Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Compline (Recorded)

I recorded the poem Compline. It's not perfect, but not bad for a first try. Compline by Glynn2

Propaganda and The Whole Self

In 1993, the Washington Post published a correction to a story. The correction was rather short:

Correction: An article yesterday characterized followers of television evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.” There is no factual basis for that statement.

The article was by reporter Michael Weiskopf, and it was included in the story as a fact, with no attribution, no study cited or anything else. It was simply the reporter’s opinion, and that (1) he included it and (2) his editor had not challenged it was proof positive, for a lot of people, of the inherent bias against Christians by the national news media. The Post was flooded with letters, phone calls and faxed copies of master’s degrees from followers of Robertson and Falwell.

I can recall the hubbub and reading the story, and I can remember my reaction, even though I was not a follower or admirer of either man: “This is what passes for journalism these days.” I could say that, because my undergraduate degree was in journalism. And my professors would have placed a nice F if I had turned a story in that included that statement.

The world has moved on since that quote. The Christian Right is no longer, and this kind of comment is usually (and just as wrongfully) reserved today for members of the Tea Party.

I wonder what Weiskopf would have made of a statement by a French sociologist and philosopher named Jacques Ellul (1912-1994). In his book Propaganda, Ellul asserted that the people most susceptible to propaganda were not the poor and uneducated, but the more affluent and educated members of society (the so-called “elites”). And the reason, he said, was that they read more and are exposed to so much more, and could not possibly verify everything they read and accepted. What was worse was that they didn’t realize how susceptible they were to propaganda.

I was reminded of Weiskopf and Ellul when I read this week’s chapter in our discussion of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

Lewis makes that rather startling assertion that theology, in a sense, is an experimental science (I could hear the howls of the professional atheists, but the phrase “in a sense” is the telling one). Some might call it an example of Christian propaganda, but Lewis is actually rather logical about it as he describes how Christians developed the idea of a three-person God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). He compares it to how a geologist would study rocks by examining them, with no cooperation needed from the rocks; how a zoologist would study live animals (cautiously and quietly); how you get to know something about a person (with his agreement and cooperation – the initiative would be divided); and how someone would get to know more about God – when the initiative lies entirely on God’s side.

Once God takes that initiative, “The instrument through which you see God is your whole self.” That lens of the whole self may and usually does take an entire lifetime to repair and clean, because we come to this process broken and sinful.

If a reporter – as broken and sinful as the rest of us – doesn’t understand God, we shouldn’t be surprised to see boneheaded opinions made about God’s people expressed in a news article.

But to be fair, we Christians – we educated Christians – can be just as susceptible to propaganda. Last year, I was reading an article in Christianity Today about food, of all things, and stumbled over statements made as fact with no references, citations or footnotes. Like Wesikopf’s statement in the Washington Post, the statements assumed that people reading the story would simply agree, and the writer or editor or both felt no attribution was needed. They were opinion, not fact. No one, including me, challenged the statements. No corrections were run. But they were just as wrong – and prejudiced – as the one in the Washington Post.

Our online discussion of Mere Christianity is being led by Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact and Sarah Salter at Living Between the Lines. Please visit their sites for additional posts on this chapter, “The Three-Personal God.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


The shadows of the waning day gather
around my feet like an ebony cat, warm
and detached. It is done, this day, locked
in an enameled matchbox of memory.

This moment, this speck of infinity
before I become dreamless rest,
is but a part of the ordered day, a day
like all days, ordered and ordained.

A day begun with prayer must needs
end with prayer, another line of song,
another hymn, another cry of joy,
whispered praise in the chorus of creation.

This poem is submitted to Open Mike Night at dVerse Poets. To see more poems, please visit the site. The links will be live at 2 p.m. Central time today.

Photograph: Moon by Daniele Pellati via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

How to Cope with a Toxic Boss

I've counted 24 bosses over the course of my career. The longest I've ever worked for one boss was four years. The shortest was for a few months. I've had good bosses and bad. I've had capable, competent bosses, and bosses who -- weren't. I've had bosses I liked, and ones I didn't. I've had bosses who were scrupulously fair, and ones who played favorites. Of all the varieties of bosses and boss experiences, there were two -- fortunately, only two -- that I would call toxic. 

To continue reading, please see my post today at The High Calling.

Steve Sem-Sandberg’s “The Emperor of Lies”

Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978, dedicated a good deal of his writing life to the preservation of Yiddish stories, language and culture, which had been nearly destroyed by the Holocaust in World War II. Singer was the son of a Polish rabbi; his mother was the daughter of a Polish rabbi. He emigrated to America after Adolf Hitler gained power in Germany, and over the course of his literary life became best know for his short stories.

It was Singer who came constantly to mind while I read Steve Sem-Sandberg’s The Emperor of Lies, for what Sem-Sandberg has done is to painstakingly recreate the Jewish ghetto in Lodz in central Poland during the war. With this extraordinary novel, he has preserved the history of the ghetto, its government, its people, its brutality and its horrors, from the time of Nazi occupation in 1939 to the liberation by the Soviet army in early 1945.

Utilizing records, histories, archives, newspapers and other existing materials, Sem-Sandberg has recreated the story of Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, “chairman” of the Lodz ghetto through the entire period of occupation. Rumkowski is a historical figure, as are many of characters of the novel, and has been generally understood to have been a kind of collaborator/puppet/despot. He is indeed all those things in the novel, and more that are worse, but the author seems to have almost gotten inside Rumkowski’s head. The reader comes to understand how this man justified his decisions and actions, how he viewed the ghetto, how he sacrificed people to remain in control of his larger purpose – the most productive manufacturing community in the entire German Reich, for that, he believed would ultimately save them.

And, of course, it didn’t. Rumkowski misled his people, and he also misled himself.

The Emperor of Lies is about more than Rumkowski, and as his control begins to slip, we see the other characters coming into sharper and sharper focus. It is in these individual stories, of heroes and collaborators, traitors and everyday people desperately seeking to stay alive, that the world that was the Jewish ghetto of Lodz truly comes alive. These stories are more than just backdrops to the central role of the leader of the ghetto; they become the vehicles through which memory is preserved.

The world of the ghetto was a hierarchal society of a ruling elite, mostly Rumkowski and his family and friends; the Jewish police who enforced order and obedience for Rumkowski and the Germans; the people fortunate to have obtained easier, white collar jobs; the people who did the hard work in the factories; and the “unproductive people,” the elderly, the sick and the young children, the ones who were most expendable and the one who would be the first to be “deported,” which meant sent to the death camps.

The novel is a story of horror, of what people crazed with fear and hunger will do to stay alive, of how people turned on each other for whatever short-term benefit could be had, and people who somehow managed to retain their humanity in the face of a very brutal existence.

The Emperor of Lies is an amazing story, told with understanding and heart. Sem-Sandberg holds back from judgment; it would have been a very different, and far less successful, novel had he sat in judgment of his characters. Instead, he tells their stories, much like Isaac Bashevis Singer told his stories, with understanding and even love.

The novel was an unexpected best-seller when it was published in Sweden in 2009. It is a big novel, with more than 650 pages, including appendices and a very helpful list of characters. The story is told so well, however, that you soon forget the size and get wrapped into the world of the ghetto in Lodz.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Journey Toward Wholeness

I mentioned last week that I’ve been reading Frederick Beuchner’s collection of essays Longing for Home, published in 1996. I call it an essay collection for lack of a better phrase – it’s part memoir, part poetry, part essay and part a lot of other things.

One of the essays is about “Rinkitink in Oz,” one of the Oz books written by L. Frank Baum at the height of his writing career but not published until a decade afterward. I once knew there were several Oz books, but the one with the wizard that became the movie that became the legend overshadowed all the rest. For Beuchner, the story of Rinkitink played an important role for young Freddy Beuchner, whose family life was becoming increasingly difficult.

Those difficulties are dealt with in section called “The Schroeders Revisited,” 16 poems by Beuchner to make sense of his father’s suicide, written long after the event itself. I’ll be writing about these poems soon. For now, know that even though he fictionalized the names, those poems are Beuchner's personal history that disrupted and changed so many lives.

It was the essay entitled “The Journey Toward Wholeness” that wrapped itself around my head and, I think, my heart.

We understand that we are all broken people living in a broken world, and that our lives are indeed a journey toward wholeness. He broken world we live in is not always a hospitable place, or it’s occasionally hospitable while it’s mostly unfriendly. “The world floods in on all of us,” Buechner writes. “The world can be kind, and it can be cruel. It can be beautiful, and it can be appalling. It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up all hope. It can strengthen our faith in God, and it can decimate our faith.”

He then consider Jesus at the last supper, Jesus knowing that he would be dead within 24 hours, knowing the beating and scourging to come, and the torture of being nailed to the cross. Of all of the legacies he could have left, he washed the disciples’ feet, he asked them to remember him with bread and wine, and he left them his peace. “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

Beuchner writes this: “All his life long, wherever Jesus looked, he saw the world not in terms simply of its brokenness – a patchwork of light and dark calling forth us in us now our light, now our dark – but in terms of the ultimate mystery of God’s presence buried in it like a treasure buried in a field.” That treasure, Beuchner says, isn’t just the pearl of great price, the mustard seed, the leaven or yeast. It was a treasure that was within them “as it also within us.”

And sometimes we see this, we see this treasure and the world as it is meant to be, and it is stunning. It could be an absolutely glorious sunset suddenly jolts us to an awareness of what the world is meant to be. It could be reading aloud a poem you’ve written. It could be what happens when you’re sitting with a young pastor in what had formerly been East Germany. But the fact is that we all have these moments of utter clarity when we see and we know what God is about, when we see past the brokenness in the world and in ourselves, when we understand what is meant to be.

And what one day will be.

Happy Birthday, KJV

Baby Boomers can usually remember where they were and what they were doing on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated (this Boomer was in his 7th grade history class). For the Gen X generation, it was the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986. For all of us, it was Sept. 11, 2001.

There’s another date from my childhood that I remember well, one month to the day after President Kennedy was killed. I was standing in Faith Lutheran Church in a suburb of New Orleans. There were 12 of us standing in front of the entire congregation – the new students in the catechism class – and we were there to receive a leather Bible from the church. Each of these blue cover Bibles was inscribed with our names, the name of the congregation and the date.

We had already been meeting since September. The catechism class was comprised of seventh and eighth graders. My class was a small one; a year-and-a-half later, when we were confirmed and made our first communion, the original 12 had dwindled to four. Moves, job transfers had taken a toll on our class. And in the group of four, I would be the only boy. The three girls were thrilled because, they predicted, I would be singled out to answer all the hard questions the pastor would ask us in front of the congregation. I thought they would be wrong. I should have known better; females predict the future better than males.

On that Dec. 22, 1963, the Bibles we were given was the King James Version (with maps). In the intervening 47 years, that Bible is still in remarkably good shape. The volume we were given was published by the American Bible Society.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of that translation of the Bible. In 1611, the group of scholars (18 from the Church of England and four Puritans) saw their work of seven years come to fruition. Its influence on the Protestant faith has been enormous – it reigned supreme for the next three centuries and even today is still one the bestselling books on any list.

It’s intriguing that the King James version was a contemporary of the other great English influence on language, culture and thought – William Shakespeare. Shakespeare and the KJV together have shaped the language we speak today and the history we share. Its words and phrases can be found in everything from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the Liberty Bell to the inscription on the gates of Harvard (whether the faculty and students there realize it or not), writes Leland Ryken, a professor of English at Wheaton College and author of The Legacy of the King James Bible, in an article Saturday in the Wall Street Journal.

When you consider that English is the language of global business and commerce, the impact of the KJV and Shakespeare go far beyond the countries where English is the native language.

Since 1611,there have been other translations, of course – the New American Standard, the Revised, the New KJV, the New International Version (the NIV is the one I use most often), even a politically correct NIV. But nothing surpasses the beauty of the KJV.

If you’re skeptical, simply read aloud the 23rd Psalm in the KJV version, and then do the same with any of the more contemporary versions. There is simply no comparison. Reading the KJV today is almost like reading poetry.

Its influence has been huge, but it’s also been particular, especially in the life of a 12-year-old who stood with his fellow catechumens in a church in 1963.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Opening the fourth box

It surprised me that it was colored,
colored blue, in fact, I had never
considered that it might even have
a color, or if did, it would be
a rainbow, but no, it was a
sky blue of different shades, rounded
and soft in places but with a jagged
edge, too, like a sharpened dagger
aimed at what, hearts? At its center,
for it had one of those, too, were
three interlocked boxes, three in one,
and a fourth box off to the side, like
but separate, the only box I was
allowed to open, to find a sky blue
mirror edged in a sky blue flame.
And a voice called it faith.

This poem is submitted to the Poetics prompt at dVerse Poets – what invisible (yet real) thing might you see with a third eye. To see more poems, please visit dVerse Poets.

Photograph: Abstract Blue by Michael Meilen via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday Good Reads

A reflection on where Britain's recent riots came from, dancing in a loft, a backward sonnet, spectacular photos of Hurricane Irene as the storm passed South Carolina, a cathedral choir singing -- just a few of the many good things on the worldwide web this past week.


"Blooming Where You Are Planted" by Jennifer Dukes-Lee at Getting Down With Jesus.

"Limited by What Is" and "One Shared Story" by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

"Stop Believing in Yourself" by Matt Appling at The Church of No People.

"Life as YOU Want It" and "The Dreaded Tolerance Card" by Jason Vana.

"The Root's of Britain's Riots" by Hal Gordon at Speechwriter's Slant.

"Farther Along" by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

"Dancing in the Loft" by Ann Kroeker.

"But Why?" by Father Frank at Public Christianity.

"Jack Hannahan's Journey Home" by Ryan Tate at The Compelling Parade.

"The Trespasser's Prayer" by Claire Burge.

"I Am His Poem" by Sandra Heska King.


"Textures of Text: It's a Mystery" by Sandra Heska King.

"Archiving Life" by B.K. McKenzie at Signed...BKM.

"Safe" by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

"Vanished" by Rob Kistner at Image & Verse.

"A Rose Not Stone," a "backward sonnet" by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

"Exponential Memories" by Steven Marty Grant at Urbanality.

"What Lay Before" by Pete Marshall.

Paintings and Photographs

"Rainy Day at Home Photo Gallery" and "Along the Trail" by Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.

"Goldenrod" and "Off the Top of My Head" by Susan Etole at Just...A Moment.

"Sky 589" by David Page Coffin at Eyes & Skies...And What's In Between.

"Perspective" and "NYC Sunset" by Lambert at Le Blog.

"Bible and Butterfly" by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

"My History" by Dan King at Bibledude.

"Irene, Welcome to Charleston," hat tip to Kelly Sauer for the link.

Videos and Poscasts

"For the Beauty of the Earth" by Ecclesium at St. Anne's Cathedral, Belfast, via Internet Monk.

"A Chicago Poem" by David Murray at Writing Boots.

Photograph: Patchwork by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pleasantly Disturbed Friday

Image Design by Duane Scott
Some time back, my friend Duane Scott started a feature called Pleasantly Disturbed Thursday, and invited us to be pleasantly disturbed with him. It was a random kind of blog post, talking about what you were up to, interesting or dull things going on in your life, the kinds of things that create a pleasant disturbance. It went on for quite a while, and then trickled off.

I was actually encouraged to see that Duane was reviving it as Pleasantly Disturbed Friday, and I think the first one was last week. The next one is Sept. 2. I’m pleasantly disturbed enough to go out of cycle, being a week late or a week early. Or both.

I’m going to be doing one of those Teaching Company courses, this one on “Classics of British Literature.” It’s 48 lectures, by a professor who teaches at CalTech and the University of London. You could buy the CDs or the DVDs, and I opted for the CDs, to listen while I drive to and from work.

Several years ago, I got really hooked on these courses. When I was doing my independent consulting thing, I had one client about 40 miles south of St. Louis, and another one about a four-hour drive away, up in north central Missouri almost on the Iowa border. So going to and from these clients, I would listen to lectures on the history of Rome, the history of Greece and all kinds of other history and literature courses.

Sitting on my nightstand right now: Longing for Home by Frederick Buechner; the Book of Common Prayer; the new issue Poetry Magazine; Poiema: Poems by D.S. Martin; and my Kindle. What will likely be opened and read before I go to sleep tonight: the Buechner book and the Book of Common Prayer.
I’ve actually finished reading Poiema, but I’m going back and rereading some of the poems. They are good. It’s poetry with a strong religious or spiritual theme.

Last magazine I read: the new issue of Writer’s Digest.

Next magazine I’ll read: Poets & Writers.

I’m enjoying my Kindle. I’ve now read six books on it – a couple of suspense mysteries, two poetry collections, and two books on writing (one of which was Luci Shaw’s Breath for the Bones.) I like the Kindle – I like it a lot.

I just finished a big book. No, a humongous book – 650 pages. It’s called The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg. It was published two years ago in Sweden and became a surprise best-seller. And it’s nothing like those Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books. It’s about the Holocaust and based on real people in the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland during World War II. The author did a phenomenal amount of research, and the depth of the story shows it. My review will be posted next Tuesday.

Our youngest son spent the night with us Tuesday, on his way south. He’s transferring from Kansas City to Florida, and he’s all excited about it. And yes, we’re going through all the usual things parents go through when their adult children move away. I keep reminding myself that our oldest moved to Phoenix for a few years, got married, and came back to St. Louis in time to provide our first grandchild.

And speaking of Cameron (notice the clever transition), he’s getting big. He likes to dance with his grandmother, build Legos with his grandfather (and his grandfather loves Legos), and eat peaches and bananas. When the youngest was here Tuesday, we all went out to dinner, so I got a Cameron fix. Here’s a recent photo.

Photograph of Cameron Young by Stephanie Young, used because Cameron said I could.

Photograph of Pleasantly Disturbed swiped from Duane Scott’s blog, Scribing the Journey.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Developing a passion

It had been several years since I read Frederick Buechner, the novelist, essayist, minister and theologian. And then I was in a bookstore, and saw The Longing for Home. Since it was published in 1996, and I’m looking at an unused copy in 2011, I’m not sure what it was doing on the shelf, except, perhaps, waiting for me.

I didn’t read it right away, so it had to wait a bit more. And then, earlier this week I pulled it from my bookshelf and started reading.

It’s part memoir, part essay collection, part poetry (I didn’t know he wrote poetry) and part speculation. He begins talking about houses, for it is often houses that we think of when someone asks about home. And he says that the older he gets (he just turned 85 last month, so this was written when he was 70), the more he thinks about home, the more he thinks about the people who inhabited his childhood, and the more defined his memories of childhood become.

He understands what’s happening, of course. The older one gets, the more one considers eternal things, and that the home of our childhood (assuming it was happy) and the memories associated with it (assuming they were good) become a representation of our eternal home, and that is what we are truly longing for.

Not too long ago, my wife asked me if I found myself thinking more about my hometown of New Orleans, and, surprised since I hadn’t said anything about it, I nodded. “”I could tell,” she said.

The New Orleans I grew up in is quite a bit different from what the typical tourist sees. I lived in a suburb, and it looked as American as any place else. There were stretches of woods with paths well worn by the neighborhood kids. And kids ruled – this was the era when the Baby Boom became obvious; Halloween in my neighborhood went on for hours, with hundreds and hundreds of children running door to door.

I’m thinking more about home, and my childhood, and my parents, especially my father.

In addition to this thinking about home, I’m developing an interest, a growing interest, in literature, the literature I was introduced to in high school and college. The poetry I’ve been reading is part of this interest. Sitting on the shelf above my computer as I type this are several books waiting to be read:  The Selected Poems of Robert Penn Warren, The Poetry of Robert Frost, A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman, Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a novel by Carlos Fuentes and two by Dickens – all waiting to be read.

And lately, I’ve been reading the Book of Common Prayer, a reprint of the 1928 edition.

And I know what I’m doing, and I know what this interest is, and what I’m developing a passion for.
And it’s language and literature and the beauty of it all when it’s beautiful and the ugliness when it’s not.

Over at Faith Barista today, Bonnie Gray is hosting a blog carnival on a passion or interest you want to go. Please visit to see the other posts that are linked.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

D.S. Martin's "So the Moon Would Not Be Swallowed"

The history of the China Inland Mission has been told in official histories, biographies, thousands of newspaper and magazine article, novels and in poetry. In So the Moon Would Not Be Swallowed, Canadian author and poet D.S. Martin has assembled 16 poems that tell the story of his grandparents, who served as missionaries with the China Inland Mission from 1923 to 1949.

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

No, not that! Anything but that! (Theology)

Some 37 years ago, my wife and I moved to Houston. We lived there for almost five years, and belonged to two churches during that time. The first church was actually recommended to me by a football player for the Miami Dolphins. We sat next to each other on an airline flight to Indianapolis (big guy, his tie had dolphins on it, and he wore this ring which said SUPER BOWL, so I thought, “I wonder if he’s a football player?”). He was a fan of the head minister at a church in Houston, a big church, with some 12,000 members, and this was before anyone had heard the term “mega-church.” It was part of a big national denomination.

The minister was an excellent preacher. We joined the church, and then went looking for a Sunday School class. We found a young marrieds class, which had about five other couples. That should have told us something right there – a 12,000-member church and only five couples in a young marrieds class?

We really liked the class and the people in it. But after several months, we began to see that the teacher had some unusual ideas. I’d been a Christian for all of a year, but even I could figure out that something was odd about a church teacher questioning the authorship of the Bible and how some of the stories probably got stuck in there long after the Bible was written. That was for starters. We’d ask questions, and get looks like we were aliens. Which we likely were.

I went to a bookstore, found the denomination’s latest doctrinal statement, and knew we had a problem. We were aliens in that church; the teacher was teaching the church’s theology. We eventually heard about another church, a non-denominational church not terribly far from where we lived, and we visited and found our home.

Then we moved to St. Louis. We were confident that we could find a church something like ours in Houston. And – we were wrong. We looked and visited and looked and visited. One church we almost joined made a big deal about the consumption of alcohol – and you had to sign a statement that you wouldn’t drink. We said no. (We learned later that virtually everyone in the church ignored the requirement, including the elders.) We finally landed at a church that was part of a small denomination, but after we joined we heard all this talk about the heresy connected to the Armenians. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why the teachings of a small area of the Soviet Union near Turkey was so feared (yes, I was that na├»ve about theology).

Someone finally took pity on my ignorance and explained that it was actually “Arminianism,” the doctrine originating with Jacob Arminius, and that it was diametrically opposed to the true teaching of Calvinism, or what people fondly referred to as “the tulip.” Arminians were doctrinally wrong, frowned upon, and often ridiculed. We then realized that “Arminians” included the church we’d attended and loved in Houston. (For the record, no one at our Houston church ridiculed or even talked about the tulip, which we had previously understood to be a flower.)

The issue for us wasn’t the theology; it was more the lack of love. And we thought people were crazy to think they were fighting the Reformation all over again.

Since then, we’ve migrated a few times, learned more about theology, and understand why it’s important. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains it as simply and succinctly as I’ve ever heard it: “Theology is like a map…Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God…And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map.”

That makes sense. If you don’t know how to get where you’re going, a map is a necessity.

We've been discussing Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter. To see more posts in the discussion, please visit Sarah's site, Living Between the Lines. The links can be found in the comment section.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Time of lengthening shadows,
shadows encasing memory
of the day, day is done,
done is the day’s work, work
arrives at its appointed end,
end of the day brings
the beginning of rest,
rest in the solitude of prayer,
prayer before approaching
the table to eat, eat the words
offered upward, upward moves
the heart and spirit, spirit
arrives at the destined time,
time of lengthening shadows.

This poem is submitted for Open Mike Night at dVerse Poets. To see more poems, please visit dVerse Poets. The links will be live at 2 p.m. Central time today.

Photograph: Church Silhouette by Vera Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What we see in childhood

Little black notebook is waiting her prayer,
murmured and spoken her Saviour to hear;
words penned to page with the ladies to share,
the gospels, the psalms that she held so dear.

Her mother took boarders, two bits a night.
Young man saw motion with such airy grace,
her voice full of song and laughter and light.
He met with her mother, argued his case.

She bore him five children, including a son;
He sheltered and loved her his whole life long.
Puzzled  that he thought of her as the one,
She nonetheless loved him; he was her song.

       Now in her winter, I sit by her feet,
       watching her write in her notebook so neat.

This poem (a sonnet!) is submitted to the One Word Blog Carnival on “childhood,” hosted by Peter Pollock. To see other poems, please visit Peter’s site. The links will be live at 10 p.m. Central time.

This poem is also submitted to TweetSpeak Poetry’s prompt to write a sonnet based on personal history. My poem is about my paternal grandparents. If you’re on Facebook, you can see the prompt at the T.S. Press page. If you want to get really involved, you can check the photo play prompt from a recent High Calling post, which includes photography and a sonnet (I’m photography-impaired, so I just did a poem).

The Quiet Listener

 Thirty years ago, I was a 20-something speechwriter for a large manufacturing company, and part of a three-person speechwriting team. One day, the vice president of our staff function called me to his office to talk about me writing speeches for his boss.

In the middle of our conversation, the CEO barged into the office and started screaming at the VP. Who didn’t say a word but quickly took up his pen to take notes as the CEO’s tirade continued. The CEO didn’t know me, even though I wrote speeches for him. He didn’t even glance at me. And I thought to myself, what if I had been a job candidate, or a reporter?

The screaming stopped; the CEO left. And then the VP resumed our conversation exactly where we had stopped, as if nothing had happened. I was so shook my hands were trembling.

That’s one kind of quiet listener – the executive who works for a screaming CEO. Luci Shaw, in Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit, writes about another kind, in the context of talking about poetry: “…poetry enriches; it forces us to take time, slow down, and reflect what might otherwise escape our notice. It helps us to view life metaphorically instead of in terms of mere fact or information. Poetry helps us to become whole-brain people, teaching us to be thoughtful and creative in many areas of our lives. Most books that Christians read don’t push them in this direction, where they can be quiet listeners. We’re often pushed by the books we read toward busy-ness, efficiency and self-ism. Poetry can counter that. It opens up the windows to the whole universe, takes our eyes off ourselves, and often helps us to focus on Creator and creation.”

Substitute the words “business people” for “Christians,” in that paragraph, and it would be just as true. If you want to see how the business world usually defines career success, you’re going to be hard put to find the words “quiet listener” as Shaw describes it. “Listening skills” are often considered critically important for managing people, but they tend to be narrowly defined, as in understanding what a subordinate is concerned about or how to help a team function better. It’s about efficiency and effectiveness.

Business has never been known for promoting quiet people, no matter how good they are. No, we want hard-driving, results-oriented, shareowner-value focused A-type personalities who can “get the job done.”

What Shaw is describing is on a different plane altogether. A quiet listener thinks with both sides of his or her brain, in an integrated, big-picture kind of way. But in management reviews, they’re going to be overlooked or considered “not aggressive enough.”

Sometimes these quiet listeners are the prophets, the ones (to quote Shaw quoting Flannery O’Connor) who not only see clearly but also see what’s distant and often hidden. And if quiet listeners are at a career disadvantage in business, you can imagine what can happen to prophets, especially when they’re right.

Quiet listeners and prophets are needed in the business world. Somehow we have to get over this combined disdain and fear we have of them (and the fear is the fear that they may be right). Otherwise, the workplace can become a very nasty, toxic kind of place.

This is the last of our High calling discussions of Luci Shaw’s Breath for the Bones. I started this discussion weeks ago making the claim that what she says is as applicable to business as it is to art and writing and music. Now that  I’ve finished the book, I’m more convinced than ever. Instead of Who Moved My Cheese? or The 7-Minute Manager, we might do much better with Breath for the Bones.

To see more posts on the last two chapters of the book, “The Shadow Side of Creativity” and “Tracing the Creative Process of Poets and Poems,” please visit The High Calling.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Laity Lodge Writer's Retreat

A year ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Laity Lodge Writer’s Retreat, located at the lodge’s property some two hours west of San Antonio in the Texas hill country. I had four workshops from which to choose, and I opted for the poetry workshop taught by poet (and professor at the University of Missouri) Scott Cairns.

It was an extraordinary experience for me. I wrote a total of three blog posts, one about the first day, one about the overnight assignment and one that was a summary and thank you to my fellow workshop participants.

In addition to the workshops, there are general worship, meeting and live entertainment sessions for all retreat participants, and plenty of time for swimming and hiking, which I took full advantage of. The photo above was taken at the summit of the Overlook Trail, about a 40-minute hike from the lodge compound.

And then there was the food. Oh, my goodness, there was the food. The food was the reason why I did as much hiking as I did. I had to.

This year, the writer’s retreat is being held Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 (Thursday through Sunday). Five workshops are scheduled: Me, Myself and God: Spiritual Writing and Memoir in the Light of Faith, taught by Gregory Wolfe, writer-in-residence at Seattle Pacific University; Parable and Play: How to Write Stories Worth Reading More than Once, led by Jeffrey Overstreet, author and film critic; Gold from Straw: Poetry, taught by Julia Kasdorf, English professor and director of the Masters of Fine Arts program at Penn State University; Take and Think: Consuming Art in Order to Make Our Own, led by David Dark, author of Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons and Other Pop Culture Icons; and Songwriting, led by professional songwriters Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn.

If you’re looking for a writers’ retreat that will stimulate, encourage and inspire, this is it. More information on fees, location and retreat and workshop specifics can be found at the Laity Lodge web site.

All I can say for myself is, it changed both my writing and my life.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The geology of Auvers

Layers of stone
textures of time
rest heavily upon the artist,
the brother, the painter
the agent, supporting
                the brother, the painter
the wheat field behind
                (in three dimensions)
perhaps above
                (in two dimensions)
thickly laid strokes
                of photographic paint
but without crows
                this time, all time

This poem is submitted for the Poetics prompt of "texture" by dVerse Poets. To see more poems, please visit dVerse Poets.

Photograph: Gravesite of Vincent and Thos Van Gogh, Auvers-sur-Oise, France.

Painting: Wheat field with Crows (1890), Vincent Van Gogh, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. The painting was finished a few weeks before Vincent Van Gogh’s death. His brother, Theo, died six months later. There is a wheat field behind the wall shown in the photograph.

Saturday Good Reads

It was a busy week for good stuff online: an anniversary for the King James Bible, reflections on the London riots, famine in Africa, a poem about a nymph, a graphic novel (which I’ve placed in Short Stories), a video about a mission accomplished, and so much more.


Four Centuries of Love and Suffering for the Word” by Barrymore Laurence Scherer for the Wall Street Journal.

The Allure of Contrast” by Diane Walker at Contemplative Photography.

The Summer of Our Content” by American Digest.

Jack Clemo: Poet of the Clay” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

When the Compass Tilts” by L.L.Barkat at Seedlings in Stone.

Monday Muse on the ‘One Hundred’ Poems” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

The Way School Used to Be” and I Left the Church Behindby Matt Appling at The Church of No People.

A Drive through America” by Tim Challies at Informing the Reformed.

He Has the Right” by Jason Vana.

"Nighttime Prayers" by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

"What I Would Still Say" by Jeanne Damoff at The View From Here.

"Heart Is Where the Home Is" by Jennifer Dukes-Lee ay Getting Down With Jesus.

"Thrift Store Trophy Case" by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

"Why Are There Not More Riots?" by Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds.

"A Loss of Principles" by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

"There is a famine" by Duane Scott.

"Praying for Bad News" by Fatha Frank at Public Christianity.

"Boundaries Not Walls" by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.


What a Party!” by Michael Dodaro at Lyric Arts Forum.

A Naked Eye Turned Inward” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

"When these hands ripen" by Claire Burge.

"Sunday Poem: Grace" by Heather Truett at Madame Rubies.

"Nymph loved in youth" by B.K. McKenzie at Signed...BKM."

"You Left" by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy. 

"Haunted House" by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

"By These You Know Me" by Rob Kistner at Image and Verse. 

Paintings and Photographs

Hum, Hum, Humming” and “God Moments with G-Ma and Grace: Monday” by Sandra Heska King.

Good morning” by J of India at Neither Use Nor Ornament.

Lonely House (Iceland)” by Marcusuke (via Andrew Piper).

In the dark” by Nancy Rosberg at A Little Somethin’.

"Light in the Forest," watermedia on Yupo by Randall David Tipton.

"Big Sky" by Steve Gravano at Take a Look Around.

"PhotoDiary: August 17, 2011" by Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.

"Abbey Road Riot" by Whole of the Internet via Andrew Piper.

Short Stories

"Portfolio on Demand" by Sara Barkat via Green Inventions Central.

Videos and Podcasts

Mission Accomplished” by Greg Sullivan (and son) at Sippican Cottage.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” poem by Wallace Stevens read by Spoken Verse.

La Belle Dames Sans Merci” by John Keats, read by Jasper Britton at Poetic Touch.

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