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Books and Providence

Herman Melville, 1819-1891

“…the books that prove most agreeable, grateful, and companionable, are those we pick up by chance here and there; those which seem put into our hands by Providence; those which pretend to little, but abound in much.” Herman Melville, White-Jacket (1850)

History Saves An Admiral’s Life

Admiral Takeo Kurita. His face usually wasn’t as severe as seen in the photo here. According to his daughter as cited in Sea of Thunder, by Evan Thomas, he was suffering from dengue fever and defeat when this photo was taken. By all accounts, he was really a nice guy, amiable and friendly and who often smiled. He was a true gentleman.

My late father, a United States Navy and World War Two veteran, told me many war stories during my growing up years. A corpsman, his battle station was on his cruiser’s main deck. He was assigned the duty of rendering first aid to gunners and other sailors wounded during battles.

One day, while he was in his ship’s stern, a kamikaze (suicide plane) roared out of the clouds and headed straight for him. He’d never seen such a thing before, so he took off running all the way to his ship’s bows while gunners futilely blazed away at the attacking enemy.

The plane missed the stern and splashed into the water not far from the bows where my father stood. This was the only time he ever ran from a kamikaze, he told me, because this experience taught him you could never be sure where one would hit.

The sad truth is this: These poorly-trained Japanese suicide pilots, due to their ignorance of history, were brainwashed by their instructors. They were taught that the code of bushido (the way of the warrior) was to serve their emperor no matter what it cost. They were told it was a good and honorable thing to eagerly sacrifice one’s life for their emperor. It was part of their country’s glorious history. Over three thousand Japanese kamikaze pilots died because they believed this lie.

Admiral Takeo Kurita, who almost defeated the United States Navy in the famous Battle of Leyte Gulf, knew better. His grandfather was a famous scholar and historian, as was his father, a professor at the University of Tokyo. From childhood, he’d learned the true history of his country. Brave warriors in his country’s past didn’t always engage in ritual suicide if they lost a battle, nor did they attack their enemies in reckless“banzai charges,” not even for their emperor. In medieval Japan, emperors didn’t wield a lot of power. The nobles did, that is, the samurais and the lords they served. Medieval Japan’s samurais were similar to Europe’s medieval knights. They fought for different lords, and sometimes switched sides. An eagerness to die recklessly or commit suicide in the name of the emperor wasn’t always a part of Japan’s history and culture.

In fact, bushido didn’t come into prominence in Japan till the late nineteenth century, though it can be traced earlier. Why, the word didn’t even exist before the 1600s. Kurita practiced Confucianism, not Buddhism. Confucianism was the main philosophy that dominated Japan during the seventeenth century and later. Ritual suicide was not a Confucian principle.

Confucianism did find its way into bushido, though. However, it got twisted. In Chinese Confucianism, where the philosophy/religion began, the main duty people had was obeying their parents. In Japan, it was obeying their lord.

Kurita, aware of his country’s history, grieved when he saw these pilots wasting their lives on a cause he knew was lost. Bushido wasn’t the true way of the warrior. It was not the way samurais fought in his country’s earlier centuries. He knew that samurais held no moral code until the seventeenth century. Because he knew his history, he didn’t commit seppuku (suicide) after Japan lost. One might say that his knowledge of history saved his life. He lived for many years after the war and died in 1977.

Is history important, then? You bet it is! When we don’t bother to study and learn our history, we set ourselves up for being brainwashed just like those poor kamikaze pilots my father witnessed during the war.

Sources

            Flanagan, Damian. “Bushido: The Awakening of Japan’s Modern Identity,” www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2016/07/16/books/bushido-awakening-  japans-modern-identity/#.XOWK3HdFxMs

            Szczepanski Kallie. “Bushido: The Ancient Code of the Samurai Warrior,” ThoughtCo., January 26, 2019. www.thoughtco.com/what-is-bushido- 195302.

            Thomas, Evan. Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Quick Tip: Listen

Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

If your computer has a voice recorder, or if you have another type of recorder such as a cassette player, try reading your manuscript aloud into it. Reading aloud helps writers spot mistakes they may have missed through silent reading. By playing back their words and listening closely, writers hear their prose’s rhythm and pace, spot poorly written dialogue, wordiness, and numerous other stylistic errors.

Writing the Personal Experience Article

Enjoying my favorite fishing spot–Horn Island, off the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Mississippi Sound. I have lots of personal experiences from this place!

One of the best ways to begin a professional writing career in the Christian industry is through personal experience articles. This is how I started. Such articles require little if any research and teach lessons the writer learned from his/her experience.

            Here are four rules for writing them.

1.         The experience must be true. We may not remember our experience’s every detail, but we must try to be as accurate as possible. If others accompanied us during our experience,  we can always ask them questions to refresh our memories. If we teach a negative lesson through our experience (what not to do), we must be the one who learned it. We writers must be secure enough to be vulnerable, which means having a willingness to expose our   shortcomings and mistakes to the world.

2.         The article must have a strong opening. If we don’t hook our readers in the first sentence,  or at least the first paragraph, readers will probably set aside our work and go on to other  things.

3.         The article must use fiction techniques. When we write a personal experience article we’re also telling a story. Like any other story, it must include action, conflict, dialogue, description… all the basic elements fiction requires. If we can’t recall exactly what a person said during our experience, at least write the essence of it. That’s all we can do.

4.         The article must teach a lesson without being preachy. What is preachiness? It’s moralizing on and on, as though lecturing(or preaching) to our readers. Instead of  doing this, let the story itself teach the lesson. At the end of the article, use a short takeaway message and/or Bible verse to reinforce our main point. “Short” is the key word here.     

Well, these are some thoughts on writing the personal experience article. Give it a try!

Till next week, keep tapping those laptop keys!

Don’t Despise Small Things

The book that started my literary career. It’s still available on Amazon!

It was a small thing, it was a big thing, it was one of the most memorable and important days of my life. Oh, no one understood my excitement. Most just “ho-hummed” when I announced the news. But for me, it altered my life’s trajectory and launched me on an orbit in which I continue today.

What was this big, small thing? A short devotional I sold to The Upper Room, a United Methodist publication, back in the 1980s. Though I was only paid $10 for it, it convinced me I could get paid for my writing. Since childhood, I’ve wanted to be a writer. All it took was this one small thing to start me on a professional literary career.

During a summer break from teaching school, I wandered into a bookstore and happened upon a book titled Writing to Inspire, a collection of articles written by then-leaders in the Christian literary industry. I picked it up out of curiosity and thumbed through its pages.

My eyes hit upon a chapter on devotional writing. The chapter’s author? Mary Lou Redding, editor of The Upper Room. Well, since my background is Methodist, I was familiar with this little publication. I purchased the book, took it home, and read the chapter. Maybe I could write for this magazine, I thought.

Following Mary Lou’s tips, I wrote the article. After I typed it out on my electric typewriter, I submitted it with SASE (Self-addressed, stamped envelope). A few months later, I received an acceptance letter. And a few months after this, once my article was published, a check arrived in my mailbox! My long-dormant desire to become a professional writer resurfaced. I was off and running.

While I wrote and submitted more articles, I also took correspondence and college courses, subscribed to writing magazines, and studied the craft. Another year passed before I sold my second article. Because I’d learned to expect rejections, though, their sting didn’t hurt as bad. I’ve received a load of rejections, but the Lord has blessed me with bylines as well.

If there’s one thing this experience taught me, it’s this: don’t despise small things, because small things can lead to bigger things in the future, like they did for me. Short articles such as devotionals have their own challenges and are hard to write.

Don’t let the “ho-hummers” discourage you, either. If God has called you to write, if He’s put that literary drive in you, He’ll bless you in your efforts. Most non-writers/non-readers don’t understand writing and writers, but the Lord does. Having His blessing and approval is, after all, all that matters.

Till next week, friends, keep on writing!

Robert E. Lee: A Few Facts

Robert Edward Lee
Boll Weevil Monument., Enterprise, Alabama
Mary Anna Custis Lee (Mrs. Robert E. Lee)

I am not in the business of starting arguments, nor do I enjoy arguing because I find it a waste of time. However, I am deeply troubled by those who would take down monuments of any person who contributed to our nation’s history, no matter who that person was. Like Jesus said to those who brought a woman to him, accusing her of adultery: “…He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her”(John 8:7, KJV).

If we take down every monument of every person who’s done something someone doesn’t like, then hey, I know of only one monument that will likely remain standing in the end. It’s the only monument in America that honors an insect, the Boll Weevil Monument, located in the small town of Enterprise, Alabama. No one is perfect, not even those who helped build our country and make it what it is today.

Recently, I read an article about efforts to take down a monument of Robert E. Lee in Sharpsburg, Maryland, where the battle of Antietam was fought in 1862. This battle was the bloodiest single day of the war.

Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee, 1851

Let me share a few facts about Lee. First, though, let me say that as a historian I don’t take sides in this conflict. I’m only interested in facts and events. And don’t expect me to argue with those who disagree, because I won’t. My list isn’t thorough. But, well, here we go.

Henry Lee III, aka “Light-Horse Harry”
  1. 1. Lee was the son of a famous Revolutionary War hero, “Light-Horse Harry” Lee. Though he was born on a Virginia estate called Stratford Hall, Robert Edward Lee only lived there for the first two or three years of his life. His father fell onto hard times financially and lost most of his wealth. Harry struggled to regain his former wealth, but failed in his attempts. Thus, Robert E. Lee came from a prominent Virginia family. However, he was not wealthy when he grew older. As a professional soldier, he didn’t make a lot of money, not even as an officer.
  2. His wife was Mary Anna Custis, the only child of George Washington Parke Custis. She was related to Martha Washington, our first president’s wife, through Martha’s first marriage.
  3. As a cadet at West Point, Robert E. Lee graduated second in his class and never received a demerit. When you compare his scores with Charles Mason, the cadet who finished first, it’s clear that Lee almost beat him for the top spot. Their scores were close. Unlike Lee, Mason never pursued a professional military career.
  4. Because he was a soldier, Lee didn’t spend a lot of time at Arlington. The army deployed him to numerous military posts throughout his career. He did spend a few years in Arlington, though, and visited whenever he could. He didn’t own this home till 1857, after his father-in-law died.
  5. An army engineer, he designed forts such as Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, which defended the Savannah River. He also served as the superintendent of West Point.
  6. He was a hero of the Mexican-American War, serving under General Winfield Scott. Lee, in his day, was considered one of America’s finest soldiers.
  7. Lee was not a brutal slave owner, as some people claim. After he inherited Arlington from George Washington Parke Custis, he freed its slaves in accordance with G.W.P.C.’s will. It didn’t happen as quickly as Lee would’ve wanted it to because his father-in-law was deep in debt and the Virginia court delayed in settling his father-in-law’s will. Also, by this time his wife Mary was suffering horrible pain from severe arthritis. Until his father-in-law’s estate was settled, Lee hired out the slaves for wages in various parts of Virginia. Upon the will’s execution, he emancipated all of the slaves.
  8. Though he disliked slavery, he believed loyalty to his state trumped loyalty to the Union, which is why he threw in his lot with Virginia after it seceded. Loyalty to state over the union was a commonly held view in Lee’s era, and at the time secession wasn’t illegal.
  9. After the war, he became president of what is now Washington and Lee University. He worked hard to bring reconciliation between North and South.
  10. He was a deeply religious man. He also had a certain gentleness about him. During the Civil War’s early days, his soldiers called him “Granny Lee.” Once he started winning battles, however, and showed aggressiveness in combat, this mockery turned to admiration and such name-calling ceased.
General Robert E. Lee astride his famous horse, Traveller. Traveller outlived Lee and drew Lee’s hearse at his funeral in 1870.

There are many Union figures I have a lot of respect for as well–General Ulysses S. Grant, Admirals David G. Farragut and Andrew Hull Foote, just to name a few. Getting rid of monuments is not the way to go. Doing this will not change hearts or attitudes — only Jesus can and will do that if we give ourselves to Him. I’m not posting this to start an argument. I’m posting it out of concern for how political correctness, this erasing of history and rewriting it is one of the reasons why our beloved United States is in the trouble that it’s in. I’m for keeping up all the monuments to all the great Americans who made significant contributions to our country, no matter who they are. No man or woman is perfect, but we cannot forget our history–both the bad and the good. And yes, we need to keep the Boll Weevil Monument also, but how and why that monument came about is another story for another day. I might share it in a future post

Sources

Stern, Philip Van Doren. Robert E. Lee: The Man and the Soldier. Bonanza Books, a division of Crown Publishers, Inc., by arrangement with McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1963.

Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press: Baton Rouge, 1970.