Saturday, March 25, 2017

What's the best part of being an author?

Well, for me there are multiple “best parts” about writing, especially writing fiction. I enjoy getting to indulge the world of my imagination and doing my best to turn it into a temporary facsimile of reality for my readers. I want to write scenes that make the reader laugh out loud in the library, and tales so gripping they miss their bedtimes. I enjoy constructing dialogs, events, tragedies, successes, failures, and joys for my characters. My own viewpoints and biblical principles often come through the mouths and lives of the characters I create—hopefully without becoming preachy.

The research is fun, too. I don’t know how other authors do it, but my research is very targeted, and generally (though not always) tied to the Internet. Whether it is searching for the tail number of a particular F-16, or a realistic Russian name, or what day of the week a certain date in the future is, or discovering what indigenous peoples live on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, or what sort of prairie grasses grow in Iowa, I enjoy hunting for that one piece of information I can drop into a sentence to make the story as authentic and realistic as possible. After all the military and weapons research, and the FBI, CIA, NSA, KGB, and GRU research I did for the Falcon trilogy, I’d be surprised if I’m not on some sort of NSA or CIA watchlist. The result is that nearly every detail of a C. H. Cobb novel actually exists—every road, every restaurant, every description of a weapon, or a location, or a historical event. I can usually count the details that I invent out of whole cloth in any given book on one hand.

Sometimes when I need a particular ambiance for the whole story, my research is more general. For The Candidate I read books on presidential campaigns, The Federalist Papers, and a host of governmental, academic, and journalist reports, and legal decisions, on aspects of the U.S. government, Constitution, education policy, etc. For the Falcon trilogy, to get some background on the secretive GRU, I read Inside the Aquarium, The Making of a Top Soviet Spy, by Victor Suvorov (a pseudonym). I also read a number of books on the US Navy SEALS.

I enjoy writing with an agenda—seeking to explode ill-conceived myths and constructs of the modern day and the progressive cultural scene. I write with a self-conscious underlying platform of a biblical Christian worldview. Although my stories do have Christian characters, I object to some of the contemporary Christian fiction in which the believers are all good folks, the unbelievers are all dishonest, and someone always gets saved. That simply does not correspond with reality, or the believer’s pedigree shown in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 or Paul’s self disclosure in Romans 7 or 1 Timothy 1:15.

I prefer making unbelievers my protagonist heroes and presenting non-Christians as flourishing under Common Grace, with sins and all. The believers in my stories stumble, fall, succeed, fail, and sin, just as we experience in real life. Painting on a canvas that more closely approximates reality as everyone experiences it means that the reader can connect with the problems, as well as with the wise characters who come alongside in the story to help and shed light on a situation.

The goal of my writing is to cause the unbelieving reader to start asking difficult questions of his own worldview, and to put him on a trail of breadcrumbs that might one day lead to the Gospel.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Editor of the Babylon Bee stung in early morning raid

Muleshoe, TX – In a stunning pre-dawn raid, a strike team composed of EPA and FDA agents arrested Calvin Johns, editor of the Babylon Bee. He was charged with butchering sacred cows without a license and was taken into custody. A federal judge refused to set bail, indicating Johns had not displayed the slightest remorse.

“Johns has been butchering sacred cows for several years,” the lead agent for the FDA claimed. “He’s left carcasses all over the place. It’s a health risk. When you witness the heartbreak and disillusionment experienced by the poor owners of those sacred cows, it’s a wonder that Justice does not charge him with hate crimes.”

Millennials Michael Servetus and his wife Arminy were standing over their deceased bovine, weeping, but agreed to comment on the arrest. “It’s about time someone arrested that guy. He’s so cruel! We loved our sacred cow. We worshiped our sacred cow,” Servetus said, dabbing at his eyes with a tissue. Mrs. Servetus interrupted, “No, not worshiped, Michael. Venerated. We venerated our cow. There is a difference.”

“Oh, right. We venerated Bossie.” The couple refused further comment and got into their vehicle, intending to shop for another sacred cow.

The EPA agent at the scene was disgusted. “This is another Love Canal. There’s doctrine rotting all over the place. The smell is awful. At the very least, Johns could have cleaned up his mess. Instead, he just left the guts of sacred cows right where they lay, for all to see. It’s ugly, you know?”

PETA was reportedly filing an amicus brief with the court, asking the prosecutor to press for the death penalty. “Sacred cows have just as much right to life as any human,” the spokeswoman said. “Johns is setting a terrible precedent here. Not only is there the problem of all these poor butchered cows, but we are also concerned that people could start abandoning their cows. Those poor cows could starve to death without proper attention. Johns is clearly bovinophobic. The planet would be better off without him.”

Unnamed sources claimed that Johns was pressing for a plea bargain, in which he would agree to stop slaughtering cows so long as he could gore oxen. Prosecutors are refusing to comment.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Review of Getty's Facing a Task Unfinished

Theologically meaty and precise. Devotionally moving. Aerobically challenging. A hint of bluegrass with a touch o’ the Irish—or perhaps visa-versa. An all-nations flavor, with perhaps emphasis on the bluegrass and Irish. 

The selections range from a night-club style of relaxed music highlighting Kristyn’s vocal talent (“Consider the Stars”), to a blue-grass jamfest—music for the sheer joy of it—that reminds me of a strings version of Dueling Banjos ( “Beyond These Shores”). Some selections you want to dance to (or rather run to, if you’re me—such as “Living Waters”), some selections you want to hand to a brother or sister burdened by problems with identity (“My Worth is not in What I Own”), or with the grief of loss (“He Will Hold Me Fast”). The weakest track on the album is an African piece (“O Children Come”) but that judgment is merely a matter of personal preferences, not performance or excellence, and the track contributes mightily to the glorious all-nations flavor of the whole.

The instrumentation ranges from standard folk/bluegrass, guitars, bass, banjos, viola/violin, hammered dulcimer, drums, to rather exotic (various eastern instruments, including a Chinese Guzheng). The album is performed live, which is usually my least-favorite recording situation—but it works and works really well on this outstanding Getty offering. It’s fun to hear the crowd whooping it up, clapping, and adding a spontaneous response to the music.

I have become addicted to this album—listening to it invariably becomes a worship experience. Highly Recommended!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Lucky Socks

Have you ever noted the curious superstitions of athletes? “I wore this particular hat last Saturday night, and on Sunday we beat New England. I’m going to wear that same hat this Saturday.” Or, “these are my lucky socks. I wear ‘em for every game!

Sounds silly, right? Except, that’s exactly what many of us do as pastors. Pastor XYZ’s ministry is blessed by God, and so he assumes it has something to do with him. He analyzes and then packages “his success,” writes a book about it, and before long his clones are running around, wearing his “lucky socks,” thinking that God will bless them, too, because they’ve adopted Pastor XYZ’s secrets.

Now it’s pretty easy to sit back and throw rocks at Pastor XYZ (and his clones). But what about me? What about those of us who are pastoring little churches that will never grow up and become big churches? What about those of us who don’t have the exegetical or pulpit skills, or the administrative abilities, or the charisma, or the social skills to sustain a large ministry? We often have precisely the same problem as Pastor XYZ. Our self-pitying attitude, our secret jealousy of Pastor XYZ, our disappointments in our ministries reveal that we think about success in exactly the same terms that Pastor XYZ does. We just haven’t found our lucky socks. [Full Disclosure: This post is written from me to me, in case you’re wondering. I’m just letting you listen in. Shhh!]

I’m sixty-one years old, and it’s only recently that I realize how wrong I have been about this preaching business. I bought the numbers racket hook-line-and-sinker when I was a young Bible college student, because it was heavily pushed in those days in the Pastoral Theology department of the college I attended—something I’ve come to see as grotesque theological malpractice.

What a far cry from our modern expert mentality is what we see in Scripture. There really aren’t that many highly skilled, highly successful people headlined in Scripture. There are a few—but not many. We don’t see success mavens selling their formulas, their lucky socks. But on the other hand, nor do we see Andrew sulking because he doesn’t get the good press that Peter does. (Upon further review, we do see the disciples asking, “who is the greatest?” I guess some things don’t change.)

In God’s book we see broken, timid, frequently ill Timothys, to whom are entrusted the crucial task of shepherding churches. He’d have not passed anyone’s personality profile for a successful pastor. But he is the one Paul hands the torch to in 2 Timothy: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:1–2, NASB95)

Success in ministry is not measured by any standard employed by business. It’s not measured by attendance, or conversions, or how many books you’ve written, or how many conferences you’re invited to speak at. Success in ministry looks like this: a love of Christ, long-term faithfulness, brokenness, a humility that promotes and serves others rather than self, a passionate loyalty to Scripture, a servant’s heart. A truly successful ministry seeks to reproduce that attitude in others—even if it winds up being just one or two others. It’s not a success susceptible to elaborate formulas or methodologies.

This kind of success won’t produce “the fastest growing church in the state.” No one will write an article about you. No one will be calling you to consult your opinion on the news. On the other hand, guard your heart, because this kind of success won’t nourish a heart that frets about those things, either.

We can (and should) learn to do what we do, better. We need to continue sharpening the axe with training, education, reading. We need to think creatively about ministry. But at the end of the day, God and God alone gives the increase.

Ain’t no such thing as lucky socks.