Thursday, February 28, 2013

Controlled by Work

Officially , the discussion over at The High Calling on Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work finished Monday. But for me, the last section of the book had so much to consider that I’m not quite willing to let go.

The last section of the book, “The Gospel and Work,” includes four chapters. My post on Monday, Stories and Worldviews, addressed only one of the four. Keller packs so much into each chapter that I could likely blog for a month on each one.

One section I can’t leave alone, because I can’t let go of it. In the final chapter, “New Power for Work,” Keller briefly recounts the story in Luke 5 when Jesus calls his first disciples. They had been fishing all day without catching anything, and he tells them to go back out and let down their nets. They protest; they were ready to pack it in and wait for another day. But he persists, and they go. And the catch is huge. It was at this moment that Jesus that he tells them that from this point on they would fish for people.

“Notice,” Keller says, “that when Jesus called them to follow him, it was at the very moment of great financial success – the huge catch of fish. But they could, and they did, leave their nets behind. In Jesus’s presence, they were no longer controlled by their work” (emphasis added by me).

How many of us can say that we are truly not controlled by our work? How many of us can admit that we have not made work an idol?

I saw something else in this passage. Jesus called the disciples in the context of their work. He didn’t say leave work behind; he said I have different work in mind for you – but it will still be work.

He had different work in mind for Paul, too – but Paul still relied on tent making from time to time to provide needed income. Prisca and Aquila remained in the tent making business, yet they were called to faith.

How many of us can say we live our faith in our work? That we do our work so capably and so well that our employers want to hire people just like us? Can we do our work with a “free heart,” as Keller suggests?

“You can work with passion and rest,” he says, “knowing ultimately that deepest desires of your heart…will be fulfilled when you reach your true country, the new heavens and the new earth. So in any time you can work with joy, satisfaction, and no regrets.”

We can work with a free heart because we have the hope within us.

It’s downright revolutionary. And downright liberating.

You can see the various posts, comments, discussion, and links to other posts by visiting The High Calling.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Brennan Manning: Little Gifts - Healing

I was asked to “give my testimony” for church’s recent deacon board meeting, but it wasn’t the expected “here’s how I was saved” testimony. No, the deacon board chairman had heard a story I told, and he wanted me to tell the entire board.

The day before Father’s Day, 2011, I was digging a small hole in our home garden for a new plant. I finished digging, placed the plant and the emended soil in the hole, and stood up. A pain so sharp shot through my body that I had to brace myself against the house. For several moments, I couldn’t walk, and when I did, I had to take baby steps.

“I pulled something,” I thought. I got inside, took ibuprofen, and it was much improved the next day.

Three weeks later, it was back big time. No position was comfortable. The best sleeping position was flat on my back on the floor, and no pillow. The doctor prescribed medication that was one short stop from morphine, and I was taking it full strength. I couldn’t drive for three weeks, and so I worked from as best I would.

I started using a cane. At one point, I was walking sideways.

The MRI confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis – I had a ruptured disk (No. 5, for those who know this stuff). Surgery became a distinct possibility.

I had cortisone shots in the back. Twice. Neither had any effect. I went to one physical therapy facility, and each time had a different therapist. After a few weeks, a new therapist looked at my file and said, “We have you doing too many things. Every therapist has a favorite set of exercises, and none of it’s doing any good.”

I found another therapist. Every Tuesday and Thursday for the next six months, I was in physical therapy. And traction twice a week.

In November, our pastor preached a sermon on anointing and healing. My wife kept nudging me. I rolled my eyes. We knew what the problem was, and a drop of oil on my forehead wasn’t going to fix it.

But I studied the specific passage in the epistle of James. This is what it says: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:14-16).

If you look at the verse in context, it is one in a rather long list of instructions at the end of the letter. Cumulatively, the instructions are about submission. And if you read it closely, you’ll see the passage doesn’t promise a miraculous, instant healing. It just says healing will happen – and suggests that the healing is much broader than a temporary sickness.

Submission, huh? Great. The one thing I’ve always wrestled with.

I asked our pastor to schedule a praying and anointing ceremony. It happened in December, after a Sunday church service. I didn’t expect instant healing. I knew this was about submission. And I was not instantly healed.

I could tell that physical therapy was helping, but I was a long way off from healed.

A few weeks late, in January, we met with a surgeon. He looked at the x-rays and shocked us when he said, “No surgery. You’re healing.”

“But the pain is still there,” I said, dumbfounded. “How can I be healing?”

“Your brain hasn’t figured it out yet. It’s learned that pain is there, so that’s what you’re feeling. But the rupture is dissolving. No surgery.”

A month later, I put the cane in the closet.

About six weeks after that, I rode my bike for the first time in nine months.

Brennan Manning, in The Furious Longing of God, quotes the words of Hans Urs Von Balthasar: “I say to you, blessed is he who exposes himself to an existence never brought under mastery, who does not transcend, but rather abandons himself to my ever-transcending grace.”

It wasn’t about back pain. It was about submission. And faith. A ruptured disk turned out to be a little gift.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing The Furious Longing of God. To see other posts on this chapter, “Little Gifts: Healing,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.

The photograph at the top could easily have been me, except you would have seen the physical therapist pushing with all her strength to force my leg upright. It brought tears every time she did it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

He taught me two things about fatherhood

He arrived two weeks after his due date, by induction, and he was not impressed, yelling his way out into the world. He was a big baby – at birth he looked like he was three months old, pushing toward 10 pounds. The nurse cleaned him up, wrapped him in a little blanket, and put him in my arms. Eyes in a little round face squinted at me.

I fell in love.

At seven months, sitting between us in his car seat, he tried to take control of the steering wheel. We were on the interstate.

He walked at nine months. He walked for exactly one day. Then he ran and didn’t stop.

At two, he climbed into the car in the garage, keys in hand. He considered himself an adult, so why shouldn’t he drive the car?

He was four, perhaps five, when I noticed something odd about the training wheels on his bike. He wasn’t using them. I took them off, and off he went. When his mother saw him, she burst into tears.

For the elderly neighbor across the street, he was her Jeopardy partner. They’d watch the television show together, and she’d give him snacks.

Early one Saturday morning, we heard the television set on. I stumbled into the den to see what was up, and there he was, watching a golf game on television. Golf. He was five.

And then time begins to run together. I’m not sure what happened, but a lot of time passed between the little boy singing at the top of his lungs for a church Christmas program and a white stretch limousine pulling into the driveway for the senior prom. In between were hundreds if not thousands of soccer games, basketball games, baseball games, and any other kind of game with a ball.

Like that 1987 World Series game, Cardinals and the Twins playing game 5 in Old Busch Stadium. We were there. He explained the game to me.

College, and then his first job, working for a minor league baseball team. And then the jump to Arizona. Watching him load the U-Haul truck. Watching him drive away.

Even good things for your children can be hard.

And then he finds Stephanie in Phoenix. We fly out one Christmas to meet her and her family. She was scared to death. Turns out he had told her all kinds of stories about his mother.

Almost two years later, we flew out again to Phoenix. For their wedding.

And then my St. Louis boy figured out a way to get back to St. Louis. With a pregnant wife in tow.

And then the night they go to the hospital for Cameron’s induction (there must be something in the genes). He falls, hits his head, and I rush to the hospital at one in the morning. He’s not delirious, but he’s disoriented. The x-rays come in. Blood on the skull. The next day, Stephanie’s in labor, and he’s having brain surgery.

It all ends well. Cameron’s born. Two years later, Caden’s born. For Caden’s birth, he wears a bicycle helmet.

He, and his brother Andrew, have taught me two things about fatherhood.

The first thing: Once you become a father, you never stop being a father. How you’re a father changes, but you never stop being a father.

And the second this is, you don’t want to stop.

Happy birthday, Travis Young.

Photograph: Stephanie and Travis Young, with Caden obviously enjoying himself and Cameron standing quietly, with a friend's new baby.

Poetry at Work: The Poetry of the Speech

For some 30 years, my professional career centered on speechwriting, mostly of the corporate variety. I had taken a speech course in college – Contemporary American Speeches – but it was more because of my journalism curriculum than a desire to learn about speeches.

Like most corporate speechwriters at that time, I fell into it, accidentally. I was working on a big issue, someone needed a speech on the topic, and I was told to write a draft. I did, it was okay, the speaker liked it, it went over well – and like magic, I was suddenly being called the department’s newest speechwriter. This was all mildly unsettling; I knew next-to-nothing about writing speeches, so I got myself off to a speechwriter’s seminar to learn what I was already considered an expert at.

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

Photograph by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Stories and Worldviews

One of my responsibilities at work is to manage our company’s social media accounts, including Twitter. If you’re familiar with it, you know that most people use their real names in the Twitter “handle” or in their profile. Many don’t. Twitter allows you to participate without revealing your identity.

We get our share of profanity, invective, outright lies and distortions, and even the occasional threat via Twitter. One day, a tweet popped up with an accusation that was so blatantly untrue and provocative that we decided it had to be answered. We were polite, and cited a third party link disproving what was being claimed. The person tweeting responded with a loud wail. “Well, it should be true because you’re so evil.”

Welcome to the subject of worldviews.

In Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, Tim Keller discusses the importance of stories and worldviews. A story is a narrative, and narratives, he says, “are actually so foundational to how we think that they determine how we understand and live life itself.” Our narratives form and structure our worldview, from the German word Weltanschauung, meaning “the comprehensive perspective from which we interpret all reality.”

A worldview, Keller says, is a master narrative, a fundamental story about what life should be like, what has knocked it off balance, and what can be done to make it right.

If you think worldviews don’t matter, look at Washington, D.C., and the war of worldviews over spending, the budget, and the size of government. Our worldviews are growing more extreme, but that’s another story.

As Christians, we, too, have a worldview, the Christian worldview. We know there is wrong in all of us – and it’s called sin. (If you are uncomfortable with the word “sin,” and many Christians are – another worldview at play here – you can substitute “brokenness.”) We know there is wrong among all of us – and it’s called sin. And we know what can be done to make it right, or move it in a right direction – and that’s called faith in Christ.

Perhaps less obviously and spectacularly than politics, this plays itself out at work, too. A worldview exists at all organizations. It may be capitalist, for example. A strong component of the worldview at my company is technology. Other workplaces have worldviews that are outward-focused, inward- focused, utilitarian, benevolent, patriarchal and more.

As a Christina in a largely secular workplace, am I expected to conform and share the prevailing worldview?

In a word, no.

I see the sin and brokenness play itself out each and every day. And I have to decide how to act and respond, each and every day.

It’s not easy.

I’ve talked with enough Christians who work in Christian workplaces to know it’s not easy there, either. The secular workplace doesn’t have a monopoly on sin and brokenness.

A few weeks ago, I made a decision to start each day tell myself three things.

God’s creation is good.

The world is fallen.

That nasty person who knifes me in the back is just as much loved by God as I am; that person, too, is made in God’s image.

It’s not so much changing my worldview and fully embracing it.

Over at The High Calling, we’ve been discussing Every Good Endeavor. We complete the discussion today, and this section had a lot of material to cover, which I might write on another time. Please visit The High Calling to see more of what’s being thought about and said.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

An Important Discussion about the Church

Last weekend, I was suffering a combination bad head cold/allergic reaction to the Valentine’s Day flowers I bought for my wife. (No, the lesson was not stop buying flowers for Valentine’s Day. Rather than inflict my sneezing/coughing/hacking/misery on our church, I chose to miss church. Instead, I would watch the livestream of the 9:45 service.

Except the livestream worked for all of about five seconds, and then stopped. The livestreaming system wasn’t working, and I watched the “visitor numbers” fluctuate from five to eight to eleven and then back down as online visitors began to figure out the same thing.

While it would have been nice for someone like me, being sick, or someone who wasn’t able to travel to church, I realized something. Livestreaming, even when it works, is not the next best thing to being there. You can watch a church service, but you can’t participate. This is likely at least one of the issues I have with so-called online churches, and churches that use videostreaming as they embrace the “sites” concept. Something is missing, something important.

Yesterday, Marcus Goodyear posted an article at his blog, Good Word Editing, entitled “The Uncertain Future of Traditional Faith Communities.” And he put his finger on what’s missing – community. But he raises more fundamental issues that the problem the problems of livestreaming.

The American church today is losing both its knowledge and community roles, and what does that mean? Marcus says it’s already lost the knowledge role, and it’s losing the community role.

I left a comment on the post. Before the community role began to change, the church, or a significant and influential part of it, began moving away from the knowledge role and embracing a personal experience role. Like most major changes, it happened incrementally. But at some point, many churches – and I am speaking of those in what we would call the evangelical tradition – began to move away from teaching the Bible. The focus became something else.

This subject needs – demands – a broader and continuing discussion. People are experiencing the problems of the church, and there are a lot of books being written, but the discussion seems to have been largely left to the experts – theologians, pastors, theological academics.

This is one of those subjects too important to be left to the experts. The church itself needs to engage.

Read Marcus’s article, and let me know what you think.

Photograph: Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Good Reads: A Beautiful Trench It Was

Last November, I went to Laity Lodge in the Texas Hill Country, southwest of San Antonio, for a staff retreat with The High Calling. We’re a staff that works almost entirely online; to have the opportunity to get together face-to-face is, well, the special thing you would expect it to be.

My roommate was Sam Van Eman. We got to talk like roommates thrown together do, we’d walk over to the programs and activities and talk some more, and we went hiking with Marcus Goodyear, the editor of The High Calling, and Jim Wood, he of Shrinking Camel fame and the Work Editor for The High Calling. After that hike, I thought of Sam as a mountain goat, with an unerring sense of keeping us going in the right direction.

Sam is the culture editor for The High Calling; I think of him as the Friday guy – he writes or edits the articles that appear on Fridays as the culture offerings. Sam is a staff specialist for CCO in Pennsylvania, a campus ministry that works with churches, colleges and other organizations “to develop men and women who live out their Christian faith in every area of life.” Once a year CCO hosts the Jubilee Conference, and in fact the most recent one concluded a week ago.

Sam was my pathway to The High Calling. I first ran across him several years ago, when he left a comment on a blog post at a site called Inside Work, which is no longer online. I followed his comment back to his blog, New Breed of Advertisers, and I was so taken with it that (Sam doesn’t know this) it was the very first blog I regularly followed.

If you seen his articles at The High Calling, you know that Sam writes stories.

Sam also tells stories.

A few weeks ago, with the help of Dan King (The High Calling’s social media guru and grand poobah of Bibledude), Sam created a site calls A Beautiful Trench It Was. I was one of the guinea pigs who got to “test hear” a story.

The site has six stories posted right now. They’re run no more than five minutes each. Sam talks about his growing-up years, and I have learned things I didn’t know. Things about Sam. And things about myself. I can’t recall a time I’ve been so moved to hear a story told. (True confession: I lost it listening to Tapes.)

Sam knows the secret of telling stories. Stories are powerful, because they connect us to each other.

That’s what Sam does.

Photo of Sam Van Eman by Claire Burge. She doesn’t know that I’m using it, but I don’t think she would mind.

Friday, February 22, 2013

John Pollock’s “The Apostle”

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had been rediscovering an old love for early church history. A few short years after I’d become a Christian, I enrolled in extension classes at our church in Houston, and ended up taking courses in Old Testament History, New Testament History, and Bible Study Methods.

It was in the New Testament Survey course that our teacher (one of the church pastors and a full-fledged professor)  mentioned some of the 19th century scholars who had had such an influence on our understanding of church history, including the German Adolf von Harnack on the “new” or “higher” criticism side and Sir William Ramsay on the traditional side. I found Ramsey to be of interest for two reasons – he had set out to undertake field research to prove the New Testament wrong, but became a convinced Christian as a result. And several of his books had been reprinted in the early 1970s in paperback, and were accessible through Christian Book Distributors.

Reading Ramsey’s works is to take a journey to New Testament times. History came very much alive with his words and narrative style. His style is not unlike that of John Pollock, author of The Apostle: A Life of Paul.

In addition to this biography of Paul, Pollock has written biographies of Hudson Taylor, William Wilberforce, and John Wesley. He’s also the author of The Master: A Life of Christ and is Billy Graham’s official biographer.

First published in 1969, The Apostle was revised and republished in 2012. While it has the narrative style of a novel, it is not that at all. It reads like a wonderful story, or series of stories based on the Book of Acts and Paul’s letters as well as extensive research into this period of Roman and early Christian history.

What I also like is that where Pollock speculates because the sources are silent, he tells the reader that it’s speculation, even if well founded and well reasoned.

In Pollock’s hands, Paul comes alive, a man of flesh and blood who was completely overwhelmed and changed forever on the road to Damascus, a man who knew what he had been called to do, and who experienced everything from physical and emotional torment to wonderful joy. And the reader gets to join Paul as he is secretly removed from Damascus, walk the streets of Ephesus and Corinth, experienced the storm and shipwreck on Malta, and eventually find himself in Rome.

And the biography has depth, providing details on references to Paul being bowlegged (and why) to how imperial politics and the death of the Emperor Claudius affected Paul’s activities in Ephesus. The reader is also a first-hand observer of Paul writing his letters, who was there, what the immediate context was, and so much more.

Pollock tells a wonderful story, and he tells it well.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Southern Fictions

I’ve been reading Descent: Poems by Kathryn Stripling Byer. It was published last year by LSU Press (which despite the perennial financial problems of the Louisiana state legislature still manages to produce quality works year after year). Byer, a native of Georgia, studied at the University of North Carolina with Allen Tate and Fred Chappell. Chappell is one of my favorite writers.

Her poems are “writ Southern.” Southerners of a certain age and understanding will recognize them. Think Flannery O’Connor. Some critics described O’Connor’s stories as “Southern Grotesque.” Being born and raised in the South, I read them as family history.

The South of legend and myth as already beginning to vanish when I was child. Today, it’s possible to be raised in Atlanta or Raleigh or Charlotte and not have a Southern accent. (It might still linger on in Charleston, Birmingham and Jackson, though.) Television and American homogenization have had their impacts.

My father drapes his battle flag across
a back-room  window. If I tried to tell
him why I wish he wouldn’t, I’d have hell
to pay…

Reading Byer’s poems is to read some of my own childhood and family history. My father didn’t sport Confederate battle flags; he was a died-in-the-wool U.S. veteran and patriot. But my grandmother, his mother, still spoke of the “War of Northern Aggression;” her mother had suffered through it as a child, and everything about “the cause” was carried forward, down to me.

My father talked his paternal grandfather with pride – the one who had been a 15-year-old messenger boy in the Civil War, who returned home after Appomattox to find his family in Mississippi dispersed somewhere in east Texas.

In 1960, historian C. Vann Woodward published a book, The Burden of Southern History, a collection of essays about how “The South” had come to be. I read it when I took Louisiana history in college; it was a kind of regional bible for young Southerners to understand the South. There was much we had to understand, because so much was changing so dramatically and so fast.

…Describing it sounds trite
as hell, the good old South I love to hate.
The truth? What’s that?  How should I know?

Looming large in Southern history is race. It has always been so.

My father was from Shreveport; my mother New Orleans. My father grew up in the two-case system of Shreveport – one of race and the other of wealth. He lived on Fairfield Avenue, then the most exclusive street in the city. Except he lived across the street that divided Fairfield into rich and poor, across from where the wealthy lived.

My mother grew up in an integrated neighborhood in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. White and black families living there had one significant thing in common – they were all poor. And yet there was a significant difference.

However poor we are, we aren’t black,
said a neighbor. That was bedrock. Solid ground,
the core of our identity. The one unyielding fact
of life…

Segregation was a fact in my childhood eyes. I remember the water coolers at the A&P grocery store marked “white” and “colored.” I remember the separate restrooms, separate restaurants and separate hotels, and separate sections of the movie theaters. I was 10 when the schools in New Orleans integrated, amid massive protests. Three years later, in my last year of middle school, the high schools in our suburban Jefferson Parish integrated. The high school where I would be attending had so many fights and so much violence that federal marshals were stationed there every school day.

Trapped in your eyes I see Sherman
march through here all over again.

The year I started, everyone feared a repeat of the previous year. Yet nothing happened. The federal marshals were able to leave. The students figured out how to make it work, and it was no longer the overriding issue dominating everything. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King when I was a high school junior cast a pall over all of us. Few of us really understood it then, but we had all lost something with his death.

The South I grew up in is gone. Some of it I mourn – the manners, the civility. Some of it I don’t mourn at all – the race hatred, the violence, the downright meanness. But it was all of a piece, and the whole piece was going to have to change.

I don’t know how long names can last
if there’s no one to care where they live.

(All the lines of poetry above are taken from Byer’s Descent.)

Photograph: New Orleans 1950, by Robert Frank.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Brennan Manning and Ice Cream

My favorite dessert in the entire world is vanilla ice cream. If I had to name a favorite brand (aside from homemade), it would be Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla.

But there was one day the vanilla ice cream tasted bad.

From the time I was six or seven to the time I was 13, I spent a week each summer with my grandmother in Shreveport. She lived on the western side of town, in what would then have been called a middle- to working-class neighborhood “out the Greenwood Road.” Church was an important part of her life; she would play piano and sing both with the choir and solo. She even sang a solo on her 90th birthday.

I loved being with my grandmother, but the neighborhood was largely devoid of other kids. One boy my age, named David, lived next door to my grandmother, and his family was as active in the church as my grandmother was. David and I always paired off whenever I came to town.

The church pastor lived a block away. He and his wife had taken in two foster children, brothers just a year or two younger than I was. For some reason, they always looked like they had been rolling around in mud. But they were friendly kids in a neighborhood where three boys were the entire universe of children.

It was always hot in the summer in Shreveport, and many homes didn’t have air conditioning. My grandmother had a window unit that she used for her bedroom and the one I slept in next to hers. Next door, David’s family hadn’t gotten air conditioners yet, but they did have large electric fans.

The four of us boys had been playing; it was early afternoon and blazing hot. We all likely smelled rather poorly. David had a brilliant idea – to get some ice cream from his freezer. He went inside to his kitchen and we waited outside.

A few minutes later, he called for me to come inside. I went into the kitchen, and saw two bowls of ice cream on the table. And I turned and saw two faces peering through the kitchen’s screen door. I asked David where the other boys’ ice cream was. “They don’t get any,” he said. “They’re foster children.”

We sat at the kitchen table. David began to eat, and I stared first at my bowl and then at the screen door. “Can we give them some?” I asked.

Clearly aggravated, David stomped to the freezer atop the refrigerator, got the ice cream, and scooped out small portions in two bowls. He brought it to the two boys at the door with a rather superior “Here’s yours.” He came back to the table and rather glared at me. “They’re dirty and no-account,” he said. The boys heard him but in the joy of eating the ice cream, even outside in the heat, they didn’t seem to care.

It was the one time in my life I can remember thinking the ice cream tasted bad.

This came to mind while I was reading Brennan Manning’s The Furious Longing of God. “In human beings,” he writes, “love is a quality, a high-prized virtue; in God, love is His identity.” We humans desperately want to be loved; we have a more difficult time with being love.

I wasn’t a hero the day the ice cream tasted bad. I was motivated by guilt; how could I enjoy something when it was being denied to those two brothers right in front of me?

The two boys were likely used to this kind of treatment; they didn’t seem surprised by it, nor did they protest. They were going to sit there outside the kitchen door and watch us eat our ice cream, like we deserved it and they didn’t.

The joy on their faces because of two small portions of ice cream was itself something miraculous to behold.

And the ice cream suddenly tasted remarkably better.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing The Furious Longing of God. To see other posts on this chapter, “Unplanned moment of prayer,” please visit Sarah at LivingBetween the Lines.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Once, only in summer

Once, only in summer:
they came, brown-bagged
from the A&P, opened
to reveal spheres
of black-red purple ripeness,
placed in a glass bowl
on the kitchen counter,
counterparts to spheres
of reddish-peach ripeness,
in unison, issuing the sirens’
call to the boy,
grabbing black-red purple
in one hand
and reddish-peach
in the other
and stealing to the backyard
to savor double sweetness.

This poem is a response to the “purple poetry” prompt issued by Seth Haines at Tweetspeak Poetry.

It’s also submitted to Open Link Night at dVerse Poets. The links will be live at 2 p.m. Central time today.

Photograph by Brunhilde Reinig via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Dana Gioia’s Pity the Beautiful: Poems

It’s rather startling to read contemporary poetry that rhymes. And Pity the Beautiful: Poems by Dana Gioia is startling in exactly that way, and more.

There’s a name for this, of course; we have to give everything a name: The “New Formalism.” It reaches back to a time when most poetry did indeed rhyme, and was metrical as well. It was also a time (roughly pre-World War II, perhaps a little earlier) when poetry has a much broader appeal than it does today. Newspapers, for example often published poetry on a daily basis. The poets associated with the New Formalism include Mark Jarman, Howard Nemerov, Donald Justice, Mary Oliver – and Dana Gioia.

To continue reading, please see my review today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Poetry at Work: Dana Gioia on Poetry in Business

In Can Poetry Matter: Essays on Poetry and American Culture, Dana Gioia included an article on business and poetry. His focus was on the odd fact that many poets who worked in business, some their entire working lives, wrote virtually nothing in their poetry about their business or anything related to it. This includes poets like T.S. Eliot (Bank of England), Wallace Stevens (Hartford Insurance) and Ted Kooser (Liberty Financial Insurance). (Farmers, like Robert Frost and Wendell Berry, are a different matter.)

The conventional wisdom, Gioia says, and especially the conventional American wisdom, is that poets “must be people out of the ordinary; they must be strong, even eccentric individuals.” In other words, Walt Whitman fits our preconceived notions; Wallace Stevens, corporate lawyer, does not.

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

Monday, February 18, 2013

Work: Fruitless, Pointless, Selfish, Idolatrous

Imagine you’re working for an organization that is trying to decide a course of action. It could be any action – a new product, an executive change, announcement of a partnership, filing of litigation, or anything else that organizations today find a normal part of doing business.

Head around the table are nodding as the champion presents the plan and what will be achieved. People are speaking in favor, supporting the idea (especially if it’s championed by someone higher up in the organization).

You sit there, uncertainty gnawing at you. As soon as you saw the PowerPoint slides begin, you see the flaw, or flaws. You see what’s being overlooked or glossed over. You see the errors in judgment. You’re getting this acidic stomach because you know where this plan is headed.

And you also know what will happen if your voice your opinion or raise the smallest question about it. Not a team player. Always negative. Afraid to take a risk. Doesn’t see the big picture.

This time you choose to speak out. The speaker gets red in the face and tries to stay calm. The more he tries to explain, the deeper he gets into the mire. Others around the table see the same problems, and say nothing; they will tell you later that they were glad you spoke up.

Despite your objections, the plan goes forward. And blows up in everyone’s faces. All the people who nodded and approved are suddenly nowhere to be found. And the champion gets angry with you because you were right. A considerable amount of work and resources turns out to be for naught. And you’re likely not to be invited back to the next meeting on the next plan.

I would like to say this is confined to the business workplace. But having worked for a public school district, churches as an elder or deacon, a newspaper, a university, several political campaigns, and Fortune 500 companies, I can say that it is unfortunately all too common across all kinds of workplaces.

I’m reading Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work with The High Calling book discussion group, and Keller speaks to the problems of work.

When it becomes fruitless, with more and more work producing a smaller and smaller result.

When it becomes pointless, and it doesn’t matter what you do or how well (or poorly) you do it.

When it becomes selfish, with people sacrificing the common good of the enterprise to achieve their own personal or team goals (a particular problem today because we’re all led to believe that we should be “self-actualized” and “fulfilled” by work).

When it becomes idolatrous, and we worship the work (meaning the fruit of our hands) instead of the Creator.

And problems happen because we are all sinful people. Work, designed by God as something good and for our benefit, is full of broken people and broken, imperfect systems. No management system, no new human resources initiative, no new vision and mission statement will ever change that.

What can change the problems in the workplace starts in the human heart. No workplace will ever be perfect, not in this lifetime, anyway, but change can happen and work be done in such a way that honors God and honors people.

Led by Laura Boggess, we’re reading Every Good Endeavor over at The High Calling. To see what others are saying and participate in the discussion, pleasevisit the site.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Broken Hallelujahs

Shards of hallelujahs
litter the floor, shredded like
waste paper, forgotten, not made

I was here once before,
walking on broken hallelujahs,
the cuts leaving a blood path

Hymn-less, I sing a song
bordered in gray, etched
in black, pushing my words

into the chorus of night, hearing
the broken response, the fading
echo of broken hallelujahs

Over at dVerse Poets, the Poetics prompt today is all about Leonard Cohen. To see more poems submitted, please visit dVerse Poets.

Painting: December by Gerhard Richter (1990), St. Louis Art Museum.