David C. Hughes, Writer

Twelve Tantalizingly Twisted Tales featured on Lone Star Book Blog Tour, starting Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Archive for the month “December, 2015”

Joy for the World (2015-12-18 Daily)

 

Be joyous always, and serve God with joy.

—Chaim Kramer, Crossing the Narrow Bridge

 

I looked down at the gray LCD display on the elliptical’s control panel. 15 minutes had passed. 15 minutes I still had to go. I shifted my eyes to the odometer: 0.9 miles. My goal for the morning was to hit the 2 mile mark, something I hadn’t done in, gosh, years. Sweat gathered on my forehead and led a charge down my cheeks. It beaded on the backs of my hands and slicked up the elliptical’s metal handles. It rolled off my face and dripped on the floor. My heart pounded to the rhythm of my stride. My breath ebbed and flowed in strong and even measures. My legs no longer ached, warmed by the 4.1 mile-per-hour pace. I was loving it!

Yes, this morning I woke up actually looking forward to my every-other-day flagellation on my Horizon EX-56. After a slow buildup that had started weeks ago, I was close to reaching the 30 minute climax of my fitness goals. The agony had long passed; I now felt one with the elliptical, my body a well-oiled machine pounding away on a not-so-well-oiled one. As I pedaled the squeaky piece of exercise equipment, I tore my eyes from the odometer and fixed them on the wall hangings mounted behind my desk: posters of two of my books, Melted Clowns and The Epiphany of Joy. I smiled. The emotion washing over me at the moment was endorphine-fed bliss, but undergirding that elation lay a growing foundation of pure joy, one not based on current circumstances but on the One Who allows me to experience these circumstances for my benefit and His Glory. “You make known to me the path of life,” King David wrote in Psalm 16, “you will fill me with joy in your presence, /  with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11 NIV®).

I looked at the butterfly on the cover of The Epiphany of Joy—a Question Mark perched on a pale violet lilac bloom against a defocused green foliage background—and realized I’d never fully shared the story of how that butterfly had gotten there. I figured it was about time . . . .

Three years ago, as I was turning the crank on the book’s manuscript, I hadn’t given much thought to the cover until I received an email from my sister, Linda. My sister, a spiritual person who’s in tune with the unseen as much as she is with the seen, had written about a dream she’d had. In her dream, a beautiful woman, perhaps her guardian angel, stood before her with hands closed. The woman smiled, spread her arms, and opened her hands. “Butterflies!” she declared. Books fell from her hands and landed on the ground in front of her.

“I’ve read some information about the symbolism of butterflies, and it’s amazing,” she’d written in her email. “You need to look it up.” So I did, and besides the obvious symbolism of transformation, the butterfly is also a symbol for . . . JOY! I asked Linda for her blessing to use a butterfly on the book, and she eagerly agreed. Then the cover’s wings began to unfold right in front of my mind’s eye.

The butterfly I picked to represent joy is the Question Mark, chosen because of the pearly white question mark prominently displayed on the underside of each hindwing, and because the book is a compilation of my three-year search for joy (What is joy, exactly question mark, question mark, question mark). I pictured a white cover featuring the butterfly in profile perching on a limb. Since the underside of the Question Mark is a drab brown, I wanted to use this angle to represent not only my questioning, but also my uncertainty about joy—what it is, how we achieve it, how we live it. For much of my life, joy was elusive, until I discovered I’d possessed it all along.

I’d also planned to use a drawing of a Question Mark butterfly with wings spread open on the back cover, illustrating my newfound understanding and reception of joy in the upper wing’s vibrant red-orange spotted in black. I commissioned my niece, Emilie L. Hughes, to create these drawings, and she met my expectations. Problem was, my publisher had a different vision for the cover.

Talk about a struggle! I held on tightly to my concept, proud of all the symbolism I’d incorporated into both the front and back covers. When my publisher strongly suggested I use a much more vibrant stock photo of a Question Mark butterfly instead of the purposefully drab illustration, I pushed back. “It’s a book about joy,” she explained. “The cover needs to be bright and colorful. It needs to call out joy! What reader is going to want to pick up a book about joy if the cover doesn’t reflect it?”

I understood her position but felt I would be compromising my vision (and Linda’s) if I gave into it. I discussed it with Mary. I put on my grumpy face. I pondered and thought and contemplated. Finally I relented and okayed the change, feeling somewhat like I’d sold out just to move the project forward. However, when the publisher asked me to select a photo from two stock pictures she’d sent, I knew we’d all made the right decision. The book cover exudes joy, reaching out to the reader with its vivacious colors while still featuring a Question Mark butterfly. Inside, my niece’s illustrations adorned the flyleaf and the crown of each chapter.

Life’s trials and challenges, even the small ones like finalizing a book cover or building up to my goal of running for 30 minutes on the elliptical, make joy all that much more delicious. “Without experiencing sorrow and mourning, there’s no way for us to appreciate its opposite,” says Chaim Kramer in Crossing the Narrow Bridge: A Practical Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Teachings. “We have nothing with which to compare our happiness. Therefore, we must experience suffering. Only then can we know the true taste of joy.”[1]

As I suffered in bliss for the last five minutes of my morning run, finally hitting both the 30 minute mark and my 2 mile goal, I remembered that joy is available to everyone who would receive it. And as we again prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, our ultimate Joy—Jesus Christ—stands at the door and knocks, offering His presence and His promise of eternal joy. All we need to do is answer.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by David C Hughes

[1] Kramer, Chaim. Crossing the Narrow Bridge: A Practical Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Teachings. Jerusalem/New York: Breslov Research Institute, 1989. 27.

Enough (2015-12-09 Daily)

My most amazing niece, Emilie Hughes, posted something on Facebook recently that stuck with me: “People need to stop expressing their opinions when they don’t know the facts,” she said. “If you want to seem completely ignorant, by all means, say what you want. If not, then either research what you’re ranting about, or save your uneducated opinions for something else.” A few days later she posted, “I see humans but no humanity.” She’s 17 and very much has her finger placed firmly on the pulse of post-modern society.

Her opinions resonated in me, her 51-year-old uncle. You see, I’m not politically correct but neither am I politically savvy—I’m woefully ignorant of all but the most rudimentary understanding of most political issues. As such, I tend to keep my opinions in those areas to myself. I’ve always been “the quiet one,” preferring to keep my mouth shut when it comes to piping up in a meeting at work, in a workgroup at church, or when the conversation turns toward politics at a party. I can talk to you all day about my Christian faith and about the Bible. I can jabber on about writing and gardening and raising a child in the way she should go. But ask me a question about the Constitutionality of the recent “laws” passed that violate not only basic morality but also the foundational principles on which this country is founded, and I act more like someone suffering from either disfluency or intermittent explosive disorder rather than a man confident in the truth of 2 Timothy 1:7.

Oh, I can rant and rave, but I usually reserve the projectile vomiting of my caustic political opinions for my patient and loving wife in the privacy of my own home, especially over a glass or two of wine. But, as Emilie so eloquently pointed out, most of these opinions, while formed within a framework of moral truth based on Scripture, the Natural Law, a conservative worldview, and middle-class upbringing, are not based on any deep research or substantive contemplation. On the contrary, like many people on social media, I’m quick to spout off an opinion based soundly on emotional fluff and ignorance.

As the moral fabric of this country has unraveled steadily over the past several years, my deepening cynicism (a rite of passage for those of us over 50) has driven me toward bouts of low-level grumbling between fits of guttural vocalizations and fist raising at my computer, especially when perusing Yahoo! headlines. Tired of bumbling around in political darkness and relying on internet sound bites to keep me informed of world events, I announced to Mary not long ago that I wanted to become more informed in preparation for the upcoming election.

Yesterday, as I wound down the day at the office, Mary called me. “I have a Jesus thing for you,” she said. She related how a man had walked into the laundromat where she and Hannah were washing dog beds and dog towels. The man, tall, trim, gray-haired, told her he noticed the New River Fellowship window sticker on our car. He introduced himself and said he was with an organization called the Parker County Conservatives.

“I know it’s short notice,” he said, handing her a flyer, “but if you could come to Parker County Cowboy Church tonight, Pastor Paul Blair of Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, will be speaking about how to become more politically involved.”

“I know you’ve been wanting to become more involved,” Mary told me, “and the cowboy church is right on your way home. Just saying.”

Recognizing God’s light kick in the booty (especially since Mary has only gone to the laundromat once in the last 11 or 12 years), I sucked it up and went.

“You know how when you go to a matinee,” Pastor Blair began, “and you walk out of the theater after the movie and the sun blinds you when you walk outside? You close your eyes and you blink a few times, then you can see clearly? That’s how this presentation is going to be. It’ll be enlightening.” And indeed it was.

In an hour, Pastor Blair, former Chicago Bears offensive tackle and leader of Reclaiming America for Christ (RA4C), re-educated the audience about how this country was formed, who formed it, why it was formed, and for whom it was formed. One of his first slides displayed a proposed design for the Great Seal of the United States developed by Benjamin Franklin: “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.” The seal depicts a scene straight out of Exodus 14:28, with Moses standing in the background stretching out his arms while the Red Sea claimed the Egyptian horsemen and chariots.

Franklin's Great Seal

He explained that the United States of America is a union of sovereign states that delegated few and carefully defined powers to the central government. He reminded us how the federal government is composed of three separate branches—legislative, executive, and judicial—the weakest of which is the judicial branch, which was formed to interpret the law and provide opinions, not to govern, and especially not to impose governance solely by those opinions. He explained that the Constitution, finalized 11 years after the Declaration of Independence was penned, clearly outlines the powers of Congress in detail (Article I, Section 8). This list is very short. All other powers to make laws are left to the individual sovereign states.

“Did the government send bombing runs against Colorado and the other three states that have legalized [recreational] marijuana?” Paul asked. “No.” So why are the states taking the opinion of five Supreme Court justices as law, as the rule of the land? “Who rules?” Pastor Blair inquired. “Kings rule. Not five lawyers appointed, not elected, to the Supreme Court.” For almost two centuries this country stood on the Bible. We were not ashamed of it. But in 1962, 1963, 1973, and 2015 the Supreme Court’s opinions became the de facto (but not legal) “law of the land.” Take God out of public school and all hell breaks loose. Literally. We’ve been overrun by it.

The State of Oklahoma, through its Protect Life and Marriage program, is moving forward toward nullifying the Supreme Court’s edict in the recent Obergefell vs. Hodges case. Other states, including Texas, are joining the movement to open eyes to the insidiousness of the power grab going on in Washington, DC and restore the moral base upon which this country was conceived, nurtured, and matured (see www.protectlifeandmarriage.com).

Pastor Paul opened his talk with a quote by Woodrow Wilson in his article, “The Study of Administration,” published in the July 1887 edition of Political Science Quarterly:

 

With opinions, possession is more than nine points of the law. It is next to impossible to dislodge them. Institutions which one generation regards as only a makeshift approximation to the realization of a principle, the next generation honors as the nearest possible approximation to that principle, and the next worships the principle itself. It takes scarcely three generations for the apotheosis. The grandson accepts his grandfather’s hesitating experiment as an integral part of the fixed constitution of nature.

 

Throughout his talk, Paul continued to remind us of this apotheosis described by our 28th president. But the pastor’s presentation was not meant to bum us out but to raise hope and to inspire continued and even greater involvement. As Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” For too long we’ve stood back, crossed our arms, and have done nothing. Like Sarah Palin quipped, “How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for ya?” Education brings enlightenment; education in the Truth brings hope. After last night’s “chance” meeting, I think my hope has been restored, or at least it’s been sparked again. And that’s enlightening.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by David C Hughes

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