Monday, November 30, 2009

Post on Performance Reviews at High Calling Blogs

My post here on "Performance Reviews: The Good" has been published at the High Calling Blogs today. This is the followup article to my post on "The Bad." (The Bad are always more interesting to talk about, and the Good more difficult to pull off.)

And the post is illustrated with a photo from nAncY at Just Say the Word.

Thanks to HCB and my friend/editor Bradley Moore for the posts.

Link to Last Week

So I didn’t read what was plainly stated and more than obvious in the ongoing book discussion at the High Calling Blogs, and posted my thoughts on chapter 8 of Gerald May’s The Wisdom of Wilderness last Monday. (We were supposed to take a week off for Thanksgiving.) Here’s the link to that post, "Biking with an Eagle," and I’ll get back in line.

This will not surprise my wife.

The discussion at the High Calling Blogs continues here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shammah's Psalm of Lament

He does not choose me.

He comes up the road, up to Bethlehem,
The old man with fire in his breath.
The holy one, they call him, the
One who talks with God, walks with God,
The judge.
He smells of dust and olives.
The elders tremble as he comes, because
They do not know if he comes
In peace or judgment, or both.

I have come, he says, to
Sacrifice to the Lord.

My father and my brothers and I
Stand before him, in awe
Because he asks us to stand,
And he consecrates us to
Join in the sacrifice, to be part.
But where is the bull, the dove,
The lamb?

The old man who smells of olives and dust
Looks at my brother Eliab,
Strong and vital and handsome.
An eternity passes; he’s listening to God.
Then he shakes his head.
Not him, he says, not him.
Then my brother Abinadab;
Not him, he says, not him.

Then Shammah, astonished,
As he looks at me, his eyes
Bore into my soul as
Hope and fear contend in my heart.
The holy one shakes his head;
Not him, he says, not him.
My body is flooded
With the joy of relief,
And a bitterness of regret.

Four more sons, four more brothers,
Four more not hims.
And then the question that cracks
Open the skies:
Are there no others?

My father brings beloved
From the pasture, the youngest,
Our shepherd boy who laughs when we
Tease and bully him but whose
Eyes already have
The pierced look of a warrior,
Perhaps a king.
The old man’s face whitens
Like the dust that clings to his feet.
The Lord speaks,
He is the one I have chosen.

Not chosen, my heart aches for
The bewilderment on beloved’s face
As the old man who smells of olives
Pours oil from his horn and
Anoints my brother’s head,
Consecrates my brother,
Separates my brother and
Names the sacrifice he has come to make
Before the Lord.

The heavens split open,
The power comes.
Now my brother smells of dust and olives.

He does not choose me.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What I'm Not Doing Today

Retailers are facing one of the most abysmal holiday shopping seasons in a long time. The wad of newspaper ads that arrived on our driveway Wednesday night (the “slip run” in newspaper parlance) is thick enough to be lethal just by trying to pick it up. Our consumer-driven economy desperately needs people like me to hit the stores today.

I’m not going. For two reasons.

The biggest reason – 95 percent of the total – is that, as my wife will tell you, it’s bad enough trying to get me to a shopping mall at any time of the year. But the day after Thanksgiving? When mobs have already been lining up for hours outside of stores, staring with zombie-like eyes at sales people inside the stores? When the closest parking space is in the next state? When I have to wait three-deep to look at a sweater and then stand in line for hours to buy it?

It’s not going to happen.

I don’t care what the savings are.

I don’t care what the bargain is.

I’m not going.

The second reason is, I admit, the smallest part of the total. But the sentiment is growing.

Near-riots at retail stores are not what Christmas is supposed to be about.

There, I’ve said it: Christmas. Not Winter Holiday. Not Festivus. Not anything else. Christmas, when Christians the world over celebrate the birth of Christ. That’s what this is supposed to be all about. That’s why we get off from work on Dec. 25, even though our employers believe they have to be inclusive and politically correct and not mention that word, Christmas. But that’s what it is. And perhaps one step we can take to reclaim civility and common sense in public discourse is to begin to acknowledge the fact that it’s Christmas.

Here’s another step that we Christians can take: how we give to our churches.

Twenty-five percent of the giving at my church comes in the month of December. Twenty-five percent. Part of the reason may be that year-end bonuses (no matter how small) happen around this time. But I suspect – and this is only a suspicion, mind you – that a chunk of that 25 percent has to do with people looking at their income tax deductions.

Wrong reason. Giving to your church at any time of the year is part of worship, part of giving thanks and returning to God what he’s given you. It’s never supposed to be about income tax deductions. We’re supposed to give back out of gratitude and love.

I would be lying to you and myself if I said I never think about giving to my church and tax deductions. I do. And it’s wrong.

There are some things we can do to make a change. Little things. Easy things.

There’s a web site called Christmas Change, put together by a community of people who want to change what this season is about. Take a look, and take a look at the associated blog, with some great guest posts from people like @katdish and @HeatheroftheEO (to use their Twitter names). And you can follow Christmas Change on Twitter: @ChristmasChange.

So, on this day after Thanksgiving, I’m making a commitment to myself to make a change. And to be a change.

(Also see Billy Coffey's $10 Challenge.)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Harvest Thanks

He stands, watches;
Studies the stubble
In the field,
Stubble to keep
Soil intact,
Something like the
Stubble on his face.
She stands by his side.

It wasn’t the life
She thought she’d want then.
It was now, though.

It’s done, he says,
By the barest, glancing
At dark clouds
Threatening cold white.
Thought we might
Have to turn
The combine into
A snow plow.
But we made it.

She touches his
Relief, his gratitude,
His faith.

She links her arm through his,
Leaning into his side.
We did, she says,
We made it.
God is faithful,
She touches the gray
Beginning to drift
From his temple.

The first flakes of icy white
Kiss their faces,

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Farmer in Northwest Iowa

He’s one of three million Americans.

This particular one lives and works in northwest Iowa. He does what his father did before him – he farms the land, to grow food, provide for the family, and be a vital part of the community where he grew up. Farming is what he knows and what he believes in.

He fights the weather, as much as anyone can fight it. He certainly talks about it a lot, because the weather matters. A lot. A wet spring means he’s planting late. Not enough rain in the summer threatens his crop. A wet fall means he’s harvesting late, and he hopes it’s not too late because the rain could turn to snow. If it’s been as wet a fall as this year has seen, when most Americans are sitting down with family and friends for Thanksgiving, there’s a good chance he’s going to be in that combine, trying to finish the harvest. And giving thanks he has some dry days to do it.

So people like the rest of us can eat.

Some harvest nights, he’s got the headlights on the combine, and he’s out there, working. No one except his wife knows, because he can’t quite slip into bed quietly enough not to wake her at 3 a.m. to get a couple of hours of desperately needed sleep. She hears him; she knows what he does for their family. She doesn’t say anything; she puts her hand on his shoulder so he’ll know. And he does.

He doesn’t talk about it, either. He just does it.

He’s heard what some say. You don’t take care of the land. You’re industrial agriculture. Flyover country. All the demeaning and patronizing words that come when people learn farming from whomever the latest college guru happens to be.

He shrugs. He has work to do.

He’s a businessman because he has to be. He has to track commodity prices. Seed and fuel prices. Fertilizer. Utilities. Loan rates, assuming credit’s available. Land values. And he’s learned how to use technology. GPS. The net. Mobile computing. Because some things he has to find out like now, while he's on the tractor or in the combine or he's stopped at the feed supply and he hears something he has to check on.

He’s smart, because farming takes brains, and an intellect, and common sense, and experience, and ongoing education from the state university and the extension agent and the seed dealer and anyone else who has knowledge to impart. He listens and ponders. That’s on top of his degree in agriculture or business or marketing. And, yes, he reads the farm publications but that’s the Wall Street Journal and Business Week that he’s reading at breakfast. And he's reading them online.

He worries, too, about a lot of things. If the children will farm after him. If commodity prices will stay high enough to turn a profit. About the cost of his inputs. About whether he should make an offer on that land that became available across the road. And the weather.

He’s a man of faith. He has to have faith to be in farming. Faith in God. Faith in something besides himself. Because he knows it takes more than himself to be successful. Like when his father-in-law spends a week with him to help with the harvest. When his brothers share equipment. And when he does the same thing for them.

So this Thanksgiving, give thanks for him. And the three million men and women just like him.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Biking with an Eagle

There is a section of Grant’s Trail in St. Louis (mile marker 1 on the map) where a biker or walker (and sometimes a blader) is almost guaranteed to see wildlife, and not just rabbits or squirrels. One summer a nice seven-foot long king snake slowly meandered its way across the trail, pausing long enough to stop foot and bike traffic in both directions. Then there was a family of wild turkeys – two grown birds and several chicks. I slowed and then stopped, just watching the two grown birds herd the kids across the trail. And there’s the herd of deer that inhabit the stretch. I’ve seen them from some distance down the trail as they quickly crossed; fairly close as three of them, as close as five feet away, stood and watched me bike by, and once when several suddenly darted across the trail, right in front of me.

I braked hard. It’s bad enough to hit a deer if you’re driving a car. Hit one when you’re biking, and you, not the bike, will sustain most of the damage.

There was also the time on the Katy Trail, a stretch in St. Charles County near St. Louis that’s heavily wooded but adjacent to the Missouri River. I was biking by myself, when I heard a huge rustling in the tree limbs overhead. The next thing I knew, what caused the rustling was flying alongside me, and we continued together (once I resumed breathing after the shock) until it rose and soared off toward the river. “It” was an American bald eagle; I could have reached and almost touched the tip of its wing next to me.

Over at the High Callings Blogs, we’ve now finished week 8 of our discussion of Gerald May’s The Wisdom of Wilderness. And a family of wild turkeys and a bald eagle are characters in this chapter. The turkeys seem to serve as a digression for May, and how Benjamin Franklin wanted to have the turkey as America’s national bird. But his eagle story – when an eagle flew straight at him as he was in a boat -- resonated. He dodged that eagle, but along came a second one. And both did exactly the same thing – attempted to defecate on him.

Despite the funny story about the eagles, of the eight chapters we've read so far, this one has the least to recommend it. It begins with a veer toward a rant about rejecting the “dominion” over nature God gives man, as recorded in Genesis. (And this is one of the reasons May rejects the inerrancy of Scripture.) This is a point at which the book is beginning to show its age – there’s been a huge development in Christian thought about nature and the environment in recent years, and what “dominion” actually means. And it’s not “plunder and pillage,” but more like “use and be good stewards.” And the chapter finishes with the eagle story. I’m not sure where May was going.

But the eagle story is funny.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Madness in My Royal City

Madness. Everywhere.
Even my servants sing of
Thousands and tens of thousands.
He is here, they sing,
Like some mad savior,
A mad savior seeking refuge,
A mad savior running
From that madman in Israel.

Selah, shewbread, priest of Nob;
He utters nothing but madness.

My mad servants sing to
Recognize, to herald,
To welcome, to embrace,
To lionize the lion, to
(Slyly) warn of his (sly) arrival
In my royal city,
To find refuge or, perhaps,
More tens of thousands?

Selah, shewbread, priest of Nob;
What is this lionized insanity?

Some of his tens of thousands,
Some of his fame were
My people of Gath.
His first was our champion,
Our giant who stopped an army in fear,
Except for the wretched shepherd boy
With his smooth stones of death.
Flung with careless abandon and deadly aim.

He mutters a darkness of
Selah, showbread, priest of Nob.

He comes to Gath, he comes
To my royal city as a madman,
A crazed mind;
This, the slayer of tens of thousands?
This, who holds a dagger of fear
At the heart of Israel’s king?
This, possessed by demons, spittle in
His beard, pounding on my walls?

I hear the madness inside my own head,
Selah, showbread, priest of Nob.

We have enough insanity in Gath,
Enough servants singing wildly,
Enough madmen to fill a city.
Send him back, back
To his own.
Let the servants of his own king,
His own Achish,
Let them sing of tens of thousands.

Selah, showbread, priest of Nob,
The madman carries a giant’s sword.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Stuff Over on the Right Side

I've added a few badges to the right-side navigation. The High Calling Blogs badge (top right, above my photo and profile) has been there for some time. I've been following the posts there for some time, and then they posted one of my poems, and then their parent organization published one of my articles, and then they picked up a couple of my own posts from this blog, and now I'm an officially designated writer for them, and, well, you get the picture. It's a cool site, and a great group of writers and editors to be connected to (yes, I ended that sentence with a preposition) (except now I didn't).

If you scroll down a ways, down below "Search This Blog," you'll find I've added five badges:
  • Seedlings in Stone, the blog site for L.L. Barkat, author of Stone Crossings and the soon-to-be-published collection of poems called InsideOut. I first "met" L.L. when I read Stone Crossings as I lay in a hospital bed with some broken ribs and partially collapsed lung back in July. Four months later, we're partners in crime with Eric Swalberg in publishing TweetSpeak Poetry, an online journal for Twitter poems (and other things).
  • Holy Experience, the blog site for Ann Voskamp, a site I visit every day for the thoughts, the words, the photos and the music. Ann's blog is a chronicle of life on a family farm in Canada, and it's one of the most beautiful places I've found on the web/internet/blogosphere/Twitterdom.
  • Billy Coffey, the web site (and link to his blog) for the writer of the same name. He writes one of the best blogs out there, because he's one of the best writers out there. And his novel Snow Day is set to be published in the fall of 2010.
  • Hey look, a chicken!, the blog site for Kathy Richards, aka @katdish. Kathy's was one of the most original thinkers I've run across, and she'll take you for wild rides and end up in thoughtful, profound places. (She's also famous for her exuberant rants, and they are a marvel to behold.)
  • Soccer for St. Louis. This is a group attempting to promote St. Louis for the World Cup games. No, I am not a major soccer fan; my youngest son is the soccer fan. You do strange things for your children sometimes.
I've added these badges (well, except for the soccer one) as a thank you in this season of thanksgiving to five writers and one organization who've brought some joy, and fine writing, to my life. I'll be adding a few more soon. (And if Shrinking The Camel had a badge, I'd add his, too.)

Update: Just added the badge for L.L.Barkat's InsideOut, her collection of poems to be published soon. Click through to the book's home page.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Apple Pie, Late Harvest

She jumbled a measure of
Flour, a measure of
Water, a measure of
Salt, cutting
Lard into the mix;
Patiently pushing, fighting
Stickiness to create the
Base, the start.
Apples, cooked and sitting
Warm in brown sugar and
Cinnamon and spices,
Waited to the side.

Holding the bowl-shaped
Ceramic, only lightly
Pressing and
Pushing now,
She walked to the yard,
Ending where the
Fields began,
The fields of tall, brown now,
Scratchy noises in the wind,
The fields waiting patiently for
The combine to exhale
And move on.

Massaging the dough with
Her fingers,
She watched
Red-bronzed farmer
Move patiently
Through the fields, as
Patiently as the
Fields themselves waited,
Patiently despite the
Coming rain, which
Might snow make
Yet today.

She knew his mind, as
She shaped the floury mix.
She knew his calloused hands,
Young hands already
Hands that had touched
Her skin like
Fire and rain.
She knew his unshaven face,
His sweat-smell,
His worry-smell to
Get the harvest home.

She knew his heart, the heart
That beat next to hers.
She knew the life, the life
The life moving near
Their hearts at night
And hers at day,
Its own heart, born of their oneness,
Waiting for its time, its time to push
And press and fight for life,
For its place, too,
In the fields.

She felt the silky
Smoothness of
The worked dough,
Now ready for apples and
Brown sugar and
Cinnamon spices.

Shoe Polish, A Velvet Cape and Mile-High Hair

Before I graduated from college, I’d been to Texas three times: a family vacation to see Six Flags in Dallas/Ft. Worth; a journalism conference at the University of Texas in Austin; and my interview for a copy editor position at the Beaumont Enterprise. I got the job, graduated from LSU, and drove the next day to Beaumont.

I was not prepared for Texas, Beaumont or working for a newspaper…

(Today, I’m honored to be guest posting at Hey Look, A Chicken!, aka @katdish’s place. To read the rest of the post, take a look here. But watch out -- @katdish is known for her well deserved and fully justified rants.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Posting at the High Calling Blogs

My post on "Performance Reviews: The Bad" has been picked up in an edited format by the High Calling Blogs and published today (pretty cool thing, that). If you'd like to see it, you can click here. Part 2, "Performance Reviews: The Good," is scheduled to be posted next week.

The High Calling Blogs is one of my favorite places on the web, so this is a double treat. There are great posts every day, written by good, thoughtful writers -- so to be included in that group is indeed special.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Community is Not an Audience

I once wrote an article about the one word I wanted banished from the lexicon of communications – the word “audience.” The article enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame at the time, but was later “rediscovered” by a consultant in St. Louis, who continues to cite it and even has it archived as a pdf file on his web site.

The theme of the article was this: most organizations think of and communicate to employees as an audience. In fact, that’s how most organizations define all of the people they need to communicate with – as audiences. This is what communicators are trained to do as well – identify and communicate to their audiences. I also see this in other disciplines as well – consider how writers today are told to establish their “platforms” so that they have a built-in “audience” for their books.

I don’t believe in audiences. The concept is a modernist relic of a one-way communication process. It assumes that people are empty-headed vessels, just waiting for you to fill their heads with your “messages” (also known as “educating the public”). Message is another word I dislike; trying finding any communicator today who doesn’t tell his clients about the need for key messages or message-points. (A message-point, as near as I can tell, is a message in a bullet-point format.)

No, I don’t like the word “audience.” I prefer the word “community.” I prefer to think of people I want to talk with and engage in conversation as a community, not an audience. Calling them an audience means the conversation is really all about me.

It’s why I like social media as much as I do. Blogs, Twitter and Facebook are all about community (except when someone is building a “platform” and abuses the concept, or thinks of them as just another channel to broadcast their messages). Social media require, perhaps demand, interaction and listening. They work best when there is true engagement, engagement of the best kind – people coming together with a common understanding and bound in a common purpose, wanting to engage fellow members of the community.

If someone had told me a year ago that I would be blogging and tweeting about poetry, and helping edit an online poetry journal, I would have thought they had been broadcasting one-too-many message-points to one-too-many audiences. But that’s what’s happened.

The people who are this community of poets and poetry-lovers are from all over the United States: New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Memphis, Atlanta, St. Louis, Oregon, Minneapolis, Texas and a few other places I’m not sure about. We read each other’s blogs and poems and comment about them; we tweet and write about them; we send emails on occasion; we celebrate when something good happens; we encourage and sympathize when something not-good happens. I’ve only talked directly on the phone with one member of this community, and that was only one time. And the other online communities we’re part of are often drawn into what we’re up to. Such is the power of social media.

We are a community of poetry and poetry-lovers. But we’re also something else – a community of faith.

We don’t talk about faith much, because we know. But it is faith that infuses this community. And it is faith from a variety of Christian religious traditions and denominations. Politically, we’re all over the map, as near as I can tell, but the politics doesn’t matter, because there’s something larger and more important at work here. From a faith perspective, we are generally in the same place. And it is faith that underscores the common understanding and the common purpose we have.

No, we are not an audience. We are a community of people, a people of faith.

(If you’d like to read more about the idea of community, visit the blog carnival being hosted by Bridget Chumbley and Peter Pollock. This carnival on community is over at Bridget’s blog.)

A Little Boy from Kenya

This week, Pastor Peter Pollock is dedicating his blog Rediscovering the Church to promoting child sponsorship. He's partnering with World Vision to encourage people like you and me to sponsor a child somewhere in the world who needs basic food, water, health care and education. And you can do that for less than a dollar a day.

I have a guest post at Peter's blog today, about a little boy from Kenya named Andera John who has blessed our family more than we ever could have imagined. Take a look, and please consider sponsoring a child. You can do that through World Vision or Compassion International (Peter has a link for that organization as well).

You can make a huge difference in a child's life.

A Feeling of Perfection

In chapter 7 of The Wisdom of Wilderness, Gerald May talks about trees – actually, looking at trees and experiencing a “feeling of perfection:”

“I think you know what a feeling of perfection is. It just happens; you’re driving along and walking along or maybe just sitting there and suddenly, gently, everything is perfect. It doesn’t matter whether things are pleasant or unpleasant, or whether you’re happy or sad; you just get this sense that everything, just as it is, is exactly the way it should be. It has a cleanness to it, a simplicity, a just-is-ness, an absolute sufficiency.”

May goes on to say that at the time, he believed it was one of those things that just happen; later on, he understood that every moment is actually like that.

Every moment a feeling of perfection?

Well, yes. I think he’s right. And I’m almost startled to say that.

I recall a solitary hike. The two sons had outgrown hiking with Dad in Shaw’s Nature Reserve, far to the west of the St. Louis metropolitan area (they changed the name a number of years back; I still call it Shaw’s Arboretum). It’s some 2400 acres of mostly forests and trails, with certain sections dedicated to tall grass prairie and a few planned gardens. But mostly woods and trails. The reserve touches a stretch of the Meramec River, and you can actually walk down and out into the large rock bars and sand bars when the river is low.

Hiking by myself, I walked down to the river, scouted interesting looking rocks, and inhaled the quiet. I sat on an old tree trunk, which judging by its whiteness had been sent down the river a long time before. And all I could hear was silence – even the river was flowing almost soundlessly. And no one else around. It was like that feeling of perfection that May describes.

And then I hiked back, and the hills are steep. The River Trail, which is the one I was on and my favorite at the reserve, followed back up a tall hill at a pretty significant angle. At the top, there’s a rest place with a bench, as if the reserve people know you’re going to need it after that climb.

I sat, and this time looked down on the river, and could actually see the place I had sat on the tree trunk. I looked across the river to the bluffs on the other side, and could see and clearly hear the low mooing of cows in a pasture. It was another feeling of perfection, when everything was actually perfect. And I had two of those in the space of about 30 minutes.

As I stood to walk the two miles or so back to the parking lot, it began to rain, lightly. Hearing the raindrops on the fallen leaves, feeling them on my face – it was yet another moment of perfection. That made three.

If I had been more attuned, I would have known that every moment is like that. Every moment has been created to be that.

(We’ve been discussing May’s book over at the High Calling Blogs on Mondays. Come take a look. Today's discussion starts here.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Author Donald Harington Dies at 73

I first read Donald Harington's novel "The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks" in 1980, five years after it had been published. I was in a corporate speechwriting group, and one of our number absolutely adored the book, and insisted that all of us read it. I did, and I loved it. By 1980, it was already out of print, but I found a used copy in a bookstore in New York City -- a first edition that cost me all of $2.50 (and it had been sold or given away by the Teaneck. N.J., Public Library).

The novel is the story of six generations of the Ingledew family, who founded Stay More, Ark., and it is one huge comedy. Harington published several novels, and then he caught on. His early novels were reprinted in paperback. In his later years, he taught at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and he kept writing about Stay More.

This morning, there was a notice in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he had died, with a URL link to the book editor's blog. He was 73 and had been suffering from cancer.

He'd been nicknamed the "Faulkner of the Ozarks." I'd have to think about that for a while beofre I agreed, but this I can say: I loved his books.

A Voice, Creating

In the beginning
Was voice,
The spoken word,
Speaking present
Into void.
An unimaginable
Series of let there be.
And he said,
And he said let
Six times,
Then he saw.
Voice rested, a
Repose from creation.

A voice,
Slight echo,
Speaks in rhyme or free,
Pale reflection
Of the power
Of its maker.

Slight, dim echo,
Pale reflection,
Tongued memory
Of creation,
Of sacrifice,
Of redemption.

Only a small voice,
Muted sound,
Tiny reminder
Of mountains erupting,
Seas forming and
New sun blinding,
Animals galloping,
Trees and plants
Exploding in verdancy,
Silver brilliance of stars inspiring,
All life teeming,

Creating only
A voice,
A voice
To make the
Stones sing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Spices of the Heart

On Tuesday, we had another of our "Tweet Parties" (poetry jams) over at TweetSpeak Poetry. Five of us participated, and our moderator, the famous @tspoetry herself, used lines from Rodale Publishing's Herbs and Renee Loux’s Living Cuisine throughout the jam to prompt, encuarge and stimulate. The final, edited resulted is posted under the title of "The Walled Garden of Spices and Herbs."

The jam lasts for an hour. I participate as both contributor and editor-to-be. So I Tweetdeck open and set up to search the #tsp hashtag, and Twitter open, and Word open so I can cut and paste contributions essentially as they happen. It's multi-tasking at its most breathless craziness, but it's also great fun to watch all of this unfold. Later, I go back and edit.

This morning, I sliced out my own contributions from the jam, to see if they could stand on their own. I think they do, but the lines resulted from a lot of interaction and back-and-forth, so this is more like an individual poem infused with group contributions.

Spices of the Heart

My heart pours bittersweet, hot.
Piercing, shredding golden chambers, golden ventricles,
Golden heart once crowned with bay,
Now tattered.
A taste of cloves, a taste of laurel, a taste of death.
Upon the path,
Atrampled leafy crown.

The scent of chilies, red hot,
Assaulting the smell sense;
The scent of heat, the scent of sweet, the heart of gold.
A mortar, crushing smell,
Crushing heat,
Crushing life,
Grinding fever,
Grinding cloves,
Grinding hearts and crowns.
The grinding turns all to powder,
To shift with the wind,
To move to the skies of cloves,
Of walls,
Of laurels.

The warm aroma of spice and cinnamon
Blends with laurel and cloves.
By the wall, set in thyme,
I sat,
Tired from tending
My garden of the golden heart.
Too little time to court,
To breathe the cloves,
To wear the laurel.
Yet my untended heart of gold waits by the wall.

I cannot wait;
My heart awaits,
My heart awakes from a cloven slumber.
He touches a cinnamon cheek,
A tongue of chili-red lies, of bitterroot taste.

The dove wings on,
With a glance backward
For a brief moment of thyme.
The dove soars above the field of spice,
Brushing the laurel,
Aiming for the sun.
Left by the dove,
The field of spice,
The golden heart,
Pulsing though shredded by the clove,
Left by the wall of thyme,
It lies with the laurel crown.
A love as hollow as a blade of chive,
A love snapped by the cherry sun.
Do you still tend my love,
My golden heart,
My heart in the walled garden?

A hidden prize, buried in leaves and bare woods,
The smile of the dove
Casts a faint shadow
Upon the field of spice
And the garden of golden hearts.
A fleeting glance left for the field,
The dove glides away to heaven.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Churched" and a Firestorm

I’ve been reading Churched: One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess by Matthew Paul Turner, aka @JesusNeedsNewPR on Twitter (and I’m a follower). It’s Turner’s story of growing up in a fundamentalist church, and I’ve stopped counting the laugh-out-loud moments. And then, just as I started reading it, Turner found himself in the middle of an online firestorm.

What Turner did was criticize theologian and author John Piper.

And it was all over a tweet by Piper on Twitter: "Is anyone really addicted to porn? Put a blow torch in their face; they will turn off the computer. IF they believe its real."

Turner took exception – a big, fat, whopping exception – to that statement. Read his blog post – he says it better than I can summarize it.

There was a reaction. As of last night, there were 82 comments on that post. Turner had to remove 15 because of their content (these are Christians, people; Christians!). The firestorm carried over to other blogs; on one, a commenter said he’d like to strangle Turner.

It’s hard to imagine, but the people involved in all of this are part of the body of Christ. Or claim to be.

If you follow Turner on Twitter, or read his blog or his books (I do all three), you will quickly learn that he’s not your typical Christian writer. He’s sarcastic; he makes fun of a lot of our sacred cows; and he’s edgy, sometimes beyond edgy. He’s all three in Churched. And he takes positions on some issues that I don’t agree with. But I never thought of strangling him because of it.

Just so you know, I also follow John Piper’s blog and his web site; I’ve read some of his books. Piper is not sarcastic; he doesn’t take on sacred cows; and he’s not what I would call an edgy writer. I like what he writes, and he writes a lot. And I’m closer in age to Piper than to Turner, and if I had to choose which Sunday worship service to attend, I’d probably follow in Piper’s footsteps.

But in this case, if I understand Piper’s statement on Twitter correctly, I think Piper is wrong and Turner is right. Pornography can be and often is an addiction. I don’t think I would have said it the way Turner did, but, hey, that’s his style and that’s how he writes (and how he tweets; his running commentary on the Country Music Awards last night was a total stitch, and I wasn't even watching the program). I also find it hard to believe that Christians can get as vicious as they have over this, but it’s pretty clear that they did.

And that’s what hurts. We can do better than this.

As I get deeper into Churched, I’m learning something. There’s sarcasm, and edginess, and ridicule, to be sure, but there’s something else there, too, and it’s surprising me because I didn’t expect it.

It’s called tenderness, and affection, and caring. Would some of his critics have shown a little bit of that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Crossing Some Stones: A Reflection

First stone crossed: It was in the hospital that I first met L.L. Barkat’s Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places. I had crashed on my bike three days before, and it took that long to figure out that something was very wrong. As my wife rushed me out the door to the emergency room, I grabbed Stone Crossings, figuring I would need something to do while we waited. I was wrong; we didn’t wait. They did x-rays immediately and then pronounced, like a medical benediction, three broken ribs, a fractured fourth rib, and a partially collapsed lung. With an oxygen tube up my nose and an IV drip for pain meds in my hand, I finally got to a room about 11:30. An hour later, I started reading, and didn’t stop until I was finished, sometime near 4 a.m.

Second stone crossed: The writer in me loved the book’s structure, each chapter like a stone, or two stones, really – a stone of remembrance and a stone to cross. Some of the remembrance-stones were painful, and some of the stones to cross were scary. Each stone had a simple name, like love, forgiveness, fear, gratitude and justice. The writing, ah, the writing: extraordinary.

Third stone crossed: It’s easy to see Stone Crossings as a kind of meditative memoir. And it is that. But about a third of the way into the book, I realized that something profound was happening, something very powerful for a reader. The stories were becoming my stories; the stones were becoming my stones to cross.

Fourth stone crossed: As each stone became more and more my own, the pain behind the author’s remembrances became my own, and I started turning my own stones over. There it all was – the pain, the hurt, the ugliness. And much of it was my own, of my own doing. None of the book’s promotional statements prepared me for this.

Fifth stone crossed: So many things go back to my father. He died more than 20 years ago, and quickly, from a massive stroke, which for him was a blessing. He would have hated any kind of disability, and in the worst way. But he left behind some heavy stones – he hadn’t spoken to my older brother in more than two years; he had just gotten mad at me for some reason still unknown earlier that week he died; so many unresolved issues with my mother; and a business that was a mess, an accounting nightmare. And I was the executor of his will. Grief, sorrow, anger – it was all bottled up while I helped my mother through all the legal morass. Two years later, I broke down and cried in my wife’s arms. More than 20 years later, as I picked up this stone in the hospital, I forgave him. And me.

Sixth stone crossed: And then with the pain of each stone came the gratitude. Someone had already turned my stones over, found the ugliness and cleaned it up. All of it. Instead of hiding ugliness and weighing me down with guilt and regrets, the stones had become steps forward, ways to cross the stream.

Seventh stone crossing: I read Stone Crossings in late July. Now I go back and reread the stones. And the gratitude grows.

(Note: Joan Ball over at will be featuring Stone Crossings in early December. Check out Joan's site -- it's a deep one -- and see what she does with Stone Crossings.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Article at High Calling

"When Layoffs and Fear Enter the Workplace," an article I wrote for, was published today. It's about dealing with layoffs (topical subject, with unemployment arching over 10 percent right now) but it's also about the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself.

So take a look, and let me know what you think -- there or here.

Violence in the Wilderness

Last week, my wife and I were watching the conclusion (fifth of five episodes) of an old televised series of a P.D. James mystery novel, starring Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, who investigates murders and writes poetry. We had actually seen the series when it was on television (probably PBS Mystery) back in 1989 or 1990. As we watched each succeeding episode, it became more and more familiar. I remembered more than my wife did. As we approached the horrific conclusion, I remembered what happened, and I cringed, knowing what was coming.

Even in fictional life, I hate violence. I won’t watch war movies; I never saw “Saving Private Ryan.” I can watch murder mysteries if the violence stays off-stage (and in the case of our Netflix rental, the goriest stuff did). But slasher movies? Forget it. Halloween Part 23 or stories about families being held hostage by homicidal maniacs? No way. Stories about the World War II death camps? I’m a basket case. And that one’s particularly odd because years ago I use to read all about the Holocaust.

But it seems that, as I’ve gotten older, my tolerance for violence on television or movies, and even books, had diminished considerably.

So I was not looking forward to reading chapter 6 of Gerald May’s The Wisdom of Wilderness, which I’ve been reading and writing about as part of the online discussion group at the High Calling Blogs. Chapter 6 is entitled, “Violence at Smith’s Inlet.” I didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t what May wrote: a squirrel swimming in the middle of a reservoir and likely to drown; a box turtle mutilated by young idiots with nothing else better to do; a swan killing a small duck; May himself breaking a carp’s jaw when he tried to remove a fishing hook; and (okay, one expected thing) a body of a young woman found floating in the inlet. He also adds some scenes from his military tour in Vietnam and the years he spent as an institutional psychiatrist.

The young woman’s death (and Vietnam) aside, May suggests that violence is part of the natural order, and that there will always be “within and around us… a violence that just is, just exists, just happens. It is a quality of destructiveness that is completely wild, unreasoned, unforgiving, relentless, and inexplicable” (pages 118-119). He goes on to say that unless we can accept this “shadow side” of ourselves, “we will never be able to appreciate being an integral part of things.”

He’s right, but I don’t know how willing I am to accept that shadow side. I can accept it in nature; I know it’s part of the (sinful) human condition. But I don’t think I can accept it in the way May seems to suggest here – almost an embrace.

More than any of the chapters so far, I found this one the most troubling.

Related links:

Maureen Doallas on The Enigma of Violence.
Today's discussion group at High Calling Blogs: When Mountains Scream.
Monica Sharman's Such Was I.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


I loved him, once.
My father used my love
To snare him, and
Named his price of
100 Philistines.
He paid 200,
With a smile,
And my
Father was afraid.

I loved him, once,
When he held me
In his arms, when
Our love was one.
The night of the spear,
I eased him through
The window, to
Escape my father’s hate.
My father gave me
To another,
Breaking one contract
To forge another.

I loved him, once,
When he forced me back
To his household,
When he was king.

But that day,
That day the ark returned,
That day of processions
Of priests and lyres,
Of officials and clanging cymbals,
Of king in linen dancing
In the street,
That day I died.

I saw my husband, my
Lover, the one
Who took my father’s crown
For his own head,
I saw him dance,
Not as a king might
But as the drunken peasant
He was, with
The other peasants,
The other shepherds
Dancing with him.

That day,
Became shame
Became anger
Became fury
As cold as
Any sharp stone,
A jagged edge of hate.
My one desire was
To aim my father’s spear.

That day,
I let him see
My anger-flash,
My spit of contempt
With its tongued
Dagger point.

And now I sit
In this room,
Daughter of a king,
Wife of a king,
Surrounded by gold and
Fine cloth and
Wine and servants.
I sit in this place,
Waiting for his
Voice, his
Touch, his
No child I carry;
Only gall in my stomach.
I wait until I die.

But I loved him, once.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Performance Reviews: The Good

Good performance reviews happen. Yes, they do. In my own career, they’ve been relatively rare, but I’ve had some good ones. And from those experiences, and talking to a lot of people about how to improve reviews, I’ve learned some ways to do it. I don’t always succeed, but I know what to strive for.

There are variations of the good performance review.

The We’ll-Do-This-By-the-Manual Review. These are the reviews by bosses who will follow the HR guidance document to the absolute letter. They move step-by-step through each goal, each discussion question, and each key performance factor. There’s not much emotion or personality – these are bosses who are good people but a little uptight. But they cover what needs to be covered and there are no surprises.

The Well-Intentioned-And-Not-Ideal-But-Generally-Okay Review: This is the one conducted by bosses who are uncomfortable with the process (and a lot of bosses are uncomfortable with the process) and they know that, so they try to work through it and go a little bit beyond their comfort factor. They don’t surprise you; they move through goals and expectations and tell you your overall rating or appraisal. These are the diligent, decent people who understand the purpose of a review but don’t want to move too deeply into that area of vulnerability – for themselves and the person being reviewed – that truly good reviews require.

And, ah, the best reviews. The best reviews don’t start with a manual or guidelines. They start with a philosophy of people. This shouldn’t be a surprise. How you do a performance review – how anyone does one – is a good indication of one’s general attitude toward people. The context is different, but the model is Jesus and the disciples.

So here’s where I start, or where I try to start, and you won’t find this in the HR manual: #1 I believe in the intrinsic value of each person. And I believe we all have the same intrinsic value, because we are all made in the image of God. That doesn’t mean we’re all the same. We have different skills and level of skills, different degrees of intelligence, different lots of things. But because we’re made in God’s image, in God’s eyes we have the same value.

In practice, this translates into treating each person with the dignity and respect they deserve, trying to find what aspect of works really excites them, and helping them achieve to the fullest extent possible. Someone on my team may be the best writer ever created, but he or she has the same inherent value as anyone else on the team, and I have to help them figure out how to utilize their specific gifts.

From there, you look at what the manuals and guidelines tell you, and you’d be surprised how much of what they contain is biblically based, even thought the people who wrote the stuff probably weren’t aware of that. But there are biblical principles which have indeed permeated our society, and continue to do so. If they ever stop permeating our society and our workplaces, we’re all in major trouble.

#2 Do it all the time. Performance reviews should be an ongoing fact of life in the workplace, and almost on a daily basis. When a problem arises, you deal with it on the spot, and you keep the problem to the individual(s) affected. When something good happens, you celebrate it on the spot, and you celebrate with the whole team. And when performance is appraised and communicated all the time, there are…

#3 No surprises! No one should come into a performance review and be slammed with something they knew nothing about, that no one ever told them about, and comes from so far out of left field that it’s absurd. Surprising people = instant loss of the boss’s credibility. Don’t do it.

#4 Be fair. You may have started out the year with a set of goals and expectations, but a lot of things can change during 12 months. So when they do, when new major projects or responsibilities arrive, you and your employee discuss it at the time it happens and agree that the goals have to change as well.

#5 Be honest. In an ongoing process, honesty and candor are critical. No one can have even a ghost of chance to improve their performance if you never bring up the fact that there’s a problem. I was once thrust into the position of, having become a people leader for the first time, being told that one individual on the team needed to be fired, that performance had lagged for years. When I asked how the individual had responded to this when told (presumably), I learned that nothing had ever been communicated. Ever. For years.

#6 Use the formal reviews for a purpose. The formal review times should be done with a specific purpose in mind, since you’ve been doing the ongoing process all along. If your organization has a mid-year review, use it to calibrate goals set months earlier. Do they still apply? Has something changed? Does something need to drop off or be added? For the annual review, do a wrap-up of the individual’s performance but then spend most of the discussion in planning the next year’s goals for the overall team and the individual. Make use of that knowledge and experience. Solicit ideas and suggestions. Talk about how things that were learned during the year can be applied. Talk about how this fits into the larger organizational picture. And ask for feedback on your performance (and you should have been doing that all along, too).

I’d love to say I practice 100 percent of what I preach here. I don’t. I fall short. Sometimes I really screw up. But the model is what I strive to do. And if you lead people, then you have a special responsibility. I would call it the shepherd’s responsibility: to serve.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Performance Reviews: The Bad

At the High Calling Blogs Tuesday, my friend Bradley Moore (Shrinking the Camel) posted “How Important is Your Image?” The article is about the peer review process as part of an individual’s overall performance appraisal, and then goes deeper into a discussion about image and performance. Over the years, performance appraisal processes have become something of a major industry. And there are all kinds of facets to them – peer reviews, performance reviews, results reviews, L-180s (where team leaders are appraised anonymously by their team members), and L-360s (where an individual is appraised anonymously by supervisor, subordinate, peers, colleagues on other teams), among a lot of others.

While the article was mostly about whether or not image was more important than performance, and what kind of image that was, I keyed in on the performance review part. I hate performance reviews, and not because they aren’t (theoretically) valuable. The comment I posted on Bradley’s article went something like this:

I’ve had performance reviews for almost my entire career, except for the four years I was an independent consultant. I can recall a few that were okay in terms of how they were conducted, many that were totally inept, but very few that were good. When I started doing them myself for people on my team, I generally had no role models to emulate, and basic HR guidelines that rarely applied, except for what to avoid doing. So I looked to biblical principles — be fair, be honest, talk about the hard stuff, give credit where it was due, and always affirm the worth of the person.

I should have added that performance reviews should go on all the time and not just once or twice a year. The mantra I chant until I drive people crazy is “No surprises at mid-year and annual reviews. No surprises. Not one surprise, good or bad.” My theory here is, if a problem comes up, you deal with when it happens, not months later. If someone is a consistently poor performer, you’re doing no one any good by saying nothing or trying to transfer them elsewhere. Or if someone deserves recognition or celebration, you do it right then, when everyone understands and sees the connection. So, no surprises at review time.

If you think I speak from experience, you are entirely correct. Too much experience. Since college, I’ve had six employers, seven if I include myself. Before I graduated from college, I had three, so formally and informally, that makes a total of 10. And from those 10, I’ve collectively learned there are at least four kinds of bad performance reviews.

The Zinger. You’ve had a bang-up performance year, you’re firing on all eight cylinders, and choirs of managers have been singing your praises. Your boss knows it and appreciates it. But he can’t give you a 100 percent positive review, because he never had one like that, he doesn’t want to give you the big head, and he believes that no one does all good. So he comes up with – the zinger. This is a simple comment designed to throw the individual totally off balance, something that has never been spoken about, something so totally out of left field that you can’t respond as your boss smilingly adds it to “development needs.”

I had one boss who turned the zinger into an art form. All of us who reported to him experienced it, and we occasionally took bets on what he’d come up with for the current year. For me, it usually some variation of “You’re not aggressive enough.” The first time he hit me with it, I didn’t know what to say. It worked so well that first time that he tried it again the next year, but I was ready and asked, “And how did that affect my performance?” That flustered him. The third time he pitched it at me again, but he had an answer to my question: “It didn’t affect your performance, but it affects management’s perceptions of you.” So I started getting more aggressive – with him. When I said that’s what he had told me to do, he said, “I didn’t mean with me!” Third time was the charm. He went on to something else.

The Non-Performance Review. The non-performance review happens when your boss doesn’t like doing reviews, and will talk about absolutely anything other than your performance: sports, the weather, his kids, your kids, his car, the carpeting on the floor, the light fixtures, you-name-it. It’s not that there are problems he wants to avoid talking about, it’s just he hates – hates! – getting so personal and has learned that a performance review, done properly, makes him as vulnerable as it does you.

Over the years, I’ve had performance reviews that offered opportunities to discuss movies and Broadway plays, the latest non-fiction bestseller, problems with other people on the team (like peers), favorite cocktails, restaurants and pets, among other things. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get back to the subject at hand. And then the time would elapse, and the boss would breathe a huge sigh of relief.

For these, you have to pay close attention to what gets written down, because you won’t know what your appraisal is until you see it. (I refused to sign one of these once – an act deemed equivalent to starting the French Revolution.)

The Image Review. This type of performance review has less to do with your performance than it does with your boss’s perceptions of the perceptions of “management,” which he’s often responsible for. So the image review becomes a kind of tea-leaf-reading exercise, in which you try to discern which “perceptions of management” are actually your boss’s own personal perceptions and which belong to someone else. And who "management" actually is.

This one is tough on the person being reviewed. It helps to have some years of experience here, because you have to know how things work and you have to be fast on your feet in responding. I was once told, for example, that “management” had a problem with my team leadership capabilities because my people liked working for me, the expectations being, apparently, that you were a better team leader if they didn’t like you, so treat them badly. So I said, “Look at their performance and tell me how it could have been improved by browbeating them.” The response was a sullen look. I wish I was making this up.

The Hybrid Performance Review. This one usually combines the Image Review and the Zinger. Performance is barely mentioned; instead, you get a combination of “management’s perceptions” and a series of zingers. I may hold the record for this, in fact. In one one-hour review, performance was discussed in less than 15 seconds – a kind of grunt – and then it was a series of perception zingers, all of which were totally baseless and some of which were actually the perceptions about my boss, and we both knew it.

I would like to say I did the kind, understanding, Christian thing. I didn’t. I was so outraged that I fought back, and hard. I refuted everything. Met with a “but this is management’s perception” response, I hit back with “and you were responsible for almost all of that,” and then explained that in detail.

This wasn’t a performance review; it was a boxing match. No, that’s too nice. It was an ugly street brawl. Bridges got burned. It was just plain bad. Whenever you have one of these with your boss, you lose. By definition.

As I said in my comment to Bradley’s post, it all should down to this: Be fair. Be honest. Talk about the hard stuff when it happens, not during the review. Give credit where it’s due. Always affirm the worth of the person.

And no surprises.

Tomorrow: the good review performance reviews.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Remember: It's About Hope

I’ve been reading about David lately, and writing a few poems. He’s a complex character – hero, victim, villain, shepherd, king, almost deposed king, warrior, murderer, fugitive, lover, poet . It’s that complexity and occasional contradictions that draw me to study him. He was human! And with all of the things he did and didn’t do, he was still the “man after God’s own heart.”

David is most closely associated with the Psalms. It’s no surprise that the Hebrew word for remember is mentioned 41 times in that collection of songs. (The word is used a total of 149 times in the Old Testament, and if you add in all the variations, it’s almost 200 references.)(And just so you know, there are 66 references in the New Testament.)

If anyone had a lot to remember, it was David. And in Psalm 25, he used the word three times:

“Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love,
For they are from old.
Remember not the sins of my youth
And my rebellious ways;
According to your love remember me,
For you are good, O Lord.” (Psalm 25:6,7)

My study Bible describes this psalm as a prayer for defense, guidance and pardon. At what point in his life David wrote it is not known, although the “remember not the sins of my youth” make it sound like he was older. Was it when he was being pursued by Saul? When his son Absalom almost seized the throne and publicly humiliated his father? When he had Uriah killed to cover up the affair with Bathsheba, or when their baby was dying? Or was it during a time of war and battle?

Any of those situations might fit, as would others, but the point is that David, in his despair, called upon the Lord both to remember and not remember, the “not remember” being a kind of confession and a seeking of forgiveness. And David, who was a man after God’s own heart, knew of God’s great mercy and love – and claimed it.

What’s fascinating for me is that, for David, remembering was ultimately about the future, and thus about hope. For me, David is the great example of remembrance and hope.

(To see other posts on “remember,” visit the blog carnival over at Peter Pollock’s place, Rediscovering the Church.)

Interview with a Speechwriter/Poet

I was interviewed (via email) by Maureen Doallas, one of my online blogging and tweeting friends who joins us for the Twitter poetry jams (plug here for TweetSpeak Poetry).

When she sent me the questions, I was surprised by how much research she had done -- Maureen knows how to do an interview right (and she has a lot to teach working journalists about this).

You can find the published interview at Maureen's blog, Writing Without Paper.

In the White Tanks

I've been reading The Wisdom of the Wilderness by Gerald May as part of an online book group discussion over at the High Calling Blogs led by Laura Boggess. In chapter 5, May talks about those moments when you're in a natural setting or wilderness and everything blends and focuses into one experience:
“But here’s the thing: IT’S ALL EXPERIENCE! Every bit of it, the oneness and the separation, the immediacy and the distancing, it all happens when it happens, and when it happens it’s as absolutely real as the snow and the tree and the sky. With just a little bit of grace, I can be here, really exist here, present, open available, immediate.” (page 82)

Flash back: Christmas week, 2006. My wife and I, along with Then-College-Freshman Son, flew to Phoenix for the holiday to visit with Graduated-and-Working Son, get to know Phoenix a bit, and visit with Significant Person in Working Son’s life. Significant Person is now Daughter-In-Law.

It was a great week. Phoenix from May through August may be awful for weather, but by December – it’s pretty close to perfect. Certainly perfect compared to what we left behind in St. Louis. We enjoyed mild temperatures, general goofing off, shopping (ah, Scottsdale Mall!), restaurants, and the Arizona Bike Trail (I enjoyed the bike trail; everyone else slept in).

One day, College Son asked, “Dad, what if we went hiking?” Given how rare those requests become after age 12, I leapt on it. The desk clerk at the hotel recommended what he called “the White Tanks,” the White Tank Regional Park on the far western side of the Phoenix metropolitan area. These were the mountains we always saw in the distance whenever we looked west. We packed some provisions and drove to the park.

The trails weren’t obvious, but we finally found one, and began hiking. We generally stayed in the lower elevations, but it was still a strenuous hike.

And it was dry, dusty and rocky – what you expect as the desert floor rose into the mountains. The trail we were on, one of several in the park, meandered near the front of the park but generally kept moving up. At times, the trail disappeared in a stretch of flat rock, and then we’d find it again.

When we reached the end (which was up and high), the view was breathtaking – the entire valley containing the metropolitan Phoenix area was below and stretched out before us. There were still higher mountains behind us, but this was enough a spectacular view in and of itself.

It was stunning – and in that moment, it all fused together – the view, the hike up the mountains, the desert, the dryness and dust, the rock outcroppings. It came together in that “all experience” May describes. For some time, we said nothing – just looked, watched and moved quietly. It was indeed an experience of oneness – everything together as one, including us.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

David, Hillside

On my rock,
My rock on the
I sit to watch
And tend
My father’s flock.

It’s lonely, this place.
Watching is
What I do, mostly,
Except to play
My stones and sling
Against the wayward wolf.
When I talk to the flock,
They baa-laugh
And move away from
The crazy boy.

On my rock,
I dream my Lord,
My Lord most
Who drew me from
My father’s seed,
Knit me in
My mother’s womb,
Breathed spirit
Into my soul.

I feel his breath
In the wind,
His tears of joy
In the rain,
His heart in the warming
Of the summer sun.
He plays with me,
Sings to me,
Coaxes me from
My shyness
To talk with him,
A conversation of
Tender moments.
I hear his laughter
In the birds
Above me.

Then, his voice.
Even as he
Frolics with me,
His voice.

The time is coming,
My beloved.
I teach you, now,
So you will be, then.

He calls me beloved,
As he holds me
Like a lamb
In the palm of
His hand, kissing
My brow
With drops of
Morning mist,
Like a lover.

(This week, for the Random Act of Poetry over at the High Calling Blogs, the subject is "Love in Character," a love poem written in character -- real or fictional. If you'd like your love poem in character included, you can leave a comment here at Seedlings in Stone.)