity and monogamy, people who seek to overcome through weakness and sacrifice instead of strength, people who are marked by a strange grace and compassion for those that society deems irrelevant. This truth is sorely needed in the American Church today.

Dr. Moore is sometimes criticized for being too ideologically or politically liberal. While I think his positions are closer to the middle than the left, I will acknowledge that I disagree with him on more than a few political issues. However, it is crystal clear in Onward that Moore upholds the authority of the Scriptures, the lordship of Jesus Christ, and the primacy of the Gospel message in the mouths and hearts of the American Church. Whatever knocks Moore’s opponents have on him, he is still a brother in Christ, and his work elevates the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

There is certainly material to commend in this book. The chapters on human dignity, family stability, and convictional kindness are strong and convicting.

Concerns

While I agree with many of Moore’s arguments and solutions, I can’t accept all of them. In recent years, Dr. Moore has demonstrated a growing comfort level with ecumenism (the linking of arms with people of different faith backgrounds) for the sake of social causes. This type of coalition-building is recommended throughout Onward. However, I’m still not convinced that linking arms with people of other faiths to address topics like same-sex marriage or human trafficking is the right answer. No matter with whom we lock arms outside of Christianity, we will ultimately disagree with our co-belligerents on both the cause and the solution for any societal ill we seek to remedy.

Dr. Moore writes in several chapters about how the Church should have a prophetic voice in the public sphere and the political process. Yet, he also decries how Christians have politicized their moral campaigns in the past. This seems to be a disconnect. If the use of political influence to accomplish a moral agenda was wrong then, why is it more acceptable now? It’s possible that I’ve misunderstood Dr. Moore’s intention here, but this just seemed like a logical disconnect for me.

The fifth chapter in the book, “Mission,” was problematic for me for both of the reasons described above. Dr. Moore argues that Christians should be engaged in actively seeking righteousness and justice in their culture. However, he argues that “the new birth itself is not the stand-alone remedy for the work of righteousness and justice. We cannot simply assume that ‘changed people’ will ‘change the world.‘” He goes on to suggest that Christians have the responsibility to seek good actively in the world, rather than passively hope things will get better.

While I agree on some level with the second half of that quote, I have to disagree strongly with the first. It is precisely the New Birth that brings about true change in cultures. When the Holy Spirit brings a spiritually-dead person to life, it is only then that they can seek true righteousness and justice. Apart from that, there may be some temporary improvements, but the fruit wouldn’t last. The most powerful force in all of human existence is the proclamation of the transforming Gospel. Cultural change without spiritual change is hollow secular piety at best, a cultural morality that will change and “evolve” with every passing generation. In this chapter, Moore misconstrues the counter-arguments he is facing. The issue is not that Christians refuse to alleviate suffering and injustice in this life. The great concern that I and others like me have is that we must be careful not to stifle the eternal message of the Church through a primary focus on this life alone. The message of the Church is that Christ came to save sinners from the divine wrath they have justly earned. The Church’s call to the ends  of the earth is not, “We will save you from injustice!” but “Christ can save you from condemnation!”

In these and other moments, I feel like Dr. Moore has misunderstood or mischaracterized the arguments and concerns of those who he is trying to argue against or persuade. The issue for many believers is not that we don’t realize doing good for others is good. Rather, we are seeking to address first what we feel may be the most urgent need for that person.

Final Verdict: While this book is far from perfect, there are some really helpful and challenging ideas that Christians in the American Church should consider and wrestle with. While I obviously disagree with several parts of it, it would be worth reading and discussing with mature and discerning believers.

On the whole, Onward was a challenging work for me, on a few levels. First, it challenged me to reconsider Dr. Moore and reminded me of the areas where we have common ground. Second, it forced me to think through the way that I respond to the vast cultural changes taking place in my country. Third, the book helped me reevaluate the ways my Christianity had been influenced by my political ideology, so that I might not make the same mistakes my spiritual predecessors did. Finally, Onward reminded me that we Christians are to be a people characterized by hope–hope that is not found in political influence or cultural cache, but hope in a resurrected Savior who defeated death by death and rose again to triumph forevermore. Whatever our political or cultural fates in this age, we await a better country, a secure and unshakeable city, and a righteous, just, and triumphant King.

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Please Note: I was provided a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. The preceding comments are purely my own.

Schedule Change

Hey fam.

So I’m doing this NaNoWriMo thing, and it’s really intense. I thought I might be able to handle that PLUS blogging, but it doesn’t look like it.

Rather than our usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule (don’t look at me like that–I try to post that frequently), we’re shifting to a Tuesday-Thursday schedule for the next 4 weeks. Don’t worry, we’ll be back to 3 posts a week, starting November 30th.

A great way to receive new posts without having to check the blog is to SUBSCRIBE! When you subscribe, my new posts will be emailed directly to you! Convenient! I even have a handy-dandy widget for you to use, at the bottom of this webpage. Click the button and subscribe by email.

In summary: starting tomorrow, the first Tuesday-Thursday post will go live. In the meantime, I wanted to say thanks for reading. I really do appreciate it.

(As for a quick NaNo update: I’m STRUGGLING to get it going. I find myself running headlong into what Steven Pressfield calls the Resistance. Definitely had some moments of doubt on Saturday night. However, I have put my hands on the keyboard and made the clackety-noise for a little while, so we are underway. Prayers and well wishes are appreciated.)