the parable of the talents ... and a book review: unleash the writer within, by cec murphey

Don't you love it when God orchestrates the timing of multiple messages and/or songs and/or conversations toward a synchronized theme? 

This week my heart was prepping for the SS lesson for our 2nd grade class on "The Parable of the Talents" in Matthew 25:14-30. Then Saturday afternoon, I picked up where I'd left off in Unleash the Writer Withinand--wouldn't you know it--Cec used that parable to make a point about overcoming fear and the cessation of excuse making in our writing careers. He lists a bunch of excuses or fears and admits they're illogical. But "fear doesn't recognize logic ... doesn't know how to listen to reason." That's certainly true of the third steward in the parable: I've always thought, his excuse for burying the talent doesn't really make sense. After talking through the passage with our second grade class and making application for them, it was my turn (again) to hear it preached back to me. In our morning service for the InnerCity Ministry at HP, the Gospel series we've been working through came to "The Gospel and Stewardship," and this morning's speaker ended up highlighting that same parable, his points being (1) to acknowledge the Giver of all gifts as God, (2) to identify the gifts He's given, and (3) to then use those gifts passionately for His glory.

As I've thought through my review of Cecil Murphey's Unleash the Writer Within, I have come to apply this parable. God gives to each of us gifts in varying degrees. To some five talents, to some two, to others one. It's really not ours to compare what we've been given, just to faithfully fulfill our God-given purpose with passion. I think Cec does this. 

I picked Unleash the Writer Within up at a recent writer's conference where Cec was the keynote. He was wonderful. So humble, and so full of so many stories. And it was recommended by a trusted friend.  

Honestly, there are other books on writing that I've connected with to a greater degree, such as Roger Rosenblatt's Unless It Moves the Human Heart. But Cec puts himself out there on the page and is honest; I appreciate that. His experience is vast. His perspective valid. Mine may not be the same--experience or perspective. But he's someone I can learn from.

Here are some of the BIG THINGS that I really appreciated about Cec's book: 

  • The encouragement to be authentic and transparent, to enjoy being who God made you to be.
  • The advice to ignore the inner critic until everything's out on the page, and then to let him go at it as you edit, to "write creatively" first, and then to "edit analytically." 
  • The importance of training and hard work at developing the gift of writing. 
  • The idea of clear writing: "For excellence in writing, your words on paper need to sound as if you're having a simple, direct conversation with the reader."
  • The practical suggestion to use exercise as a means of clearing your mind and prepping to write. Cec is a runner. I swim. 
  • The importance of prayer throughout the journey. 
  • The conviction of knowing what you're supposed to write and being committed to writing what God wants you to ... and not writing "until you're assured of what you're supposed to do."
  • The humility of an author who's written, co-authored, or collaborated on over a hundred books and even more articles ... who is able to say "I'm still learning." 
  • The suggestion that when he finds an author he enjoys, he makes it a point to "search for everything that person has written" and then to "start with the earliest-written book. It amazes me," he says, " to observe the growth of the writer from book to book, especially after the first."

Were there things that I disagreed with or did not find helpful? Sure. But, taking Cecil's advice, I've chosen to give what he calls an "appreciative evaluation" because as I think you'll agree, the list of pro's above far surpasses any con's. And I'm willing to admit that I'm still learning too. 

Dear Mr. Murphey, if you ever read this, thank you for writing your book and for passing on your insights and passions to the next generation of writers. I love your heart and am so glad I got to hear you speak at Write2Ignite 2013.

For each of us, let's be diligent to THIS WEEK use the talents God has given us ... with PASSION.



If you've read a great book on writing, I'd love to know the title and one reason why the book connected with you. For example, the friend who recommended Unleash the Writer Within said that this book freed her to take a hiatus from writing until it was the right time for her to write again. 

book review: the kite runner, by khaled hosseini

The banner "#1 New York Times' Bestseller" across the top of a book, like yellow and black caution tape around a dangerous plot of land, may be more of a warning than an acclamation for the discerning Christian reader. But that's not how I felt about The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini has an authentic voice. He has mastered the art of writing meaningful fiction, beautifully weaving well-chosen words and images with just the right length scenes. Those of you who follow my literary posts know I love a well-crafted simile, and Kite Runner is full of them! Definitely a modern fiction title worth reading.  

But if America loves it, what should I as a believer be wary of? Good question. 

There is some language, and there are some gut-churning scenes. There will be some who should not read this because it is too painful or not helpful. I pray God will give you that discernment. Hosseini paints an honest picture of child trafficking in Afghanistan as well as a haunting observation of the rape of a young boy. I would say he is fairly discreet in his descriptions, but these awful sketches bring up bile in the back of the throat. Still, they are not gratuitous: they are not there just for shock value and they are not viewed as okay by any means. Evil is painted as evil. The rape of the boy whom he should have viewed as his closest friend--if he had known all the facts, if he weren't so proud, and if he weren't so enslaved to his culture's norm of belittling those who are different from one's self--is a self-horrifying, pivotal moment in the VP character's life. Guilt haunts him. I kept reading after that one awful scene because I had to believe there would be positive change in the VP character. I hoped, and that hope was rewarded.

The changes were positive. The lessons learned, overall good. However, it is not written from a Christian perspective. The VP is Muslim, and so his hope is rooted in that faith. Honestly, that is the saddest part of the book to me because "there is no other name [than the name of JESUS] given among men whereby you must be saved" (Acts 4). 

So what are Kite Runner's positive selling points? 

Excellent writing. 

Incredible character development.

A realistic painting of Afghanistan over the past quarter of a century or so offering insight into another world. 

A challenge to love those who are not just like you because they're more like you than you think. 

The reality that there is always evil and that justice must be meeted out. 

The reminder of how kids view their parents ... how much they long for their approval. 

The journey of a writer ... through all the misunderstandings of why you love what you love. 

The importance of honesty in relationships ... including and perhaps especially with our children. 

The reality of pain and suffering that should evoke compassion and mercy ... and even more ... action. 

The challenge to make right past wrongs. 

The courage and wonder of adopting a child who needs you. 

And the enduring honor of sacrificial love: "For you, a thousand times over." 

I don't want to give away the passionate plot of this book. And I have not seen the movie or read the graphic novel, so I cannot speak to those. But I would, with the above cautions and trusting you to discern for yourself, recommend this novel ... especially for those who are developing their craft of writing compelling fiction. 

Grace and peace,
with love,