Thursday, June 30, 2011

High Encouragement

The past several weeks have been busy and rather intense. Work has been hectic and heavy, and then 10 days ago I threw my back out (again). It’s still trying to figure out how to get un-thrown-out, and I started physical therapy. My back muscles are a mess, the therapist said, tied up tight. It’s called tension and stress – I take it right to my back.

Last week, some good friends moved to San Antonio; we’ve known them for 20 years. We saw them on the Sunday before they left. We could probably walk into their house five years from now and it will seem like only five minutes have passed.

It’s one of those times when I need a little encouragement. OK, so perhaps more than a little.

I will tell you one thing that helps.

The High Calling.

It’s almost an embarrassment of riches – riches produced by real people.

I’ve been connected to The High Calling as a contributing editor for more than a year. I write for it, yes, but I get far more from what I read.

If you’d like to see how I start out each morning, take a look at Mark Robert’s Daily Reflection. Right now, we’re doing the Gospel of Luke.

On Mondays, it’s usually the Book Club, led by Laura Boggess; right now we’re taking a break between Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment and the next book.

Tuesdays are work post days, edited by Bradley Moore. Most of the articles I write for THC end up here. The section covers a broad array of aspects of work, but all of it is about living our faith in the work place.

Wednesdays are what I call Family day, edited by Ann Kroeker. This is where you find people dealing with family issues of all shapes, sizes and varieties.

Thursdays are Gordon Atkinson’s meditations on faith. These are deep, honest, often raw and always profound.

Sam Van Eman edits and often writes the Friday posts on culture.

And then we have additional posts added on most days (including the Random Act of Poetry!) and the links into the posts written by the THC community on their own blogs.

Sunday usually brings an audio message from Howard Butt, the guy who started the whole High Calling thing way back when.

Riding herd on all of this is Marcus Goodyear, the editor, and Laura Barkat, the managing editor.

About three weeks back, I received an email from a reader who had just discovered my blog. As she was checking out various posts, she noticed the THC badge on the right-hand navigation. She clicked on it, and discovered “ a wealth of material” she had never run across before (her words, not mine) (but I agree).

The High Calling is about community, yes. But it’s also about individual people, people who are fallen and sinful just like I am but who struggle to serve God and to serve others.

And in that struggle, there for all of us to see, is where I find high encouragement.

Bonnie Gray over at Faith Barista is hosting a blog carnival on faith, and today’s topic is encouragement. To see more posts on the subject, please visit Faith Barista.

And check out The High Calling, too.

Photograph: From left, Sam Van Eman, David Rupert, yours truly, Claire Burge and Gordon Atkinson at Laity Lodge in Texas last fall for a meeting of the THC writing and editing staff.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Calvinist Was Also a Poet

Antoine de Chandieu was a Calvinist poet, student of John Calvin and a key figure in the French Huguenot church. He was also a poet, writing poetry all of his life, including a collection known as the "Octonaires." And Nate Klug, a soon-to-be theologian at Yale Divinity School and a poet himself, has been translating them.

To read more, please see my post at The Master's Artist.

The Most Unpopular Virtue

It’s time for the out-of-it, old fogey, idiotic, laughable, prudish, ridiculous, you-are-so-19th-century blog post.

“Chastity,” writes C.S. Lewis, “is the most unpopular of Christian virtues. There’s no getting away from it; the Christian rule is, ‘Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.’ Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong.”

If you are a Christian, what Lewis says is true. For us, the choice is marriage or abstinence. That doesn’t mean we don’t fail and generally make a mess of things; we do. There’s a long history of pastors, priests, monks, nuns, saints and all the rest of us making a mess of things. But we know, no matter how much our human nature (not to mention television, the movies, the news media and a lot of other cultural and social institutions) wants to convince us otherwise, that it’s either marriage or abstinence.

I was a young child in the 1950s. It was the decade of resurgence in church attendance – and the decade in which Hugh Hefner created and made a go of Playboy Magazine. Then came the 1960s, and all bets were off – Hippies, the Free Love Movement, the time when our parents and grandparents thought society was coming unhinged (and they weren’t far off). The Jesus Movement and the Women’s Movement took off at about the same time, and if the 1970s were anything, they were a decade of excess (discos, baby!).

AIDS changed everything except desire. The disease is now officially 30 years old, although the virus was likely around well before the official determination by the Centers for Disease Control in 1981.

I could list all of the positive reasons for marriage or abstinence, but these days, there’s one that stands out in my mind. That choice visibly, spiritually and emotionally sets us apart. It makes us different, and different in a way that evokes ridicule, hostility and, perhaps, envy. We’re accused by all the usual suspects of trying to force our morality down everyone else’s throat, which is rather laughable, considering what’s been forced down society’s throat for the last 50 years.

What they don’t see is that it’s not about trying to force our beliefs, our morality, on anyone else. What it is about is that we know what works and what doesn’t work, what society needs and doesn’t need to keep itself together in some kind of coherence, and we know that laws can be passed and rules put in place and edicts of tolerance issued but nothing will make a difference until hearts change.

And that’s what we’re about – changing hearts.

We’ve been reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, led by Sarah Salter and Jason Stasyszen. To read more posts on this chapter, “Sexual Morality,” please visit Sarah’s blog, Living Between the Lines.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cultivating Autobiography

This Missouri clay:
it stains my fingers
when it rains;
zero organic matter
requires topsoil,
compost, fertilizer if
anything is to grow:
some of that New Orleans
gumbo mulch cooked
by river floods, swamp-basted;
baked Texas sand;
red cotton dirt from Tara;
crushed Mississippi magnolias;
stomped Languedoc grapes (dry);
spilled Alsatian blood;
Irish emeralds; dirt from under
the fingernails of English tradesmen,
barely emerged yeoman;
Swedish ice; and for the future,
ash from Mt. Fuji.
I plant the seed
someone else bought.

This poem is submitted for the Books & Culture poetry prompt, Writing Poems in Your Own Backyard.

It is also submitted for One Shot Wednesday hosted by One Stop Poetry. To see more submitted poems, please visit One Stop Poetry, which just happens to be celebrating it's first anniversary. The links will be live at 4 p.m. Central time today.

Photograph: Indiana Farm by David Wagner via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Family Pets

Ah, pets.

The first family pet I can remember was a Boston terrier who had an official name but whom I called “Poochie.” I’m not sure where he’d come from, but there are several photographs of me and Poochie when I was three and four years old. What I remember most, however, was standing on the front porch with my mother, watching the animal control truck taking him away to be put down. He had developed mange, and at that time there was no cure.

Then came two mutts in rapid succession, Tippy and Rusty. Tippy (all black with a white-tipped tail, hence the name) slipped out of our backyard while we were at church and was struck by a car; Rusty (rust-colored) developed heartworm.

When I was six, my Christmas present was Skipper, half-collie and half-German shepherd and one of the best dogs ever. He grew fast and big, and eventually outgrew our small backyard. He was given to family friends who owned a huge farm across Lake Pontchartrain.

Our next dog, San-Lee, was a Pekinese. He last less than two years: my younger brother developed asthma and an allergy to the dog-s hair. My parents tried everything to solve my brother’s asthma, and eventually heard about the medicinal effect of – Chihuahuas. We got two. My brother’s asthma disappeared.

Several years went by before I rediscovered pets. Right after I graduated from college, I bought Penny, the Bassett hound. She landed with my in-laws after we were married (and living in a no-pets apartment). One fall day, I found a small gray kitten huddled under a bush. I brought her back to our apartment, and she stayed for the next 17 years. She was a cute kitten who grew into what one friend charitably called a “feline silver polishing cloth.”

A year after the cat arrived, we bought a puppy that was half Dachshund and half Cairn terrier. She looked like a squat Dachshund and dug like a Cairn terrier. She eventually landed with the in-laws, too. We called her Pokey. There’s a great family story of how my wife nearly electrocuted her that I’ll save for another time.

For a long time, it was just the cat. She died of several illnesses, all connected to old age, in 1990, when she was 17. We were pet-less for several years, while our youngest waged an ongoing campaign for a dog. The campaign was waged against his mother. His father was an ally in the battle.

She acquiesced at last, and we starting researching dogs. My wife’s requirements were (1) small, (2) not nervous or bad with kids, (3) did not shed and (4) would be cared for by son and father, which we knew would mean father, which would ultimately mean Mom, too. We finally landed upon the breed: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. It was small and known to be good with kids. But it turned out that they shed tumbleweeds, massive tumbleweeds.

Then we tried to find one. There was one breeder in St. Louis at the time that was known as being rather eccentric. I did call her. Her husband said they had puppies. She got on the phone and denied it. So I talked to a friend at work who had gotten one from a breeder in Kansas. We called and made the arrangements.

For father and son, it was to be a road trip! Our youngest was in third grade. I picked him from school early one Friday afternoon in September , and we drove to Kansas. The plan had been to spend the night in Wichita, and then drive the final 40 miles to the breeder’s farm, but every hotel room in Wichita was booked for some NASCAR or hot rod event, so we backtracked to Lawrence.

The next morning, we drove to St. Mary’s, Kansas, and called the breeder, who gave us directions to her farm – several miles north, down a dirt road for a couple of miles and over a log bridge, and we were there. She raised two breeds – Cavaliers and Toy Spaniels. Her two-year-old son(the youngest of nine children, and she was eight months pregnant) wandered into the living room with our puppy, holding him like a doll. Yes, this was a breed that was good with children.

We named him Cody. He weighed less than four pounds. The first few nights home, he cried, so I would get up and take him out of his crate, lie on the sofa in the family room with him on my chest, and we would both go back to sleep. My wife didn’t know that until years later.

Cody was about two when he was joined by a stray cat that had wandered into the neighborhood. The kids fed him milk and potato chips, so he thought it was a good place to stay. One March night, a bad cold snap drove temperatures down to zero, and my wife took pity on the cat. She allowed him to sleep in the garage. That was all it took. He knew he was home. As a thank-you gift, the next evening he left a headless bunny at the back door. Just for my wife. It was very sweet.

Kiddy lived with us for about five years, until he died of feline AIDS – too many fights when he was roaming free.

Cody died last October, old for a Cavalier at 14. I still expect to see him with his nose pressed against his crate, waiting to be walked (and get a treat) whenever I come in the back door.

To see more posts on pets, please visit the One Word Blog Carnival hosted by Peter Pollock. The links will be live at 10 p.m. Central time tonight.

Clean Water

Saturday night, the St. Louis area experienced some terrific thunderstorms. Three interstate highways had to be closed for a time because of flooding – I-55, I-70 and I-64/40. The rain gauge outside out kitchen window had been empty at 10 p.m. Two hours later, it showed three inches of rain had fallen.

That’s more rain than parts of Texas have seen in a year. The cotton-growing season has been pretty well devastated there. The Ogallala Aquifer under the central plains is being depleted. I don’ want to be an alarmist about this, but agriculture requires 70 percent of the fresh water consumed each year.

With all of our weather problems, though, we are still vastly better off than many parts of the world, places like Somalia and Chad and Nigeria and countries in Asia where many children have never known fresh water. Some 42,000 people die every week for reasons clean water could help cure, and 90 percent of those people are children.

We don’t have to sit idly by and watch children die. We can do something.

Matt Windley over at Becoming Last has been rounding up bloggers during the month of June to help raise awareness and funds for clean water. He’s been blogging himself virtually every day this month to do just that. There are a lot of things we can do – together and individually – to help:

• Give. The site to do so is here. I’ve done it, or I wouldn’t ask you to consider it as well.

• Blog. If you’ve got a blog, consider a post about water and the Clean Water campaign.

• Tweet. Follow @becominglast on Twitter.

• And share. Tell your friends.
Those 42,000 people – and those children – don’t have to die. We can do something. And if we can do something, we should do something.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Everything that rises

Thirst, actual need
requires a certain
structure to satisfy,
and so the frond is
designed fan-like,
a collection system
to channel droplets,
to siphon moisture
like so much knowledge
to the central
nervous system,
a convergence
of hydrogenated wisdom.

This poem is submitted for One Shot Sunday hosted by One Stop Poetry. To see more poems based on the photograph and to read an interview with photographer Adam Romanowicz, please visit One Stop Poetry.

Photograph: Converging by Adam Romanowicz for One Stop Poetry. Used with permission.

Adam’s blog is here. Adam’s website is here.

Saturday Good Reads

The discovery on a old Royal manual typewriter at a garage sale, time well wasted on a vacation, a marvelous poem about being entangled in blue, a new blog for flower photographs – among the many wonderful things on the web last week.


Bad Habit Number 1” by Harriett Gillham at The Other Side of the Mountain.

Happiness” by Charity Singleton at Wide Open Spaces.

Garden of Unearthly Delights” by Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage.

What the World Ridicules We Celebrate” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

Garage Sale Grace” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

Even ugly girls make beautiful brides” by Peter Pollock.

On losing dining room tables and bicycles” by Claire Burge.

Pardon me while I rant incessantly: Lame apologies” and “PCB: The man, the myth, the legend” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

Time well wasted” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

What it means to be held” by Jennifer Dukes-Lee at Getting down with Jesus.

The possibility of a new tomorrow” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

A Divine Encounter” by Linda Chontos at Linda’s Patchwork Quilt.

Too Much Potential, Not Enough Purpose” by Matt Appling at The Church of No People.

A California Detour” by Kelly Sauer.

Did Flannery O’Connor Writer Christian Fiction?” by Mike Duran at deCompose.

I’ve been reading poetry all my life” by Bob Spencer at Wilderness Fandango.

The Eye Must Travel” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.


Oblivion” by Tulika Verma at Indulgence.

Choosing What’s Inside” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

You don’t ready Steinbeck” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM.

Can’t Wait” by Adam Dustus.

Tuesday Prayer” by L.L. Barkat at Love Notes to Yahweh.

Entangled up in blue” by Brendan MacOdrum at Oran’s Well.

Stolen words 4” and “To gather to-gether” by Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’.

Sunset at Trestles” by Steven Marty Grant at Urbanality.

Paintings and Photographs

Peacock with a plume that is half white,” by Chi Liu via Abraham Piper.

To see a flower,” new blog for (spectacular) flower photographs by Nancy Rosback.

Brandy Creek,” oil on cradled panel and photographs, and “Creek Alcove,” oil on canvas by Randall David Tipton at Painter’s Process.

Resting” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

 Photograph: Red Books by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Robin Parrish's "Nightmare"

Maia Peters is the daughter of two rather famous paranormal investigators. She’s trying to find her own way in life, and is studying criminal justice in college. But the knowledge of her famous parents sticks to her, and attracts the attention of Jordin Cole, a wealthy fellow student who will pay just about anything to investigate the very things Maia wants left behind her. Eventually Maia gives in, and the two visit some of the most famous haunted places in America, from a tuberculosis sanitarium in Kentucky and Alcatraz to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans. They find ghosts, all right, all kinds of ghosts. And Jordin loses something in the process – her soul.

And Maia, helped by Jordin’s fiancĂ© Derek Hobbes, is going to get it back.

There’s a lot to ponder about Nightmare, this novel by Robin Parrish.

First, it is highly structured, with the story of Jordin’s disappearance alternating chapter by chapter with the investigations that Maia and Jordan undertake around the country. Parrish uses this structure to heighten the growing tension, building the story toward a terror-filled climax.

Second, it is what’s called speculative fiction, something known primarily to readers of Christian fiction as “that edgy stuff that just might be theologically suspect but it's hard to tell.” The story is filled with ghosts, apparitions, and demons meaning great harm, and it’s published by Bethany House, one of the best known and highly regarded publishers of Christian fiction. Yet the author stays true to orthodox theology.

Third, it’s a ghost story, plain and simple. It’s well written and fast paced, and it reads quickly. At this level, the structure takes on a different kind of role – actually providing relief to the growing tension and horror of the main story.

My one criticism of the novel concerns the villain, who occupies a rather shadowing position in the story until near the end. The villain’s presence could have been less shadowy; some considerable ground had to be covered to get the back story. But this is a minor criticism; I got so absorbed in the narrative that I often lost track of the time on my bedside clock. And I read it in less than weekend.

Parrish tells a good ghost story.

Related: My review of Robin Parrish's Offworld.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Perchance to Dream

It is about 800 B.C. The people of the southern kingdom of Judah are prosperous. Prosperity has led to complacency, which in turn has become self-centeredness and idolatry. A man is called forth to warn the people of the dangers of what they’ve become. His name is Joel; he is the son of Pethuel. That is all we know about him; scholars aren’t even really sure of the date or who is on the throne when Joel speaks, although it is likely it was Joash.

I tremble, I hesitate
to speak, to say the truth;
it will fall hard upon
their ears, hard upon
their hearts:
the locusts are coming,
to consume, to destroy.

Joel does what prophets do: he chastises, he warns, he tells people what they most assuredly do not want to hear, and he knows what the people do with prophets. They kill them. Yet he says what he is commanded to say, for he must say it for their sake, even if it costs him his life.

The fields are ruined
the trees are withered
the harvest is destroyed
the offerings are cut off
the wine is dried up
it is time to grieve,
to mourn with the priests.

The darkness is coming, he says, the darkness is upon them. And yet there is still hope, a small sliver, a tiny portion of hope: that the people repent, rend their hearts, and return. And with repentance comes the promise: the people will be fully fed, and

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.

Joel 2:28 (New International Version)

He understands the visions of young men, but he wonders at the dreams of old men. What are these dreams of old men? Are they dreams of sleep, of rest, of withdrawal to silence? Or are they God-sized dreams, big dreams, wild imaginings of what could be as opposed to what is?

Perhaps repentance upends the natural order, infusing youth and energy and exuberance, and even desire and passion, into hearts growing cold. Old men can dream dreams.

Joel smiles, although I cannot tell whether it is from gladness of heart or relief.

To see more posts on “God-sized dreams,” please visit Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista.

Photograph: Dreaming in Red by Yana Ray via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Those Heaping Coals

I’d forgotten how good Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis was, until I started reading it again. And I’d forgotten how simply profound Lewis was, until I read the chapter “Morality and Psychoanalysis.”

There are enough profound thoughts and insights in this chapter to write a dozen blog posts and still not be finished plumbing its depths. So I’m focusing on one because it – more than any of the others – heaped burning coals on my head.

And it is this:

“Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices.” What he means here is simple: Humans look at what each other do; God looks at what we do with what we’re given. “Some of us who seem quite nice people,” Lewis says, “may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those who we regard as fiends.”

Think of the stories told in the New Testament: the widow’s mite; the servant who buries his talent; the man who tears down his barns to build newer ones; why Jesus associated with tax collectors and prostitutes. They were all doing more with their “little” than so many others were doing with their “much.”

Lewis speaks of individuals, but could his words also apply to the church as a whole? The letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation suggest that the answer is yes.

For a generation, a large part of the church bought into the American dream. Success means growth; it means numbers. It means worship centers that look more like sports arenas or theaters. It meant marketing, selling our wares in just the right way so that we would brow and be successful by every standard – every worldly standard, that is.

The late Michael Spencer, in Mere Churchianity, did not see a good future for America’s evangelical churches, that they had produced what Craig Groeschel calls “Christian atheists” – people who say they believe in God but act as if He doesn’t exist. What have we done with our “much?”

I read this chapter by Lewis, and I feel burning coals on my head.

We’ve been reading Mere Christianity chapter by chapter, hosted by Sarah Salter and Jason Stasyszen. To see more posts on “Morality and Psychoanalysis,” please visit Connecting to Impact.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Forest Cathedral

I walk in the whisper
of the wind, splashes
of sunlight dappling
the arched nave,
shadows playing
in flickering green.
A prism’s refraction,
slight peels of light
color my way
toward the shrouded,
trunked apse. Saints
on their wooden perches
watch, approving.

This poem is submitted for One Shot Wednesday, hosted by One Stop Poetry. To see more submitted poems, please visit the site.

Photograph: Tow Path by Peter Griffin via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

How I'm Spending My Summer -- Vacation?

Summer and reading seem to go together like, well, summer and reading. Things slow a bit, a lot of us head for vacations, there’s a bit more time for doing something besides demonstrating that the entire population has ADHD.

So we read.

Currently, I’m reading a novel called Fatfingers by Charlie White. It’s not what I usually read – it’s a historical novel. The catch for me? It’s “a tale of old New Orleans” and about the Acadians (Cajuns) coming to Louisiana. Like some of my forebears did. I'm already convinced that the characters in the novel are some of my forebears.

Also on tap:

Al Weiwei’s Blog. If you don’t know who Al Weiwei is, he’s an artist imprisoned by the Chinese government because he believes a little too much in freedom. You can find more information about him on Wikipedia. This book is the collection of his blog postings before it was taken down by Chinese authorities.

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. I hear every poet is supposed to read this. I wonder if anyone’s written Letters to a Middle-Aged Poet, soon to be an Old Poet.

Delicate Machinery Suspended: Poems by Anne Overstreet. It's so brand new it's not even available yet on Amazon. I'm reading an advance reader copy, and if you like poetry, you will like this volume.

The Jesus Prayer by Frederica Matthewes-Green. It’s an entire book about a very short prayer, and it looks wonderful.

Longing for Home by Frederick Buechner. First published in 1996, it's by one of my favorite writers.

Destiny and Desire by Carlos Fuentes. This writer has written so many wonderful novels over the last 50 years you have to wonder where the Nobel Prize Committee’s head is (although they did give the literature prize to Mario Vargas Llosa last year, about 20 years overdue).

Gravestone by Travis Thrasher. The second in his Solitary Tales YA series. (My first read on Kindle!)

The Falling Away by T.L. Hines. One of the best speculative writers out there, who also happens to be a Christian (he does not write “Christian” novels), Hines writes edgy, provocative novels that turn your head inside out.

And I’ve decided I will read something I haven’t read since 9th grade – Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

If you like to see some other recommendations, check out the list posted by Marcus Goodyear at The High Calling.

What are you reading this summer?

Monday, June 20, 2011

I Done Got Me One

I can’t remember a time when books weren't important to me. As I’ve mentioned here before, I can remember my mother reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales to me when I was three or four; the first book I bought on my own; the monthly Scholastic Book Club at school; and the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift.

I remember my father forbidding me to Sunday Night at the Movies on TV when the movie was On The Beach, based on the novel by Nevil Shute and about the last days on earth after a nuclear war. I couldn’t watch it, so I bought the book instead.

My 8th grade reading teacher introduced us to Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, a science fiction novel called Day of the Triffids and another novel about nuclear war, Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon. She got into trouble for assigning us to read William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, which was a bit heavy for 13-year-olds. She had to rescind the assignment. I read it anyway.

My mother wanted to read Peyton Place by Grace Metalious when it was published in paperback, but was too embarrassed to buy it herself. So she sent me on my bike to the drugstore to get it. She read it, and I did, too.

Other book memories crowd in: reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged when I should have been studying for a history exam; reading Don Quixote for the first time in high school and almost 30 years later during a beach vacation; reading Twain and Dickens and discovering C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton; and discovering Latin American literature, with names like Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz and Pablo Neruda. And the poetry books!

I love books: I love to hold them and touch them. I love the smell of bookstores and used bookstores. I love beautiful books, like The Four Holy Gospels illustrated by Makoto Fujimura.

So what on earth am I doing with my new Father’s Day present – a Kindle?

The opportunity to buy one has been there for quite a while, but in this case I wasn’t an early adopter, nor was I eager to be one. I don’t like reading a manuscript or a book on the computer. But I decided to see what there was to this ebook reader thing, and if would really work.

It arrived Thursday. The instructions were simple and clear. Within 10 minutes of opening the package, I had purchased and downloaded a book – Gravestone by Travis Thatcher.

Someone put some thought into the Kindle’s design. The screen isn’t back-lit, which makes it easy to read. Turning pages is simple – hitting that side tab. It charges quickly. It’s surprisingly small – 4 ¾” by 7 ½” by ¼”.It comes preloaded with two dictionaries, and it was already registered to me. And my wife, who has suffered through almost 38 years of books dominating bedrooms and basement, is thrilled with the fact that the Kindle will hold 3500 books.

So now I’ll learn how important the physical aspect of books really is to me. So far, it’s a hit.

The only drawback is that it doesn’t smell like a bookstore.

Top photograph: Old Books by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. Kindle photo by yours truly via my smart phone.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Voice of God

The cries of the abused
child, beaten

the pangs of hunger
in the Bombay slum

the blood of the machete
couple in Rwanda

the shock of the mother
whose child dies
in Japan, Joplin

the gospel dirge
for the young girl shot
in the head as she
plays in the park

the body thuds of the Copt
beaten to death

the silence of the Bosnia
girl left raped after
her family is murdered

the fear of the family,

Darfur, Congo, Guernica,
Ekaterinburg, Nanking,
Bataan, the Marne,
Dresden, Twin Towers…

the whisper you will be
martyred for my name’s sake

in all of these

This poem is submitted for the Warrior Poets Circle hosted by Jason Stasyszen. To see more poems submitted, please visit Connecting to Impact.

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

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Final Battle: Color

In the final battle,
art’s soldiers take
to the streets,
to the viaducts,
to the overpasses and
the crumbling brick
of crumbling buildings;
employing armies
of aerosol, of design,
of form, of style,
of skill, of talent;
painting a future
with weapons of hope.

This poem is submitted for One Shoot Sunday hosted by One Stop Poetry. To see more poems based on the prompt “Graffiti,” please visit the site.

No one remembers your name

Sidewalks are wet,
the smells of rain mixed
with carbon belched
in exhaustion, you pass
blank faces hastening
to blank destinations.
The church door is locked;
no one remembers your name.

This poem is submitted to One Stop Poetry for its Saturday Celebration of The Doors and singer/poet Jim Morrison. The poetry prompt is to write a poem based on a line from the song, “People are Strange.” To see other submitted poems, please visit the site.

Saturday Good Reads

A Celtic prayer, children thinking about their parents and parents reflecting on their children, a lot on writing (including “beautiful” novels and fiction as false doctrine), embracing summer, stealing words and some wonderful photography – it was all online last week.


When is fiction false doctrine?” by Mike Duran at deCompose.

Sunday Blessings” by Jay Cookingham at Soulfari.

The Dentist” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.

Arrested!” by Bill Grandi at CycleGuy.

When You Want to Walk in the Rain” by Jennifer Dukes-Lee at Getting Down with Jesus.

The way back home” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

The Acorn to the Oak” by Jeanne Damoff at The View From Here.

Home” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

Watch Your Back, Christian Soldiers” by Matt Appling at The Church of No People.

Optimism Needed Please” by Duane Scott.

The Whelming Flood” by Fatha Frank at Public Christianity.

The Image of God in You” by Deidra Riggs at Jumping Tandem.

Breaking creative block with Lego bricks” by Marcus Goodyear at Good Word Editing.

Naturally Beautiful Novels” by Athol Dickson for Novel Journey.


Summer Waits” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Stolen words,” and “Stolen words 2,” and “Stolen words 3” by Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin.”

Slipping Down the Learning Curve” by Arron Palmer.

Do not come too soon September” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM.

Tend with Care” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Highroads to a Quiet Green City” by Marcus Goodyear at Good Word Editing.

Paintings and Photographs

She’s a Stubborn One,” “Lavender Grey” and "Aaron and Christian: Engagement Session" by Kelly Sauer at A Restless Heart.

"Brandy Creek Dust,” oil on cradled panel by Randall David Tipton at Painter’s Process.

Red on the Farm” by L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone.

For a Season” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Where We Find Him Singing, We Dance” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

Photograph: Red Circle by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mike Dellosso's "Darkness Follows"

Sam Travis is a carpenter and construction worker, trying to recover from a nasty fall and serious brain injury. He lives near Gettysburg, Penn., and he finds entries in a journal about the battle beginning to appear – written in his handwriting. He’s also haunted by a family tragedy in which his older brother died, and he begins to hear his brother’s voice calling to him. Sam Travis is a man descending into darkness and madness.

Symon, and that’s all he knows his name to be, is a man who can’t find his past or his memory. He kills almost single-mindedly, to remove the impediments to his mission. And his mission to make sure Sam carries out the task that’s been preordained for him.

And the task is Stephen Lincoln, a U.S. Senator who’s changed political parties and in the process embraced a pro-life position. He’s upset a lot of former supporters, especially because he’s being touted as a candidate for President. And he’s going to give a speech in Gettysburg that will likely launch his campaign.

Jacob is the imaginary friend of Sam’s daughter Eva, and Jacob keeps telling Eva to pray for her father because he’s going to do something really bad.

Sam is an expert shot with a rifle.

These four characters are the main storytellers of Mike Dellosso’s Darkness Follows, although Jacob exists through most of the novel only as expressed by Eva. And they tell a story of suspense, violence and the supernatural that is riveting.

Dellosso’s previous novels – Scream, The Hunted and Darlington Woods – effectively use elements of horror and the supernatural. With Darkness Follows, he’s moved to a new level. The writing is solid, the action measured but fast-paced, the story building toward an almost fevered climax (yes, I had to get up and walk around – several times – as the crisis point approached).

This novel is not what many would consider traditional “Christian fiction.” Several people die, and rather brutally, the descriptions of their deaths so spare that it increases the horror. Jacob is clearly a kind of guardian angel, actively intervening. Something is clearly controlling Symon, and it’s likely something demonic.

But there is also no question that the novel is shot through with Christian understanding and faith. It is not a conventional “Christian novel,” but it is a novel written by a Christian author.

Darkness Follows is a masterful story and a thought-provoking read.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

They Turned into Pretty Cool Adults

I have two sons, born eight years apart. There’s a reason for that, of course. The first one was rather, uh, four-on-the-floor full-steam-head rocket man and at times it seemed we were hanging on to his vapor trail.

We were rather scholarly types, a couple who liked museums, art, the botanical garden, the symphony. Our firstborn liked baseball, football, hockey, soccer, basketball, golf – anything that involved the phrase “competitive sport.” I didn’t even try to teach him how to play sports. He just knew. And he was better than any of the adults in the neighborhood.

But we did eventually have a second one, also a son, which was not a surprise. My family is into sons big time. I have two brothers. My older brother has two boys and my younger brother has three boys. I do have a half-sister from my father’s first marriage. She has two boys. I have two boys. We’re besotted with boys.

Our second-born had colic for the first six months of his life. Bad colic. Really bad colic. I don’t think either of us slept for those six months. I know our son didn’t. He grew out of it, but he was almost the antithesis of his brother’s exuberance, rather shy and quiet, except he liked sports, too, especially basketball and soccer.

Their upbringings were not unusual. The regular childhood diseases. Little League games. Basketball games. School stuff. Church stuff. It wasn’t Leave-It-To-Beaver stereotyped but I can’t say it was radically off of that (except I didn’t wear a smoking jacket and tie at home, and I never saw my wife vacuuming in a dress and wearing pearls). There were times, of course, when they’d do things that if you disciplined them as they deserved you’d be arrested for homicide. But all kids have those moments.

Now I have two grown sons. The oldest is married and has produced, with some help from his wife, our grandson. The youngest graduated from college last year and is gainfully employed, trying to come to grips with the realities of the working world. Despite the eight years difference in their ages, they are close.

And I think about what they have taught me.

Once you become a father, you’re a father forever. You’re never not a father. How you’re a father changes; you have to bite your tongue a lot as your children get older, because you want to tell them what they should do or not do or how to raise the grandson or a dozen other things. But you bite your tongue because they’re adults now.

A lot of being a father is just being there. It’s not necessarily doing anything; it’s just being there. You sit through thousands of sports activities because you need to be there. They would die if you shouted something too loud during a game, but they need you to be there. Your presence tells them you think they’re important.

Being a father is a constant dose of humility. Your children, especially when they’re young, think you know everything and can do everything. And they’re wrong. But you're a kind of God figure, at least until they hit their teen years and you suddenly become stupid. And then they reach their 20s and you start to get smart again, but it’s a different kind of smart. They know you’re not infallible, but they’ve begun to figure out you’ve gone through a lot of what they’re going through.

Sometimes they call simply because they need to talk something out. You don’t have to say anything, or say much. You just need to listen.

We worried about both of our kids, and worried a lot. Now they’re grown, gainfully employed, started to create lives for themselves.

There were a lot of tense moments, and a lot of doubts, but my two sons have turned into pretty cool adults.

To see more posts on Father’s Day, please visit Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista.

Top photograph: Our oldest, Travis. Lower photograph: Our youngest, Andrew, holding his nephew Cameron.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Gods We Create

The March issue of Poetry included three poems by Paul Hoover: “House of Cedar, Rafters of Fire,” “The Dry Bones,” and “The Watchman of Ephraim.” It’s not unusual for Poetry to publish poems by such an established, widely respected and admired poet like Hoover. What is surprising is that all three poems are infused – obviously and overtly infused – with religious themes and symbolism. In fact, each begins with a line from a book of the Old Testament: Song of Solomon, Ezekiel and Hosea, respectively...

To read more, please see my post at The Master's Artist.

What Morality is About

As soon as I saw the chapter title, I knew I was in trouble.

We’ve been reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, hosted by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter. And here came the chapter entitled “Social Morality.” I’m not exactly sure why Lewis referred to it as “social” morality, but today we would be more likely to call it cultural morality.

He’s talking about the Culture Wars. And especially those wars as fought out not by the Christians and the pagans” but among the people who call themselves Christians. In other words, us. We allowed, and sometimes enthusiastically embraced, our particular political leanings of left and right and adapted our Christian beliefs to make them fir our political beliefs. But it wasn’t our Christian beliefs that needed the adapting.

The Culture Wars raged in the 1990s, as more conservative Christians and non-Christians alike began to react and respond to the sense that something was slipping away. The “Evangelical Right” began to exercise political muscle, and eventually helped elect George W. Bush, and elect him twice. What the Evangelical Right didn’t know was that it had been played by the President’s political advisors, at least according to some of the people actually involved in the Administration’s faith-based initiatives.

There was a lesson here, for all of us. It’s not that politics and religion don’t mix. It’s more that politics isn’t the point, or that politics is the wrong point.

Lewis says it this way making several general points:

First, he says, Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality. He actually preached the brand old morality.

Second, Christianity “has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for applying ‘Do as you would be done by’ to a particular society at a particular moment.” And that’s because Christianity is meant for all men at all times. It doesn’t not have a political program for America in 2011 (and especially 2012). If it did, it would only apply to that year and that time, and not to anything else.

Third, the Greeks, the Jews and the Christians all taught against the lending of money at interest. Guess which economic system could not function without the lending of money at interest? Yes, ours.

And fourth, Christian charity – giving to the poor – is as important as it ever was. That we have tacitly accepted the massive takeover of this responsibility by the government at all levels may be one of the signal failures of the church in the pat two and current generations. Why is the fraud and waste so phenomenal in health, welfare and poverty programs (not to mention education)? Because the church – and I mean us – abdicated our responsibility. The surprise is that any of the programs even function at all.

And this, Lewis says, is what it must come down to: we cannot follow the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) until we love our neighbors as ourselves. And we can’t love our neighbors until we learn to love God. And the only way we have to learn to love God is to obey him.

Social morality is really about individual faith, obedience and love. It always has been.

To see more posts on this chpater of Mere Christianity, please visit Sarah Salter’s blog, Living Between the Lines.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Firebird Suite

The shadows of blades
for feathers, a bird
swoops with blue thunder,
borne on a wind of violence;
born into a fire of violence,
then separates
into burning tongues;

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

Photograph: Fire by Jaroslav Pavlov via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Joe Henry's "Lime Creek"

I read a lot of fiction. Most of it I enjoy – it can be funny, or thrilling, or entertaining, or provocative, or thoughtful, or even scary. But it’s been a long time since I read a novel I fell in love with.

A novel like Joe Henry’s Lime Creek.

It’s a story written almost poetically, what one might expect from an author who’s a lyricist and poet who’s been a laborer, rancher and even professional athlete. It’s the story of a ranching family in Wyoming, a story told in eight vignettes from different perspectives but all the same family. Spencer Davis meets Elizabeth Putnam while he’s breaking in a horse. He’s a Wyoming native while she’s from New England. They will have three boys – Lonnie, and then several years later Luke and Whitney, the two little rascals who seem to grow up into bigger rascals.

What a story this is, this story of family love, romantic love, first love and brotherly love. And life. Real life, harsh and hurtful and full of loss. It’s a story told with beautiful words.

“There were summer evenings I remember coming up from the barn after the long day’s haying, Spencer says. And seeing Elizabeth through the trees before she could see me…And I never asked her, for I was shy of her answer and maybe even a little afraid too of what she might say. Because I always knew in my heart, as the brutal winters wore on, that she suffered us our way of life. And maybe not the way of it so much as its grinding harshness.”

I knew when I reached the third chapter, the one entitled “Tomatoes,” that this book was beyond special. Luke and Whitney see the ripe red tomatoes their mother has left on the kitchen window sill. And before you can catch your breath they’ve gathered them up and rushed out the door, to do what little boys will do with ripe red tomatoes – throw them against the clean white sheets drying on the clothesline. And what happens after that is both expected and unexpected.

Small things in this family are signs for larger things, like when Whitney’s profane complaint about the cold sparks his father to suddenly grab him, shove him against the barn wall and proceed to tell him through gritted teeth what cold is really like, with a story only a scarred veteran could tell. Or what it means to put a horse down for old age. Or when an injury in a high school football game becomes an unexpected occasion for love, and brotherly love. Or how a boy sloughs off boyhood and becomes a man in a snowstorm.

There is so much truth and beauty in Lime Creek that I almost couldn’t stand it. But I did.

Love is like that.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How Many Homes Have You Lived In?

To answer the question for myself, I rely on the memory of my mother, because the first three places I lived I don’t remember – two rental homes in New Orleans and one in Florida. I can remember the duplex we lived in until I was four, almost five, when my parents bought the home I consider the one I grew up in.

Then there were the three places I lived in college (dorm, fraternity house, apartment); my first apartment on my own in Texas, quickly followed by our first apartment as newlyweds; two apartments and a townhome in Houston; and then an apartment and two homes in St. Louis.

That made 16 places. I thought I had it figured out. Then I remembered the hotel room I lived in for six weeks when I first came to Houston and my wife was still in Houston; does that count? So I thought, OK, that was longer than just a few days, so maybe that would make 17.

Oh, yeah, there was also the summer we were homeless. I’d forgotten about that.

In 1986, we were building what is now our current home. We had never built a home before. Based on that experience, it will take a lot for me to even consider building a home again (a sentiment my wife thinks is slightly ridiculous but I could tell you some stories).

We had finally sold our existing home. The problem was that we had to move out in early June, and the new house wouldn’t be ready until late August. We talked to friends, and friends of friends, and people at church, and put the word out that we could house sit. We landed two house-sitting places and with some judicious timing of vacations at our parents’ homes in Louisiana, a friend’s basement for storing my books, the moving company’s warehouse for our furniture and household effects and a storage locker for things like lawn mowers, we did it. In retrospect, we had to be nuts.

We spent our first night out of our old house at our pastor’s house. What I remember most was driving there in a pouring rain. Then we spent three weeks at a home in a rather upscale part of St. Louis called Ladue (known as “Lah-Due” locally) while the owners chaperoned a bunch of high school kids on a trip to Europe. They also had a dog, two cats, a bird and six beehives. The dog was sweet but spacey, and loved to slip out the door to visit the beehives. The bees were not sweet and very focused/protective. One Saturday my wife looked out the back door to see me and our then-six-year-old looking like we were beating the dog, who was writhing on the ground. I suppose we were – but we were trying to kills the bees that had swarmed after him after he disturbed one of the hives.

A vacation to Louisiana, and then we were back to a new house-sitting place, a small home in another upscale section of St. Louis called Clayton. The owner was spending a month in Japan and China. We had no pets to worry about this time, the owner also didn’t stop her mail, so that I was able to read her New York Times Sunday Book Review for several Sundays in a row on her front porch swing.

Finally, we were approaching the time for our house to be finished. We closed on a Monday. The Friday before, I happened to mention this to the builder supervising the construction. His eyes grew large. He checked the contract. “Can you put it moving in off for a few days?” he asked. “Only if you pay to put us up somewhere, or have a couple of spare bedrooms yourself,” I said. Yes, the builder was behind schedule. The movers were coming on Tuesday to deliver our furniture, and a furniture company would be delivering a new sideboard for the dining room. The builder panicked and started shouting orders at the workmen.

We did close on the house that Monday. And we did move in on Tuesday. We had no driveway, no front porch, no back patio, a yard of good Missouri clay, and several dozens of other uncompleted things, but we did move in. We were home.

To see more posts on “home,” please visit the One Word Blog Carnival hosted by Peter Pollock.

Top photograph: “Home” in New Orleans. Bottom photograph: “Home” in St. Louis.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Education and Propaganda

A number of years ago, I discovered the writings of Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), a French philosopher who had started his adult life as a Marxist but became a devout Christian. He wrote more than 58 books, numerous papers and essays, many of which focused on one of the major themes of his life – the threat of technological society to human freedom and Christian faith. (In some ways, Ellul was like a French version of Wendell Berry, a generation younger than Ellul but who has developed many of the same themes.)

The book by Ellul that made the biggest impression on me was Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes. It was published in 1962 in France and translated into English in 1965; I read the 1973 paperback version published by Vintage.

Elul said many important things in that book, but there was one that at first astounded me until I realized its simple truth. It was one of those Chestertonian “take conventional wisdom and turn it on its head” kind of statements. What he said what this: the people who are the most susceptible to propaganda are not the poor and uneducated. The people who are the most susceptible are the educated and intellectual classes, and the more educated you are, the more susceptible you become to propaganda.

And the reason is that more educated people read more, and they read so much that they cannot possibly verify everything they read. Therefore, one’s worldview becomes a critical filter – if something fits your worldview, you tend to believe it; if it doesn’t, you tend to reject it. People who are less educated tend to interpret news and issues with the filter of their everyday experiences and common sense (which might explain a lot about many of the members of our media elite).

That book by Ellul humbled me. It made me question more – question my own views and the things I immediately accepted as true. It also made me highly conscious of one of the ways to “resist enchantment” that Guy Kawasaki discusses in Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions. Beware of salient points, data and the experts. None of them last forever. All of them can flawed, and seriously so.

And don’t fall for the “example of one,” he says, when one person articulates a point of view that gets lots of media attention, even if it flies in the face of reality. The example Kawasaki cites is actress jenny McCarthy, who has been an articulate spokesperson against vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella because she believed it caused autism. A study in Britain in 1995 came to that conclusion. A few months ago, it was shown that the study was fraudulent. (I pointed that out in a book review of a Karen Kingsbury novel and got taken to the woodshed by a reader who said I should look at the writings and speeches of Jenny McCarthy and that the study was true even if it was fraudulent.) (I’m not making this up.)

Twitter and Facebook exacerbate this problem. If we trust the person who’s tweeting something, we will retweet it as true. We will not stop to question whether we should check the statement out. Serious damage can get done to people and organizations because we automatically accept something as true. It’s one reason why I generally avoid tweeting about politics, news and issues – I can’t verify whether the statements or true or not.

It’s not that education, and more education, is a bad thing. But it needs to be tempered by humility, and the more education we get, the more humility we need.

We’ve been discussing Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment over at The High Calling, led by Laura Boggess. We’re covering the last two chapters – “How to Enchant Your Boss” and “How to Resist Enchantment.” To see more posts, please visit The High Calling.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I wait for the call

I wait for the call
that never comes,
the expectation that
begins before
the rotary dial,
when you pick up
the phone and ask
the operator to make
the call, but you have
to chat or gossip first
that’s part of her salary
or perhaps cajole
the other parties off
the party line.
I still wait for the call
through the dial and
the slimline and the cell
and the BlackBerry and
the iPhone and who knows
what else is going to happen
but it still doesn’t come.
The dust layers thick as
I sit on the shelf,

This poem is submitted to One Shot Sunday hosted by One Stop Poetry. To see other poem submitted and the conclusion of the interview with photographer Rob Hanson, please visit the site.

Photograph: They Never Call by Rob Hanson. Used with permission for One Stop poetry.

Saturday Good Reads

Painting a house, the legacy for our children, why a little girl needs her father, even a beautiful video on carpentry – some great things to read on see online last week.


Garden > Wilderness > Garden” by Bob Spencer at Wilderness Fandango.

Radical Grace” by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

Investment” by Bill Grandi at Cycleguy.

Would You Rather” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

What Do We Pass on to Our Children?” by Claire Burge at Claire B.

Do You Suck the Life Out of Everything?” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

If it weren’t for the sting of death” by Duane Scott.

This is How I Go When I Go Like This: Painting the House” by Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage.

Are You Taking Enough Risks?” by Bradley Moore at Shrinking the Camel.

Why I hate writing, part 9: Honesty” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

For Daddy Because She Needs You” by Jennifer Dukes-Lee for Imperfect Prose.


Two Songs of a Fool” by William Butler Yeats, read by Tom O’Bedlam at Spoken Verse.

Miracles” by Walt Whitman, read by Tom O’Bedlam at Spoken Verse.

Almost Sixty” by Jim Moore.

Decay” by Gwylym Owen at Illiterate Poet.

Boldly Go” by Rob Kistner at Image and Verse.

Not So Pretty” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM.

Let Me Tell You” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Cliches” by Jim Schmotzer at Faithful Skeptic.

I’m Homeless” by Duane Scott.

Wings” by Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’.

Paintings and Photographs

The Midnight Hour” and “Maneuvering Room” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

"Through Leaded Lights" by J of India at Neither Use Nor Ornament.

Practice Makes Prints” by Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’.


Make Something of Yourself,” a short video on carpentry, via Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage.

Photograph: Work by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.