Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Is Work a Four-Letter Word?

A dysfunctional workplace drama can only end badly, and that’s exactly what happened.
Somehow, the people working for my boss had become a threat. Our work would have made any boss proud – innovative, game-changing, with glowing results. The problem was that it challenged the status quo within the larger organization.

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

Photograph: Office word cloud by Vera Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday morning worship

Sun penetrates a pane of glass

A stray ray of sun slips through
a pane of glass, spilling colors
on a blank wall. The spill reaches
white stone columns painting
decorations of green, yellow, red.

The colors dance among themselves

The ray recedes, fades; the wall
once again embraces blankness,
the colors trickling away,
absorbed on the dark floor.

A pane of glass refracts the sun

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

Photograph: Stained glass sunlight on tiled floor, near to St. Clement, Cornwall, by Camilla Comeau for  Geograph UK, via Wikipedia. Used with permission under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ah, Consultants

In the three chapters of The Social Animal by David Brooks we’re discussing this week at The High Calling, the fictional character Erica we’ve been following graduates from college and decides to join a consulting firm. After a few years, and learning the highs and lows of consulting, she strikes out on her own and becomes an independent consultant.

Ah, consultants.

In the course of my career, I have worked with many “outside consultants.”  I’ve worked with virtually every big-name consulting there is. I have worked with numerous consultants no one has ever heard of. I have been an outside consultant myself.

I’ve worked with good consultants and consultants who had far too many degrees to be of any use to anyone. I have ridden the waves of virtually every business fad known in the past 30 years. I have heard consultants offering expert opinions that were as vacuous as the nodding heads of the clients hearing the opinions. I’ve experienced consultants instructing a roomful of 300 highly paid executives how to build Legos together while sitting on the floor. And I’ve experienced consultants miraculously breaking through a corporate culture that needed to be broken.

As a consultant myself, I once spoke to a group of company executives who were keen to change their corporate web site, and had been arguing for months how to have the best web site in the industry. I wowed them – I am not making this up – by showing them print-outs of what their competitors were doing. No one had thought to look.

In general, outside consultants were viewed by organizational insiders as the enemy, an enemy whose primary purpose was to destroy jobs. Consultants didn’t help their cause when they arrived with attitudes. Senior management rarely saw the attitudes, because few senior managers worked with consultants. Communications people, like myself, worked with them all the time. Consultants knew, often better than executives, that communications was critical to any effort to change an organization.

One of the best experiences I had with an outside consultant was when St. Louis Public Schools hired a management firm to run the district and do what elected Board members were unable to do politically themselves – close schools, eliminate jobs, outsource everything not related to education. It was a district that at its height had more than 100,000 students. But that was four decades earlier; the number of students was below 40,000 and continuing to decline. The problem was a school district that had an administration and infrastructure for 100,000 students, not 40,000.

A political war ensued. The consultant was given a year when it needed at least three, but it still made significant gains. But schools were closed, jobs cuts, benefits policies changed, contracts outsourced. Even more was needed. The communications function was the crossroads, and was often at the epicenter or every major (and daily) trauma. A few years later, the state of Missouri took over the district, and still runs the district today.

As described by Brooks, Erica’s experiences as a consultant and what she learns ring true. She goes out on her own, expecting to bring something of value to clients. But she finds that clients aren’t interested, and that, to survive and be successful, she will have to add some “wow factors” to what she knows and can do. She turns to behavioral economics, and it is there she will meet Harold, the other major fictional character in The Social Animal, whom we left in high school a few chapters back.

To read more posts on these chapters in The Social Animal, please visit The High Calling, where Laura Boggess is leading the discussion.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Scenes from a parade

Icon without candles

Small town parade, this is,
with its homemade floats
and balloons and flags and
fire trucks and marching bands
and smiling politicians except
this one is led by a silent woman,
red-eyed and tear-stained,
grasping a $6.99 K-mart
picture frame to her chest,
an icon created by a land mine.

Parade soldiers

They turn the downturn corner,
not sure what to expect and
then surprised smiling
at cheering thousands riding
a sea of waving flags.


They weren’t welcomed home
as heroes, were they, some spat
upon but most ignored, avoided.
Today they ride their choppers
in their current uniforms,
black jackets, blue jeans,
black boots, sunglasses,
bandanas instead of helmets, and
we cheer, remembering now
what we forgot then.

The left leg

He walks an ungainly stride,
lopsided slightly but barely
noticeable, a left leg of silver
metal replacing the one
buried in desert sand.
But he walks.

On Saturday, my oldest son and I attended the parade in downtown St. Louis to welcome home the troops returning from Iraq. Veterans and families of veterans marched north from Busch Stadium on Broadway, turned west at the Old Courthouse (scene of the Dred Scott case) in the shadow of the Gateway Arch, and along Market Street to Union Station. A month ago, two local men dreamed up the idea of welcoming area troops home, and the idea of the parade was born. It lasted more than an hour. 

Related: Iraqi War Parade: St. Louis Hosts First End-of-War Celebration by Huffington Post.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday Good Reads

A young violinist surprises Dave Brubeck at a concert in Moscow. Perry Block doesn’t want anyone in the grocery store to know he’s buying cream of wheat. A young family takes in two children their mother can’t care for. Erin Kilmer discovers the terrors of public toilets. John Blasé writes about red and black. An interesting shot of the “gerkhin” in London (aka City Hall). Lots of good stuff online this past week.

By the way, a few people have noticed this list is getting longer. There’s a reason: I’ve been tweeting for The High Calling, and I’m finding more good stuff.


This is what I do” by Travis Thrasher at The Journey is Everything.

My Advice to 20-Somethings” by Michael Perkins at The Handwritten.

Cream of Wheat Weather, Whether or Not” by Perry Block at Nouveau Old, Formerly Cute.

Impractical Magic” by Steve Parolini at Novel Doctor.

Putting Together the Pieces” by Charity Singleton at Wide Open Spaces.

In which I beg you to pray for us” by Emily Wierenga at Imperfect Prose.

The problem with ordinary gods” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

Being the me I want to be” and Marching bands and the other music in life” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

How to live well when life is wild” by Cassandra Frear at Moonboat Café.

Acts 2 is not a recipe for church” by Ryan Tate at The Compelling Parade.

Billy Coffey versus the vending machine” and “What a man looks like” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

A SLO Day: Spiritual Direction” and “A Grandfather Pastor? I Think So” by Diana Trautwein at Just Wondering.

The Terrors of Public Toilets” by Erin Kilmer at Together for Good.

Taekwondo on Sundays” By David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.


Ahead of the Storm” by Mick Parsons at Fictions from the Dead Machine.

Wind Drift,” “Snow Print” and Hall Light” by Jerry Barrett at Parenthetically Speaking in 3D.

Caveat” and “Red and black” by John Blase at The Beautiful Due.

The Kids Must Know Something” by Robert Lee Brewer at My Name is Not Bob.

If (by the Kipling dog)” by Chris Smith at Welsh Poet.

Sydney Lea” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

…resolves” by Monica Sharman at Know-Love-Obey God.

Grace Moves Slowly Around the Room” by Bradley Moore at And the Other Thing Is.

Increase/Decrease” by Linda Chontos at Linda’s Patchwork Quilt.

Because It Is My Heart” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

The last dispensation” by Steven Marty Grant at Urbanality

Paintings and Photographs

An Open and Shut Case” by J of India at Neither Use Nor Ornament.

London City Hall” by David Henderson at 19Sixty3.

Horizon” and “Rowena Weather-Watcher” by Timothy Good at Photography by Tiwago.

The Driver’s Perspective” and “Pinterest Pins” by Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’.

Blog post 24 – six photos” by Lambert.

Getting There” and “Blue Thursday” by Steve Gravano at Take a Look Around.

It Isn’t Pretty” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment. (And read the text, too.)

Short Stories

My Grandfather’s Ship” by Joshua Spotts at Spott’s Short Stories


Shakespeare: Original Pronunciation” by The Open University.

Dave Brubeck with young Russian violinist,” a surprise improve at the Moscow Conservatory

Photograph: Breadline, sculpture at the FDR Memorial, Washington, D.C., by Peter Griffin via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Chris Fabry's "Not in the Heart"

I’m a fan of Chris Fabry’s novels. I loved Dogwood (2009), and thoroughly enjoyed June Bug (2010) and Almost Heaven (2011). All three are set in Fabry’s home state of West Virginia (although June Bug is more based than set there), and all three reflect a common theme – that of redemption. Fabry is such a good writer that you can almost inhale the mountain air as you read.

His fourth novel, Not in the Heart, is a departure, at least in setting. The place is Florida, and mostly Tallahassee. Truman Wiley, a celebrated but currently unemployed broadcast journalist, is facing a major family crisis. His 18-year-old son Aidan is in the hospital, facing certain death without a heart transplant. A donor exists, but he’s on Florida’s death row, awaiting execution for the murder of a woman. The inmate, Terrelle Conley, has become a Christian in prison, and he wants to donate his heart.

Ellen Wiley, Truman’s wife, persuades him to write Terrelle’s story; the Conley family is providing $15,000 to support the effort. Truman is persuaded, and as he develops the story comes to understand that Conley may be innocent. If he is, then there’s no donor for Aidan.

Truman Wiley is an unusual hero, at least for a Fabry novel. For the first third of the novel, he’s thoroughly despicable. Unable to face his son’s medical problems, he’s abandoned the family. He’s addicted to gambling. He cares more for his cat than for his children. He’s estranged from his daughter. He’s on the run from bill collectors and a mob figure to whom he owes a lot of money, but true to his addiction, he promptly blows the $15,000 at a local casino. In fact, for most of the novel, the only attractive thing about him is his ability to work and to write.

Fabry has drawn the character of Truman Wiley so dark that at times the only thing that kept me reading the book was sympathy for the character of Aidan. That and the fact that Fabry is a fine writer. He’s described what gambling addiction can do, and it’s very difficult to feel any sympathy for the character. I had to keep asking myself the question, does this kind of addiction mean you avoid a teen-aged son on his death bed, a son who’s repeatedly asking for you? I don’t know the answer, but at times the character of the hero seemed too much. Perhaps my problem is that I haven’t personally known people with that kind of addiction, or with any kind of problem severe enough to keep them from a dying child.

What I did like is how Fabry overlays a tragic family story on the politics of prisoner executions. The governor needs a confession of guilt before he will move forward on the appeal for the heart donation. That the governor has announced his candidacy for the presidency becomes a politically complicating factor, and Fabry does a good job in showing how politics and personal ambition can affect the lives of so many people, including innocent people.

Not in the Heart is, like Fabry’s other novels, a story ultimately about redemption. It has the author’s signature “how on earth are you going to resolve that problem in the story?” conundrum, and it rings true. But it is a very hard story to read.

(Note: I was provided an e-galley of this book by the publisher’s agent for review purposes.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kathy Richards Reviews "Dancing Priest"

Kathy Richard, aka Katdish, aka she of the Katdishionary (not to mention all those Sky Mall posts) has posted a review of Dancing Priest at her blog. She says:

"It is a novel in the traditional sense, but it is so much more. It is a testimony of God’s grace and mercy weaved into the lives of its characters. It is a powerful reminder to live intentional lives for Jesus. That while there is loss, heartache and pain for every one of us, there is also great joy."

To read the review, please visit Katdish. And she's doing a giveaway!

Berry on Williams on Place

If there is a contemporary writer who has done much the same for the concept of “place” as William Faulkner, it is poet, novelist and essayist Wendell Berry, who has based the fictitious Port William on his particular region of Kentucky. Berry has gone far beyond Faulkner, however, is developing a body of literary, philosophical and economic work that is rooted in his concept of place.

Berry’s latest work is a collections of essays and reflections on another poet of place – The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford. Including “of Rutherford” in the title implies more than is seen at first glance – Berry sees Wiliams as the poet of Rutherford, his hometown in New Jersey where he lived and practiced as a doctor, but he also places that “Rutherford-ness” in a much larger context.

To continue reading, please see my post today at The Master's Artist.

Troubled by a Missionary

I taught an adult Sunday School class once on material provided by the Salt and Light Fellowship, then a ministry of the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary. The lessons focused on helping people understand that wherever they were was their ministry, and that God saw their work – at home, in offices, behind the wheel of a delivery truck, in a grocery store, wherever – as just as important as any other kind of work. This is also the idea behind The High Calling, where I’m a contributing editor.

One day, I told the class that all work was important to God, and repeated something Jerram Barrs, director of the Francis Schaeffer Institute, had said: that your work and how you do it is just as important to God as the work done by missionaries and pastors.

Heck broke loose.

It was a rather radical thing to say 20 years ago. People were offended; people thought I was somehow downgrading the value of missions and pastoral work. They didn’t realize the attitude of some work being “more important” or “holier” than other work was a product of modernism, a cultural influence that had segmented work into degrees of importance. It wasn’t Biblical. You’re a missionary whether you work in an office cubicle or a remote Third World village.

I thought about this class as I read chapter one of Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis and Beth Clark. Led by Sarah Salter and JasonStasyszen, we started an online discussion of the book last week. The story is about a young woman who forsakes college and her “American way of life” and becomes a missionary in Uganda.

The writing is youthful and energetic, and that’s due to the fact that Katie Davis is in her early 20s. It’s an exciting story, an interesting story, but parts of it are making me uneasy.

There’s an assumption at play here – the same assumption I encountered 20 years ago in that class – that full-time missions work is “higher” than other work. I see it in comments about how the hometown in Tennessee is a “self-serving” culture, with its suburban homes and manicured lawns, or the implication that the poverty of Uganda is closer to Jesus than the “beyond comfortable” lifestyles in the United States.

Intended or not, this suggests an attitude of superiority, a kind of reverse snobbery. Even in its most sympathetic light, it is still judgmental. I’m expecting this to change. After all, Uganda is the country known for violence, brutality, “child soldiers,” kidnappings, tribal murder, AIDS, mothers and children abandoned by fathers, children abandoned by parents. It’s not all “happy people and smiling children.” Katie Davis knows that, and is living that, and I’m hoping that she’s setting up a story of contrasts.

To serve there as she is doing is a testimony to God’s love, but it doesn’t make one culture or people superior to another. Both cultures need missionaries.

And then there’s the (so far) unnamed boyfriend, the one left behind at home, the one she loved and thought she was going to marry. I’m wondering what happened to him, and if his heart was broken. The choices we make are not all about us and Jesus. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make them, but they can affect others as much as ourselves, and they shouldn’t be dismissed as part of that materialistic culture left back home.

I’m hoping to find more of this understanding as we continue to read and discuss.

To see more posts on chapter one of Kisses from Katie, please visit Sarah Salter at Living Between the Lines, who’s hosting the links today.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bill Grandi Reviews "Dancing Priest"

Pastor Bill Grandi has posted his review of Dancing Priest at his blog, Cycleguy's Spin. Bill is a pastor -- and a cycling pastor, so the bicycle parts of the novel faced a kind of acid test. Here's a little of what he said:

" It is no secret that I cycle (road bike).  But it is sort of hard to cycle, when ice and snow cover the roads (as they have been).  Temps the past couple of weeks  have been more like the winter weather we expect in Indiana.  Not much snow but cold, blowing wind, and Friday night we had some ice thrown into the mix.  Winter time becomes my hibernation time.  I either work a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle or read fiction books.  My latest was Dancing Priest by fellow blogger, Glynn Young.  Glynn blogs at Faith, Fiction, Friends.  This is his first book, and I certainly hope it won’t be his last."

To read the rest of his review, please visit Cycleguy's Spin.

I hear the sounds of marching

The sounds of boot steps, marching,
pounding in my ears, hundreds,
perhaps thousands, locked
in unison, thudding on stones,
staining in the blood on streets,
life force pouring down lit avenues
and darkened alleyways, marching
to a song of violence, a drumbeat,
the tattoo of the mind, un-thinking
in unison, the lords and hordes
of violence rush forward, feeding
upon themselves, drinking themselves
intoxicated, consuming impieties
and impulses, boot-steps formless
and deep, the wave crashing
upon the golden shore, the wave
edged in silver needles.

So I heard a sermon Sunday on Proverbs 1:8-18, and my notes included words like violence, siren song, marching. Coincidentally, the One Word Blog Carnival today has a prompt of “marching,” Peter Pollock is hosting the carnival, and you can read more posts at his site.

This poem is also submitted to Open Link Night at dVerse Poets. The links will be live at 2 p.m. Central time today.

Photograph: Marching by Sharon Apted via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Norms and Culture are Personal

Donald was a Baby Boomer, born and raised in a suburb of New Orleans. And while no suburb of New Orleans could ever be truly Americanized, this one was as close it got. He grew up with children whose last names reflected the region’s French, Spanish and Italian heritage (and accents), and children whose fathers came from all over the country to work at the huge NASA assembly facility. His friends had names like Hebert (pronounced A-bear), Melancon and Sardelli, and also names like Clark, Pollock, Phelps and Miller.

His own family reflected the same dichotomy. His mother was born and raised in New Orleans, from a large family with French, Cajun-French and German ancestors with both Catholic and Lutheran overtones. His father had been raised in Shreveport, in a family that was hard-shell Southern Baptist and still fighting the Civil War.

Both of Donald’s parents had been married before, his father twice before. He had a half-brother who was part of his family and a half-sister who both was and wasn’t. He was the first child of this new marriage, and he eventually had a younger brother. What both of his parents prized and extolled for all of their children was the virtue of hard work. All four of the children would exhibit and practice the same belief, although each would learn that hard work was no guarantee of personal success, and that other factors could play a large role as well.

His father was something of a family black sheep, and often the despair of his grandmother. His father struggled with authority issues his entire life – the Baptist church, his parents, his employers, the Navy, the government, local New Orleans police officers looking for protection money. That struggle translated into a suspicion of all authority by the children, including Donald.

He spent more time with his mother’s family than his father’s, but his father’s family had the relative Donald loved the most – his grandmother. Every summer, from the time he was 7 to the time he was 13, Donald spent a week with his grandmother in Shreveport. He adored her, and she adored him. He was many things his own father was not – studious, respectful, never getting into trouble, among others. His grandmother often wondered how Donald could have been produced by her son, and decided that while he looked like a carbon copy of his father, he must have been more influenced by his mother. Donald loved Shreveport; it evoked a sense of the almost magical because of his grandmother.

And that was true. Donald’s father worked hard and worked long hours, six days a week, trying to make a go of his small business. When a small child, sometimes weeks would pass before Donald would see his father, getting up after his father had left for work and going to bed before his father got home. And what he learned from his mother included a strong sense of romanticism; he substituted as his mother’s movie partner because his father just didn’t care for them.

When Donald began dating in high school, the girls were varied in background. Some were natives of New Orleans; others had moved with their families to the city and were from all over the United States. Most came from a similar middle class background; a few came from wealthy families who lived on prestigious streets. But there was no longstanding high school sweetheart.

For college, he attended the state university, whose student body drew a majority from Louisiana but had a significant number of foreign and out-of-state students. His dating patterns, however, varied little from high school, and he found himself dating girls mostly from the New Orleans area, until his senior year, when he met and started dating a girl from the magical city of Shreveport. And this would be the girl he married.

Over at The High Calling, we’re reading The Social Animal by New York Times columnist David Brooks. Today we’re covering three chapters – on norms, self-control and culture. These three chapters are about Erica, who comes from a lower economic class family in New York that is Chinese-American on one side and Mexican-American on the other,

 The Social Animal is a non-fiction book largely told by telling the stories of fictional characters. My post today is an example of how Brooks has written the book, illustrating his fictional stories with numerous psychological, sociological and other scientific studies. The “Donald” is this post is based on my own experience.

To read more posts on these chapters, please visit The High Calling.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I am a path

I am a path, hard packed
and well trodden; seed
falls for the birds to eat.

I am a rocky place, jagged
and thin; shallow; seed
falls, sprouts, dies.

I am a thorn, sharp
and puncturing; seed
falls and I strangle it.

I am good soil, deep
and rich and full; seed
falls and bears abundance.

I am all of these.

Painting: The Sower by Vincent Van Gogh (1888), Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Good Reads

A poem found in the Berlin Metro. Talking with a little boy about God, and writing a letter to a little girl turning 10. Watching a painting be created. And a favorite Dylan Thomas poem read aloud. It was a good week.


Taking Out the Trash and Other Kitchen Traumas” and “Scott ‘Boots’ Harper” by Harriett Gillham at The Other Side of the Mountain.

Chuck Leonard R.I.P.” by Ira Wagler at Ira’s Writings.

Writing the Come-Again” by L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone.

A Letter for the Church Today” by Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk.

4 Ways to Keep Writing Under Pressure” by Cassandra Frear at Moonboat Café.

Inspiration” by Chris Galford at The Waking Den.

The Other Side” by Charity Singleton at Wide Open Spaces.

The Time Machine (Midnight Ramblings)” by Travis Thrasher at The Journey is Everything.

The white flag of surrender” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

A letter to my daughter” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

Scrapes & Bruises” by Michael Perkins at The Handwritten.

Surprised by Light” by Sandra Heska King.

Tearing apart” by Jason Vana.


Echoing Light” by U.S. Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin via Maggie’s Farm.

Now This is How We Roll” by Robert Lee Brewer at My Name Is Not Bob.

Distillation” by Andrew Peterson at The Rabbit Room.

For the Doors” by Megan Willome.

T.S. Eliot” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Enough” by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

The Host of Water” and “Experiencing Change” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

January Bleau” by Kathleen Overby at Almost Paradisical.

At Knife’s Edge” by Chris Galford at The Waking Den.

Psalmic Poetry – a Retelling” by Timothy Good at The Naked Alien Ministry.

Inputs, Outputs & Permission slips for the living” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne.

Poetry found in strange places” by Steven Marty Grant at Urbanality.

Paintings and Photographs

Susan’s Butterfly Eye” and “Lost Along the Way” by Timothy Good at Photography by Tiwago.

Six Photos – Untitled” by Lambert at Le Blog.

Badlands Winter,” mixed watermedia on Yupo by Randall David Tipton at a Painter’s Process.

Looking East” and “Beach Dune” by Steve Gravano at Take a Look Around.

Pruning” and “Feel” by Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’.

Attitude.” “Bag of Dreams” and “Reflection” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Support Systems” by J of India at Neither Use Nor Ornament.

Building Layers” by Jack Baumgartner at The School of the Transfer of Energy.

God has GOT to have a sense of humor” by Diana Trautwein at Just Wondering.

Videos and Podcasts

Do Not Go Gentle in That Good Night by Dylan Thomas,” read by Tom O’Bedlam at Spoken Verse.

Photograph: Winter Stream by Jiri Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.