Are Millennials the Lost Generation?

By Joseph Bentz

Millennials, the much-picked-on generation of young people from about 18 years old to their early 30s, are often referred to as the “Lost Generation.” A Washington Post opinion writer named Catherine Rampell summed up many of the stereotypes about this generation in an article she wrote (with “Lost Generation” in the headline) a couple years ago: “For years you’ve probably been reading about aimless, idle millennials hunkering down in their parents’ basements, filling their days with video games, Instagram and deep, longing gazes upon their shelf of participation trophies. Members of the Boomerang Generation simply haven’t been sufficiently motivated — or well-parented? — to get a damn job, spouse and apartment of their own already.”

The term “Lost Generation” is borrowed from Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926. I am teaching that novel right now in a literature course at Azusa Pacific University. The quote “You are all a lost generation” appears as an epigraph on the first page of the novel, and it is attributed to Gertrude Stein.

According to a story Stein told, the “lost generation” phrase came from a French garage mechanic who said he could not hire anyone between the ages of 22 and 30 because they were no good, spoiled, lacked respect, and drank too much. Does that sound like a familiar list of complaints about today’s “lost generation”? Never mind that the young ne’er-do-wells Stein and the garage owner were referring to had just won World War I. They were still “lost.”

When Hemingway’s novel came out, his publisher’s advertising team “pushed it as the tome encapsulating the voice of the ‘war generation too strongly dosed with reality . . . all illusions shattered, all reticences dissipated,’” according to scholar Lesley M.M. Blume.

Hemingway was not pleased with that marketing strategy. Defining an entire generation had not been his intention. His Lost Generation quote shares the page with another epigraph, a quote from Ecclesiastes, which begins, “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever. . . .The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose. . . .”

He meant for the quotes to comment on one another. As Blume explains, Hemingway believed “Stein’s ‘lost generation’ remark was merely ‘bombast,’ and he had meant to lampoon its pomposity, not endorse it. . . .To Hemingway, the whole point of the book was that ‘the earth abideth forever.’ Wasn’t that obvious enough?”

When it comes to rejecting easy labels for an entire generation, I’m with Hemingway. I teach Millennials at APU and have done so ever since they came along. I don’t think they’re any more “lost” than any other generation I have taught. They do have their quirks. They don’t take notes in class as much as previous generations, for instance. They would rather take a picture of what I write on the whiteboard than copy it down on paper. They can’t write in cursive as well as previous generations, and some of them have trouble even reading it. They’d rather text than talk on the phone, and email strikes them as old-fashioned.

But lost? Only in the way that all generations are lost. The King James Bible that Hemingway was quoting from teaches that all human beings are lost in and in need of rescue by Jesus Christ. Hemingway was reluctant to follow the teaching all the way to redemption, but he did agree with the lost part. He simply didn’t think one generation was all that different from another.

I am skeptical of generational stereotypes or conclusions. In the more than 30 years that I have taught English, people have often asked, why can’t students write as well as they used to? But people have always said that. Gertrude Stein had trouble finding a good garage mechanic a hundred years ago, and it isn’t so easy today either. But let’s not blame any particular generation. “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever.”

Why Build a Monument to a Pest?

People build monuments to great leaders, war heroes, saints, and other admired figures, but why would anyone honor a pest in this way? In my new book, Nothing is Wasted, I explore the idea that in the midst of all the calamity, pain, and difficulty of life, God has planted hints of redemption throughout the universe in unexpected places.

One example I refer to in the first chapter is the Boll Weevil Monument in Enterprise, Alabama. Why did the people build it? The following excerpt from the book suggests the answer:

When a Destructive Insect Embodies Redemption

The boll weevil is an ugly little insect that loves cotton. Over the past hundred years, it has caused billions of dollars in dam­age to cotton crops in the United States and elsewhere. Numerous farmers across the decades have gone bankrupt because of this one pest. Scientists have used every means they can think of to try to eradicate it—pesticides, wasps, fungi, specially engineered anti-weevil cotton plants, and other methods. The fight against it continues to this day, and the eradication programs have been largely successful.

No one sheds a tear for the boll weevil. Just about everybody wants to kill it. So I was surprised when my friend Jim Davis, who lives in Alabama, a state that historically has been plagued with wee­vils, told me that a town named Enterprise, Alabama, has a boll wee­vil monument prominently displayed in the center of its downtown.

A monument to a destructive insect would be surprising in any town, but for Enterprise, Alabama, to honor such a creature seems especially strange, considering the destruction the boll weevil has wreaked on that town and the surrounding county. As the town’s historians report, in the early twentieth century, the boll weevil destroyed almost 60 percent of the county’s main crop of cotton, and farmers were at risk of utter ruin.1 Their failure would have meant devastation for the entire economy of that region.

The monument the town built to this pest in 1919 features a statue of a woman standing in Statue-of-Liberty-like robes, her arms held high above her head. In her hands, on top of a kind of pedestal, stands a large and ugly boll weevil. A flowing fountain surrounds this statue.

The farmers in Coffee County, Alabama, where Enterprise is located, were determined not to let the boll weevil defeat them. Instead, they turned its destructive behavior into an opportunity to diversify their crops and be more successful in the long run. If the crisis of the boll weevil had not forced the issue, they might never have made changes and would have missed out on the pros­perity the shift brought them. Peanuts in particular became an especially profitable crop for the region.

As the Enterprise history relates, “By 1917, Coffee County produced and harvested more peanuts than any other county in the nation. (In 1993, Coffee County ranked 4th in the state of Alabama with 128,000 acres planted in peanuts.)” The plaque that accompanies the monu­ment states, “In profound appreciation of the Boll Weevil and what it has done as the herald of Prosperity this monument was erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama.” The work of a pest was redeemed.

Read more in Nothing is Wasted: How God Redeems What is Broken (Beacon Hill Press, 2016).

The Need for Factual Fiction

Editor’s Note: Last week I wrote a blog post that touched on the relationship between fact and fiction in Sony’s controversial film, The Interview and in another film from 75 years ago, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. This week I am honored to present this guest post by Alton Gansky, an accomplished author of more than 40 books and the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Gansky also examines the relationship between fact and fiction, this time in the classic movie, Inherit the Wind. I think you will enjoy his perspective. 

By Alton Gansky

In January of 2015, Baker Books will release my latest nonfiction work, 30 Events That Shaped the Church. It comes on the heels of the 2014 release, 60 People Who Shaped the Church. Some are surprised to learn that I write book-length nonfiction. True most of my books are novels but I also enjoy and see great value in producing nonfiction books as well.

While preparing 30 Events I went through a long list of possible topics. In the end, one chapter caught my attention and so infiltrated my mind that I’m still researching it long after I turned the manuscript in. As I worked through the centuries I came upon a week long event that most of us have heard of but few of us know much about: The Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. When I research I try to keep my mind free of bias, which is a difficult thing to do. Still, I thought I knew a fair amount about the “Trial of the Century.” I didn’t.

Part of my preparation was to watch an old movie (1960), based on an older stage play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, Inherit the Wind. I remember it being one of the best movies ever made, made all the more memorable by actors like Spencer Tracy and Fredric March, as well as Gene Kelly (no dancing in this movie), and Dick York (later of Bewitched fame) who portrayed John T. Scopes (Bertram T. Cates in the movie). This time, I watched the movie with a critical eye and was surprised how far they had strayed from the truth.

To be fair, Lawrence and Lee, as well as director Stanley Kramer, went out to their way to alert viewers that they were watching a movie, not a documentary. The movie begins with these words:

Inherit the Wind is not history. The events which took place in Dayton, Tennessee, during the scorching July of 1925 are clearly the genesis of this play. It has, however, an exodus entirely its own. [. . .] So Inherit the Wind does not pretend to be journalism. It is theatre.”

I appreciate the honesty of the writers. Still—and this is the problem with some types of fiction—many took the events as historical fact. To this day, people who have seen the movie think:

William Jennings Bryan was a glutton. (He was a diabetic on a very strict diet at the time of the trial.)

Clarence Darrow crushed Bryan’s beliefs as the latter sat in the witness stand. (Darrow ridicule people of faith but it had no impact on Bryan.)

That Bryan was a buffoon. (He ran for president three times, was a great orator, served as Secretary of State, and was a gifted writer).

That the townspeople of Dayton wanted to hang Scopes from a tree. (Nothing of the sort happened.)

And that Bryan died in the courtroom, the victim of Darrow’s grueling examination and ridicule of biblical stores. (Bryan died five days later from complications of diabetes. He remained active in the days following the trial.)

When I was in college, my psychology professor told the class that the human mind has trouble distinguishing between reality and fiction. It is the reason we jump in scary movies or tear up reading a sad scene.

All of this to say, that we as author’s of fiction need to take care how we represent figures and events in history. Lawrence and Lee went so far as to change the name of the characters (although they also went out of their way to make the actors look like William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow). Despite their efforts, fifty-four years after the movie (longer for the play the preceded it) people still think the movie is trustworthy history.

This realization puts a burden of responsibility on the shoulders of novelists. While the novelist’s goal is to entertain, we in the Christian market also want to edify and to do so we need to be as accurate as we can be when portraying real people.

William Jennings Bryan’s reputation and work was sullied by the play and later the movie, despite the authors’ and director’s efforts to make clear their story was only loosely drawn from the real 1925 court case. Nonetheless, many have taken the fiction and see it as fact.

We novelist take some needed liberties in our creation, but when it involves real people from the past (or worse, vaguely disguised characterizations of living people), then we run the risk of doing harm.

 

Alton Gansky has written over 40 books of fiction and nonfiction. His latest work 30 Events That Shaped the ChurchLearning from scandal, intrigue, war, and revival releases mid January 2015. He is also the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. www.altongansky.com – See more at: http://altongansky.typepad.com/writersconferences/2014/12/the-need-for-factual-fiction.html#sthash.dBW1l0nG.dpuf

 

 

Pretending to Be Moses: Why Writing Biblical Fiction is Hard

Who am I to take on the voice of Moses, or Joseph, or Joshua, or other people whose stories are told in the Bible?

That question was foremost in my mind when I was asked to write six chapters for an innovative small group curriculum series that brings to life significant figures from the Bible by telling their stories through a combination of historical fiction, biblical commentary, study questions, and audio and video segments.

The series, which is called Named, is divided into four six-week studies: The Patriarchs, The Unnamed, The Disciples and The Women. I was assigned to write chapters for Moses, Joseph, Joshua, Andrew, the Gadarene Demoniac, and the Man Born Blind.

Although I have written four novels, I had never written biblical fiction and had never given much thought to some challenges of that genre:

• The Bible gives stories of these people in a compact, efficient way that leaves out many details. Even with a major figure like Moses, only a few highlights of his life are given, with entire decades left out. For the more obscure biblical figures, such as the Man Born Blind, even fewer details are given, including his name.  As a Christian I believe these people in the Bible are not just stories someone made up, but they were real people. How could I bring these people to life but also be true to Scripture? I had to add details of plot, dialogue, motivation, setting and so on. I faced the challenge of making the stories engaging but also keeping them true not only to the history of the period but also to the spiritual message of the story.

• I had a limit of about 1,500 words for each story. For major figures like Joshua or Moses, that meant I could present only one scene out of many presented in the Bible. How could I choose the one that best captured essence of who each person was?

My approach was to carefully research the various figures through their biblical accounts, commentaries, and books about the historical periods. After that, the stories emerged pretty much the way my novels emerge: I began to see the scenes play out in my head, like little movie clips. As I read about these men, they came to life for me. As I wrote, and even as I went about my daily life, the movies in my head became more and more vivid, until I was able to live the story and “hear” the voice of the person telling it.

I wrote far beyond the word limit for every person, and then I had to relentlessly cut until I got at least close to the proper word count. It was a true privilege to be allowed to delve into the lives of these men and tell their stories. Small groups are now using this material as a way to study Scripture. More information about this series is available at www.iamnamed.com.

Here is an excerpt from one of my stories, “The Man Born Blind”:

The Man Born Blind

I had heard rumors about Jesus, none of them good. I heard the authorities almost stoned him for blasphemy, but he slipped away. He was dangerous. He was espousing all kinds of radical ideas. Some even claimed he was of the devil.

Even before I met him, I was skeptical of those malicious stories. I was more inclined toward the rumors that people had the courage only to whisper, like maybe he was a prophet, maybe even the Messiah. He did miracles, healing people and freeing people from demons. As a blind man, I was attentive to anything that even hinted at healing. Nothing I had ever tried had worked, but I still fantasized what it must be like to see.

Most of the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities didn’t like Jesus, and all but the bravest people were afraid to cross those powerful men and give Jesus a chance. I didn’t like the Pharisees, and they certainly had no use for me, a man blind from birth, which to them meant only one thing: I was steeped in sin. So be it. I stayed away from them, and I stayed away from Jesus. If any of them wanted to give me a few coins, I would be grateful. Otherwise, they were not my problem.

Then came the day when I could no longer avoid Jesus or the Pharisees. As I sat begging in my usual filthy spot by a wall along a busy road close to the temple, Jesus walked right up to me. I don’t know why he stopped and focused on me. Most people ignored me. And Jesus certainly had plenty of other things vying for his attention. I heard a big crowd pushing in all around him. I expected the whole big group to pass me by pretty quickly. I hoped only for a coin or two from some of them.

Instead, Jesus stopped, and so did everybody else. I didn’t welcome the attention. When any powerful person paid attention to me, it usually meant trouble. They usually yelled at me to get out of the way or move along to a different spot.

Jesus didn’t say anything at first, but then one of his disciples, who was probably also confused about why they had suddenly stopped to stare at a blind man, asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

That seemed like rather a rude question, considering that I was sitting right there, but it was nothing compared to other things people sometimes said. They often talked about me as if I weren’t there, as if being blind meant I must be deaf, or at least not very bright.

I expected Jesus to agree with their idea about sin causing my blindness. I’ve been hearing that all my life. Instead, he gave an answer that I loved. He said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Ha! I wanted to shout. Finally, somebody not blaming me for being blind. I was ready to stand up and cheer him right then! Everybody was talking over everybody else in response to what he said, so nobody bothered to ask me what I thought. And honestly, in my own mind I couldn’t get past “neither this man nor his parents sinned.” I had no idea what he meant by my blindness happening so that the work of God could be displayed or the part about his being the light of the world.

Before I could think through any of that, he leaned down right in front of me. He spat in the dirt right there by the road and made little globs of mud out of it. Then he reached up and spread it over my eyes. Did he really mean to heal me? Did he have the power?

I hoped that his next words would be, “Now open your eyes and see,” but instead he told me…

The rest of this story is contained in the book, The Unnamed, one of four books in the Named series, available at www.iamnamed.com.

Poetry and Conversation with Katie Manning

Most poets are thrilled when one of their books of poems is published, but Katie Manning, an outstanding poet who also teaches in the English Department at Azusa Pacific University, gets to experience that joy three times this year, as three of her chapbooks are being published by three different publishers. This success did not come easily. She has been sending out manuscripts for more than five years, so it is a happy coincidence that all three books are now coming out within months of each other. To celebrate these publications and to introduce readers to Katie Manning’s poetry, I am happy to interview her for the Life of the Mind and Soul.

1. Congratulations, Katie, on your poetry chapbooks that are being published this year. I have read some of your poems and have appreciated not only their depth, but also their warmth. I would like to start with The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman, published by Point Loma Press, through Wipf and Stock Publishers. This book follows the unnamed bleeding woman from three of the gospel accounts in the Bible. You give her a name and let her tell her own story. Why did you choose this particular story for your book?

Thank you for taking the time to read my poems, and thank you for your very kind words. I have been curious about the bleeding woman since I was a little girl. What was her name? Why was she bleeding? What was her life like when she was ritually unclean for 12 years? What was her life like after she was healed? Her story is so brief. It is really just a quick aside; in all three accounts, Jesus is on his way to heal a synagogue leader’s daughter. The bleeding woman interrupts Jesus. She reaches out and touches him when she shouldn’t, and she’s rewarded for having faith. The more I thought about her, the more I became fascinated by the idea that reaching out in a final act of desperation can be a demonstration of faith.

2. How challenging was it to enter into a woman’s story when so few details about her are given in the Bible? Did that lack of detail give you more freedom to shape the story the way you wanted to, or did it make your job as a poet more difficult?

Although it was initially difficult to imagine a life for this woman, I think the lack of detail ultimately gave me more creative freedom. I read commentaries of all sorts to give me a better grounding in the possibilities of her life, but then I set those things aside and wrote freely. Many commentaries talk about the bleeding woman as though she was elderly, but I enjoyed imagining her as a young woman who had begun bleeding in early adolescence and never stopped. This choice was partially because of the way Jesus calls her “daughter,” which has always sounded to me like she is younger and somewhat identified with the girl whom Jesus is traveling to see, and partially because I was writing this in my mid-twenties and felt closely connected to her. I also felt free to get very, very strange after her healing and let her travel outside of her original time and place.

3. Could you give us a sample poem from this book and tell us a little about it?

The final poem in this collection is one of my very favorites. (Is it okay to pick a favorite poem? Is that like picking a favorite child?) The bleeding woman, who I’ve named Nura (“light”), ends up eating lunch with Jesus at a café in present day New York City. While I was completing this chapbook, I read Quarantine, a disturbing and beautiful book of poetry by Brian Henry, and I echo a couple of his lines in the title and text of my poem.

Where Death Is Not an Is
          after Brian Henry

I met Jesus the next day
at the Life Café. “Call me
J now,” he said. “People
lock me up when I say

I am God.” He pulled
back his sleeves to show
the marks on his arms
from recent shots. I asked

what I could do. “Just lie
low,” he said between
bites of falafel. ”Dead
is the way the world wants

us. People hate to feel
alive.” We ate in silence
for a while. Then I asked,
“What happens to us?”

He wiped his young hands
and stood to leave. “We are
finished,” and kissed my cheek.
I put my hand on his arm

and told him the scars would be
beautiful when they healed.

 

4. Where can readers find this book?

The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman is now available on Amazon and through Wipf and Stock.

5. You also have two other books coming out this year. Tea with Ezra is published by Boneset Books and I Awake in My Womb is forthcoming from Yellow Flag Press. How can readers order these books?

I Awake in My Womb is available for pre-order from Yellow Flag Press. The first edition is due out in August, and the second edition will follow immediately.

Tea with Ezra was published in a limited edition by a brand new micro-press, and it was done with a hand-sewn binding. The book itself is a lovely piece of handmade art. It sold out in pre-order, but Boneset Books is planning to do a second edition in the future.

6. I love your poems about motherhood. Could you give us a sample from Awake in My Womb?

I’m glad you enjoy them! These poems are based directly on vivid dreams that I had
immediately before, during, and after pregnancy. They are some mix of funny, terrifying, and revealing; they give readers a surreal glimpse into the fear and wonder of impending motherhood. The following poem’s first line became the collection title.
The Outside In
I awake in my womb.
I’m cradling you
so gently, so
as not to break
your see-through skin.
You are half
head, half
body. Your eyes are sealed
shut, but through the cloudy dark
your heart blinks
visibly. I wonder
if it loves me yet.
I hold you close to my face
with both hands
(though you’re smaller than one)
and watch.
We breathe fluid together.
I press
my ear to your chest.
Your heart gallops away.

7. I am intrigued by the title of your book, Tea with Ezra. What does that title refer to? Could you share a poem from that book?

This chapbook contains poems that respond to familiar texts: fairy tales, biblical narratives, poems, songs, novels, etc. The title of the collection is taken from the final poem. Ezra Pound has a poem called “The Tea Shop,” in which he observes that a waitress is not as pretty as she used to be, and he repeats twice that “she also will turn middle-aged.” I felt immediately angry the first time I read this poem because of Pound’s objectification of the waitress. I like to express my anger through humor, so I wrote a parody of his poem. In my poem, I have tea with Ezra Pound, and I am critical of his appearance and his work. When he tells me that I’ll also turn middle-aged, I take my revenge.

Tea with Ezra

                  after Pound’s “The Tea Shop”

He told me that only he and Whitman
had gained immortality,
and he took a bite of his lemon pound cake.
I reminded him that he’d already been dead
thirty years. I tried not to stare through
his decaying jaw at the jostled pastry.
He looked me up and down and said,
“Yes, you also will turn middle-aged.”
I simply shut his book
and drank his tea when I’d finished mine.

 

8. Thank you for giving us a look at your poetry. If readers would like to find out more about you and your poetry, do you have a website or Facebook page they can follow?

I do have a website and an author page on Facebook.

Thanks for your interest in my poetry!

What Sherlock Holmes Taught Me About Jesus

Who is Jesus?

That is the question we discussed recently in a class I teach at my church. If he were conducting his earthly ministry among us today, what identity would he adopt? Would he be a liberal Democrat? A conservative Republican? Would he like the music I like? Who would his favorite authors be? What movies would he watch? Would the TV shows that annoy me annoy him too?

Our group was studying the book of Colossians. It is a letter Paul wrote to a church he had not established personally. He was thrilled that they were followers of Christ, but they had some misconceptions about Jesus’ identity that he wanted to correct.

What he says about Jesus contains no big surprises for us today, but in those early days of Christianity, many false ideas about Jesus were floating around. Paul wanted to be sure they were following the real Jesus. I want to follow the real Jesus too.

Who is the Real Sherlock Holmes?

Which brings me to Sherlock Holmes.

I enjoy reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about this great detective, so a few years ago I bought an acclaimed edition of much of the Sherlock Holmes canon that had just been published, a two-volume boxed set that boasts 56 short stories, more than 700 illustrations and more than 1,000 annotations.

The editor of those volumes, Leslie Klinger, includes an essay called “The World of Sherlock Holmes,” in which he documents the popularity of this fictional character and the intensity with which his fans follow him. Sherlock Holmes is one of the top three most well-known fictional characters in the world (along with Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus). The character has spawned more than 2,000 imitative stories from writers and filmmakers across the world.

Thousands of articles and books have been written about Sherlock Holmes across the years, and Klinger writes that the topics of analysis seem endless. There are classic issues, such as Watson’s wounds and marriages, Holmes’s Great Hiatus, and so on, and writers have also ventured into more unexpected areas.

As Klinger explains, people often want to impose their own interests onto Sherlock Holmes. He explains, “Such a formula follows the logic, ‘I am interested in the study of X. I am interested in the study of Sherlock Holmes. Therefore, Sherlock Holmes must have been interested in X.”

What kind of speculation has that approach led to? Klinger writes, “Scholarly works have demonstrated that Holmes was a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a druid, an agnostic, a Catholic, a Stoic, a deist, an atheist; that Holmes studied medicine, law, music, graphology, phrenology, early computer science, astronomy, numerology, and endless other subjects; that Holmes travelled to Russia, China, India, Tibet, the South Seas, America, Canada, Japan; that Holmes was an American (a thesis asserted by no less than Franklin Delano Roosevelt), a Canadian, a Frenchman.”

Making Jesus in Our Own Image?

That makes me wonder, is that what Christians too often do with Jesus? Are too many of us following a Jesus made in our own image—a Jesus on whom we imprint our own interests and prejudices and quirks—rather than following the real Jesus of Scripture?

Have we made him what we want him to be, which is often a person like us, only a little better? If so, how can we abandon that false Jesus and follow the true one? I don’t know an easy answer. I think we always have to be alert to the possibility of our own misconceptions. Immersing ourselves in Scripture and in prayer, challenging our own assumptions, and testing out our ideas about him with other believers may help us stay close to the real Jesus.

When God Answers Your Prayers: Interview with Karen O’Connor

This week I am happy to host an interview with my friend and fellow writer, Karen O’Connor. Her newest book is When God Answers Your Prayers: Inspiring Stories of How God Comes Through in the Nick of Time. I had the privilege of contributing two of my own answers to prayer for this book. Karen wrote about my stories in the chapters called “Dream Job” and “Wanted: Your Book.” The book is encouraging and enjoyable. I highly recommend it!

Book Giveaway

Karen is giving away two copies of When God Answers Your Prayers. To enter the drawing for a book, just leave a comment at the end of this post. The deadline is Saturday, April 6.

Interview with Karen O’Connor

1. Congratulations on your new book! What is one thing you hope readers will take away from When God Answers Your Prayers?

I hope readers will hang in there with God—even when waiting for his answer can be agonizing. God does some through—in his time and in his way for the good of all concerned. I learned that the hard way!

2. There are many books on prayer, but your subtitle, “Inspiring Stories of How God Comes Through in the Nick of Time,” gives a hint of what sets your book apart. Can you tell us more about the “nick of time” aspect of your book?

Yes, I have a good example of that. My husband and I planned a move from Southern California to Central Coast California to be closer to our youngest daughter and her family. We bought a new home in a quiet new neighborhood, expecting to sell our beautiful condo by the San Diego Bay in a matter of weeks. The sale did not happen in a few weeks or

Karen O'Connor

even in a few months. We came to the point of facing two mortgages. Then when it appeared we’d soon exhaust our financial reserve, my husband’s daughter bid on the condo and purchased it. Escrow closed ‘in the nick of time’ before we ran out of money. I later realized that when I pray it’s not always just about me and what I want. Other people and other circumstances are involved—as was the case with the sale of our home in San Diego. But God did come through—as he always does––and then my prayers turned to praise.

3. When God Answers Your Prayers is based on stories from many different people. How many people contributed stories to your book? As a writer, is it hard to handle so many contributors?

The book includes thirty stories from other people, (including two of yours, Joe!), some of my own, and some from the Bible. I invited people to answer a set of questions—and provided them with sample responses so they would stay on track. Most of the folks are not writers so this method made it easy for them and for me. I then wrote up the individual stories based on answers to my questions. I found the process pretty seamless, though it took several months to finish the book.

4. Your book focuses on answers to prayer, but what would you say to readers who are disappointed that God has not answered their prayers?

Great question. I tend to believe that God always answers prayers in some way—although we may not see the outcome as an answer—at least right away. For example, my first husband and I divorced after twenty years of marriage. I was devastated and cried out to God again and again over many years. But still my husband left for another woman and they are still together. I felt God had left me in the ditch! But he didn’t. God used that experience to ‘clean my spiritual house,’ to draw me to Christ in a personal relationship, and to show me how I had made my husband a ‘god’ in my life. Then after a season of healing, I met my current husband and we’ve established a new home together with Jesus as the head. I consider all this an answer to prayer—over time but in the nick of time too!

5. How did this book change your own prayer life?

I’m now at peace when I pray. I give my situation over to God and let go of it. That doesn’t mean I’m never anxious or concerned. I’m human. But I now pray from a place of trust, knowing God will bring about the outcome that is best for me. He never disappoints.

6. Are there one or two stories that stand out to you as particularly memorable examples of answers to prayer?

YES! Your story (“Dream Job”) of how you got your professorship at APU is one of them. What a suspenseful time that was for you. Another that captured my heart is “Split-Second Grace,” a true story of how God saved a baby’s life in the nick of time.

7. You always seem to be working on at least one book, if not more. What is next for you?

My next book will be published in 2014 from Harvest House. Lord, How Did I Get This Old So Soon? A Woman Talks to God About Growing Older. This is a book of conversational prayers to God about the issues we all face as we age. My editor told me it is her favorite of all my books. Nice to hear. I also have a fun book coming out later this year: God Bless My Senior Moments—short, sentence-long prayers about the funny things we do when we hit the senior age group–and I’m not talking about seniors in college!

8. Where can readers go to find out more about you and your books?

I invite readers to visit my website: www.karenoconnor.com where they will find a list of my books and links for ordering them, and to sign up for my weekly blog and quarterly newsletter, if they wish.

Thanks, Joe, for featuring me on your blog. I really appreciate your support.

When Life is Unfair, Can I Know God is Good?

Our guest blogger this week is Jim Davis, author of the upcoming book, Why Me? (And Why That’s the Wrong Question). I met Jim earlier this year at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. He was part of a wonderful group of writers who took part in a practicum I taught there, and he was working on a book about suffering. After the conference, he was offered a contract for the book, which will be published next year. On his blog, http://tavbiblestudies.wordpress.com/, Jim is described as “a Sunday school teacher, husband, dad, attorney, college football fan, blues music devotee, and frequent Food Network viewer who writes and teaches Bible studies. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with Sonya, his wife of 21 years, and his 13-year-old son Tully.” I asked him to tell how his book came about, and I am honored to post his response.

When Life is Unfair, Can I Know God is Good?

by Jim Davis

A member of the Bible Study class I co-teach entered a hospice program this week. Clay, 39, fought cancer for years. Now the doctors say that medicine has no more to offer.

What do I say to Clay and his family? When life seems so unfair, can I know that God is good? And if I don’t know that, how can I get up in front of the class on Sundays and tell them that His Word is worth studying?

Today I am confident in what I believe, even without all the answers, but that wasn’t true when I first started teaching. Situations like Clay’s challenged my faith. Like millions before me, I wanted to come to terms with suffering and God’s goodness. I started with two questions that I wrote down one evening after a funeral that featured the saddest, tiniest white casket I had ever seen: Why this person and not someone else? And if God loves the hurting person, why doesn’t He fix the problem? I didn’t know, so I wrote a book.

I did not begin with the goal of writing a book. There was just something I did not understand that I wanted to understand, so I read and researched and prayed and thought until I learned what I could and was at peace with what I didn’t know. I decided to write down what I had learned and come to believe. My book is the result of the study I began after the long-ago funeral for a friend’s baby.

In the book, I argue that our typical questions about suffering (such as my original two) are not helpful, are not answerable, and have little foundation in Scripture; however, there are other questions we should focus on that point to God and can help us grow during a storm.

That is not at all what I set out to prove. I started out simply looking for answers to my two questions. I found a little helpful information in my initial research, and many unproven theories, but it became clear to me that God does not Continue reading

Some Thoughts on That Planet Made of Diamond

Imagine a planet made of diamond.

Photo by Haven Giguere. Artist's rendition of the diamond planet.

It exists.

According to National Geographic, this planet, which has been given the unimaginative name “55 Cancri e,” is twice the size of earth but has eight times its mass. At least a third of the planet is composed of pure diamond.

I am endlessly fascinated by astronomy and the discoveries that are being made about the universe. I love to read about the vastness of space, the variety and mind-boggling number of planets, galaxies, moons, suns and objects that are out there. In my recent book, Pieces of Heaven: Recognizing the Presence of God, I write about the discovery last year of the most massive and distant clouds of water ever found in the universe. The National Geographic article reporting on that discovery says the giant cloud of mist weighs forty billion times the mass of earth. The water in this cloud is enough to fill all the oceans on earth 140 trillion times.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t just skim over facts like that. They stop me. I have to let my imagination play with what such an enormous body of water would look like and how it could possibly even exist. Or when I read that a diamond planet is floating out there in space, I wonder how—and why—could that be true. It pushes my mind to the Creator of such a universe. Why would God put a diamond planet out there? Why would he create that vast space-cloud of water? For fun? Just because he can? For variety? What, if anything, will he ever do with that planet or that water?

I know that these amazing astronomical facts don’t “prove” the existence Continue reading

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I am happy to welcome guest blogger Michael Bruner, a popular and gifted Honors professor at Azusa Pacific University.

 Michael was born and raised in the Philippines to missionary parents. He moved with his family to the US when he was ten and received his B.A. in English from University of Washington in 1988. He received his M.Div. from Princeton Seminary in 1994 and was ordained as a Presbyterian Minister shortly thereafter. He now teaches in the Dept. of Practical Theology at APU and lives in Pasadena with his wife and two children.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

By Michael Bruner

I was thinking of Heaven as I was reading the Lake Isle of Innisfree a couple of days ago, and I thought about how terrible it would be if Heaven were just a place we came up with in our minds, a Lake Isle of our own making, in order to counter the reality that we are in fact alone in this life. I then extended this idea further and considered how truly awful it would be if, as we are told in that nursery rhyme, this life itself is “but a dream.”

It then occurred to me that that’s what hell is, and the severest forms of mental illness (which are, in some sense, merely mirror images of each other): being alone in one’s own existence with nothing but voices and phantoms of one’s own making, an echo chamber of chaos where one is profoundly misunderstood even by oneself — and ultimately unknown to oneself. This is also the height of narcissism, which, I am convinced, is the DNA of all mental illness.

And so, if Heaven is real and, by extension, this life is not a dream, then Heaven must be an even deeper reality than this life, where we understand more and are, in turn, more fully known; we’ll see ourselves as parts of a larger whole, as separate (but not separated) parts of who we all are and who God is. And yet we will, in some sense, remain a mystery.

Which would make eternity, in our as-yet presently unredeemed state of individualism, hell. The boundaries between us must dissolve before the boundary of time can disappear. In heaven, we won’t be the same self-conscious, individuated people we are now. We will know ourselves for being known in communion with others. We will still be ourselves, no doubt, replete with bodies, but they will be Continue reading