Wednesday, August 16, 2017

“Humility” by Andrew Murray

Humility is not a virtue widely promoted in contemporary culture. In fact, it’s one of the traditional virtues largely dismissed today, in this age of constant selfies, self-promotion on social media, and the near-compulsion to the experience celebrity. Even in the church, we turn our pastors into rock stars, promote ourselves by writing books guaranteed to invite controversy and attention, and read more Christian celebrity self-help books than we do the Bible.

Whether we’re Christian or not, humble we’re not.

To read Humility: The Beauty of Holiness by writer, teacher, and pastor Andrew Murray (1828-1917) is, in a very real sense, to enter an alien landscape.

Murray, the son of a Dutch Reformed minister and missionary, was born in South Africa, educated in Scotland, became a missionary and pastor himself in South Africa, and authored more than 240 books on faith, theology, and Christian living. He lived during the century of Darwin, Marx, and Freud, the triumvirate of thinkers who many believe permanently closed the book on the Christian faith. And yet he remained steadfast in his belief, and wrote book after book to encourage others in the faith.

Humility was one of those books. It’s a series of meditations on the subject (this edition is updated with modern English), and draws heavily from the Bible. And this is how Murray summarizes the framework of humility: “The creature must accept that its main concern, its best asset, its only happiness, now and through all eternity, is to present itself an empty vessel in which God can dwell and demonstrate His power and goodness.” The creature Murray is referring to is the human creature.

Andrew Murray
Our best attribute is being an empty vessel?

Murray goes on to use the filter of human humility to reflect upon the secret of redemption, the humanity of Jesus, the teaching and disciples of Jesus, humility in daily life, holiness, sin, faith, death to self, happiness, and exaltation. He goes about his writing quietly and gently, but with a steadfast purpose – to help us understand why humility may be one of the most, if not the most, important characteristic of a Christian.

Humility may be the most countercultural book I’ve read in years.

Top photograph by Arto Marttinen via Unsplash. Used with permission. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Childhood, Poetry, and History: “The Courtship of Miles Standish”

In a box stored in the basement of our home, I have a record of my school history, grades 1 through 12. It was a box my mother kept, and kept adding to, and included everything from report cards and penmanship books to tests and notebooks. Best of all, my mother put a date on everything.

Longfellow (1859) by Matthew Brady.
And so, from 1958, I find the “November Activity Unit,” about the size of a very thin comic book. We had one of these for each month of the school year, and the units contained topical information about the month, holidays, and similar events, with every page containing illustrations to color. I suspect this was a form of busy work, something to keep the children in my second-grade class occupied while the teacher did other things. By second grade, I was familiar with Thanksgiving dinner, but it was that activity unit that introduced me to the Pilgrims.

A few years later in sixth grade, we read The Courtship of Miles Standish by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and that reading supplemented what we were learning in history. Longfellow took the names of his main characters in the poem – Miles Standish, John Alden, and Priscilla Mullins – from the names of real people who arrived in America on the Mayflower. The poem includes events that are certainly historical – conflict with native Americans and disease – but how much of the love story is factual is open to debate.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Painting: John Alden and Miles Standish, as painted by N.C. Wyeth.

Monday, August 14, 2017

“Novel Advice” by Kevin T. Johns

Writing a novel is hard work. I’ve written two, and I’m working on a third, and all three have been hard work. Novels are work while you’re thinking about them, work while you’re writing them, and work to publish and market them.

Practical advice for writing, and writing a novel, is always welcome. You can learn a lot from what other writers have done, even if their experience won’t be an exact match for your own experience. Novel Advice: Motivation, Inspiration, and Creative Writing Tips for Aspiring Writers by Kevin T. Johns is exactly that – practical advice for how to get and stay motivated, how and where to look for inspiration, and tips for the writing process itself.

Kevin Johns is a writing coach, ghostwriter, and host of The Writing Coach podcast. Among other works, he’s written three novels. In Novel Advice, he’s assembled a series of articles based on his blog postings, and virtually all of the articles are an answer to a question posed by one of his writing clients.

Are you focused on creating a perfect book, one that will be celebrated as high art? Forget it, says Johns. Are you too old to become a writer? No. Should you follow all the writing rules? No; no author does that. What’s the right length for a novel? Yes, as long as it’s not 900 pages (except for the one that was). How do you beef up a lean manuscript with material that isn’t padding? Johns has eight ways to do that.

Kevin T. Johns
Johns is the author of three novels, The Page Turners (2013), The Page Turners: Economy of Fear (2015), and M School (2016), and two other instructional writing books, The Novel Writer’s Blueprint: Five Steps to Creating and Completing Your First Book (2014) and Smash Fear and Write Like a Pro (2016). He’s also written a children’s book, Rocket Princess vs. Snaggletooth the Dragon (2015). He and his family live in Ottawa, Canada.

Novel Advice is simple, straightforward, and common sense. If you’re considering writing a novel, or even if you written and published one, this is a book full of practical wisdom.

Top photograph by Lou Levit via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

See the beauty

After Isaiah 40:6-8

See the beauty
of the fields of flowers
carpeting color to the horizon,
the groves of trees thrusting
green upward, sentinels

we are the grass
we are the flowers of the field
we are the thrusting trees

we fail and wither
we pale and weaken
as the breath blows upon us
flowers brown,
green pales and whitens

only one thing lasts
only one
a word
the word
and the word was with
and the word was

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.