Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sample from chapter one, THE MIGHTY WEAKNESS OF JOHN KNOX

Why Knox?

The life of John Knox is not just for people who like shortbread and bagpipes, kilts and oatcakes. Nor is it just for Presbyterians or people whose name begins with Mc (or who wish it did). Knox is a model to the ordinary Christian, especially the one who feels his own weakness, who, nevertheless, wants to serve Christ in a troubled world. Knox is relevant to all who know themselves to be weak.

Of the Reformation in Scotland, Knox wrote in summary, “God gave his Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance.” Who has not felt deep within him that he was too simple a man with too little to contribute to so great a cause as the cause of Christ and his church? Or who has not wrung her hands, fearful and weak against the enemies of her soul and the church? Who has not thought that his gifts were too modest, that others could serve far better, and that he was too frail and timid for service in the great cause of the gospel of our Lord Jesus? Or who has not felt that he was being maligned by critics, assaulted by the mighty, mocked and insulted by the influential?

Herein is the great practical application of examining closely and gleaning wisdom and fortitude from the life of John Knox. His contemporary, Thomas Smeaton, said of Knox after his death, “I know not if God ever placed a more godly and great spirit in a body so little and frail.” Who among us has not felt little and frail? Take heart all who have cowered at the enemies of Christ and his gospel. Read Knox’s life and take heart, and resolve with the apostle Paul, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then am I strong” (II Corinthians 12:10).

Weakness is, in fact, an essential prerequisite to being used of Christ. The Almighty alone is in the business of raising up simple folk, empowering frail and little people, to be strong in Christ. Though few will be called to champion the cause of reformation in an entire country, nevertheless, Knox’s life teaches that the most timid saint becomes a formidable giant when strengthened by the power of God in Christ alone.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

INKBLOTS, Writers' gathering

INKBLOTS – March 15, 2010
Eleven men (young and … well, not exactly old), crackling fire, Twisted Zin, home-brew cider, good criticism, jovial critique. Rules: ten minute read for prose; poetry in full--unless your idea of poetry is in line with John Milton’s.
Doug McComas leads off. I’m sure hoping that he’s switched to first person when he shifts to the old man’s recollection of the Battle of Tarawa. D has given us an authentic window into Marines preparing to take a runway, under heavy Japanese enemy fire. I think D gets too quickly to the hand-to-hand combat with the enemy in the trench. Let the reader anticipate it with the gut-churning anxiety that a real Marine would have felt. “Periods of fear interspersed with dread,” doesn’t work so well to my ear. It seems like D needs more contrasting emotions than fear and dread.  Fear of what or who? Dread of what?
Let’s chat about violence, gratuitous versus essential, authentic, with human revulsion at the violence and horror that is war. Where is the human anguish at it all? I harangued--blah, blah, blah--on more in his head, horror at what is about to happen. Will I be a coward? Will I fight well? Will I be killed? Be wounded? Maimed for life? Disfigured? Numbness, dullness at the carnage and dehumanizing insanity of it all. This needs ramping up.
Brendan W commented on the strength of D’s humor in the immediate context of mortal combat, impending doom. The Brown young men attempted to make comparisons with adventures they have been in that carried some degree of risk, invoking fear, acknowledging that it was benign by comparison with WWII brutalities in the Pacific theatre.
Some discussion of the enemy, developing their motivation, their commitment to emperor worship, national loyalty, Japanese culture, Samarai honor fighting. His protagonist, Nathan, retiring, going home, a Bible translator. I asked if he was writing for adults or young people. D responded that he was writing for young people because he didn’t feel competent to develop the intricacies of Bible translation. A flurry of books-to-read suggestions came. D would only need to read Wayne Grudem, Leland Ryken, and a couple of dozen more volumes to flesh out those paragraphs. What’s the problem? 
David K reads another episode of his futuristic political thriller. Ned S remembered exactly where D had been last time. A good sign, indeed. Did I mention this was a male-only writing gig? These guys write about war, fighting, assassination. “I’m  a soldier…” motif works well. Specific Federalist Paper, but give us a reason why it’s his favorite, a brief excerpt or topic summary. “You’re full of crap,” brings up the topic of the place of coarse language in stories for males, any stories. This was in jest, between two friends who banter with each other. Question arises, when and if this is necessary. I’m convinced it is, sort of, maybe, done right, if that’s possible. Solzhenitsyn did, but then, it was pretty foul stuff in places, as was a Stalinist work camp in the 50s. But I don’t do it in my writing, not this way. David gets in some good humor and banter, that provoked some genuine laughter in the room (not token, I-think-we’re-supposed-to-laugh moments).
I think the point of view shift from the two friends bantering to the girls bantering is awkward. Who are we supposed to care about? I get confused between Alexis and the guys. It’s possible to do this, that is shift POV, but it is very difficult to do well. “Asking for something else.” Be more specific, kind of food, quantity.  Sean commented that some of it sounded like telling instead of showing.
Brendan W still working on his book-in-a-month project. He shared the strategy of writing down what he liked about his favorite books and then books he’s read and what it was about them that he did not like.
Now to read his book (after trashing first person point of view). Pauses and makes a Mozart analogy; he plans out the entire symphony, then writes it. Not convinced he has the right names for characters, but then there’s always the find and replace function to fall back on. Guy on a horse. Too much unfriendly stuff. You are telling us about disturbances of the mind, and strange feelings of doom, but without getting your reader inside his head, though it seems to be a story about thoughts, inner conflicts. Wasted and stunted life, but you haven’t shown us this, in anatomical ways, real emotions. I’ll speak bluntly; it feels like a sham more than a real novel. Maybe just me and my preferences. I’m not a big Tolkien-esque fan. Others were laughing, the young men, anyway. Maybe I just don’t get it. Could be. Maybe it’s the blogging. B is a postman and we’re hearing some evil overlord (Postmaster General) hints in the tale. Good touch.
It’s really a crack up. Brendan laughingly admits that, though this is super fleshed out in 5,000 words so far, he has no idea where he’s going. He laughed hilariously when he told us this. I’d suggest voiding adverbs in his descriptions. Just three more paragraphs (said B when he was cut off for his ten minutes). Three rather long paragraphs, yet full of swords and bowels, crunching of bones, warm blood… We may want to work on paragraph unity. It’s fun. Andy S commented on how good it is, and that he was drawn in, and it does seem like B does know where he is going.
Talk about ideas and when and how they come. Brendan admitted that the ideas for this eery tale came from being on a bike ride where he got creeped-out as night fell, dark, winter, and he decided that he had to write it down.
Ned St. John reads autobiographical material from his life in Africa as missionary kid. Reluctant to read after “that.” Good use of native dialect. Let’s hear more of this. The flashback is too abrupt, needed explanation. I think this can be easily smoothed in. Reflecting back on the jet plane and on Livingston and Stanley. Describes his parent’s roles as missionary pastor/teacher father and nurse mother. The impressions on his young  impressionable life, hunting, poaching, cultural revolutions missed in the USA, while he was shuffling along in the 19th century. So he wanted to return, but the mission board discouraged him to return as missionary since he had not completed college. Let’s hear this conversation. So he decided to return as wildlife photographer and visions of grandeur. Develop the conversations with his father cautioning him to be realistic. Let’s hear this in dialogue, show it, don’t just tell it. I’m guessing there were sparks between father and son on this. Let’s see, hear, feel them. Develop the car more. We want to hear more about the safari, the climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I’m going to guess that you are not telling us all about your personal inner struggles with your parents’ faith, your youthful aspirations, romanticized idealism about life in Africa. Develop this if you want this thing to fly. N had an incredible story to share. Give us the authentic insider, multi-sensory Africa experience.
Sean reading his tale about Petra, ancient near-eastern tale. Not a lot of plot, he apologizes. Futuristic space war story? We’ll see. Hostage situation on the moon. He writes poetry so interspersed. Show apprehensively in posture, mannerism, gnawing lip. Opening scene with preparation for blast off. What does Steven need to learn, changes he needs to confront, deeper understanding he needs to embrace. I appreciate hugely the impulse to bring in the recollection of his pastor, the prayer, but it seems abrupt. It makes me wonder what changes he needs to undergo. If you don’t have a conflict, you don’t have  a story. Put him in the furnace, and then test his theology. Does he really believe what he says he believes? The plot should force this.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

2011 SCOTLAND TOUR with author Douglas Bond

Here's a draft of the itinerary for the author-led book tour of Scotland and Hadrian's Wall, June 28-July 8, 2011. Click on the title link above to join the site and learn more. Space is limited so make plans now to secure your place on the tour.

June 28, Tuesday: Arrive in Glasgow (US Airways flights seem to arrive at 7:00 am)
Glasgow Cathedral,Tolbooth, and Bothwell Brig (battle site); then to The Hotel Fenwick (2 nights); Fenwick Church; Scottish dinner at or near hotel (Haggis anyone? Not to worry, Scots have wonderful hearty meals like Shepherd's Pie, Hunter's Platter, Plowman's Platter, shortbread). June 29, Wednesday: Lockgoin Farm (Covenanter hideout, museum, and collections); Barr Castle, Galston; Newmilns (graveyard with monuments to Matthew Paton, Nesbit brothers, and others), Loudoun Keep (Site of REBEL'S KEEP escape);
June 30, Thursday: Loudoun Hill (hike and panoramic vantage point); Drumclog battle field (KING'S ARROW); Dalry, Galloway (where C&C Trilogy begins); stay where? Still working on it...
July 1, Friday: Anwoth (Rutherford’s parish); Spend the night at Twice-Brewed Inn (2 night), in the shadow of Hadrian's Wall and Roman fort Vindolanda.
July 2, Saturday: Hadrian’s Wall (HOSTAGE LANDS, GUNS OF THE LION), Vindolanda; archeological dig; back to Twice-Brewed Inn.
July 3, Sunday: Coach Sunday dinner/lunch at Jedburgh Abbey (where Rutherford studied); conventicle, field meeting worship on the moors of Rullion Green Battle Field (DUNCAN'S WAR battle site, November 28, 1666);Edinburgh, Royal Mile (Jolly Judge public house, GUNS OF THE LION); Edinburgh Castle (Scots Confession 1560); St. Giles, High Kirk (Knox’s pulpit; Jenny Geddes and her stool); John Knox's Home; Greyfriars Abbey (National Covenant 1638; burial site of Covenanters); Covenanter prison and graveyard; The Grassmarket (martyr site of Covenanters); evening service Holyrood Church, confessional, believing Church of Scotland; (2 nights, historic hotel in Edinburgh, The Scotsman, 2 blocks from St. Giles)
July 4, Monday: morning site-seeing, Holyrood Palace, Arthur's Seat; ; afternoon free-time exploring and shopping in Edinburgh.
July 5, Tuesday: coach to St. Andrews; San Salvator’s College (Patrick Hamilton martyr site; Knox pulpit); St. Andrews Castle (martyr site of George Wishart; Knox and castle siege); Cathedral ruins and churchyard (Knox preaching here; Samuel Rutherford buried here); afternoon options, shopping, golf? (hotel 2 nights)
July 6, Wednesday: Magus Moor (site of murder of Archbishop Sharpe by John Birley Balfour); Dundee, Robert Murray M'Cheyne, Knox); return to St. Andrews hotel
July 7, Thursday: Stirling Castle and Covenanter James Guthrie's church, Earl of Argyl's house, and Knox pulpit; several sites in the Pentland Rising (Brig o’ Doon, St. Bride’s Church, Ayrsmoss battlefield (Richard Cameron); dinner reprising the whole and last night at hotel near airport
July 8, Friday: breakfast and tour ends, Glasgow (many US flights leave around 10:00 am); connections or flights

Thursday, March 4, 2010

New Book Contract signed with P&R

I have just signed two book contracts with P&R Publishing, the latest intended to be a companion volume to THE BETRAYAL, my adult novel on John Calvin, historical fiction on the life of John Knox. I look forward to being in Scotland in a few weeks, helping to lead the Covenant High School historical studies tour, where I intend to do some on-location research and writing, as well as gathering video clips on Knox locations and on the Scottish attitude toward him (these could be colorful). The other book contract is for a companion volume to Hostage Lands, an Anglo-Saxon tale set in 7th century Britain, peaty, mead-hall, warrior-bard material.

The challenge for me as a writer (among other things--O, if exclusively to be a writer) is to set aside the feeling of pressure to produce (I have another book contract in the mail from Reformation Trust) in favor of the security and clarity of focus that book contracts afford. There is that nail-gnawing anxiety to wonder if I can pull it off again, again, again--which of course I can't, though "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." All that to say, I very much value the prayers of my readers. Now would be a good time to hit the knees.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

MODERN REFORMATION article in March/April 2010-hot-off-the-press

And Why it Matters to the Church, by Douglas Bond
Martin Luther, who said “The Devil hates goose quills,” insisted that in a reformation, “We need poets.” Most of us scratch our heads and wonder what on earth we need them for.
Our postmodern, post-Christian, post-Biblical culture has almost totally dismissed what used to be called poetry. Few deny it; ours is a post-poetry culture. But who cares? 
“Poetry is a marginal art form,” wrote poet Campbell McGrath, “in a culture that values neither literacy nor artistic expression in any vital way. America does not persecute poets, it does not seek to smash them like bugs—it just doesn’t care a lot.”
Martin Luther cared deeply about poetry, in the most vital way. But do most Christians today? Most accept the decline of poetry without a whimper, with barely a wafture of good riddance.  But does it matter?
Paul Johnson, decrying the decline in literacy, argues that students should “produce competent verse in a wide variety of strict meters, under examination conditions.”
To what purpose should they be subjected to such literary tortures? After all, what good is it? Won’t the machinations of society carry on just fine without poetry? Won’t the church do just fine without it? It’s not like poetry contributes anything vital. You can’t eat it.  
So thought Hanoverian King George II. “I hate all boets!” he declared. If you’ve ever been flummoxed at lines you were told were poetry, ones about wheelbarrows and chickens, you may agree with George’s abhorrence of poets.
But are Christians to stand deferentially aside as culture pitches poetry—the highest form—into the lowest circle of hell? 
I’ve been accused of the pedagogical unpardonable sin of depriving my writing students of what has become poetry’s sole consideration: individual self-expression. “Why don’t you let them write in free verse?” I’m asked. “I do,” I reply. “We just call it brainstorming.”
Arguably vers libre achieved its foothold with Walt Whitman, a man with new ideas simmering in his bosom, new ideas that demanded a new form. “Through me forbidden voices, voices of sexes and lust, voices veiled, and I removed the veil.” The Devil, no doubt, rubs his hands in glee at Whitman’s goose quill.
Whitman-like free verse dictates against any conventional structure of meter or rhyme. This throw-off-the-shackles impulse creates a blurring of literary genre wherein poetic form is abandoned in favor of irregular bursts of feeling. What often remains is fragmented prose. “Poetry” thus conceived provides a pseudo-form for saying private things about one’s self, things one would never utter in direct speech—until Whitman removed the veil.
Such redefining of what poetry is has led to a proliferation of what one classics professor termed, “therapeutic soul-baring by emotional exhibitionist[s].” Or as John Stott quipped, “The trouble with you Americans is you’re constantly engaged in a spiritual strip-tease.” . . .