Monday, February 25, 2008

The Discourse of Comfort

Comfort spoke to me.

“I'm a gentle goddess,” she said. “I would never ask to control you, but want only to set you free. Isn't that what you want? What all men want? The end of the struggle and the beginning of ease?"

And I had to agree with her. Most of my dreams and my plans and my choices were rooted in the idea of and desire for more comfort.

“I'm not like the other gods,” she said. “I'm not like the gods of anger or justice or mercy or jealousy. I make no demands of you. I'm here to meet your needs and fulfill your dreams, not to ask you to fulfill mine. I require no service of you. No worship. No fire. I serve you, instead."

The words of Comfort stirred me and moved me toward myself with their enticements.

“I'm an easy goddess to honor. Some gods try to wake you up with conviction or conversion or contrition, but I’m most satisfied when you’re asleep in my arms. When you make your choices, don’t ask yourself what I might desire, but only what you would desire of me. For I give you my all. And I’m here to meet all your desires, not just your needs.”

Comfort reached her hand to me and I took it. For she was lovely to behold and her smile encircled my heart. We moved toward each other in a lover’s embrace.

“Lean on me. Come to me. Set down your cross and take my hand. My road is easy and the path is smooth and every step is more relief from the harsh load of other gods."

She led me to her chambers.

“Throw away your yokes, for I seek to remove them one and all. And in your dreams, don't think of other worlds, but of this one. You deserve all that this moment can offer, all that I can give. I'll shield you from suffering, close you off from pain, and protect you from any cruel thoughts of grief or death.”

I smelled her perfume as she leaned her body against mine. Then Comfort guided me toward her bed. And our lips met and I found in her kisses, the soothing and unhurried promises of ease.

“I'm a pillow for your head and shoes for your feet and gloves for your hands. I protect you and soothe you as you move from one moment to the next. I whisper to you; hear my voice! I'm the goddess of today and the moments within it. And I gently cradle all my children, singing them to sleep in my arms.”

And that’s when I saw the chains hanging from her wrists and the shackles hidden in her bed.

So I ran from her. I fled from her and limped away from her side. And since that night I’ve been careful not to return to her arms.

Yet, my heart is still beating with desire. And her perfume still lingers on my lips.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Spirit of Nature

While I was reading the Bible this morning I noticed Psalm 104. The anonymous author spends most of the first half of his poem talking about the wonders of the earth and the interplay of all creation--from the creation of our planet, to the seas and the mountains, to the birds and grass and cattle and plants that produce olive oil, bread and wine (that he mentions, to all my teetotaling friends, “gladdens the heart of man”). Then he highlights the moon and the sun and the game of tag between day and night.

In verse 24 he writes: “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” He mentions that the creatures look to God for their food, and need God’s provision to survive. But what struck me most was verse 30: “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.”

God didn’t just spend six days creating the earth and all that lives on it.

He spends every day doing it.

That got me thinking about the whole concept of “nature” and “the natural world.” How natural is it, if God’s Spirit is what gives life to all things?

I decided to look up the word “nature” and found out that it comes from a French word nature in the 1300s that means “creative power in the material world,” which comes from the Latin word natura which literally means “birth” or, the verb form, “to give birth.”


So I guess I do believe there’s such a thing as nature. And it’s evidenced by the touching of God’s life-giving Spirit on every leaf that buds, every bird that hatches, every newborn animal and planet that awakens to the light of day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Becoming a Calf Again

So recently I was going through a rough time and I was praying to God, whining like we sometimes do, telling him, “Oh, God! People tell me I have to sacrifice for you, people tell me I have to give up something in this situation, but the only thing that keeps coming to mind is my happiness. Do you really want me to give up my happiness?”

Now, I should mention that God doesn’t normally speak to me--at least not like someone on a loudspeaker at a baseball stadium, but sometimes I do hear his voice whispering to me, telling me things I would never have thought of on my own. Jesus said that his sheep hear his voice, and this was one of those times when the Shepherd spoke, because when I said, “Do you really want me to give up my happiness?” God said to me, “Are you willing to give up your unhappiness?”

So I decided to try again, “But God, sometimes it feels like disappointment is the default setting for my life!”

And he said to me, “Would you be willing to let it be joy?”

Why does he have to do that to me.

I haven’t heard much from God since praying those things, probably because he’s still waiting for my answer. Am I willing to let go of unhappiness and disappointment, and simply accept the gift of joy?

Well, sometimes yes. Sometimes no.

When I was considering all this one day, I stumbled across a Bible verse tucked in the corners of the Old Testament: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall,” (Malachi 4:2 NIV).

A rising sun with healing wings. Freedom. And a wide open pasture. That’s what I need more of.

So lately I’ve been praying that God will help me to stop letting my failures make me feel guilty, and just let my weaknesses make me humble. I’m praying that he’ll help me focus not on the times I’ve let him down, but on the ways he has lifted me up. To default to his promises rather than my circumstances.

To give up my unhappiness.

To let joy back in.

And to run in the open-gated fields of his love once again.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Riddle of Temptation

“Oh, wise Teacher!” called the students. “Speak to us of Temptation!”

“What do you know of it already?” he asked.

“I know it’s like an avalanche,” said one of the students. “Starting with only a small snowflake and burying the person in cold death.”

“Some temptation,” said the Teacher. “But not all.”

“Then it’s a piece of driftwood caught in a current. And the driftwood doesn’t notice it’s moving at all until it has been carried far downstream,” said another student.

“Yes, that is true of some temptation. But only of some.”

“But what of all temptation?” they cried.

“All temptation looks as the rose, with promises sweet and fragrant, and they are beautiful to touch, but once plucked, the thorns on the stem wound the picker of the rose. Yet every day, the person returns to pick another rose, and is wounded once again by its thorns.”

“But why would the picker not stop picking roses?” asked the students.

“Because the rose remains beautiful, even through the pain,” said the Teacher.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tuning the Instrument

Often in my writing seminars I'll talk about how the imagination is the instrument of the writer. And how, the more we hone and enhance our ability to think clearly, to visit worlds that only we can see, to make the jump from the visible to the invisible, we are tuning the instrument.

There's an old story about an archer who was giving a monk a hard time because he would take so many breaks walking in the mountains. "Sir," said the Monk, "please pull back your bow." The archer did and the monk told him to hold it... hold it... hold it... until the archer said at last, "But if I leave tension in my bow all the time, it will break."

"Precisely," said the Monk.

Sometimes the best way to grow a mature imagination is to give one part of your brain a break while you engage another. So the next time you take the afternoon off to watch a movie and someone gives you a hard time just tell them, "Hey, I'm just tuning the instrument, baby. Just tuning the instrument.

Now, time to get back to watching Babel, the movie I paused ten minutes ago so I could write this.

See? It works.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sleeping Beauty

It wasn’t until my daughter became a teenager that I realized “Sleeping Beauty” is not a fairy tale. The princess didn’t sleep for a hundred years because of a curse, it’s just that her alarm clock didn’t go off.

Today I was tempted to see if my daughter could break her record, but then I realized I’d miss all the wonderful joys of watching her grow up, get married, have kids of her own, and then try to get them up at 6:30 a.m. for school.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Painted Veil

Last night I watched The Painted Veil (2006, starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton). Wow. It's a stunning film. The story, based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, takes place during a cholera epidemic in 1925 China, but it’s a timeless story and, with the outbreak of infectious disease angle, the film feels remarkably current. The cinematography and acting are superb and apart from some clunky editing the movie is altogether brilliant.

But what makes the film so striking to me is its honesty about life. The characters are flawed but real, multi-dimensional and struggling with misconceptions about others, a deep need to love and be loved, and a quiet urge to live a life that matters.

Watch this movie but don’t study it. Let it draw you in and wrap you up in its moments--both the painful ones and the redemptive ones. It does all that we could ask of a film: it entertains us as it reveals to us what being human really means.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Road to Siloam

So, I heard them talking.

I heard what they were saying and I’m wondering if maybe it’s true. It might be--that I’m this way because God is punishing me. Either for something my parents did or something I did. Or was going to do.

Or something I’m doing right now.

So maybe they’re right.

But he told them no, that a bigger reason was at work, and I wondered if his hint was a riddle or a promise. Then he touched me. With mud on my eyes and strong words in my ears, “Go to the Pool of Siloam,” he said. “And wash.”

And so I left him. In the darkness I’ve always known, I left him. And now I’m on the road wondering why.

The people around me, the ones I’ve been asking for directions, they tell me I’m close. The pool is just up ahead.

I took the first few steps full of raw excitement. I really hoped he could do something for me no one else could ever do, but eventually, with more steps came more doubt. Maybe this was all just another joke that those with eyes to see were playing on me. All a game to mock the man born blind.

So why am I still walking? I’m not sure. The trip has become something of an obligation. A way of going through the motions so that those who heard his words won’t ask me, “So why didn’t you go all the way? You never know. He might have actually opened your eyes.”

I can hear the splashing water. The pool is just ahead.

Something will happen when I wash my eyes. Either my infant hope will die forever, or a new kind of life will be born.

They tell me I’ve arrived. The pool is at my feet.

I bend down.

I’m not proud of the trip, my doubts, my weak efforts to hold onto the faith I first had in his words. But now I’m here.

My fingers tremble as I reach forward and feel the cool water swirling, swirling right in front of me.

Either simple water. Or a mystery as deep as my past. All I need to do is wash. That’s what he told me to do.

I don’t know what’ll happen.

As I lean forward I feel a flicker of fear that I’ve made the journey for nothing.

And so now, my hope and doubt mix together into a fumbling prayer as I dip my hands into the water.

And lift them to my face.

(See John 9:1-7)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Believing the Things We Know

Recently, as part of a grant application, I had to write my artistic statement for my art form--fiction. For what it's worth, here are a few excerpts...

We don’t seem to believe the things we know.

We know that we’re not promised a thousand tomorrows, that eternity lies only a heartbeat away, that love is worth the risk and worth the pain, that relationships are more important than paychecks, that every moment matters… We know these things, but only the prophets and poets and mystics seem to live as if they believe them. The rest of us tend to need constant reminding. And therein lies the calling and role of the arts.


The arts capture the essence of the world, the truths of human nature, and allow viewers, or readers, to enter that moment, that elusive moment, when truth finally touches time; when revelation finally occurs. The arts open our eyes to the world we so often miss--the world of truth lying hidden under the daily barrage of facts.

When we “suspend our disbelief” during a fictional story, whether performed theatrically by actors or linguistically by words, we actually open ourselves up to finally stop suspending our disbelief in reality and to begin--if only for a moment--to finally believe the truths we already know. So in a sense art, in my case writing, uses a pretend world to help readers see the real one more clearly.

Authors of fiction are engaged in the work not of telling facts, but of speaking the truth--the truth about life, about human nature, about the role that we each play in shaping the way the world is and the way the future will look. Fiction that matters is fiction that honestly explores the paradoxes of the human spirit, the human condition and the questions that influence our lives and our destinies.

I believe that passion and truth are the two clarion attributes of great fiction--passion that embraces the wounds and dreams of life, and truth that guides us toward experiencing them more fully. I’ve found that it takes unsettling courage to write stories that bite deeply into my soul, but these are the only ones that ultimately satisfy me because I know that I’m doing more than simply entertaining readers. I’m touching their hearts through their eyeballs.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The T and the Y

Lately I've been reminded once again of how easy it is to slip into the trap of image-management. Of trying to get other people to like me, to respect me, to think about me.

But here's what struck me the other day—and yes, I do believe God told it to me, partly because I would never have thought of it on my own, partly because I believe he does speak to us. Anyway, here's the thought, "From now on Steve, delete the t and the y."

So, instead of thinking, "What will they think about me?" or "What will they say about me?" My goal is to delete the t and the y and instead, think about the thing that matters so much more than public opinion in the eyes of Jesus.

I’ve realized I’ve got a lot of deleting to do.

It’s hard, but it sure is freeing when I actually manage to do it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Pawn Makes a Move

Just a quick note to share some good news. My latest book, The Pawn, just hit #10 on the CBA fiction bestsellers list. Here's the February bestsellers list for fiction:
  1. (10) Between Sundays Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan, c, 0310257727
  2. (14) Sabrina Lori Wick, Harvest House, p, 0736920781
  3. (16) Home to Holly Springs Jan Karon, Putnam Adult (Penguin), c, 0670018252
  4. (26) The Parting Beverly Lewis, Bethany House (Baker), p, 076420310X
  5. (36) Just Beyond the Clouds Karen Kingsbury, Center Street (Hachette), p, 1599956772
  6. (45) Cassidy Lori Wick, Harvest House, p, 0736916180
  7. (48) Summer Karen Kingsbury, Tyndale, p, 084238748X
  8. Redeeming Love Francine Rivers, Multnomah (WaterBrook), p, 1590525132
  9. Skin Ted Dekker, Thomas Nelson, c, 1595542779
  10. The Pawn Steven James, Revell (Baker), p, 0800732405
  11. On Her Own Wanda Brunstetter, Barbour, p, 9781597896108
  12. Marks Story Tim LaHaye, Putnam Adult (Penguin), c, 0399154477
  13. The Christmas Promise Donna VanLiere, Thomas Nelson, c, 1595543325
  14. The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis, HarperCollins/Zondervan, p, 0060652934
  15. Sunrise Karen Kingsbury, Tyndale, p, 0842387471
  16. Blink of an Eye Ted Dekker, Thomas Nelson, c, 1595542876
  17. The Penny Joyce Meyer & Deborah Bedford, FaithWords (Hachette), c, 0446578118
  18. Redeeming Love Francine Rivers, Multnomah (WaterBrook), c, 1601420617
  19. Daughters Inheritance Tracie Peterson, Bethany House (Baker), p, 0764203649
  20. Going Home Wanda Brunstetter, Barbour, p, 9781597896092
Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement over the last year!

If you haven't picked up a copy yet, you can get a signed one off my website, or a cheap used one on Amazon. Also, check out the video trailer if you haven't seen it.

Tomorrow I'll try to have something more profound to share, but I was excited by the news and figured why not let my friends and readers know?

More soon.