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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Harvest Waits for No One

For the last two days, I have picked raspberries in my backyard - lots of them! The plants have been in the ground here for four years, but this is the first really good harvest. For several years, we have been trimming tree branches, which has gradually allowed more sunlight for the raspberry plants. Last year I had to battle Japanese beetles, which nearly destroyed the plants. Early this spring, I dug around the plants to give them more ground to expand to. With the abundant rains, they grew like crazy. Four weeks ago when they bloomed, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were so many blossoms!

In the last week, I had been watching and waiting, and picking a few unripe ones because I couldn’t wait. But now, the berries are ripening. And they will wait for no one. If I don’t pick them, now, they will fall to the ground. And, I’ll have to check and pick every day for the next week until the first harvest is complete. I’m not the only one who has noticed, I have to fight with the squirrels and birds to get there first.

Most garden fruits and vegetables are that way. You have to harvest them at exactly the right time. And, when that time comes, you have to act because delay means loss.

The Bible uses agricultural analogies frequently. Modern-day farmers (I mean real farmers–not the corporation farm owners) and gardeners understand those analogies and teachings in a way that no one else can. If you have never dug in the dirt or sand with your hands, you’ve missed out on the tangible experience that God had in creating man. If you have never fought with weeds, weather, insects, deer, raccoons or birds for your crops, then you may not understand the parable of the sower quite as viscerally.

If you have never watched and waited for your trees’ fruit or your garden produce to ripen, then you have missed out on the full impact of God’s teaching about seedtime and harvest – especially the great end-time soul harvest. The cool thing about my raspberries is that they are called ever-bearing. That means there is an early harvest in June, but there is also an even better late harvest in September when the berries are even bigger and juicier because of the cooler temperatures.

Luke 10:2 Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

Monday, June 29, 2009

Spy Stories and Summer Silliness

All right, I confess! I love spy stories. As a kid, I adored Honey West and Harriet the Spy and Mission Impossible. When I wasn’t pretending to be a nun or a princess-knight in King Arthur’s court or a prairie girl, I wore my trench coat and carried my brother’s cap gun. My friends and I would range throughout their farms or the water tower hill in town running from the Germans or the Communists. I even made hiding spots in our house to escape from the secret police, or my brother, when he was looking for his cap gun.

I still love spy stories, only now they are called thrillers – even if I do have to shut my eyes for the most violent parts. My favorite spy story recipe includes: international travel (use foreigners in the U.S. as a substitute), hiding or chasing intrinsic to the plot, snooping on a government or other large corporation, and a daring rescue or escape. And for a nice high-stakes blend, some espionage or theft of top-secret documents that will save the world adds great flavor.

There are very few thrillers due out this summer. But there is a genuine “spy” movie coming out: G Force (about some high tech spy guinea pigs). I look forward to comparing it against my favorite recipe. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have to add a few more ingredients.

G-Force coming July 24.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Review: Between Wyomings

Between Wyomings: My God and an iPod on the Open Road should be required reading as a cautionary tale for anyone who may be set upon the pedestal of popular success. Through his leadership in the music industry, Mansfield fundamentally shaped, influenced and reflected the world of the Baby Boomers and beyond. Although born again in the 1980’s, he doesn’t fully recognize or let go of the showbiz world’s illusions until he makes the road trip described in Between Wyomings.

Every generation of successful artists will be faced with the same choices as Mansfield – even Christian artists. Jesus said in three of the four gospels, “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” He also said in Luke and Matthew, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Maybe it is a function of my age, but I enjoyed the non-linear progression of the book. The poetry and lyrics were a natural accompaniment to the story. I loved the disorderliness of Mansfield’s thoughts and crowding memories being set right by reflection and journey and relationship. This book may not be for everyone, but musicians, actors, filmmakers, writers and artists could all benefit from the insights that Ken Mansfield offers from his viewpoint on the "open road."

This book is published by Thomas Nelson and is available from Amazon.com

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Halfway Between Wyomings

Half-way through… Isn’t that a strange place to be? I am reading Between Wyomings by Ken Mansfield as part of Thomas Nelson’s book reviewer bloggers program. The only reason I chose it was because there was no fiction on their list of available reads and this looked to be the most interesting. Intrigued by the title, I saw that it was about the music business. I thought even if I didn’t enjoy it, my husband – a musician himself – might like it. Now halfway through it, I am absolutely engrossed.

Ken Mansfield tells the story his life’s journey in the framework of a God-inspired road trip with no specified destination. As he and his wife Connie drive in their van (named Moses) they take off from their home in Northern California and wind their way down to Los Angeles and beyond. In the process, Ken talks with God, revisits sites of his tragedies and triumphs, and recalls history, relationships and experiences in the music industry. And, it is this mix of recollections, King David-like arguments with God, present-time reality and scripture that make for such fascinating reading. This man lived and worked and breathed at the pinnacle of the Hollywood pop scene in the 60’s and 70’s, and then went on to work as producer with legendary country performers Waylon Jennings, Willy Nelson and Jessi Colter. He also suffered from the same high profile maladies as his many of high profile peers: drug addiction, financial ruin and a sojourn in New Age religion. But, because of the prayers and choices of his fourth wife, Connie, he found salvation in Jesus Christ in the 1980’s.

I like that this book meanders and winds its way through time and space with a poet’s taste for words. Although I’m tempted to say the book was really written for us baby-boomers, I am sure that anyone who has embarked on a spiritual journey with Jesus Christ will find rewards in reading Between Wyomings.

On Friday, I should have wrapped up my reading and will complete my review.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Stoning of Soraya M. – Part Two

At its heart, this movie is a human drama filled with tension, peril and hope – but it is also a true story that I felt strongly had to be told, a story the whole world needs to know.”– Director Cyrus Nowrasteh

There could be no better time than this Friday for this film’s release. At this moment, the women of Iran are at the forefront of the revolt against Iran’s unjust elections. And The Stoning of Soraya M. illustrates clearly what the people of Iran have been terrorized with and how powerful is the bravery of just one person telling the truth.

According to the film’s producers, the film’s subject “is incendiary: the thousands of women who are hounded, conspired against and murdered in cold blood around the world for so-called and often trumped-up ’crimes of dishonor,’ such as adultery or premarital sex. But the film’s treatment is universal, wrapped in a classic, gripping drama of one woman’s danger-fraught quest to bring the conniving evildoers in her remote village, who think they are acting with impunity, to global disgrace.”

The production notes continue: “From the beginning, Cyrus and Betsy made the decision to focus the tale’s suspense around Zahra, the savvy, outraged village woman who attempts to protect Soraya and ultimately tells her story in the hopes of saving others. Her quest for truth and justice amidst lies, betrayal and fraud became the driving force of the story. Meanwhile, Soraya and her accusers were etched as the two opposite poles of innocence and corruption between which each of the villagers must make a choice.”

To me, this message transcends the situation in Iran and other Islamic countries and should cause all of us to be vigilant about justice in our own backyards. As director Cyrus Nowrasteh said, “At its core this is a story that is very relatable, because it is about a conflict between a man and a woman and you connect to the characters in an emotional way as husband and wife.” Like the Apostle John, we need to examine ourselves and continue to look for the truth. We have huge problems with marital strife and abuse and injustice in our country. 1 John 1:8 (NKJV) “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” If we look at injustice in Iran and judge it without scrutinizing ourselves, we are hypocrites.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Times

Today is my parents’ 54th wedding anniversary. They were married in the 50’s in Madison, South Dakota just before my dad was sent to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. He had been drafted and played in the Army band.

For their honeymoon, my parents spent time in New York City going to all the hot jazz spots, including Birdland, which was pretty amazing for those two babes in the woods! Both of them were from rural areas and had met while at a small Lutheran college in Waverly, Iowa. But, my dad, a music lover and musician, was intrepid and they still remember that trip as a highlight of their lives. Of course – it was their honeymoon!

My husband and I watched Grease once again last night – Hollywood’s musical view of high school in the 50’s. My parents’ world and the Grease world were far apart in some ways, and very close in others. The stigma of being an unwed mother and unofficial hot rod car racing did represent certain norms across the entire country. But my parents and the students in their high schools were definitely not as disrespectful of adults as the Grease kids. It just wasn't done – because teachers, principals and parents simply wouldn't tolerate it. Those were the days of physical discipline – a reality missed in the movie.

However, the 50's era was a very special time, and its jazz, pop music style and dancing are great fun and still draw an audience. Perhaps, this music reminds us of a more innocent time – something our society may never recapture or value again.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Stoning of Soraya M. - Part One

In light of the recent election in Iran and in anticipation of next week’s film opening, I have begun reading the original novel, THE STONING OF SORAYA M. by Freidoune Sahebjam. Sahebjam, who died a little more than a year ago, had led a life fraught with danger as an Iranian-French journalist. Kidnapped and tortured by Islamic militants in Paris in 1979, he was rescued by French police and went underground. He slipped into Iran many times to cover stories there and was the first to break the news about Iran’s use of twelve to fourteen year old boys as soliders.

However, THE STONING OF SORAYA M. may one of his most important because it highlights a global problem – abuse of women by their husbands and corrupt justice systems that condone the men and condemn the women. Although this is a particularly gruesome story of an entire village’s complicity in a stoning, it happens in every country, every day. Christians and Muslims, Europeans and Africans, and yes! even Americans – all face this story, or even the convoluted reverse – where the husband is the victim.

To address this issue, the film website has a “GET INVOLVED” menu button. Anyone who desires to may register their name in support of a petition to the UN calling for women’s human rights.

And, in a more immediate way, readers in the Chicago area can help the Elgin Community Crisis Center. This organization averages one suicide call per day, and without immediate financial assistance will have to close on July 1. Supporters of the center are asking for 25,000 people to donate $10 in the next 24 hours. Contact Jeri Hodal at littlered1321@yahoo.com for more information.

Psalm 103:6 The LORD executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.

On Friday... more about the process of turning the book into a film, and a report on the Elgin Community Crisis Center.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Give and it shall be given back to you

There’s just something about kids and dogs, and sunshine, and green grass. Ahh… the beginning of summer when celebrations abound and a warm day is a treasure, and where babies and 99-year-old grandmas eat cake and ice cream together.

I am reading Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. The book, an autobiographical story, takes place in Iowa during the Great Depression. And, what I find amazing is that kids still enjoy the same things – sweet treats, running around outside, cuddling up on a lap and playing with animals; and, that multiple generations enjoy each others’ company. They all have something to give and receive from each other.

A happy family and friends’ celebration stokes the fires of peace and prosperity – even when the economy says different. A community that walks in love and care towards each other is recession-proof whether money and jobs do or do not abound. To me, every business decision is a community decision, and should be held to that standard – the larger the company, the more responsibility. And, if our communities took better care and more individual responsibility for each others’ well-being, our government would have much less to do. And, isn’t that really the idea?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Writing for Profit

I just began writing for Examiner.com as Chicago's Christian Fiction reporter. To that end I have written and posted two reviews, one for Distant Echoes by Colleen Coble and the other for Face of Deception by Lis Wiehl. I enjoyed both books and felt confident recommending them. Unlike past writing jobs, I don't get paid by the word or project but by the number of hits on the articles themselves. With so many journalists and writers being laid off and publications closing, this payment method certainly takes the burden of marketing off the employer and, in that sense, forces writers to reach their audiences on their own.

I wonder where all this Internet social media communication flood will end, and I now have some grave concerns about how much more vulnerable we as a society are becoming. Newspapers and magazines don't require electricity to read, and are not dependent on a cable or satellite. What I hope is that somehow after the chaos of the economic crisis and digital conversion, we will still have a fair amount of printed newspapers and magazines that remain well-staffed and viable.

But, for the sake of blatant self-promotion and economic survival, here is a link to my examiner page, please enjoy!


Monday, June 8, 2009

Don’t like the ending? Look online!

With the publishing world in an undeniable state of change, Michael Hyatt, Thomas Nelson Publishing’s tech-savvy CEO, is taking the bull by the horns by experimenting with digital delivery. A few weeks ago, he and author Colleen Coble offered to readers, via Twitter, a free download of her latest romantic suspense novel, Distant Echoes. Published by Thomas Nelson, the book is the first in her new Aloha Reef series and set in Hawaii. Just recently, Thomas Nelson also gave away a free PDF of its Expanded Bible New Testament – also announced by Hyatt on Twitter.

As many publishers scramble to deal with sales decreases, Hyatt has been forging into new territory. Recently, he blogged about the pros and cons of the Kindle 2, Amazon’s new wireless reading device. As a Kindle user, Hyatt liked its accessibility to over 250,000 titles and fast downloads. However, he believes there will not be wide acceptance until the device has a color screen and touch screen interactivity – standards set by Apple’s iPhone.

An established writer, Coble has adopted a personal and interactive approach to her readers. On Coble’s web site, visitors can: email her; sign up for her newsletter that offers an epilogue to her new paperback, Cry in the Night; see pictures of her family; discover her other novels; or even click on a YouTube link to a video commercial for her novel, Anathema.

What does all this interactivity and digital delivery mean for the future of books? From the looks of it, readers’ immediate accessibility and feedback have already begun altering the way authors tell and publishers sell their stories.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lilies and Parsley

Funny how a few chilly, rainy days in June will make you very grateful for a sunny 70 degree day in June! The garden plants all seem to be looking fine, although the strawberries are still just as white as they were several days ago, and no parsley seedlings have sprung up, unlike the basil and oregano.

How amazing that the plants and trees in my yard do not complain. They grow when it rains; they hibernate in times of drought. And, I’m sure the parsley will come up in its own good time. If only I could be as patient and unworried as the plants. Jesus said, “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” [Luke 12:27-31 KJV]

So for today, I’ll start by being grateful for sunshine and God’s divine provision.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My New Favorite Place

Christian books in the public library? I never would have guessed.

Since the economy has forced me to change my habits, I began going to the library instead of the bookstore. And, to my utter surprise, the library had most of the authors I wanted to read on their shelves. I found titles by Thomas Nelson, Zondervan and Tyndale House – three big Christian fiction publishers. I had no idea that a public library would offer Christian literature – because I never bothered to look. This has caused me to really re-think my attitude towards libraries. With so much anti-Christian sentiment in media and government, I never dreamed the library would be so fair and broadminded in their offerings.

The Gail Borden Library in Elgin, Illinois is spectacular. Built in 2003, the library’s designers created so many pleasant places to curl up and read – unlike my old haunts, the upscale bookstores. The Gail Borden Library boasts a spectacular round reading room, called the River Room. This light-filled room overlooks the Fox River and has a fireplace! If you want to sip and munch while you read, the La Tazza coffee shop on the first floor brews a great cup of coffee. The staff is pleasant and knowledgeable. And, small meeting rooms are available for small groups.

Having lived in a town without a library for seven years, I had no idea what libraries had become. What a wonderful discovery! So, if your budget is curtailing your reading, check out the public library!