February 5, 2014

If you, like me, spend much time in bookstores, and watch where people go, once they’ve come in, you’ll discover that many are there for one reason only: they are searching for wisdom. Browsers search through quotation books, philosophy books, religion books, writing books, advice books, self-help books–the list could go on and on. Each of these browsers seeking answers, solutions, or guidance.

Yet it’s strange,, isn’t it? That we who are all but buried in torrents of information–more so than any previous generation in history–find it increasingly difficult to separate the wise from the foolish, the gold from the mica, the original from a copy or cloning.

Untold thousands of these seekers who buy book after book turn up empty. Eventually, a disproportionate number of them give up on finding solutions for their problems and settle for a guru. A guru who’ll say to them, in essence: You fools! You’ll never find answers on your own. Only sages like me, who have sifted through all the stratas of information and have discovered the mother lode of wisdom, can be trusted to answer your questions and bring you peace. All you have to do is listen to me talk and read my books. Never again will you have to wonder about what is important or not. In the future, you need search no further for I have all the answers.

Sound familiar? It ought to for our contemporary society is overrun by self-annointed gurus and prophets who have set themselves up as demigods, both religious and secular.

I too have long searched for wisdom. All writers do. How well I remember a key epiphany in my life’s journey. I stumbled on a book that appeared to contain all the answers I’d ever need in my search to be a successful writer. In fact, the dust-jacket trumpeted the gladsome news that wanabe writers need search no further than this one book, for in it an impressive group of successful writers each divulge the secrets to their writing success. It was not a cheap book, but I rose to the bait and bought it.

Never in my life have I been more disappointed/disillusioned by a book! It was hollow. Not one of all those famous authors offered solutions or guidance! Instead, each one revealed how insecure s/he was; how terrified each one of writer’s block: of coming up empty idea-wise, wisdom-wise.

Not one of them accessed a Higher Power in this near frantic search for wisdom. At this time in my journey, my books were selling well and letters were streaming in. A number of them praised me for my wisdom, acknowledging their debt to me as a source of wisdom they could depend on. This concerned me no little for I knew it was not true, for I was searching for wisdom myself. For an author, such letters are insidious, for the temptation is to believe them, and write back, acknowledging the truth of their assumptions, and inwardly adding another name to the tribe of devotees who can be counted on to buy his/her books.

Finally, God gave me a totally different epiphany: one that has, over time, revolutionized my life. The catalyst: Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. If the story is hazy to you, here it is:

That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, ‘What do you want, and I will give it to you!’

[And Solomon answered] ‘O LORD my God, now you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am among your own chosen people, a nation so great they are too numerous to count! Give me an understanding mind so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great nation of yours?’

The LORD was pleased with Solomon’s reply and was glad that he had asked for wisdom. So God replied, ‘Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people and have not asked for a long life or riches for yourself or the death of your enemies–I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding mind such as no one has ever had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for–riches and honor! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!’
(1 Kings 3:7-12 NLT)

Though I had read this passage before, never before had I thought of it as having any possible association with myself. But now the thought came to me: Nowhere in Scripture is it said that God would not grant wisdom to someone other than Solomon! What if I asked for it? I could but ask. I couldn’t possibly be more at sea wisdom-wise than I am now!

And so, with my own adaptation of Solomon’s request, I began the first day of the rest of my life:

Lord, as I begin this new day, I recognize that my own wisdom wells are shallow and the water brackish–only Yours are deep, filled with living water. Would You be willing to grant me, just for today, access to Your wisdom wells so that what I say and write may be a blessing?

Incredibly and immediately, I was engulfed by breakers of wisdom rolling up the beaches of my mind!

And so began my daily partnership with God. It has radically changed my life, for I’ve never again had to worry about accessing true wisdom. I never write a word of a story, or a plot, without humbly asking God, that if it be His will [absolutely critical, for God ignores gimme prayers], He will supply the story concept, the plot, the characters. He may make me wait, but always, the story comes, and all I have to do is toddle along behind the characters as God takes them wherever it is His will that they go. Same is true for my (our) story anthologies: God chooses the stories that make it in.

Thus I take no credit for anything that bears my name, but rather I continually note God’s mind-boggling condescension in partnering with the least of His children, one who has made so many mistakes in life. If there be anything in our books that have been published since that life-changing day when I first prayed what I’ve come to call the Prayer of Solomon, it is because all is His rather than mine.

But the flip-side of the coin is this: In order to continue this partnership with God, I am not at liberty to write anything God would not approve of. I cannot compartmentalize what I write or say.

* * *

But now, let’s get back to you. You may not be a writer, so how does the Prayer of Solomon apply to you? The Prayer may be used by every individual, young or old, on earth. It is no more complex than humbly submitting your daily trajectory to the Creator of us all, who created us in His own image, and is moment by moment, accessible to each of us.

However, if you do decide to make this Prayer the foundation of the rest of your life, be prepared for seismic changes in your life. Not that you won’t continue to make mistakes, zig when you should have zagged, but the trajectory of your journey will trend upward rather than downward.

May God bless you.

Why Are We Americans Becoming So Dumb?

December 11, 2013

It was while listening to the “Sunday Morning” broadcast that I was jolted into shock by a broadcast segment. In it, the program regular admitted how traumatized he was to discover that his increased use of electronic gadgetry such as Smartphones and aps was destroying his brain. The catalyst was his rueful discovery that he couldn’t even remember his wife’s phone number without retrieving it from an electronic index. Even more horrifying: to realize he could no longer remember how to spell common words such as “spatula,” no matter how much time he took to probe his mental memory banks. The same was true with mathematics: the electronic crutch ends up crippling the ability to do even simple math. Witness the number of individuals at restaurant and store checkout stands who are incapable of making correct change unless the machinery does it for them!

Every time I look at new lists of intelligence rankings (by nation), I wince as the U.S. continues to slip ever further down. Long gone are the days when we led the world.

In November and December of every year, I spend a large percentage of my time at book-signing tables; often with fellow Kiwanians at my side (because of our literacy program for area elementary schools), where for eleven years now, we’ve targeted third-graders. Reason being: studies reveal that unless a child falls in love with reading by the third grade, it’s not likely to ever happen at all. We are often permitted to set up our tables in large supermarkets because of this program. So we have plenty of time to watch people, young and old, as they come into, and leave, these chain stores. More and more often we are noticing a disturbing new phenomenon: children who are connected to electronic gadgetry tend to pay no attention to the books on our tables—or anything else, for that matter. But even when electronic gadgetry is not a variable, we’ve noticed that it has almost become a norm: when an approaching child’s eyes light up at the sight of books, almost invariably it turns out that the child is a homeschooler.

Even as I was watching this most recent “Sunday Morning” broadcast, and simultaneously signing complete sets of Christmas in My Heart books, I belatedly realized that the books were taking twice as long as normal to inscribe, and that my memory was fogging over and my accuracy continuing to deteriorate. Finally, I had to leave the room where the TV set was on so that I could complete my signings in the time I allocated for them.

All this causes me to question many of the so-called benefits of technology: if electronic gadgetry continues to erode our abilities to read, comprehend, articulate, write, understand, and effectively utilize abstract thought, then might we as a nation be paying way too high a price for so-called progress? Might it also turn out to be that it is not progress at all? But rather, the reverse?

In the thirty years of research poured into my 1993 book, Remote Controlled, I discovered that the more time an individual (of any age) spent watching TV, the dumber that person proved to be. And the more muddled the brains of the recipients. By extension, might it not also be true that overexposure to electronic imagery other than television will end up dumbing down the receiver’s brains even further? Reason being that those who receive pre-fab (created by someone other than the receiver) imagery rather than creating connotatively imagery through reading, being read to, radio or live drama, end up incapable of communicating effectively either in oral or in written forms. Only the reader, it turns out, is capable of writing coherent sentences and paragraphs. Non-readers, having little that is original to them in their brains to draw from, find it almost impossible to write anything creative or coherent at all!


Part Two
April 24, 2013

Each day that passes, for untold millions of people, the electronic world is increasingly edging out the real world. Initially, pundits prophesied that the Brave New World of the Internet would result in bringing us closer and closer to each other. Instead, the reverse is proving true: Just look at text-messaging: it has become a substitute for real-life interaction. Look at the number of people who text-message each other in the same room—they look at the screen rather than at the real-life face. Lately, researchers are noting another result: people are becoming ever more isolated from each other; in fact, we’re losing the ability to read each other’s body language.

Another study I read just during the last week had to do with what’s happening to us sexually. Because the electronic world continues to dehumanize us, increasingly sexuality is becoming merely another sport, aerobics if you please, in which we gain momentary highs without deepening the relationship with the person who made that high possible. Consequently, rather than sex deepening the relationship between two people, increasing the love and commitment they have for each other, the reverse is proving true: throw-away relationships are becoming the norm, and not incidentally, accelerating our current epidemic of suicides.

But neither should we lose sight of the wonderful benefits of the Internet, the many ways in which it has changed our lives for the better. For instance, earlier in my writing career, when we completed a manuscript, we’d photocopy it, then take it to the Post Office and mail it certified, then wait and wait for a response on the other end. Today, a click of the mouse sends it to the recipient wherever in the world that person may be; another click of the mouse and the person on the other end acknowledges its receipt; thirty minutes later, another click of the mouse and we know what that person thinks of the manuscript after a cursory reading of it. In that respect it is indeed a Brave New World on the positive side. So I am not debunking or running down the marvelous technology that makes all this possible, but rather I am addressing some of the darker side-effects we should thoughtfully study.

There was a thirty-year-fuse that eventually ignited into my book, Remote Controlled (Review & Herald Publishing Association, 1993). In it I tackled the issue of what we were becoming as the result of our fascination with television. One finding is most apropos to this blog series: If you are listening to a live drama or radio theater, or reading a book or magazine, no two people will create the same mental imagery, for each of us creates such imagery connotatively, in association with everything else we’ve experienced in life, and building on the creative imagery created earlier by our brains, we create a new one from each such exposure. Each book we read, for instance, can be a treasure chest for hundreds of images instantly transmitted into our brain’s archives.
But now, let’s contrast that with imagery that is beamed at us electronically–be it a movie, a television program, or a video. Whether one person sees it or a billion, the image is the same: since it is pre-fab, created by someone other than the receiver of the electronic image, it is one and the same. Result: it is blasted straight into the receiver’s inner archives, bypassing the receiver’s mind, heart, and soul, for they had nothing to do with its creation. The consequences, over time, we’ve all seen. The non-readers are crippled by an inability to create well for most everything in their inner memory archives is second-hand, created by someone else!

When I have two Freshman Comp students in a class, and ask them to take out a piece of paper and get ready to write, the reader can hardly wait to begin (having so many stylistic templates to draw from), whereas the non-reader just stares glassy-eyed at that sheet of paper, unable to even begin. Having only unstructured disjointed electronic imagery to draw from, that student is, more often than not, incapable of either writing or speaking in coherent well-structured sentences and paragraphs. Hence our current epidemic of cheating in America, for non-readers, having little that is original in their heads, when faced with writing an essay, term paper, or research project, are, tragically, unable to write without cheating.

In fact CEOs have noticed that it goes on from there: they’ve discovered that if they take two applicants for a position (one a reader and the other a non-reader), and ask them to follow a five-step process to a solution to a problem (A, B, C, D, and E), deliberately leaving out a step, the reader comes to the abyss, is puzzled but not defeated by it, and almost immediately, like a spider, sends synapses out in all directions, and is thus able to bridge to the other side, continue, and arrive at a conclusion. The non-reader, having never developed that part of the brain scholars call “the library,” in which the brain has learned to talk to itself, is literally incapable of ever bridging to the other side.

So while a given non-reading person may develop marvelous skill in utilizing technology and become a whiz at creating data, that individual may be crippled by an inability to fully interpret and articulate the significance of that data.

From all that I have seen, from all that I have read, America has become a society of non-readers. And that reality alone contributes mightily to what I am calling the paralysis of the American mind.

We will conclude this tripartite series next Wednesday.