Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Writing Helps - Hobbit Style

I had a thoughtful and clever post idea. Then I stole this photo from Emileigh Latham, and I knew this would be the best thing I could do today. Enjoy. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Organic Outreach?

There's a lot of talk on the internet about Organic Church. I know the internet gives any cause a voice, but when we moved into our Outreach Saga and started meeting outside of the traditional church, it was heartening to find other like-minded people.

I've paid attention to several writers: Frank Viola, Alan Knox, Neil Cole, Alan HirschChurch In A Circle, Church Multiplication Associates, and Simple Church to name a few. These sites have information pertinent to doing church organically, in a different pattern from the typical Sunday morning setting. They talk about the body doing ministry together, meeting out in the world (rather than a church building), and growing disciples in more of a relational manner. 

These are all very helpful resources, and I'm grateful to these brothers and sisters for sharing the way the Lord is leading them and their testimony and experience in walking out church in a new way.

I've come to realize an issue though. My group that I'm involved with isn't doing strictly Organic Church. 

We met in a park during the summer and fall, moving into a local counseling center for the winter weather. Many people share during our times together. We eat, sing, and bring the Word as we're led. These are things that an organic church will do.

The thing that may be different is that we're an outreach at the same time. 

We're in a neighborhood with low income housing, and we've mainly reached people in this apartment complex. I think most of the people coming are Christians, but I'm not certain in every case. Some have been in the church and felt rejected. Others come because we are so close and accessible. 

It seems we are a little different than a lot of the organic church talk I've followed online. Maybe I'm wrong and not catching it. 

The challenge is that we've got a core of believers that have had relationship with each other over a long period of time with a desire to be the church instead of doing church. Then we have another population of people that we're getting to know and trying to disciple. It is very exciting what we're doing each week, and it is a huge blessing to be ministering to each other. I am touched as often as anyone else is. That doesn't take away from the sensation I have of walking on the water at times - trying to keep my balance as the waves shift beneath me!

I guess the point of this post is to throw this situation out there. Does anyone have experience doing organic church as an outreach? If so, I'd love to dialog with you on this topic. If you have a heart to pray for us, that would be greatly appreciated! 

So leave a comment if you're interested in a discussion on organic church and reaching out. I'll meet you in the blogosphere.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

CSFF Tour - Angel Eyes Day 3

Today's our wrap-up day for the excellent supernatural debut of Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore.

I introduced the book on Monday and Tuesday did a quasi-review while doing a compare/contrast with the Twilight books to which Shannon's book has been compared. I planned to do my review today, but I jumped the gun yesterday.

So I'm going to do something I'm usually loathe to do.

Angel Eyes is about the teen Brielle learning about a wider world and her special gift that is both a blessing and something that makes her a target. However, there is a sub-plot in the book that touches on an issue near to my heart. I don't like to give spoilers, but here is a minor one: Brielle and Jake stumble upon a human trafficking ring.

The tragedy of human trafficking is coming up more often than ever in fiction. I am very glad for this, since it is such a horror and needs to be defeated. In my own work in progress it is an integral part of the story. I wish I would have finished it sooner, but I'll get there someday. Whereas my story is set in Southeast Asia, Shannon keeps hers in the Pacific Northwest.

Guess what? Human trafficking exists all over. It is in the States, not just an overseas problem.

If a story can bring awareness to a terrible crime like human trafficking and still be entertaining, it is a powerful tool. Shannon's done that here, and I'm very appreciative of her book. Not just because of the enjoyment factor, which I definitely enjoyed it, but because the more light that is shown on the darkness of modern-day slavery, the more it will retreat.

There are many fine organizations who are doing specific things to battle human trafficking, some that I've linked to in the sidebar to the right. Shannon offers up Chabdai at the end of Angel Wings, so I'll point you there as well for more information. Please take a few minutes to become informed about this if you haven't already.

Shannon has won a major fan here. I'll be excited to read her next book, Broken Wings, which comes out next month. My preferred genre isn't YA romance (even with the supernatural twist) and I'm focusing on reading suspense nowadays for my own writing, but I'll make an exception here.

That's all I have for this fine book and interesting tour. As always, Becky Miller keeps tabs of all of the participants on her blog. Check them out.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest opinion. So there.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

CSFF Tour - Angel Eyes Day 2

Is Angel Eyes the Christian version of Twilight?
I hope that sentence doesn't scare anyone off! I aim to explain. 

Yesterday I introduced the January CSFF feature Angel Eyes by new author Shannon Dittemore. She takes an intriguing nugget of an idea and runs with it. 

Becky Miller addresses somewhat the idea of the similarity between Angel Eyes and Twilight. Both books feature a wounded girl moving to be with a single father in a rural area, and both girls end up meeting a mysterious guy who is also very good looking and intrigued with said female. Becky was surprised about the comparison. 

I wasn't. 

Because I *ahem* read the Twilight series. 

Okay, I guess I will hand over my man card. Won't be the first time. I was bored and had a lot of time to read that year. But I digress. 

The trick is that anytime there are similarities, people are going to call it. And in the Christian market, where we do have a reputation (often deserved, but not always) of copying a trend or style in the mainstream market, it is going to come fast and furious.

So here's a main difference:

Angel Eyes is way better. 

I kept reading Twilight because I did like Stephenie Meyer's voice. But aside from the questions the plot offers, her writing needs some severe editing. I'm not sure I could read it again after four more years of studying writing under my belt. Meyer gets too thick with her description, going on and on about how perfect Edward is.

Dittemore hits the right notes. Sure, there are points where someone who's read both will see comparisons. I don't think it was intentional. There's nothing new under the sun, remember. Her Brielle is not a whiny wimp that doesn't feel good unless she's around her hunk, and even then she's a bummer. Brielle is damaged, like any good fiction character. There's issues that create conflict, but they don't drag her into a quagmire of blah.

The book has great description. For instance, in the book Brielle is always cold. She can't get warm. It is a plot point, and it has to be repeated a lot. To me an idea that gets repeated over and over can really bog down a book if it is done poorly. Dittemore reminds us enough about this particular detail without being overly repetitive or boring us with the same words.

Another similarity is the attraction between Brielle and the mysterious guy, Jake. Now, I probably wouldn't have used the name "Jake" (Jacob the shirtless werewolf, anyone?), but there is no love triangle in this book. There's no sparkly vegetarian vampires. I repeat, NO SPARKLES. One criticism of the book I have is that Jake is sometimes too good - he doesn't seem to be a fully three dimensional character. But again, the comparison between the romance is superficial.

Ultimately, this is a Christian novel. It deals with faith, doubt, suffering, and other real world issues in a touching and believable way. Believable considering a girl can see the supernatural and there are angels and demons. But the angels know their place. They serve the Lord Almighty, and that is brought out in the book in a very strong way. Not preachy, but it isn't hidden either.

So, I do not believe Angel Eyes is the Christian Twilight. It stands on its own, with some shared conventions since they are both YA, both romance, and both supernatural in nature. But I would not hesitate to recommend Angel Eyes to a young woman who likes to read or anyone who enjoys speculative fiction. Which I would hesitate with Twilight with some people. 

Well, shoot Becky. You forced my hand early. I'm going to have to get creative for tomorrow's post. In the meantime, Becky keeps a tab of all of the posts for this tour, so check them out for more opinions and info. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

CSFF Tour - Angel Eyes Day 1

What do you think you could see if you could see into the angelic realm?

Good for us that's the job of speculative fiction authors, and that Shannon Dittemore took up the challenge.

The latest feature for the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy Tour is the debut book by Ms. Dittemore, Angel Eyes. It is a YA novel and the first of a trilogy of books, with the next book Broken Wings coming out in February and the final book Dark Halo releasing in August.

Brielle is a young woman with a devastated heart and an inability to get warm. She returns to small Stratus, Oregon after a tragedy that causes her to give up on her elite performing school in Portland. Her heart is as frozen as the weather in the rural town, but when she catches the attention of the new, hot guy in town, she doesn't know what to think.

Especially when she starts seeing the supernatural.

Brielle enters a strange new world that the new guy, Jake, seems to know a lot about. Her new sight opens up new horizons, and a new perspective on evil-an evil that wants to use her in their latest schemes.

Now Jake and Brielle may be all that stands between a loss of innocence and a horror beyond imagining, if they can survive the encounter themselves.

This book has gotten a lot of buzz, so it is exciting to be featuring it for our January tour. Check out my tourmates below for more information, and I'll have a review and more discussion in the next two days. 

Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Beckie Burnham
Theresa Dunlap
Nikole Hahn
Jeremy Harder
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Faye Oygard
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Downton Abbey Guide To Writing

Welcome to Writing Wednesday.

Today I was going to write an inspired post. Then I saw this awesome article on Copyblogger by Matthew Gartland.

Then I said screw it.

Leave here and go read that article. It talks about what I wanted to in a much better way, and it tied it into the marvelous Downton Abbey. Seriously. Whether you're a copy writer, a novelist, or some other content creator, that article is boss.

That reminds me, I still haven't seen the Season 3 opening yet. No spoilers please!

Thanks to Rachelle Gardner for tweeting that article out.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Most Influential Book of 2012

In my last post, I shared my favorite fiction books from 2012. Fiction books can be very influential as well, but there was one non-fiction book that helped with a paradigm shift in how I thought about church and its mission.

The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating The Missional Church by Alan Hirsch was recommended to me over a year ago by my friend and former pastor Brian Harrison. I didn't read it until this year when my friends and I started into our Outreach Saga. A group of us had left our former church and were looking into what God had for us.

As we started to meet together and tried to hear from the Lord each week, I was also reading this book. It truly opened my eyes to ideas that I hadn't considered in a fleshed out manner before. Sure, through intuition and talking with other people I had touched on ideas from The Forgotten Ways but I wasn't getting the full picture.

Hirsch discusses how the model of Christendom we operate in nowadays in modern evangelical culture (for the most part) is not necessarily how the early church (up to 300 AD) did things. From 300 AD to now the church developed hierarchy and structure that was adopted from Roman systems. They worked in a Christian culture context of Europe in the Dark and Middle Ages, even through the Renaissance and Reformation. However, now that our culture is post-Christian and pluralistic, it cannot meet the changing forces in the world in an adequate way.

The majority of the book describes his theory on how church should operate. Through the complex diagram to the right, he shows how the church needs to function. Stemming from the Lordship of Jesus are the five hubs that continue to expand out and encompass the life of a Christian and the community of believers.

Hirsch has worked in missional fields for a long time and has spent a lot of effort into this study. From the Biblical basis to historical activity and modern theory involving organic systems, he brings a thorough and convincing argument for the need to discover forgotten ways and to fully reactivate the life believers need to have today to fully reach the people out there.

In writing this post I am not doing the book justice in a short summation. Perhaps my testimony will help spell it out. As I read the book, I realized that as we tried to reach out to a needy sub-group in our community, we needed to be willing to risk and try new things in order to touch the people. Instead of being a controlled environment where one person (the pastor) speaks and runs the meeting, we're developing a time of sharing with each other from the Word and our own testimonies. In this way everyone in the meeting has the potential to share something that another person may desperately need. I know I don't have all the answers in life - that I don't have the exclusive on God. In relying on the body of Christ to be the body, I've seen the strength it brings by allowing others the opportunity to step up when they have what is needed at the time.

I had a reawakening through reading this book and studying Scripture alongside it. I haven't had a book challenge me like this in many years. It is an easy choice for me to recommend it to anyone who's wondering if there are better ways of doing "church." There are better ways, but we've just built human structures onto things that should be organic and not just formed into boxes. For an introduction into this, I can't do better except to highly suggest reading The Forgotten Ways and seeing if it speaks of His truth and the reality of the world today. I think it does both.

So here's to 2013. May there be many excellent books in your future, and may you dare to take a risk for Jesus in your life in the coming year.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

My Top Books of 2012

Hello 2013.

I must confess, so far you look a lot like 2012 - except you're a lot colder. Minus 11 degrees Fahrenheit when I got to work today? Ouch.

I wonder what books will come from you. It's always cool to look back and see just what I've read and what tickled my fancy.

But it's still 2012's turn. For such a crazy year I'm impressed I can remember one book I've read. Thankfully, book blogging and using Goodreads is helping. So here are my favorite books* from last year.

5. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson. The first book I blogged about in 2012 stuck with me throughout the year. From the eye-catching cover to the intriguing premise and suspenseful examination of medical ethics, it was a striking book to me. It's listed as a teen book, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, even if the first few chapters took a little getting used to, as the author used an interesting layout and chapter structure in the early going.

4. The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead. The CSFF Blog Tour is always a highlight to me, and one of the benefits has been to read many of Stephen Lawhead's recent books. His writing skill is remarkable, and he seems to be avoiding the consistency issue I felt he had in earlier series. The Bright Empires series is an ambitious project delving into the multiverse and the price of coffee in 1600's Vienna (seriously). The Spirit Well is the third in the series and holds the storyline solid as the midway tentpole.

3. Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland. A friend put me in touch with Ms. Weiland, who was looking for some advanced readers of her latest fantasy. I've enjoyed her writing advice site through the year, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to see if the rubber met the road. I was very pleased with the idea of a person living in a dream world while they slept. It's been done before, but she did it with style and substance.

2. Proof by Jordyn Redwood. I really enjoyed the debut novel by Jordyn. A pediatric ER nurse by day, she has been offering her medical advice blog Redwood's Medical Edge as a service to writers for a few years. She also proved her writing chops with a thrill ride of a medical mystery. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the ACFW Conference in Dallas, but I had already read her book and enjoyed the page-turner. Looking forward to number 2 in her Bloodlines trilogy coming out soon.

1. Rare Earth by Davis Bunn. I had read a book by Mr. Dunn a long time ago but lost track of him. He kept churning out books, and I picked up Rare Earth for another blog tour this summer. Finally it gave me a template in the CBA publishing realm for my project - an international suspense with heart. He wrote a thrilling book that opened up eyes to problems in the real world of displaced people, but did it with dignity and a very enjoyable read.

*My only caveat is that these are my favorite fiction books of 2012. Out of the non-fiction books that I read, there is one that made the biggest impact on me last year. But you'll have to wait for Mission Monday for that one.
How about you? What were your favorite books from 2012?