Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Death by PowerPoint

Business, government and academia can no longer function without it.

It’s taken on the status of a cult.

It controls the world.

“It” is PowerPoint. And I have a post about it today at The High Calling.

Perhaps it’s time for a revolution. Down with the deck!

The Unplanned Christmas Visitor: A Ghost Story

The worst is, I cannot overcome
the dirtiness, the uncleanness,
as if dust permanently adheres
within the shrouded folds, the
echoed whispers of what was.

I watch them jabber and laugh;
I watch them sing and play
in plastic mistletoed happiness.
I watch him who will join me, him
who receives an unexpected gift.

I seek the one who fed me
the rum punch that deadened,
the sweet pudding filled with evil.
I seek the one who gave me
the funeral feast of blackbird pies.

When we meet, I, draped in black satin,
I, gliding to a blackened dirge,
I, singing my carol of extinguishing embrace,
he will know; he will weep shards of ice;
he will sweat beads of frigid glass;
he will feel the dust within
the shrouded folds.

Poet David Wheeler is giving away a copy of his Contingency Plans: Poems. Simply (simply?) write a poem about a Christmas ghost and leave the link at David’s place by Dec. 3. I already have a copy, so my poem isn’t in the competition.

This poem is also being submitted for One Stop Poetry’s One Shot Wednesday. The links will be live at 4 p.m. central time today, and check it out for other submitted poems (there's always really good stuff there).

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

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's Not Coffee Talk

Most every church has one: a large room or meeting place where you can get coffee between services, chat with friends, and occasionally eye a visitor nervously sipping their coffee or tea. Receptions and meals are often held in these rooms. Generally, what we call “Fellowship Hall” is usually a place for fleeting conversations and passing nods.

Or we’ll have small groups meetings in classrooms or homes and we’ll designate a time for “fellowship,” defined by post-Bible study activity consisting of refreshments, desserts and more light conversation.

We might need to find a better word or phrase like “social time.” The bible uses the words translated as “fellowship” to mean a very different kind of activity, situation or condition. There are some 15 references to words translated as fellowship in the New Testament; two in the Old Testament are translated as “fellowship” in the King James Version but not in newer translations like the New International Version.

All of these words and references define something far more serious than coffee talk.

Collectively, the references in Acts and the epistles of Paul and John cite fellowship as a communion, as a joining or partaking with.

It is a sharing that is service to fellow believers.

It is a sharing in the sufferings of Christ.

It is a sharing with the Father and the Son and the Spirit.

It is a partnership in the gospel.

It is both an action and a condition.

John proclaims what he has seen and heard so that “you may have fellowship with is,” and he’s not talking about dining together or a conversation over coffee.

To have it, we must “walk in the light and not darkness,” and it is a binding relationship, to the point that we cannot have fellowship with those who don’t believe. Fellowship is something just for us, and it’s special, serious and unique.

It is also something we hunger for. It is food and drink only in the sense of being the spiritual nourishment we need.

Fellowship may be more akin to what Jesus had with the “good thief” on the cross on Golgotha than anything we define it as today.

To see other posts on fellowship, please visit the One Word Blog Carnival over at Bridget Chumbley’s place. The links will be live at 9:30 central time tonight.

Photograph: Three Crosses by Barb Ver Sluis via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Post Featured at Jennifer's Place

Jennifer Dukes-Lee has featured my Thanksgiving post from last year as a report at her blog, Getting Down with Jesus. Take a look -- and remember to be thankful to farmers every day, not just Thanksgiving.

The Moving Geography of Hunger

America, 1930s:
My mother tells a story
of waiting with her sisters
and brother for Mama
to come home from scrubbing
floors at the Bijou,
hoping for the simultaneous
arrival of something to eat,
perhaps day-old French bread,
welcome even without butter.

Africa, 2010s:
After the rains fail
and the tribes explode
and the soldiers come
and the machetes flash
in the sunlight,
the children stand in line
for their handful of grain,
not knowing if their handful
will be there tomorrow.
Some have heard of oranges.

America, 1930s:
The children stood in line for the
Thanksgiving baskets,
shrunken cornucopias, not
knowing what was worse, the
hunger or its shame.
My mother tells the story
of the arrival of Mama and
nothing else except
the sounds of empty
stomachs in the night.

This poem was written for One Stop Poetry’s photo challenge, One Shot Sunday. To see other poems on hunger and the homeless, please visit One Stop Poetry (and read the pomes posted by Leslie Moon and Pete Marshall).

The title of this poem is taken from a speech by Norman Borlaug, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and father of the Green Revolution.

Are We Fans or Disciples?

“When the New Testament was written,” writes Michael Spencer in Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality, “it was dangerous to be a fan of Jesus. It wasn’t wise to wear a Christian t-shirt. The latest Christian music wasn’t playing on anyone’s iPod. Christian gift stores and book nooks couldn’t be found. Christian conferences didn’t fill ancient stadiums with first-century believers who came to hear celebrity Christian speakers.”

The reality, Spencer says, was far different: the constant possibility of being arrested, you and/or your relatives imprisoned. Your last pastor was likely martyred. You were accused of political treason. You faced economic ruin. You were a target and blamed for everything from assassinations to earthquakes. And there was no New Testament read.

One might say that the believers of the first century were closer to the believers in the illegal house churches in contemporary China than they are to the Christian consumer culture we live and breathe in North America.

Spencer entitled this chapter “The Evangelical Sellout,” and the sellout he emphasizes is the sellout to consumerism, American style. The “menu” he describes for believers in a consumer culture is a demining one: Christian music and concerts, shopping for the coolest megachurch with the “celebrity communicator they’ve hired as pastor,” the Christian conferences and festivals, Christian magazines and movies (and books), Christian radio, the vast array of specialized Bibles, Christian self-help classes. Reading this chapter is an exercise in heaping burning coals on one’s head; my own hair feels more than slightly singed.

Why this matters, and matters urgently, is that, appearances notwithstanding, the evangelical church in North America is in serious danger. And the danger doesn’t come from the neo-atheists in academia, the ACLU, MoveOn.org, George Soros, Planned Parenthood, the New York Times or Nancy Pelosi.

The danger, the real threat, is within.

For some weeks now, Nancy Rosback at Nance Marie has been leading us in a discussion of Mere Churchianity; her post on chapter 16 can be found here. Also see Fatha Frank’s posts at Public Christianity and Melo’s at Humming Softly.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

People wrote a lot about children this week, from a boy talking to his dog and birthdays to some of their own childhood memories and divorce through a child’s eyes. And remembering C.S. Lewis in his own words, poems about being a saint and angels and some wonderful paintings and photographs.


Life Lines” by Nancy Rosback at Nance Marie.

A Writer’s Worries” by Travis Thrasher at The Journey is Everything.

Looking with those eyes” by Diane Walker at Contemplative Photography.

A Boy and His Dog” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

To My Son” by Erin Kilmer at Together for Good.

My First Universe” by Jessica Mesman Griffith for The Image Journal.

No-Regrets Spending” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.

Neighbors” by Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk.

Mom’s Treasure” by Doug Spurling at Spurling Silver.

The Tablet and the Field” by David Griffith for The Image Journal.

Speeding by the Scenic Overlook” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

A Reverse Resume” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

The wild animal” by Billy Coffey.

Remembering Jack” (C.S. Lewis) by Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk.


The Riddle of the Fish” by Pete Marshall for One Stop Poetry.

They Were…For My Mother” and "Gray Daze" by Jerry Barrett at Under the Door Frame.

Hunting Season” and “There Is” by Melissa at All the Words.

In Time” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Spirits with Time” and "Holding Hands" by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

The Null” by Rob Kistner at Image & Verse.

They Speak of Angels” by Jim Schmotzer at Faithful Skeptic.

On being a saint” by Marcus Goodyear at Good Word Editing.

Mechanical Perturbation” by Steven Marty Grant at Urbanality.

In the Goblet Sky” by Teresa Wellborn at The Chocolate Chip Waffle.

Going Over Their Head” by Nancy Rosback at Nance Marie.

Paintings and Photographs

Weekends are for being a light in the dark” by Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience.

9:17 Speonk” by Steve Gravano at Take a Look Around.

Spotting Good” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Peaceful Path” by L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone.

Photoplay: Eyes to See” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

Sunset Reflections and Dusk,” two paintings by Paul Batch.

Giving Thanks” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.


Somewhere Near Tapachula” movie trailer by Senutz.

Photograph: Lamp, by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Light and Its Absence

Watching light
come through panes,
refracted by color,
suffusing a soft
glow of warmth,
a washing radiance,
reflecting particles
of dust and movement.

Watching light
fade, blocked into
clouds, cooling
the glass, its
growing absence
moving into coldness,
the air clearer
without the light.

Photograph: Dim Light by Teodoro Gruhl via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving: Of Such Is Greatness

My first thought is of roads.

Quiet roads. Roads busy with traffic only in the spring and fall, when planters and combines and tractors are being moved from shed or barn to field, from farm to neighbor’s farm. At other times, empty roads, a little busier on Sundays when families head to church or on weekdays when the school buses are picking up children, but quiet roads nonetheless.

The roads meander between fields of corn and soybeans, wheat and sorghum, dairy farms and a few orchards here and there. Roads connecting farms and towns, neighbors and friends, work and rest. Pickup trucks carrying seed and supplies travel these roads, as do trucks hauling corn and beans from the harvest.

When we think of what ties countries together, we think of information networks, interstate highways, airline schedules, train tracks. And yet, these roads that have names like “A” and “D” or FM 27 are our geographic arteries and blood vessels. Without them, and the work they support, all the rest wouldn’t matter. Silicon Valley exists because your average farmer In Iowa or Ontario produces enough food each year to feed 150 people. People like me and my family.

This fall, I spent a few days at Laity Lodge in Texas with a group of writers who are part of the staff for The High Calling. One of them lives off one of those roads in Iowa. The other lives off one of those roads in Ontario. They’re both writers, mothers and farm wives. And neither of them would bristle at being called a farm wife because they and their families know exactly what that means.

Jennifer Dukes-Lee and her husband Scott farm in Iowa. Jennifer was the political correspondent for the Des Moines Register before she and Scott moved to his family’s farm to take his dad’s place. I could tell you all kinds of things about the Lee family – I’ve been following Jennifer’s blog for more than year – but you should visit her there first. And you will learn a lot about farming, and family, and values, and faith, and what’s important in this life.

About a year ago, Jennifer was writing with a catch in her throat; I could sense it and feel it with every blog post. It was Scott’s first harvest to manage on his own, and it was one of the most difficult harvests in recent memory. Planting had been late because of wet weather; and harvest was equally late. Scott was often in the fields at midnight and later, and he finished and shut the barn door on his equipment just as the snow started. A lot of farmers weren’t so fortunate, and were harvesting in the snow. But I could read the tension in what Jennifer was writing and see it in the photographs she posted.

Ann Voskamp and her husband David farm in Ontario. At Ann’s blog, you can learn about family, and faith, and tradition, and values, and the beauty of day-to-day living. Both Voskamps come from farming families, and family is an idea that will surface again and again in her writings.

This spring, the time had come for her oldest son to climb up into the cab and learn how to till and plant fields. She captured his nervousness exactly, because it mirrored her own. And one picture told the story: her father-in-law, her son’s grandfather, sitting in the cab with her son, his hand on the young man’s shoulder, her husband holding on to the side as he listened. Teaching, passing on knowledge, the embracing of a tradition.

All of what happens on that farm in Iowa, and all of what happens on that farm in Ontario, is the stuff of what makes countries like the United States and Canada great and prosperous nations, even when economic times are bad.

And all of that greatness comes flowing down those roads, eventually finding its way to each of us.

My thanks to Jennifer and Scott, and my thanks to Ann and David.

Photograph: In the Country by Bobby Mikul, via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Winners for “Snow Day” Giveaway

Last week, I announced a giveaway – actually, two giveaways – of the novel Snow Day by Billy Coffey. The deadline was last night at 11:59 p.m. The clock ticked down to the deadline (does a clock tick down or up?). And then it was time.

I did the random selection the scientifically random way to do it. I number the comments, wrote numbers of slips of paper, put the slips in a hat, and without looking, drew one. The winner of the random drawing turned out to be Barbara Brinkman, who has now been sent an email with the news.

The selection for the second giveaway was totally subjective. I asked who would you give this book to (if not yourself), and there were great responses. The one I decided upon was Sean’s, who wrote this:

“Honestly, I would read the book myself and give it to my mother and step-father to read for Christmas. I think it could help them open up and talk about the rough times they've had over the past decade (ok, that's short...but i can't be short :-) if you want, read on to see why I would use the book in this way).

“I grew up in a small factory town in Indiana, and over the past 10 years I've watched >90% of the factory jobs disappear. In the lead-up to the death of the factory part of the town, I heard (I am ~800 miles away in college) several stories of people racking up debt in anticipation for bankruptcy, taking extended unpaid vacations, and yes, even wishing for snow days - all in an attempt to, in my opinion, fill the existing cracks of brokenness in an hopes of propping themselves up for the heavy events to come. Even though nearly everyone in my family was personally affected by the loss of a factory job and I heard and saw the devastation myself, I would love to read Snow Day, as it seems like it would give me a new, fresh insight into the events that took place in my small Indiana town, and maybe even give me new ways to help my family open up about their brokenness.”

Sean, if you will send me your contact information, I will get a copy of Snow Day on its way to you.

Thanks to all who participated.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Stoning of St. Stephen

He barely notices the first,
hitting his left shoulder
at the arm,
face, shining.

He looks upward as the second
pointed, sharp, tears skin
on his neck,
voice, calling.

The third and fourth together
herald the rock torrent
piercing, tearing, ripping,
wind, rushing.

The fourteenth aimed precisely
smashes the right side of his face,
absorbed in blood and light,
body, falling.

He murmurs forgiveness
through broken teeth,
his spirit soaring into
sky, darkening.

To see other poems submitted for One Shot Wednesday, please visit One Stop Poetry.

Photograph: Stones by Evette Murphy via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, November 22, 2010

C.S. Lakin's "Someone to Blame"

Matt and Irene Moore and their daughter Casey move to Breakers, a small summer-tourist kind of town in northern California. A family whose faith has been almost wrecked, they are trying to leave behind them a family tragedy – the accidental death of their youngest son, and the suicide of their oldest son. Their new town is not an escape; instead, it will be where all three of the Moores have to come to grips with what happened and what lies ahead. And the catalyst will be Billy Thurber, a drifter-type who always seems to be up to no good.

Then thefts, fires, break-ins and property damage start happening, and the town suspects Billy is the culprit.

Someone to Blame by C.S. Lakin explores a number of themes and ideas: how we attach blame because of our own fears, losses, and tragedies; how we can reach a point where we can rationalize violence; how we form impressions and make judgments of others because of appearance and attitude; and how we feed our own prejudices.

Lakin moves the story through a number of different points-of-view: Irene Moore and her husband Matt; their daughter Casey; Sheriff Huff; Jerry Hubble the embittered, alcoholic owner of a motel; an elderly couple who operate a small hardware shop; the owner of the bait shop; and others. All of them see Billy Thurber through different yet not necessarily conflicting eyes. The one character who doesn’t tell much of the story directly is Billy, and he may well be the most intriguing (and important) character in the novel.

There is some emphasis on the importance of faith but it’s not overpowering. The local pastor plays a relatively minor role, mostly to offer comforting words to Irene, although he’s part of a rather short but tantalizing scene involving candles being lit in the church by person or persons unknown.

Someone to Blame is an ambitious novel, and largely succeeds at what it sets out to do – examine why we are often so desperate to assign blame for failings that are often our own.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Canyoned Soul

The hole in my soul gapes
wide, deep, a canyoned
vacuum walled high,
unrecognizable when
experienced at ground level
but viewed clearly from
the high place, from which
its dryness, its awful
hardness is seen to contain
a small sliver of watery hope.

Photograph by Trent Chau, used with permission for the One Shot Sunday Photo Challenge. To see other poems for this photograph, please visit One Stop Poetry.

Those Pesky Individualists

I got hit right between the eyes this week.

“Individualists who are bold enough to make their own approach to life and faith known upset the church’s status quo,” writes Michael Spencer in Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality. “People who have a distinct identity break the unspoken, agreed-upon group rules. The individualists ask the wrong questions. They don’t buy into the accepted assumptions. In short, they don’t do what they are supposed to do.”

Oh, my goodness. I didn’t know my problem was being “an individualist,” but there’s much in that paragraph that describes my own church experiences for almost 25 years.

I was once on a church officer nominating committee. It wasn’t something that I’d sought out but I was nominated and elected so I determined to do the task. Two or three meetings passed before I realized that I was expected to nominate compliant people for the offices of deacon and elder, people who would not rock the boat, not ask obvious questions, and be willing to be led by the pastor and two or three key elders.

At one meeting I suggested an individual who loved the church like his own family, and was more qualified than just about anyone else, including the current officers. There was a silence from the other members. Finally, one of them, a sitting elder, said, “If he’s nominated, I will quit the board.” The silence became profound. Then another member of the committee quite innocently asked, “You mean he’s not a team player,” and heads vigorously nodded, grateful for an acceptable reason to hide personal animosity.

For all subsequent meetings, the head pastor attended. I had become a problem. Prompted by nothing except this man’s reputation in the church, I had suggested a name that had shocked the committee. From then on, the pastor suggested or commented upon all of the names proposed.

I didn’t personally suffer as a result. But a few years later, the church paid an enormous price for the value placed on compliant, unquestioning officers. These were good people, believers and servants all. They truly believed in what they were doing. They were not trying to be ugly and would have bristled if anyone had said they valued compliance above everything else. And they eventually understood – and accepted – that they were responsible for what had happened. They did learn.

There were other places, other contexts that taught me I was not doing things in the expected way. I questioned the wisdom of an ill-considered building program. I asked (politely) about the influence of certain mega-churches. I suggested to a church committee that if the Elder Board wanted the congregation to change, and to do something differently, then the elders themselves had to be the change and lead it by example. I asked why was there such a deliberate attempt to become a “seeker church.”

I also told my wife she had permission to shoot me if I was ever asked to be on an Elder Board and I wanted to consider it seriously. I’ve been on a deacon board for the last three years, and I’ve truly enjoyed working with the people who’ve served with me. We focus on keeping stuff running – that the grounds are maintained, and funds distributed to needy people, and the chairs and tables are set up for special events, and ushering during the worship services (of everything I did as a deacon, I think ushering was the thing I enjoyed the most). I’m rotating off the board at the end of this year, and it’s a good time for me to do that.

On Thursday over at The High Calling, Gordon Atkinson posted an article entitled “Prayer in a Season of Wandering” that managed to capture my thoughts almost exactly. It’s worth reading, and worth reading several times.

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

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

Can you show love and grace to a child molester? A little girl chooses to walk, and it’s a choice about her own life. Poems about homelessness, and putting hands to the plow. And more. It was a good week for good reads online.


Stopping Somewhere” by Charity Singleton at Wide Open Spaces.

A Prayer for Writers” by Cassandra Frear at Moonboat Café.

An End to Christian Romanticism, Please” by Bob Spencer at Wilderness Fandango.

The molester down the hall” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

Under Conviction” by Bill Grandi at Cycleguy’s Spin.

Love’s Embrace” by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

Meeting C.S. Lewis – and Prayer” by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

When I Grow Old” and “In this place” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

When Empty Answers Are the Best Ones of All” and “Premature” by Jennifer Dukes-Lee at Getting Down with Jesus.

Americans have it pretty rough” by Matt at the Church of No People.

Church Year Spirituality: Living in God’s Story” by Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk.

The Vampire Chronicles” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.

Failure is an Option” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

Choosing to Walk” by Billy Coffey.

A Freudian Slip” by Diane Walker at Contemplative Photography.

Trouble in a Writer’s World” by Athol Dickson for Novel Journey.

Community Art” by Jeanne Damoff for The Master’s Artist.

Pretending” by Linda Chontos at Linda’s Patchwork Quilt.

Surviving Church Burnout: Everything Isn’t Terrible” by Ed Cyzewski at In a Mirror Dimly.

A Brief History of Thanksgiving” by Mark Roberts at Beliefnet.

Risking the Heart” by Laura Brannon Good for The Image Journal.


I Am No Coward” by Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact.

One Shoot Sunday Photo Prompt – Homelessness” by Lesley Moon for One Stop Poetry.

Neo Narcissist” and “Wait Weight” by Jerry at Under the Door Frame.

Like this” and “Attendance” by Melissa at All the Words.

Worship Poetry – My Soul to Keep” and “My Song, My Heart” by Jay Cookingham ay Soulfari.

We Go Deep” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Lycaon of the Lower East Side,” “Simplicity” and “Los Angeles to New York” by Steven Marty Grant at Urbanality.

The Serial Reader” by Lorenzo at Crowned with Laurels.

Vesper’s Prayer” by Rob Kistner at Image & Verse.

But not disappear” by Jim Schmotzer at Faithful Skeptic.

Hands to the Plow” by Robbie Pruitt.

Possession” and “West” by Adam White.

Before I Am Old I Shall Have Written Him One Poem Maybe As Cold And Passionate As The Dawn” by Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage.

Man in Black” by Kathleen Overby at Almost Paradisical.

Bedtime Story” by Arron Palmer at A. Palmer Poetry.

Paintings and Photographs

"A Sneak Peak” by Kelly Sauer at A Restless Heart.

Sunday” by Deidra Riggs at Jumping Tandem.

Estuary Night,” watermedia on Yupo, and “2001 Still Life,” watercolors on Bristol, by Randall David Tipton.

59” by Steven Gravano at Take a Look Around.

Looking Up” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Fall with a Fancy Camera” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.

Photograph: Lamp by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Talking with Poet David Wheeler

Today at the High Calling, I have an interview with poet David Wheeler, author of the recently published Contingency Plans: Poems. David has written some extraordinarily fine poems, and the interview explores how he approaches his poetry and writing.

Below are some questions I asked David that are related to the poems and to his reading in general.

In a recent essay, you wrote about the experience of preparing to run a 10K, and how you happened into it almost accidentally. And you did cross the finish line. Would you do it again or stick to walking?

Look. Running and I are on good terms. We hang out sometimes; we've just learned to set boundaries, one being that under no circumstances will I run competitively, nor with companions. That's kind of a pillar of our relationship. That circles back onto my own insecurities about myself physically; but, they're insecurities I'm okay with, as long as I don't get pushed too much. We've all got them, and we just learn to deal. I'm a walk commuter; that's how I deal.

You said you preferred reading Dickens and Tolstoy to sports (and I agree). What writers have influenced or impressed you?

Lately, I've been most impressed by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Kathleen Norris. I haven't read a book so absolutely revolutionary and compelling as The Brothers Karamazov. Something I do every year around Christmastime is pick up lengthy work of fiction; that was last year's book, and I can't stop raving about it. An incredible piece of fiction--three brothers, all with conflicting worldviews, clash in the wake of their despicable father's brutal murder--Dostoevsky manages to work theology and philosophy seamlessly into it's textures, with out ever preaching or giving over to dogmatic statements. He asks questions, he poses hypotheticals that have literally changed the way I think about both fiction and faith.

And then there's Kathleen Norris, this feminist poet from North Dakota who's spent considerable time with Benedictine monks. You don't live like that without having some fascinating stories to tell. I just finished her memoir, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, where she looks around at the beautiful and harsh badlands, comparing the ascetics to Plainsfolk and vice versa. What got me hooked was her book The Cloister Walk, a collection of essays about faith and writing, what it means to live as a creative personality in relationship with a creative God, in a church that doesn't always know what to do with creative types, people who buck the trends. She's provocative, one of the best living writers I've ever read.

Some of the poems in Contingency Plans reflect a strong sense of place, or the importance of place, for example, the seven poems grouped in the section “Lake Padden, Bellingham” and several in “Sanctuary.” What does place do, or not do, for a poet?

Place doesn't confute the poet. That's an opinion. Any setting in the Northwest, I have come to believe, cannot go unheeded. It is there, and it demands attention: for its beauty and for its bravery. It is a subject that is constant and stalwart. Place, it seems, is sometimes the only thing grounding me in reality when I write. A poem like "Against Acedia" has the subject so veiled under this lackluster detachment to everything around him. Acedia or what is sometimes referred to as "sloth" or the "noonday demon" is an intangible mentality, emotionality, to the point I'm not sure how anyone can adequately excavate its emptiness; so, I pitted it against Place.

Adage goes that "the devil is in the details," working us into frenzy and sometimes shutting us down altogether, over the small things; we have kitschy gift books about how not to sweat the small stuff. Then there's the converse argument that God himself is actually in the details, so close at hand, so carefully looking out for each of us.

But, I'm inclined to agree with Ezra Pound when he states "The natural object is always the adequate symbol." The details are the details, and it's up to the poet, the reader, the artist, and everyone to decide what to do with them.


Interview at the High Calling.

My review of Contingency Plans.

Q&A at TweetSpeak Poetry.

Photo display and prompt for Contingency Plans at Three from Here and There.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thankfulness for Grandmothers

I didn’t know either of my grandfathers – my mother’s father died when she was 12 and my father’s father died when I was nine months old – but I knew both of my grandmothers, and knew them well. Being a grandparent is much on my mind these days, and I wrote about it over at The High Calling a few weeks back.

My maternal grandmother died when I was 25; she was in her 90s and had been ailing for some time. She was a daughter of German immigrants who came from Alsace-Lorraine after Germany took control of it after the Franco-Prussian War. (Yes, they had been Germans living in French-controlled territory, and left once the Germans took over. There’s a story there, but no one in the family knows it.)

Her name was Lillian, and she was married three times. Her first marriage – to her first love – ended after his death following confinement in a mental institution. She had discovered him one day sneaking up behind her with a knife in his hands, and she kept her wits about her and told him to put the knife down, which he did, and then realized what he had been doing. Her second marriage was to my grandfather; they had five girls and a boy, who collectively have proliferated into hundreds by now. My grandfather died from a ruptured appendix in 1935, leaving her to care for the children remaining at home. She became a cleaning woman for movie theaters, and spent a lot of hours on her hands and knees scrubbing floors. My mother can remember times of having nothing in the house to eat except perhaps bread.

What my “Gramma” passed on to her children and grandchildren was uncomplaining persistence and determination in the face of often terrible adversity. The personification of stubbornness, she could also be rather mischievous, and unpredictable. She shocked the entire family by falling in love in her late 70s and marrying for a third time – more than 30 years after the death of my grandfather. She ignored the protests of her daughters, and Gramma Jacob became Gramma Anderson.

My paternal grandmother, known to her grandchildren as “Gram,” was born in 1889. Her name was Martha. By the time she was five years old, she was working in a cotton mill in Mississippi. I never heard a word about her father; her mother, know the family as “Granny,” was a tobacco-chewing, no-nonsense, do-whatever-I-have-to-do woman who was rumored to have killed either a husband or a gentleman friend. Almost the polar opposite of her mother, my grandmother married my grandfather – 10 years her elder – when she was 16, and they were married for 47 years until his death. They had five children, four of whom lived to adulthood.

My grandmother lived in Shreveport, and I lived in New Orleans, but she was the grandparent I was closest to. The firstborn son of her only son, I was something of a favorite, but she likely made all of her grandchildren feel like that. For six or seven years, until she started growing older and more infirm, I spent a week every summer with her, just the two of us, tooling around Shreveport in her old Ford sedan. That week included the full array of her Southern Baptist church activities – worship and Sunday School on Sunday, ice cream social, Wednesday night prayer meeting, and visits to other elderly ladies.

From her I learned the importance of loving-kindness, gentleness and faith. I also learned that you didn’t have to know music to be able to sing in church – she played piano and sang solos at worship services well into her 80s, and couldn’t read a note of music.

I wouldn’t be where I am in my own journey of thankfulness, and thankfulness for my own grandchild, without these two women. And with each passing year, I grow more thankful for having had them as a part of my life.

Bonne Gray at Faith Barista has been leading a blog series on faith. Check her site for more links to posts on thankfulness.

Top photograph: Kneading Dough by Donna Cosmato via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. Bottom photograph: Grandpa and Cameron Young, Nov. 15, 2010, taken with Grandpa's smart phone. Used with Cameron's permission.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A "Snow Day" Giveaway, or Two

Did I happen to mention that I like Billy Coffey’s novel Snow Day?

Yes, I reviewed it here (and on Amazon). I even wrote about the “stickiness” of Billy’s stories for a post about another book. And a couple of people have figured out that I liked Snow Day enough to add the badge for the book on the right side of the blog here, and no one asked me to do that.

More people should read this book. It’s fine and it’s true and it tells the stories of people in a small town in Virginia at the same time it’s telling all of our stories.

I like this book so much I’m giving away two copies.

To be eligible for a random drawing for one copy, simply leave a comment here (and, I hope, a way to contact you) or on my Facebook page post on the giveaway. I will pull a name out of a hat and send the winner a copy. That’s it. The comment can be as simple as “Hi" and a way to contact you.

To be eligible for both the random drawing and a drawing based upon a totally subjective judgment by me, add a short (one or two sentences) statement about whom you would like to give a copy of Snow Day to for Christmas. You don’t actually have to give that person a copy, but just briefly explain why you would. Example: “I’d like to give a copy of Snow Day to my dad because he grew up in a small town just like the one in the book.” I’ll pick a winner and send the copy.

All comments due by 11:59 p.m. central time, Tuesday, Nov. 23. I’ll post the winners' names on Wednesday the 24th.

And even if your name isn’t selected at random or chosen for the second copy, you should still read this book.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Not Questions

In a place smelling of history and
prophecy and learned commentary
and psalmody and wisdom and love,
a place smelling of words holy and
profane, he heard the whispered
questions, questions stained and
torn with tears.

Can you love those who hurt you,
   can you forgive those who
   violated your body and spirit
   and heart;

Can you hope for those who
   imprisoned your soul, can you trust
   those who failed you so deeply,
   so cavalierly as if you were dirt;

Can you serve those who beat you
   and scarred you, making you
   nothing, can you honor those
   who ridiculed you;

Can you touch those who
   destroyed your tenderness, who
   laughed at your weakness, who
   doused lit cigarettes on your back;

Can you forgive those who
   ripped your skin with barbed
   whips, who cast you aside
   like a dirty, bleeding rag.

He smelled the history and prophecy
and learned commentary and
psalmody and wisdom and love, a place
smelling of words holy and
profane, the words stained and
torn with tears, and he said
these are not questions.

For other poems submitted for One Shot Wednesday, please visit One Stop Poetry. the links will be live at 4 p.m. central time today.
Photograph: Church Gate by Anna Cervova via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, November 15, 2010

So I Say Thank You

Bridget Chumbley is hosting the One Word Blog Carnival (links go live tonight about 9:30 central time), and the word this time is gratitude, something you can never express too much.

I’ve thought about that word, and how to blog it, and the answer came very clear on Sunday as I listened to our minister preach on Romans 12:9-16, with the Apostle Paul’s 17 individual commands all relating to love, commands like “Honor one another above yourselves.”

I started thinking back to all of the people who contributed something – usually themselves – for me to learn and grown in faith. People like:

Pastor Louis Nelson, the minister at our family church (Faith Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod) in New Orleans. He taught me catechism for two years when I was in 7th and 8th grades.

Josh McDowell, the apologist and evangelist, who said something to me in haste that so offended me that I demanded a meeting with the staff director of Campus Crusade for Christ at LSU.

Earle Carpenter, that staff director, who met with me for an hour – I’ve posted a photo of the lecture classroom where we met – and I came out of that meeting a Christian. Earle went on to lead Campus Crusade at SMU, attended Dallas Theological Seminary, and eventually returned to his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., to found Christian Medical Ministry, from which he “retired” a few years back. Earle is working just as hard as he ever did, preaching and teaching the Word.

Pastor Joe Wall, who was one of the pastors at Spring Branch Community Church in Houston and set up classes for college credit that were held at the church (I earned a total of 12 hours). The classes I took in Old Testament Survey, New Testament Survey, the Gospels and Bible Study Methods gave me a phenomenal grounding in the Bible. I still have my research project from Old Testament Survey – a study of the high priests. And I still remember my final exam in Bible Study Methods – an explication of John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible (“Jesus wept”). We lived in Houston more than 30 years ago.

Pastor Tim Fortner and his wife Anna, who embraced a young pregnant couple in dire financial circumstances and just loved us. Tim was the pastor at our first church in St. Louis, Covenant Presbyterian Church.

Gery and Linda Kotthoff, who befriended us at Covenant and were our first babysitters for our oldest. You can’t find better examples of selfless love.

Bruce Roquet, whom we first met as a Sunday School teacher at Chatham Bible Church in St. Louis and with whom we joined at First Evangelical Free church years later. Bruce was the youth minister when our oldest was in the youth group, and convinced us to allow him to go with the youth group on a missions trip to Haiti in 1995, shortly after the government had been overthrown and President Clinton had sent U.S. troops in to maintain order. Bruce had as much of an impact on my wife and me as he did on our oldest son.

Professors George Pepe and Ed Weltin at Washington University. I studied under both of them in my masters program. I had two classes with Pepe – “Athens and Jersualem” and “The Idea of Rome in the Western Imagination.” Pepe introduced me to the writings of Tertullian, the Ante-Nicene father who became something of a heretic. And I took a class in early church history with Weltin – and still remember the argument that ensued when I presented my paper on the rise of the monarchial episcopate (the bishops). He disagreed with everything I said, gave me an A for making a convincing case, and even tried to find a journal that would publish my paper.

My family – my wife and two sons. My wife listened to the rants and issues of what had to sound like a crazy person searching for meaning – and then I became a Christian. My two children taught me more about God than I can explain.

The authors I have read: C.S. Lewis, Philip Yancey, J.I. Packer, Charles Williams, F.F. Bruce. N.T. Wright, Sir William Ramsay, Alfred Edersheim, Josh McDowell (yes, I got over the hasty comment) and Charles Swindoll. There are others – but these stand out.

To all of these people living and dead, I owe a debt of gratitude that I can never repay. But I think they all know that.

Photograph: Cross by Piotr Wojtkowski via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Flannery O'Connor and the Avoidance

"Flannery O'Connor and the Avoidance," my article on how the writer took issue with the idea of "author as celebrity," is now posted at Christian Manifesto. Take a look and tell me what you think.

Harold Bloom's "Till I End My Song"

Harold Bloom is a professor at Yale, a former professor Harvard, the author of more than 30 books ranging from The Best Poems of the English Language to Kabbalah and Criticism and the recipient of numerous literary prizes and recognitions. He is also 79, and that fact more than any other is what lies behind Till I End My Song: A Gathering of Last Poems.

In this volume, Bloom has selected deceased poets covering six centuries, beginning with Edmund Spencer in the Elizabethan period and ending with Agha Shahid Ali in the 21st century. And then he’s chosen either the last poem they wrote or a poem that could be recognized as a kind of final poem.

The selected poems could easily do double duty – both a requiem as well as an introduction to each of the poets, all of whom have written in English and generally represent the United Kingdom, Ireland or the United States. Bloom also includes poets who clearly represent the canon of English-language poetry – he’s not into political correctness and so you won’t find obscure writers who make it into the volume because they represented a particular class or category.

That said, Bloom does seem to go out of his way to point out which poets were homosexual and which were generally anti-Christian (Bloom appears to be an atheist himself and not terribly fond of Christianity). As the volume progresses, the emphasis on these two areas at times distracts from the poets and poems being featured. (Bloom’s anti-Christian sentiment does not prevent him from recognizing such poets as John Donne (“A Hymn to God the Father”), Samuel Johnson (“On the Death of Dr. Robert Levet”), William Blake (“To the Accuser Who Is the God of this World”), T.S. Eliot (from “Little Gidding”) and others.

The two sub-themes aside, there is some wonderful poetry included here, and they demonstrate not only the extraordinary poetry written in the English language but also Bloom’s understanding of that poetry and his depth of scholarship. All the “names” are here – from Spencer and Shakespeare through Longfellow and Emerson to Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens and Robert Penn Warren. The more contemporary poets are not neglected either, and there are many poignant moments when Bloom recounts the loss of close friends.

Till I End My Song allowed me to rediscover poets I had not read in years and meet poets whom I’ve never read. And for both of those things Harold Bloom is to be thanked. This book stands as essentially his own book of poetry, and his own final poem.

(Attention Federal Trade Commission: No one gave me this book to review; I went into a Border’s Bookstore in suburban St. Louis to buy a gift for a friend and saw the book featured prominently on the “New and Notable” table. So I bought it.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

You Know Who I Am

You know who
I am, don’t you,
you think I don’t see you
avert your eyes and begin
to talk faster and louder
with your companion or if
you’re by yourself
you look nervously around
for possible sources of help
if you need it and if none
in sight you cross the street
but all you find is
another me,
another you
on the other side
and we are always
the least of these.

Photograph by Ed Yourdon; used with permission for the One Stop Poetry Sunday photo prompt on homelessness.

"Do You Really Want to Know?"

I was 24, working in Texas. I was walking to my office when I passed a new colleague in the hallway. “How’s it going?” I said causally as I walked by, more of an acknowledgement than a real question.

“Do you really want to know?” she asked.

The question stopped me cold. Simple politeness had become an opening into something else. I turned back and said, “Well, sure.” I was embarrassed.

And she proceeded to pour out a story that was stunning. She had become the guardian for a dearly beloved aunt, who would today be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The aunt was wealthy, and the adopted son was none too pleased that my friend was the guardian, because he was trying to have his mother institutionalized, which terrified her. So he was, in effect, stalking and following my friend, attempting to frighten or threaten her into walking away.

To make matters worse, in going through her aunt’s papers, she learned why her aunt was so afraid of being institutionalized, because she had gained a lot of her wealth form a lifetime of having elderly friends committed after gaining control of their estates.

All of this came out in a torrent of tears. I did the only thing I knew to do. I listened. I asked questions. It was hard to imagine that what I was hearing was true, but it was. She became and stayed a good friend of mine and my wife’s for the next four years, until we moved to St. Louis.

In Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality, Michael Spencer talks about all of the formulaic statements (“How’s it going?”) that we use in the place of honesty in the church. And it’s more than what we say to each other when we are in Fellowship Hall between services or chatting briefly before Sunday School starts. “Social conventions, corporate culture, and the customs of casual human relationships all require that we sacrifice a good deal of honesty,” he writes. “We’re expected to smile, nod, and utter glob and meaningless comments every day.”

As Spencer indicates, that applies across the board, not just to churches. But he goes on to point out that this is perhaps why religion is so appealing to so many.

“Religion provides a blanket of insulation for those who are happy to go along with the superficial social conventions,” he says. “Religion tells us how to act sand what to say at life’s difficult moments. Religion often provides a script of polite, stoic, pious, and acceptable behavior to insert into moments of great questioning, pain, and disappointment.”

Then comes the challenge: to pursue an unscripted, honest life. This is what we were made for, and this is what each of us actually longs for. If we don’t find it in our churches, we will look elsewhere.

“Church has done one thing that has helped us,” he writes. “We now feel the emptiness in our souls, and we have realized that we need to find the real gospel, the honest Savior, and the promised life of the Spirit.”

And if someone asks us “Do you really want to know?”, we should say yes because we want to, not because we’re caught in an embarrassing moment.

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

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

Playing sandlot baseball. Dealing with the death of a father. Late autumn on a  road. A kiss. A teenaged poet. Two penguins. Opera at Macy's. And more. A great week for writing, photography and art online.


Harvesting a sense of purpose and family ties on a Iowa farm,” guest column by Jennifer Dukes-Lee for the Des Moines Register.

A Birthday Meditation” by Cassandra Frear at Moonboat Café.

November’s Song” and “Worship” by Susan Etole at Just a Moment.

Are you looking at me?” by Nancy Rosback at Bend the Page.

Encouraging Others” by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

Humility: The Writer’s Indispensable Virtue” by Mike Duran at deCompose.

The Man on the Corner” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.

What Happens When I Let My Mind Wander as I Type” by Monica Brand at Paper Bridges.

Can Death Be Holy?” and “The Sum of a Life (in 125 Words or Less)” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

Of Sandlots and Cathedrals” by Fatha Frank at Public Christianity.

Hands and Beard Commands of the Future” by Rebecca Ramsey at Wonders Never Cease.

The Embarrassed Samaritan” by Bradford Winter at The Image Journal.

Why I Hate Writing – Part 4” and “Understanding Honor” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

My most recent business plan, except I’m Louis Prima, and I keep showing up” by Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage.

On our endless struggle to think well of ourselves” by Bob Spencer at Wilderness Fandango.

The Ambition of Christ” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

Playing Our Song” by John Blasé at Dirty Shame.

"Back in my day" and "Unanswered Prayers" by Billy Coffey.

Go” by Cliff at Soul of a Christian Triathlete.

The Best or the Rest?” by Chrystie Cole at Path from the Head to the Heart.

Attitude: It Makes All the Difference” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.


The Estuary” and "A Moment Framed" by Pete Marshall for One Stop Poetry.

Fire-Sky” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring

Learning Paul’s Perspective” by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

One Time” and “Late Autumn on Priory Road” by Adam White.

Five More Minutes” and “Help me pick a title for this one” by Jerry at Under the Door Frame.

Everyone Does” by Jim Schmotzer at The Faithful Skeptic.

Show Me” by Melissa at All the Words.

I’m a Rough Draft” by Michael Perkins at Untitled and “Dream Again” at the Michael Perkins blog.

The Kiss” by David Wheeler at Dave Writes Right.

"From the Bridge" and "By the Rules" by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

I Am” by Sandra Heska King.

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

Mystery of the milkman” by Nancy Rosback at Crossroads.

Reflection” by Steven Marty Grant at Urbanality.

I Give You” by Linda Chontos at Linda’s Patchwork Quilt.

Splendor in Surrender” by A Simple Country Girl at Aspire to Lead a Quiet Life.

The Color of Things: On a Tuesday Leaving” by L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone.

Enough Fog” by His Fire Fly at Flickers of a Faithful Firefly.

Young Poet David Wilkins” by Lesley Moon for One Stop Poetry.

Paintings and Photographs

Autumn Collage” and “Rain, Snow Wind and Sunshine” by Steve Gravano at Take a Look Around.

Loneliness” by Mikhail Shlemov.

Iron Mountain Study,” watermedia on Yupo by Randall David Tipton.

"Cracked Open” by Kathleen Overby at Neotony.

Random Act of Culture

A Slice of Heaven in a Department Store” via Zach Nielson at Vitamin Z.

Photograph: Lamp by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Technology Retreat

I took a technology retreat last weekend. L.L. Barkat over at The High Calling had a post a few weeks back about retreats from the online world, and I thought I would try it. I decided to limit myself to 30 minutes online on Saturday and 30 minutes on Sunday. And it was mostly successful – I was online less than 30 minutes Saturday and about 40 minutes on Sunday.

The net result: not much happened. I didn’t go into withdrawal. I didn’t become irritable. I included the BlackBerry in the retreat, and I only checked it a couple of times to make sure there was no crisis going on at work (there was, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it).

It was actually…easy. Far easier than I expected. There were some reasons why.

I had a ton of yard work to do. We had had a frost, and it was time for the tomato plants to be dug up, chopped up and deposited in the yard waste bags. An old (and large) rose bush needed to have a lot of dead wood cut away. Some raking was needed. The frost that had zapped the tomatoes had also blackened the zinnias and other annuals.

I went for a bike ride about two hours start to finish on Sunday afternoon. The weather was near perfect. I did my usual longish ride from where we live in suburban St. Louis to the Mississippi River. It’s not a major bike ride – about 24 miles roundtrip.

I read a lot. I reread several poems from David Wheeler’s Contingency Plans to finalize the review I had on my blog for Monday and the post at TweetSpeak Poetry for Tuesday. I continued to read Harold Bloom’s Till I End My Song: A Gathering of Last Poems. I waded through a pile of magazines that had been sitting and waiting – an eclectic group ranging from Bicycling and Fast Company to Oxford American, The Writer’s Chronicle and National Geographic.

I did a lot of writing – several poems, two blog posts, an article for the Christian Manifesto (to be published this coming week) and an outline of an article for The High Calling (which may be published next week or sometime later). Staying off the computer meant I was writing everything longhand, and I’ve found my writing is different when I do that. I even had some time to work on the novel-in-progress. Longhand.

Family wasn’t neglected, either. My wife and I went out to dinner on Friday, armed with a coupon for a free bottle of wine at a local Italian restaurant (we got a Merlot from Romania and it was good). On Sunday after church, we met my son, daughter-in-law and grandson (Cameron fix!) for lunch.

Monday morning arrived, and I was back in my online routine, at least until I got to work and had to deal with system glitches. For most people, system glitches are irritating and inconvenient. For an online communications team, system glitches bring everything to a halt. I ended up doing a lot of writing for various projects. Longhand again, but I could have used the computer. Things eventually got close to normal, or at least edged in that direction, but the net effect was an extension of my weekend.

So, my retreat from technology was rather quiet and uneventful. I had no grand spiritual revelations. My communing with nature was limited to chopping and gathering a lot of dead stuff in the garden (and fighting with thorns on that old rose bush). Things that needed to get done weren’t put off and got done. I got some exercise. I enjoyed the family (Cameron fix!) and watched a little college football on TV (LSU, my alma mater, upset Alabama).

It was good.

Top Photograph: Wagon Wheel by Kim Newberg via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Middle Photograph: View of the Mississippi River looking northeast toward Illinois, taken from Bellerive Park in south St. Louis. (Taken the week before so I didn’t cheat on the technology retreat.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s, my high school and college years spanning 1965 to 1973. Southern Louisiana was not Berkeley, but it was also not immune from the political, social and economic changes affecting the United States.

A short and not inclusive list: the protests against the Vietnam war, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the Yippies disrupting the 1968 Democratic convention, the Prague Spring and the resulting Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the pill, the growing use of marijuana and drugs, Elvis giving way to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, acid rock, the shootings at Kent State, riots, price controls, the first oil embargo and skyrocketing energy prices.

We heard about, experimented with and experienced peace, liberation and freedom. It must have been a scary time to be a parent and grandparent. I can remember my grandmother referring to me as a Beatle because my hair was longer than it had been when I was a child. She was trying to convince me to cut it, and it was the strongest thing she could think of to call me.

So much of what society considered as “freedom” turned out to be anything but. Much of it was simple license to do whatever we wanted, regardless of the consequences. And there were consequences. Many of the stresses, strains and fractures we live and deal with today can be traced to the craziness of the 1960s and 1970s.

At the end of my college years, I became a Christian, and began – and I emphasize the word “began” – to experience what I can only call freedom. It sounds almost contradictory – I became a Christian and embraced freedom. But it was a very different kind of freedom, a freedom based on love.

It’s a freedom that is about obedience, honor and worship, a freedom that embraces the idea that I am a part of God’s plan – a plan I do not know or have access to but I know how it ends. It’s a freedom that’s about faith in something I cannot physically feel but I still know is there, a freedom that has been granted to me in love.

It’s a freedom of my mind – to question and doubt, to explore, to be able not to accept anything simply because it’s being espoused by the guru of the month on Oprah. This freedom gives me the ability to understand what’s gold, and what’s dross.

It’s a freedom of the soul. I don’t get caught up in the creation vs. evolution debate, or all the excitement the so-called “new atheists” generate, because my soul knows what’s temporal and what’s eternal.

And it’s a freedom of the heart, a freedom to love and encourage, a freedom to be vulnerable and reach out to others who need as much love and encouragement as I do. It’s the freedom to know what I am made for.

I make mistakes. I fail. I fall down. I disappoint people. None of those things are “okay.” But they happen because I have the freedom to be taught and to learn.

These are things that no hand of man can take away.

Over at Faith Barista, Bonnie Gray has asked the question, “How is God setting you free?” To see more posts on freedom, visit her place.

Photograph: Old Celtic Cross by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with persmission.