Saturday, December 29, 2018

Some writers don't take Christmas off

Four Blots on a blustery power-outage winter evening, the moon now shining brightly, clouds scudding furiously across its path, John begins, his designated reader Rachel leading off.

California writers, join me at the Christian Writers Seminar
John's book set in Russia, Violetta, is the result of his arduous research interviewing Russian immigrants who worked at the hospital John retired from three years ago (and came to work for me on the farm, what a blessing!). He fills in about the fascinating stories that he learned, sort of Solzhenitsyn-esque, gathering the stories of all Russians whose families lived the oppressions of the past, only John did not have to "write" them down using improvised prayer beads made from pieces of bread and mud. Rachel tells us about the museums and concerts she just visited in Berlin, including the new spy museum. Got to see that one. She took her four year old to see Rembrandt, and to Mozart's Requiem, Mendelssohn's Elijah, she wept through them all. WE talked briefly about historical research for writing, one of my topics at Fresno Pacific University February 9, 2019 at the Christian Writers Seminar.

Rachel reads on. Lenin, Bolshevik Revolution, 1917 era. How do you explain foreign language expressions in your writing? Footnotes are a bad idea in fiction, in my opinion. It is best to weave in understanding incrementally, but avoid doing so by explanatory narrative: This means in French... or which means... These are not the ways to weave in meaning and understanding naturally. Soot had darkened...  Instead of the beams were darkened by the soot, which is passive voice description, slows the pace, makes writing less vigorous. When you write about inanimate things, keep the doer of the action as the subject of your description--the soot was the cause of the blackness. I wonder if Collette in third person is a bit pedantic sounding. Can you give her more life, more authenticity?

Sydney up next (
her text with my capital letter comments): The Archbishop stood before us. Here was the man I was commanded by the king to protect. Here was the man who, in his turn, had protected the one upon whom Haldor wished death, who had protected the offspring of that brutish murderer, who had protected with all the powers of his life the person who had sucked the last of his dying mother’s. Here was the man who had raised as a father one who should never have been a son; who had sanctioned the final, destructive piece on my existence; who ​knew, who knew all and kept it hidden, hidden — oh the irony — to protect he whom had destroyed from the bare knowledge that he had destroyed it. Here was the man of God who said: At last, by my choice, a man shall not reap what he has sown.  This man was smiling. He had a tall, slender figure, bent forward beneath a white robe. His brow was coarse and grey, passing in thin lines above his eyes, which beamed from the old, pale face as paint  come alive upon dry parchment. His eyes were young. They seemed to glisten, and in any other person the glistening would have seemed as tears, but in this man, that thought would have been mistaken. It was joy, somehow, joy that glistened. Vibrancy. Life. One was not used to seeing such life in eyes. I CAN SEE AND FELL THIS From the draping sleeve of his robe a hand was extended in greeting, as thin and fragile as a bird’s claw.  “Father Alphege, you’re alive,” Finn said, grasping the hand in his own dirt-besmeared one, and pressing it with such a strange mixture of vibrant admiration and timid self-restraint, that I would perhaps have found it amusing under other circumstances. As it was, I turned my full attention upon the fragile man, who seemed larger within than without, and said nothing. GOOD DESCRIPTION OF SUBTLE CHARACTERISTICS  The thin lips had passed again into a smile. “Very much so, Finn.” The Archbishop glanced over the two of us, his eyes were laughing in a way, like Finn’s but the laughter was different — soft, knowing, as if the knowing too much had made them gentle.  “Are you well? Is this man wounded?” he asked, looking at me.  “Very much so.” The Archbishop opened the door wider, and I believed he would have done the same before a wounded Dane, if one had so appeared at his door.  “You are of course welcome here.” He gestured us within, and his keen, blue eyes peered out into the fog across the forest in the direction of the city. “God help them,” he said as he shut the door, and something in his tone made me uncertain if he spoke of those in the city who were helpless victims, or those Danes who might even now be killing them. Perhaps he spoke of both, and neither one over the other. I could not tell. It aggravated me that I could not tell. GOOD INTENTIONAL NUANCE OF UNDERSTANDING He led us into a tall room, lined with the same rough-hewn timbers I had seen scarring the face of the outside. There was little light, but a fire burned in the grate over which a small pot was simmering, though with what it was filled I could not see. A stack of bowls sat at the hearth, and directly across the room was a small, wooden table, on top of which lay a steaming bowl of water and three rolls of bandages.  “Gustav put these out PLACE ATTRIBUTION HERE in case there should be need of them while he was gone,” the Archbishop said. The unassuming manner in which he said the name struck me with a cold wash of anger. Did one whisper the word ​asp after it struck you? Did the Archbishop act to all the world as he acted before us now — as if nothing belonged more to this life than the one person I knew never should have been born. I closed my eyes and felt the blood ooze once more beneath the cracking scab on my forehead, as my brows furrowed, my head pounding in the darkness behind my lids.  “May I see your injuries?” THIS SHOULD BE A CAPITAL T, AS IT IS NOT TECHNICALLY AN ATTRIBUTION the Archbishop’s voice lifted beside me. I opened my eyes. He was standing quite near, his eyes fixed with a quiet expression upon my face. Finn had seated himself upon a chair, watching.  “No,” the word fell flat into the air, as if my tongue had dropped it. I heard the silence, and Finn shifted in his chair.  “They may require attention.”  “I am only hungry,” I said, gripping the back of the empty chair at my side. I half-turned and felt Finn’s eyes boring into the side of my head as I fell into the seat. “I would be grateful for a bowl of what is over that fire,” I added, and would not meet Finn’s eyes.  I heard the Archbishop step away, the crack of the pot as the lid lifted and the smell of beef wafted with AMIDST, MAYBE the smoke and wet steam into the room.  “Are you hungry, Finn?” the Archbishop asked, and I heard the clicking of the bowls as he lifted them from the stack near the hearth.
“Am I ever not?” There was tension beneath the grin of Finn’s voice.  The Archbishop straightened and turned, his footsteps sounded again across the floor. I I felt Finn’s gaze turn and I looked up. He was watching the bowls approaching in the grasp of the frail fingers, as the steam rose from them and the faint aroma gave all its promises of comfort and warmth. The grin was still playing about his lips, more genuine now, and a glint of eagerness shown in his eyes.  “Are you quite well, Father Alphege?” Finn asked, taking the bowl and dipping his ladle with relish. The Archbishop placed the other in front of me. “No harm has befallen you or the LOWER CASE WHEN YOU USE AN ARTICLE Cathedral it seems, and praise Heaven for that!” “No harm whatever, Finn. We are all quite well.” The Archbishop seated himself beside me, drawing in his chair before his own bowl of stew. He paused, lifted his eyes to Heaven, and the made the sign of the Cross. I felt my body stiffen upon the chair. I refused to look at him. “And Gustav?” Finn asked. I could feel his gaze. “Occupies the library like his lifeblood is the ink from the manuscripts,” the Archbishop smiled. “He has always been a clever lad, but this last year he has shown great progress in his work, and has been able to THIS IS A SPLIT INFINITIVE VERB, TO SHOULD GO WITH HELP, TO HELP most effectively help me in my own.” “The last time I was here, he spoke in admiration of the king’s army,” Finn said. “Does he ever think of joining us, of fighting against the Danes?” Everything in my body throbbed and I felt my muscles tighten, my fingers curl and grip into the palms of my hands, my jaw clench beneath the dried blood upon my face. I could feel Finn watching me still.  “No,” the Archbishop said. “He does not. He is determined to serve in a different manner.” “I trust him to do that,” Finn breathed. “I would trust him — with my life —” Something in his tone forced me to look up. Our eyes met across the table.  “Where is he now?” Finn asked.  “He and Raul have gone into the city. The areas where the fighting has deserted the wounded still lie. Those who are well enough, they will bring here, but the rest they will tend to as best they can in the street, and pray God’s mercy upon them.”  “I should be with them,” Finn said, and he began to rise to his feet. He stopped suddenly, ran a hand through his hair and glanced at me. “Not forsake one friend for the sake of the other,” he mumbled, then collapsed upon the chair and pulled it up to the table, his brows knitting across his face.  “When you go, I am going with you,” I said. Finn looked at me, aghast.  “By no means beneath heaven,” he said, “will that be the case. You’re being too wounded to be out there is precisely the reason we are stuck within these walls this very moment.” “I need to see him, Finn.”  “Gustav?” “Yes.” “Do you?” There was a moment of silence, during which I could feel his breath falling heavy between us. The Archbishop leaned forward and turned to me, his eyes full of a gentle command. “Do you know my son?”  The quiet words slammed into my skull with a violence to which the gentle tone seemed only to add. As frail fingers behind a sharpened knife, as the smile lingers below the threat, as the laugh is the voice of a mockery, GOOD USE OF COMPOUND SIMILES so the words fell upon my ears, permeated my skull, whirled with the memories within, the flashes from the night, the desecrated life, the anguish which had fallen because this parasite upon the universe — he whom the Archbishop called son — had a father who could not even be boasted of by a demon in Hell. I did not remember rising to his feet, yet here I was, swaying upon the floor, my feet gnawing to keep their hold in the earth but all the world seemed to toss around me, and I did not even know to care.  “I think so,” Finn was saying, rising to his feet as well, uncertain, one hand still upon the table where he was gripping his ladle, the scars on his knuckles shining white beneath the dirt and blood. “They met...years ago…” the words trailed off.

Rachel asked what the big picture of this story is. Haldor discovers that his brother is alive, Gustav and Dane are captured, Raul. Two parallel yarns, interwoven. Anglo-Saxon England setting. Resolution between brothers at odds.

Carol Writing Contest Results!

Announcing Writing Contest Winners!
Thank you to those who took time and creative energy to enter the Longfellow Carol Writing Contest. In the midst of the bustle of Christmas, we had a number of fine entries (and I had difficult decisions to make judging those entries).

Poets who entered considered Longfellow's poem written in 1863, "I heard the bells on Christmas Day." Does it qualify as a Christmas carol? Hate is still tragically strong and does indeed mock the song of peace on earth good-will to men, as we have so painfully been reminded of late. But is it really a Christmas--Christ worship--carol? Determined not to be a cynic, though the cannons of the Civil War were nearly drowning out the chimes of the Christmas bells, Longfellow takes a significant leap between the last two stanzas of his carol, and concludes, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail ...”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

But how did he get to that conclusion? I think a genuine Christmas Carol, a hymn in praise of Jesus' coming into the world as a baby for the sole purpose, " save his people from their sins," fills in the gap between Longfellow's deep despair expressed in the second-to-last stanza of his poem, and his final inexplicable confidence that the right will somehow prevail over the wrong expressed in the last stanza. But what or rather Who bridges the gap between the despair and the hope? The contestants were urged to write a stanza that pointed to the gospel of grace alone in Christ Jesus alone, the subject of a true Christmas carol. Drum roll, please:

First Prize Winner!
Our path was doomed in rebel war
Against a God we should adore.
The Christ-child came
And loud proclaimed
His peace on earth, good-will to men!
Congratulations, Aaron Gruben (he received a free signed copy of my new release, The Resistance)!

Second Prize Winner!
For Christ—He in the manger lay,
And died to take death's sting away, 
And in the grave, 
Death lost its sway;
True peace on earth, good-will to men.
Congratulations, Sydney Simao (she will receive a new book at Inkblots next week)!

Third Prize Winner!
Yet from the dust a fair rose bloomed,
            The bells tolled ransom for the doomed;
            To lead men home
            The Christ has come
            With peace on earth, goodwill to men.
 Congratulations, Christianna Hellwig (received a free Rise & Worship cd)!

Grand Prize Winner!
True light is come! the Light and Life,
The Victor over sin and strife.
The right has won,
Now reigns the Son
With peace on earth, good will to men.
Congratulations, Paige Lamar (she won a 50% discount on April's Oxford Creative Writing Master Class--see you in Oxford)!

Join me April 2-9, 2019 for the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class (only a few spots available). "I loved every minute of it! I learned more about writing and history than I ever could have expected. Mr. Bond gave me literary tools which I am already using and will continue to use. It was a wonderful tour, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!" (Cheyenne). Learn more at and Listen to my podcast The Scriptorium at

Monday, December 24, 2018

Carol Writing and the delusional imagination

There's so many wonderful Christmas carols, only a poetic nutcase would attempt to write a new one. Okay, that would be me. New Reformation Hymns, "What wonder filled the starry night," is intended to be  just that, a Christmas carol. Insanity! you say. Only a moron would attempt to write a Christmas carol, much less post it and put on display the extent of his carol-crafting delusion. Okay, you're probably right.  But it's too late. I've already posted it. Greg Wilbur (and others) has already written and recorded music for it. "The deed is done and cannot be undone" (something is clearly amiss when one finds oneself quoting Lady Macbeth).

In part because of such fears, early scribblings for this hymn/carol sat dormant for several years; hymn writing can sometimes be like that for me, an initial burst of ideas, then nothing, just an imaginative black hole. As Christmas approached in 2010, something changed. Sitting in front of the fire in our living room one evening, I pulled out the initial notes again. Before bedtime I managed to sift through all the scribbles, idea banks and word banks, and set down the lines below pretty much as you see them here.

Overcoming my trepidation at writing my first hymn (it was difficult enough, The Lord Great Sovereign, 2001), but writing a Christmas carol? Only a moron would attempt it. The sacred charm of the existing carol canon guarantees failure. I must be certifiable! Carols are pregnant with emotive atmosphere, celebratory associations, roasting chestnuts (a curious metaphor considering Americans do not roast and eat chestnuts at Christmas or any other time, to my knowledge), open fires, Jack Frost nipping at our noses, Good King Wenceslas going out on the feast of Stephen, snow lying all about, and every cozy winter association imaginable and unimaginable. Writing a Christmas carol is like inviting the world to come watch you fly off the Eiffel Tower, equipped with nothing more than chicken-feather wings and delusional bravado (what were they talking about in physics class?). Bring your smart phones. 

Yet, here I go, posting a Christmas carol, one I wrote. Maybe I should be feeling like one of those chestnuts. I'd like to claim to be impervious to critics (a recent post prompted one fellow to fume and fulminate at me), but it would be a lie. Nevertheless, write anything and there will be someone there to gnash his teeth and tell the world what an unworthy vessel you are. For the record, I am daily aware of my vast limitations (could fill a book with them). But in all seriousness, I don't write books because I think I'm the best writer in the world, any more than I love my wife because I think I am the best husband in the world, any more than I parent my kids because I think I am the best parent in the world, any more than I worship Christ because I think I am the best worshiper in the world. Neither do I write hymns because I think I am the best hymn writer in the world--and certainly not because I think I'm the best writer of a carol.

So endearing are carols to Christian hymnody that experts tell us the best-loved hymn of all time is actually a carol, Charles Wesley's Hark, the Herald Angels Sing). Only a certifiable
moron would proceed. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, with the same fear and trembling I had when I originally set my imagination to work on this carol, and now with the same I launch it out to you.

What wonder filled the starry night
          When Jesus came with heralds bright!
I marvel at His lowly birth,    
          That God for sinners stooped to earth.
His splendor laid aside for me,
          While angels hailed His Deity,
The shepherds on their knees in fright
          Fell down in wonder at the sight.

The child who is the Way, the Truth,
          Who pleased His Father in His youth,
Through all His days the Law obeyed,
          Yet for its curse His life He paid.         
What drops of grief fell on the site
          Where Jesus wrestled through the night,
Then for transgressions not His own,
          He bore my cross and guilt alone.

What glorious Life arose that day
          When Jesus took death’s sting away!
His children raised to life and light,
          To serve Him by His grace and might.

One day the angel hosts will sing,  
          “Triumphant Jesus, King of kings!” 
Eternal praise we’ll shout to Him
          When Christ in splendor comes again!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Longfellow Christmas Carol Writing Contest

Deadline Christmas Day!
What makes a poem a carol?  Listen to my podcast The Scriptorium at for carol writing contest details (and prizes!). Do any of these qualify as Christmas carols? "Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer," "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas," "Frosty the snowman"? Most of us would agree that these represent more of the residual fluff that has emerged to pad the season with a sort of vague wintry charm, but they're not carols. 

How about Longfellow's poem written in 1863, "I heard the bells on Christmas Day"; does it qualify as a Christmas carol? Hate is still tragically strong and does indeed mock the song of peace on earth good-will to men, as we have so painfully been reminded of late. But is it really a Christmas--Christ worship--carol? Determined not to be a cynic, though the cannons of the Civil War were nearly drowning out the chimes of the Christmas bells, Longfellow takes a significant leap between the last two stanzas of his carol, and concludes, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail ...”

But how did he get to that conclusion? I think a genuine Christmas Carol, a hymn in praise of Jesus' coming into the world as a baby for the sole purpose, " save his people from their sins," fills in the gap between Longfellow's deep despair expressed in the second-to-last stanza of his poem, and his final inexplicable confidence that the right will somehow prevail over the wrong expressed in the last stanza. But what or rather Who bridges the gap between the despair and the hope? Answer with the gospel of grace alone in Christ Jesus alone and you have the material for a true Christmas carol.

Longfellow Christmas Carol Contest--prizes!
How to enter:
1. Subscribe to
2. Share the contest on social media with two friends.
3. Write your own 5-line stanza (5th line is the same as Longfellow's) giving gospel reasons for Longfellow's optimism about the wrong failing and the right prevailing. Make sure you use the same meter and rhyme scheme Longfellow used. 
4. Go to; after subscribing, click on contact and follow instructions.
1st--A free copy of my new release The Resistance.
2nd--A free copy of my book War in the Wasteland
3rd--A free copy of my New Reformation Hymns cd Rise & Worship​
Grand Prize for a Longfellow-esque lyric--50% discount on my April 2019 Oxford Creative Writing Master Class
Deadline December 25, 2018

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Being a Writer--Is It Worth It? Inkblots

"[Writing] holds all the hope there is." EB White
Stormy Pacific Northwest day, heavy rain, dark and gray, power outages in region, brown-outs here--a good day to hunker down, drink tea, and write. Six Blots braving the dark and bluster for two hours of vigorous literary time together. It was well worth it.

Hear what the collaborator/refiner of Elements of Style wrote about being a writer: "I’m glad to report that even now, at this late day, a blank sheet of paper holds the greatest excitement there is for me—more promising than a silver cloud, prettier than a little red wagon. It holds all the hope there is, all fears. I can remember, really quite distinctly, looking a sheet of paper square in the eyes when I was seven or eight years old and thinking, ‘This is where I belong, this is it.'" E. B. White

Does your writing journey concur with White's? This is not my testimony. My first book was published when I was forty. Sydney concurred with E. B. White. None of us were surprised at that bit of intelligence. But what about his words, writing "holds all the hope there is"? If not hyperbole, it is very sad, indeed, when my hope is in any work I do with my own hands, mind, imagination. I do agree about the fear part, though. If you write, you will fail, and there will be a lineup of critics to inform you and the rest of the world about your failure, real or perceived. Is it worth it?

Rachel Ng leads off with her 1941 yarn, just as the US entered WWII. She feels like she's made major progress. How? By consistency. Getting up and going to work, writing work. Daisy Bishop... saucy, pendulum rhythm. I like it. I agree, your dialogue is lively, realistic. And you are still giving it layers with description of people and inner worries. I wonder how much is gained by nearly identical uniforms; just identical uniforms, but even that is redundant, uniforms being already identical wear. What are you actually wanting to feature in this description? I feel like the closer connection with Walter the lieutenant and Daisy your female protagonist happened too suddenly. Maybe I missed something. Is quality control too modern a phrase for the historical period? We discussed for some time the age of Daisy for 1941. Seventeen would not have been too young for marriage. I suggested that Rachel make her 15. Rachel H suggested 16 to avoid the modern creep factor, which would not have been there in those days. My mother in law was married when she was 16, 60 years ago.

Sydney up next. Picked up after Fynn was dragged out of the prison. Far better fate than God, or god is it? I want you to come back to this in other places and have this be a doctrine that gets revised as the story unfolds. Almost, pain in the word almost. I think the first person is working so well for Sydney in this sobering tale. I want to suggest that you break up lengthier passages of dialogue with more natural interjections, as in human conversation, where people interject, if not interrupt. The best dialogue is like a relay race, the baton passing smoothly, logically, fluidly from one speaker to the other. Dialogue is the place for sentence fragments, and filling in the blank from one speaker to the next. I love Sydney's as ifs. Especially with the descriptions of the crosses in the cemetery. And the door opened. Intrigue in every dependent clause. Rhythm and cadence in the prose, Rachel H commented, poetic feeling prose. Cheyenne liked the transition from the last chapter, grim array of crosses and death, to this chapter. Sydney was able to outline forward, plot the future of the story. 

Cheyenne wrote this yesterday and feels like this passage needs help. Brave soul. Chapter 13 of book 2. She revised this based on input that it leapt too much, not enough character development and setting development. Historical fantasy, medieval Japan-esque. Other worlder, more goes on than you know. Quiet stillness of the air. Is this a redundancy? What feature of the atmosphere are you wanting to share with your reader here? Cheyenne has her protagonist ask internal questions, inner conflict. This only works in first person point of view, one of the strengths of this pov. Faces, faces. I feel like this might be too internal. John liked the part about the dreams. Sydney had read this before the dream was included. Alisa thought the pace was good, but she had a couple of ideas. Oblivion, could she actually answer some of her questions. Should she remember more of the cause of the dream? Cheyenne wrote about her protagonist's remembering of the dream, and Sydney thought that she should have more vivid recollections of the specific details. The questions she is asking will be answered as the plot unfolds. Rachel H suggested that there be eyes or a ring or something that symbolizes the dream or the conflict of the dream. 

Alisa finishes us up for this evening, reading from The Emblem, forthcoming in 2019. Nobody I know is as thorough and persistent as Alisa. she has the drive and work ethic of a master storyteller. It shows in her work. Chapter 3, Callie ran all the way home, working for the Burke family. Could she remember her father's injury more graphically, or more immediately, as in how he walks now, or how he winces with the weather changes? Something that makes her sadness about her father's injury have a more tangible feel for the reader. I thought you handled Sam's answer so well. And her longing for her father to have more of Sam's attitude about his injury and work in the mines as the years pass and aging makes the hard labor harder. Mt Pisgah Presbyterian, is this a real church in Roslyn? FDR's fireside chats--could you have a brief excerpt he was hearing, crackling from the radio on the sideboard, maybe? This is powerful, seeing a man declining in health and age, the verve dwindling. Five perspectives. Press on. Looking forward to reading the whole book.

There are going to be a number of remarkable writers, there are already, coming from this fine group of people sitting around the Scriptorium this evening. 

This just received from a post-publication reviewer of my newest release: "The Resistance is quite a work. I read it in one sitting--all the way through. You have an extraordinary ability to capture the nature of minds at war. All the ambiguities. All the inhumanities. All the stress of war and flying in it, and the camaraderie of those aircrews. The sense of responsibility in Evans is brilliant throughout." Marvin Padgett, Executive Director of Great Commissions Publications 

My host, Richard L. Pike on my speaking time in Western Australia in September, turns out to be a remarkable C. S. Lewis look alike and sound alike. Here's one of the clips I did of him reading a segment heard by the French Resistance in The Resistance
Special 2-book bundle of my War in the Wasteland and newest release, The Resistance at CS Lewis plays a significant role in both books, though more subtle in The Resistance. He is antagonist in the WWI yarn and "the voice of faith" on the BBC broadcasts heard by the French Resistance in my newest. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Is This Dying? (excerpt from THE RESISTANCE)


Teen, atheist to BBC "voice of faith."

For an instant, as Evans free fell from the spiraling bomber, he was certain the right wing was going to pound into his body like the arm of a giant windmill. Hot black smoke engulfed him, choking him, the heat from the burning engines suffocating him, singeing his hair. The ground rushing closer.
Why had he not gone into the infantry? As God intended, both feet firmly on the ground? He hated heights, always had. “Keep your eyes on the instruments and fly the plane,” his father had knowingly advised him.
He didn’t remember pulling the ripcord. Just a violent wrenching as his chute harness tried to crush the breath out of him, then nausea, and wincing pain in his left shoulder.
Then silence. His ears ringing from the chaos of noise he’d just escaped—engines roaring, machine guns spewing bullets, the high-pitched whine of the Fw 190s, more machine guns firing, the horrifying rush of air as he free fell through the bomb bay. And now silence, utter, floating silence.
For an instant, Evans wondered if this was death. Had he died and was this floating to heaven? Was there such a place? War had made him a firm believer in hell. But was there a heaven? And if so, who on earth—on such an earth—would be going there?
Then, behind and somewhere below his right boot, hanging prone from his chute harness, he heard a sickening crash as 25,000 tons of doomed aircraft hit the ground. Straining to see, he watched his B-17 erupt in a belching cloud of orange flame and black smoke. No, only a delusional fool would deny hell fire.
Tearing his eyes from the burning wreckage, Evans counted parachutes, one, two, three—he looked upward at the taut underside of his chute—four. Six of his crew didn’t make it. They were gone. A violent shudder ran down his spine. He was responsible for his men. He hoped they had died before the crash, before experiencing that burning inferno. He would write letters to their families, if he got the chance.
Suddenly, two of the chutes below him sagged and deflated. Two of his men were on the ground, in a pasture, bordered by a narrow road, enclosed on either side by a hedgerow. Alarmed at the sudden intrusion, three or four white cows kicked up their heels and fled.   
His navigator’s chute and his own were drifting sideways in a breeze, westward, as near as he could calculate. Then he saw them. Three trucks, a staff car, and two motorcycles.
His heart sank. Gunmetal gray paint, iron cross on the doors, swastika fluttering from the hood of the staff car...

Douglas Bond, author of a number of successful books of historical fiction, biography, and practical theology, podcasts at The Scriptorium, speaks at churches and conferences, and leads historical tours in Europe. Order a signed copy of The Resistance at

Friday, November 30, 2018

Driving, Writing, and Living On the Wrong Side of the Road

Picture yourself here with me on the next OCWMC 
"Drive left. Look right! God, help me to do this right--I mean, correct!" So I tell myself and pray in the days and hours before leading another group of aspiring writers on the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class. At Heathrow, I warily circle the nine-passenger rental van and then lunge into the driver's seat on the right side, murmuring to myself to keep the vehicle on the left side of the road and a weather eye to the Bentleys, Minis, red buses, and black cabbies bearing down on my right side. Though it is not my first rodeo (not to be construed as a cliche; it is a metaphor chosen precisely to reflect how it feels swerving around about every frantically encircling roundabout intersection), I have driven in the UK on the wrong side of the vehicle--and the road--over many years now. But I still pray earnestly before loading the van with precious human cargo and braving the blaring streets, curvaceous back roads, and bustling motorways of Britain.

And then there's the matter of my talking--while driving (whilst motoring, to be more colloquial). One previous OCWMC participant, her hand trembling, passed me an almost illegible note on which she had scrawled out a plea for me to stop using hand gestures as I talk--and drive. "Please, please, keep both hands on the wheel," she implored me (I nodded, looking down at the clutch and gear shifter, wondering just how I was supposed to do that when every vehicle in the UK seems to be equipped with a manual transmission). As I teach my master class writers the evil of exaggerating language, I will avoid pronouncing it "miraculous," but it is a significant answer to prayer, with many instances of divine intervention, that I have never had an accident whilst motoring in Britain (okay, a few close calls; every one of them, I am morally certain, not my fault, like the one en route from London to Oxford opening day of the master class when a raven-colored Peugeot nearly strafed the side of us on the M-40, clearing my arteries, invigorating my vocabulary, and making me still more grateful).

In Oxford, or anytime I talk about writing, I emphasize the importance of figurative language, of metaphor. "The greatest thing by far," wrote Aristotle in his Poetics (384 BC - 322 BC), "is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances." And for the rest of us who are emphatically not geniuses, we work at training our eye and ear so we are equipped to use the most appropriate metaphors, the precise imaginative comparisons, the best mini stories to awaken the imagination and immerse our readers in the larger story.

Which makes me pause and consider driving on the wrong side of the car and the road as a metaphor, a miniature story very much like life itself. The author of the book of Proverbs employed a similar metaphor: "Turn not to the right hand or to the left. Keep your foot from evil." When driving a car, if I turn right when I should have turned left, or if I don't keep my eyes on the road ahead of me, screeching tires, broken glass, mangled metal, and far worse can follow.

Similarly, when writing a book, if I take my eyes off the real issue for my protagonist, or when I lose control of the story arc and the plot wanders aimlessly like an overfed bovine, sniffing at this or that irrelevant morsel, my reader gets distracted, yawns, closes the book, and (after awakening from his stupor), pounds out a scathing review on amazon.

How much worse when this happens in life. When I wander to the right and then to the left, grazing for fulfillment and happiness in this tidbit and that morsel of this life, I will always come up empty, unsatisfied, idolatrous, lost. And damned. The stakes are high. Those who persist with this try-this, try-that, foraging approach to life will end this life and enter the life to come with the most horrific words ringing in their eternal ears, "Depart from me you cursed into everlasting fire where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth." When we do this in life, the result is infinitely worse than a car smash-up or a bad review on amazon.

Though our culture persists in shrieking the mantra, "There are many roads," or in effect, "Take whatever road feels good. There is no wrong side of the road." Imagine driving or writing that way. Made in the image of God, we all know at the deepest level of our being that there is only one road that leads to heaven. "One road leads home and a thousand roads lead into the wilderness," as CS Lewis put it. Left or right, O the pain of those thousand roads. No one gets to heaven by scrupulously following the right path, the path of self-improvement and good works; or from swerving left, following his heart and doing what he feels.

If not to the right or the left, where are we to keep our eyes? If there's only one way, The Way, how are we to get on--and keep on--the road? There's no equivocation. Nor is there any alternate route. The Word of God makes the path of life plain. Abandon all hope in ourselves and "Gaze upon the beauty of the Lord." It is what we were made for, not just on Good Friday or Easter, We are designed to keep our eyes straight ahead, to "Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith." We do this because by his finished work on the cross in place of sinners and his righteousness imputed to those same sinners' specific account, Christ is alone the path to life; in his presence there is fullness of joy; at his right hand their are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16).

God alone places us by his grace on the right road--and he alone keeps us on it. All other roads lead into the wilderness.     

Douglas Bond, author of dozens of books, directs the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class. Contact him about the next OCWMC at

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Thanksgiving discount ends soon
Inkblots on a stormy, blustery evening after a day of barrels of rain. We sat around talking about books and publishing, typesetting, and copy editing. And other things. Most folks don't have anything immediately to read. So we talked about setting goals. And went around the room discussing plans for the future, and setting goals for our next gathering.

I "finished" the film script I have been commissioned to write today. When they first approached me I declined to take it on as I was too busy with other writing and speaking projects. So the arrangement is that they would present me with a draft of the script and I would then revise and rewrite it to my satisfaction. As I have been doing so, I have been reminded of this observations. “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating” (Simone Weil). Hollywood usually settles for imaginary evil, and, hence, so often portrays sin as romantic and varied. Rarely does the film industry take off the mask and portray real evil for what it is: gloomy, monotonous, barren, and boring. On the contrary.

We discussed the role of copy editors. What is the role of the copy editor? Are they your friend or your adversary? Writers all need another set of eyes to help us see where we are being inconsistent or inaccurate. Sydney is enjoying doing copy editing and writing for website content for some new clients. Editors are not infallible but they are indispensable, in my opinion. Cheyenne has a copy editor that has told her to divide her first volume into two volumes and add a third for a trilogy.

Let's set some goals for two weeks from now. I am going to write my article for Modern Reformation and at least one of the hymns I have brainstormed shaped into the real deal. Rachel Ng is going to continue writing on her 1950s yarn. I recommended creating a rough table of contents with expanded ideas in parentheses for projected content in each chapters. Though you will always be changing and revising, doing this gives you a place to put ideas in some degree of order and establishes a map for where you are going. Sydney is going to continue writing on her weighty yarn, getting more forward direction and planning in place. Cheyenne has divided the first volume with a cliff hanger ending of the first, second starts at the same scene. 

Cheyenne reads from the beginning of the second volume. It seemed, may not be the best opening sentence of the book. Then again, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Nevertheless, though Dickens pulled off an unforgettable opening paragraph starting with It, I would consider a more concrete beginning. But the description gets pretty riveting after that. It is grim. Axe in the back, and specifics of sound and sight at the gruesome scene. Cheyenne is writing well in first person. I think you need to bring readers back into the scene for the beginning of a new book. It's easy to overdo this and over write, tell too much from the past book and back story. But without reacquainting your readers with the characters and placing them back in the grim setting it seems abrupt and lacking in context. Giles and I were just talking last evening about series and trilogies (he wants me to write a Civil War story that continues the M'Kethe clan, as P&R and I have discussed for several years). His theory is that in trilogies each book should end in a cliff hanger. I have written my trilogies more with the idea that each book could stand alone, be a complete and satisfying story, but more to experience by reading all and in order. There is a measure of wisdom in seeking a publisher for the whole trilogy, as publishers do like to publish series. John pointed out that at a burial scene he thought characters should be more soberly thinking about death and what happens after death. 

John will read the first chapter of Violetta and work on continuing the yarn. I am begging to copy edit his Saving Grace contemporary novel this week.

Don't miss out on the special Thanksgiving season discount on my April Oxford Creative Writing Master Class; it expires November 30, only a few days away. Comment or email me right away and reserve your place for the next Oxford Creative Writing Master Class, which one OCWMC grad said was ...above and beyond my wildest dreams. I learned so much about writing, history, theology. It has truly changed my life.” Go to, check out the OCWMC page under tours, and contact me before the big Thanksgiving discount expires November 30.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


The high cultural pricetag on forgetfulness
I hope you never have to experience the blank expression of a loved one who no longer knows you, has no memory of who you are. My father-in-law died a few months ago from Alzheimer’s, a disease that tragically robs an individual of their ability to remember. As yet, there is no cure. But there is a cure for the particular kind of collective memory loss from which we as Americans are suffering—the loss of memory of our history. We resent reminders of our memory lapses. It’s easier simply to revise history so that it accords with, rather than challenges, our new ideas.
We’re inclined to roll our eyes when we hear the maxim, “Those who will not learn from history are bound to repeat it.” Yet, when forgotten, that same history relentlessly demonstrates that we inevitably repeat the most horrific parts of it. “One of the most dangerous errors,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “is that civilization is automatically bound to increase and spread. The lesson of history is the opposite; civilization is a rarity, attained with difficulty and easily lost. The normal state of humanity is barbarism.”

Allow me to propose an antidote to this dangerous error caused by our memory loss. The cure begins by pausing and stepping out of the frenzy and tyranny of the here-and-now. Only then can we begin to learn the lessons of history.
Winter is coming on. Curl up with a cup of tea, a favorite sweater—and a good book on WWI or WWII. Immerse yourself in the prodigious and difficult deeds accomplished to preserve freedom and that rare thing: civilization.
Another excellent way to do that is with the new documentary film The Girl Who Wore Freedom. It tells the story of five-year-oldDanielle Patrix who fell asleep June 5, 1944 in enemy-occupied Normandy and awoke the next morning to the thrilling sounds of liberation—and to kindness from American troops. The Allied forces had landed to free her at last from the jack-booted heel of the National Socialist (Nazis) German Wehrmacht.
The well-crafted story unfolds as Danielle Patrix tells of the profound gratitude that her people in Normandy feel to this day for the sacrifices our Allied soldiers made—for many, the ultimate sacrifice—spilling their blood on the beaches of Normandy so she and her people could be free from tyranny. “Freedom is not free,” one of the eyewitnesses of liberation declares. “We have to keep the memory alive.” Every generation must remember the cost of freedom, that it is, as Lewis put it, “attained with difficulty and easily lost.”
Title character Danielle Patrix, the girl who wore freedom, is determined to keep that memory alive. In a 1945 photograph, Danielle wears a dress her mother made her from an American parachute, gratefully colored in red, white, and blue, and decorated with stars and stripes. Alas, some careless Americans, forgetful of the past, have a historical dementia so complete, they tear down those stars and stripes and set it on fire. But not Danielle who wore freedom, not her friends in Normandy who remember.

Patriotically cliché as it sounds to some, it’s all true. Though some parts of France have the reputation of being less than friendly toward Americans, there are few places on the planet where Americans are so welcomed and appreciated as Normandy. I was reminded once again of their gratitude last June while leading a historical tour that included Normandy; I’ve observed this many times since the first tour I led there twenty years ago. “We have to thank them—forever,” said an appreciative French woman of the Allies who gave all to free her country from oppression.
Why is it so important that we avoid the dangerous error and remember our history? “We need an intimate knowledge of the past,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “not because the past has anything magic about it, but to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods.” Lewis urges us to avoid the mere “temporary fashion” of current ideas and goes on to argue that being perpetual students of our history will in some measure make us “immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of [our] own age.”
Teen age 2/Lt C. S. Lewis fought and was wounded in WWI, and he became “the voice of faith” for his Broadcast Talks on BBC radio in WWII. I’m convinced that if Lewis were alive today he might very well agree that The Girl Who Wore Freedom is an important way of learning from history, keeping memory alive, and holding off barbarism.

Douglas Bond is a leader of historical tours and author of a number of successful books, including War in the Wasteland, set in 2/Lt C. S. Lewis’ WWI platoon, and his latest book The Resistance, set in WWII Normandy. Learn more at

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Your Writing Reveals What You Value Most--INKBLOTS

Join me in Oxford for the writing time of your life
Six 'Blots this chilly evening, fall inching toward winter with most of the leaves crunching underfoot on the ground, and frost on the pumpkin in the morning. One of our dogs killed a possum trying to get at our chicken girls in the night, Giles and I armed to the teeth coming in after the kill. Coyote bait. By the way, I invite you to subscribe to my youtube channel where I am making video versions of The Scriptorium, my podcast on literature and writing, theology and history, aesthetics and life

I lead off reading this piece then talking about our axiology as writers, what is most important to us, what do we believe most foundationally, what do we believe is true? "If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, error will be: if God and his Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy; if the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of corrupt and licentious literature will; if the power of the Gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness, will reign without mitigation or end" 
(Daniel Webster, 1823). We talked about how we are impacting our readers with good or evil, nothing neutral or middle way.
John leads off reading two versions of the synopsis for Saving Grace, his important contemporary novel exposing the evils of abortion and celebrating life. Why are synopsis so important? Firstly, a reading service or publisher needs to know what the book is about in a brief moment. Plan on two degrees of synopsis: 50 word, 150 word. Secondly, the synopsis is the first demonstration of the author's writing ability (this underscores the critical role of the cover letter as well), so write at the absolute top of your game. Think of it as the sonnet to the full play. Shakespeare explored some of the same themes in 140 syllables that he explored in 20,000 words. The synopsis is the sonnet. Thirdly, the synopsis helps the writer assess his own book. If you can't write a synopsis that makes sense, that works, there are likely problems with the book itself (this may also be why we are reluctant to write the synopsis in the first place). Lastly, the synopsis ought to create tension and a need to read/ Think of it as the hook that compells someone to take up and read (first, to buy the book).

Alisa felt like John maybe gave too much away in the synopsis, for example, mentioning the suicidal thoughts she did not feel needed to be in the synopsis. Sydney thought that the unplanned pregnancy clarity in the synopsis is important as so many young women in our world have, or know someone who has, experienced this personally.

Hannah K gave us a summary of her 6,000 word short story that just emerged from reading about Switzerland. Set in 1994, in Western Washington. Her mother's dark blue eyes darted to the rear view mirror, when she replied to her daughter. Pronoun antecedent problem. I liked your inflections as you read. Clearly you are enjoying your characters, which is infectious. Be careful of too much chit-chat exchange at greeting another character. Readers are able to compress light exchanges so we don't need to write all of the hi, how are you, I'm fine, and you, material. This is interesting everyday feeling material, read well, cohesive. But I do wonder where you are going. Are you laying down intentional character development that will make sense when you get to the end of the story? I'm new here. Your dialogue has an authenticity that is enjoyable. You captured our attention and interest. I really wanted to know about the Woodsman, who he was, is he real, is he scary? Give us some rumor and speculation about villainous deeds he has done. A place where you feel like you read it aloud completely wrong is a place to go back and look more closely at what you did write. Was there a lack of clarity? Try cutting out any unnecessary words. Any word that does not have real work to do, kill it. Sydney felt the dialogue sounded natural and the little kids, difficult to do in fiction, came off well. The arsonist story being told seemed lacking in set up. Maybe the character needs to be developed so that the arsonist story fits better.

Dave Killian picks up on his sequel to his futuristic American yarn. It was futuristic three years ago when Dave started it but has come into alignment pretty close to where the world has gone now, not quite, but close. Cory simply said, we have a problem. You don't need simply; kill adverbs. The aggression happened too suddenly, it seemed to my ear. Maybe I haven't been in enough barroom brawls (mine have been brawls of words far more than of fists, at least since I was in about sixth grade when I got beat to a pulp defending my big sister against two older boys who I thought were being inappropriate toward her, or so I want to remember it). Dave explained afterward that this was just a reminiscence of a brawl not the actual one. More clarity there will help reader. Someone like you, a good book title maybe. I like the idea of having an unlikely fellow be fluent in Latin and not fit the stereotype of your average hick.

Sydney continues reading her weighty epic now in first person. I appreciate how Sydney sets us up for looking for things she's not sure are working quite the way she hopes. Monk is not dead but unconscious. Immediate feel now in first person, its happening to me, so it feels, almost. Such a time, such a place, such a.... Not a problem, just noticing the repetition, effective repetition. The dialogue, the thoughts, the narrative, woven like a medieval Arras tapestry by a master craftsman. Sydney reads with such care to cadence and the weight of her words, intriguing. I appreciate how you don't feel like you have to use coma conjunction structure, just coma. It gives a sense of rawness, grasping for phrases that alone can express what must be expressed. I feel that your characters are developing their own unique voice in the unfolding story. And you are feeling less need for traditional attribution as a result, yet we know who is speaking. The clipped simple sentence is so effective. Above all, Sydney writes such lyric prose that we find it beautiful to listen to, as if it is a form of music, but we all agreed we had less visual sense of the setting. Without losing the lyric quality of the narrative, consider giving the reader touch points of visual description. We do need to breathe. John points out that it's almost like you can't keep up with it. And consider giving your reader a lighter exchange, a mildly humorous brief episode for a reprieve from the high emotional tension of the story. Look up, look down, look under. Maybe there's a little creature that can become your lighter touch, be the symbol of ordinariness, comic relief, suspend the weight for an instant, and use throughout (a bird, a mouse, a cat--I don't know but something along those lines comes to mind).

I read the blog article I was asked to write on the importance of remembering and learning the lessons of history for the forthcoming documentary THE GIRL WHO WORE FREEDOM. I'll post the article here next week. Preorder my imminently forthcoming WWII historical fiction The Resistance.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Armistice Day--Remembering True Heroes

My friend John Hemminger with his P-47
“Pay attention!”
            Steve Kelley, sportswriter for the Seattle Times, recently recollected the advice his father used to give him when they sat together watching the Philadelphia Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium. “Pay attention,” his dad would say when Willie Mays came to bat. “You’re watching greatness. You don’t want to forget this.”
I remember sitting on “Tightwad Hill” with my uncle watching the farm club Tacoma Twins, cheering wildly as I peered through the binoculars. Next day after school, I’d grab my bat and try my best to imitate the swing of those heavy-hitter wannabes. For the record, no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t wired for baseball greatness. “You can’t put in what the Lord’s left out,” quipped the trainer in the classic film, Chariots of Fire. When I would come to bat at neighborhood games, on queue the outfield moved in, or just squatted down and waited until I finished flailing the air. Through all this, however, I have figured out something important: I pay attention to men I think are great, and I desperately try to be like them. And so do you. 
Kelley’s dad was right about one thing: you don’t want to forget greatness. We must sit up and “pay attention” to real greatness. But what makes someone worthy of this attention? What makes someone truly great, a worthy hero, someone you should never forget, someone you should hold in the highest regard, someone you should imitate?

All men honor heroes
“Any nation that does not honor its heroes,” said Abraham Lincoln, “will not long endure.” In an age when debunking heroes has become as American as apple pie and hot dogs, an age of flag-burning ingratitude, of pompous disdain for the past, an age that chants “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Culture’s got to go,” we should cringe at Lincoln’s prophetic words. Maybe we’ve come too close. Maybe we’re there already. Maybe we are a people that mock at real heroes and, in their place, are now bowing down before the real villains.
Nineteenth-century Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle wrote that “Hero-worship cannot cease till man himself ceases.” In the fifth century, Augustine referred to men as homo adorans, man made to adore, to worship, to venerate heroes. Thus, kings and generals are followed by their adoring armies even into the jaws of death. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” cried Shakespeare’s Henry V as he rallied his men before the battered walls of Harfleur, “or close the wall up with our English dead!”  In the 1st century BC, Julius Caesar was so adored by his legions that they were prepared to cross the Rubicon and march in defiance against Rome and Pompey. Or the young Alexander the Great motivating thousands to fight and die so that he might spread Greek culture and language--and rule the world in the bargain.
The literature of Western Civilization is the fascinating saga of great achievement, an enduring celebration of heroes. Great poetry praises the deeds of heroes, real or imagined, from the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, to the bloody triumphs of Beowulf, to the dragon-slaying Red Cross Knight of Edmund Spenser’s epic allegory, to the 600 courageous men of Tennyson’s Light Brigade, even to the humble heroics of Tolkien’s mythical Frodo the Hobbit--it all fires the blood and fascinates the imagination.
One thing is overwhelmingly clear: You and I were made to adore heroes. We pay attention with all our being to great men.

Beware of false heroes
This ingrained tendency to adore heroes, however, poses particular challenges for young men growing up in a culture inundated by glitzy, muscle-bound icons of popular culture and the sports arena. Pop culture particularly plays on your love of heroes. It could not survive without it. The icons of entertainment demand your worship. They live and die for it. So it has always been.
Many historians argue that the history of the world is the history of men following heroes. It would be just as accurate to say that the history of the world is the history of young men blindly following the wrong heroes, following unworthy examples, whose vices are tragically compounded in their fawning worshipers.
So who are your heroes? In today’s reading, Paul urges the Philippian Christians to “Join with others in following my example,” that is to say, follow the right men, set up heroes for yourself and be like them. Speak as they speak; do as they do. The Bible often speaks this way. Twenty-eight times we are told to imitate others, often to follow Christ the Captain of our salvation, but fully seventeen of those times we are commanded to follow others, like Paul, who have been transformed by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and have been enabled by that same power to heroically follow Christ.
 Paul, here, is in earnest. This is no casual advice, take it or leave it. No. He reminds us, “I have often told you before and now say again even with tears.” Why with tears? Why so earnest? Because “many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Because an earthly hero has his “mind on earthly things.” And the young man who chooses to follow worldly heroes, to applaud at their entertainments, to listen to their music, to cheer at their achievement, to spend his money on their products, to paper the walls of his bedroom with their posters, that young man should not be surprised if he follows those heroes right into the jaws of hell. From this, you and I are duty bound to draw the line in the sand. This is no trivial matter. Don’t follow the enemies of the cross of Christ. “Their destiny,” Paul declares without equivocation, “is destruction.” And so will yours prove to be if you follow them.
Moreover, the more impressed you are by the status and achievement of unbelievers, by their sophisticated good looks, by their clothes, their shoes, by their posture, their swagger, by their prowess in sports, by their associations, their way of speaking, by their money and fancy cars, lavish houses, planes, and yachts, the more you are moved by these things the less you will be able to separate out their vices. Soon they won’t seem like vices at all. At the last their vices will be yours. Know that their end will be yours as well. Fully expect to become like those you adore.  
“We are all creatures of imitation,” wrote nineteenth-century Anglican bishop J. C. Ryle. “Precept may teach us, but it is example that draws us.” And since those examples can draw us from both directions, you must beware of the tendency to go easy on the parts of your sports or music heroes’ lives that you know are sinful.
Do you honestly think that you will be unaffected by the foul language, the unfaithful living, the hostility to truth, or the swaggering arrogance of your worldly heroes? I doubt it. And the more impressed you are with their achievement the more likely you are to embrace other elements of their lifestyle.
Don’t expect to see it coming like a tidal wave. It all happens gradually. Rarely does a young man, like yourself, who is growing up in a Christian home, rarely does he plunge headlong into sin with his back against all he has been taught. Generally, it happens little by little, one single, what’s-the-big-deal step at a time. “The road to hell,” observed C. S. Lewis, “is a gradual one.”
The best way to avoid the gradual road to hell, is to cultivate honor for and imitation of truly worthy heroes. Here’s one of mine.

Fight to the death
            I’ve thought a good deal lately about one of my heroes. P-47 World War II fighter pilot, John Hemminger lived with his wife and three children on American Lake, a five-minute bicycle ride from my childhood home. I was the neighbor kid who always hung around in the summer, fishing, swimming, and doing wood-working projects in the basement. Along with the stray dogs that attached themselves to kind-hearted Mr. Hemminger, I too adopted the Hemminger family as my own.
My mother’s rule was that I couldn’t go swimming unless the thermometer read seventy degrees. I soon figured out how to nudge it up with the hair dryer, and then I’d hop on my bike and off to the Hemmingers. I always tried to time things so I could sit down for the usual lunch fare of grilled cheese sandwiches, soup, Gravenstien apple sauce, dilly beans, and smoked salmon. Nobody did homemade applesauce like Edna Hemminger, and nobody did salmon like John Hemminger.
John Hemminger was a man of deeds and not words, and so I rarely heard him speak about the war, and never about his role in it. I was forced to piece things together from pictures and from stories others told about his role in that great conflict.
“The greatest catastrophe in history,” Stephen Ambrose called World War II and “the most costly war of all time.” In April, 1945, 300,000 Americans attacked the Japanese island of Okinawa, while the US Navy was pounded by 350 kamikaze planes. We lost thirty-six ships. In human life, the casualties were beyond staggering: 49,200 men in one battle. The Japanese lost 112,129 human lives at Okinawa. Still they fought on.
Germany surrendered in May, but by summer, it appeared that Japan would fight on until there was not a Japanese soldier who remained alive. A full-scale Allied invasion of Japan seemed the only option, but it was an invasion that would have cost 1,000,000 American soldiers their lives. President Truman opted to drop two atomic bombs on Japan in hopes of breaking the enemy’s will to fight to extermination. It was as if the entire nation had become kamikaze flyers.
Fighter pilot greatness
In 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, America joined the war, and can-do men like John Hemminger were desperately needed to fight. He said goodbye to his childhood sweetheart, Edna Mae Firch, and joined up.
The picture I will always have in my mind of him is of a quiet young man in a leather bomber jacket, a shy, boyish grin stretching across his handsome features, posing with his beloved P-47, affectionately dubbed Edna Mae. Though called on to do highly dangerous and daring feats, there was no hint of the cocky, swaggering dog fighter in his looks or carriage.
John Hemminger loved machines. I can only begin to imagine his fascination at first sight of his P-47’s Pratt and Whitney, eighteen cylinder, 2,800 horsepower engine, or the heart-pounding thrill when he first accelerated into the heavens at his plane’s maximum speed of 433 mph.
He was a gentle, peace-loving man, so I particularly wonder what his first thoughts were when he laid eyes on the eight 12.7mm Browning machine guns bristling from the wings of his P-47, a machine engineered for killing. One thing I’m sure of: there was no better cared for fighter plane than his, and likely none more skillfully used for its designed purpose.
John Hemminger was credited with the last P-47 kill of the war. By some accounts, he and the Japanese pilot were slugging it out somewhere over the blue waters of the Pacific, September 2, 1945, while American top brass accepted the Japanese unconditional surrender on board the USS Missouri. The facts are unclear, because John Hemminger rarely spoke about the war, and boasting was something he never did.
What is clear is that John Hemminger, along with a generation of Americans, was a humble servant hero who did his duty, and then, unlike many with whom he fought, he returned home. Bidding farewell to his P-47 Edna Mae, he married his beloved Edna Mae, raised his family, and lived a long, seemingly insignificant, life. John Hemminger and his dear wife were not bombastic about their faith in Christ, but few people have more consistently lived out the Lord’s injunction to love their neighbor as themselves. Consequently, their home was a quiet, contented one, filled with stability and service.
In the world’s eyes, after the war John Hemminger lived an ordinary life, some might have called it boring. But not so to the dozens of missionaries he supported and took fishing when they were home, and whose decrepit cars he repaired, rebuilt, or replaced, often at his own expense. And all done hush-hush, so no one would give him credit for his latest acts of generosity.

True greatness
Jesus told his disciples, if they wanted to be great, to become servants. He didn’t say to become great baseball players, or inventors, or CEOs, or powerful politicians, or celebrity pastors, or best-selling authors—or even fighter pilots. “Whoever wants to become great,” Jesus said, “must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26). If you want to be great you too, must be a servant. John and Edna Hemminger were great Christians, because they were transformed into great servants by the ultimate Servant of servants, Jesus Christ.
My hero John Hemminger died of Parkinson’s Disease, December 27, 2006. His wife Edna Mae suffered for decades with Multiple Sclerosis before her home going. But I never heard either of them complain. They bore their trials with patience—even with smiles. Nor did I ever hear either of them speak critical words about others. I think they were simply too busy, in Christ’s name and by his grace, loving and serving their neighbors. Pay attention, young man. This is true greatness.
You probably don’t need to travel to faraway places to get to know and honor servant heroes. I suspect that in your church, neighborhood, and extended family there are several John and Edna Mae Hemmingers. Folks like them help unmask the masquerade of what passes for greatness among modern celebrities. Pop icons and all their vain-glorious glitter look pretty irrelevant next to great people like these--but only if you train your eye and your affections to know and honor genuine greatness.

Glitz or glory
Let’s face it. It’s far easier to talk about being impressed with servant greatness than it is to actually be so. I wonder if the normalization of sin is not the reason. “Worldliness is what makes sin look normal,” wrote David Wells, “and righteousness look odd.” Hence, venerating worldly heroes sets us up to begin feeling that humble, holy living is pretty out of touch, not much fun, certainly not cool.
Here again, you must pay attention. When you honor heroes who live worldly lives, you should expect to gradually become more impressed with their worldliness. Meanwhile, your worldly hero’s lifestyle will increasingly seem to be the normal way of things. And since no one wants to be odd, everyone wants to think of himself as a normal guy, so gradually you will wink at their vices, embrace their values, and imitate their ways. Finally, Paul’s point in Philippians 3:17-21 is that if you do this, when the dust settles, you will share in their destruction.
Puritan Jeremy Taylor described the incremental decline that a young man should expect to pass through if he forges friendships with worldly heroes and their sin. “First it startles him, then it becomes pleasing, then easy, then delightful, then frequent, then habitual, then confirmed, then the man is impenitent, then obstinate, then resolves never to repent, and finally he is damned.”
On the Judgment Day, all that worldly glitz, all that superficially impressive lifestyle will be unmasked. And if you have been duped by a false hero, by one whose “mind is on earthly things,” it will be far too late to halt the cycle of decline. You must do it now.
Join with others in following the example of great Christians—like John and Edna Mae Hemminger. The Bible is full of them, and so is church history. Pay attention to them.
Throw in your lot with the truly greats. Know your citizenship. Paul says it is “in heaven.” Know that most of the world’s heroes are frauds. Their power, their prestige, their wealth, is all borrowed and will someday be swept away with them. “Their destiny is destruction.” No real man would throw in his lot with losers like that.
You, young man of God, were predestined for a glorious body, transformed by the infinite power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Make him your ultimate hero, honor those who honor him, and resolve that he will have no worldly rival.
Learn more about my 20th Century books, War in the Wasteland (WWI) and The Resistance (WWII), both a significant CS Lewis historical