Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Eight Months, Three Jobs, New Steps

Over the course of eight months, from October 2003 to June of 2004, I held three distinct and very different jobs.

Since the beginning of 2000, I had been an independent communications consultant, after 27 years of corporate life. Then, in October of 2003, I became director of communications for St. Louis Public Schools, an urban school district in the throes of extreme crisis and reorganization. In June, I was recruited back to corporate life to manage a bankruptcy issue and some related environmental issues.

Three jobs. Eight months. My head was spinning with new steps.

In the case of the school district, there was not time to take a breather and learn. My first day on the job was a total immersion in learning on the fly. I walked in the door, and hadn’t even made it to Human Resources to fill out paperwork, when the secretary informed me that Channel 4 and Channel 5 were in the lobby for a statement.

“A statement about what?” I asked.

“About the district-wide teacher sick-out,” she said.

Oh. (By the way, my first day on the job was probably my easiest day on the job.)

I went from a job with five or six major crises a day to one where it was calmer, more measured – just a mega-crisis, with large financial stakes, happening over a long period of time. No one I worked with had actually done that kind of job before, and my colleagues were thrilled to death that I was there to deal with it. So my world became lawyers and finance people and outside consultants and environmental experts and more lawyers (lots of lawyers).

For all their differences, and the culture shock of going from an urban school district to a Fortune 500 corporation, both jobs represented a kind of renewal in my working and professional life.

I was stretched far beyond points I had ever been stretched before.

I had no peer or colleague or mentor who could guide me in what I did.

I had to create new, and sometimes controversial, ways of doing things.

I moved into situations for which I had little direct experience.

In one situation, I knew what I had to do – but had no budget to do it. In the other, I had a more-than-sufficient budget – but no one had any real notion of what to do with it.

And in both situations, I had to rely less and less on myself, and often from hour to hour, and more on my faith. God knew what he was doing, even if I didn’t.

Bonnie Gray, who blogs at Faith Barista, is hosting a blog party on “new steps” – how new steps and renewal can influence your faith walk. Check out other blog posts here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rouault, Fujimura and Hearts and Minds

I will be honest. I had never heard of French artist Georges Rouault (1871 – 1958) before I read Rouault/Fujimura: Soliloquies by Thomas Hibbs, which includes a “refraction” or essay by Makoto Fujimura (1960 - ). Soliloquies was written to accompany an exhibition of Rouault’s and Fujimura’s art at the Dillon Gallery in New York City in late 2009. I started reading it, and felt somewhat cretinous for not knowing about Rouault.

I bought this book because Makoto Fujimura tweeted on Twitter that it was named a “best book of 2009” by Hearts and Minds. I had read Fujimura’s Refractions and posted on it in January.
What a gem this little book is. Not only do you gain a sense of whom Rouault was and what his art was about, you also learn just how important this artist was to contemporary artists like Fujimura and the idea of expression of faith and belief through art and in art.

Thomas Hibbs, who wrote most of Soliloquies, has provided what is almost a spiritual meditation on the two artists, art and the idea of “soliloquies” as almost a kind of dialogue. He reaches out to and pulls from sources as diverse as St. Augustine, T.S. Eliot, Jacques Maritain and Simone Weil.

Rouault is important in understanding Fujimura’s work because the French painter, who died two years before Fujimura was born, has had such a significant impact on Fujimura's thinking and understanding. Here is Rouault as described by Fujimura:

“Like the Rembrandts he valued and imitated as a youth, and the Cezanne he celebrated in his letters and poems, Rouault paintings capture not a mere reflective, descriptive light, but Light behind the light, Reality behind the reality. They are generative and seem to grow more and more pregnant as they age. Rouault may yet prove to be the first twenty-first century painter, bringing synthesis out of an age of fragmentation.”

Soliloquies is a small book, all of 63 pages, with reproductions of some of the paintings exhibited and photographs from the exhibition. And it is a beautiful small book, a gem that contains so much understanding that I’ve read it three times, and still find new things to appreciate and ponder.

I also feel a little less cretinous than I did before. At least I know who Georges Rouault was, and perhaps is.

An Aside:
I bought the book through Hearts and Minds Bookstore’s web site. Physically located in central Pennsylvania, Hearts and Minds’ web site is – to me – exactly what it should be. The store specializes in books about faith and Christianity, and the web site includes a blog about some of the books it sells; book reviews; and news. I suspect that visitors to the web site receive the same kind of care and attention that customers in the store do. When I placed the order, I received an email confirmation and a second email (from a real person) asking me how I had heard about their store and what I was interested in reading.


Top: Christ in the Outskirts (1920-24) by Georges Rouault.

Bottom: Soliloquies by Makoto Fujimura

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Place: Almost a Century Apart

I attended elementary school in a New Orleans suburb. Because we only had three seasons (summer, July and August), events like leaves turning colors in the fall or snow were theoretical concepts unless one traveled north. My only familiarity with fall and winter was a series of coloring books distributed at school, one for each month. The October one always included fall leaves, and either the December or January one would have pictures that included snow. I was always fascinated.

The changing of the leaves is one of the events that former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall describes in Eagle Pond, a collection of essays (and one longish poem) about New England in general and New Hampshire in particular, which I just finished reading. His mother’s family came from New Hampshire and it’s where Hall now lives, in a family farmhouse somewhat modernized but still close to what his ancestors knew.

As I read about the farm, the community and the state where he lives, I learned how important the sense of “place” is to him, and how it informs his poetry and writing. Place is as real to Hall’s writing as Port William is to Wendell Berry and Yoknapatawpha County was to William Faulkner.

As I read Eagle Pond, I was strongly reminded of a children’s book I read almost 50 years ago, and which I’ve learned is still in print today.

First published in 1916, Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher is still – remarkably – in print today, the latest edition published just last year. It’s the story of a 9-year-old girl from the Midwest who is sent to live with cousins in Vermont, the “terrible Putney cousins.” I was given the Scholastic Books paperback by my next-door neighbor, who had read it and wasn’t interested in keeping it. At the time, I knew it was a “girl’s book,” but it was about New England, with illustrations similar to those coloring books I worked on each month at school, so I read it. I didn’t tell anyone, but I enjoyed it.

That copy disappeared years ago during one of my mother’s garage sales. A few years back, I found a hard back edition from the 1940s at a used book sale and bought it, entirely for sentimental reasons (it was all of $1).

After reading Eagle Pond, I found my copy of Understood Betsy and read it. It’s charming, a product of its time that somewhat romanticized farm life and the one-room schoolhouse. (Little did I know, but the author is credited with introducing the Montessori Method into the United States and the schoolhouse scenes in the book are based entirely upon that approach.)

As I read it, the story came back, and vividly back. I began to remember and then anticipate the events of the narrative – how Betsy had been raised by fussy aunts and then sent to Vermont; how she got a kitten; her first day in school (“I’m second-grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading!”); the wolf pit; and the county fair. I was surprised at how well I remembered the story, and its rather breathless prose.

I wasn’t surprised that it had made such an impression on a young boy living in a New Orleans suburb. It’s about a place, a specific place, and about the idea of place, in exactly the same way that Hall’s Eagle Pond is about place. Even when Canfield Fisher wrote Understood Betsy, the place she was writing about had changed forever (and to hear Hall describe neighboring Vermont, it’s now entirely inhabited by weekenders from New York and Boston who wear L.L. Bean plaid flannel shirts).

Hall says that it’s likely only native New Englanders and Southerners who truly understand this notion of place. Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but I do know that when people ask me where I’m from, I always say “I was born and raised in New Orleans but now live in St. Louis,” even though I’ve lived far longer in St. Louis than I did in New Orleans.

But that’s what place does to you. That's what it does to Donald Hall, and what it did to Dorothy Canfield Fisher, writing almost a century apart.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Glance, leftward, from the screen, and
see, refracting through the pane, a
building, a wall of marble and glass; a
cloud of fog floating from
the smoker’s bench and
dissipating through a tree, an oak,
most likely;
a sky of blue beyond.

Another, leftward but different,
glance, different screen, past
my shelf of books anticipating being
read, to the pane, through the pane, to
holly, magnolias, river birch, cherry,
garden, across the fence to the
neighbor next door;
a sky of blue above.

Two panes, two skies: reminders of
the paned sky within.

"Eastern Washington," photograph by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

(This poem was written for the March offering of the Cunning Poets Society, led by nAncY of Poems and Prayers. The prompt was to write either about something you really like or about something happening around you when you are writing. I chose the latter; what's usually happening around me when I write -- at work and home -- is what can be seen through windows.)

Saturday Good Reads

Many good things happened online this past week. Here are a only a few of them, including links to three videos and a painting.


Whispering Words,” by Shaun Masterton.

Louise Gallagher’s “Soul Dances.”

Two by Melissa at All the Words: “Redbeard the Pirate Cow” and “Nothing More.”

Kathleen Overby's "Sprouting."

Dreams” by Susan Etole.

"Eternal" by Erin at Together for Good.

Haunting” by Justinian at Discount Verbiage.

nAncY’s “On Top of the World” at Poems and Prayers.

Phoenix Karenee’s “Pray.”

Leslie Moon’s “Drowning My Sorrows.”


"What Keeps Me Here" (in the Catholic Church) by Jessica Griffith at the Image Journal. (For the record, I'm not Catholic, but this is worth reading by all of us.)

Thinking about Columbine, Sandra Heska King’s “Faithful to the End.”

What we often miss: “Life’s Great Tragedy” by Billy Coffey.

The need to be gentle with a son: Jeff Johnson’s “In Sickness and in Health.”

"Do I Still Get a Lollipop at the Doctor’s Office?" Matt at The Church of No People takes a look at the health care legislation debate.

How Emily Dickinson’s poetry speaks to leadership: "The Poetic Language of Leadership," interview of Prof. Roger Lundin of Wheaton by Christopher Benson at Evangel.

Learning, as an adult, that you have Attention Deficit Disorder. "Being me (and being you)," by Kathy Richards at Hey Look, A Chicken.

Gardening as Autobiography” by Amy Sorrells.


Every family has moments like this one, and they're priceless: "Nowhere Man Gets a Little Lost," by Sippican Cottage.

If this were a novel, it's title would be "The Rich Also Have a Sense of Humor." Slate V: Warren Buffett as Axl Rose in an ad for GEICO.

Set whatever feelings you have for the health care legislation aside, and look at the sheer creativity of this: "Something Wonderful: Patrick Henry Redux," posted at American Digest.


"Across a winter field," oil on panel, Randall David Tipton. And Maureen Doallas has part 1 of an interview with Tipton on her blog, Writing Without Paper. (If you've never read her interviews, you will discover that they are works of art in and of themselves.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Grandparent Fix

Travis, Janet, Glynn and Cameron Young

March 25, 2010

Uncle Andrew Young and Cameron Young

March 26, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Athol Dickson's "River Rising"

I grew up in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, in a suburb of New Orleans. Jefferson extends from Lake Pontchartrain on the north to the Gulf of Mexico on the south. Below New Orleans and to the east, separated from Jefferson by the Mississippi River, is Plaquemines Parish. For a very long time, Plaquemines was governed by one man, Leander Perez, who was known for his less-than-liberal views on all things, including race.

It is the fictional town of Pilotville, set in 1927 Plaquemines Parish, that is the setting of Athol Dickson’s 2005 novel River Rising. As in all of Dickson’s, “place” plays a very important role, often becoming another major character in the story. And that is what happens in “River Rising.”

The Rev. Hale Poser guides his leaking pirogue (that’s Cajun for canoe) into Pilotville from New Orleans. He gets a job as a janitor at the infirmary for the town’s black people, and shortly thereafter performs a healing miracle for a woman in childbirth – or what is believed to be a healing miracle. Then her baby daughter is stolen, and the whole town, white and black, turns out to search. This stolen baby turns out to be only one of many others stolen over the years. Poser, compelled by something he doesn’t understand, keeps looking for her when everyone else stops. He canoes deep into the swamp, almost dying from lack of food and water in the process, and eventually finds the missing baby. And he finds a lot more: an almost unspeakable horror.

This is 1927, and something else is at play – the Mississippi River. The historical flood of that year serves an apocalyptic purpose in the story, and the river will both destroy and expose, and possibly help redeem.

This novel received a host of accolades and recognitions, including the Christy Award for best Christian novel of the year. But its appeal is much broader, for it is not so much a Christian novel as it is a very fine novel written by an author who happens to be a Christian. It is a grand story, and an honest one. And it ends up being a story of great beauty.


Athol Dickson writes on “Forgotten Beauty” at Novel Journey.

The Beauty of Athol Dickson, my post published Thursday at The Christian Manifesto.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The 24th Day of Community: Anne Lang Bundy

So who is Anne Lang Bundy? Here’s how she describes herself.

As her King’s ambassador.

As wife to John.

As mother to five children.

As teacher to five homeschooled children.

As lay minister to all.

As a writer of all things Bible.

She wouldn’t say this, but she’s also a gifted Bible teacher and thinker. A great encourager. And she’s working on a novel about King David.

You tweet or retweet one of her blog posts, and you get more than a thank you; you get a blessing.

What a great heart this woman, this lover of God, has. She makes no apology for her belief in God. She first met him, she says in 1985, and she’s never looked back. She was called to ministry to 2002, and her ministry is to build up the body of believers.

On her blog, Building His Body, she tackles topics from rejection and faithfulness to sex and gluttony. If you’re looking for straight up, solid Bible teaching on line, you’ve now found it. And you’ll find tenderness, too, like the letter she wrote to her husband John.

Anne is also a regular guest blogger at Russell Holloway’s place, Bullets and Butterflies, where she answers the “question of the week,” like how much of a good thing is too much? Or why do Christians fight each other? Or is it okay for a male and female to room together if they have no romantic intentions?

Visit Building His Body. Follow her on Twitter. And see firsthand what it means to love God – love that’s poured outwards on the people she ministers to.

(In December, 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, March 22, 2010

You Were There

You were there, at the beginning, when
I was falling apart, when we met over the
remains, charred, of my life then lived.
You were there, to drag me to a
law school auditorium, yes a law school
auditorium, one Sunday for church.
You were there when I asked, and
you said yes.

You were there when we were
broke, in a new city, pregnant.
You were there to say yes to
our firstborn, a son, and our
second born, a son.
You were there to hold me when
I cried, two years after my father’s
death, because it took two years.

You were there to raise two
boys, to turn them into men, because
that’s all we had, two boys.
You were there to hold and stroke
and encourage a son’s wife through
the birth of our grandson, and you
stayed through all of it because
that’s how you’re made.

You were there to live the vow,
sickness and health, richer and
poorer, and you’ll be there until
there’s no vow left to
live, except it always will be,
at least for us, because the
vow was meant, intended, designed,
believed and lived to be eternal.

"Window," photograph by nAncy of Poems and Prayers. Used with permission.
If you’d like to read related posts on faithfulness, check out the One Word Blog Carnival over at Bridget Chumbley’s place.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Loving Monday: Relationships

I once knew a very talented professional who took on extra work at any opportunity. He was ambitious, yes, but he was also good. No task was too menial or mundane; he volunteered for everything and he generally did everything well. He was friendly and engaging, what everyone would call “a really great guy.” He was also helpful and supportive to his colleagues.

He was gradually promoted, assuming greater and greater responsibilities. At some point, he caught the attention of the top executives, and the promotions started happening faster. Then he made it into the executive ranks, one of the youngest ever to do that.

And something happened.

The change was almost immediate. He became suspicious of everyone and everything. His staff couldn’t do anything without advance approval, which slowed everything down and stifled creativity. His people actually began to fear him. People on other teams began to avoid him (and his team) whenever possible. As the criticism increased, his behavior only became more extreme.

Finally, it became so bad that even top management noticed (yes, I phrased that correctly). Interventions were attempted. They’d work for a time, and then the problem would return. While all this was going on, people were damaged. Relationships were destroyed. Work and performance suffered.

Eventually, he was asked, or told, to leave the organization. He was readily hired by other employers, and then let go after less than a year. He couldn’t stop the destructive, and self-destructive, behavior.

Years later, when I asked one of his former supervisors why the behavior was tolerated for so long, he said, “He got the work done.”

“But eventually he didn’t get the work done,” I replied. “Eventually, what he was doing meant the work didn’t get done.”

The former supervisor shrugged. “It’s the way things are here.”

And the way things were was toxic. It still boggles the mind what organizations will tolerate, especially in bad leaders. They seem to forget, or avoid recognizing, that the way work gets done is through the relationships people have with people – colleagues, suppliers, customers. Forget what the purpose of all this is, sacrifice those relationships, and you ultimately sacrifice the work – and the organization.

As John D. Beckett says in Loving Mondays: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul, “Our lives and what we do with them are important to God. A close relationship with the Lord will bring about a compelling and necessary result. We will find it possible to bring every aspect of our lives, including our work, into alignment with God’s truth and design. This in turn will transform us into people who are not only more effective as human beings and as workers but more pleasing to God.”

(Over at the High Callings Blogs, we’ve been discussing Beckett’s Loving Monday, led by Laura Boggess. This week, we’re focused on the final section of the book, chapters 22 through 24, which bring together the themes and ideas of the book. Check here for last week’s discussion.)

Join this week's discussion at the High Calling Blogs: The Ultimate Goal.

Monica Sharman's Annual Spring Almost-Burnout.

Lyla Lindquist's Loving Monday: Unqualified.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ten Books (15, Actually)

Several of the more serious/theological bloggers at Evangel picked up a meme in the past few days. It started with economist Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, and then spread to Evangel. The meme was “the list of the 10 books that have influenced me in my worldview and outlook on life.” (You can’t list the Bible, either.)

I thought it was kind of a cool idea, until I read their lists.

I was totally intimidated. I mean, these guys – Adam Omelianchuk, Joe Carter and others – read some weighty stuff, mostly theological and mostly of the seminary-type of theological.

I felt like a pagan.

Then I wandered through my bookshelves, and put together my list. It was a good thing. When I looked at my list, I didn’t feel like a pagan any more. Just eight tenths of a pagan.

Anyway, here’s my list. No surprise, it’s heavy on fiction.

The 10 Books That Have Most Influenced Me, and Because I Get Carried Away, It's More Like 15

The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I read this early in high school, then I read everything he had written that was available. And then came volume 1 of the Gulag Archipelago in 1973, and you can trace a direct line from its publication to the collapse of the Soviet Union less than 20 years later.

The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald. When she was asked why Southern authors always seemed to write about freaks, she said it was because Southern authors were still able to recognize one. That comment alone endeared her writing to me. These letters are gems.

The War of the End of the World, by Mario Vargas Llosa. If there is any writer who deserves the Nobel Prize for literature, it’s Peruvian-born Mario Varga Llosa. But he’ll never get it, because he long ago turned his back on radical leftist politics, very uncool by Nobel Prize committee standards. (I’d also place The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes of Mexico in the same category of “unbelievably talented Spanish-speaking writers who probably won’t get the Nobel Prize because their politics is wrong.”)

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. You can’t grow up in the South without being influenced by Faulkner. You just can’t. You can’t grow up anywhere in the United States and not be influenced by him, even if you don’t know it. And he’s been dead for almost 50 years.

Dickens by Peter Ackroyd. It’s the biography to end all biographies, and it’s 1,083 pages, not including notes and index. It’s heavy enough to be a weapon. (Amazon says it is currently unavailable, even through Amazon's used bookstore network.)

Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown. My first entry in the “I’m not a total pagan contest.” Brown recreates the life and world of St. Augustine, and I felt like I was there in the room in Hippo when he was dying, the town under seige by barbarians invading from Europe. An extraordinary work.

They Stand Together: The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963), edited by Walter Hooper. Greeves was C.S. Lewis’s friend from childhood, and Lewis could say things to Greeves that he couldn’t say to anyone else.

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III: Tertullian. My second entry in the “I’m not a total pagan contest.” Tertullian was a lawyer (I forgive him for that) who is generally considered the father of Latin Christianity. He wrote a lot of apologetics at a time when it wasn’t exactly cool to be a Christian (roughly 200 A.D.). He also ended up with some air of disrepute for deviating from standard orthodoxy, although it’s not clear exactly what that deviation was. But his passion comes pouring though, even in translation.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. I read this not long after I became a believer. Lewis is a great favorite of Christians, partially (at least) because he adds intellectual weight (see, we’re not all blathering yahoos). I first read it because people told me I should. But then I learned that Screwtape started out as radio addresses during World War II, and so this little volume actually straddles two media forms – broadcast and print. It was right up my communications alley.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Someone once said you should read Don Quixote three times in your life – when you’re young, middle-aged and old. I first read it my senior year in high school, and I read the unabridged version. I loved it. I next read it in my early 40s, during a vacation week we spent at Orange Beach in Alabama. I haven’t read it a third time, because I’m waiting to get old.

The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. I read the pirated versions in college, and then my first year after graduation bought the authorized versions and read them as well. I reread all four right before the first movie came out in 2001. Quite simply, they are likely the greatest works of imagination of the 20th century.

So those are my 10, er, 15. What are yours?

Saturday Good Reads

Some of the good posts I found on web sites and blogs in the past week:


She, Stirring” by Melissa at All the Words.

"Poetry Works," four poems by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

"Santorini, a meditation on life," by Justinian at Discount Verbiage. Also “The Night.”

Freya Manfred’s “Green Pear Tree in September,” published by U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser at his American Life in Poetry.

What Light Reveals,” by Diane Walker at Contemplative Poetry.

"Reunions: Father, July 18, 1990," by Maureen Doallas. She was worried that this one might be too personal. It was personal, but she did what poets do – she turned the personal into the universal.

"Chronos of Love," new poem by @PhoenixKarenee.

"West Washington," by Missy K. Along with Melissa’s and Maureen’s poems noted above, this one by Missy K is one of the “Life on the Street” poems featured at The High Calling blogs on Friday. They’re all worth reading.


Jeff Jordan’s “Of Boats and Bags and the Search for Faithfulness.”

David Mikics’ guide for reading “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. An outstanding piece of criticism (even I could understand it).

A completely new use for mouthwash. “You might not want to kiss me hello,” by Helen at Random Musings.

"Welcome, Memory," by Brian Volck at The Image Blog. A comment at a dinner unlocks a “memory garden.”

"Uncommon Courtesy," by Dan Wooldridge at Inside Work. Grace happens on an airplane.

"Navigating," by Corinne at Trains, Tutus and Tea. A mother defends her son.

Kathleen Overby’s "Spring Scrabble." She wants to play.

Friday, March 19, 2010

It All Started with "Sky Blue"

It’s been a year since I started blogging. On March 19, 2009, I opened a Blogger account and set up a blog, with my first post called A Life-Changing Novel. The novel in question was Sky Blue by Travis Thrasher. That was where it started – with a novel I really enjoyed. The post explains why.

That was one year and 297 blog posts ago. I still think Sky Blue was one of the best books I read last year.

The blog didn’t just happen. It started with me posting book reviews on Amazon, and doing research on the authors and the books for the reviews. And then came the blog, followed closely by me signing up with Facebook and Twitter. The first person who signed up to follow my blog was suspense writer Mike Dellosso. I think he was being kind, but it was a huge boost at the time.

And what happened was this:

I started writing poetry.

I started doing guest blogging.

I’m co-editing an online poetry journal and participating in poetry jams.

I found incredible writers, and new authors to read and new poets to recite.

I wandered into The High Calling Blogs, and now publish articles there, mostly about work.

I started writing articles twice a month for The Christian Manifesto, mostly about culture.

But the most important thing that happened was that I met all kinds of new friends online, and became part of both large communities and smaller ones within the larger.

And it all started with Sky Blue.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two Blessings

Cameron Young and his dad Travis, March 18, 2010

The Poems of Walter Bargen

Walter Bargen, who just this past month completed his two-year appointment as the state of Missouri’s first poet laureate, had written several volumes of poetry, included a new collection just published. Today, Maureen Doallas has published an article on him on her blog, Writing Without Paper, and I’ve posted a review of his Days Like This Are Necessary: New and Collected Poems over at TweetSpeak Poetry. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The 22nd Day of Community: Eric Swalberg

Early last fall, poet and author L.L. Barkat and I began talking about a “permanent” place to house the poems that were resulting from our poetry jams on Twitter. The place became TweetSpeak Poetry, and it is made possible through the technical and hosting assistance of Eric Swalberg, our co-conspirator in poetic crime. (I give L.L. the credit for suggesting Eric.)

Eric is a teacher in the Atlanta area. He’s also a husband and the father of two children. And he is a poet, a poet with a big heart.

He doesn’t post frequently on his blog, Journey of Words (perhaps we can encourage him to do more). But when he posts – he posts some beautiful poetry.

In November, he posted a poem entitled “Form of a Poem.” It’s nine lines and 29 words, and it is exquisite:

the supple softness and
gentle curve of the breast.
the river of flowing hair
over a small curve
of shoulder following
the spine’s curvature
leading in directions

(“Form of a Poem” copyright by Eric Swalberg. Republished with permission. I hope, since this is a surprise.)

Or read his “Hidden Joy,” about how the ones who are different teach us the most about God, or “An Exchange,” the story of old now-too-tight jeans raising the question of what might have been, or “To Begin,” written for the beginning of the new year.

Eric is a regular participant in our poetry jams on Twitter, and while he doesn’t make a lot of contributions, he makes some truly beautiful ones.

We’ve never met, but I consider Eric a good friend and a fine poet. So check his blog, follow him on Twitter, and be ready to experience beauty.

(In December, 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 continuing to do that each week -- highlight a blog or web site of a person whose thoughts and writing have had an impact on me and others.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rue des Martyrs

Looking up toward and
near but not in sight of
the white dome, it could be
any city, any city
streetscape. Two
blocks from the hotel you
look for a small shop and
you find more than a small

Shop of chocolate filling
wrapped in ribboned gold;
flower shop and fruit
stand and vegetable
row with their riots of
color and shape; wine
shop exclusive to bottles
labeled Rhone, the
entire premises dedicated
to fermentations of
one valley; bakery,
no not bakery but
bakeries, more than one, three,
(three!) in two blocks.

A short street of smells, of
flavors, of tastes, of
textures refined and
mundane yet
even the mundane
here is refined; and
always, always the
ubiquitous fragrance of
Parisian automobile exhaust.

Right Bank. Between
Opera and Montmartre.

This is a “streetwise” poem for the High Calling Blogs – a poem about a certain street or address.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Loving Monday – Writing a Vision

Twenty years ago, I was writing a speech for a CEO. He was to be speaking at a meeting of what one might call critics, at various stages of friendliness toward the company. He didn’t really have a good grasp as to what his subject should be, and we had gone through a series of discussions of ideas submitted by me and a lot of others.

He wanted to make a statement that would tell the audience that he understood their concerns, that he identified with their concerns, and that he was doing something to address them. Other company executives had come forward with plans and proposals, but the price tags were potentially horrendous. He was taken with several of the ideas, but he balked at the cost (and his investors would balk, too, if they saw the estimates).

His challenge to me was this: is there a soft path to get to the hard decisions? Could we chart a course that would get to where we needed to go?

And I wasn’t to talk with anyone about what he had asked me to do.

The project was one of the most intense writing assignments I’ve ever undertaken. I read and researched. I wrote draft after draft. I read and researched some more. I finally reached a point where I was ready to submit a draft to him.

As the text of the speech draft moved toward conclusion, I had included what I thought was a rhetorical device – a repetition of a phrase that summarized the ideas expressed in the speech. The phrase was “It is our pledge,” and I used it seven times to express seven ideas and imply seven commitments.

He didn’t call it this, and I didn’t call it this, but essentially what he had asked me to do was to write a statement of vision for the company – a vision of what might be and what could be. Previously, all we had were financial goals.

He gave the speech. It became known as “The Pledge.” It upended the company and the industry.

Rereading it now, it’s still oddly current. But I realize something about it now that I didn’t understand then. It is not a “religious” statement by any stretch of the imagination. But it is shot through with Biblical principles, principles like stewardship, honoring God, loving your neighbor and sacrificial acts.

And I realized that, acknowledged or not, all vision statements I’ve ever seen come from the same source. It’s as if we’re all, in one way or another, attempting to reach toward the standards and the promise God offers in the Bible.

(Over at the High Callings Blogs, we’re discussing John D. Beckett’s Loving Monday: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul. The discussion is led by Laura Boggess. This week, we’re focused on chapters 18 through 21, covering the ideas of work-family balance, prayer for business, vision and values. Check here for last week’s discussion.)


Join this week's discussion at the High Calling Blogs: Tightrope.

Monica Sharman's Vision and Balance.

Lyla Lindquist's Why Family Matters.

L.L. Barkat's How We Fall Apart.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

My list of “good reads” today is shorter than last Saturday’s, and they were all posted before Tuesday evening. Then came the almost simultaneous labor for my daughter-in-law and head injury requiring surgery for my son, the father-to-be. Life is slowly returning to normal, or becoming a “new normal.” And I’m already becoming a bore on the subject of my new grandson.


Phoenix-Karenee’s poem, “Wordless Vision.”

Maureen Doallas’ beautiful poem "Anne," about Anne Frank.

Laura Boggess’ poem in her Sunday Sermon Notes.

The End of Innocence by Justinian at Discount Verbiage.

Shadow, Jezamama’s walk along a lake, a story and a poem.


It is Home,” by Marty Duane at Coffee with Marty.

A Gun, for Goodness Sake,” by Jeff Jordan at To My Children, If They Are Listening.

Should the Message be Hidden?” A guest post by author Randy Ingermanson at Brandilyn Collins’ blog.

Engagers of Separatists?” by Mike Duran at deompose

Columbia Journalism Review: “Who Says? Narrative Authority in a Fragmented World.”

Author Travis Thrasher on criticism: “Everybody’s a Critic.”

And finally…

While this isn’t a post about me, I do want to call attention to an article I wrote for the High Calling Blogs, which was published Friday. It’s about a business called Transformational Threads, owned by my friend Maureen Doallas (yes, the poet) that is all about a passion for art.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hope, Blinking

For Cameron

It is a small thing, really,
this small speck of
life, like a mustard
seed, like a faith
beginning; like a hope,
this small thing.

This small thing grows.
It develops, it
moves, it hears, it
shapes and it is shaped;
it takes form, it
gains strength.

Then, it is. This hope, this
desire, this promise, this
possibility become
possible, this theoretical
become real. And it
lies in my arms, blinking.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Fell in Love at First Sight

Cameron Andrew Young, born 2:15 am, March 11, 2010. 22 inches long, 10 lbs, 3 oz.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Wild 24 Hours

Tuesday night, we had a nice dinner with our son and daughter-in-law and her mother, prior to going to the hospital to begin her induction for childbirth. They got settled in by 9:30, we took her mother to their apartment, and then we went home.

I was in bed reading when our daughter-in-law called at 11:40 to say that our son had passed out in the birthing room, hit his head on the floor and was in the emergency room. Thirty minutes later, I was sitting in a cold room in ER, listening to my 30-year-old son not make any sense at all. The CT scan showed a small hematoma/clot on the back side of his head. They decided to watch it for the night, and admitted him to a room in ICU. I was back home about 3:30 a.m. and in bed at 4.

At 8:30 Wednesday morning, I was back at the hospital, shuttling between my son on the 4th floor and my daughter-in-law on the 2nd. My wife arrived at 11:30. My son had a CT scan at 1, and then an hour later the doctor was in the room with him and us, telling us the hematoma was getting bigger. Less than an hour later, he was prepared for surgery.

My son will eventually blog this from his perspective, but it's amazing how many wonderful and providential things happened: a long-time neighbor and friend turned out to be the 4th floor concierge at the hospital; a pastor showed up in the middle of the discussion with the doctor, and he stayed until everyone except me and my son had left and then, with my son in his bed, we were on our knees praying; when they wheeled my son in his bed downstairs to the operating rooms, the nurses took a detour -- through the childbirth wing on the second floor so he and my daughter-in-law could have a few moments together; a pastor from our church spent an hour and a half with us during my son's surgery, talking and praying and reading from Psalms.

And people all over been praying for my son and daughter-in-law. And I mean all over. I've received more direct messages on Twitter, more emails, more phone calls than I ever could have imagined -- I was overwhelmed with God's love, and so was my family. I can't ever express the depth of my thanks.

Here at the hospital (it's 9:10 p.m. as I write this), my son and daughter-in-law are celebrities. As the night nurse just told my son, "You guys make a great story." And they do.

But I'd prefer a little less drama the next time.

Update: And checking my RSS feed tonight, I find this by my friend Maureen Doallas: Love Builds Up: Poem for Glynn.

Please Pray - Update

Thank you so much for the prayers. And one answer to prayer was to be able to finally connect to the internet.

My son just had a CT scan, and we're waiting on the results. He is vastly more coherent than he was last night -- exhausted, felling like he has a hangover, with nausea and an ongoing headache -- but much more coherent. If the CT scan comes back OK, they will let him go to his wife's room two floors below.

They started to induce labor at 9 a.m. this morning; she seems to be moving fairly quickly, with labor pains now four miunutes apart. The doctor is estimating arrival time late this afternoon or the early evening. She's doing fine (but she is hungry -- she had a Popsicle for lunch).

People are praying all over -- I can't even begin to explain what that means. Thank you all for your prayers.

Please Pray

Last night, my daughter-in-law went into the hospital to start the induction process for childbirth. We had been out to dinner with her, her mother and my son, and then had gone to the hospital to check things out. About 11:40, my daughter-in-law called and said that my son had passed out, hit the back of his head and was in the hospital's emergency room.

Back to the hospital. He was disoriented but could talk. He was taken for a CT scan, and it was determined he had a subdural hematoma on the back of his head -- a hemorrhage. Fortunately, it was small. We waited for what seemed an eternity for the decision of whether to proceed with surgery or not. The neurosurgeon finally decided it was small enough to watch and do another CT scan today. My son is much more lucid this morning, according to my daughter-in-law.

She's waiting for her doctor, to determine whether to proceed with the induction. At 3 a.m., when she, her mother and I were in the intensive care unit room with my son, the maternity nurse arrived to say my daughter-in-law was being discharged at 6 a.m. because "that's what the doctor said." Which doctor actually said that is unknown, however.

I'm off to the hospital. I'll try to provide updates via Twitter.

Please pray.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What Was, What Is and What Will Be

I grew up in the South, in the waning days of segregation. I can remember separate water fountains and public bathrooms; separate seating at the movie theater and on the bus. And separate schools.

I knew these things as a child; they were part of what was.

To read the rest of this post about what happened when I found myself a minority in the work place, please visit The High Calling Blogs.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Bird in the Hand: the Goodness of a Father

My father and I were never very close. He was one of those classic World War II veterans who didn’t say much about his war experiences. What I knew about them I learned from a carved wooden box that he bought in the Philippines when his ship stopped there. The box contained photos from Hawaii, the Philippines and Shanghai; a Chinese wedding cup; a piece of white coral; and a few other mementos. The box now sits on my bookshelf.

When I was not quite four, he started his own business, and it would become his life for the next 32 years. From the time I was 4 until I was about 12, I could go days, sometimes weeks, and not see him. He was up and gone to the office before I was awake, and he’d arrive home hours after I’d gone to bed. When I was 8, he was supposed to take me to the French Quarter for a Saturday outing. When he said he had to work, my mother did something rare for her: she rebelled. I could hear the argument from my room. She prevailed; we went to the French Quarter. I still have the pastel drawing an artist did of me next to Jackson Square (dated 1960 by artist Lee Stallings).

Even later, when he was home on weekends, he was usually planted in his recliner in front of the television set, alternately sleeping and dozing, with an ear plug for the police radio. But you didn’t think about being deprived of something; it’s what the situation was and you lived with it. Yes, I noticed other fathers coming home at 5 from work, but other fathers didn’t have their own business.

Sometime that spring of the French Quarter argument/outing, I was playing outside in the front yard, next to this huge tree (an old swamp tree, which tells you where our suburb came from). And I found a nest of three baby birds that had fallen from a branch. I rushed inside to get help.

It was a Sunday, and one of the rare ones when my father was home and not at the office. I can still remember how he was dressed – white t-shirt, plaid Bermuda shorts, black ankle socks and white tennis shoes. I can even remember how he smelled – a combination of sweat, Old Spice aftershave and cigarettes. He followed me outside and I showed him the baby birds.

He dashed inside, and returned with a shoebox. He put the nest in it, and gently scooped up the baby birds (they were pink and feather-less, tiny little things). We took the box inside, and then he found an eyedropper. He made up some liquid concoction, and patiently fed the three babies. He fed them several times that night, and even through the night.

He left late for the office the next day and came home early. He nursed the little birds for several days, but eventually they all died. I think he was as disappointed as I was. I cried; he didn’t.

I thought for years afterward that he really cared for those little birds, even to the point of giving up his normal working hours. And he did. But it took me some years to realize that he did it more for me than for the birds; it was his way of showing me something he couldn’t say.

If you’d like to read related posts on goodness, check out the One Word Blog Carnival over at Bridget Chumbley’s place.

"Last Light," photograph by nAncy of Poems and Prayers. Used with permission.

Loving Monday – The Compassionate Enterprise

I’m originally from New Orleans, a Nawlins boy born and raised. But I haven’t lived there since I graduated from college, and that was…a long time ago. But my mother still lives there, in the same house since 1956; my older brother lives in what is now a northern suburb across Lake Pontchartrain; and I have relatives all over the city.

In late August of 2005, I was at a school function for parents. And I was thankful that New Orleans had been largely spared from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, particularly since my then-82-year-old mother and her older sister had refused to evacuate and decided to stay together in my mother’s house. I was listening to a presentation when my BlackBerry buzzed with a message from my younger brother, who lives in Houston. This is what the message said: “The levee on the 17th Street Canal has been breached. There are also reports that the London Avenue Canal has been breached.”

I knew exactly what that message meant. Exactly. New Orleans was flooding. The city had not been spared. It was everyone’s worst fears realized. The 17th Street Canal was a border between New Orleans and suburban Metairie, and it meant that some of the wealthiest parts of the metro area were flooding. The London Avenue Canal bordered the Ninth Ward, and it meant that some of the poorest sections of the city were flooding.

Then another message from my brother: the St. Charles Parish levee on Lake Pontchartrain had been breached. I knew what that one meant, too. The airport runways were going to flood. And possibly my mother’s house, which had survived every hurricane large and small for the previous 50 years without a drop of water inside the house.

The next five days were a nightmare. And my company, my Fortune 500 company that many people love to hate, demonstrated a depth of corporate and individual compassion that still amazes me.

The company has a large manufacturing plant on the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The plant had done a phenomenal job of shutting down and protecting the facility before Katrina arrived. But a third of the plant’s employees – more than 200 people – lost their homes because of Katrina. They had no place to live, not even with relatives because a lot of their relatives were in the same predicament. So the company brought in trailers for all of the employees and their families. A fund was created for employees to contribute to help those who had lost their homes. The company made a large and generous donation to the Red Cross for relief efforts. And employees from the manufacturing plant who had boats became part of the rescue flotilla, pulling people from atop flooded homes and buildings.

And then there was me, a total basket case trying to figure out how to get my mother and aunt out of the city. Miraculously, while she lost electricity (normal for a hurricane) and water (not normal; water pipes had broken everywhere), she still had phone service (erratic but she had it) and her house did not flood. The flooding stopped a few blocks away. That week, my boss let me work the internet and the phone to get them out of there, track down other family members (scattered from Florida to Texas and as far north as Ohio) and become a mini-information center for people trying to find family and friends. I didn’t do one lick of company work that week, but I worked 12 to 14 hours a day.

We got them out; a neighbor who had evacuated to Lafayette snuck past the military and police roadblocks to check on his house. He took my mother and aunt to my nephew’s house in Lafayette, and my brother eventually got them to Houston.

And my company, well, my company demonstrated its compassion and generosity. It’s a side most people don’t see – the side that sent donations and resources when tsunamis hit southern Asia, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and when the earthquakes struck Haiti and Chile. It’s what the company does.

(Over at the High Callings Blogs, we’re discussing John D. Beckett’s Loving Mondays: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul. The discussion is led by Laura Boggess. This week, we’re focused on chapters 15 through 17, covering the ideas of the compassionate enterprise, extraordinary service and giving something back. Check here for last week’s discussion.)

Related posts:

Join today's discussion at HCB: What I Hold in My Hands.

L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone: You a Philanthropist?

A Different Story: Risky Business

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Picture Tells a Story

A few short years before the Impressionists burst upon the French art world, Edouard Manet painted a work entitled "The Dead Christ with Angels," and at first glance it seems a profoundly Christian treatment. But is it? There's some ambiguities about this painting that hold a caution for us today. See my post at The Christian Manifesto for the story behind the painting.

The Dead Christ with Angels, 1864, Edouard Manet. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Virtual (Good) Reading

I read lot of stuff online (ask my wife). I will admit to having 200+ sites in my RSS reader, and I check my blog roll on Blogger (some overlap between the two but not much). And I follow links that look interesting. Not everything I run across is good, of course, but it’s usually fairly easy to tell. I found a lot of good things this week.

Poems, for example. I love reading poems; I love finding them in unexpected places and coming from unexpected people. Here are only a few:
Nancy’sgoodnight” – short, simple and with a beautiful illustration. She’s a poet with words and a poet with a camera.
• Two by Justinian at Discount Verbiage (although he calls his blog something else) – “Taliessin in the School of the Poets” and “On Continuing to Grieve” (this one is beautiful). I came across his blog several weeks ago because of a comment he made at another blog, namely the one by
Phoenix-Karenee. This week she posted “Adrenaline,” which I loved.
• Two by Kathleen Overby: “Bottle Cries” and “Shattered Glass.”
• “How Arguments Go,” by my friend Maureen Doallas.
Pencil Drawn and Paper Grown: Poems by Heather Truett. This isn’t a blog post; it’s a book of poems by one of our TweetSpeak Poetry jammers. I include it here because I found it linked from Heather’s blog.
Sarah Salter’s blog post “For Girls Only: Naked.” In this post, Sarah combines poetry, prose – and pain. And it’s not for girls only.

Then I found two short stories, or actually, one short story and one five-part short-short story.
• “The Herd” by Bart Schaneman. Bart is a young writer originally from Nebraska. At his blog, Rain Follows the Plow, he writes short stories about his home state.
• “Mama Kept Staring,” by my friend Jim Schmotzer, posted at this blog, The Faithful Skeptic. For five days, Jim posted successive parts of his short story (so up need to “read up” from the first post on Feb 28).

And then the prose. There is so much good prose being written that this short list won’t do it justice. Some of it is serious; some is funny; all of it is good.
• “An Invitation to Hell,” by Billy Coffey, one of the best storytellers writing on the web. He has a novel called Snow Day being published later this year. This blog post is about writing, which lately he’s been writing about on Fridays. Writing about writing, that is.
• “Being Unintentionally Hilarious,” a blog post by Kathy Richards at Hey Look, A Chicken! Kathy is known as Katdish on Twitter, and if don’t follow her, you better. She rules. She also rocks.
• Two by author Athol Dickson. I’m a fan of Dickson’s. I love his novels, and in fact just finished River Rising this past week. He wrote a guest article for Novel Journey entitled "Forgotten Beauty," and it is good. On his blog, he posted “The American church is dying, and to save it we must join it.” And it is good, too.
• “They Are Listening,” a blog post by Erin at Together for Good. Erin is also one of our TweetSpeak Poetry jammers. All I can say is, she has an oldest son who sounds a lot like my oldest son, 24 years ago.
• “I Am Canadian,” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy. OK, so the Canadian hockey team won the Olympic gold medal. I mean, it’s just a medal, right? It’s just a game. We’ll get over it. Maybe. In the meantime you can read one Canadian’s soul-stirring tribute to her country, and (if you're an American) you won't feel so bad about who lost.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Saw a Man, Walking

I saw a man, walking.
Not tall or short; not
fat or thin; no distinct
features, but
a shining blur, a
luminous presence. He
called to me, that
blur, that presence; his
hand, shimmering like
sunlit glass,
reached toward me.
Slowly my hand extended; I
reached to that shimmer and
saw the mirror, a darkness
surrounded by fire,
consumed by light.

I saw a man, standing.

Photograph by nAncY of Poems and Prayers. Used with permission.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The 21st Day of Community: Susan Etole

When things get hectic, or I need to calm down, or just be quiet, a good place to start is Just…A Moment, a site (and a person) I noted in a short paragraph summary in December but one I keep returning to over and over.

Just…A Moment is the blog site of Susan Etole. She lives in Minnesota – and you can tell by the photos she takes – lots of snow. And she takes absolutely beautiful photos.

But it’s what she does with the photos that are so special. Using few words, she wraps sounds and sights together, simply, elegantly and, yes, spiritually. Her posts are always like this.

Take, for example, the one she posted yesterday, entitled “Transitions.” The words are few and simple: “Sometimes the end of a thing is the beginning of something very beautiful.” The five photos posted with them are spectacularly clear. But you have to step back from the words and the photos to see them as a whole, and therein is the great thing she does – she creates poetry with those few words and those beautiful pictures. I’m in awe.

Another example: “Something to Ponder,” again, a short sentence and photos of the moon. Or a birthday song to her son – heartfelt words and a series of pictures of baby shoes. Just stunning. Or her post entitled “Kindness Leads” -- wonderful words, photos of a bird at a bird feeder. (You see lots of photos of birds on Susan’s blog, and she must sit for a long time to get exactly those photos.)

Just…A Moment is what I call a ministry, because it ministers to all who come there. You arrive at the site, and you immediately find yourself, as she says in About Me, “in the midst of quietness.” Sometime, I’d like to sit with Susan and talk, basking in the quiet conversation, and basking in the quiet.

Visit Just…A Moment and find out for yourself.

(In December, 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 continuing to do that each week -- highlight a blog or web site of a person whose thoughts and writing have had an impact on me and others.)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Christa Parrish's "Watch Over Me"

Benjamin Patil is a sheriff’s deputy, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who is still struggling with the death of his best friend there. His wife, Abbi, is almost the antithesis of what one would expect a soldier’s wife to be – a peace activist who protested against the war her husband was fighting in, a health food advocate who has a serious eating disorder, and a wife who didn’t tell her husband until after they were married that she couldn’t have children. The Patils’ marriage is disintegrating, and the wonder is why it’s lasted as long as it has.

And There’s Matthew, a teenager who’s deaf and communicates by writing. Abandoned by his mother, he lives with his aunt and four cousins. Matthew is smart, the caretaker for his aunt’s family, a geek kind of kid whose gentle spirit has somehow survived a variety of adverse circumstances.

Then Benjamin finds a newborn baby abandoned in a plastic bag, and the lives of Benjamin, Abbi and Matthew will change forever.

Christa Parrish’s Watch Over Me didn’t turn out to be the kind of novel I expected. Instead of a straightforward romance, I found an incredibly fine novel and incredibly fine writing. I found characters I came to know and care about. And I found a story that absorbed me to the point that I had to finish it at 12:30 in the morning, long after I should have gone to sleep.

Parrish does not deliver the expected. She takes her story down paths that leave the reader wondering – and wanting to know more. She draw characters that are real, people whom you think you can reach out and touch, people who talk and behave and love and dream like real people do. And she writes about hope and forgiveness in a thoughtful and original way.

Now I have to order and read her first novel, Home Another Way. Watch Over Me is that good – you want to read everything this author has written.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What Is a Person Worth?

At the end of chapter 11 of Loving Mondays: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul, John D. Beckett says this:

“I’m convinced most employees want to see their companies prosper. They know their success depends on their employer’s success, and they will work hard to contribute. But they must be provided a dignified and supportive work environment. They must be viewed as valued, important, worthy. They bear God’s own image. If they are of infinite worth in his eyes, they certainly deserve no less from us than profound respect” (page 92).

Years ago, when I first became a “people leader,” I had all of three days to prepare for a people review session coupled with succession planning. As we gathered together for an all-afternoon meeting, things went much as I expected them to, except when we began to discuss one of my two new direct reports.

“Big Boss wants John fired,” my boss said.


“He thinks he does mediocre work at best. We have to do something.”

Then the person John had reported to for five years before me spoke up. “Yeah, John’s a real problem,” she said. “It’s probably best that he leave.” Other heads around the table nodded in agreement. The HR person sat quietly, not saying a word.

I first had to resist an urge to reach across the table and slap John’s old supervisor. Then I said, “And how many times has John been told this in his performance reviews? How many times has he been told his performance is lacking? How many times over the past five years (a figurative instead of a literal slap) has he not gotten a bonus because of performance problems?”

Silence. An uncomfortable silence.

“The answer to all of those questions is zero, right?”

“It doesn’t matter,” my boss said. “He has to go.”

“I’m not going to fire him until he’s been told he has performance problems and is given the opportunity to improve.”

“I think that’s the wisest course,” the HR person said.

“You’re wasting your time,” my boss told me.

“You’re probably right,” I said. “But I have to do it this way.” I knew John’s performance problems as well as anyone. I knew them better, in fact, because I had done that kind of work and job before.

So I had a conversation with John, and explained the problem. He was surprised but not shocked. He had felt people’s expectations for him were low. And he struggled to do things better but was never given any guidance.

So we agreed on a 90-day plan. Part of that plan was for him to get himself familiar with a radically new approach to the work – which was one of the reasons I’d been put in charge of the team. There were other things he had to do as well. We had weekly check-in meetings to look at progress.

At the end of the 90-day plan, we had a talk. And I asked him how he thought he did. “I feel like I did great on some things,” he said, explaining. And I agreed. “But on others, like the new way to get the work done, I feel like I missed the boat. I see what you’re asking for, but it’s just not me.” And I agreed with that, too, asking him what he thought the next steps should be. “I need to find another job,” he said, “either here or elsewhere. But I expect you’re probably going to need to get someone in this job pretty quickly.”

Three weeks later, John left the company. We worked out a severance package of three months pay and medical benefits until COBRA kicked in. A few months after leaving, John found a job he was much better suited for.

The HR person asked me why I went through all the hassle, time and trouble when everyone, including me, knew what the outcome was going to be.

“You won’t like my answer,” I said.

“Try me,” the HR person said.

“Because I believe every one of us is made in God’s image, and because of that, we each have the same inherent value in God’s eyes. It doesn’t mean that our skills and abilities and talents are the same. And it doesn’t mean we all perform the same. But it means that I have to value people like God does, and treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve. And John deserved dignity and respect.”

HR didn’t know what to say.

Over at the High Callings Blogs, we’re discussing Beckett’s Loving Mondays. The discussion is led by Laura Boggess. This week, we’re focused on chapters 12 through 14, covering the ideas of individual value or worth, the blueprints for our lives, and trouble finding us at work. Check here for last week’s discussion.

Related posts:

High Calling Blogs: Blueprint (this week's discussion on Loving Mondays)
Monica Sharman's Snowflakes and Fingerprints
L.L. Barkat's Loving Mondays: Blueprints
Lyla Lindquist's Loving Monday: What are we doing here?