Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Hidden Life of Prayer

David McIntyre (1859 – 1938) was a Scottish preacher. In 1913, he came principal of the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow. He wrote several books, but what he’s best remembered for is a small volume entitled The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life-Blood of the Christian.

Starting today over at Informing the Reforming, Tim Challies is leading a discussion of this Christian classic. I’ve just started reading it, and I’m struck by several things, not the least of which is that the book is written for a well-read, well-educated Christian audience.

A number of years ago, we attended a church that was meeting at a local Christian school while the church building was planned and then constructed. Sundays were harum-scarum days, with teams of people moving furniture, setting up meeting spaces, putting 300 folding chairs in the gym for the worship service (and often pulling out the bleacher seats). Children and adults alike had Sunday School classes in classrooms or any usable space available.

An adult class on prayer was being offered. Praying – and praying in public – was not something that came naturally to me. I was raised a stern Lutheran; the pastor prayed while the rest of us bowed our heads. But I felt the need to go beyond passiveness, and I jumped into the class. Thinking there would be some protection from embarrassment in numbers.

Including the teacher and his wife, there were five of us in the class. I couldn’t hide in the crowd.

It turned out to be less painful than I expected. In fact, it wasn’t painful at all. I prayed aloud (in front of others!) the same way I prayed alone – like I was having a conversation with God. Just simple conversation, simple talk. Reverent, yes, but still like a conversation.

I should say that my expectation in this conversation is not that I hear a voice coming back at me. A lot of the time – most of the time – it seems a one-way conversation, with me doing all the talking. But I suspect that’s the case for most of us.

The thing about prayer, which McIntyre calls “the life-blood of the Christian,” is that it’s often a one-way conversation. And that’s the point. We bring our troubles and our joys, our needs and our pains. Yes, we’d like them all taken care of nicely (and quickly), but things rarely work out that way. Instead, we hear the silences.

But in those silences, we know we’re being heard.

To join in the discussion on The Hidden Life of Prayer, please visit Tim Challies at Informing the Reforming.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On this occasion

She came to me young,
and lovely, she did, carrying
a beauty she’d deny,
a beauty of face, yes,
but more than that,
a beauty of form,
a beauty of spirit,
and soul. She taught me
to be loved, to be honored,
to be cherished, becoming
the best part of me, more
than a rib, more
than a side, more
than the oxygen I breathe,
a heart, my heart, and I am
still struck dumb in wonder.

Today is my wife’s birthday. She is 20 going on 21, the same age as when we met. And she is beautiful.

Photograph: Janet Young holding her second grandson Caden Young, May 2012.

Using Poetry to Explicate Scripture

In 2010, I attended a writer’s conference at Laity Lodge, in the Texas Hill Country about 90 minutes or so west of San Antonio. I had signed up for the poetry seminar taught by Scott Cairns, a professor at the University of Missouri, which is about 90 or so minutes west of where I live in St. Louis. I had previously read his A Short Trip to the Edge, an account of his pilgrimages to Mount Athos (Cairns in Greek orthodox), and Compassion of Affection: Poems New and Selected.

I was looking forward to the seminar; I was not disappointed (and I loved Laity Lodge). Twelve of spent two days doing something I’d never heard of – using poetry to explicate Scripture.

That’s the idea, or one of the ideas, behind Recovered Body: Poems, published by Cairns in 2003.

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

An Old Woman, Dying of AIDS

You find an old woman who’s dying of AIDS. She has tuberculosis, her body no longer able to fend off disease. Her husband and four children are dead of AIDS. She’s too weak to stand up, and lies in a filthy hut near a trash dump.

What do you do? You already have 14 adopted children to cake for and a burgeoning ministry to lead and maintain.

What do you do?

Here’s how Katie Davis answered that question: She took care of the dying woman. She loved her. She got medical help to ease her final months, and she filled the woman’s last days with love and joy. She was there when the woman died.

I don’t know what I would do. It’s easy – too easy – to say I would do the same thing. The temptation to do nothing would be great, with every justification coming to mind as I walked away.

Katie Davis didn’t walk away, even as she was plagued with doubts. And because of what she did, people who watched and understood became Christians. If that’s what your God does, then I want your God, too.

This is the kind of loving action that set the early church apart from its pagan environment – the Christians cared for widows and orphans. No one did in Roman society. Widows could become beggars or starve; orphan children could be enslaved and abused. No objections would be raised because it was standard operating procedure in the Roman world.

The Christians, however, were different. They took care of widows and orphans. And people noticed. People responded because we are made to respond to human needs. In taking care of widows and orphans, the Christians lived a Sunday sermon seven days a week. And it was one reason why, through more than 250 years of on-again, off-again, regional, local and national persecutions, some awful and severe, the church continued to grow.

Because it took care of those widows and orphans.

Because Katie Davis took care of an old woman dying of AIDs. An old woman named Grace.

Led by Jason Stayszsen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis and Beth Clark. To see more posts on this chapter, “A Jja Ja for Us,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Journey I Didn't Expect

With all the upheaval in the publishing industry because of ebooks, at least one positive development has resulted: we have the opportunity to read things we might not have otherwise.

A case in point: my Kindle version of Wessex Poems and Other Verses by Thomas Hardy. Kindle price: free, part of the volunteer project to convert old books to digital format in a literary “creative commons” effort. (It’s still free, by the way.)

I wouldn’t have ordinarily been looking for this in a bookstore or even at Amazon, but I saw a link, clicked on it, and downloaded.

And I started a journey I didn’t expect at all.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry

20 Sentences

Over at TweetSpeak Poetry, we’re reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. The book is designed for people experiencing a creative block, like writer’s block. This week’s reading covers two chapters, “Recovering a Sense of Identity” and “Recovering a Sense of Power.”

Reading about all the skepticism, doubts, self-doubts, poisonous playmates, crazymakers and missed opportunities makes me grateful that I generally haven’t experienced any of these things. Perhaps it’s more of a case of seeing them coming and avoiding them. I do know a lot of things can influence writing, including a lot of frustrations.

Cameron suggests a short exercise to help retrieve memories and misplaced fragments of ourselves and our lives, a kind of remembering to create understanding of who we are and who we might want to be, and what happened in between. The exercise is completed 20 sentences. I did it, and I learned a few things.

So here goes.

My favorite childhood toy was: not a toy. It was actually a small red suitcase that I carried everything important in – my drawstring bag full of marbles, my plastic army soldiers, my cowboy gun and holster, occasionally a book. The only important thing that didn’t fit was a jack-in-the-box my father brought home for me from a trip to New York.

My favorite childhood game was: Monopoly. After that, it was playing army in the woods near my house.

The best movie I ever saw as a kid was: “Some Like It Hot.”I know I’m supposed to say something like “Old Yeller” or “Bambi,” but the Jack Lemmon- Marilyn Monroe movie was the one I have the best memories of.

I don’t do it much but I enjoy: hiking, like in Shaw’s Nature Reserve west of St. Louis. It has everything – trails, hills, a river, bottomlands, bluffs, wildflowers, everything.

If I could lighten up a little, I’d let myself: laugh more at work

If it weren’t too late, I’d: bike across America. Who knows, maybe it’s not too late.

My favorite musical instrument is: the violin. It used to be the piano. I don’t play either, or any other instrument, with the possible exception of the air guitar.

The amount of money I spend on treating myself to entertainment each month is: between $50 and $75. Mostly on books. Well, entirely on books. This doesn’t include things I do with my wife.

If I weren’t so stingy with my artist, I’d buy him/her: a house in the woods, or maybe a loft condo. Well, most likely an occasional ice cream cone.

Taking time out for myself is: easier than it used to be.

I am afraid that if I start dreaming:…actually, I’m not. I dream all the time.

I secretly enjoy reading: crime stories, murder mysteries and certain romance novels.

If I had had a perfect childhood I’d have grown up to be: boring.

If it didn’t sound so crazy, I’d write or make: fiction full-time. Or spend six months in India. Or both.

My parents think artists are: OK. My mother is thrilled to have a published author in the family. If he were still alive, I don’t know what my father would say.

My God thinks artists are: creating in His image.

What makes me feel weird about this recovery (from artist’s block) is: I don’t have one to recover from. I’m not exactly sure why I’m reading this book but I am enjoying it.

Learning to trust myself is probably: something fairly new.

My most cheer-me-up music is: Abba.

My favorite way to dress is: t-shirt, shorts, barefoot. Like I’m dressed while writing this blog post.

So how would you complete these sentences?

Led by Lyla Lindquist, we’re reading at discussing The Artist’s Way at TweetSpeak Poetry. The main weekly post is tomorrow, and you can check then for links to other posts on these two chapters. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dale Cramer's "The Captive Heart"

I’ve read another Amish novel. One that runs pretty close to an Amish romance. Okay, so it is an Amish romance. But it also has bandits, epidemics, kidnappings, and a murder or two.

Perhaps there’s a publishing genre called speculative Amish romance?

The book in question is The Captive Heart by Dale Cramer. It’s the second in the Daughters of Caleb Bender Series, the first being Paradise Valley.

I will read anything Dale Cramer writes, novels like Bad Ground, Sutter’s Cross, and Summer of Light. Levi’s Will is an Amish story, but more about a young man breaking away from the Amish order and joining the army in World War II. It’s based upon the story of Cramer’s own father. And Summer of Light, well, let’s say I laughed and cried at this story of a man finding himself.

Like its predecessor Paradise Valley, The Captive Heart is based upon the true story of Amish families who left Ohio in the early 1920s, fleeing from the state’s compulsory education laws, and settled in Mexico. This is the Mexico just past its revolution, and it hasn’t really left the revolution behind. Gangs of revolutionaries have turned themselves into gangs of bandits, and they roam the mountains and plains looking to pillage and plunder.

The Amish, of course, are pacifist. Cramer plays that pacifism against the violence of the bandits, and surprising, unexpected things happens.

That’s the larger story within which two romances develop. First is Rachel and Jake; Jake’s family had decided to stay in Ohio but Jake is able to come to Mexico eventually with another family as a kind of indentured farm hand. But the focus is Miriam Bender, the settlement’s schoolteacher and at 20 beginning to face the possibility of an unmarried life. Miriam finds herself pursued by a young Amish man while she’s attracted to her father’s hired man Domingo. But a romance with Domingo risks banning and separation from her family.

Cramer tells a good story. He builds suspense – and a growing sense of dread – at what is going to happen. The characters come alive with their hopes, dreams and struggles, not the least of which is the struggle of maintaining their faith in the face of a very harsh, very brutal reality.

The Captive Heart is a fast, enthralling read. I will even say I’m anticipating the next book in the series. I may not have converted to the cause of Amish romances, but I have converted to the cause of Amish romances as told by Dale Cramer.


Dale Cramer’s web site and blog.

My review of Paradise Valley.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Approaching Patmos

Each motion of the waves courses
age through arthritic limbs, now
bound within strips of leather.
The galley slaves moan, in unison,
maintaining a tempo with their oars.
The barren rock approaches, larger
than anticipated with only
catacomb-caves to offer shelter
from sun’s heat. It will end here,
alone but for God. A fear swells
within, not of isolation or even death,
but a fear of revelation.

Patmos Pictures
This photo of Patmos is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Good Reads

The singer who was part of the inspiration for Dancing Priest has a new CD, so how could I resist the trailer? And imagine Jesus as a blogger, missing the eclipse, and photographs from the Himalayas. And a remembrance of the day when time stopped.


What Sort of Blog Would Jesus Have Written?” by Anita Mathias at Dreaming Beneath the Spires.

Telemachus to Odysseus” by Bradford Winters for Image Journal.

The real one percent” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

When time stopped” by Louise Gallagher at Recover your joy.

Blood” by Jake Lee at Very Much Later.

One Woman: The Helpless Widow” by Charity Singleton at Wide Open Spaces.

Do It Anyway” by Sarah Salter at Living Between the Lines.

The Artist’s Way: Descent into Ashes” by Sandra Heska King.


Brett Foster” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Triple Play: I Think I Missed an Eclipse,” three poems by Jerry Barrett at Gerald the Writer.

Arden” by Chris Yokel.

Words Wouldn’t Come” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Poetic Spotlight: The Waking and the Saginaw Song” by Chris Galford at The Waking Den.

Paintings and Photographs

Peony from my garden” by Tim Good at Good Photography.

Premonition,” watercolor on Yupo by Randall David Tipton at Painter’s Process.

Blue” by Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’.

Risking It” by Susan Etole at Just..A Moment.

Reflections” and “Shadowlands” by J of India at Neither Use Nor Ornament.

Working the Dark” by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.


Beautiful Things” by Mario Frangoulis.

Photograph: Buckingham Palace by Petr Krotochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Family Time

Just a few photos about what’s been happening with the grandsons.

Cameron spent a good portion of the day Tuesday with his grandmother, including a lunch of some of his favorite foods – cherry tomatoes (he knows where they’re kept), cheese and strawberries. However, he was not impressed with the official food of St. Louis -- toasted ravioli.

Here’s Caden (almost three weeks old) doing one of his two favorite activities – sleeping. (The other is eating.)

And Cameron joined Dad in helping to feed his brother.

Uncle Andrew is in town for a visit this weekend, so we hope to get some photos of him and his nephews.

Top photo by Janet Young; bottom two photos by Stephanie Young. Use with Cameron’s and Caden’s permission.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Confessions of a Shadow Artist

When I graduated from college with a degree in journalism, my dream was not to be a great newspaper reporter or editor. What I wanted to be was a writer – a novelist, to be specific. In my early 20s, I started working on a novel manuscript entitled “Sisters.” A friend at work was working on a non-fiction book, and we often talked and compared notes and read each other’s stuff.

For a time, I even wrote a few short stories and submitted them to magazines (popular magazines that actually published short stories) but my experience was the usual rejection notes.

Then life intervened: career, children, and, well, just life. The novel manuscript ended up in a file drawer, and it may (or may not) be moldering away in my basement.

The dream didn’t die. But it wasn’t exactly alive, either. Perhaps it went comatose for  25 years.

What I became was a shadow artist, as defined by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. A shadow artist sits on the fringe of his or her art, prevented by time or circumstances or discouragement or whatever from engaging the art they might actually want to be part of.

That’s where I was.

I continued to read novels, a lot of novels, in fact. I read across genres – literary and popular, mystery and science fiction. I read a lot of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. I did something I did not do in college – I read the entire works of William Faulkner. And Flannery O’Connor. I read a large number of Southern writers, and subscribed to a few literary magazines, like Southern Review and the Oxford American.

I had largely forgotten about that dream from my 20s, until a decade ago. I met a young pastor in Germany, and I heard a song on an airplane. And that meeting and that song eventually became Dancing Priest.

Perhaps still not serious about the dream, I kept the story in my head for three years, until Hurricane Katrina. That was a major event in the life of my family in Louisiana, and was transformative for me as well. And one thing that happened was that I started writing down what was in my head.

In 2008, I went to a writer’s conference with my pitch and my summary and my 10-minute meeting with an agent and my 15-minute consultation with an editor. Some encouraging things happened, and some discouraging things happened. I kept writing. I sent queries out to all the recognized agents (Christian fiction agents) and got turn-downs from every one of them. I kept writing.

I’ve told the story before. The publisher found me and finally persuaded me to let him publish it. I didn’t expect to tear up the New York Times bestsellers list, and I didn’t. And while it would have been wonderful for the book to receive major attention, the fact is that it didn’t.

But it did do something else. Everyone who read it, even a few who were mildly critical, were moved by it. A few put their finger on something that became more than obvious in hindsight: it is not a work of Christian fiction, as defined by the Christian publishing industry. And it is not a work of general fiction, as defined by the general publishing industry. It is something else again, perhaps a hybrid of the two.

I learned something else. People read it with great care. They paid attention to it. They called it a “big story,” which isn’t exactly the current fashion in Christian or general publishing circles (I should have thrown in a vampire or werewolf, or called it Dancing Vampire). But the people who read it closely made some interesting observations.

One of the most telling was this: that the book read like the author was wrestling with becoming a minister.

I’ve read it twice all the way through since it was published, and I believe I can say it is a work by a shadow artist who’s leaving the shadow behind him.

We’re discussing The Artist’s Way over at TweetSpeak Poetry, led by Lyla Lindqusit. I had a post here on Tuesday about the introduction to the book. Come join us over at TweetSpeak.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

There's always a cost

This is the chapter in Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption that I’ve been expecting. This is the chapter about the cost, the cost of doing the work Katie Davis has been doing in Africa.

There’s always a cost.

She’s alluded to it, and dropped some hints now and then. She’s talked openly about the discouragement and challenges she faces every day. Those aren’t the cost, however. No one expects missions work in any country to be easy, and especially in a developing country like Uganda.

The cost is personal.

She begins the chapter with a story about three-year-old Grace, who develops a phobia for taking baths. Once she’s in the tub, she remembers how much fun it is, enjoys herself, and doesn’t want to get out.

Katie likens Grace’s phobia to obedience, to the things we don’t want to do even though they’re good for us, but once we do them, we might even come to understand and enjoy them.

For Katie, though, obedience is not about taking a bath. It’s about giving up the young man she loves.

He supported her, helped her, visited her in Uganda – but he didn’t share the same vision she had. That difference eventually becomes a gap that can’t be bridged.

She knows that the personal pain is trivial and momentary in the grand scheme of things, and she takes some comfort in that. I suspect the personal pain is worse than she lets on. And I suspect the pain isn’t just personal, because more than only Katie is involved here.

Does that mean you don’t continue simply to avoid the pain? No. But it does mean that there is usually a personal cost. “Responding to God’s call” doesn’t mean you will have a life without pain, turmoil, struggle and conflict. In fact, one might argue – I would argue – that responding to God’s call virtually guarantees a life of pain, turmoil, struggle and conflict.

This is where I have no patience with the prosperity gospel crowd – that if just believe hard enough, good material things will happen to you. It was my major issue with the popular The Prayer of Jabez a few years back – that it swung far too closely to articulating a “more acceptable” version of the prosperity gospel.

No, responding to God’s call, trying to live the gospel is hard, hard, work, whether it’s in Uganda or Nashville. It’s the life Katie is living, and it often means pain and loss.

Still, even knowing that, I think my heart broke a bit.

Hosted by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading Kisses from Katie. To see more posts on this chapter, “Counting the Cost,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Poet Who Wasn't

Carlos Fuentes died last week, a writer with a poet’s heart who didn’t write poetry.

In 1986, as part of a master’s program, I took a course at Washington University in St. Louis entitled “The Latin American Novel.” Cretin that I was, the only Latin American author I was familiar with was Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his One Hundred Years of Solitude. That happened to be the first book assigned in the course, and while most of the class (largely adults in their 40s and 50s; I was the kid at 35) were dismayed by “magic realism,” I wasn’t. Reading One Hundred years of Solitude was like reading some of my own history, growing up in New Orleans.

To continue reading, please see my post today at TweetSpeak Poetry.

Logic-Survivor-Artist Brain

I’m reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. TweetSpeak Poetry is starting a discussion series tomorrow on it. The book, now 20 years old, is about creativity, artist’s block, and how to break artist’s block, and structured over a 12-week course.

Knowing our discussion leader Lyla Lindquist, I expect we will take a little less time than 12 weeks. Like maybe six. Tomorrow’s discussion ill cover the “introductory sections” and the first of 12 lessons. “Introductory sections” is a specific phrase. Lyla did not say “introduction.” She said “introductory sections” for a good reason – those sections cover 15 percent of the book (and my Kindle knows). These sections are of critical importance to the rest of the book, because they include your daily and weekly assignments.

Bah! More work! Who cares?

Well, I do. This may be some of the most important work I’ve done.

Part of what’s included in the introductory material is the “three brains” we deal with in life – Logic Brain, Survivor Brain, and Artist’s Brain. How many places have I worked where Logic Brain and Survivor Brain (doing only what’s known or safe) institutionally gang up on Artist Brain to kill off even small lurches toward creativity? And how many places have I worked there that turned out to be a terrible mistake?

The answer to both questions is the same. It’s not that Artist Brain is necessarily superior to the other two; I suspect all three are needed in any organization. But when faced with an overwhelming challenge, Logic Brain and Survivor Brain rarely come up with a solution.

Those three brains may explain most of my professional career.

In 1992, email had finally reached critical mass in the organization here I was working. We proposed doing an email newsletter for employees. The people responsible for our email system predicted the end of western civilization if we published even a text-only email newsletter. The discussions went on for months, until I realized that, short of shutting down the system, no one could really stop the newsletter. We launched our newsletter, and nothing happened to the system. Western civilization survived.

Three years later, something similar happened with the organization’s first web site. Western civilization once again survived.

Organizations, even artistic organizations, aren’t by nature kind to Artist Brain. Organizations tend to take on their own dynamic, and perpetuation of the status quo can become paramount, even when the status quo is falling apart and something new is called for.

Julia Cameron (not to mention Lyla Lindquist) would be amused to see how far I’ve already moved from creativity and artist’s block, and this is just the first week. I plan on having another post on Thursday on the first lesson – “Recovering a Sense of Safety.”

Come join us at TweetSpeak Poetry.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Unexpected Tears

I recently started following a blog called Walking to China, the stories of an American family who moved to China with their daughter. The father teaches English as a second language, and the family is in the process of adopting a Chinese boy.

This weekend, the post was entitled “Tears,” and it included this quote by Author Frederick Beuchner:

“Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are but, more often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is ummoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.”

I pondered Beuchner’s words, and asked myself what are the things that bring me to unexpected tears.

Certain movies and television shows.

Sappy movies and television shows.

Hallmark Hall of Fame commercials.

Stories of heroism and sacrifice.

Stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Memories of emotional times.

Someone experiencing profound emotional or spiritual pain.

Stories about the Holocaust.

The Olympic Stadium scene in my novel Dancing Priest (I’ve read it hundreds of times, and the tears never fail.) (I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this.)

Certain music, like Michael W. Smith’s version of Agnus Dei.

Certain moments when I’m writing, when the emotion overwhelms.

Beuchner says tears, unexpected tears, are telling you about “the secret of who you are.” Did you ever think of yourself as a secret?

And more: that God is speaking through unexpected tears of the mystery of where you’ve come from and where you should go next.

The secret of who you are.

The mystery of where you’ve come from.

The summons of where you should go next.

And then I think: Jesus wept.

At the tomb of his friend Lazarus, Jesus wept, and it appears to have been unexpected. If Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, why did he cry?

Perhaps he wasn’t crying for Lazarus.

The secret of who he was.

The mystery of where he came from.

The summons of where he should go next.

(Unexpected tears.)

Illustration: Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity), by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890; Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.