Friday, September 30, 2011

Athol Dickson"s "The Opposite of Art"

A rather callous and selfish painter, Sheridan Ridler is known for using and abusing people. He finds himself falling off a bridge into the Hudson River, and he dies, or at least seems to die. But there in the river he sees something, something marvelous, some kind of glory. Waking up from what seems the dead, he knows he has to paint what he’s seen, and nothing else matters.

He begins a journey, a journey that stretches from a hippie commune in the Catskills and a Buddhist enclave in the Far East to Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Rome and New Mexico.

Ridler’s unscrupulous agent (who knows his paintings are worth more with Ridler dead than alive) eventually has the artist declared legally dead. He tries to make a move on Ridler’s pregnant girlfriend, but she leaves New York and establishes her own life in California.

Decades pass. And then all of these separations begin to circle within one another. New paintings begin to show up, offered as kinds of apologies. The agent begins to get nervous – the value of all the known Ridler paintings will collapse if he’s found alive and still painting. And so the decision is made – Ridler has to die, and in a sense, he has to die for his own art.

That is the structural framework of Athol Dickson’s latest novel, The Opposite of Art. He’s called it his best novel to date, and I won’t argue with him except to say all of his novels are good novels, from “River Rising” to last year’s “Lost Mission.”

I will say that this is an important novel, more important than I realized when I first started reading it. It is not “Christian fiction,” even though Dickson is a Christian and the novel is filled with a Christian understanding and sensibility.

Ridler embarks upon a spiritual journey, and it’s completely recognizable, because it’s the same journey we are all on and the journey that we, like Ridler, seem to completely misunderstand. He keeps seeking spiritual masters to lead him to the glory he has to paint, and he keeps finding them to have clay feet and unable to give him what he believes he desperately needs. Each new location, each new guide, leaves him at the same starting point and closer to despair and the conviction he will never find what he’s spent his life seeking.

The Opposite of Art is beyond what we think of as Christian fiction; it is a work of art, full of questions and answers that pose more questions. It is about art, all art, and the nature of art and what it means. It is about the hole in our soul we look everywhere to fill. And it’s a shockingly good story.


Christian Manifesto: The Beauty of Athol Dickson

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Early afternoon

He wears a white robe;
he sits, eyes closed,
lips moving. I don’t
disturb him but he
speaks my name aloud.

I sit in a dark room
bare of furnishings
except for my chair;
the walls are stucco,
cool white to touch. No
windows; a light
from another room
reflects softly
through a doorway.
I have the impression
that it’s early afternoon.
I speak his name aloud.

Over at Faith Barista, Bonnie Gray is hosting a blog carnival on faith. This week’s prompt is “finding my voice.” I’m not sure if I’ve found my voice or not, but this poem is what came to mind as I considered the prompt. To see more posts submitted, please visit Faith Barista.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Neither One nor the Other

At my company, there is a story told about a vice president of research and development who had been a rather unusual organizational leader. It wasn’t his warmth and enthusiasm at a time when business executives were known for wearing gray flannel suits, although he was certainly warm and certainly enthusiastic.

If he had drawn line at wandering around the R&D labs and blowing his trumpet, it might have been okay. But what did him in, ultimately, was choice of his office furniture. Since he said he did his best thinking in bed, he junked the executive desk and instead used a four-poster bed. For office meetings, visitors would sit by the side of his bed while he sat in the bed. And no, this wasn’t Silicon Valley. This was traditional Midwest, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It would still be considered bizarre today.

This executive was both what C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity calls an Individualist and a Totalitarian. On the one hand, he tended to zig when the rest of the organization would zag. And no one else blew a bugle at the people who worked for him or had a bed for a desk. But he also wanted his organization to think like he did – even of he was creative, innovative and fun, and he wanted everyone else to be just like him too.

Lewis says that Christians are to be neither. We are not supposed to be Totalitarians, and we are not supposed to be Individualists. “Christianity thinks of human individuals not as mere members of a group, but as organs in a body – different from one another and each contributing what no other could.

God never meant for us to be exactly alike. He made us with different skills, talents, attributes and abilities, but he never intended that we were to be the same. At the same time, contrary to American culture, he didn’t make us to be rugged individualists, either. We are not designed to all be Marlboro Men. Instead, he means us to be in community, also known as the church, and complementing each other as we go about his work.

Over the course of the past century, mankind has gotten itself in all kinds of trouble as it veered from one extreme to the other. So do individual people. We show no signs of letting up, either.

But as for us, the church, for us it’s supposed to be a different matter altogether.

We’ve been discussing Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, led by Jason Stayszsen and Sarah Salter. To see more posts on this week’s chapter, “Two Notes,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact for the links.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A field shines

A field shines emerald green
with flecks of yellow and
white, white caps on waves,
waves of green swaying
in silence in the wind,
wind circulating a slight
warmth, warmth touching
the tops of green, green
beads of perspiration
forming on leaves, leaves
reflecting the moist shine
of the field.

This poem is submitted for Open Link 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: Yorkshire Dales Countryside by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.
A field shines by Glynn2

Monday, September 26, 2011


For most of my adult life, I’ve worked for large corporations. Right out of college I worked for a news paper for a time, and I worked for myself as a consultant (mostly for large companies) from 2000 to 2003. Then I spent nine months at St. Louis Public Schools, before returning to corporate life.

The corporate model of business organization has been changing for the last 30 years. The paternalistic, lifetime employment, mega-company that seemed to dominate for most of the 20th century is largely gone, replaced by (some would say) more realistic relationships between organizations, employees, customers and other stakeholders. Some would say that, and some forget that organizations mat change while organizational mindsets linger long after.

Corporations, like all other organizations – government, academia, the NGOs or “non-governmental organizations, churches – have mindsets. People often refer to organizational culture, but it’s less cultural, I think, and more of a mindset. Mindsets can be good things – accomplishing and creating and achieving and making money, and that it what corporations are supposed to do, make money. Mindsets can also be bad things, followed so rigidly that they can take organizations right over the cliff.

The thing about mindsets – good and bad – is that they tend to be focused and relentless. They can be like the proverbial steamroller, no matter how much uncertainty and counter-information is available.

This focus – including the exclusion of ideas, issues and events that might suggest that an alternative way or means or process might be preferable – is related to what author Ellen Langer calls “mindlessness” in her book Mindfulness, which we’re discussing at The High Calling. Mindlessness doesn’t mean idiocy; it means doing things because this is the way you’ve always done them – the things you do without thinking once, much less twice – regardless of the realities confronting you. (Think of a corollary practiced almost religiously by certain governments: “Since we’re technically bankrupt, let’s keep spending money.”)

Mindlessness in any organizational setting can be destructive. As the mindset keeps crashing against change, new facts, news issues and new problems that it can’t resolve, the choice becomes either change or construct ever more complex fictions to maintain the mindset.

I’ve seen both choices made. I’ve even seen both choices being made at the same time. There have been times when I’ve been part of the mindset, and (more typically for me) times when I’ve said there’s a different reality we have to face, we don’t control what affects us, we don’t control what affects our business and we have to think and act differently.

Sometimes the organization has listened; sometimes the organization has no choice but to listen. And sometimes the organization doesn’t listen, and behaves very typically when the change or issue or event happens as predicted.

They shot the messenger.

I’ve taken my share of bullets over the years. I’ve also had the opportunity to be part of the change. I’ve learned that both kinds of experiences are, unfortunately, necessary, to understand why people and organizations behave the way they do. The home mortgage disaster is an example of  how mindlessness at all levels and across the economic spectrum – government, individuals, banks, brokerages – led to disaster.

Often the message has to be one the organization doesn’t want to hear: “We have to make ourselves vulnerable. We have to admit we don’t have all the answers. We have to respond to what people are concerned about, even if the science says the concerns are baseless.”

It is not an easy thing to convince an organization. It’s easier to ride the mindlessness flow. But truth still must be told and acted upon.

To see more posts on Ellen Langer’s book Mindfulness, please visit The High Calling. Laura Boggess is leading the discussion, and this week we’re looking at the first three chapters.

A Covenant of Water

Begins as a presence, a hovering
over the waters, a breaking open
of the deep, it becomes a promise
ratified by a rainbow of remembrance
set in the sky’s white vapors,
a remembrance not to the mist
that rises for a time above the lake,
nor the wisps of mists,
but a remembrance to the presence,
to the hovering, of what
it has promised, a covenant
of water everlasting.

This poem is submitted to the Warrior Poet Circle, hosted by Jason Stasyszen. To see more poems prompted by the word “covenant,” please visit Connecting to Impact.

Photograph: Sundog by Petr Kratockvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.
A covenant of water by Glynn2

Saturday, September 24, 2011

At work each day

I arrive at work each day,
parking my car each day,
thinking my way through
what it is I have to do,
when I arrive at work each day.

I turn the computer on each day,
opening the new email each day,
auto-deleting the spam
erasing flim-flam,
when I turn the computer on each day.

And then it’s crisis, issue, attack,
forward this, respond to that,
attend meetings that multiply
like rabbits, solve a problem,
solve a colleague’s problem,
grit my teeth with the colleague
who is the problem, dissuade
second-guessers, write, attend
another meeting, write more,
tweet three trade press links and
respond to follow requests, exchange
DMs with a reporter, sit
in a presentation, scarf down lunch
while posting to Facebook, take
two phone calls and let three go
to voice-mail (delaying the inevitable),
write more, post to the corporate blog,
discuss two issues with two people, get
a surprise visit from an old colleague,
write and draft plans and plan out
tomorrow and it’s 5 p.m.

I turn the computer off each day,
I walk to the parking lot each day,
I think how much of tomorrow
did today I borrow,
And I drive away from work each day.

This poem is submitted for the Poetics prompt of “Play It Again, Sam: Repetititon in Poetry” at dVerse Poets. To see more poems submitted, please visit the site.

Photograph: Architectural Background by Vera Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday Good Reads

Author Athol Dickson talks about why he writes magic realism (and he does; I’m reading his latest novel The Opposite of Art right now). Kathy Richards comes to the defense of a fellow Texan. How about a nice day for a white? Or taking a poem and pitching it into something called Prezi? Then there’s the last glimpse of summer, through the camera’s lens. And a mix of Beatle songs that made me nostalgic for my last year of high school. All that, and a whole lot more.


Choose Joy.” Jessica Turner at The Mom Creative is hosting a link-up for Sara, who is in the last stages of a fatal disease. More than 100 posts have been linked.

Why I Write Magical Realism” by Athol Dickson for Rachelle Gardner.

The Creative Arts” by Leland Ryken for Summit Ministries. Justin Taylor has a summary version, “Seeing the Implied Assertions in Art,” at Gospel Coalition.

Hidden Treasures” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

In defense of a fellow Texan” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

Hooray for Shaun King!” by Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk.

Quilts” by Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’.

Praise Creates the World” by L.L. Barkat at Love Notes to Yahweh.

Hey Mister, Go Mister, Soul Mister, Go Mister” by Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage.

My quilt of friends” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Consider it Pure Joy” by Jason Vana.

Art from the Inside” by David Griffith for Image Journal.

Fog” by Corinne Cunningham at Trains, Tutus and Tea Time.

Mood Board: The Light Hydrangea” by Kelly Sauer.


Dead Pier” by M.J. Duggan.

Moth vs. Man” by Tim Good at Photography of Tiwago.

The Caryatids’ Last Stand” by Geoff Pope.

Acheron” by Matt Quinn at Poemblaze.

Mary Karr” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Cloud Cover” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper. 

"Nice Day for a White Wedding" by Claudia Schoenfeld at Jaywalking the Moon. 

"If You Read This" by Brendan MacOdrum at Oran's Well. 

"The Wine Cellar" by Ed Pilolla. 

"Vocation: A Prezi Poem" by Marcus Goodyear at Good Word Editing. 

"Vitality Still" by David Wheeler at Dave Writes Right. 

"Traffic Jam" by Milton Brasher-Cunningham at Don't Eat Alone. 

"Questions They Don't Answer" by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

Paintings and Photographs

Deep Forest Shallow Pool,” mixed watermedia on Yupo by Randall David Tipton at Painter’s Process.

Stand Still and See” by Sandra Heska King.

It the Fort That Counts” by J of India at Neither Use Nor Ornament.

Flying Solo” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Easily Overlooked Wonders” and “Memories of Summer’s Last Day” by Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.

Video and Podcasts

A mix of three Beatles songs” with clips that will take you back down Penny Lane (or Abbey Road).

An interview with Larry Woiwide” by John Wilson of Books & Culture, via Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds.

Woman Untitled” by Maxronanldo for YoutTube.

Photograph: Doallas Collage by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Rilke on Christmas

I read Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) this past weekend, a new translation by Mark Harmon published in April. The small volume, celebrated over the decades for its statements about the importance of art, is a series of 10 letters written from 1903 to 1908 by Rilke to Franz Kappus, who was a young poet (19) in an Austrian military school who hated it as much as Rilke did when his father placed him in one at a young age.

Not having read them before, I was surprised to find they were about far more than poetry. One of them, dated December 23, 1903, included an admonition from Rilke to Kappus about celebrating Christmas, after first chiding him for his inability his claimed loss of faith, when Kappus may never have possessed God in the first place. Here’s what Rilke says:

“Is there anything that can take from you the hope of being one day in Him, at the farthest, the outermost?

“Celebrate Christmas, dear Mr. Kappus, with this devout feeling that it is precisely this fear of life that He needs from you in order to begin; these very days of your transition are perhaps the time when everything in you works upon Him, just as once before in childhood you worked breathlessly on Him. Be patient and without displeasure, and think that the least we can do is not make His becoming any more difficult for Him than the earth makes it for the spring when it chooses to come.

“And be cheerful and confident.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Those Coloring Books

When I was in elementary school, roughly spanning second through fourth grades, each child received a monthly coloring book, printed in black and white, with a theme for the particular month. So October would be fall, November was Thanksgiving, December was Christmas, and so on. Each page had a different scene or object, and periodically throughout the month, the class would color a page or two, and when finished, take the coloring book home.

My mother kept every one of them, and consequently they now sit in a box in our basement, along with old report cards, drawings and artwork I did, all the things my mother decided were “keepers.”

These seasonal coloring books were clearly designed for classrooms in colder climes, likely the Midwest and Northeast. Why did I know that? Because the October issue always had fall as its theme, and we didn’t have fall in New Orleans, although I had seen it once or twice while visiting relatives in Shreveport. The January and February issues were always about playing in the snow. And I do remember snow in New Orleans – twice, in fact, once when I was 7 and the second time when I was 12. (I also remember my father scooping up snow from outside and making something he had enjoyed as a child – snow ice cream.) But the snow in those coloring books was about mounds of the stuff, not the paltry snowfalls we had in New Orleans.

The trees in those coloring books were different, too – pines and maples and things that shed leaves. I was more familiar with live oaks, cypresses, mimosas and palm trees.

We didn’t have a sharply defined fall. It wasn’t the stereotyped joke about New Orleans weather – that the city had three seasons: summer, July and August. But out seasons were less distinct. The heat of summer gradually lessened in September and October (October can be a glorious month in New Orleans), and you might even be wearing a jacket or light sweater in November.

Those coloring books, though – there was sometimes a sense that you were missing something. Sledding. Ice-skating. Skiing. Snowball fights. Building snowmen. Wild swaths of golden and red trees. (Raking leaves wasn’t something anyone would miss.) And tulips in the spring – every April coloring book had tulips, and it is a flower that didn’t – couldn’t – grow in New Orleans.

Living for the last 32 years in the Midwest, I’ve seen more than my fair share of snow, not to mention leaves that needed raking. But Fall is still my favorite time of the year. I think it’s because I’ve always associated it with beginnings – like the beginning of school (or the beginning of school and the football season in college).

Every season, including Fall, is a season of faith. In one sense, it’s a season that lasts all year long. In another sense, the season of faith goes through its own changes and growth. These days, I find myself thinking about those coloring books from childhood, and how, in a way, they did what faith does: always there, always changing, something you had to work at, something that was a reminder of something that might be better and more complete one day.

Over at Faith Barista, Bonnie Gray is hosting a blog carnival on the journey of faith as you enter the fall season. To see more posts, please visit Faith Barista.

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Science of Faith

Mark Jarman, the Centennial Professor of English at Vanderbilt, does something both very contemporary and (for Christians) very unusual in his Epistles: Poems: he uses science and the terms and concepts of science to explore and describe faith. The volume is a collection of 30 previously published prose poems, in such literary publications as The American Poetry Review, Crazyhorse, The Hudson Review, Image and The Yale Review. The poems are numbered for this collection.

To read the rest of my post, please visit The Master's Artist.

What He Did

For some time, we’ve been moving deeper and deeper into Christian theology with Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. In the last section of the book, Lewis is undertaking to describe complex theological teachings and tenets in simple, easy-to-understand terms and pictures.

This chapter, “The Obstinate Toy Soldiers,” is about the dual nature of Christ – human and divine. And Lewis speaks in words and terms that are as profound as they are simple,

The result of God becoming man (and not just man but a baby man) “was that you now had one man who really was what all men were intended to be: one man in whom the created life, derived from His mother, allowed itself to be completely and perfectly turned into the begotten life. The natural human creature in Him was taken up fully into the divine Son. This is one instance humanity had, so to speak, arrived: had passed into the life of Christ.

“And because the whole difficulty for us is that the natural life has to be, in a sense, ‘killed,’ He chose an earthly career which involved the killing of His human desires at every turn – poverty, misunderstanding from His own family, betrayal by one of His intimate friends, being jeered at and manhandled by the police, and execution by torture. And then, after being thus killed – killed every day in a sense – the human creature in Him, because it was united to the divine Son, came to life again. The Man in Christ rose again: not only the god. That is the whole point. For the first time we saw a real man.”

Lewis draws a picture here of what it took his disciples a long time to see and understand – and every day Jesus “died” to his human desires, to be a living teaching for us. This is what it means to deny self. This is what is means to “take up the cross.” It doesn’t mean that we have to be physically crucified on a cross. It means that each day we learn to deny ourselves – not for the sake of some ascetic purification and that we become more “spiritually aware” – but for the sake of others, just like He did.

That’s the most difficult lesson for us to learn, and we have to keep relearning it all of our lives. It’s not about us. It’s about what He did and why He did it.

And in that learning, we don’t see our individual personalities destroyed. We see them become what they were originally meant to be.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. To see more posts on this chapter, please visit Jason’s site, Connecting to Impact, and Sarah’s site, Living Between the Lines.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Brendan MacOdrum's "If You Read This"

Each Saturday, I have a post called Saturday Good Reads, a collection of posts, poems, photos and videos that I've run across during the week that I think are so good that I want to share them with others. I can't recall a time when I called out something during the week, or at least called out something with a separate blog post.

I just read a poem entitled "If You Read This," by Brendan MacOdrum at Oran's Well. It is a long poem, and no one writes long poems any more, that is, if they want them to be read.

I read this long poem. I read it straight through to the end, and then I read it again.

This is part of what I said in my comment:

"I read this and I think of Whitman. I’ve thought of Whitman all the way through. He wrote a song, too; called it that, in fact. He sang about himself and ended up singing about America. You wrote a song and ended up singing about far more than yourself. Whether intended or not, you’re singing about all of us.

"It’s rare when I’m moved enough to read something and think 'profound.' This is one of those rare times."

People often say today that no one will listen to a long speech, read a long book, or read a long poem. People say our attention spans have dramatically shortened, and we're only capable of sound-bite speech and sound-bite thinking.

I read "If You Read This," and I know people are wrong.

Priestly's Lament

Atoms and molecules of oxygen
breathe life as they pick and stab,
chip and separate, corrode, a fleck
here, an abrasion there; the surface
disintegrating by acidic destruction
and natural disfigurement.

Words and phrases of a poem flow
across stone and metal, a gradual
erosion and wearing down of sharp
edges, leveling rock, pockmarking
steel and iron to create beauty because
they give life as they destroy.

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

It is also submitted for the poetry and rust prompt at The High Calling.

Joseph Priestly was an 18th century theologian, clergyman and natural philosopher who is generally credited with the discovery of oxygen. According to Wikipedia, his scientific reputation during his life rested on his invention of soda water, his writings on electricity and his discovery of several “airs” or gases, the most famous one of which he named “dephlogisticated air,” which came to be called oxygen.

Photograph: Mesh Oxidized by Teodoro S. Gruhl via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.