Happy New Year’s Eve Every Day

Today is the day we Earthlings have arbitrarily decided is the end of one period and the start of a new one. It would probably make more sense to choose the Winter Solstice. That is the day the earth begins to turn it’s northern hemisphere, where we live, back to the sun. However, the pre-Christian Romans chose this day to honor Janus, the God of new beginnings. Then when Pope Gregory XIII came along, he took over that day to remember the naming and circumcision of Jesus, despite the fact that it probably didn’t happen on that day at all. So here we are, celebrating a day as the end of one year and the start of a new year, and pretending somehow that tomorrow will be so very different than today because we use 2016 at the end of the date.

Many people use this arbitrary day to start over, set goals, and make resolutions for what they want to accomplish. It’s a noble endeavor, other than the fact that most of us never really start over, our goals fall away, and those resolutions get broken almost immediately. We just keep doing more of the same, over and over.

I went into 2015 knowing that wouldn’t be the case for me. I had known for some time that our show was ending. I knew there might be a possibility of continuing there, but I also knew that would mean the end of who I truly was. I would be lost forever. Because I had time to make other plans, I was able to set a new course. Looking back, I can see how it all came off as planned, but of course last year at this time, I had no idea if it would work out. I planned to sell my house, but you never know if that will work out. I planned to move across the country, but had no idea if I would really like it in Missouri. I worried that I had been so unhappy for so long that it had become a part of me. I looked forward to 2015 with excitement and some fear.

Now looking back over the past 365 days, the job did end, the house did sell, I did love Missouri, and most thankfully of all, the unhappiness fell away almost instantly and I recovered my true happy, optimistic nature with ease.

Looking forward, I hope the next 365 days brings a cessation of sugar eating, better water intake, less fast food, more exercise and generally better health. I also plan to finish my novel and begin the process of publishing it.

There is no magic about tomorrow. I could have been, and have been, starting those goals now… Well, not the no-sugar thing, but I admit I am weak when it comes to traditional family-made Christmas treats. And the cold weather while visiting family in the frozen tundra didn’t help with exercising. I don’t do frigid cold, which is a big part of why I didn’t move closer to home.

At the end of this arbitrary period, we all look back on the past year and reflect on what we did with the time. It’s over. We can’t change it. We can only accept and learn from it. Yet today, and every day from here on out, we will be creating our year. Our goals and resolutions are long term, but we must not forget that these grand goals are only accomplished day by day. What will you look back on? What will you do? Who will you be? Each choice you make will create the New Year’s Eve you have next year. As stated in the song Unwritten – “Today is where your book begins, The rest is still unwritten.” Write your book well.

So happy new year’s day today and every day. It’s where your next New Year’s Eve reflections will come from. Make it one you’ll be happy with.

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Let it Begin With Me

The holidays are stressful. No doubt about it. Money flowing out. Time running short. Obligatory gatherings to attend. Food to be made. Charities asking for donations. Dealing with others who explode with stress. Crowds. Rushing. Traffic. On top of that is the pressure to appear full of holiday spirit or be labelled a Scrooge. It’s enough to make anyone want to utter a few choice swear words, crawl in a hole, and perhaps emerge about the time Punxsutawney Phil comes out. Bah humbug.

Whille I’m generally less stressed than I have been other years, I can also feel the gathering holiday storm. The general atmosphere in the country isn’t helping my mood. The ignorance, fear, hatred, and racism that is bubbling to the surface of this nation is alarming. Has it been there all along? I know I’m exacerbating my horror by reading comments of online articles, but is it better to not be aware of what my fellow citizens are thinking?

Last week, Brian D. McLaren posted an open letter addressing guns and Christianity. He spoke with the voice of Christianity that I remembered as a child. You know, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) And just 30 verses later, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Or another 5 verses after that, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven;”

This is the Christianity I was raised with and the article gave me hope… until I made the mistake of reading the comments. With few exceptions, there was nothing but anger returned to the author. Luke 22:36 was the most quoted verse, “He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” All I can say is, “Oy vey.”

Years ago a niece asked me for help with a debate on the death penalty. One piece of advice I gave was not to use the Bible to argue her position, because people can warp and twist the Bible to find just about any meaning they want within its pages. That is exactly what has been done with this one verse – the only one in the entire book they can find to defend their position, I might add. There is not one serious scholar who has read the original text and put it within context of the story who would say that Jesus is advocating for violent defense of oneself.

One of the most disheartening and revealing comments came from someone who said something like, “This author isn’t living in the real world. When the terrorists come for his family, he’ll wish he had a gun.” I see. I didn’t realize that Christ’s message wasn’t for the real world. I actually was foolish enough to think that’s exactly what his message was for – A radical message of peace and love for a chaotic and violent world.

The message I’m getting from the conservative wing of modern American Christianity is – follow Christ and his teachings until it conflicts with the “real” world, then follow your fear. What kind of faith is that? To them, nothing is more important than physical self-preservation even though this also goes against Matthew 10:28 – “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul.” It seems to me, people who feel assured of the rewards of heaven, would be willing to lay down their lives to live their beliefs, rather than put that reward at risk by betraying them.

When I was a kid, our pastor told us a modern parable: In the middle of church, two masked men came in with rifles and held the congregation hostage. They demanded that all those who were born-again Christians line up at the front of the church, and everybody else should leave. About 3/4 of the people left, and once they were gone, the gunmen took off their masks, put down their guns, and said, “Okay, brothers and sisters, now let’s worship for real.” They were weeding out the true believers from the pew-sitters by finding those who were willing to lay down their lives for their beliefs. Those people had found a peace that passes all understanding. They had faith in something greater than their physical lives. They were living the radical message of Jesus.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Let There be Peace on Earth.” It follows that wish with personal responsibility, “and let it begin with me.” It’s not, “let it begin with my enemies surrendering,” or “let it begin with the death of terrorists,” or “let it begin after I kill those who threaten me.”

No, it’s “let it begin with me.”

In this season celebrating peace, the only wish I have is that people begin to take to heart the lyrics they’re singing. Since I can’t change them, I’ll take my own advice – I choose peace.

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The Joy of Writing

It seems my posts have been a little heavy lately, so I will change things up a bit and talk about the joy of writing. Quite often I’ll read an interview with a successful writer, and am amazed when they talk about how much they hate writing. They complain about what a painful process it is, and describe their misery. James Joyce said, “Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives.” I always want to ask writers who hate writing why they do it if it’s so painful. Seriously, isn’t there something out there they enjoy doing more? Why don’t they do that? Just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean you have to do it. Thank goodness, or I’d still be a teleprompter operator.

Now, I’ll admit that writing isn’t always easy. It requires a great deal of discipline, and that’s something I struggle with. There are times that inspiration seems as rare as tolerance at a Tea Party gathering, and that’s when the mental struggles begin. Am I a fraud? Am I fooling myself? Should I find a new passion? A new dream? Is there any point to this? Yes, that is painful, but that has to do with doubts, not writing.

And honestly, that’s about as unpleasant as writing gets for me. Thankfully the joys are much more numerous. First, there’s the initial jolt of a great story dropping into your brain. For me it has come while watching a TV commercial, an interview about politics, a news article, or from an offhand comment I overhear at a table next to me. When it hits, it’s overwhelming. Conversations, reading, TV, and all thoughts of anything else are brought to a grinding halt. The brain wants to do nothing more than roll that story idea around. It’s play time!

That kernel of an idea leads to the glorious question, “What if…” What ifs are fantastic! They’re exhilirating. For someone who loves stories it’s like a kid walking into a toy store and being told they can have anything and everything they want. The mind starts running down aisles and grabbing things off the shelf. Sometimes when you get something into the cart, you realize it isn’t what you want, and it goes back on the shelf, but all the possibilities are what fill those moments with utter joy.

Eventually the cart is full of all the right things and I sit down in front of the computer. This is where the work comes in. Translating that glorious idea into words that others will enjoy is hard. There are so many things to keep in mind. What voice? Whose story? Building conflict. Changing values. Character arcs. Layers of meaning. Story structure. A satisfying conclusion. You have to juggle all the elements of a story while not losing that initial spark and inspiration of the original idea.

Hard work? Yes. As painful as enhanced interrogations? Not even close, I would imagine.

The other day I’d reached a point in the story where I really wasn’t sure what came next. I hadn’t had adequate daydreaming time to figure out exactly how the villain was going to proceed with his plans. There have been times that means I just don’t write. After all, if I don’t know what to write, what is there to write? But this day I forced myself to sit and write anyway. Granted, I did my best to procrastinate a bit, but eventually I just sat and stared at the page on the screen. I put myself into the character’s place, and imagined what I might do if I were them. Suddenly, as if dropped like a gift from the sky, it was all so obvious. Not only did it make sense to move the story forward, but I discovered an entire layer of deeper meaning to add to the theme of the book. I happily spent the next few hours putting those ideas on the page and watching them come to life. Utter joy!

Yes, it was a struggle to get there, but the joy that followed from breaking through made it seem like a minor anoyance. Perhaps that’s how women who give birth feel. Perhaps there wouldn’t be that joy if there weren’t that struggle. The joy is so much greater than the pain, and I don’t understand talented writers who say otherwise. Maybe that means I’m not as talented as they are. All I know is that I’m grateful that I have a talent and passion for something that makes me happy.

Hearing the story first is a priceless gift, transcribing it for others is a fantastic adventure. Being allowed to pursue this career – all joy.

Write on!

 

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In Guns We Trust

In 1956, the United States adopted “In God We Trust” as our motto. It’s time for an update, because clearly the overriding sentiment now is, “In Guns We Trust.”

I grew up in the 70s on a farm. We had guns, though we were not really hunters. They came in handy protecting chickens from rats and skunks and the like. Thankfully, I once watched my brother shoot a charging rabid skunk. Guns do have their uses in rural areas. During that time, the NRA was a somewhat benevolent force in the community, offering free gun safety classes to 6th graders. We did live in a world of guns, and it was good to provide basic gun safety education for kids who might not get it from their parents. Things like – always assume a gun is loaded, don’t point guns at people, etc.

According to my research, the NRA changed in 1977 when hardliners took over the organization and began to push an absolutist reading of the 2nd amendment. They overlooked that little part about a “well regulated militia” which made sense in a country yet without a standing army. We needed the citizens to be armed in order to call them to action quickly without the time needed to build an arsenal. Common sense. Instead, the interpretation became that God and the founders wanted every citizen to be armed for self-protection and for protection of an over-reaching government – yeah, like a few rifles and handguns are going to stop drones, missiles, and tanks.

The NRA pushed fear, more people bought guns, and more people joined the NRA. This meant a windfall of money for the NRA. In fact, this happens every time there is a mass shooting. They sell nothing but fear, and Americans gobble it up.

They developed slogans like, “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” despite the fact that nobody was suggesting guns be outlawed, only regulated. Then there was “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” True, but people with guns kill a whole lot more people than people without guns. If you were in that conference room in San Bernardino, would you rather have seen 2 people walk in with assault rifles, or knives? I’d vote for knives. Guaranteed they wouldn’t have killed 12 people. The latest slogan is, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun. Absolutely not true. When a man had a kalishnikov on a French train, the thing that stopped him was two corageous, unarmed men who acted and tackled the man with the gun. Yet, in 2014, after a couple killed two police officers and retreated to a Walmart store, a good guy with a concealed weapon thought he could be a hero and take out the bad guys. He paid for the overassessment of his skills with his life. Handling a firearm, and dealing with bad guys takes actual training and skill. That’s why people go through intense fire arms training as a police officer or soldier. And because most gun owners aren’t really trained, they have a higher risk of homicide, suicide, or accidental death than people who don’t own guns.

In fact, it’s surprising that people aren’t talking about the role of gun proliferation in police violence. After the North Hollywood shootout, when officers were so outmatched by assault rifles and body armor, an arms race began. Police departments realized that with everything on the street, they needed to be better armed. Their fear of us grew. Then our fear of them grew. It has become an arms and fear race. It’s not really surprising they are quick to protect themselves in a world where more and more people are armed. Welcome to the wild west folks. Thanks to the NRA and the gun culture, we’ve reverted back to might makes right instead of the rule of law.

Another element that adds to the fear that has driven gun sales and NRA membership – Pro-gun advocates have pushed the narrative that Obama is trying to take away our guns. Hopefuly we can all get out of the FEMA camps and escape the death panels in order to get our guns back from Obama when his term ends. Oh wait… in fact, Obama has only signed two gun laws during his presidency and BOTH expanded gun rights. Does he call for new restrictions, yes, but does anything get done by the politicians in the pocket of the NRA? Nope.

In a world saturated with laws, it seems a shame to add more, but there are huge holes in our gun laws. If you go to a retail store, yes, there is a background check and waiting period. But why bother with that? Just go to a gun show and buy them without any questions asked. Or, perhaps find someone who has a gun to sell, and just get it from them. It’s all perfectly legal, and it doesn’t matter if you’re mentally unstable, angry, homicidal, a child, a criminal, drunk, high, or a terrorist. So, closing that loophole would go a long way in preventing guns from getting into the wrong hands.

My idea, though I’m sure the gun nuts would hate it, is to require all guns to be registered, just like a car. You would also need to prove your ability to operate the machinery, just like a car. Once registered, the owner would bear all responsibility for what happened with it. You leave it unsecured and a criminal steals it and commits a crime with it… you are just as resonsible as the criminal because you did not secure a deadly weapon. A child finds it and accidentally shoots someone, you are legally responsible for the results and not securing your gun. Only when ownership is transferred to another registered owner, is your liabity for owning that weapon at an end. Simple.

However, I also believe that even that would not stop this problem until we change our culture. Right now, a great many Americans do believe that it is in guns we trust. Mad? Solve it with a gun. Hurt? Solve it with a gun. Lonely? Solve it with a gun. Afraid? Solve it with a gun. Disenfranchised? Solve it with a gun. Whatever problem you have, the gun is the answer. In Guns We Trust.

Many people have tied guns and God together, yet the Bible teaches that God is in control of all things, provides for the birds of the air and flowers of the field, and instructs in Luke 12:7 “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” For me the crux of that passage is DON’T BE AFRAID! The King James version of the Bible advises against fear 365 times. Some scholars say it is the over-riding message of the Bible. But guns, unless you are solely a hunter or target shooter, are about protection, which is nothing but fear.

I have no solutions to offer. I don’t know how to change our culture. It has come to my awareness that all actions can be divided into one of two categories – Love or Fear. Love’s actions lead to goodness, but nothing good comes from fear. Right now, our country is running on fear.

So, my final thought is that until you are willing to rely on your prayers to God to lead you, protect you and act in love, then you are not allowed to ask others to rely on your prayers for comfort after a mass shooting. Your prayers mean nothing, because your true faith and your motto is In Guns We Trust and you’re part of this nation’s fear problem.

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