Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday Good Reads

A lot of writers are thinking about – writing. Writer Adam Blumer is thinking about the little guy. Poets D.S. Martin and Chris Galford are thinking about Robert Herrick and Robert Burns, respectively. Paul Steele is thinking about some wonderful photos of the Lake District in England. And painter Randall David Tipton is thinking about winter apples. Some wonderful stuff online this past week.


The Lonely Sailboat” by Travis Thrasher at The Journey is Everything.

A Wonderful Long Evening” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

Made New” by Michael Perkins at The Handwritten.

We Are the Ushers” by Jason Vana.

The Goal of a Writer” by Jeff Goins.

Á Mosaic of Despair and Waiting for the Bread” by Marc Cortez at Everyday Theology.

The Reward of Trust” by Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact.

The Development of True Faith” by Dustry Rayburn at Reflections on the Life of a Christian.

Ito Jakuchu: the Preserved Colors of Independence” by Makoto Fujimura for Curator Magazine.

Burnished through the Years” by Diana Trautwein at Just Wondering.

The Value of the Little Guy” by Adam Blumer at Meaningful Suspense.


Hungry for More” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne.

Robert Herrick” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Stand Your Ground” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Soaking” by Jerry Barrett at Gerald the Writer.

Address to a Haggis by Robert Burns” via Chris Galford at The Waking Den.

Lent Again” by Jim Schmotzer for Godspace.

Paintings and Photographs

5D MK II Inaugural Shot” by Kelly Sauer.

Printemps,” “Twilight” and “Essence of Flowers” by Timothy Good at Photography by Tiwago.

Winter Apples,” oil on canvas by Randall David Tipton at A Painter’s Process.

Some Water Wonders of the English Lake District” by Paul Steele at Bald Hiker.

Lake Agawam” by Steve Gravano at Take a Look Around.

Identification” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Short Stories

Listener, Take 3: Ozark Failures” by Seth Haines.

Videos and Podcasts

Back on the Subway” by The Wall Street Journal.

Photograph: Spring in Garden by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Breath Surrounded by Eternity

Last Saturday, my wife and I visited the Marianist Art Gallery in our own town of Kirkwood. It’s on the campus on St. John Vianney High School, and is largely devoted to the art and sculpture of Brother Mel Meyer. On Sunday after church, we went to the St. Louis University Art Museum, which I having an exhibition of Brother Mel’s works. And it is a wonderful exhibition.

I wrote about our meeting Brother Mel in 2010. I have two of his small metal sculptures in our office at home – Jesus on the Cross and The Last Supper.

After wandering around the Marianist gallery, we went outside – to see what I had spotted when we were getting out of the yard – rows of small tombstones. I had never noticed it before. It turned out to be the final resting place of Marianist brothers and priests. The tombstones are identical in shape and size, but some are much older and weather-worn – the oldest birth date I saw was 1849; the most recent burial had been in 2011. Irish and German names abounded, reflecting two of the three major streams of immigrants who settled in St. Louis (the third being Italian).

It’s a quiet place, shaded by trees, with a sculpture of Jesus on the cross behind the tombstones (if you squint you can see the sculpture in the photograph above – I have never claimed to be an ace photographer, especially with a cell phone).

Surrounding the graveyard in a semi-circle are metal sculptures by Brother Mel – representing the stations of the cross. Benches are available for praying and meditating, or just sitting. A soft breeze was blowing as I walked the rows of graves, wondering at how each of these men had given their lives to their vocation. I only had to look at the semi-circle of sculptures to find the answer for why they did.

At The High Calling, Mark Roberts has been doing a series on the stations of the cross. He’s a Presbyterian, the stations of the cross are a Catholic devotion (that began with St. Francis of Assisi) and often practices in Lutheran and some Anglican churches as well. Today, Roberts reflects on the sixth station – the scourging of Jesus and his crowning with thorns.

In that graveyard, feeling the warm wind, looking at the tombstones laid out so neatly and orderly, studying the sculptures, and above all listening to the quiet, it was so clear that we are but a breath upon the landscape, a breath surrounded by eternity.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Strange and Familiar

Reading The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America by David Whyte has been a both familiar and a strange experience for me.

It was familiar in that I met some aspect of my own work experience and career on virtually every page.

It was strange in that I realized how common my own experience is – or that it’s common enough that Whyte could describe these experiences as common in corporate America.

The strangeness and the familiarity continue on the final chapter, “The Soul of the World.”  Whyte spoke to poetry, and the role poetry plays in the corporate workplace.

“Poetry is the art of overhearing ourselves say things from which it is impossible to retreat,” he says. “A true line acts like a lightning rod in a storm. All our doubts about the experience disappear in a flash as the accumulated change contained in the electric ripeness of the moment runs to earth. Just before we are struck, we may even feel, as in a true lightning storm, the hair rising on the back of the neck, as we realize ‘it’ is being said.”

What poetry can bridge is the separation of corporate life from “the soul of the world.” Corporate self-preoccupation can often become so great that it separates people from the realities of the world they live in. I might add that nowhere is this self-preoccupation greater than at a corporate headquarters.

I’ve seen poetry – or a kind of poetry – bridge the separation. I’ve described here a speech I wrote for an executive, who used a speech not only to bridge the company to the larger world but also his industry. Some two years later, there was another speech by another executive, this time the CEO, that did something similar, except it completed the process of moving the company outside of itself and position it in the larger world beyond.

And it happened by accident.

The CEO had already created something of a stir with an initiative to reduce air emissions at manufacturing plants – by 90 percent and in four years. But he was looking for something more, something greater and larger, something that would seize the attention of people inside and outside the company. A number of proposals had been studied and brought forward – but the price tags for all of them had created sticker shock (and there were the shareowners to consider).

At some point, I was brought into the process, given copies of all the proposals, and asked by the company’s senior environmental executive to see if there was a “soft path” to getting at what the CEO wanted, defined as significant but without the obvious costs attached to it. I was cautioned not to share what I was doing with anyone, including my own boss.

I wrote the speech. The conclusion was a summary of the speech using seven short but rhetorically related statements. It was meant to be a rousing kind of conclusion, with repetition and rather emotional language. I didn't think of it as a new company policy. I gave the draft to the environmental executive, and didn’t hear anything for several weeks.

And then the word came back. The CEO would give the speech in Washington, D.C. I was pressed back into service for editing and preparing additional documents that would be needed. A few additional people were brought into the information loop, but the speech was still being held very closely. (The concern was that, if existence of the speech became known, various internal people and groups would move to influence it in a “watering down” direction.) (Which turned out to be a well-founded concern, except it happened after the speech was given.)

The CEO gave the speech, and then all heck broke loose inside the company. Senior business executives were upset that significant commitments had been made on their behalf, with no opportunity for input. People responsible for regulatory compliance believed they had been cut out of the loop (they had). The finance people were concerned. Executives responsible for manufacturing were concerned.

Employees loved it.

The outpouring of support was amazing. The CEO was flooded with letters from employees all over the world (this was pre-email). More than that, employees began to do things. Native-plant prairies were established at three plant locations. Initiatives were started in local communities.

Outside the company, the reaction was profound. The head of a major environmental group distributed copies of the speech to thousands of people and groups across the U.S. Discussions at industry trade associations started, leading to new programs. Competitors adopted similar efforts (and gave similar speeches).

Those seven simple “rhetorical devices” became the company mission statement for the next decade, when they replaced by another, similar set of principles announced in – a speech. But that’s another story.

Poetry – of a sort – bridged the separation between the corporate workplace and the world described in The Heart Aroused. For a time, the soul of the company was entwined with the “soul of the world.” David Whyte would smile.

We've been reading The Heart Aroused over at TweetSpeak Poetry. This week concludes our discussion of the book.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When You're in a Hard Place

Katie Davis returns to the United States from her year of mission work in Uganda. She’s returned to attend college, as she promised her parents she would do. She is keeping her promise, and she is miserable, grumpy and feeling disconnected from what her life had become in Uganda.

She knows her 19 girls – her “family” she adopted in Uganda – will be okay.

She trusts God to provide needed funds -- $70,000 of needed funds – for the mission work. Over a period of months, it’s provided, “and then some.”

She finds a few people who really do understand the conflict she’s experiencing.

And she learns one of the hardest and most important lessons of her young life: God is in control, and He is as much involved in her college and family as He is in Uganda.

Katie knows that her heart is in Uganda; she also knows it is the place she’s supposed to be. But for a time, she is “back home,” honoring the commitment to her parents, even if it is making her feel grumpy and at loose ends.

But God is there, too, right at home.

This chapter in Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis and Beth Clark reminds me of a conversation I had a long time ago I had with a colleague at the place I was then working. We were both Christians; we were both in exactly the same boat – banished to a kind of wilderness where our skills, experience and talents were going largely unused.

“It’s hard,” I said. “Well, it’s more than hard. It’s often miserable. We sit here, doing things that are easy to do, watching others do things badly that we both know we could do far better. But for whatever reason, this is where we are; this is where God has us. David had to live in a cave, too, for a time.”

The words were easier to say than to live, but simply saying them helped. It was as if by saying them aloud, we both could accept what we were dealing with.

I suspect the same was going on with Katie.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing Kisses from Katie. To see more posts on this chapter, “A Promise to Keep,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gabriel's Song

I sing my song
in a circle of radiance.

You stand among fanged lions.
You dream cloudless visions,
you young man full
of faith.
You are esteemed, highly.

You walk the temple stones.
You hope for a son, still,
you old man whose gnarled voice
I still.
Your prayer is heard.

You work the olives and the hearth.
You gaze shyly at your betrothed,
you young woman full of oak
and faith.
You are favored, highly.

I sing my song
in a circle of fire.

At TweetSpeak Poetry, we’ve been talking about angels this month. And since the month is almost over, I thought I better add something angelic. Well, sort of angelic.

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

Photograph: 13th century Georgian icon of the Archangel Gabriel.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Coleridge's Starlings

I have a job that scares a lot of people.

I’m responsible for online media for my company, specifically social media – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, the corporate blog and a few other related sites and activities.

If you’re not involved in social media, and sometimes even if you are, Twitter and Facebook can look like the Wild West, particularly if your company is involved in a lot of issues. You quickly learn that people will say anything and everything online – profanity and vile language are not uncommon. And people will repeat anything, even things they know aren’t rue. They will launch personal attacks; I was once called the “mouthpiece of Satan.”

Fortunately, there is far more online that is good and worthwhile than is bad. But it can appear to be chaos at times, a strange kind of chaos – chaos with direction, impetus and purpose. It is not unlike the huge flock of starlings that Samuel Taylor Coleridge saw in 1799 while traveling in a coach:

“the starlings drove along like smoke…misty…without volition—now a globe, now…a complete orb into an ellipse… and still it expands and condenses. Some moments glimmering and shivering, dim and shadowy, now thickening, deepening, blackening!”

David Whyte, in The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, says this image haunted Coleridge for the rest of his life.  And Whyte uses Coleridge’s observations and reactions to explore the order and chaos of the corporate workplace.

It’s odd to consider that chaos may be an integral part of corporate life, but it is. Whyte observes it well, and he describes how people working within corporations respond to it. Some deal with it directly; others go to extraordinary lengths to put it off and not deal with it, until disaster happens.

This chaos or darkness is not just corporate; it is also personal. Whyte suggests that one reason we avoid dealing with chaos in the corporate workplace is that it may force us to confront and deal with our own inner chaos.

Here is the interesting part: the chaos may not be ultimately controlled, but it can be dealt with, and that’s at both the corporate and personal levels.

Whyte to considerable lengths to explain chaos theory and his ideas around “strange attractors” or impages we can create to deal with the chaos. It’s interesting—but for me, it’s more the idea of a controlling principle or belief system that is centering: what you understand yourself to be, what your priorities are, what’s important and what truly matters. I sometimes use images to express those things, although not likely in the way meant by Whyte.

Whyte wrote this book almost 20 years ago. It’s still amazingly current (and an updated edition has been published). He has extraordinary insight into corporate life, what works and what doesn’t work. He quotes poet Vachel Lindsay:

The Leaden-Eyed

Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world’s sore crime its babes grow dull,
Its poor are ox-like, limp and leaden-eyed,

Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly,
Not that they sow, but they seldom reap.
Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve,
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.

“Trying to run complex companies, big or small, by imperial command from the top down, may be the single most unnecessary burden carried by the corporate manager,” Whyte says. “Attempting something that is doomed to fail, they produce a manual of required responses covering all eventualities. Doing this, the system they are forced to employ becomes Byzantine and cumbersome. It also carries an implicit lack of trust in the essential elements of the system—people. Not only that, but hierarchal systems based on power emanating from the top cannot plan for the wild efflorescence of impossible events we call daily life.”

And what we see and hear are Coleridge’s starlings.

We’ve been discussing The Heart Aroused at TweetSpeak Poetry, and this week’s discussion covers chapters 7 (“Coleridge and Complexity”) and 8 (“The Soul of the World”). The discussion, led by Lyla Lindquist, will be posted Wednesday. I will have a final post on the book on Thursday.

Our next book discussion will be L.L. Barkat’s Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing, starting April 4. I reviewed it here last year. Consider joining the discussion—the fact that it’s a great book on writing is an added bonus.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

He Made a Difference

My friend Louise Gallagher (she who camps out on building rooftops in winter in Canada to raise money for the homeless) has been managing a blog called A Year of Making a Difference, where she and guest writers talk about people and events that made a difference in their lives. Today, I have a guest post there, about the man who I credit for  inspiring me to be the speechwriter I became.

Take a look, and let me know what you think.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday Good Reads

Shawn Smucker, who’s currently traveling with his family across the United States in an RV (big bus), had not one but three wonderful posts this week, including one about the value of a father that brought tears. (And then he had a guest poster, Tamara Lunardo, who did the same thing.) there were some wonderful poems by Maureen Doallas, John Blasé and Chris Yokel, photographs that inspired fiction for Darlene, several photos that effectively captured fog, and a new video by the Piano Guys that will sound familiar if you’re an Elvis fan (and saw the movie Blue Hawaii). It’s was a great week for online stuff.


When You Pray for a Heartbreak” by Jennifer Dukes-Lee at Getting Down with Jesus.

Present in the City, Part 2” by Seth Haines.

5 Secrets to Making It in Business” by L.L. Barkat at Green Inventions Central.

I am my difference” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

When you make a mess” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

You Don’t Need My Tolerance” by Matt Appling at The Church of No People.

How We Can Write the News” by Duane Scott at Scribing the Journey.

The Ultimate Guide to Social Media for Writers” by Robert Lee Brewer at My Name Is not Bob.

Why Christian Fiction Should Not Provide Answers” by Mike Duran at deCompose.

Mama for a Moment” by Tamara Lunardo for Shawn Smucker.

Putting on a Voice” by Daniel Donovich at The Itinerant D.

Jackie” by Lyla Lindquist at A Different Story.

The Hillbilly Guide to Air Travel” by Kathy Richards at Katdish, dedicated to Billy Coffey.


Lenten Journal: Reflection” by Milton Brasher-Cunningham at Don’t Eat Alone.

Going Your Own Way” and “The Measure of Your Progress” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper

Dreams of Gnomes & Knaves” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne.

Witches Dance at Midnight” by Robert Lee Brewer at My Name Is Not Bob.

Bring You Home” by Chris Smith at WelshPoet.

Wolf School” by Tony Maude at Rumours of Rhyme.

Mary Oliver” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Oxygen” by Michael D. Perkins at the Handwritten.

A human cholera” by B.K. McKenzie at signed…BKM.

Get Lost” by John Blase at The Beautiful Due.

Standing Stones” by Christopher Yokel for Curator Magazine.

Paintings and Photographs

Be Still and Know” and “Something to Remember” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Caught by the Light” by J of India at Neither Use Nor Ornament.

Hiking in the Rain” and “Bloodroot in the Rain” by Timothy Good at Photography by Tiwago.

Morning Mist” by Steve Gravano at Take a Look Around.

Entering the Fog” by Bradley Moore at Shrinking the Camel.

Only in California: A Photo Essay of Fun” by Diana Trautwein at Just Wondering.


Internet Trucks” by Brian Russell at The Underfold.

The Poet: Local Senior Ladies Club” by Sara Barkat for TweetSpeak Poetry.

Short Stories

Photo-Inspired Writing” by Darlene at Simply Darlene.

Videos and Podcasts

Can’t Help Falling in Love” by The Piano Guys.

Fiction” by Tim Challies at Informing the Reformed.

Photograph: Blooming Flower Garden by Vera Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, March 23, 2012

M.J. Duggan's "Avalon"


It is the island most associated with the legend of King Arthur, largely due to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account in The History of the Kings of Britain. Geoffrey wrote that the sword Excalibur was forged here, and it was to Avalon that Arthur was taken to recover from wounds he received in the Battle of Camlann – his last battle and the one against his nephew Mordred. It is also the island associated with Morgan le Fay and others of similar mystical bent.

A few years after Geoffrey, Avalon became associated with the town of Glastonbury in Somerset (which is not an island but was surrounded by marshlands at one time). In 1190, the monks at Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have found the bones of Arthur and his queen, and so the legend stuck and grew. The town today is small (fewer than 9,000 people) but partially because of the Arthurian connection it is known for New Age and neo-pagan practices.

Avalon is also the name for a series of 11 poems, recently published by M.J. Duggan as the second of three poetic works. The first was The Modern Orpheus, published in 2111 (and which I reviewed at TweetSpeak Poetry); and the third is Scenes From the Big Society, published on March 11.

Avalon begins as almost a dirge to the excesses of industrialization overwhelming the earth, and the earth turning its fury back upon man via the seas. As the storm of destruction pours forth, Duggan uses a line as a kind of calm, yet haunting refrain as he describes the terrible effects unleashed: I remember the day when the sea changed. The seas seem to burn and flood simultaneously:

View of unfathomed kerosene seas
under snake-charmed clouds of indolent red,
where sea angles feed off old rustic mines
layered beneath the Lune of Atlantis.

Swimming on the tips of Mosques and Churches
gaze at a world beneath our feet

our dead Metropolis like a lunar landscape
a lung-less city of sea green.

Nature, in an act of massive vengeance has “scorned her citizens” and brought death. Yet what is seen in the moonlight is the emergence in the covering water of an olive branch – the symbol of peace, and then the place from which the olive branch and tree derive – the island of Avalon. And what Avalon offers and symbolizes is hope and survival.

Avalon is largely a dark story, but it is a dark story Duggan has to tell. And he tells it well, with vivid language, memorable lines, a passion for the earth – and a hope that humanity won’t repeat its history.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fields of Red - The Finale

My final post on our recent poetry jam on twitter is up at TweetSpeak Poetry -- and includes more details about the editing process and the final six poems.

Ten people participated in this jam, and the prompts were taken from The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda.

Some wonderful lines and poems were created during the jam, so please visit TweetSpeak Poetry and let me know what you think.

Photograph by Claire Burge.

Taking the Homeward Road

Somehow, I missed having a mid-life crisis. I don’t feel particularly deprived, but the fact is that the time of life when a lot of men seem to have a mid-life crisis – late 30s to the mid-40s – was bookended for me by two major career events.

The first was an extended period – from the time I was 37 to 45 – of almost incredible productivity and, for lack of a more humble word, achievement: speeches, national awards, game-changing programs implemented, and new technologies adopted. Looking back, I can see it was an amazing period of work.

The second bookend stretched from 45 to 48. Some of the achievement continued, but along came corporate turmoil, massive organizational and cultural change, being spun off with a separated business, and then, at the end of 1999, being laid off.

I spent the next four-and-a-half years not working within corporations. And that was by choice. I worked for myself for three-and-a-half of those years, and spent the final part of the time working for an urban school district in total crisis.

I did a lot of thinking.

I had a lot of time to think. As a consultant, I spent a lot of time in the car, traveling to and from my office to clients and meetings. One client was in north central Missouri, about a four-hour drive away from St. Louis, the last hour-and-a-half up a two-lane road. I had a lot of time to think.

“It may be,” writes David Whyte in The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, “that midlife is essentially a time of remembering what is most essential to us. We have spent years of building and consolidating – a business, a career, a family. Or we have attempted the sama dn failed to build anything. At the cusp of midlife, irrespective of success or failure, we now want to find out who was at the center of this attempt and what we were building for.”

What we do, Whyte says, and this largely describes what I did, is to take the old road back home, and we pass our younger self almost as a stranger, and then we keep going all the way back to before we set out. We may celebrate, and we may even mourn. “No matter what we have accomplished or what we command, midlife calls on us to experience it in a new way, to birth ourselves into a new kind of usefulness.”

For me, what happened was that I met the college student who read a lot of poetry. I met the 23-year-old who wanted to write novels. And I discovered the 50-year-old who had accomplished so much that, unintentionally and unknowingly, he often threatened the people he worked with.

What I learned, and kept learning, unfolded over a period of about 10 years. Even though my novel Dancing Priest is not at all autobiographical, it is indeed that, in a more deeply subtle way. I reread it (for only the second time) last week, and I found pieces of myself in nearly all of the characters. That was not intentional, but it was likely inevitable. The idea of the book was born in the turmoil of that time.

And the birthing “into a new kind of usefulness” continues. My writing is taking on a new kind of seriousness. Those “career” things which used to seem so vital and important are, well, less so.

Whyte concludes this “Taking the Homeward Road” chapter with part of a poem by T.S. Eliot, from “East Coker” in Four Quartets:

We must be still and still moving
into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
through the dark cold and the empty
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end
is my beginning.

That’s it. That's exactly it.

Led by Lyla Lindquist, we’re discussing The Heart Aroused over at TweetSpeak Poetry. My first  post on this week’s reading was Monday on chapter 5, “The Salmon of Knowledge.” Next week we’ll be covering the final two chapters of the book.