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A Kansas Yankee in King Clinton’s Court

It was nearly a decade ago when I first saw it. I thought my eyes were surely deceiving me. Yet there it was, smacking me in the face. Right in the middle of a small circulation newspaper covering a suburb of Little Rock, Arkansas was the most glaring evidence that I was in a completely foreign culture…General Robert E. Lee and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the same page; both heralded for their heroic deeds! Surely I wasn’t the only person to notice the irony. Or was I?

As the years passed between me and my tour of duty in Little Rock, Arkansas, I thought surely that these wounds had come closer to healing, but recent events have proven otherwise. Perhaps in the larger cities, both in the north and the south, few people notice such things, but to the student of history, the wounds of the Civil War still cut deep.

There are undoubtedly those who don’t believe that I, a Kansas native, have any reason to speak of such sacred things as the “war between the states,” as it is called in the occupied territories. Indeed, many southerners I have spoken with in the Navy don’t know that Kansas became a state during that war, or that Bloody Kansas, the gory nickname given my home state in the early 1800s, revolved around the issue of slavery. In fact, for those who believe that the war was over slavery, I might announce proudly that John Brown was from Kansas, and he fought hard to give life to a slave revolt (of which no slaves took part). I would also draw attention back to my state’s history as “Bloody Kansas.” Raiding parties from pro-slavery Missouri attacked and slaughtered free-state farmers near Fort Scott, Kansas. To further prove my interest in the issue, I point to the fact that Kansas sent more troops to fight for the north than any other state per capita. Over 20,000 young men fought in the union army. Post-Civil War, the issue again rested in Kansas through Brown v. Kansas Board of Education. There you have it. I have surely proven my own vested interest in this discussion.

But herein lies the very reason for this essay. More than just being qualified to present my gripes in front of the nation is the fact that the nation still has gripes to lie down. The reasons for these complaints are hard to pinpoint. Some believe that the north failed to accept the south back into the union properly or that the slave issue was not completely resolved (the forty acres and a mule argument). Still others believe that there simply hasn’t been enough time between the war and the present for proper healing to take place. Personally, I believe that the relationship between the states was never on a very firm footing even before the war. How can a lasting, satisfying relationship blossom after a massive war undertaking when no such relationship existed in the first place? No other nation in the world, save perhaps for the precarious relationship England has with Wales and Scotland, has the same unsteady disposition between its individual provinces.

Barack Obama’s presidency started to heal the rift, but as his time came to an end, I fear that his became a contentious presidency as well. The issue of his presidency gets a little deeper than just the north versus the south, but in reality, his election and reelection has not provided any healing in this country.

While living in Arkansas, I noticed a great deal of cultural difference between my home state and my adopted state, though the two were practically within shouting distance. Separated only by an imaginary line, the two dominant American cultures still collide, giving weight to my argument regarding the lasting impact of the civil war. For example, let me explain my stance on the “flag issue.” I know it is a stereotype, but I did see a good number of trucks in the south with a shotgun in the window and a confederate flag bumper sticker. Who can possibly think that’s acceptable?

Freedom of speech pundits would attack my argument here, and perhaps they should take their fair shot, but the truth is this flag that I see in so many yards, plastered on so many tee shirts, and stuck to so many truck bumpers represents a lot that went wrong in America. How many more Yankees and Rebels would have had to die to preserve a country united under one flag instead of having stubborn pride in one no longer associated with anything other than a defeated temper-tantrum?

And then there is state-based pride, something that I also feel deeply within me. What I have noticed, however, is that even to this day there seems to be a more powerful pull to one’s home state in the south than in the north. For example: How many times has a Texan reminded you that they don’t have to be a part of the United States? This, of course, is the entire reason the south left the union. State by state they fell away, forming a loose trading and military relationship that lasted throughout most of the Civil War.

Had the south won, there is little reason to believe that the United States would have been around at all today. Instead, a limited number of states, however many that might have formed or expanded after the war, would have continued to exist, each forming small trading relationships when needed and rescinding them when not. America could never have been the powerful nation she is today if the south had won the war.  Despite this reality, a southerner will still argue that the state should have more powers than the federal government.

I would also quickly add that the Confederate States of America could never have held the position the United States holds today. Despite some problems with his basic plotlines, Harry Turtledove quite wonderfully depicts what would have happened to the two countries had the South won. While I believe none of the southern states would have stayed true to the original formation, he does point out one very interesting fact: Every time a major war broke out in the world, the USA and CSA would undoubtedly have landed on separate sides of the issue. In the end, the states that make up the present-day USA would have destroyed each other. Only in the post-WWII world has Europe finally managed to displace many of the cultural issues that kept them at best unwilling partners throughout much of history. How long would it have taken America to do the same, considering the enormous differences in our own state-based associations?

I’m not just writing to bash my southern friends. What the south has in prideful belief in a failed rebellion the north more than makes up for in snobbish misrepresentation and, to some degree, rewritten history. If you have indeed remained patient with me this far into our cultural study, you will now see just how arrogant the north can be. Indeed, as a Yankee, I am so convinced that nothing could have won the war for the south, not even the entrance of England onto their side, that I freely verbally attack any southerner who offers me argument. I sometimes think of myself as the Kansas Yankee in King Clinton’s Court, desperately trying to show the ignorant people of this land how to ride bicycles. While many of my northern counterparts don’t share this extreme form of arrogance, it is none-the-less present…just ask any southerner who has sojourned to the north.

And then there is the idea that the North could do no wrong. Even as recently as last week, as I read about the issue of slavery, I realized that glossing over the issue of race relations in the North would be wrong. The fact is simple: blacks and other minorities in the North during the time of the Civil War were free, but not in any way, shape, or form, equal.

These are but a few of the reasons that the Civil War continues today. Southerners announce their affiliation by driving around a defeated flag, even in a growing, prosperous city such as Little Rock, while northerners continue their attacks with a failure to truly reconcile differences or understand their own shared history of racial prejudice. Perhaps these differences would never have been resolved naturally in any case, but the fact remains, no one is really ready for the Civil War to be over yet. We will continue to fight with words what our forefathers fought with guns. How much longer the war will continue no one can tell for sure, nor can they tell what will actually end the war for good. Suffice to say; it will most likely continue for some time, at least until this Kansas Yankee starts living like an American instead of like he is teaching King Clinton’s minions how to ride bicycles.

Writing about Rape

“Judgement, especially of a rape victim, seems so far outside of the scope of Christianity that it should never find a home in the church.”

For those who are following the progress of my novel, Tragedy in Sunset, it’s no surprise that this topic is on my mind. It is the catalyst for the entire novel. In fact, the opening scene in the novel finds the main character, Tom Reynolds, entering the first stages of grief over the rape of his daughter earlier in the day.

One of my Navy students, about seven years ago, was raped and beaten so badly that she didn’t return to duty for months, though to my knowledge she did finally do so. Another friend of mine still holds the emotional scars of being taken advantage of even though it’s been years since the assault.

We know that rape is bad. Can anyone possibly defend it any longer? Not that it was ever really defensible, but really…especially now?

I get that some cases are difficult to figure out the real answers. Could there be some genuine cases of mistaken consent? I really doubt it, but maybe. And some statutory rape is probably consenting young people who make mistakes. Maybe. Even then it’s not defensible, but maybe it’s “different.”

Yet what still happens all too often is that stories like one from the Washington Post come out wherein a young 15 year old girl is held for 29 days and raped by the father of one of her school friends. The dad in me asks, “Why is this guy still alive?” Skip due process. Or maybe give it to him just to make sure, and then kill him slowly. I realize that this stance is unChristian.

These monsters are a plague on our society. Yes, I realize that I’m writing impusively. I’m thinking like a dad…a dad of daughters (not that boys aren’t raped, but…not as often). I’m not writing or thinking like a rational member of a free, laws-and-due-process-based society.

And when I wrote about Tom Reynolds on the night of his daughter Marcy’s rape in my novel, I didn’t write as a rational person. I wrote as if I were Tom. I wrote as if it were one of my daughters I had carried into the emergency room. I wrote as if the nurse was ushering me out of the ER so they could run the rape kit on one of my girls.

We have to confront this issue. And by we, I mean Christians. We have entire programs to help people recover from pornography, divorce, alcoholism, and a host of other problems, but I rarely hear about helping people recover from rape. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a preacher condemn rape from the pulpit. Why not?

I don’t think there’s a conspiracy theory to flesh out here. I doubt the average Baptist preacher is purposely avoiding the subject. However, shame on you if you are purposely doing so. What are you hiding? Or hiding from?

One thought might be, “well, if people weren’t having sex outside the boundaries God set in the Bible, there wouldn’t be rape.”

Excellent point, and a true one. However, we wouldn’t need to condemn pornography, theft, murder, or anything else covered in the Bible. So that excuse isn’t good enough. Another issue is that it’s easier to verbally attack women for dressing immodestly than it is to condemn the men who rape them.

No, they didn’t ask for it.

You know how I know that they didn’t ask for it? Because when I see a woman dressed immodestly, I don’t think, “ooh…a perfect target!” Why not? Because I’m a sane man who doesn’t rape women. It doesn’t matter if a woman doesn’t dress right. A woman’s clothing does not lead to rape. A rapist’s mind leads to rape.

Start talking…and writing…about rape. It’s a sad, sick reality in our culture and we are in a perfect position to respond to it with the love and hope of Christ.

We should be bothered that the only people writing about rape are newspaper reporters (like the one referenced above) and books like Rape, by Joanna Bourke. These are non-believers most likely, and certainly aren’t writing from any spiritual view point.

So here we start. It’s not a good starting place, but it’s something. We know, for example, that God cares for the orphans, the poor, the widows, etc. Surely he cares also for those who’ve had innocence taken from them. It would be prudent for us as Christ-followers to lead the world in this effort to make victims of sexual violence feel welcome…to feel safe. Judgement, especially of a rape victim, seems so far outside of the scope of Christianity that it should never find a home in the church.

We know that God says that vengeance is his. I am grateful for this because I have a lot of sins in my life.

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My NFL Protest

I would appreciate it if you’d read this to the end. It won’t take you long, I promise!

This Sunday was a rough day in the Smith household. It also happens to be the day that I flippin’ lost my mind. It occurred at halftime of the Chargers/Chiefs game. I’m a Chiefs fan, so I was very interested in the game. During the halftime show, the host disclosed that the entire rosters of the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans stayed in their respective locker rooms during the National Anthem. I also learned that the Pittsburgh Stealers, with one lone exception (a military veteran), also stayed inside to protest.

I picked up the remote to my television and turned off the game. My wife looked at me like I was crazy. “I’m not watching the game,” was all I said. Then I started a fight on Facebook, because that’s what we do now days. It was a good fight too…over 50 comments! Here is the comment that started the fight: “Just turned off football. I’m not giving another dollar or minute of my time to that organization. Y’all do what you want. I’m out.”

This all occurred on the same day that I visited a black church just off Imperial Ave. in San Diego. I came home excited for the Word of God! I felt like I had worshiped with some real like-minded believers. While I stuck out like a sore thumb because I was one of the only white people there, I also enjoyed the service more than I’ve enjoyed church in a long time.

I could try to dress this pig up and make it seem reasonable, but the fact is that I sinned against God on Sunday. Since I sinned publically, I’m confessing publically.

First, I joined in useless arguments. “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Titus 3:9).” I’ve tried to remain above the fray on this race problem in America. Sunday, I made it look like I’m on the wrong side of history. I’m not, by the way, I just lost my mind for a minute.

Second, I disregarded one way that my wife and I connect, and thereby sinned against her as well. Making such a strong move to the remote was not an act of leadership. It was done in selfish isolation. I did not put my wife above my personal well-being. I was not a very good leader in that moment.

Third, I failed to keep the doors open. The last thing I want to do is shut the door on the reality that minorities in this country are often mistreated. And I really do serve my country to allow for all ways of protected methods of free speech, which the anthem protests represent. I only pray I haven’t closed the doors to any future relationships.

I believe in preaching Christ Crucified. I believe that the gospel of Jesus crucified, buried, and risen is the only thing that matters. While I also know that I sin against God all the time, and that I blow my witness all the time, I feel like this Sunday was one of the worst things I’ve done in a long time.

Paul said in his first letter to the church in Corinth that, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; But to them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

You know what? That verse is the answer to our race issues in America. Period. If anyone understood race relations, it was the Jewish Roman citizen named Paul. The religious Jews of that time period understood God’s law as pertaining only to them…that other races (collectively called Gentiles, or Greeks) were left out of God’s plan. Paul rejected this line of thought and, when he was soundly rejected by the Jews themselves, he became the preacher to the Gentiles.

I don’t know what this means for me and football. Knowing that this is one way my wife and I connect will mean that I won’t turn it off all the time, or forever. But it does mean that I don’t have to watch it all day on Sunday. I had planned to watch at least three games (I have DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket), another on Monday night, and start again on Thursday. Maybe I won’t be doing that anymore. Because the fact is that I still don’t agree with the form of protest. To be fair, I don’t like the riots in St. Louis either. I also don’t like the bigoted white supremists who launch cars into crowds. If you think I’m upset about the Anthem protests, ask me what I think about neo-nazis!

I’m worried for our country. I take some solace in thinking that God is in control, and will (if his followers let him) find a way to unite the races despite our best efforts to divide them. Yet I can’t help but be concerned. I don’t see this getting better any time soon. Only worse. But maybe that’s what we need. Maybe we really need to air the dirty laundry and figure out what’s wrong.

I’d like to be a part of that discussion if I can. I’m willing to meet with anyone to discuss in greater detail the overall situation and what role faith plays in finding a way out of this mess.

As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

Query for Tragedy in Sunset

What follows is the query I have been sending to agents for my novel Tragedy in Sunset. If you have thoughts on how to make it better, please let me know! If you want to start following Tragedy in Sunset’s progress, sign up here for updates.

Here is the query:

“A young girl is raped in a small Kansas town. Now her father must overcome his struggling faith to join forces with a rogue cop and the perpetrator’s father to prevent the rape from destroying Sunset.”

Dear Agent (I used actual names in the official queries),

I am Dan Smith, and my book, Tragedy in Sunset, is the story of Marcy Reynolds and her father, Tom. Marcy is a 13-year-old eighth grader who is violently raped on Christmas Eve. It is the story of her father, Tom, who throws away a decade of sobriety the night of Marcy’s rape. Finally, and most importantly, it is a story of faith from multiple experiences and viewpoints.

Tragedy in Sunset inspires courage and change through hardship. It will entertain, stimulate, and deepen the faith of Christians who know what it is like to struggle with their faith and come out on the other end a little weary, but trusting God a little bit more. It is also obviously for those who have suffered through sexual assault or know someone who has been through an attack. Tragedy in Sunset runs 90,000 words.

My writing has appeared in over a dozen periodicals, including EFCA Today, Christian Courier, and The Lookout. All are either essays or articles. While not fiction credits, I have built relationships with several editors that I can use in the future for reviews and/or excerpts. My Facebook page has over 1,350 likes and climbing (@navychristian) and my Twitter account (@navychristian) has over 5500 followers. I also have a Master of Arts in Religion from Liberty University’s School of Divinity.

The full proposal contains a larger explanation of my marketing plan. However, I want you to know that my Facebook page, Twitter, and blog will all be used to focus attention on Tragedy in Sunset. As mentioned above, I will also leverage relationships with periodical editors for reviews and excerpts. Furthermore, I guarantee that I will use at least half of any advance to increase influence and market Tragedy in Sunset. Finally, due to my career in the Navy, I know pastors in several major cities, giving me a ready list of contacts for speaking engagements.

Bottom line is: Give me a chance and you’ll get one of the hardest working authors in your stable. May I send you a package that includes the first three chapters, a synopsis, and a marketing plan? Simply reply to my email address (dan@navychristian.org) or by phone (858-598-5244)and I’ll have it on the way!

This is a simultaneous submission. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future!

 

Sincerely,

S. Daniel Smith

www.sdanielsmith.com

The Importance of Theology

You’ll find my first real foray into theological writing in the 23 July, 2017 issue of the Lookout (pictured below). While I have many writing credits and a Master in Arts degree from seminary (Liberty University School of Divinity), I haven’t been able to break into theology outside of preaching. Finally, that drought has ended.

The reason I’m most grateful for the opportunity is because I value scripture study far more than I value writing itself. If you have to pick between reading something I wrote (or anyone else for that matter) and something the apostles wrote or Jesus said, then pick the latter every time.

Even so, my heart’s desire is to write about the words the prophets and apostles left us, to dig deep into their lives and words and pull out what they intended for their first readers and what God intends for us now.

If you have access to a copy of the Lookout, then I highly recommend all of the articles in the 23 July issue. For the rest of you, you’ll find my article on Jesus’ rescue plan below. Enjoy and be encouraged!

Tragedy in Sunset

Hey everyone! Some of you know from a post I wrote last fall, that I have been working on a book. Well, it’s finally time to introduce Tragedy in Sunset to the world. I’ve been holding off for a long time because, as many of you know, the writing process is very long. Even after finishing the first draft, I’ve been working very hard on the novel in order to give real life to the story and the best product possible to you, the reader.

And just what is that story? Glad you asked! Here is a short blurb:

“A young, small town Kansas girl is raped. Now her father must joined forces with a rogue detective and the perpetrator’s father to prevent it from destroying a town.”

Interest you? I hope so!

Tragedy in Sunset is in editing right now and will be for the rest of the summer at least. Here’s a rough outline of the future for this story:

  1.  Editing (through the summer and early fall 2017)
  2.  Submission to agents (beginning in fall of 2017)
  3.  Depending on point 2, will begin to submit to publishers (early 2018)
  4.  Publication sometime in 2019 or 2020.

See? The publishing process is really long! However, I want you to meet the people of Sunset, Kansas so badly that I’m preparing a series of short stories to whet your appetite! I expect to release the first one, called, “Friday Night in Sunset,” in September.

Thanks are in order for my beta readers. I’m so grateful for the work they are doing! I’m also extremely grateful for the work of my beta readers. Tragedy in Sunset moves forward every day! You can keep up with the novel’s progress by clicking here.

What’s Right with my Son?

What’s Right with my Son?

A Father deals with Asperger’s and his own Relationship with God

By: S. Daniel Smith

I write this knowing that my son might read it someday. Part of me wants to be very careful with what I write, but the rest of me, and I hope it is the right part, wants him to know the truth. I want him to understand that I struggle as his dad. I don’t know what it’s like to be trapped behind the door of Asperger’s Syndrome. I don’t know what it’s like to not even know that people are picking on me when they laugh at what I do. I don’t know what it’s like to be incredibly brilliant and exceptionally awkward at the same time. Yet I do know what it’s like to learn about my own sonship in Christ despite my own limitations, and I hope that, if my son ever sees this essay, he sees that he has taught me what it is like to be a child of God.

The issue of Asperger’s Syndrome is compounded because of the travel and underway time my career in the navy forces on me. I try to stay as involved as possible, but I’m seemingly always behind the curve when it comes to communicating with my boy. The truth is that I struggle to communicate with all three of our children, but in particular, as my son transitions to being a man, I find it even more difficult to stay connected to him.

On one of my recent at-sea periods, I began to take stock of all of the things that are “wrong” with my son. This was made easier by a recent episode at school where even his friends were not safe from his outbursts. What started out as a playful argument turned into an emotional eruption wherein my 13-year-old son slapped his buddy across the face.

What is wrong with my son?

Then there was the time he was playing a computer game on a school computer. He knew it was wrong. His teacher asked him why he was doing it and he didn’t have a good, or appropriate answer. Instead of accepting her correction, however, he started banging his pencil on the desk loudly (this is the Asperger’s kicking in…the elevated and escalatory response to a stimulus). Some of the students laughed uncomfortably, so he chucked said pencil at a nearby girl.

What’s wrong with my son?

On the surface, I know what’s wrong with him. He has Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. On top of that disadvantage, he has sensory processing disorder (SPD). Things that wouldn’t normally bother you or me turn my otherwise sweet and caring boy into a raging and insensitive person.

Deeper than just the diagnoses of Asperger’s and SPD themselves, my son struggles against his anger. I think part of it is because he holds it in so long that, when it comes out, it comes out with the force of a typhoon.

He also struggles with self-esteem. He’s sure that he’s not worthy…worthy of anything. More than once my wife has found a note that talks about how depraved he is and how undeserving of anything good. When confronted (lovingly), he simply states, matter-of-factly, that it’s true and we shouldn’t make a big deal about it. It’s so disheartening to see him cut himself down.

Another thing wrong is that he doesn’t work very hard. No matter how much we challenge him or take away his privileges, he often will do the minimum or delay as long as possible on school assignments. Sometimes, when he’s procrastinated to the point of exasperation, he gets himself into an anxious fit. Then we end up dealing with more than one of his issues at the same time.

Then there are the sensory-related issues. Too much noise and his emotional responses ramp up. The only way to combat this issue is to help him find a place to hide until he can calm down. Food is a problem too. He doesn’t like foods that other kids like, and by not liking, I mean he throws up when looking at them. It’s not just about being picky either. Deserts and candy find the same disgust in his eyes that broccoli and Brussels sprouts do. Yet he loves yogurt…as long as it’s the right flavor. It’s mind-boggling.

His handshake is weak, as is his core. His posture is painfully lacking, though to be honest, I struggle with that one too. I want him to be a man when he grows up, but the handshake is still the first measure of a person when meeting another, and it is an understatement to say that his needs work. For those of you who think the handshake should go away, you’re wrong. It’s a measure of a man in our culture and he needs to get this right.

It’s exacerbating.

Every time I think about it, my mind wonders, “What’s wrong with him?” And then, “Why can’t we just get through to him?” Then I move on to how I am failing to get him to adjust to life around him.

In the blindness of what’s wrong with my son, I forgot for a moment that I love him unconditionally. I forgot that I’m his dad, not just his father. I forgot that he means more to me than any other male human alive.

I’m reminded that I, too, am a complete paradox to God. He created me to be perfect, but I am my father Adam’s son, and so I am far from it. God created me to be holy, yet I consistently reject that created mission. He saved me from my sin, yet I too-often return to that lifestyle. He showed me grace by giving me a loving wife and wonderful children, but I shut them out or show meanness to them.

Maybe I should ask, “What’s wrong with me?”

Immediately the answer is to the question that wasn’t asked. My question is irrelevant. I want to know what’s wrong, and God wants to make me he son. John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” In reality, everything is wrong with me. I’m a sinner, I am confused, and I am simply overwhelmed by this world.

Yet I am God’s son, one that he loved unconditionally and sent his son to die to save. How much more should I unconditionally love my son in view of God’s ultimate sacrifice?

That changes everything. I had to remind myself just how important he is to me, how much of a blessing he is in my life. Reframing the issue in such a light allows me to stop asking, “What is wrong with my son?” and start asking, “What’s right with my son?”

He’s a bright kid. As with many children on the spectrum, he is great with math and other analytical sciences. When he does focus on what he’s doing, he’s very good. That’s another thing too…he has laser-sharp focus when he’s working on something he’s passionate about.

Most important, he is worthy. All of his struggles with self-worth are the key to my own relationship with God. God answered that by showing just how much he loved me. It shows me how much I can love my son. When I think about him in terms of how much I love him and forget, for a moment, that the world seems to be crashing down around us, I can realize just how much is “right” with him. And what’s right with him is so much more important than anything that’s wrong.