Sunday, July 31, 2011

Robert Whitlow's "Water's Edge"

Tom Crane is preparing to return home to Bethel, a small town in northwestern Georgia, to settle his late father’s estate and law practice. Before he can leave, he’s laid off by the big Atlanta law firm he works for, and his girlfriend Clarice dumps him, via a note signed “Hugs” (a concise farewell that tells you everything you need to know about Clarice).

When he arrives in Bethel, Tom begins to discover that his father may have been involved in fraudulent activity with an executive at the big financial company in town, he’s being subpoenaed by the county prosecutor, his old girlfriend Tiffany – married to Tom’s best friend Rick – is showing unusual interest in Tom again, and his father may not have died in an accident.

If this weren’t enough, Tom finds himself finding faith in God.

Water’s Edge” is author Robert Whitlow’s latest entry in a series of legal thrillers, and it’s a fast-paced, thoroughly detailed and packed with all kinds of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing (and on edge). Whitlow makes full use of his own background experience as a practicing attorney and his roots in northern Georgia to deftly weave an exciting, believable story.

The major characters are drawn true, but even the minor characters are well done, recognizable but not drawn to stereotypes. Tom’s great-uncle Elias speaks exactly like an elderly man, with great faith in God, should speak, including some wry humor. Bernice is just the sort of good-natured but meddling secretary you’d find in a small town law practice. Tom’s best friend Rick stops just short of the Southern “good ole boy,” and Tiffany manages to flirt without the “flooziness.”

Whitlow has done well with “Water’s Edge” – a well-told story about things not being quite what they seem in a small Southern town.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The water stood silent

Reflecting emptiness,
the water stood silent,
still, pooling beneath
words spoken too soon.
A time once, you said,
a time, you said, long past,
carried by the stream
to the forgotten sea.
The bridge arched an eye,
blinking back a fall of tears
on an early winter’s day.

This poem is submitted for the Saturday Poetics at dVerse Poets. Today’s prompt is water. You can read the prompt information at the site, and see other poems submitted here.

Photograph: Bridge at St. Mary’s Loch, Scottish Borders, by Michael Drummond via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday Good Reads

A meditation on what happened in Norway, a little boy discovers what he thinks is the power of calling on the name of the Lord, a jazz bar inspires a poem, and a singer talks to a poet. Lots of good stuff this past week on the web.


Seeing Summer” by Diane Walker at Contemplative Photography.

Three characters in search of an author” by J of India at Neither Use nor Ornament.

Broken Bread” by Deidra Riggs at Jumping Tandem.

The Myth of ‘Secular’ Fiction” by Mike Duran for Novel Rocket.

Angelico Chavez” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

On Drought and Frailty” by Seth Haines.

Pondering Norway’s Darkest Hour” by Tim Challies at Informing the Reforming.

We served, He saved” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

In the name of Jayzus” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

Among the Train Hoppers” by Vic Sizemore for The Image Journal.

Second Breath” by Charity Singleton at Wide Open Spaces.

Dandelions are free” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

"This Way Down to Upward Rise” by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

"Through and Through Life: Holding My Breath" by Sandra Heska King.

"Red Sort of Day" by Karin Fendick at Flickers of a Faithful Firefly.


Shoshone Muse” by Brokenpenwriter.

Summer Haiku” by Chris Galford at The Waking Den.

Good night” by Duane Scott at Scribing the Journey.

Communion” by Lance McKnight at Every Broken Thing.

Jezebelation: Ode to Fritzels Jazz Pub” by Marcus Goodyear at Good Word Editing.

Memory of Stones, Reminders to Forget” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Politico” and “Grass” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM.

Paintings & Photographs

Frames” and "The flag" by Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’.

Across the Field,” oil on canvas, and “New Shasta Bally,” watermedia on Yupo, by Randall David Tipton.

Sequence of Dawn” by Leslie Moon at Moondustwriter.

Anonymous” by Monica Sharman at Know-Love-Obey God.

Milky Way over Abandoned Kilns” via American Digest.

Summer Gold” and “I Wondered” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Crazy Love in Northern Michigan” by Sandra Heska King.

Short Stories

Uncle Chick’s top lip” by Kely Braswell at Dangerous Breeze.


A Hymn to God the Father” by John Donne, read by Spoken Verse.

Singer Mat Kearney chats with poet Anis Mojgani” (and it took me a moment to realize that they are at the Café du Monde in New Orleans).

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

Friday, July 29, 2011

Anticipation or Punctuation

Perhaps Isaiah anticipates
John on the isle of Patmos, or
perhaps John punctuates
Isaiah in the city of David, as
the temple fills with smoke,
the temple shakes with presence,
the presence terrifies unclean lips,
coals burning touched to lips,
searing, scouring, purifying,
sanctifying the preparation
necessary for the purpose.
For unto us is born,
to the seven churches born,
and his name shall be, is.

One hears a verse from Isaiah
quoted in a sermon;
it becomes a revelation.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Joy of the Everyday

So Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista asks, how are you finding joy in everyday life?

The older I get, the more I become aware of time. I find myself become more focused on creating, mostly writing, but reaching for something I haven’t done before (like a sestina poem) or trying to do something in a different way. My reading is becoming more diverse, and for whatever reason I’m continuing to rediscover the joys of poetry (which is something others have experienced as well).

And I have also become one of those grandfathers. I have fallen in love with what is now about 30 pounds of energy and personality, sweetness and intensity, 30 pounds that has already figured out his grandparents. And I don’t care. What can you say about a little person who throws his arms wide to embrace as soon as you walk in the house?

I knew I would likely be a candidate for the stereotyped grandfather. But I didn’t expect to be so swift and so complete. Cameron conquered the first time I held him some 16 months ago in the labor and delivery room.

I don’t know exactly what “it” is about being a grandparent. I saw my parents around my oldest and my mother around my youngest (my father died the same year my youngest was born). I saw neighbors go gaga when the grandkids came over, and I smiled.

Now my neighbors smile at me. And I don’t care.

Part of what goes on must have something do with pressure, as in, all the pressure of raising this child is really off the grandparents and on the parents. As a parent, you’re always scared you’ll screw up, and you do, but you manage to get through it.

But a grandparent, ah, the pressure is gone, except for the pressure to keep my mouth (mostly) shut about telling my son and daughter-in-law what they should be doing. I’m not the one God has given Cameron to raise, and God knows what He’s doing, even when I don’t.

My favorite time with my grandson is when we play with Legos (he’s a builder, not a destroyer). And when I get to feed him. And when we take a walk. And when he sits on my lap at a restaurant, like he did last Sunday. When we play with his toys. When he dances the “Bernie.” When he points the dummy remote at the TV set and nothing happens (he’s been known to hurl the remote when that happens, a proclivity he gets from his father). I don’t even mind changing his diaper, even the bad ones. And of course there are the times when he falls asleep in my arms. And when I watch him sleep. And did I tell you how tickled I get when he climbs? (And, oh, does he climb!) Or the expression on his face when he discovers something new?

I’m a case when it comes to my grandson.

I find myself praying for him, too. Praying for the joy he is. Praying for the boy and man he will become. Praying for his parents. Praying for his Uncle Andrew (Cameron’s middle name is also my middle name and his uncle’s first name).

When I’m not praying, sometimes I simply sit dumbstruck with the family joy God has blessed me with: my wife, my two sons and my daughter-in-law.

And now my grandson.

To see more posts on finding joy in the everyday, please visit Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista.


Top: Cameron waking up in a good mood, by Stephanie Young.
Middle: Cameron opening wide for a piece of peach offered by his grandmother, taken by Glynn Young.
Bottom: Cameron no longer able to fight off sleep, by Travis Young.
All photos used with Cameron’s permission.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Most Important Poem of the 20th Century

In Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris,” writer Gil Pender (played by Owen Wilson) desperately wants to live in Paris of the 1920s, the city and time of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Cole Porter and Josephine Baker. And he gets his wish, if only for a few hours each night at midnight. In one scene, he climbs into a taxi and finds T.S. Eliot, and he says that “Prufrock” is like his mantra, but where he comes from in Hollywood, people measure out their lives in coke spoons, not coffee spoons.

If you don’t know the poem, you miss the reference. In the poem, Eliot wrote, “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.” To read more, please see my new post at The Master’s Artist.

Charity is Selfish?

Today, when we hear the word “charity,” we think of United Way, the Salvation Army, philanthropy, giving to the need and the poor, what used to called “alms” a hundred years ago. The meaning of the word has changed over time; the Biblical meaning is, C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, is something more like “love, in the Christian sense.”

He’s not talking about love as an emotion or feeling. “It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.”

I have to think about that: charity as a state of the will, a state of determination, of doing.

One key to Lewis’ description is that phrase that is easy to overlook, “which we have naturally about ourselves.” When we want to do something that we want to do, we will move heaven and earth to get it done.

Well, I do, anyway. Ask my wife.

That act of selfishness is closer to what the Biblical definition of charity actually is – having that same capacity for others that you have for yourself. This sounds something akin to the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love others as much as you love yourself.

Ever practical, Lewis asks, what do you do when you don’t love someone? What happens when people can’t find any feeling in themselves to love others, or love God?

His answer: Act as if you do. “Don’t manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you have found the answer, go and do it.”


His point is that in the very act (and the emphasis is on “act”) of doing, we will find the way. Sometimes – perhaps more than sometimes – this kind of love, this “charity,” is what faith is about, faith in serving others, in serving God and changing our own hearts.

And this was a short chapter – a little over four pages.

Jason Stasyzen and Sarah Salter have been leading us in a discussion of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. To see more posts on the chapter entitled “Charity,” please visit Sarah’s blog, Living Between the Lines.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


A lessening, first,
lessening of the darkness;
the black of night begins
its ebb to grades of gray.

A single ray, tentative, shy
and slight joined by others,
strength in numbers; joined
by the rising murmurings
of a radiant chorus.
Lingering dust of the night
refracts the rays of light
into a brilliance of reds
and oranges and pinks,
an extravagant display
of symphonic fireworks.

The colored light awakens,
rouses, cleanses, offers
as it quickens, soars;
renaissance of possibilities
singing a spirit song.

This poem is submitted to Open Link Night at dVerse Poets Pub. To see other poems submitted, please visit dVerse Poets. The links will be live at 2 p.m. Central time today. The list of links poems is here.

Related: Matins/Lauds

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

Monday, July 25, 2011

Crossing the swings

Business friends had found
some old industrial pipe,
discarded in an old downtown
office for some reason,
an industrial-strength
swing set was welded: large,
sturdy virtually indestructible
even for neighborhood boys.
Simple but fit for use: glider,
two swings and a slide.
Its main appeal was the height
of the cross-bar, nearly ten feet
from the ground. Crossing
the swings became the game,
hand over hand crossing the bar,
to reach the other side without
the collie dragging you down
by the cuff of your blue jeans.
The dog rarely lost; you’d have
to try again, the rust stains
becoming more embedded
in your hands.

This poem is submitted as part of the One Word Blog Carnival hosted by Peter Pollock, with the one word prompt being “swings.” To see more posts submitted, please visit Peter's site. The links will be live at 10 p.m. Central time Monday.

Photograph: Abandoned Playtime by Kim Newbery via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

The last conversation

Back here in Portland, it was different.
Everything I knew was here, alive.
What I’d left behind seemed a dream,
good dream, yes, but an escape, not real,
only a dream, nothing more than that,
memory, fondness, no regret, silence.

What I heard was not a silence.
It was not what I knew before, but different,
a memory, I agree, a song, and more than that,
bursting with life, living, breathing, alive,
etched in my mind, my heart, a real
life, a first life, more than only a dream.

How can it be more than a dream,
you there, me here, subsiding into silence,
here where it lessens its hold on the real,
fading to a fleeting moment, different
than what is before me now, when I’m alive
when I’ve become more than that.

We spoke of a future, nothing less than that,
I did not invent our words in a dream;
we moved in time, the first time feeling alive,
touching our hearts especially in the silence
we both knew was profoundly different,
even from what we didn’t before we were real.

It is my life here, not there, that’s real.
It is my life here, my reality here, that
is what I want, always, nothing different.
What we had was good but it was a dream;
the dream is gone, leaving behind it the silence,
and it is our silence that must remain alive.

What we had was dead then, is not now alive;
I believed it as a love that was real.
You’re leaving me with an empty silence,
a scarred nothing, a bleeding hole that
has sucked emptiness from a dream, our dream,
a hope that this time we would be different.

I will only look back at that
now and see the end of a dream
that was only a cliché, nothing different.

Over at The High Calling, there is a photo play prompt for capturing a conversation, using background, angle or distance to establish the context of the image, convert it to black and white (no one said this was simple), post it on the High Calling Flickr group page, and then tag it.

I did not take the photograph above, but I did find it online and figured out how to convert a color photo to black and white; that’s as far as some photographically challenged person like myself could go (but I was very proud of myself for figuring out the conversion). But the photo prompt also said that if you were poetically inclined, you could join L.L. Barkat and Dave Wheeler and write a sestina poem about a conversation. Since I was also sestina-poetry challenged, I almost gave it up. But even I could follow the step-by-step instructions found here and here. And also here. (Nobody said this was going to be easy, and they were absolutely right. This took some research!)

So that’s what the above poem is, sort of (I hope I got it right but I’m too exhausted to care at this point): a sestina, a poem that uses the last words of the lines in the first stanza in a specifically structured repetition. A sestina has six stanzas of six lines each, and then a final stanza of three lines.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Power of Story

I became part of a story once.

Twenty years ago, the company I worked for, and the industry I worked in, faced a monumental problem, one coming down the track like the proverbial freight train. Whatever company and industry credibility that existed was going to be vaporized.

A small group (“team” wasn’t the lingo back then) of us started working quietly and diligently with a couple of key executives. We knew what had to be done – embrace the coming chaos, take responsibility, and ultimately run the business very differently. My specific job – leading the communications group focused on the change, help design the strategy and write speeches to help pave the way. At least we hoped we were paving the way.

Presentations were made. Meetings were held. Consultants were consulted. We weren’t openly laughed at, but you could always see the facial expressions – people thought we were out of our minds. The problem as that no one else had a solution. And our little troop kept getting bucked upward. “Just wait until the CEO hears this! He’ll chew them up and spit them out!”

When we reached the CEO, he didn’t chew us up. He immediately grasped the problem and our solution. He fully embraced, and went further than we were suggesting.

The result changed the company and the industry. We embarked on a series of initiatives than confounded friends and foes alike. Real change happened. I had my hands full with communications and writing more and more speeches.

About a year later, I was in a meeting with several of our business executives. One had been talking with a counterpart at our biggest competitor, who’d followed us with their own initiatives. The executive said that both of them had agreed that “the damn speechwriters were running our companies.”

There was a silence, and several heads turned toward me. No one said a word (but all of these executives likely agreed with the statement). And then I said, “Actually, all the speechwriters are doing is writing the speeches the CEOs are asking for.”

This period in the company’s history lasted for about six years. It overlapped and even opened the doors for another fundamental change – the beginning of the worldwide web and electronic communications, and our little intrepid band got to be that story, too.

The power of story is enormous. In Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit, Luci Shaw talks about the importance of story in our lives, and considers the role it plays in the Bible. “The bible,” she writes, “doesn’t teach theology systematically. It tells stories. It chronicles human failures and triumphs; it voices human lament and celebration. God reveals himself through the stories and poetries developed by the human authors who wrote the books of the Bible.”

The writing and telling of stories become imperative for us, she says. “…I believe that my learning faith and writing about it are gifts from God and that they have value; therefore, I persist in telling stories…”

Stories have power and value, and not only in art. They can change and transform the work place as well.

And like Shaw, I persist in telling stories.

Over at The High Calling, we’re discussing Breath for the Bones. Today the focus is on chapters 3 and 4, on metaphor and story. Visit The High Calling to see links to other posts on the chapters.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

She was tall

A blind date:
all my friend would
say was that she was tall,
he used the word statuesque.
I bought a corsage, rented
my tux, polished my black
dress Cole-Hahn shoes.
Statuesque didn’t quite
do her justice; we danced
only once, people laughed,
she fled. All I ever found was
her aluminum shoe outside.
The corsage might have been
too small.

This poem is submitted to the Saturday Poetics prompt, On Your Feet, at dVerse Poets. You can read the prompt here; you can see other poems submitted here.

The sculpture in the photograph is by artist Victoria Fuller, and is composed of 2,000 aluminum cast shoes. It sits at the entrance of the corporate headquarters building of Brown Shoe in Clayton, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis (and the county seat of St. Louis County). Brown Shoe’s leading brand is Famous Footwear, but it is known to tens of millions of Baby Boomers as the manufacturer of Buster Brown shoes.

Saturday Good Reads

An eagle lands on a tombstone, a pale horseman rides, and a young Korean man sings a song that will make your heart soar. All this, and more, on the web this week.


The Facelessness of Mass Destruction” by Wiliam Spiegelman for The Wall Street Journal.

Am I an Unreasonable Man?” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

The Dream of the Rood” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Apples to Apples” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

Second Meeting (Girl with a Broom)” by Monica Sharman at Know-Love-Obey God.

When we tell God to leave us alone” by Duane Scott.

We Had to Take Brewer” by Harriett Gillham at The Other Side of the Mountain.

The Eagle Couldn’t Have Picked a Better Person” by Jon Tevlin for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Hat Tip American Digest.

Choosing stubbornness” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

I can fix a house that isn’t fixed” by Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage.

Two related posts: “If Humility Wore Suspenders” at All the Church Ladies and “Just a Man Wearing Suspenders” at Simply Darlene, by Darlene.

The Volunteer from Across the Sea” by Cassandra Frear at Moonboat Café. l


Trash Pile” by Brendan MacOdrum at Oran’s Well.

Green Like Worship” by Sandra Heska King.

"The Pale Horseman” by Pete Marshall.

Never But Once Such Sweetness” and “July Storm” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Naked in the Flame” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Smoke on Glass” by Michael Dodaro at Lyric Arts Forum.

Everything Lies in Silence” by Kerry O’Connor at Skylover.

Climate Change” and “Textbook Toiletries” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM.

Who Am I?” by Megan Willome at Sabbath Says.

Through and Through Life: Breath for My Very Soul” by Sandra Heska King.

Paintings & Photographs

Morning Glory” and “Saddle Up” by Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’.

Fanfare” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Waiting” and “Gratitude” by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

Breath on the Water” by L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone.

Will & Rachel” by Kelly Sauer at A Restless Heart.

Five remarkable images made out of maps” by Matthew Cusick, via Andrew Piper.


Rainbow Connection” by a 8-year-old boy playing a ukulele, via Abraham Piper.

Some Things Transcend Language (Korea’s Got Talent),” via Scott Williams.

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

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tom Downs' "Nick of Time"

The “Bug Man” novels by Tim Downs have been around for a few years, but it’s the most recent one I’ve read first: Nick of Time. It’s not quite like any detective mystery I’ve read before.

Dr. Nick Polchak is a forensic entomologist, the so-called “Bug Man,” who helps crime investigations by studying the bugs that, uh, tend to hang around dead bodies. He acts as odd as his passion for insect things might suggest – aggressive, in your face, bulldoze your way through and mislead or outright lie if you have to. One of his closest friends is dead, and Polchak is going to find out what happened.

One minor problem is that he’s getting married the same week he’s investigating the death. And his fiancée is not impressed with his leaving right before the wedding. Alena Savard has some oddities of her own. She trains dogs, but that’s not the oddity. One of her dogs is a cadaver dog, trained to sniff out and find where dead bodies have been.

She might be a good match for the Bug Man. But he might be having doubts, or perhaps he’s so focused on finding out what happened to his friend that it looks like he’s having doubts.

Nick’s investigation takes him to a small town in the Poconos in Pennsylvania, where he finds a suspicious hunting death of the sheriff’s deputy, the deputy’s widow who is anything but grief-stricken, the suspicious death of an elderly man, a sheriff who turns out to be more than meets the eye, and bugs, or the husks left behind of emerged bugs.

Downs tells his fast-paced story with detail so practices and well done it seems effortless, odd but oddly believable characters, and a story line that keeps pulling the reader deeper into the story. And he uses humor – unexpected in a mystery novel with lots of dead bodies and bugs around dead bodies but it’s done in exactly the right way. And it fits the personalities of Nick and Alena.

Nick of Time is a fast read and a well-told mystery. And you get an education about blow flies and a lot of other insects.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Contradictions of Faith

Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista has asked the question, how is God challenging you to keep faith fresh?

I almost reverted to form, thinking the obvious: faith grows in adversity, in bad times and in good. Think Romans 8:28. You know how to answer this, Young. That tough problem at work threatening your career? It’s a faith-grower. That nasty co-worker who wants your job? Ditto. That fight between your two closest Christian friends? Yep, it’s meant to stretch and grow your faith.

All things are for your good. It’s true, but it also seems trite, a little too pat, even a little too cold to say to yourself, when you’re down and depressed, much less to someone who’s suffering.

Right now, I have one friend whose father-in-law is afflicted with cancer. Another is trying to recover from a stroke, and can understand everything you say but can’t respond very well. Still another just learned that cancer has recurred. A fourth is fighting advanced breast cancer.

Somehow, quoting Romans 8:28 doesn’t seem quite the right thing in these situations. Yes, all things happen for the good of those who love him, but it’s a hard message to understand when you’re dealing with the after-effects of radiation and chemotherapy, or your mind is trying to make your voice break free of the physical limitations imposed by a stroke. Or a friend has lost his job and medical benefits, and his child is seriously ill.

Instead, in my own life and in the lives of others, I see faith being renewed and grown through what I call its contradictions.

Faith grows best in adversity, and in the waiting out of adversity, those times when the most earnest, heartfelt prayers, the cries from the depths of your soul, are answered by silence.

Faith grows most at that precise moment when you think you’ve lost it, that all this Bible stuff is a crock of stories and myths.

Faith grows deepest in the rocky places, the barren places and cold places, the places where the soil is thin and dry.

And the biggest contradiction may be that you’re often unaware that your faith is growing, because you’re so focused on the problem, the issue, the faltering relationship, the adversity, and the pain that you don’t see it or understand it until after, often long after, whatever it is has been settled, resolved or healed. Then you look back and realize what happened, how your faith grew, how right there in the moment of deepest doubt and despair, it was being lovingly tended to and watered and nurtured and protected.

Right there.

It still can hurt and ache.

But you understand.

To see more posts that answer Bonnie’s question, please visit Faith Barista.

Photograph: Cloudy Day by Bobby Mikul via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Precious

I am somewhat embarrassed to say this, but my wife has a name for my BlackBerry. You know, that thing we grownups wear like a toy gun and holster on our belts? That thing that buzzes my hip like a little friendly bumble bee, waiting impatiently for me to pay attention?

My Precious.

Yes, that’s what she’s calls my BlackBerry, My Precious. Like Gollum. But I won’t bite off Frodo’s finger for it, that’s for sure. Well, I don’t think I would.

So what is it about Blackberrys and other smart phones that will make us ignore our kids and spouses, ignore where we’re driving on the highway, and turn our attention away from the most compelling news on the television set? What is it that so mesmerizes us?

Standing in the lunch line in our company cafeteria this week, I looked up from my BlackBerry to see that eight other people in line with me – all eight – were doing exactly the same thing as I was.

And then there was the time I interviewed a job candidate whose BlackBerry buzzed, he looked at the name of the sender, and apologized for having to take the call – from another possible employer. That ended the interview on the spot.

We all have our reasons and our excuses, but the real answer is that that little piece of computerized, connected equipment is all about us. The Great Sin.

C.S. Lewis doesn’t shy away from the hard subjects. So far in our discussion so far of Mere Christianity, we’ve seen him tackle everything from morality, belief and tolerance to sexuality, marriage and behavior, among others.

In this chapter, it’s The Great Sin.

It’s the one we’re all guilty of. The one we know intimately. The one that – for Christians – is indeed The Big One. The one that gets in the way of everything.

Pride, or self-conceit.

And it’s not an exclusively American sin. No, this one transcends cultures. If you want proof, the personal, portable phone can be found in every country around the world. Some countries are even worse than the United States.

I never expected to be thinking of my BlackBerry as The Great Sin.

But I think that’s what it is.

Our discussion of Mere Christianity is being hosted by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter. To see more posts on this chapter, "The Great Sin," please visit Jason's site, Connecting to Impact.

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The cold seeps from
stone to bone, a chill
at this darkest hour,
this deep shadow time
of night, uncertainty
of soul, uneasiness
of mind, resistance
of blanketed body.

In the darkness a soul
finds its hole, its hole
in the night, aperture
of hope and expectation.

An eyelid opens; a gleam
reaches toward a pinpoint
of light. A soul follows,
seeking the reality it knows
is there. Darkness softens,
the soul begins a tone,
a chord, a bar, moving
to a slight song, knowing
a symphony is waiting.

This poem is submitted to Open Link Night at d’Verse Poets Pub, a new online poetry publication officially launched today. To see other poems submitted, please visit d’Verse Poets. The links will be live at 2 p.m. Central time today.

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

Abram's ears

It is the smell of goats
and sheep that fills
my days, my dreams;
my house is strong cloth,
and poles. What is
my father’s inheritance
is mine.

Yet the voice says I am
to leave, abandon
what I know for a promise
of what I do not.
I go, less for the promise,
more for the voice.
My wife laughs.

This poem is dedicated to Leslie Moon and Pete Marshall, two of the founders of One Stop Poetry.

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

Leslie will be keeping the site online – a kind of digital memorial to slightly more than a year of a publication that encouraged poets, taught us about form, recognized our work, introduced us to each other, explored great photography, and created lasting friendships. They did well, and they served us well.

Illustration: The Call of Abraham, ceramic relief by Richard McBee (1980).

Monday, July 18, 2011

The waters were gathered

An Egyptian night of beetles and hyenas,
scarabs and jackals, devouring:
the spirit hovered over the surface
of the deep, the waters;
a staff rose and held to gather
the waters, walled on each side.
And it was so.
And it was good.
A staff rose and held to gather
the armies, walled on each side
by a pillar of cloud and fire,
gathering the darkness and light.
The waters were gathered, flowing
to create a dry baptism of faith.

This poem is submitted for the Warrior Poet Society, hosting by Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact. To see more poems based on Exodus 14 – the crossing of the Red Sea, please visit Jason’s site.

Photograph: Orange Sea Sunset by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

We Are all Poets in the Workplace

She captured my attention with the imaginary house.

For The High Calling’s Monday book discussion, we’re starting to read Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit by poet and writer Luci Shaw. I’ve “met” Shaw through her poetry, like Harvesting Fog: Poems, and then moved a step close when she joined us for a TweetSpeak poetry jam on Twitter two weeks ago.

In Breath for the Bones, she explores artistic creativity and imagination as profoundly influenced, perhaps even directed, by “the spirit and creatorhood of God.” She speaks to “the artistic process from a profoundly God-centered perspective.”

For a Christian, this sounds like a no-brainer. Yet for evangelical Christians, it is actually more of a fairly recent no-brainer, because it has been only in the last three decades or so that evangelicals have come to consider “the arts” – fiction and other writing, poetry, theater, art, music, film – as something that just might possibly be connected to God.

My own introduction to this whole idea of God as the source of human creativity was Flannery O’Connor, and though she was Southern she was also Catholic, so she didn’t “really count.” No, we evangelicals needed one of our own here, and we found one in Francis Schaeffer and his “How Should We Then Live” book and film series in the mid-1970s. (I was actually reading O’Connor about the same time that our church in Houston showed the series on Sunday nights.)

In her introduction, Shaw imagines a house, “a large rambling house – old, with multiple doors and windows at different levels, all opening onto a landscape of fields interrupted by trees, and beyond this rolling hills, and even farther away, the glistening horizon of the ocean.” She describes the house and its diverse community of people, of both sexes, all races, all ages. “Moving among them, talking and working along with them, is an ordinary-looking man; it is the Christ, the One who lends the house its personal warmth, its structure, its creative center, its vision, its reason for being. This is the house of faith.”

This is a book about art, creativity and artistic imagination. What caught my attention was whom she included among the residents – artists and actors and poets and writers, yes, but also the businessperson, the carpenter, the marketing expert, the inventor and the computer programmer.

And I was seized with an idea, an idea of how I’m going to read this book, and how I’m going to participate in the discussion for the next several weeks – by focusing on how art and creativity and imagination can and should flourish in the workplace, as much as they do in novels, poems, plays, paintings, movies and music, and that here, too, they arise from “the Spirit and creatorhood of God.”

In other words, for those of us who live God’s kingdom in offices and cubicles, on trucks and airplanes, standing behind counters at Macy’s and handling insurance claims, we are all, at heart, the artists of God. We are all made in the image of God, and part of that image is the creative, artistic spirit and force.

Consider joining us. I’m reading the book on Kindle (instant gratification!), and it’s easily available from Amazon and other booksellers like Hearts and Minds Books. Laura Boggess is leading the discussion at The High Calling, and she’ll be posting on Mondays with links to other posts in the discussion.

Come help us write a poem.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

An Argument for Reading Poetry Aloud

In 1927, Padraic Colum (1881-1972) published a book of essays called The Fountain of Youth. Among them was one entitled "Story Telling New and Old," a kind of apologetic for oral storytelling for children and reading poetry and having children memorize poems--not exactly the current fashion in education circles today. This essay was reissued as a single, small volume by The Macmillan Company in 1961, when Colum received the Regina Medal of the Catholic Library Association.

This was the small book I held in my hands at a used book sale.

To read more of "An Argument for Reading Poetry Aloud," please visit Lyric Arts Forum.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

After the fire

The fireball smashed
through the ceiling
we call sky, creating
a hole large enough
to watch cumulus clouds
pour in, a conflagration
of humidity and vapor,
a confluence of fire and ice.
After the fire drowned
itself, I looked to see
if heaven had opened.
Outside, blinding light
overwhelmed the night.

This poem is dedicated to Adam Dustus and Chris Galford, who have spent an enormous amount of time and effort for many months in interviewing photographers and bring some of the most incredible photographs to One Stop Poetry. Thanks, guys; you gave a lot of yourselves to benefit the rest of us.

This poem is submitted for the final One Shot Sunday hosted by One Stop Poetry. To see other poems submitted and an interview with photographer Rosie Grady, please visit One Stop Poetry.

Photograph by Rosie Hardy for One Stop Poetry. Used with permission.

Not a rehab

We bought this old place
at the corner of Eliot
and Wordsworth; solid
structure, great light,
furnishings worth saving
but we gutted the building
right down to studs
and concrete.
Now we get to work.

This poem is a salute to the start of dVerse Poets Pub, cleaning up the place this weekend for the official launch on Tuesday. Visit dVerse Poets here, and check the poems submitted here.

Saturday Good Reads

Things can get pretty surprising and amazing in the online world. A sponsored child asks if you have food at your house. Falling love with a minotaur. The beauty of yarn in the hands of a photographer. And a printer that prints 3-D objects. All this and so much more.


How Harry Potter Saved Reading” by Norman Lebrecht for the Wall Street Journal.

John Robert Lee” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

For reasons unknown” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

Going Home” by Jeanne Damoff at The view From Here.

He asked if we have food at our house” by Jessica McGuire art Jezamama.

Inspector Clouseau and Poetic Play” by Peggy Rosenthal for Image Journal.

The sweetest song” and “Sky Mall: it’s been too long” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

It’s not that I need to get away” by Claire Burge.

Maybe he didn’t hear my prayer” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

Take that, Milton” by Martha of Ireland for Internet Monk.

Taking the Plunge” by Duane Scott for Bibledude.


In love with the minotaur” by David Wheeler at Dave Writes Right.

Ambient Light” by Tulika Verma at Indulgence.

Summer games” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne.

"Where Time Has Gone, You Dwell" by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Empire” by Michael Dodaro at Lyric Arts Forum.

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

"I Sing the Body Obsolete" by Marcus Goodyear at Good Word Editing.

Paintings & Photographs

On a personal note” and “A thought entertained” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Creek,” oil on canvas by Randall David Tipton.

10” at To See a Flower and “Yarn” at A Little Somethin’ by Nancy Rosback.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation” by Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage.

Winslow Homer” via Maggie’s Farm.

3D Printer” by Life for Nothing.

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

Friday, July 15, 2011

Josh Ritter's "Bright's Passage"

He sounds old, does Henry Bright, older than his years. Perhaps it was the war, the Great War, the one that was supposed to end it all but didn’t, especially the war in Henry’s soul. But you don’t know about that war for a while, and you won’t know until the end how that war turns out.

Bright’s Passage is an unusual book by songwriter and first novelist Josh Ritter, whose “The Animal Years” was Stephen King’s favorite album of the last five years. It’s unusual in the sense that it has a bit of magic realism (an angel who speaks through a horse and a shifting timeline) and a main character who argues with the angel but usually does its bidding.

Henry Bright grows up in the mountains of West Virginia. His father died in a coal mine cave-in, and his mother raises him – and raises him well. Living nearby are his mother’s sister and her husband the Colonel. Their three children include two boys and a daughter Rachel, the youngest.

Henry fights in the trenches in France in World War I, and his experiences there leave scars. One of those experiences involves a church and its dome, and what Henry sees there moments before a shell destroys it. He’s shot on Armistice Day, is hospitalized and eventually returns to West Virginia. Once home, the angel-in-the-horse tells Henry he must marry Rachel, because he and Rachel together will have a child, “the future King of Heaven.” Rachel dies in childbirth, and Henry’s grief is enormous. But no matter: the angel keeps giving instructions. Henry is to burn the cabin, and leave with his infant son. And a good thing, too, because the colonel and his two sons are coming to kill Henry and take the child.

Ritter does not use a straight narrative technique to tell the story. Scenes past and present in West Virginia alternate with scenes from the war, but Ritter gradually combines the two so that they become one tightly connected story. The author’s control of the characters and the narrative is impressive, everything aiming for not one but ultimately two confrontations, and almost two endings.

I liked this story of Henry Bright. I liked it a lot.

I found this video of a song by Josh Ritter called "Girl in the War." Although about a different situation, the sense of it seems to fit Bright's Passage.

Related: For's Shelf Life, John Krasinski, Mary-Louise Parker and others read the first chapter of Bright's Passage. Thanks to Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper for the link.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Faith from the Outside

Way back in the Dark Ages, like 1995, I got this idea that my company should do a web site. A few companies were starting to look into this thing called the worldwide web. I was in the communications department, and had started up an email newsletter for employees (how quaint that sounds today). So I thought the web might be the next logical step.

I went to the IT department for help. They didn’t exactly laugh: they were polite. But they said (and this was a literal quote), “The web is a flash in the pan, like eight-track tapes. The future is Lotus Notes.” I was told to go to the outside to get help; internal resources were not available. So I did. I found the one firm in our town who had experience doing web sites. They had done exactly one, but that was light years ahead of what anyone else had done.

We did the project, launched the site, and – success. A new CIO arrived at the company and asked who was in charge of web development. He was told (another direct quote), “Well, there is this guy in PR.”

I don’t want to pick on IT. (Now if it were lawyers, that would be a different story.) But the situation illustrates something I’ve learned, including within my own function. Significant change tends to come from outside, not inside, the function. When you’re on the inside, you have your own culture, your own ways of doing things, your own knowledge of “we tried that before.” So change tends to come from the outside.

This reminds me of the story in the Gospel of St. Matthew about the Roman centurion. Jesus is in Galilee, teaching, preaching and healing. He and the disciples enter Capernaum, and the first thing that happens is a Roman centurion asks him for help in healing his paralyzed servant. Jesus says “I will go and heal him,” to which the centurion responds with a short treatise on authority:

“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8: 8-9, New International Version).

There are a number of wildly interesting things going on here. The centurion felt comfortable enough or felt the situation urgent enough that he approached Jesus. The centurion was making a plea for healing on behalf of his servant – which tells you a lot about the centurion right there. Not a family member, not a soldier, but a servant. He recognizes that his home is not worthy enough for Jesus to visit it. And he understands Jesus’ power and authority. He knows his Lord.

A Roman centurion! The mind boggles.

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matthew 8:10, NIV).

The outstanding example of faith came from outside of the people of Israel. Jesus didn’t single out a disciple, or a Pharisee, or any of the people following him, or any of the people he had already healed. Instead, he singled out the faith of the outsider.

The pre-eminent example of faith came from the outside. And we still tell the story of the Roman centurion 2,000 years later.

Over at Faith Barista, Bonnie Gray is hosting a blog carnival on faith. To see other posts based on a verse in the Bible about faith, please visit Faith Barista.

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

When writing a poem could get you arrested

In free nations, we usually take our freedoms for granted. We don’t think about getting government approval to rent an apartment, buy a car or move to another city. We would likely be outraged if someone told us we had to do that.

What if writing a poem could get you arrested? Would you still write? Would you share your poems with friends? Would you take huge personal risks to keep writing your words?

To read about a poet who took that risk, please visit my post today at The Master's Artist.

It's not my strong suit

We been reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis for the discussion group led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter. I thought the last two chapters – “Sexual Morality” and “Christian Marriage” – would likely be the most controversial ones. Then I hit this week’s chapter.


It’s not my strong suit.

“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive,” Lewis says.

Well, exactly. It’s not that I bear grudges; it’s more that I have a long memory.

Not that there’s a significant difference between a grudge and a long memory, of course.

I can remember a lot of things people have done. I don’t have a photographic memory, but, oh, can I remember. Like when that jerk in junior high school threw…or that manager at work brazenly lied…oh, and that boss who took credit…well, you get the picture.

A lot of things get wrapped up in forgiveness: anger, hurt, a sense of trust being violated, a desire for penance, perhaps even a hope that the offending party will suffer, even a little bit. We talk about what we should have said or what we should have done. And forgiveness is about the last thing on our minds.

Forgiveness is hard.

Lewis has two suggestions. First, start with the easier stuff – like forgiving someone you love and whom you know loves you. We don’t have to leap immediately to Al Qaida and the attack on the World Trade Center. We should start small, probably because the small stuff is important.

And second, Lewis says, we should really understand what loving your neighbor as yourself really means. “I have to love him as I love myself,” he writes, “Well, how exactly do I love myself?” It’s not about being fond of your neighbor or thinking well of them. It’s more about hating the bad things we all do and loving the person in spite of the bad things.

Just like we love ourselves in spite of the bad things we know we do. We had the bad stuff we do, but we keep loving ourselves because we wish good for ourselves.

So, too, should we wish good for our neighbor.

To see more posts on this chapter of Mere Christianity, please visit Sarah Salter at Living Between the Lines.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Umbrella conversation

Our conversation floats
under a yellow umbrella,
words rising in a mild wind.
July hot, and light warm sweat
traces our backs, chests, temples.
Your hand moves away.
We talk in slight murmurs,
soft tones; I watch droplets
slide down our glasses
in iced condensation.
You look away and ask,
when will it turn cool.

This poem is submitted for 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: Straw Umbrella on Beach by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Calgary DI's "Where"

What you notice first are the faces.

The faces are young and old, male and female, of all races. They are smiling, thoughtful, angry, discouraged, exuberant, sad, excited, laughing, concerned.

In other words, they’re normal. And that’s what catches your attention.

Then you read their stories, and you realize the faces are normal because the people are normal.

The people are us.

The Calgary Drop In and Rehab Centre, simply known as “TheDI,” has produced a book called Where: 50 Words, 50 Photos, 50 Stories, to recognize 50 years of serving the Calgary community. The DI provides a place for the homeless, but to call people “homeless” misses the point entirely and turns real individuals, with histories, personalities, hopes and dreams, into objects. They are not objects. They are people.

Like the rest of us.

Where is a masterful compilation of photographs, stories, poems, log entries about life at The DI. You meet both staff and clients. You learn about The DI’s history, and how it started as a conversation between a rabbi and a priest. Now, in one 48-hour time period, the DI housed 2,200 clients and served more than 5,000 meals and snacks. It has a medical department. It deals with a variety of people at all stages of their lives. It networks with police, mental health agencies, city government and volunteer organizations.

And it blesses people – those who are helped and those who help. It’s a toss-up as to who receives the greater blessing.

Each entry in the book is built around one word, like thrive, healing, lost, enjoyment and laughter. Each entry has a text and a photograph, and a log entry or short factual statement like “the DI spends $50,000 on coffee every year. It’s worth it.” The combination of these structural elements is powerful, moving and convicting.

Some of the texts are written by staff and volunteers and some by the clients themselves. Surprised that a homeless person can write? Don’t be. They can paint, sing, tell jokes, do computer work, organize, coordinate, fix broken stuff, read great novels, debate philosophies and politics, think, invent, create and manage. They’re just like us because they are us. In Where, that reality comes across again and again.

Tragedy and heartbreak happen at the DI, but so do comedy and happy endings. A story about a man who lost his home and his daughter was filmed and posted on the DI web site. He had not seen her since was 3. Now 30 and with children of her own, she finds the video. And her father.

Then there’s the story of Terry Pettigrew. I first started reading about terry on Louise Gallagher’s blog, Recover Your Joy. Terry was in his 50s and dying of cancer. He hadn’t seen his brother since he was 8. You can watch a video about Terry here, and read the story in Maclean’s Magazine here.

Louise is the communicators director for The DI and the editor of Where, with Jordan Hamilton serving as co-editor. Both contributed several of the articles. The photographs were taken by Christian Plus Nathan, a photography company (and couple) in Calgary. The staff and clients of The DI are the stories.

And while Where is a book about people in Calgary, Alberta, it is a book about people anywhere.


A video of the book launch for Where is on YouTube.

More information about the book can be found here.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Dickens Duet

A Tale with a Twist

A movie set, perhaps,
of alleyways; the balconies
touch in close conversation.
Fagin is about, somewhere.
The lights are right,
the camera rolls
when the child appears
in all his green innocence.
His name might be Oliver.

Great Expectations

Pip peers silently
into the dining room
and of course the first thing
he sees is that moldy,
moldering wedding cake,
crumbling in abandonment,
accented with green mold
instead of leafed frosting
to accompany frosted roses.
Miss Havisham wanders
dressed in faded stains,
dreaming of empire.

Both poems are submitted for One Shot Sunday hosted by One Stop Poetry. To see other submitted poems and an interview with photographer Neil Alexander, please visit the site.

Photographs by Neil Alexander. Used with permission or One Stop Poetry.

Saturday Good Reads

So what happens when you find a letter you wrote to your older adult self when you were a teenager? Or you go rock climbing? And what lessons can be taught to your son when there’s a power failure on the farm? What do you say to a nephew who was driving the car in a terrible car accident?

A video series on the English language – wonderful photographs – and even a short story. All this an more was online this past week.


Lost Causes” by J of India at Neither Use Nor Ornament.

Push Back” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Jean Janzen” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Now, When I Was Just a Little Boy” by Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage.

Independence” by Bill Grandi at Cycleguy’s Spin.

Towns to Visit – New Orleans” by Travis Young at Life Changes, Do We?

It’s All Music” and “A Letter to Me” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

Even the best intentions fall short” by Michelle DeRusha for the Lincoln Journal-Star.

Intentional Community” by Milton Brasher-Cunningham at Don’t Eat Alone.

When it seems like just another day” by Duane Scott for Bibledude.

Rock Climbing in September” by Michael Dodaro at Lyrical Arts.

The Importance of Family: What He Gives in the Dark” by Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience.

A letter to my heart-sick nephew” by Jennifer Dukes-Lee at Getting Down with Jesus.

"I'm not God, and I'm sick of trying" by Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact.


How can anyone be arrogant when” by Monica Sharman at Know-Love-Obey God.

Windblown” by Melissa Campbell at Sweet Water Blue Sky.

After-Effects of Fire” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Everyone’s Frozen” by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

Us, Unvorsum” by Arron Palmer.

"Baptism" by B.K. McKenzie at Signed...BKM.

Short Stories

Neighbors” by Jeremy Shipp for The Barcelona Review.

Paintings and Photographs

You Call That a Cat?” via Abraham Piper.

Sanctuary – Sunset” by Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact.

By Any Other Name” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Sunset at Laity Lodge” by Nathan Roberts, via his father, Mark Roberts.

Rain in the Orchard” by Randall David Tipton at Painter’s process.

All This, All His” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.

"Landscape - Morning Sea" by Kelly Sauer.

Take 10 for the English Language” via Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Photograph: Flower by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.