Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Belated Birthday Party

Since Grandpa’s birthday occurred while we were in London, we went over to our son and daughter-in-law’s house yesterday for a belated celebration. And Grandpa got the two best presents of all – Caden on my right and Cameron on my left. Cameron and Grandpa also got to play about 30 minutes of “how many times can we fill the watering jug with water” and almost an hour of watching the Disney Junior Channel – something about Never Never Land with kid pirates and Captain Hook and a show called “The Octonauts.”

While I was feeding Caden mashed squash, my daughter-in-law pointed out the difference between a parent and a grandparent: “He spits it out and it drives me crazy, but you just laugh.” I told it it’s because parents always have things to do, while grandparents just have to be.

Photograph by Stephanie Young.

St. Mary's, Cholsey

St. Mary’s, Cholsey, rests
in fading village confidence,
ignoring crumbling brick,
gathering its houses round
like a hen and her chicks.
No clucking; the church
is quiet now, the village
silent in twilight.

St. Mary’s Church, Cholsey, in Oxfordshire, is the burial place of Agatha Christie.

Photograph: UK Geograph.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday Good Reads – TweetSpeak Poetry

Little did I know that when I improvised a short poem (contained within one tweet on Twitter) back in 2009 that it would me to a regular Twitter poetry jam; editing the tweets from the jams into poems; a blog created to contain the poems; other stuff (reviews and features) being added to the blog; and then a business enterprise that goes by the name of TweetSpeak Poetry.

Currently, I’m a weekly columnist for TweetSpeak (Tuesdays) and one of the things – just one – we’re up to is beginning to get our heads around the idea of poetry and business. I do reviews of poetry books, reflections, recollections, whatever sounds interesting.

I love being a columnist.

I work with a terrific team, led by chief instigator, central plotter, primary conspirator, writer, editor, publisher, poet, mother, wife, blogger, tea expert, lighthouse climber and who-knows-what-else Laura Barkat. Laura, or L.L., is the Grand Poobah of TweetSpeak (that sounds like a title from a Gilbert & Sullivan musical opera). She has three blogs: Seedlings in Stone, Love Notes to Yahweh, and Green Inventions Central.

She’s also written a memoir, Stone Crossings; a book of spiritual exercises, God in the Yard; a book of poems, Inside/Out; and a novella, The Novelist.

The editor for TweetSpeak is Lyla Lindquist, who is not only editor but also chief publicist, social media captain, writer, promoter, columnist, book club discussion leader and skunk works leader. Lyla is here, there and everywhere, and all at once. What she’s capable of doing leaves me in awe. She blogs at A Different Story, and also has a collection of reports and meditations about weekly visits to a Benedictine monastery for six months, called Making Headroom.

Then there’s Claire Burge. Claire is young (at my age, virtually everyone I know is young) but knows everything and how to do everything. She knew about Pinterest before Pinterest knew about Pinterest. She takes beautiful photographs (I used one for the cover of my novel Dancing Priest, and will be using another for an upcoming novella), travels to exotic places, knows everything about social media, and lets nothing intimidate her. She blogs at Claire Burge.

Monica Sharman has an official title of Editorial Intern, but she’s all over poetry, all over the business of poetry, all over our poetry jams on Twitter. Monica blogs at Know-Love-Obey God about faith, family, poetry and writing. She’s also a contributing writer to online publications like Bibledude.

Tania Runyan is a columnist for TweetSpeak, and is also a published poet, with three books of poetry: A Thousand Vessels, Simple Weight, and Delicious Air. Her poems have been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies, and she received an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011. Tania is a tutor, writer, gardener and fiddle and mando player. Her web site: Tania Runyan.

Charity Singleton, another contributing writer, is a poet, writer, blogger, and works in online media for her Midwestern employer. She blogs at Wide Open Spaces, and I have to say it’s one of my favorite blogs to read.

And then there’s my friend Seth Haines. Seth is an attorney (but a nice guy in spite of that); he and his wife Amber are raising four boys in Arkansas. Seth is a writer, poet, and sometime theologian. He writes TweetSpeak’s weekly poetry prompt on Mondays. Seth blogs at Seth Haines.

TweetSpeak Poetry is a fine group of people – and a fine group of writers. Despite its origins as a place to deposit poems from poetry jams, it has become a presence in the field of poetry, and has plans to become even more.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Gary Colledge’s “God and Charles Dickens”

I love the writings of Charles Dickens. How could I pass up a book with a title like this one?

In writing God and Charles Dickens: Rediscovering the Christian Voice of a Classic Author, Gary Colledge has aimed at restoring an understanding of the Christian faith embedded in the novels and writings of this nineteenth century literary icon. And it’s no easy task.

The matter of Dickens and faith or religion has been buried under more than a century of modernist and post-modernist interpretation, and only recently (a 2009 biography) even addressed with more than a passing reference. There are also the matters of Dickens’s fulminations against the established church and the relationships with both his wife Catharine and actress Ellen Ternan.

Colledge, an adjunct professor at Moody Bible Institute and Walsh University, is the author of the previously published Dickens, Christianity, and “The Life of Our Lord.” He brings considerable knowledge and understanding, not to mention a full reading of Dickens’s works, to his subject, and it is the body of writing by Dickens that Colledge builds his case upon. And I believe he makes his case.

The key writing Colledge draws upon is the gospel story Dickens wrote for his children – and never intended to be published -- The Life of Our Lord. This is what Dickens taught his children, and it is about as orthodox as you’ll find.

But the author goes beyond only this one work, and examines Dickens’s understanding of Jesus, theology, and the church, using letters, public statements, and his novels. Colledge also spends considerable time examining what Dickens would describe as “real Christianity” – the gospel in action in culture and society. If he was nothing else, Dickens was certainly a champion for social justice, both in his fiction and in his life.

Colledge also tackles Dickens’s personal relationships. The story of his marriage is well known – he essentially dismissed his wife who had born so many children and never spoke to her again. He spent some considerable time with actress Ellen Ternan, and in fact was with Ternan when he was involved in the famous Steeplehurst railroad wreck (Dickens discreetly dispatched Ternan and her mother in a carriage back to London while he stayed at the accident scene). Colledge makes no apology for Dickens’s treatment of his wife, and sees it as a serious human flaw and failing. But he doesn’t see it as negating Dickens’s faith.

The author makes his case, and convincingly reclaims the faith of this great author. I checked several biographies of Dickens to see what attention had been paid to faith and religion, and Colledge is correct – it’s been given short shrift.

God and Charles Dickens is a welcome understanding of what Charles Dickens believed, how he practiced his belief, and how it infused his writings.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Just Showing Up

A good friend once told me (and several other people) that 90 percent of evangelism was “just showing up.” He was being slightly facetious, but only slightly. He was usually trying to get a rise out of “the professionals” involved in outreach ministries and missions. He was a missionary at the time he said this, so no one openly disagreed.

His point was this: we worry and fret about evangelism, and how to do it, and what we should do, and the strategies for doing it, and our goals and objectives and vision statements. And in all of this “busy-ness” we forget that our work will be totally useless unless God is working at the same time. And sometimes we simply need to make ourselves available, prepared, yes, but available.

Speaking more generally than only evangelism, Jerry Bridges in The Discipline of Grace says that “God’s work does not make our effort unnecessary but rather makes it effective.” That, to me, strikes the balance between the point my friend was making and the people whom he offended.

In the chapter “Dependent Discipline,” Bridges talks about a discipline for grace that both actively involves us but is totally dependent upon God. It’s not a passive thing; we just don’t sit back and “let grace happen.” Instead, we train ourselves, much like Paul “exhorted Timothy to train himself, to be godly (I Timothy 4:7).” Bridges says that for “training” Paul used a word that originally referred to the training of young athletes for sports competitions but had come to include mental and moral training. “Paul used it to refer to spiritual training.”

Bridges goes on the explain that discipline is not necessarily a reliance on human effort. We don’t simply “turn it over to the Lord” and let Him figure out how to bring discipline to our lives. We have to be actively engaged as well, but not to the extent that we try to do it all on our own.

We are, Bridges says, to pursue holiness (and grace) with all the intensity that the word “pursue implies.”

It is more than “just showing up.” But we do have to show up in the first place.

Over at Informing the Reforming, Tim Challies is leading a discussion of The Discipline of Grace. To see the discussion on this week’s chapter, “Dependent Discipline,” please visit Tim’s site.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Word Candy Wednesday

With Apologies to Mr. Frost

At TweetSpeak Poetry, Lyla Lindquist is starting a new book discussion today – Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio. Today’s assignment: Read Part 1 (roughly the first 95 pages) and do as many of the exercises as possible.

There are enough writing exercises in Part 1 to keep a normal person busy for at least three months. The book is packed with simple and not-so-simple exercises you can do to help you with your writing. While the focus is poetry, the exercises actually apply to writing broadly.

I combined two of the exercises. I took the first line of a well known poem (it won’t be hard to guess which one) and imagined it going in another direction. That’s one exercise. The second: before I wrote the first word, I left the room. And I really left the room – going on a 20-mile bike ride along a trail that includes two longish stretches of woods. As I biked, I worked the first line into another first line, and then into the framework of a poem, and then into a rough draft of a poem. This was the result:

Post-Modern Man

Whose woods these are I do not know;
I vainly search for a village, though,
or even a single house but find
only woods, foreboding and forming
a filtered canopy over what may not
be a path through but only into.
With a touch of frost upon my face,
the proprietor, if he is, sends his minions
to effect the changing of the guard of leaves,
the red and the gold taking
the place of the green and fading.
I pause to rest against a tree,
and hear his whispers in my sleep,
and hear his whispers in my sleep.

“When I started to write poetry,” Addonizio says, “I had no idea how to begin to learn about it.” I had been reading poetry for more than 25 years before I thought of writing any poems myself. I didn’t think about learning to write poetry; I was reading poetry to help me become a better speechwriter. And yet those 25 years were a kind of learning time or preparation.

And then, in 2009, I started writing it. With a general sense of terror, I eventually posted a poem on this blog.

Like Addonzio, I’ve written a lot of bad poems, and some not-so-bad, and a few really good ones. And I’ve broadened the poetry I read, and now read as much contemporary poetry as I do poetry from the “canon.” The poetry I feel a particular affinity for is the poetry from the modern period, roughly 1900 to 1950 – poets like T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee masters, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Sara Teasdale and others. I suspect it has to do with the fact that these were the first poets I was taught in high school, and the poets who had most influenced my English and literature teachers.

Consider joining us with the discussion. Or simply stop by TweetSpeak and see what’s happening.

The Mind-Boggler

A decade ago, I went to Eastern Europe on a short-term missions trip. On our first Sunday, we went to a church service in what had been a movie theater and conference complex in Budapest. The place of worship was the theater, and the service was in Hungarian with English translation. I can remember sitting there before the worship service started, convinced beyond any doubt that I could sense God’s presence, even in this rather shabby, badly constructed theater.

Everywhere we went on that trip – Dresden, Erfurt, Prague, Brno – I could sense God’s presence, and even more than I could in my hometown back in the United States. God was there.

In Christian families, we grow up hearing our parents, relatives, church teachers and pastors talk with us about “having Jesus in our hearts.” We did the same with our own children. We teach, and we learn, that life on this earth is about knowing God, serving Him and wanting to please Him. Our bodies are “temples” of the Holy Spirit, and nothing is more important that having Jesus in our hearts.

In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer goes a step further. This “dwelling within us” is all true, and all critically important. But there’s more.

“God dwells in His creation and is everywhere indivisibly present in all His works,” says Tozer.

No, this isn’t pantheism, Tozer notes. Pantheism describes God as the sum of all created things. What Tozer is describing is God’s immanence – God is here. “There is no place, there can be no place, where He is not.” He transcends creation, but He is here in and among His creation.

The mind boggles. It’s not the only characteristic of God that boggles the mind. But it boggles.

I say I believe that, but if I truly did believe that, would I live my life any differently? It’s one thing to have Jesus in my heart – but to moving through a creation where God is?

This takes me in an unexpected direction. I understand why Ann Voskamp calls her blog blog about her life and faith “A Holy Experience.” It is because that’s what our lives here on earth actually is – a holy experience. And it’s holy because God is here.

Would we live our lives differently if we really believed that? How? What would change?

I’m still pondering.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading Tozer’s The Pursuit of God.  To see more posts on this chapter, please visit Sarah’s blog, Living Between the Lines. Next week we’ll conclude the discussion of this chapter, “The Universal Presence.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Weeping Woman

She rises from her bed, weary
to weep in morning light,
naked, her soul exposed
as for the butcher’s
display case. I want to ask
why she is weeping
but I don’t know the words.

This is one of the paintings that I saw at the Edvard Munch exhibit at the Tate Modern in London. Munch painted this scene numerous times, and several of the paintings were grouped together in the same room.

This poem is submitted to Open Link Night at dVerse Poets. To see more poems submitted, please visit the site. The links will be live at 2 p.m. Central time today.

Painting: Weeping Woman (1907) by Edvard Munch.

Judith Valente's "Discovering Moons"

I read Judith Valente’s Discovering Moons: Poems twice, once on an exercise treadmill in a busy gym and once in the quiet of my office at home.

I’m not sure which location was better. The office allowed me to speak poems aloud, and hear the sounds and the flow of the sounds. Reading on the treadmill allow me to blot out the noise of seven other treadmills, five television screens, numerous other pieces of equipment and the woman on the treadmill next to me who was talking on her cell phone about various physical ailments.

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

Emily Wierenga’s “Chasing Silhouettes”

I’m haunted by the eyes of a nine-year-old girl – a nine-year-old girl who thinks she’s too fat and begins to starve herself.

Nine years old. Those eyes belonged – still belong – to Emily Wierenga, and she’s now writing about what happened.

Chasing Silhouettes: How to help a loved one battling an eating disorder may well be one of the most important books published for the church this year. That’s right, I said for the church. Because eating disorders don’t just happen outside the church; they happen in the church, too, to pastors’ daughters like Wierenga. And the church can do great good – and great harm – in how it responds.

The book is a painful read. It is also a hopeful read.

Wierenga has structured each major section of Chasing Silhouettes with a story, including perspectives of both the person with the disorder and family and friends; observations and insights by medical professionals; practical advice on what to do and not do if you’re trying to help; and then a prayer.

What this structure does is to provide a comprehensive look at what constitutes an eating disorder – it is physical, biological, emotional, and spiritual. Those are the roads Wierenga takes us down as she opens up her own experience, mind, and heart. And one of the critical points she makes is this – you cannot heal a loved one of an eating disorder. They have to decide that they want to be healed, and you cannot make that decision for them, no matter how much you love them.

And it happens to girls as young as seven. And to young men, whose commitment to physical training crosses a line into obsession.

So this is a book for people suffering eating disorders and the people who often have to watch in pain and agony as someone lives through – and sometimes dies – from an eating disorder. As Wierenga writes in the prologue: “I was that girl you are trying to save. The one who is all rib and screaming and slamming the door., the one who once laughed, who now wants to die. And this is killing you…While I was that girl, I’m now a woman who wants desperately to live.”

Chasing Silhouettes is about pain and tragedy, yes. But it is mostly about hope.

Monday, September 24, 2012


I’ve been mostly offline the past two weeks, although the blog (thanks to the scheduling feature) has been operating normally. We were on vacation in the UK, specifically London with a day trip to Oxford.

We were in London in 1983 for an early 10th anniversary trip. Our oldest was three (and stayed with his grandparents in New Orleans). Our oldest now has his oldest who’s 2 ½ and his youngest who’s four months.

Much in London has changed in the intervening years – and much has stayed the same. What’s definitely changed is that the food has improved dramatically – we didn’t have a bad meal the entire time. For our 1983 trip, we can remember the one really good meal we had.

Some of the highlights:

 Seeing the J.M.W. Turner painting collection at the Tate Britain.

The Lewis chessman exhibit at the British Museum. And the Elgin marbles. And the “Shakespeare Staging the World” exhibit. And walks around Bloomsbury and Russell Squares.

An early Sunday morning walk along the south embankment from Westminster Bridge to Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Coffee and dinner with two online friends of my wife’s. Face-to-face still trumps online.

The parade through central London for the British Olympic and Paralympic teams. We waved our British flags along with about a million other people.

The evensong service at St. Martin’s in the Fields on Trafalgar Square.

The fireworks display at the conclusion of the River Thames Festival.

Seeing the stage play “Chariots of Fire” at the Gielgud Theatre (our seats were on the stage – we were part of the Olympic stadium). And then seeing Simon Callow in the one-man play “The Mystery of Charles Dickens” (he even did the public reading that Dickens was famous for – the murder of Nancy by Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist).

Hearing my name called while I’m washing my hands in the men’s room at the National Gallery, and turning to find a friend from our church in St. Louis who was in London on business.

Victoria sponge cake at the restaurant in the Crypt of St. Martin’s in the Fields. Twice.

Christ Church College at Oxford (where the staircase and dining hall were used for the Harry Potter movies) and the Dickens exhibit at the Bodleian Library. And the Anglo-Saxon Gallery at the Ashmolean Museum.

The Buckingham Palace tour (the Queen does it first-rate).

Westminster Cathedral (the Catholic one, not the Abbey). I went to pick up a Pilates mat for my wife at a fitness store near Victoria Station and took a slight detour to see the cathedral. I stood in the back while a mass was going on – in Latin.

Walking around the craziness of the Jubilee Market in Covent Garden on a Sunday afternoon.

The weather. The one day London caught any rain at all was the day we were in Oxford – which had sunny skies.

The Edvard Munch art exhibit at the Tate Modern. The Poetry as Image Galleries at the Tate Modern.

The portraits of Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare at the National Portrait Gallery, and dinner at the gallery’s rooftop restaurant overlooking Trafalgar Square.

T.S. Eliot’s grave in Westminster Abbey.

The view from the front door of our hotel: Parliament and Big Ben.

I wanted to see the Tate Modern Museum, but I didn’t expect to fall in love with it. I viewed the galleries on one visit, viewed the Munch exhibit on another visit, and hit it a third time to get a final glimpse of what was my favorite work in the entire museum – Marguerite Kelsey by Meredith Frampton (1928) (pictured at the top).

We also got to see three paintings by Vermeer – one in Buckingham Palace, one in the National Gallery, and the only one privately owned and currently on loan to the Ashmolean in Oxford. That’s about 10 percent of Vermeer’s total output.

I’m just about ready to go back (or maybe that’s residual jet lag).

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Meeting the Artist

I did not know you
Edvard Munch except
for the commonplace
of The Scream complete
with an inflatable doll
but I met you in this
former power plant
that belched electricity
to a city of millions.
I met you there
Edvard Munch
and I found a man
as preoccupied with age
and time as I am.

In London, I visited the Tate Modern, which had an exhibit entitled “Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye.”

Painting: Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm by Edvard Munch (1895 lithograph) 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Good Reads: The High Callling

For the last two years, I’ve been part of the editorial staff for The High Calling. If you’re familiar with the THC site, you know it publishes daily articles on work, books, faith, family and culture, and includes editorial posts, video posts, and extensions into Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

We are a far-flung group, mostly from all over the United States but with one member – our photography editor – living in Australia. We are all Christians, but we represent a variety of faiths – and that’s one of the things that makes the staff a strong one.

We have regular online meetings, interspersed with phone calls and emails. The amount of work that’s required to produce and maintain a site like The High Calling is large. All of us write for THC, but we also have specific assignments as well.

Marcus Goodyear, who blogs at Good Word Editing, is our senior editor who seems to know how to do everything, and a little bit more than everything. He’s a published poet, too, and if you haven’t read Barbies at Communion, you should.

Deidra Riggs, our managing editor, blogs at Jumping Tandem. She’s a minister’s wife, and a speaker, and a writer, and still manages to find time to check up on the staff, keep us on track, handle issues, and solve problems.

We have several content editors – the people who manage the posts for Work, Faith, Culture, Family, and Books.

Ann Kroeker, a writer blogging at Ann Kroeker. Writer., is the content editor for Family. She’s an author, too, having written Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families and The Contemplative Mom. Ann is one ferocious editor; I’ve experienced (and benefitted from) her work.

Charity Singleton, who blogs at Wide Open Spaces, is also a content editor for Family and related areas. (Her blog is one of my favorite reads.)

Laura Boggess is the Books editor. She blogs at The Wellspring, and is the author of two books, Brody’s Story and Derek’s Story.

Jim (J.B.) Wood is the content editor for Work, and the editor I’ve worked with the longest and most often (most of my posts involve the Work theme). He blogs at Shrinking the Camel and is the author of At Work as It Is in Heaven.

Sam Van Eman is the content editor for Culture, and blogs at New Breed of Advertisers. I was familiar with his blog (and Jim Wood’s) before I had heard of The High Calling, and both were part of the path that led me there. Sam is the author of On Earth as It Is in Advertising.

Dan King, our social media guru, rides herd on the Facebook editors and the rather strange person who’s the Twitter editor (me). Dan blogs at Bibledude, which is a site unto itself, with regular bloggers and features. For a long time, I didn’t know Dan’s name, because he always introduced himself as “#Fistbump, Dude!” Dan is the author of The Unlikely Missionary.

There are several daily Facebook editors who work with Dan and also write articles for THC. Cheryl Smith blogs at Oikos Living. Dena Dyer blogs at Mother Inferior and is the author of the recently released Grace for the Race: Meditations for Busy Moms and several other books. Jennifer Dukes-Lee blogs at Getting Down with Jesus and is under contract for a book to be published next year.

Sandra Sims is the Google+ editor and our search engine optimization (SEO) guru. She blogs at Guiding Vision.

Reid Echols is one of our newer staffers, and is responsible for the THC YouTube presence (I’m still surprised at the number of videos that THC produces). Tim’s THC profile is here.

Tim Miller, our intrepid Australian, is the THC photography editor and blogs at Spy Journal 3.0. He keeps reminding us that there are readings outside North American time zones. Working with Tim is Kelly Sauer, a contributing editor for photography who blogs at Kelly Sauer (and who takes wonderful photos).

David Rupert is the editor of the THC weekly newsletter and the guy who usually posts short summaries and links of THC Network members’ articles. He’s constantly trolling the network looking (and finding) good stuff. He blogs at Red-Letter Believers.

We have some specialty editors as well. Ann Voskamp, author of the still bestselling One Thousand Gifts, is a contributing editor for Faith and blogs at A Holy Experience. Christine Scheller, the THC Leadership editor, is one of the most prolific writers I’ve encountered, writing for numerous print and online publications. She blogs at Christine Scheller.

Tina Howard is the editor for the Laity Lodge Family Camp, one of the ministries connected to The High Calling (they all are a part of the H.E. butt Foundation). Tina blogs at Spaghetti Pie.

I’ve left Gordon Atkinson to the end. Gordon’s official title is “Senior SEO Editor and Drupal Advisor,” which makes him sound like a geeky type, but like all of the other editors, Gordon is about so much more. He’s one of the deepest thinkers I’ve met, and when I met with the THC staff at Laity Lodge two years ago, Gordon led our devotion times, and I have rarely been as profoundly moved as I was by his teaching. He writes as the Laity Lodge “Pilgrim” and blogs at Real Live Preacher.

That’s the staff I work with at THC. It’s a fine group, and I’m privileged to be part of the work they do.

Photograph: Laity Lodge, near Kerrville, Texas.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Stop in Reading

A stop in Reading,
and on the platform
the ubiquitous kissing
couple, the businessmen
praying into their mobiles,
the shopping brigades,
the school truants looking
for a day’s excitement
in their short skirts,
sequined high-top tennis
shoes, Mohawks and neoned
hair streaming, dreaming
of Covent Garden and
Chinatown, theatre lights
screened images mistaken
for reality.

On a train from London to Oxford, we stopped in Reading, and saw the people waiting on the platform opposite.

Photograph: Reading train station by Uskvale.

This poem was also featured over at Christian Poets & Writers today.