26 June 2012

That Crazy Lady

I came home from work today to find my wife's computer sitting out on the desk, along with a note that said something to the extent of “I was studying the Word this morning and felt convicted, so I had to write out my thoughts, please read.”  Curious, and steeling myself for the needling daggers of humbling conviction, I sat down and opened her computer.  Her thoughts (with permission) are as follows:

I met a crazy lady the other day, or so I thought. As I sat with a number of other women around a table, celebrating a soon-to-be wedding day, a woman I'd never met before was talking non-stop about Jesus. She began repeatedly expressing her love for Jesus and sharing in detail all the joy she received for being a child of His. I knew everything she was saying was true - things like “He is my protector,” “He is giving me the strength I need to get thru my husband’s death,” and “I told my son he needs to take his decision to go on the Jamaica Missions trip before the throne.” Jesus saturated her conversation. As I sat listening, knowing how true all this was yet hearing those around me agreeing with a chorus of vaguely uncomfortable “mmhmm’s,” I couldn’t help but wonder if they were thinking, as I was, that she was a little bit too extreme.

It wasn’t until today, two days later, that I realized how crazy I am for failing to see just how much I lack true joy. This woman knew how much God loves His children. She understood that His love is such that He was willing to give His only Son so that we, as sinful as we are, could come home and enjoy heaven with Him (John 3:16-17; Hebrews 10:12-14). She clung to the God who is so powerful that He took down kingdom after kingdom for His children, the Israelites, and who promises to be our strength and refuge today.

You see, there is this battle I fight, one we all probably fight. I want to be perfect and honor Jesus. A big part of that, for me, is spending quality time in the Word, daily. I know all I have to do is say no to watching that episode of my favorite TV show in order to get a few more moments to spend in study, but what do I do? Typically, I justify laziness as weariness and promise myself that I'll just do it another day or later.

Do I? Not usually.

How is it that something so amazing as spending time in the Word of God is such a struggle to pursue? Reading the redemption story is medicine for a bad day’s work. It is healing for drowning in the midst of a materialistic public which desires nothing more than getting everything it wants. It is comfort for a death in the family or the loss of a loved one. It is peace in the midst of battle with a life-changing disease. We face these things day after day, but instead of turning to the Word of God, what do we do to get us through? Cry? Vent on our newest social network? Complain to friends? Distract ourselves through various media and entertainment?

The truth is, the lady wasn’t crazy. We are - that is, those of us who restrict ourselves from glorifying our Lord and Savior the way she does by worshiping comfort and entertainment. We DO NOT give God the glory He deserves - the type of life-consuming adoration which He justly required of the Israelites and desires in His church. Knowing who He is and what He has done should make us drop to our knees to thank Him endlessly (Phil 2:10-11). Time and time again, despite our sinful pursuits, He forgives. I thought that woman was being a bit dramatic about how amazing God is and how powerful He is, but in reality we should be just as zealous (Isaiah 25:9).


There's nothing that I need to add. All that comes to mind is Psalm 8.3-5: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” We serve a God who deserves our zealous and passionate adoration, the kind which should consume every aspect of our lives, because He dotes upon us when we deserve nothing.

Of course, I'm also reminded of Proverbs 31.10 and 26: “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels... She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”

Gentlemen, listen when your wives share the convictions of their hearts. Chances are, you've got some changing to do too.

13 June 2012

Contentment in Comfort and Catastrophe

Situational living is part of the Christian walk.  By that, I mean the daily denial of self in order to meet challenges with patience and joy, rolling with the punches and learning to appreciate each blow to the jaw as instructional.  As Paul put it to the Philippians, we should be “content in every situation without exception (4.11).  Unfortunately, I think we miss that mark on both ends of the spectrum.  Are we content in the valleys, trusting in the provision and protection of the Father, or do we find ourselves complaining instead, pleading for a more comfortable situation?  Do we remain faithful on the mountaintops, giving glory to our Father when our lives are full of blessings, or do we allow that sense of elation solidify into complacence-facilitating pride?

The greatest thing the Lord values is consistence in His children.  The emotional and spiritual roller coaster lives we live are the product of living in an unstable world.  We shouldn't require weekend retreats to re-kindle passion for ministry.  We shouldn't crawl from Sunday to Sunday, like living paycheck to paycheck, in order to be revived in our pursuit of righteousness.  Regardless of our circumstances, our faith in the Lord should be our constant propulsion.  The passage in Revelation 3 in which Christ threatens to vomit the church of Laodecia from His mouth is less about His rejection of unbelievers than His desire for usefulness to the kingdom.  Both cold and hot water have functions, but lukewarm water stagnates.  As Matthew Henry recorded in his commentary on the New Testament, “[Just] as lukewarm water turns the stomach, and provokes to a vomit, lukewarm professors turn the heart of Christ against them.  He is sick of them, and cannot long bear them.  They may call their lukewarmness charity, meekness, moderation, and a largeness of soul; it is nauseous to Christ, and makes those so that allow themselves in it.”  Lukewarmness results from going with the flow, allowing circumstance to dictate how we live.  This type of existence is useless to God: He desires followers whose hearts praise Him in both the valleys and on the mountaintops.

The story of Job is the classic example of faith in suffering.  His life is a testament to the fact that all believers can remain faithful even in the worst of circumstances.  In one afternoon, Job lost his seven sons, his three daughters, and every last beast from his impressive herds of cattle – herds which were his livelihood.  But instead of blaming God, Job turned his mourning into worship – certainly grieving his situation, but without sinning (Job 1.20-22) -- at least, initially.

What about us?  Do we worship in spite of and because of our circumstances?  Too often we have the audacity to show contempt for the One who gives us the strength to overcome any challenge.  Because He has chosen to allow us to experience a hardship, one which is intended to grow us more into the image of His son, we feel slighted, forgetting that our God desires to work on us, to perfect us for His glory and our ultimate good.  Yet we have nothing but frustration for Him in those times.

"How dare He take that from me?"

"How dare He put that obstacle in my path when He knows I struggle with that?"

"How dare He challenge my thinking when I've understood it this way for as long as I can remember?"

We have a severely misplaced sense of ownership, right, and privilege.  We are far too prideful, and far too easily satisfied with easy physical and emotional comfort.  If we can only be “strong” Christians when living at the height of stability, what is that faith really worth?  What good is our claim to love God more than anything else if we become self-interested when our plans seem to be coming together?  In either situation, we tend to worship the gift more than the Giver, simply because the gift is more tangible: either we cling to what we have, or we crave what we lack.

I think the guy in Scriptures who had the most going for him was unquestionably Solomon.  Anyone who can spend 13 years building his mansion, who did not possess any dishes which weren't made of solid gold, and who had the opportunity to ask the Lord for anything (and, in choosing wisdom, veritably received everything) is a person who understands the allure of earthly contentment.  Predictably, Solomon's life is a paradoxical example: while he initially demonstrates the heart attitude which we as believers should maintain when life is good, he later models idolatrous behavior which we should clearly not emulate.  As a result of what he began to consider his successful reign over Israel, Solomon's heart wandered from the Lord's, and he even began worshipping other gods at the behest of his 700 wives and 300 concubines.  It is in Ecclesiastes which Solomon (likely) records the futility of such a lifestyle, acknowledging that “God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting” (Ecc 2.26).  Ironically, the author of Ecclesiastes now considers the accumulation of wealth to be nothing more than a chore, a delegated task to one undeserving.

Neither you nor I will know the wealth which Solomon possessed.  However, we do know his pride, because we become enamored with our own successes – no matter how small.  We want to be self-made men and women, independent and respected.  But we must remember that we owe all credit to the One who is truly in control.  If my identity is found in Christ alone, then the wealth of this world can have no hold upon my heart, because true value is found only in the pursuit of righteousness.  When life is good, I should take opportunity to express heartfelt gratitude to the Lord, not take my turn in the spotlight.

The apostle Paul gives an important reminder to the believers at Ephesus at the end of chapter 3: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever” (Ephesians 3.20, 21). In one breath, Paul ascribes to God the praise He so justly deserves and simultaneously reminds the reader that our Savior has given so much more than we can ever ask – or even imagine. He is the father who knows how to give good gifts, who is a “very present help in times of trouble” (Matt 7.7-11; Jas 1.16-18; Psa 46.1-3). Yet we still manage to grow discontent with His provision in the times that are less than rosy. We blame God for our awful circumstances instead of viewing them through the lens of thankfulness. We become prideful at our achievements instead of recognizing God's sovereign hand over our relative good fortune.

The fact of the matter is that we have been abundantly blessed, and despite the fact that circumstances may change around us for better or worse, that blessing does not change.  This is due to the fact that blessings do not equate to material things.  We say things all the time like, “God blessed us with this house,” which is certainly a true statement, but let us not mistakenly think that the house is the manifestation of God's blessing.   There is no profit to be had under the sun, even though everything we have is God-given (Ecc 2.11).  That house could burn to the ground, but that would not mean that God had taken away His blessing.  The true blessing we've received, God's unending love for us in the person of His Son, never fails.  We often think of the love chapter (1 Corinthians 13) as a checklist of what horizontal love amongst our brothers and sisters should emulate, but it is also a description of the vertical love which God shares with us.  His love is perfect, His love is patient, His love is kind.  His incomparable love keeps no record of wrong.   In unending gratitude, we should seek to love Him so perfectly in return.

Our yearning for a better and better relationship with God enables us to be content with nothing in this world because our love for God is unfailing, insatiable, and ultimately not tied to earthly comfort.  Likewise, when life seems to be a smooth ride, humbly seeking His face enables us to avoid complacence and self-worship.  Although this world has plenty of distractions to offer, none brings the ultimate joy and satisfaction of relationship with almighty God.

So the question then remains: in either situation, in wealth or famine, which do you love more – your God, or your comfort?  Your growth or your immediate gratification?  Your God or your god?

11 June 2012

Seeking Your Face, Not Only Your Hand

According to my wife, I've grown in confidence since we've been married.   I worry less about who I am and my abilities than I did while we were dating, she says.  Although I've definitely noticed this change myself, if not definitively, I still find myself lapsing into old ways of thinking from time to time. As someone who has wrestled with what some would call “self-esteem issues” for the majority of my teenage and adult life, I've come to expect myself to fail the first time and to always learn the hard way.  In other words, departure from this mode of thinking is definitely a positive thing, but only if my newfound confidence is not based in myself.

The reality is that, no matter how stern our temperament or how firm our resolve may be, the human existence is saturated in failure, disappointment, anxiety.  Our problem, whether or not we admit it, is that we all rely far too much on our own strength and far too little upon the omnipotence of God.  Perhaps it is unconscious, or maybe it is active, but our default setting is not to let Jesus handle our problems.  We like to do everything ourselves, as though God is not big enough to handle our massive problems, or simply can't be bothered to trouble with the tiny ones.  Though we recall the promise in Isaiah 40.31 about gleaning strength from the Lord, we still allow ourselves to become encumbered by the burdens of this life instead of entrusting them to our loving Father, who is able and willing to carry us and them through the difficulties we face.

Discouragement, therefore, is ultimately the bitter fruit of self–reliance.

Even John the Baptist became discouraged.  John the Baptist -- the voice in the wilderness boldly preparing the way for the Messiah, the humble best man who of his own volition decreased so that the Bridegroom could increase.  The guy who ate locusts and lived in the rough, who stood up to the Pharisees and baptized hundreds of followers.  That guy.  Imprisoned by a fearful King Herod, John sent some of his disciples to enquire of Jesus whether or not He truly was the Messiah.  Though he had baptized Jesus himself, not to mention preached to the multitudes that Jesus was indeed the one foretold, John still found himself doubting the authenticity of Jesus' claim to be the Messiah.  He had allowed his personal expectations of what the Messiah would do and how He would present Himself to cloud his perception of what Jesus was seeking to accomplish.  As Christ replies to John's inquiry, “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preaches to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7.22, 23).  Jesus' response is unquestionably directed at John's doubt, but it is encouragement and not rebuke.  In his weakness, John had lost sight of the Messiah by becoming mired in his own opinions, and owed his loss of perspective to failed expectations and besetting circumstances.

This is where I see us.  We do exactly what John did.  As soon as Jesus fails to meet our expectations, we begin to question His authenticity.  However, it is not Jesus failing to succeed, but us failing to esteem Him as He deserves.  Therefore, it is our perspective that needs to change, not Jesus' response.

Alternately, when beset by difficult circumstances, we become like Peter walking on the water: bold in our belief until we take our eyes off of Jesus.  I think Peter, as he climbed out of the boat and took his first steps toward Jesus, must have been thinking something panic-happy -- “I'm really doing it!  I'm really doing it!”  However, the fact is that he couldn't do it -- not by himself.  Walking on water is a physically impossible feat for a human being.  The Mythbusters proved that even ninjas can't do it.

Suddenly -- catching sight of the unsettled waves cresting on either side of him, realizing that the boat with his friends had been carried well out of his reach -- Peter found himself floundering beneath the water, having lost the battle to both his pride and his fear.

In the same way, we can't handle our circumstances alone either.  God provides all the encouragement and the strength we need to pass through the waves of life.  He promises to never leave us, and never to allow us to encounter challenges too great to handle.  It is when we allow ourselves to become distracted by the worries and troubles of everyday living that we begin to doubt and become discouraged.  Like John, we lose confidence when Jesus doesn't conform to our prideful notions; like Peter, we become overwhelmed when we credit ourselves instead of depending upon Christ.  In either circumstance, the moment we begin to obsess over a situation is the moment we esteem God unable to handle it and instead seek to resolve the issue ourselves.

As humans, perhaps our greatest idol is control (or the illusion thereof).  Anxiety and worry are centralized fear of losing the control we desire: when I don't know what is going to happen at the job interview tomorrow, I stress because it is outside of my control and I desperately want to be in control.  Jesus addresses this issue compassionately in Matthew 6: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to the span of his life?  Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is it's own trouble” (Matt 6.25, 27, 34).  This is as much comforting as it is a challenge.  Simply, our heavenly Father provides all of our needs and there is nothing gained or accomplished by worrying.  Instead, we should be keeping our eyes on Christ -- the One who truly is in control.

As it pertains to self-esteem, God's sovereignty is something which should supersede our sense of self.  While conforming to the image of Christ is not about compromising my identity as an individual, it is about shedding insecurities, sinful habits, and incorrect thinking.  If I'm more concerned about dying to myself in order to be more like Christ, then I'm naturally going to be less concerned about my shortcomings.  The fact of the matter is that a low self-esteem is just as much a pride issue as arrogance.  Either attitude takes control from God and places it in the hands of me: either I'm good enough to get along without God, or I'm a mistake of God and therefore beyond His ability to help.  Both lines of thinking provide infinite means of justifying sin in our lives – sins which will severely callous our hearts if left unchecked.  Maintaining either frame of mind, we are looking only for a helping hand if we turn to God, and not totally giving our lives to Him in worship.

Regardless of where we find ourselves, we each need to honestly answer the following question: do we trust in the Lord's provision, or are we like the seed which the sower threw amongst the thorns -- springing up immediately, but quickly stifled by the weeds amongst which it fell?  Faith in the provision of the Lord is not some type of superficial means of convincing one's self of security.  It is a genuine trust and an unshakeable understanding that God the Father truly does have control, that He has our best interests at heart, and that He will provide the necessities we require.

Our confidence cannot be in ourselves.  We can remain unburdened by the challenges facing us only by focusing intently upon the face of Jesus.

08 June 2012

Negative Nellies

Complaining seems to be the unfortunate benchmark of Christianity.  We are never known for what we stand for – only what we stand against.  We hate our suffering, we hate our circumstances, we even hate people.  And sometimes we blatantly accuse God of giving us more than we can handle, ultimately forgetting His promise in Deuteronomy 30: “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'  But the word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and it is in your heart, so that you can do it.”  In fact, Jesus reaffirmed this promise to His disciples, reminding them that the burden He required them to bear was easy and manageable (Matt 11.30).  Similarly, God does not allow us to undergo temptation greater than we can handle (1 Cor 10.13), and a quick perusal of the Psalms reveals the fact that not only is God our protector, but He also fights the battles for us.  In fact, the war we are required to fight is not one which we cannot win.  It has already been won.

In other words, we have nothing to complain about. We have been given the greatest gift in the world: grace which saves us from ourselves. We did nothing to earn it, and for this reason I use the passive voice intentionally: chosen by God, we have been called to the office of discipleship – following in the very footsteps of Jesus. When we complain – when we forget how easy our responsibility is in comparison to Jesus' – we choose to ignore the fact that with discipleship necessarily comes suffering and persecution. In fact, the circumstances we find besetting us were given in the job description of discipleship: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15.18-25).

Often, we mistake the “if” for a possibility and find ourselves miserable when things don't go the way we expected, but this is not an indefinite statement.  It is an absolute.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Gestapo in 1943 for his vocally anti–Nazi stance, reminds the believer in The Cost of Discipleship that picking up our cross to follow Christ is our willing acceptance of “sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest.”  In other words, until death.  This means acknowledging, as Christ Himself forewarned, that we will be rejected and despised by the world.  This means being identified with Christ, suffering the way he did to the point of death.  I want to be careful with this statement at the same time I want to be bold.  This type of death is both figurative and literal: we should always be 100% ready to give our life literally for the sake of the gospel.  That is not a frame of mind we like to keep, but it is one that not only missionaries to underdeveloped countries should maintain.  Chances are, we will not be required to literally give our lives for the gospel the way Bonhoeffer did, but we should be ready and willing to.  For this reason, “suffering to the last and to the fullest” also includes dying to ourselves daily – in other words, constantly striving against the sinful desires of our hearts and renewing our commitment to righteousness day after day.  If we are no longer dead in our trespasses, but dead to them, then we should no longer continue sinning by living as though our lives are our own.

As Bonhoeffer was keen to observe, we cannot mistake God's free calling as “cheap grace,” what he defined as a self–bestowed grace – one which equates to the “preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism, church discipline; communion without confession, absolution without personal confession; without discipleship, without the cross, without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.”  In other words, Bonhoeffer is cautioning against embracing an ideal of grace which costs us nothing.  Grace is certainly “cheap” in the sense that we do nothing to earn it, but it is costly because it required our Savior to lay down His life in order to dispense it freely, and it will require us to do the same in response.  It requires suffering, and it requires sacrifice.  It requires every facet of our lives.  “Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection,” Bonhoeffer continues, “so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as he shares his Lord's suffering and rejection and crucifixion.  Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the cross.”

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were given a conditional covenant – that God's provision would be a direct and concurrent result of their obedience to His law.  Although our covenant today is not a conditional one, it still requires obedience on our part – not an obedience which leads to salvation, because we cannot achieve that of our own volition, but a willing submission which is a response to saving grace.  The principle of faith and works (Jas 2) is that they are dependent upon one another: faith should drive us to obedience, and submission in turn should increase our faith.  In this manner, discipleship is a process of walking through suffering in obedience and faith, trusting that because the Son of Man suffered and endures all these things, He knows and understands our pain.

As a Christian, don't be known by your negativity, but by your willingness to lay down your life (literally and metaphorically) in the name of discipleship.  Ultimately, the burden we bear as believers is lighter by far than the one we would otherwise be carrying, and the suffering which comes as a result is not a cause for sorrow but for joy (Jas 1.2).  Complaining is only a sign of a hard and ungrateful heart.  It is a response which cheapens the incomparable gift we have been given.  We owe everything to the Lord for what He has done.  It is for this reason that King David, when offered oxen to sacrifice by Araunah, refused to take them without payment, insisting, "No, but I will buy it from you for a price.  I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing" (2 Sam 24.24).

Grace is a free gift, so let us give ourselves freely for it in return.

07 June 2012

The Story Germ

I've heard it said that human creativity is the greatest evidence for the existence of an omnipotent Creator.  The fact that we are imbued with the desire to craft, build, and design – not only for the benefit of others but simply for the enjoyment of aesthetic and imagination – speaks to the fact that we are likewise living works of art of a Supreme Being who created us out of benevolence and passion.  In fact, I believe we're made in His image, and the act of creating is one of the chief ways in which we actively illustrate that relationship.

Arguments for intelligent design aside, I've been trying to write something on the subject of creative writing for some time (this blog went through a number of drafts as well), but I've found that disassembling conflicted and entirely subjective thoughts on an art form can be challenging.  It was J.R.R. Tolkien who observed that “an author cannot... remain wholly unaffected by his experience, but the ways in which a story–germ uses the soil of experience are extremely complex, and attempts to define the process are at best guesses from evidence that is inadequate and ambiguous.”  Although it typically seems to be the case that most authors have no trouble talking about what they do, I believe the written work speaks for itself, and – as Tolkien wrote – the relationship between the writer and his material is infinitely complicated.  In fact, it seems impossible to truly encapsulate.

But I'm going to try anyway.

Like Tolkien said, the written work is always rooted in the author's personal experience, at least partially, but the leaves of the tree are a synthesis of that experience and unique elements of imagination and belief. However, when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of any craft, they are not nearly as comprehensive or as beautiful as the fully assembled work. Yet writing is a science: it is done through methodology, revision, extrapolation; it is comprised of devices such as metaphor, dialogue, and analogy. Just knowing the components doesn't equate to understanding how to properly assemble them, however: knowing how to write involves less a commanding grasp of writing “tricks” or possessing a broad vocabulary than a simple understanding of people.

One of my favorite authors during my early days of college was F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Looking back at The Great Gatsby  or Tender is the Night now, I've come to realize that the reason I loved reading Fitzgerald was not due to the fact that he was a phenomenal author, but that he understood people.  His works are rich character studies, not unlike Ernest Hemingway's (a contemporary of Fitzgerald) or William Faulkner's.  Each of these authors were unquestionably talented and wove intricate plots in their novels, but they understood that people like to read about people.  Human beings are infinite stories in and of themselves, more compelling than any action-packed plot.

So storytelling is a synthesis of personal experience and imagination, a response to the world that is always, in some capacity, autobiographical.  However, there is another element which is an essential ingredient in the creation of the story: perception, or the interaction of the audience.  In other words, a story is woven cooperatively through what the author has put on paper, through the imaginative and interpretive contributions of the consumer.  In The Native Voice, one of many essays on the subject of the Native American tradition of oral storytelling, N. Scott Momaday wrote, Stories are true to our common experience; they are statements which concern the human condition...  Stories are not subject to the imposition of such questions as true or false, fact or fiction.  Stories are realities lived and believed.  They are true.  This is not just Kiowa tradition which Momaday is addressing: he is speaking in absolutes.  Storytelling, written or otherwise, is a “common experience” which requires contributions from both author and reader.  A great representation of this principle is Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water, a novel which shows the concurrent nature of history and present and the fluid concept of which story is the “right story.  Furthermore, the novel is more concerned with how the story is told and less what information it contains.

I think the majority of modern westernized writing lacks this principle.  Issues with flat characters and action–driven plots aside,  authors today are far more concerned with prose than impression.  I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't write well or shouldn't transcribe thrilling plots, but I think the question that authors need to answer when they're writing is why – why am I writing this?  Am I simply attempting to entertain, or am I writing something with meaning?

All this being said, I think I can boil down my philosophy on writing into three general rules which have tremendously impacted the way my writing takes shape – fictional or otherwise.

Rule #1
It is my firm belief that good writing necessarily involves the reader's participation.  In other words, simply transcribing a good story is not enough.  Writing in such a manner which teases the imagination with suggestions and implications instead of flat demonstratives allows for the co–creation of a meaningful piece of writing.  Tying up all the proverbial loose ends is counterproductive, but leaving the reader with speculations invites that active participation in the storytelling which creates Momaday's common experience.”  Just as it takes imagination to write a story, so it takes imagination to read and interpret them.  This doesn't mean deliberately leaving holes in your story, but rather leaving clues  implying instead of eradicating all shadows of doubt.  A well–written story where the telling is all one way is less memorable than one which invites interpretation.

Rule #2
This one is lifted from all textbooks on writing theory, but it is truly a cornerstone of effective writing: show, don't tell.  For example, if an intricate backstory is essential to understanding the introduction of a new character, then the essential information must be woven into dialogue, flashback, or introspective musing in such a way that it isn't obvious to the reader what you are trying to do.  Dumping a lot of history into a chapter just so the reader can understand the character the way you do is much less effective than letting the reader wonder and watch the backstory unfold with the plot.  The best stories are those in which the plot and the character's growth become essentially synonymous: in other words, character development should be tied directly to subsequent occurrences, not necessarily as a result of them.  In this way, there should always be more than one story occurring simultaneously throughout the course of a novel or a short story – the story of the character(s) and the story of the plot.

Rule #3
A story suffers from too much detail in the same way it can shrivel from a lack thereof.  Less can definitely be more, and while this doesn't necessarily equate to ambiguity, I'd rather err on the side of concealing than revealing.  It is always best for the author to know more about his or her characters and plot than the reader.  Not only does this encourage readers to participate in fleshing out the characters, but it also allows them to insert themselves into the guise of these fictional people, filling in the gaps with themselves.  This challenges their thinking not only about the characters but also themselves when the plot forces the characters to make unexpected decisions.  Stories are “realities lived and believed, after all.

So that's my philosophy on what I do.  It's a fluid concept, certainly, and bound to evolve as I pursue more publication in the future.  The story germ interacts uniquely with the soil of experience, after all, and as I grow as a person, I'll inevitably grow as an author simultaneously.  It's almost like living two lives.

Hey, that might make a good story...