The Popularity Contest

My kids started back to school this week, making me feel nostalgic. Some of that nostalgia is sweet, some not so much. I remember how desperate I was in junior high to get out of nerdom and into popularity, or at least semi-popularity.

Here’s some context first. I grew up happily in a patch of soybean field called Marion, Arkansas. There were plenty of friends to play with and soybean fields to tromp in. Wild and free. When I hit junior high I got to ride my Honda scooter to school on the shoulders of the highway, which was mostly used for large, lumbering John Deere tractors.

One day when I was in the seventh grade my dad came home and announced that he had been laid off, and a few months later I said goodbye to my friends and the soybean fields and my family moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. A new job waited in a city named Ocean Springs for my dad along with the scary unknown for me.

Compared to Marion, Ocean Springs was cosmopolitan and sophisticated. I tried to fit in but it was hard as the country bumpkin now living in the big city (population 20,000). One day I rode my Honda scooter to school and I was pulled over by the police and given a ticket for driving without a license or a license plate. I appeared before the judge and held back tears as my mom pleaded for mercy. It was clear I didn’t belong here.

My country fried accent made things worse. In Arkansas my sister and I used to say things like “gol’ lee” and “good gravy” as exclamations. Those were not cool words in Ocean Springs. You know your accent is hopelessly thick when the kids in Mississippi make fun of it.

At junior high I was immediately assigned to the bottom of the food chain and sat with the other bottom dwellers at lunchtime. The geeks were the only people who welcomed me into their gang. My two best friends were both named Thien Nguyen (pronounced Tin Win). They were children of Vietnamese fisherman who immigrated to the Gulf Coast, and like me, they didn’t really belong. But they were decent fellows. Every day I would sit at the nerd table with them and we would encourage each other as we slogged through another day of nerdom together.

From my vantage point as a bottom dweller I could see the other people happily swimming above.  I knew I would never be able to become popular, to sit with the beautiful cheerleaders and the glorious football players, but maybe, just maybe, I could secure a spot with the semi-popular people one day. At this level you would never be voted into the coveted categories of the yearbook’s Who’s Who pages, but you could probably show up at the school dance with a date you wouldn’t be ashamed of.

One day in biology class, my lab partner John Courtney unexpectedly invited me to eat lunch with him. I was shocked. He was a member of the semi-popular set and I felt like I had just been handed a get-out-of-jail free card while sitting on death row. This was my ticket out and for the first time I actually looked forward to lunch that day.

At lunchtime I wasn’t quite brave enough to sit myself down at the semi-popular table right away, so I took my place at the nerd table and waited for the signal from John. As usual Thien Nguyen One and Thien Nguyen Two, as we called them, were being friendly and chatty, but I was distracted, waiting for my discharge. The moment soon came. After John got settled at his semi-popular table, he nodded at me to come on over. Without a word or a farewell, I stood from the table and marched with my tray towards freedom. This was it! Just a few steps away towards semi-popularity…

To my horror, I heard behind me Thien Nguyen One and Two get up from the table too. I turned my head and saw that they were actually following me. The problem was of course that John had only handed out one golden ticket, not three. This was going to be so uncool to show up at the table on initiation day with two my nerd sidekicks. I would probably immediately be rejected and be forced to return to the lonesome losers, with no hope of ever getting out again.

I had to think fast. I quickly got to the table first and sat next to John. I knew the names of the other guys at the table and a few of them nodded at me, as if to say, “What’s up?” John spoke warmly to me, with a hearty “What’s up?” and it was clear that he had invited me in. There were only two empty seats, right to my side, and the Thien Nguyens took their places at those. A collective frown formed around the table and of the more popular guys at the table asked aloud, “Who are these f**s?”

My heart was pounding fast. I had to make the decision right then and there. Would I choose the loyalty of friendship or the possibility of popularity? The decision, I’m ashamed to admit, was way too easy for me at that pivotal junior high identity moment.

With my back turned sideways to both of my faithful friends, and not making eye contact with either of them, I answered the group’s demanding question with a shrug. “I don’t know,” I announced, showing that these losers weren’t with me. My determined eyes stayed focused into the faces of my hopefully new friends, and I could see them giving dirty stares back to the uninvited guests. It was a long, awkward moment and finally Thien Nguyen One and Two both got up, and shuffled slowly back over to the nerd table.

I had made it. Freedom!

FYI, I do feel your hatred for me right right now, so no need to spew that in the comments section. Also please don’t unsubscribe from this blog until I make my point.

Trying to make yourself popular…pretty yucky. People do all sorts of hurtful and twisted things to scratch their way toward just a little bit more popularity.

Now, much later and a hopefully a little bit wiser, I have found a new mission in life. It doesn’t involve hurting people but actually lifts them up. It’s all about making someone else popular in a way more honorable contest.

That person is…and you probably saw this coming…Jesus!

Orient your life toward that popularity contest and honor gets splashed all over the place.

The Power of Parable

rob williams“We’re all stories being written,” says Rob Williams, author of the young adult novel, “Thinkwave.” In this audio podcast, Mike O’Quin interviews Rob on why our hearts resonate with parables so much and why Jesus often conveyed timeless truths through everyday stories. Rob’s novel is a parable on the renewing of the mind, aimed at young hearts. In this conversation he describes the process of creating this science-fiction adventure story, and offers encouragement for aspiring authors with stories stirring in their own hearts.

From the back cover: “A malevolent force is on the move. Even Ecclon, the lone planet that is able to halt the onslaught of the enemy, is in peril. Hope now rests on the shoulders of a thirteen-year-old human boy. Harvey George is unexpectedly warped to another dimension where he encounters creatures beyond his wildest dreams. His mission, if successful, will forever change his life and, indeed, the future of every other world. Armed with only his thoughts and accompanied by a mischievous alien hound dog, Harvey must quickly learn to combat the malicious power.”

You can listen to the first two chapters of Thinkwave for free by clicking here and see Rob’s author blog for more on this novel and other articles. Click below to hear this conversation or search for “Faith Activators” on iTunes or Android to subscribe to this podcast.

On The Process of Editing

editingGreat, you’ve been writing hard and you’ve got some good content down. Problem is, it’s not good enough. Now the hard part. The grueling, editing, rewriting, getting brutal feedback, even more rewriting and polishing part. Mike O’Quin interviews his published author friends Eric Bryant and Rob Stennett on some encouragement to get to the finish line. Books they mention in this podcast are Eric’s Not Like Me, Rob’s The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher and Mike’s Java Wake.

If you didn’t hear our first conversation on the process of writing, click here to listen to that.

Click below to listen to this new convo, or you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes by searching for “Faith Activators.”

On The Process of Writing

writing process

In this audio podcast, Mike O’Quin interviews his author friends Eric Bryant and Rob Stennett on how they go about creating content for their articles, screenplays and books. They give a lot of helpful tidbits on how to carve out time to get into a creative flow. The books they mention in this conversation are Eric’s Not Like Me, Rob’s novel, The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher, as well as Mike’s novel Java Wake. You can find out more about them by visiting Eric’s blog and seeing Rob’s Facebook page for his upcoming book, The Perfect Father.

In a follow-up podcast to be posted next week, they discuss the grueling but crucial process of editing. Click below to listen or search for “Faith Activators” on iTunes to subscribe to this podcast.

8 Things Savvy People Do To Get People To Read Their Blogs (You Won’t Believe Number 6!)

savvy people computer1) Get Savvy

2) Have a Blog

3) Post an article to your blog

4) Find an image of a savvy looking people at their computer as the thumbnail for your article

5) Create a teaser headline which includes the phrase “you won’t believe” to get people to visit your blog article, and then share it on social media

6) Ask the Tooth Fairy to help drive traffic

7) I told you that you wouldn’t believe number 6

8) Chuckle to yourself with a sinister laugh that people visited your blog to read your meaningless article

The White Welcome Chicken of Purity

white welcome chicken of purity
Lucky for that chicken, Duane was the one vegan on the team.

We’re sitting cross-legged and tightly-packed on a straw mat inside a tiny house in this remote village of Flores, Indonesia. Our team of 12 has been warmly welcomed by Pak Bomas, the kind-hearted village chief.

Bare bones infrastructure. No running water. But what these people lack in public utilities they make up for in overflowing hospitality. We’ve been offered local snacks, traditional drinks and we got a handshake from a group of elderly, hunched-over village ladies who are all wearing their traditional Flores fabrics. One teammate later said it felt like in that moment we were being received by royalty. Their wide smiles were dripping with the red dye of the beetle nut, a bark mixed with powder that they chew in their mouths as a mild drug. 

royaltyWe’ve exchanged our gifts, they have given theirs, and now we are in the back-and-forth phase of polite chit-chat and learning of each others’ cultures. They tell us the history of their village, and we tell them we have come from a long way because we love Jesus and He loves them. We play a worship song for them and they reciprocate with a traditional one. We offer to pray for them and they readily accept.

Toward the end, we can tell by some sort of commotion in the back of the house that they are getting ready to do something big or ceremonious.

Out comes Pak Bomas from the back, with a live chicken in his hand. He pets its head and explains to us that the white chicken represents purity, showing that their hearts are pure in extending friendship to us.

village floresHe then looks around for someone on our team to give it to, and his eyes settle on Duane who is the oldest member of our team (maybe it’s the grey beard…mine is greying, too, but Duane’s is farther along). As I said before, Duane is the only vegan on the team, and we kidded him later that the chicken seemed relieved to be under his care.

Such a surreal moment, receiving this nervous and quietly clucking chicken. It made me laugh inside, feeling like I was in some sort of wacky Jim Carrey movie, and I joke-translated to the side, “Hey guys, the good news is they are offering us this live chicken as a sign of their pure heart in receiving us. The bad news is one of us has to stay behind in order to reciprocate.”

And you may be thinking now what I was thinking then…what does one do with a live chicken?

After more chatting, taking photos and saying our goodbyes, it was time to climb into our van and head back down the mountain for a one hour-ride toward the city where our hotel was located. They offered to tie up the chicken’s legs and put it upside down into the back of our van, but Duane says no need, he will hold it in the van.

We got back to our hotel and the staff received our live offering with joy. We weren’t sure what they were going to do with it (which form of protein), and we didn’t ask too many questions. They assured us they would take good care of her.

The whole episode, aside from being surreal, struck me with how great Indonesians are at hospitality. These village people dropped everything they were doing to honor us as guests, and gave us a live chicken to boot! That little gift of hospitality cost them something…these people were very poor from what we could see, and that chicken was a real part of their livelihoods. Yet they willingly and cheerfully gave it to us.

chiken at hotelHospitality does cost us something, and I think that’s why our Western culture isn’t as good at it as Eastern ones. “Tamu adalah raja,” they say in Indonesia, “The guest is king.” Living there for a long time, I remember so many times being frustrated when someone came to our front gate, unannounced, and feeling the culture dictate to drop everything I was doing and receive this person into our home, offer refreshments, and chat for a while—the whole while grumbling internally about the other things I was planning on doing in that time slot. It was a slow, painful death for my Type A personality.

But a good death. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). God certainly values hospitality, actually factoring angels into the equation of a math that sometimes doesn’t make sense to us.

When was the last time you offered the white welcome chicken of purity to your guests? (Okay, that is really hard to say with a straight face). Let me rephrase:

When is the last time hospitality cost you something?

I’m not sure the answer for me either, but I imagine that angels take good care of chickens.

white chicken

Sample Reading from “Java Wake”

mike-oquinMike O’Quin’s international suspense novel Java Wake was released on Amazon in May of 2015 in both paperback and Kindle editions. Click here to read early reviews.

Here’s a sample reading by the author from the first chapter, recorded at an early public reading, along with a brief description on his motivation behind writing it.

P.S. To those in the Austin, Texas area, click here to get your free tickets to attend the book launch party on Saturday, July 18th.

Book Launch Party: “Java Wake” @ Austin Java

Austin JavaHey all you Faith-Activating friends in the Austin area, I wanted to personally invite you to the book launch party of my new novel, Java Wake.

Where else could we do this event in Austin besides the Austin Java cafe! We’ll enjoy refreshments, a sample reading from yours truly, a Q&A time, a book signing, and you may even go home with a door prize from Indonesia. We hope you can come to this come-and-go, casual evening and feel free to share this invitation with your friends.

It will be on Saturday, July 18th, from 7 to 9PM at Austin Java on 1608 Barton Springs Road. Click here to get your free tickets on EventBrite and to see more details.

Thanks!

Mike O’Quin

mike-oquin

 

“Java Wake” Launches

java-wake-coverI’m very, very happy to announce that my novel Java Wake has just been published and is available starting today in print edition and e-book on Amazon. Here’s a little more from the back cover:

“Stephen Cranton’s mid-life crisis is coming on a decade too early. On a business trip to Indonesia, he evaluates his heartless life after getting challenged by an obnoxious adventure guide on his flight. Soon after landing, Stephen tries to spice up his stale life with a brazen act of spontaneity. Bad move. His impulsiveness sets off a chain of events that leaves in its wake new friends and enemies, along with his wife who is longing for love and desperate enough to fly to Java for a last-ditch marriage intervention. Stephen finds he is desperate enough already, living inside a nightmare that he can’t seem to escape. But will the ordeal be enough to wake up his sleeping heart?”

Those of you who know me well can attest how I have poked around with this novel over the years, streamlining the plot, removing characters based on feedback, even changing some of the setting…it’s a much different book if you have ever read earlier versions (and there are many!).

You also know how much we love Indonesia! I thought the island of Java would make a colorful backdrop for a story about a man finding his heart.

To peek inside and read the first couple of chapters for free, click here. You can also read a free sample on your Kindle device by clicking on the “send sample now” button from the order page.

To order the print edition, click here.

To order the Kindle version, click here.

If you order the print edition from Amazon, you will receive the Kindle version for free, as a part of their “Matchbook” program.

I hope you enjoy it, and if so, let your novel-loving friends know and please give me a review on Amazon or GoodReads!

Thanks so much!

Mike O’Quin

The first review is in!
“Eye-opening.” — Naomi O’Quin

 

The Fruit of the Spirit and Emotional Intelligence

fruit of the spiritHow does your life taste to other people?  Are you walking in step with the Holy Spirit, enough so that the “fruit of the Spirit” is evident in the ways you interact with others?[i] How about your “Emotional Intelligence,” which Daniel Goleman defines as “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships”? [ii]

I’ll be teaching an upcoming “Equipping Class” on this theme, blending together the concepts of the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians chapter five, along with the five categories of Emotional Intelligence based on the research and writings of Daniel Goleman. If you are in the Austin area and are a part of Hope in the City, I wanted to invite you to be a part of this journey, where we will try to grow together in godly character and wise, relational leadership.

The goal in this class is to plug into the power source of the Holy Spirit, so that we can put into practice the godly character and EQ “soft skills” that will help us grow as mature, effective and transformative leaders.

As a teaser, here are some conversations I had with Paul Richardson last year regarding the five categories of Emotional Intelligence, in a podcast series we did entitled “Emotional Intelligence for Spiritual Leaders”:

Introduction

Self-Awareness

Self-Regulation

Empathy

Motivation

Social Skills

I hope you can join us!

Let me know if you have any questions: mike.oquin@hopeinthecity.org

[i] Galatians 5:22

[ii] Goleman, Daniel (2011-12-07). Working With Emotional Intelligence. Random House Publishing Group