Saturday, June 30, 2012

Raining Buttons

I am walking as the buttons
begin to rain, bouncing
on pavement, deafening
rat-a-tat-tat, a hailstorm
of buttons large and small
plain and ornate, colored
and white, lost buttons,
extra buttons, plastic and
wooden buttons, cork and
gemstone buttons, stone
buttons ripping through
my umbrella, a trickle and
torrent of buttons streaming
down my face,
light button-drops and
hard heavy buttons
as large as a baseball
tearing at my skin, I 
bleed buttons as I wonder
how it all came

“Buttons” is the prompt today over at dVerse Poets. Check the site to see what host Brian Miller has buttoned up – and what the rest of us are trying to unbutton.

Photograph: Raining Buttons, from an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City, via Ephemeral Visions.

Saturday Good Reads

When I put the Good Reads list together, I’m usually not thinking in terms of themes. Looking at the list today, and especially the prose listings, I see a theme – about suffering, failure, rejection, and trying to find what truly matters in this world.

My online friend Justinian is back with a post, after a long sabbatical. I am glad to see him. And my online friend J of India  takes wonderful photographs – enough to convince me that one day I need to visit his country.

And Monica Sharman posted a poem this week about the fires in Colorado – and she speaks from personal experience, because she and her family were forced to evacuate their home near Colorado Springs. Keep them and the thousands of others affected in your prayers.


Discovering God in the Land of Suffering” by Anita Mathias at Dreaming Beneath the Spires.

After I Failed – A Love Story” by Cassandra Frear at Moonboat CafĂ©.

Willing to Begin” by L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone.

One Personal Step in Making Our Faith Relevant Again” by Chris Peek at Trail Reflections.

The Miracle of Being Alive” by Jennifer Dukes-Lee at Getting Down with Jesus.

The Great Matter: Rejection” by Chris Galford at The Waking Den.

The High Calling of a Hair Cutter” by Megan Willome.

Sparkling Pink Unicorns” by Amada Hill at Hill + Pen.

Authentic Identity – Part 1” by Justinian at Codex Justinianus.

The more things change” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.


A breath of fresh Ares, Bright June” and “Rainbows with no end” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne .

Edge of Nature” by Martin Duggan.

Tough Guy” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Nontsizi Mgqwetho” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

The Heat Wave” by Chris Yokel.

Bright June” and “Rainbows with no end” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne.

Like the Sequoias (What Fire Can Do)” by Monica Sharman at Know-Love-Obey God.

Synonym” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM.

Paintings and Photographs

New Moon – Walking Rain,” watermedia collage on Yupo by Randall David Tipton at Painter’s Process.

Compass Plant” and “My Shadow” by Tim Good at Good Photography.

Unfolding” and “Surrender” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Veena Studies” by J of India at Neither Use Nor Ornament.


I’m Farming and I Grow It” by the Peterson Brothers, via A Scot Across the Pond.

Photograph: Red Fireworks by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Week in the Ninth Ward

Cousin time, and aunt time,
and each summer a week
in the Ninth Ward (the Lower Ninth)
the grocery with the frozen cups
of flavored ice and smelling like
a farmer’s market, the floor
never swept, and the levee
holding back the Industrial Canal.
We’d walk the levee to see
the steamboat houses sitting like
beached boats, captain-less but
with cupolas and widow’s walk intact.

And movies downtown: reached
by the St. Claude Avenue bus;
shotgun houses with fig trees
and pet cemeteries and Margie
across the street and Sam
the Great Dane in the backyard.
Each house had two or three
or four stories
to tell.

This is another in a series of poems about growing up in the South, suggested by my friend Nancy Rosback.

Photograph: House on Dauphine Street, Lower Ninth Ward, Holy Cross Neighborhood, New Orleans. My mother was born in a house like this one.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I Have a Confession to Make

I grew up a Missouri Synod Lutheran in pre-Vatican II Catholic New Orleans. The city was largely Catholic then; the religious leanings of  metropolitan area were divided roughly into majority Catholic, minority Protestant, and people who lived in the French Quarter.

I was part of that minority Protestant group, although most of my friends (and neighbors) were Catholic. You couldn’t help but inhale some understanding of the Catholic faith, however. So from an early age I understand that “they” venerated Mary and we didn’t; our ministers married and their priests didn’t; nuns used rulers in the Catholic elementary schools and our public school teachers didn’t; they got a smudge on their foreheads the day after Mardi Gras and we didn’t.

However, we all celebrated Mardi Gras, and in much the same ways. But not like the people who lived in the French Quarter. Enough said.

One practice that was always a mystery to me was what at first I thought were phone booths in their churches. No, they weren’t phone booths, I was told; they were confessionals. Whenever I asked my Catholic friends what they did in confessionals, they would become nervous and uncomfortable and shrug their shoulders. “Just stuff.” “Stuff?” “Yeah, stuff.” “What kind of stuff?” “Just stuff.”

One friend finally told me that “stuff” was telling the priest all the sins they could think of.

I was shocked. “You tell the priest all your sins?”

He nodded. “And they you have to say some Hail Marys or Our Fathers, and it’s OK.”

I knew what an “Our Father” was – the Lord’s Prayer, even if Catholics said it wrong. But at my house, a Hail Mary was a football play on television.

Even as I grew older, I always thought it odd that sins had to be confessed to priests. At my church, we were long on “no mediator between you and God” but short – really short – on how to confess your sins directly to God.

Where I think the Catholics got it right was that confession is a kind of conversation – a conversation between the sinner and the Authority. For me, the Authority is still God, and He forgives, but it took a lot of understanding and study for me to learn that I had responsibilities, too.

Confession comes from a contrite heart, a contrite spirit.

Confession comes from the understanding that God wants to hear it all, even the things – especially the things – you’re least comfortable talking about.

Confession comes from the knowledge that you fall short, that you always fall short, but you still have to try, and you do try. And you pray.

And confession comes from the hope that one day, you won’t fall short, but it won’t happen in this world.

And confession is a good and right thing to do; Jesus made it a part of the Lord’s Prayer for a reason, because it is a constant reminder that forgiveness is there, made possible by the Son, and it is the Father to whom we confess.

Led by Tim Challies at Informing the Reforming, we’ve been discussing The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life Blood of the Christian, the 1893 classic by David McIntyre. To join the discussion, please visit Tim’s site.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Scott Cairns' "Philokalia"

I’ve previously noted that I had attended a poetry workshop taught by poet (and University of Missouri professor) Scott Cairns. Twelve of us spent two days talking about poetry, and talking about poetry in relation to Scripture, and writing poetry, our overnight assignment: pick a difficult passage of Scripture and explicate it – using poetry. In other words, we had to write a poem that might help our understanding of the passage.

Much of that idea of explicating Scripture underlies Cairns’ Philokalia: New and Selected Poems. Published in 2002, the volume includes both new poems and poems from his previously published collections (he’s also published more since then). The term “philokalia,” or “love of the beautiful,” is taken from the collection of texts written between the fourth and fifteenth centuries by Easter Orthodox theologians.

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

Using Work to Block Creativity

You will never hear of any organization – business, government, non-profit (including religious) – say that creativity is no value. No one posts a sign over the building door that says “Abandon creativity, all who enter here” or “Leave your imagination at the door.”

Yet, as an executive I once wrote speeches for always said, “Policy is what you do, not what you say.”

The fact is, in organizational settings, we like to strangle creativity in the cradle, if not sooner.

I might even go so far as to say that most workplaces want work as opposed to creativity – even if creativity will save money. We are encouraged to work long and hard. Workplaces like workaholics – people who live their jobs 16 hours a day (and longer).

I know this. I speak from experience.

As Julia Cameron points out in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, workaholism is a self-inflicted block on creativity – one among several, including food, alcohol, dry and desert-like times, fame, sex, and even competition with your peers. (Cameron has an interesting discussion, in which she contrasts the spirit of competition with the spirit of creation.)

I once worked at a place that offered a rather toxic combination of many of these things. Long hours were encouraged and expected. People were encouraged to compete against their colleagues, with the inevitable back-stabbing and politics. The most proficient politicians were promoted. A “blame culture” prevailed, in which taking risk, trying new things and stepping outside a very small comfort zone were all discouraged.

Not for nothing did the company stay in continual reorganization.

In that environment, the choices were two: go with the flow, or go against the flow. Both could be done. Both had costs.

Creativity can be a threatening thing to an organization, because it leads to change, and the upending of carefully constructed political systems, and the threatening of someone’s perceived influence and power.

But creativity is equally threatening to individuals, including those of us who try to practice it, and for very similar reasons: it leads to change, it upsets the way we’re used to doing things, and it can often force a sense of honesty when you would prefer to remain in ignorance.

So you take refuge in workaholism. You work harder. You pay less attention to your family and friends. You don’t volunteer at church or with the local scouting troop. You bury yourself in a busy-ness that is only the appearance of work, and not anything like God intended our work to be.

And while we can blame “the office,” management, our colleagues or all of the above, the fact is that we are the ones making the choice. And we will choose the creativity block of workaholism because we find a benefit of some kind – safety, security, maintaining the status quo, avoiding painful decisions, preserving our empire or any of a host of other things we tell ourselves we need or want.

But this is not the way it’s meant to be, and deep down, we know it.

Led by Lyla Lindquist, we’re discussing The Artist’s Way over at TweetSpeak Poetry. Today’s discussion concludes with the last three chapters of the book. I chose to focus on chapter 10, “Recovering a sense of Self-Protection,” and plant o continue posting for two more weeks on the two remaining chapters.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Scenes from The Whipping Club

It was another TweetSpeak Poetry Twitter party last Tuesday, and 13 intrepid souls braved the shock of their Twitter followers and tweeted away, creating lines of poetry. The prompts were all taken from The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry, the novel published by T.S. Poetry Press and listed as one of Oprah’s Hot Summer Reads.

This Twitter party started in the woods, moved quickly to the ballroom, and then sailed back to the woods, before moving elsewhere.

To read the first five poems, please visit TweetSpeak Poetry.

How to Eat Cornbread

I never liked cornbread,
those sticks my mother baked
in the cast-iron molded pan,
a black pan with six
indentations like perfectly
shaped and aligned graves. Then
my grandmother showed me
how to truly eat cornbread,
baked in a cake pan, extra sugar
in the batter and finished (hot)
with butter and syrup,
pronounced sirp.

This is another in a series of poems about growing up in the South (yes, I know a lot of them are about food, but that’s better than shooting cats). The series was suggested by my friend Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’. She sort of grew up in the South – Southern Illinois.

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

Photograph courtesy of Anson Mills.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s “The Province of Joy”

I first started reading the works of Flannery O’Connor in 1975. A friend at the company I then worked for introduced me to A Good Man is Hard to Find, and I was hooked. I read all of her fiction; Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose; and The Habit of Being, her letters as collected and compiled by Sally Fitzgerald.

O’Connor was a Southern writer, yes, but she transcended the region. She was a literary writer, and her reputation grew, and grew mightily, after her death from lupus in 1964.

Her characters and plots can seem strange when you first start reading, and can be jarring and disconcerting. But as you read her fiction, you learn that behind the misfits and charlatans and con-men are the universal themes of grace and redemption.

Another odd thing about her writing, and this may very well be what originally pulled me into it, was that she was a devout Catholic writer writing within (and often about) a largely Protestant South. For a reader like me, a Protestant raised in largely Catholic New Orleans, her writing was almost instantly familiar, in both a specific and a general sense. I knew what it was to feel something of a misfit in my culture.

O’Connor prayed, too, and she prayed in accordance with her Catholic faith. In The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O’Connor, author and poet Angela Alaimo O’Donnell has a created a devotional guide, on that reflects both O’Connor’s Catholic faith and the themes of her writing.

O’Donnell structures the book for a full seven-day week, with devotions and prayer for both morning and evening. Each day has a theme, and the order of the devotional is far more structured than what might be familiar to most Protestants (and even some Catholics).

The main elements for each time of prayer are a gospel meditation; a psalm; a reading; a quotation from O’Conner’s writings; a canticle or song; the Lord’s Prayer and a prayer to St. Raphael in the mornings; and a concluding prayer. The canticles, the Lord’s prayer and the prayer to St. Raphael are repeated each day, and while it may seem repetitive at first, in practice it is not. It’s a kind of liturgy that becomes new and different with each day’s theme.

The evening canticle is the Magnificat of Mary, her song in response to learning from Gabriel that she would give birth to the Messiah. In this devotion, however, Mary’s song becomes our song, providing a depth of understanding that I hadn’t previously encountered, in spite of the number of times I’ve read it.

O’Donnell provides a solid introduction to O’Connor and her works, and includes a number of resources (and prayers) in the appendix. The daily readings also include information for additional consideration and reflection.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began reading it, but The Province of Joy, like the author who inspired it, takes us to a different, more insightful place in our faith.


My review of O’Donnell’s Saint Sinatra: Poems at TweetSpeak Poetry last year.

The Province of Joy is published by Paraclete Press, which provided a review copy of the book.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday afternoons, summer

North Louisiana summer hot
hot on a Sunday afternoon, 4 p.m.,
and we would walk the short block
to the red-brick church, the open field
behind it, to the prize all eyes
turned to, the white-painted
cinder block building for
the lawn mowers, the mowers
removed to make space for
the tables of ice cream, homemade,
ice cream swirling in ice and
hands still turning the cranks and
pouring the salt, with every flavor
that could be imagined but I went
straight to the vanilla, and we’d run
across the open field behind
the church, clutching our bowls
of ice cream, hoping all the while
they wouldn’t remember if we crept
back into line for seconds.

This is another in the series of poems on growing up int he South, suggested by my friend Nancy Rosback.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday Good Reads

A letter to a father, slipped under a pillow, becomes another letter altogether. Wanting to meet the uncles you can’t know – in this life. The place where tears go to die. A visit to Avalon, and a visit to Emily Dickinson’s home. A startling look at an old iron works. And a guy wanders into a London park, and sings along with the piano player. Great stuff.


A Letter to My Dad” by Duane Scott at Scribing the Journey.

The Final Goodbye” by Jeff Jordan at To My Children, If They Are Listening.

Big apple of ambition” by Amanda Hill at Hill + Pen.

On the Road: The Maiden Voyage” by Ann Kroeker.

I Heard God’s Whisper in the Flare” by Scott Couchenour at Serving Strong.

I Plan to Know Them” by Harriett Gilham at The Other Side of the Mountain.

The 10 Commandments of Grocery Shopping” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

Where tears go to die” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.


The lover” by B.K. Mckenzie at Signed…BKM.

Cedar” by Megan Willome.

Water, Earth, Sky” and “Southern Dream Catcher” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Go with the flow” by Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’.

Paul Mariani” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Avalon” by Chris Yokel.

Emily’s Gate” by Kathleen Overby at Almost Paradisical.

Dusted Nights” by Chris Galford at The Waking Den.

Traveling Companions” by Tony Maude at Rumours of Rhyme.

Paintings and Photographs

Barn Boards” and “Joliet Iron Works Site” by Tim Good at Good Photography.

Redeeming Time” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.


Whispering Grass,” piano by Gilly Spencer; vocals by unknown.

Photograph: Westminster Abbey by Vera Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Update on the Grandsons

I hadn't shared a picture of our new grandson, Caden Thomas Young. He's six weeks old -- but he looks a little older than that. Like his brother, he's a big boy.

Here's Caden at one of his favorite pastimes:

Cameron has taken the new brother in stride.

In fact, Cameron seems quite fond of his brother.

We call them "The Binky Brigade."

Top and bottom photographs by Stephanie Young; middle photography by Janet Young.

Acknowledging Daily Mercies? What?

Reading The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life Blood of the Christian by David McIntyre, I ran smack into some old-fashioned language (the work was first published in 1893). As I considered the meaning of the words, I began to understand how we can lose meaning when we change language. And language has changed a lot since 1893.

McIntyre is discussing prayer, and specifically the role of praise in prayer. And this is what he writes:

“…the tribute of praise which the saints are instructed to render to the Lord may arise either (a) in the acknowledgement of daily mercies, or (b) in thanks-giving for the great redemption, or (c) in contemplation of the divine perfection.”

Here’s how a contemporary English translation might say it:

“We’re told to give praise for three possible reasons: blessings, thanks for salvation, and/or worship.”

Both mean essentially the same thing, but consider what is lost in the contemporary version.

That praise is tribute.

That we are the saints.

That we are instructed to offer.

That we should acknowledge mercies from God.

That mercies are daily.

That thanks-giving is not a noun but an action verb (it’s hyphenated).

That salvation is a “great redemption.”

That worship is a contemplation – a deep thinking.

That what we are to contemplate is a “divine perfection.” (And McIntyre capitalizes “Divine” because it is a placeholder word for God. Think how common it is for us to lowercase “he” and “him” when we refer to God.)

Reading that short passage, and thinking about it, I was rather stunned. I began to think about all the other things we do – things other than our utilitarian, socially-mediated language – that loses meaning and a sense of awe.

Because that is what McIntyre is communicating – that praise is a form of awe.

Over at Informing the Reforming, Tim Challies is leading a discussion of The Hidden Life of Prayer. Please visit the site to see what’s happening the comments.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Knocking Down All the Excuses

“Creativity occurs in the moment,” Julia Cameron writes, “and in the moment, we are timeless.”

Led by Lyla Lindquist over at TweetSpeak Poetry, we’re reading The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. We’re recovering a lot of things in this book, and in the two chapters we’re working through today, we’re recovering a sense of strength and a sense of compassion.

The term “strength” is a bit misleading here. It is that, but it’s also about all the things we do, say and believe that prevent us from the creativity we’re capable of. And acknowledging them. And overcoming them.

Like how we allow criticism, or a thoughtless word, completely deflate us.

How we allow academia – professors and teachers – to work out their own anxieties and failures on us.

Or idiotic statements from publishing experts, like an agent at a writer’s conference: “if it doesn’t have vampires or werewolves in it, it ain’t gonna sell” (my own true story) (to my credit, I thought the statement was ridiculous when I heard it).

How we allow a single failure or loss determine everything else that happens.

Or my favorite, the one that hits closest to home:

I’m too old for that.

I’m too old to publish my first novel. I’m not 25 or 28. Publishers will totally disregard me because of my age. Publishers worship youth.

It’s all true.

And it’s all false.

The decision to publish my first novel came when I was 59. I was 60 when it was actually published. I will be 61 when the second one is published.

I am in what is probably the most creative period of my life. I watch a YouTube video, and immediately plot out a short novel. And more to the point, I write a draft of it – almost 20,000 words. (Another excuse: Who’s going to buy a short novel?)

My first and second novels are about a young man in his 20s, not an older man in his early 60s. Neither book is autobiographical. Some of my experiences inform both books; they couldn’t help but do that. But it’s almost all in the novels’ small stuff . Of course, small stuff is important, too.

It turns out I wasn’t too old to write a first novel. Or a second. Or what may follow after.

"Too busy,” “too many demands on my time,” “too tired” – they’re all excuses.

"Too old" -- another excuse. I owned it. And I kissed it goodbye. See ya!

My friend David Rupert describes a woman he met at a writers’ conference – who was 90. It was her first writers’ conference.

She wasn’t too old. She still isn’t.

When I wrote the closing Olympic ceremonies scene in Dancing Priest, I was in the moment with 23-year-old Michael Kent, holding that flag, walking around that stadium, listening to that great silence, and weeping.

“Creativity occurs in the moment,” says Cameron, “and in the moment we are timeless.”

To see more posts on these chapters of The Artist’s Way, please visit TweetSpeak Poetry today.