Hedonists and Legalists

I’ve been thinking a lot about our culture in the light of the horrors that are occurring on the other side of the world in Iraq and Syria…and elsewhere.

I read that Islamic fundamentalists hate Westerners because we are so immoral. I assume that they are talking about sexual immorality. It is true that as Westerners have abandoned Christian morality and embraced a kind of secularism that encourages us to throw off any kind of “oppressive” restraint, we appear to them to be infidels.

Sadly, in our culture’s eagerness to immerse ourselves in free expression of the individual’s will, tolerance (an erroneous kind), and materialism, we have rid ourselves of a holy God who would rein in our baser impulses.

This is hedonism.

On the other side….and on the other side of the world, we see Islamic extremists whom I would term, legalists.

These are people who believe that we must not allow any kind of freedom. In their world women are weak and inferior and must be ruled with cruelty and oppression. Harsh laws keep people from saying or doing anything that might be construed as rebellion against their teachings. Infidels must be persecuted or slain. No other set of beliefs will be tolerated.

I’ve never seen anyone in this system who is joy-filled and peace-filled. Not one. How could they be?

Legalism says, in effect, do this, do that perfectly and you will be rewarded. Do you know anyone who’s perfect?

I don’t. And I never will. Therefore, there is no ultimate reward in legalism. Only zealotry, striving, and frustration.

Hedonists see no reward beyond the here and now. Legalists expect an ultimate reward for their obedience and self-denial.

Both philosophies disappoint now, and will disappoint ultimately.

Hedonists and legalists appear to be polar opposites. But, in reality, they are quite the same.

Both hedonists  and legalists are focused on themselves and their own reward. They are both self-centered.

We in the West are horrified by the actions and teachings of the Islamic extremists. We’ve seen executions, rapes, mutilations, torture, crucifixions.

The Extremists see us as objects of horror, too. In their minds, we allow our women to expose themselves in public, men and women co-habit, we tolerate all sorts of societal evils.

Both hedonists and legalists have denied Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Neither have been freed from the bondage of sin. Both are equally lost. Neither philosophy understands and acknowledges GRACE.

Christ is the answer to hedonism. Christ is the answer to legalists. To both, He would say, “Yes, your sin has separated you from God…the true God. But I (Christ) have sacrificed Myself on the cross to pay for your sin.”

There is no room for smugness for anyone. For no amount of “freedom” can free a person from their sin.

No amount of striving and zealotry can merit any kind of reward, in this world or the next.

True joy, true peace comes only when we receive the gift of God’s forgiveness, found only in Jesus Christ.

“To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 NIV Bible)

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Writers and Genius Crows

Ravens and crows are probably the smartest birds on the planet.

They survive so well because they are smart and versatile.

In animal science experiments, crows and ravens use tools to reach  treats stuck inside tight containers.

They can be taught to imitate human speech and other sounds.

They drop nuts onto busy street intersections and wait for cars to pass by and crush the nuts. After the light turns red, they swoop down and collect their nutty treats.

A crow was observed at a ice fishing site, pulling on the fishing line. After he had pulled the line out of the water several feet, he anchored the line over a rock and pulled the rest of the line out of the water…and the fish attached to the end!

Crows try several methods to get the food that they seek. They scavenge, hunt for small animals, feed on other birds’ eggs.

As writers in a quest for our own survival, are we as smart and versatile as crows?

Can we re-write an excerpt in an inventive way? Can we think of new and refreshing ways to market our writing works? Do we study the environment and construct creative methods for reaching new audiences? Do we seek out new writer “flocks” and  help them? Do we continue to learn how to use our own writerly “tools” effectively? (Newsletters, social media, tribes, word of mouth? etc.)

We can gain a lot of inspiration just by observing the way God has made so-called dumb animals. Next time you see a crow, let that big black bird inspire you to think smart about your writing career.


Writers and Squirrels

Whether we’re talking about tree squirrels, or ground squirrels, or chipmunks, or golden-mantled squirrels, we’re taking about hard workers.

Squirrels climb and excavate, investigate and forage.

I love to watch them scamper about the property. They form communities and help keep watch for predators.

They gather food, carry it back to their nests. Or stash the food some safe place. Spring 2010 050Some of the food is for now, some for leaner times.

Sometimes a squirrel appears to be lazing in the sun, its little paws slung over a tree branch, its eyes closed in blissful slumber. But even then the squirrel is working at storing energy for the next big burst of food gathering.

Yep, the squirrel is a hard worker. He knows his survival depends on continuously seeking food, storing it, providing for his babies, looking out for cats and coyotes, hawks and ravens.

Writers are like that, too. We know that, to sit back and stop growing, to stop writing toward a goal, to stop editing, to stop learning, to stop seeking other writing avenues… means that we cease to exist as writers.

The world will pass us by if we only half-heartedly pursue the life of the writer.

Stay busy, writers. Whether it’s critiquing and being critiqued, meeting other writers, studying the craft, finishing your first draft—or 12th draft—or just spending a few days on brain-neutral as you explore ideas for your next writing project: stay busy as a squirrel!

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…” (Col.3:23 NIV Bible)


Writers Are Woodpeckers!

A couple of years ago, our house was attacked. 

Not by  alien invasion.

Not by bad people.

Or even  by termites.


The attacker was a woodpecker.

Have you seen what those critters can do to trees? Now imagine holes all over the outside walls of your house. Awful!

Each time the woodpecker did his thing on my house, I ran outside, and shouted, and waved my arms.

The bird flew off.

But not five minutes later, he returned and immediately started drilling again.

That darn bird wouldn’t give up. Over and over, he tried to hunt for bugs within the cedar walls of my house.

Woodpeckers are persistent.

We could learn some lessons from the woodpecker.

The bird’s persistence means that it will get eventually be rewarded by some bugalicious nourishment.

Writers too often give up before netting an agent, or a publishing contract, or whatever else they seek in the world of writers.

Let’s take a lesson from the woodpecker, who always gets his bug!

Animals and Good Writing

I lived for seven years way up in the mountains outside Estes Park, Colorado.

While I honed my craft as a writer I also spent lots of time observing the wildlife outside my window.

Animals display many wonderful qualities that we humans—particularly writers—should emulate. They’re:

  1. curious
  2. persistent
  3. hard workers
  4. gifted
  5. voracious
  6.  fearless

Deer are curious. They want to know if another animal, or another grove of trees, or another meadow is safe. They cautiously approach new areas, but always with the intense focus of an animal that wants to learn something new.

Deer like to come up to our windows and peep through at the strange human animals inside. They quickly learn which houses contain friendly humans, or not-so-friendly humans with noisy dogs.

Writers should be boundlessly curious about their world, too. We need to keep learning every day. We should do things like:

visit museums,

walk places and observe people,


join organizations,

read books that you don’t usually read,

take a road trip, a cruise, a rafting trip,

host missionaries at your house,

keep a journal,

listen to other writers.

Our environment is constantly changing. Just like the deer, we writers 7-20-11 005need to be curious.

Fear Not

I guess every family culture is different, but growing up in my family, we kids liked to scare each other.

Nothing gory. It was more of the psychological stuff.

Like discussing the possibility of giant ants that hide under the house and only come out at night. Of course, they’re able to squeeze through a minuscule hole at the back of my bedroom closet, and the only victims are kids younger than seven.

That story, told by by older sister, had me going for several years.

All my older siblings had to do was suggest a possible what-if scenario, then wait for me to imagine the rest.

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(My older sisters on either side of me: the two that filled my head with scary stories!)

Because I had a lively imagination, I came up with doozies that kept me in a constant state of heightened awareness…especially at night.

As an adult, I’ve simply replaced these irrational fears for more realistic fears: Are my kids (grandkids) okay? Will my husband keep his job in this challenging economy? Will we be able to retire in a few years? etc.

God understands that we have lots of things to be afraid of in this world. And we can build up our fears to the point where we fail to acknowledge that none of this is beyond God’s control.

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV Bible)

Those who trust in Him have a wise, loving and vigilant Father.

Walk close to Him, listen to Him, worship Him.

Fear not.




What I Didn’t Do

During my senior year at Oberlin College, a friend had just gotten back from her summer job working at a national park in the west.

She said that she’d been able to rehearse with other singers and actors to perform skits and songs for park campers. The young employees all lived in cabins, and in their free time they were allowed to ride horses, go hiking, and play sports.


My summer had been spent working at a self-serve gas station as a cashier.


I so regretted that I hadn’t checked out other summer job opportunities, like my friend.

I was afraid of unfamiliar thing so I chose to do the safe thing and go home to live with my parents for the summer.

There aren’t too many activities that I regret taking part in.

The things I regret are what I never did. Usually because of fear or insecurity in my own abilities.

Or God’s ability to sustain me.

  • Opportunities
  • Invitations
  • Auditions
  • Risky Ventures
  • Relationships
  • Ministries

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve jumped into more and more life challenges that I might have shrunk from when I was younger.

My biggest fear is looking back with regret at what could have been.

Are you like me?

Are you taking more risks now when God calls you?

Are you willing to trust God when He calls?

Are you determined not to look back with regret?

Can you shake your fist at fear?

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes.” (Jer. 17: 7,8 NIV Bible)



Seeking the Creator in nature and the arts


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