Mockery

mockeryOne of the lessons 2016 has driven home to me is that, of all possible forms of humor, mockery is the one I appreciate least. Unfortunately (in my opinion) mockery remains popular across a wide spectrum of people seeking a way to belittle others for anything from physical disabilities to differing views on religion or politics.

I do understand the temptation to mock. Mocking can make the mocker feel smug, intelligent, and witty at the expense of his target. Mocking provides a verbal way to shoot at someone we don’t like without the danger of getting arrested. So in a sense, mocking brings the mocker a reward, particularly if the mockery succeeds in inciting others to join in the jeering and finger-pointing. And I’m sure I’ve mocked before, but I hope in the Lord to have outgrown this particular form of humor.

As a follower of Christ, I do find many incidents of mocking in the Bible. A few include:

– Job was mocked in the midst of his calamity and depression (Job 21:3; 30:9).

– God’s messengers, the prophets were mocked by ungodly listeners (2 Chronicles 36:16).

– Local civic leaders mocked Nehemiah and his followers when they were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:19).

– David was mocked by his enemies, people who resented God’s hand of blessing on the young man (Psalm 35:15-16).

– Soldiers mocked Jesus with words, but added their spittle, slaps, whip lashing, and a crown of thorns (Matthew 26:67-68).

– The Jewish king, Herod, joined in mocking Jesus (Luke 23:11)

– The apostles were mocked by a crowd, who accused them of being drunk early in the morning (Acts 2:13).

That’s only a quick sampling. Many more Bible verses speak of mocking, and they provide food for meditation. But the truth that strikes me over and over is that the mockery in the Bible generally comes from people with whom I wouldn’t care to associate. In contrast, Jesus certainly pointed out sin, and He didn’t hesitate to tell people when they misapplied the Scriptures. Jesus definitely got angry when He drove out those money-changers who turned the temple created for worshiping God into a place for buying and selling animals to sacrifice. (Even without divine power, Jesus was definitely no weakling!) But did Jesus ever put on goofy faces to mock Herod or faraway Caesar to the cackling of His followers? Did He draw slapstick caricatures of the sinners who refused to heed His teachings? I’m not finding it.

I won’t dictate what others should or shouldn’t do with mockery. But if I have to make a choice, I’d rather be mocked than stand among the ranks of mockers. If someday I slip from this goal, somebody please give me a kick in the backside and remind that I’m not being the kind of person I aspire to be!

“Be Careful.”

be-carefulWhen I was young, my family lived one whole block from Dublin elementary school. So, I walked to school every day. But no matter how short the distance, as I headed out the door armed with my brown paper sack lunch, Mom would say, “Be careful.”

That parental warning has always hovered over me in one form or another. When I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, Mom’s goodbye warnings changed from “Be careful” to “Drive careful.” That was decades ago, but to this day when I visit, Mom’s parting words are “Drive careful!”

Dad (now 88) gives me the same warnings. If I cook him a meal and need to step out to his breezeway to fetch something from the freezer, he’ll say, “Be careful.” Or if I head to his basement to use the weight bench or to bring up canned green beans, I know he’ll call out to be careful.

Now, understand that I’m not a reckless person. I do drive defensively. I don’t text while driving. I watch where my feet are going on stairs. But those parental admonitions still pop out, and I’m they always will.

Then, just over a week ago, I noticed something. I’d driven my young grandsons to Falls Park on the Reedy in Greenville, SC. It’s a beautiful place for photos. There are footbridges, waterfalls, pools of water, ducks and geese. My grandsons are still at that young age where water lures them with magnetic attraction. As five-year-old Jonny peered into the pool where geese bobbed along, I heard a voice caution, “Be careful!”

Surprise — the voice was mine. Even though the water was shallow and the danger mild, my automatic response was to repeat the same warning I’ve heard all my life. Life is full of accidents, dangers, and various causes of unhappiness. They happen. We can’t always shield loved one from life’s scrapes and bumps, so our inner voice (or actual voice) urges them to take care. And that’s a good thing.

Friend, the world is fraught with dangers. Some dangers are small, such as stepping into a puddle and getting a shoe wet. (Yes, Jonny managed it despite my vigilance!) Others are life threatening. None of us can save the whole world, but we can care enough to show concern for loved ones. So, friend, if you cared enough to pause and share these thoughts, then I care enough about you to say, “Be careful!”

(And Mom would be proud!)

 

Politically Incorrect? There’s Something Better.

 

Politically-IncorrectAmerican society is infected with an absurd notion. Generally speaking, that notion is that any opinion, symbol, or statement that might somehow displease another is “politically incorrect.” In fact, we’ve reached the point where many might argue to omit the word politically. If you offend them—no matter how unintentionally—they will declare you as incorrect, period.

Years ago, we laughed at verbal gymnastics as some folks suggested rewordings to avoid the least possible offense. For instance, instead of describing a man as short, he was “altitude challenged.” It sounded silly, but we played along. Even some of us non-proponents of PC joined in the game by concocting our own nutty PC labels.

Now, the virus dubbed political correctness has morphed and infested society. Today, if a person displeases anyone at all, he or she no longer risks being frowned upon. The new knee-jerk reaction is to slap a harsh label on the offender.

“Bigot!”

Or the dreaded “Hater!”

Of course, even many of those who shoot the insults realize you’re not actually bigoted or hateful. But they also realize harsh labels can cow the timid, and thus—without the aid of laws or brute force—manipulate the opposition into submitting to their wishes.

Imagine yourself as the manager of a restaurant. On your walls are poster-sized photographs of your lunchtime combos. A woman approaches you and says, “Your photographs of bacon offend me. Bacon is against my religion.” Who’s wrong, the restaurant manager or the customer who expects all others to bow to her standards? I would say the customer, yet many PC adherents would say, “The manager would be wrong. She was offended; he should change the menu.”

Has the USA reached the point where we all must bite our tongues and bend over backward doing whatever necessary to avoid the least offense? I say no. But in the same breath I’ll say we shouldn’t give free reign to rudeness and insults either. There’s an older term that’s superior to political correctness. The word is polite.

Good old-fashioned politeness is kind. So, if a neighbor or coworker is shorter than average, taller than average, wider than average, then the polite person refrains from mocking remarks or embarrassing that person. Good ol’ politeness also refrains from attempts to coerce others into thinking and behaving according to our will.

Jesus gave another behavioral guideline that’s superior to political correctness. He said, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Wow. Treat others the way we wish they would treat us? If everyone truly lived up to that principle, the world would be a better place, and political correctness could join the scrap heap of history.

“How do you overcome writer’s block?”

Writer's block...in Russian

A writer’s block…in Russian 😉

Because I have several novels to my credit, hope-to-be writers sometimes ask how I overcome writer’s block. If you’re afflicted by that dread malady, the following thoughts are for you.

First, many author friends agree that the best remedy for writer’s block is simply self-discipline: to force yourself back to the keyboard and to resume working, even if you’re not feeling “inspired.” In fact, if you wait for the the perfect creative mood, you will probably never write. You must be a strict boss with yourself. Plumbers don’t plumb only when they’re in the mood. Surgeons don’t cancel surgery because they’re rather spend the morning playing Solitaire or catching up with friends on Facebook. They do their jobs, inspired or not, and save playtime for later. So must the writer, whether that discipline translates into a specific number of new words added per day, or simply a certain amount of daily time spent pushing the story forward. (Feel free to give yourself a break on Sundays and holidays.)

Second, here is some encouragement: When you woodenly keyboard word after word without feeling motivated, you might conclude you’re typing junk. And maybe you are. But “junk writing” can always be edited and improved and polished at a later date. However, that blank Word document that is waiting for you to be in the mood? There is absolutely no way anyone can ever improve that empty document. When I was developing my third novel, The Methuselah Project, I often felt bogged down by lack of creativity. More than once, I didn’t know how to handle the next chapter. But I pushed through the tough spots. Later, I came back and reworked each scene of every chapter. You know what? Now I can’t tell the difference between my inspired writing and my forced writing. Both types underwent revisions and ended up better than that first draft.

So go ahead and jump in, even if the sentences feel boring and the dialogue clunky as you create it. Sometimes, the mere act of writing and exercising your imagination helps to prime the pump of creativity, enabling scenes to flow faster and with more enjoyment than when you began!

The Invisible Ones Around Us

Gray-haired womanA casual remark by a senior citizen pierced my heart and has stuck with me. Out of the blue, this woman noted, “Being an elderly woman is like being invisible. Nobody notices you.”

This woman was not bragging about a super power. Nor was she a Ninja in training. Rather, she was sad. People didn’t notice her. They didn’t give compliments. And sure, younger folks might hold the door if she was ambling out of McDonalds as they were trying to enter, but they didn’t go out of their way to meet her or to strike up conversations as they might have done when she was younger and more physically attractive.

My acquaintance’s remark sparked a memory of a double-decker boat I’d recently been on. While visiting California, a group of us boarded the chartered vessel for an evening cruise along the bay. The passengers included authors, screen writers, doctors, a physician, people involved in non-profit organizations, and others. Fascinating clusters of people stood chatting all over that boat, and I enjoyed meeting and networking, too. Yet, off to the side sat three elderly women. They kept to themselves, and exchanged few words as they watched the crowd around them. Who were they? How had they ended up on this chartered cruise? I had no clue, but I didn’t approach them either as I discussed writing with “more important” contacts. These three gray-haired ladies weren’t literally invisible, but they may as well have been for the lack of attention they received that evening.

May I make a suggestion? When we cross paths with the elderly or “unimportant” people, let’s keep in mind that they are real people with genuine feelings. They deserve respect even if they don’t walk or think as fast as they once did. Offering a smile or a kind remark requires little time, but simple acts of kindness or sixty seconds of conversation can make them feel noticed and appreciated.

Jesus declared that the second greatest commandment concerned the people around us (even the “unimportant” and aged ones): “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mark 12:31). Being caring and others-centered bucks the trend in this self-centered age. Yet, that’s the path recommended by none other than the Son of God.

I think it’s time we stop letting people around us fade into invisibility. Don’t you?

 

 

No, You Can’t Please Everybody

To please, or not to pleaseThere I was, sitting in a writers’ critique group led by a famous author, when a woman burst into tears. The reason? Every time someone had offered suggestions on her manuscript, she rewrote her story. But many suggestions contradicted each other.

“I can’t make everybody happy,” she sobbed.

Truer words were never spoken.

That woman wasn’t yet published and faced frustration in trying to please every reader. But that’s not possible. Amazon reviews for The Methuselah Project, my third published novel, provide amusing evidence that it’s impossible to please every type of person.

To illustrate this point, here are excerpts from reviewers (I don’t know them) who left Amazon comments on The Methuselah Project:

 

How was the writing style?

“I did have a bit of trouble with the writing style, especially in the beginning.” (By Ashley)

“Great book! I really enjoyed this story and the writing style. The progression of the story and characters was interesting. Hope to see a sequel soon.” (By grams)

  

Was this novel the right length?

“Really good read but a bit overly long” (By Janine)

“I really wanted it to be longer….” (By Marali)

 

How was the story’s pace?

“It took me a bit to get into the story.” (By Rebecca)

“This exciting book is fast paced, intriguing and a page turner! I would highly recommend this book to any one!” (By Jennifer)

 

Could you figure out the ending?

“Entertaining, fast moving, but predictable novel.” (By Jude)

“This book was so unique and I loved it even more because of that fact. Books tend to follow the same type of patterns so I can usually figure out what is going to happen before the books end and because this book was so different from anything I have read before I didn’t figure it out until it was ending.” (By Margaret)

 

Did it capture your imagination?

“It held my attention and then it fell flat in other parts.” (By Andrea)

“One of my all time favorite books!!!!! Couldn’t put it down. Finished it in two days. If you like WWII Historical fiction look no further. Strap into your seat in the cockpit and prepare for a wild ride!” (By Rosevine Cottage Girls)

 

Was the story memorable?

“I found The Methuselah Project to just be an ok read. I didn’t hate it, but I closed the covers thinking it could have been better. I am definitely in the minority with my opinion — it has great reviews on Goodreads.” (By B. Burnham)

“This is one of the most awesome books I’ve read in a while. Surprising. Suspenseful. Believable. Reminds me of the movie with Mel Gibson ‘Forever Young.’ I wanted it to be a series.” (By Del)

 

I hope you’re smiling at these contradictions, all by anonymous readers, who gave their unbiased opinions on my story.

The bottom line: No, you can’t please everyone in life. Listen to suggestions, sure, but weigh the advice. Act on what’s good; ignore what’s bad. Try to please God, and of course be true to yourself!

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The Power of a Kind Word

Dear friend, did you realize you might have a superpower and not even know it? Simply by opening your mouth and expressing a few thoughts, you might make a super difference in someone’s life today.

Let me be vulnerable and explain. I’ve been going through some tough times lately. No need to delve into details. Suffice it to say that my world has flipped upside down. Changes involving family. Changes involving work. Changes involving where I live, and I plan to move soon to a neighboring state to care for my aging father in his home. Those who study humans and emotions say that every large change in a person’s life becomes a stressor. Multiple changes at once can feel crushing. That’s where I am right now–feeling the heavy weight of many changes and countless decisions, including some fairly sad ones.

Sure, my faith in God is intact. Sure, I pray every day and read my Bible too. Still, it’s easy to bottle up emotions in hard times and not show the world how alone and hurting we feel.

That’s where I was this morning. Then I dropped into a Chick-Fil-a for a breakfast biscuit and coffee. Working behind the counter was a young lady from my church. As it turned out, we had a customer-free moment to exchange a few words. At the end of that brief talk she said quietly, “I want you to know that I’m praying for you.”

I teared up right there. It was a simple statement, but it was from her heart. A reminder that I’m not alone. There are friends who know and care.

Last week a Facebook friend announced his utter shock that a friend had committed suicide. He’d had no clue his friend was despondent. Evidently, neither had others. Yet, some of them wished they had known so they could have expressed some kindness to him and possibly lifted up that sinking soul. But they didn’t know, so they hadn’t said a word. I’m certainly not suicidal, but today’s incident reminded me of the power of even a few sincere words.

We people are such fakers, aren’t we? We don’t like the world to know when we’re hurting. “I’m fine,” we declare when people ask. So we might not know when that friend or acquaintance needs a word of encouragement or appreciation. But perhaps we would do well to practice those kind words even when we’re not sure they’re needed. After all, amidst all the gloom and anger in this world, a kind word is never wasted. And it just might make a super difference!

Deleted Scene — The Methuselah Project

Many fans of The Methuselah Project have wanted to know more about Roger Greene and Katherine. What happens to them next? While my sequel is under construction, allow me to offer a deleted scene as a Christmas gift to you. The original manuscript closed with an epilogue that skipped ahead a few weeks to show an incident involving Roger after the close of the main story. If you haven’t yet read The Methuselah Project, please don’t look the following, as it will be a spoiler for you. (And if you’d like to order the book, simply click on the Bookstore tab above. It will take you to a site where you can order from online vendors.)

 

Epilogue

Forest Park Avenue

St. Louis, Missouri

 

Epilogue - The Methuselah ProjectSitting in the passenger seat of his son’s Dodge Grand Caravan, Frederick Mitchell, Sr., sighed, and not for the first time that afternoon.

Behind the steering wheel, his son, Fred, Jr., said, “I heard that, Dad. Judging by all the sighs you’ve been making, a person would think I’m driving you to your execution, not to an assisted-living center.”

Instead of looking at his son, he focused on the congested St. Louis traffic ahead of them. “Executioner… assisted living… it’s the same thing, isn’t it? It’s still the end of the line.”

“Aw, Dad. Goldie’s Golden Age Retirement Center is a nice place. They’ve got game areas, a botanical garden, private rooms, plus classes on everything from playing the harmonica to photography. Besides, we’ve talked this over. Helen and I just can’t provide the kind of care you need.”

“I’m not griping. I’m just reflecting on life. You’re born. You grow into a little kid, and you’ve got all the time in the world. When you’re small, it takes forever for Christmas to arrive, and then another forever for the next one to roll around. Later, life speeds up, but it still feels like you’ve got plenty of time to live your dreams, to conquer the world. Suddenly, poof! You wake up and realize you’re worthless—an old fogey, ready for somebody to stick you in a pine box.”

“You’re being melodramatic. Nobody thinks you’re worthless, and no one is measuring you for a coffin. Don’t you be in any hurry to check out of life. In case you’ve forgotten, your first great-granddaughter was born last week. Anita deserves as much chance to get bounced on your knee as the grandkids did.”

“My memory is just fine.” To prove his point, he recited, “Anita Marie Mitchell. Eighteen and a half inches long. Seven pounds, eight ounces.”

“Right. Nothing wrong with your memory.” Fred, Jr., glanced in his side mirror and maneuvered into the left-turn lane. “It’s those falling-down episodes that have Helen and me worried. We need someone there to help if it happens again.”

Sheesh. I got a Purple Heart in Korea, and they’re worried I might trip over the vacuum?

The traffic light turned red, and Fred, Jr., braked to a stop. “I hate this intersection. The light stays red forever.”

Ignoring the comment, the elder Mitchell gazed out his window at the vehicle pulling up beside him. It was a sparkling silver Mustang convertible. The car’s top was down, and the young man at the wheel sported green-tinted aviator sunglasses. Oblivious to the senior citizen observing him, the driver of the Mustang tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and bobbed his head to some song.

The figure in the convertible practically radiated fulfillment and a zest for life. Mitchell was slightly surprised to see the young man’s mouth moving. He was actually singing aloud—in public. Look at him. Sitting there in plain sight of everybody and singing along with whatever music he’s listening to. Not a care in the world.

Jealousy ballooned in Mitchell’s thoughts. Not only had he never bought the sports car he’d often dreamed of, but he never would’ve had the guts to sit in public and sing. In a way, the young fellow beside him illustrated the perfect picture of what he wished he could have been.

What’s that young buck listening to? Probably some of the new-fangled hip-hop, hog slop that passes for music nowadays. Partly out of curiosity, and partly out of the desire to remain in control of something, Frederick Mitchell, Sr., fumbled for the window button, then pressed it. As the glass slid downward, he craned an ear to catch the melody flowing from the Mustang. What he heard caught the senior citizen off guard. Instead of the modern music he found irritating, his hearing aid caught something familiar. Something old. In fact, practically ancient. His memory couldn’t quite place the tune.

On impulse, the elder Mitchell called to the man in the convertible. “Hey, you!”

The figure in the Mustang continued singing and nodding his head to the music.

“Hey, you. Young buck!”

The driver of the Mustang turned and looked. With a deft motion, his right hand turned down the volume.

“What’s that song you’re listening to? I’ve heard it somewhere before.”

The Mustang driver flashed a generous grin. “That’s an oldie that was popular in 1943. It’s called ‘The Hut-Sut Song,’ by Freddy Martin….”

“…and his orchestra! Ha! I knew I’d heard that before. My dad used to play that record when I was a little squirt. Haven’t heard it since my brother broke it.”

Now Mitchell regarded the driver of the convertible with more interest. Something about the young man struck him as curiously likable.

“Ain’t you kinda young to be listening to such old-fashioned songs?”

Once again, the driver sporting the aviators parted his lips in a grin. He shook his head. “Not at all, sir. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it has no value. Good music never dies. It’s always there for people who appreciate it.”

The light above the intersection turned green, and the cars ahead began inching forward.

The Mustang’s driver shared a final smile and then, unexpectedly, popped him a formal salute. “Take care, sir!”

Hurrying to respond, Mitchell saluted back, a motion he hadn’t executed since his Korea days. The simple gesture from the stranger warmed him. Made him feel respected. In his mind he heard the phrase again: Just because something is old doesn’t mean it has no value.

As the Mustang pulled forward, Mitchell spotted a sticker on its rear bumper. It said, “I’d rather be flying.”

Feeling more light-hearted than he had in many a day, Mitchell let his face break into a smile as he powered the window back up. Somehow, the brief exchange had made a difference. “I’d rather be flying, too. Have a good time, young buck. Life is short. Enjoy it while you can!”

 

 

WW II memories: A Yank in the Royal Air Force

Did you know that American men fought in World War II long before Pearl Harbor? Although a sentiment of pacifism and “America First” had kept the U.S. from getting involved directly, some Americans launched out on their own, volunteering to fight Nazi Germany in other ways.

Because Roger Greene, the star of my current novel, The Methuselah Project, sailed to England to fly fighter planes for the Royal Air Force, I especially enjoyed coming across memories of a real-life American who mirrors the exact same spirit as my fictional character. At age 19, James Goodson was positive that America would eventually jump into the battle against Nazism. He decided not to wait. He packed his bag and set sail for England. On the Atlantic, Goodson’s ship was torpedoed and sunk. He arrived in England with just the clothes he was wearing. Here’s what happened next:

“I found a RAF recruiting station and immediately asked if any American could join. No one seemed to know at first if I could but later was told I could but would probably lose my American citizenship when I swore allegiance to the King of England. I told the recruiters that if the king needed my allegiance, he had it. The question of pay arose and I think the fellow said it was seven shillings and six pence a day (less than $2.00). I was heartbroken. I said, ‘I’ve lost everything I have. I don’t think I can afford it.’ The fellow said, ‘No, no, no. We pay you seven and six.’ I remember thinking, ‘These lovable fools. They could have had me for nothing.’ To be able to fly a Spitfire and be paid for it was just beyond my wildest dreams.”*

Goodson flew with the 43rd Squadron of the Royal Air Force. Later, he became a pilot in the Eagle Squadron [composed of Yanks who flew in the RAF before America entered the war]. He never lost the thrill of flying.

Have you ever known someone who served during the world’s biggest conflict? Did he or she share any memories that stick with you to this day?

*Source: Astor, Gerald. The Mighty Eighth, New York: Dell Publishing, 1997. pp. 20-21.