Monday, June 20, 2016

What to do when all around your soul gives way?

St Peter's & St Paul's in Newton/Cowper's Olney (& Mr Pipes')
Ten years ago on Father's Day, I felt like my soul was about to give way. That Sunday afternoon in 2006 I stood looking out at 800 people who scratched their Father's Day barbecue plans to gather instead for my father's funeral. I was supposed to be up there speaking on behalf of my family. It was the hardest thing I had done in my life.

Every fiber of my being was trembling. I was afraid. I felt sure that my soul would give way, and I would break down and blubber like a baby in front of everybody (judging from the last three years of the trial of his failing health from AML Leukemia, it was the likeliest thing on the cards).

But God gave me a calmness that came only from him, a "peace that passes all understanding." There's no other explanation. I did not feel calm. I did not feel at peace. But God gave these to me then and in the weeks to follow. How did he do it? Romans 8:28 was one of the means by which the Comforter gave me peace. "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose."

My father had made me memorize this verse (and many others), fortifying me with Scripture, getting me ready for this (and other trials he knew would come). This text, on which one can hazard all, was the grist out of which I managed in those gulping weeks to set down the second New Reformation Hymn:

(NRH 02) Our God In All Things Works for Good (Long Meter, LM, 8.8.8.8.)


Our God in all things works for good;
His sovereign, gracious will has stood
And will through endless ages stand,
Sustained and ordered by his hand.

In goodness God stretched out the sky,
The sun and moon and stars that cry,
"Almighty God has made all things!"—
Creation groans yet shouts and sings.

From heaven’s bounty God gives food
To saint and rebel, bad and good;
Our God in all things meets men’s needs
And just and unjust kindly feeds.

When clouds descend and troubles rise,
Despair and darkness, tears and sighs,
Yet God is good in grief and loss,
And bears his own who bear their cross.

Redemption, purchased and applied
To favored ones for whom Christ died;
His lambs he grants repentance free
And eyes of faith his cross to see.

All praise to God who works for good!
Whose loving kindness firm has stood
And will through endless ages stand,
Unerring, ordered by his hand.
                            Douglas Bond (Copyright May 15, 2006)

Watch for the forthcoming New Reformation Hymns/Parish Psalms album with Greg Wilbur, Nathan Clark George, Steve Green, and an amazing collection of gifted musicians from Franklin, Tennessee. More at www.newreformationhymns.webs.com.

Here's bonus excerpt from a relevant moment in THE ACCIDENTAL VOYAGE--Mr Pipes bk 4:

“There it goes,” said Annie, dreamily as she watched through the ratlines of the schooner the orange ball of the sun touch the horizon and steadily flatten out as it sank in the west. “It seems to go down so fast. Is it moving that fast during the day, too? Of course I know it is.”

 “Going, going, gone,” said Drew, as the last of the sun disappeared below the horizon. “Wait! I’ll bet I can see it again.”

                With that, jumping up and grabbing the rope rungs of the ratlines, Drew took several cautious steps upward. “There it is again!” he called down excitedly. Then, looking down, he caught his breath. With clenched teeth he fumbled for the lower rungs with his feet, finally heaving a sigh of relief when he felt the solid bulwark and then the deck under him.
                Mr. Pipes looked at Drew in the dim light but said nothing.
                “I wish these moments would last forever,” said Annie, leaning against the main mast; she smoothed the silk of her skirts and pulled her knees up under her chin.
                Mr. Pipes clasped his hands around his knee and looked tenderly at the children. He understood something of Annie’s longing. The adventures enjoyed with these children over the last years were one of the great pleasures of his long life, and seeing them brought to a living faith in God and singing praises to him was the crowning pleasure of all. But he and his late wife had so wanted children of their very own. He loved Annie and Drew as if they were his own—which they were not. In any case, sooner than he cared to admit, moments like this enjoyed with these dear ones would come to an end--forever. With bushy eyebrows lowered, he sat pensive for several moments.
And then he slapped his knee, shook himself, looked heavenward and broke out laughing.
                “What are you laughing at, Mr. Pipes?” asked Annie.
                “Myself,” he said. “Humph. Old fool that I am sometimes. It is precisely this that will last forever, my dears.” He laughed again.
Drew turned toward the horizon where the sun had disappeared; puzzled, he looked back at Mr. Pipes.
“No, no, that sunset is gone,” said Mr. Pipes, waving his hand as if giving it permission to go. “But every true pleasure we enjoy in this life—and that includes all the adventures we have shared, my dears—I say, every sunset, every good meal, Drew (temperately consumed, I might add), is only a foretaste of the eternal pleasures to be enjoyed by God’s children forever in his glorious presence. And with the wonder we feel when we witness the heavens declaring the glory of God—as they just have in that sunset—if we will think rightly about what we see and experience in this life, we are to turn all such wonder, all such pleasure, to the glory God.”
“So heaven will be something,” said Annie, looking up at the first stars twinkling faintly in the east, “something like a sunset that doesn’t end, but just gets prettier and prettier.”
                “Hey, will you look at that!” said Drew.
He pointed at the afterglow of brilliant color from the fading light. The wisps of cloud fanning out along the horizon glowed like fire and the clear sky shone in deepening shades of violet.
“Oh, isn’t it lovely,” said Annie.
“Most lovely, indeed,” said Mr. Pipes, smiling at the beauty all around them. “Oh, but heaven will be glorious beyond expression. And one of the ways we now may taste of heavenly things is when we give to God the glory, the praise and the honor that are due him. Therefore, we are closest to heaven in this life when we are offering God prayers and praises suitable to his majesty.”
“Well, maybe we should sing a hymn right now,” suggested Annie.
“I cannot think of a better idea,” said Mr. Pipes, opening his hymnal and holding it toward the light from a lamp on the pier. “Oh, how I miss my little Binns,” he said, referring to his organ back in the parish church at Olney. “We shall do our best without it.”

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Penned by Subterfuge: How the Sexual-Identity Crisis Alters What We Sing in Worship

NEW REFORMATION HYMN (NRH 01) 

New Reformation Hymns
In the current gender crisis, I wonder if the church hasn't made her own unwitting contributions to the sexual-identity chaos by allowing our feminized culture's priorities to creep into the content and manner of our singing in worship. 

Notice the contrast between what the post-conservative church sings and the lyric of Zechariah 9 and 10, for instance. The Bible's lyric often has heavy-duty language about war and violent conquest: "...mighty men in battle, trampling the foe in the streets," is one in a myriad of examples.

One of the ways we can tell when we are being more shaped by our culture than being shapers of it, is when the Bible's language and themes begin to sound odd to our ears, when we feel like we need to make apologies for the biblical authors, worse yet, for the Holy Spirit. They didn't really mean to put it that way. Couldn't they have been more sensitive to the priorities of our culture? 

This is one important reason the church must continue singing the Psalms and the best hymns of our spiritual forebears. Then, after our minds, hearts, and imaginations have been thoroughly shaped by biblical and historical doxology, only then are we equipped to contribute new appropriate hymns for this generation of Christ's body the church to sing. 

Isaac Watts' father rebuked his teen son for complaining about the abysmal singing in their church. "Don't complain unless you can do better," the wise father urged his son, the young man who would become the Father of English Hymnody. In no way comparing myself with Watts, nevertheless, I have been attempting to be less of a critic and more of a contributor. In that spirit, over the next number of weeks I'm planning to post new installments of my NEW REFORMATION HYMNS. I'll post them in the order in which I wrote them, this one being the first, written fifteen years ago. Over the last couple of years, it has been a delight to work with my friend Greg Wilbur, Dean of New College Franklin, and composer extraordinaire. Watch for the final result of those efforts coming soon (Deo volente).

(NRH 01) The Lord, Great Sovereign (Common Meter, CM, 8.6.8.6.)

He makes his children mighty men,

They bend the battle bow;

So in God's strength, against the proud,

His foes they overthrow! (stanza 3; see the entire hymn below)

4th Mr Pipes--a romp on the high seas
The whole hymn is a loose versification of highlights from Zechariah chapters 9 and 10, a passage on which I haven't seen other hymns written. Martial and conquest themes, one of many of the Bible's themes that capture male interests, are largely missing in much of what the church sings in worship at the moment. Browse through the Psalter. The Psalms are full of this full-armor-of-God theme. It ought to trouble us that this theme is almost entirely absent in modern worship songs.

I'm father of six, four of them male, three of them now married young men, starting their families. I wanted to write hymns on biblical male themes being neglected by well-intentioned lyricist today, but I was worried that I couldn't do it. Then I hit on an idea.  I would have my male protagonist, Drew, in The Accidental Voyage, the fourth Mr. Pipes book, write my first hymn. Then if it was a complete disaster I could blame it on my character. Drew gnawed on his pencil throughout the book, working at the hymn in fits and starts. Meanwhile, I was making--equally in fits and starts--my very first effort at writing this hymn. That was fifteen years ago. 

Honestly, it is no exaggeration to say that I was terrified at attempting to write a hymn. Let me write a haiku or a sonnet, anything but a hymn! I have such deep respect for the Psalms, the Old Covenant hymnal, and for so many hymn writers down through the centuries who have penned such rich Psalm-like and Christ-centered poetry for the church to sing. How could I presume to set my pen to write a hymn? Complain or compose?

So I set my trembling pen to paper. Whether or not it will find its way into the hymnal is entirely in the Lord's hands. Little did I realize fifteen years ago that this would by the first of many New Reformation Hymns. Here it is: 

The Lord, Great Sovereign, shall appear,

His wand’ring sheep he’ll bring

From distant lands, through surging seas,

To shout before their King!


Deceitful shepherds, false and vain,

Have led his flock astray;

God's enemies he'll trample down,

Their lies he will repay.


With trumpet blast, the Lord appears,

His arrows flashing round;

He shields his flock, destroys his foes;

Glad vict’ry shouts will sound.


He makes his children mighty men,

They bend the battle bow;

So in God's strength, against the proud,

His foes they overthrow!


Restored, victorious, gathered in,

Their enemies o'ercome;

God’s children worship round his throne,

And in his name they run!


God’s bless’d, redeemed, and chosen ones,

His children shout and sing!

"All praise to Christ, the Cornerstone,

Triumphant, glorious King!"
                           
 Douglas Bond, (Copyright, 2001)


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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Why is it so easy to write bad news, and so tough to write GOOD NEWS



Nearing final call for July OXFORD CREATIVE WRITING MASTER CLASS

INKBLOTS—easy to write bad news, tough to write GOOD NEW. Six ‘Blots tonight (Rachel Haas joining us for the second time), a few tied up with finals and logistics. 



Last week Doug Mc assigned us to push the refresh button and write something new. Like diligent students of the craft, hardly any of us did this, yet he remains patient with us all (we hope). Btw, libation: Indian Wells ’08, thanks John S.

Patrick led off sharing about some of his struggles with writer’s block, but on a deeper level: how to write the good? He finds it easy to be cynical, dark, portray the evil, but intensely difficult to find a redemptive voice, to write well and write the good. I feel like I’m hearing the integration of writing and life here. Here are snatches from his opening remarks: Increased knowledge in a fallen world means that, outside of grace and the maturity it produces in redeemed sinners, we misuse knowledge and artistic skills to glorify the self rather than to glorify God. So, how to write speculative fiction (space, horror, zombie, etc) to the glory of God. So Patrick is saying that we prefer to return to innocence rather than press on to maturity. This is quite a perceptive summation of what God is teaching him as he writes. Reading James White and Christian apologetics, shaping his ideas. 

Patrick begins with a space station setting, female commander, on the horns of a dilemma, but one in which she knew what she needed to do (like most, or is it all, dilemmas?). Why the name Dogwood? It reminds me of Shakespeare’s Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. Good descriptive language; I feel like I can see most of what you describe. You mentioned pungent odor. Could you give specific smells to things? Are their electronic components overheating, sending the nauseating smell of burning wire insulation wafting around the control center. I was unprepared for the female angel with the sword mowing like weeds (a bit cliché). I admit that I have never been a fan of sci-fi so it is more difficult for me, not wanting to criticize genre (or expose my inability to understand it) more than your writing of the genre, to constructively comment. Jade zealot sounded like a scene from Revelation. She is not a divine being so John was okay with her giving up her sword. Doug Mc asked where it was in the story: the beginning. Bob says he is an old guy and it takes a while to figure out how things come together. Patrick assured us that at the end of the story the pieces would come together. Dave K commented that lots of what he reads is like this. 

Bob is going to read a short story he wrote some time ago and entered in a writing contest (and lost) and then lost the story. This is his rewriting of the original story. Insofar as Tacoma has a heart—great line. Bob is writing to his strength here, humor the Rogland way, unaffected sophistication in a down-home, let’s-have-a-good-belly-laugh sort of fashion. Biker with tattoos, works of art that Michelangelo would appreciate. But let's see a specific, and symbolic maybe, tattoo. Avoid overusing what happened. Good use of bad grammar for your bikers. The dialogue with the tattoo artist little guy at the bar crying seemed a bit over written. Give us tattoo specifics. There was discussion about biker language, several of these chumps knowing far too much about the subject. Discussion of tattoos followed. Doug mc recollected that the one time his dad really yelled at him was when he announced that he was going to get one. So Doug mc has no tattoos--so he told us, but I didn't notice him baring his arms to prove it. Rachel shared with us about not having piercings (excessive ones) in her ears because she ran into a Pole (not a Czeck, not a Bulgarian, but a Pole). Book idea for Rachel. Through whose eyes are we experiencing the world? Not clear, though Bob explained that it would be the distressed tattoo artist.

John S read something fresh (he wrote it four years ago). Journalist coming up on hard times. Slight squeak. Use a simile, that sounded like a… He shoved his bag off… How about, Shoving his bag off his shoulder, he… then have him do something else. Beginning the sentence with a participial phrase avoids the subject-verb-object syntax trap. Avoid redundancy, opening biscotti package with his mouth and the help from his teeth; you don’t gain anything by this. Be concise. I don’t care what you think, Patrick—all in fun. We do care. That’s why we’re all here. 

Dave here for the first time in a year! Welcome back. He read from the mountain trail assassination yarn (Patrick remembered this from over a year ago), a sequel to his other book, Brothers at Odds. Do you use italics for his internal thoughts in first person? You should. The story is in third person but with many first person thoughts. The newly engaged couple don’t seem very close, stiff and impersonal. Is this the way it’s supposed to be? Would she call her fiancée “Buddy-boy”? You seem to use little too much, little, little, little; use little just a little. Try doing a find and replace and use better adjective, or eliminate as not needed. Just as he was about to propose, Joshua (but it’s Steven the assassin) pops out of the trees aiming both guns at them. I was hoping for a better fight, you said twice in a few lines. The going into the thoughts of each character is confusing. Which one is Steve, which one is Bruce, which one is Joshua? Jumped out of the car and pulled a rifle from the trunk and shot the ranger.
Dougie Mc reads a historical comedy, the introduction. Post-Crusades-esque but mythical setting, but about 1270, twenty years before the fall of Acre. The Knights of Outremer, old battlefields strewn with bones and broken weapons—good tight description. Good description. It feels large, Tolkien-like. I keep wanting to see this through the eyes of one of the characters, a flesh-and-blood protagonist. Who is it? It reads more like a descriptive essay, a good one, but I need to know who of all this array of knights which one I should care about. Rachel asked what the over-arching purpose of the yarn is? Is it a critique of the Crusades? Dougie says no. Going to avoid the controversy. Why not intentionally offer another perspective to the politically correct dismissal of the Crusades?

I read last from Scene 13 of the pilot episode for the Drama of the Reformation. The moment when the imperial herald calls Hus and promises him safe-conduct to the Council of Constance.

I'd like to offer a brief answer to the title of this post, why we find it so much easier to describe a bad guy than a good one, why bad news sells more newspapers than good news, why portraying a gritty ugly character comes easier than an upstanding handsome one. Our portrayals of good guys so often are sentimental, unreal, out of sync with the putrid reality of sin and corruption that encircles and sometimes allures us in a broken world. The redemptive seems like the unreal world of super heroes, an escapist's  world, not the way things actually are. In a broken world, marred so deeply by our sin and rebellion against our perfect, holy Creator, we struggle writing about the good because we in part are believing the lie that the eyes of sight sell us everyday. Cynics cannot write the best material (apologies to Ambrose Bierce), though they may make a good living trying, and make it on best seller lists. Why? Because it isn't the whole story. It isn't actually true. 

Redemption is true. This is the great advantage of the Christian writer. We know the whole story. By God's grace we've been brought to know the truth that the bad news is not the end of the story, that the mud and grit of this fallen place is not all there is, is not what God originally created the world to look like, to be like. We know this. We believe this... well, most of the time. 

There's the rub. Lord, help our unbelief. We will never write our best with our heart half cocked. What a tragedy when the professing Christian writer believes the literary elitist's imposed priorities, and contorts his pen to ape them, caving under the lash of critics, squandering his gifts writing about the slums of un-redemptive unreality. In our writing we can never rise above the lie that sin and ugliness is more appealing than righteousness and holiness until we truly believe it ourselves. And when we do we will never write sentimental rubbish and declare it Christian literature. The Christian writer writes with visceral longing for the return of the King, every sentence trembling with yearning, every phrase savory with wonder, every word pointing to the Word.     

Summer free time--How to make the most of it



OXFORD CREATIVE WRITING MASTER CLASS
A summer intensive writing tutorial for the serious aspiring writer in Oxford, England July 12-19, 2016
"Everything was so beyond my highest expectations!"

Do you have a serious writer in your family? Are you not sure how to help them take the next critical steps in their writing? Then the OXFORD CREATIVE WRITING MASTER CLASS with author Douglas Bond may be for your son or daughter. 

Unlike so many writing courses, OCWMC is actually led by a successfully published author, with more than twenty-five books of historical fiction and biography in print (www.bondbooks.net).

"I am so excited! I feel like I've been given a key or a treasure map, and I can't wait to get home and put it to use." Rachel (April, 2016)

OCWMC is more affordable than you might think; what participants gain from the tutorial is invaluable. Ask about enrolling in the OCWMC for college credit through New College Franklin. 

Space is very limited for the July 12-19 tutorial and registration will be closing soon. 

Register today by emailing bondbooks.net@gmail.com or calling 253-381-1961 or at www.bondvoyage.webs.com