A word on the blog

I'm using this blog as a workspace to post rough drafts of content: essays, stories, poems, jokes. Pardon the messiness, and the awfulness.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Lord, Change My Attitude: To Action

To sum up James MacDonald's Lord, Change My Attitude, there are five recurring negative attitudes that human beings must own up to and there are five positive attitudes that God promises will serve us better. The five negative attitudes are complaining, coveting, criticizing, doubting, and rebelling. Complaining is being upset with your situation and not doing anything about it to solve it. I know this one: I just found out that I live in a place with termites. Now I've got two options: get out of Dodge or get an exterminator on the case. I called an exterminator. I should have contacted the exterminator a long time ago to fumigate the place, but seeing as the place isn't mine, I thought better of it. The truth, of course, is that the termites have probably been here for a while, and I'm just now saying them. I've got to get the exterminator on the case tomorrow and not complain about it.

The second negative attitude, coveting, sounds like an old-fashioned word to modern ears, but in plain English it's really just wanting too much or wanting the wrong thing. We're all prone to this. I buy so many books the termites in the house could eat for years. There's no reason for me to have so many books. I've got two eyes, and weak ones at that. Why would I need 100 books?

The third negative attitude is criticizing. This is talking about a person just to talk about them. I could go to another person and seek help for someone else, but my talking about them is only criticizing if I'm not seeking help. MacDonald is bright to point out, though, that only in the most extreme cases should we be interfering, anyway, so this naturally limits the amount of times we ought to be talking about another person at all. If the person is severely mentally or physically ill, if the person is in harm's way, if the person is at risk of harming others, those are all cases to tell someone and help out. Otherwise, there's no reason.

The fourth negative attitude is doubt. It's common for us to fear that things won't work out, that the world doesn't have anything in store for us or that such-and-such a move in life is risky. And maybe of the possible paths before us, the one we want to go down is risky. In that case, we should pray for discernment. We may still make the wrong decision. In fact, it's very likely that we will make plenty more poor decisions in life. In those cases, we learn from our mistakes and pray that God helps us in the future. To doubt, especially to doubt in excess, is to not move forward.

The fifth and final negative attitude is rebelling. There are times God tells us a decision, a way of thinking, an act, whatever, is right, and we don't want to follow. But this is to our own detriment. God wants what is best for us, and we have to trust in that and be obedient to his will.

Now, at the risk of repeating myself, I won't go through all the positive attitudes step-by-step, but I will point out that each of the above negative attitudes has a corresponding positive attitude. The antidote to complaining is being grateful. We work to solve our problems and we be thankful for the rest. The antidote to coveting is being content. As the Beatles said, all you need is love, which in addition to clothes and food and water and a decent place to live and some money is right. And speaking of love, it's love that replaces a critical attitude. We're called to follow God's greatest command, which is to love God and love people. Doubt, we replace with faith, trusting in God that he will do his work through us, and we choose not to rebel against his will, however tough things may be, but we be obedient to him instead.

And that's MacDonald's book.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Lord, Change My Attitude: To Submission

Quick note: The tenth chapter of Lord, Change My Attitude by James MacDonald concerns changing a rebellious attitude into what MacDonald calls "an attitude of submission." I have nothing against the word submission, per se, but outside of religious context, it can sound bad. Also, it seems that obedience is a better match as antithesis to rebellion, and the Bible's passages are clearer regarding what obedience means as opposed to submission. Paul tells us we ought "to bring about the obedience of faith" in ourselves and others, that it's "the command of the eternal God" (Romans 16:26). The book of Isaiah says, "If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land" (Isaiah 1:19). Of course it's the case that rather than rebel against the will of God, we ought to follow it, and we ought to do our best to discern what that will is, through prayer, through practice, through faith, through friends and family.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Lord, Change My Attitude: Rebellion

In Lord, Change My Attitude, James MacDonald puts it this way: Rebellion is "knowing what God wants me to do and refusing to do it." "We all," he writes, "have rebellion in our hearts. All of us have areas in our lives where we have chosen not to do what we know to be right. All of us know more than we are doing." When God saw that the Hebrews were disobedient and rebelled against his word, he became angry and swore to keep them out of the Promised Land, saying, "Not one of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your ancestors" (Deuteronomy 1:34). God was especially angry at the Hebrew people because they thought they could wage an easy battle. God said, "All of you strapped on your battle gear, and thought it easy to go up into the hill country." But God had warned them, "Do not go up and do not fight, for I am not in the midst of you; otherwise you will be defeated by your enemies." God reported the result, saying "you would not listen. You rebelled against the command of the Lord and presumptuously went into the hill country. The Amorites who lived in that hill country then came out against you and chased you as bees do" (Deuteronomy 1:41-45). Thus began years for the younger generation wandering in the desert.

This battle the Hebrews was judged rebellious because God said he was "not in the midst" of them. For whatever reason, God either was not supporting the Hebrews on this mission or they did not take the proper steps to get God's support for the mission. Maybe they hadn't even petitioned God to see what he thought. In any case, the generation written about in Deuteronomy failed to get an accurate picture of themselves before proceeding. In Lord, Change My Attitude, MacDonald warns that several times we adopt a rebellious attitude because we're not seeing ourselves clearly. MacDonald writes:
Often people desire a position, but they don't respect the process. They want the opportunity, but they don't realize the work and energy that's gone into getting to that place. They covet the results without recognizing the requirements. You don't roll out of bed some morning and become a leader in any sphere in society. Leadership requires a lot of work and a lot of apprenticeship. There's a lot of brokenness and a lot of trying, failing, and trying again.
 I find I'm rebellious in this way. I have dreams of writing great works and yet I can barely produce a sentence. Before writing great works, it would be better to write something. Most days, very little ink is left on paper. This journaling here becomes a distraction from accomplishing what needs to be done, which is producing short stories for my MFA. Right now, I've got some busted drafts and very few ideas how to revise them. What new material I've written is paltry. Basically, either a new story or a revised story has to be finished by tomorrow. How? And from what? From these paper scraps? I pray to God I get some good rest tonight and apart from church spend all day working on writing and writing alone--perhaps with a little reading in there for a pick-me-up.

Even, it seems, the words above are a reflection, somewhat, of the rebellion. This hum-hawing about finishing work and the discouragement are natural, my advisor tells me, to the process. I am not the first to bear this kind of cross, and it's a cross I must bear if I'm to write good stories. I don't have much for natural talent when it comes to writing stories, honestly. But I believe that if I will myself, if I put in the time and the work, I'll be able to do it.

I wish I had a more hopeful ending to this entry, but I don't. So be it. Again, I only pray that I will keep my rebellious attitude in check so that I can do the work that needs to be done, not only regarding writing, but the other finer things of life, my love for JM, friends, family, and God. I'm a slow learner, and in many areas I have an undisciplined mind, not least with the business of living.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Lord, Change My Attitude: To Faith

In Lord, Change My Attitude, James MacDonald calls faith "the capacity to trust." The Bible tells us "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible" (Hebrews 11:1-3). To repeat a proverb from the previous chapter, faith sees the opportunity; doubt sees the obstacles. Having faith that everything will work out is a mindset, just as the inverse is the mindset. We are called to have faith that God will provide for us. This is not so easy. We experience hardships every day. Some people's hardships are obviously more cumbersome than others. In those situations, we must help others just as we must do what we're able to help ourselves.

The book of James makes it clear: faith without works is dead. Inert faith is dead. Having the right beliefs and no corresponding actions does not profit anyone. James writes, "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you say to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:14-16). This is a huge calling, this call to help others, and there's no equivocation about it in the Bible. James goes on, "But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith" (2:18-19). Being active in this world, doing good for the good of others, is the demonstration of faith. There can be no idle optimists. There ought to be no idle Christians.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Lord, Change My Attitude: Doubt

In the seventh chapter of Lord, Change My Attitude, James MacDonald writes, "Doubt is a lack of assurance that God will keep His promises." What are God's promises?
My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
No weapons that is formed against your will prosper (Isaiah 54:17).
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).
God promises to provide for our needs, protect us, and give us what we need when we walk uprightly. We doubt when we don't trust in God's promises.

The choice between doubt and faith is a choice between how the world looks to us. As MacDonald puts it, "Faith sees the opportunity; doubt sees the obstacles. What you see is what you get." The Bible tells us "If you believe, you will see the glory of God" (John 11:40). We all live in the same world, but when we doubt God's grace, we fail to see the mystery behind the people we encounter and the places where we stay.

I have doubt myself, about my own abilities. I write this having stepped away from a story I am too afraid to write. The story is fiction but it's true enough.

It's strange, by the way, that fiction is held in so little regard in word, yet what most of what people know of war and love is through film (fiction), the earliest morals they learn is through little hardbacked storybooks (fiction), and the TV shows that pass the time are mostly imaginary characters' dramas (again, fiction). The storyteller bears an enormous responsibility. He has to find a way to take familiar people and situations and reveal some deeper mystery about them that seems so true that we think we've always had that thought! If it works well, the thought never consciously occurs to us. It's more a feeling, a feeling that the world has always looked to us that way. And in this way, the storyteller is a conjurer, a magician, because if he's not careful, he may deceive. He might by the end have you feeling like the false way he sees things is how you see it, too, and if this falseness is negative, then now you're carrying around a negative worldview in your head. I bet, for instance, that most of the people who watched Walter White's evil turn in Breaking Bad adopted, in the process, something of his negative conscience. Good fiction can have you sympathizing with the devil.

My goals are not to mislead and right now are more modest than revealing the deeper mysteries. Of course, when I redraft the stories, I have to be self-conscious of what kind of worldview I want to represent, but not too self-conscious, otherwise I'd be preaching. Writing stories is not about preaching but perceiving through observation, looking at what's true for everyone in the very particulars of life, as simple as watching a glass of iced tea sweat on a hot day and feel your own body sweating.

If there's anything I need to pray for, it's the practical wisdom to move forward with the early story drafts I'm working on. Fortunately, the Bible advises, "If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord" (James 1:5-8). I've got to trust in God that he'll help me do my work. God gives generously and ungrudgingly of his wisdom. That is another of God's promises.

--Now how is it I'm able to write all this and struggle with fiction? I have two guesses as to why. One, I have had a lot of practice with writing essays, and therefore I've put in the time, done the exercise, and so it feels easier to me. The other reason I struggle less with this is because I can imagine an audience, a friend who is reading, a friendly reader. Hello.