Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kansas Authors Pavilion at RenFest Today & Tomorrow

If you're in Wichita, drop in at the Renaissance Fair at Sedgwick County Park today and tomorrow and have some fun.

But most importantly, swing by the Kansas Authors Pavilion! A number of local writers will be there, books at the ready, having a great time together. Come see what kinds of stories a bunch of crazy writers can come up with.

Oh, and buy a turkey leg at the food court for me.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Lenten Devotional

For this Lenten Season, here's a meditation on the 5th Word from the Cross - "I Thirst" (John 19.28). Available from Amazon here.

Pretty wild, I just uploaded it last night and it's already a "Hot New Release" and listed as #86,039 Paid in Kindle Store.

+ #8 in Christianity - Meditations - New Testament
+ #20 in Christian Books - Bible Studies - Meditations
+ #50 in Nonfiction - Religion - Spirituality - Meditations

Btw, the excellent cover art is licensed from photographer Stephen Morris. I did the you think it looks okay?

Also, if you want to know what the reference is, here's the scoop about "The Seven Last Words of Jesus."

According to the Gospels, Jesus, called the Christ, uttered seven ‘last words’ while upon the cross. Tradition orders these particular statements chronologically, though the exact sequence isn’t known since no one Gospel records them all. Here are Christ’s final words from the cross and their references. (All Scripture quotations are modernized from the King James Version.)

1. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

2. And Jesus said to the criminal beside him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

3. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to her, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” (John 19:26-27)

4. About the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” That is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15.34)

5. After this, knowing that all things were now accomplished and that the Scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” (John 19:28)

6. When Jesus received the wine vinegar, he said, “It is finished!” And he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

7. Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

These are great texts to meditate on during this Lenten Season. If you don't have a Kindle and want a free epub version of my devotion, email me and I'll send it to you. I'll even send a free mobi version, just let me know. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Self-Publishing Checklist

What are the key ingredients to a successful launch of a self-published ebook/paperback? Or better, how can we indie writers expand our borders, so to speak, in order to reach enough paying customers so that we can write full time for a living? Here's a list from Joe Konrath of important factors to consider.
  • Type of book
  • How it's written
  • Who the author is
  • Amount of advertising
  • Amount of publicity
  • Amount of marketing
  • Fan enthusiasm
  • Cover art
  • Distribution
  • Price
  • Book description
  • Formatting
  • Proofreading 
  • Word of mouth
Together, these can lead to the possibility of a shot at success. Plus the factor of luck. Because, really, sometimes the stars just align and bammo, a book takes off.

But one thing to keep in mind. These factors are not static. Everything doesn't have to align the first week. As many have already stated, don't think of the launch date as an event. If no one buys the book that first day, so what? Take the long view. Or, as Konrath says, ebooks are forever and forever is a long time to get discovered.

So keep honing your skill. Keep practicing. When it comes time to launch, keep in mind the above factors. And then...go forth and multiply.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

How We Lost the Gay Debate

Look Away Sunday: How We Lost the Gay Debate

(Note to those who believe differently than I do: My weekly reflections are written for evangelical Christians and are intended to spur dialog among ourselves about issues relevant to our biblical views. If this is not your thing, feel free to ‘look away’ and ignore the following. BTW, this was first posted on my FB wall and received many positive comments. If you choose to interact below, please do so with grace. Thanks.)

The debate is over and we lost. The ‘debate’ being the national conversation about the redefinition of marriage. Oh, some are still fighting this culture war (definitely not my preferred metaphor, just a readily identifiable one) but the tide has turned. The conversation is done. In fact, the debate ended in the mid-1980s before we even realized we were in dialog.

Let me explain.

When the AIDS crisis really hit, I was in college. I remember hearing about the first reports of the disease and its horrifying, ravaging effects on the body. It shocked our nation. Of course, some Christian leaders were quick to call it a curse from God. Unfortunately, this was the national sentiment at the time and anyone associated with the disease was treated abominably. May all the Ryan Whites rest in peace.

But I also remember hearing a few rational voices crying out in the wilderness, trying to reach out to those with HIV/AIDS despite the stigma. Their message was about ministry - and being gay or not was irrelevant. Those suffering needed grace, first and foremost. But no one was helping them!

It seemed as if our nation had turned its back on those who were hurting most. This prompted one Christian leader (I can’t remember who) to say something like this to us evangelicals: “Now is the time to minister in the name of Christ. Because when the world abandons ‘the least of these’ those who follow Christ do not. What a witness we’ll have when the world realizes that the only ones reaching out to the gay community are Christians.”

But instead of reaching out, we left the table. That’s when we lost the debate. When we failed to be the Church during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, we took our leave from the national conversation about anything gay related, including marriage. I’m not commenting on whether we should continue to discuss the issue of marriage or not. I’m simply saying that one reason we’re where we’re at today is because of what we didn’t do 30 years ago.

Why didn’t we step up to the plate back then? Two reasons, I think. One was simple ignorance. Like I said, I was in college in the 80s – a Christian college – and even though my first two roommates happened to be gay, I was oblivious to the issues they were facing. I’m friends with both on FB, so I’ll take this moment to say that I hope I didn’t say anything mean-spirited back then, but I honestly wouldn’t know – I was ignorant. The Church was largely ignorant of the pain swirling around it because we knew very few people personally who were dying of AIDS. It wasn’t ‘our’ issue. False, but sadly true.

A second reason was our adulterous affair with politics. Somehow – and this discussion is too far-ranging to do justice to in a single paragraph – we evangelicals ended up in bed with conservative political theory. And it’s marred our witness ever since. We became apathetic to many needs around us because we chased after the gods of politics. Now hear me, I’m not saying Christians should be apolitical, just that our faith shouldn’t be identified with such. Instead, we should get back to caring for the least of these. This will, imo, give us credibility in the town square. At the political level, at the table of national conversation, we’ll then have something to say and an audience to say it to.

It can still happen. In fact, it is happening in a different area - one just as hot button controversial. Abortion. We thought we lost the debate in 1973, but due to the tireless efforts of hundreds of thousands of CPC workers who are ministering to both mothers and children (and fathers too), the number of preborn children dying each year has fallen from 4000 a day in 1990 to about 2500 a day in 2012. Still a heart sickening number. And the hill seems insurmountable. But our job is not to go postal and it’s not to go political. Our job is to extend grace. No matter what the issue.

Because when the world abandons ‘the least of these’ those who follow Christ do not. I still believe this. Millions of Christians do as well. And they act with compassion. It can change our reputation. I hope it does. Before we face another crisis as a nation, I just hope our inch-deep-mile-wide evangelical subculture will shed its ignorance and apathy and rise to the occasion.

(Thanks for reading. If you choose to comment, please be positive and encouraging, even if you disagree. BTW, the phrase 'gay debate' comes from an interesting discussion by Matthew Vines, a fellow Wichitan, on the biblical texts that refer to homosexuality. While I disagree with some of his interpretations, the point is that this is a Christian discussion and not an outsider or secular/atheist attack against a traditional position.)

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

#HamOnNye - One More Thought

What Bill Nye and Ken Ham Should Have Said To Each Other
This Week’s Reflection – And Yes, It’s Old News By Now So Just Ignore This Post

I know the creation/evolution ‘debate’ between Ken Ham and Bill Nye has long lost its buzz. That’s the nature of today’s saturated media: tomorrow’s news is old before it arrives. But I like to ruminate about ‘big ideas’ and #HamOnNye raised some for me. So I thought I’d share.

It also takes me a long time to process my thoughts before I can articulate them clearly. I was the kid on the school ground who had a great retort the next day, but when the insult actually occurred could only reply, “Oh yeah? Well…you’re…not very nice.”

Which is what seemed to be going on between Bill Nye the Science Guy – who never did say ‘consider the following’ which was disappointing – and Ken Ham the Creation Research Guy – who didn’t say much at all, imo. They both sounded like school kids arguing past each other: “Oh yeah? Well, you’re not…paying attention to me!”

And they weren’t. Because the fundamental difference wasn’t their view of the origins of the universe. Theirs wasn’t an evolution vs creation debate. It was a misunderstanding of each other’s starting point. The real issue was their respective sources of authority. Their rambling exchanges about layers of ice and Mount St. Helens were simply random darts thrown at the wrong dart board.

Now I’m not a scientist. I’m a former seminarian with a graduate degree in pastoral ministry with an emphasis in theology. So I won’t address Bill Nye’s starting point (ie, his source of authority, which I assume is the scientific method and its attendant research methodologies). But I can comment on Ken Ham’s source of authority – the bible – since I share his respect for it.

Relative to their discussion of scripture, then, what they should have said to each other was this.

Monday, March 03, 2014

New Middle Grade Adventure Series

The Adventures of Max McCannor

Friend and fellow writer Todd Hunter and I have just released Escape! - the first episode of The Adventures of Max McCannor. It's now available at most of your favorite online bookstores.

Max McCannor and his friends suffer under the cruelty of their orphanage headmasters, Mr. and Mrs. Tittlesworth. After reaching a breaking point, and spurred on by the hope of finding his long-lost father, Max convinces his best friend Sadie and the others to flee their captors and head west. 

But Tittlesworth has too many secrets to keep to risk losing Max and his pals. So the headmaster hires one of his former orphans to track the children down. He wants them returned to the orphanage...before they ESCAPE for good.

Join Max, Sadie, and the rest of the crew as they travel from New York to Chicago and then onward to California in search of his dad, an inventor who has fallen into the hands of a dangerous gang bent on exploiting his mechanical genius.

Escape! is a middle grade/young adult alternative history adventure story set in the 1890s. It has a light steampunk flavor since the era is so ripe with inventions and exciting technological changes. This is the first of three episodes in this particular adventure and Todd and I hope to keep writing more exciting tales featuring Max, Sadie, and their friends.

Ebook (about 80 pages) available for $2.99 at Amazon and B&N and iBooks and Kobo and Smashwords or as a paperback for $8.99 from CreateSpace. Or contact me for a signed copy, $10 includes shipping. Great cover design by Tomomi Ink, btw.

Here's a bit more about the project. Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Problems with Labeling Something 'Christian'

If we aren't friends on Facebook, here's my weekly rant, er, reflection on various things cultural-theological ... for those interested in such things. :)

We Christians have a propensity to label things. I think it’s because we want to lay claim to whatever it is we’re discussing: Our country was founded as a Christian nation; Harvard and Yale started out as Christian universities. Et cetera. If the discussion centers on the arts, we’ll lay claim there too. We love it when our Christian singers crossover or when our Christian novelists write best sellers. We applaud when our Christian movies best what comes out of Hollywood.

But before we label something as ours, we want to know if it truly is. When it comes to music, we want to know if Mumford & Sons - whose 2012 album Babel laced with biblical imagery and spiritual themes - is a Christian band. (We wondered the same thing about U2 in the 80s, btw, and the answer for both is a resounding ambiguity – and this from the band members themselves.) We want to know if Flannery O’Conner wrote Christian stories, or if, speaking of Hollywood, ‘The Book of Eli’ is a Christian film.

See, if we label it Christian, then we can own it. We can find satisfaction and security in it. We can stop doing the hard work of discerning what’s truthful or not and simply accept what is being fed to us. Safe in our haven of rest. And in some arrogant fashion, we can even say to the world: this is ours and what you have is an inferior Xerox of the original. So there. But the problem with such labeling (and its attendant attitudes of lazy acceptance or arrogant boasting) is three-fold, imo. Each of these points could lead to a full blown discussion in itself – and if this is of interest, feel free to comment, add to, challenge, or politely disagree below.

First – and this admittedly does sound arrogant from an outsider’s perspective – we don’t need a label. It’s redundant. Everything already belongs to the Christian. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” (James 1.17) To label something Christian is like inviting friends over and pointing out that this is my couch, this is my table, this is my chair. Hello. They’re in MY house, of course all the belongings are mine. “This is my Father’s world” and we are co-heirs with Christ.

Second, I believe labeling things as Christian ghettoizes believers. Instead of being in the world but not of it, we can easily drop out of the world altogether. Retreat to everything Christian so we don’t have to interact with those around us. We go the Amish route, but keep our modern conveniences. We have our own radio and television stations, our own schools and colleges, our own music, books, games, and movies. Want to buy something safe? Look for it in the Christian category at Amazon.

But this is exactly what’s wrong with this thinking – Christian is not a category! It’s not a sub-genre. Labeling something as Christian relegates it to the periphery and thus minimizes its impact. Pasting a label on something, far from laying claim to it, stereotypes it and allows those who have no interest in it to simply dismiss it. (This may be one reason why Bono and Marcus Mumford eschew the title, though I don’t know for certain as I know neither of them.)

Finally, labeling something as Christian is simply nonsensical, imo. The word Christian is not an adjective. There is no such thing as Christian music, Christian books, Christian games, Christian film. There is no such thing as Christian art. Art is an act of creativity that is neither Christian or nonChristian.

Now I do affirm that art reflects and/or engages truth to a greater or lesser degree. In that a work of art expresses God's truth (however imperfectly or unconsciously) I believe Christians can accept it – not in an ownership way, but as something that might both build up the body and serve as a witness to the lost. Thus ‘The Book of Eli’ (or a song by U2 or even a crucifix in a jar of urine) might be an engaging work of art that could further God’s kingdom. Or not. It depends on the recipient of the art, not the art itself. It’s in how we handle it as Christians, not whether or not the piece is Christian.

Because there is no such thing as Christian art.

Monday, February 17, 2014

How to Avoid Writing Insipid CCM Songs

CCM, that's contemporary Christian music for you 'outsiders.' And if this isn't your thing, go ahead and look away now. This blog post is part of an 'insider' discussion on the shallow state of Christian worship, with a focus on some of the reasons contemporary praise music seems so insipid, at least to me.

These thoughts are in response to some of the comments on my Facebook page about a few questions and concerns I had after visiting a couple of contemporary church services recently (see original rant copied below the fold). My overall point is that, if the few worship services I attended are any indication, we have a very shallow - and passive - understanding of worship in 2014 America. Not a healthy trend, imo.

A few friends were wondering if I was pulling the ol' "traditional vs contemporary" complaint card that we've played countless times before. And the answer is no. Much of our disappointment with either camp is really a matter of taste and preference. I get that. And yes I know, corporate worship (by which I mean, the worship we engage in corporately, that is, as a body/corpus) isn't about me and what I like or want to get out of the experience.

But worship is about truthfully engaging and encountering God. One aspect of that worship engagement is congregational singing. My concern is 1) that a 30 minute set led by a band has replaced actual participatory singing and made the congregations' role quite passive, and 2) many of the songs these bands are playing are theologically weak, intellectually shallow, repetitive, and frankly boring.

I hesitate to link to some examples because my intent isn't to mock the song writer. (If you are truly interested, dm me on fb and I'll provide some sample lyrics I think are head shakers.) And yes, there are some traditional hymns that are just as bad or worse and should be thrown out of the hymnal. So again, not an old vs new argument - just a call for deeper theological reflection.

So with that in mind, here are four keys to avoid writing insipid CCM songs. I stole them from somewhere (can't remember where) and call them the 4 Ts.

1. Tune. Most CCMusicians have part of this one down. Lots of worship/song leaders can come up with a lick that sticks. Trouble is, they don't develop it past a ditty, so what we have is really a hook without a song. Composers! Finish the dang tune. Repeating a chorus 5x does not qualify as a fully developed song.

2. Text. Think through whether the song you're writing is "me" oriented (God loves me, he saved me, he does everything for me me me) or God oriented. And then, keep your POVs straight. Are we singing or am I singing? Try writing a text that allows the church to sing it with one voice, rather than a song that 200 individuals can sing at the same time. See the difference?

3. Thematic Cohesion. Don't mix metaphors. If you're exploring God's mothering love, stick with that image for a verse or the whole song even. It's not enough to slap a few biblical phrases and catchy metaphors together and call it good. “You are the light of the world, I run into your arms; You sing over me, King of Kings.” (Lyric copyright by Lyndon Perry; now all I need are 3 chords. Not.)

4. Theologically Sound. This one is trickier without giving examples. But in general, theology combines theme, text, and tune into a doctrinally solid expression of our relationship with God. The song doesn't have to be a mini-sermon, but it should capture the scripture's intent in what it communicates.  

Okay, I've blabbered on quite long enough. This episode of As the Church Turns is over...for now. Unless you don't want it to be over. In which case you are free to comment. In love. ;)