Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Blind Men and the Elephant

Today, our post-modern, post-Christian culture rejects the Christian's claim that Jesus is the only way to the God and they loudly disdain our views as narrow and exclusive. They argue, "All religions give us insight into some aspect of God. There are many paths, but all eventually lead to heaven."

To illustrate this, the story of the blind men examining an elephant is often given. Remember the story? One blind man felt the side of the elephant and proclaimed it like a wall; another examined the tail and said it was like a rope, another the trunk, who said it was like a pipe. On and on they describe inadequate and limited views of the elephant. They try to make the point that all are correct and that they each reveal some critical truth. The jump is then made to world religions with the claim that all religions teach us some truth about God.

I was listening to Tim Keller, author and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian church, speak on this topic of Christianity's exclusive claim. He makes some great points and I am stealing his words here. He references Leslie Newbigin (also an author, a bishop and missionary from the Church of Scotland) who points out that the real point of the story is constantly overlooked: The story cannot be told except by someone who can see the whole, otherwise you don't know the men are blind. The only way you can say other religions contain partial truths if you see the whole elephant and if you claim that all religions just see a part of the elephant, it negates your own argument! It is an arrogant claim to have the kind of knowledge you are criticizing.

In this same vein, Christians constantly hear the argument that our claim to exclusivity is narrow. Keller points out that facts aren't narrow; they are simply facts. It is a fact that if you don't eat, your body will shrivel and eventually die. To believe a fact is not narrow. Jesus claimed to be God. If his claim is true (fact), then a belief in that truth is not narrow. If Jesus Christ is God, to live without him will result in malnutrition of the soul, and eventual spiritual death.

Just something to stir your thoughts on a cold winter day in Virginia....


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Prayer of a Martyred Zimbabwe Pastor

The picture above is of a mass gravesite in Zimbabwe, an attempt by a poor country to

bury the dead from a cholera outbreak. I added the photo only
because it helps provide some color to the prayer I've chosen as today's blog post.
This prayer was found among the possessions of a Zimbabwe pastor who was martyred
for his faith:

I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit power.
The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been
made—I’m a disciple of his. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back
away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is
secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, smooth knees,
colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits,
or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised,
regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on his presence, walk by
patience, am uplifted by prayer, and labor with power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my
way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide is reliable, my mission is
clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back,
deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the
presence of the enemy, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the
maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed
up, paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus.
I must keep going until he comes, give until I drop, preach until all know,
and work until he stops me. And, when he comes for his own, he will have no
problem recognizing me. My banner will be clear.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Haikus, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Oxygen, and GRACE!

The picture is my son, Evan, standing on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, East Africa, several November's ago. I'd like to tell you a little story about what the earth's tallest freestanding mountain taught me about grace.

Teenage boys don’t typically spout Japanese poetry. So when Evan, my seventeen year-old son, started composing haiku, I looked up and laughed.

Evan dangled his feet off the side of his little bunk that stretched the width of the A-frame cabin. We were at Mandara, the first series of small huts that served as an altitude-acclimatization stop on a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. He smiled as he counted off the syllables one by one on his fingers to show that he’d mastered the Haiku formula.


Mountain of wondrous design,

I will conquer you.”

Our spirits were lighthearted and confident of success as we joked about the poetry that had spontaneously flowed from him.

Three days later, during our nighttime, sub-freezing assault on the summit, my attitude was anything but lighthearted.

Wrapped in five-layers of clothes to protect myself from the fierce cold, we began our fight to Uhuru peak, (the “rooftop of Africa”) at just before midnight, hoping to arrive at the summit to see the sunrise.

High altitude can be cruel. Deadly so if you’re unprepared. While we were climbing, we saw two hikers carried off the mountain after succumbing to the tragedy of altitude sickness.

The problem is as basic as the moment-by-moment need that every one of our one hundred trillion cells share: oxygen!

Without it, cellular machinery unravels into inefficiency, cascading in a spiral towards death.

Run at a fast pace for a few seconds, pushing back the envelope of your physical fitness and you’ll experience something we’ve all shared, but likely haven’t defined: oxygen debt. We breathe faster, panting to deliver more oxygen into our lungs. Our hearts race to deliver the precious cargo to muscles demanding more.

Oxygen Debt: When our Bodies Are Demanding Payment and the Currency is Oxygen

What’s all this talk about oxygen have to do with the Gospel of grace?

Let me explain. What the cross accomplished for my salvation is nothing short of amazing. It completely and efficiently bridged the gap between my sin and God’s holiness. There is no need for excusing away bad behavior, no need for extra effort to perform well in hopes that God will love me more.

So why is it so easy to behave as if God will love me more if I’m succeeding as a Christian, witnessing, praying and being a good family leader? Perhaps I’m projecting my own performance-based approval of myself on God?

Regardless of the reason, many of us give mental assent to the Gospel of Grace, and then walk away and function as if good works will give us the special approval from God that we desire. And in that moment, we’re functioning in “Gospel Debt.”

Gospel Debt: When our Souls Are Demanding Payment and the Currency is Grace

In short, anything I do to make myself more acceptable to God, other than the cross, is operating out of a functional Gospel debt. In reality, we fall in and out of Gospel debt with scary frequency. One minute we’re standing in the confidence of grace; the next, we’re anxious about the future or yelling in anger at the kids.

When our bodies are operating in appropriate oxygen saturation, function can proceed with normalcy and balance. When in oxygen debt, our cells turn inefficient, wasting effort to produce small amounts of energy.

Spiritually, any time I spend in Gospel debt, I’m functioning with inefficiency, depending on my own strength instead of His.

Climbing Kilimanjaro brought this analogy to my mind again. At high altitude, where oxygen was rare, I had to focus on breathing just to take another step. Three breaths, take a step. Three more breaths, another step.

1. Focus on Grace

Hmmm. Maybe God wishes I would focus more on His grace than on my own strength…for every step.

At normal altitudes, I don’t even think about my breathing and certainly not to oxygen, even though I need it every second. So I go about my duties without even acknowledging my need. Perhaps it’s like that with the Gospel of grace. I need it every moment and it’s abundantly available, but I function without even realizing my need.

That’s what was different about Kilimanjaro. At high altitude, there was no ignoring my need. It didn’t matter if I had the muscle strength to take another step, I was going no where unless I could take in enough oxygen. And I think that’s where God wants me: constantly aware of my need of grace and my inability to function without him (even when it looks like I could get by on my own strength, I see that I can’t take a step without grace).

2. Focus only on the Next Step

We made our summit assault in the dark of night to reach the top by sunrise. The peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro is typically shrouded in clouds by afternoon, another good reason to get there early and get down before bad weather. Climbing in the dark had another advantage: it kept me from looking too far ahead and being discouraged by the distance I had yet to travel. Often, I just kept my head down and concentrated on my guide’s feet in front of me.

Again, I saw the spiritual parallel. Concentrate on grace for the next step only. Don’t be anxious about how far you have yet to travel.

3. Beware of Reliance on False Gospels

A few days after arrival back from our trip to the mountain, I saw a Somali man who had a large tumor in his neck pressing on his airway. His breathing was noisy, almost squeaky. Not a happy whistle, mind you, but a terrifying sound we call stridor, an alarm warning that the airway is closing.

My patient was breathing the same air that I was, but I was comfortable and he was dying. I’m stating the obvious for a reason. Oxygen was abundant around my patient, but his airway was closing off, blocking the flow of necessary oxygen into his lungs.

How often is grace abundant around me, but my pride obstructs the flow. And more horrifying, because of pride, I don’t see my need and rely on the grace I so desperately need.

I rushed my patient to surgery and placed a breathing tube (a tracheostomy tube) into his windpipe to allow oxygen to bypass the obstructing cancer and immediately, my patient’s condition improved.

If we find our souls in a breathless situation (striving, anxious, no fruit), perhaps it’s time to look for sinister pride blocking the flow of grace. Am I leaning on my own strength…again?

4. Freedom is the Sweet Reward of the Gospel of Grace

Uhuru Peak, rising 5895 M (19,340 feet!) into the sky is Africa’s highest point and is appropriately named. Uhuru, the final destination of trekkers toughing it out on Mount Kilimanjaro is a Kiswahili word meaning “freedom.”

Galatians 5:13 states, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another.” (English Standard Version). Failure, anxiety and strife are the ripe fruit of a life wasted in hot pursuit of false gospels (even “working for God” can be a thinly veiled pride, and many times only God knows). Freedom, on the other hand, is the sweet reward of the Gospel of Grace. I’ve been freed from the law, and the profound result will be a life of loving service of others.

On a freezing morning in November, I reached Uhuru Peak on Mt. Kilimanjaro. I hope I’ll never forget the lessons I learned about breathing and grace along the way.

Maybe I should even try a haiku of my own to celebrate the climb:

The Gospel of Grace.

Freedom is my Sweet Reward.

The Cross Did It All.

Harry Kraus, M.D., bestselling author of Breathing Grace: What You Need More Than Your Next Breath, (Crossway Books, 2007) is a medical missionary serving with Africa Inland Mission.

Monday, November 1, 2010

FREE Kindle Kraus novel!!!!

Hey Readers of this Blog,

You can download my novel, Perfect, for FREE right now on Kindle!!!!

Check it out. How can you lose? It's FREE.

Thanks and tell your friends to try out a new author with no risk.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Finishing the task of the Great Commission

I am taking a great class at a local seminary: Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Some stats from my most recent class last night really made me think.

Did you know that right now in the world we have 1000 churches for every one unreached people group? (An unreached people group is a population of people bound by the same ethnicity and commonly location who do not have an established Christian church that can do the work of evangelizing their own people--a much more efficient effort than cross-cultural evangelism).

Wow. 1000:1. Can you imagine if say only 10% of these churches took the Great Commission seriously enough to send a missionary? That would mean 100 new missionaries reaching out to every unreached people group.

Almost makes it sound doable, doesn't it?

Check out for more information about unreached people groups.

Why not bring this information to your congregation and discuss the challenge of adopting an unreached people? Then pray, send, and GO!

Harry Lee

Friday, October 22, 2010

Missions Conference this Weekend

Anyone in the Harrisonburg, Virginia area this coming weekend, join me at Covenant Presbyterian Church for their missions conference. Here's the link:

Hope to see you there!

Harry Lee

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Soul Resuscitation

I often tell people that the non-fiction I write is what I need to read. I certainly don't write from a pedestal, letting all the small people around me in on some wonderful revelation I've had. I write about grace, because I'm a grace recipient and because I need grace every moment.

For some time now, I've been talking about the ABCs of soul resuscitation, moving from a need of the Gospel in my life to a place of joy, satisfaction, and peace (the grace-saturated life). I'm in need of the Gospel or in a state of "gospel debt" when I find myself in anxiety, guilt, fear, or bitterness (or any number of other negative situations) and in that state, I need to nudge my soul back into grace-saturation. I wrote about this in my book, Breathing Grace, so it may be a concept you've heard before. This past weekend, I was speaking on the theme of God's grace and soul resuscitation and the ABCs that are used as a little memory jog. This parallels the ABCs of physical resuscitation (Airway, Breathing, Circulation) to move a patient from oxygen debt or oxygen need to oxygen saturation.
The ABCs of soul resuscitation are A: Acknowledge your need, B: Believe the Gospel, and C: Communion, allowing the truth of the Gospel to circulate to every part of your life.
It occurred to me that I could use different labels for this resuscitation. Instead of ABCs, perhaps I'll just need to call it the 123s. Step one: Stop! Step two: Run to Jesus. Step three: Fall in his arms.
Maybe it doesn't flow off the tongue as easy as stop, drop, and roll, but the next time I find myself in need of a jolt of grace, (let's say I catch myself in a state of worry), I'm going to whisper it to my soul. "1. Stop!--I'm in need of the Gospel right now, Lord. 2. Run to Jesus--find in him everything I need. What part of the Gospel truth or Gospel fallout am I not experiencing or believing in my state of anxiousness? 3. Fall in his arms. I need to abide in his presence to experience his life flowing through me.

Just another way to combat a recurrent problem of mine. When will I live my life 24/7 in a state of grace-saturation? Maybe never this side of heaven, but I'm on a narrow path.

Come with me.

Harry Lee

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Meet me in Indiana!

I'll be at Howard-Miami Mennonite church October 15-17 giving a series of talks on grace! Here's a link to the church. Please join me if you are in the area:


Friday, October 1, 2010

Interview on 700 Club right after my car accident!

I hydroplaned on the interstate yesterday and totalled my VW bug against the guardrail (I was going backwards down I 81!). I was on my way to do a TV interview on "Domesticated Jesus."

Here's a link to the interview I did just a few short hours after my accident. By the way, I was uninjured!

Grace to you. I hope you enjoy the interview.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ask a general surgeon!

If anyone has a question for a general surgeon (relating to surgery), now's your chance!

Rules: Confidentiality has to be preserved. No names (of patients) allowed.

I have general surgery experience in North America and in Africa. No surgery question is off limits, but I reserve the right to say, "I don't know."

Just ask your question in the comment section below.

Dr. Kraus

Monday, September 27, 2010

How much of you is in your characters?

I'm often asked this question about my protagonists. How much of you is in this character?

Hmmm. I have never modeled a character after myself, but a few similarities do exist.

Many of my protagonists are surgeons. I'm a surgeon, so when I'm thinking of stories, it is natural for me to think about cutters.

I find my characters drinking coffee. Often, they let the first cup drip straight into the mug they are holding. This is definitely a Kraus thing. In living in East Africa, I fell in love with Kenya's coffee beans. They are the best in the world. In my humble opinion, coffee should be enjoyed fresh after grinding the beans themselves and free of cream and sugar which disguise the taste (although if I was forced to drink lesser American brands, I might need something to help the tastebuds).

My characters love food. Hmmm. I do too.

Often my characters mirror my age. Not exactly, but I've noticed that as I've aged, so have my protagonists.

Sometimes my male protagonists exercise. But more likely my female protagonists do and I'd say that in this aspect, they reflect my better half, Kris, running-enthusiast that she is.

Often the settings I choose reflect where I live. When I wrote the Claire McCall series (beginning with the novel, Could I Have this Dance? I was living in the small town of Dayton, Virginia. I made up a small fictitious town that in my mind at least, was Dayton. In some of my more recent novels, I've chosen real locations that I know well, such as Richmond (The Six-Liter Club), Charlottesville (Perfect) or the Eastern Shore of Virginia (Salty Like Blood) where I spent a month as a med student. And of course, more and more, Africa is creeping into my writing and provided the framework for the backstory in my most recent release: The Six-Liter Club.

Concerning my protagonist's experiences, the rigors of my surgical residency provides many ideas that I slip into my books as the details that flavor my books with authenticity.

A tagline of my fiction is "grace from the cutting edge." God's grace is something that I've learned a lot about in the last decade and is to me the most precious of God's attributes. Because I am passionate about grace, I want all my protagonists to experience it too.

But concerning the conflicts, hard times, sin, and trouble....well, you have to realize that the conflict we don't want in our personal lives is the engine that drives good fiction.

If I ever write about a fifty year old, white-haired, balding, coffee-lovin', water-ski buff/ surgeon who is enamored by grace, I'll just have to call it an autobiography.

Harry Lee

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Turning 50

It's almost official. I'm turning fifty tomorrow. Nope, I'm not going to hide it. In fact, I kind of like it. They say fifty is the new forty. Sounds like something someone who hates getting older would say. What I say is that it arrived too fast and that it kind of just snuck up on me and whereas fifty used to sound ancient, now that I'm here, it doesn't really sound that old at all.

Evidently Hugh Grant (British actor) and I share the same birthday. He's turning 50 tomorrow too. Hope he's having the life he envisioned. I know my real life is much better than the one I imagined.
There are a few things about fifty that I don't enjoy, but I'll get to that later. For now, being an optimist, I'll dwell first on the positives.
Things that are great about fifty:
1. Experience in life. As a Christian, a father, husband, surgeon (and in almost any other category I can think of) the old adage, "Been there, done that" means I don't get scared much anymore. Advice for those of you seeking out a surgeon: pick one with some gray hair. I'm not sure how many times I've been asked to come into the O.R. by a surgeon of lesser age and experience to ask what I think. Just because the young buck has been recently trained doesn't mean you should trust your life to him or her. In surgery the hand is tipped in favor of the experienced. It's rare that I encounter something entirely new; almost always there is a few cases under my belt where I can pull helpful experience.
2. More stability from years of fiscal responsibility. I'm not rich by any means (the missionary life has certainly not paid off in dollars, huh?) but I've never been too lavish and that has made it easier to do things I think are of real value such as medical outreach in Africa.
3. My sons are getting older, taking care of more things themselves. What a joy to see them taking on more responsibility and becoming Christlike in servanthood and leadership. I still have one at home, but not for many more years and then I'll have even more freedom to travel.
4. I used to struggle with obsessive compulsive disease. As I've gotten older, I understand myself better, recognizing junk thoughts as just that and I don't freak out about them. Seems like the old OCD tends to burn out as we age.
5. Since many of my life's education goals have long been met, I can concentrate on a few other pursuits such as writing.
6. In the last decade, I've come to understand the divine concept of Grace a lot more. That makes life more enjoyable. I still struggle and mess up, but hopefully I don't stay down on myself as long as I used to.
7. Life experiences can be mined for lessons learned and illustrations that can help others along the way. I love to tell stories from life that can help others along the path. The older I get, the more I collect. This is where a not-so-perfect life comes in handy. If I goof up, hopefully at least I'll get a good sermon illustration.
8. With every life decision, you have more history to pull from to assist you in making choices based on right priorities. I've been down enough pathways to know which ones I want to take and a few I want to avoid.
9. With age and experience, I've come to a fresh place of knowing how needy for God I am. When you are young and full of yourself, pride just makes you stumble. I'm old enough to know I need grace every second.
10. With older sons, I can begin to relate more man to man, advising and standing clear to watch the results.

OK, what don't I like? It's harder to maintain my weight. My hair has turned white and is very thin up top, not the best situation for a guy named, "Harry." I have less years to be involved in Christian mission. My mind is slower than it used to be, names are more difficult to retrieve, and my hearing is less than perfect. On the bright side, I've recently trimmed off ten pounds and started an exercise program and still don't need reading glasses (good thing, one more thing to lose!).
Oh, yea, I almost forgot. I share my birthday with a very special man: my father. I was born on his 35th birthday. That means that he'll be 85 tomorrow when I turn 50. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Harry Lee

Monday, August 16, 2010

What's in your best Bum Glue recipe?

See my new blog on Bum Glue by following this link:


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Longing for home...but knowing I'm called to go.

I love the New Living Translation's rendering of 1Peter 1:17: " your time as temporary residents on earth..."

Moving. Change. Pulling up roots, breaking relationships, forming and reforming friendships. Setting up a household here, then packing it all up and starting over again in Africa. All of these things have been part of our lives in the past decade as we first gave up our country home in America, my surgical practice in Virginia and left for Africa. Since then, it was one year in Africa, one year back here, three years in Africa, and then back here for an extended furlough. Now, after some soul-searching and lots of logistics, we are looking to leave again next summer for another three year commitment. But of course, with plans to leave again, we put down roots cautiously, always thinking of breaking relationships, changing jobs.
I took a temporary job an hour from home. Its a nice situation, but it leaves me alone, on-call, away from my family every night I'm on call. For me, it's those times when my heart and head sense a little longing for permanence.
My wife would love nothing other than to be in one place for a long, long time. Instead, with me, she gets a constant diet of change! Oh how grateful I am for her willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel.
I read and reread the scripture. This world is not our home. We will never completely feel at home while we are here, will we? Or am I just excusing my restlessness as Biblical, finding some spiritual reason for moving my family so many times?
A "call" to serve in a cross cultural setting has clear scriptural mandate ("Go into all the world...") but it is clearly not for everyone. For me, a wise friend shared that it often comes down to the four Cs: character, competence, compassion, and chemistry. Do I have the character to work in the situation? Do I possess the needed skills to do the work? Does my heart find tenderness towards the plight of those I serve? Can I work effectively as a team member or does my personality grate those of my coworkers?
For us, we can answer all of the questions honestly: we are equipped, available and have fit in well in a team. And so, with some soberness, (but also excitement), we plan to uproot and go again.
I think turning the question from the positive to the negative can reveal our motivations or perhaps our selfish reasons for staying behind: Instead of asking yourself, "Why should I go?" Ask yourself "Why shouldn't I go?" If you immediately think of all the things you've accumulated as a reason not to go, perhaps the things you own have started to own you.
Concerning the Great Commission, we have three options: 1) Go! 2) Send! (and that means giving your time and money to help those who have chosen option #1) or 3) disobey.
Just my musing on a hot, summer day.
Grace to all of you. The picture is a look at my family as we look ahead to leaving again...

Saturday, August 7, 2010

middle age mom rap for Christ

Check this out. This sister has an amazing gift.


Thursday, July 22, 2010


So sorry to all of you who posted comments recently on this blog! I was being spammed by some program that would leave comments using an Asian language font and when you clicked on it, it would take you to some very undesirable internet sites. For this reason, I changed so I cold moderate the comments and publish only what I thought was acceptable. Unfortunately (not being the most computer-savvy guy), I didn't realize that I needed to visit the site myself in order to activate your comments. So it may have appeared that you made comments that I didn't want to publish....Not So! I just wasn't on the ball, didn't know how to publish them.

I think I have it figured out now. I was wondering why no one was making comments!


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Writing from the heart.

Read guest posting on Charlotte's blog:

Have a great day,

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How He Loves Us - Kim Walker / Jesus Culture

Clay pots

Summer is rolling on hot and moist in Virginia, a good excuse to stay by the air conditioner and read a good book. For those of you who have been with me for a while, you'll notice some common themes that come out over and over in this blog: God loves us in our imperfect state (in fact, wretched would be a better adjective here). Our imperfections can be celebrated (not our sin, but our brokenness) as our ticket in: God works in our weaknesses and the Spirit's flow is quenched by our self-sufficiency.

I was at the International Christian Retail Show a few weeks ago and did an interview with a beautiful sister, Jennifer Kennedy Dean about my new book, "Domesticated Jesus." As we parted, she gave me a copy of her own book, "Life Unhindered: Five Keys to Walking In Freedom." I'd like to give you a taste, one brief passage that resonated with me:

"Imagine a clay pot. Clay pots are easily broken or cracked. they're not very sturdy. Imagine this clay pot all cracked, with pieces broken out of it. Not attractive. Not valuable. Ready for the trash heap.
"Now imagine water pouring into that clay pot. What happens? the water pours out through the broken places. If water keeps on pouring in, then water will keep on pouring out.
"If your goal was for the pot to hold the water, then it would have been a poor choice. But if your goal was for the pot to pour the water out, then you woulcn't have found a more perfect pot.
"My friend, author Diane Dike, suggests another picture with our broken, cracked clay pot. Diane suggests turning it on its side and looking inside. All dark in there. Except where the cracks and the broken places are. There the light shines through. The brokenness is where the glory can be seen.
"Is this what Paul meant when he wrote these words?
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2Corinthians 12:9-10).
"Imagine! Who could have seen it coming? When Jesus made His home in the lives of human beings, He sought out broken pots. "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17).
"Do you have cracks and scars and gaping holes? You are just the kind of clay jar Jesus can pour Himself out through." (Dean, 135)

Isn't this amazing? God isn't seeking out the able, the talented or the powerful. He is seeking those who are willing to use their brokenness as an avenue to pour out his love on a thirsty world.
But we hate being broken. It's painful.

But who do you run to when you are in need of soul healing? Someone who has suffered. Someone with cracks, huh? Someone who isn't likely to judge you because of your imperfections.

This makes me want to sing, because I know just how many cracks I have!

If I let him, maybe God will shine through the cracks to provide a little light to those around me.
Thanks, Jennifer, for a great reminder!

Now, to survive the heat, fix a tall glass of iced lemonade, grab Jennifer's book, and sit in front of the air conditioner!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

'Domesticated Jesus' by Harry L. Kraus Jr.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A look back, a look ahead...

For those of you who have been with me from the beginning, I'm reposting my first blog from June, 2008. I think it's fitting, to see how my ideas have been developed from that first blog. I spoke of domesticating Christ, of making him small, and this week, my newest book about that very topic is hitting the shelves. Here's a look back at where I started. Let's continue to remember that we are serving a very big God!

From June, 2008

The time has come to write the first blog for my newly designed website, so I thought I'd lay down the ground rules so there are no misunderstandings about my intentions. Maybe if you see a little bit about who I am, you'll understand where I'm coming from in this ongoing narrative and I won't have to say, "I warned you."

I'm a Christian. Might not be popular, but that's who I am. Called. Forgiven. Didn't deserve it. I'm telling you up front, 'cause if you're offended by "God-talk" you shouldn't read any farther.

That said, this blog isn't the place to go for all the answers.

It is the place to go for honest transparency. Sure, I'm a Christian. A writer. A surgeon. A missionary. But along with all of my titles comes a tendency for others to stick me on a pedestal or in a theological box and if there's one thing I don’t want is for us to let the pedestal-thing get in our way. I know me. I don't belong on a pedestal. If you want to go right on thinking that missionaries are super-spiritual, don't struggle, and can preach, pray, prophesy or fast at the drop of a hat, don't read this. If I have a recurrent theme, it's that I'm little and my God is big.

Everything I am, I am by grace.

Someone let me borrow a Louie Giglio DVD a few weeks ago. (If there is something foreign missionaries crave besides American junk food, it is exceptional Biblical teaching from home.) He said something, almost in passing, that has really made me think. It was "bottom-line" thinking that surgeon-types like me just love. Sin, he explained is essentially making the small (that is me), big, and the big (that is, God) small. I think that theme is going to resonate through my writing for a long time.

Making Jesus small in my way of thinking is the essence of domesticating Jesus. That’s an obnoxious term for a pervasive attitude that I have to fight. I see it creeping into my life in so many little ways. Domesticating Jesus is something Christians do without thinking. He created the universe, actually spoke it into being, yet sometimes we act as if he isn’t powerful enough to solve our day-to-day worries. In our anxieties, our fears and in our wallowing in guilt, we have made our Jesus and his gospel very small.

The ways in which I’ve stumbled into domesticating the Lord of the Universe will almost certainly find its way into this blog.

Maybe I should issue another warning, here, up front. I’m a surgeon. Medical themes permeate most of what I write. And most of what I see and do on a day-to-day basis in a mission hospital in Kenya is among the items banned from dinner conversation at the Kraus house. So if the mention of blood or bodily secretions makes you green, perhaps you should start skimming anytime I begin a sentence with, “You wouldn’t believe what I saw in clinic today….”

This blog is a window for my readers into my writer’s life, my surgeon-life, and inseparable from the rest, my life as a Christian. Don’t read this if you want to learn how to write fiction. I might drop a pearl or two, but there’s bound to be a better way to learn how to make up a good story.

Do read this if you want the inside scoop on missionary life sans the pedestal. Do read on if you want to know why I think medicine is an effective spearhead for the Gospel. Do read this blog if you want an honest look at life from the viewpoint of someone who thinks that having Jesus figured out is a bigger job than my little brain can handle.

Read this if you want a perspective from someone who wants to know Christ. I’ve been a Christian for nearly forty years and the longer I’ve lived this life, the more I understand that he is beyond comprehension. Foremost of my passions is my desire to understand him. His character, his heart, and his intentions for me.

So that’s it. This blog is all about God-talk, an honest inside scoop on Christian struggles, blood, surgery, keeping Jesus big and me small, the insidious and pervasive practice of domesticating
Jesus and a picture into my writer’s life.

If you can stomach all that, welcome home.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What is happening to the youth in the American church?

There is concerning new news about our "churched" youth. According to a recent survey by Lifeway Christian Resources, " in 10 Protestants ages 18-30, both evangelical and mainline, who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23. And 34% of those had not returned, even by age 30." (USA Today, Tuesday, April 27, 2010)

From a phone survey released in April, Lifeway Christian Resources President, Thom Ranier notes that of those Millennials who call themselves Christian, 67% rarely or never pray, 65% rarely or never attend worship services, and 67% don't read the Bible.

Sadly, this news isn't really shocking to us anymore. Our youth are in search of something real and I'm afraid my generation has failed to model authentic Christianity.

Our youth don't want polished Christianity. They want honesty. Christians who are big enough to admit they are small, that they really don't "get God." (After all, isn't he a bit beyond "gettable?"

When Paul spoke to the Roman church he urged them to let their love be--what? Polished? Showy?

Of course not. He said, "Let love be genuine."

Have we modeled a faith where Jesus is domesticated, seen as a nice comfortable (?weak) savior who provides a ticket out of hell, but has little to offer in terms of changing us here and now?

When Jesus talked of others looking in on the church, what did he say? "They will know you are Christians because of the love you have for one another."

Perhaps this is where we have failed. Has an absence of genuine love been a factor in the exodus of our youth from the church today?

Have we modeled for them a faith in a weakened Savior, a cute baby in a manger who exists to serve me instead of the opposite?

Barna's research reveals Christians don't really look any different than those who don't claim affiliation with our faith. We lie, gamble, have broken marriages, and view internet porn just like every one else.

Can we blame our youth for fleeing such hypocrisy?

Do we not realize that the gospel is powerful enough to transform us, to lead us along a path of steady gain towards regular victory over sin, a life of peace, a life where love overflows from us towards other undeserving people around us?

I'm afraid that too often I've been part of the problem, not the solution. There are too many examples in my life of how I (and the rest of the Church) have made Jesus small. (No, I understand he is without limits, but in my actions, I behave as if his power is limited, don't I?)

I've explored these themes in an open and honest way in my book, Domesticated Jesus, which was released this week by P&R Publishers. I write as an insider of the Christian faith, but not as one who has arrived. It is a book for Christians, those who struggle as I do to keep a realistic image of Christ in focus. He is, after all, the creator of the universe!

It is a book that I hope you will give this book to unbelivers as a fresh look and admission at how far we've strayed from where we should be. We act as if we serve a small savior. I hope you will give it to our youth. they need to see transparency from my generation.

I only write what I need to read.

And I've already gone back to passages of this book over and over to remind myself of God's greatness and my smallness.

I think this will be a theme for me for a long time.

Monday, May 3, 2010

"The Rules" of writing

I was the published author of four novels when I had a conversation like this with a well-known author who had read one of my novels for endorsement.

Published author with MILLIONS of books in print: "Harry, you're breaking the rules here a bit."
I leaned a little closer and lowered my voice. I didn't want everyone to know about my ignorance. "What rules are you talking about?"
He smiled and seemed to weigh his words. "Don't be afraid to read what the teachers are writing." (Admittedly, this seasoned and successful novelist was gentle with me. He could have been more direct, but instead urged me "Don't be afraid.")
My experience is far from typical. I was a chief resident in surgery, a reader, and a lover of fiction when I decided to pen my first novel. I was naive. What qualifications did I have? How could I dare assume that I could start and complete a task of such enormity when I hadn't been schooled? (Oh, I'd been schooled all right, just not in writing. I'd been through four years of college, four years of medical school and nearly five years of general surgery training by then...notice the absence of a creative writing course!)
In those early days, I wrote happily on, ignoring the "rules" because I wasn't aware of them. Blissfully unaware.
Of course, in order to get published, I did have a knack for it (I would say a gift). I followed enough of the rules in order to get it right enough to interest a publisher. I understood plot, building suspense, cliff-hanging a reader, sub-plots, layering, and a bit about characterization and romance.
At the time of my conversation with the well-known author (ok, if you've read this far, I'll reward you with his name: Frank Peretti), I had signed a contract to deliver a novel that I hadn't written yet (The Chairman). Getting a contract before a book was written was new for me. Because of my career as a surgeon, I'd always had the luxury of writing what I wanted, and then showing it to my publisher. After four novels, I let a publisher know about a project I wanted to write and I was almost immediately offered a contract. This was new to me, but industry standard.
So I called my editor at Crossway Books and told him about the conversation. "We know you're breaking some of the rules," he said, "but as long as you don't take your reader out of the story, it's OK."
Basically, I'd done enough of the process correctly (followed most of the "rules") that the ones I bent didn't matter that much. But that didn't mean there wasn't room for improvement. The stuff I was doing wrong was the kind of stuff a seasoned novelist would immediately notice, but my general readership didn't seem to mind.
I went to the bookstore and discovered a wealth of books on all aspects of writing novel-length fiction. I read Penelope Stokes, Sol Stein and James N. Frey among others. Fiction teachers talk about openings, characters, reigning in unruly prose, tension, stakes, and point of view (for me, the point of view teaching was particularly helpful and was an area where I'd been bending the rules).
As I read, I was assaulted by doubts. Can I do this?
Remember, at that point, I all ready had four novels published and was holding a contract for number five. Nonetheless, knowing "the rules" upped the stakes for me. Now, if I broke the rules I'd be doing so knowingly (and that, somehow is worse, isn't it....kind of like if you were brought up Catholic and ate a hotdog at a ballpark on a Friday when you thought it was a Thursday...much more forgivable than if you knew it was Friday and ate one anyway).
I put off the start of that fifth novel for several months and studied the craft. I could see that the rules were helpful, restrictive in a good sort of way, but also structured enough to make me a little anxious.
When I finally started my new novel, I was primed and studied. I could no longer approach the blank page (screen) with blissful ignorance, just letting the story come out. Remember what writer, Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith said about it? "There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."
Hmmm. Sounds to me like you just sit down and let it flow.
That's what I'd done up to the point where I encountered "the rules." Now I had to pay attention to all of the things I'd been ignoring. Sure, I still "opened a vein," but now, I monitored the output, made sure I positioned the tubing and made the vena-puncture in just the right location.
So what are "the rules?"
Somerset Maugham said, "There are three rules to writing fiction. Unfortunately, no one can agree on what they are." Ha! So true.
And I'm sure we all realize that the rules aren't concrete. Especially over time. Readers change, and so the rules change on how to engage them. Readers from several generations ago weren't so video oriented. Pace was slower in life and on the page. I'm convinced that Herman Melville's classic, Moby Dick would have been heavily edited and shortened in order to find a willing publisher today.
The little things change as well. Stuff like always writing in complete sentences. Now, in modern fiction we can clip along and use run-on sentences for effect. It makes things move. Faster. Increasing pace.
See how I used run-on sentences for effect in the last paragraph?....the things we do now would have made English teachers from a generation ago get out the red pencil!
Back to the rules. Fiction teacher Donna Levin says it best: "Rules are statements about what has worked before." (Notice that her rule breaks a previous one we were told, "never end a sentence in a preposition.")
So "the rules" can help us. Example: Keep the point of view character the same for an entire scene. Don't "head hop" because the reader will get confused.
But it isn't set in stone. Occasionally, I see a seasoned novelist drop purposefully disobey this rule to build suspense: the point of view character is reported not to have noticed someone standing in the shadows. Remember, if you are in the head of your point of view character, you can't tell the reader what that character doesn't notice in the shadows.
Knowing the rules is helpful. You should know and if you intentionally break them, do it rarely and with understanding.
There are a few fiction teachers that have become my favorite. The techniques taught by Donald Maass can be considered "rules" but essentially they are just what Donna Levin says, "...what has worked...."
Now, I make a study of the craft a priority. I don't think I was arrogant in the beginning, felling like I didn't need outside help. It was just that I didn't take advantage of what was out there. If I'd have been rejected by publisher after publisher, perhaps I would have been forced to the teachers sooner. (I think that would have been a good thing).
Knowing "the rules" has made me a critical reader. Now, regardless of what I'm reading, I find myself watching for breaks in technique rules. I see the masters doing it all the time.
I may be tempted to get uppity about it, but I quickly remember that I did the same thing for a long time and that the masters are probably bending the rules knowingly. And I remember how gentle my first editors were with me, telling me that if I wasn't taking my readers out of the story, they'd let me get by with it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cover musing

I forgot to ask. Who is this model?

Michelle Obama?
Phylicia Rashad? (Remember Claire Huxtable from the Cosby Show)
What do you think? Who is this?

New Book this week!

It is finally here. The Six-Liter Club released this week on April 6. This baby has been a long time coming. I wrote the original version in 2003 during my first year in Kenya. Written initially under a different pen name for the secular market, when my agent shopped my alter-ego around, alas, the novel had too much Christian content for the secular market. But my protagonist, who is an African-American female, the first trauma surgery attending at the Medical College of Virginia in 1984, is not a Christian. Therefore, her lifestyle isn't Christian. She is definitely in need of redemption! For this reason, the Christian Booksellers Association publishers thought the book too "edgy" for publication by a Christian house. So, I was caught in the middle: too Christian for the secular market, too edgy for the Christian market.

After two years of searching, my agent (Natasha Kern) finally found a home at Howard Publishers (division of Simon and Schuster). They had a unique request for this book that they understood was "pushing the envelope": write something else first. They wanted the book for publication, but didn't want to publish it as their first Kraus novel. So, that's where Salty Like Blood came into the picture. I showed a Howard editor what I was working on and they said, we'll do that first, then publish The Six-Liter Club the year after that.
So that's why this book has been seven years in the making. I did have to do some revisions to make it a bit more acceptable for the Christian market. Don't get me wrong. I don't write anything graphic, but a few scenes were altered to soften its impact on very conservative readers.
I don't want to shy away from tough subjects just because the activity is unchristian. Think about the Bible. There is plenty of sin going on. It's just not glorified. That's where I draw the line. I would never write a scene involving sin and not show in some way that there are negative consequences to it.
This book involves some significant backstory from Africa. The protagonist, Camille Weller, is an orphan. Her mother, a Congolese native, was married to an American missionary surgeon. Her parents were killed during the Simba rebellion in the Congo in the mid 1960s. In my research, I read the accounts of several martyrs, Christian missionaries who were killed during that horrible time. When I realized that my immediate neighbor, Steve McMillan, shared the last name of one of the men I'd read about, I asked him about it. As it turned out, one of the missionaries who was killed was his father. Steve had lost his father at age eleven in the Simba rebellion and yet later returned to serve the Congolese people as a missionary himself.
The original idea for this story came to me as I was sitting in church one Sunday morning when my pastor, Phil Smuland started telling a story about some American missionaries in the Congo during the Simba rebellion. A missionary stepped out on his front stoop and looked to the north. The Simbas (the name of the group revolting against the new government of Congo) were going house-to-house killing all of the westerners. He looked south and saw the same thing. In a few minutes the slaughter would reach his home. In desperation, he killed a few of the family's chickens and sprayed the blood around the kitchen. He then hid below his house with his family. When the Simbas arrived a few minutes later, they saw the blood and "passed over" the home, leaving the family unharmed. What a beautiful picture of the Passover this is. I immediately started thinking about weaving a new novel and somehow incorporating this imagery. Again, I can't give away how this relates to the new book, because I don't want to spoil the story.
Anyway, I'm rejoicing this week because The Six-Liter Club is finally here. It is yet another witness to the grace of God in my life. I'm not foolish enough to take credit for this stuff myself. It is the God of grace who empowers imperfect fingers for his work.
Thanks and enjoy reading,
Harry Lee

Monday, April 5, 2010

Things I think about while weeding...

I love the Spring. Warm weather has finally graced Virginia and after a record-setting winter, it is time to get outdoors again.

But Spring means I need to tackle the outside projects that have been idle and ignored. So Saturday, I spent hours weeding the shrubbery bed at the end of my driveway. The temperature was just about perfect and so I honkered down for the hours it would take to pull and dispose of the evil weeds.
The key is not to let the weed break off at ground level, but go deep and get the root. Oh, how fulfilling it seemed to be to pull out a long root snaking along under the surface. It's that same "ah, now we're getting somewhere" type of feeling that a surgeon gets when he or she finally breaks into a major pocket of pus while draining an abscess....but I digress.
A particularly popular weed (I'm not sure of the name, just that the darned things were everywhere) gave me the most challenge. I would pull up one plant only to find that just under the surface the roots were all connected into a complicated network linking all of the weeds. The most fun was to be had an inch or two below the surface when grabbing the hub of a root network would lead to pulling out a spider of roots in multiple directions.
Of course, the work was mind-numbing after a while, so I had to think about something else to keep myself amused. So naturally, my thoughts turned to writing. I thought about the individual weeds as situations or people in a novel. At first introduction or just a cursory look, each situation or character seem unrelated. But start digging and you will be rewarded with finding a root leading off in directions unimagined at first glance. The beneath the surface stuff is always the most interesting. A killer seems unrelated to the victim, but is later revealed to be a grade-school chum. Separate characters in a small town might have multiple, initially unseen, connections below the surface. They all shop in the same store, attend the same church or have been touched by the same set of undesirable circumstance.
In a story the length of the contemporary novel, events that seem random are rarely so. The reader digs a little deeper and is rewarded with a connection. Follow that lead and soon you will find a hub linking everyone together. It is this final discover of a hub that ties it all together that is usually at or near the climax. It is the discover of this network that leads to the "ah ha" moment for the protagonist. The knowledge of the connection is the final piece that pulls it all together and completes the change in the character (the character arc) that is needed for resolution.
In the craft books, the teachers refer to this as layering. The longer the book, the more intricate and connected the layers. Things in novels shouldn't just happen by coincidence. If they do, the reader feels cheated. Things happen for a reason. But don't give away the reason too quickly. The fun is in the gritty process of digging along the root until a connection is found. It is in getting your fingers in the dirt that the rewarding moments are revealed.
Say a new guy comes to town. Don't think this is random. He's got a past. Somewhere, somehow, he has a connection to the protagonist. Is it a blood connection, perhaps one that was hidden on purpose? An emotional one? A common love interest? Does the knowledge he has about the protagonist create a problem?
If you are working on a novel, I'd encourage you to look for the under-the-surface stories. These are the ones that will create the cohesiveness that the story needs. Yes, your story will have random characters that serve the purpose, bit characters who appear once and then disappear. But isn't it more interesting to find a secret link?
Maybe your protagonist eats sausage every morning. Coincidence? Or something deeper?Did he or she grow up poor and only had sausage on Christmas morning? Maybe he or she makes the sausage? Maybe it is a special sausage made from a yearly family hunting trip. Maybe it is made up of the human victims of some crime (ug, that's a sick thought, right...but it was an unexpected or hidden connection and that's what you want to some degree...the hidden surprise that rewards your reader with the ah-now-we're-getting-somewhere feeling).
You get the idea. When you read, guess ahead. What is this guy doing here in this circumstance? Is it random? If the author has layered the story correctly, there will be unseen and surprise connections all over the place. The waitress that serves the old man in the dinner is actually his granddaughter, the result of a secret affair. The truck driver that is so nice to everyone and leaves a big tip is a brother to the town's mayor. The protagonist is a heart transplant recipient whose donor had a scholarship to play basketball at the very school he attends. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination.
In my novel, Could I Have this Dance? I used the genetic illness, Huntington's Disease to create multiple connections through the novel. HD attacks in mid-life, often after the person has passed on the disease to the next generation. Let's say a person with HD (unknown to them because they haven't gotten old enough to show symptoms) dies after having a child and passes the disease on, unsuspected by everyone. Add in the spice of a grandmother who bears a child as the result of a hidden rape, a mother with a hidden affair with the local doctor and a disease which affects only half of the children of those affected and the complicated ins and outs of small town life and you have a story that is quickly layered and connected in ways the reader will be delighted to root out.
So the next time you're out in the garden facing those ugly weeds, just think about your favorite novels and the underground connections that you discovered on the way.
The next few days after the hours I spend weeding, my muscles told me I'd done something I'd been avoiding a long time. Hopefully, the rewards of uncovering the layers of a good novel will be more fun!
Until next time, keep digging.
Harry Lee

PS: Help me out with the launch of my new novel, The Six-Liter Club. It is coming out tomorrow (April 6, 2010) (finally!)! If you want, purchase the book off of between 5-7 p.m. Eastern Standard time tomorrow. If everyone buys at the same time, my Amazon rank will improve and it may catch someone's eye. Thanks to all my readers!!!!!

Friday, March 12, 2010

What do you have in your hand?

I've been reading a great book lately, The Hole in our Gospel, by Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision. It is a challenging read, something I'd recommend to all Christians.

Basically Stearn's premise is this: The Gospel is a lot bigger than a get-out-of-hell-free card; it is about redeeming us, and also helping us redeem culture around us, specifically by reaching out to those locked in economic hardship.
As a missionary, I found his message refreshing. Inside, his words found resonance with me. Our gospel has become too me oriented. Yes, it is about me loving God, but it is also about me loving my neighbor, something that is closely linked to loving our Heavenly Father. We love Him by loving others.
Lest his gospel look like he is advocating working for salvation, he cautions readers to understand that we are saved by grace/faith alone, but that saving faith will have a direct impact on our actions, and result in fruit the world can see and savor.
I love what Stearns says in his comments on Mark's account of Jesus feeding a multitude with just a few loaves and fishes. You remember the story. It was late in the day. The people were far from food and tired from being out all day without nourishment. Look at Mark 6 for the details.
Jesus asked his disciples (as he also extends the invitation to us) to feed the crowd.
They responded by asking whether 200 denari worth of bread should be purchased to feed them. Isn't this so like us? Always calculating what it will take when the task is before us. We look at a job (in this case what appeared to be an almost insurmountable job) and try to figure out strategy to complete it.
I'm not saying that calculations like this are wrong, but maybe they shouldn't be our focus.
Notice what Jesus says. "What do you have in your hand? Bring it to me."
He didn't ask them what it would take to get the job done, only what they had to offer. He didn't ask them to get something they didn't already have, only to be willing to share what they already had.
So I ask myself, (and you): "What do you have in your hand?"
The liberating thing about loving our neighbors is that Jesus doesn't ask us to manufacture it, only to be a channel. He is sending a message of love to the world and wants to send the message through us. He only asks that we be available.
What do you have in your hand?
I hope the answer is love.

Friday, February 26, 2010

What It's like To Be An Author

I spent three hours yesterday (three different class periods) as the guest lecturer in a high school English class. It was their chance to talk to a real author and my chance to rub shoulders with some great young teens who have their own preconceived ideas about what being a writer of novels is all about.

I showed them a slide of rhino grazing a few feet away from me, not bothered by my presence, nose to the task. I told them to get rid of the romantic notion of what it must be like being a writer. There is no life for me sitting in a comfy chair by the fireplace, smoking a pipe, laptop open, fingers pouring forth wonderful stories, taking breaks only to discuss Hollywood options with my literary agent or to collect my royalty checks from the mailbox. I told them writers need to be a bit like the rhino in the picture. Novels are long and they take a long time to write, so you have to be disciplined about staying at the task and ignoring the distractions. After the novel is written, I told them you need a thick skin like the rhino, because it's going to take some resilience if you are not going to cave when the editors give you a thousand suggestions as to how to do it better. And then, long after publication, there's the reviewers, some professional, but in the age of any one can review a book and post it for the rest of the world to see (ah, if only the rest of the world was searching my books on Amazon). While I was talking, the English teacher actually looked up a book of mine on Amazon and found a one star review. Turns out all the guy had to say was, "I had to give this book one star because I never got the book. So if you're the seller, I need you to contact me...." Crazy, huh? He doesn't get the book, so he takes it out on the author, as if I had something to do with it.
Luckily, thick skin like a rhino in place, I let that one go....
Then, I told them to be ready for solitude. LOTS of it. You're going to have to be comfortable spending time alone, because that's how novels get written. Of course, there's the occasional jaunt out into the public to do research or book promotion, but the vast amount of time is spent at the keyboard, conversing with your imaginary friends.
New writers need to be ready for an apprenticeship of years. From the time you first start writing, rewriting, getting advice, finding an agent, submitting proposals, writing again, starting the time you can hold that first book in your hand is going to be years. There are plenty of success stories in writing and very few of them didn't involve a long time and multiple rejections. For that reason, for new writers, the process has to be enough. You have to get to the point where you think that even if it doesn't get published, the process of getting story on paper was enough. If it isn't fun, don't even think about it.
All writers I know have to face the temptation of envy. I know I do. I look at the type of books I write, books laced with medical realism, an attempt at real characters with flaws, battling with obstacles, developing a conscience etc., and then I look at the fluff on the best-seller list and am tempted to envy. I think my stuff has more depth than the popular stuff. Maybe I should be writing Amish romance or vampire stuff. Why do some books break out and the majority of good writing sits unnoticed? I can't tell you the answer to this one, only that it's true and if the writer doesn't find joy in the process, he or she should do something else. Christian writers, God is in control, not us. We need to thank him for the grace to be able to pen a publishable story and realize that ultimately the results are up to God.
Of course, then there's the finances. Realize that there are very few authors making a living off of the craft. Writer-wannabes tend to think that with the first contract comes a guarantee of financial freedom. Time to quit the job at Burgers-Are-Us and make the down payment on that BMW you've been eyeing. Hey, the Stephen Kings of this world are the exception. The rest of us are the rule.
Writers (I should say successful writers) live a life of discipline. A few years ago, as I was getting ready to do a seminar at Liberty University on the craft of the novel, I wrote to a few writer friends and asked them to give me their top five things they wish they'd have known (that they learned on the road of experience) when they were just starting out. Jerry B. Jenkins (of the "Left Behind" series) said, "The need to put butt in chair every day." You see, without discipline, the novel-length project goes unfinished. You have to push past a lull in your own interest, writer's block and the agonizing revision process. You have to be willing to strip the slow parts and start over, if needed. In all, it takes a lot more than showing up at the keyboard, but Jenkins is correct: it all starts there. If you don't sit in front of the keyboard for the necessary hours, the novel just ain't gonna happen.
So, keep the romantic idea of the writer in your head if you aren't planning to do it yourself. The problem is, there are many who want to have WRITTEN a novel more than to endure the process of actually writing it. That reminds me of what my mother said to her home church as my parents were getting ready to leave as missionaries to Africa. "I've always wanted to be a return-missionary," she said. "Only one way to do that....go!"
I thought that was amusing then, but then, my mom was being brutally honest. Most people would like to be return-missionaries, to be able to sit around the roaring fire sharing amazing stories of sharing the gospel while facing down native's spears. Most people won't be return-missionaries because they don't want to endure the actual going and doing part.
And most people won't ever reach the point of having written a novel, because it's the doing part that's so painful.
Just thought you deserved to know in case you were thinking of putting your toe in the water to find out what the life is like.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to lay down my pipe, put another log on the fire, and check my mailbox for all those royalty checks!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Writing update

What are you working on? Are you still writing? Any new books in the works?

The answer, as it always has been since the early 1990s is the same. I'm always writing. Not always physically hitting the keyboard, but always thinking, always plotting.

It's been a few years since I signed a new fiction contract, a two book deal with Howard (division of Simon and Schuster) for the books, Salty Like Blood and my upcoming book, The Six-Liter Club. I'm getting anxious to see my upcoming release, coming April 6. In it, I turned to a familiar setting, Medical College of Virginia set during the years of my own medical school years there. For that reason, the book feels personal.

But it's also scary: For the first time, I wrote in first-person through the eyes of an African-American. And not just A-A, an A-A female. I think I pulled it off, even passed it by the critical eye of an A-A female author, but only time will tell if the book will live up to the hype. Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say:

Surgeon and author Kraus offers his longtime fiction readers a
highly charged tale of overcoming prejudice both racial and sexual.
Set in 1984 at the Medical College of Virginia, its first black
female trauma surgeon, Dr. Camille Weller, gets a fast initiation
into the Six-Liter Club. Few physicians ever enter this „elite‰
group; entrance is gained by bringing a patient back who's lost six
liters of blood. Weller manages to achieve this honor on her first
day and then, in quick succession, also manages to break „house
rules,‰ which divide the male and female staff. Weller has a lot to
contend with apart from her duties as a surgeon. The young doctor
must balance a romantic relationship with a resident; deftly
overcome the barriers she encounters because of her skin color; and
move beyond nightmarish memories of her childhood in the Congo.
Kraus's story clips along at a fast pace, and his readers will
appreciate how candidly the surgeon writer portrays the real world
of operating rooms and their attending staffs.

I'm particularly pleased, as PW has a reputation for slamming inspirational "Christian" fiction after the compliments. Thank God for a little grace.

So what have I been doing in the months since writing and revising my upcoming novel? Writing something new. Not sure of the title yet, but it is set in Africa, and delves into corrupt politics, witchcraft, marriage betrayal, missionaries losing loved ones while serving on the field and coming to grips with God's grace. I just finished the rough draft this week and am anxious for my literary agent to show it around. It brings together two settings I know well: Richmond, Virginia where I attended medical school, and Kijabe, Kenya in a mission hospital where I worked for four years. It was a blast to write. Now comes the hard part: the WAIT for word from my agent.

On the non-fiction front, Domesticated Jesus is coming out in June with P&R publishers. I'm very excited about this book as it takes an honest look at how we routinely underestimate God in our thinking. (For example, every worry is an example of making Jesus small or domesticated in our minds as we are acting as if he is too small to take care of our problem.) I've seen a prototype of the cover. It is a shocking image of a dog collar with a tag containing the title. It is taken from the concept that we've made Jesus into someone who serves us (like a pet) not vice-versa.

In the upcoming weeks, I'm going to launch into another project, likely something I've been noodling on for months....more clues to follow.

Oh yeah, almost forgot, A Zebra Tale is coming out later this year with Word Alive Publishers in Nairobi, Kenya. It is a fun tale of the great flood told through the eyes of a zebra (ever wonder how God got all those animals to go against their instinct and follow a man? And what if God invited the very lion that killed your zebra brother? And what if no one in the herd, including your family, believed you when you warned them of upcoming catastrophe. The book will be distributed in Africa, but available here in US through internet sales via the Word Alive site.

Thanks for asking.
And thanks for reading.