Monday, August 31, 2015

The High Calling: A Path Paved with Poetry

Today marks the end of The High Calling as an ongoing web site focused on work and faith.

My personal path to The High Calling was paved with poetry.

In the summer of 2009, I was having a conversation on Twitter with two people I had never met face-to-face. One was Jim Wood, who had a blog called Shrinking the Camel (now a Patheos/High Calling blog) and wrote on faith and work. The other was L.L. Barkat, who had a blog (or two, perhaps three) called Seedlings in Stone and was the managing editor of a web site I had just begun to visit, called High Calling Blogs (HCB).

We were talking about making sandwiches, wine, poetry, and a movie called Bottle Crazy. Within a few minutes, I composed a short poem encompassing all of those elements within the character count of one tweet. We laughed, but something had changed. An awareness, perhaps a bond, had formed with a poetic tweet that connected us.

Later that summer, I was in a bike crash and spent the night in a hospital so the doctors could watch my four broken ribs and partially collapsed lung. Unable to sleep with an oxygen mask on my face, I read Laura’s Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places straight through. It was rare for a book to speak directly, almost personally, to me, but that one did.

Eventually, I screwed up enough courage to start participating in the HCB poetry prompts. I started writing occasional articles. And then L.L. asked me (and Jim Wood, too), to be contributing writers. I made my first trip to Laity Lodge in the fall of 2010 – joining the rest of the “virtual” staff at the writer’s conference. I attended the poetry seminar, and so The High Calling, Laity Lodge and poetry came to be even more bound together in my mind.

In 2012, I became the Twitter editor and discovered The High Calling network, comprised of all of the people who had signed up with The High Calling and had an official network entry on the site.

I went exploring and realized The High Calling’s reach expanded beyond the site and beyond the virtual staff I had come to appreciate and love. It expanded beyond the office in Kerrville and that almost sacred place called Laity Lodge.

I discovered poetry in the network—not actual poetry and poems, although there was some of that, but poetry in the much broader sense of God’s people. To discover this network was, at times, to be overwhelmed by faith. A significant portion of the Bible is written in poetic form, and perhaps for that reason I find a strong connection between poetry and faith.

So, on behalf of The High Calling, I tweeted this network of God’s people, using Twitter to promote the links for their articles and personal blog posts. To tweet all network members all the time would have taken a staff of several people. But I tried.

Who is, or was, the High Calling network? Diana Trautwein. Lisha Epperson. Brock Henning. The Center for Faith and Work. Mari-Anna Stalnacke. Ed Cyzewski. Billy Coffey. Jen Sandbulte. The Theology Work Project. 4 Word Women. Jolene Underwood. Lynn Mosher. Zechariah Newman. Megan Willome. Linda Chontos. Jen Avellaneda. Maureen Doallas. Chris Peek. John Blase. Tanya Marlow.

And hundreds and hundreds more. My RSS reader overflowed with the blog postings of the network. I had to develop a second list of blogs to visit.

I read people who struggled and celebrated. People who hurt. People doubting their faith. People overcoming their doubts. People with seminary degrees. People with a high school education. Single people. People struggling to have children. People struggling to manage families. People who had published books, and people trying to publish books. People with addictions.

I read people who mourned the deaths of loved ones, and one way they had to deal with it was to write. I read people who laughed. I read people who suffered debilitating illnesses, and some who were dying. People who supported the right to bear arms and people who ardently believed in gun control. Political liberals, conservatives, moderates, and independents.

I read the incredible diversity that is God’s church. And I found poetry everywhere I looked, the poetry of faith, the poetry that is faith.

And I learned that, for all of our differences, for all of our politics and denominations, for all of our hopes and dreams and occasional nightmares, we are one in Christ Jesus.

Like all other human endeavors, The High Calling may pass, but that unity will always be.

Photos: Various pictures of The High Calling staff activities during the past five years, all taken at Laity Lodge in the Texas Hill Country.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The soldier

(Based on Acts 12)

We stand swords sheathed
guarding this Jew or whatever
it is he calls himself some say
blasphemer these people
are a plague.

We stand guarding him
waiting for the word to come
to slice his stubborn neck
separate his stubborn head
from his body

They say he is one of the first
who followed the rabble rouser
they’re all rabble rousers
no one can tell the difference
one from the other

When they come he speaks
his hard words softly explains
who he is what he is
what he believes ripping
scales from my eyes tearing
scales from my soul slicing
my heart asunder

The order is given
the sword strikes cleanly
I kneel beside the headless
body give my confession
and ask for my sword

I see light as it swings

According to tradition, when James, the brother of John, was executed at the order of Herod Antipas, one of the Roman soldiers guarding the prisoner was so convicted by James’ final words that he asked to be executed as well. His request was granted.

Illustration: Death of St. James the Apostle, from a 19th century woodcut.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday Good Reads

I’ve read a number of good posts on writing in the past week – from how to generate ideas, resources for writers and poets, writers for writers to read, telling a respected and perhaps beloved teacher goodbye, and what we can learn from penmanship (remember when they used to teach that in schools?).

Kronos Media recently assembled video footage from a number of sources of what Berlin looked like in July, 1945, two months after the end of World War II in Europe. Included are scenes of the “rubble women” (who worked to clear bombed sites), the area around Hitler’s bunker and the ditch where his dead body was burned, the Mosaic Hall of Hitler’s Chancellery (painted by Anselm Kiefer), and a city trying to come to grips with a very different world. The video is below.

The eighth Planned Parenthood video has been released by the Center for Medical Progress, and if you’ve ever doubted that abortion has become a big business in the United States, then watch the video. Executives with StemExpress, the company buying organs of aborted babies from Planned Parenthood, talks about how important it is that Planned Parenthood profit, too. And in something straight out of George Orwell’s 1984, one of the executives has the title of procurement manager.

In that regard, Joe Carter and Time Challies remind us that we don’t need to take the words of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, out of context, and there is a lot of that happening on social media. The things she said and believed are damning enough in context.


How to Generate Ideas for Writing - @annkroeker

Resources for Poets and Writers – Mary Sayler at The Poetry Editor.

We are slaves to the printed word, but only handwriting conveys real beauty – Simon Jenkins at The Guardian (Hat tip: J of India).

The Little Spec-Fic Conference That Could – Mike Duran at Novel Rocket.

Five Questions with Author Karen Swallow Prior – (Hat top: Mike Duran and Maureen Doallas).

A Goodbye of Sorts – Jake Lee at Very Much Later.

Writers to Read: 9 Names That Belong on Your Bookshelf – Mary H. Sayler at In a Christian Writer’s Life.


‘Only His Hands, Quiet On The Sheet’ - 3 poems by Wendell Berry via @roddreher at @amconmag

Sandra Duguid –D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

The Torrentials – Brendan MacOdrum at Oran’s Well.

Inside Ship Windows – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Art and Photography

Artist Watch: Noel Paine – Maureen Doallas at Escape into Life.

Hummingbirds – Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.

The Katrina Decade – David Spielman at Oxford American.

November Dusk and New Mexico Watercolors – Randall David Tipton at Painter’s Process.


How to put an end to stupid job interviews – Nick Corcodilos at PBS (Hat tip: Janet Young).

Commerce – Jack Baumgartner at The School of the Transfer of Energy.


A letter for my daughter who is all growed up – Troy Cady at T(r)oy Marbles.

That was a Man – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.

Planned Parenthood

The 8th Video from the Center for Medical Progress – Justin Taylor at The Gospel Colation.

9 Things You Should Know About Margaret Sanger – Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition.

The Truth About Margaret Sanger – Tim Challies at Informing the Reforming.

Witches Can Be Right, Giants Can Be Good – Jody Lee Collins at Three Way Light.

Berlin – July 1945 – Kronos Media

Top photograph by Francisco Faris Jr. via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, August 28, 2015

All the things I would miss

I thought I would miss it
the adrenaline rush (daily)
the pace of the crises multiple
times a day
the conflict, the collaboration
the meetings, hallway talks,
all the ways work happens

I thought I would miss
the routine of the commute
arrival and departure
the occasional journeys,
and talking about the politics
of the politics of the workplace,
the office, the village of cubicles
radiating through pixels
across the planet

As it turns out, I do miss the people,
the ones I worked closest with,
but as for the rest of it,
I don’t miss it at all

Photograph by Paul Brennan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dashiell Hammett’s “Return of the Thin Man”

Noir detective fiction reigned supreme in America in the 1920s and 1930s, and remained popular through most of the 1950s. And the author who was the acknowledged master of this genre was Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961).

The former Pinkerton detective turned to writing detective stories when he was afflicted with tuberculosis, a disease that would plague him most of his adult life. He wrote stories for “the pulps” – popular detective magazines and a series of novels that set the standard for noir fiction, and in fact likely still set the standard.

He published Red Harvest in 1929, followed by The Dain Curse that same year. Then came The Maltese Falcon in 1930, The Glass Key in 1931, and The Thin Man in 1934. The novels are written tightly and concisely, and are full of action, unexpected turns, and a fair amount of violence. (One of Hammett’s fellow noir writers, Philip Marlowe, gave this writing advice to authors facing writing blocks: “When in doubt, have to men come in the door with guns.”) A group of his stories was published as The Continental Op.

Hammett posed for the cover of The Thin Man.
Hammett’s influence on writers – and on the movies – extended far beyond noir fiction. He’s considered so influential, in fact, that Library of America has published a volume of his novels and a volume of his short stories.

My first awareness of Dashiell Hammett was watching The Thing Man movies of the 1930s and early 1940s on television. Starring William Powell as detective Nick Charles and Myrna Loy as his wife Nora, the movies were widely popular when they were first released. If you’re familiar with the movies at all, it’s almost impossible to see anyone but William Powell when you read the Hammett novel.

I discovered Hammeett as a writer in the 1970s, during a resurgence of the novels of the glory days of noir fiction. I also discovered the Dashiell Hammett who was in love with playwright Lillian Hellman and the Hammett who went to prison rather than divulge names to a congressional committee during the Red Scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In the last few years, additional writings have turned up in archives and various closets, including two “movie books” written for the scripts of “After the Thin Man” and “Another Thin Man,” both commissioned by MGM Studios. Movie books were essentially novellas written to help the scriptwriters develop and finalize a script. Both of these movie books, and related materials, never previously made public, were published in 2012 as Return of the Thin Man.

Dashiell Hammett
The stories are less novellas than they are movie and Dashiell Hammett artifacts. They even contain periodic filming instructions and parenthetical statements instructing the scriptwriters how to develop particular scenes. Accompanying the stories are headnotes and afterwords by the editors, Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett.

The stories reflect the public tastes in movies in the time period they were released. They often seem formulaic, with “thugs and dames” getting themselves mixed up with the wealthy (and, in one of the stories, even with Nora’s very proper family). The genius of the stories lies not so much in the stories themselves as it does in how Hammett developed the interaction between and relationship of Nick and Nora Charles, which steal the story and also stole the movies. The dialogue involving their back-and-forth is still fascinating today, underscoring how much Hammett could communicate by what wasn’t said as much as by what was.

For fans of noir fiction, it’s a must-read. For those interested in how a master writer developed dialogue, it’s also a must-read. For those of us fascinated with the genre and the period, not to mention what Hammett achieved, it’s a significant contribution to understanding.

Photograph: Myrna Loy and William Powell in The Thin Man.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My First Grandfather Story

I have no grandfather stories.
My mother’s father died of a ruptured appendix when she was 12.
My father’s father died when I was nine months old, when my family was preparing to move to Florida. My father had taken a job in Jacksonville and was already working there when he got the call that his dad was failing fast. My father drove like a maniac to New Orleans to get us and then on to Shreveport. By the time we arrived, my grandfather could barely recognize anyone, but he kept asking for the baby. When they placed me on his bed, he touched me and smiled. He died a few hours later.
To continue reading, please see my post at The High Calling. This week, the final week for essay content, The High Calling is featuring “Best of the Editors,” stories selected by the editors themselves as favorites. This one of mine was originally published in 2010, a few months after the birth of my first grandson, Cameron. My second grandson, Caden, was born in 2012. And Jacob arrived in May of this year.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

The Hiding Place: Misery, Tedium, and Kindness

As Corrie ten Boom describes in The Hiding Place, after their arrest in Haarlem in February 1944, members of the ten Boom family are trucked to Gestapo headquarters in The Hague. From there, they’re taken to nearby Scheveningen, the site of what had been the Dutch federal penitentiary but is not a prison used by the Nazis. The women are divided from the men, and she sees her elderly father sitting in a chair, brought by a guard out of respect for his age.

It is the last time Corrie will see her father.

She’s separated from her sister Betsie, other family members and anyone else from Haarlem. Corrie is still sick, trying to recover from the flu.

There in Scheveningen, she discovers the misery of prison life, not the least of which is the tedium. She also discovers occasional kindness, such as when she’s transported to a doctor and a nurse slips her some soap and four gospel tracts.

She will learn through the prison grapevine that, of all the ten Boom family members arrested, only she, Betsie and their father remain in prison; the others have been released. She will also learn that the “watches in her closet” – that is, the Jews who were hiding in the concealed room at the ten Boom clock shop – were all able to escape. They were not found by the Gestapo. She will receive a message from Betsie: “God is good.” And she will find out that her father died 10 days after the arrest.

She reads her gospel tracts. And Corrie discovers something.

The gospels are stories of – initially – a defeat. Jesus is arrested, interrogated, beaten, forced to carry his cross to Golgotha, and then crucified. For his disciples, the spiritual and emotional darkness that followed Jesus’ death lasted for three days. Most if not all of them were in hiding. It appeared as if Jesus’ ministry had been destroyed, and they were all marked men, without a leader, a teacher, or anyone to guide them.

What Corrie discovered from the gospel accounts was surprisingly simple, and something she might not have realized before she was in prison.

Defeat wasn’t the end.

Defeat was the beginning.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading the hiding Place. To see more posts on this chapter, “Scheveningen,” please visit Sarah at LivingBetween the Lines.

Photograph of a prison cell bathroom by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. The cell occupied by Corrie ten Boom at Scheveningen wasn’t as well lit or as well furnished as this one.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Poetic Voices: Molly Fisk and Miriam Bird Greenberg

Strong, vivid imagery is a hallmark of good poetry, and indeed all good writing. Two poets with recent collections demonstrate the value of imagery in developing a theme and creating a story.

Molly Fisk’s The More Difficult Beauty is filled with poems that use strong imagery. Whether she’s writing about women turning 40, the Truckee River, Junior Mints and other candy, or Joe’s Taco Lounge in Mill Valley, the images she uses are strong and striking, and also advance the story she’s telling.

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

Monday, August 24, 2015

Making a Difference – Poem by Lynn D. Morrissey

If you’ve seen my Saturday Good Reads of the last few weeks, you know I’ve been including the ongoing release of the Planned Parenthood videos by the Center for Medical Progress – even though they are more of an “urgent” read than a “good” read. The subject of each successive video has been getting progressively worse, with the seventh video (posted last week) covering the subject of the process of “harvesting” of a baby’s brain in a late-term abortion.

There are no “key message points” from Planned Parenthood, its allies in “medical research” or the press secretary for Obama Administration sufficient to justify what I can only call a horror – an evil horror. So far, my two U.S. Senators from the state of Missouri have responded as expected – with Sen. Claire McCaskill supporting Planned Parenthood and Sen. Roy Blunt opposing it. At least Sen. Blunt is on record for opposing this evil.

My friend Lynn Morrissey, whose poem “Charleston” I published here in July, has written another poem. It’s not about the videos, but it is about Planned Parenthood, and it asks questions, heartrending questions.

Making a Difference
In recognition of the work of Planned Parenthood
August 2015

by Lynn D. Morrissey

Before the babies’ demise,
did the good doctors
hear the chilling cries of women
in the inchoate aftermath of their non-pathological operations:
their legal abortions?

Did the doctors warn them that the savagery
of surgery could invite hemorrhaging or ravage them

Did they advise about the post-abortive risk for breast-cancer or suicide?

Did they abide professional protocol to lessen their gut-wrenching pain
from near-disembowelment with a dose of two Extra-Strength Tylenol
or a sympathetic pat on the hand,
and assure them that their pain was all in their head?

Did they avert their eyes
and rationalize that those who shook and sobbed uncontrollably
were just having a bad reaction to sedation?

Did their gaze penetrate the masks of those resolute Stoics?
Did they see that they had absolutely shut down their emotions?

Did they high-five the nonchalants, applauding their cavalier demeanor—
for now?
Did they sing their praises with a laid-back, “Good job, babe!”?

Did the doctors practice good patient follow-up through the years
(and years and years),
and prescribe barbiturates—pretty palliatives to deaden unpalatable dreams
about human dismemberment
and to hasten sleep?
Did they keep oft-resulting alcoholism and drug abuse at bay with timely referrals to AA?

Did the doctors  prepare their patients for PAS, those frequently assaulting flashbacks
that rear up unexpectedly like wild stallions,
with swift kicks to the gut to
keep the memory alive?

Did the doctors cradle the broken disconsolates,
whose arms ached to rock desolate cradles?
Did they remain conscious of women’s impossible-to-abort consciences?

Did the good doctors do all this as professionals,
committed to the well-being of their patients?

Did they do all this to show how much they cared?

Did they do all this to make an indelible difference in the lives of those under their care,
in a world-turned-cold?

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Three Envelopes - Poem by Jared Gilbert

Jared Gilbert is a friend of mine (online and in-person); we both serve on our church’s Board of Deacons. And we’re both interested in poetry.

Jared posted  this one today, entitled “Three Envelopes.” This is how it starts:

The envelopes sit on my desk, addressed and stamped.
stamps, which never lose value. A promise
that this letter will reach him,
no matter how much time has passed.
Or what change.

You should read it all, and you can by visiting Jared’s blog, Total Depravity.

Photograph by Claudette Gallant via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Rhoda's discovery

After Acts 12:1-19

I am of no account or station,
a servant to answer doors,
to bring water or wine,
to place food on tables

I hear the knock, and look
to see who calls at this hour
of the night, the others
in prayer for Peter, in chains

I hear the knock, and see
the answer to prayer, and run
to tell the others he is there,
standing at the door, and is it
him or his ghost, his shade

they scoff

But it is him, without chains,
without jailers, standing as
a vision, an answer from God,
an answer to prayer we cannot
believe, an answer to the knocks
on the door of heaven

and I see him, hear him,
astonished, reprimanded,
then justified, 
then saved.

Illustration: Peter Returns, woodcut by Johann Christoph Weigel, 1695.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Saturday Good Reads

We’ve been watching via Netflix the mini-series Band of Brothers, which originally aired on HBO in 2001. The quality is what you’d expect from the executive  production of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg and the late historian Stephen Ambrose. Watching a series like this raises a contemporary question: Did you notice all of the U.S. observances for the 70th anniversary of the end of the end of World War II? Except for the recreation of the famous kiss in Times Square, I didn’t either, although I did see a number of stories about the atomic bomb and Hiroshima.

Britain, however, was another matter, and even St. Paul’s Cathedral honored an American who died in the Battle of Britain (see below). Queen Elizabeth led the observance at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London.

Why do we turn a blind eye to a war that, like the Civil War did in the 19th century, defined America in its own century?

Speaking of turning a blind eye, welcome to 21st century America. The seventh Planned Parenthood video was released by the Center for Medical Progress. While the expected chorus of “deceptive video,” “agenda-driven extremists,” and “we have broken no laws” continues, and as the outraged business that buys fetal parts from Planned Parenthood (“pays for transportation costs”) sues to stop the videos' release, we have this new horror, so awful I can’t even find words to describe it. The Gospel Coalition continues to post each video as it’s released.

Yet even with this atrocity, there is still great beauty happening all around us. And I have to keep reminding myself of that.

For map lovers: A curator of maps at the Los Angeles County Library was called to home one day, and asked if the library would be interested in a collection of maps. Expecting to find a box or two, the curator found an entire house filled with maps. And the Los Angeles Review of Books filmed the result (Hat tip: American Digest; the full video is below).

Lots of good poetry this week. And articles on writing (as Marilyn Gardner says in the link noted below, it’s not just the story you tell – but how you tell it.)


Broken – Loren Paulsson at World Narratives.

Poetry as Enchantment – Dana Gioia at The Dark Horse (Hat tip: Ann Kroeker).

Haiku (after Hiroshima) – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Beggar – Chris Yokel.

Izaak Walton – D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

What I Would Do Again – Troy Cady at T(r)oy Marbles.

A Grief Conserved – John Blase at The Beautiful Due.

The Man Behind London’s Only Poetry Book Shop – Kyra Hanson at Londonist (Hat tip: Maureen Doallas).

Handful of Cockle Shells – Heather Eure at The Consolation of Mirth.

Art and Photography

Top of the Mornin' to Y'all – Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.

Women of Bellefontaine Cemetery – Chris Naffziger at St. Louis Patina.

The Italian Girl: An Old Tale – Trevor Logan at Curator Magazine.

Faith and Culture

The Coddling of the American Mind – Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt at The Atlantic.

Ben Carson is a messenger the GOP needs to hear – editorial in the New York Post.

7 Signs You Were Raised as an Evangelical in the Last 25 Years – Joshua Rogers at Boundless (Hat tip: Tim Challies)

Planned Parenthood

PlannedParenthood’s Custom Abortions for Superior Product – The Gospel Coalition. The post include four fact sheets.


Writers’ Apps – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Good Old Words – Winn Collier.

Does Christian Fiction Have a Race Problem? – Mike Duran at deCompose.

The Stories of Others – Marilyn Gardner at Communicating Across Boundaries.

Are Curators the New Experts? – Heidi Oran at @ThinDifference.


Photograph: A veteran of the Battle of the Bulge by William Morris, via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.