Sunday, April 19, 2015

Because the stone cracks

After 1 Peter 1:3-9 

A river flows
from the cracked stone
water washing over cleaning
over and through, the pouring

As the river flows
it tests, strengthens,
builds, the icy tearing
of its fingers emptying pores
of accumulated dirt 

The river purifies
fading the stain with mist,
a vapor dissipating 

a cleansing away
to a revealed whiteness 

because the stone cracks: hope
because the stone cracks: birth
because the stone cracks: inheritance 

Photograph via Wallpapergate.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday Good Reads

The moral collapse of the West seems to proceed apace; medical ethicists at Oxford University argue that there is just as much reason to kill a newborn as there is for an abortion. That is not a Saturday Good Read.

And then Rebecca Reynolds at The Rabbit Room writes about the new movie version of Cinderella. We saw it; it was entertaining but not “great film.” Reynolds saw something else, though, and what she found in the production directed by Kenneth Branaugh was a rather surprising encouragement.

Lots of good stuff this week. 


Granddad lied – Doug Spurling at Spurling Silver.

The Unselfish Act of Nourishing the Heart – Chris Peek at Trail Reflections.

At 40 – Matt Tuckey at Openhanded.

When Children Grow – Seth Haines.


The Moral Bucket List – David Brooks at The New York Times (Hat tip: Jim Schmotzer).

The Scummiest Clients on Earth – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.

It’s Getting Harder to Listen – Mark Bauerlein at First Things.

The Audacity of Cinderella – Rebecca Reynolds at The Rabbit Room.


Leaving Carolina – Rick Maxon at The Imagined Jay.

We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live – Brendan MacOdrum at Oran’s Well.

The Icarus Myth Retold – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Love Poem No. 24 – John Blase at The Beautiful Due.

Reading and Writing

Iteration – Charity Craig for Curator Magazine.

Who Needs to Read Any More? – Vic Sizemore at Image Journal.

Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work – Delilah Dawson at Whimsy Dark (Hat tip: John Robinson).

The Quality of Your Thoughts – Mick Silva. 


Flowers from Home – Timothy Good at Photography by Tiwago.

Illustration: Scene from the live-action movie version of Disney's "Cinderella."

Friday, April 17, 2015

Natasha Head’s “Birthing Inadequacy: Poems”

It’s an arresting idea, and not easy to pull off: assemble a poetry collection around the idea of conception, pregnancy, and childbirth – not, however, like a child is conceived and born, but as a woman is constructed from childhood to adulthood.  

Welcome to Birthing Inadequacy: Poems by poet and writer Natasha Head 

The works in the collection are a combination of poetry and short narratives. They are confessional in nature; “self-examined” is perhaps a better description. She recounts scenes from childhood and growing up, the accumulated experiences that, in both good and bad ways, contribute to whom we are as adults. Time is both telescoped and abandoned, because our collective experiences, traumas and delights remain with us, shaping actions and reactions. 

The poems and narratives are grouped in five sections: conception; first, second, and third trimesters; and afterbirth. They have the feel of an ongoing flow, always happening in the present. This is one from the :First Trimester” section: 

Dark Matter 

particles collide

Realities merge
sensing the potential 

Is this the me you wish to see
propped up pedestal
trip the switch 

Blackness now as you ponder
in the dark there is no sense of my self
which might influence your desire 

Shortcut now
space and time need pay no mind
the wormhole trumps their power 

Now meek and mild
no more girl gone wild
you knew that taste would sour 

Pulsing waves distort my senses
while you decide
where you’ll mark your fences 

Collar tight, the leash is snug
have you determined
this is love? 

Head grew up in Nova Scotia and now lives in Alberta. She’s the author of a previous collection of poetry, Nothing Left to Lose (nominated for the Pushcart Prize), and Pulse, a narrative fiction collection. She’s also been published in numerous anthologies and publications. 

In Birthing Inadequacy, what the poet is particularly conscious of, as the title suggests, are those experiences that contribute to a negative or inadequate sense of self. We’ve all experienced them; what she reminds us here is that these experiences are never really left behind. And yet that recognition is itself a kind of catharsis; recognition leads to understanding, and understanding leads to resolution. 

Painting: Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, oil on canvas (1662-65) by Johannes Vermeer; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Jeffrey Anderson's "Little God Blues"

Jim Shalabon, co-lead of the now-defunct rock band Eyebeams, is in London to find out what happened to his other co-lead, Kirk Howell. Howell was found dead in a London alley; the cause was an overdose of drugs. A major problem with that determination is that Howell didn’t take drugs, ever. And found with the body is a copy of a poetry book by Shalabon’s father, an √©migr√© Russian who settled in America, abandoned his family to return to Russia in the early 1980s, and died not long after. 

Thus begins Little God Blues by Jeffrey Anderson. While it is largely a murder mystery (Shalabon might be the first rock star detective), it is also a story about London, about rock music, and about the search for self.  

And there’s a romance, too.  

It might be easy to get lost in all of these threads, but Anderson is a wonderful storyteller. His cast of characters is large, and range from a Greek student studying physics, a former British spy suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and a 13-year-old girl seeking her disappeared mother, to an Oxford professor, assorted detectives from Scotland Yard, a barrister and a jailed felon. The story develops in pieces and hints, each one taking Shalabon deeper into the central mystery, which become three connected central mysteries – two deaths (from the same kind of drug overdose) and a disappearance.

I have to admit that I was hooked from the first chapter. The story partially seemed to follow my wife’s and my itineraries on recent London trips – the Wallace Collection, side-trips to Oxford, New Scotland Yard (our hotel was a block away), the British Library, and Covent Garden. Anderson is an American living in London, and the scenes have the sense of familiarity.  

Jeffrey Anderson
The novel isn’t entirely set in London; Shalabon makes a few side trips, like to Greece, his home of San Francisco, and St. Petersburg. But all the while he’s moving closer to what happened to his friend, and moving closer to understanding his own father, and, by extension, himself. And he’s falling deeply in love with a young woman whose father’s various business activities is scrutinized by police in several countries. 

Anderson’s novel is big, often complex but deeply engaging. You watch a formerly hedonistic rock star mature into something much more than that, as he learns at least some of what happened to his father. And while the central mystery is ultimately solved, not everything is answered. Much like life.

Anderson is currently based in London, where he writes short stories and novels, but he’s originally from San Francisco and has degrees in economics and Russian from the University of California – Santa Barbara.  

A sequel to Little God Blues is due out shortly – if it’s half as good as this one it will be well worth reading. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

When Nothing is Everything

When was the last time you prayed for nothing, nada, zero?

I can’t recall a time I did that. I can recall praying for something not to happen, and I can remember not praying, but I can’t remember a time I prayed for zero.

“Please, Lord, give ne nothing. Give me zero.”

Margaret Feinberg can.

In Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears, Feinberg recounts how to respond to people who asked how they could pray for her. Prayer sustained her and her husband through her breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and surgeries, so she didn’t take the question as some trifling politeness Christians often ask in difficult situations like this. (When we don’t know what to say, we can always ask it.)

She began to answer the questions with “zero,” as in “zero cancer cells, zero complications, zero side effects, zero allergic reactions, zero suffering, zero medical errors, zero bad test results, zero sleepless nights, zero night terrors.”

Feinberg’s prayer was for zero. For nothing. But it was also everything.

But that might have not been the outcome. Zero might now have been the answer.

Feinberg turns to the book of Daniel (I’m finding Daniel in all kinds of places this week). And she finds an answer in the account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the three taken from Jerusalem with Daniel to be trained in Babylon. They would not worship the statue of gold erected by Nebuchadnezzar. The king had them taken to the furnace to be burned alive.

And they told the king that their God could deliver them from death in the furnace. But they acknowledge that this may not be the outcome. “But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

But if not. That’s where Feinberg finds the joy – and the fight with joy.

Feinberg had to consider both a prayer answered with zero and a prayer answered with but if not. She had to be prepared for both, and she knew the cancer could be erased, or that it was still there. And while she may not have felt particularly brave as she dealt with all of the effects of chemotherapy, she was exactly that. Brave. Courageous. She had to stare both life and death in the face and be willing to say but if not.

Her lesson has both personal and corporate applications personal in how we deal with setbacks, debilitating illness, death of a loved one, or other personal tragedy. And corporate in what the church, the body of Christ, is becoming aware of in society.

Storm clouds are gathering for Christians and the church in Western culture. The storm may not break for a year, or for ten. But it is coming. We can pray for zero. But we have to consider if the answer is, instead, but if not.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we've been reading Fight Bak with Joy. To see more posts on this chapter, "When Nothing Means Everything," please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.

Photograph by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Daniel Bowman Jr.’s “A Plum Tree in Leatherstocking Country”

I can tell you almost exactly where I was around 2 a.m. most nights in January 1988 – doing the graveyard shift for the feeding of our second, youngest and last child, Andrew.

I held the baby on one arm, my right arm cradled around him with his bottle, while in my left hand was The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. The book was required reading for a course I was taking for masters program. I will forever associate The Deerslayer with baby bottles.

The book is one of the five “Leatherstocking Tales” written by Cooper, with The Last of the Mohicans being perhaps slightly better well known, thanks to the 1992 Daniel Day Lewis movie. Cooper set his novels in central New York State, and today the region is known as “Leatherstocking Country.”

It is also the region where poet Daniel Bowman Jr. was raised, and it provided the title for his first collection of poetry, A Plum Tree in Leatherstocking Country.

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

Painting of The Deerslayer by N.C. Wyeth.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Daniel’s First Statement: Why

It’s a familiar scene. You’re sitting in a strategy meeting at work, thrashing through the best approach to a problem or issue. The issue is difficult and not clear-cut. All of the needed people are sitting around the table, representing Law, Human Resources, Public Relations, the business group, the research group. An outside consultant or two is on the phone.

Everyone’s expertise is brought to bear. As the discussion goes on, it’s clear that the Law perspective is likely to prevail, even though it’s likely to generate damage for the organization’s reputation. Finally, you speak out, representing a perspective that is alien in these halls of secular business culture.

You see the reactions. People don’t like what you have just said, what in effect you are predicting if the consensus perspective is implemented. This has happened before; sometimes you’re ignored, and sometimes what you say is acknowledged with some small change.

This time you’re ignored. Two people are clearly angry with you. You know exactly what they are thinking: Not a team player. Your speaking out is going to cost you in organizational terms, regardless of whether you’re listened to or not. But you know you have argued for doing the right thing, even at the cost of short-term pain.

Organizations don’t like short-term pain.

The decision is implemented, and what you predicted fully comes to pass, causing more problems and rippling back on the business.

The team’s response: even more anger directed at you. Because you were right.

You don’t feel smug. You feel sorrow. And you know it will be worse the next time, assuming you’re even invited to participate the next time.

Your question to yourself, and to God, why does this happen?

For a Christian, it’s easy, perhaps too easy, to attribute everything to sin and mankind’s fallen condition. Organizational politics. Embracing the wrong thing. Crime. The Islamic State butchering Christians, women, children, the defenseless. A culture growing increasingly coarse and turning its back on decent behavior. Children suffering debilitating diseases.

Sin is certainly a part of it. But there’s more, and the more is difficult to accept.

In Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism, John Lennox points to what the prophet Daniel recognized from the very beginning: “The first thing Daniel says about God in his book is that he is involved in human history: a statement of immense import, if it is true.”

This is what Daniel says: “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god” (Daniel 1:1-2, New International Version).

Think about that.

The Lord God delivered the king of Judah into the hands of a pagan ruler.

The Lord God allowed his own temple to be plundered.

The Lord God allowed valuables from his own temple to be placed in the temple of Nebuchadnezzar’s god.

Daniel doesn’t ask why. Daniel knows why.

With all of the evil swirling around our world, our society, our culture, and our communities, we have to remember that God is involved in human history.

God is involved suffering and genocide? The murder of innocents? Disease and physical infirmities? The Islamic State? People at work getting angry with you because you were right in what you told them?

The Lord God is involved in human history. We may not understand it. We may never understand it, at least in this lifetime.

But the Lord God is involved.

I’ve been discussing Against the Flow by John Lennox and will continue to do so for the next several weeks on Mondays. It’s a deeply insightful, highly readable book. Lennox is a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford and a speaker on the interface of science, philosophy and religion. 

Painting: The Siege of Jerusalem by James Tissot (1902); Jewish Museum, New York.