Cathy Concludes in the Comics

I want to write like Cathy Guisewite.

You may not know who she is, but you’re probably familiar with her work. One of her favorite words is “Aack!” and her last installment will circulate October 3, 2010. Have you guessed yet?

Cathy Guisewite wrote a popular comic strip called “Cathy,” whose namesake was an iconic, single career woman. We cheered her on as she battled her unreasonable boss and sympathized as she clashed with her mother. We sighed as she searched for true love and empathized as she fought the battle of the bulge. Those four basic guilt groups were a recurring theme: food, love, mom, and work.

We saw ourselves in the funny pages.

And this simple comic strip brims with lessons for those of us who are teachers and writers.

I really do want to write like Cathy Guisewite. Not that my goal is to create a successful comic strip, although that sounds like fun. No, I want to teach and write in a way that connects with my readers—intentionally and intimately.

Guisewite notes,

“I’ve had women hug me with tears rolling down their faces and tell me how reading the strip helped them through horrible, lonely times in the exact same way that writing the strip helped me. The women who have shared that with
me have changed my life. I’ve gone home so inspired.”

One reason for this strong connection is that she wrote transparently and authentically. As Guisewite admits,

“Pretty much, the more humiliating the admission, the more autobiographical it was. The seven different sizes of jeans in one closet…the three-year, $75./month membership to the gym that I went to twice…the begging my mother to return the delusional New Year’s Eve outfit because I couldn’t face the saleslady again: all me.”

What would happen if we, as writers and teachers, would be that transparent? Let’s take it a step further…what would happen is we as people would be that transparent?

Transparency and authenticity. I need both if I truly want to meet my readers where they live. I need to climb down from my ivory tower and be willing to bare the parts of my life that demonstrate my imperfect humanity.

I may be embarrassed by some of these “Aack” moments, but if I pretend they don’t exist, then I’m pretending to be someone I’m not – someone who has it all together all the time. The reality is that Jesus Christ is the One who holds me all together. Without Him, I’d be falling apart.

I love this process of learning and growing and teaching and writing. It’s a wonderful adventure, and the greatest lessons often come from life’s “Aack” experiences. Let’s learn from each other.

In what way are you being called to a greater level of transparency and authenticity in your relationships with others?
How can you encourage others in their journey to be “real”?


Fact or Fiction?

Do you know who Colonel Harland David Sanders was?

I’ll give you a few hints…white suit, string tie, white goatee, southern charm, and the originator of a secret blend of eleven herbs and spices. Ah, you’ve got it now—the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, now known as KFC. But did you know that he was more than just a KFC marketing icon?

While you may recognize the Colonel as a real person, more than half of a surveyed group of 18 to 25 year olds believe Colonel Sanders was a figure created by Madison Avenue marketers to represent KFC. They did not know he actually founded the company, and the white suit was not a costume, but his daily garb until he died in 1980.

Does this really matter? Perhaps not much. However, what does matter is that this is another example of the blurring between fact and fiction.

It happens time and again. What some know to be fiction, others believe to be fact. What some know to be fact, others believe to be fiction. Three literary examples spring to mind.

The first is The Da Vinci Code, a novel written by Dan Brown. The bestseller has sold more than 80 million copies and has been translated into 44 languages. It also helped to revive debate over the possibility of an intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene – a relationship that has no basis in historical fact. Yet many people read this novel – a work of fiction –  as true.

The second example is another popular novel, this one written by William P. Young, entitled The Shack. In it, the main character encounters the triune God in the form of an African-American woman, a male carpenter, and an Asian woman. Some Christian readers castigate it for being irreverent in its manifestation of the nature of God. Others praise it for blessing their relationship with the Lord. Trouble can occur, however, when readers mistake fiction for truth as they determine their beliefs about who God is.

The third example is the Bible. For many, the Bible presents the opposite problem. People read the truth of the Bible, and dismiss it as fiction – ancient fairy tales created for simple minds in a simpler time. But the Bible is non-fiction. Its words are true and relevant to us today.

What about those who don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word? How do we address those who say that, at best, the Bible is filled with historical and scientific inaccuracies? That’s easy.

Archeological discoveries have repeatedly verified the historical accuracy of the Bible. Such finds have included the advanced civilization of Ur in Abraham’s day (Genesis 12), the collapse of Jericho’s walls (Joshua 6), and the power and influence of the Hittite nation mentioned throughout the Old Testament, but unknown in modern history until 19th century discoveries.

When it comes to science, no teaching in the Bible violates scientific laws. In fact, 2000 years before Christ, Job noted that the earth hung suspended in space (Job 26:7), while his contemporaries  in other cultures claimed the earth rested on pillars or on Atlas, who carried the earth on his back. PIC In the area of biology, scientists now know that four distinguishable cell structures support four kinds of flesh, while Paul clearly stated this fact in his letter to the early Corinthian church (I Corinthians 15:39). Any supposed discrepancies between science and the Bible occur when unproven scientific theory is claimed to be fact.

Finally, the Bible has been proven trustworthy in its prophecies. From Ezekiel’s description of Tyre’s destruction to Daniel’s visions of succeeding empires to the prophecies of Christ’s life and death, the Bible has shown itself to be reliable – without exception.

People may be confused about other books, but there is no reason to be confused about the Bible. It is non-fiction: true, reliable, trustworthy, and relevant. As writers and teachers, we need to be sure of this for ourselves before we try to influence others.

What book(s) have you read that seem to blur the line between fact and fiction?
How do you determine the truth about what you read?


Money CAN Buy You Happiness!

All my life I’ve heard people say money cannot buy happiness.
Are they wrong?

Two professors at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs set out to determine whether the saying is true. They analyzed 450,000 survey responses to learn if money can, indeed, buy happiness.

The research report defined “emotional well-being” as the emotional qualities of everyday experience, and “life evaluation” as the thoughts people have about their life. The study indicated that income and education are closely related to life evaluation, but factors such as health and loneliness are more strongly related to daily emotions.

So, can money buy happiness?

The researchers determined that emotional well-being was related to income, but the level of happiness did not increase beyond an annual income of $75,000. They concluded that “high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness, and that low income is associated both with low life evaluation and low emotional well-being.” It seems that money can buy a type of happiness that involves satisfaction, but not necessarily pleasant emotions.

Even if money could buy happiness, is happiness what we really want?

The answer to this question seems like an obvious yes. Who doesn’t want to be happy? Certainly not me. And yet…if my happiness is dependent on my circumstances, what does that say about me? That my well-being hangs on temporary and shifting circumstances? That my happiness is controlled by the consequences of events and the influences of people who may not care about me or even know me? It’s a rollercoaster way of life. I know, I’ve tried living that way, and it’s no party!

If my emotional well-being is going to depend on anything, I want it to depend on something that won’t capriciously shift or on someone who is always faithful, dependable, and trustworthy.

Joy is what I’m after. The joy of knowing to whom I belong. The God of the universe calls me His child, and welcomes me to call Him Father. The joy of knowing He is sovereign. As Kay Arthur is fond of saying, nothing touches my life that hasn’t first been filtered through His fingers of love. This doesn’t mean I won’t have problems. Trust me, I’ve had my share, and then some! But it does mean I can rest in the knowledge that what God allows in my life is for His glory and my ultimate and eternal good.

Money may or may not buy happiness, but Jesus Christ has purchased my joy. It’s this joy that motivates me to teach and to write so others might have it as well.

How about you?
What or who is your source of happiness?
What or who is your source of joy?


Remember

Remembering has been getting more difficult these days. Last week I spent twenty minutes looking for my car keys, only to find them on the drivers’ seat of my car. I’m constantly on the hunt for my eyeglasses, only to locate them…yup, on top of my head. Embarrassing admissions that I chalk up to “senior moments” – except I’m not a “senior”…yet.

Remembering is important. The people and experiences we remember contribute to who we are…and who we are becoming. Remembering enables us to learn from our mistakes. Philosopher George Santayana noted, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Remembering also motivates us to do better. “Remember the Alamo” was the rallying cry for the Texan freedom forces following Mexico’s defeat of Colonel Travis’ army.

This week Americans are remembering something else. Saturday is September 11th—9/11—the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks responsible for the deaths of nearly 2800 people in New York City.

But what should this remembering lead to? Do we remember so that we can “give back as good as we get”? Do we remember in order to stoke hatred for others? Is remembering about keeping score, burning copies of the Qur’an (as is being planned by a pastor in Florida), or deciding whether  Muslims can build a mosque (the controversy raging in New York)?

Before I continue, it may help to point out that the Bible clearly defines different roles for individuals and for governments. It is the government’s responsibility to keep its citizens safe (Romans 13:1-4). However, as individuals we are called to walk in humility and forgiveness and to love our enemy (Luke 6:27-28). Granted, when we read verses such as these, it’s much easier to support them in theory than it is to apply them to those who have hurt or betrayed us, or who openly espouse our destruction.

Like us, the prophet Jonah struggled with the delicate balance between national defense and individual forgiveness. The ancient kingdom of Israel had to be on her guard against Assyria, a cruel enemy. Yet it was to this same enemy that God called Jonah to preach a message of repentance. Of course, Jonah did not want to go. He responded as many of us do when God calls us to do the hard thing—he ran in the opposite direction. The Assyrians deserved judgment, not forgiveness! When they repented in response to Jonah’s message, God chose not to bring judgment. Rather than being happy with the success of his mission, Jonah became angry with God (Jonah 4:1-2).

God is certainly not calling us to be foolish or naïve. Precautions must be taken for our safety and defense, and we rely on our government to do so. Of course, we should communicate our dissatisfaction when injustice occurs. And certainly, we can strongly protest the insensitivity and lack of wisdom in building a mosque so close to an area that still scrapes our collective and individual emotions raw with grief.

Still, personal hostility undermines and contradicts our Christian witness. Burning copies of the Qur’an may send a “message,” but what message does it send? That we are willing to stoop to the lowest levels of our enemies? That we are more interested in showing superiority than we are in sharing salvation?

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
(Romans 10:14-15).

Those of us who write, teach, or lead have been given the gift of communication—an ability to use words creatively or persuasively. We can honor God with this gift, or we can corrupt it to stoke the spread of hatred, making us no better than our enemies.

As we remember this terrible anniversary, let’s do it in such a way that honors those who died or were injured, while not dishonoring Christ, since we bear His name. It can be done, but only as we depend on the Holy Spirit for His enabling.

How will your remembrance of 9/11 reflect who you are as an American…and as a Christian?


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