Monday, July 28, 2014

The choir wore white robes

The choir wore white robes,
spotless, bright white, bathed
in light, moving, swaying
together, giving the impression
of light shimmering, moving,
swaying, to some unheard music,
an orchestration from an unknown
choir director, raising and lowering
invisible arms.

The choir wore white robes,
and began to sing in voices
of white light, cool white,
shimmering sound,
moving sound,
They sang in white robes,
and the skies opened
in brilliant red.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The language of rivers

The languages of rivers
may on that day become
one, together fused
into one, one speech,
one thought, one belief,
one heart, that day
the streams flowed
into a torrent, a force
swirling, raging, a wave
covering all of it, all
of what was before,
becoming what is now,
what will be.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sheila Lagrand’s “Remembering for Ruth: Something in the Water”

I could get used to the serial format of publication.

Part 5 of Sheila Lagrand’s Remembering for Ruth serialized novel has now been published. Entitled Something in the Water, it continues the story of the Goodharte family.

The story so far: Paul and Margot Goodharte live in California, and are caring for Paul’s mother, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Paul is a pastor; his black sheep brother Matthew shows up and seems to have had something of a black-sheep shedding experience. He becomes interested in next-door neighbor Sue, and the family has a coincidental meeting with Matthew’s estranged daughter Amelia. The dog of former neighbors of the Goodhartes is left to them to care for, and Ruth becomes closely attached to him, naming him Zorro. The dog turns out to be a specially trained schutzhund. And Amelia is invited to spend some time with the family she never knew.

In Something in the Water, everyone manages to have a bad day except for the dog. Matthew gets too overbearing with daughter Amelia, and Sue has to tell him to ease up. Best friends Margot and Sue have a fight. Brothers Paul and Matthew have an argument, and Matthew storms out. An elderly church member is upset with the flower arrangements for worship services. Alzheimer’s patient Ruth has good moments and bad moments. The dog, Zorro, however, shows some of what he’s been trained for.

And then the family discovers Ruth is missing.

At the end of each installment, Lagrand usually includes a recipe or two from the story. And I was expecting to see recipes for overnight waffle batter and something called “glom.” But something must have been in the water.

Photograph by Maliz Ong via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Bowls of gold

Bowls of gold
bowls of incense
golden bowls of incense
fall with the hands
holding them, they fall
but do not break
do not shatter
but they fall spilling
the incense

Who poured the incense
into the bowls
who collected the fragrances
who gathered the smoke
and aromas spilling
from the bowls
golden bowls

golden bowls of incense

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Your Work Matters

I’m sorting through files at work, files that cover roughly the last 10 years. It’s about four file drawers in volume.

It’s remodeling time at work. We’re facing a total of three moves. We were first moved three weeks ago, into the space we will eventually occupy permanently. But it has to be remodeled, and so we will move again to temporary quarters before we return to our redesigned workplace. I was moved from one office to a smaller office; I was fortunate, as most people moved to cubicles. What I will eventually end up with will make a cubicle look like an executive suite.

They tell us it’s collaborative workspace, designed to foster team communication and synergy.

Whenever you hear the word synergy, you know that someone is trying to save money.

There wasn’t time to do anything with these files except bring them with me. We had about a week’s notice of the first move; I had no time to do the careful sorting they require.

One pile is paper that can be recycled.

One pile is what needs to go in a special cabinet unit for shredding.

And one pile, the smallest, is what will go to the company archives.

It’s all mixed together, so it has to be sorted carefully.

The files represent the last 10 years of my work life. The height of the three piles tells me that most of what I’ve worked out can be recycled.  The second biggest pile has to be shredded. The most valuable pile will go the archives.

It’s easy to start thinking of the book Ecclesiastes in the Bible. Is it really all just a chasing after the wind?

Here’s a brief that was filed in a lawsuit settled years ago. That’s an easy decision – public document, no pending litigation – it can be recycled. Others have to go to the shredder.

And here’s the speech I wrote for the CEO in 2006, given to a large group of college students. It’s a beautiful speech. I heard it when it was given; I was there in the auditorium, sitting on the front row. I flew to the event with the CEO on the corporate plane. That had happened only once before. At the dinner before the speech, I bumped into a fellow speechwriter I hadn’t seen in almost 15 years.

The CEO did a fine job with the speech. Actually, he did a superb job. The speech was widely distributed afterward. It was reprinted in Vital Speeches of the Day, which is a big deal for speechwriters and CEOs.

And now it’s almost eight years later.  I’m not part of the speechwriting group. I’m called “social media strategist” which sounds a bit too presumptuous to me.

What do I do with the notes of my conversation with the CEO about the speech? Part of me says keep the notes with the final text for the archives. Part of me says that isn’t a good idea. I place the notes in the pile to be shredded. CEOs have to trust their speechwriters.

It’s easy to think that this is where all of our work ends up – recycled, shredded, perhaps archived and rarely seen except by an occasional academic researcher (our archives are managed by a local university).

Does this matter? I ask myself. Is it really all vanity?

I think about that speech. It didn’t change the course of history. But it did inspire a few college students to do something with their lives. It moved a few teachers and administrators to think about life outside the university.

And the important point is that the speech was done well. Written well. Written with care and attention, with a special effort to find exactly the right story that would illustrate it. Part of what that speech did was to tell that story, the story of a woman farmer in South Africa who brought in a crop so bountiful that she was able, for the first time in her 45+ years of life, to buy a pair of new shoes.

The story mattered. The speech mattered. The work – the hard work – I put into it mattered.

And it all mattered because I didn’t ultimately write the speech for the CEO, or for my own gratification, or for the story of the woman and the new shoes.

No, I wrote it for Someone else, because the work I do is ultimately about that Someone else.

And it matters.

The High Calling is hosting a community linkup on the theme of “Your Work Matters to God.” Take a look at the submission guidelines, and consider whether or not you might have a story to tell.

Top photograph by K Whiteford. Bottom photograph by Lucy Toner. Both via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. Community linkup badge designed for The High Calling by Jennifer Dukes-Lee.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The One Thing We Want More Than Anything Else

We’re having this conversation at work: How does a big company talk to people?

More to the point, how does a big company talk to people in the age of informality and social media?

Most big companies (especially those in non-consumer businesses) and most big organizations like to talk with people from the perspective of expertise. If the company is big in technology (of any kind), then the conversation tends to reflect scientific or technological expertise.

That was us – scientific expertise central. It’s where we are comfortable. It’s what we know. It’s where we can best debate and defend.

We were having the conversation because, based on extensive market research, we were to speak in a different way – friendlier, and more conversational.

As we talked, it struck me that, no matter if we spoke with expertise or with friendliness, we were actually trying to accomplish the same thing. And it’s the one thing that companies, organizations, and even most of us individuals want and crave more than anything else.


I’m not sure whether it’s because we believe our world is wacky and careening from crisis to crisis, or because nothing seems to make sense any more, or that the wrong party is in control of Washington, D.C., or because politics is making our workplaces turn into some combination of Oz and Wonderland (and we would all secretly like to be the man behind the curtain; he at least has the appearance of being in control). But we want to be in control.

And even we Christians have our own form of this. We’ve been told that God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives. Well, fine. What is it? What’s the plan?

Of course, we don’t exactly ask the question that way. Instead, as Francis Chan points out in
Forgotten God: The Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, we talk about discerning God’s will for our lives, and preferably our complete lives. We want the big picture. As Chan points, out, though, waiting to get “the complete picture” is a way of putting off what has to be done, today, this afternoon, and now.

“Part of the desire to ‘know God’s will for my life’ is birthed in fear and results in paralysis,” Chan writes. “We are scared to make mistakes, so we fret over figuring out God’s will. We wonder what living according to His will would actually look and feel like, and we are scared to find out. We forget that we were never promised a twenty-year plan of action; instead, God promises multiple times in Scripture never to leave of forsake us.”

We want to know God’s will for lives because it’s a means of control, putting ourselves in control. And it’s no wonder that God tends not to cooperate. He doesn’t eliminate obstacles and problems; he doesn’t stop the curve balls; he allows the surprises. He doesn’t give us a nicely detailed blueprint for how our lives will go. He seems to turn his back when we run into the nasty political types at work.

Instead, what he does give us is the moment, living in the moment.

If we had the wonderful plan for our lives, everything would be simple. We would know what to do in each situation. We would know how to respond exactly. Life would be great. We would be in control.


Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading Forgotten God. To see more posts on this week’s chapter, “Forget About His Will for Your Life,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.

Photograph by  Виталий Смолыгин via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When You Make a Lot of Money

I was having lunch with a friend. We had met at church, and discovered we not only worked for the same company, we also worked in buildings across the street from each other. We had previously met for lunch, arranging to meet at the entrance of the company cafeteria. This time he was coming from a meeting, so I told him to pick me up at my office on the way and then we’d head to the cafeteria together.

When he arrived and knocked at the open door, his entire expression hanged. I asked if something was wrong, and he shook his head. We walked down to the cafeteria, with me doing most of the talking. He acted and spoke with reserve, and he seemed troubled by something.

As we ate, he finally said, “You’re a grade 41.”

Surprised he would know, I nodded.

“Your office,” he said. “It’s the office for a 41.” Until that moment, I had known there were grades, but I didn’t know that offices also contained their own hierarchal code.

“Stock options,” he said. “Executive bonus.” I nodded again.

To continue reading, please see my post today at The High Calling.

Photograph by Talia Felix via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.