Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gay Marriage: How Should the Church Respond?

Facebook is exploding with equal signs, articles about Starbucks and gay rights, and Bible verses in and out of context to support whatever view the person leans more toward. I’ve kept up a little with the Supreme Court case on this issue, but the Internet tells me that cursory research and the openness of the Internet demands that I voice my opinion now.

Do I have an opinion? Yep. That’s not super surprising, since I have an opinion on a lot of things.

It may not be the opinion you’re expecting to hear, though, because what I care about much more than my view of gay marriage is the way the Church is responding to the issue of gay marriage. Here are seven things I wish Christians commenting on the gay marriage debate would keep in mind. (I’ll say this about a million times, but I’m referring to both sides in this post.)

One: Don’t separate social issues from faith, but don’t confuse social issues for faith. In The Screwtape Letters, written from the perspective of a fictional demon, the main character advises a junior tempter that, “What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And.’” In this case, it can be “Christianity And Gay Marriage.” The gospel is the cross, not a social issue.

Two: On the other hand, we live in a moral universe. Everyone knows that things related to morality and spirituality happen, and they have a certain order to them (people seek purpose, actions have consequences, we value certain character traits, etc.). A Christian is just going to interpret those phenomenons in a certain way, like the difference between a person noticing that dropped objects fall and someone else predicting the rate of future object falling and calling it the Law of Gravity. You can disagree with their interpretation, but people who are addressing the issue of gay marriage with moral concerns have a legitimate reason to do so.

Three: Love people. Otherwise your moral interpretation of an issue will fall flat because you’re contradicting your other (more important, according to Jesus) beliefs. Often, the mistake members of the Church make when addressing social issues is that they—to use an emotionally and historically loaded word—crusade their beliefs while crushing people, when those two were never meant to be against each other.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Problem of Judas

Judas Iscariot has always fascinated me. Every Easter, when I write blog posts and skits and devotionals, I keep coming back to him over and over again.

Sometimes, I think about how I would view him if I were one of the people who knew him best: his fellow disciples. I picture them, huddled, frightened on that dark Saturday, together but feeling very alone. They were thinking about Jesus, of course. Of what to do next. But I bet Judas’ name came up too. And I picture myself there and wonder what I would say.

If I am Matthew, I would be nervously cracking my knuckles, thinking—maybe saying—“I knew it all along. Remember? I told you. I knew he was stealing from us. The numbers didn’t add up. And when I asked about it, whenever I said anything about it, he’d just make some snide comment about how the Roman’s financial management system wasn’t the same as good, honorable Jewish math and maybe that was my problem. Like I was still just the resident tax collector, the friendly local cheat.”

But what I wouldn’t say, what I would just wonder, quietly, was: And look what happened to him. Did it start that way, you think? Just a few cut corners, a bit of pocketed change? With tiny justifications and self-righteous denials?

Maybe, all along, he wasn’t planning to betray Jesus. Maybe he just wanted things his way. Wanted to be in control, to not have to trust God. And every compromise got easier.

I know that feeling. If Jesus hadn’t called me away…. Face it, I was the friendly local cheat. What if I had been given responsibility for the money bag? Old habits die hard.

It could have been me.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Evaluating the Christian Writers Guild's Response to Self-Publishing

What if you could take a writing course, be mentored by a published author, and at the end, have your book published?

That’s the idea behind the Christian Writers Guild program “Published.”

Besides the shockingly creative name, there are other distinctives about the course. Jerry B. Jenkins, founder of the Christian Writers Guild, calls it “come-alongside publishing.” It’s kind of a halfway house between the traditional publishing industry (which is not open to new authors) and self-publishing (which doesn’t have much chance of success). The course, which comes with editorial, design, and marketing help, ensures that the books being printed are of a higher quality than your average self-published book, and professional enough to get the reading public to take notice.

And it can be yours…for only $9,995. That is, if you stay within the page limit and don’t need “substantial editing,” which accrue extra fees. In the comments section of the CWG blog post explaining the new course, the price was what many people mentioned as a negative factor.

Off the CWG site, bloggers got a little more intense. Some people think the Christian Writer’s Guild is essentially ripping people off, using the promise of a published book to up the price for a writing course. Might as well print a fancy certificate instead, they’d say.

One blogger said of Jerry Jenkin’s newfound desire to help aspiring authors, “I have a feeling that the epiphany had at least as much to do with dollar signs.”

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Asking “Who am I?” With Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It seems like pretty much every Christian loves Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (Although maybe not quite as much as we love C.S. Lewis.)

And why not? He wrote some great (and short) books on Christian living, he had insightful thoughts on spiritual disciplines that he actually put into practice, and he joined a conspiracy to kill Hitler. Pretty much the coolest theologian ever.

I also love Bonhoeffer, and his writing, and his 90-year-old grandmother who I want to be like when I’m old. But sometimes, while reading books like A Celebration of Discipline, where Bonhoeffer is quoted all over the place as the expert on meditation and prayer and Scripture reading, I feel a little intimidated.

I could never be like him. I am weak. I spend my time worrying about things that don’t matter. I want to want to love God, but I’m a few steps removed from a deep relationship with him by my own selfishness. There are days when I feel close, when I feel brave enough to love God and people, when I get my priorities right. But not every day, not with the consistency I imagine people like Bonhoeffer had.

So, when I read a biography of Bonhoeffer last semester, one of the most surprising things it told me was that, for most of his life, Bonhoeffer struggled with depression.

Really? I remember thinking when I got to that part. But he spent so much time in prayer. How could he…?

How could he not be everything that his pristine image in other Christian devotional classics make him seem to be? How could he have a weakness? How could he be like me?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How To Edit Your Story: A Handy Checklist

Whether you’re writing an article, short story, or even a novel, editing is an important part of the writing process that most people ignore. And by “important,” I mean, “you must do this if you want a chance of getting published.”

“But wait,” you say, “I’m not an editor. I’ve never edited anything in my life.” Great! Neither had I before I started editing my own work. It takes a lot of work, sure, but it’s nothing too complicated. Here are some guidelines for how to self-edit your story.

  1. Don’t. Seriously. This is the first step. Write everything first, then make changes later. There are some exceptions to this, of course, but in general, it’s better to have a finished product before you start editing. It will be terrible. That’s normal, even for really famous writers. But there will be a story to edit, which might not happen if you start editing four paragraphs in, decide you’re a terrible writer, and give up.
  2. Wait a few days at the least, preferably a week or more. Clear your brain and get some distance from the story.
  3. Read through the story once with the idea that you’re trying to remember what it’s about. Fix typos and grammar mistakes that you notice as you go, but don’t stop and look up random hyphen rules or whether or not to put spaces between ellipses. Try to get a sense for the general flow of the story.
  4.  Give the story a second read-through, probably on a different day. Make comments with the Track Changes tool if you’re working in Word. (If you don’t know how it works, here’s a tutorial. It’s an amazing, wonderful thing sent directly from God to editors.) This is the time for comments like, “Need a better transition between these sections,” “This character’s dialect needs to be more consistent,” and “Plot flaw: I really don’t think this is realistic.”
  5. As you have time, make those changes. Start with the easy things: the phrases that need to be reworded to sound less awkward, a character’s name that should be changed because it sounds too similar to another character, and so on.
  6. Now it’s time to tackle the big things. Start a new document and copy your story into it. When you’re messing with major stuff, all kinds of things could explode, and you might wish you could take everything back. Good news—if you do it this way, you can. Now, feel free to be bold. Rearrange whole sections! Cut out your first page and write a new ending! Kill a character! Kill ALL of the characters! Okay, maybe not. But you get the idea. Never get so attached to your story that you can’t make major changes.
  7. After you’ve figured out what large-scale changes you want to keep, read through the story again, because typos and other simple mistakes can creep in during re-writes. By now, you should be able to stop and look up those picky grammar and usage rules that you don’t have memorized. The Chicago Manuel of Style is a great place to start. Also, take a look at the most common problems editors have with manuscripts. Look for them. Fix them.
  8. Stop. Again, I’m being totally serious. After you’ve put in a good effort on several editing passes, you’ve done a thorough self-edit. There will always be ways you can improve, but at a certain point, you need to pass the story on to someone else to get a different perspective on it, even if you don’t think it’s perfect yet. It won’t be. That’s kind of the point.

If you’re tired of your story by now, congratulations! You should be. Most writers don’t spend nearly enough time editing, and if you do, your story will be far ahead of everyone else’s. It can be an exhausting process, but it’s worth it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What to Do With Banished Adjectives

Most articles on ways to improve writing will give a very simple rule: cut adjectives and adverbs. Instead, use strong nouns and verbs.

And they’re right. Adjectives are like sprinkles. Used in the right way, they can add just the right dash of color, but they really don’t have much substance and can easily be overdone. (Or maybe I’m just biased against sprinkles because I threw up a bunch of them when I got food poisoning a few years ago…long story.)

The time when the no-adjective rule is most likely to apply is when it comes to characters. There are so many more ways to show what people are like that we shouldn’t need to slap on one-word descriptions. Unlike, say, a rock, which can’t do much to demonstrate that it’s rough or igneous or whatever, a person’s words and actions can substitute for adjectives.

Don’t tell us he’s quirky. Show him playing “Little Mermaid” songs an accordion just because it sounded like fun. Don’t tell us she’s a bad loser. Have her slam her cards down on the Candy Land board and accuse her seven-year-old cousin of cheating. Suddenly, adjectives aren’t necessary.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

7 Tips and Tricks for Not Being a Jerk

So, you have a criticism to make about a person, group, political structure, or entire worldview? Think in order to present your opinion in a strong and convincing way that you must abandon all tact? Or, on the other extreme, think being gracious means hedging all of your sentences and using ridiculously politically correct language?

Think again.

See last week's post for more context. Or this one, specifically about how to have arguments/debates/discussions without being a jerk. Or this one, about general conversations and not being a jerk.

As you can see, I’m a big proponent of not being a jerk. Probably because I tend to be a jerk from time to time.

  • Don’t say “with all due respect” and then follow it with something outrageously disrespectful. “With all due respect” is meant to put emphasis on the fact that you’re trying to be fair and gracious while still criticizing something. It’s meant so the reader will hear your words in a certain tone. It’s not meant to justify throwing around insults, personal slams, or exaggerations made for emotional effect. (This also applies to “Bless her heart” “I love him, but….” or “Just sayin’.”)

  • Pretend to be a reasonably open-minded member of the group you’re criticizing, listening to what you have to say. Would your reaction be, “Ouch. That’s interesting. That person might have a point”? Good. Would their reaction be, “Who does she think she is? That isn’t even close to the intent behind what we’re doing. She completely misrepresented us”? Not so good. Would their reaction be bursting into tears because you were so pointed and personal in your attack? Really not good.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Celebrating "Be Nice to Someone on the Internet Day"

I was alerted to the existence of this holiday by fellow blogger Adam Stuck and his army of typewriter monkeys.

This was a delightful coincidence, because sometimes I pick random topic to think about and collect information on throughout the year. One of this year’s is “Virtual Hospitality: What Is It, How Do I Do It, and How Can I Research It If I Just Made Up That Term?” I think this holiday qualifies.

Being nice to someone on the internet doesn’t seem particularly hard. I am not, on a regular basis, a troll who goes around saying stupid and incendiary things online. I also don’t post things on Facebook with the sole purpose of making people jealous, use my blog to gossip about others, or forward on chain emails.

But I also don’t often intentionally use the time I spend online to encourage others. So, here’s my chance (and yours).

To get you started, here are a few ideas for being nice:

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Art of Not Being a Jerk

This week, in my school newspaper, the Echo, there was a particularly critical opinions piece. Actually, I think it’s safe to say that it was critical to the point of being mean-spirited. I actually gasped a few times. There have been a few articles this year that have taken this tone.

My first instinct is to reply to this opinions piece, saying something along the lines of, “It doesn’t matter how well-reasoned your opinion is, if you’re being mean, I don’t respect it.” But telling college students to be nice, think of other people as people, and show grace seems a little elementary, a little too basic of a topic to write about.

And then I realize I’ve already written about it.

The two opinions pieces I’ve submitted to the Echo are both humorous variations on the theme of loving others. So are the three articles I have in my files that I might submit later this year. All of them are about different issues on campus, but they have the same general takeaway: be gracious to others.

It’s not like those are the only things I have opinions about. In one class, when discussion was dying down, my friend turned to me and said, “Amy, say something controversial.” I participate in a weekly holiday called Be a Heretic Monday. I routinely disagree with other people, my college and its decisions, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and other authors of textbooks I’ve used in my classes).