Giving Oneself Over

A new novel series is coming. Something completely different from my biblical fiction. The Mercy Seat is the first volume in The Urban Chronicles series. The story takes an unfiltered look at our modern society and how we humans try to navigate through its complexities and mysteries.

If I as a writer am to tell a story, they must give themselves over. As the power of the story begins to rise up with me, I must sit down and write. I yield. I isolate. I watch and listen. I resist the temptation to manipulate, and I allow the characters to speak true words, reveal true emotions, and make true choices of action.

I do not feel lonely as a general rule. Shutting myself up in my room is not a frightening prospect nor is staring at a blank screen. What does frighten me, at moments, is when those doubts begin to rise that all my dreams, my efforts to create, that any real value to my writing is just for me. No one will read. No one will see the worth. No one will pay any attention. No one will even notice. That I find lonely and scary.

When my narratives are flowing. When my characters are being generous. When my imagination is in full power, I am at my creative best. All of this comes from the giving over of myself. I am not discontent with my life nor am I railing against the wrongs of this world, or, God-forbid, trying to create the world according to my self-belief. I am not the star of my own story.

A conscious part of my creative life is to give myself the freedom to explore all aspects of human nature from the secret wounds we carry to the outward actions we choose to take. I am capable of making a thousand choices for good or evil. I face that reality head-on and try to bring illumination to myself and the reader. I think all acts of creativity is an investigation into all the fears and joys and needs and vulnerabilities that make and shape us as human beings.

I write because I want to taste real life. Yes, I mean taste it in all its bitterness and sweetness. I want to create because that act alone, the pure act of creation, is the act of living. And to live a full life requires the giving over of oneself, the giving over to all the beauty and passion of what it means to be fully human. That is the glory of living which is the glory of God.

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The Prophet as Artist

In the rich and profound language of the Bible, there are many stories and prophetic passages that can cause the soul of the reader to marvel at his or her place in the world. Such is the power of the word that can bring a sense of awe and wonder. The people who wrote and spoke these words were not extraordinary. Most were just everyday folks.

Some became prophets, but they were not just mouthpieces giving forth oracles. They were the equivalent of artists in our modern day in their use of language, of having visions and explaining them, of giving performances that revealed the truth of the times, and of affecting culture.

Those who witnessed these artistic performances by the prophet/artists had various reactions to what they saw and heard like any audience at any time in history when witnessing a creative work. What all these prophet/artists had in common was full-scale devotion to the truth. The words they spoke and wrote, the visions they described, the performances they gave were saturated in truth. All artists are devoted to the truthful expressions of their observations of the world that come in a variety of art forms. So, in a way, all of us who live artistic lives could be considered prophets.

Decades ago I embraced an artistic life, not really understanding what that meant, but I did accept it as an invitation from God. I’m no special case, the invitation is inclusive, but I innately knew this was a commitment of and for a lifetime. I certainly did not know where this long trek would take me, or who my companions might be along this journey.

Many of these companions have been and still are my fellow artists, and we have created some beautiful and truthful works together. Many of them have been companions in faith, and I am thankful for the wonderful and enriching artistic works we have created together to extend grace, mercy, kindness, and compassion to the world.

The journey continues. At times the traveling has tried my soul. I have felt abandoned and battered. I have been bewildered to the point of anger. I have grieved loss and cried out from my wounded heart, but I have not once regretted accepting the invitation of an artistic life. From such experiences true character, deeper faith, and steadfast belief are chiseled into the soul and frees the prophet/artist to shape his and her creations. I am pleased with what I have contributed to the world. I look forward to future novels and future performances with my fellow artisans.

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 I Got This 

The word “idiot” may be offensive to some, but let’s not completely rule out its use. I am particularly fond of how the Irish use the word “eejit.” Through the art of literary conjuring, the Irish have expanded such a word into an art form. “Eejit” is one of more than a dozen words used in good-natured insults, though there are a few pejorative uses that can incite brawls.

One cold winter morning when Kay’s car would not crank I said, “I got this.” That should have been a warning that the “eejit” demon was lurking in the shadows waiting for the perfect moment to strike a blow to my hubris.

The positive and negative posts on my car battery were easily marked so I could attach the metal clamps of my jumper cables to the right connections. But when I looked at the battery in Kay’s car, I became unsure. I took a step back, looked at the posts, then at the cable connections and I thought I have a fifty-fifty chance, so what could go wrong?

I clamped the cable connectors onto the posts and jumped into the front seat of Kay’s car. Remember, it was a very cold morning and her windshield had frosted over. Also, the hood of her car was elevated, and I could not see what was happening underneath. When I turned on the ignition, I expected the engine to give me some sign of life; a grumbling turnover would have been encouraging.

Then I noticed a trail of smoke floating by the passenger side window. I thought it must be the condensation of exhaust fumes from my car, but the smell of burning rubber and melting plastic is not usually associated with exhaust fumes.

To my horror, I saw smoldering cables and a dark spot on the ground between the vehicles where the melting cables had burned the grass. I dashed into my car to turn off the engine, and raced back and yanked the clamps off the two batteries. On the front bumper of each car the burning rubber cable had melted a permanent scar.

I held up the clamps from the cables. The exposed copper wiring dangled from the clamps like viscera of the central nervous system. After calling down curses upon myself in what can best be described as non-church language, I closed the hoods on each car, tossed the burnt cables into the trash, and accepted defeat.

When I told my story to a room full of family, my grinning nephew responded, “You know, Uncle, people have gotten hurt by doing what you did.” Fortunately, the only thing that got hurt that day was my “eejit” pride.

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Real Life Immersion

My first experience with immersion was when I got baptized as a teenager. Our religious persuasion believed in full-body dunking, every molecule and corpuscle soaked beneath the waters of redemption. For several years afterwards, many folks believed the plunge “didn’t take” and I’m sure for my parents, they too wondered what went wrong. I eventually came around, but that’s another story.

Today’s world offers a variety of immersive experiences, not much different than that soggy one of my youth. Whether it is the waters of baptism or spheres of light and sound that you can either attach to your head or walk into a dome at Las Vegas’ latest attraction, it requires just one thing…the complete surrender of the participant.

Such multimedia bombardments are an all-out assault on the senses. The complete attention of the participant is focused on the object. There is no escape. There is no distraction. There is only the object to behold. Such control over one’s attention reminds me of the stories of ancient mystics or prophets enraptured by visions. Was not Moses immersed by the vision of the burning bush?

For those of us who are not in the category of mystic or prophet, the imagination is a great equalizer. An active imagination is the original immersive experience; a do-it-yourself solution that takes you out of the mundane world and rivets your attention onto whatever peaks your curiosity.

The attraction for out-of-the body immersive experiences is powerful. It is a chance to trade in your current environment for a more appealing one, however temporary. A chance to slow time down or bring it to a stop. To allow some great force to take over and sustain your concentration.

No man-made attraction can replace one’s imagination. These high-tech milieus produce all these immersive attractions: high visual, high sound and light, and high dollar experiences. Last time I checked, we humans came equipped with the most powerful immersive capability known, an imagination, part of the standard packaging. Enjoy your imagination. It’s unpredictable, spontaneous, infinite, and free.

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The Christmas Tree Fairies 

Our Christmas tradition was born out of a refusal to have a fake tree in the house. We had to have a live one. When our grandchildren came along we felt the need for an infusion of creative wonder for this new generation, and viola, the Christmas Tree Fairies were born.

The plan was simple: That night before the hunt, we announced to the grandkids that we had gotten word from the Christmas Tree Fairies that they had left us a Christmas tree back on the farm. All we had to do was go find it in the morning. This meant that I was up with the sun the next day before the grandkids were stirring, went to our local store where dozens of freshly delivered Fraser Fir trees were lined up; all healthy specimens, and each one neatly cut at its base.

I would then drive to the backside of the farm and find a concealed spot in the middle of the woods to place the tree and return home. After a big breakfast it was time to go see where the Christmas Tree Fairies had left our tree. It was never easy to find. We had to tramp through overgrown shrubbery, fallen limbs, brambles, and bogs. A few times I cursed the fairies under my breath when I got snagged by the bramble bushes, but the difficulty of the adventure always made the discovery sweeter. Once they spied the tree, there was great rejoicing throughout the land.

Over the years the grandkids expanded on the folklore of how the Christmas Tree Fairies procured and delivered our tree. But a couple of years ago we thought our covert plot would be exposed. A precocious and borderline agnostic nephew had heard the tales and asked to tag along. While he was about to hit the Age of Enlightenment, he wasn’t quite ready to shed his long-held belief in the magic of Christmas.

While trudging through the woods, the ever-observant nephew asked me why I had not brought my ax to cut down the tree. Kay and I looked at each other in fear and trembling. She came up with a quick, “Let’s just wait and see what happens,” which bought us a little time, but the pressure was on.

Once the tree was spotted, they all ran over to where it had been propped against a large tree. Kay and I were preparing our hearts for the reckoning of truth, but in wide-eyed disbelief the nephew exclaimed, “Look, the fairies even cut it for us.” And God bless the child. The magic and wonder of the Christmas Tree Fairies survived for another year.

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Dancing David

Pictured here is the image of a sculpture of David by artist Phillip Ratner on display in The Ratner Museum located in Bethesda, Maryland. I have no idea what inspired Mr. Ratner to envision David in such a fashion, but after seeing his sculpture it is hard to think of David any other way. Music and poetry are so ingrained in his soul that the strings of his instrument have become woven into his flesh.

I have seen a lot of “Davids” in my life—pensive Davids; heroic Davids; lustful Davids; repentant Davids; all legitimate. However, this is the first one I’ve seen to be a joyful, dancing David. The piece captures an exuberance that lifts one off one’s feet, and I believe, depicts a deeper truth to David’s artistic soul.

As I follow David’s life, he never seems to lose the true sense of himself. Here is a man who could so completely loose himself in joyful exuberance that he could strip down to his undergarments and dance “naked” before the Ark of the Covenant as it was escorted into the city of Jerusalem.

The Ark was Israel’s most holy object and for David to become so absorbed by joy was to not only risk complete humiliation but also death. We know what happened to one of the Levites who touched the Ark while being transported to Jerusalem. And don’t forget the villains in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Don’t mess with the Ark.

David was roundly condemned by some who completely missed what he was doing. They had no concept that in the depth of his soul, he would risk humiliation and possible death to express the artistic impulse when in the presence of the Almighty.

I’m sure there were gaps in his life when David did not have time for artistic expression. He was a king after all and as Henry IV says in Shakespeare’s play of the same name, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” David was busy ruling a nation and it’s hard to find the time to take up the harp and pen when the Philistines come calling.

Still, to the end of his days he could not deny the creative force he held within his soul. It was forged within him and the joy of its expression could not be stifled.

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Enjoy The Embellishments

Most of us don’t consider our individual life worthy of a novel let alone a series of novels. If you wrote the story of your life, most likely, you would reawaken lost joys and pains, feel them all over again, but perhaps with a greater understanding of yourself.

We all need to make sense of our existence, and the way we do that is to tell it as a story. To make a story streamlined with the logical build to a climax and resolution, one must go through the natural selection process of choosing those events and circumstances that best fit the sequence of thought and action to bring about the best effect.

There is so much information to the biblical account in my historical fiction series that as the author I have the challenge of picking and choosing which details to amplify, which ones to restrain, and which ones to ignore all together. While that might make me feel powerful, in reality, it makes me tremble at the responsibility.

In The Fugitive King, I chose to embellish the plotline and development of the characters. Much in the same way a gardener might trim and prune the tree to allow growth and accentuate the beauty. Or a sculptor chiseling away the excess marble. I admit this is an imposition of my artistic will, but it is done in service to the story and to deepen the meaning of the biblical accounts.

When we encounter a great work of art or a great story “our minds/Are nourished and invisibly repaired.” I borrowed this line from William Wordsworth’s poem The Prelude to make my point. So enjoy the embellishments I have chosen in The Fugitive King, available today wherever books are sold. But don’t confuse the embellishments with the facts. For those readers who have an affinity for the truth found in these accounts, it may deepen one’s faith. I know after taking a deep dive into the writing of these beautiful and rich stories, it has deepened mine.

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The Wow Finish

Of all the characteristics separating us from the lower species, a premiere difference has to be that we humans tell stories. The graphs, power points, and spreadsheets may give us knowledge but not wisdom. Stories offer us wisdom. We think in stories. It was words that created the universe, the first story, and gave us meaning. We need meaning.

Stories give us heroes and villains, conflicts, resolutions, happy or sad journeys, tragic or triumphant finishes. One of my favorite lines in one of my favorite movies is in Casablanca when Rick asks Ilsa if the story she is about to tell him has a “wow finish.” We love the wow finish to our stories. I have never seen a graph or spreadsheet that had a wow finish.

I recently had the privilege of playing two different roles in a new adaptation of The Hiding Place by A.S. Peterson. It was first a stage play, then made into a film, and released in theatres around the world. When I think of the stories that consistently catch my attention and draw me into their web, they are ones where the heroes and heroines are brilliant but flawed, prone to the cruelties of doubt as well and errant personal behavior, but also capable of tenderness and repentance that leads the contrite soul on a path of redemption.

Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place and King David in The Fugitive King are characters of that antiheroic vein. They lure me in because I witness their flawed humanity. Over the course of their individual stories, these two people are forced into unspeakably cruel circumstances, yet through it all, they emerge into human beings with a depth of being that comes only by walking through the crucible of trauma.

The Hiding Place will be released on streaming services in the coming weeks. My new novel, The Fugitive King, comes out on November 15th. Though the stories are told through different mediums, both are well-crafted narratives that will, for a moment, take over your reality and offer you a deeper understanding of the world and one’s place in it. And get ready for a “wow” finish in both stories.

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Mirror, Mirror

“Who is the fairest one of all?” A dangerous and invariably damning question. Truth: there will always be one fairer than you. Still, we keep going back to the mirror. Now that modern technology has equipped us with the editing tools and with so many social outlets, we can post our fair likeness as often as we please with bodies free of pounds, wrinkles, liver spots, or errant facial hair.

Narcissus had a similar infatuation with his “Selfie”, only this Greek demigod took it one step further. Narcissus never took his eyes off himself once he caught sight of his beauty, and he lost his will to live. We humans believe our bodies and personalities are upgradeable like our iPhones. We doggedly pursue the quest for perfection, and since most of us will never make the cover of a magazine, we will post our Best-Self for the world to see.

I read an article that used the term “aspirational narcissism” describing our culture’s obsession with ourselves and how we believe that science supports this through evolutionary brain circuitry. But remember poor Narcissus. The allure was so strong and so deceptive that when he finally realized his love could not be reciprocated, he died. I don’t believe our brain circuitry is telling us to die for a perfect reflection of our image.

I suggest taking our eyes off ourselves and embracing a love that is outward focused, one that sacrifices for others. Such a choice requires transformation of the heart. I am under no illusion; the practice of such selfless love is even harder than pursuing the “aspirational narcissism” of the magic mirror.

Two thousand years ago, St. Paul devoted an entire section in his first letter to the church in Corinth on what an outward focused love might look like: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud…” The list is extensive and truthful. This type of sacrificial love breaks the mirror of self-love and invites us into human connection, heals broken hearts, restores our joy and is capable of turning the world upside down. Let’s re-wire the brain circuity with this form of love.

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Man on the Run

In the tenth century B.C., the nation of Israel was an inhospitable place for a fugitive like David. He was a man on the run with few friends. Most of the people who had cast their lot with this outlaw were rogues themselves. The Judean countryside was sparse, each clan spread around the territory consisted of about fifty families. And while most of these families supported David, were they ever caught giving him aid and succor, their lives and property could be forfeited.

Who can you trust? This was the plight of David, the once and future king of the people of Israel, but one without a throne, a crown, or a populace to rule. After such a promising start in life—called from the hills of Bethlehem and thrust into the national spotlight after slaying a giant, then married into royalty—you cannot blame David for feeling lost. The dream had turned into a nightmare once he had fallen out of favor with the reigning king. 

On some level we all share a compatibility with David. We might not achieve the same highs and lows in life, but we do know what it is like to share similar emotions. There is more written about David than any other personality in the Old Testament, and in his lifetime, he experiences every human emotion imaginable.

In this fourth volume of my historical fiction series The Song of Prophets and Kings, I focus on the years David was a fugitive with “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters plastered all over the country. Imagine if social media was around three thousand years ago. Talk about a real sense of paranoia.

In The Fugitive King, David is forced to hide in dark caves, shelter inside thick forests to conceal his whereabouts, and rely on a handful of friends he can trust. In this novel we read of the great personal cost of David constantly having to look over his shoulder.

The Fugitive King will be released in print, e-book, and audio on November 15, 2023, and available wherever books are sold. Get ready for a literary ride with a man on the run.

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