Category: Encourage

Identity and Essence and Writing. And God.

I’ve recently returned from a three-day Romance Writers of New Zealand conference. Although it wasn’t a Christian conference, it was excellent, both for the content and for connecting with other local writers.

Identity and Essence and Writing. And God.

One thing which surprised me (but perhaps shouldn’t have) was the number of Christian attendees. The thing which surprised me more was that many of them had never read or even heard of Christian fiction and Christian romance. It didn’t surprise me that the non-Christians didn’t know, but the Christians? Yes, that surprised me. It seems I’m not alone in this: Ginger Solomon has recently made similar observations.

It was great to connect with other Christian writers, including the lovely Rebekah Orr—who won the 2016 Pacific Hearts Award (for unpublished manuscripts).

Rebekah Orr

But the highlight for me were the sessions with Hollywood scriptwriting consultant Michael Hauge. I thought he was going to be talking about the technical side of plot and structure. But his main message was actually more about characterisation, because our number one goal as writers (especially romance writers) is about our characters:

Your #1 goal is to elicit emotion.

We must take our character on a personal journey, a journey that will create an emotional response in the reader.

Hauge’s basic premise of character development is that the character starts with an identity: believing something about themselves or the world around them that isn’t actually true. The character believes this lie because of some kind of internal wound. (Authors Angela Ackerman and Becky Puglasi have spent months examining various character wounds on their blog, Writers Helping Writers.)

There is also the essence: who the character really is. The novel therefore shows the character moving from identity to essence as the story moves forward. In a novel, we expect the hero or heroine to achieve this essence by the end of the story. The romance novels of today typically take place over a relatively short timeframe: months, if not weeks. Yet we know from personal experience this isn’t how life works. Our lives are more like the epic novels of the past, which often covered decades.

It struck me that this is basically how our lives run as Christians:

  • We start in our identity, the person we think we are, a view that has been formed by all our life experience.
  • There comes a time when we, as characters in our own stories, experience what Hauge calls the turning point: that moment of change, when we become a Christian.
  • From then on we are working through our fears to move wholly into our essence: our identity in Christ. And as we know, this is a continual process.

It is easier said than done. Hauge took us each through a series of questions designed to examine our long-term and short-term personal goals (which wasn’t too difficult). But we then had to move into the harder questions: what is stopping us reaching those goals? What false beliefs or fears have we embraced that stop us moving forward? Are those beliefs real … or just logical? And—most importantly—are we prepared to move beyond that fear into our essence? It was a challenging session as we were all forced to confront some long-held beliefs and see them for the lies they are.

As Christians, we know our Christian walk, our journey to become more like Jesus, to become the person He created us to be is a lifelong journey. During that journey we will experience victories and setbacks (just like in a novel or movie). We will fight self (identity) in our struggle to reach our essence (identity in Christ). And that is how we become the hero (or heroine) in our own story.

I’m trying to do that. To be the star of my own story. To discover and pursue my essence, to become the person God meant me to be.

Will you?

On Truth and Lies and Fiction and Life

I’m sure many of you can quote John 10:10:

John 10:10 (NIV)

Our preacher spoke about this at church a couple of weeks ago, but he focused on the first half of the scripture. The preacher asked:

What is satan* trying to steal?

Our identity. The devil is trying to steal our identity in Christ, that internal spirit that produces our external ability to do God’s work.

As an author, that concept struck home with me. Writing instructors will talk about how our characters need to have a GMC:

Goal:

The character has to want something

Motivation:

They have to want that something for a reason

Conflict:

But something is stopping them getting what they want

GMC will be both external and internal, with the external being outside circumstances and events, and the internal being the beliefs and misbeliefs of the main character. If you think about the best novels you’ve read, you’ll notice the best books have characters with both an internal and an external GMC, and there will be a relationship between them. Often a character won’t be able to beat the external conflict until they’ve beaten the internal conflict.

This holds true in real life.

If we believe we’re no good and that God can’t use us … then He can’t. Because we’re not making ourselves available to be used, and He won’t force us (it’s that whole concept of free will).

Instead, we’ve got to remember we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, we can complete the race set before us, we can fulfil God’s plan for our lives. We can’t let satan steal our hopes or kill our dreams or destroy our God-given destiny. Instead, we to reach out to Jesus and claim the life He promises us, this full and abundant life.

Some people don’t read fiction, claiming it’s a lie and they only want to read books that are true. Yet Jesus told stories—parables—using stories as a lie that demonstrates the Truth. In the same way, good fiction can be a lie that shows the way to the truth.

And the Truth.

And that’s what I want to write.

 

*satan is lowercased because his name is not worthy of being capitalised. At least, that’s the approach taken by the evangelist I worked with before he was promoted to Glory. I’ve adopted it because I like it, even though I know it breaks all the ‘rules’.

 

 

 

Achieving Our Writing Goals

How do we achieve our writing goals?

Last week I talked about setting and meeting goals as a precursor to this post, and this week I’m talking specifically about writing goals (although the principles might be relevant to anyone who works from home, and there are some handy hints for hacking email).

Hack Time to Achieve Your Writing Goals

I’m going to warn you now: this is a long post.

Writers generally have one of two goals:

The first is to write (or publish) x number of books this year, with a general idea of how long those books are going to be: is that going to be one 150,000-word epic fantasy novel, or six novellas, or two category romance novels.

Or your goal could be more specific. It could be write 500 words a day or 1000 words a day or 3000 words every Saturday.

The second is to write for half an hour every day, or an hour every day, or four hours every Wednesday afternoon (although the problem with this is it can turn from “write every day” to “procrastinate on social media every day”, which isn’t exactly conducive for producing a book).

Basically, input or output.

This is a good place to start. What are your writing goals for this year? Are those goals based on input or output?

(Neither is wrong.)

If your goal is big-picture output (i.e. write and publish six 25,000-word novellas), then you need to work out how many words that is in total (150,000), how many days you are going to write, and divide the word count by the days available.

For example, if you decide you’re only going to write five days per week for 50 weeks, that 150,000-word goal becomes 3,000 words per week, or 600 words per day. That doesn’t sound nearly so daunting (although you’re going to have to schedule time for several rounds of revision as well, to get six novellas to publishable standard).

Next, you need to work out how long it’s going to take to produce 600 original words. A lot of writers consider 1000 words an hour to be a good pace, although this may well depend on how you’re getting the words out. I can type up to 2000 words in a good hour, but sometimes I manage less than 500. And I know a lot of writers aren’t fast typists, so it’s going to take them longer.

An increasing number of writers are using some form of dictation to help them produce 3,000 to 5,000 words an hour (because an average person speaks at 180 words a minute, but even a fast typist can only manage 100 words per minute, and that’s for copytyping. Most people are less than 40 words per minute).

I’ve tried the Windows free dictation tool, and find that in order for it to have any kind of accuracy, I have to Talk. So. Slowly. I’d. Be. Faster. Typing. It. Some writers swear by Dragon dictation software, although they acknowledge there is a learning curve—it takes at least a couple of weeks to get into the swing of it, to have Dragon produce something approximating what they said. I’m not sure I have that level of patience, and the USD 150 price tag is also scaring me off (as is the experience of two Australian writing friends who said Dragon couldn’t understand their Australian accents).

Another idea I’ve heard is to record the dictation onto your telephone, and then pay an online service to transcribe the recording, which apparently costs a dollar a minute (a US dollar, and that’s per recorded minute, not per minute they spend typing). I suspect the quality of this could vary hugely, depending on your accent and whether the transcriber can understand you. I can see myself spending longer correcting than it would have taken me to type in the first place . . . The alternative is to pay a friend or relative who understands you!

If your goal is around output, you need to work out how long it long it’s typically going to take to produce that word count, and schedule that time.

If your goal is around input, that’s the easiest to schedule: you know how long you want to write for, so it’s simply (ha!) a case of finding the time.

Whichever method you choose, at the end, it’s going to come down to a combination of input (time spent at the PC or dictaphone) and output (word count achieved).

But that’s the easy part, at least for me.

Scheduling Time

The hard part is finding the time in the schedule. And actually doing it. Because it’s not enough to set writing goals. You have to plan how you are going to achieve them.

I’ve done this with my Bible-reading plan. I try and complete it second thing each morning, after I’ve got the family out the door to work and school, after I’ve put a load of laundry on or tidied the kitchen or done whatever is on my morning housework list for the day. And after I’ve made that all-important first cup of coffee. Then it’s me and my Bible. Tick. Done. (Although I try and make it a little more than that, obviously!).

Next, I do my editing, because I find my productive times are mornings and evenings. I can do some writing in the evening, with the family around, although it’s subject to interruption. So editing *has* to get done in the morning, when the house is quiet and I can work without distraction.

Identify the Blocks

It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally worked out my blocks, the things which prevent me getting my writing done.

The first biggie is doing the unimportant stuff first. Now, I could argue that putting the laundry on isn’t as important as my writing. Well, I might think that but I’m still the chief carer, and I’m the one who has the privilege of working from home. So I get to do the laundry. And it’s best done early, because I like sun-dried washing more than using the electric dryer.

But laundry only takes a couple of minutes to load (while I wait for the kettle to boil for that coffee), and another five minutes or so to hang. It’s not a lot of time, and actually provides a handy excuse for a productive break.

It’s the other things which are the problem. Which suck time. Suck energy.

Email.

Social media.

Both of these are forms of procrastination, and I’m having to work out how to deal with them.

One thing I’ve discovered is I spend a lot of time rereading emails in my inbox to see if it’s something I have to deal with or not. But I’ve lessened this time over the last couple of months by adopting a couple of tricks:

1. Boomerang

2. Multiple email addresses

Boomerang

What is Boomerang? It’s an app for Gmail, and it’s just like a real boomerang—set the email to disappear from your inbox and reappear at a specific time. This can be anything from a couple of hours from now to weeks or months in the future. There are other similar apps available, such as SaneBox. As with many online apps, there are free and paid versions of Boomerang.

Multiple Email Addresses

Instead of having everything clogging up one email inbox, I set up additional Gmail accounts so each inbox (usually) has only one kind of message.

In broad order of priority:

1. One for household bills etc.

2. One for email relating to my freelance editing business.

3. One for email relating to my ‘other’ business (HR consulting).

4. One for email relating to my ministry role (secretary for a small mission)

5. One for email relating to my author activities.

6. One for personal email.

7. One for email relating to my book reviewing site.

8. And one for email newsletters and online training.

If I had only one Gmail address, I’d probably need the paid version of Boomerang. But the app allows ten Boomeranged emails per month per email address, so using multiple email addresses has unintentionally turned into a sneaky way of getting Boomerang free.

All my email addresses run though Outlook on my tablet computer, so it takes around 30 seconds to check them all and see if there is anything new.

The Four D’s

I’m also learning to stay on top of my email by using the 4 D’s

Delete: delete immediately if I don’t need it

Do it: if it can be actioned in two minutes, do it (e.g. signing up to a webinar, downloading a book to review)

Delegate: this is the hard one as I don’t have anyone to delegate to!

Defer: If I can’t action it quickly, either leave in my inbox to deal with during my scheduled administration time or in the evening (while not watching TV), or Boomerang the message and schedule a time I can deal with it.

My aim is to get down to having no outstanding emails in any of these inboxes. I’m improving, but I’m not there yet.

Why is this important? Because if there’s nothing in my inbox, I can’t read my emails as a way of avoiding writing.

Singletasking

I’ve had to identify what’s stopping me writing. I’ve bought in to the multitasking-for-productivity myth for years, but I’m now doubting it. Apparently, singletasking is the new multitasking. Do one thing at a time, for a specified period of time, and do it properly.

Two tools which help me with this are Freedom and Writer’s Block. I wrote the first draft of this post on Writer’s Block, a downloadable programme which gives you the options of writing a set number of words, or writing for a specified length of time. It then opens a text editor, and all you can do on your computer is type. In the text editor. No internet. No social media. No word processor. No email. Nothing, until you’ve met the goal. And no cutand-paste function, so no ability to cheat.

This is a wonderful way of focussing the mind . . .

Writer’s Block works for me when it comes to writing book reviews or newsletters or blog posts, but I’m not sure how it will work with an actual book, because I currently write in Word, and I want to move to writing in Scrivener (because everyone who uses it raves about it so much). But I don’t think I can use Writer’s Block in Scrivener.

Which leads me to the other tool, Freedom. Freedom allows you to block specific websites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Gmail) for a specific period of time, or to block the entire internet. The first time I tried this I made a mistake: I blocked the entire internet, but the document I wanted to work on was online, in my Onedrive. Oops. Won’t do that again.

Freedom works best while I’m editing, as it stops me procrastinating and wasting time by checking email and social media, while still allowing me access to useful research sites such as online dictionaries and Wikipedia (useful for checking dates and other basic facts in historical novels). Antisocial performs a similar function.

Another thing I find helpful is to outline before writing. As an example, I outlined this article under seven points, but I have found the earlier points have taken *much* longer to cover than anticipated, so I hope you find it useful, and not simply some stream-of-consciousness babbling from an overtired writer (no matter. That’s when the editing comes in).

And Writer’s Block *really* helps my productivity: I’ve written around 2,200 words in just 75 minutes. Maths brain checks and says that’s a shade under 30 words a minute, which isn’t a great speed for copytyping, but is good considering I started with a short outline and a blank page in Writer’s Block. Although I’ll probably have to spend at least as long editing it, that hard part is done.

Finally (with apologies to Nike), just do it!

What are your hints and tips to improving productivity and achieving your writing goals?

Achieving Our Goals

How do we achieve our goals?

One of the questions I’ve been asked several times over the last few months is how do we go about achieving our writing goals. How do we actually get those words on paper?

It’s something I’ve been struggling with recently, perhaps because I have a huge list of things I want to achieve and I want to achieve them all now. Or yesterday.

I know that’s not reasonable. But if I look at my goals for the year, they are all achievable. Not all achievable in January, sure. Or even February. But they’re annual goals, and I have to remind myself I have a whole year to achieve them (well, nine months now).

Have a Plan

One of my 2016 goals is to complete a Read-The-Bible-In-A-Year challenge. I’ve done this for the last two years, and have found the easiest way is to pick a plan that has seven readings for each week, then (wait for it!) read one each day. Not an original concept, sure, but one that works.

Other goals include declutter the house (I’ve taken about five carloads of stuff to the dump, the recycle centre, and the Salvation Army), deep-clean the house (easier after it’s been decluttered) and lose weight (moving right along . . .).

Step by Step

I’ve taken the Bible-in-a-Year approach and set up a plan. Each Saturday, I plan to declutter a drawer or a shelf. Not too much. Baby steps. But it’s only April, and I’m more than halfway through the house.

What else do I want to achieve this year? Read some books, of course. Including a whole bunch of novels off my to-read pile. (One year I also pledged not to buy new books until I’d got to the bottom of the to-read pile, but that was a recipe for failure.)

I’m sure you all know this already, but step by step holds true for all goals. It’s like how to eat the elephant: one bite at a time (although why would anyone want to eat an elephant?).

To-Do Lists

I like lists, so I find it helpful to have my household tasks, work tasks, and daily writing goal each set as recurring Tasks in my Outlook To-Do list. It gives me immense pleasure to check each task off, as each task represents a step towards my longer-term goals (as an added bonus, this post is 2,000 words, so I can tick my 1,000 word daily target off twice, and give myself a day off sometime.).

Ticking a list might not be your idea of a reward, but it works for me (I’d prefer to give myself chocolate, but that would be inconsistent with that “lose weight” goal). If ticking a list works for you, great. Do it. If it doesn’t, find something that does. Perhaps reward yourself with a new Christian novel from my list of recommendations?

What rewards motivate you?

It’s generally agreed that it’s a good idea to give yourself something for completing tasks or achieving a goal, because that will incentivise and motivate you to keep going. And when you achieve a bigger goal (e.g. cleaning the house, getting to your target weight, or finishing the book), you can have a bigger reward.

I also have to allow myself to forgive failure and move on. Unexpected things come up, and if there’s a family member in hospital, a friend in need, or a funeral to attend, do that and don’t feel guilty about getting behind on your tasks for a day, a week, a month.

But don’t let a temporary roadblock become a permanent blockade.

Take Paul’s approach: forget the past and move forward.

Hebrews 12:1-2

What are your hints and tips to getting things done and achieving your goals?

Remembering ANZAC Day

Next Monday, 25 April, is ANZAC Day.

It’s the day New Zealanders and Australians join together to commemorate all those who served in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Other countries have similar days of remembrance: the US have Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, while the UK has Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday.

ANZAC Day is an important day for us. It’s a public holiday, and only essential services are allowed to be open. There are heavy fines for businesses who open on the morning of ANZAC Day: as a nation, we want everyone to be able to attend a commemoration service. No, not everyone does, but they can. ANZAC Day is also observed in Canada and many Pacific Island countries.

Australia and New Zealand chose this day specifically to commemorate the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, which began at dawn on 25 April 1915, when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps—the ANZACs—landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. It was the first major battle either country had been involved in which led to major casualties, and forged our identities as nations.

As I’ve done for the last five or six years, I will be awake, showered and dressed long before dawn. I’ll attend the Dawn Service in the grounds of the local Returned Services Association (RSA), wearing the green and black uniform of the local Brass Band, sitting front and centre and playing my tenor horn.

The Dawn Service is special.

We arrive while it’s still dark and watching the sun rise as the music plays and prayers are intoned. I’m always impressed by the number of families with children. Some wear medals that used to adorn the chest of their father, grandfather or perhaps great-grandfather. They wear these medals with pride, in memory of men they may never have met, men who have become legends for their service and sacrifice.

Also present are the legends themselves, men who fought in France, Crete, North Africa, Korea, Vietnam, the Falklands, Afghanistan. These men wear the medals they earned facing enemy fire under what were often horrific conditions.

There are no longer any veterans of Gallipoli with us, but we still meet at dawn on 25 April to remember and honour the men who served in that disastrous campaign. And we meet to honour those who served in subsequent wars in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as those who served in the merchant navy to keep the home nations supplied and fed, and who were just at risk of being torpedoed or bombed as their army and navy counterparts.

The veterans and visitors sing as we play the God Save the Queen, the national anthems of Australia and New Zealand, and a hymn. I will be able to hear a pin drop when Peter, our lead cornet player, stands to play the Last Post, as we pay silent tribute to those who fought and died for freedom.

After the Dawn Service and a hot breakfast at the RSA, we’ll head to the civil service at the city’s official war memorial, Memorial Park. This service starts with a march, led by shuffling veterans who have fortified themselves at the RSA bar, followed by the cadet forces marching proudly, then groups such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

A group of Army, Navy and Air cadets will form the honour guard, standing to attention throughout the service. The choir will lead the congregation in singing hymns and the National Anthem. The band will play quietly as wreaths are laid by representatives from local community groups. An Army chaplain will pray for the fallen. Peter will play the Last Post again—still poignant, although not as spine-chilling as in the pre-dawn light of the Dawn Service. A student representative from one of the local high schools will read the famous poem, In Flanders Fields.

Everyone will be silent, as befits such a solemn occasion.

Another student, perhaps the Head Girl of one of the local high schools, will deliver a speech about what ANZAC Day means to her. She’ll be wearing the formal school uniform: tie, jacket, and stockings. She might mention a family connection to one or both World Wars, or possibly a later conflict. She will talk about freedom from oppression, and about innocent young men who travelled far from home and made the ultimate sacrifice, their lives in exchange for our freedom. She might even quote the Bible: For greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

But her polished speech will miss the most important sacrifice: the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for your sins and for mine. She will miss the end of the story of sacrifice: the victory Jesus gained through the resurrection. ANZAC Day without Jesus is like Good Friday without Easter Sunday.

It’s only half the story.

ANZAC Day is important. It’s a time to come together as a community and remember those who have gone before, those who gave their lives that we might live. But it’s more than a commemoration of sacrifice.

It’s the story of victory.

Lest we forget.

The Pursuit of . . . Sin?

Pursuit of Sin

As you may know, in my ‘other’ life I’m a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. I’ve recently finished a manuscript assessment for Australian author Jo Wanmer, and while it’s still a draft full of spelling mistakes and missing commas, the powerful Christian message is shining through.

One of the main threads in the novel is the relationship between Milly, the main character, and God. Jo Wanmer shows God speaking directly to Milly, and I thought many of the conversations were excellent as they show how God desires a relationship with us, and how that means being real with Him (Milly rages at Him, blames Him, and doesn’t mince words in her conversations with Him). It also shows God has a sense of humour, which some readers might find a little irreverent but which I loved.

One snippet from one conversation in particular struck me (with God in bold):

Such is the consequence of man’s decision to choose knowledge instead of relationship with me.
I thought mankind sinned?
That’s what I said.

Now, I’ve read Genesis. In several versions of the Bible. I understand Adam and Eve’s sin wasn’t nakedness (covering themselves was a physical gesture of a spiritual problem, trying to cover their sin). Their sin was disobedience, in eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil after they had specifically been told not to eat fruit from that one tree. They were tempted by the devil, and gave in to that temptation.

But this short excerpt from Jo’s novel brought their sin home in a new way: their sin was the pursuit of knowledge. They wanted that knowledge enough to disobey God. To break that relationship with God, through their disobedience.

And they both chose this, Adam as well as Eve. Eve didn’t force the fruit down his throat. He took it willingly, perhaps because he wanted that knowledge, or perhaps because he wanted to please Eve more than he wanted to please God.

It wasn’t just the pursuit of knowledge—there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with pursuing knowledge, even though Solomon describes knowledge as vanity. Meaningless. Futile.

1

The problem was choosing the pursuit of knowledge over the pursuit of relationship with God, with Jesus.

That’s sin.

It’s a sin we see in the world around us all the time.

There are other, similar, sins. For example, when writing to Timothy, Paul says the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim 6:10). He didn’t say money is the root of all evil, but the love of money.

It’s like the love of knowledge.

The love of money leads us to pursue money when we should be pursuing relationship with Jesus.

Earning money, having money, isn’t wrong. It isn’t sin. But loving and pursuing money to the exclusion of relationship with Jesus is wrong. It is sin.

And happiness. Many people in the Western world believe the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness. Hey, it’s even the title of a movie. Trying to be happy isn’t wrong—it sure beats trying to be unhappy. But pursuing happiness at the expense of relationship with Jesus is wrong. It is sin.

As Jesus says:

3

Seek God first. Jesus first.
Anything else is sin.

Seek relationship with Jesus. Then the other things will be added to us. But not as some kind of if-you-do-x-God-will-give-you-y pseudo prosperity doctrine. Seek God first. Because anything else is sin.

Seek God first. Then the other things will be added to us. Those other things might be knowledge, money, happiness. But they might also be health, home, joy. And like Paul, we must learn to be content, to accept His gifts and not seek senselessly after knowledge, money, happiness or anything else. In that we will find God’s joy.

Everything else is meaningless.

Thunderbirds Are Go!

During the Christmas holidays, our family visited Weta Workshop in Wellington. As well as being the home of hobbits and all things Lord of the Rings, it is also the studio for the reimagined Thunderbirds TV series, which combines traditional model sets with digital animation.

For those of you who have suffered a deprived upbringing, Thunderbirds was a 1960’s TV show brought to the screens by husband and wife team Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, using their original puppets and the wonders of Supermarionation. The Thunderbirds are the Tracy brothers, Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon, and Alan, who travel the world in their high-tech machines, saving the lives of those caught in disasters.

The 1960’s series has now been reimagined by Richard Taylor of Weta Worskhops, and we were privileged to be able to see inside the magic of Tracy Island. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any photographs because the images are all copyright (and because we actually got a sneak peek at some of the as-yet-unseen sets from the upcoming second series). However, I did find some cool images on Google from various promotions for the show:

Thunderbirds Are Go 1

Thunderbirds Are Go - Tracy Island ©2015 ITV Studois/ Pukeko Pictures
Thunderbirds Are Go – Tracy Island ©2015 ITV Studios/ Pukeko Pictures

There were two things about Thunderbirds Are Go! which surprised me.

The first was that Thunderbirds Are Go! is more than just a Weta Workshops production. It’s actually a joint production between Pukeko Pictures (part-owned by Richard Taylor of Weta Workshops) and ITV Studios. Weta Workshops has constructed the sets, including two different versions of Tracy Island (as an aside,the books on the shelf are all real current books. Our guide made them, using book covers she downloaded from the internet).

But it’s not solely a Kiwi production. This version has digitised characters, not puppets, and the animation is done offshore. As are the scripts. And the voices. The New Zealand end of the show brings everything together, but it’s a global effort (kind of like writing a book).

The second thing was even more surprising. It was the sets. They looked great even under the standard lighting. I could see they’d look even better under proper studio lighting.

But they were made of junk.

Not everything was junk, but there was a lot of junk, and our guide took a lot of pleasure in pointing out all the junk.

For example, The Hood is the main evildoer in Thunderbirds. He’s got longstanding issues with the Tracy family. And because he’s a bad guy, he has a lair that’s largely decorated in shades of black and grey.

It’s junk.

The Hood’s lair includes the insides of two washing machines, the casings of old desktop computers (from back when computer screens were as deep as they were wide), razor blades, fans, the leftover plastic bits from after you’ve constructed a model airplane . . . junk.

But add a fair dose of creativity, a few dozen cans of spray paint and some clever lighting, and you’ve got an ultra-cool lair fit for an evildoer. All from junk I’d have chucked out years ago.

It made me think of us. And God.

Sometimes we think we’re junk. That there’s nothing useful in us. That we’re only good for the rubbish tip.

But we’re God’s junk. He redesigns us, repurposes us, redirects us. Shines His light into us.

And turn us into ultra-cool sons and daughters fit for the King.

The Department of Lies

Christmas in NewTickets to the Weta Cave Zealand is in the summer, so it’s the time the kids have their long summer holiday, and the time businesses reduce or close their operations and we all go off on our summer holidays.

This year, we went to Wellington for Christmas. While we were there, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Weta Workshops, the world-famous home of hobbits, trolls, and all things Lord of the Rings.

 

While Weta Workshops is most famous for their work on the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies, they actually make physical movie props for a range of movies, from District 12 to Avatar (although that was largely the work of their associated organisation, Weta Digital, who do all the computer animation).

Our guide took us through the design process, showing us how it could take dozens or hundreds of sketches before a design was approved. How a plastic mould was then created—over 80% of the props, from the firearms to the swords to the vehicles, are made of plastic.

She then told us how the plastic models were turned over to the painting department: The Department of Lies.

Why the Department of Lies?

Because they take shaped white plastic and turn it into something it isn’t: a wooden gun, a leather shield, a metal sword. They can make it look new, or they can make it look old. It’s all just spray paint and plastic.

Plastic looks good, but lacks any functionality. A plastic sword won’t cut anything. Won’t hurt anyone. A plastic shield won’t protect an actor from anything other than plastic sword.

The plastic looks good, but it’s not perfect. Modern digital cameras are so powerful, they still need to use real props for the close-up shots. Real swords. Real knives. Real shields.

It struck me that the Father of Lies takes the same approach. He takes the real thing, and substitutes it for a fake. We can only tell the difference if we look carefully, and if we know what the real thing looks like.

And only the real thing will protect us.

That means spending time with God, in His Word, ensuring we know the real thing so we can see the lie. It means spending time with other Christians, learning from them, as iron sharpens iron.

Because we don’t want to be stuck with a plastic sword when the Father of Lies comes against us with the real thing.

Orc Army

Meanwhile, now I know it’s all makeup and plastic swords, it’s going to be difficult to be afraid of those orcs!

Be Thou My Vision

Book Cover - The Wonder of YouI’ve recently finished reading The Wonder of You by Susan May Warren, in which the heroine was influenced by the old Celtic hymn, Be Thou My Vision. By some strange coincidence (or God-incidence), three of the novels I read over the next two weeks also referenced this same hymn.

It struck me that now, at the beginning of the year, is a good time to reconsider this hymn and what it has to say to me. To us.

Be Thou My Vision

What is my vision for 2016? What is God’s vision for me? And what am I going to do to achieve that vision?

I’ve been reminded that I need to plan in order to achieve. Things don’t just happen. Well, they do. But ‘things that just happen’ usually take us off the planned path. Without a planned path, we have no way of knowing if we are heading in the right direction. And without a planned path, we have no way of getting back on that path when ‘things’ take us off.

I need that vision, and I need a plan for getting there. And planning TO do one thing may well mean I have to give up something else.

Be Thou my Wisdom

Along with vision, I need wisdom. Wisdom to show me the right path. Wisdom to show me the way back to the path. Wisdom to prevent me going down the wrong path. Wisdom to listen to the warnings of others.

Riches I Heed Not, Nor Man’s Empty Praise

Remind me that the focus is on God and His Vision, His reward. Success is defined by God and His vision for me, not by my family, friends, acquaintances . . . or the people who don’t know me.

Remind me that my success will be based on my obedience to God and His vision, that if I am obedient to God, I will have exactly the level of success He desires for me.

Remind me that God alone defines success, and while it might be riches and the praise of men, it may not. Remind me that God’s riches and praise are worth an infinite amount more than the riches and praise of men. And women.

Amen.