In Love with God’s Word

I was fortunate to grow up in a Christian home with parents who nurtured my faith, answered my questions, located churches in our many stations along my dad’s military career, and ultimately sent me to a Christian college.

Perhaps I was sheltered — I didn’t have a lot of doubts about my faith. I trusted God’s Word. I let it and my faith in its truth ground me through the tumultuous junior high and high school years. I know that looking into God’s Word and understanding the depth and breadth of my faith kept me from decisions that would have negatively impacted my life. I trusted its promises, knowing that I was a child of God, saved by my Savior.

Somewhere during high school I got a copy of a New Testament in the brand-new Living Bible paraphrase called Blueprint for Living! (complete with exclamation point!). When I was freed from my King James Version and could read Scripture in words I understood, God’s words to me began to make sense, the promises came alive, Jesus became more real.

Was I still confused sometimes? Of course. Do I now, 44 years later, understand the Bible completely? Of course not. But I understood the power of the book in my hands and how it had changed the world and could change me. In the words I had underlined in this very Bible comes an invitation I love to this day:

For whatever God says to us is full of living power: it is sharper than the sharpest dagger, cutting swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are.

He knows about everyone, everywhere. Everything about us is bare and wide open to the all-seeing eyes of our living God.; nothing can be hidden from Him to whom we must explain all that we have done.

But Jesus the Son of God is our great High Priest who has gone to heaven itself to help us; therefore let us never stop trusting Him.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses since He had the same temptations we do , though He never once gave way to them and sinned.

So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive His mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need.

–Hebrews 4:12-16, The Living Bible

The gold Eurofest ’75 sticker on the inside was from a youth conference I attended in the summer of 1975, just before my senior year of high school, with thousands of Christians from all over Europe. Held in Brussels, Belgium, this event gave me Billy Graham speaking in the evenings and Luis Palau in the mornings, with small group meetings of students in between. In the front of my notebook I wrote the names of the people in my group: Manima from Portugal; Katie from Colerhine, Northern Ireland; Richard from Bangor, Northern Ireland; and Janelle from Peoria, Illinois; plus me, who had traveled from Bonn, Germany.

This conference also gave me the moment that I understood that Jesus had to make a difference in every aspect of my life. He needed to be not just my Savior but also my Lord. As I sat in the stadium with thousands of Christian high schoolers from all over the world (in the section where the translators gave us English; everyone had to sit in a designated area where they could hear the speakers’ words translated in their languages), I understood and fully committed myself to following Him.

The letter in the front of our notebook explains the purpose of the conference: “God’s master plan for our lives is to become like Jesus.”  This is still the master plan for my life. And in my imperfect way, I awaken every day hoping to honor Him.

So there’s my testimony. It’s not earth-shattering. Perhaps it sounds lame to some. Maybe people see me as deluded in my simple faith in God’s Word. Yet it is what it is. This is me. Simple faith, yet the outworking is incredibly complex in our broken world. More thinking on that in coming weeks.

In the meantime, my little Blueprint for Living! has been just that for me. I’ve moved on to different translations and study Bibles, but this book has been a blueprint for building a life that I hope honors my Lord. Every day I need to go “boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive His mercy and to find grace to help me in my times of need.”

Share your faith story with me. When did Scripture come alive for you?

 

Where’s Your Foundation?

As a Christian publishing professional, editor, writer, and now faculty member teaching Professional Writing, I have been considering my responsibility to my students about their responsibility as Christian writers.

The first concern, as noted in this post, is that my students stand firmly on the foundation of their faith. From the first day of the 101 class to the last day of capstone, I want to help them understand that they must stand on solid foundational truths that will undergird their writing (and, by extension, their lives).

bitumen waterproofing of the foundationMost of my students have a foundation of faith that drew them to Taylor University. Most are Christians but with a wide variety of perspectives on doctrines, social issues, and politics. There is room for all of those perspectives in my classroom, but I always want to draw them back to where we all agree: belief in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior. Scripture is pretty basic: “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NLT). We have our theologies and our beliefs and our opinions, but it really comes down to that.

So where do they land? Where is their faith, personally? Much of this exploration occurs outside of my classroom in other classes, at chapel, in their small groups in the dorms, and just in living lives as college students. I want them to wrestle with these questions so that as they take the classes across the Professional Writing curriculum, they stand on a foundation as they think critically about how their faith matters in their lives and how it affects their writing.

It matters because their faith matters first and foremost. They don’t know if their words will ever get published into the world, but they do have a responsibility to write where they are called to write. They must not make their reason for being or their standard of success tied to getting published—that should never be the “be all and end all” for any writer. Far more important is their obedience to God wherever He places them and whatever words He gives them. Their relationship with God trumps anything else in life—it trumps every success and every failure, for it is ultimately what matters most.

I encourage them to pay attention in the Biblical Literature classes, to explore Scripture in small group studies, to read the Bible all the way through, to listen to God in a quiet time (in whatever way that looks to them). I want them to understand how God’s Word is “alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT) and how Scripture needs to be a daily “lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105 KJV). I want them to love the Bible.Bible

So then, what it means to be a Christian is to have foundational belief and, I would add, to seek in individual, faulty ways to live and act on those foundations through a daily personal walk with Jesus. It means staying in Scripture and prayer so as to always walk closely with the Father. This doesn’t mean that all Christians will believe the same, act the same, apply those foundations the same, or carry that faith into the world in the same way. We are each working out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). But still, the biblical faith foundation is vital.

Christian writers must be marinated in Scripture, in prayer, and in a daily walk with Jesus.

That’s the foundation we must have.

Christian writer friends, how do you keep your faith fresh and alive?

The Challenge of Christian Writing and Publishing

It’s been an interesting challenge, this past school year, as I’ve taken on new classes (translate—learn what I need to teach and then figure out how to teach it) and gotten out of my comfort zone.

But it has forced me to do some deep thinking about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what really matters.

Why do I teach writing and publishing?

What do I really want my students to know?

In the past few months, three things have become more clear to me. For the Christian writers who come through the Professional Writing major at Taylor University, I am committed to them graduating with the following understandings:

  1. as Christians, I want them stand strong on the foundations of their faith, understanding that Scripture and their faith impacts every aspect of their lives; I want them to fall in love with God’s Word and see its power for the rest of their lives;
  2. as writers, I want them to understand that their love for and ability with words is a calling and a gift from the Caller that they should and must continue to hone and improve;
  3. as Christian writers, I want them to comprehend the power of those words and their responsibility to God for how they use their giftedness with words, especially as they seek to publish those words into the world.

How can my faith intersect my discipline as I teach the Professional Writing curriculum? How can I—a Christian publishing professional, editor, writer, and faculty member—bring these fundamental truths into our program? How can I bookend my students’ learning from their 101 introductory class to their final capstone class with these truths that matter?

It feels like a very heavy load.

But down deep in my soul, I sense that this is vital. This is more important than anything else I can do.

It is incumbent on Christian publishing professionals—whether authors or editors or publishers or marketers or bloggers or social media experts or agents—to deliver material that is well written, winsome, true, biblical, and honors Jesus Christ.

In a recent discussion, one of these Christian publishing professionals told me, “Too much of Christian writing is either preachy or saccharine. We need to bring wisdom, winsome words, and truth from our foundation into our writing.”

But what does that even mean anymore? The world is so deeply divided. Even among Christians there is so much division we sometimes act like a circular firing squad. I wonder how we can impact our world for good. How can we disagree about living out our faith (our politics, our work lives, our theological beliefs) but do so in a winsome and respectful way? How can we engage the questions so important in our culture, even as we disagree, while still being able to help others find what we have discovered in the foundations of our faith? In the end, that foundational piece is going to be all that matters to us anyway.

How do I guide my students to these understandings—even as we learn good writing and style tagging and editing and platform building and how to do a book proposal?

How do I guide them—even as we look for truth in Scripture and perhaps disagree on many other areas?

How do I help us all “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” and work out our writing and publishing lives in the same way?

There’s a lot to unpack here, and I invite you to join me both as I prayerfully seek God’s guidance and express my thoughts in the blog. I invite you to comment with your own thoughts and ideas as I think this is a big conversation worth having.

Writers have a lot of power with their words.

And the world needs our very best.

 

The Splendid Work of Writing

I’ve been reading the essays of author Andre Dubus, considered a master of the short form. In his book, Meditations from a Movable Chair (New York: Vintage, 1999), Dubus writes an essay called “First Books” and offers this encouragement to writers:

An older writer knows what a younger one has not yet learned. What is demanding and fulfilling is writing a single word, trying to write le mot juste, as Flaubert said; writing several of them, which become a sentence. When a writer does that, day after day, working alone with little encouragement, often with discouragement flowing in the writer’s blood, and with an occasional rush of excitement that empties oneself, so that the self is for minutes longer in harmony with eternal astonishments and visions of truth, right there on the page on the desk, and when a writer does this work steadily enough to complete a manuscript long enough to be a book, the treasure is on the desk. If the manuscript itself, mailed out to the world, where other truths prevail, is never published, the writer will suffer bitterness, sorrow, anger, and more dangerously despair, convinced that the work is not worthy, so not worth those days at the desk. But the writer who endures and keeps working will finally know that writing the book was something hard and glorious, for at the desk a writer must try to be free of prejudice, meanness of spirit, pettiness, and hatred; strive to be a better human being than the writer normally is, and to do this through concentration on a single word, and then another, and another, and another. This is splendid work, as worthy and demanding as any, and the will and resilience to do it are good for the writer’s soul. If the work is not published, or is published for little money and less public attention, it remains a spiritual, mental, and physical achievement; and if, in public, it is the widow’s mite, it is also, like the widow, more blessed. (162-63)

dubus

Writers, we must endure. We must keep working knowing that the words we write are worth it . . . it being the process, the “splendid” work, the worthy and demanding work.

No one said it would be easy. No one said it would be a sure path to fame and fortune. But as writers, we must be true to ourselves, to our giftedness and our calling. We must reach and try and write and rewrite and reach again because it matters.

If we’re true to our giftedness, then we will continue to write — no matter whether published or not, read or not. It is the “widow’s mite” that we offer up, and we are blessed.

 

Great Editors: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)

It’s odd to think of a time when words did not have standardized meanings, when such things as dictionaries did not exist.

profIn fact, of course, there was such a time. In his book The Professor and the Madman: a Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary (New York: HarperPerennial, 1998), Simon Winchester reminds us that Shakespeare had no way to check spelling of words or variances of meaning since standardization did not exist. He could not “look something up.” The concept did not even exist.

While a few men in the early centuries tried to build what would be called early dictionaries (including Samuel Johnson in 1755), these trials would be eclipsed by the proposal in 1857 for a “big dictionary” that was to be an “inventory of the language.” This proposed dictionary would be “the history of the life span of each and every word” that appeared in the English language (104). This dictionary would chart the life of each word, recording its first mention in literature, then subsequent usages, “for every word, a passage quoted from literature that showed where each word was used first” (105). It would then show how the meanings of the word changed across the years — in some cases, across the centuries.

After some fits and starts and times when the very idea of this task seemed impossible (no computers!), Professor James A. H. Murray of the London Public School Mill Hill and member of the London Philological Society was chosen to take on the task of editor and find a way to complete the work. After getting Oxford Publishers on board, the project continued in earnest in 1879.

Murray’s first step was to recruit an army of English-speaking volunteers who would read books and gather words and quotations. The call for volunteers went out in flyers across Great Britain, the British colonies, and America. As people volunteered, Murray mailed them the following, which amounts to a style sheet of guidelines for these researchers:

The quotations, said the editor’s first page, were to be written on half sheets of writing paper. The target word — the “catchword,” as Murray liked to call it — was to be written at the top left. The crucial date of the quotation should be written just below it, then the name of the author and title of the cited book, the page number, and finally, the full text of the sentence being quoted. …

Murray’s rules were clear and unambiguous: Every word was a possible catchword. Volunteers should try to find a quotation for each and every word in a book. They should perhaps concentrate their efforts on words that struck them as rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar, or used in a peculiar way, but they should also look assiduously for ordinary words as well, providing that the sentence that included it said something about the use or meaning of the word. (134-35)

The volunteers began working — sending their slips of paper by the thousands every day. A first editor read to see if the slip was legible and had all the required elements; a second editor sorted the slips into alphabetical order. A third editor then divided the words into parts of speech (the same word being used as a noun, verb, adjective, etc.). A fourth editor began to “subdivide the meanings into the various shades it had enjoyed over its life [and] . . . make a first stab at writing that most crucial feature of most dictionaries — the definition” (151). The plan was to have “at least one sentence from the literature of each century in which the word was used” (152). Murray did the final edits of the definition, chose the best quotations, and determined the word’s pronunciation.

These new dictionaries were published alphabetically in sets. Portions of A – B appeared in 1885; another portion of B in 1887; the book comprising the letter C appeared in 1897 and was dedicated to Queen Victoria in her jubilee year.

The Oxford English Dictionary was officially completed in 1928, taking 70 years, resulting in 12 volumes with 414,825 words defined and 1,827,306 illustrative quotations. Sadly, Murray died in 1915 and did not live to see the completion of the work to which he gave so much of his life — practically living in the Scriptorium at Oxford University, placing slips of paper into over a thousand pigeonholes on banks of shelves specially built to sort words. A supplement was published in 1933, and four supplements came out between 1972 and 1986. In 1989, the computer aided in creating a second edition of the OED.

The OED website now boasts “over 600,000 words over a thousand years.” The “big dictionary” is now updated on a quarterly basis, revising existing entries and adding new words and senses of words.

Current principal editor of new words, David Martin, explains that 600 new words have been added in the latest update — new words and phrases such as crowd-surfer, Debbie Downer, facepalm, hashtag (as a verb), and TGIF.

And just who was the madman in the title of Winchester’s book? He was one of the most prolific of Murray’s word-seeking volunteers. You’ll want to read the book for all of those details!

In the meantime, grab the nearest dictionary — you probably don’t own an OED, but you probably have a dictionary of some sort. Revel in the plethora of information therein about every single word.

And be thankful for this great editor James Murray and the thousands of little slips of paper that got the whole thing started.

UPDATE March 27, 2019, see this official trailer for the film version of this book.

Prepping for Life (Part 3)

The last two posts gave Part 1 and Part 2 of our Interterm capstone course for my Professional Writing seniors. The final piece of this three-week puzzle was a writing project (we are a Professional Writing major, after all).

I built this as a hybrid course where we met every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for 3-1/2 hours, and the Tuesday, Thursday days were set aside for them to do research and write their capstone papers. During the course of those days, Blackboard discussion questions kept the students on track and on task.

Here was the assignment:

You will write a paper of 2000 to 2500 words. You will choose the topic—something to study or learn that you want to know for the future. You have a couple of different directions you can go.

Craft—Perhaps you want to study an aspect of the craft of the type of writing you do: world-building, foreshadowing, creating twists in a plot, building a memoir, putting together a book of poetry, etc. The sky is the limit (pending my approval of your topic). The paper will include research from books on craft, from favorite books and writers who are doing it well, magazine articles, websites and blogs with information, even personal interviews if applicable. You will write the paper and source it with endnotes using CMS style and a bibliography of all sources consulted, also in CMS style.

Occupation—Perhaps you want to study a particular job such as editing (content editing, copyediting, proofreading, acquisitions; book, magazine, newspaper), agenting, publicity and social media, etc. The sky is the limit (pending my approval of your topic). The paper will include research from books on the topic, magazine articles, websites and blogs with information, even personal interviews if applicable. You will write the paper and source it with endnotes using CMS style and a bibliography of all sources consulted, also in CMS style.

The last two days were for final oral presentations, which called for them to

  1. Introduce themselves.
  2. Explain the project they chose to research, why they chose it, and how they felt it is important information that they want to carry into their post-Taylor life.
  3. Describe how the project fit into their “red thread” (as noted in Part 1) and how it provides a “cap” to the work they’ve done during their tenure at Taylor University.
  4. Give an overview of the entire paper in condensed form (like an “abstract”).
  5. Choose a section of about 600–750 words to read, something that will give those of us listening an idea of what was learned.
Jan 2019 grads
Seven of my seniors were January grads, finishing at the end of capstone. Talk about tearful goodbyes!

Want to know the topics covered? Here you go.

  • How to run a freelance writing business
  • A comparison of tragic and comic plays
  • How to write the middle of your novel so it doesn’t sag but keeps the plot moving
  • How American journalism has changed during the 20th century
  • Why businesses (and authors) need digital marketing and how to begin
  • What it takes to be a screenwriter
  • Inbound marketing–how it works and why it’s the best way to reach customers
  • The essential elements of suspense and how to use them in a novel
  • Content editing–the four relationships that interplay for the editor
  • Writing characters that live beyond the book
  • How to implement theme in fictional stories
  • Why poetry matters to individuals and to society
  • Archetypes in fiction
  • The beginner freelancer’s guide to money
  • The elements of a strong memoir
  • The art of the tragic character
  • The ethics of horror

amazing

The students were happy that they had the opportunity to research something they really wanted to know about (the woman who wrote about suspense said that her research gave her that “aha” moment she needed to understand what had been missing in her writing).

They were all so excited about one another’s papers that we had to find a way to make sure everyone had access to all of them and could download them for later reading.

One change I will make next year is to allow the paper to be longer — most of them felt they could barely scratch the surface of their topics. I wanted to take into account the limited amount of time they had to research and write (3 weeks), but these writers felt like they could do much more even in that limited time.

All in all, I think we had a successful time together.

Then, it was time to head into spring semester!

Prepping for Life (Part 2)

“Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service.”

–Os Guinness, The Call

In a previous post, I told you about how our Professional Writing capstone class was kicking off with my 17 seniors. That was Part 1.

For Part 2, my students worked on the Flower Diagram from What Color Is Your Parachute? (I used the 2017 version). If you don’t know, the Flower Diagram is a self-inventory that helps individuals work through their own personal preferences in working style, environment, coworkers, location, and even stretching to what each person wants to accomplish in life. The students overwhelmingly found this exercise (which took us two class days, so seven hours) to be helpful in capturing in one spot a lot of scattered information about themselves. (We even built a preliminary budget on Excel docs!)

For another class, we talked about how to network — which basically means learning how to be a good listener. I then had each student write a 30-second elevator pitch to answer the question, “So tell me about yourself” (much as an interviewer might). They then did a “speed dating” exercise where they moved from one person to the next, spending three minutes sharing their pitch, listening to the other person’s pitch, and then conversing before the bell rang and they moved on to the next person and did it again.

Having to say the pitch and hone it over eight times helped them be ready for . . .

. . . mock interviews.

I gave the students a list of the most-asked questions, and a link to a website that would help them understand what employers are looking for when they ask these questions. I required the students to use their journals to write answers to each question, or at least to take notes as to what they would need to do to prepare for those questions.

Six professionals gave of their time to interview six students each. The students went in groups of three; each was interviewed while one of the other two kept time and both observers wrote assessments. After each interview, they all had five minutes to talk together about the good and the areas that need improvement, and then the groups moved to another interviewer to try again and improve.

Sort of helped with the jitters and to make the interviewing process a tiny bit less intimidating.

I really wanted this to be a practical class so that they are ready — resume polished, LinkedIn profile and portfolios ready, answers to interview questions prepped, all with a feeling of certainty that they understand themselves and their goals just a bit better.

But lest you think it was all fun and forms, stay tuned for Part 3.