Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking Back at Blessings

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, most likely because I have too much experience in not keeping them. I like Bradley Moore’s approach over at Shrinking the Camel: focus on growth areas and take some risks.

Instead of resolutions and looking forward, I thought I’d look back and see the blessings I and my family experienced in 2010. There are far too many to include in a blog post, so I will only cite the highlights.

One of the biggest blessings – top of the list – has to be Cameron Andrew Young, born March 11. If there is any benefit to aging, it’s becoming a grandparent. And for me, it was love at first sight, after one wild 24 hours.

My wife and I celebrated 37 years of marriage.

My youngest graduated from college, is gainfully employed, and doesn’t live too far away.

We were able to visit my mother and family in New Orleans, and see friends we hadn’t seen in a while.

I work with good people. I have great people on my team at work.

I became a contributing editor for The High Calling, and I was able to meet the editorial team during a four-day writer’s retreat at Laity Lodge in Texas. People I had previously known only online (or a phone call or two) now had faces and voices. And there were no surprises – their online presence was a direct reflection of the real people.

At that same workshop, I was able to sit for two days with a group of poets, all of us being mentored and encouraged by Scott Cairns.

Online relationships grew, strengthened and sprouted. I happened upon the good people at One Stop Poetry and what they’re doing to promote poetry and poets. I wrote a bunch of poems. I became a blogger on culture for The Christian Manifesto. I guest blogged at Michael Perkins’ Untitled, Ryan Tate’s Door Frames of Taterhouse and Russell Holloway’s Bullets and Butterflies. I did an online book discussion with several friends on Michael Spencer’s Mere Churchianity – and over more than three months we covered every chapter. I did three book discussions at The High Calling with Laura Boggess and a bunch of others.I joined Bonnie Gray’s blogging carnival on faith at Faith Barista, and continued with the One Word blog carnival hosted by Bridget Chumbley and now Peter Pollock.

Yes, it’s a lot of stuff. And I’ve hit only the highlights. But I’ve loved every minute of it. And I’ve been blessed by all of it.

Photograph: Cameron Young helping wrap Christmas presents, Dec. 18, 2010, by Stephanie Young. Used with permission because Cameron said it was OK.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Paul Harding's "Tinkers"

As I was reading Tinkers by Paul Harding, I was initially reminded of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead – a similar sense of old age and dying hovers over both. As I read on, “The Bear,” the short novel (or long short story) by William Faulkner came to mind – particularly in the descriptions of the woods, with Harding’s woods of Maine not unlike the forests of Faulkner’s Mississippi. And then it emerged into something all its own, a remarkably well written novel in Harding’s own voice.

Tinkers is a story about fathers and sons. George Washington Crosby lies in a bed in his living room, attended by family, and he is dying. As he dies, his mind and memory, and so his own life, begin to merge with that of his father, Howard. Howard had been a tinker in rural Maine in the 1920s, traveling by horse-drawn wagon to isolated farms and homesteads to sell everything from hairbrushes and pots to soap and any other tool or product his customers might need.

Howard is also an epileptic, prone to grand mal seizures. One day, he does not return home, and George’s mother assumes he’s died somewhere in the forest he travels through, the natural space of trees, animals and geography that come to seem part of his very soul. Somehow it is fitting that he disappears into what he loves.

George has devoted his life to clocks, fixing them, maintaining them, collecting them. Like his father’s life was surrounded by nature, George’s life is surrounded by time. Eventually, time and nature are going to meet and merge, in death.

Harding explores the relationships between fathers and sons. Robinson did the same in Gilead, but she did so through a lens of faith. Faith is overtly absent in the world of Tinkers, and yet it’s there, ever so faint but important an echo, in the descriptions of the ponds, trees, fields woods and flowers observed and almost spiritually consumed by Howard, just as George almost spiritually consumed by the ticking of his clocks. The master creator and the master timekeeper is there, if invisible, and Harding acknowledges that presence in how he structures the novel, like a countdown toward George’s death.

Tinkers received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2010, and it was Harding’s first published novel. And it is a fine novel, fully deserving of that recognition. It’s also one of the best serious, literary novels I’ve read. Harding transcends the story of a dying man remembering and hallucinating about his long-gone father, speaking to a yearning we all have for understanding our own fathers, and our sons.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

John Herrick's "From the Dead"

My wife and I were wandering around the shops of Main Street in Old Town St. Charles. It’s part of the metro St. Louis area and on the Missouri River; it was Missouri’s first state capital way back in 1820. Today, the buildings along Main Street have been preserved and turned into shops and restaurants.

And Main Street Books (photo at left). How we always end up at a bookstore is beyond me.

We know the owner; she and her husband live in our suburb of Kirkwood and he and I once took a class together at Washington University. (He’s a lawyer but he’s still a nice guy.) We had a good visit and then I wandered around the book store, one of those bookshops that have almost disappeared off the face of the planet. It’s a general bookshop with a large children’s section (the owner is a published children’s author).

Yes, I found a few things. And I found what looked and didn’t look like Christian fiction. Intrigued, I bought it.

From the Dead by John Herrick is the story of Jesse Barlow, a 29-year-old would-be actor who left his hometown in northern Ohio to seek fame as an actor in Hollywood. In 11 years, he’s managed a few bit parts, but his job at a photography shop tells you he has yet to meet the success he craves. He lives with his girlfriend, Jada Ferrari (one cool character name), and they maintain a lifestyle of alcohol, pot and chasing after fame. Jada has become the more successful of the pair, and she pays most of the bills. Jesse is increasingly doubting what he’s doing and himself, and is caught in a downward spiral as his desperation grows. One night, he attempts suicide, and almost succeeds.

He returns home to Ohio, to his pastor father, his younger sister and Caitlyn, the girl he left behind. And he discovers Drew, the son he didn’t know he had. And Jesse’s story begins to change, and change dramatically, becoming a journey to discover fatherhood and rediscover faith. Then physical illness changes the journey yet again.

From the Dead is a well written and engaging story. It moves, and moves quickly. I could tell I was caught when I'd be forced to put it down to do something like eat dinner.

But to return to the question I had when I first picked it up, is it or isn’t it Christian fiction, the answer would have to be both no and yes.

First the no: As good as this story is, it would not – could not – be published by a Christian book house. It has strong language, including four-letter words, especially in the first, Hollywood part of the novel. And there are some suggestive if not graphic sexual scenes.

Then the yes: I don’t think I’ve read anything in popular novel form as good as this in describing a journey of faith. Jesse is the prodigal son; this novel is a kind of retelling of the parable of Jesus. This is a story mostly about what happens when the prodigal son returns, and it is not all easy sailing.

I finally decided to stop worrying about whether it was “Christian” fiction or not and accept that From the Dead is simply a good story. Its greatest appeal may be to prodigal sons (and daughters) like Jesse, and we have all been there at one time or another, in one way or another. And the simple message of this simply good story is this: there’s always hope.

More information: John Herrick's web site.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

High Calling's "Best of Work 2010"

Today, High Calling editor Marcus Goodyear posted an article on the five most popular High Calling posts on work for 2010. My article "Is God More Pleased with My Work Than I Am?" is one of the five, joining posts by Ann Voskamp, Bradley Moore, Dan Roloff and Susan DiMickele. To see the story and the links for all five, please visit The High Calling.

John on Patmos

Exile pronounced
a sardonic smile
the worst penalty
not death but worse
from the beloved
as he was once beloved
left in silence
on rocks lapped by waves
an old man aging older
in ancient silence
of barrenness of stones, of dust

Sits in a cave high
upon a hill, clinging to nothing
but faith, the faith
that had closed
the eyes of the woman
your mother, your son
when the visions start
the coal burns his lips
a drop of eternity
falls upon his forehead
the scrolls open
he sees

This poem is submitted for One Shot Wednesday sponsored by One Stop Poetry. To see other submitted poems, please visit the site. The links will be live at 4 p.n. central time today.

Painting: St. John on the Island of Patmos, by Titian (c. 1547). Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Reflection, Dimly

I started my Christmas holiday on Dec. 17. With a week off before Christmas, and our office closing for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, it’s a nice long stretch of time. The week before Christmas, however, was – no surprise – hectic: final preparation for the Christmas, including wrapping a bazillion toys and books for the grandson; picking up the roast at the butcher on Christmas Eve just as the snow really starts to come down; trying to keep things calm as we count down for the family dinner (we hosted this year; nine of us including the baby); last-minute gifts; and general holiday craziness.

One good thing: no malls. I don’t do shopping malls during the week before Christmas or the day after. I leave the bargains and sales to everyone else.

This week is quieter. I have lots of time for reading and writing and general all-around thinking. I’ve learned over the years that I tend to be most reflective when I’m reading and writing, but it is a partial reflection, shaded, sometimes dim, often crowded by other things happening and other thoughts intruding.

My mind is restless, reflecting a restless heart.

I’m full of projects. Planning a series for the blog, possibly two series for the blog. Pulling together a posting plan for TweetSpeak Poetry – reviews, news, stories, interviews. The novel in progress. The ideas for two other novels that kept shoving their way into the picture. The two completed novel manuscripts stored on my computer that are driving my wife crazy. Article ideas for The High Calling. My next two posts on culture for Christian Manifesto. The eight books I’ve finished reading that I need to do reviews of (that’s a less impressive volume than it might sound – five of the eight are either books of poetry or very short books). And all the books waiting to be read, including an advance reader copy I’ve been asked to read and write a report on.

I long for quiet but I know the quiet would drive me crazy.

So I’ve learned to reflect while I write, and my writing often becomes a reflection, a meditation, often a devotion, and occasionally an internal dialogue with myself. I find the writing to be soothing, even when it’s hard and exhausting.

Writing a poem is, for me, the most exhaustive kind of writing I do. I’ve discovered I have a certain kind of fear when I write a poem. It’s less a fear about reader’s reactions (although there is that, of course) and more a fear, or perhaps awe, of what I’m really tapping into as I try to fix ideas and pictures and words and images into the lines of a poem.

Poems are like songs, or psalms. They speak to something that’s higher, a place or person where poetry began, a first utterance of a poetic line.

Lines like “Let there be…” and “There was…”

To see more posts on reflection, please visit the One Word Blog Carnival hosted by Peter Pollock.

Photograph: Reflection by Bobby Mikul via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

The High Calling's "Best of 2010"

The High Calling posted the "Best of 2010 Blogs" today, and my post, "Organizations and Bad Bosses" from June 29, is on the list. And you should see the company it's in. I'm surprised and humbled.

The High Calling list is here.

My June 29 post is here.

I've been following The High Calling for almost two years, and became a contributing editor last March. If you haven't visited the site before, you should. It has some of the best writing on work, faith, family and culture around the web.

The Art of Brother Mel

In November, our church had its annual art fair. It’s actually a fairly prestigious event – your work had to be submitted and accepted, and a select group of judges evaluates each work and awards ribbons in various categories. About 100 works adorned the walls of Sunday School classes and hallways, or rested on tables and pedestals.

Submissions to the show can come from the community at large, and quite a few people from outside our church participate. The first weekend the show was open, I walked into my Sunday School class and was amazed at the quality (the room for our class ended up with most of the sculpture).

A metal sculpture on one wall caught my eye. It was clearly a representation of the Last Supper, but the individual figures were real spikes, bent to resemble Jesus and the 12 disciples. The sculpture was done in the style of Michelangelo’s Last Supper, with the figures seated and facing in the same direction. The appearance is not polished but rather rough. I was so taken by the sculpture that I took a picture of it with my smart phone (the photo above).

The artist was Brother Mel Meyer, a Marianist who lives and works at St. John Vianney High School in my own St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood. I had seen metal sculptures on the campus some years ago, when my oldest played sports for a rival high school, but I had no idea that the artist lived and worked there.

The price was reasonable; I told my wife I knew what I wanted for a Christmas present. And then I called the number listed for the gallery at the school. They held the sculpture for me until we could come pick it up.

When we arrived at the gallery one cold Saturday earlier this month, we discovered the world of Brother Mel Meyer. And what a world it is.

Sculpture. Oil paintings. Watercolors. Frescoes. Furniture. Pottery. Brother Mel’s work runs the gamut of media.

We wandered around the gallery (several rooms and on two levels), examining the pieces while under the half-dozing eye of an elderly man helping customers.

The elderly man turned out to be Brother Mel.

A native of the St. Louis area, he has been a resident artist for more than 35 years. He studied in Switzerland and Paris, and earned a Master of Arts degree at the University of Notre Dame. There’s even a wonderful coffee table book about his life and work, entitled Brother Mel: A Lifetime of Making Art by Anne Brown.

It was a wonderful time. He fetched the Last Supper from the back; it's – not surprisingly – heavy, heavier than it looks, and we have to get someone in to anchor it on my office wall. We also bought the book and a crucifix (pictured).

I could have spent a lot of money in that gallery.

Perhaps that best place in the building is a small room that seems a kind of chapel. There are no seats, but simply to stand in that quiet place furnished with religious art was a moving experience.

St. Louis has many wonderful attractions – the Arch, the world-class zoo (still free), the Botanical Garden and many others – but the gallery of Brother Mel Meyer is worth repeated visits.

Photographs: Top - Last Supper by Brother Mel Meyer (2010).
                     At right: Crucifix by Brother Mel Meyer (2010).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holiday, After Hours

December’s electric fireflies
crowd the night, motionless
mannequinned musicians
perform silent music, soundlessly
empty stone walkways
beckon the vanished, joylessly
beneath flutters of gold and silver
in the spent wind, frozen
I still wait

This poem is submitted for the One Shot Sunday photo prompt at One Stop Poetry. To see other poems based on the photograph, please visit the site.

Photograph: Rockefeller Center by Adam Dustus. Used with permission.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Witness: The Child

The season of darkness and warmth is ending, the darkness wet; the warmth moist. It has been an odd sensation to be swimming while connected to a throbbing, elongated life preserver.

But it has not been a season of silence. I am keen aware of the liquidity, the protective squishiness of living inside my mother. Like the continuous splashing of diving into a deep pool.

I hear my mother’s heartbeat.

It is strong, not only because of her youth. It beats with purpose, with mission, with knowing what it is, and what it can cost, to accept the commands of the Lord.

And it comforting, perhaps I can clearly hear the sounds outside – animals, voices, the hooves of galloping horses, soldiers rudely shouting.

When we rode into Jerusalem, my mother seated on a donkey (they bray a lot), the noise was chaotic and enormous, a symphony of cacophony, the bustle and excitement of a city expecting a king. It is a city that will be disappointed, murderously disappointed, a city that betrays both itself and its destiny.

The walls that have protected this human body I have are now pulsating in imminent collapse. The time is now, an abbreviated, parsed second of heavenly time.

My parents will always be mystified and a little frightened of me. I will have to tell my earthly father to teach me his trade in wood, and he will do that, and do it well. He has already accepted me as a gift, but he will learn than he, too, has much to teach and give to this gift.

And my young mother. Even when she doubts, and she will have doubts, something would be wrong if she did not, even in her doubts she will love me. For three years of my ministry she will watch me with growing alarm because she loves me.

She does not yet know that I am born to die to rise.

And her heart will break, for a time.

Now it begins, with the cry of an infant held by his earthly father as he cuts the cord connecting me to my mother. He has cleansed with knife in the fire.

Even through the mists of infant eyes, I see the joy on their faces.

Related: Witness: The Innkeeper

              Witness: The Shepherd

              Witness: The Man from the East

              Witness: The Angel

              Witness: The Young Couple

Illustration: Baby Jesus by Deborah Woodall via Mark Mallett.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Saturday Good Reads (One Day Early for Christmas)

I’m posting Saturday Good Reads a day early for Christmas.The season is on people’s minds, and the blog posts, poems and videos show that.


I Am Supposed to be a Man, a Godly Man. I Don’t Have a Clue” and “Moving forward into a Concrete Wall” by Lincoln ATT at God in the Center of Brokenness.

Spotty History, Maybe, but Great Literature,” Longfellow’s Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, by John Miller for The Wall Street Journal.

Did He Know?” by Jay Cookingham at Soulfari.

"What's the Difference Between Ethics and Integrity?" by Bradley Moore at Shrinking the Camel.

"I'm a Liar" by Sandra Heska King.

Nincompoop Nation” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

The Top 10 Steaming Heaps of Eco-Friendly/Frugal Living Horse Dung” by Greg Sullivan for The Right Network.

In Defense of Santa” by Linda Chontos at Linda’s Patchwork Quilt.

Clinking, a Winter Memory” by Jerry Barrett at Under the Door Frame.

Unto Us” by Deidra Riggs at Jumping Tandem.

With” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.

What Is It About Christmas?” by Jennifer Dukes-Lee at Getting Down with Jesus.

An Example of Obedience – Joseph” by Kevin Martineau at Shooting the Breeze.

The Annunciation of Mary: Ambiguity, Perplexity and Truth” by Scott Cairns for the Huffington Post.

Sometimes the Proud Get Knocked Over” by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

Season of Reason” by Fatha Frank at Public Christianity.

In the Word: The Reason ‘Yeshua’ Came” by Dusty Rayburn at Reflections on the Life of a Christian.

What Am I Worth?” by Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact.

I Believe in Magic” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend” by Sarah Salter at Living Between the Lines.

May It Be” by Kelly Sauer at A Restless Heart.

"Desert of the Wise: A View-Master's Journey" by Brock Henning at Lifesummit.

"God Has a Way" by Jeanne Damoff for The Master's Artist.


Not that poem” by Poetic 7 at Diary of a Late Bloomer.

Boxes” by Thomas Herr at eNothing.

"The Promise" by Gay Beachanny at Beachanny by the Sea.

He Said, She Said: A Christmas Poem” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Light” by Michelle Cox at Quiet Heart.

"Cardiologic" by Claudia Schoenfeld at Splittergewitter.

"Not So Silent Night" by Leslie Moon at Moondustwriter.

With the Berryville Monks on Christmas Eve” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Architecture of the Solstice” by Tony Lawlor at Dwelling Here Now.

Eclipse” by B.K. MacKenzie at Signed…bkm.

Today” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne.

Solstice to Solstice” by Mrs. Metaphor.

For unto me…Emmanuel” by Jay Cookingham at Soulfari.

With Love” by Pete Marshall.

Like an Angel” by Adam Dustus at The Dustus Blog.

Echoing Words” by A Simple Country Girl.

Perpendicular Parallels” by Arron Palmer.

"Christmas in a Foxhole" by Cleburne Martin via V.V. Denman.

Paintings and Photographs

Wonder” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Graffiti Art” by Steve Gravano at Take A Look Around.

Total Eclipse” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

"Wetlands Along the River" by Randall David Tipton.


This Winter’s Night” by Glynis at Wandering Between Words.

A Social Network Christmas” by Igniter Media, via Dan Roloff at The High Calling.

Silent Night” by Mannheim Steamroller, via Adam Blumer at Meaningful Suspense.

Photograph: Lamp by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Witness: The Young Couple

The young couple had moved from Texas to the Midwest for his new job with a new company. They knew no one in their city. No friends. No family.

There were problems, as there always are problems.

The mortgage market was frozen in Texas, and would stay frozen until the legislature met to lift limits on mortgage rates. Months and months away.

They were in an apartment, and finances were worse than tight.

It was cold, bitterly cold. Snow seemed non-stop. The newspapers and magazines were filled with stories of global cooling, inflation, unrest in Iran, rising energy prices. Not a propitious time to bring a child into the world.

For she was pregnant. Unhireable.

They had even talked about not being able to afford a baby.

He finally stopped the conversation with a definite “it’s not a question.” She was silently glad.

There was no money for Christmas. They asked family not to send gifts, but family send they would anyway. They scraped enough money together to make homemade peanut brittle, a favorite on both sides of the family, to mail to relatives back home.

For each other, they gave promissory notes, slips of paper with silly things for the present and hopes for the future.

They clung to each other, and they clung to their faith. He stayed angry with God, for leading them into what seemed an abyss, or at least pointless.

It was a dark Christmas.

Two months later, the baby was born. Four months after that, after the legislature acted, the house in Texas sold. He got a promotion and a raise.

They would always look back on that Christmas as the dark time. They wouldn’t talk about all the meaningful and real things they learned, or how they came to understand the true spirit of the season, or how they understood that love is all-important. There were no sweet lessons to write about later.

What they did learn, and what they did understand, was that faith is easy when times are good and wallets are filled.

Faith is not easy when wallets are empty, or someone you love is seriously ill, or a layoff is coming, or people are suffering.

But those are the times when faith matters more, when it’s only a little light in the darkness.

Related: Witness: The Innkeeper

             Witness: The Shepherd

             Witness: The Man from the East

             Witness: The Angel

This post is also being submitted to Bonnie Gray’s blog carnival on faith at Faith Barista. To see other posts, please visit her site.

Photograph: Hayloft by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Witness: The Angel

The summons was wordless.

I knew, simply.

I journeyed to complete, with the others, what we had been commanded to do.

I was not to be sent to kings or nobles, nor to merchants or the wealthy or even shopkeepers and innkeepers.

I was sent to the true descendants of David, those who knew and hoped, those who held steadfast like David had. It was no coincidence that those with hearts after God’s own would be found in the hills around the City of David.

As David had been found.

I startled those shepherds and told them not to fear. They sensed, correctly, the one who had sent me.

I spoke but few words, stark in the plainness and simplicity. Not because I spoke to plain and simple men, but because the moment spoke for itself; it needed no elaborate explanation.

I spoke the message of God in the language of men.

Yet even as I spoke, I knew to speak the words is not to live the words, is not be the words.

The others arose behind me, and the worship of God filled their voices, spilling over into the shepherds’ ears and hearts. We sang to those who knew.

Then we were gone, stunning the shepherds with the suddenness of the leaving, as if we had overcome the night and then vanished within it.

It was by divine design that he used his warriors to speak and sing. I am a warrior in the service of my commander.

I and the others surrounded that family, that night and many to follow. No human saw me at the stable, but I, too, fell to my knees and wept in worship.

A little later, I whispered into the ear of the man to flee to Egypt. He recognized my voice from before.

Much later, as measured in shepherd’s time, we were recalled, and legion was set loose, for three days.

I was then sent back.

To roll away the stone.

Related: Witness: The Innkeeper

             Witness: The Shepherd

             Witness: The Man from the East

Painting: Angels announcing Christ's birth to the shepherds by Govert Flinck (1639); Louvre, Paris (public domain).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Witness: The Man from the East

They call me many things.

King, but I rule over nothing, not even my wife.

Magician, but I make no magic.

Wise man, but the more I learn, the less I know.

Astrologer, but the stars know me more than I them.

Prophet, but I only study what the prophets have written; I make no prophecies of my own.

Still, they listen, and they ask. Some fear my answers.

The prophets agree that this was the time, and not only the old Hebrew scrolls left behind in Babylon.

The time, long foretold, had come.

Even the heavens spoke this truth. And we followed the sign of the heavens.

And so I went, to see the king who would rule over hearts.

The king who would rule forever.

The journey was long. Too long. Many times I thought to turn back. But I, or my camel, kept on.

One, then the other, joined me. They too were on the same mission, the same journey, the same search.

To see this king.

We each carried a gift. A gift of wealth, a gift of worship, a gift of homage.

Around our campfires, we would speak in spite of the sand between our teeth. We shared our learning, our knowledge, our understanding. We each had a piece, but even together the pieces did not make a whole.

Wise men, indeed.

Our only wisdom as to follow the sign of the heavens.

When we reached Judea, we were perplexed why this king would be born in a land ruled by an iron fist of Rome and the venality of a Hasmonean king. Even the priests in the temple at Jerusalem were uneasy. They, too, knew the signs, but too loud a whisper could lose you your priestly head.

We slipped away, quietly, at night, right before the gates were closed.

We found him in the place the call Bethlehem, the house of bread. An odd name for the City of David. But even in our countries, bread is life.

We find our king, the king to rule our hearts for all time.

We find him in a hovel for animals.

And yet, when we saw him, we knew. You could not help but know.

We knew.

The prophecies had been fulfilled in a most unexpected way, yes.

But they had been fulfilled.

We joined the others on bended knees. We offered our gifts, which seemed so humble in his presence.

And we worshipped, in the murmur of human prayers and the song of a dove, under the sign of the heavens.

Related: Witness: The Innkeeper

             Witness: The Shepherd

Illustration: Mosaic of the Three Wise Men, Church of St. Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy, 6th century A.D.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Afflicted Street of Memory

Affliction inhabits houses
on my childhood street,
memorializing them
like weathering

#428: Elmo was four when
the car jumped the curb and
mowed him down like overgrown
grass. Soundlessly he’d circle the block,
looking for home. My mother always
called him Poor Elmo and I never knew
he had a last name.

#912: Kathy’s legs, encased in metal,
could only move with crutches,
sounding like machine pulleys,
a clanking, grinding reminder that
polio hadn’t always been vaccined
against. She’d sit behind the big picture
window, smiling, watching us play.

#231: Virgil was always brash
and arrogant, like a dandelion
with deep roots, infesting
the neighborhood with breeze-driven
wisps of spore. No one knew he had
cystic fibrosis until he died at 31 and
we read his obituary.

#507: Ronnie, gifted, studied
to be an architect, and
after graduation joined
a monastery, devastating
his parents but he wanted
to save tortured souls like
his own instead of buildings.

The rest of us: mists, vapors,
ephemeral imaginings
borne for a time along the wind
but then dispersed, scattered,
dissipated, so easily forgotten
while the afflicted are
so easily remembered.

Photograph: Sunset over town by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

This poem is submitted for One Shot Wednesday at One Stop Poetry. The links will be live at 6 a.m. Tuesday. To see other poems, please visit the site.

Witness: The Shepherd

I am half-asleep. The night is cold. I’ve pulled my cloak closely, moth-eaten thing that it is, and sit as close of the fire as I can without becoming a piece of kindling. The sheep are mostly quiet, perhaps dreaming of their wool becoming tunics or what it’s like to become dinner or, for the best of the best, what it is for the priests in Jerusalem to slit your throat and let the blood run into the stones of the temple court.

Or perhaps sheep don’t dream.

I don’t recall how it started, but I looked up, toward the top of the hill we were camped upon. I thought I was one of the sheep, dreaming, for there was the figure of what seemed a man. But when I think back now, I wonder, how could I see the figure in the dark? For the figure came before the light. It still doesn’t make sense.

And then that light, that glorious light, a radiance that was more than a thousand suns. It was golden light, and it was both protecting and terrifying. From within the light, the figure spoke. You know the words as well as any; the story’s been told more than any I’ve ever heard, and I know because I have told it, too.

Then the voices. I had never heard such voices, neither man nor woman nor child. Voices with the purity of clear water in the stream, washed by the rocks.

Suddenly, darkness again. We shepherds gathered around, and looked at each other, each afraid to say what had been seen.

“The vision,” one said.

“The angels of heaven,” one said.

Speaking it made it real. We knew. Messiah is born. Messiah is born in my lifetime.

“To Bethlehem,” I said.

We did something no shepherd in his right mind would do. My father would have beaten me if he had not been home, asleep in his warm bed.

We left our flocks, still dreaming, and we followed the light of the star.

The City of David was no Jerusalem, nor was it a collection of hovels that people call a village. We walked through the streets, not thinking the flocks behind us but only the light before us.

They were in a stable, a place for the animals. It was a shelter, yes, but only once removed from the open fields. We stopped, and stared. I thought I could come no closer to this child.

The woman looked at me and smiled, motioning me forward. I leaned down. I touched the baby’s little cheek.

I touched the cheek of Messiah.

I fell to my knees. The tears streamed but I had no shame. I can’t tell you if they were tears of joy or relief or awe or fear. Perhaps all of these.

We knelt for what must have been hours. Others came, but we took little notice. Even the three in dusty finery and bearing gifts could not distract our attention.

I don’t recall how we left, only that we did when it was time. Returning to the fields, the night becoming lighter, we found the fires burned down and the sheep still resting. As we knew we would.

I know, now, what it is to be a sheep.

I have seen the shepherd.

I have touched his face.

Photograph: Shepherd Song, courtesy Patricia S. Baker.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Arrow Shot

Down decaying hallways
of flaking paint and dust
still smelling of antiseptic
bleach isopropyl alcohol
latex gloves death

Thrust into a walled box
whose bricked window
once opened upon
a secret garden, now
red-stained concrete

Hearing booted footsteps
of however many
three or five or seven
carrying degradation
cruelty fear violence pain

He hears her voice
an arrow shot of light
lose yourself for a time
in the gray line of my words
you will not die

This poem is submitted for the One Shot Sunday photo prompt hosted by One Shot Poetry. To see other poems, please visit the site.

Photograph: The Arrow Shot by Claudio Mufarrege. Used with permission.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

You can tell it’s the Christmas season – so many good posts and memories. And even the non-seasonal posts are good – from a chair falling off the back of a truck to two children singing about wanting to be Santa’s friend.


We Waited” by Jerry Barrett at Under the Door Frame.

Life in Transition” by Kelly Sauer for Christmas Change.

Kicked in the Crotch” by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

Rejoice (or not)” and "“The 12 Days of Christmas (via" by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

Like Moths to the Flame: How We are Killing the Church” by Blake Coffee at Church Whisperer.

Dickens: The Man Who Invented Christmas?” by Mark Roberts at BeliefNet.

Mothers and Miracles” and "Terry's Big Day" by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

To Keep It, Give It Away” by Fatha Frank at Public Christianity.

In His Image: The Laughter” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

The World Is Fundamentally a Great Wonder,” an interview with Richard Wilbur, posted by the Key West Literary Seminar’s Littoral, via Bob Spencer at Wilderness Fandango.

Jangle, Jangle” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

Does Virtual Coffee Come in Decaf?” by Erin Kilmer at Together for Good.

Unsung Song” by Jay Cookingham at Soulfari.

If writing is your calling, part 2” by Deidra Riggs at Jumping Tandem.

A Quest for Peanuts” by Scott Couchenour at Serving Strong.

The Chair” by Duane Scott at Scribing the Journey.

He Shall Be a Light” by Jessica Mesman Griffith for The Image Journal.


Dreams and chocolate” by Leslie Moon at Moondustwriter.

Incommodious vexation” by B.K. MacKenzie at signed…BKM.

Evening Visitor” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne.

"No Reason to Rejoice" by Jason Stayszen at Connecting to Impact.

Run Aground” by Arron Palmer at Arron Palmer Poetry.

"To Break the Hold" by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

I Shined My Shoes” by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

An Old Stone Well” by David Brydon at Poetry Blog.

Walk in December” by L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone.

Pipinoukhe” by Steven Marty Grant at Urbanality.

How to make a thing holy” by Tony Lawlor at Dwelling Here Now.

Fallen Dreams” by Pete Marshall.

Aurora Borealis” by Jerry Barrett at Under the Door Frame.

Still” by Nancy Rosback at Nance Marie.

December Poem” by Bob Spencer at Wilderness Fandango.

December White” by Melissa Campbell at Sweet Water Blue Sky.

Paintings and Photographs

Oswego Spring Study,” watermedia on Yupo by Randall David Tipton.

"Resting on a Monday" by Sandra Heska King.

Learning Collage” by Kathleen Overby at Neotony.

Scenes from a Walk” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

Winter Wedding Dress: A Mood Board” by Kelly Sauer.

Envision” by Susan Etole ay Just…A Moment.


Where’s the Line to See Jesus?” by Becky Kelly.

If I Had a Million Dollars I’d Buy You a Monkey” by Greg Sullivan (and kids) at Sippican Cottage.

Photograph: Lamp by Nancy Rosback. Used wirth permission.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Sunset Fades

A Sunset Fades

A sunset fades
atop the hill,
snow-packed blue,
the barren aspens
streaking dying colors
of orange pink red
gray yellow purple

in the blurred line
between red and gray,
her face is fading,
her eyes paling,
her smile
a final ray of

All that’s left is snow.

Over at One Stop Poetry today, Leslie Moon has posted a musical poetry prompt -- write a poem based on music by George Winston. You have your choice of two selections, and I chose "The Snowman." Visit One Stop Poetry to see links to more poems.

Christmas Biscuits

Last week, for Bonnie Gray’s blog carnival at Faith Barista on faith, I talked about the aluminum Christmas tree we had when I was growing up in New Orleans. While most of our Christmas celebrations were in New Orleans, we would occasionally head to my father’s hometown of Shreveport.

Shreveport was a magic place for me. My father’s family was much smaller than my mother’s, but they all lived within 10 minutes of each other. My father’s oldest sister and her family, in fact, lived directly across the blacktopped street from my grandmother.

I was born in what my father called the “great divide” in his family – all of my cousins were either considerably older or considerably younger. I spent a week almost every summer from the time I was 8 to when I was 14 with my grandmother, and those visits are some of the best memories from my childhood.

The first thing that was exciting about Christmas in Shreveport was the temperature. It was cold. New Orleans could get cool in December, but Shreveport, 325 miles to the northwest, could get cold.

The second exciting thing was how we had to divide the family for sleeping arrangements. My grandmother had a two-bedroom house, so my parents got the double bed in the second bedroom. I slept in a rollaway bed in the dining room. My older brother slept at my aunt’s house across the street; she also had a two-bedroom house.

I envied my brother, but not because I didn’t want to stay at my grandmother’s house. I envied my brother for culinary reasons.

When I’d wake up in the dining room, my grandmother would already be puttering around the kitchen, and she’d feed me eggs and bacon while my parents slept in. Then she’d send me across the street to my aunt’s house for – the biscuits.

My brothers and I (my little brother came when I was 10) all still talk about my Aunt Rubye’s biscuits. They were something akin to perfection, and I know that I will get to eat a plateful in heaven.

She’d work up the flour and water and whatever else went into them as she’d talk to us in the kitchen. We wouldn’t budge from our chairs at the table. Nothing could make us move, not even getting to watch my Uncle Revis shoot at cats with his rifle while he sat on the back porch step. Nothing could deflect our attention from Aunt Rubye’s biscuits.

The smell from the oven, of course, came first. We knew what was coming by the smell. The kitchen would be permeated with that wonderful scent of those biscuits. My brother would eye the molasses syrup, thinking about pouring it on a hit split biscuit. I was the purist; a little butter and I was good to go.

“Mother’s making them biscuits again,” my uncle would say loudly from the back steps. “Must have company.” And then we’d hear the POW of the rifle.

My aunt would pull the tray from the oven, and the smell would intensify; our saliva would be intensifying in direct proportion. The plate full of wonderful would be set before us. And the first bite of the floured and kneaded and rolled concoction would find its way into our mouths.

The recipe has been lost, because there wasn’t a recipe. Aunt Rubye made them from scratch, and the only recipe was the one in her head. Daughter-in-laws and nieces tried to duplicate it but none succeeded.

And in a way, I think that’s a good thing. Those biscuits have never been equaled, in reality or memory. I can see and hear her now, standing at the counter, working the dough, talking in that no-nonsense Southern drawl she had.

"Mind the crumbs," she'd say, watching us eat. And she'd be beaming.

To see more posts on faith, visit Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista.

Photograph: Coffee and Biscuits by Donna Cosmato via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Witness: The Innkeeper

Yes, I remember them. And don’t look at me that way. You have no idea what it was like. Do you know how many people I had already had to turn away? I could have filled the inn four times over, that’s how many. The town had been packed for days, you couldn’t walk in the streets without stepping on someone, and people were sleeping anywhere they could find. We were all waiting for the Romans to finally come do the census thing, and we all knew what that was about – taxes.

Everybody came knocking, crowds of people, family after family. It was depressing. They’d put the children in front so I could see the big eyes and tears and it was tough to keep saying no room – no room – no room. At first, you’d try to be helpful, you know, and suggest some places that might accept guests, a few people in town were renting out rooms and beds, even porches but you had to be desperate to do that because it was cold. I had people sleeping under tables in the kitchen, yeah, I know what people said, that I’d make a buck any way I could. But it was awful there were so many people. Old, young, the sick, even some people dying, like the Romans were going to milk that cow, I mean, what was the point?

So we did what we could. And feeding them was no picnic, either, let me tell you. Food prices jumped 25 percent in a week. Too many to feed and not enough food to go around. I got a shipment in from Jerusalem and that helped but it cost me dearly, those Jerusalem merchants are a pack of vultures, that’s what they are.

OK, yes, I remember them. She was in childbirth and in a pretty bad way. He was desperate. He begged me for a place, for anything, it’s his time, he kept saying, over and over again. It’s his time. Please, anything, it’s his time. You’d think he was the one having the baby the way he kept saying it’s his time.

I shut the door in his face. And that dirty peasant started banging on the door, shouting at me. They were both filthy from the dust, they’d been traveling for days. What a sight. My woman finally shouted at me to give them the animal stalls, so I told him if you can stand the smell you can stay there.

He ran. He picked her up from the donkey and he ran. He didn’t even ask me how much, not that I could have charged him anything, I mean, sure it was crowded but to sleep with the animals? I’ve got a heart, you know.

I didn’t think anything more about them, until a few hours later. I was exhausted from feeding and serving all the guests, and they were a rude, obnoxious bunch, too, insulting the food my woman cooked, she worked her fingers to the bone and we get what, insults? I told them they could leave if they didn’t like it, that shut them up, you can take it from me.

So I’m asleep and she starts shaking me, wake up, wake up, she said. Something’s going on in the stalls. My first thought was that dirty peasant had lit a fire, yes, I know it was cold but you don’t light a fire in an animal stall. So I grabbed the bucket and ran outside and sure enough there was a glow and I just knew a fire had started so I ran with the bucket,water sloshing over the side, my wife had filled it before we went to bed so she wouldn’t have to fetch in the cold, and what do I see but a crowd, a crowd, and they’re standing there, watching. I was ready to break some heads.

So I push through the crowd and then I see them. They’re in the glow. I don’t know where the glow came from. Above, that’s all I remember.I stood there, stunned. I couldn’t speak. It was the couple and the baby.

And I don’t know how I knew this but I knew, maybe we all knew, this was something like we had never seen before. It was like my head emptied out. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t speak. And if you ever repeat this I’ll deny it, but I’ll tell you confidentially that I cried. I fell to my knees and I cried. And I wasn’t the only one. You should have seen the shepherds. Well, you could have smelled them too, but you should have seen them. On their knees and crying.

The magicians came later. And Herod’s troops after them. That couple left with the baby right before the soldiers arrived, and then the horror, I still can’t talk about it so don’t even think of asking.

But, yes, I saw them and gave them a place to stay. But this business about him being the Messiah, the one they killed in Jerusalem, I know nothing about that. And don't you say I did.

Photograph: Nativity Scene by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Imagining Chains

He escapes,
shakes loose
the chains of iron.
Key clicks,
locks open;
anklets fall
stain of metal
and dirt
and bruises
wash away,
wash clean;
rubs into
Circular band
of memory
tightens around
his head;
of imagining
weigh more.

The poem is being sumbitted for One Shot Wednesday at One Stop Poetry. To see more poems, please visit the site. The links will be live at 4 p.m. U.S. central time today.

Photograph: Chain Link by Peter Griffin via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, December 13, 2010

It’s Not Happiness or Its Pursuit

I see this picture of my grandson Cameron, and I melt. I feel and have felt a great joy with this child, one that continues to surprise me. The introverted writerly type who’d rather be upstairs writing or reading a book is helpless in the hands of his grandson.

This child puts joy in my heart. I can rejoice daily as to what God has created here, and the blessing he has given me, my wife and my family.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. He was edited, to be sure. (How am I sure, you ask? Because so many of the signers were lawyers, that’s how. Lawyers can’t leave anything written alone.) Whether Jefferson came up with the phrase or had it edited for or suggested to him, there is an idea embedded in the Declaration that we somehow think is taken straight from the Bible:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

My biggest problem here is the third “unalienable right,” although to be fair, it’s not a simple “right to happiness” but “the pursuit of happiness.” And I’m sure the idea of happiness had some slightly different meaning then than now. But happiness as a goal – or a right conferred by my Creator – is, I think, wrong. It’s a fleeting thing, this happiness we chase, and we can somehow manage to justify all manners of bad behavior as we pursue it. Yes, I know Thomas Jefferson said we could, but that still doesn’t make it right or admirable.

We yearn for something that we understand as happiness, some hole at the center of our soul that we know will be filled with the right car or house or piece of jewelry or boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife or vacation or income level or college degree or hairstyle or wardrobe or achievement. And if we get what we absolutely know will make us happy, we discover something – the hole is still there. Happiness is ephemeral,  a piece of gossamer, a mist that disperses as soon as we touch it.

My grandson, I’ve learned, doesn’t make me happy. He makes me thankful for receiving such a blessing. He makes me more loving because he pulls love out of me (rather effortlessly on his part, too). And he makes me rejoice, because he has added more joy to my life.

To rejoice is to understand and to acknowledge that I am not the center of my life; I am not what my life is all about. I’m part of something larger, something I can only gain the merest glimpse of, but enough to know that it is there and it is huge.

I look at my grandson, and I ask, what is it about this child that makes me smile? It’s not because he holds a piece of me in his DNA, and that somehow through him I will live forever. I think that it’s more that he’s a symbol, a symbol of hope, a reminder of another baby that brought hope to the world and all generations.

And for that hope, I truly do rejoice.

To see more posts on “rejoice,” visit the One Word Blog Carnival, hosted by Peter Pollock (and Bridget Chumbley, who’s on sabbatical). The links will be live after 9:30 p.m. central time tonight.

Photograph of Cameron Young by Stephanie Young. Cameron said it was OK to use it.

The gods are dying

Mid the smell
of sheep dung
came the song.

The gods are dying.
The gods of men are dying.

Self-shaped objects
of worship crumble,
beginning a funeral
dance, a danse macabre
of Athens and Jerusalem.

The gods are dying.
The gods of men are dying.

A funereal keening
pours from stone lips.
Wealth, knowledge, science,
philosophy are sucked into
mirrors of polished vanities.

The gods are dying.
The gods of men are dying.

A child born.
A son given.

Over at the High Calling, a poetry prompt (well, partially a poetry prompt) is asking readers to take a big thing of Christmas – family, Christ, celebration, grief and so forth – and share it in something small, like a poem, a photo, a Bible verse or a song. Check and post and see some of the offerings provided via links in the comment section.

Photograph: Statue of the death of Adonis.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Unintended Conspiracy of Design

I’ve have long been
by the order of things
by nature’s own design,
by man’s own design,
by how nature and man
can unexpectedly and
independently conspire
to create a synthesis
of form, of combination,
of suggestion, of philosophy,
of vista, of horizon,
while simultaneously
maintaining boundaries,
fencing prerogatives,
staking territories,
separating light from darkness,
warmth from coldness,
nearness from distance,
natural from created,
with the blue emptiness
of sky exercising

This poem is submitted for the picture prompt challenge at One Stop Poetry. To see other poems, please visit the site.

Photograph: The View Along U.S. 40 in Mountain Vernon Canyon, Colorado by German-American photographer Andreas Feininger (1906 – 1999).

Fragmentation and Humility

We’ve reached the last chapter of Michael Spencer’s Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped-Spirituality. He calls this chapter “Some Help for the Journey,” and answers various questions and makes some suggestions for those trying to decide to leave church-shaped spirituality and instead find Jesus-shaped spirituality.

In response to a question as to whether he’s taking evangelicals to task while giving Catholics and the mainline Protestants a pass, Spencer says this:

“I see the Christian world like this: we’ve inherited a divided map of the truth, and each of us has a piece. Our traditions teach us that no one else has a valid map and that our own church’s piece shows us all the terrains and roads that exist. In fact, there is much more terrain, more roads, and more truth for us to see if we can accept and read one another’s maps, fitting them together to give us a clearer picture of the larger Christian tradition.”

He goes on to say that he calls himself a Reformation Christian, and he states clearly that he is not giving mainline churches a pass in the areas where they’ve engaged in serious biblical compromise.

I was raised as a Missouri Synod Lutheran (the “correct” Lutherans as opposed to the “heretical” ones). I’ve belonged to a Reformed Presbyterian Church (later part of the Presbyterian Church of America), a couple of independent churches that both leaned to the fundamentalist side, and an Evangelical Free church, before landing at our current church, part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. My oldest son attended public and Catholic schools, and graduated from a Catholic high school. My youngest son attended a Catholic school from kindergarten through sixth grade, and then a Christian school through high school. My wife was raised in a charismatic church. I’ve been reading the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (the 1928 edition; not the “heretical” revision that came later). One of the people who has most inspired me in my writing is Greek Orthodox.

As a result, we’ve been exposed to a number of Christian traditions, and the important point for me is that they were (and are), first and foremost, Christian. Spencer is right, I think – we all have a piece of the map and not one of us has the whole map of truth. That doesn’t mean we have to compromise and deny the divinity of Christ as some have done or regard the Bible as “inspired” as opposed to “inspired by God.”

And it doesn’t mean that we have to embrace all traditions in some kind of ecumenical kumbaya, even though there is something important about tradition that evangelicals and fundamentalists tend to disregard – tradition, as Scott Cairns told us at our writing workshop in Texas, teaches humility.

But this idea of fragmentation does mean that each tradition has truth, each has errors, and we should approach each other with the humble understanding every church, every denomination and every tradition is comprised of people who are broken.

And that brokenness means that we must be constantly on guard against church-shaped spirituality replacing Jesus-shaped spirituality. It happens. It happens to the best of churches; the history of Christianity is chock full of the evidence. And it will continue as long as human history continues.

Nancy Rosback over at Nance Marie has been leading us in a discussion of Mere Churchianity. Also see Fatha Frank’s posts at Public Christianity and Melo’s posts at Humming Softly.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

As you might expect, Christmas themes are popping up in a lot of online posts. The season prompts us to think about family, including family mambers no longer with us; how we celebrated when we were children; and how we celebrate today with our own children.

There’s also a solid strand of humor in a number of the posts, from squirrels (or something) in the attic to an all-out nuclear attack on that holiday horror known as the Christmas sweater.


The angel in the grocery cart” and "Unopened" by Doug Spurling at Spurling Silver.

Return to me: my father’s face” by Ira Wagler at Ira’s Writings.

The Ghost of Christmas Past” and “He Hung the Moon” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

You Need Other People, and Here’s Why” by Peter Pollock.

Puke and Love” and “Excitement” by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

One Boy’s Special Gift” by Dan King for Christmas Change.

No God without Thunder” by Kelly Foster for The Image Journal.

Seeing the price tag” by Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact.

Gifts in the Snow” and “For Unto Us” by Jay Cookingham at Soulfari.

Prayer for My Father” by Sara Zarr for The Image Journal.

Advent Journal: Nothing New to Say” by Milton Brasher-Cunningham at Don’t Eat Alone.

That’s What We Are” by Jeff Jordan at To My Children, If they Are Listening.

A Straight Road” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

Perspective” by Tony Alicea for Katdish.

Breaking My Silence” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

Critters in the Attic” by Harriett Gilham at The Other Side of the Mountain.

So Very Many Simple Things” by Jeanne Damoff for The Master’s Artist.

It’s Beginning to Look” by Kelly Sauer.

"My First Video" by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

"Your mama lied to you" by Billy Coffey.

"Advent for Believers" by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.


Starting at the End” and “A Life Less Illustrious” by Arron Palmer.

Winter Advisory” and “Jesu” by Jerry Barrett at Under the Door Frame.

A Reckoning at Eventide” by John Blasé at Dirty Shame.

O taste and see” by Melissa at All the Words.

The Quandary of Wandering Nighties” and “The Battle” by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

Faith, hope & other things” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne.

"Anticipation" by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Sonnet II – Winter Love” by B.K. MacKenzie at Signed…bkm.

When the honey is gone” by Amy Everett at War Commander.

Taking Flight” by Diane Walker at Contemplative Photography.

Paintings and Photographs

Tree Hunt” by Kristenkj at No Small Thing.

B Family, Whippoorwill Farm, Hollywood, S.C.” by Kelly Sauer.

Patchogue Alley” by Steven Gravano at Take a Look Around.
Photograph: Lamp by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

"Radical" Giveaway Winner

So I numbered the comments on individual slips of paper, put them in a hat, mixed them around a bit, and then looked away as I pulled one slip out.

And the winner of the giveaway for David Plartt's Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, is Susan Etole. Congratulations, Susan. Radical will be shortly on its way to you.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A "Radical" Giveaway

A few weeks back, I was asked to review Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt. The review is going to be published in January (print, I’ve discovered, takes a little longer than online). And yes, I gave it a good review. It’s an important book and needs to be widely discussed.

While not intended to be this, Radical is a kind of companion book to Mere Churchianty: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality by Michael Spencer, which I’ve been blogging on every Sunday for the past three months or so; my last post is scheduled for this weekend. The two books share some (not all) common themes, but Radical focuses on a challenge – to consider how we have manipulated the gospel to fit our cultural preferences.

Through some odd circumstances, I’ve ended up with two copies of the book. One I’m keeping for my own library and to reread. The other (the copy I didn’t read) I’m offering as a giveaway. If you’re interested in reading the book, just drop your name or a short comment today (deadline: 11:59 p.m. tonight). A winner will be selected at random (I number each comment and then pull a number out of a hat). Please make sure that I can figure out a way to contact you for an address.

I can vouch for the fact that the book is, well, Radical.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Nostalgic for that Aluminum Tree

I’ve been reading a short prose work by former poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Ted Kooser, entitled Lights on a Ground of Darkness. It was first published in 2005; my copy is the paperback edition published in 2009. It’s a memoir of a moment in his childhood when he was 10, and not a momentous or historical moment but an everyday moment – he and his sister swinging in a tree limb from a picnic table, and they’re waiting for his mother’s relatives to come over for the regular Sunday afternoon game of pinochle.

And he uses that moment to evoke stories about his mother’s family. It’s beautifully written.

What it put me in mind of was my own family. I grew up in New Orleans, where my mother was born and raised and where virtually her entire family lived. We were kind of the oddballs in the family. We lived in a suburb, not the city itself; my father was from Shreveport, not New Orleans, and so he had a slight Southern accent instead of the New Orleans (think Brooklyn) accent. In my immediate family, my older brother and younger brother both had, to greater or lesser degrees, the New Orleans accent. I had – something else. Everyone I knew thought I was from the Midwest; most people guessed Ohio.

We lived in a suburb, but we had one thing no one else in my mother’s family had – a large family room. My parent had turned what had been the breezeway and carport of our house into an enclosed porch. From there, the porch was further enclosed to become the family room. It could fit two long tables, which was exactly what was needed for large family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I don’t remember how many years my parents played holiday hosts, but it was quite a few. Starting about noon, my various aunts would descend upon us with my uncles and cousins, someone remembering to bring along my grandmother, and the house would be filled with people, noise and laughter. Kisses would rain down on top the children. Someone would bring a bottle or two of something, and one uncle always managed to find my father’s stash of alcohol, requiring naps both before and after dinner. Much to-do would be made over the turkey (for both holiday meals) and my father’s oyster dressing. Much to-do would also be made over the fact that there was one family member who steadfastly refused to eat my father’s dressing. Me.

My cousins and I would disappear outside, usually to play and, as we got older, to explore the woods across the street from my house.

At Christmas, our tree would be set up in the living room. We were very much a family of the 1950s and 1960s. To complement the Danish Modern furniture was a silver aluminum tree, shining in all its artificial glory, spotlighted by a rotating colored acetate film that alternated red, blue, green and yellow. Yes, it was quite, uh, artificial. We had real trees when I was younger, but artificial trees had become the standard of a modern Christmas.

There had been a mutual agreement among my mother and her sisters to limit the presents. Instead, there was food. Everyone brought something – desserts, candy, appetizers, bottles of stuff the kids weren’t allowed to sample (one of my uncles again). My mother left most of the dinner to my father; she would make pies, usually three pecan pies and one mince meat pie. Only one person ate the mince meat pie. Me.

Dinner was served between three and four. Plates of everything were passed up and down the tables. The adult’s table (yes, there was also a children’s table) had one thing ours didn’t – bottles of Mogen David concord wine. It was always Mogen David. No one thought it awry to serve a wine with a Star of David on it at Christmas.

I don’t remember family dramas or issues or arguments during these family gatherings. But what I do remember is all of the family, my mother’s family, in one place.

Most of the adults are now gone; my mother and two of her sisters still remember those holiday meals. All of the uncles are long passed away; my father, maker of the great oyster dressing never since equaled (I wouldn’t know but others tell me it’s true), has been gone 23 years. Most of the children are now grandparents.

But I can still hear the laughter and the veritable cacophony of New Orleans accents; I can still hear my aunt catching my uncle with a bottle of something before dinner; I can’t walk into my old room at home without remembering finding several relatives sleeping off dinner with a nap on my bed. The artificial aluminum tree with its changing colors is long gone.

Is it possible to miss an aluminum tree?

Over at Faith Barista, Bonnie Gray is hosting a blog carnival on faith. This week, the subject is the simplicity of Christmas, ways to celebrate simply or inspiring moments associated with the season, For more posts, please visit her site.

Photograph: Illuminated Christmas Tree by Pete Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.