Saturday, July 31, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

The post is late this morning -- our internet service has been down. But the reads are still just as good. And there are a bunch of them this week.


Taking Notes” by Bradley Moore at Shrinking the Camel.

Upon Being Laid Off, aka Set Free” by Mick Silva at Your Writer’s Group.

Midnight Pianist” and "Six Months is a Lot of Days" by Corinne at Trains, Tutus and Tea Time.

The Warranty” by Ryan Dueck at Rumblings.

Am I a Yankee Doodle Dandy?” by Gordon McCleary at A Southern Yankee.

Little by Little,” "The Politics of Witness" and "Discernment" by Ted Gossard at Jesus Community.

The Least of These” by Peggy Rosenthal at The Image Journal.

Eric Wilson’s Open Letter to Readers, Writers and Publishers of Christian Fiction” by Mike Duran for Novel Journey.

Baptism and Faith” by A Simple Country Girl at Aspire to Lead a Quiet Life.

One Hand on the Doorknob” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Coontree Mountain” by Cassandra Frear at Moonboat Café.

Shifting Sands” by Jeff Jordan at To My Children if They Are Listening.

The Great Illusion” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

Camping Inside” and "Comfort Them" by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

The Frame” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

Celebrating Through Tear-Dimmed Eyes” by Duane Scott.

Caught by the Sound of Praise” by Jennifer Dukes Lee at Getting Down With Jesus.

An Informing Art: How Photographic Strategies Apply to Writing” by Jeanne Damoff for The Master’s Artist.

"Full Nest" by Andy Whitman for The Image Journal.

"Letters to the wounded (from the wounded)" by Joy at Joy in This Journey.

"Life's Potholes" by Billy Coffey.


“A Love That’s Lost: A Poem in Memory” by Peter Marshall.

Forsaken Into Reality” by Fred Sprinkle at I Force It to Rhyme.

Time Window” by Rob Kistner at Image & Verse.

The merry-go-round of life” by Lesley Moon at Moondustwriter.

Instinct” and “Looking Up” by Melissa at All the Words.

You Are Real” by Monica Sharman guest posting at Poems and Prayers.

Hot Rod Lincoln” by Lorenzo at Crowned with Laurels.

Masks and Mirrors” by Justinian at Delight and Glory and Oddity and Light.

In Will’s Real Place” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Stay” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

Paintings and Photographs

Whisper Softly” by Catherine Ross at Capture! The Soul.

Weekends Are for Booting It” by Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience.

Animated Poetry Reading about Dead Fish” by Marcus Goodyear at Good Word Editing.

Weekends are for…” by Jessica McGuire at Jazamama.

The Dance” and "Corny" by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Blue Chevy Pickup” and “Cold Spring Harbor” by Steven Gravano at Take a Look Around.

The Sunday Picture Show,” “Sisters” and "Georgia in Blue" by Nancy Rosback at Poems and Prayers.

Slow Water Study,” oil on canvas by Randall David Tipton.

"Heaven" by Kathleen Overby at Almost Paradisical.

Photograph: Lamp by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jeanne Damoff's "Parting the Waters"

How do you write a story like Jeanne Damoff’s Parting the Waters: Finding Beauty in Brokenness?

With a lot of pain, joy, heartache, anger, love; most of all, love.

How do you read a story like Parting the Waters?

With a lot of pain, joy, heartache, anger and, yes, love. As you read it, you forget how well and beautifully written it is because the story this mother tells is that compelling.

In May, 1996, Jeanne and George Damoff’s 15-year-old son Jacob was one of two boys who drowned in a canoeing/swimming accident. Jeremy, the other boy, died. Jacob should have. He was under water at least 10 minutes, possibly longer. He was found and given CPR. And then he breathed.

We all know what being under water for at least 10 minutes means: brain damage. And that’s what it meant for Jacob. But no one would know how extensive until he awoke from a coma.

In the meantime, what did his parents hear?

“His brain is dying.”

“I have to tell you of all the options,” which included removing his feeding tube.

“At best he’ll be a vegetable the rest of his life.”

In Parting the Waters, Jeanne Damoff tells a story you read with tears and often in tears. And you ultimately read it with joy and a sense of wonder at the sheer tenacity of life.

It would trite but true to say that the Damoffs clung to their faith in God. But cling they did, even as they questioned and fought and doubted, even when the answer was often a silence, especially for the question of why.

Damoff walks the reader through those months and years of prayer, choices, decisions and agonies, along with the triumphs and successes and joys. And you do rejoice when Jacob takes his first steps, when he says his first word, when he wants to see his bedroom again, when he remembers things that should have been wiped away.

Damoff also introduces the hundreds of people who rallied around her family and stayed rallied – long-time friends, close relatives, doctors, nurses, therapists, Jacob’s classmates, and the people of their hometown of Marshall, Texas, sometimes total strangers. Many, many people were involved in this miracle named Jacob Damoff. His story is an affirmation of life, love and the human brokenness we all share.

I’ve never met Jeanne and George Damoff and their family, but if I asked them how they managed to survive, manage and overcome what happened to their family, I expect they would say something like, “We didn’t.”


Jacob’s Blessing, a poem.

Michael Spencer & "Mere Churchianity"

Christian Manifesto has published my blog post on Michael Spencer & Mere Churchianity. For a decade until his death from cancer in April, Spencer had been the "internet monk" read by thousands daily. His book distills a lot of what he had to say on his blog on the subject of church, culture and how we have too often confused the two. Take a look and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pleasantly Disturbed Thursday

It’s time for another thrilling installment of Pleasantly Disturbed Thursdays, the brainchild of Duane Scott. So here goes.

While I was biking Monday evening on Grant’s Trail, a black snake slithered across my path and into the weeds. It was only about three feet long, unlike the six-foot relative that stopped me abruptly a couple of years ago. The trail cuts through an eclectic landscape of subdivisions, woods, open fields, light industrial and commercial areas, a shopping mall and a small park or two. It offers lots of opportunities to encounter wildlife, but I prefer to avoid the snakes. The live ones, anyway.

At work this week, I had to watch two hours of a live congressional hearing televised from Washington. I thought it would be dull, but it wasn’t. It was mostly posturing by the panel and the people testifying, and it occasionally became fascinating as you watched and tried to figure out which witness was aligned with which member and his or her staff. I think I prefer the black snakes on the biking trail. Black snakes aren’t poisonous, and they don’t look for publicity opps.

I’ve been reading the novel Mending String by Cliff Coon, published in 2004 by Moody Press. Two story lines comprise the novel – a pastor and his teenage daughter who live in the same house but talk past each other, and a power struggle in the pastor’s church to force him out in favor of a more contemporary approach to church. Good story so far.

Tuesday night, my wife and I finished the eight episode of the seventh season of the British spy/suspense series “M1-5.” That means we’ve watched 68 episodes of this absolutely riveting since about mid-April. The eight season isn’t available on DVD or through Netflix yet.

Sitting on my desk at home is a software program for learning Italian. We’re planning a trip next year. The box is sitting there with a rather reproachful expression on its face. It wants to start.

We just did a walk-though for a house my son and daughter-in-law are considering buying. It was a nice home, not too far away to get a regular grandson fix.

Speaking of my grandson, I’m so glad you asked!

To see what others are up to on Pleasantly Disturbed Thursdays, visit Duane’ Scott’s place.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Writing Poetry

“Writing poetry can lead us to intimacy and praise; it can also help us begin to listen to ourselves,” writes L.L. Barkat in God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us. “It’s a kind of active silence well-suited to the extrovert, wherein we welcome flapping sounds from the burden on our backs and express them in the space of a poem. The confines of limited space ask us to first listen hard, so we can later capture and powerfully communicate elusive truth.”

No one who knows me would call me an extrovert. I’m generally on the quiet side, at least in public. I listen more than I talk; I observe more than I say. Quiet does not mean comatose. People in business tend to gravitate to A-type personalities; I’m not an A-type, although some of the best speeches I’ve written have come from working closely with A-type executives (“A-type” and “executive” are likely redundant).

My worst nightmare: to be thrown into a cocktail party with hundreds of people I don’t know.

And yet I write poetry (Barkat only said that writing poetry was well-suited to extroverts; she didn't say it wasn't for the rest of us). I wrote two poems in the past few days that were born in that active silence she talks about – the active silence of reading a really fine book and the active silence of contemplating a passage in the Gospel of Mark.

I didn’t expect to write the first poem, “Jacob’s Blessing.” But the book I was reading moved me to it. The poem began when I read about the simple gesture of a young man pointing his thumb at his heart and then pointing upward – an indication of his faith. The gesture may not seem remarkable, but the young made had suffered serious brain damage in a near-drowning accident. The telling of that story overwhelmed me; the silence of reading was suddenly infused with the silence of faith.

Ego or Ego sum?” is the second poem. This poem on ego was well underway – in the silence of writing – when I connected to the passage in Mark, where Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus is actually proclaiming himself to be God here, “I AM” (Hebrew: Yahweh), and it was either a colossal act of ego and blasphemy or it was true. I then moved to rewrite completely what I had been composing.

Why do these things happen in a writer’s or poet’s head? I don’t know, but they happened. The silence facilitated a kind of intimacy with the words in front of me; the active silence meant I was engaged; the result was an act of the heart.


The Bridge by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ego or Ego Sum?

He used terrible grammar,
didn’t he, when he
said ”Before Abraham was, I AM.”
Didn’t he?
They picked up rocks to stone
him but he walked away,
Latin: “Ego sum.”
Or just sum because the
ego is understood.

Did Freud know that
when he named it with
Super I and Id?
The wizard lives in Id while
the rest of us are kings of Ego,
picking up our own rocks
to hurl, billions of atomized
egos, a deafening
cacophony of
preoccupation with self.

Ego has no purpose or
plan without I AM, and ego
knows that, of course,
as it knows it must
decrease and let
I AM increase.
Descartes had it wrong;
it should have been
he is therefore I am.

To see other posts on the topic of "ego," visit Bridget Chumbley's One Word Blog Carnival.

Photograph: The signs were sent by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jacob's Blessing

From unexpected depths
came unexpected life,
harmed and damaged as
measured by a man but
beautiful still as
imagined by God.

To imagine beauty
from brokenness is
to create an idea,
a song, a symphony,
a verse, a prayer,
a story, a life.

Jacob wrestled in creation,
the lifting of his heart always
pointing upward, becoming
a vessel, the vessel of blessing
to those who listen,
to those who hear.

I’ve been reading Parting the Waters by Jeanne Damoff, the story of the hear-drowning of her son Jacob. I’ll have more on the book later this week. But this poem started yesterday and wouldn’t let go. It still won’t.

Photograph: Fern on white stone by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

"Barbies" Giveaway Winner

No, I didn’t forget that we had a free copy of Barbies at Communion: and other poems by Marcus Goodyear to give away. We did the random drawing. I just forget to post who the winner was (although I did let the winner know) (and she's scheduled to receive her copy this week, Amazon says).

In the interests of disclosure, the random drawing worked this way: I took the names of the commenters, wrote them on slips of paper, placed them in a bag, and pulled out one.

And the winner was Megan Willome, who blogs at Sabbath Says. Congratulations to Megan, and my thanks to all who commented.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

This list usually contains some of the same authors each week -- but it also grows to add new ones. It's amazing to see how much good stuff that people are writing, photographing, painting and singing.


Flaws in the Mirror” By Michael Perkins at Untitled.

Pickup Man” by John Blase at The Dirty Shame.

Who Am I?” by Anne Lang Bundy at Building His Body.

Jacob’s Song: stardust revisited” by Jeanne Damoff at The View From Here (and listen to the song) and her “Dustin Heart-of-Gold Aguilar” for The Master’s Artist.

His Voice” by Linda at Linda’s Patchwork Quilt.

"Disturbing Steps" by Jay Cookingham at Soulfari.

'Moody' Institute" by Scott Couchenour at Serving Strong.

Trip Planner” by Fatha Frank at Public Christianity.

Starting Over” by Billy Coffey.

Justice, Grace and the Sundered Soul” by A.G. Harmon at The Image Journal.

Silence” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

Why I Hate Writing” by Kathy Richards.

One Step at a Time” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

The ‘Inner Ring’ Problem” by Brett McCracken at The Image Journal.

Wheat, Combines & Harvesting Happiness” by Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience.

"Dreaming with a Troubled Heart" by Duane Scott.


The Dreamer” and "Sermon Notes and Fire"by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

Not Heard,” "Just Wrong" and "Blind Eye" by Melissa at All the Words.

Giant Flat Screen” by Lorenzo at Crowned With Laurels.

Improvised explosive device” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Work-A-Day Place” and “The View from My Place” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Where I Write” by Kathleen Overby at Almost Paradisical.

A merry little trip through mordor” and "Desert glass" by Justinian at Delight and Glory and Oddity and Light.

The Piper: A Poem That Tells the Tale of Hamelin” by Pete Marshall.

Texas Tree Poker” by Marcus Goodyear at Good Word Editing.

Doubt Palace” by Bradley Moore at And The Other Thing Is.

Crack!” by Nancy Rosback at Poems and Prayers.

My Little, His Much” by Linda at Linda’s Patchwork Quilt.

Night World” by Sonia Barkat at Green Inventions Central.

Paintings and Photographs

Montauk Lighthouse” by Steve Gravano at Take a Look Around.

Off-Center Beauty” by Monica Sharman.

Color the Days” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

Rebellious Streak” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

"The Feather" by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Breaking the Rules” by Dave Fuller at In the Zeitgeist.

Only on a Motorcycle” by Kathleen Overby at Almost Paradisical.

Dark Pool Beneath the Cedars,” oil on canvas by Randall David Tipton.

Photograph: Lamp by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Friday, July 23, 2010

All the French I Know I Learned from Miss Piggy

My father was born and raised in north Louisiana, my mother in New Orleans. Those two facts mean that I am a curious combination of redneck and coonass. Well, that’s not exactly true. On my mother’s side, it’s part Cajun, part Creole, part German immigrant. My father was pure redneck.

I lived in an American suburb, and so I spoke American. My mother’s relatives spoke American, too, but some of them also spoke Cajun French and what can only be called “New Orleans-ese.” (People often think New Orleans is a southern city. People are wrong. New Orleans is a Caribbean city.)

I did take some French classes in eighth grade; I particularly remember learning the “audio-lingual method from Harcourt, Brace and World Incorporated” because you had that marketing line on all the tapes you had to listen to. And you memorized conversations:

“Bonjour, Jeanne. Como vas tu?”
“Tres bien, merci. Et tu?”
“Pas mal, merci.”

(I probably have the spelling wrong, but we learned to say it, not write it.)

In 9th grade, I took the first of two years of Spanish, and learned the same conversations with the same method. Then I wandered off into two years of Latin.

My wife, on the other hand, took French, and still remembers a considerable amount of what she learned. And my two sons both took French. Our family has this game, or actually, I have this game, in which I totally mispronounce French like I was a redneck trying to speak the language. “Tres bien” becomes “Trez bean,” for example. Drives the entire family crazy. I love it. I learned it all from watching Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show.

Over at Green Inventions Central, L.L. Barkat has started a language game, of sorts, but a little more highbrow than “trez bean.”

Take an English word (words), translate into French, and then write a line of poetry at the TweetSpeak Poetry game page.

I’m going to try it, and hope that I don't embarrass myself too badly. Take a look and play along.

Mercy (merci?), this could be very trez bean.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gina Holmes' "Crossing Oceans"

Jenny Lucas is returning to her hometown in North Carolina after an absence of almost six years. She’s come to try to make peace with her father and to find a home for herself and her out-of-wedlock daughter Isabella. She’s also come home to die. What she finds is conflict, an unresolved past, love and eventually grace.

Crossing Oceans is Gina Holmes’ first novel, and it is a moving story of death and life, of hope and betrayal, and of generational conflict. Jenny had left home to escape her past, only to return to find she has to confront it and deal with, all the time slowly dying of cancer.

Holmes draws her characters clear and true. Jenny’s father and grandmother; her former boyfriend David Preston (who qualifies as a total jerk if not an out-and-out villain) and his wife Lindsey; and Craig Allen, with whom Jenny will fall in love. She moves them through an increasing drama of learning who Isabella’s father is, to the conflict with the Preston family, through the Lucas’ family’s own internal conflicts, and eventually a bittersweet love story.

Holmes is the founder and editor of Novel Journey, the online site for Christian fiction whose writers include one of my favorite authors, Athol Dickson, and one who will be published soon and whom I suspect will join my favorites list, Mike Duran. She has another novel, Dry As Rain, due out for publication in the spring of 2011. If Crossing Oceans is any indication, it, too, will be a moving story told well.

(Attention Federal Trade Commission: I bought this book myself; no one gave it to me.)

Another Pleasantly Disturbed Thursday - and Not So

OK, Duane. Here’s another thrilling episode of Pleasantly Disturbed Thursdays. And a not-so-thrilling episode.

I was supposed to be at the dentist this morning for a meeting with him and the lab buy on the color of my new crown but the dentist called last night and said the lab guy couldn’t make it. So I get to visit them both after work. Lab guys must sleep in.

So instead, I did a bike ride, and I did something I can only do when I bike really early (like leaving the house at 5:50 a.m.). I counted the number of bikers-walkers-joggers-bladers and dogs on the trail (the trail is 8 miles long; 18 miles roundtrip; plus two miles from my house to the trailhead and two miles back to my house = 20 miles).

Outbound: 38 bikers; 12 walkers; 12 joggers; 0 bladers; 4 dogs.
Inbound: 37 bikers; 15 walkers; 11 joggers; 0 bladers; 3 dogs.

Two noticeable events of the ride, both on the inbound portion. I passed the retired principal of our local high school who was riding a recumbent bike; and a deranged bunny dashed in front of me and then proceeded to run alongside me for about 20 yards. There’s no connection between the retired principal and the bunny. I think.

I know, doing the counts is dumb. But it gives me something to do and keeps my mind off my aching leg muscles. And to keep from thinking about that email I received last night.

Last night, I received a prayer request from church. I’m a deacon, and the deacons and elders get all the prayer requests. This one stunned me. The granddaughter of friends we’ve known for more than 30 years was killed in a biking accident in South Dakota. She was part of a group biking across America to raise funds for a charity that promotes affordable housing, and she would have been a college senior this fall. (I’ve added the link to the local news story but it’s usually only available for two to three weeks after publication.)

I’ve been reading Parting the Waters by Jeanne Damoff. She tells the story of what happened when her son Jacob, then an 8th grader, nearly drowned. He was underwater for 10 minutes. His friend Jeremy drowned in the same accident. What Jeanne and her family went through is something you can only imagine. She didn’t imagine it; she lived it. And she’s wrote about it with a stark and raw honesty.

What the Damoffs went through, and are still going through, is different from a child being killed in a biking accident. But perhaps not. Both are about personal tragedy and loss. Loss involving a child. What Jeanne writes with such stark, raw honesty applies to any loss.

But not just yet; not until there’s time to grieve and hurt and weep and cling. Then the time will come for understanding. Or trying to.

Sometimes life is just plain hard.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

You Are Real: on Letters, Spirit, and Canoes

By L.L. Barkat

(This is a first for Faith, Fiction Friends – a guest post. It’s by one of my favorite authors and poets, Laura Barkat – what an honor that is! She’s asked me to guest post at her blog, Seedlings in Stone, and you can find it there. We’re both addressing the same topic – is online life real?)

She was fourteen. He was eighteen. They fell in love by mail. When the war ended, they married. As far as the family stories tell it, no one ever questioned whether my great aunt and uncle had a relationship that was real from the start. In fact, their long correspondence was often painted as the sweetest part of the tale.

Fast forward to this July. I was interviewed, then challenged in a follow up email. The assertion? My online life isn’t real and probably, by extension, interferes with my “real life.”

I responded a bit straight up, wondering why Christians can believe in connection with an invisible Holy Spirit but not connection with real people over the wires. I mentioned that no one ever questioned the validity of my aunt and uncle’s correspondence, then added, “Maybe we don’t see the human in a uniform display font online. But the human is there. So is the correspondence.”

Sure, if I have the chance, I always reach for more dimensions. I’ve shared breakfast, held hands, paddle boated down the Frio River after first meeting online. It’s gone the other way too. I’ve briefly shared lunch and conference sessions in person, only to later solidify relationships online (I even hired one of my favorites. She’s a terrific writer and editor.)

At the end of September, if all goes as planned for HCB’s Fall Retreat, I will be blessed with the dimensional again. Glynn is already real to me, after more than a year of online correspondence and collaboration. But a canoe race down the Frio should prove this to the world.

For the record, I plan to let Bradley do the heavy paddling. I sincerely hope he is working out at a real gym in preparation.

Related: We Are Real by Ann Kroeker at The High Calling Blogs.

Photograph: Turning Dandy by Nancy Rosback. Used with Permission.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sabbath and Verse

“Sabbath is a weekly invitation to go nowhere, to believe that hiddenness is part of presence,” writes L.L. Barkat in God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us.This isn’t so much about the Sabbath being a time to rest so you can be more productive the rest of the week, …”but more in the sense of rhythm that sees nowhere-somewhere, presence-hiddenness, as inextricably linked, with God on both sides of the dance.”

And where she finds the strongest analogy is in her journey with poetry.

Sabbaths, or Sundays, for me are (usually) the slowest day of the week. There’s a routine: church, lunch out somewhere, nap, some writing, working out at the Y (or a bike ride), maybe some yard work like heading back the roses, reading and some more writing. It doesn’t sound slow, but it is. And it’s quiet. Sundays are (usually) the quietest day of the week around our house. But it’s definitely slower-paced than the rest of the week.

And Sunday, for me, is about poetry. Reading it and writing it.

This started more than a year ago. And during the pastor’s sermon, no less. He said some things as I was taking notes, and I saw that my notes began to look something like a poem.Later, I played with it some, and it became a poem.

What’s happened in the interim is that I now firmly connect Sundays, worship and poetry, which I could call “Sabbath and Verse.”

Here’s what I wrote this past Sunday.

Sprinklers on Sunday

I set the sprinklers out because
we needed rain, and
it did. Later
the rain washed the stones
and the colored
panes of polished sand,
cocooning the living hearts

What I Learned from Managing 20-Somethings

It was a challenge -- hiring for jobs in "new media" that had never existed before. We had to throw some assumptions and long-held policies out of the window -- and then came the management part. So how do you be a team leader for people in their first jobs out of college -- and they know more about the work than you do?

To read about what happened, see my blog post today at the High Calling Blogs.

Monday, July 19, 2010

In Place

Laura Barkat suggested a simple blog post – write something in place – the place where you write – and post it.

I thought about it, and decided to say a little about “the place” where I write. Actually, it’s two places.

If I’m writing at home, I’m facing the screen of a desktop computer. On a shelf just above are some classical music CDs (Mozart, mostly) and books about cycling, like Cycling Past 50 (as in age, not speed) and Distance Cycling. Sharing that same shelf is a bust of Abraham Lincoln and a lithograph of his home in Springfield, Ill. (my Confederate forebears would be horrified) and a photo of the Charles Bridge I bought from a street vendor in Prague eight years ago.

To my right is an in-basket and a rack of CDs (all kinds of music), the place where I keep bills to pay, a CD-radio and a tray of office stuff like post-it notes and paper clips. Behind me is the rest of a bedroom that used to belong to my oldest son. The walls are bare.

If I’m writing at work, I face a computer screen much like the one at home (same brand). The shelf above includes various binders and a dictionary, style book and a displayed silk handkerchief from Korea, the gift of a visitor. To my left are family photographs and standing file folders, behind which is one of the coveted windows of a coveted closed-door office. However, 90 percent of the view from my window is the outside smoking section for the building, so having a window may not be what it’s cracked up to be.

To my right is my LSU football helmet pen-and-pencil holder, more family photographs, two license plates pinned to the bulletin board (one reads “BAMA” and the other reads “1 Elvis” and is a real license plate from Tennessee; both are long stories). On the walls are a framed print of the Gettysburg Address I bought years ago at the Lincoln Memorial; a print of “Stump Speaking” by George Caleb Bingham; a print of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel; two gorgeous photographs taken (not by me) in the Arkansas Ozarks; a framed poster of Earth Day 1990; and a framed photo montage of the Choccoloco Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant Project (related to the BAMA license plate).

Writing in two
places becomes
the writing of two
places; the songs
of a heart; the
poetry of a life.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Looking for That Toy Radio

My wife sent me to the basement last week with a specific mission: find the Fischer-Price musical radio that plays “Picnic Time for Teddy Bears” that both of our children listened to when they were young. Yes, she was trying to find it for the grandson.

I descended into a chamber piled with almost a quarter-century of stuff. I eventually found the radio in a box on a shelf in an area lined with storage shelves and boxes (and no, I didn’t find it in the first box; I found it in the ninth box). But before I tackled the storage shelves, I thought I would find it where virtually all of the toys from our two sons’ childhoods are kept – under the basement stairs.

It was an area that had not been disturbed for 12 years or more. I didn’t find dust bunnies; I found dust Godzillas.

Going through the boxes of old toys was fun, and a lot of the toys, particularly the Fischer-Price play sets, are in really good condition. (“Stop playing with the Fischer-Price farm and find that radio.” “I’m not playing with the Fischer-Price farm; I’m playing with the Fischer-Price airport.”)

Stacked with the boxes of old toys was an unmarked box. I looked inside, and found two side-by-side stacks of documents – speeches and articles I had written up to the mid-1980s, back in those pre-historic days before desktop computers. Speeches typed on a typewriter. Some of the very first speeches I had written when we lived in Houston. Speeches about oil and issues and United Way campaigns and chemicals and education and agriculture.

Each speech tells two stories: the story of the speech itself and the audience it was given to, and the story of the creation of the speech. For some, I could only remember having written them. For others, however, I could remember all the details – sitting with the speaker, research, working with executive secretaries, drafting outlines, fighting with the Law or HR department over sections and wording, what happened when the speech was given, problems I had writing them and rewriting them, the times the speaker was a joy to work with and the times when the speaker wasn’t.

Looking through those speeches was looking through a window to the time when I was 25 to 35 years old. It’s like looking at old family photographs.

And I was reminded of why I write.

I write to earn a living. Or at least writing contributes to my earning a living.

I write to preserve memory, even if the memory will last no longer than my own lifetime.

I write to make sense of the world, and the world desperately needs much making sense of, even if it’s only for me.

I write to connect to others, to use the words to create relationships and build community.

I write to express the emotion I often cannot express though speech and tears and laughter.

I write to tell a story, to help others see what I see, to see what others see.

I write because writing is an act of creation, and it moves me closer to the Creator because every story has an “in the beginning.”

I write to encourage, because it is the gift I’m expected to give.

I write to understand, because reading alone is not sufficient to achieve understanding.

I write as a kind of prayer, and I write as a kind of worship.

I write to make myself vulnerable, and never am I weaker than when I allow others to read my writing.

I write because it is what has been put into my heart.

We’ve come to the final chapters and the grand finale of the discussion of Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. Laura Boggess has been leading the discussion over at The High Calling Blogs. Cameron’s book has been a good read, and it’s been a good way – a disciplined way – to think about why I write. And I’ve concluded that writing is less of a right – and much more of a privilege and a responsibility.


What I Should Be Writing by L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone.

Choices and Voices by Nancy Kourmoulis at Treasures of Darkness.

A Different Story by Lyla Lindquist at Inside Out.

A Contract for a Life of Writing Bliss by Erin at Filling My Patch of Sky.

High Stakes by Cassandra Frear at The Moonboat Cafe.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

It's another bumper crop of good reads.


Drive-By Dreams & Seaside Themes” by Pete Marshall for One Stop Poetry.

Ouch” by Melissa at All the Words.

Transparent” by Bradley Moore at And the Other Thing Is.

Stalemate” and "Coast" by Nancy Rosback at Poems and Prayers.

Special Providence” by John Blase at The Dirty Shame.

Sermon Notes Poems: 2 Thessalonians” by L.L. Barkat at Love Notes to Yahweh.

Summer Headlines” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Unfettered” by Kelly Sauer at A Restless Heart.

Flare” by Deidra at Jumping Tandem.

The Boy Gets Sad” by Lorenzo at Crowned with Laurels.

Her heart spilling over” by Anthony Souls at The Art Comet.

Taleissin commanding the king’s horse” and “Synergia” by Justinian at Delight and Glory and oddity and Light.


Lawn of the Dead” by Gordon McCleary at A Yankee’s Southern Exposure.

Those Who Dance Are Considered Insane By Those Who Can’t hear the Music” by Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk.

A Letter to My Mom on Her Birthday” by Kyle Reed at Standing on Giants.

Summer of 2040” by Duane Scott. And see all the great posts for the One Word Blog Carnival on summer sponsored by Bridget Chumbley.

Your Money or Your (Spiritual) Life” by Bradley Moore for the High Calling Blogs.

Summertime and the Livin’ Is Easy?” by Fatha Frank at Public Christianity.

The Everybody-Already-Knows-Everything Theory of Communication” by David Murray at Writing Boots.

Svelata: Unveiling Art + Beauty + Creativity” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

The Summer Everything Changed” by Jason at Connecting to Impact.

Summer Lies and Memories Last Forever” (and a poem) and “Life is Good" by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

My Daughter’s Fingernails” and “Bob Sheppard” by Billy Coffey.

Beauty from Destruction” by Kathy Richards.

Seven, and it’s Summer” by Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk.

Sabbath Joy” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

"Commit Literature” by Athol Dickson for Novel Journey.

Counting the Cost” by Jeanne Damoff for The Master’s Artist

In Soccer, Beauty is a Choice” by Santiago Ramos for The Image Journal.

Paintings and Photographs

Images of Summer” and “Summer Dance” by Nancy Rosback at Poems and Prayers.

"Silver Bits and Buttons” and “Orca’s Day” by Kathleen Overby at Almost Paradisical.

Dust on the Creek,” oil on canvas by Randall David Tipton.
Photograph: Lamp, by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What I’m Up to At The High Calling Blogs

For several months, I’ve been posting occasional articles at The High Calling Blogs (HCB). The site is owned and operated by Foundations for Laity Renewal, whose mission is to renew society by renewing the church; renew the church by renewing the family; and renewing the family by renewing individuals. In addition to HCB, Laity Renewal also operates The High Calling web site (and I’ve written an article or two for that site as well).

How I got there is one of those “internet stories.”

Long before I was on Twitter or Facebook, I had been following a blog called Inside Work, which focuses on the integration of faith and business. I would occasionally comment on a post, especially those written either by editor Jim Hancock or a business executive named Bradley Moore. One day, I followed Bradley’s link to his blog site, Shrinking the Camel. And enjoyed it so much I started following that blog as well. A regular commenter on Bradley’s book was a guy named Marcus Goodyear, and one day I followed the link to his blog, Good Word Editing. That’s where I discovered The High Calling and HCB, because Marcus is senior editor for these sites. About the same time, I found another blog I liked – New Breed of Advertisers – by a guy named Sam Van Eman whom I didn’t immediately connect to HCB – but he’s one of the editors there, too.

Looking at my RSS reader, I can see that Inside Work, Shrinking the Camel, Good Word Editing and New Breed of Advertisers are among the very earliest blogs I followed. (One day, in a post or a comment at HCB, Sam – and I remember distinctly it was Sam – mentioned a book he really liked called Stone Crossings by L.L. Barkat. His comment led me to her book, which led me to her three blogs, which eventually led to me becoming a co-editor with L.L. and Eric Swalberg for TweetSpeak Poetry.)

So what was it that attracted me to these bloggers and sites like The High Calling Blogs?

Obviously, we shared a common faith – different backgrounds and affiliations but a common faith nonetheless.

We shared an intense interest in how faith does – and doesn’t – function in the workplace.

Even more significant (for me, at least) was the sense of community. People from all over the country and even outside the United States come together in the spaces called The High Calling and HCB. And they share their community by writing about life and work and culture and family and art and a lot of other things.

Earlier this year, I received a direct message on Twitter from HCB, saying they had a proposal for me. I didn’t hear anything else for a few days, but soon enough L.L. (the HCB managing editor) asked if I would be interested in being a contributing editor. I didn’t have to think about it. I said yes – a big fat enthusiastic yes.

What a contributing editor does is write posts or articles on a regular basis (mine generally fall into the category of “work”), participate in commenting and discussions about posts, and help build the community. On my posts, I work directly with Brad Moore, who’s an HCB content editor in addition to his day job as a senior business executive and (most recently) a poet, with his own poetry blog. Brad is one of the best editors I’ve ever had. This is a heretical confession for any writer to make – but I don’t mind being edited by Brad because he helps me be a better writer. (And my next post is scheduled for Tuesday.)

That’s what this community is about as well – encouragement.

If you haven’t been to HCB, you should visit. If you’re looking for community, you’ll find it. If you’re looking for good writing, it’s right there. If you’re looking to stretch and challenge your faith, you’ll find it there as well.

It’s a cool place to be a part of.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Another Episode of Pleasantly and Randomly Disturbed Thursdays

That Duane Scott – he’s out West somewhere but we’re still doing pleasantly (and randomly) disturbed Thursdays. But he has a cool new button (included in this post) that he actually had a friend design. We’re going uptown.

I’ve been reading, or trying to read, Imperfect Birds, the new novel by Anne Lamott. I really like her writing, but I’m having trouble with this one. I struggled through the first chapter. It’s well written, like all of her novels and non-fiction, but I don’t think I was ready for the graphic descriptions about the teenage girl in the story. OK, so I’m something of a prude. I’m setting it aside for now; I’ll eventually get back to it.

Delight and Glory and Oddity and Light” is a blog I follow closely and regularly. I don’t know the identity of the person who does it, but I love the poetry he posts there (and it is a “he”). He goes by the name of Justinian, as in the Roman emperor. The blog has been silent for the past week or so (vacation?), and then burst forth Wednesday with two new poems. One of the things he’s been doing is writing a saga of a knight or warrior named Taliessin, and one of the poems yesterday was a new one on the Taliessin series. Justinian also has another blog, Codex Justinianus, where he posts regularly about Orthodox saints, history and theology. It's pretty cool.

At my house, we’re trying to plot out when we’re going to work some vacation in. And where we might be going. We likely be visiting our moms sometime this fall.

In the post previous to this one, I announced a giveaway of Marcus Goodyear’s Barbies at Communion: and other poems.” Just drop a name, a comment or whatever you’d like in the comment box, and you’re eligible for the random drawing of a name. And you can read an interview with Marcus over at TweetSpeak Poetry. I’m a fan, and Marcus writes some cool stuff.

Last night we watched episode 2, season 7 of the BBC’s “M1-5,” which is called “Spooks” (or spies) in the U.K. We’ve been getting this on Netflix, and we’ve been hooked since watching the first season (10 episodes per season means we’ve now finished #62). It’s a terrific show, even if you’re on the edge of your seat the whole time, and even if they do manage to kill off the leading actors on a regular basis.

Grandson Cameron turned four months on Sunday, and we got to babysit while his parents went looking at houses.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Giving Away "Barbies"

I’m an unabashed fan of Barbies at Communion: and other poems by Marcus Goodyear. I’ve got the book’s badge over on the supper right of this site, and I’ve now posted an interview with the poet himself over at TweetSpeak Poetry. He talks in detail about how he come to love and write poetry, some of his own background, and how he sees the poetry in the everyday.

And here’s an example of that “poetry in the everyday:"

"Epiphany" by Marcus Goodyear

We put our Jesus in the attic
after Christmas, buried in boxes
between plastic wreaths and cheap lights.
I rarely think about the idle figure
when I fetch luggage for business trips.
Near the boxes, the space is a maze
of pipes wrapped in thin foam, too thin
for January freezes when water reminds us
who is in charge. So here I am,
my breath like a pillar of cloud.
When the pipes crack, the water sprays.
There is no controlling this flood
and the damage it causes, soaking
through our Christmas, baptizing Santas,
Rudolphs, wreaths and every single Jesus.

I like this poetry so much that I’m giving away a copy (the print version). All you need to do is drop a comment – your name, a say-hey, anything you’d like – in the comment box by Wednesday, July 21 at 8 p.m. A name will be selected at random (I ask my wife to pick a number) (if she’s read the comments, then I’ll ask my next-door neighbor) and then posted/contacted next Wednesday night. That’s all you need to do.

And if your name isn’t selected, you should buy this book of poems. (I’ve never said that in a review before, but I’m saying it now.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Working at the Margins

It’s one of those commonplaces that you will be reading something, and a statement is made or an idea is expressed that suddenly illuminates an area of your life so directly that you’re stunned you had never realized it before.

That happened to me this past week. I was reading chapter six of L.L. Barkat’s God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us (entitled “presence”). She quoted author Wendell Berry speaking about marginal land – land where things don’t easily grow because the soil is poor or eroded or the land doesn’t get much rainfall or is exhausted from overfarming. This is what Berry said:

“It is at the margins that the weaknesses of an enterprise will show first and most dramatically.”

In one of those blinding flashes of the obvious, I realized that my entire career had just been expressed in one simple sentence. And it’s because my career, the work that I have done and do, has been and is spent at the margins of the enterprises I’ve worked for. And those margins are precisely where the organizations’ weaknesses have been the most obvious.

I work in communications – public affairs, public relations, corporate communications; it goes by many names. Specifically, I work in those small spaces between organizations and their various publics and constituencies, with the idea that my job is to help all of the parties involved better understand each other. Yes, one provides my paycheck; I can’t forget that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t represent contrary viewpoints coming from the public to help my organization do things better, improve a situation, correct a mistake, or take a different course.

I don’t “spin.” I have never “spun.” That may be hard to believe of someone who’s spent 35+ years in public relations. But that’s the situation. The reason is simple: my credibility is all I have, all my organization has, to be successful.

But because I’ve operated where the organizations are weakest, it’s no surprise that I have often had to deal with as much suspicion on the “inside” and I have on the “outside.”

And it’s sometimes very wearing. I’ve worked for or consulted for an oil company, two chemical companies, an agricultural company, an urban school district, a mining company, a pork producer (I know what a pig farm smells like), among a lot of others. Controversial organizations in controversial situations dealing with controversial issues. Or, the margins, where the organizations are the weakest. Large organizations are often the most fragile at the margins, where their operations meet the public.

Barkat amplifies and personalizes Wendell Berry’s statement this way: “Without strengthening the enterprise of one’s life, stress can continue to travel inward, encroaching on seemingly fertile land, until the whole plot is eventually decimated.”

The margins are more than important. They’re vital.


Sabbath Joy by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Summer Prayer for Sarah

In 1995, when our oldest was 15, he informed us that he was going on a summer mission trip to Haiti. Haiti. The same country that had just had a coup d’état and been occupied by American troops (which was a selling point for the church youth minister promoting the trip). We weren’t exactly thrilled with the idea, but we gave our OK. When I took him to a travel agency to get his passport photo taken, the agent there brightly asked, “And where are you going?” With great excitement and pride in his voice, he answered “Haiti.” With a fixed smile and a big nod, she said, “Ah, Haiti,” and took his picture.

It turned out to be one of the best experiences he could have had. He was immersed in a culture totally unlike what he was growing up in. He worked, and he worked hard, on construction projects like a water pipeline from the mountains. And he got to spend some time away from parental oversight.

I bring this up because Sarah Salter, the friend of many of us online, is spending two weeks this summer in Africa, specifically the Sudan and Kenya. Neither country is exactly the top of the charts for typical summer destinations. In the Sudan, she and her fellow team members have to carry all of their food and water with them. And plenty of pre-moistened towelettes, because there will be no showers (the country is experiencing a water shortage). While they rest of us back in the States are enjoying our air-conditioning, Sarah will not be – and in an area that’s four degrees from the equator.

This isn’t a mission trip to Paris or London. It’s to a part of the world that has seen more than its share of upheaval, rebellion, political instability, civil war and death. But for Sarah and her fellow team members, this has been an exciting trip to anticipate and plan for. She’s done mission trips before. And she knows the planning is critical.

If the travel schedule was maintained, she would have flown to London’s Heathrow Airport on Sunday and then transferred to Nairobi. From there, she was flying today in a very small airplane (“a flying tuna can”) to Kapoeta, Sudan. She scheduled a post on her blog for today that gives some of the details, and there will be a number of posts over the next 10 days or so.

So hold up Sarah and her team in your prayers. Some of the specific things she’s asked prayer for include:

(1) Finding favor with the Sudanese and Kenyan government officials.
(2) Unity and harmony between the team and the host missionary families.
(3) Safe travel (and all the connections get made) and their baggage makes it with them.
(4) A flexible attitude toward their schedule and “faith to trust the Lord in all unfamiliar paths.”

And I would add this: that their hearts and minds and arms and spirits be used in a mighty way.

To read more blog posts on "Summer," visit the One Word Blog Carnival over at Bridget Chumbley's place.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Michael Spencer's "Mere Churchianity"

I had planned a blog post on a different subject. But I’ve spent most of the last week reading and re-reading Michael Spencer’s Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality. The title is a nod – perhaps more than a nod – in the direction of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. But Spencer’s subject and thesis are very different – that people are leaving the church to find Jesus.

No, this is not a treatise in favor of the “emerging church.” Spencer experienced all of the ways one leaves the church –from belonging nowhere to considering Roman Catholic and Orthodox, to emergent and house churches and all the other possibilities that exist within a Christian context. And he doesn’t advocate not attending church.

Instead, he speaks to those who have left or are considering leaving the church, he explains why this is happening, and then he takes great care in pointing to a different way.

We attended a church for 15 years that – with great sadness and feelings akin to divorce – we left. Worship had begun to resemble entertainment; Bible study had been replaced by discussions of popular books; and success was measured by numbers. We weren’t the only ones who left; we were , in fact, at the tail end of an exodus that left the church financially strapped and spiritually depleted.

We joined a very traditional-type congregation. And then the same elements we had fled began to creep in. We’re still there, but there’s now this sense of having to deal with this all over again.

And then I read Mere Churchianity. It is perhaps the most hopeful work I have read about North American Christianity in more than a decade. That’s an odd thing to say about a book that basically says the North American church has replaced Jesus with …something else. But it is hopeful.

From 2000 to earlier this year, Spencer blogged at Internet Monk. He died from cancer in April, and several friends are continuing to carry on his work. And they should. What he did was and is important. It’s also very personal – for Spencer himself, for the people he wrote this book for, and for me. I’ve been profoundly affected by what he’s written.

I’ll be posting a few blog posts on the book and my own thoughts, beginning late this month and into August. I’m also working on an extended draft of a post for Christian Manifesto, which will be posted first.

For now I will say this: Michael Spencer knows what I’ve been going through for close to a decade, because he’s gone through it himself. He knows the pain and the isolation, because he’s lived it. And he cared enough about the rest of us to write this book.

I Don't Believe in ESP, But...

Actually, there’s no “but.” I don’t believe in ESP. Period.

In The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, Julia Cameron has a chapter on ESP, and includes a number of other concepts as well, like reincarnation, psychic phenomena and something called “the Akashic Records.” She wasn’t advocating for any of these things; but there was more than a little head nod that something like these things can happen to writers.

I suppose I’m talking about something similar when I say imagination and inspiration.

For me, ideas for writing come from everywhere. Perhaps a better way to say that is that ideas come from everything. I once watched a PBS documentary, and went on to write a speech that changed the course of a company (it was a speech for someone else). I mentioned last week about how a song whose words I couldn’t translate (I don’t speak Italian) started a chain of ideas that ended up as two manuscripts. I drafted a blog post just this past week that started because I mentally focused on a corner of the building I work in (it wasn’t the corner, but the collection of offices that had been in that corner).

But it’s more than ideas, and I think I understand what Cameron is talking about when she talks about ESP. It’s not so much some psychic power as it is seeing the connections – the “connectedness” of things. I can look at a group of what seems to be totally different and unrelated things – and piece together how their connected. And my mind often works faster than my mouth can articulate the connections. That’s especially true for ideas and events. I look at ideas and read and see things on TV or at the movies and skim a story in the Wall Street Journal and then a blog post and see two interesting Twitter links and an interesting line in a novel and then – wham – something happens.

I don’t know why I think this way, but I do. It’s not ESP. It simply may be how something seen leads to something imagined and then creativity goes to work.

Over at The High Calling Blogs, Laura Boggess has been leading a discussion of Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write. Last week’s discussion was about sound, “writing but” and driving. This week’s discussion is about roots, ESP and cheap tricks.


On the Table Where I Write by L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone.

ESP? by Nancy Kourmoulis at Treasures of Darkness.

Writing Rooted in Life by Charity Singleton at Wide Open Spaces.

Cheap Tricks by Cassandra Frear at Moonboat Cafe.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

There is so much good stuff being written, photograhed and painted that I may have to start doing a regular daily feature. And the list below just scratches the surface from only the last week.


Donut Wars” by Gordon McCleary at a Yankee’s Southern Exposure.

Driving to Words” by L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone.

I Can’t Believe My Baby Will Be 40” by H. Gillham at The Other Side of the Mountain.

I Pledge Allegiance” by Anne Lang Bundy at Building His Body.

Dear Sis” and "God Walks in Dark Places" by Duane Scott.

Religion and Culture” by Damaris Zehner at Internet Monk.

In Liberty’s Gaze,” “A Gift for My Father” and "All My Creations" by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Seeing No One” by Joel Workman at Soul Grit.

Savior Set Me Free” by Kelly Sauer at A Restless Heart.

Fecundity” by David Griffith at The Image Journal.

Lives” by Heather at the Extraordinary Ordinary.

Just a Story of Love” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Commonplace Covenant” by Dyana Herron at The Image Journal.

Heroes” by Billy Coffey.

Irrational Fears” by Terry Ward.

"Katdishionary - Part 9" by Kathy Richards.

Am I a Pharisee?” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.


Sometimes,” "Broke" and "Early Morning Drama" by John Blase at Dirty Shame.

Computer” by Mike Bullock at Versical Rhymes.

Always Options” and “You Are Here” by Rob Kistner at Image & Verse.

Consequence” by Bradley Moore at And the Other Thing Is.

Last Fall’s Leaves” and "Stone Bench" by Monica Sharman at Know-Love-Obey God.

Swept Away” by Melissa at All the Words.

Even in the Voice of Bitter” by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

The Price We Pay for Beauty” by Hadassah Fey at Umbra Vita

Behind the Cross” by Erin Kilmer at TFG Poetry.

Overpass” by Lorenzo (Larry Fish) at Crowned with Laurels.

Sunken Dreams” by Pete Marshall.

Impatiens” by Linda at Patchwork Quilt.

On a Hill” by Deidra at Jumping Tandem.

Unseen” by Justinian at Delight and Glory and Oddity and Light.

Language Universal?” by Eric Swalberg at Journey of Words.

Paintings and Photographs

Tanner Park, Copiague” and “Heatwave” by Steve Gravano at Take a Look Around.

B/W” by Nancy Rosback at Poems and Prayers.

I Heart America,” watercolor by Randy Elrod.

Cliff Face Study,” oil on panel by Randall David Tipton.

Photograph: Lamp by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.