Sunday, January 31, 2010

Yellow Pad

Yellow pad lined
in pale, horizontal
empty with the tint of
air, awaits a
word or
two, perhaps three.

Pen, filled with
inky black, like dried
hovers in rose-blush hope
to midwife a
word or
two, perhaps three.

Word, awaiting a
birth, the color of
Flows from the heart; a
word or
two, perhaps three,
fit for a yellow pad.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Replay of “InsideOut” and Music

In case you missed the live performance, there’s a replay available of L.L. Barkat’s poetry reading with Brooke Campbell’s singing at an International Arts Movement program last night in New York City.

The replay can be found here. L.L. is reading selections from her InsideOut: Poems, which was featured here in our poetry and wine giveaway earlier this month.

The replay offers you a chance to listen to the real deal. And you still have this weekend to order InsideOut at the January special price of $6.03.

Joy at Memoria Arts talks about her response to last night's webcast: A time for...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Does It Have to Be Amish Romance?

So what is Christian fiction? There's a debate, usually (but not always) civil, that's pointing the way to larger questions.

I have a post over at Christian Manifesto that talks about it. And thanks for taking a look.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Scout and Jem, That Night

That eve of the dead, the
white wind keened a
moaning song of
release, of words not
spoken before, of
guilty yet not.
Innocent was
not possible, not
then, not then.

A white demon, carried
on the white wind, the
white wind of white
descended upon two
children, two young, who
did not know, who
did not understand
the meaning, but
simply were.

A white demon not
of their making but
part of their sin,
descended to seek its
retribution, its vengeance, the
annihilation of what was to come,
a demon stopped only by
the mute angel
named Boo.

For the Random Act of Poetry at the High Calling Blogs, we were asked to choose a character from a book – any kind of book – and write a poem to, from or just about that character. For details on the character(s) I selected, visit here.

The 16th Day of Community: David Rupert

When I happened across David Rupert’s blog Red Letter Believers some months ago, I felt like I had discovered a kindred spirit. I still do.

If I remember correctly, I was looking at the Inside Work blog managed by Jim Hancock, and read a post by Bradley Moore, the Shrinking Camel himself. I clicked over to Bradley’s blog, and liked it so much that I added it to my RSS reader. And one day, a guy with an avatar showing duct tape over his mouth commented on one of Bradley’s posts; I followed the link and discovered Red Letter Believers. (He’s since changed his avatar.)

David works in corporate communications as a writer/editor for the U.S. Postal Service. I’ve spent 90 percent of my career in corporate communications, and a big chunk of that as a writer/editor. We read and follow a lot of the same blogs – and we didn’t plan it that way. We arrived at these same places independently of one another. On his blog, he writes a lot about work, and faith, and work and faith. Here’s what he says his blog is about:

“Red Letter Believers go far beyond politics or religion or entertainment or the things of earth. We are here to encourage each other to live the words of Christ -- the same words that many Bibles put 'in red.' We seek to live out our faith, impacting our homes, our communities, our jobs and our nation.”

He’s written about the difference between being spiritual and being religious; about responding to disaster; Mark McGuire and cheating; Christian party poopers; and what your boss really wants for Christmas, among dozens of other subjects. What they have in common is this: simple, clean language; clarity; depth; and the perspective of faith. Always the perspective of faith.

As I said, I have the blog on my RSS reader, but Red Letter Believers is one of the few blogs I actually check daily. Do the same and be richly rewarded.

(Last month, a number of us participating in the “Twelve Days of Community” - see the button at the top right - sponsored by The High Calling Blogs. The purpose was to highlight the blog or web site of someone other than ourselves during the season of Advent and Christmas. I liked the idea so much that I’m going to continue to do that -- highlight a blog or web site of a person whose thoughts and writing have had an impact on me and others.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

All We Are Saying, Is Give Peace a Chance

I am one of three boys, but I occupied the most versatile of birth order positions. For the first 10 years of my life, I was the youngest, my older brother being eight years older than I was. Then my older brother left home, and I was the oldest for the next 11 years until I graduated from college. When my mother was 38 and my father 45, they had my younger brother. Yes, that’s right, there’s 18 years between my older and younger brothers.

Our births spanned three decades -- the 1940s, the 1950s and the 1960s. Musically, it meant that one of us was an Elvis Presley fan, one of us was a Beatles fan, and one of us was an Eagles fan. (I would like to proudly point out, however, that when my older brother was getting ready to leave for a high school dance called the Cornucopia Hop, he was embarrassed because he didn’t know the latest dance, the Twist. So I, all of 9 years old, taught him both the Twist and the Peppermint Twist. I was precocious, at least when it came to dancing.)

My father called us the three generations. I don’t recall how he described my two brothers, but I was the family’s “peace generation.” No, I didn’t do the long-haired hippie thing, but there was some truth to my father’s labeling. You couldn’t come of age in the 1960s without being affected in some way by the cultural and social upheavals of the decade – the civil rights movement, Vietnam, riots at universities, the assassinations of John F. and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the evaporation of trust in authority of all kinds, the “free love” movement, widespread use of drugs, and R- and X-rated movies. For older people, it appeared that society had become unhinged. And, it a sense, it had.

The concept of the “peace generation” eventually died, with T.S. Eliot’s proverbial whimper, morphing into the “Me Generation” when the news media and punditry class got bored and looked for something else to write and talk about.

What wasn’t often remarked upon at the time, however, was how close the “peace generation” actually was to violence. It was almost too easy for “make love, not war” protests against the war in Vietnam to turn into violent confrontations and episodes of property destruction, especially on college campuses – Berkeley, Kent State, Columbia, seemingly lots of other places, although that could have been the result of media amplification. (My own college campus existed in a time warp – the closest we ever came to violence was the annual panty raid before the football game with the arch-rival university. A time warp wasn’t a bad place to be back then.)

But a phrase sticks in my mind, likely forever: “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.” Millions sang that phrase at protest rallies all over the United States at the time.

Peace wasn’t a bad idea; much of what went on sprang from some of the best, most idealistic impulses of the human heart. But that was exactly the problem, and the possible explanation for the violence. The human heart harbors both good and bad impulses, and often intertwined, so that a burning desire for peace can turn into the burning of automobiles, administration buildings and military draft induction centers.

Such contradictions are part of the human condition, because they are part of the human heart. Mine included.

This post is part of the one-word blog carnival held twice a month and sponsored by Peter Pollock and Bridget Chumbley. To see more posts on "peace," visit Bridget's web site.

“Silence:” Is Anybody There?

You pray. You pray a lot. You pray for a long time. The need is great. You pray some more. People are being tortured and dying horrible deaths. You pray more, and harder. And then you get…

Nothing. Silence.

That "nothing" is the heart of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, the story of two Portuguese priests in Japan in the 1600s during a time of great Christian persecution. Published in 1969, the novel is based on a true story. One of the priests, Father Sebastian Rodrigues, is imprisoned and gets to listen to the moans and cries of native Japanese Christians being tortured. The other priest, Father Christovao Ferreira, has already apostatized and abandoned his faith, convinced that Christianity does not apply to Japan.

Endo, himself a Catholic, explores this silence of God. How can God be silent, as in “do nothing,” as his people are persecuted, tortured and killed? How can God allow such awful suffering and remain silent, even as His people earnestly and sincerely seek His face and His answers?

Agnostics and atheists often ask the same question. If there is a God, then how could He allow such injustice, destruction, depravity and suffering? How could he allow an impoverished country like Haiti be destroyed, with 150,000 dead and untold misery? How?

I’d like to let agnostics and atheists in on a secret. Christians struggle with the same question. It is as hard for us to comprehend this as it is for others who reject any notion of God. The difference is, we struggle and pray through the question, and we keep struggling and praying even when the answer appears to be silence.

Pat Robertson’s statement notwithstanding, I don’t believe that earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters are by definition God’s judgment being meted out. But I do know that when these events happen, God expects his people to respond.

And when they do, there is no silence.

Previous posts on Shusaku Endo’s Silence:

Shusaku Endo’s “Silence”
“Silence:” How Do You Betray Your Faith?
“Silence:” Is Christianity True or “Cultural?”

Silence is the first book to be discussed this year by the Reader’s Guild of the International Arts Movement. For the month of February, the book is The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Shadow and Light

Fight for shadow
while the light beckons,
intruding, invading,
inviting, enticing,
filling eyes; eyes
blinking, turning

Turn to shadow,
seeking familiar,
solace, comfort in the
dark, the silence,
pretending the noise is
somewhere else;
the light laughs.

Turn from shadow,
glance, glare at the light,
lean to the light but
divert the gaze to
the darkness receding,
retreating, dissipating.
Surrender into the light.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Envelopes, Please

We have two winners in our poetry and wine giveaways.

Winner #1 – name drawn at random – receives a copy of L.L. Barkat’s InsideOut: Poems. I asked my wife to pick a number up to and including 30 (she hadn’t seen any of the comments). And the winner is Graceful, aka Michelle DeRusha.

Winner #2 had to answer one of two questions in 100 words or less: “Why poetry matters today,” or “Why I love poetry.” Winner #2 receives a copy of InsideOut: Poems and a bottle of Sineann 2007 Merlot Hillside, which is being kindly donated by Nancy Rosback of Sineann Wines, also known as @poemsandprayers on Twitter and who writes from her blog Just Say the Word.

And this was tough. I’d like to choose them all – there are some great answers. And some were beautiful poems.

But I had to select one.

I narrowed it to four, then three, then two. And tore my hair out (poetically, of course).

And finally picked one that answered the question, “Why poetry matters today”:

“You read it aloud in the darkened room, your lamp the center of one pool of light. From another bulb’s halo, the poet sent the words out to you. Held in the vowels and caught on the consonants, somehow, is your own story written by a stranger. Truth unknown before now falls on you from the uneven ends of the lines. This moment of recognition is as ancient as the cave paintings we shine our flashlights on, deciphering our story from the shapes and tracings of another’s, the one with the courage to pick up the colors.”

Congratulations, Missy Kemp of Greenville, South Carolina.

Over the next few days, I will feature all of the answers to the questions at TweetSpeak Poetry.

Thank you all for participating. I was privileged to watch enthusiasm and great beauty unfold over the course of a week.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Trust Agents” by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

I had seen a number of references to it. But it wasn’t until I saw L.L. Barkat’s article at the High Calling Blogs on “The 12 Days of Self-Promotion” that I decided to read Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. So on the Christmas wish list it went, and Santa (dressed as my wife) delivered.

Brogan is a cofounder of PodCamp, a news media conference series that focuses on the use of social media to build both business and personal relationships. Smith is a trend analyst who has run web communities for more than a decade. They are well suited to talk about trust agents.

The book is written in that enthusiastic, rather breathless style often found in books about Web 2.0 and social media. The difference here is that it also contains considerable and significant content. These guys know what they’re talking about, and while they’re aiming at businesses here, what they say has equal application to individuals.

“There are people out there right now,” they write, “working to understand these new technologies and learning everything about how to use them – from etiquette to audience building and beyond. They are learning the ropes. They are the pioneers, mastering the latest one-to-many communications methods. Like your kids, they know more about technology, and maybe even more about people, than you do; and that makes them very powerful. We call them trust agents.”

They’re trusted because they make sure it’s “not about them.” They work for others, linking, encouraging, providing information, teaching, leading, mentoring, helping.

Brogan and Smith go on to describe the six characteristics or actions of a trust agent: make your own game; one of us; the Archimedes principle (as in leverage); Agent Zero (who connects the web); human artist; and build an army. Along the way, the reader learns where so many companies go wrong with social media – they believe this is all about them, and use social media channels as means to publicize and promote themselves. That results in, like the Twitter hashtag says, #fail. They also point out that the need to trust people hasn’t changed, but that the way we do that certainly has.

Trust Agents is easy to read, and more importantly, well worth reading.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The 15th Day of Community: Russell Holloway

You must get all kinds of interesting reactions when your name on Twitter is @LuvStomp.

Russell Holloway is a registered mental health counselor in private practice at the Port Orange Counseling Center in Port Orange, Florida. He and his wife are the parents of two boys. He enjoys multi-sports racing, hiking and reading.

And he has a heart for the homeless, the hurting – and for God.

Until just a few days ago, his blog was called Bullets & Butterflies. He’s opened a new space online called Give Peas a Chance (I love the pun; I told him he should also try to visualize whirled peas, like the bumper sticker suggests.)

What does he write about? Hearts, mostly. Take a look.

• Notes from a friend’s work at a homeless shelter when it’s cold in Florida (“Just Look”).
• The importance of intimacy (“Make Love Not Porn”).
• “If you go to church long enough you'll get your heart stomped on. With people involved, it's a given” (“Pretend Perfection”).
• And how his own heart was changed after listening to a speech about African-American history being American history (“American Made”).

I’ve never met Russell face-to-face, but we’ve traded tweets, emails and DMs. When I read his blog posts, I find understanding, compassion and gentleness.

You should, too.

Update: Russell says that he's going to stick with Bullets & Butterflies only.

(Last month, a number of us participating in the “Twelve Days of Community” - see the button at the top right - sponsored by The High Calling Blogs. The purpose was to highlight the blog or web site of someone other than ourselves during the season of Advent and Christmas. I liked the idea so much that I’m going to continue to do that -- highlight a blog or web site of a person whose thoughts and writing have had an impact on me and others.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chris Coppernoll’s “Screen Play”

Confession time.

I like chick flicks. Well, most of them. Like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.”

I am known to cry at movies. That’s both at the movie theater and in my family room watching something from Netflix. It doesn’t embarrass my wife because she got used to it after the first 200 or 300 times. I did this in college, too. I saw “Love Story” with Ryan O’Neill and Ali McGraw three times, with three different dates, and I cried at all three. My dates, I should point out, all remained dry-eyed.

I am known to read the occasional love story, too. And yes, if there are weepy scenes in the novel, well, yes, you get the picture.

Guys aren’t supposed to do this. My father didn’t. If he were still alive, he’d die of embarrassment if he knew. My mother knows; she just shakes her head. I’ve kept it hidden from my brothers.

The simple fact is, I’m a sucker for a love story.

Chris Coppernoll’s Screen Play is a love story. It has weepy scenes. I read it in almost one sitting.

Coppernoll is the author of two previous novels – Providence and A Beautiful Fall. Providence is like a love story for guys; A Beautiful Fall is a love story not for guys. I’ve read them both. I liked them both.

Screen Play is about a young actress who’s struggling with her career and her love life – a career that seems to have died and a romance that did die when her boyfriend took off for California. All she has going for her is her faith, and she hangs on to it. Through a good friend, she gets the role of understudy in a Broadway revival. And she meets a guy through an online dating service, a guy who sounds perfect except he’s a pilot in Alaska. They text each other back and forth for a while until he gives her his phone number.

Then she gets her stage break. And it’s huge. Hollywood beckons.

If all of this sounds wildly implausible and clich├ęd, it is – except in Coppernoll’s hands. Screen Play is fast-paced and well written, and he tells a great story. Especially impressive is that he tells the story through a woman’s point of view, that of the heroine, Harper Gray.

Nice job, Mr. Coppernoll.

And, well, did I get teary-eyed at the weepy scenes?

What do you think?

Since the Federal Trade Commission has nothing else better to do, and in the interests of total disclosure, I should let you know that the publisher provided me with a review copy of Screen Play. I was given no other remuneration or freebie (unless you count the news release accompanying the book, which I don’t). In fact, I asked the publisher to review this book, because I thoroughly enjoyed reading Providence. The publisher did not ask me to give a positive review. And I follow Mr. Coppernoll on Twitter, but he doesn’t tweet much. There’s now nothing left to disclose.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sep aration

Growing up with
sep arate
sep arate
water fountains,
sep arate
sections of the bus,
sep arate
seats at the movie theater,
sep arate
sep arate
sep arate
sep arate
and forever unequal.

But there was a
dream of together, a
dream of this
didn’t have to be,
a dream beginning
and still a dream,
still a hope.

With thanks to the children of Red Clay Diaries, and the children of Haiti, for reminding us.

"Silence:" Is Christianity True or “Cultural”?

Is Christianity true for all humanity, or it is “cultural” or “geographic”? Another way of asking the question is, is Christianity universal or specific to Western culture (and in serious danger even there, especially in Europe generally and among the elites in United States)?

That’s one of the two questions posed by Shusaku Endo in his novel Silence, the story of two Portuguese priests in Japan in the 1600s during a time of Great Christian persecution. The novel was published in 1969, and is based on a true story, but the questions it poses seem even more contemporary and important today. (I’ll discuss the second question, what is the “silence” of the title, next Monday, the final of four posts on the novel.)

Knowing a persecution of Christians is underway, Father Sebastian Rodrigues goes to Japan for two reasons – to provide pastoral care for the Christians who are left and to verify the rumors that the former head of the mission to Japan, Rodrigues’ own former seminary teacher Father Christovao Ferreira, has apostatized and abandoned the faith. Rodrigues is eventually found by authorities, imprisoned but not (in the novel, at least) tortured. Instead, the local authorities attempt an array of intellectual gambits to convince Rodrigues to abandon his Catholic faith. These include conversations with the local ruler and the torture of native Japanese Christians.

The most dramatic and persuasive of these attempts is to bring Rodrigues to the former Father Ferreira, who now dresses in Japanese style, has a wife and has become something of an agent for the Japanese authorities (he at least does what he’s told to do). Ferreira attempts to convince his former student that Christianity simply will not work in Japan; it will not take root in the country’s culture. It may work in Europe, but Europe is not Japan.

Rodrigues fully understands the importance of the argument. If it is true that Christianity does not apply to Japan and can flourish only in a more hospitable culture, then it is a fraud, and a fraud everywhere, because its claims are indeed universal. It is not just a “religion for Europeans” but a faith for all humanity. And while Rodrigues finds himself slipping under the influence of his former teacher and fellow priest, there’s a more formidable question looming.

Can you renounce your faith in name only to save the lives of others? Isn’t that a kind of Christ-like sacrifice?

Silence is a provocative read, and it’s meant to be.

Shusaku Endo’s Silence is the book under discussion in the month of January by the Reader’s Guild of the International Arts Movement.

The book is also being filmed as a movie by Martin Scorsese and stars Daniel Day-Lewis, and is set for release late in 2010. For more information about the book, visit its entry on Wikipedia. And artist Makoto Fujimura talks about the book in an IAM podcast.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Jesus Prayer

Last November, my wife and I drove one Saturday over to Columbia, Missouri, to see youngest son in college. We brought food relief, went out to eat (at the Flatiron, if you’re ever there and looking for something good and inexpensive), and then hit the University of Missouri bookstore. My wife and youngest son gravitated to logo clothing while I wandered among the book stacks, and specifically the poetry stacks.

One of the books I found was Short Trip to the Edge by Scott Cairns.

Cairns is an accomplished poet and an English professor at Mizzou, where he teaches modern and contemporary American literature and creative writing. He’s also an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and he writes about his faith. A lot. His Love’s Immensity, in fact, is a collection of translations and adaptations of writings of various Christian apostles, disciples and saints on faith and prayer, from Saint Paul to St. Therese of Lisieux, and written as poems.

Short Trip to the Edge is the account of four pilgrimages Cairns made with the hope of finding a spiritual father to guide him in a life of prayer – two to the monasteries and “sketes” of Mount Athos, one to an Orthodox monastery in Arizona, and the fourth back to Mount Athos, this time with his teenaged son. To join Cairns on his journey is to discover some of the most revered places in the Orthodox church, to see how seekers and others undertake a pilgrimage, and to watch as they and the monks and priests leading them participate in worship.

It’s a very different kind of Christian faith from what I’ve experienced. It’s a tribute to Cairns’ writing that I found myself sitting alongside him, in my own “stall,” listening to the chants of the monks and standing in line with the other pilgrims to receive the Eucharist, and then afterward to join in venerating the icons. (And veneration of the icons is something almost alien to this evangelical Presbyterian.)

As I was finishing the book this past week, what should arrive in my email but a daily reflection from Mark Roberts, senior director of Laity Lodge and Scholar-in-Residence, part of the High Calling organization (my blog is affiliated with the High Calling Blogs). This is a daily email, and Roberts has been writing and meditating on the Gospel of Mark. Thursday’s reflection cited the Jesus Prayer. And Roberts said that, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, “One of the most common and influential prayers is… the so-called ‘Jesus Prayer,’ which has a variety of forms, and is spoken millions of times each day by believers throughout the world.”

And it’s the prayer that Cairns prays throughout Short Trip to the Edge.

Okay, so it was a coincidence. But I ponder coincidences like that, and I started to pray the words. I can’t say that anything miraculous has happened as a result, nor do I expect that. But I’m finding it is a way to calm myself and focus, and I’ve started praying it several times a day.

The words are simple.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Short Trip to the Edge also has things to say about poetry. Visit TweetSpeak Poetry for my post on that aspect of the work.

On Friday, my friend Jim Schmotzer looked at The Jesus Prayer in poetic form, and it's a beautiful rendering. The fact that it was on both of our minds at the same time is another one of those coincidences.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

T.L. Hines "The Unseen"

I never thought about being spied upon from the ceiling of my office, or when I’m in an elevator. After reading The Unseen by T.L. Hines, maybe I should.

My introduction to T.L. Hines’ novels was Faces in the Fire, a series of interconnected stories and characters that was, well, stunning in how he pulled it off. He’s often designated (even by his publisher) with a “Christian noir” of “noir bizarre” label. And there’s no question that his novels are not what you usually find in the “Christian fiction” section of the bookstore.

But they are humdinger stories, and force you to confront characters, narratives and issues in ways that few “Christian novels” do.

In The Unseen, Lucas is a young man in his 20s who has a habit, one learned from the time he was in an orphanage. He has become extraordinarily adept at maneuvering himself into tight spaces and then observing people, unseen. And while he observes, he creates stories about them, whole biographies of who they are and where they came from and their families.

He’s content to work as a dishwasher, paid under the table so there are no records. He lives about as transient lifestyle as one can without actually being homeless or a transient. He has no permanent address, but instead moves from forgotten spaces in the Washington D.C. Metro line and underground sewer system to abandoned buildings.

And that is his life, until he comes into contact with the Creep Club, a group whose members do what Lucas does but go far beyond, videotaping and packaging what they film unseen for their own amusement. Then a government agent enters the picture, and Lucas finds himself running for his life.

The Unseen is a strange story, but it’s a strange story that’s absolutely riveting. And while it is published by a Christian publisher, the “message” is not overtly Christian; in fact, it’s barely present. But it’s there, in the story, the theme, the characters and the action. The Unseen is written from a Christian perspective and worldview, but the perspective is not obvious.

And that may be T.L. Hines’ purpose. Tell a good story, and tell it well, and tell it in such a way that the reader says “what?” and wants to know more.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Please Help Haiti

The situation in Haiti following the earthquake continues to worsen. Please consider giving financial support to organizations that are providing relief. Two that I would recommend are World Vision and Compassion International. Both have extensive experience in helping children and providing diasaster relief.

God helps those who help themselves.
-- Benjamin Franklin

God helps those who are helpless.
-- The Bible

Jaw Ache

An occasional,
ache, sharp if not
specific to a tooth
but running along
the jawbone like
a brain freeze,
that fleeting, transient,
temporary, intense
flash of pain; temporary,
yes, but when
it’s there,
it’s there.
It lingers, sometimes,
like a conscience.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Poetry and Wine: A Giveaway

On Monday at The High Calling Blogs, Laura Boggess had an article on poetry, and specifically on InsideOut: Poems, the new volume by L.L. Barkat and published by the International Arts Movement. I made a comment – and I’ve made no secret of how much I’ve enjoyed reading L.L.’s poems (I’ve read the book twice, and a partial manuscript once, and I’ve gone back and read particular poems). And I reviewed it on Amazon.

A few people commented that poetry wasn’t their thing, and I posted a rather lengthy comment about why I thought poetry was important. Here’s part of what I said:

“I read poetry a lot more than I used to, and now I’m occasionally writing it (or trying to). And here’s why, I think: all good writing inherently contains poetry. All good writing (and speaking, too) contains rhythm, flow, and artful and purposeful use of language. It makes you think in a different way, understand something for the first time, or deepen your understanding. The poetic elements of all good writing are, I think, the essence, often hidden or disguised, of what makes the writing good.

“A good poet extracts that essence, and shapes it, translates it, describes it, reveals it.”

This is what L.L’s poetry does – extracts the essence and then shapes it and reveals it. And it’s beautiful to read, and read aloud.

So, because I want other people to experience poetry, I’m doing two things.

First, I’m offering a chance to receive a copy of L.L.’s InsideOut: Poems for free. All you have to do is drop a comment in the comment box, between now and next Thursday (Jan. 21) at 8 p.m. Central time, and one name will be selected at random to receive the copy.

Second, I’m offering the chance to receive a copy of InsideOut: Poems for free, along with a free bottle Sineann 2007 Merlot Hillside. All you have to do is write 100 words or less on either of these themes: “Why poetry matters today,” or “How I came to love poetry.” You can post it on your own blog and drop the link here in the comment box, or drop the full 100 words (or less) in the comment box, by 8 p.m. Central time on Thursday, Jan. 21. I’ll select one winner to receive InsideOut: Poems and the bottle of wine. If you post on your own blog, I’ll link to it from here, and so will the High Calling Blogs. And I’ll publish all of the responses over at TweetSpeak Poetry. Also, please note: Some U.S. states – including Massachusetts, Utah, New Hampshire and one of the Dakotas – do not allow the shipment of wine. If your response is selected as the winner and you live in one of those states, I’ll figure out a suitable replacement.

And if you participate in the second you’re automatically eligible for the first, so you may actually have two chances to win the poems. Winners in both categories will be announced here on Friday, Jan. 22.

Poetry, or poetry and wine. Delightful, yes?

From Helen-at-Random: Why Poetry Matters Today
From A Simple Country Girl: Blinking-Breathing-Thinking
From Lorrie: How I Came to Love Poetry
From Phoenix-Karenee: Poetry and Air
From Chris Wiles: Why Poetry Matters Today
From Monica Sharman: When Poetry Speaks
From Diatribal Arts: Why Poetry Matters
From Nancy in SoCal: Why Poetry Matters
From Joyce Wycoff: I Don't Write Poetry
From Diane Walker: It Bubbles Up

Also see: Favorite InsideOut Poems at TweetSpeak Poetry.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The 14th Day of Community: Janet Oberholtzer

Five years ago, Janet Oberholtzer was on vacation with her family. She was sleeping as they drove, and then she woke up – in the hospital, after a 10-day coma. And her life had irrevocably changed. She learned that she had almost died, and that she night never walk again. Her legs and hips were a mass of fractures and wounds, and she had fractured three vertebrae. Two have healed well; the third is out of line.

And Janet had been a runner, and participated in races.

The August after her accident, months later, Janet walked. Today, Janet runs again. (She has three posts on her blog about the accident, coming to terms with her injuries, and how she starting running again -- see them beneath her profile on the right. The third one includes a link at the bottom to a TV report from last March, when she was interviewed prior to participating in a four-person relay for a marathon.)

And Janet writes. In December, Janet learned she had been accepted into the Dream Year program, directed by Ben Arment. Ben will be her coach for a year. Janet’s dream: to finish and publish her memoir and then become a speaker – around the world.

I should also say that at Christmas, Janet posted photographs of her family – and it was only then that I realized that she was a mother of three boys – and not their sister (and not from the photographs – but from the text accompanying them.)

So check out Janet’s blog. Follow her on Twitter. And watch her dream unfold and come true.

(Last month, a number of us participating in the “Twelve Days of Community” - see the button at the top right - sponsored by The High Calling Blogs. The purpose was to highlight the blog or web site of someone other than ourselves during the season of Advent and Christmas. I liked the idea so much that I’m going to continue to do that -- highlight a blog or web site of a person whose thoughts and writing have had an impact on me and others.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Ten Commandments of Lust

Lust for fame, beauty, wealth,
possessions, position,
not what matters.

Lust for the idols and images
you create for yourself, the ones
that all, oddly, look like you.

Lust to be cool and sound cool,
Oh My God, or because
you have to fill the empty air and
don’t know what else to say.

Lust to work, and to fill your life with
busy-ness and every good and
bad thing so you don’t have to
think and if you stop the frenzy
of activity you’ll find the
emptiness within and you don’t
want that.

Lust to forget where you
came from because face it, parents
can be embarrassing and just want to
talk sometimes and your time is more
important and maybe you’ll have a
chance to call next week.

Lust for anger, revenge, gain,
destruction and death, and
self-obsession, too, because
self-obsession is a kind of

Lust to possess others’
bodies and hearts and souls
because God just
wants you to be happy,

Lust for everything you do not
own or possess, and that’s
a lot of stuff to
lust for.

Lust to promote yourself or destroy
someone else with a lie or
a rumor or a quick gossip
exchanged in total confidence,
of course, because
that’s how the system works
and the ends are always justified.

Lust for everything your neighbor
has or owns because
he’s no better than you and
probably worse and
you deserve it more
anyway; and if you can’t
figure out what to lust for
just pick something.

Obey these commandments;
lust for any and all of these

And I will have to die.

(This post is part of the blog carnival sponsored by Peter Pollock and Bridget Chumbley. To see additional posts on the topic of lust, click here.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

“Silence:” How Do You Betray Your Faith?

Shusaku Endo’s Silence is the book under discussion for the month of January by the Reader’s Guild of the International Arts Movement. (And check IAM out -- it doing some important things in the areas of art, culture and faith.) Discussion groups have actually formed in various places and there’s a discussion guide you can download. The guild will be posting various reports from the discussions. There’s no discussion group in St. Louis, and I would be hard-pressed to attend even if there were, so I’m participating via blog posts.

In Silence, the story of two priests who travel to Japan in the 1600s at a time when Christians were being relentlessly persecuted, one character plays the role of traitor. Kichijiro is something of a ne’er-do-well the priests meet in Macao while they wait for a ship to take them to Japan. He is the only Japanese in Macao, and when the priests find him, he’s drunk and dressed in rags. His eyes are described as “dirty yellow” and he has a crafty look about him. Kichijiro is obviously going to be a problem and cause problems; he’s set up that way from the beginning. But he’s the only Japanese the priests have, and they taken him on as guide, even understanding that he will be a problem.

When they ask him if he’s a Christian, he says no, repeatedly. Eventually they learn that he is, or actually was, a Christian but apostatized. His apostasy doesn’t prevent him, however, from asking Father Rodrigues to hear his confession, even after he betrays the priest and the priest is imprisoned. Betrayal, apostasy, then a desperation to have his confession heard – this is the repeated cycle of actions that is the character Kichijiro.

Identifying strongly with Christ, Father Rodrigues sees Kichijiro as a kind of Judas, but the character and his role in the novel is more complex, and Rodrigues gradually comes to understand that. Kichijiro moves back and forth between Christianity and apostasy so many times that it becomes clear he has become neither Christian nor Buddhist; he is both and neither at the same time. In that sense, he stands for something larger for the author – the practical results of the clash of Western, Christian culture and Japanese, Buddhist culture. And the clash is played out in a time of terrible persecution, when one’s faith can and often does lead to torture and death.

It would have been almost too easy, and too much like a caricature, had Endo drawn his characters like Christ and Judas. But he reached for something beyond caricature, and one of the things the novel does is to explore the “traitor” in all of the characters, not just Kichijiro. One of the primary reasons Father Rodrigues traveled to Japan in the first place was to find Father Christovao Ferreira, the priest who had led the Christian mission in Japan and who had reportedly apostatized. Ferreira was also Rodrigues’ teacher, and so this mission to find him carried both theological and personal purposes for Rodrigues.

Father Rodrigues will find his former teacher, and his teacher will attempt to teach him a new lesson. The question becomes, will Rodrigues learn it, and become the Judas he sees in Kichijiro? Or is this the “traitor” that is in all of us, the betrayal most quickly exposed in a time of stress and trial?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Alligator’s Swamp Jungle Ball

It was winter in the jungle,
It was winter in the swamp,
And the alligator was all a-glum.
The dreary days depressing,
The gator was regressing,
Yes, the gator was all a-glum.

The gator all depressed,
The gator all repressed,
Decided to be the one to lift the pall.
So he shook away the slime,
Out the swamp himself did climb,
And resounded with a rascally call.

It is about the time, my friends,
It is about the time, my friends,
To break down this awful winter wall.
So today I do announce,
So today I do pronounce,
The Alligator’s Swamp Jungle Ball.

And the drummers were a drummin’,
And the singers were a hummin’,
For the Alligator’s Swamp Jungle Ball.

And so they did come,
And so they did come,
Fat and skinny, wide and narrow, short and tall.
With fur, fin and feather,
They braved the winter weather
For the Alligator’s Swamp Jungle Ball.

And oh, they did dance!

They danced the Raccoon Rap.
The Chihuahua Cha-cha.
The Rattlesnake Stomp.
The Crocodile Rock.
The Walrus Waltz.
And the Python Pirouette.

And the drummers were a drummin’,
And the singers were a hummin’,
For the Alligator’s Swamp Jungle Ball.

They danced the Turtle Twist.
The Blackbird Boogie.
The Lizard Jerk.
The Swamp Zombie Samba.
The Monkey Minuet.
The Hippo Hat Dance.

And the drummers were a drummin’,
And the singers were a hummin’,
For the Alligator’s Swamp Jungle Ball.

They danced the Owl Macarena.
The Tango of the Tiger.
The Anteater’s Electric Slide.
The Cancan of the Toucan.
The Salsa of the Llama.
And the Pachyderms’ Conga Line.

And the drummers were a drummin’,
And the singers were a hummin’,
For the Alligator’s Swamp Jungle Ball.

They danced upon the lawn,
They danced until the dawn,
At the Alligator’s Swamp Jungle Ball,
Yes, they danced,
At the Alligator’s Swamp Jungle Ball.

(Poet’s note: This was done for the High Calling Blogs’ Bi-Monthly RAP, or Random Act of Poetry, in which we were challenged to write a poem about an animal, a party and a setting.) (I got carried away.)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Makoto Fujimura’s “Refractions”

Makoto Fujimura is an artist, a writer and the founder of the International Arts Movement, and has been a member of the National Council on the Arts. And what he has written in Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art and Culture has led me to understand that my job is like a work of art, a partially finished canvas, and the artist's brush is in my hand.

This is a surprise, because Refractions isn’t about work or the workplace, at least directly. It’s a series of essays about faith, art and culture, and the subjects range from living and working near Ground Zero in New York City when it became Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001, to the death of an artist friend, an exhibit of the works of Fra Angelico and even rating college tour guides with his soon-to-be college freshman.

But Refractions is most of all about art, because Fujimura is an artist and art is indeed about life. All of life, because life is a creative act. “Art,” Fujimura writes, “is an inherently hopeful act, an act that echoes the creativity of the Creator.” And that idea of hope applies to the artist, the architect, the poet, the choreographer and all the other creators who reach out “in hope to call the world into that creation.”

The essays, and the faith and mind that shape them, are quietly and profoundly stunning.

Nowhere is that more evident than in Fujimura’s writings on Sept. 11. The evil that led to the destruction of the Twin Towers and the deaths of thousands of people is juxtaposed against the good of the firefighters climbing up the stairs because saving lives was important, an affirmation of good. The ash that covered the trees and bushes, and his own then-10-year-old son, whose school was four blocks from Ground Zero, is set against the beauty of a night sky and the canvas upon which Fujimura would seek to affirm life and faith. As he says, it’s not sufficient to run from evil; one must run toward something good, toward “the tower of Jesus, which stands beyond and through our own ground zero experience.”

Each essay is a kind of meditation, and needs to be read slowly and carefully, with pen in hand for notes, because there is so much to absorb and ponder in each. More than once I was brought near tears, not any less so when I understood that I could consider my work, my day-to-day job, as a canvas, a canvas for me to create and paint an affirmation of life.

What an incredibly fine thing Makoto Fujimura has done here.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Government and Religion: A Love Poem

I met her first on a
small slip of paper, a
standard form to
request a beat for
a college paper
called The Reveille.

The request was the call,
the revelation.
Government and religion,
she wrote.
Government and religion,
I wondered.

Who asks for religion as a
beat? But the teacher said:
she’s one of the five, the
five best.
So, okay, then,
government and religion.

Face to face she said
hello and asked, do
you have anything for
me to do?
So, I thought, this is
government and religion.

And I did have something
for her to do. And we did.
Her slip of paper asking for
government and religion
was a point in the line to the
editor’s salvation.

Sunflower, photograph by @nAncY, used with permission.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The 13th Day of Community: Monica Sharman

Last month, a number of us participating in the “Twelve Days of Community” (see the button at the top right) sponsored by The High Calling Blogs. The purpose was to highlight the blog or web site of someone other than ourselves during the season of Advent and Christmas. I made a point in each post about this was something we should be doing throughout the year, and now I’m putting my money where my mouth was.

Each week this year, I will highlight a blog or web site of a person whose thoughts and writing have had an impact on me and others. And today is the first one for 2010 – Monica Sharman.

Monica and her husband Charles have three boys. Charles is the author of Through the Bible with My Child, a plan for studying the Bible with young children in four years. (All proceeds from the book go to support a ministry in India.) And she is a former engineer.

Monica explains on her blog, Know-Love-Obey God, that she has three purposes, which came as a result of a study she did in March 2008 of Paul’s epistle to the Philippians: the advancement of the gospel, the edification of His Church, and the glory of His name.

Those three purposes play out across her writing. And what wonderful writing it is, saturated by her love for God.

In December, she did a guest post at Ann Voskamp’s blog, A Holy Experience. She used the metaphors of coins to describe her “gratitude list,” and you have to read it to experience just how good it is. (Item No. 6 under “husband:” Crow’s feet lines in husband’s smiling eyes.)

Or consider her reflections upon reading Stone Crossings by L.L. Barkat: “Besides the state of my home and emotions, I read Stone Crossings in the same way I curled up with Ramona the Brave and Because of Winn-Dixie and The Great Gilly Hopkins—tears on the brink, heart in my throat, brows raised in anticipation over eager, unblinking eyes.”

And then there’s her poetry. She writes a lot of poetry, and it’s poetry that reaches down deep into the heart and soul. An excerpt from her poem “White:”

White is the Lamb
perfect white Lamb
taking His cup
for us
thorns piercing
blood flowing
blood from the Son of God
amazing, this blood
thick with love
though red
it washes white

Read and follow her blog. Follow her on Twitter. She has the sweetest, most discerning spirit. And you will learn, and you will immeasurably benefit yourself.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How I Became a Writer

I became a writer in stages.

Stage 1: I was 10, and read everything. I loved the monthly Scholastic Book Service at school, and ordered every mystery offered. I told my parents I wanted to write a mystery. My father, who owned a printing business in downtown New Orleans, came home one day with a bound, blank book with a heavy paper cover, and told me to write my mystery. I wrote in long-hand, and in pencil. I don’t remember much about it except it was about a bunch of kids finding a secret passage behind a grandfather clock.

Stage 2: Ninth grade, and I was 14. For any male my age and older, the rage was James Bond. Sean Connery was starring in a string of James Bond flicks (Goldfinger! Thunderball!), and every boy in my class was writing James Bond stories. I wrote James Bond parodies, starring James Breath, the man from LAVORIS. True story.

Stage 3: End of freshman year in college. I had been in a pre-med curriculum, and learned I would have to take 13 more hours in chemistry. NO! My father, who wanted me to be the doctor he couldn’t afford to be when the 1930s depression hit, suggested I do something that at least trained me for work, something like journalism. So I did. Take journalism, that is. I had the toughest teacher in the school for my introductory class – more than half of the class would drop the course and change majors by mid-semester. But on my first assignment, he gave be a B+, with this comment: “Not bad for a cub.” That's all it took.

Stage 4: I worked for a newspaper for nine months and knew it wasn’t for me. At the going pay scale, I was going to starve to death, for one thing. So I went into PR for Shell Oil, and one day, while I was working on a special project, an executive needed a speech, and I was the only one available to draft it. So I did. I liked it, and more the point, he liked what I did. Speech writing became a good chunk of my life for the next 30 years.

Stage 5: After being laid off, on my own for three years, and then nine months at St. Louis Public Schools, I found myself back in the corporate world. And I was traveling a fair bit. On my way to a conference in San Francisco, I listened to a music program offered by the airline – a singer named Mario Frangoulis. One song stuck in my mind, a song sung in Italian and titled “Luna Rosa.” The image it evoked was of a priest dancing on a beach. I don’t know why, but it did. For the next 18 months, I played out stories in my head about the priest, dropping the beach dance somewhere along the way. Then, I started writing what was in my head. Two novel manuscripts are completed, and six more “treatments” of 30,000 words or so each sit with the two completed manuscripts. And then there’s the one that’s totally different, and it may be the one I lead with. Somewhere.

Stage 6: In March of 2009, I started a blog. By July, I was writing poems. By September, I was helping edit an online poetry journal.

Stage 7: Still becoming; not The End.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Shusaku Endo’s “Silence”

I’ve followed artist Makota Fujimara through his web site and blog. His art is stunning, and he has heaps of well-deserved accolades and accomplishments, including having served on the National Council on the Arts. He is also an author, a founding elder of his church in New York City, and the founder of the International Arts Movement (IAM).

IAM has a mission: to “gather artists and creative catalysts to wrestle with the deep questions of art, faith and humanity in order to inspire the creative community to engage the culture that is and create the world that ought to be.”

I became much more familiar with IAM when my friend L.L. Barkat told me that IAM was publishing her book of poems, InsideOut. I immersed myself in IAM’s web site, and found myself in a world of art, faith and culture, a world I felt immediately at home in. And I discovered that IAM has a Reader’s Guild, and it would be hosting book discussions on selected books each month of 2010, including works by Flannery O’Connor, Wendell Berry, Marilynne Robinson, C.S. Lewis, Italo Calvino, Annie Dillard and – Shusaku Endo.

I was not familiar with Endo. OK, so I’m part cretin. But I learned. He’s considered one of Japan’s finest novelists, if not the finest, a member of the so-called “Third Generation” of writers who emerged in Japan after World War II. He was born in 1923 and died in 1996, and he was a lifelong Catholic. He wrote numerous novels, but his most famous work was Silence. And it is Silence that is the first book the IAM Readers Guild will be discussing.

These discussions are generally being hosted in small groups in different locations; there isn’t one listed for St. Louis but I was intrigued enough to buy the book and read it, and I’ll be “participating” by blog posts here for the Mondays in January. If this works, I’ll continue this for the succeeding months.

Silence is the story, based largely on historical events and people, of two Portuguese priests who slip into Japan in the 17th century during a time of persecution of Christians. They have determined to go to Japan to minister to the faithful and to learn if the stories of the apostasy of the leading missionary – and their former teacher in seminary – are true.

The story is told by one of the two priests, Father Sebastian Rodrigues. And it is a story about faith and apostasy, how thin a line there is between the two, and whether one can remain true to faith even through apostasy. I found myself challenged on almost every page. Would I respond this way? Would I do this? Do I really understand what my faith is and isn’t? Is the difference that clear?

It’s an astonishing read.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


A child of nine, he
stands atop the
ditch bank, looking
down at the other side,
a distance, perhaps, of ten
feet, ten feet of air and
space and fear.
The older had already jumped or
given up;
the younger behind, impatient or
secretly glad at his

Some encourage, some
ridicule, none guess the
fear in his own heart, the
fear to overcome, the
fear of falling, of landing in
the ditch if the leap is insufficient.

The moment of absolute desire
confronts the moment of
absolute fear.
And in that moment of
absolutes, that clash and
union of eternity, he…

Photo by nAncy. Used with persmission.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

"The Missionary"

You’ve never heard of a Christian mission like this one.

David Eller and his wife Christie serve as missionaries in Caracas, Venezuela. The parents of a 4-year-old, he’s the administrator and she’s a nurse for a home that rescues abandoned children from the streets. They are missionaries doing good work against almost impossible odds, saving a handful of children while watching so many others slip away.

During one particular street rescue of a sick child, David meets Carlos Edwards, who’s impressed enough by what the home is doing to write a support check. Rather quickly, he convinces David to help in another endeavor, one that will make a significant impact for the children. The endeavor turns out to be the removal of Venezuela’s dictator. And, expectedly, the plan goes bad.

It would be easy to say that The Missionary by William Carmichael and David Lambert is a pulsating suspense story that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. And it is that – a terrific suspense novel, with sadistic torturers, calculating bureaucrats and mercenaries who form the web that ensnares Eller and his family.

But the novel is also something else – a story of the temptation to rely upon our resources instead of God’s; a tale of how people rationalize all kinds of behavior; and a story of how one man, focused on rescuing and helping the street children of Caracas, becomes a street child in need of rescue himself.

The website for the novel is located here.

Friday, January 1, 2010


I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I’m not sure why; I don’t mind other people doing them but for some reason I’ve never gotten into the idea. I set goals, but not generally at this time of the year. It may be that my sense of time over the years has become more circular than linear. Or maybe not.

But I do have some intentions.

To be a better husband.

To enjoy and totally spoil the first grandbaby.

To see my youngest graduate from college.

To write more poetry.

To read more poetry.

To read more poetry aloud to my wife.

To write more. And do something with what’s sitting there finished on the computer.

To do more of these: encourage, honor, respect.

To pray more, and pray first.