My writing

Kanye Dig it?

Obviously, from the pun above, you can tell that this post is going to be about Kanye West. Let me apologize in advance for saying that, and I’ll explain my apology later. Much has been made about Kanye’s conversion to Christ and, with the dropping of his latest project, Jesus is King, his situation is being debated by Christians and non-Christians alike. The dirty little secret about Christians, and I’ve made no secret that I am a Christian, and what happens when a celebrity converts is that most Christians cheer it immediately, but then we put them under the microscope and any mistakes they make are magnified. We don’t give them time to grow and then we attack them for being immature Christians. Or, we assume that they’re “converting” for ulterior reasons. So, when my pastor mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Kanye West had professed faith in Christ, I raised my eyebrows and smiled. Then, I did some research.

Maybe I was behind the times in hearing about Kanye’s conversion, but as I researched, I got the impression that what my new brother did to ground himself in the faith was amazing. He’s spent time with his pastor. He’s been having private worship services at his ranch. He’s worked to grow in the faith and get a strong grounding in God’s word. I was flabbergasted. While I hadn’t followed Kanye much, I can tell you that he didn’t impress me. But what I’ve read about how he’s responded as the grace of God has moved in his life puts tears in my eyes. While my opinion isn’t worth much in general, if someone were to ask me how a celebrity should respond once they come to Christ, I’d have given a road map much like the one Kanye followed.

Many of the people who’ve been negative about this conversion have brought up sins from his pre-conversion days to make the case that this conversion couldn’t be real. I guess because God can’t forgive sinners who go over a certain threshold? Perhaps they forget Paul’s claim to be the chief of sinners? So, if we accept Paul at his word, perhaps we could make Kanye’s pre-conversion days the lifestyle of the second worst sinner of all time – which would then force us to acknowledge that if God could forgive Paul, maybe He can forgive Kanye? Does Kanye have a checkered past? You betcha! I don’t think I’d want people to go back and listen to his old music, for example. That being said, all those past sins are forgotten by God. They’re thrown away as far as the east is from the west. He’s forgiven. His sins, like mine, were nailed to the cross and God’s mercy is more than enough to bring forgiveness.

A friend of mine, Lori Twichell, wrote an excellent post about this story and included some great videos. She noticed two things about him that caught my attention: 1) This man had peace that radiated in his face and through the answers to questions. He had no trouble with tough questions and seemed to welcome them; and 2) Kanye used to be all about himself and now he describes himself as a servant of God. He talked about Jesus and about what God had done in a couple of interviews Lori mentioned and included links to in her post. And that’s why I apologized earlier. I think Kanye, were he to be sitting here commenting on this post, would chastise me for saying so much about him. So, any of the praise I’ve given to him, make sure you realize that Kanye would probably deflect it to Jesus.

So let’s get down to his recent project released the other day: Jesus is King. I’m going to be honest. I’ve listened to most, if not all, of the album and I’m not a fan. It’s not bad in any sense of the word, it’s just that my ear isn’t tuned to the cadences of rap/hip hop and I have a hard time making things out. From what I could understand, it’s on solid ground theologically. I’ve had one friend who noted that it’s very sound theologically, moreso than many worship songs we all seem to enjoy. I’ve had another friend say it’s the best Christian album of the year. It may be, but it’s not my cup of tea. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be. From what I could understand of the music, I wouldn’t be ashamed if anyone found out I listened to it, and will listen to it again. I wouldn’t turn it off if it came on the radio. That being said, though, Kanye will reach people I could never reach with this album. A number of people commenting on his songs mentioned their need to go back to church. I hear a lot of paise for Jesus coming through the music. I would have no problem recommending that someone who likes that style listen…and I would add, old geezers like me need to be willing to listen to it and hope to understand that God can use music like that to reach people I could never reach.

The conclusion of all this is that I believe that Kanye’s conversion is real and that he’s already exhibiting a vibrant faith that some of us older people can learn from. I also believe that somewhere along the way, Kanye will stumble and sin – which sin will be magnified beyond measure because of who he is and the number of spiritual vultures waiting for him to fall. When that happens, I hope and pray that i’m the first one to extend God’s love and forgiveness to him as he gets back on track wth his growth. And, even though Kanye would never read this let me just say, “Brother Kanye, welcome to the family! Walking with Jesus is an amazing ride that will never boring and will never get easier. I’m excited for this change in your life and I pray that as you go forward and grow in your faith that you’ll experience God’s presence and grace in the best of times and the worst of times.” I praise God that Jesus is being preached.

My writing

Reflections on the Stock Market and China

I haven’t followed the stock market much, recently, but after my mother died, part of the inheritance she left us was in the form of stocks. So, I’ve been checking things out as we’ve been dealing with those stocks and consolidating our retirement savings with our broker. (I like my broker a lot.) There are a lot of factors to consider when buying stocks that relate to your temperament and our broker has gone through a lot of discussions with us so that he can help find the right investments for us. One of the issues I’m concerned about, and it isn’t always easy relaying this concern to a stockbroker, is socially responsible investing. I’m not going to get into the details of that, but the inked articles can give you more understanding of that topic. There are some really strong mutual funds, Morningstar 5-star funds even, that follow socially responsible patterns of investing, so you won’t lose a whole lot doing that.

The biggest cloud hanging over the market right now is the issue of a US and China trade agreement. The most well-known barometer of the stock market is the Dow Jones average. The Dow will swing a couple hundred points up or down each day depending on what the rumors are about the trade talks. The other day was a particularly bad day for the market because a number of Chinese companies were blacklisted. While I don’t understand the whole story, these companies were blacklisted because they came from, perhaps even participated in, oppressing the Muslim minority in those provinces in the west.

Given China’s history on human rights, the fact that they are oppressing a religious minority shouldn’t surprise anyone. They continue to persecute Christians and members of the Falung Gong as well as Muslims. They put down a movement toward freedom at Tianammen Square a number of years ago and are cracking down on a similar movement in Hong Kong. What kind of reach do they have in their anti-freedom agenda, look no further than the NBA which has removed fans from the stands for supporting a free Hong Kong. Of course, this came after after Chinahad cut ties with the NBA because a member of one team’s executive staff tweeted that he stood with the Hong Kong protestors in seeking freedom. China has a lot of economic strength and they’re willing to flex their muscles to get their way and, in the past, US businessmen bowed to the Chinese because of the desire for trade.

If the above isn’t bad enough, let’s not forget that they use slave labor and infringe on copyrights and trademarks, and other issues of intellectual property as naturally as breathing. Because of their cheap/slave labor they can flood the market with cheap goods. They can even take a loss on some of those sales because they’re able to manipulate currency and end up earning money.

China has a weak spot in their economy, though, that wasn’t visible until the recent trade war. They have two economies: one for export and one for internal issues. The economy for the people of China is stagnant because no one has any money to buy things. What keeps China afloat is their export market. As their ability to export drops, less trade means less money to prop up the failed communist regime. That’s why I believe we’re seeing the Chinese trade negotiators responding so vehemently to any perceived slight. They know they can affect the various stock markets and hope that their threats will bring the US and other nations into their line before they have to fall to their knees and accept the US proposals.

Which brings us back to the beginning: the stock market. I can guarantee you that the market will take on a long, steady, downward drift if we don’t make peace with China in this trade war. But I think it’s worth it so we avoid a tacit approval of China’s evil practices. True, my stocks will go down, but it’s a price we need to be willing to pay to force China to trade fairly and treat their citizens appropriately. This is a trade war we can’t afford to lose.

EDIT: Case in point – I woke up to read this article. NBA takes mic away from reporter for asking about China

My writing, personal

Today’s Class: Poetry

The Writer’s Studio in Corpus Christi has a class every fourth Saturday. I’ve got to be honest with you – I went to today’s class more out of a sense of obligation to support this great venture than any real interest in poetry. I mean, it’s just not my thing. The class began a bit slowly, but then, the teacher’s passion came out and she said a few things and had some writing exercises that made me pay more attention. Perhaps the most interesting thing was that poetry isn’t about ideas – it’s about words or feelings. I ended up writing three poems during the writing time. The first was dark. The second was light-hearted, and the third was just for fun based on something someone at our table said. The first one came from the teacher’s writing prompt, the second one came from the teacher talking about using color and word play, and I already told you about the third one. So, here are the (untitled) poems.

Here again

Too often these days

Greeted

By Black suits, white shirts, black ties.

 

An autograph

Never read

The ticket to enter

and find a seat

 

To remember, reflect, revere;

To recall what

was never there.

A good life, he said,

A fine life.

 

I wondered – right place?

Finished

I see her – must be right.

 

Walking by with a tear

and a hug,

promising support

Then forgetting

until the next time.

***

 

It’s not where

I said,

It’s that

— but Cozumel —

 

Burdens, worries, cares,

not packed

left behind.

 

Surrounded by blue,

and sun,

and more blue

but not blues.

 

Food, rest, fun, relax

 

— but Cozumel —

Sparkling, shopping, sunburn,

SMILES

 

Too soon — back home

Problems return

They could overwhelm

— but Cozumel —

***

All I want is a beer, man

(And I don’t even drink anymore)

 

Dark memories of the past

rolled though my mind

And I remember why I stopped

But

All I want is a beer, man.

***

Daily Work, My writing, personal, The State of Writing Today

Growing As a Writer

I’ve been sporadic in writing the last couple of months. I took August off and didn’t write anything other than my devotionals for the whole month. One of the major reasons was that I seem to be encountering a lot of Repetitive Stress Injury problems with my wrists. The month off from other writing was beneficial. I still have to be careful, though, since I’ll be stressing my wrists out a lot come November and NaNoWriMo. (National Novel Writing Month has a goal of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.) As I’ve thought during this time, I’ve realized that I need to become more proficient in the business and the craft side of this industry if I’m ever going to make the money back that I’ve spent on writing, editing, marketing, etc. (I’m not even worried about making a profit, now!) And so, I’ve embarked on a plan that will take a while, but it’s designed to help me grow as a writer.

One of the first things I’ll keep doing is writing short stories. They help me learn get to the point quickly. Surprisingly to me, I’ve enjoyed writing short stories. I’ve written for William Mays and his two Corpus Christi Writers Anthologies. The release of this year’s anthology will be in November. The first anthology can be found in the link at the bottom of this article. I’ve also had the opportunity to have written for and included in two anthologies released by Fiction-Atlas Press run by C.L. Cannon. Cannon’s anthologies have a theme which make them a challenge to write for. The first one was a time travel anthology called Counterclockwise and the second one was a super hero anthology called Behind the Mask. (Again, links will be found at the bottom of this article.) I had fun with the first one, and the second one I wrote something that scared me to death, because I expected people to tell me that a man shouldn’t write that story. Seriously. I wondered why I had the right to write that one. Interestingly, in one of the reviews it was mentioned as being a good story. Because of Cannon’s themes, I tend to stretch myself and go beyond my limits. She has a new anthology coming out in October called “Unknown Realms” which is a portal anthology. My submission for this anthology created a lot of angst for me because the subject matter included slavery. I originally tried to write in a dialect that might have been used by slaves, but changed it because I wasn’t comfortable and was worried that people would think I was putting slaves down. I did more research to get names of places, family members, and slaves down exactly right. Well, to make a long story short, it wasn’t accepted for the anthology – and I’m comfortable with that. I learned a lot working on that story. I’m proud of it, and I’ll use it in other situations. But that also means I think this anthology will be pretty strong. Special kudos go to my South Texas writing buddy Devorah Fox for being included in the group.

When it comes to the business side of writing, I’m completely clueless. I don’t even have a mailing list. I’m making that my first priority for business, so I’m reading a book on mailing lists by Tammi LaBrecque who comes highly recommended by some people I respect. I’ll probably end up reading it again after I get the newsletter set up so that I cut down on the mistakes I’ll make. I’ll be looking for other ways to promote and market my work. If you have any suggestions on things I can do to learn this business or for newsletter companies, please feel free to let me know in the comments.

Finally, I’m studying and working on writing as a craft. I’ve started attending the workshops at The Writers Studio in Corpus Christi which are held monthly. I’ve also begun alternating my business study with craft study during the week. I’m not much of a video watcher, but I’ll stick it out for this. I’m also going to be looking at my writing craft books that I bought long ago and still haven’t made it past my TBR list. My ultimate goal is to improve my craft even at my advanced age. Please feel free to make suggestions by giving me ideas of books on writing, telling me what’s helped you, or critiquing my writing and posts.

Links:

Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology

Counterclockwise

Beyond the Mask (This is a charity anthology supporting Alex’s Lemonade Stand)

My writing, personal

One Last Performance

One of the things I’ve been able to do is pubish a few short stories. The one I’m about to post was my first. It was published in the Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology volume last year. I will have a longer story in the 2019 version. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with Fiction-Atlas Press in two different anthologies: Counterclockwise which is a Time Travel Anthology and Beyond the Mask which is a Superhero Anthology written to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Both of those stories are too long for one post here, but I may publish them in parts, now that my contracts allow that. Tonight I submitted a story for their next anthology. It’s a portal anthology, which needs to include some kind of doorway to another world. If the story is rejected, I’ll be able to tell you more about it then. If it’s accepted, I can tell you about it in the publicity things I’ll be doing to promote the anthology. But, as celebration of submitting, here’s my first short story ever published.

One Last Performance

Jason looked at himself in the mirror, using an eyeliner pencil to make the last adjustments to his makeup. He had to support his right hand with his left to quell the shaking. “That’ll work,” he said out loud, even though no one could hear him. He still had a private dressing room, in deference to his past greatness. He might not have the starring roles anymore. He might make more mistakes in his lines, but he still commanded the respect of audiences and directors because of his reputation and his perseverance in the face of Parkinson’s.

There was a knock on the door. “Ten minutes, Mr. Riordan,” the assistant to the assistant director called as he opened the door just a crack to deliver his message. He waited for Jason to acknowledge the call, and then left.

Jason smiled. His timing on getting his makeup done was still perfect. Ever since he’d started in theater, he had done his own makeup. “It helps me as I become my character,” he had told countless makeup artists. And now, his routine to get into character would continue. He stared at the mirror, inspecting his makeup one last time. Satisfied, he slowly closed his eyes and went over the play in his mind. This practice had served him well, as he had earned three Tony nominations. He muttered softly as he told himself where to make his entrances and recited his lines.

He wanted this last performance of his career to be perfect and got so wrapped up in his preparation that he realized he must have missed the underling’s five-minute call. As the first notes of the overture began sounding, he cursed silently. His routine called for him to be ready in the wings before the overture started playing. Now, he rushed to get to his place, so he could take his centering breaths a few seconds before his entrance. His first starring role ever was with this director as “George” in Our Town and now, knowing Jason’s condition, this same director had made a special accommodation to allow him to begin this version of Our Town, as the Stage Manager, with the freedom to look back on his career and give the audience a chance to acknowledge their appreciation for the retiring actor.

They had flocked to see the once-great Jason Riordan in his last performance. Those who had acted alongside him including the first Emily and Stage Manager were in the audience, actors who had worked with him in the performances that had earned him his Tony nominations, and various assorted fans who wanted to pay their respects to one who, even in his ongoing illness, showed grace and respect to his fans.

He got to his spot on the wing with a little over a minute to spare, and he took a couple of cool-down breaths. Then, he did that which he had never done before in his career, he pulled back the curtain and sneaked a peek at the audience. The stage lights kept him from seeing much of the audience, but the memories he had made with those people he saw and recognized overwhelmed him and left him with a slight case of stage fright.

He closed the curtain and took another deep breath, and then, he was on. From that first, special monologue to his final line, he was perfect. He didn’t suffer from the dropped lines or cues that had plagued him in recent years. His swan song performance was amazing, and the audience recognized it. Audience decorum was thrown to the winds as his fans screamed his name and he took bow after bow. The stage hands picked up flowers that were thrown in congratulations. He left the stage triumphantly after one of his finest performances ever. He walked back to his dressing room accepting handshakes, hugs, and pats on the backs from the cast and crew of his last show. He kept looking at the floor, lest they see his tears, and by doing this, missed seeing their tears as well. He arrived at his dressing room for the last time and sat down, laying his head on the makeup table to rest for a few minutes before taking his makeup off one, last time. He didn’t want to take it off just yet, because that would make his retirement final.

There was a knock on the door. “Five minutes, Mr. Riordan,” the assistant to the assistant director called as he opened the door just a crack to deliver his message. He waited for the customary acknowledgment. There was none. He knocked harder and called out louder. When he got no answer, he ran in and saw Jason slumped with his head down on the makeup table. He checked for a pulse. When he didn’t get a pulse, he ran out in the hall and looked for a stage hand. “Get the director!” he yelled.

“Sir, the director’s …” the stage hand began.

He cut him off. “Don’t argue with me. Get the director now.” When he saw him hesitate, he added, “This is a real emergency.”

The stage hand finally believed him, ran off and came back with the director. “Jones, I don’t know what this is about, but it better be a real emergency.”

He gestured for the director to follow him. When the director saw Jason, he stopped in his tracks. “That how you found him?” he asked.

He nodded.

The director walked over and tried to find a pulse also. He teared up a little when he realized that Riordan was gone. He walked behind the body to get to the other side and looked at his face. He wiped away his tears and smiled himself when he saw Riordan’s smile. It was that shy, after-performance smile that he used when he’d look at the director and ask how he’d done. “It would have been one, great, last performance,” he said as he closed Riordan’s eyes.

###