Happy New Year

May your new year be filled with books.

The kind that you actually read, not the ones that even up furniture legs or gather dust on your coffee table.

May your new year be filled with delight.

Not surface varnish that only seems like delight, but the delight that reaches deep down into your soul and scratches the itch.

May your new year be filled with joy.

Joy that makes you wake with a smile and doze off with a satisfied sigh.

May your new year be filled with:

Relationships that enrich your life.
Peace that stretches beyond circumstances.
Truth that settles your heart, soul and stomach.
Blessings beyond your imagination.
Paths that take you to new places and introduce you to wonderful surprises.

We wish you a Happy New Year and hope you had a blessed Christmas.

How’d Ya Do?

As usual, I have a few goals for the coming year: to finish my current manuscript by the end of March, write a second novel in nine months after that, learn more about marketing, whip my backyard into a beautiful garden, spend more quality time with my children, read a few more classics and books on the craft of writing, exercise on a more regular basis and spend more time getting to know God.

I have yet to look back at my goals for last year to see how well I stayed on track. Ane usually tucks them away for safe keeping. (Ane?)

Last year around this time I asked what YOUR goals were, and some of you shared. Those of you who wrote down some aspirations for the coming year (here or elsewhere), how did you fare?

What would you like to accomplish for this coming year? Share with us. Writing them down and telling them to friends makes you more likely to stick to them.

Happy New Year everyone!

Favorites ‘08

Mike Duran

I’m not sure if there’s a term for people obsessed with lists. If there is, add my name to the roster. It’s one of my favorite things about the end of the year. Everybody starts rolling out their lists — Best Films, Books, Widgets, Gadgets and Celebrity Scandals. Oh joy! So I’m adding my favorites to the registry. No, it’s not my selection for year’s best. Just some personal faves, rather random, that I’ve happened upon this year.

  • Favorite Film — The Dark Knight has to rank up there, even though its vision was grim, it’s biblical parallels are worth pondering. And Heath Ledger’s Joker will live in infamy. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a poignant meditation on life’s transience and transcendence. The reverse aging device is both revelatory and disturbing. But Slumdog Millionaire remains my personal favorite. A gritty, feel-good film about the ultimate underdog (with an exuberant dance sequence, to boot!)
  • Favorite Documentary — So many to choose from! I was really inspired by The Devil and Daniel Johnston, an older docu that traces one artist’s descent into — and out of — madness. Planet B-Boy was lots of fun as it followed break dancing teams from around the world toward their yearly competition. High energy stuff! Man on Wire is about tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s daring high-wire routine performed between NY City’s twin towers in 1974. Some exhilarating footage. But Werner Herzog’s, Encounters at the End of the World, which finds the iconoclastic director in the vast Antarctic wasteland, is probably my number one.
  • Favorite Album — Some describe it as “experimental pop,” others “alt hip-hop.” Either way, New York beatmaker Son Lux’s, At War with Walls and Mazes, got more of my iPod time than any other album. Moody, orchestral, electronic sounds filled with Scriptural references and haunting refrains. Not far behind was Fleet Foxes’ “minstrel music”, Vampire Weekend’s “Upper West Side Soweto”, and Beck’s Modern Guilt. And Coldplay’s Viva la Vida, though not their best, is worth a serious listen.

  • Favorite Book – Hands down, Culture Making, by Andy Crouch, left the biggest impression on me this year. This should be required reading for Christians seeking to understand the Church’s role in art and cultural interaction. Crouch challenges us to be more than cultural critics, cultural copycats and cultural consumers — but to be culture makers. Paradigm-shifting stuff!

  • Favorite Magazine – Juxtapoz Magazine’s quirky pop art mag is a favorite, and the editors at Relief Journal continue putting out some amazing, cutting-edge Christian writing (and I can’t wait for the latest edition of Coach’s Midnight Diner). But Books & Culture remains my personal fave. Scholarly and savvy, but hip enough to defy highbrow.

  • Favorite Cookbook – Yeah, I love to cook. Wash dishes, not so much. How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman was recently updated. But it’s not the 2,000 recipes I like most. It’s the cooking basics sprinkled along the way that make this so fun. (I mean, did you know salt slows boiling? When cooking with water, wait until AFTER the water’s boiling to add salt. Hey, it was new to me!)

  • Favorite Grocery Chain — We love Trader Joe’s, especially their Salsa, Veggie Chips, and Thai Lime Chili Cashews. I’ve heard their Honey Mango Shaving Cream is also terrific. For those of us who shave. And where else can you get Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter? But Fresh & Easy has moved into the area and we’re digging it. A minimalized, less trendy TJ’s, with fewer snobs and lots of health-conscious products. Their Tomato Basil Marinara and Balsamic Vinagrette are our favorites.
  • Favorite Game – Since no one in my house likes to play Scrabble, the next closest thing to a word game is Balderdash. It’s great fun, especially since I have an unusual knack for making things up. Taboo get a lot of airtime at our house, even though their cards are way yesterday. But my number one favorite game is still Connect Four.
  • Favorite Sports Event – In true SoCal homer form: the Lakers reaching the NBA Finals and the Dodgers acquiring Manny Ramirez and advancing to the NLCS were huge. But who could deny that the New York Giants — über-underdogs — defeating the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII was the sports event of the year.
  • Favorite Sports Teams to Hate – That’s easy: Yankees, Celtics and Cowboys in a three-way tie. Are there more bandwagon fans for any other teams?

  • Favorite News Story – Even though I didn’t vote for him, Barack Obama being elected president has got to be up there on everyone’s list as one of the most newsworthy events of ’08. Hey, suddenly America’s not so bad, huh?
  • Favorite Under-reported News Story – Apart from the ongoing suppression of evidence that global warming is a hoax, the American media’s bias and complicity in electing Barack Obama president is the most significantly under-reported story of the year. Just when did American journalism become so, um, non-objective?
  • Favorite Conspiracy Theory – Apart from the annual “Elders of Zion,” “Illuminati,” “Area 51,” “Flat Earth” nonsense, Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s absurd assertion that AIDS was invented by the US government as a means of eradicating people of color is up there on the stupid-odometer. Of course, those fanatics who rabidly allege that Barack Obama is the Antichrist, are equally irrelevant.
  • Favorite Restaurant – We’ve been ending up at Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ a lot. Lemonade and beef ribs — ya gotta love it! Famous Dave’s Smoked Salmon Spread is the bomb. And Pei Wei Asian Diner’s rice and noodle bowls are terrific. But BJ’s Deep Dish Pizzas with a pitcher of Jeremiah Red, well, that’s unbeatable.

  • Favorite Jelly Belly Flavor — Hmm. It’s a tie between Pink Grapefruit and Buttered Popcorn. Anything Cinnamon induces my gag reflex.

There you have it! Blessings to all! And what’s some of your ’08 favorites?

To Resolve or Not to Resolve

Marcia Lee Laycock was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. She lives in central Alberta Canada with her husband, two adolescent golden retrievers and a six-toed cat.

I was delivering Christmas cards last week and stopped in to the small gym where I have been noticeable only by my absence lately. I admit I felt a little guilty going in the door. The owner greeted me with a wide smile and we wished one another a Merry Christmas. Then I said, “One of my New Year’s resolutions will be to get here more often.” My friend shook her head. “Oh don’t do that, don’t make yourself feel guilty about it!” Then she stammered a bit. “But …. I don’t mean …. Do come back!”

We laughed and I assured her I would.

I’ve been thinking about what she said ever since. I’ve been thinking about guilt. It does seem to be a big part of what we do at this time of year. We feel guilty for all the things we didn’t do in the past year – like finish that novel or write that article that’s still in draft form in the computer -and most of us resolve to do better. So guilt isn’t such a bad thing, if, and that’s a big if, we make the changes necessary in our lives. If guilt is unresolved it becomes an unhealthy thing and can lead to bitterness and anger that will only make us miserable. But guilt that leads to change, that’s healthy guilt.

So I have decided to make that New Year’s resolution, and a few others – like finish that novel and write that article – and I’ve gone a step further. I have a plan for carrying it out. Often that’s the key. If we just dwell on our guilty feelings and set no goals or plans for how to change, nothing constructive will happen. Unhealthy guilt will result.

I’ve heard many people scoff and say that all religion does is make you feel guilty. They are absolutely right. But Jesus has gone a step further. He has set out a plan that wipes away the guilt. All we have to do is move from religion to relationship. Accept Him as our brother, our friend, our saviour, and no amount of guilt can hold us down.

The word guilt appears a few times in the Bible. My favourite is in the book of Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 22 – “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

I like those words, “assurance”, “cleanse” and “washed with pure water.” Though the guilt of our sin may bear us down, there is forgiveness. No matter what we have done, or what has been done to us, God forgives, and we are set free “by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body…” (Hebrews 10:20).

The best resolution any of us can make as we move into 2009 is to get to know Him more. I pray we will all resolve to do so. It’s the only way to get rid of all that guilt.