Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday Good Reads

A father reflects on his daughter's cancer, a roundtable discussion on the coming collapse of evangelicalism, a poetic tribute to poet Luci Shaw, and a montage of Britain set to the hymn "Jerusalem" -- so many good things online this week.


My daughter’s cancer, the Book of Job and God’s mercy” by Doug Rumbold for Desiring God.

The Resurgence” by Kelly Foster for The Image Journal.

What a waste of time” and “The gangster, the hero and the example I’ll leave my sons” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

A question of prayer” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

How a Writer Ought to Prepare for a Speech” by David Murray at Writing Boots.

The Fear of Everything is the Best Policy” by Matt Appling at Church of No People.

If You’re Going to Dream, Dream Big” by Jason Vana.

Where truth found me” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

No Words for Beauty” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

Blossoming Dreams” by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

Art Schmart” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.

The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism,” roundtable discussion at Internet Monk.

"The Royal Wedding Recap" by Kathy Richards at Katdish.


Place” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM.

Ends and Beginnings” by Brendan MacOdrum at Oran’s Well.

Maybe Some Things Didn’t Change” by Lorenzo at Crowned with Laurels.

Luci’s Shawl” by Jerry Barrett at Under the Door Frame.

Consequence” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Dashboard bobble head Jesus” by Brian Miller at Way StationOne.

Passing Note” by David Wheeler at David Writes Right.

How a mother is born” by Kelly Sauer at A Restless Heart.

Ekklesia” by Robbie Pruitt.

Paintings and Photographs

Paint, Perfume and Elvis” by Nancy Rosback at a Little Somethin’.

Simplicity” by Lambert at Le Blog.

The Journey is the Destination Part 7: Pierced by the Light” by J of India at Neither Use Nor Ornament.

Sky-High” and “Infusion of Color” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

One year” by Jeanne Damoff at The View From Here.

Kent and Leeann – Their Last Day Engaged” by Kelly Sauer at a Restless Heart.

Videos and Podcasts

Resurrection Dance” by Up for Faith, via Anne Lang Bundy at Building His Body.

Jerusalem” (especially for the Royal Wedding Fans).

Photograph by Nancy Rosback of collage art by Maureen Doallas.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Welty and Maxwell: "What There is to Say We Have Said"

I first started reading the New Yorker magazine in the 1970s, when its editor was the legendary William Shawn. He was the editor until 1987, when new owners asked him to step down. For those of us who were New Yorker fanatics, the departure of Shawn was the departure of the heart and soul of the magazine. I continued to read it into the 1990s, but it had clearly lost something. Or perhaps what it was, what it had meant for writing and literature, wasn’t likely to survive into the internet age.

From the 1940s to the mid-1970s, one of the editors working for Shawn was William Maxwell (1908-2000), a novelist and short story writer. He was a wonderful writer; his novels and stories still resonate. If you haven’t read him, you should – novels like They Came Like Swallows, So Long, See You Tomorrow, The Folded Leaf and Time Will Darken It.

One of the writers whose stories and short novels were published in the New Yorker was Eudora Welty (1909-2001). Author of The Ponder Heart, The Optimist’s Daughter, numerous short stories and her autobiographical One Writer’s Beginnings (among a lot of other works), Welty’s stories were championed for years by Maxwell for publication in the New Yorker, until Shawn and the other editors agreed.

They were good friends, Welty and Maxwell were. They were writers who admired each other’s work. They both loved growing roses. They loved literature and they loved family. They were born a year apart in different parts of the country, but they were kindred spirits. Both of them have two-volume collections of their works published by the Library of America. And for more than 50 years, they wrote each other letters.

Suzanne Marrs, professor of English at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, has assembled, annotated and extensively footnoted the Maxwell-Welty correspondence into What There is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell. And it is a marvelous work of literature.

The correspondence is the letters between friends, exchanging news about family, friends, their reading, the vacation plans, what’s happening in their gardens.

It’s the letters between two people who stood at the center of the American literary establishment. Through their letters walk Frank O’Connor, Walker Percy, William Faulkner, Elizabeth Bowen, Cleanth Brooks, Tennessee Williams, Robert Penn Warren, Reynolds Price, Robert and Sally Fitzgerald and so many other “names” of the 1940s into the 1990s. Whether it’s Maxwell describing a dinner conversation with Isak Dineson, or Welty describing Reynolds Price, or the two of them discussing Welty’s novel Losing Battles, what the wrote about at length is a simple wonder. And the letters never descend into the gossipy, which they easily could have. Maxwell and Welty had no need to do that in their letters, because of who they were and the kind of people they were.

Ultimately, their correspondence, along with occasional letters of Maxwell’s wife Emily, who was an integral part of the friendship, stands as two friends, two likeminded friends, who loved literature and loved each other. Marrs has created an important and impressive addition to the understanding of two great writers.

The book will be published May 12.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pictures of Joy

Bonnie Gray over at Faith Barista has been running a weekly blog carnival on joy, and this week decided to have a photo blog on the subject – at least four photos of things that bring you joy.

Well, yes. The fact is, I’m not a photographer. In our family, my wife and daughter-in-law are the photographers. I point the smart phone and hope things come out okay. They take photographs.

But, in the the spirit of things, I decided to go ahead and post five photos of things that bring me joy. I took only one of the photos myself (see if you can guess which one, and it obviously won’t be the ones I’m in).

This first photo was of an anniversary celebration. We were with friends, and the waiter volunteered to be the photographer. But it wasn’t the anniversary per se that brings me joy (they’re piling up at an alarming rate these days). It’s who I share the anniversary with.

The second is of my oldest son, Travis, daughter-in-law Stephanie and grandson Cameron, taken this past Easter Sunday. Individually and together, they bring enormous joy into my life.

The third photo is my youngest son Andrew holding Cameron. He is absolutely crazy about his nephew, and that’s a joyful thing, but so is the blessing that he has been to me.

The fourth photo is Cameron at his first birthday party, who found a way to put the blue icing from his cake on his face instead of in his mouth. But that’s what one-year-olds do. And these are the kinds of photos grandfathers love to take with their smart phones.

The last photo is of the editorial staff of The High Calling, taken last October as we were preparing to leave three days of meetings and conferences at Laity Lodge. First row, from left: yours truly, Gordon Atkinson, L.L. Barkat, Anne Kroeker, Jennifer Dukes-Lee, Laura Boggess and Deidra Riggs. Second row, from left: Sam Van Eman, Claire Burge, Cheryl Smith, Dan King (#Fistbump!) and Bradley Moore. Third row, from left: Marcus Goodyear, David Rupert and Dena Dyer. Missing was Ann Voskamp, who had to leave early to catch her flight. Working with all them is a pure joy.

There are more things that bring me joy, of course -- good writing, poetry, art. But few things bring me joy so consistently, and so profoundly, as family and friends.

To see more photo posts on joy, please visit Faith Barista.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lewis Channels Chesterton

I first encountered G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) in the Father Brown mystery stories and The Man Who Was Thursday. There my acquaintance stayed for a while, until I was browsing a used book store and found his critical study of Charles Dickens. And then his biographies of Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi. And then Orthodoxy, Heretics and The Napoleon of Notting Hill. And there’s more.

Chesterton wrote fiction, poetry, plays, philosophy, biography, literary and art criticism, fantasy, apologetics, and journalism, among a lot of other things. His writing output was legendary. He had a brilliant mind, and he used it in his writing and speeches.

He was known as the “prince of paradox,” and no more so than in his friends. He could (and did) argue with George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells loudly and publicly, but he formed lasting friendships with both men. He could puncture the balloon of pomposity faster than anyone, but was also the master of self-deprecating humor.

I thought of Chesterton while reading the chapter in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity entitled “The Rival Conceptions of God.”

“If you are a Christian," Lewis says, "you do not have to believe that all other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.”

Chesterton could have written that. It is full of the paradox that Chesterton was so famous for.

What Lewis is saying here is that it takes more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian, that Christians – supposedly those horribly “exclusionary” and “non-pluralistic” people – can actually have a more liberal view toward other religions than atheists can have. And that’s because they can see elements of Christian truth in those religions (note: it doesn’t work the other way).

The paradox: it’s the atheists who are so doctrinaire and narrow-minded (or at least this is the conclusion Lewis would lead us to).

Lewis knows of what he speaks here. He’d been an atheist; his argument against God was that “the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.” But then he wondered where he got the idea of “cruel and unjust” from, because “ a man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” His atheism turned out to be “too simple.”

Chesterton could have said that, too.

I can’t recall if Lewis and Chesterton ever actually met or knew one another, but whether they did or not, the two men had much the same to say about Christianity, atheism and faith. And they both knew a good paradox when they saw one.

This post is part of an online discussion about Mere Christianity, hosted by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter. To see more posts in the discussion, please visit Jason's blog, Connecting to Impact.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Mother's Song

She turns her head,
the slight curve of her neck
shimmering a slight movement
of her shoulders, just enough
to remind me of
my fingers tracing her back
as we dance
the embrace of oneness,
her arm clasped lightly
on mine, touching,
the low murmur of our voices
its own sweet music.

This poem is submitted for One Shot Wednesday, hosted by One Stop Poetry. To see other poems, please visit the site. The links will be live at 4 p.m. Central time today.

This poem is also submitted for The High Calling’s Random Act of Poetry, which is seeking poems about mothers, grandmothers, motherhood, or son- or daughter-hood, for Mother’s Day (deadline is April 29).

Four Seasons of a Man's Life

Today, over at Chris Goforth's blog, Goforth Journal, I have a guest post on the four seasons of a man's life, which means, of course, that I'm old enough to be able to talk about the four seasons of a man's life. Anyway, check it out, and let me (and Chris) know what you think.

Pleasantly Disturbed Tuesday

My friend Duane Scott has closed the book on Pleasantly Disturbed Thursdays, so I thought I would have a one-time Pleasantly Disturbed Tuesday as a kind of off-calendar memorial.

We’ve been dancing around tornados and storms lately; the experts say that a dying El Nino is still holding on a bit in the Pacific Ocean and sending the weather our way. Last Friday, we were sandwiched between a major storm to our south and a major storm to our north; the northern one did all the damage at the St. Louis Airport and nearby suburbs. May El Nino rest in peace, and soon.

I’ve been reading an advance reader copy of What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell, edited by Suzanna Marrs. Welty and Maxwell, both extraordinarily fine writers, maintained a friendship and correspondence for almost 60 years. This is a book worth reading very carefully, including the footnotes (and there are a lot of footnotes). Their letters stand as a testimony to friendship, a compilation of the minutiae of daily life, and a literary history of the United States for the second half of the 20th century.

I’ve had poetry on the mind lately. I’ve been posting poetry since last Friday here at Faith, Fiction, Friends – a series of four poems for Easter and one yesterday for the Warrior Poet Society – and I have another coming, possibly later today. And April is National Poetry Month, and I’ve been posting a feature a day on different poets over at TweetSpeak Poetry. I just finished a draft of a post on a poem by Luci Shaw from Harvesting Fog: Poems, to be published in early May.

On Sunday, we had a wonderful Easter worship service – and I got a major grandson fix. After church, we had lunch, and then Cameron experienced his first Easter egg hunt. Not that he knew what it was all about, of course, except he liked to hear the rattle of plastic eggs and he definitely likes the taste of chocolate.

My girlfriend sat on the couch and watched the festivities rather sedately.

And Cameron loves his food.

Monday, April 25, 2011

At the stroke of...

A curious combination
of ending and beginning:
old, dying in darkness,
new, birthing in darkness
a shade of light implying
neither good nor bad,
only a change of time,
or perception, the night
ending, the day beginning
in night, yet no discernible
difference except we change
and the glass slipper
remains the same.

This poem is submitted for the Warrior Poet Society hosted by Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact. To see more poems based on the prompt “Midnight,” please visit the site.

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

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday: The Women

The women went first
to see, no one cares
about women, they’re
not the then-twelve
the lowly things don’t count
the last shall be first
the first find nothing
but a being, a voice glowing
the one is gone, vanished
the sought, vanished
a roaring absence
a glorious theft
from death.

Painting: Women at the Tomb by William Bourguereau.

Golden Years

There is very little that’s
golden about the golden
years, let me tell you and
I’m old enough to tell you
straight out what I think,
only the young have time
for circumspection and
I’m not young any more.
Oh, there’s gold in prescriptions
and doctors and hospitals
to be sure, but it’s the gold
to pay for them and don’t even
get me started on all the
patronizing because you think
old means stupid; old means
hard of hearing but old doesn’t
mean stupid. Now, where
did you say I could find
Mama’s room?

This poem is submitted to One Shot Sunday, hosted by One Stop Poetry. To see other poems based on the prompt, please visit the site.

Photograph by Greg Laychak for One Stop Poetry, Used with permission. You can find Greg Laychak’s web site here and you can follow him on Twitter.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday: The Silence

Scattered hiding
fear anxiety
didn’t find me
don’t find me
dead shepherd
lost sheep
all that work
all the miracles
all the teaching
for nothing
for death
we were the beloved
we are the forsaken
the hunted escaping
into silence
into the dark corners
into the wind
as it wipes the stone
covering hiding

Photograph: Stone that covered a tomb, from FreeStock

Saturday Good Reads

Many of the posts this week are about Easter, and there are some really wonderful things in prose, poetry, art and photographs. And there was humor, too: Matt Appling, a self-confessed global warming agnostic, offered some suggestions on how to celebrate Earth Day, while T-Mobile did a video spoof of the royal wedding.

The Simplicity of Distance” by Cheryl Smith at Cheryl Smith Consulting.

A Family Reunion” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Sunday Funnies – the Cartoonist and the Creator” and “The wood. The nails. The hammer” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

Is What I Call Home” by Harriet Gillham at The Other Side of the Mountain.

How to Celebrate Earth Day” by Matt Appling at The Church of No People.

The value of babies and stuff” by Sam Van Eman at New Breed of Advertisers.

The conflicted church” by Douglas Young.

The Kissing Tree” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

The greatest significance” by Kelly Sauer for High Calling Focus.

Who Your Are Is What You Wear” by Fatha Frank at Public Christianity.

How to write a masterpiece” by Athol Dickson for Novel Journey.

God on His Knees” by Sandra Heska King.

On my head” by Erin Kilmer at Together for Good.

Staring in the Darkness” by Scott Couchenour at Serving Strong.

Making Facebook Work for You” by L.L. Barkat at Green Inventions Central.


Lenten Journal: Confession” by Milton Brasher-Cunningham at Don’t Eat Alone.

Family Fusion” and “Paddleboard” by Jerry Barrett at Under the Door Frame.

Three on three” by Melissa at All the Words.

Yet Still” by Jim Schmotzer at Faithful Skeptic.

Poem for a Good Friday” and “Gulls in the Wind” by Bob Spencer at Wilderness Fandango.

Fireflies in our eyes” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne.

A writer’s prayer” by Duane Scott.

Un-jinxed” by Deidra Riggs at Jumping Tandem.

Round-about” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM.

To Never Sing Again” by David Wheeler.

In the details” by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

Sunshine Flash” by Claudia Schoenfeld at Splittergewitter.

What Lifts from Darkness” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Paintings and Photographs

Saturday Snaps: Tree Blossoms” by Sandra Heska King.

Sketchy Reflection” by Jay Cookingham at Soulfari.

So loved” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Videos and Podcasts

Royal Wedding Dance Spoof” by T-Mobile.

Synchronized Japanese Businessmen Dance” by OneBekim. (Hat Tip to Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage)

Photograph: Cross Image by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday: The Violence

Manhandled, shoved
humiliated, judged
expediently condemned
hands washed
thorned beaten whipped
hauled to the hill
nailed torn to the wood
spiked skin ripped
tendons, bone
filth, sweat-blood
pain unendurable
the turning away
the worst
pain the worst

Photograph: Jesus Christ on the cross, scene from The Passion, produced and directed by Mel Gibson.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday: The Common

Common things:
tavern, upper room
celebration, remembrance
wooden table
bowl to wash
bread, wine
common men

Common hate:
hatred without cause
the reason that is
no reason.

Common dread:
evening chill
garden, cold
fear buried in sleep
dreams uneasy
afflicted, haunted
solitude unwanted
loneliness wretched
no repose, prayer
certainty of

This poem is the first in a series of four, and is submitted to the blog carnival on Easter hosted by Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista. To see more posts on Easter, please visit the site.

Photograph: The Last Supper, scene from the movie The Passion, produced by Mel Gibson.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What's Your Worldview?

I’ve been thinking lately about worldviews, what the Germans called weltenshauung in the 19th century (in fact, “worldview” comes from the translation of the German word.). Its approximate meaning is how one views the world, or even the universe, and humanity’s relation to it.

Ideally, a worldview would emerge after careful study, instruction, guidance, inference and understanding. I don’t know if any worldview, or any specific person’s worldview, actually happens that way. These days, to watch what passes for governance in our national and state capitals, the only worldview that seems to matter is power and who has it at the moment. One might even argue that many of us have a worldview, and we see and interpret everything to justify what we believe, whether it does or not. And perhaps especially when it does not.

However a person develops a worldview, it’s clear that we all have one, even if we’re unconscious of it. It could be a religious worldview – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, secular. It could be political – Democrat, Republican, Socialist, communist, progressive, liberal, conservative. It might be economic – wealthy, poor, middle class. It could be based on education. It might be some combination of all of these and others (and usually is). And we all have one.

Worldviews tend to filter things out and in. If a congressman proposes a tax, like an increase in income taxes, worldviews automatically determine how it will be received, explained and understood. I’ll give you two names, and your response to each will tell me a lot – probably everything – about your worldview. The first name: Sarah Palin. The second name: Barack Obama.

(The media play a role in this, too, of course, and the media have their own particular worldview, one that usually starts with denial of having one. Journalists always seem so shocked to be accused of bias.)

The times we live in seem to require that worldviews scream at each other. Every worldview presupposes that anything conflicting with it must be destroyed, or at a minimum contained and neutralized. We live in shrill times, and shrill times require reasonable people to be marginalized.

This is not an argument for coexistence, like the bumper sticker reads. But it might be an argument, perhaps a plea, for civility.

In chapter five of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis puts his finger on this issue of worldview:

“…Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness. It is after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind that law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power – it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk.”

In fact, until we all have understood there is a Moral Law, and a Power behind it, and how we have all failed to obey that Law, then the spectacles of worldviews screaming at each other will continue.

And end badly.

This post is part of the book discussion hosted by Sarah Salter and Jason Stasyszen on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. To see other posts, please visit Sarah Salter at Living Between the Lines.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dinner at Luce, Hotel Intercontinental San Francisco

Seated by the window,
I peer through the gauze
curtain, watching traffic,
bicyclists zoom by oblivious
aggravating drivers like
they always do, always are
they shouldn’t be allowed
to manuever like that
a group of young women
walks by laughing, one
glances into the gauze
and smiles, walking on,
the wind blowing her hair.
The Jerusalem artichoke soup
is magnificant,
the almond bread superb
but the Chilean merlot
is heaven.

This poem is submitted for One Shot Wednesday, hosted by One Stop Poetry. To read more poems, please visit the site. The links will be live at 4 p.m. Central time.

Photograph: Luce Restaurant, Hotel Intercontinental San Francisco, via Hotel Chatter.

Monday, April 18, 2011

It's an Adventure!

I was an early reader. I can’t say exactly when it was that I started reading, but I know I was six when I bicycled up to the dime store and bought Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion, a hardback published by Whitman Publishing, for 59 cents. (Imagine a new book for 59 cents.) (Imagine allowing a six-year-old to bicycle to a shopping center by himself.)

I liked Trixie Belden, but nowhere near as much as I liked the Hardy Boys. The Hardy Boys books were first published in the 1930s; I read the familiar blue-binding reprints that began to be issued in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Joe and Frank Hardy were like my brothers. I helped them find the tower treasure, solve the great airport mystery, and discover what that Chinese junk was really all about. I rode in the back of their roadster (Nancy Drew drove a coupe). I got into serious trouble with them. I stood next to them in their father’s library as he sternly reprimanded the three of us. In all, I shared more than 40 mysteries with Joe and Frank. We had some great (and some scary) times together.

I wanted to be a real sleuth, which sounded so much younger and classier than “private detective.” Failing that, I would be a mystery writer. And, in fact, I started writing one when I was 10. My father owned a printing business, and one day he brought home a paperbound blank book for me to write to my heart’s content. I don’t remember all of what I wrote, but it was a mystery with a bunch of kids who find a secret passage behind a grandfather clock.

The Hardy Boys were what adventure was all about – excitement, danger, mystery, good guys and bad guys, teenagers outwitting all the adults and becoming heroes, and no mushy stuff.

I eventually outgrew the Hardy Boys, my mother sold my entire collection at a garage sale, and I went on to other things.

Life turned out to be a lot less like the Hardy Boys and a lot more about, well, day-to-day living. Most of us live lives that aren’t filled with danger, excitement, mystery and heroes. My life looks pretty tame compared to the Hardy Boys.

But every once in a while, I sneak down to the basement, and find the Hardy Boys books that I’ve picked up at garage sales, used book stores and book fairs, and discover that the adventure is still there, and Joe, Frank and I are tearing along the Shore Road in that roadster, on the prowl for the bad guys.

This post is submitted for the One Word Blog Carnival hosted by Peter Pollock. To see more posts on “adventure,” please visit the site. The links will be live at about 10 p.m. Central time tonight.

Illustration: Cover art for the “The Hardy Boys and the Tower Treasure” by Franklin Dixon. I'm really in the picture, too, just off to Joe's left, next to the tree.

A Cross-Cultural Blessing

Some years back, I was sitting in a department leadership team meeting. Our boss told us that we needed to find a place for a person from Latin America for about two years, while his wife was brought in on foreign assignment in another department. He was supposed to be fluent in English.

Eyes rolled, and the dance of avoidance got underway. While everyone else started a chorus of “why it wouldn’t be good for my team,” I read his resume. As they sidestepped and do-si-doed, I saw what kind of experience he had.

“I’ll take him,” I said.

A surprised silence. “You will?” my boss asked.

I nodded. “He’s got terrific experience in everything we need on one of my teams. On paper he’s a perfect fit.”

My peers all smiled. Crisis averted. Problem solved. And they didn’t have to deal with it. My boss was relieved as well.

The team in question was concerned when I told them. “Will he understand our stuff?” they asked. “How good is his English?”

“I suspect his English is a whole lot better than our Spanish,” I said.

All I had seen was his resume. When he finally arrived, we discovered his English was excellent. He was fully functional by his second day. The team was thrilled with the additional resource. And he turned out to be an outstanding member of the team. He looked at things with a different perspective. He found things we wouldn’t have even looked for. He came up with ideas we wouldn’t have thought of. And he was an absolutely nice guy.

After the second week, as my peer team leads got to know him, I started hearing the questions like, how did I manage to get all the good people?

It’s a good story if it ended there. But there was another side.

He was a Christian, and over the course of the next two years, as the department went through convulsions, political assaults, downsizing and budget cuts, he came to be my closest confidant. It was something that just started happening.

He walked in my office during a particular bad time, closed the door, and started talking. He grasped what was happening far better than a lot of us did, because he didn’t wear our cultural sunglasses. He saw things simply and plainly, and he called it right every single time. He gave me good advice, even when I didn’t want to hear it. And I could help him with understanding why certain things were the way they were.

But more than that, he became my friend.

I quietly mourned when he and his wife returned home. But I was able to be a reference for him when he was job-hunting, and he found a great job. He later sent me a note, telling me how much what I had told the hiring manager had made the difference.

When I said “I’ll take him,” all I saw was what appeared to be a person with great experience – on paper. The reality matched and exceeded what was on his resume.

But that I would have a fellow believer to stand by me and with me during a very difficult time was something I simply could not have foreseen or expected.

But Someone did.


The High Calling's Community Writing Project on Crossing Cultures.

Dena Dyer at Mother Inferior is hosting a blog canrnival on Crossing Cultures.

Photograph: North and South America by Vera Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


It can’t be helped.
I see verdant life,
light slipping
between the bars
of my window

forcing a way
into my darkness
like a seed
in a stone wall,
glowing with promise

shining with possibility
overwhelming with potential
hope forcing a way
into my darkness.
I reach but the bars

block my way
see don’t touch
see can’t touch,
my darkness forcing
a way into the light.

To see more poems prompted by the picture and several others, please visit One Shot Sunday at One Stop Poetry.

Photograph by James Rainford for One Stop Poetry. Used with permission.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday Good Reads

Good stuff this week. Lots of good stuff.


The Unconquerable Love of Jesus” by Lloyd at Solid Rock or Sinking Sand.

Moments and Gratitude” and "A Family Reunited" by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

“I Love God but I Don’t Have to Like Him” by Matt Appling at The Church of No People.

Life goes on” and “Writing, Righting and Apathy” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

How to Straighten Out Your Practice of Lent” by Mike St. Pierre at The Daily Saint.

Man vs. Kitchen, Vol. 2” by Marty Duane Scott and “I’m gonna be sick” for Bibledude.

When your time is up” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

On Asking for Help” by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

Gums” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

The Logical Next Step” by Charity Singleton at Wide Open Spaces.

Blind Vows” by Kelly Sauer at A Restless Heart.

Don’t See the wind” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

Stirred Up” by Jay Cookingham at Soulfari.

The Born Klutz” by Perry Block at Nouveau Old, Formerly Cute.

The Deepest Kind of Tooth-Ache” by Jennifer Dukes-Lee at Getting Down with Jesus.


Had Not” and “Ergo” by Rob Kistner at Image & Verse.

Acumen Amalgamated” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM

For God and Country” by Jim Schmotzer at Faithful Skeptic.

Torn Open to Holiness” by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

Grown Up” by Lorenzo at Crowned with Laurels.

The Valley of Dry Bones” by Marcus Goodyear at Good Word Editing.

The Aftertaste” by Arron Palmer.

Paintings and Photographs

Strength” by Nancy Rosback at A little somethin’.

Strength” by Karin Fendick at Flickers of a Faithful Firefly.

Winter Storm/Government Island” and “Stone on Beach” by Randall David Tipton.

Harbingers” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Five Minutes Flat” by Michelle De Rusha at Graceful.

Dance Your Shoes Off” by the Second Baptist Church of Houston (hat tip, Matthew Paul Turner at Jesus Needs New PR).

The Hobbit – Start of Production” by Peter Jackson (hat tip, Andrew Piper).

Yo-Yo Ma and street dancer Lil Buck perform Saint-Saens 'The Swan.'"

Photograph: Cameo Street by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Confession: I Have Now Read an Amish Romance

In the April issue of Christianity Today, history professor Eric Miller of Geneva College has on article on a subject that has usually made my blood run cold.

The title says it all: “Why We Love Amish Fiction.” It’s an account of this genre of Christian fiction, more accurately called Amish romance fiction, that seems to have become something larger than a genre. What I didn’t know, until I read the article, was that there are actually sub-genres of Amish fiction, including one that is distinctly unsympathetic to the Amish.

I had never read an Amish romance novel, not because I hadn’t noticed them (they’re everywhere – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, airport book and newsstands, the grocery store, everywhere). They simply held no appeal to me. None. Zip. Nada. The closest I had come to reading one was Dale Cramer’s Levi’s Will, one of the best stories I’ve read and which won the Christy Award in 2006. But it’s not an Amish romance; it’s the story of a young man who leaves his Amish family and community to strike out on his own, fight in World War II, get married, have children – and then come to turns with his family, especially his father, and his past. The novel is loosely based on the life of Cramer’s own father.

I liked Levi’s Will so much that I read everything Cramer had written – Sutter’s Mill, Bad Ground, and Summer of Light (I read that one twice). He’s a great writer and a great storyteller, and I’ve been waiting impatiently for his next novel to come out.

But he did what I didn’t expect him to do. He wrote an Amish romance. Not only that, he wrote an Amish romance that is the first in a series of Amish romances.

It was a struggle. Do I skip this novel and the ones to follow? Or do I trust Dale Cramer the writer and read this new novel?

I trusted him.

I have now read an Amish romance. Even if it had the name of Paradise Valley. Even if its cover artwork featured a young woman in the traditional Amish cap and dress. Even when it said it's the first in the series entitled “The Daughters of Caleb Bender.”

Cramer didn’t just want to test me; he wanted to give me the final exam.

Paradise Valley is based on a true story. In the early 1920s, the state of Pennsylvania enacted a law requiring children to attend school until they were 16. Five Amish fathers were arrested and jailed for refusing to send their children to the “Englisher” school. They relented only when the children were removed from their homes and placed in a children’s home. Many of these familes and others eventually emigrated from the United States to create new lives in Mexico.

In the novel, Caleb Bender, with three of his children forced to attend the school, decides to emigrate to Mexico. And this is Mexico of the early 1920s: political chaos, the old hacienda system quickly dying, banditry and Pancho Villa.

The entire Bender family leaves: Caleb and his wife, his two sons and his five daughters. Daughter Emma, who is pregnant, quickly marries her boyfriend Levi (and marries him out of the usual Amish marrying season); Levi realizes that emigration will help them avoid the inevitable shunning. Daughter Miriam is 18 and has no beau, or even the hint of one. Daughter Rachel has just realized that neighbor Jake Weaver, a year older than she is, is “the one,” and now he’s become the one who has to be left behind, because his family isn’t leaving.

The story of the problem in Pennsylvania becomes the story of moving to and living in a new land. Cramer works in several sub-plots – racial discrimination, threats from the bandits and unemployed soldiers, and a budding love interest between Miriam and the hired man Domingo – to weave a delightful story.

In the afterword, we learn that Cramer’s own father was born in Mexico. And Paradise Valley is a loosely fictional account of a real family history. It’s a history written with love, understanding and a kind of wonder.

So now I’ve read an Amish romance. I’m not going to rush out and load up on Amish romances. But I am going to read the rest of this series.

Cramer is that good of a storyteller.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Something Old, Something New

Bonnie Gray over at Faith Barista has been hosting a weekly blog carnival for some time now, and this month’s theme is “joy.” The prompt for today’s post is to share “something new you’re learning in your relationship with Jesus.”

Learning happens whether you’re focused on it or not. And the “new” I’ve been learning is actually something old.

Some good friends of ours are struggling with their church. They’re around our age, and have been members of their church for about five years. The congregation is long established, with lots of old money (and traditional ways of doing things like worship).

Our friends are rather traditional. They like the old hymns; they like choirs and the classical music that’s often played at worship services (I’ve heard it, and it is spectacular). For several years they’d been part of an adult Sunday School class that they’d come to love, and built some good relationships with the people in it.

Then came the change. Some consultants were brought in, and the church embarked upon becoming a “multi-site campus.” The worship service our friends attended (one of two at the church) became the “new” service, designed for younger people. The classical music and traditional hymns were steadily replaced with more contemporary music, more informality, less tradition.

Our friends faced a choice: endure the change, even if the music was hard to sing and sometimes even harder to listen to; or switch to the other worship service, which remained traditional. Switching, though, meant no longer being part of the much-loved Sunday School class.

Eventually, they switched worship services. They found a new Sunday School class held at the same time as the more contemporary service. They didn’t know the people as well, but the teaching was good and they liked the people. And things were fine for a time.

And then, a decision was made to end all the adult Sunday School classes being held at that hour. Even though their own class had a sufficient number of people, the others were much smaller. Someone decided to end them all.

So they faced another choice: go to the more contemporary service, or remain with the traditional service and forego Sunday School class altogether. They decided to stay with the traditional worship service. They understood the practical effect of that decision: the severing of more relationships. Church would become showing up for worship service and then leaving.

And that’s what happened.

“We did raise questions about some of the things,” he said. “We were essentially told to get with the program.”

“We were scolded,” she said. “We were just scolded.”

They asked our advice. We knew how much their hearts were breaking over this. We knew how isolated they were becoming. We knew they listened to contemporary music but listening wasn’t the same thing as worshipping.

We told them this was happening to churches everywhere. Publications like Christianity Today refer to it as the “worship wars” but it was actually something far more profound than that, a deep transformation of a large part of what is called evangelical Christianity in the United States. Some people welcome the change; others react the way our friends were reacting.

But this much is clear: however you want to justify changes like this, however many studies and consultants and prayer meetings are held, ultimately what happens is this: one group of people is essentially told they don’t matter any more. It’s not what’s intended, but it’s what happens, sometimes with regret and sometimes rather ruthlessly. There’s no “win-win” when things are limited this way.

And that’s a problem, because all people matter to Jesus. Tradition can’t be allowed to strangle church life. But a desire for the contemporary and the popular can’t be allowed to drown tradition.

I expect our friends to leave that church. They’ll look around and perhaps find a place to attend worship services. If they do, they won’t join as members. They’ll be less willing to build relationships. They’ll tithe, of course, but they won’t be willing invest much of themselves.

This is the second time this has happened to them. And they don’t think the third time will be the charm.

To read more posts at the blog carnival, please visit Faith Barista.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Creation! Evolution!

On Sunday, CNN published a post on its Belief Blog by Karl Giberson, vice president of the BioLogos Foundation. The title of the post was “Jesus would believe in evolution and so should you.” The post (as of the time I’m writing this) has received almost 3,000 comments, ranging from the thoughtful and provocative to the outraged.

I’ve never been able to get myself excited about the creation vs. evolution debate. I’m aware of it; I’ve read a lot about it and studied it. I know enough about it to spot the flaws in Giberson’s argument. But I can’t get excited about it. (I can’t get excited about all the “New Atheists” either.)

This week’s chapter discussion for Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis ("What Lies Behind the Law") anticipates Giberson and his argument. Lewis says there are essentially two views (with minor variations) of what the universe really is and how it came to be there. The materialist view aligns with the belief in evolution. The religious view aligns with creation. Because we don’t have all the answers and proof we would like to have, and likely never will have, both require some measure of faith.

When I was younger, the questions around evolution and creation were of greater concern. But I know when the “creation versus evolution” argument stopped being so worrisome for me.

As part of a masters program, I took a course called “Science, Creation Science and Pseudo-Science,” taught by a professor of astronomy at Washington University in St. Louis. His position was unequivocally materialist, yet he acknowledged the issues inherent in the theory of evolution. (I admired him so much that I took another course with him and chose him to be one of the three professors for my final oral examination.)

Part of the course was a study of the definition of science, and we examined several different approaches. The one that the professor (and apparently most scientists) was most comfortable with was this: “Science is what scientists say it is.” That idea permeated many of the books we read that semester, including The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn.

That understanding was what eliminated any concern I had about “creation vs. evolution.” Science was just as fallible as any other part of humanity.

My professor would be upset with that last statement, but he would also have understood why I made it.

Our discussion of Mere Christianity is being hosted by Sarah Salter and Jason Stayszen. To see the links posted for this week’s discussion, please visit Jason’s site, Connecting to Impact.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How to Deal with a Difficult Colleague

There are times at work I feel like flypaper. I attract difficult colleagues.

You know what I’m talking about. They were hired because someone knew someone. Or they were expert at interviewing, but not actually doing work. Or they’re in over their heads. Or they know that some organizations prize political skills over getting actual work done.

They are the ones whose promotions get announced, and people ask, “What are the bosses smoking?”

Please continue reading at The High Calling.

Prayers of Kierkegaard

Walking down halls of stones
arched with time
chanting high walls of tones
white and gold
a song unknown
a hymn unspoken
a voice unheeded
swirls of dust disturbed
by darkened robes in motion
chanting singing intoning
voice rise
slicing sharply into air
voices rise atonal
silences singing spare
unvoiced prayers atonal
emerging then merging
creating lifting, hovering
pulled into hands
hands holding whispers
hands holding sighs.

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

The first draft of this poem was written during the intermission of a concert by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and St. Louis Symphony Chorus, April 9, 2011, that included Samuel Barber’s “Prayers of Kierkegaard” and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, “Resurrection.”

This poem is submitted for One Shot Wednesday sponsored by One Stop Poetry. To see other poems submitted, please visit the site. The links will be live at 4 p.n. Central time.

You can read about Soren Kierkegaard here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

City of Refuge


I wander in a city
of refuge, a city affording
a certain security,
a certain protection
one of the three in Canaan
Hebron, Shechem, Kedesh
One of the three outside
Golan Bezer Ramoth
Only six, I thought,
why not 12, I thought,
one for each tribe?

This city, one of six
is cold, chill creeping
around houses, corners.
It offers refuge, yes,
but it does not provide hope.
It provides safety, yes,
but offers no sustenance.
It provides a bulwark
against death, yes,
but it does not provide
life, or beauty.

This city’s name breathes
hard, unkind consonants.
The prudent live here;
the simple stay here.

This poem is submitted for the Warrior Poet Circle hosted by Jason Stayszen at Connecting to Impact. Today’s prompt is Proverbs 22: 3: A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it (New International Version). To see more poems, please visit the site.

Thoughts on "Beautiful & pointless"

Over at TweetSpeak Poetry today, I’ve posted a review of Beautiful & pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry by David Orr, poetry columnist for the New York Times Book Review. The book was just published last week, and it is rather a good one – smart, witty and with just the right amount of snarkiness (but not too much), as I say in the review.

It’s the kind of book that sets you to thinking about poetry and writing, how you came to both and where you think both might take you.

I came to poetry through a kind of back door, or perhaps a side entrance. Yes, I read poetry in middle school and high school English classes. Yes, I read it in college when I took two semesters of English literature – two semesters and two volumes of the Norton Anthology of English Literature (I still have them on my bookshelf). What I remember most was the professor I had for my second semester, who loved to give tests consisting of obscure lines by Romantic poets, and we had to identify the poet and the poem. (My default: whenever I was in doubt, I answered Wordsworth. The professor’s Ph.D. thesis was on Wordsworth, and my default was right about 85 percent of the time.)

Seven years out of college, I found myself in a corporate speechwriting group. I had taken one rhetoric class in college, and had had Latin in high school, which had exposed me to Cicero, Seneca and other Roman orators. But I was pretty raw when it came to formal rhetoric, and understanding what I was doing with speeches. The friend I mentioned in my post on Friday set me on a course toward the modern poets, and I discovered Wallace Stevens.

I’m not sure what impressed me the most – his poetry or the fact he had been a vice president at an insurance company, despite being offered a plum academic position at an Ivy League college.

But it was when I started reading Stevens that I started getting serious about language and writing. From Stevens, Eliot and Dylan Thomas, I moved to other great poets. I went back to the Romantics (although the bad taste about those college tests still lingers). Then Dante, Tennyson, the British poets of World War I. Beowulf. Dickinson. Chaucer. Edgar Lee Masters. Whitman. Longfellow. Many others. I read to see how words were used, how meaning could develop through meter and flow, and how to pace language. And the speeches I wrote began to change.

The first time the change had become obvious was in 1985, for a speech by a marketing executive at a customer dinner to introduce a new product. I wrote it, but I wasn’t at the dinner to hear it. Others who did hear it wondered at what had happened – the executive had walked into the dinner as just another business guy but left it “almost a poet,” I heard.

Three years later, I was assigned to an executive who knew (1) he wanted to transcend the company and the industry to lead it in a direction it had to go and (2) how to use a speechwriter effectively. We made a small slice of industrial history, but history nonetheless. This was followed by nine of the most productive years of speechwriting I ever had, a hiatus of two years, and then six productive years.

Two years ago, I was no longer writing speeches for others. I started writing poetry, and found it both easier and harder than writing speeches.

There is no writing I do that makes me feel more vulnerable than poetry. It’s not that I think people will think them bad; it’s that I’m afraid people will see straight through them to my soul, or perhaps my heart. Other forms of writing I do – while just as “creative” – are usually less transparent. I can write a story that may or may not be autobiographical. I can give an account of something in a journalistic or reportorial style, but the personal is usually hidden.

But I can’t write a poem without feeling naked and vulnerable.


A review of David Orr's Beautiful & pointless is posted at TweetSpeak Poetry.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dorothy's Lament

You’ve had the power all along
she said but
you had to learn how to use it
she said so
I clicked my ruby slippers together
three times
there’s no place like home
there’s no place like home
there’s no place like home
but I forgot I was holding that
stupid green balloon
and it kept me stuck
in Oz.

This poem is submitted for One Shot Sunday at One Stop Poetry. To see other poems submitted and an interview with photographer Lauren Randolph, please visit the site.

Photograph by Lauren Randolph for One Stop Poetry. Used with permission.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saturday Good Reads

Some background on the king from “The King’s Speech;” giving up God for Lent (say what?); and a Sundaymeditation in the form of a song from Rich Mullins, who still inspires so many years after his death. Another good week online.


It’s All About the Poems” by Eric Swalberg at Journey of Words.

A Very Public Intellectual,” review by Joseph Epstein of the new biography of Susan Sontag.

Artist” by Travis Thrasher at The Journey is Everything.

The Phos Hilaron” by David Koyzis at Evangel.

Bad Boy” by Bradley Moore at Shrinking the Camel.

One Thing for All People” by Matt Appling at The Church of No People.

Six Words” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

Know-it-all” and “I’m no super hero but I do have a super power” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

Did God Actually Say?” by Jeanne Damoff at The View From Here.

The Obit Writer” and “Growing Like a Weed, or Maybe an Oak” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.

Royal Duty: The King Behind the Speech” by Robert Llizo at the Scriptorium.

It’s You or the Mothballs” by Brock Henning at LifeSummit.

The 30-Year-Old Grandpa” by Jason Vana.

The only thing employees want to know” by David Murray at Writing Boots.

Up Against the ‘Great Firewall:’ Ai Weiwei” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

"The music within me" by Marty Duane Scott for Bibledude.

Giving Up God” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

Planning for Reality” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

"Diminish and Remain" by Kelly Sauer at A Restless Heart.


How Did I Get Here?” by Lorenzo at Crowned with Laurels.

Reflection of Reality” by Eric Swalberg at Journey of Words.

Lucy” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne.

A Monday Morning Psalm” by L.L. Barkat at Love Notes to Yahweh.

Growing Things” by Justinian at Delight and Glory and Oddity and Light.

Erosion” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Lenten Journal: Question” by Milton Brasher-Cunningham at Don’t Eat Alone.

Found” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

Deep Indigo” by Rob Kistner at Image & Verse.

Wanting of a sin eater” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM.

Time” by Nancy Rosback at A little something’.

Paintings and Photographs

Wearing Pink” and “A Little Silence” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Sobering Reality” by Catherine Ross ay Urban Gritt.

Videos and Podcasts

Sunday Meditation: The Color Green,” via American Digest.

Sunday Morning Music: Iron and Wine,” via Don Miller.

Double-Edged Sword” and "The Mucilage of Figaro" via Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage.

Photograph: Image 4040 by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.