Friday, August 17, 2018

Reflections: It Doesn't Get Easier

One of the activities that took part of my time away from writing this spring was training for my first half marathon.

Don't ask me what I was thinking when I signed up for it. I was always the kid in gym class who hated running, and while I've run a 5k most summers for the past few years, I've never called myself a runner. I'm someone who runs, not a runner. (There's a difference. Or at least there was before I hit double digit mileage).

A friend and I decided to sign up to celebrate her college graduation and so I found myself freezing in a picnic shelter on a 15 degree morning in January with about 100 random strangers who were all smiling and getting ready to run. They had a bunch of hi-tech gear and didn't seemed bothered by the cold. There was a guy training for the Boston Marathon, a few retirees who looked like they could kick my butt in just about any sport, and an entire other assortment of strangers who looked like they were born to eat up the mileage.

Meanwhile, I was thinking of my warm car, the fact I had skipped my coffee that morning, and trying not to compare my gear with everyone else's. It consisted of a pair of off-brand sneakers from a local supermarket, discount workout pants that I hadn't tested yet, two old sweatshirts, a homemade wool hat, and a ten year old bargain brand fleece jacket. I was still freezing in spite of the sweat percolating underneath all the layers.

The terror of being there was real. By nature, I'm an introvert--and by introvert, I mean, "can go three days without seeing people and be perfectly fine" and "would rather exile myself to a desert island than have to go to social events".

I found a pace group that I thought I would fit in with (it was the second slowest running group, so it was mostly retirees who were talking about how many marathons they were going to do that year) and tried to smile.

The groups started leaving and I began to trundle down the icy, snow covered park path with the other crazy people. In spite of having been trying to get in shape for the previous couple of months, the cold air felt like it was knifing my lungs and the pace group was a push for me. I spent the last 2.5 miles of my 3 mile run chanting to myself, "Warm shower, hot coffee. Warm shower, hot coffee..."  At the end, I collapsed in my car, turned the heat on full blast, and tried to warm up from my sweat-soaked bargain clothes.

And I had to train to run 10.1 more miles.

It seemed impossible, but I figured I wouldn't judge the effort off of the first run I did. It would get easier, right?

A few months later, each run was still hard. The darn things just kept getting longer! Now I was running 5 miles two evenings a week over still-icy pathways and my weekend mileage was climbing. The first day it was warm, it rained so hard that water was running off my elbows and I had to slog through puddles that came up to my ankles. In spite of the 60 degree temperatures, I was colder than that first run. The next week, I face planted in the middle of a street and bruised my knee so I couldn't run for a week (which really sucked because the weather was finally nice).

Then came the moment I had secretly feared: my longest run to date. When you've only ever run 6 miles, 8 is terrifying. And due to traveling on the weekend, I opted to run it alone. I plugged in my earbuds and tried my best to jam out as I ran through campus--deserted,since all the students were on break. Used to the cold, I had dressed too warmly and I was panting for the last 3 miles, trying to tough it out. I was rewarded by the feeling of euphoric runner's high and I let out a shout of victory when I got back to the car. My knee buckled out from under me and I still grinned. It had finally gotten easier! I was finally enjoying running! I mean, sure, the cotton-dry mouth had sucked, but I had gotten a runner's high. 7 miles in I had belted out the words to "Walking on the Sun" as I came down the home stretch. It was great! I was going to do this!

I stretched out, then climbed in the car. At first, I thought it was just the runner's high wearing off, but the fuzzy feeling in my head could only mean one thing: my blood sugar had bottomed out. Even though it was only a ten mile drive home, I felt terrible and had to fight just to stay focused on the road. I rushed in the house, feeling nauseated and light-headed, hoping I didn't pass out before I could get some sugar in me.

I was out of juice (my go-to pick me up) so I resorted to eating sugar cubes. The fuzzy feeling abated and my ears slowly stopped buzzing and my hands stopped shaking.

And then disaster struck. I ran to the bathroom and vomited up all the sugar cubes I had just eaten.

10 minutes later, my sugar crashed again.

Cue more sugar cubes.

Barfing.

Repeat for two hours.

But wasn't it supposed to get easier? Wasn't running supposed to be easier now than on that first cold morning? Why was it still so hard, even when I just did 2 mile "recovery" runs? (And who decided, "Hey, you know what people training for a half marathon want the day after running insane mileage? More running! Yeah, that's a great idea!" 'Cause I officially don't like that person.)

I seriously doubted my ability to run the race after that night and, if I hadn't been running it with a friend, I'm sure I would have backed out after that night.

The next few runs I went on, I was scared and dispirited. I didn't want every run over 6 miles to feel so miserable--after all, I had a lot of them left. That's when someone mentioned in passing, "You know, it doesn't get easier--you get stronger."

That thought changed my whole training mentality and I'm trying to let it seep into the rest of my life, too.

No matter how bad or good of shape you're in, it still takes effort to run 5 miles. What changes is that you become stronger to get there. The run, the circumstances, don't get any easier. They don't change; you do.

You can draw on all those scraped knees, missed quiz questions, and bad days to become stronger. It won't make it easier when your car breaks down twice within a week of moving while work is a disaster. Rather, you'll be strong enough to handle it (even if there is a little maniacal laughter along the way). And, if you aren't strong enough to handle it, God's still there for you.

Long story short (we'll omit a few more scraped knees and one black toenail), I finished my half marathon with a pained smile on my face and doubled over two steps after the finish line, exhausted, but stronger than I was back in January. And yes, half of my equipment was still from the supermarket, if you're wondering.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Mere Christianity: The Reality of the Law

As an aside: If you, by chance, are moving and happen to be without internet for a few weeks and have posts planned to auto-post, it pays to double-check that they will actually post themselves for you, rather than leaving your readers hanging for a better part of the month. Sorry for the gap, folks! Regular posting will resume Friday.

In this chapter, Lewis returns to his argument that humans, though they know how they ought to behave, behave differently, which is different than the other laws of nature (such as gravitation). Furthermore, he puts forward the notion that these differences are born not of necessity or personal convenience. For example, "I am not angry...with a man who trips me up by accident; I am angry with a man who tries to trip me up even if he does not succeed." Why should one be different than the other? Lewis points back to the natural law, or Law of Human Behavior as the rule by which we judge the world.

Discussion:

Lewis states: "...the behavior we call bad or unfair is not exactly the same as the behaviour we find inconvenient and may even be the opposite." How do you argue that we should do things that are not always convenient and may even be hurtful in the moment (such as telling the truth)? Do you ever find this hard to do?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Mere Christianity: The Law of Human Nature and Some Objections

Summary


These are the first chapters that truly get into the meat of the book. In chapter 1 (The Law of Human Nature), Lewis argues for the existence of God by stating that we all, when in an argument, appeal to a law greater than ourselves, whether we are conscious of it or not. We appeal to fairness, or, in a greater sense, right over wrong. While we might argue, for instance, that we can cut in line because we have more pressing matters than the person we cut in front of, it is a rare person who argues that the rules of not cutting in line don't matter. 

Lewis argues that this instinct or urge must come from somewhere and that it is similar across all cultures. (He supposedly delves into this more in The Abolition of Man, which I haven't gotten around to reading yet; it sounds like an interesting read). Lewis further points out that, unlike other natural laws (such as gravity), this law of morality is not universally followed, though it is universally acknowledged. We might appeal to fairness, but we try to find ways to get out of being fair when it benefits us. Rather than saying that fairness doesn't matter, we still try to uphold it, even though we know we're going to fail. It's a rather peculiar thing that I'd never thought about much.

 In the second chapter (Some Objections), Lewis addresses some well-thought counterarguments to his position. First, he points out that one might argue that this law of morality is merely a herd instinct. However, what happens when morality comes into conflict with another instinct (such as the need for food)? How does one instinct win out over the other? Mustn't there be a third inclination (the moral law) that judges between the two which is appropriate? Otherwise, why would people rush to someone's aid who is calling for help (or at least feel they ought to go help, even if they don't)?

The other counterargument he addresses is that the law of morality is merely a taught convention. He firstly points out the similarities between moral standards across cultures as compared to other standards (such as dress or which side of the road is appropriate to drive on). Then he argues that, even if morality is taught, it is more akin to mathematics than anything else. Truth about the moral law can be discovered and implemented, judged against one's internal conscience. If you say that many moralities are better than that which the Nazis held, what standard do you judge it against? Your own? Do you merely prefer it, or do you truly think it right? Most people would say they are convinced of their own morality mirroring a true morality--again, a comparison to a "gold" or true standard.

Discussion

Where do you think conscience comes from? What role does it play in our walk with God and does it change if we are Christians? If so, how?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Author Interview with Joan Campbell

Give a warm welcome to Joan Campbell, South African author of The Poison Tree Path Chronicles.
Book 3, Guardian of Ajalon is set to release in September (Click here to preorder). In the meantime, you can check out Chains of Gwyndorr (review or purchase) or Heirs of Tirragyl (review or purchase).



The Poison Tree Path Chronicles are traditionally published through Enclave, a small Christian publishing house. What made you choose this route of publication? What makes it challenging or rewarding?

It wasn’t so much that I chose this route as that this was the door that opened for me. I had approached some publishers in South Africa, but the Christian book market is quite a small one and there wasn’t an interest in niche fantasy books. The bigger Christian publishing houses in the States also weren’t interested because I didn’t have a ‘platform’ or following. But Steve Laube of Enclave liked the manuscript and he was the one who finally offered me a contract. My biggest challenge is probably that I live so far away from my main audience in the USA. It’s difficult to do book giveaways with cute prizes, like so many other authors do, or meet up with readers and fellow writers at conferences and events.


 How did growing up in South Africa influence the Poison Tree Path Chronicles? Do you have other life experiences that influence your writing significantly?

A theme that emerged in the books (particularly the first book, Chains of Gwyndorr) is that of class division and discrimination, and also the resentment and hatred that this could foster in the victims thus perpetuating the cycle of hatred. These are very much elements that I see playing out in my own society. I guess a lot of my own personal struggles also play out into the lives of my characters. For instance, the way Shara is drawn to using the alluring Cerulean Dusk Dreamer rock to discover more about her past reflects some of my own temptation to fill the empty places inside myself with the things of the world. 

How does your faith play a role in your writing? Do you ever struggle to balance storytelling and faith? 

My Christian faith and the joy I find in my relationship with God is a large influence in my writing. I see now that this is the bedrock of many of my stories—God’s love for us and our incredible worth in His eyes and the great lengths that He goes to in order to draw us into a relationship with Him. At times I have struggled with the balance of storytelling and faith. I don’t want my writing to feel contrived and forced to impart a specific—Christian—message. First and foremost I want my books to be great stories, which readers can enjoy whether they discern a deeper meaning or not. In this I had to learn to trust myself. My beliefs are such a core part of who I am that they will come through in my writing – I don’t have to force it.


What's your writing routine/habit like? (Do you have a certain time or way you like to write, or just write as inspiration strikes?)

I’m a pretty slow writer really. Somehow late afternoon has turned into a good time to write. So on days where I’m free (I aim for at least 3 afternoons a week) I make myself a coffee at about 4pm and sit down (usually outside) with my laptop and read the last section I wrote. This gets me back into the flow of the story. Then I just immerse myself in the story and begin to write, seeing where it takes me. I don’t do all much planning, although I do have a broad idea of where I want to take my characters. But I enjoy being surprised by my own plot and characters – that’s what keeps the writing fresh and interesting for me. I don’t like writing under pressure which is why NaNoWriMo would never work for me. Rather, I love the slow, gentle and creative unfolding of a tale – the artistry and magic of storytelling.


And finally, if you found yourself alone in a dark, scary alley, what fictional book character would you summon to help you and why?

Without a doubt it would be Lohlyn, my character from Heirs of Tirragyl and the secret protector of the queen. She has incredible reflexes and, in one scene, takes on a whole unit of soldiers. Her father was one of the Charab (King’s assassins) who are known to have unrivaled skills with bows, knives and pretty much anything sharp. He trained his daughter to be as good as—if not better—than the male assassins. So Lohlyn would be fantastic to have at your side in a scary situation!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Mere Christianity: Introduction

Welcome to the Mere Christianity read-along. I'll be covering one-two chapters each post, approximately one to two times a week. This week we'll be covering the Preface and discussing the context of the book. In addition to the book, I may occasionally reference The Great Courses: Life and Writings of C.S. Lewis by Professor Louis Markos. 

Preface and Background

Mere Christianity is a bit of a different book. It's heady and theological (don't come into it expecting it to read like The Chronicles of Narnia), but it also has a curiously familiar and conversational quality to it. No doubt this is partly due to the fact that is adapted from C.S. Lewis' audio talks over the BBC radio from 1941-1944, during the height of WWII. The result is a conversational book that tackles tough topics in an understandable way. The times also show through in the book; references to military action and analogies to war are quite common and likely would have struck a chord with listeners (and later, readers).

In the preface, Lewis starts out with a somewhat long summary of how he decided to edit the book--it's obvious he put an extraordinary amount of thought into it, even obsessing over contractions--but he then gives way to a much more intriguing discussion on his reasoning behind the book. He has set out to explain Christianity in its most basic form--something that anyone who calls himself a Christian can agree on. He explains that he has deliberately tried to avoid controversial issues and leave those to the reader to understand. I find it particularly encouraging that he sent the most heavy theological portion of the book to members of other denominations to be reviewed (Lewis himself was an Anglican).

He ends with a fantastic opinion on denominations, which you can find in the discussions below. I have frequently referenced the analogy in discussion with friends and it has helped a couple understand my position (a firm member of a denomination who believes its doctrines are true and correct while also understanding that others must be fully convinced of their own convictions).

Discussion One

Lewis writes: "It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men's hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense...We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning. The name Christians  was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to 'the disciples', to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles...When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian."

How does judging a person's salvation differ from judging their actions? When is it acceptable to judge someone's actions if they're a Christian? What if they're not a Christian? How do you address these situations if they think they need to be addressed?

Discussion Two

Lewis writes on denominations: "It (basic or mere Christianity) is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms...The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in...above all, you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: 'Do I like that kind of service?' but 'Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?'...When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall."

What role should denominations play in Christianity? Is there a good reason for them? How should we address differences in the church? How did you choose your personal denomination? Is being non-denominational its own kind of organization, statement, or theology? If Christianity doesn't have denominational organization, how should it be organized?

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Book Hound is Back!

After a long and (mostly) unintentional hiatus, the Book Hound is back--hopefully without any further significant interruptions for the foreseeable future. However, as I mentioned in my last (woefully inaccurate) update, I'll be dropping to one post a week (usually Fridays) just to make it more manageable on myself. Life's gotten a little bit busy lately, but I still want to continue to spread word of great Christian Speculative Fiction.

That being said, there are things outside the Christian Spec Fic genre that I want to read (or in the genre that I want to re-read). That means that it's going to be difficult for me to post a review of a new book every single week.

Since I'm taking a hiatus for a while from novel writing, that means I need something new to fill in the gaps left between reviews (after all, I can't talk about my half marathon experience every day or my baking adventures every day, or even the craziness that is living on call every time I need to post).

So, for the next few months, I'm going to be hosting a "Summer of C.S. Lewis" read-along. I'm going to be starting with Mere Christianity  and then we'll take it from there. On read-along weeks, I'll post my thoughts on a chapter (or two), then a few discussion questions, favorite quotes from the chapter, etc. We'll see how long it takes to get through Mere Christianity and if we're liking the format, then maybe move onto another Lewis book or something else entirely.

Thanks so much for your patience! If you've emailed me in the last few months, please know that I'll be working to catch up on missed emails over the next couple of weeks.

I'll see you next Friday for the introduction to Mere Christianity!


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Hound Dog Harmonies: 30 Pieces of Silver

We're back after an unintentionally long hiatus! I originally intended to post this for Holy Week, but it's still technically the Easter season, so I guess I'm not that far off.

Song: 30 Pieces of Silver

Artist: Theocracy

Genre: Christian Metal

Listening Suggestion: Car jam session that's willing to take an introspective turn.

Selected Lyrics

What’s the price you’ve named?
Well is it money, power, acceptance, or fame?
When all the world is asking you to sell your soul
And to deny the cross for silver and for gold
The kiss of Judas or the bended knee?
Vainglory or humility?
The ultimate goal

All the treasure in the world so blinding
30 pieces of silver shining
Tell me what’s the price you seek
To place the kiss of death upon His cheek?

You can find the whole song on YouTube if you're interested.

The Long

This is the song that made me fall in love with Theocracy. Like so many of their songs, it's a little heavy on the thrashiness at points, but it also has some better driving guitar lines. 

Most importantly, however, it has some lyrics that stopped me in my tracks and made me take a long, hard look at my soul in a way that Christian music rarely does.

So often during Holy Week, it's easy to point our fingers and scratch our heads at Judas. This guy walked with Jesus himself. Knew him. Ate with him. Was one of his closest friends. 

And then, he decides to out him for a measly price at the first chance he gets. And not just out him--but hand him over to be killed in one of the most brutal forms of execution ever invented. What was this guy thinking?

And then we stop, pause, and take a turn inward. If we were in Judas' shoes (or perhaps sandals, as it were), what would our price be? 

And, like Peter, we cry that we would never deny the Lord. That we would die for Him. 

Until we think about that unkind word we said to our coworker, or the places our thoughts strayed that they should never have gone, or the dark desires of our hearts that come along when we don't expect it. And then we remember every time we've not shared Christ's love, every time we've put our own desires before taking time for God, every time we've failed. 

Every time we've cashed in our 30 pieces of silver.