Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Christian Writers: Fools Confounding the Wise

Small gathering for Inkblots this warm summer evening, AC in the Scriptorium feeling pleasant and comfortable. We morphed into a discussion of the decadence of our society, trans-phobic, trans-perversion, trans-insanity, trans-depravity, trans-rebellion against everything God is and has ordained for the good of his world and humanity. God designed his world to work according to his will and way; defy that and it devolves into deeper decadence and decay. It won't work because it can't work.

I read from Elephants of Style (Bill Walsh of WaPo), getting the difference between affect and effect, a and an (not the article to use with the word historic, the consonant is pronounced, hence a not an). We discussed the irony and incompatibility of rules of grammar and style coming from writers who are vein-bulging champions of moral relativism on every other front (except their teeth-grinding intolerance of Christianity). But should we be shocked? No. Jesus said the world would hate his followers, as it hated and hates him. So what does the Christian writer do? Write to please Jesus, not to please the world.

Jonathan picks up where he left off on his "this is weird" story, sci-fi, madman yarn. Ingrid and the madman going at it. Pushing the button. There is such a fluidity to Jonathan's prose; I love hearing him read. Ingrid offers herself to the madman if only he won't push the button. He is unmoved. It would be immoral, wrong. Why would it be immoral, wrong? Because it just is, stammers Ingrid. Here the madman is the wiseman. Jonathan always is on a mission when writing, here apologetics, defense of the faith, exposing the fallacy of declaring something immoral without a first cause authority over right and wrong. The madman does it, pushes the button. Still nothing happens. Blow after blow on the button, yet nothing happened. Madman falls asleep and seems to persist in sleep. Ingrid and the rest settle back into the banal normality of their relativism. I ask Jonathan about his idea mill. How does he come up with these ideas, Poe-esque darkness, but purposeful, intentional. Allegory exposing the fallacies of secularism. This story came to him when North Korea's nuclear test failed. Hence, nothing happens when the madman pushes the button. Patrick commented that Hume believed that knowledge was unverifiable. And then some discussion of Immanuel Kant followed. Henry Allison, Kant's Transcendental Ideal.

Sydney brought a work of fiction she has been working on for a long time. Set in 1110, Anglo-Dutch War context. Odd creature gnawing on his fingers, wretched creature. Fluid narrative, setting up the scene. I'm hearing "appeared to," often. "Dusk at last." The first dialogue. Her evident (the qualifying adjective, overused, can weaken prose) discomfort. The higher register narrative works in the medieval setting, to my ear. Minute description of human expressions and actions. I love your "He remains" string of syntactical parallelisms. Is it the mother we are to be concerned with? Or whom? Sydney's reading of her work is riveting, engaging. It feels like a psychological exploration, searching, inward. But what is missing is an inciting moment in the story, enter conflict, exerting pressure. The narrative was intriguing, mature vocabulary, complex syntax, but we didn't know who to care about or what the real problem is.

Jonathan commented on the writing style being spot on. What about the characters? It felt like an info dump. He missed the opening hook. There is a great deal of beginning exposition, but what seemed to be missing was the inciting moment. We learned a good deal about the history of this family. Patrick commented that he had a hard time entering into a perspective. Was it the sister? The mother? Jonathan wanted to attach to the wretched creature, but Sydney didn't develop the tension. Sydney told us that the story is going to be about the family, a family member not yet introduced in this opening chapter. We should meet the protagonist in the opening lines. Right at the gate, give the reader the lens for the story and the person to care about. I read opening lines from chapter one and chapter two of The Revolt (Grace Awards finalist along with The Battle of Seattle), where, though I have two points of view throughout the story, I root the reader in their characters in the first lines of each chapter.

Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne, Jonathan has found helpful. Every scene has to have a turn. If the scene begins positive, then there is movement to negative, and visa-versa.

Sydney asks a very good question. She reads and loves the English classics. Which of the classics does this best, sticks with single perspective, avoids intrusive narrator, and begins medias res, right in the middle of the action, then adds backstory as needed throughout the story? Dickens in Great Expectations, medias res, "I'll eat yer heart and liver out!" But Shakespeare does this in almost every play. The inciting moment is the opening scene, then comes the setting and back story.

Join me next March 23-30 (2018) in Oxford for my Creative Writing Master Class.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

My Interview with Heroic Life Discipleship and Michael Morgan



DB It was a delight meeting you at the Redmond convention a couple of weeks ago. I was intrigued hearing about Heroic Life Discipleship. What is it?

MM It was great to meet you as well! Heroic Life Discipleship (HLD) exists to provide resources for building the next generation into leaders who understand and believe the gospel and know and love Christ above all other things, who truly find their joy in Him. The three main resources we offer are: 1) our flagship curriculum which is designed mainly for churches/organizations to use in discipleship/outreach context like sunday school or an after school club; 2) our Family Discipleship Curriculum which is much the same content-wise as the church curriculum but restructured to more simply facilitate parents leading family devotions; 3) workshops and training to equip teachers and others to use the curriculum and lead their ministries as effectively as possible.

DB We all have heroes, some good ones and some not so good ones. Why did you choose the name? What does “Heroic” mean in the title?

MM There’s sort of a double meaning here. A hero is someone we look up to and want to be like. Jesus is the greatest man who ever lived; we want to show Him to kids as the greatest hero, the most majestic, sacrificial, humble, loving and lovable Savior and Lord. We want Jesus to be precious to them and for them to become like Him. Paul talks in Colossians 1:28 about presenting “everyone mature in Christ,” and that’s our goal. Hence the name, Heroic Life Discipleship. We want to, in our small way, cultivate the heroic life of Christ in others.

DB There are lots of discipleship tools and programs out there. How is HLD unique?

MM As we worked through the processes of planning and building our curriculum, there were a few key strengths we wanted to incorporate:

Gospel based. We are passionate about truth and holding to the authority of Scripture. God’s word is the source of life and the way that we know Him. We don’t water down or change the gospel (God didn’t write a children’s version of the Bible), although we do present it in a way that’s easy for children to understand.

As part of this, a specific strength HLD has is its focus on application. We’re not just teaching the gospel, but walking kids through understanding it and applying it to their lives - answering the “so what” questions.

Not focused on entertainment. It seems that many programs out there are designed just to give kids a fun time. There’s nothing wrong with having fun, but that can’t be the goal. Like I just mentioned, our goal is to effectively communicate truth. In doing that, we structure the curriculum  so it’s engaging and fun, but that’s not the focus. The structure and way it engages children  are tools supporting the goal of the kids understanding the gospel.

One of the primary ways we do this is through question- and discussion-based teaching. Rather than a teacher just “talking at” children, they lead a discussion with them, asking open-ended questions to help the students think through things and come to truthful conclusions themselves.

Simple and intuitive. This is demonstrated in two primary ways::

First, in the content and spiritual impact of the curriculum. We want a tool that strikes a healthy balance between 1) being too simple, just a script to pick up and read, and 2) needing a ton of time to study and prepare a lesson and put together teaching notes. One of the core ideas we operate on is that a teacher must personally own truth to effectively give it to others (1 Cor. 9:27). So we don’t want people just reading a script. But we also know that people have busy lives and can’t put hours into studying and preparing a lesson, figuring out what the focus should be, etc. We’ve attempted, successfully I think, to strike a balance where we don’t give the teacher a script, but it’s easy to review the outlines, get familiar with the content and direction, and lead a meaningful discussion with children.

Second, the layout, usability, and functionality of the curriculum. It’s simple in the schedule and flow of each lesson. The lesson outlines are intuitive, and it’s easy to know what to do without needing to put time into figuring it out.

Based on the feedback we’ve received from churches and other groups who have  used the Heroic Life Discipleship curriculum, all these different goals have been effectively achieved.

DB Can you give us an example of what it looks like?

MM Sure. Our curriculum is built around three main components:

First, our Bible Story Guide, which is a discussion of a Bible story (the curriculum progresses chronologically through Scripture).  It guides children in making observations about the story, understanding its meaning, and serves as an introduction to ideas discussed later on in the lesson. Bible Story Guides can be very effective in small or large groups with a wide age-range of children.
Second, the Application Guide. This  is where the rubber meets the road in our discipleship model. The Application Guide builds off of the Bible Story Guide, discusses different Scripture passages, emphasizes knowing and loving God, and leads to practical, real-life steps of obedience for students to take. Application Guides are designed to be used  in a small group setting, allowing for more personalized discipleship for the students.

Third, we have our Mighty Men and Intercession lessons. The Mighty Men lessons are short biographies of Christian heroes like Hudson Taylor or John Wycliffe. This gives the kids a picture of someone who actually lived out what they’re learning in the Bible Story Guide and Application Guide. The Intercession lessons are studies of different countries around the world. We discuss an overview of the country - culture, geography, government - but then focus in on the persecuted church and unreached people groups. This broadens kid’s perspectives beyond their own little world to see that they’ve got suffering brothers and sisters and that there are people who have never heard of Jesus.

DB Why did you develop HLD? What got you thinking about developing such a ministry tool?

MM I was actually part of a team in the summer of 2012 that was asked by the leadership in our church to create a new children’s program. After evaluating several different curricula out there, we decided that there wasn’t anything that was a great fit for what we needed… hence the fateful decision to write our own. After working on it for a few years, and teaching through the entire curriculum we decided that since we’re already putting so much effort into it, we might as well provide it as a resource for other churches and families to use as well.

DB How does a church or other ministry begin using HLD? Is it easily adapted to large or small groups, or is it best one-on-one?

MM We have  all kinds of different groups using HLD. Sunday schools/church programs, after school clubs, inner-city kids outreaches, individual families, an orphanage overseas, etc. So it’s pretty flexible… It works great in a lot of different contexts and is very adaptable. We also have our Family Discipleship version which is a simplified version of the same content specifically designed for family devotions (we’re hoping to launch this curriculum in August of this year).

If a church was interested in using HLD, we’d love to be in touch with them to help with a smooth implementation. But essentially, they’d just go on our website and order the curriculum they need. We recommend that they then take our online Leader Training which is a 10-hour video course (in 30 minute sessions) that’s a very thorough introduction to HLD and training, how to use each element of the curriculum, and how to lead an HLD program. After a children’s ministry leader or team has taken the course, we can provide additional coaching/workshops if desired to further equip the leaders/teachers to effectively disciple their students.

We realize it’s a big step to start using a new sunday school curriculum, so we’re available to help out in whatever way is most helpful for folks.
DB Are there any other features of HLD that you would like to tell us about?

I’m really excited about our Family Discipleship curriculum that’s coming out soon. This will be basically the same content as our children’s program curriculum but simplified and shortened to make it ideal for parents to use in leading family devotions. It’ll be completely digital, so no messing with papers unless you want to print it. You’ll sign up and get an email each week with five lessons in it - a Bible story, two short application discussions, a Mighty Men or Intercession lesson, and a review lesson.

We’re hoping this will be a great resource for parents who have struggled to know how to disciple their children or who don’t have much time to put into preparation/planning for it.

DB Who has endorsed HLD program and what did they say about it?

MM Our ministry is still pretty young, so we don’t have a lot of “big name” endorsements. But we’ve gotten great endorsements from the folks who’ve used us and looked at our material so far. Here’s a few:

Josh Beaudin, Mobilizer with New Tribes Missions:
For several years I have been asking the Lord to raise up a generation of young people whose hearts are ablaze with His passions and whose lives are engaged in His eternal purposes! If the ministry vision of Heroic Life Discipleship were to be implemented across our nation (or any nation for that matter), I believe we would see such a generation raised up. I whole-heartedly recommend this ministry!

David Brenneman, Children’s Ministry Director at Greemont Fellowship:
Heroic Life is simple, easy to use, easy to understand, and timeless and powerful because it is laser focused on the Word of God and the Gospel. No matter what classroom a child walks into, I know they are studying the Word of God and hearing the Gospel every week. The Gospel is the center of both the children's curriculum and the teacher training workshops.

DB How can folks learn more about HLD?

MM Check out our website at www.heroiclifediscipleship.com. From there, folks can learn more about the Heroic Life Discipleship team, our curriculum, view samples, and buy it. We also have a blog where we’re posting content weekly that’ll be encouraging both for ministry leaders and for every-day Christian life. You can also connect with us on Facebook and Instagram.

Follow our progress on the LUTHER 500 TOUR beginning June 15 @bondbooks on Instagram and facebook

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Writing Better Than Our Literary Heroes--Inkblots


Writing like Victor Hugo tonight

INKBLOTS
New writers on board this evening. Welcome to you all. 

Sixteen-year-old Maya leads off with her French Revolution era historical novel. Protagonist a young apprentice in Versailles.Rain falling like the verse of Milton or Spenser. Wonderfully read, so appropriately inflected. All is wrong with the world, and then personified. Enter our story… Is your narrator a participant in the story? Maya writes like a 19th century novelist, a Dickens feel or maybe Stowe. Our solemn young man, whom we have attempted to sketch. I am assuming that the narrator is not the apprentice (no apprentice would likely have that level of vocabulary). They were desperately in love. Show this by subtle looks, by gestures, a hand placed, an act of service and show the devotion. Let the reader say to himself, they were desperately in love. The more I listen, the more I want to guess who Maya’s favorite author is. My guess, Jane Austen, or Charlotte Bronte. Rich narrative. But the narrator tells us what to think about many things; I would like to hear them talk, draw conclusions from observation.

Maya critiqued herself and said she feels like it is too much description.  But John liked the narrative but wondered if she uses any dialogue. This was the opening chapter. Patrick described how he had written extensive narrative like this but after critique went back and altered 90% of what he wrote, and it was significantly better. There is a tendency to feel that as a writer we have to show how well we can write. Telling rather than showing. We talked about the intrusive narrator. This creates an unreality for the reader. We don’t have someone at our shoulder telling us what to think about everything we are seeing. All description has to drive the plot forward and develop the character. We did not have a point of view to care about. Maya could create a first person narrator who is involved in the story, invested in it. Then the higher register language makes sense, given the 18th century setting. Maya, who is sixteen, writes with the vocabulary, the syntax and verbiage, of a well-read, mature literary enthusiast.

Sydney, Maya’s older sister, reads from her blog, sounds like a favorite genre. When God Writes Poetry. She proceeds to contrast propositions and poetry. Propositions are the voice of objective truth… poetry drapes beauty. Its power. We need both, propositions and poetry, God is the source of both. We are variously drawn to one or the other, but both tendencies are in error. We need logic and wonder. She creates a parallel with the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. Entire world is a poem. We are not merely mater, and we are not simply disembodied spirits. This world is the ultimate proposition draped in poetry. I think the subheadings are helpful in a blog. Remarkably mature writing in this piece, appropriate language, and use of poetic devises embedded in and ably demonstrating her point. 

I would suggest a leading sentence at the end of one subsection that connects to the topic sentence beginning the next subsection, a sort of passing of the baton. Good use of appropriate quotations, Lewis, Piper. Spurgeon makes an argument for using imaginative devices, entertaining characteristics in our writing, commenting that another writer’s work was “most reliable, but dull.”

Jonathan reads, “This is weird,” he warned us, sort of sci-fi. Detonation Chamber, short story title. Jonathan begins medias res, a tense moment, a man with a gun in one hand, his other hand a fist poised over a red button. Why “the madman” rather than a name? Maybe I will answer that as I listen more. Dr. Hume’s asexual offspring is the madman. Got it. I’m not so sure that the backstory came in too early (though others commented that it came too early), but I do think it could have been trickled out in the midst of the tension of the moment, augmenting the suspense.

I have many literary heroes, authors that have shaped me in significant ways, whose writing inspires me, or something about their life and struggles prods me, goads me onward. I used to attempt to imitate them, their verbiage, syntax, imaginative comparisons, everything about them. I am learning, however, to glean all I can from what my literary heroes do well, but I have stopped trying to write like them. In fact, I intentionally try not to write like they do. That was Shakespeare, or Milton, or Chaucer, or Sutcliff, or O'Conner, or Bunyan. Not. Bond. Imitation is good just as crawling and toddling are good and appropriate--for infants and toddlers, but not for grown ups. We heard some amazing writing at 'Blots the other night. My advice to all of us, and all aspiring writers: Write with appreciation for your literary heroes, but press on to find your own voice. 

I was recently heavily edited, more so than I have ever been in my writing career, by an eager young editor. The result? I didn't even recognize the piece I had written. It was no longer my voice. It was the editor's voice, vigorously writing over mine. I'm not a good writer, but I am improving as a re-writer, presumably one of the reasons why I had been asked to write the piece for the magazine. 

My latest release: rewind 500 years with this one
My newest book, adult novel on Martin and Katharina Luther, is now available, free shipping, signed by the author, at bondbooks.net. I don't think you will be disappointed. Here's what one reviewer wrote about it: Luther in Love is a lovely book, a pleasure to read, a creative and astute project, a page-turner, faithful to Luther’s voice as a Reformer, a preacher, a theologian, a son, a friend, a father, and a husband.”

AIMEE BYRD, author of Housewife Theologian, Theological Fitness, and No Little Women



June 6 will be, DV, our next INKBLOTS meeting.