Quotation Station

Shabbat Shalom to artists everywhere.

As I wish you rest and peace for the last time this year, may I also wish you abundant blessing for the year to come. Remember, to create is to imitate Adonai, so make sure your efforts reflect well on the One who gave you your ability to create in the first place.

Read to Write

Every year I take the Goodreads pledge to read twenty-four books. This year, I finished with sixty-one books. This is a new record for me. I’m actually going to end with sixty-two as soon as I get to the one sitting on my to-be-read stack, but I’m also kind of a stickler about not counting a book until it is absolutely finished. You never know what could occur during the course of my day to prevent me from completing it. I wouldn’t want to offend the Goodreads gods or something.

I’m sure I’ve said it on my blog before, but I’m going to say it again: if you want to write well, you must read well.

Let’s start with quantity first. Get your hands on everything you can and read it. Books, articles, newspapers (do we still have those?), fiction, non-fiction, read inside your favorite genre and outside your favorite genre. Read, read, read.

There are going to be people who tell you what the best is by labeling it classic, best seller, or some other tag to entice you. That’s fine, give it a whirl. Remember, though, that the final decision is yours on whether or not the book deserves such high and lofty praise. Keep in mind, however, that good writing can occur even if you don’t care for and/or disagree with the piece of writing (fiction or non-fiction), so analyze every aspect of what you’re reading before bringing the hammer down on a particular work.

Now let’s talk about quality. The more you read, the more you will expose yourself to the good and bad in writing. Very soon you’ll be able to discern not just what appeals to your reading tastes, but what lends to the foundation of good writing. Again, this will only occur if you crowbar yourself out of your reading rut and into the vast libraries of the world. Keep in mind that the popularity of the book/how well it was received, the money it made, shocking subject matter, being written by someone the public did not expect, and the tale being turned into a movie are not factors by which one should judge the writing.

I’m not going to include the research, data, or links to posts about how much smarter one becomes by reading, but it’s true. It just is. Your vocabulary and knowledge will increase, and at the very least, you’ll spark new interests and have something worthy to discuss with other people.

So, I challenge each of you reading this to set a goal for the quickly approaching new year and get to reading. Take a moment to let me know in the comments what you read this past year, what you loved, what you hated, and why. Word of mouth is often how I find my next great read.

Tuesday Tea – Banana Bread

Perhaps it’s because this is the busy week of Hanukkah, perhaps it’s because I’m enjoying a cup of this delicious tea right this moment, but whatever the case, Tuesday Tea is coming to you late in the morning, but at least it’s coming!

What could be better than the delicious aroma of freshly baked banana bread permeating every nook and cranny of your home? How about your hands wrapped around a warm cup of Banana Bread tea on a frosty winter morning?

Thank you, Ohio Tea Company, for offering this beautiful, fragrant tea that serves up as comforting and delicious as the familiar baked good. There’s nothing artificial tasting about this brew composed of honeybush tea, apple pieces, cinnamon, cocoa nibs, natural banana flavor, natural chestnut flavor, and marigold flowers.

It’s lovely in the tea ball and equally gorgeous in your favorite teacup or mug as it brews up a pleasant shade of mauve. This caffeine-free herbal infusion is similar to rooibos, although I found the honeybush to be a shade milder but no less tasty. It also lends itself well to blending with the other ingredients.

The best part about Banana Bread tea is that it satisfies one’s craving for dessert, and in this season of over-indulging in too many sweets, this tea is a lifesaver. What’s more, it takes far less time to make a cup of tea than to prepare and bake loaves of banana bread. I find that detail comes in handy when you receive unexpected guests and have nothing to serve them in the way of dessert.

I haven’t done this yet, but I imagine Banana Bread tea would be well received at a tea party, especially when paired with shortbread for dunking. The flavor focal point becomes the tea instead of the food, and it elevates tea to a new level instead of presenting it as the usual accompaniment essential for a tea party but often overlooked.

I enjoy this tea without sugar or cream, but if you decide to include one or the other or both in your cup, please let me know how that worked for you. Also, I’m interested in balanced pairings, so do be sure to let me know what you served with Banana Bread tea.

Tamar & Cancel Culture

I apologize for the late delivery of this blog post. Monday is usually the day I publish new material, but a nasty cold took me down earlier this week. Now I’m wondering if it wasn’t for the sake of what I discovered.

I’m studying Tamar’s story, and I’m seeing how an overwhelming lack of understanding of her tale is playing out across our world right now. You’ll want to pause and read Genesis/B’reisheet 38 if you’re not already familiar with Tamar. The short chapter is an amazing digression in a larger narrative, but it is one that must not be missed.

I would also urge you to reject the usual feminist perspective of scripture as patriarchal and misogynistic. Tamar’s story is so much more than that, and to stop here in your thinking is to do her a great injustice and miss the fact that her actions provided the opportunity for revelation, healing, and repentance.

I admit that I never truly understood Judah’s statement “She is more righteous than I” until I came across sources that delved more deeply into the text, the history, and the culture. Understanding all three is crucial to learning the lesson at hand.

One must accept that children were highly prized at the time in which Tamar’s story was written. Children were understood to be life and wealth, not burdens and inconveniences. And when I say wealth, I don’t mean that they were treated as mere property. Children were considered one of the ultimate blessings not just for the woman but for the family as a whole. This truth must be accepted, or the rest of the story breaks down.

And perhaps that’s why we are where we are today.

When a woman was denied the right and privilege to bear children, she was denied an honor to the degree of severe social shame. Yet in Tamar’s case, her shame wasn’t because she was unable to bear her own children. Something, or someone, stood in her way.

A close reading of the text reveals that Judah had no intention of giving Tamar to his youngest son for the purpose of raising up offspring for his brother, which was something that Tamar wanted for herself and her dead husband. She was trapped between Judah’s fears of losing another son and her inability to marry anyone else because she was legally bound to her brother-in-law. In her desperation, Tamar took drastic action to ensure that her husband’s name would not be lost among his brethren and that she would become a mother.

At this point, one might believe that Tamar’s efforts to gain children were what made her more righteous than Judah. She took a great risk to achieve what should have rightfully been hers. While her methods were more in keeping with her Canaanite heritage, her desire to be part of Judah’s family—a family striving to adhere to the instruction of the one and only living God—must not be casually discarded.

Both Judah and Tamar conducted themselves inappropriately. Two wrongs never make a right, and neither person in this story was perfect. But here’s where Tamar prevailed: Judah, believing his daughter-in-law was guilty of adultery, wanted her to be dealt with publicly, whereas Tamar, knowing Judah to be the one by whom she was pregnant, sent him a coded message that only he would understand, thus revealing the truth. Tamar fulfilled her duty to her dead husband, but more significantly, she spared Judah public shame.

Allow me to repeat that: Tamar spared Judah public shame.

What she did was huge, and the moral implications have reverberated throughout history for those willing to learn the lesson.

Through her understanding of shame and humiliation, Tamar had become sensitized to what Judah was about to experience if she allowed it. Again, Tamar was holding all the cards, yet she chose to act in righteousness by sparing Judah’s dignity when she withheld her words. What Tamar knew—that for which she was willing to put her life on the line—was that psychological damage can harm far worse than physical damage.

Words hurt, and once spoken, they can never be taken back.

Fast forward to today when exposing someone’s shame is considered not simply justice but righteous justice. People are applauded for conducting smear campaigns to the point of canceling another person in the eyes of a fickle society. The fact that this goes on in politics is no big surprise, although it is still unacceptable, but at the familial level, it’s nothing short of reprehensible.

Imagine airing your dirty laundry to the degree that you make millions of dollars and produce a documentary. Surely, the hurt you’ve experienced justifies you doing so, right? No, not according to God’s word. Not even if you attach the latest trending social label to it.

Tamar was on the fringe of society as a two-time childless widow, unable to remarry a man of her choice, and a foreigner. Yet instead of cashing in on her low status for the sake of gaining sympathy, she considered the other person and spared him the loss of dignity that would equate to a loss of life.

For her selfless actions, great integrity was attributed to Tamar, the outsider. She wrote herself into the most important royal lineage known to man, that of King David and ultimately, King Yeshua. She was and always will be a role model for how to conduct ourselves when someone else’s dignity is on the line.

What You Write is as Important as What You Write

What you write is as important as what you write. No, that’s not a typo. It’s the beginning of something I’d like to discuss with you.

Writing inspiration comes in many ways from many different places, and if you’re like me, it never fails to arrive at a moment when you’re unable to grab a pen and paper to jot it down. Regardless of how you gain inspiration, you now have a great story idea in your head that you know in your heart must be released into the world.

The writing process usually begins with some plotting, perhaps a little research, and maybe a smidgen of editing along the way. Before you know it, you have a first draft in hand.

You love this piece of writing because it’s your creation from start to finish. When you dig in for the fine-tuning, you realize that your WIP could use something. It’s good, but it’s not great like when you first conceived it. Obviously, you don’t want to add superfluous dialog or excessive description that reads like filler. Still, there is something needed.

Hopefully, your writing journey has not led you to the dark side of writing. What I mean is the use of foul language and/or violence in any of its hideous forms as a means of ramping up your story.

One of the promises I made to myself and my readers was to realistically portray life in my writing. I don’t shy away from difficult topics. The tagline on my blog says as much: Writing Life One Word at a Time. With that being said, there are certain topics that, if written about, must be handled carefully and certain expressions that should be used judiciously and sparingly.

I remember several years ago attempting to read a novel about a violent assault on a young woman complete with some of the most callous description I’d ever read. The novel was highly acclaimed, but all I could think was Dear God . . . this very thing has happened to someone’s daughter, and here it is being written about most insensitively for use as entertainment. In addition to that book, there have been many other novels that I stopped reading because the language was so vile and added nothing to the story.

Do these scenarios happen in real life? Of course. Do people spew foul language for numerous reasons? Yes. Can a writer incorporate painful situations and extreme emotion into his/her writing without compromising quality? Absolutely. My point is that if you’re including violence and swearing simply for shock value, then your approach to writing is immature.

Another instance where writers need to exercise maturity is when writing about intimacy. I cannot tell you how many cringe-worthy sex scenes I skimmed until I could locate the storyline again. These books were often tossed aside because most people are especially bad at writing a sex scene.

Before you assume that all I read is smut, please be assured that is not true. Unfortunately, though, examples of what I’ve described slipped into otherwise terrific novels written by good writers. I have been shocked out of an engrossing storyline by such miserable scenes, and I had to wonder if the author had a moment in which he/she lapsed into poor judgment.

Is it because we live in an era where everything—no matter how vulgar, painful, or private—is made accessible that writers have allowed this into their writing? I would implore you to exercise extreme caution regarding what you set before your eyes because it becomes that which you take into your heart and mind. And there are some things that are not meant for entertainment.

To take the beautiful tool that is language, drag it through the mud, and slap it on the page for thrills is the shallow end of the writing pool. I encourage you to write deeper. Use your fiction to shed light on the complicated matters in life but do it without glorifying evil.

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