Well, it was a busy weekend, so I'm not going to do a post today. Instead, I thought I'd give some cleaning tips. Hah! Just kidding. I'm not really going to do that. But it was a busy weekend.
No, I am doing a post today. It's something I've been thinking about for a long time now--something I noticed in my recent re-reading of the New Testament. In my opinion the implications of these few verses are stunning and profound.
Many people are familiar with the story of the young man who came to Jesus and said, "Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?"
Jesus of course answered that he should keep the commandments--honoring his parents, refraining from adultery, dishonesty and so forth.
The young man replied that he had done all these things since his youth.
Then, the scripture says, "And Jesus, beholding him loved him..." That's important to note. Jesus's response to this young man's obedience was one of love and appreciation.
So what did Jesus do? Compliment him? Commend him? Promise him eternal life?
None of the above. He challenged him. "One thing thou lackest. Go they way and sell whatsoever thou hast and give to the poor..." (Mark 10:21).
The implications of this phrase are, as I said profound. Possibly revolutionary for teachers, parents, church leaders. Here was someone who had done good work. Instead of cheering him, Jesus challenged him to do better work and gave him what I call a threshold commandment--a personalized challenge that pushed him up to the very threshold of his faith.
Sadly, the young man was not ready to step through the threshold, unlike some of the others Jesus encountered who were able to stretch to that threshold (see here, for example).
But that's not the point. The point is that we live in a culture where we have compliment inflation. Everything that is average or mediocre is good. Everything that is good is great. Everything that's great is amazing. And so on.
And yes, I like compliments as much as anyone. But Jesus, who loves us more deeply and dearly than anyone did give compliments willy-nilly. He was honest--and he challenged those he loved.
I've learned with my voice students that I cannot compliment them into singing well. I cannot help them get over bad habits and develop good ones by praising them. I have learned that my writing group cannot help me polish my manuscript by telling me how awesome I am. They have to point out the flaws and challenge me.
And so it is with us spiritually. If we want to grow, we have to be challenged and pushed. We have to be stretched.
Don't get me wrong, I love to get a good compliment. And I think it's important to encourage and support But the key is to understand that this challenging is actually an expression of God's love.
I realize I've been a bad blogging buddy lately. You come here and then I don't go to your blog. I feel like that one sister in the ward who always has people babysit her kids but is just never free when people need it in exchange.
So, sorry! I'm hoping things ease up a bit soon. School started, of course, and for moms that means 9 months of partial freedom. For teachers, it's just the opposite, of course.
Then, I've been working like a madman on my middle grade novel. Nights, meals, bus rides to 8th grade retreats, election speeches by class officer candidates--however, I don't work on it during Church meetings because even I have my limits.
Anyway--I want to talk about that novel for a minute.
When it was first written, it was a little over 400 pages and it was brilliant. I knew it. I read a lot in this genre and I just knew it was excellent. I had some kids read it and they loved it, too.
I knew this was good. I could see in my mind how good it was. Then I gave it to some friends to read. To my surprise, they showed me the weaknesses. Too many instances of telling not showing, way too much narrative, long passages of unnecessary explanation.
At first I was confused. They must not get my genre, I thought. And then I looked more closely. They were absolutely right.
You see, my idea is wonderful. It's interesting and a little unique. And in my mind, it works perfectly. But they, of course, couldn't see my idea. They only saw what I had translated that idea into. And the two didn't match.
I fancy myself as very self-critical and tough on myself. But because I was so tuned in to the wonderful idea, I missed the rough execution.
My friends did me a HUGE favor by helping me see my work with new eyes. And I went back and slashed and sliced ruthlessly. Any writer will know what I mean when I say that each slice felt like it was going into my heart. But the book is sooo much better now!
A few more read-throughs and I'm going to send it off and try to get an agent. This endeavor was faciliated greatly by my friends, who loved me enough to be honest. They helped me see the difference between what I wanted and intended to do and what I actually did. Good friends. May I always have those kind of friends and may I always be one of those friends! I think there is a larger parallel here, but I'm going to leave it for you all to apply. I've gotta run!
This post really is for me. I know that's a blogging cliche, but in this case it's true.
So, I have learned a lot in this last year as I've worked to get the book published. One of the things I've learned, or rather, re-learned, is how I respond to criticism.
I find that I don't really mind if people don't like my work. Of course, it's nice when people do, but it doesn't bother me if someone doesn't. In fact, I'm surprised by how objective, almost clinical I feel about that.
On the other hand, there are some things that really do bother me. Once someone gave me 5 stars on Goodreads and I knew they hadn't read the book (don't worry it wasn't any of you). That actually frustrated me more than any amount of criticism! Getting a compliment that is insincere is worse for me than an honest critique.
Another thing that bothers me is when people comment without any attempt at understanding what I was trying to do and focus on what they would have done or what they wish I would have done. Goethe said there were only three questions to ask when judging an artistic work: What was the author trying to say? How well did he say it? Was it worth saying? I've always found those are useful questions in guiding my response to books I read.
But the thing that really bothers me, I'm being authentic today, is when people are factually inaccurate about the book. Don't like something? Fine. But if you are going to write a review, please make sure that your facts are straight.
Just for the record, I want to address something I've read a few times. Why I am doing this? I know that people who read this blog are generally a friendly audience--and I love you for it. But I want to set the record straight. This is NOT an attempt to fish for compliments and get you to say, "Oh, it was such a good book!"
I promise that's not it at all. No, this is just me wanting to respond to a criticism that bothers me: The Road Show is unrealistic because the character's problem just magically end.
That is not true--it's factually inaccurate. A careful reading of the book shows that there is no magic ending. Everyone's problems are not tied up in neat little packages.
I feel strongly about that because I was very careful about that when I wrote it.
Stephanie, for example, begins taking medicine for her depression. She also begins some lifestyle changes like exercise and trying to be more present for her family. These changes allow the Lord to help her and open her understanding during the performance. Her depression isn't magically gone.
Scott has grappled with his addiction for years before the book starts. He has finally hit rock bottom and has gone to see his bishop. When he wins one bout of temptation, he realizes he still has battles ahead of him and that he's not "done." During the road show, he comes to feel the Lord's love for him and feels that he's finally forgiven. That doesn't mean his problem is over.
Curtis has some breakthroughs in the way he sees people. But he has years of habits to overcome. Clearly, he will continue to struggle. But now he has a vision, at least, of what a Christ-like leader can be. I find that to be very realistic--flashes of insight that help us realize that we are not where we need to be, followed by the desire to be better is a very common experience.
Ed has made a friend and his dad, with whom he has issues said something nice to him. His struggles to fit in and feel comfortable are not over.
Eula does get a bona fide miracle. She is healed, but only after years of suffering and the demonstration of substantial faith--not an insignificant exertion, I might add. Her house is still falling apart, she is still seriously behind on her bills, and while we hope Curtis will step up and take better care of her, she may still have to deal with loneliness.
The point of The Road Show is that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is real. He heals and helps us through the trials and vicissitudes of mortal life. But he doesn't take away our problems. There are sweet and sacred moments when He gives us perspective, hope, and even miracles--but the miracles help us endure through the rest of our trials. They don't end them.
The Road Show happens to end at one of these high points. Perhaps as an artistic choice, one could argue that it implies the problems are solved and is therefore ineffective. That would be a valid critical point. I happen to disagree, but I could respect that point of view.
To me, however, the point is this: the characters have received grace and love so they can move on to face their problems with the knowledge that God loves them and knows them and will help them carry the burdens they bear.