Monday, March 30, 2009

Lessons Learned From a Ceramic Chicken--and Author Joseph Bentz, Today on Words to Go

Although author Joseph Bentz's first four books were novels, one non-fiction idea kept pursuing him so intently that he finally gave in and wrote When God Takes Too Long: Learning to Thrive During Life's Delays. The book sprang from his own bewilderment at God's often unusual timing. "One of my greatest frustrations as a Christian is that I am always waiting on God to act. I wrote this book to better understand how God uses "waiting" in our lives."

How well Joseph understands the trials of waiting: his first novel took ten years to write.Joseph has a fresh and unique perspective on his stories and I’ve already picked out one that I’m going to read. Joseph, we’re so glad you could drop by Words to Go today. Our readers visiting here are always on the prowl for a new and fresh read. I’m so glad to introduce them to you.

JOSEPH: Thank you, Patty.

PATTY: Waiting on God has been a recent theme of several of our authors. Why do you think this subject is one we all visit so regularly?

JOSEPH: I read the entire Bible with this issue in mind, and I was amazed at how crucial waiting was in the lives of such biblical figures as Moses, Joseph, Abraham, David, Jeremiah, Paul and others. From their stories, key principles emerge about how God's timing and methods differ from our own. For instance I wrote When God Takes Too Long to examine those principles and to help readers transform this frustration into a positive force in their lives."

PATTY: Is there a particular lesson you’ve learned you would share?

JOSEPH: I never thought a ceramic chicken could teach me anything, but recently I learned something about waiting on God from one. I’ve always been impatient for God to act in my life, which I guess is why I keep writing so much about Waiting, both in my fiction and non-fiction.

PATTY: A ceramic chicken?

JOSEPH: I’ll explain. I’m usually trying to hurry God along, but one thing I’m figuring out is that God’s answer is sometimes “Not now,” which doesn’t necessarily mean “Never.” I have a friend named Diana Glyer who is a writer and a Christian and is very attuned to God’s call in her life. She keeps a ceramic chicken in her office to help her deal with the times when God’s answer seems to be “Not yet.”

PATTY: I’ve been getting a lot of those lately.

JOSEPH: Sometimes the writing projects she is most passionate about get sidetracked or don't find a publisher, while other projects prosper. When this happens, she has learned to put the languishing project underneath the ceramic chicken. She continues to pray about that project, but she lets it sit there for as long as it needs to, maybe a month, maybe a year. Like an egg waiting to hatch, the project waits under the chicken until its proper time.

PATTY: I get it. That is really funny, though.

JOSEPH: I liked her idea so much that I went out and bought my own ceramic chicken, and it makes an appearance in the DVD for When God Takes Too Long.

PATTY: It obviously inspired you.

JOSEPH: As a writer I’m always getting ideas whose time has not yet come, but people outside of the writing world deal with this too. They get a glimmer of a dream or a call that they really believe is from God long before it’s possible to fulfill it. The calling might be real, but the timing might be wrong. Maybe that idea needs to go under the chicken, and with prayer and time and God's leading, it will hatch when the time is right.

PATTY: I do see this situation often at writer’s workshops. I’ll read a manuscript that I can sense seems like “the one” to the writer. But it’s underdeveloped or, because of the writer’s lack of training, doesn’t work. It’s agony to have to tell them their manuscript is not yet ready for human consumption.

JOSEPH: I teach literature at Azusa Pacific University, and right now we’re in the toughest time of the semester. Spring break is still a couple weeks away, people feel bogged down with work, and all of us are in a “get-through-it” mode. Seniors especially just want to “get the semester over with” so they can graduate. I know how they feel, but it also makes me regret how much time they—and I—spend wishing and waiting our lives away.

PATTY: I’m so glad you said that because the journey is something that life, God, or just the human condition is not going to evaporate just because we will it. We are going to embark on the journey when we set out on new terrain.

JOSEPH: When I look at my college students, I think, if I were in their shoes, I would enjoy every minute of the young, energetic lives they’ve been given.

PATTY: It’s hard for me to pick a favorite age to teach, but college kids are my favorite but also a challenge because they’re “raring at the bit” to get on with life. They seem to “do” more than “see” what is in front of them. As educators we have to help them slow down long enough to “see.”

JOSEPH: But most of them are focused on the future much of the time. They can't wait to get class over with so that they can get to their next class. Then they want that one to end as soon as possible so that they can get to their part-time jobs, and then they can't wait for those slow hours to pass so they can get back to campus to get their papers written so that they can get this semester over with so that they can move to the next semester so that they can get college over with so that they can graduate and get a job so that they can endure that long enough to get a better job.

PATTY: Sounds very familiar. I believe they learn this practice from dear old dad and mom.

JOSEPH: On and on this goes, but I have to admit I’m not much different, as if life is really about seeing how many items I can check off the to-do list. I find myself in “get through it” mode even with things I enjoy sometimes!

PATTY: In a couple of weeks, I’m asking some authors to talk about simplicity and slowing down to enjoy the process. It’s because it’s been a hard lesson I’ve had to learn.

JOSEPH: Lately I’ve made a deliberate effort to do what I can to slow down and enjoy the moment. I have made lists of those small pleasures in life that help get me through the day, like taking my morning run, losing myself in a good book, playing kickball with my kids in the backyard, relaxing for a few minutes on the porch after a long day, watching a movie in the quiet of the night with my wife after the kids have gone to bed.

PATTY: We have to remember that the life we’re striving for is paying for these stolen moments—so why not redeem them?

JOSEPH: I’ve sat in my office on some of the worst days and thought, I am overwhelmed by the decisions I have to make and the tasks I have to carry out. Nothing is going the way I want. I'm exhausted. I'm under siege….ButThen I'll step back into the arena and do battle. this cup of coffee tastes really good, and I am going to enjoy these few moments of respite and relish every sip, and I am going to look out at the sunshine and be grateful that I am alive.

PATTY: I think we writers have to practice these moments of respite or we’d never get a word down.

JOSEPH: I don’t want to “wait” my life away, thinking only about the future. I realize how sad it would be to get to the end of my life and think, I never really lived my life because I was always waiting for it to happen.

PATTY: “Life’s what happens when we’re busy doing other things.” John Lennon.

JOSEPH: I don’t want to sleepwalk through my life. As Ecclesiastes 11:8 puts it, "Even if you live a long time, don't take a single day for granted. Take delight in each light-filled hour."

PATTY: Joseph, we have certainly delighted in our talk with you. We’re so glad you jogged by and stopped by our front porch at Words to Go.

JOSEPH: I’m glad I did too, Patty.

PATTY: Joseph is giving away When God Takes Too Long and his novel A Son Comes Home, both excellent books that some lucky readers will soon add to their bookshelves in Saturday’s book give.

Tomorrow, novelist Marlo Schalesky is back and she’s going to share with moms her ideas for getting kids into the spirit of Easter. See you all tomorrow here at Words to Go.