When Music Led to Crime: My Neighbor’s Story

record player

My second home with my husband was a two-bedroom apartment in south Orlando. We were there for two years, and over the course of that time, we had developed some relationships with our neighbors, particularly a man named “Joe” (not his real name.) We would greet him whenever we saw him, and he would respond with a big smile and a wave. We would comment about the weather, or other “fluff” conversation, to see if it led anywhere. Our mission and purpose was clear…we wanted to influence our neighbors with the gospel, and would search for open doors.

The door opened with Joe. The longer we were living there, the more we interacted with him. He would often smoke outside his apartment and we would take the opportunity to engage him in conversation. Eventually we invited him to church, and it became clear that he knew we were Christians and yet remained open to continuing to dialogue with us. Eric eventually asked him to meet with him over coffee and talk about Jesus. He gladly agreed. When they met, Eric heard some of his story. He was a former felon, had spent time in and out of jail for drug related charges. He would deal drugs on and off (and swore he currently wasn’t) yet his Mom had raised him right. They attended church as he was growing up, and he had wandered away from his faith when he entered his teenage years. He asked for prayer for himself, and for his girlfriend, also a former felon, who was currently in rehab.

Eric and I discussed what we could do for them, and how to best serve them. We talked to Joe about coming over for dinner, along with his girlfriend, where we would pray for them. He again gladly accepted, and picked her up from rehab to come have a meal with us. “Jane” was also friendly and outgoing. As soon as we sat down to eat, we couldn’t get them to stop talking. They opened up about their past, and their present struggles with drugs and alcohol and clubbing. They opened up about their upbringing, both from single-mom households, both dragged to church when they were kids, both getting lured away by friends who introduced them to what they called a “gangster” style of life. Jane told us about her daughter who was being raised by her grandmother, because Jane couldn’t keep herself out of trouble. They talked about how they both knew that they needed to get out of this lifestyle, and their inability to be able to make the right choices to do so, especially since it was so hard for them to get a job, let alone keep one.

We were able to share the glorious gospel with them, about how we understood their inability to choose any other way of life. We told them about Jesus, who could help them, about the Holy Spirit, who could empower them. It was an incredible night. It was obvious that they both really wanted to hear it; they soaked it up. Jane cried, and asked for prayer. Joe would say things like, “I know I need help. I know I need to change. I just can’t.”

What is my point? I’m setting this up for a particular reason. I asked them this question:

“Can you point to one particular thing that led you to this type of life? What was the entry gate?”

They could have said growing up with no fathers. They could have said the wrong friends and peer pressure. They could have said the first time they did drugs.

“Music,” Jane said without any hesitation.

“Absolutely. Listening to hip-hop,” Joe replied.

That was the last thing I expected to hear. There we were, with our apartment complex’s drug dealer and his girlfriend in our home, listening to their sad story of a life wasted to drugs and gangs, and they unequivocally blamed music as the entry into it all.

Jane went on to explain how as a young girl, hearing lyrics of the glories of a certain lifestyle, the wealth and prestige, influenced her to want that type of life.

“It was subtle at first. But as my girls and I listened, it no longer became something we wanted. It became what we were living. And it’s not all it was cracked up to be. It ruined my life. It led to doing drugs. It led to shoplifting and stealing, because we wanted to support the type of life we heard about, but never could afford. I’m in rehab because now I can’t get away from it, and it’s controlling me.”

I’m not making this up. I know you’re sitting there reading this, thinking, “No way. No one actually blames music for how they messed up their life. That’s just silly.”

Yet I’m here to tell you that that is exactly what they said. And it shocked me, too. You can make the argument that lyrics don’t affect you; that you just listen to the music. That not all hip-hop is bad, because seriously, Lecrae is a hip-hip artist isn’t he?

Look, I’m not here to bash hip-hop; of course not all hip-hop is bad, and every style, including some Christian music, has its vices. What I am saying is that you can’t make the claim that you are unaffected by what you hear. That’s just not a biblical concept. The only way we can understand anything spoken to us is because we hear it and interpret it. “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

James speaks often about the power of words, specifically about the power of the tongue (James 3). The only category for music in the Scriptures is that of singing praise and giving glory to God, so much so that even if we as Christians are silent, the rocks and trees would praise him (Luke 19:40).

I think there is a definite use for non-Christian music. You can sing about the love you have for you significant other, and it can be glorifying to God. You can sing about righting social wrongs and it be glorifying to God. You can sing about the sacrifices of our military, or the pain and suffering after 9/11, or the pain and sadness after a break-up, and it be glorifying to God. What matters is how we interpret these things. Through what filter are you listening? The filter of a secular worldview that finds ourselves as the arbiter of truth? Or the filter of a biblical worldview that sees God as the giver of all things good, the One who is behind the love you have for your spouse, the one who ultimately will makes all things right, the one who is with you when you are broken? All things are empty without Him, and that emptiness is on full display when what we listen to is devoid of Him.

So let me challenge you, next time you turn on Keith Urban, or Elvis, or Macklemore…listen with ears that can filter out the truth from the lies. Do what Joe and Jane couldn’t do. Listen and point to the One who gives the good gift of music. And if what you are listening to is in direct rebellion to the character of the God we worship, for crying out loud…turn it off.

Originally posted here.

Short Story Tuesday: The Happiest Place on Earth

The challenge: Write a short story every Tuesday in 500 words or less.  Post on your blog, share on twitter with the #shortstorytuesday hashtag.  Tag two friends to do the same.

***

The whispering wind flicked her hair from her eyes.  Looking up, she watched as a flag blew merrily in the breeze. The distinct shape of Mickey Mouse flapped on the yellow canvas backdrop.  The happiest place on earth, they say.  The place were tears aren’t allowed, where children can be children.

What makes it different for me? She wondered.  Am I just that separate from other children?  Deep thoughts for an eight-year-old, she knew.  But she wasn’t like other children.  Not in the usual kind of way.  Other children laughed and screamed and ran amuck while their haggard parents tried to keep up.  She watched as even now, a small boy attached to a backpack with a leash pulled against his restraints, reaching grimy hands for Donald Duck.  The mascot waved at him, bending down to hand him a signed picture.  The little boy squealed with delight.

disney castle

I like to watch, she thought.  I like to observe what families do.  How they act.  What makes them…well, a family.

“Jade!” The voice snapped her back to reality.  Above her head, the flag snapped against the pole.  She hurried under it towards the other children dressed in bright yellow.  Some smiled, some stared in wonder around them, but mainly, none knew what to do.  Shuffling feet, shifting eyes, they huddled like puppies afraid to make a wrong move.

Miss Kathy grabbed her shoulder.  “Pay attention, Jade.  Don’t dawdle.  Sometimes I wonder what goes on in that head of yours.”

Nothing that would interest you.  She dare not say it out loud.

“Leave her be, Kathy,” Miss Margie said gently.  She was Jade’s favorite.  Always sticking up for her, trying desperately to find her a family to call her own.  Organizing things like Disney trips for the kids.  But really, it almost made the pain worse.  So many happy families.  So many children with Moms and Dads.  College in their futures, a bed of their own, more belongings than could fit in a backpack.  Parents who weren’t in jail, or dead.

Or Moms who can get out of bed every day without chasing another fix.  Who don’t give up their kids because she would rather get high instead.  Jade knew she shouldn’t think that way.  But she preferred to live in reality.  Maybe she was too young, or too vulnerable, or whatever adults always said when she dared speak her thoughts out loud.

Really, what did it matter?  Jade found herself looking back at the waving flag as the children followed behind each other, marching to the orders of Miss Kathy. She shouted them like a drill instructor.  Jade filtered out the noises around her and focused on the Mouse.  The happies place on earth.  Maybe, just maybe, if she was good enough, quiet enough, obedient enough…someone would want her.  They would see her here, and instead of seeing an orphan, they would see a daughter.

She turned her face from the flag.   

 

***

Today, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care. More than 100,000 of those are awaiting adoption.  In reality, that isn’t a large number compared to the amount of families who have the means to take in these children. If one family, from every three churches in the United States adopted a child in foster care, it would eliminate the adoption need completely.  Check out your States requirements.  There should be no such thing as an unwanted child.

Freebie Fridays

One marketing strategy for indie authors is to offer free books or novellas.  I like to take advantage of this, not only to find new authors to enjoy, but to help boost their sales and participate in their success.

Here are some various freebies you might want to check out in the indie author world.

Revelation by J.E. Purrazzi.  This happens to be my critique partners debut novella, and I can’t have enough good things to say about it.  If you like dystopian science fiction, with both an adult and a YA feel, this on is for you.

The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson is free for kindle unlimited subscribers.  This fantasy tale was everything I love about the genre (and I’m super picky when it comes to fantasy!)  Great plot, engaging characters, a well built world…looking forward to the rest of the series.

Darkness Reigns by Jill Williamson.  I’ve mentioned before that I am in the middle of the this series.  Her marketing strategy is excellent, for one thing.  Structured like a mini-series, the first book is free, and the next five are only a little over $3.  They are short, so you don’t feel like you get totally lost in the world.  But they are long enough that you don’t feel like you are being cheated.  Her strongest point, I think, is her incredibly endearing and interesting characters.

Enchantress by James Maxwell is free for kindle unlimited subscribers.  This was another good fantasy read.  The characters were pretty well-rounded, with maybe a little too much cliche for me, but that’s a minor complaint.  The world was unique, and the magic original.  I’m getting ready to read book two in the series.

The Traveler’s Gate Trilogy by Will Wight is free for kindle unlimited subscribers.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a series this unique.  The magic system is complicated and unusual, something I’ve never read, which is high praise in the fantasy world.  His characters are entertaining and compelling.  This was my introduction to the indie fantasy world, and he set the bar high.

Worlds Yet Explored

I’m pretty much losing my mind.  Maybe you feel the same…between my day job (haha! Day job!  As if being a stay at home mom stops when 6pm hits!  I’m cracking myself up…), between sickness, cooking, cleaning, running my kids around to appointments, trying to find time for my husband…sometimes I wonder if I really am cut out for this whole “writing” thing.

But then the itch starts.  That “must-write-or-go-insane” feeling creeps, and then grows stronger, until the characters are shouting at me to get their story on paper.  It’s both wonderful and tiring.  Beauty with the mayhem.

Go with it, fellow writers.  Ride the storm where it takes you.  Nothing is quite as invigorating at the end of the day then knowing you got the words out.  That you have your characters their voice.  That your thoughts escaped the confines of your mind.  Who would benefit, otherwise?  Try to imagine a world without “Gone With the Wind” or “Aesop’s Fables.”  What if we didn’t have classics like “Huckleberry Finn” or “Jane Eyre”?  What if CS Lewis never dazzled our young minds with Narnia, or J.K. Rowling never gave Harry Potter his chance to fly?

Maybe your, or my, story is not the next Middle Earth or Wheel of Time.  But there are thousands of worlds still to be explored, millions of characters who wait to be given life, and you and I might be their only way of coming forth from obscurity to the written page.

So stop reading this, and get writing.

fantasy world

Vine

vine

 

Wispy tendrils stealing softly, fire embeds my mind

Flinging seeds of suspicions blind

Hearken now to my story, listen if you dare

A tale of rejection and despair

The seeds of vine’s worries stem from roots of doubt

Can my heart be free from wounds of gout?

 

What’s this fearsome frenzy, of soul’s shaking sight?

No center for my eyes to focus light

Clouding all my thoughts, dimming shadows views

Fleeting prose and dreadful, soundless muse

Be silent, oh accuser! Be silent, thoughts constrain!

Final dusk creeps to ponder vain

 

Conflict and torture! Angst and sorrow large!

Loom ever-present taking charge

Vine slinks closer still, darkening my door

Mist steals gradually up the shore

Vine of abysmal anguish! Vine of coarse regret!

Rises imminent fostering final threat

 

Linger no longer, plant of floundering pain

My true heart desires righteous gain

I cannot attain it! It slips through my fist!

A traitor betrays with conniving kiss!

Flesh rises in me, virtue it defeats

If only grace could peaceful mercy meet!

 

Reckless is my falling, dreadful fear abounds

I must travel to the burial ground

There I find death, to shameful gloom regress

There my comfort waits to oppress

Consolation in shame, because I know it well

I’d rather have my immortal soul to sell

 

What’s this vine I see!  Wrapped upon the tombs!

I can’t escape its sacrilegious blooms!

Where is my freedom? Where’s my liberty?

Oh this vine of deceit and trickery!

Vile you await, to mock my calm reflection!

Wherever you await is my rejection!

 

So flee I must, from restful deliberation

And bid this sanctuary salutation

But where is there to go? Can I escape your wares?

Wherever I go, there is your deadly stares

Thorns envelope you, oh poisonous plant you are!

You shoot out darts to wound and scar!

 

Running aimlessly, my life a repulsive race

I long to find a truly restful place

Does such a thing exist?  Or is all fantasy?

My soul will never be given amnesty

Fie soporific waters! You do not endure!

You are fleeting, and certainly unsure!

 

Shame, doubt, fear, dread, call out my name

Their cries echo forward to proclaim

There is no peaceful life, there is no harmony

Evil reigns supreme triumphantly

So slip away I must, collapse in flesh and bone

A soul rejected, no hope, no love, alone      

Conformity

conformity As a writer, finding a way to “stand out” from the crowd of other amazing authors with brilliant story ideas can be challenging (to put it mildly.)  Depending on your genre, there are beloved tropes of that genre that readers want, regardless of whether it’s new and exciting or not.

So does conforming to these tropes make you a sell-out?  Well, not according to Neal Gardner.  He says, “One does not necessarily have to cluck in disapproval to admit that entertainment is all the things its detractors say it is: fun, effortless, sensational, mindless, formulaic, predictable and subversive. In fact, one might argue that those are the very reasons so many people love it.”

 Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality

The issue is, of course, at what point do we stay in conformity with a genre, and at what point do we dally within the constraints that keep a genre…well…a genre.  As a fantasy writer, examples of tropes would be magic, new worlds, swords, good vs. evil, coming of age, etc. Just to name a few.

What are your thoughts?  Do you have trouble with this, too, or is it just me? Continue reading “Conformity”