Waiting Patiently

July 29, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

Inspiration comes slowly some days and this is one of them. Perhaps it’s because I‘m in transition right now wondering where to go next and how. Maybe it’s because I just put the finishing touches (again!) on a story I’ve been writing and rewriting for three years now. Ironically enough, it’s a story that uses the verses from Isaiah about waiting patiently on the Lord while it  asks at the same time whatever happened to the Baby Boomers?

I am one of those Boomers, although in a lot of ways my boom, like a lot of them, hasn’t been all that loud. The book deals with that subtheme also. It is the first novel I ever wrote…well, sort of. It’s changed almost as I have in the three years and if nothing else, it has taught me how to wait patiently until something is really completed.

My good friend Staci has advised me many times to back off a project when it seems to be stuck and headed nowhere. She says that we only get stuck when God isn’t ready to give us the next piece of something yet. That’s hard for a guy to do, especially this guy. We are taught that when the going gets tough, the tough get going, along with a lot of other not so subtle platitudes. Just put you head down and plow ahead; hopefully, you will come out the other side a stronger person. That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.

That isn’t always true.

Sometimes being stubborn and bullheaded (my wife’s descriptions of me, not mine) just tears us down and hurts, ultimately making us weaker, not stronger. At the very least we end up confused and frustrated.

That’s kind of where I am with my writing at the moment. Perhaps I am being just a little stubborn and bullheaded. I prefer to think of myself as having focus and perseverance, but even I know I am kidding myself sometimes.

I pretty much self published my first two books if you include Staci as part of the self. She served as editor, critique group and publisher, although the actual printing was done through Lulu.com, a print on demand publisher.

 I chose to go that way for several reasons. I am older and don’t have the patience or the connections to find an agent and do things the traditional way. In addition, I’m not sure I want either an agent or an editor rewriting what I’ve written, and most would. I know that everybody can benefit from a good editor, and I am no exception. However, I do not want to significantly change my themes or my characters just to make them more marketable.

Money is not always the object for  me, and most of my stories carry that theme to some degree or another. Therefore, I do not want an agent or an editor that wants to change what I’ve written just so they can have an easier sale and make more money. That puts them in a spot. They make their livings selling, so the more they sell the better. I understand that.

When you sift through all of those reasons for self publication, you end up with one basic conclusion: I am stubborn and bullheaded, but we knew that.

So why not continue the self publishing way? I may. It has tremendous advantages for someone like me, but it also has a down side. The person who self publishes has to be good at everything, from writing to marketing. I love the writing part, but I stink at marketing. For one thing, it is a bit overwhelming; for another, it just takes too much time.

In the movie “Field of Dreams” a voice from the cornfield whispers, “If you build it, they will come.” There is no similar whisper from the cornfield for writers and I live not too far from the Iowa cornfield where that movie was filmed. If you write it, they will read hasn’t proven the case for me. I suspect that there are few writers where it has.

So, how does a writer get his or her books to the public? I don’t know for certain. As I said, I am in transition, but I am also waiting patiently on the Lord to show me what He wants.

 


Making the Music Work

July 28, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

As I have said here before, one of the problems I have with contemporary Christian music is that it doesn’t lend itself to a Sunday morning worship service. The great hymns are written in parts and meant to be sung together; at least that’s the way I learned them growing up.

Their words weren’t just flashed on a large overhead screen assuming you know the melody already. Most people my age and even those younger don’t know the melodies of contemporary Christian praise music, but we can read music, so show us the words and the notes. We will jump right in, even if the song is unfamiliar. I suspect that the real problem with that is the fact that many of the modern songs have no parts, only a melody and possibly a single harmony part.

There is nothing wrong with that. I could go to a concert and get caught up in the moment, just as many of the younger people appear to be. But therein lies my problem. Much of contemporary Christian music is made to perform in a concert setting, not sung in Sunday morning worship bya congregation.

Its emphasis is on a steady beat, syncopated rhythms and layers of different voices almost singing like a jam session of  rock and roll musicians. Some of it is exceptional, but try to get an average group of fifty-something Presbyterians to join in. To put it bluntly, it just ain’t happening.

And those of us who were trained to read music and usually try to sing a little louder to help those who have trouble carrying a tune in a wheel barrel , can’t help much. We have nothing to work from. Loose leaf sheets of words and/or overhead screens don’t help. Even if we can listen to a couple of choruses and pick up the melody, the words that are provided aren’t always enough.

Choruses are repeated, but not shown; repeats are frequently assumed, but nowhere in the music provided, and keys are changed but not reflected. There are tried and true ways to show repeats and extra choruses. Flats and sharps let us know that the key has changed, but it they aren’t there to see, we are almost as lost as Johnny One-Note sitting next to us.

In addition, there are lot of inspirational hymns with great words in the books. Some are centuries old, some are relatively new. We seem to shy away from those more and more in our quest to become relevant. Relevant to what? Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever?

I think somebody is missing a fantastic ministry opportunity. Take some of the truly good Christian music that is available and write it so it can be sung as a congregation. Put in parts, key signatures and clearly marked verses.

Bill Gaither’s music is hardly contemporary anymore, even though it is new by most standards. A lot of the newer hymnals include some of his classic songs such as “There’s Something About that Name,” “Because He Lives,” and “Let’s Just Praise the Lord.” They work. There are melodies and notes.

I would love to see a haunting song like “Completely” written for congregational use. That song, which comes from the sound track to “Facing the Giants,” moved me like few new songs have. What a blessing it would be in a morning worship service.

Music has always been one of the most crucial parts of any worship service to me. Frequently, I couldn’t tell you what the sermon was about, but I can tell you what songs we sang…or didn’t sing. And I can assure you that they spoke to me. Sermons and liturgies serve one function…a vital one…in Sunday services, but few have moved me to tears like a lot of the old and new songs have. I would miss them if they disappeared.


The America They Don’t Report

July 23, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

If you’ve been alive this last month, you know that certain celebrities have passed on.  There’s no need to name them.  You know who they are.  Why?  Because their deaths were reported and reported and re-reported on every station, every channel, every newcast for at least a week.  News?  What other news?  There was no other news.  Through this lense the world saw an America obsessed with fame, obsessed with entertainment… and it is easy to buy into that belief if that’s all you see.

But strangely, that’s not the America I live in.  Did people here know about the celebrities’ deaths?  Yes.  We knew, but we didn’t stop everything like the reporters seemed to want us to.

Around the same time another young man died.  He died defending this country in Afghanistan.  He was killed in action.  His death wasn’t reported breathlessly on the six o’clock news across the country.  News of his impending funeral didn’t even make more than a single line appearance in the local paper.  The line in the paper simply told the time and route of his final trip home.

It’s easy to believe that America only cares about rock stars and celebrities, that we are so vapid that only entertainment gossip matters to us.  But on June 11, 2009, another America showed up, one they don’t report, one they don’t even acknowledge exists most of the time.  But I will tell you that it is THIS America where I live… though Texas and Georgia are merely two states not even connected by bordering acreage.  This is the America they don’t report, but it’s the America I think you should remember exists because vapid isn’t even in this America’s dictionary.

(The video is 12:37 but it’s worth every second.)

Killed in action the week before, the body of Sergeant First Class John C. Beale was returned to Falcon Field in Peachtree City, Georgia, just south of Atlanta, on June 11, 2009. Sergeant Beale was from Henry County and local police escorted the procession from Atlanta to the funeral home in McDonough, Henry County, Georgia.

A simple notice had been placed in the local papers indicating the route to be taken and the approximate time.

This is what happened along the way, all the way from Atlanta to McDonough.

/HT redstate, no quarter

God bless SFC Beale and God bless America!


Smile

July 22, 2009

By:Dennis Bates

A recent news article reported that studies have shown that happy people live longer lives than sad people do. Really? Now there’s a shock. There are no guarantees, of course, but the findings were that happiness is good for your mental and physical health.

I have thought for a long time that the difference between a good time and a bad time can be as simple as a smile. A positive attitude doesn’t hurt either. Ask yourself: who would you rather be around, someone who is happy, or someone that is sad? That’s a fairly easy one as far as I’m concerned.

Someone who is honestly happy is more fun to be around. They can turn an unpleasant task into something that is bearable.

This morning, for example, I was scheduled for a medical procedure at 7:30. The office is a good 15 miles from my house and it’s on the other side of the city. I needed to be there early to do the obligatory paperwork. That meant I had to set my alarm for sometime before six to get there in time. Did I mention that I hate mornings? Well I do.

When I walked into the office  the only person there was the technician  who was going to perform the test. None of the administrative support people had arrived. I was tired and not looking forward to the procedure although it was totally noninvasive. It still required me to lay still on my back for a half hour and be a good little boy.

The technician met me with a smile and cheery words. It was the same time for him as it was for me and yet he was cheery. It made things so much more pleasant to have someone smile and be cheery.

It made me think about how I come off to others a lot of the time. Do I come off happy so I make others comfortable, or do I come off like a grump and makes others wish they were somewhere else, dealing with a different person?

The title to one of the most covered songs of all time is “Smile.” I’m sure you’ve heard it. The lyrics in part are as follows:

Smile though your heart is aching

Smile even though it’s breaking

When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by

If you smile through your fear and sorrow

Smile and maybe tomorrow

You’ll see the sun come shining through for you

Light up your face with gladness

Hide every trace of sadness

Although a tear may be ever so near

That’s the time you must keep on trying

Smile, what’s the use of crying?

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just smile.

As Christians, we know that the joy of the Lord is our strength. If we want to show that strength to others, then the words of this song are particularly applicable. All we have to do to get started is smile. It will make others take notice and help give your life the tonic it may need.


My Summer Vacation ?

July 21, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

I should be coming back all refreshed and full of energy after nearly a month off. After all,  there was a two week stint at our favorite Florida beach in the middle, right?

Well, not exactly.

As Robert Burns wrote: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, for promised joy!” Robert was a Scot, so he talked funny, even in his day. Having Scottish ancestry myself, I rather like it, however.

The modern English version would be roughly: The best laid plans of mice and men go often astray, and leave us nothing but grief and pain instead of the joy we expected. Not nearly as poetic or effective in my opinion, but maybe that’s just me. I’m a bit old school.

The point of this digression is that two days before we were supposed to leave for the beach, I developed a bad case of celluitis in my left leg and all our plans changed. I’ve spent most of the last month on antibiotics with my legs up. There is one spot on my shin that is still red and puffy, although it doesn’t hurt anymore. But the closest I’ve been to a beach is the travel brochures I receive from the University of Iowa Alumni Association.

To put it mildly, it has not been a fun time, and I wouldn’t wish this type of infection on anybody. I ran a fever of nearly 102 for several days and the pain was just this side of unbearable. Talk about grief and pain instead of Joy! I understand.

I don’t bring that whole experience up to beg for your sympathy, although all donations would be cheerfully accepted. I’ve always been something of a toddler when it comes to pain and being sick. Just ask my wife, who doesn’t have a degree in nursing, but plays one around our house all the time when I’m under the weather.

However, I actually bring my unpleasant experience up to underscore how quickly things can change, how little we actually control them, and how totally and completely in charge God is over all things. Even when I take my vacation.

James says in chapter 4 we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow in our lives. He likens our lives to a mist that appears for a little while and then disappears as he warns us not to boast about our future plans. and then he says at verse 15: “Instead you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will do this or that.’”

James isn’t saying that the use of those words is some sort of mysterious incantation that makes everything work in some sort of mystical way. He’s saying simply that God is in charge of everything and we should acknowledge that even in our smallest plans. So when we plan, we should keep that in mind, and be ready to alter those plans when God’s are different.

As Burns said, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. God’s never do.


Living a Verb Life

July 20, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

A year or so ago, my illustrious partner in crime (i.e. Dennis) read one of my not-as-of-yet-published books.  He made a huge deal commenting about one theme toward the end of the book.  Recently the truth of that theme came to my attention from another book (not mine) in a very stark way.

In my book the point is about love.  The character says that love is a verb not a noun.  In other words, you are to love.  Not just know that love exists.  Love is what you DO for another more even than what you feel for them.

Last week I was reading “The Shack.”  I know it’s controversial, and I know why, so that didn’t bother me greatly as I can take the God parts (good parts) and not focus on those parts that are merely the way the author chose to present the story.  Anyway, there was one part that caught my attention.  In the story there is a discussion about how God made the world “active” with verbs, but humans have taken the active verbs and made them dead by making them nouns.

They work in the book with several words, but the one I remember most is responsibility.  Now growing up, I was BIG on responsibility, playing by the rules, doing what was right.  I was so responsible that in the eighth grade, the principal called me out of class to go watch the fourth graders “for awhile” until they found a substitute (several of the elementary teachers had left for a funeral).  Well, “for awhile” started at ten in the morning and ended when the final bell for the day rang.  I never knew if they forgot about me or just figured as long as the school hadn’t burned down they need not worry about it.  Either way, that’s how seriously I took responsibility.

Since the Holy Spirit got ahold of me, however, the idea of responsibility has been a bit raspy in my life.  I no longer planned each moment out so I didn’t let someone down.  I no longer prepared until I was blue in the face.  Instead, I breathed and let the Holy Spirit work, sometimes feeling like I was taking a major chance by doing so and that I was somehow shirking my responsibility by doing so.

But in the book the Holy Spirit has a conversation with the protagonist in which it is explained that the word “responisibility” comes from the phrase “the ability to respond.”  I understood that because that’s more what I felt I had learned to do, be able to respond to whatever happens.  Being able to respond you are looser, less rigid, less into expectations and things going the way you thought they would.

When I lived in responsibility, I would plan things down to the minute, but when life took over and my schedule was blown, I lost the ability to respond.  I was instead freaking out that I hadn’t planned on this, and why had that happened, and “Oh, no!  What are we going to do now?!”  Dennis teases me about being high maintenance.  Trust me, he has never seen the real high maintenance side of me!

The truth is I still take my responsibilities seriously, but I no longer allow them to overrule my ability to respond.  I plan… some.  I enjoy more.  In a real way I have learned that love is a verb, not a noun.  Real love does what is necessary in a situation, it adapts, it moves, it is active and alive.

Having learned that, I now want to live a verb life–a life of movement and growth and change and being able to respond.  It’s much more fun, and although sometimes it feels like walking on water, I know Jesus and His two best friends are right there with me.  How cool is that?


Being God Positive in a Spirit Draining World

July 16, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

As you may have noticed, I haven’t been around as much as I have been.  Well, I’ve been working on some very special projects.  One of those projects is something very close to my heart.  It’s called, “Being God Positive in a Spirit Draining World.”  The book is still evolving, and because I haven’t been pushed to publishing it just yet, I haven’t.  However, I had tossed around how to get the concepts out to people who might be able to give me some feedback on it.

I considered several things, started and then slipped away from a second blog about new things I had learned since writing God Positive, then came back to the blog, and finally decided to present some if not all of the material from the book on the face of that blog.  I have found in walking and talking with God that He often takes me the ’round about way.  I used to get frustrated by that, but I have come to see His wisdom in doing so far too often.  So I’m happy with the blog, and if that’s all this info ever becomes, I’m okay with that.

A little about the book “Being God Positive in a Spirit Draining World”… I lived many years on the performance platform, trying desperately to get God and everyone else to notice me and to applaud… or at least to not throw rotten tomatoes.  That didn’t really work out all that great because most of the time it felt like everyone was simply ignoring me altogether.  I wanted to be a “success,” but the harder I tried for that goal, the more empty and like a failure I felt.  The understanding presented in God Positive are things I have learned since I got off the performance platform and stopped trying to do things FOR God (don’t try it, it’s a one-way street to a LOT of misery!).

It is my attempt to put into writing what God has done in my life in a way that might help others on the journey to find the place of peace and rest in Him… rather than running themselves empty trying to fill up with things that will never satisfy.

Is the book perfect?  Uh. No.  In writing it, God sent me on numerous tangents and out into the weeds.  That’s okay.  I don’t think you have to get something from all of it… just something from one part would be enough to start.

So, you’re more than welcome to check out the God Positive blog at:  http://godpositive.wordpress.com/

Leave your comments or just enjoy.  I truly hope and pray that God will speak to you through the words He had me write!


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