It's a hard life, blogging.

If you blog, you can identify: "I really want to write a post. But what?!" You look around the room for inspiration. The framed cross-stitch, the old lamp, the clock ticking... Nothing's coming. Maybe you could write about something you did today. Let's see...shower, job, supper. Not much to work with. Oh, it rained today. Rain is always inspiring to the melancholy artist-types. Write a poem about rain! Hmmm..."I see the lights of the city gleam through the rain and the mist, and a feeling of sadness comes over me that my soul cannot resist." No, that's taken: Longfellow. Try again..."I have walked out in rain--and back in rain. I have outwalked the furthest city light." Rats, that's Frost. Huh, never noticed the bardic connection between rain and city lights. Maybe there's something there worth exploring...

Light and rain,
Rain and light.
One is wet,
The other bright.

Bob and Henry,
Henry and Bob.
Both wrote poems
I want to rob.

It's not Pulitzer-worthy--you know that. But that orange "Publish Post" button has a tempting glow. You can go to bed satisfied if you just post something. Tomorrow, you will roll your eyes at it...maybe even delete it. But tonight, you will sleep the sweet sleep of the published blogger.


And the winner is...

It's official...Carol Floyd is the winner of a free copy of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson! Her odds were good: 1 out of 3 (one entered via e-mail, in case you're keeping track). This evening I threw three slips of paper into one of my dad's baseball caps and asked my mom to do the honors. First, however, I had to explain to her what the drawing was about--a terrible blow to my pride to think that my own mother doesn't even read my obscure little blog. I consoled myself with the fact that Bach's compositions were not widely appreciated until after his death. But I digress. Congratulations to my friend Carol and best wishes for happy reading!


A Rare Recipe: book review of "On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness"

Singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson has given about nine years and seven albums-worth of proof that he is a wordsmith par excellence with a heart uncommonly in tune to eternal truth and mystery. I was not surprised, therefore, to find his first full-length book to be well-written, creative, and full of biblical concepts like forgiveness, redemption, loyalty and servanthood. Indeed, I would have expected no less.

What I wasn't quite expecting is the downright silliness on the surface of AP's story. I say "on the surface" because it quickly becomes obvious that, though AP, with a boyish adventurousness, invites his readers to share in the quirky world of Aerwiar--complete with talking lizards, snot-wax candles, toothy cows, and a revolting recipe for "maggotloaf"--his real concern is that his readers are given cause to ponder the eternal truths of our own world. In fact, as I read, I began to envy AP for the incredible fun he must've had writing this book! He peppers thoughtfulness with humor, deep truths with goofy fantasy. That's a nearly impossible recipe to pull off--even trickier than mixing up a batch of maggotloaf!--but Andrew Peterson does it as well as it can be done, I dare say.

Whether or not you fully embrace the wacky humor of the author, you will be drawn into the story and amazed at the twists the plot takes toward the end of the book. One of the mysteries I figured out a few pages before the characters did--and when it hit me, I actually had to lay aside the book for a minute to process the stunning and glorious implications. Later, a conversation among the main characters prompted tears on my part, as it gave me a glimpse into the beautiful mystery of self-sacrificing love, epitomized in Christ's love for the Church.

Some mysteries remain with the closing of the book. What tragic secret does Arthram harbor about his past? What will happen to the Igiby children? Will the sea dragons sing again? These questions will be answered in the coming installments of "The Wingfeather Saga," and along the way I look forward to lots more laughs, a few more tears, and plenty of food for thought--none of it maggotloaf-type fare!

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness can be purchased here:

And now the cool part...
I was privileged to secure two pre-release copies of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness for a blog tour of the book. One copy has my name on it and it shall remain in my library for ever and always...but the other copy is up for grabs! Leave a comment on this post and I will randomly choose a comment-er on Saturday, March 22, as the happy recipient of the book. I'll send it straight to your home and you can begin "The Wingfeather Saga" for yourself!


Kingdom Kids

The following is an article I wrote for today's
Hoisington Dispatch.

Kingdom Kids Offers Fun with a Purpose

Three minutes isn't long, but it's enough to transform the Hoisington Bible Church building every Tuesday afternoon. At 3:00, the foyer is empty, the fellowship hall downstairs is neatly lined with rows of chairs, and the adjacent table is spread with cookies and forty cups of Kool-Aid. By 3:03, however, the first wave of kids has arrived from school, chattering and laughing and jostling. By 3:30, backpacks fill the foyer, kids fill the chairs, and there are no more cookies to be seen.

Welcome to Kingdom Kids, a weekly after-school Bible club for children in kindergarten through 6th grade. For the next ninety minutes, the kids will hear a Bible story, learn a Bible verse, play games, and sing songs—all of it what leader Roland Broeder likes to call “fun with a purpose!”

This is the sixth year that Hoisington Bible Church has been holding a kids' club. “Our purpose from the beginning,” Pastor Gary Clark explains, “was to make boys and girls aware that God has a plan and purpose for their lives, and that plan and purpose begin with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We want the kids to be 'kingdom kids': to know God and be a part of His family.”

In addition to Broeder and Pastor Clark, there are four regular staff from the Church and several others who help as needed. Some Church members give to fund the program; others provide supplies for the snack time that begins every Kingdom Kids club.

Predictably, “snack time!” is one enthusiastic answer you'll get if you ask the kids what their favorite part of Kingdom Kids is. Other responses include, “the games,” “singing,” “playing Zonk” (a popular review game), “meeting new people,” and “learning about Jesus.”

Broeder explains
his favorite part of Kingdom Kids using a story. “Three or four weeks ago, there was a little girl who got hurt, but she told me she didn't want to go home because she wanted to hear about God. It melted my heart! Hopefully, we're changing lives for eternity—and in the present, too.

Changing lives is a constant theme of the club. As the kids hear the adventures of Samuel, Saul and David from the Old Testament, they are challenged to apply what they learn to their own lives. “David had to wait years after Samuel anointed him king of Israel, before he actually began to rule as king,” Broeder teaches, “But what about you? Are you patient for God to reward you when He decides the time is right?”

Later, the kids work on memorizing I Peter 5:6, a verse about being humble and waiting on God's timing. Then they play a game, reviewing the Bible story by drawing pictures and letting their teammates guess what they're drawing. “Mountains!” one boy guesses when a row of triangles is drawn. “No, it's a crown!” another exclaims, “King Saul's crown that the messenger brought to David!” It's apparent they've been listening.

Why is it important to learn those old Bible stories? Pastor Clark says, “Because the Bible is God's unchanging truth for every situation and time. We want the kids to evaluate life decisions in light of what God teaches—everything from 'What should I do with my life?' to marriage to end-of-life decisions.”

That's a lot to get across to children when you only have an hour or two every week. But Pastor Clark recognizes parents play an important role, too. “We want to reinforce the moral and spiritual values that the children are learning at home. We appreciate the opportunity parents allow us to teach and work with their children.”


The Enigma of Joseph Smith

When I checked out No Man Knows My History, I was planning on a skim read. That was three weeks ago, and I have just now finished the epilogue. I read every word, including the footnotes, and I anticipate appendices A, B, and C to provide another few days of top-notch reading.

This book is the definitive, thorough biography of Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism. Thinking of the detailed research author Fawn Brodie performed in order to write these 500 well-documented pages makes my head hurt. Nor was the book simply a dry recitation of names, places and dates. Brodie's rich, colorful language would make the most drab historical figure leap off the pages of her book.

But Brodie's subject was anything but a drab historical figure. No, indeed! I wonder whether anyone at all has ever squeezed so much drama into thirty-nine years of life. There were Joseph Smith's spectacular religious experiences, of course; but controversy, scandal and persecution were just as much a part of his days. His charismatic personality drew people to him—rich and poor, young and old, Americans and internationals—but many turned traitor and some of his closest friends became his worst enemies. He was a dreamer and a schemer; he rewrote the ancient history of America, he gave revelations as from God, he attempted miracles (sometimes successfully), he ran for President, he earned a reputation as a champion wrestler, he escaped from the law multiple times, he married over forty women, he formed his own army and founded his own city. He was rarely treated fairly; either he was adored and blindly obeyed or he was savagely attacked with word and weapon. He fell victim to the hostile frontier mob and in the end died a violent and unjust death at their hands.

Yet for all his biographer's hard work, Joseph Smith remains an enigma to me. Reading one page made me shake my head at his genius, the next at his outrageous blunders. He kept extensive journals, but these contain only guarded expressions of his thoughts. It's as if he expected to be the subject of a 500-page book. There is, therefore, no way to know his mind. Quite frankly, I am mystified by Joseph Smith.

"In a wanton moment of self-searching," Brodie writes, "[Smith] said with a kind of wonder: 'You don't know me; you never knew my heart. No man knows my history. I cannot tell it: I shall never undertake it. I don't blame anyone for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself'" (366).

More baffling than Joseph Smith's life is his legacy. How could a man—a poor, uneducated man at that—singlehandedly raise up an entire religious system, complete with its own prophets, missionaries, scriptures, business holdings and social culture? One hundred and sixty-four years after Smith's death, Mormonism is 13 million strong and steadily growing. And each individual convert must confess Joseph Smith was a prophet and the first book he authored (
The Book of Mormon) is true.

It would seem, then, that Joseph Smith was successful. He sought after fame all his life; now his face plasters billboards and looks down from fireplace mantles across Utah and around the world. He wanted to speak for God; now his books are confessed by millions to be equal with the Bible. He yearned for respect; now he has the unparalleled glory of a martyr.

It could be argued, however, that success is measured by the extent that one's work endures through the passing of time. In this respect, couldn't Joseph Smith be labeled a failure? After all, the church that enthusiastically claims him as prophet does
not claim many of his teachings. He taught that the Lamanites of The Book of Mormon were the "principal ancestors" of the American Indians; the LDS Church has changed his wording, realizing this claim to be completely unjustifiable by modern science and archeology. He specified his son Joseph III should be his successor; after his death, the church was split into several factions, with the majority following Brigham Young. Perhaps most notably, he claimed "spiritual wifism" to be "a command of God" to last "for time and all eternity"; today the LDS Church denounces all who practice polygamy. And the examples could go on and on. There is no doubt that mainstream Mormonism today is vastly different than in Joseph Smith's lifetime. Essentially, the prophet is ignored among his own people. His work has not stood the test of time.

Being a Christian, I cannot help but draw a contrast with the person of Jesus Christ.
His words have endured for thousands of years. His teachings have remained the same. Although not all of His prophecies have been fulfilled yet, not one of them has been changed to accomodate modern discoveries. His historical claims have been backed up repeatedly by archaeological proof. There is no need to backtrack, gloss over, or give more recent revelations. Jesus Christ is Truth. And truth doesn't change. It endures.

Like Joseph Smith, Christ remains something of an enigma to me. However, the mystery surrounding Christ is not dark at all. It inspires awe, not a confused shake of the head. The more I learn about Christ and the closer I grow to Him, the more I find Him to be, well,
Himself. I have never found cause for disillusionment. That's one point where Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith differ irreconcilably. The only surprises I encounter in Christ's character are good ones. And the more of those surprises I find, the more I long for. I will be happy to spend my eternity endeavoring to plumb the depths of His wisdom and ways.
No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, Second Edition by Fawn M. Brodie. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971.