Author Archives: cjparsons

Out of Focus

Words are a powerful weapon; they can be used for either good or bad, but words burn deep into our psyche and shape and fashion society whether we like it or not. When influential people twist words or use them to focus on the wrong thing, life tends to get out of focus.

Some time ago, a senator grilled a potential government appointee on his religious preferences (even though the Constitution forbids any kind of “religious test” for government service). During the interrogation, the senator kept focusing on the fact that in this person’s faith certain people groups were condemned to Hell. If this was a one time thing, I wouldn’t be writing this article; however, the news media is also focused on this idea: the exclusion of certain people groups by Christianity to Hell if they don’t believe in Jesus.

Unfortunately, they’re focusing on the wrong thing.

The Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23.” ALL. Including Americans. Christianity isn’t about excluding certain groups or religions; it’s about showing that nothing we do will meet the standards of a Holy God.

But the major focus of the Bible (and Christianity) isn’t how badly we’ve all messed up–that’s the starting point. The focus of Christianity is God’s unconditional love and that He has provided a way for ALL to be saved. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” This gift is available for ALL, regardless of color, race, ethnicity, language, religion, or location. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 ” And it isn’t about turning everyone into Americans. (Christianity is actually the counter-culture to America.) You can be a Christian and retain your ethnicity, your language, your culture, something most other religions don’t allow. Other religious services look surprisingly the same in different cultures, but Christian services are as diverse as the cultures they represent.

It is the idea of unconditional love – love that accepts everyone no matter what – that seems to frighten the media and government. Because this type of love is completely inclusive, it frightens those who want to dominate or exclude or stereotype or limit others. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. John 1:12 ” This kind of faith, that doesn’t limit believers to a specific people group, that doesn’t depend on what I do or who I am, that’s a powerful force that can’t be controlled by government. And what the government can’t control, it has a tendency to fear. It’s why religion and a free press are the first things to go in a repressive regime.

But this isn’t a blog about freedom of religion. It’s about unconditional love as the center and foundation of Christianity. The reason so many people are confused about what Christianity is truly about is because Christians are such a contradictory people. We mess up; we don’t get it right 100 percent of the time and those who judge our God based on our actions don’t always see the loving Father who cared enough for His children to die for them while they were still sinners. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8.”

Christianity isn’t about hate and exclusion. It’s about everlasting love and inclusion.

Choice

Have you ever wondered why every known application on file, whether for a loan, college, job, or survey, requires you to choose an ethnicity? Not a nationality, but an ethnic group. Why? How does one’s ethnicity affect one’s job performance or worth? It doesn’t, anymore than one’s gender does.

So what’s the big deal with labeling someone by ethnicity? I have Native American blood running through my veins (Cherokee on my mother’s side, Seminole on my dad’s), but not enough according to someone’s flow chart to “claim” that heritage, as if a 64th Cherokee is some how less Indian than a 32nd. On the other hand, my daughter often claims she’s “white Asian” and my husband has been identified as “Hispanic” not because of their skin, but because of their hearts. I’ve often wondered what would happen if I checked the “other” box on those forms instead of “Caucasian”? Today, I’m feeling Japanese. Konichiwa. There are days when I do have more in common with someone from Japan than America in terms of cultural values. Or maybe, I’ll write in “Martian”; after all I’ve identified Mars as my home planet since junior high days when I formed the Misfits from Mars club for those of us who didn’t fit into rural Oklahoma junior high society.

If gender can be a choice, why not ethnicity? If we see everyone as human, then ethnicity doesn’t matter. It’s one less thing we have to fight about or use to denigrate someone else. People adopt different ethnicities all the time, from the city slicker who chooses to live in the country to the missionary who chooses to live among a different people group. We adapt to that culture, sometimes changing our manner of dress, speech, what we eat, and even our name. Some folks don’t start out that way, but are soon “adopted” by the people they are living among. If the locals see us as the same, why can’t we claim it? My daughter was born in Ecuador to American parents. She claims both ethnicities, even though she can only have an America passport (Ecuador doesn’t allow dual citizenship). She has also spent considerable time working with the Maya, and so inside she feels more Hispanic than white.

I can already hear the protests. What about driver’s licenses and passports? They have to have ethnicity on them to prevent falsification. Oh really? If I’m intent on stealing someone else’s passport, it isn’t going to be that hard to change the ethnicity part. Several years ago, while we were overseas someone “borrowed” my husband’s passport. The first we knew about it was when we were coming back into the States a year later and he was flagged at the airport for having been in Boston the previous year. He was flagged, not the person who stole his passport. You have to understand my husband is a 6′ 3″ white guy and the person who used his passport obviously wasn’t. But the immigration officials stopped him, not the perp. So ethnicity on a passport isn’t helpful at all.

I guess I will still tick the “white” box just to avoid unpleasantness when filling out paperwork, but know that in my heart I’m rebelling. The more my current ethnicity moves away from who I am, the closer I will come to checking “other.” Ciao.

 

The Perfect Game

I’ve never been a sports fan–I guess I like my comfort too much to waste time freezing at a football game sitting on uncomfortable bleachers. Or maybe I just figured it was a waste of my time to watch people shove and elbow each other until they were black and blue just to drop a ball in a basket at the opposite ends of the court.  Granted, while I’m at one of those games, I will cheer and holler for my team like everyone else, but if I have a choice of whether or not to attend, I’ll opt for not attending every time.

However, there is one game you can always take me to: baseball. Maybe it’s because I understand the rules; maybe it’s because baseball is a game anyone can play regardless of ability or aptitude; maybe it’s just because baseball is a leisurely game with no time limits.

Ah, there’s the rub. Some smart aleck in sports has decided to change the fundamental principles of baseball by insisting on time limits for pitchers and batters. Really? Are you insane? What practical purpose could time limits serve to improve the game?

Baseball isn’t about time limits. It’s about long summer days, eating hot dogs or nachos and chatting with your friends. It’s about strategy, stepping off the mound or out of the batter’s box at the precise moment to throw off the pitcher or batter. It’s about keeping the first and second base runners honest, so they don’t get too big a lead. It’s about having plenty of time to enjoy America’s favorite sport.

There’s a reason baseball is a favorite, not just in America, but around the world, and it comes back to the leisurely nature of spending time with family and friends. Unlike football and basketball, where one has to be constantly watching, baseball is more laid back. You can take your eyes off the “action” for a moment to gaze at your sweetheart or exchange a bit of conversation with your best friend.  There’s no hurry, no rush, and in today’s frenetic paced society an opportunity to slow down is welcome.

Maybe that’s why even in science fiction, baseball is still around long after all the other sports have faded into obscurity (Deep Space 9). It’s as necessary as the air we breathe. There are a lot of things MLB’s head honchos have done I’m not happy with, but this one takes the cake. To take away even a part of what makes baseball unique for the sake of a few dollars isn’t just a crime, it’s reprehensible.

Don’t mess with perfection.

 

 

 

 

courtesy StarTrek.com

Everything I Need to Know about Writing I Learned from Korean Dramas

Well, maybe not everything, since I didn’t discover Korean dramas until my children were grown.  However, Korean dramas have heavily influenced both my writing and style.

* If you want to learn how to write fast-paced, exiting plots: watch Korean dramas.

* If you want to learn about incorporating plot twists, watch Korean dramas.

* If you want to learn how to “grow” or change a “static” character into a “dynamic character, watch Korean dramas.

* If you want to learn how to wring the most emotion out of a scene, watch Korean dramas.

Today’s blog, however, isn’t about how to write; it’s about the gatekeepers that hinder or block writing.  If you watch any K-drama long enough, you come to recognize that gatekeepers are part and parcel of all good plot twists. Just when you think the hero/heroine is going to succeed, up pops another gatekeeper to sabotage everything.  Sometimes the gatekeeper can be a rival, a parent, an old enemy, someone in authority who is crooked or has a lot of power, even tradition.

Writing has the same kinds of gatekeepers. Sometimes a parent or teacher discourages us from following our gifts. “Very few people make a living writing books.”  “The industry is highly competitive.”  Maybe so, but that’s no reason not to write.

Sometimes the gatekeeper is our own lack of knowledge or skill; however, that particular gatekeeper can be easily overcome. A much harder gatekeeper is the “location” where we find ourselves.  Writing science fiction in the middle of rural America isn’t going to be easy, nor is writing rural westerns in a metroplex. Often times we find ourselves surrounded by cultures or people who just “don’t get it,” and thus finding our market or niche becomes something that seems insurmountable.

Time and reality are also gatekeepers. In 30 years I have written 8 novels. That may not seem like much; however, I’ve been a wife, raised four children, been a missionary, newspaper editor, and school teacher. Working full time leaves little room for anything else, especially if one is going to have time for family and self. I “make” time to write, yet the demands of reality often get in the way. Still, eight novels are eight more than most people have written.

The last, most powerful gatekeeper is the publishing industry itself.  In the first 20 years of my writing “career” I ran across the reality that just because a book is good doesn’t mean it’s marketable. (not my idea, I borrowed it from another indie writer). This truism means that publishers don’t always publish good books; they publish what will make them money.  I know that hundreds of excellent books languish in reject bins due to this mentality.

Yet thanks to Createspace and the self-publishing industry, this monster gatekeeper is slowly being overcome. Indie authors still have to battle “published” authors and their attitude that somehow self-publishing makes us “not good enough.” It reminds me of Tomorrow’s Cantabile, a school filled with prestigious musicians who looked down on the “leftovers” as not being as good enough to make the A team. Until one courageous conductor transformed those opinions into a remarkable orchestra where every “voice” blended into perfect harmony to create a unique cantabile.

Writers are unique. Our voice, our message doesn’t have to garner the spotlight to be meaningful—or respected.  A library is filled with a plethora of books, old, new, innovative, traditional, factual, fantastical, opinionated, educating. Some have worn, dull covers hiding exquisite stories. Others are all flash and bling and not much substance, but popular with readers. Some are priceless tomes that cannot be removed from the library, while others spin through the paperback exchange like a revolving door.

Everyone has a story. Some writers may not be as skilled as others in telling their stories, yet they deserve a chance to sing and a even minor chord can touch a heart.

 

True Love

Valentine’s Day isn’t just about flowers and chocolates.  It’s about the giver understanding the receiver’s heart and the receiver understanding the giver’s heart.  What may appear to be an “unromantic” gift to an outside observer could, in fact, be a sincere expression of the deepest love.

For those of you who gave or received Valentine’s gifts, don’t worry; I’m not going all Scrooge on Valentine’s Day. I’ve had some very romantic ones. But there is more to love than just meeting society’s expectations one day out of the year.

My husband didn’t get me flowers or chocolates for Valentine’s Day this year; he got me an ankle brace. He didn’t get flowers because, even though I adore flowers, my allergies were acting up and the flowers would have exacerbated my already compromised immune system.  He didn’t get me chocolate because he knew I was trying to lose weight for health reasons and chocolate would sabotage my struggling efforts. His love found expression in the ankle brace.  Lightweight, discrete and comfortable. Two weeks ago I severely sprained my ankle for the second time in as many months. My dear husband knew that hobbling around in an air cast not only drew unwanted attention, but wreaked havoc with my high-strung ADD personality. His unusual gift gave me freedom and comfort.

But you could have gotten that yourself, some may say. The point is I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to get out in the cold and wet and struggle through Walmart in an air cast. I merely shed my limitations and gained my mobility again to race at breakneck speed through my already busy day, thanks to the thoughtful and timely intervention of my  husband.

Plus, when I got home the kitchen was clean and the laundry folded and put away. If cooking is the way to a man’s heart, a clean house is the way to a woman’s. Coming home to a clean house is better than a pedicure!

i-love-us

Tainted Writing

I must admit I was a bit disappointed with the way the second season of The Flash ending. One of the reasons I have kept up with this show while letting so many of the other “superhero” shows go was its focus on light rather than dark.

However, the millennial way of doing things seems to be get a viewer invested in a “good guy” then show he’s been bad all along.

Sorry, good writing doesn’t work that way.

It is easy for a good man to pretend to be bad, but it is impossible for a bad man to pretend to be good. (see Mirror, Mirror, STOS)  Even his efforts at “good” are tainted by darkness, and one instinctively doesn’t completely trust him even at his most charming.

This tendency to trick the viewer or reader into believing someone is good, knowing deep down he is bad is just poor writing. To be truly effective, one must show the villain in all his evilness, while presenting a “charming” appearance to the hero; leaving the audience breathlessly moaning, ‘no, no, no, don’t trust him!.” An excellent example is David Copperfield’s Uriah Heep, a mousy little man with sufficient power to wreak havoc in the lives of the main characters all the while pretending to be humble servant. The reader suffers intensely wondering when, or if, David and the others will ever figure out this desperately wicked person and be free of his machinations.

Understandably, it is harder to portray that in film, but the best cinematographers excel at it. Maybe through a glance, a gesture, an aside, or just the attitude of the hero. Take Frank Capra’s portrayal of Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. We see the evil things he does, but when he is his most charming, offering George a great job, it is George’s reaction to the handshake that reveals the depth of Potter’s treachery. A certain look in his eyes, then rubbing his hand against his trousers. Iconic.

I’ll keep watching Flash, but it’s lost a bit of the wonder for me. Plot twists simply for the sake of “rebooting” are simply childish.

Object Lesson One: Just a Box of Junk

It looked like nothing more than a box of junk, the kind of thing a kid might keep under the bed, filled with odds and ends, bits of paper and plastic, string and beads.

Instead, the owner transformed this simple junk into magical objects filled with wisdom and fun. The owner was a young church leader in charge of the jovenes (teenagers and unmarrieds) and his particular skill set was using everyday objects, a little sleight of hand, and a dash of science to teach simple object lessons about faith in Jesus. I sat spell bound, even though I’d seen better “magic” acts. What made this spectacular was the enthusiasm and the wisdom with which this young man performed the simple tricks and the humble way he used them to draw interest into his message – faith in Christ.

Watching him demonstrate his routine for the youth group, I realized how often I dismiss people or ideas as “valueless” or “timewasters” or “unimportant” just because they don’t fit my preconceived ideas. I wonder how many of my students I have overlooked because they didn’t fit in, didn’t “sit up straight and pay attention,” insisted on doing it their own way, or just because they “looked” like they couldn’t do the assignment? How many adults have I ignored simply because I didn’t have time for their “nonsense”, “whining”, or “babbling?” How many times have I felt the sting when someone felt the same about me, dismissing my ideas, my interests, my skills as “pointless”?

There is a lesson in this humble box of junk for all of us. Life means variety. Life thrives on difference and individuality. Trying to force everyone into a single mode, a single mindset is anti-life. “Isn’t that exactly what religion does? Force everyone into a single mindset?” some will argue. And they are right. Religion, philosophy, government – all these do try to force people into a single mindset because people are easier to control that way. However, faith in Christ is not religion. People have taken various aspects of it and turned it into a religion, not faith in Christ. “Oh, you’re just splitting hairs,” some will accuse.

No, I’m  not. Religion follows a set of specific rules which burden its followers. But faith in Christ follows two principles: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And love your enemies/neighbors as Christ has loved you.

And that, my friends, leaves us wide open to all the billions of ways to express that kind of love because we are all individuals. Love isn’t a burden. True love sets us free to be enthusiastic, creative, joyful, different.

America: Welcome to the Third World

We left America at the end of the Reagan years to work in Ecuador. When we came back to the States in 2000, we were shocked at how different everything was. Nothing, however, prepared us for the continual decline we’ve experienced in the last 16 years as “the land of the free” has grown more and more like a third world country.

What do I mean America is like a third world country? Yes, we still have numerous “freedoms” sadly lacking in most Third World nations; however, there are several eerie similarities that clearly shows the changing nature of our country:

  • Darker city streets and highways
  • Lack of variety in stores
  • Empty store shelves
  • “political correctness” eroding freedom of speech
  • loss of jobs for talking against the government or government edicts
  • government insurance and taxes taking half of one’s salary
  • health care that requires longer wait time for less services
  • too many rules and regulations hindering the ability to start up a new business or keeping an existing one going
  • no middle class

The list goes on. The point is we have nearly reached critical mass, where the consumers have outnumbered the producers and the producers bear the brunt of keeping things going. There are several reasons for this downward decline, but one glaring reason is the number of politicians running our country. The founding fathers never meant for politicians to rule. They meant for people to rule. Folks who understood the pinch of making ends meet, of eating beans and rice for dinner, of dreaming of a better future for their children.

Tuesday is election day. A chance for change. So instead of voting for a party, or voting for a politician, or the lesser of two evils, vote your conscience. You aren’t “losing your vote.” If you vote for the same old same old or to keep the other guy out, you’ve already lost your vote and a chance at turning things around.

This country was built on risk takers.

Be a risk taker. Vote your conscience.

 

The Golden Age of Science Fiction

Back when I was growing up in rural America, I didn’t realize what a remarkable time period I lived in. My dreams always leapt to the future in far flung galaxies or excavated in the past amid ancient or fantastical civilizations.  I practically lived in the library where I had free access to these worlds through the pages of books.  Yet I always longed for the days when I could afford to buy my own copies, when books would be as free and plentiful and accessible as the air I breathed.

Fast forward to the 21st century when all my dreams seemed to come true: books are plentiful and accessible thanks to e-readers and publishing platforms like Createspace; however, the writers have changed.  Back in the Golden Age of science fiction, writers wrote series of books, not books of series. They created marvelous worlds and characters and spun countless episodes of adventures like an ongoing television series.

Today, however, writers take one story, pump it up with useless backstory, bland dialogue and wasted pages of description in order to stretch the one story over a dozen books. And I am left back in the exact same desert as before—unable to satisfy my thirst for imaginary worlds and larger than life characters.

But back to the Golden Age of Science Fiction.  In the decades leading up to the 1970s, science fiction had a positive outlook—even the most thought-provoking stories left the reader with a gleam of hope at the end, a chance that humanity could learn from their mistakes and move forward into a glorious age of space exploration.  Even the cautionary tales, the woeful predictions of gloom and doom were offset with stories detailing the best humanity had to offer. There was also a slew of juvie lit (not necessarily about high school kids), but written for high schoolers that showed we could overcome our base nature and rise to join the vast and glorious civilizations that spanned the galaxies.  It was a time for encouragement and enthusiasm to explore the cosmos and every kid wanted to be a huge part of it.

At least, those of us who read science fiction.

I miss those stories. Even going to the library today finds precious little on the shelves worth my time and investment. Oh, I know Tom Corbett, Andre Norton, Ray Bradbury, and the Heinlein juvie novels were formulaic – that’s what made them so great! In spite of the peril and danger we knew our heroes would succeed. In a world fraught with real dangers and problems, losing myself in an uplifting story was a sorely needed form of escapism.

I think we’ve lost something vital with today’s version of science fiction. We are breeding a generation that has no imagination, that expects aliens to plot the destruction of humanity (and thus expects humanity to plot its own demise), that hasn’t the gumption to reach outward to the stars because of all the obstacles that must first be overcome. Today’s science fiction does far more to defeat the exploration of space than to entice young people to boldly go where no one has gone before.

With our passion for “realistic” stories we have lost not only a piece of our history, but a piece of ourselves. And a society that lacks imagination, can never prepare for the future.

The magic art of ….getting your life back

Whether it’s the in-laws coming or a special occasion or meeting the future son-in-law, cleaning house for company is guaranteed to send modern 21st century women into a tailspin of anxiety and depression.

It reminds me of those Internet memes….This is what I think I do, this is what  my friends think I do, this is what… You get the picture.  Maintaining a clean or even an orderly house with technology or help is definitely a challenge in the 21st century. And thanks to the feminist movement and its “enforcers” most women are left without help amidst the guilt of trying to be both homemaker and career woman.

So what’s a girl to do?

Several months back while search the Kindle book store I ran across a little book by Marie Kondo called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

It definitely is life changing. I’ve spent my entire life (half a century) under the burden and guilt of trying to maintain an orderly house when I’m NOT an orderly or organized person. Let’s face it…housework is mind-numbingly boring, not to mention backbreaking hard. It’s also mundane and repetitive, NOT the way I want to spend my days or weekends.

So imagine the sheer delight of finding a way to have my cake and eat it, too. This little book changes the way women think about cleaning and organizing, dismissing all the so-called “rules” as unworkable myths and moving on to give an easy, workable solution to the age old problem of juggling life and housework.

What ‘s also remarkable is the “extra” time I’ve found as I work through the process which has become noticeable to all my friends. Not how clean my house is, but how free the rest of my life is.  Now they’re reading the book. My daughters-in-law and I enjoy (yes, I said enjoy) sharing with each other what we’ve done. Imagine showing off closets and drawers that have stayed neat for months with little or no effort!

I know…I would have laughed in your face if you’d told me this time last year I would be an “organized homemaker and proud of it.”  But I am and if I can do it, so can you.

The best thing about this life style change? It’s super easy. Let me give you a small example.

We had company coming – the kind where you wish you could afford to hire a maid because you really want everything sparking—and I was in a panic trying to get everything cleaned while still teaching school during Homecoming week. Then I remembered: what is the purpose of my home? To be squeaky clean? No! The purpose of my home is a refuge, a place where people could relax and escape the pressures of the world.

Instantly, all the things I felt “needed” to be cleaned melted away, along with the stress and guilt. I focused on making the place a refuge, finished cleaning without becoming exhausted, and we had a wonderful weekend and no one noticed the baseboards or cobwebs. (smirk)

 

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