Archive by Author

It’s pub day for Mockingbirds

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If you were to ask me what my favorite bird is, I would tell you it’s a mockingbird. Not only because they’re the State Bird of Texas, but also because they’re fierce, they eat insects, and not only do they have their own beautiful song, but can mimic the songs of many other birds. Heck, I’ve even heard some mimic the sound of a car alarm (which wasn’t so beautiful).

I also love mockingbirds in literature. Three great books come to mind:

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
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Karen Spears Zacharius’s The Silence of Mockingbirds (A book that will break your heart in all the right places.)
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And, of course…

Billy Coffey’s When Mockingbirds Sing
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I’m honored to say that I count two of these three great authors as friends.

And friendship has its privileges.

Which is why I’m excited to be able to offer to some lucky commenter a FREE copy of When Mockingbirds Sing.

But not just any free copy.

A free copy signed by the Hillbilly Hemingway himself:

Billy Coffey

In case you’ve not heard anything about the book as yet, here’s a great trailer from Thomas Nelson that sums it up nicely:

Ah, but nothing worth having is free, is it? Well, this is mostly free. All I’m asking is that you help spread the word:

Tweet about it using the hashtag #WhenMockingbirdsSing by @billycoffey

Tell all your Facebook friends.

Tell all your non-virtual friends.

Tell people you see in your local bookstore (it’s in the Christian Fiction section)

Tell complete strangers at traffic lights.

Then come back here and let me know you helped get the word out, and I’ll put all the names in a hat (metaphorically speaking–I’ll use a random number generator) and choose a winner on Friday, June 14.

Billy’s got lots of links and whatnot over at his place. You can find them HERE

Good luck and thanks so much for your help!

United in Outrage, Part 2

Screen shot 2013-06-06 at 9.49.45 PMI typically don’t write two posts in a row about the same topic, nor do I typically write two negative posts back to back.

But this IRS scandal keeps getting worse, and the mindset of IRS leadership is beyond infuriating. I have found myself searching in vain for a coherent, concise way to convey my disdain for this gross abuse of power. But I have no words to express my outrage.

Fortunately, South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy sums it up perfectly:

This is not a management problem, it’s a cultural one within the IRS. And it needs to change. Shame on you, IRS.

United in Outrage

From left to right: IRS IG Russell George, former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, and Lois Lerner, Director of Exempt Organizations

From left to right: IRS IG Russell George, former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, and Lois Lerner, Director of Exempt Organizations

Tragedies often unite us. Our hearts break for the people of Oklahoma, and many of us have already donated to charities such as The Red Cross or The Salvation Army in an attempt to help those who are suffering. Compassion for others and unity in suffering are part of why I still believe America is a great country. The greatest country.

Contrast this unity to the political divide that has become a seemingly unbridgeable chasm over the past several years. Pundits both left and right use every possible news story to bash their opponents and support their own agenda. Outrage has divided us, but could outrage unite us? It seems that may be the case.

On Monday, May 23, 2013 Lois Lerner appeared before a House Oversight Committee investigating the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative political groups and made the following statement before invoking her Fifth Amendment rights:

“I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations. And I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”

I have watched these hearings in disgust. Not only because IRS officials Steven Miller and Douglas Shulman seem to have fallen victims to a sudden case of selective amnesia, but because of their unbridled arrogance and disrespect as they appeared before congress. These people who have the power to ruin your life if they so choose have to audacity to believe they are above the law. Untouchable.  And while it seems the IRS exclusively targeted people with conservative views, outrage comes from both sides of the aisle. Liberals and conservatives can finally unite against a common enemy: the Internal Revenue Service.

Jon Stewart is hardly known for his conservative leaning political views, but I thought he sums up our collective outrage very well here:

 

Beautiful things

image from nbcnews.com, photo by Charles Krupa, AP

image from nbcnews.com, photo by Charles Krupa, AP

While the investigation into the bombings at this year’s Boston Marathon is still in its early stages, one thing is clear: This was by definition, a terrorist attack. We just don’t know the who or the why yet.

What is also clear is that in the midst of violence and mayhem, compassion, heroism and love outshine hatred. The image of first responders running towards the explosions rather than away from them will always stay with me. Examples of kindness abound in reaction to the tragedy. From thousands of runners rushing to local hospitals to donate blood for the injured to people offering up beds and couches in their own homes, to local restaurants telling patrons they only need pay if they could. So many stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

The iconic image of Carlos Arredondo depicts one example of many acts of heroism caught on film.

Carlos Arredondo is no stranger to tragedy. In 2004, Arredondo’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Alexander S. Arredondo, died in battle in Najaf, Iraq. When Marines arrived on his 44th birthday to deliver the news, Arredondo climbed into the Marine van with a torch and a can of gasoline from his garage. He proceeded to douse the van and set it on fire, severely burning himself in the process.

In 2007, the New York Times wrote a story of a distraught man in a makeshift mobile memorial in the back of his pickup. There was a coffin containing his son’s favorite possessions and photos of his son ranging from those depicting a happy teenager to a fully outfitted battlefield warrior to a body in a coffin.

His grieving brought him national attention. In that same year, Arredondo was publicly beaten during an anti-war demonstration in Washington.

Just before Christmas, 2011, Carlos’ other son, Brian, 24, took his own life as U.S. troops were withdrawing from the war that left his brother dead.

“We are broken people”, Carlos Arredondo told the Boston Herald.

image from nbcnews.com via Getty Images

image from nbcnews.com via Getty Images

But broken, damaged people aren’t the same as broken, damaged things. Broken things are tossed aside, no longer useful or desirable. With broken people, their own pain often fuels their compassion for others who are broken. Even broken and bloodied.

Politics, religion and laundry

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“Do you think welfare is a Christian concept?”

This question comes from my 15-year old son, who often continues conversations with others that begin in his head, an idiosyncrasy he comes by honest. I do it all the time, just ask my husband, whose most common response to my insightful observational commentary is, “What are you talking about?, or more commonly, a look of total confusion. Oh wait, you can’t. He’s not on the interwebs.

But I digress…

Me: Welfare as in government subsidies to help the poor or as in general well being?

Son: Government welfare. I mean, as Christians, we’re supposed to give to the poor, right?

Me: Well, yes. The bible says we are to take care of widows and orphans; to help those in need. But that’s not the same thing. We should choose to do these things of our own free will. We’re not giving to the poor when we pay taxes. We’re giving to the government. We have no say in how much is then given to the poor. That’s the function of bureaucrats–to decide how our money is to be allocated. So I suppose the answer to your question is no. Welfare is not a Christian concept, but charity is.

Son: Do you believe in welfare?

Me: Yes. I believe there are people who are truly in need, but I also believe that giving people money often incentivizes them not to try and earn it for themselves or worse, creates a mindset that they are entitled it. For most, I think it should be a temporary remedy. Oftentimes it becomes a cycle of dependence.

Son: You mean like for lazy people?

Me: Lazy people, people who seek to beat the system. But honestly? I think there are just a whole lot of people who have given up hope of ever making it out of poverty. It’s easier just to allow someone else to take care of them. Which is sad because it robs them of their own power and limits their personal freedom.

Son: Huh?

Me: Do you remember last week when I did all of your laundry?

Son: Yeah. Thanks. That was great.

Me: What would have happened if I hadn’t done that? What would happen if I never did your laundry?

Son: I’d probably still have a big pile of dirty clothes. Well, no. That’s not true. I would have done my own laundry like I usually do.

Me: And is that such a bad thing?

Son: I’d prefer you do my laundry, but I can do it myself. Besides, when you do it, you wash my stuff with everyone else’s. Sometimes my favorite jeans don’t get washed because you don’t have a full load, and my Nike Combat workout stuff is the same way. You only wash my workout stuff when there’s a full load, so I end up wearing workout stuff I don’t really like because my Nike stuff is dirty.

Me: How is that any different than when you do it yourself?

Son: When I do my own laundry, I wash the stuff I want to wear first. That way, if I don’t finish it all, at least I have the stuff I need.

Me: But you’re supposed to wash jeans separately from your workout stuff, and the whites need to be bleached, so you can’t just throw those in with your other stuff.

Son: Mom, those are your rules, not mine. I’m a guy. I don’t really care if my socks are bleached or not. As long as I get the stink out, that’s clean enough for me.

Me: So, if you do your own laundry, you decide how and when to wash it, right? Your clothes are not subject to your mom’s laundry rules–rules that you care nothing about. Right?

Son: Yes. Besides, I don’t need you to do my laundry. I can do it myself. But I appreciate you doing it that last time. I had a whole lot of dirty clothes piled up after a week in Orlando, plus I had make-up work to do from school. I was pretty overwhelmed.

Me: You’re old enough to do most things for yourself and that’s a good thing. With responsibility comes freedom and vice versa. But sometimes life presents us with circumstances which prevent us from doing for ourselves. That’s why I did your laundry last week. I was your safety net when you needed some extra help. But don’t expect me to do your laundry all the time.

Son: Of course not!

Me: So, I’ll ask you the same question you asked me: Do you believe in welfare?

Son: Yes. But only if you truly need it. It should be the last resort, not the first.

Me: Well, there you go.

 

 

Why the cross?

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Before he succumbed to cancer, comedian and atheist Bill Hicks once observed:

Hey, doncha think the real reason Jesus Christ hasn’t returned is those crosses you wear? “They’re still wearing crosses: I’m not going, Dad. They totally missed the point. When they start wearing fishes, I might show up again.”

And while I understand his line of thinking, I actually think he’s the one who missed the larger point.

Granted, the cross has become a fashion statement in many ways. But to Christians, it represents much more. It’s a reminder of their Savior.

In biblical times, death on the cross was considered the worst possible death. Crucifixion is a method of deliberately slow and painful execution in which the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead. While a crucifixion was an execution, it was also a humiliation, by making the condemned as vulnerable as possible. Although artists have depicted the figure on a cross with a loin cloth or a covering of the genitals, writings by Seneca the Younger suggest that victims were crucified completely naked. When the victim had to urinate or defecate, they had to do so in the open, in view of passers-by, resulting in discomfort and the attraction of insects. (Source: Wikipedia)

Wearing a cross as an adornment back then would be the equivalent of wearing an electric chair necklace or hangman’s noose earrings. It’s pretty appalling when you think about it.

So why the cross? Why use the very symbol of Jesus’s agonizing, humiliating and painful death to signify that you’re a follower of Him?

Because on that horrible, dark Friday so long ago, Jesus gave up his Spirit, the temple curtain was torn away and the world was changed forever.

The beauty of the cross is that God turned a symbol of horror and disgrace into one of hope and beauty in one act of love and ultimate sacrifice.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

–Isaiah 61:1-3

He makes beauty from ashes.

And over 2,000 years later, the cross and the tomb are still empty.

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He is risen.

Editor’s Note: This post is loosely based on a sermon taught by Jeff Hogan. It is used without his permission, and I’m really sorry if I messed it up, Jeff!

Why I hate writing, Part 14: Self Promotion

image courtesy of photobucket.com

image courtesy of photobucket.com

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve not been writing or reading any blog posts lately. There was a time I felt compelled to write and publish something at least twice a week. I still enjoy writing and reading blog posts and the blogging community that goes with it. I’ve just been preoccupied with a few projects which keep me from my own writing–which is completely okay with me. I’m probably one of the few bloggers who have no immediate aspirations of being published in book form. It’s not that I couldn’t write a book, but I know myself well enough to know that I’m too busy (Read: lazy) to write a good one–at least right now.

Even though I haven’t been reading blogs, I have been reading: books and books-to-be mostly. However, I do have a great app called Zite. It searches the interwebs for stories you might be interested in based upon your pre-selected topics of interest. I was skimming through the Writing section when I came across an article written by a blogger/writer who I’m already familiar with. I typically don’t read his stuff because it’s a blog by a writer writing about being a writer written for writers, and as I said in my last Why I hate writing post: katdish, dream crusher, that’s just a little too much navel gazing for me. But the subject matter caught my attention.

This writer is just sick to death of self-promotion.

He’s sick of his own self-promotion and if you’re sick of his self-promotion, well, he’s really sorry about that. He’s ready to turn over a new leaf. He’s going to generously help promote others, not himself.

Oh, and by the way. You should, too.

Because the sub-text of this article (in my sometimes jaded and cynical perspective) is not so much that he’s tired of his own self-promotion.

He’s mostly just tired of yours.

There are so many people shouting about themselves that all that noise drowns out the voices that deserve to be heard and heeded.

You know…like his.

You, wanna-be-desperate-to-catch-a-break-diaper-changing-working-two-jobs-struggling-writer? Stop with all this disdainful self-promotion. It’s annoying. Yes, his blog has over 100,000 readers and yours has 10 (including your immediately family), but really–enough already. Put aside your dream and help someone else achieve theirs. You’ll feel much better about yourself.

Okay, maybe not. You are a writer, after all.

Self-loathing sort of goes with the territory, am I right?

Never mind his advice.

Either he’s never really known the sting of countless rejection letters from agents and publishers because you don’t have a “sufficient platform” or…

in the words of Roland Deschain,

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“He’s forgotten the face of his father.”

In a perfect world, writers could spend their time writing and leave the promotion to those who believe in their work and are happy to share it with as many people as possible.

Clearly this is not a perfect world.

So, as I said before, never mind his advice.

Cling to your dreams and do what you feel is necessary to share your work.

He’s not the boss of you.

The hazards of walking barefoot in the grass

images courtesy of bing images

images courtesy of bing images

When I was kid, I only wore shoes when I was forced to do so. Even after suffering countless stubbed toes from attempting to stop my bicycle with my bare feet and stepping on frogs and toads hidden in the grass (the latter explaining my intense disdain for the slimy beasts to this day), going barefoot was always preferable to the confinement of shoes. And while my child-mind would most likely not be able to express or even comprehend my reasoning, I think it had much to do with feeling directly connected to earth I trod upon. Shoes were a barrier to that connection.

Fast forward to today.

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I rarely go without shoes on my feet. Granted, unless inclement weather forces me to do otherwise, my shoes are almost always sandals or flip flops, but I still feel the need to protect my feet against the many hazards which await the naked foot. I even wear flops in the relative safety of my home, and when my feet are bare, a pair of flops are almost always close by for those times when Buddy Love the daschund needs to make a trip outside.

Except for yesterday.

Yesterday when Buddy starting whining, I realized that I had left my flops in the bedroom. Normally I would have simply gone in there a put them on, but on this day my husband was napping in there after a long flight and I didn’t want to disturb him. Yesterday I braved the back acre of the property with no barrier between my feet and the dangers of a south Texas lawn. Of which there are many:

There are prickly weeds and stickers hiding in the grass.
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Angry fire ants waiting to attack should you disturb their mounds.
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Large piles of fallen acorns which can be surprisingly painful to the arches of your feet.
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Along with the obvious hazards of walking barefoot in the yard of a dog owner.

Yes, I went there. Sorry/you're welcome.

Yes, I went there. Sorry/you’re welcome.

In the five minutes or so it took to walk Buddy Love through the back yard to take care of his business, I could think of little else other than these dangers which might potentially befall my naked feet. Gone was the little girl who thought nothing of stubbed toes and the squishy deaths of amphibians and only of the freedom of running unencumbered through the grass. She had been replaced by a middle-aged woman concerned more about discomfort which might befall her than the simple pleasure of feeling the cool grass beneath her feet.

Some say dogs are acutely sensitive to their human’s state of mind. If that’s true, maybe Buddy took an opportunity to reach out to that little girl long forgotten and simply say,

Stop worrying about what might happen…
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And just enjoy the moment we’re in right now.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off the walk barefoot in the grass.

This time not by necessity…
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but by choice.

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

~Helen Keller

Freely given

The salesperson put this little sample bottle in my bag at Sephora last week.

It cost me nothing more than a trip to the store.

It was unexpected.

It was undeserved.

Such is grace.

A larger version of the bottled grace is available for sale.

Ironic…

Real grace cannot be bought or earned,

Only freely given.

Undeserved favor.

From my sermon notes on Sunday:

There are only two choices. Either:

The sacrifice of Jesus accomplishes everything.

The sacrifice of Jesus means nothing.

Real love

As some of you may already know, I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day. If you think that makes me unromantic, well…I don’t really care. I won’t give you my arguments against the holiday, as I think I’ve made my case against it here and here.

But I will reiterate my contention that Valentine’s Day is not so much about love, but about expressing love. Not a bad thing, of course. We all need to be loved. My problem with the holiday is with all those who feel so completely unloved by their exclusion in the festivities. I’m not suggesting a boycott of the holiday, I just don’t personally celebrate it.

For all of you who face this week with trepidation–worried that you won’t give or receive enough to feel loved, I’m going to break my self-imposed ban of Valentine’s Day to send out a very special message of love. It’s one I’ve posted here before, but one I need to be reminded of often.

Maybe you do, too.

Brennan Manning said:

The Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question and only one question:

Do you believe that I loved you? That I desired you? That I waited for you day after day? That I longed to hear the sound of your voice?

The real believers there will answer, “Yes, Jesus. I believed in your love and I tried to shape my life as a response to it. But many of us who are so faithful in our ministry, in our practice, in our church going are going to have to reply, “Well frankly, no sir. I mean, I never really believed it. I mean, I heard alot of wonderful sermons and teachings about it. In fact I gave quite a few myself. But I always knew that that was just a way of speaking; a kindly lie, some Christian’s pious pat on the back to cheer me on. And there’s the difference between the real believers and the nominal Christians that are found in our churches across the land. No one can measure like a believer the depth and the intensity of God’s love. But at the same time, no one can measure like a believer the effectiveness of our gloom, pessimism, low self-esteem, self-hatred and despair that block God’s way to us. Do you see why it is so important to lay hold of this basic truth of our faith? Because you’re only going to be as big as your own concept of God.

Do you remember the famous line of the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal? “God made man in his own image, and man returned the compliment”? We often make God in our own image, and He winds up to be as fussy, rude, narrow minded, legalistic, judgemental, unforgiving, unloving as we are.

 

 

 

In the past couple of three years I have preached the gospel to the financial community in Wallstreet, New York City, the airmen and women of the air force academy in Colorado Springs, a thousand positions in Nairobi. I’ve been in churches in Bangor, Maine, Miami, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle, San Diego. And honest, the god of so many Christians I meet is a god who is too small for me. Because he is not the God of the Word, he is not the God revealed by it in Jesus Christ who this moment comes right to your seat and says,

“I have a word for you. I know your whole life story. I know every skeleton in your closet. I know every moment of sin, shame, dishonesty and degraded love that has darkened your past. Right now I know your shallow faith, your feeble prayer life, your inconsistent discipleship. And my word is this: I dare you to trust that I love you just as you are, and not as you should be. Because you’re never going to be as you should be.”

Do you believe that He loves you?

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