Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Learning to see

Let us not forget that the greatest composers were also the greatest thieves. They stole from everyone and everywhere.
–Pablo Casals

Writers do much the same thing, though I do not believe it is proper to call it theft. We learn something from everything we read and everything we see. Often it is just a little impression that adds a small detail to our understanding of the things happening around us. Occasionally it is a profound thought that jars us out of the rut are thoughts have settled into.

These are the inputs into our mental processes. They all get jumbled up, then sorted out, and the output is our attempt to send out, via our writing, a glimmer of light to help someone else see something they might otherwise have missed.

Romans 12:2 warns us not to let our thinking be shaped by the zeitgeist, the prevailing attitudes in the world around us in the era in which we live. The danger for us, for me, is that I would tend to interpret that as meaning I need to remain entrenched in the zeitgeist that prevailed several generations ago when I was growing up. But the verse goes on to say that I need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind to prove the will of God for me, here and now in the era in which I am living.

The world is a place of dancing shadows. As I read, listen and observe, I become aware that everyone has a longing for truth and light. Many grasp a shadow and call it light, then are devastated when that shadow dissolves or changes shape.  Those who do not give up too soon are still finding true light. Reading, listening, observing helps me understand why other people are looking for light in places where there is no light.

As a Christian, I believe the Bible and the Holy Spirit are sources of light that reveal things as they truly are. Yet, if I see, then withdraw into the wilderness  I am shirking my responsibility to point others to the place where light is to be found.

If you want to be a writer, you first need to be a reader

The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading. In order to write a man will turn over half a library to make one book.

-Samuel Johnson, 1705-1784. Johnson was a poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, biographer, editor and the sole author of A Dictionary of the English Language, first published in 1755 and which remained the preeminent English dictionary until the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1928.

I don’t have a talent for baking bread

My mother certainly did. She baked the most wonderful loaves and buns of white bread, brown bread, rye bread. Her cinnamon rolls were the greatest. She baked with a wood stove, then a gas stove and finally an electric stove. The only time the bread didn’t turn out was the day she left for parents’ day at school and forgot she had bread in the oven. The chickens got those loaves.

I didn’t inherit her talent, yet I always wished for bread like Mom used to bake. The stuff we buy in the supermarkets just doesn’t cut it. There are little bake shops that make good bread, but they are an hour away and I longed for bread fresh from the oven.

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One day I saw a nearly new bread machine at Value Village for a ridiculously low price. Even better, it was seniors’ day and with the discount I got it for $11.00, tax included. All I had to do now was to dump in the ingredients, push the buttons for the right settings, wait a couple of hours and this wonderful machine would present me with a perfect, hot, tasty loaf of fresh bread.

I had better confess right here that I complicated things by using flour from Red Fife wheat, the 100-year-old variety that was the first wheat grown on the Canadian prairies. I knew that the gluten in this flour wasn’t the same as the gluten in modern bread wheat. But hey, that was supposed to be a good thing, wasn’t it?

I did manage to make some pretty good loaves of 50% whole wheat bread. But things started to go awry when I tried to get to 100% whole wheat. The dough rose just fine. Sometimes it even got a little over exuberant, overflowing the baking pan and oozing down onto the heat element. Smoke billowing out of the bread machine was not a welcome sight. I would air out the house, clean up the machine and try again. But I never succeeded in baking a decent loaf of whole wheat bread with that flour and that machine. The machine was calibrated to start baking at a precise time and that was too late for the gluten in Red Fife wheat. By then the dough had risen, and then fallen.

I gave the machine to my daughter, picked up courage and decided to try doing it by hand. I found a good recipe, actually a blend of several, and set to work, with some coaching from my wife. I kneaded the dough by hand, let it rise, kneaded it again and let it rise a second time. Then I kneaded it the third time, divided it in two and put it in bake pans. As soon as it doubled in volume, I put it in the oven to bake. And it was good.

I discovered that baking bread has nothing to do with talent, but everything to do with the right ingredients, the right timing and a lot of work.

Some people read an inspiring story or article and say that person really has talent. No, she doesn’t. What she has is the determination to work at her righting until it comes out write (that started out as a typo, but it makes the point).

I believe that it was Thomas Edison who said that the recipe for success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. If we find that 99% part intimidating, we will never be anything but a mediocre writer. Talent, whatever we may imagine it to be, cannot take that inspiration and turn it into something a reader will understand and appreciate. Only work will get us there.

For both bread baking and writing we need to start with the right ingredients. But, as I discovered, you don’t get the greatest results from dumping them all together into a machine and pressing a button. You have to mix them together in the right way, you have to get the timing right and you have to work at it.

With bread dough, after I put the ingredients together, I need to begin with at least five minutes of vigorous kneading. Later, I knead it twice more for shorter periods to get the air bubbles out. Without that kneading, the loaf will have great big holes in it. Writing is just the same; we need to work it over and over again to get the holes out.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Why am I still here?

It amazed us when Aggie greeted us by name. This was only the second time we had visited her and at our first meeting she had already passed her 100th birthday.

Aggie was an amazing lady all round. She did not need hearing aids; she had glasses, but still read a regular print Bible. She walked with a cane, but that was more for insurance than for need of support. Every Sunday someone picked her up to take her to church.

It had piqued our interest when we read in the newspaper about the 100th birthday of this lady whose last name was the same as my wife’s maiden name. Since she lived in a nursing home in a town not too far away, we looked her up. We never found out if there was any family connection, but that didn’t seem all that important when we got to know her.

She posed the question I have used as a title for this post. What purpose did God have in preserving her life? Her children lived far away. But a grandson had moved back to teach at the school right beside the nursing home. Aggie loved to watch the children. Why aren’t all nursing homes built beside schools?

We thought it was enough that Aggie was a little candle in a place full of shadows. She loved God, loved her neighbours, was thankful and cheerful. I want to be like that if I live so long.

Years later, we met a man over 100, a distant relative of mine this time. He lived in an apartment beside the nursing home where my mother spent the last year of her life.

Jacob still had a driver’s license and drove to his country church every Sunday. Except in winter, for, he said, “If I were to have an accident on the snow and ice, they would take my license away.”

This 100-year-old man loved to take nursing home residents for walks around the beautifully landscaped grounds, pushing their wheelchairs. He had outlived his wife and two of his children, but wasted no time feeling sorry for himself. He still had something left to give.

Perhaps I am thinking this way because I had another injection in my eye yesterday, to counteract the effects of macular degeneration. The eye specialist is often a little surprised that I can detect the effects so soon, when the scans of my retina show only the beginning of a slight swelling.

I suppose it might take me longer to notice if I spent most of my time watching TV. But I don’t have a TV; to pass my life being entertained doesn’t sound like much of a life. I am a reader, writer and bookkeeper; when a line of type, or a column of numbers, develops waves I call my eye doctor.

It is ten and a half years since I first noticed this happening and the doctor first stuck a needle in my eye to inject a couple drops of a special medication. It has worked for me so I can still drive and work with words and numbers.

But, if the macular degeneration had begun a few years earlier no medicine would have been available. The timing was right; I am blessed and so are so many others. The question that comes to me is not so much why, as, what am I supposed to be doing with the extra time that the injections have given me to use my vision? The answer seems to be that now is the time to write.

I have thought of myself as a would-be writer since my school days and have always written in free moments. There has been more time in the last few years and I have applied myself to learning and honing my writing skills. Perhaps it is time to stop thinking of myself as a would-be writer and get with it.

The virtue of vulnerability

Last Saturday, Chris and I attended a Christian writers’ wordshop (a workshop about words). All the presenters were ladies; the attendees were also mostly ladies, plus four men and one boy.

This is cause for much pondering; why are there so few men at this level? Yes.there are many books by male authors on the bookstore shelves and they are popular. But the ladies are by far the majority among writers of self-published Christian books and in Christian writers’ groups.

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the ladies are more willing to expose their vulnerability. On the masculine side, we have been taught to suck it up and keep a stiff upper lip. That puts a barrier between us and our readers.

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One of the presenters on Saturday described how she gave a talk a few years ago on her struggle with depression and how God had sustained her and helped her through it. Afterwards a young lady from the audience had came up to her in tears and had been unable to speak for several minutes, sobbing uncontrollably on the presenter’s shoulder. She had thought she was the only person that had ever experienced such depression. The presenter’s vulnerability had made a connection and offered hope.

The great truth that we all need to learn is that it is the things that we don’t want to write about, the things that we are afraid to expose, that will be the greatest help to a reader. After all, we are not writing to tell the world what great people we are, we want to tell people about the great God we serve.

Good things come in small packages

Aphorisms give you more for your time and money than any other literary form. Only the poem comes near to it, but then most good poems either start off from an aphorism or arrive at one.

-Louis Dudek

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Image by Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay

Hospitality as stewardship

Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:9-11).

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Here is the heart of stewardship. Whatever gifts, abilities and opportunities we have, they were not given to us for selfish use, to enhance our image before others. We are to take what we have received and use it to serve others, and by doing that to glorify God, the giver of those gifts.

Some folks have been taught that hospitality means having their home in perfect order so that their guests see how important they are by the effort expended on preparing for their visit. One time I went to visit a cousin who had just moved into a new house. I walked in the door and saw a spotless home with brand new furniture and wondered if I even dared set foot on the carpet. My cousin invited me into the living room, sat down on the couch, leaned back and put his sock-clad feet up on the coffee table. After that I was at ease.

Hospitality is putting people before things. It applies both ways, guests should not notice things that are not quite as they should be, and absolutely should not talk about such things to others.

If we speak (or write), let us do it boldly, but remember that we are just offering our words to others. We have no directive from the Lord to enforce our ideas upon others. That doesn’t work, anyway. A steward is a servant, not a lord.

In hospitality, as in speaking, writing and whatever we do that brings us into contact with others, our first responsibility as steward of the manifold grace of God, is to help others feel at ease. People are not apt to be receptive to truth when they feel intimidated.

Lessons about writing from Claude Monet

This is the time of year when many businesses give out free calendars, with illustrations in varying shades of kitsch. As a counterbalance, I like to buy at least one calendar each year with pictures I will enjoy looking at as the months go by. This year it is a calendar with photographs of paintings by Claude Monet.
Monet is regarded as the founder of the French impressionist school of painting. He was definitely the most prolific of the group. Impressionism was a label invented by scornful critics and it stuck, no matter how much the artists themselves disliked it.

Impressionism is not abstract art, it is representational art with an emphasis on light, colour and movement, with all unnecessary details left out. Impressionist paintings are not posed indoor scenes. They were almost all painted outdoors and depict objects and people as the eye would see them. Close up, one sees only a jumble of short brush strokes and vague shapes in these paintings, from a distance, the scene is vivid and clearly identifiable.

It struck me that the techniques of impressionism apply to writing as well.

Lesson One: Leave out all unnecessary details. If a grandmother is puttering in her flower bed to calm her anxiety as she waits for her granddaughter to arrive for a visit, it isn’t necessary to describe the leafs and petals of the petunias. We are not writing a botany textbook. Show the grandmother pulling every little weed she can find, checking her watch, going into the house to see that everything is still just right, coming back to the flower bed, examining each leaf for signs of insect damage or disease, checking her watch again.

Lesson Two: Show the effects of the light. When granddaughter arrives, don’t tell us details of genealogy and history, show the love and concern these two have for each other by their hugs, tears and questions.

It takes a long time to learn the lesson that good writing is just as much about knowing what to leave out as it is about what to put in.

Inspiration from cryptograms

To exercise my body, I walk or bounce on my rebounder (mini trampoline). To exercise my mind, I solve cryptograms. Some of the quotations thus decrypted seemed worth sharing.

Sit down and write down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.
-Colette

Men become susceptible to ideas, not by discussion and argument, but by seeing them personified and by loving the person who so embodies them.
-Lewis Mumford

You do the right thing even if it makes you feel bad. The purpose of life is not to be happy but to be worthy of happiness.
-Tracy Kidder

Real excellence and humility are not incompatible one with the other, on the contrary they are twin sisters.
-Jean-Baptiste Lacordaire

The blog formerly known as Antiquarian Anabaptist

After six years and 1,127 posts it is perhaps time to refurbish this site, and Canada Day, July 1, seems a good time to do it.

The first thing I have done is drop the Antiquarian Anabaptist title. It seemed like a good idea six years ago but has begun to sound kitschy to my ears. Besides, didn’t it seem bizarre to enter the flatlanderfaith.com URL and have it open up a blog with a different title? Now the URL and the blog title are the same, and I have added a header photo to illustrate what this flatland province looks like.

I have also changed the background colour and the typefaces also. I might change them again in the coming days as I tweak the appearance of the blog. The “Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective” slogan will remain. That defines the purpose of this blog.

Maybe I can improve the quality of my writing, too. When I read something I wrote 25 or 30 years ago my first reaction is: “Wow! That is good. Did I really write that?”

Then another little voice in my head says: “Of course it sounds good to you, your style of writing follows the familiar path of your style of thinking. But what makes you think that anybody else would want to read it?”

It’s not that I think everything I have ever written should go in the garbage can. Sometimes I have written things, on this blog and elsewhere, that readers connected with. My resolution is to learn how to do that consistently.

I would love to hear from you. Please take a little time to tell me what you like or don’t like about the things I write. If you don’t want your comment to appear publicly, use the email address under Contact Me above.

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