That one line uttered near the end of the movie, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” elicited applause and cheers from the audience. I don’t want to spoil the movie but I cheered just as loudly as everyone else.
If it’s too good to be true . . .
A family friend contacted me the other day to take a look at an online video advertising a new product. This product was the results of a “scientific breakthrough” in genetics and promised to do something incredible. I won’t disclose the actual claim because I don’t want to, in any way, endorse the product. Suffice it to say the claim was something on the lines of “total reversal of the aging process”. Turn back the clock. Be young again. What was interesting was that the advertisement never gave any indication what the actual product was. Was it a lotion? Was it a pill? Was it an injection? Was it a soaking bath? Was it a projector of alien anti-aging cosmic rays?
I spoke to my friend and my answer was very simple. If it seems too good to be true, then it IS too good to be true. Robert Heinlein, the famous science fiction writer once wrote “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. Basically, there is always a catch. There is always an agenda. There is always a downside to every offer that seems too good to be true.
But, sometimes, it is not an offer. Sometimes, it is a possibility. I’ve had many of these in my life. A seeming “coincidence” that promised something that seemed unobtainable; something I was unworthy of. Sometimes, it seems to be a gift. From God. From a friend. From a stranger, even.
Years ago, I was wearing the new soft contact lenses. These new lenses (this was in the 1990’s) could not be worn at night. And, they were far too expensive to be disposable. Each set of lenses was meant to last a couple of years. My wife and I left our children in the capable hands of their grandparents and we went snow skiing. The first night after our first day of skiing was, as usual, very painful. Muscles I had not been using were stressed by having to walk in those horrendous ski boots. Not to mention muscles strained by my desire to ski down the mountain as fast as possible, consequences be damned!
That evening, we found a hot tub and eased into the soaking, heated, wondrous embrace of those bubbles. There were at least six of us staying in the condo. Friends from ski trips in the past. Suddenly, a bubble burst near my face and I felt my contact lens slide off my cornea. I sat up quickly, leaned over the side of the hot tub so that my eye was above the snow covered deck. That way, if the lens popped out, it would NOT land in the caldron of hot tub bubbles. Alas, I did not move quickly enough and the lens was gone! Now what was I to do? I only had one pair of lenses. And, there was no way I could ski to my liking in my glasses.
A friend offered one of her contact lenses. Of course, it was too good to be true that it would work on me and it didn’t. By the time I made it down the slopes the next day, my right eye was killing me. The lens offered by my friend was never meant for my eye. That night, we went back out to the hot tub to soak our even more painful muscles. My glasses clouded up but I had to wear them to see. My friend was upset I could not wear her extra set of lenses and another of our friends who had not been in the hot tub with us the night before asked me how I lost my lens. I recreated my movement and hung my head over the edge of the hot tub and there, nestled in a tiny pool of melted water in a crater of snow floated my contact lens! I gasped in amazement. My lens was right in front of me, still there from the night before! How could such a thing happen? It was too good to be true!
My conclusion is that every now and then, what is too good to be true is still true. Sometimes, good things happen in spite of the negativity that swirls around us. In fact, as I look back on my life, I can find many examples of good things that seemed to happen out of the blue. When these things happened, invariably it was an unexpected answer to a prayer. Or, it was an open door that eventually led me in a direction that proved beneficial in the long run — a door that I never would have walked through on my own.
What I am saying is that sometimes Providence is too good true because in our human expectations, we cannot see the future from an eternal perspective. We only see the immediate. Meet my needs now! Give me what I want today!
I say all of this because 2013 has been an unending string of disappointments in many anticipated things for my life. I can’t go into the details. But, I am bitterly depressed at times because of my failed expectations. It almost seems as if one unending kick in the gut follows another. Just when you catch your breath and dry your tears, another assault comes out of the blue. Problem is, those expectations were MINE. I embraced the improbable even while realizing it could probably never happen! And, when the disappointment set in, all I could do was have a pity party.
In one of my favorite movies, White Christmas, Bing Crosby’s character sings this chorus of a song to his true love:
If you’re worried and you can’t sleep,
just count your blessings instead of sheep
and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.
This always gives me pause. We tend to focus on the negatives; the bad things that happen; or the good things that DIDN’T happen. They overshadow the good that did happen. But, if we pause; if we dare to look back at the peaks instead of the valleys, then it is obvious that God does indeed give us those moments of goodness and joy. God does grant our desires as long as those desires are good for us in the long run. The challenge is to realize that what God has planned for us in the long run is far more rewarding than what we seek to obtain in the immediate near future. God is good and His ways are not our ways. He promises us a hope and a future. He promises to make our lives more abundant and joyful. And, yes, He has gone on to prepare for us a place that seems too good to be true.
You know what, if God seems too good to be true, it is only because He is good and He is true!
Resistance is Futile!
My Borg friends will understand this statement. If you are not familiar with the Borg and you are an aspiring or published author, you will probably recognize a better version of this statement: “Resistance is Inevitable!”
In February, I attended the Platform Conference featuring Michael Hyatt. I had the opportunity to sit at the table with Michael (yes, we are on first name basis — at least for my part!) and I had a follow up “coaching” session with Michael four weeks later. What I learned from that conference is priceless. Authors today MUST build their own platform as publishers no longer provide marketing and publicity for their authors. I am also now a member of Platform University and I strongly recommend Michael’s book, “Platform” and considering a membership in the university.
But, what I wanted to talk about in this post is Resistance. Michael devoted an entire hour to this topic and frankly, I didn’t want to hear it. Let’s just say I was resistant to the idea that my writing career meets resistance. That is a huge chunk of denial!
I would recommend buying the book and reading the entire section on Resistance but I’d like to hit a few highlights of how resistance presents itself in my writing:
There are two sources of resistance: external and internal. I have very little control on the external sources of resistance. These are often related to the changing world of publishing. But, these sources can also be very close to home: children, day jobs, aging parents, health issues, etc.
But, there are some forms of internal resistance we should consider:
1 — Writer’s Block. I have NEVER suffered from writer’s block! Ever! For me, it is a matter of finding enough time to sit down and do a “creative” dump of all the ideas whirling around in my mind. But, in March, I took a week off to write and for four straight days, I sat in front of the laptop and did NOTHING! Blank! Empty! So, how do you overcome the resistance from writer’s block? I realized that in my study, I have surrounded myself with creative “cues” that unlock the creative forces in my mind. But, in a strange location those cues are gone. I had to develop another way to stimulate my creativity. So, I just started writing on the blank page — just putting down thoughts and ideas as they flew through my brain. Soon, by day five, I was cooking with gas!
So, what do YOU do to break the writer’s block? Share some tidbits with the rest of us.
2 — Procrastination. Well, I’ll talk about that later.
How do YOU overcome procrastination?
3 — Fear. This is a BIG one. Who am I to write? Where do I get off thinking I can be a published author? What will people think about me when they see what I’ve put down on the page? Do I dare bleed all over the page?
Fear is the biggest culprit for me. Fear of rejection. Fear of criticism. Recently, out of nowhere, an email arrived from someone I’ve never heard of. Turns out this person had somehow gotten their hands on a script adaptation I wrote back in 1988 of a play called “The Living Last Supper”. When I was handed the original play by my fine arts minister at the time, I was told the play was out of print. I was asked to adapt the clunky, sort of King’s English version to a more modern sounding version and to shorten the dialogue so a group of inexperienced deacons could play each one of the disciples. I adapted the script. It was so successful, our church performed it for eight straight years. During that time, I was asked for the script and I shared it, ALWAYS informing the person that it was an adaptation of the original play.
Well, this stranger took me to task for plagiarism. He accused me of passing off my adaptation as the original play. How in the world did he even get a copy of my script? I hadn’t dealt with that script for over 16 years! But, the man insisted I do the “right thing” and withdraw the script and put a disclaimer on my website. So, I did. I did so out of outright fear! What if this man ruined my albeit tiny, but growing writing career by calling me a plagiarist! I realized I had to do the right thing and correct a wrong I was not aware I had committed. But, it was still MY responsibility!
And, here is the final solution for Fear. I always stop and ask myself, “What is the Lie?” Am I a plagiarist? NO! Am I worthless? NO! Can God use me for His work? YES! Fear can be conquered so simply by asking this one question. And, here is why. Who is the Father of Lies? SATAN! Who is the Father of Truth? GOD! And, from fear and anxiety and procrastination and even some of those external sources of resistance, the TRUTH will set us FREE!
Oh, by the way, I seem to recall a little verse that says something like this:
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. James 4:6-8 ESV
(I want to be sure and give the proper source so I will not be accused of plagiarism!)
How do you handle fear? Share some of your wisdom with the rest of us!
Let me tell you a story filled with horror and fright. This is a true story. It happened to me.
I am a radiologist, a doctor who interprets Xrays, CAT scans, MRIs, etc. Years ago, in the old school days, Xrays were images exposed on regular film. Now, images are captured digitally and sent to a hires computer screen. To develop these films, each Radiology department had a dark room. On one side of the front wall of the darkroom was a huge Xray film developing unit the size of a short refrigerator. It went through the wall and the other side, enclosed in darkness, was where the exposed films were fed for development. These huge, hot, throbbing machines churned out spent silver and hot water. The result was a viscous, shiny black goo that was poured into a special drain cut in the floor of the darkroom.
I came to work one day at a radiology department (I will not say where — at that time I worked at over six different locations) to find the “light” room in disarray. The “light” room was where the technologists worked and was called that because the room had a door that led into the “dark” room. Go figure. It seemed that sometime during the night, the developing machine had malfunctioned. The floor was covered in black, icky goo glistening and burbling like some vast living alien being. Fortunately, there was a backup developer in surgery for running Xrays taken during surgery. The stench was unbelievable! It was as if a thousand dying vultures had plunged into the dark cave of the dark room and had putrified into a morass of black ichor.
To get into the dark room, there was a rotating door of black and brown panels. When the door was open, you could go in. If it was closed, someone was inside. And, since there was room for only two people in the darkroom, you didn’t want to go in. There was a deep throated rumble as the door rotated and exposed our “biorad” tech guy clad in a surgical mask, bouffant surgical cap and a yellow biohazard apron. He was gagging as he emerged into the light room and he leaned over the sink and retched. I looked back at the yawning black mouth of the darkroom door. I recognized this stench. I had been involved in my share of autopsies as a medical student. It was the stink of human decomposition.
“What did you find in there?” I asked the man.
His face was pale and sweaty as he pulled off his mask. “Something is wedged in the drain pipe. Something big.”
My heart raced and he placed the mask back over his face. “I’ve almost got it out.” He bravely stormed the doorway and cycled out of sight. I went to my office and began my day of reading films. An hour or so later, biorad guy knocked on my door. I knew he was there because the stench preceded him. He was carrying a large, black bucket.
“Dr. Hennigan, what do you think this is?” He sat the bucket at my feet.
My heart raced as I examined the shiny, black mass glistening in the bucket. The pebbly surface and contour matched only one thing. A liver.
“It looks . . . organic.” I managed to say. How had someone’s liver ended up in the drain pipe of a hospital dark room? Instantly, my imagination began to run wild. Someone had to have removed this liver from a living, or possibly, dead human being. Why had they done so? Was this heinous killer caught in the act and had to duck into our dark room and try and dispose of the liver? Why on earth would anyone do such a thing?
Biorad wiped his mouth with the back of his gloved hand. “What should I do with it? It looks like an organ.”
“Yes, it does.” I slowly rolled my desk chair back from the thing. “Why don’t you take it to the lab and get someone in pathology to look at it. It might be a specimen from . . .”
“Surgery?” Biorad said. “Maybe someone dropped it in the dark room and . . .” He stopped because he knew how stupid it sounded. But, the thing before us was beyond stupid; it was horrifically real.
“Pathology.” I nodded.
Biorad picked up the bucket and left my office. I tried to push the image and the smell from my memory without much success. I was relieved when my day was finally done and I could leave the lingering odor that filled the hallway with the memory of death.
I did not return to that hospital for several days. When I returned, the light room was pristine and the developer was humming along. The head of the department came to my office to discuss a procedure to be done on a patient and I stopped her before she could leave the room. “What ever happened with the thing we found in the drain?”
Her face paled and she smiled weakly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I blinked and laughed. “Last week. The dark room flooded. We found something in the drain. It looked like a liver.”
She shook her head and looked away. “There was nothing in the drain but some thickened silver halide.
I stood up and took her by the shoulders, turning her face toward me. “I know what I saw. I told our biorad guy to take it to pathology. Did he?”
She swallowed. “He never should have done that.”
“I can’t tell you. If I do, I’ll be fired automatically. Just drop it, Dr. Hennigan. Just drop it.” She pulled away from me and disappeared from my office.
A few months before, a serial killer had struck in our area. Just a year before that, a prominent physician had been accused of killing his wife. He always maintained someone broke into his house. I can’t prove it, but as I slumped into my chair I was convinced this mysterious killer had struck again. And, to escape negative publicity, this hospital in a small town at which I was moonlighting would never reveal the fact that someone under its care had died a horrific and painful death and a ghoulish fiend had taken that victim’s liver and instead of eating it with fave beans, had stuffed it into a drain in a lonely, dank dark room.
Story. It is how we communicate. This is a true story. I have not embellished it in any way. What I did was to give it context and setting. Against the backdrop of recent events, the story took on a menacing and horrific tone. No matter what my intent in telling this story, I had to convey information in a specific format. A beginning, a middle, and an end.
The scientific method developed out of Augustine’s method for exegesis of scripture. He developed the method to provide a concrete and rational approach to the interpretation of scripture. Centuries later, Isaac Newton took the same set of principles and applied them to scientific inquiry. First, you have an idea; a notion; a suspicion on how something works. Next, you devise a way to test your idea through experimentation. Lastly, you take the data you have acquired and analyze it to determine one of two possible outcomes. Either the data supports your idea or it fails to support the idea. If it supports the “hypothesis” then a new “law” is in the making. If it does not, the scientist returns to the drawing board and revisits the original “idea” or hypothesis. In scientific inquiry, just as in story, there is a beginning (hypothesis), a middle (data acquisition), and an end (conclusion).
Story is everywhere. In fact, I would assert that story is the ONLY way as human beings we have to communicate. We are verbal beings, even when what we say is written or painted or sung or played upon an instrument. We take our innermost “ideas” and we transmit them in such a way that we communicate with others. To that, we must couch those ideas in the form of a story. Story is all around us. Story is how we communicate. Story is Life!
There are challenges to the Christian faith that consist of claims that the “story” of Jesus is borrowed from myths and legends of the day about other “gods”. Such claims may have some legitimacy. But, how can we convey the facts about an event without, in some way, using language and elements that have already been used in story after story after story since the dawn of mankind? As a writer, I can tell you that every story that can be told has been told. Most stories can be reduced to basic elements of at best two dozen basic stories. No matter what kind of story we choose to convey a truthful event, there can ALWAYS be claimed that we took elements of other stories to fabricate this story. Nothing is original! It has all happened in one form or another before. Just because it is a story, does not mean it is not truth!
What we do as human beings is to embellish the story; to strengthen the story; to enhance the story to give it context and gravitas and emotional heft. Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite essays of all time by Walter Wangerin, Jr. He tells the story of the “the shaper” the meaning of the ancient English word, scop, used for the poet of the day. In this essay, he talks about how the clan has had a battle in which one of its own has perished. The clan returns to its mead hall, tired and broken by the day’s events. And then, the storyteller, the “shaper” takes the day’s events and . . .
The battle had been bloody enough to make a red mud of the earth beneath their feet; and one of their number had died; and now they’ve returned to the mead hall, exhausted, hungry, aggrieved.
They eat in silence. They drink that oldest of human drinks, a wine made of fermented honey. Their sadness deepens to a maudlin despair….
And just then the singer strikes a chord on his harp.
The singer develops the chord into melody. A familiar melody, in fact. One everyone has heard since childhood, and therefore one that carries profound, unutterable associations: parental comfort, an assurance of the divine. The singer sings familiar verses, and all the people nod: there is the weight of meaning in these verses. They remember. They remember and re-experience them now.
But then the singer begins to weave new words into the familiar verses: the details of today’s grim battle; the name of the comrade who fell; the deeds he did in falling, all of which, fetching up in the experience of this song, find place within the precincts of the divine; all of which are no longer senseless, but do bear now the weight of genuine purpose and meaning. And the people nod. And the dead ascends into the Valhalla of heroes. It is well. Chaos is cosmos. Desolation is now heavy with purpose. The day has taken shape in the singer’s song–
–and ever thereafter, it is the spiritual, artistic shape which is remembered as the truth of that day, not the cold, undecipherable, purely empirical fact.
We take “purely empirical fact” and shape it into song; story; poetry; painting; music; art; and yes, scientific discovery. We give it life! It resonates within our souls; our hearts; our minds! And, here is the point I would like to make as I follow up on yesterday’s post about Ray Bradbury.
Humanity will always have to utilize Story to communicate; to give meaning and life to the events that swirl around us; to answer the “why” not just the “how” for those empirical facts. And, in order to use Story, we must use our imagination. And, in order to use our imagination, we must ALWAYS have the ability and the freedom and the capacity to seek after God. Remove God from the human awareness and you remove imagination. The supernatural is ESSENTIAL for the continuation of the human race. This was addressed years ago by a prominent atheist who said that whether we believe in God or not, we have to at least believe in a “noble lie” for humanity to continue to thrive.
The “noble lie” for me is the Truth, the Life, and the Way! And, His Story is the Greatest Story Ever Told!
Don’t forget to come by the LifeWay in Shreveport this coming Saturday, January 5th from noon to 2 PM for my book signing. I will be signing “The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon”, “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye”, and “Conquering Depression: A 30 Day Plan to Finding Happiness”. Come and buy some books if none of these interest you. Come and share your Story! Free tee shirts!!!!
Heading into the weekend I can say this past week was a lot of work. I just finished up one of my final drafts for the fourth book in the Jonathan Steel Chronicles. “The 10th Demon: Children of the Bloodstone” will not be out until October, 2014. And, I have until the end of the year to finish the book. But, my schedule between now and the end of the year is getting busier than ever.
I have the launch of my second book, “The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon” in October. I have a potential new book series proposal to finish by the end of October. And, there is the ever present social media I MUST work on every week to promote my second book.
This past week, I posted a blog on Just the Write Charisma about agents and created a tiny firestorm that whirled around me for a couple of days. I was amazed at who actually reads these blogs. Something I said about one of my former colleagues in a very generic, nonspecific fashion was read by that colleague and even though we have not communicated in 7 years, that colleague was quick to email me with reminders that my memory is NOT what it used to be.
Wow! I had no idea this person was even reading my blogs. Which points out some interesting thing about social media.
You Never Know Who’s Reading
In my every present paranoia and basic insecurity, I assume that maybe 1 1/2 people read my blog and then only because they just happen upon it. After all, we waste a lot of our life reading things we wish we would have never read moments after we read it. As one of my good friend said the other night: “That’s 5 minutes of my life I’ll never get back!”
I try to make my blog entries marginally interesting. I am a storyteller and I have lots of stories to tell. However, it is difficult to tell a story with a moral or an illustrative point without mentioning the people involved. And, no matter how you veil that person with “dramatic license” somewhere, somehow that person will find out. So, lesson learned. Be careful what you write. Be careful what you say and how you say it. In fact, don’t say it unless it is vitally important that it be said! You might want to contact that person and make sure it is okay to share said story.
Who Are We Answerable To?
Life self-publishing, the blogger is answerable to no one but himself. Unless, of course, said person is part of a larger multi-person blog. In some ways this can be liberating. You can say whatever you want! But, the flip side of that is the danger of very little, if any, self-editing. We have discovered one of the downsides to the Internet is the instantaneous availability of information — whether or not that information is accurate! Lives can be destroyed in literally a heartbeat — the time it takes to hit “Enter”. Commenters form some degree of restraint. Their comments are often a measure of the many ways in which the contents of the blog are taken and understood. Years ago, my wife gave me some valuable advice. Whenever I would get mad and write a letter or an angry email, she would advise I wait 48 hours to send it. Give me some time to cool off and see if the substance of my communication is too emotional without enough substance. Good advice. I wish I had listened to it the other day!
What is Truth?
In today’s relativistic culture, truth is seen as temporary and circumstantial. There is no one truth. And that is a true statement! (Sorry, the apologist in me came out!) I have gone to snopes.com many times to stop a rumor or an urban legend in its tracks. As Christians we must realize we serve one Truth. And, the Truth cannot be found. The Truth finds us. Christianity is the one religion where God comes to us; came to us; and continues to come to us. We cannot claim any credit for our “conversion”. God became flesh and dwelled among us. True, God draws us to Himself in ways that are many and varied. But, He is one God. We must always then be purveyors of the Truth. Check our facts. Exhaust our sources. Never pass on groundless rumors and falsehoods. For the Father of Lies is Satan, not God. And there is one certainty: we cannot find Truth — Truth finds us!