Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday Good Reads: The Book Thief

This week, we saw The Book Thief, a movie set in Nazi Germany shortly before and during World War II. It’s the story of a young girl whose parents are communists; she’s sent to live with a couple in Stuttgart (played by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson). At one point, the family takes in and hides a young Jewish man.

It’s a wonderful movie, based on the novel of the same name by Markus Zusak and first published in 2007. It’s about friendship, love, growing up, books, reading and writing, all framed within the context of Nazi Germany at war. Sophie Nelisse as the young Liesl is a wonder. Through her eyes, you see that beauty can flower anywhere.

Photo (top) credit: kernelscorner 

Friday, November 29, 2013

The box

The beggar hands me a box,
a gift, small and compact,
no wrapping or bow. He
pushes it into my hand,
fearing I will refuse it, and
then walks away, disappearing
into the sidewalk, crowded.
I look for him but he was gone,
truly, as if he had never been
there. The box is smudged,
as if it had been held a long time
by dirty hands, I don’t know
whether the beggar’s or my own.
I open the box.

Photograph by Pennie Gibson via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

My One Day

It is my one day, my one day
is today to be lifted from the stack
where I’m carefully kept, paper
napkins between us so we don’t
scrape or chip or abrade. I am
lifted and separated, carefully
washed, hands in yellow gloves
feeling my heaviness, for I am not
ordinary glass but crystal imagined
and blown and shaped and cut. I sit
on the table, next to a cutting board,
and I listen to the peeling and paring
and cutting and dicing and halving as
into my interior is emptied apple
oranges tangerines grapes (red and
green) pecans maraschino cherries
and whatever else is deemed worthy
and appropriate. I am covered
in clear plastic and placed in a box
that is cold, not icy but sufficiently,
until I am removed and carefully
carried to the table, where my contents
are spooned out and whipped cream
topped to murmurs of “ambrosia.”
It is my one day.

Over at Tweetspeak Poetry, we’ve been discussing Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree by Claire Burge. One of the suggestions Burge makes in this book is to take an everyday object and personify it in an art form of your choice. To see the discussion and what suggestions and questions others tackled, please visit Tweetspeak Poetry.

And may you enjoy your own ambrosia this Thanksgiving Day.

Photograph by Maliz Ong via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

God Does What?

You’re reading along in a book, part of a book discussion, nodding and agreeing, and then you hit a chapter that takes you off the rails. And you’re trying to figure out how to get back on the rails.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge. It’s a good book, filled with the kind of insight that comes from personal experience and theological understanding. I’ve found myself smoothly moving with the narrative flow.

And then I had my train wreck: Chapter 7 – “Comfort for the Afflicted.” Right up front, Sorge lays out his thesis: Affliction and infirmity are useful tools in God’s hands to refine His servants.

Sorge is speaking from a place of physical infirmity, He doesn’t say what it is, but it has been severe enough to lead him into a spiritual wilderness. He’s been suffering this infirmity through the writing of two books, this one and a previous one, some four years after suffering an injury.

Two-and-a-half years ago, the Saturday before Father’s Day, I was working in the garden, digging a hole for a small plant, and I stood up. A pain shot through my body like I had never felt, and I grabbed the side of the house to steady myself and keep from falling. The pain was severe enough to have knocked me down.

Somehow, I maneuvered myself inside. The pain was lessening; ibuprofen was at hand. Things gradually returned to a semblance of normal. A few weeks later, the pain came back, big time. I had suffered a ruptured disk in my back. The pain extended from the middle of my back, down my left leg and to the toes of my foot. I could not function with strong pain medications, the one that’s a step below morphine. I had to take the maximum dose, and I can remember watching the clock as it ticked slowly toward the next allowable dose.

The pain medicine was so strong that I couldn’t drive a car. The pain was so strong that the only comfortable position was flat on my back on the floor. A third person came to live in our house for the next six months, and his name was Mr. Pain. He was my constant companion, and my wife will tell you he changed my personality (and not for the better).

What lay ahead was months of intense physical therapy and traction twice a week. For a time I was walking with a cane, my body tilted at a 30-degree angle. I parked in handicapped parking spots. I learned how to walk in the rain (and snow) with a cane, carrying my briefcase and holding an umbrella. Surgery was a distinct possibility, and I had heard all the stories about how back surgery never works. A business associate I met stared at my cane and said, “You know, you’re never going to get better.”

I’ll cover some of what I learned from this experience next week, but Bob Sorge forced me to consider something I had not previously considered. This pain, this horrible pain I experienced, may likely have come from God.

That thought took me right off the rails.

We’ve been reading The Fire of Delayed Answers. To see more posts on this week’s chapter, “Comfort for the Afflicted,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Do I Have to Like Everyone I Work With?

A new person had joined the department. The director walked her around, introducing her to the various teams and people. And then she came back, visiting people in their offices and cubicles, asking one question.

“Where are the real power centers around here?”

“What?” I responded, when I was asked, unsure if I had heard correctly.

“Who are the power people in the department? I don’t have time to waste finding out on my own.”

She was serious.

I have generally liked the people I’ve worked with over a 40-year career. And I’ve worked with some odd, eccentric ones (the price you pay for having a degree in journalism). But never had I met someone like that, openly and brazenly political, not caring who knew, until that day.

To continue reading, please see my post today at The High Calling

Photograph by Anna Langova via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Poets and Poems: Christopher Reid and “A Scattering”

You reach a certain age, and you find yourself thinking more about a subject you rarely consider when you’re young – death, of yourself, your spouse, your parents, your friends. It becomes a topic of conversation, and you find yourself doing regularly what used to make you smile about your parents – reading the obituaries.

When you’re 19 and immortal, this consideration of death may seem slightly bizarre. When you’re older and something less than immortal, you understand death is part of life. But sometimes it arrives out of cycle – a child, a friend, a spouse. Sometimes death comes too soon, as it for British poet Christopher Reid.

In 2005, Reid’s wife, actress Lucinda Gane, died from cancer. She was 57.

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Self-Help or Self-Hype?

In Roman times, had there been a bestsellers list, perennial favorites surely would have included How to be Emperor Longer than Three Months, Gladiator Games for Dummies, and How to Profit in the Coming Dark Ages. In medieval times, I could imagine a title like How to Fight a Hundred Years War in 100 Minutes – and Win. I suppose Martin Luther could have cashed in with Who Moved My Theology or Write a Hymn in 30 Minutes or Less.

The book publishing genre of “self-help” books has enjoyed a long history, although I’m not completely positive they extend back to the glory days of the Roman Empire.

When I first became aware of self-help books in the bookstore in the 1970s, some of the best known ones were Passages by Gail Sheehy; Robert Ringer’s Looking Out for No. 1; Born to Win by Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward (remember transactional analysis?); A Guide to Rational Living by Albert Ellis; and Leo Buscaglia’s Love.

Self-help books follow a relatively simple formula: find a common, everyday problem (or find something that could potentially be a common, everyday problem), break the problem down into five (or six or seven) components, and then present the three (or four or five) parts of a solution. A self-help book needs to be written in simple language; if you can utilize the fable or story approach, even better.

Some are well written and thought-provoking. Most have their day in the sun and are then forgotten. But publishers publish them for one very simple reason.

They sell.

They sell to a secular audience, and they sell to a Christian audience.

The question isn’t “Why are they published?” Publishers are in business to make money, and if the public wants self-help books, then publishers will be there to meet the demand. We can get all academic and literary about it and sniff our noses while Who Moved My Cheese sells millions of copies and extraordinary novels languish, struggling to sell even 500 copies, but the marketplace is the marketplace. And it’s likely that without the success of Who Moved My Cheese, a publisher couldn’t afford to take a chance on a novel, no matter how extraordinary.

The real question is, “Why do we buy them?”

I suggest three reasons.

First, self-help books are invariably about me. They’re not called “self-help” for no reason. They personalize a common problem, the one that you think that you alone are experiencing.

Second, everyone else is reading them. We like to read what everyone else is reading. We like to read bestsellers. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal don’t publish lists of “The Best Books Selling Virtually No Copies This Week.”

Third, they offer simple solutions, often by projecting the author’s experience on to millions of other people. And we want simple solutions to our problems. Difficult solutions suggest that life isn’t as simple as we want it to be. And they mean hard work, often for a lifetime, and who wants to do that while you’re preparing for your 15 minutes of fame?

In Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day, Todd Henry says “we want the results without the uncertainty and risk. The hard truth is that there is no real and lasting success without the potential for failure. The pain of the journey is what allows you to sustain your success on the other side.” (I should point out here that while I’ve enjoyed reading Die Empty, it is a self-help book, although different from the kind I’ve read before.)

This is not the understanding to which self-help books usually appeal. We want our problems simply, neatly, and quickly. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that simple, neat, and quick solutions to problems rarely if ever exist. Life is thorny, difficult, and challenging for all of us. It often hurts. It is often filled with less-than-joyful moments. It is not about walking down the red carpet at the Academy Awards; that lasts only a moment even for movie stars.

But life is worthwhile, and living it well and honorably is worthwhile.

Maybe we do need a Living Life Well and Honorably for Dummies.

Actually, I think we already have it, and it’s been around since Roman times.

This month, we’ve been reading Die Empty over at The High Calling. Today concludes the discussion with a focus on the last three chapters of the book. To see what others have to say, please visit The High Calling.

Photograph by Piotr Seidlecki via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A day like any other

A day like any other
like every other
in joy, ends
in nakedness

we hid
we blamed
who told us were
were naked
to become gods we
learned nakedness

banished to the east
to the east where
the light is harsher

Painting: Adam and Eve by Jan Gossaert (about 1520), National Gallery of Art, London.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Notting Hill Mystery

When my wife and I were in London in September for vacation, one of the places we wanted to see was the British Library, which houses everything from the Magna Carta and Jane Austen’s lap desk to Paul McCartney’s first written version of “Yesterday” (you can guess which exhibit in the great documents exhibit area drew the largest crowds).  And the shop at the library, while not huge, is exactly what you expect from an institution housing some of the greatest documents in history.

The shop is a book lover’s dream. I knew I was going to have a difficult time walking out and not being weighted down. The poetry section was good, and the children’s book section was excellent. But it was the mystery section that I found myself most attracted to: all those reproductions of great mystery stories, from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

One that drew my attention had a simple, faux worn cover: The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams. Yes, it’s hard to see “Notting Hill” and not think of the Julia Roberts –Hugh Grant movie, but the book shares only the place name. What led me to pick it up and see what it was about were the words on the cover, “The First Detective Novel.” All right, I thought, someone’s never heard of Edgar Allen Poe and The Murders in the Rue Morgue, or Wilkie Collins and The Moonstone.

Actually, they had. The introduction is by Mike Ashley, the British author, editor and bibliographer of works in several genres, including mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy. And he succinctly considers the potential competitors and makes a compelling case for The Notting Hill Mystery, first published in serialized form in the periodical Once a Week, from 1862 to 1863. It was published as a novel in 1865. The book has been reprinted over the years; this edition was published by the British Library in 2012.

Until 2011, the author, originally known as “Charles Felix,” was something of a mystery; the name was assumed to be a pseudonym, and Felix had published only one other work, Velvet Lawns, by the same publisher. Then in 2011, an article in The New York Times Book Review identified who Felix actually was – Charles Warren Adams, the proprietor of the publishing form that produced the book. Adams was best known for his work with the Anti-Vivisectionist Society, but in something of a scandalous way. Mildred Coleridge a society board member and great-grand-niece of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, flouted society and moved in with Adams in 1883.

The work itself reads surprisingly like a 19th century mystery and a contemporary story at the same time. The narrative is a collection of a series of reports by Ralph Henderson, an investigator for a life insurance company. He is dogged in tracking down what happened in three mysterious deaths, which he’s convinced were not accidental. The case involves unraveling the story of events over at least 25 years, and includes the discovery of family connections, eyewitness accounts that turn out to depend upon reputation rather than what was actually seen, hypnosis, amateur science, and impressive investigative work by Mr. Henderson.

The Notting Hill Mystery is an intriguing story, not the least for which is how little we actually learn of the insurance agent/detective. The book is also something of a window into what English Victorian readers of the 1860s would have entertaining, and a reminder that we may not be so different today.

Illustration: A scene from the novel when it was first serialized.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

From the Dark Times – Creativity

Twice in my professional working life I experienced two dark times, and the results were as unexpected as they were confounding.

The year 1987 was a trifecta of convulsions. My father died suddenly in March, leaving behind a business that was a colossal mess. My church figuratively blew up in June. Then my job blew up in October, and I walked away from what many considered the best part of the company to work for.

A little over twenty years later, my job blew up – and for all the wrong reasons. Success in doing new things had outstripped the organization’s ability to deal with it, and so the team was broken apart.

Both situations led to self-doubt, loss of sleep, emotional turmoil, and ruptured relationships. For a time, it all looked dark.

In the first situation, within two short months in a different job in the company, a job that several people had turned down because it was largely about dealing with negative stuff, I realized I had walked into the equivalent of a professional gold mine. I had really good people working for me, and huge opportunities in front of us. I simply had not expected anything like this. A lot of work, yes, and dealing with negative stuff, yes, but the opportunity to change an industry? How did that happen?

I did some of the best work of my career. What we accomplished won national recognition and awards.

In the second situation, the critical thing was to keep as much of the team intact and functional as possible. Which we did, but it would never function like the old team had. Some people left, others were dispersed, but enough of the understanding and philosophy of work survived to allow people to continue to flourish.

But also born during this time was my decision to publish this crazy manuscript I had been playing with for three or four years. Eventually, that decision led to the publication of Dancing Priest and its sequel, A Light Shining; becoming involved with poetry (and a new book – due out this December – Poetry at Work); and writing for The High Calling and Tweetspeak Poetry. None of that could have been foreseen at the time.

I’m doing some of the best writing of my life.

My purpose here isn’t to celebrate the dark times. They are awful to experience. But what came from them was something better, something I never would have believed possible, something I never would have imagined.

What came was creativity and accomplishment.

Over at Tweetspeak Poetry, we’ve been discussing Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree by Claire Burge. One of the questions Burge asks is, what dark places have developed your creativity? To see the discussion and the questions others answered, please visit the site.

Photograph by Emma Ivanova via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Waiting and Losing Heart

The time is intense. The arrest of Jesus is imminent; his earthly ministry is quickly drawing to a close. The sense of the passage from Matthew 23 to Matthew 25 is that Jesus is trying to teach his disciples as much as he can before it all comes to an end.

He warns against religious leaders and condemns them (“You snakes! You brood of vipers!”). He grieves over Jerusalem. And then, on the Mount of Olives, he teaches his disciples, using stories and parables. Be watchful. Be ready and waiting. Be expectant. The last days are coming. Learn from the stories of the 10 bridesmaids and the loaned money. And let me tell you about the final judgment.

This is his last extended time to teach them, and Jesus is packing it in.

Tucked among the various teachings is a warning about being ready. Jesus uses the analogy of the wise and evil servants. The wise and faithful servant, put in charge of the servants of the household, cares for them and feeds them at the proper time. “It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will be put in charge of all his possessions.”

The evil or wicked servant, however, waiting and waiting for the master’s return, gets tired of waiting and “then begins to beat his fellow servants and eat and drink with drunkards.” In his case, the master arrives unexpectedly. “He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (I’ve always like that phrase – “gnashing of teeth” – even though it makes my mouth hurt to think of it.)

Bob Sorge, in The Fire of Delayed Answers, notes that two things happen to the evil servant: “He loses his heart for the household, and he surrenders his self-control.” The two are inevitably linked; one follows almost naturally from the other. The delay in the master’s return creates both a crisis of the spirit and a crisis of behavior.

The causal problem in facing delay is the loss of heart. At work, we’ve been experiencing major organizational and management changes. What the new organization and leadership will be won’t be known for some weeks. There are good reasons for the delay, but the waiting is wearing on people. Anxiety is not uncommon. Speculation abounds. Things overheard in casual conversations become amplified into statements of fact.

The reality is that, regardless of anxiety and speculation, we still have to get work done. Work hasn’t gone away. It didn’t decide to take a holiday while we worried and fretted.

That’s what the wise servant understands and practices. He keeps focused on what he’s been entrusted with, as difficult as that can be at times.

He is faithful. He doesn’t lose heart.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Fire of Delayed Answers. To see more posts on this chapter, “Jesus’ Teaching on Delay,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.

Photograph by Nuzrath Nuzree via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Poets and Poems: Andrew Motion’s “The Customs House”

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of World War I, the “war to end all wars,” except it didn’t. The “Great War” has held a great fascination for writers and poets, not to mention historians, not the least for which is because it so neatly, and jaggedly, divided the old word order from the new. The war also produced several poets who became famous in death, such as Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen, and several who survived the war but became part of the Lost Generation, such as Seigfried Sassoon and Robert Graves.

Their poetic styles varied widely, but they shared a view of war that was both realistic and resistant. Poetry served as the means to illustrate both.

The first half of Andrew Motion’s The Customs House: Poems shares that same realistic and resistant view of war. A series of poems about war stretches from World War I through the wars of today, including Iraq and Afghanistan. But the poems not include the battlefield and theaters of war, but also the home front, and the aftermath of war. These poems often tell stories, but they all examine war with a cold penetrating eye.

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

Photograph by Tim Emerich via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, November 18, 2013

What Resonates? (It Matters)

Most of my working career has been spent in speechwriting. It’s tempting (the temptation being smugness) to think that the 30 years I spent immersed in speechwriting (roughly 1976 to 1980) were the last hurrah of formal discourse. Television, PowerPoint, and now social media have all had an impact, and not necessarily positive.

Instead of civil discourse, we utilize videos and talking points.

Instead of speeches, we have PowerPoint.

Instead of intelligent conversation, we tweet.

For someone like me, whose day-to-day work occurs online and largely within social media, I understand what we have and what we have lost.

The change was already obvious by the mid-1980s, largely due to television. “Sound bite” had entered the communications lexicon. So had “talking points.” Up to that time, most large companies had speechwriting departments (we didn’t call them teams then). But change was underway. The great corporate restructurings of the 1980s did not spare the speechwriting departments. In 1980, I was one of four full-time speechwriters for the company I worked for. In 1990, I was the sole corporate speechwriter left, and I had supervisory responsibility for other functions.

The conventional wisdom about speeches had become (1) shorter is better, (2) use illustrations like photographs and videos, and (3) be entertaining.

And then I attended an event that turned the conventional wisdom on its head.

In 1992, I attended a speechwriter’s conference in Chicago. One of the speakers was Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Claude Pepper and now with the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. A few years before, she had published Eloquence in an Electronic Age: The Transformation of Political Speechwriting. The book spoke to political and corporate speechwriters alike, and it articulated the unease that many of us speechwriters felt. It wasn’t only speeches and speechwriting that were changing; it was all discourse – corporate, political, academic, and social. And it wasn’t change for the better.

Jamieson spoke with interruption or a break for an hour. A solid hour. The audience was spellbound. No one got up to leave. She finished to thunderous applause. She was asked one question, and spoke for 45 minutes. Forty-five minutes to answer one question, and the audience remained spellbound.

What she said resonated with me and the other 200 people in the room. I still consider it to be one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. Two years later, I arranged for her to speak at a company conference. She had the same effect. By 1994, many of us could see what was coming with electronic communications technology, and how it was already transforming how we communicated with each other.

Today, I hear and read very few “speeches” as I understood and wrote them. Speakers string together message points and call it a speech. Virtually no one utilizes the tools of rhetoric. Few marshal evidence. Instead we make assertions as emotionally as we can, and it passes for thought leadership.

In Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day, Todd Henry talks about the importance of resonance,  which he calls a “valuable clue on the path to performing your best, most unique work.” We each have, he says, “resonant frequencies that we respond to naturally, and when we encounter them in others, their words or actions are amplified in us and we begin to resonate with the other person…Typically, these points of resonance are thematic, not specific in nature. It’s more about the deeper theme their words or actions point to and not just what was said.”

Her words resonated. In the years that followed, I wrote some of the best speeches I had ever written. What she said also had an impact on how I approached social media, and I generally use it in atypical ways.

I still remember that speech. I still remember the room, and being there. The impact was lasting.

Over at The High Calling, Laura Boggess is leading us in a discussion of Die Empty. To see what people are saying about this section of the book, please visit the site.

Photograph by Peter Griffin via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


We sit, we listen, we know
the afternoon sun is fading
irreversibly into night, the warmth
of the day is fading inevitably
into coldness of night, the walls
of stone and stained glass offering
some light, some warmth. We move
closer, huddling, feeling the chill,
remembering spring's explosion
into color and summer’s hot sands
and brilliant glare and even
the beautiful decay of fall 
with its slanted, withdrawing light.
Outside, a bird is singing.

Photograph by Larisa Koshkina via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wendell Berry’s “Jayber Crow”

A barbershop in a small town is less about the cutting of hair and more about community, one of those places where people (usually men) congregate to talk, observe, and plan hunting trips. Or that’s what barbershops used to be.

And “used to be” is what is at the heart of Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow, originally published in 2000. Jayber Crow is a barber in the town of Port William, Kentucky, the place around which so many of Berry’s stories and novels center. Port William is a “used to be” place, a town in decline as economics and what we consider progress passes it by, its life gradually siphoned away.

Jayber is telling his story, and the town’s story, from the perspective of old age. He was left orphaned at a very young age by his parents succumbing to influenza; he’s taken in by an elderly couple, and it is there that he begins to fall in love with the place he lives in. Orphaned again after their deaths, he’s sent to an orphanage and a bible college. And while he should have ended up in ministry or working in a city, he doesn’t. The pull toward the place of his youth is too strong. Along the way he’s picked up barbering skills, and so he returns to Port William. And people remember him, remember the orphaned boy.

When he’s telling his story, he’s an old man, retired from barbering, officially at least. The state regulatory authorities have cited his shop for numerous violations, even if it’s in the same place and Jayber doing the same things he’s done for almost half a century. But he tells his story, his story of community and place and people – and the woman he falls in love with, the woman he cannot have because to do so would violate all of what place and community are about. He never speaks of his love, but, in a small town, some things people just know.

The novel encompasses most if not all of Berry’s beliefs and philosophy about land, agriculture, progress (including interstate highways), faith, and community. In the hands of a lesser writer, the story would have degenerated into ideological diatribe. In Berry’s hands, it doesn’t. He maintains a tight control, even over what he most wants to say.

Jayber Crow is a novel about many things, and about one thing, the idea that place, history, and memory are what bind people to each other, and to loosen those binds is to unravel something much larger that a small town. It is also a novel of love and redemption, and how redemption is inseparable from place and community. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The little wooden bridge

A power ride, it was
165 miles, graveled and
pounded flat, with rutted
stretches appearing
unexpectedly, like
the occasional snake
and critter darting
across my path, uneventful
until the little bridge,
the little wooden bridge
across the little creek,
the bridge with its construction
sign, narrowing the way,
slowing the ride, dutifully
I slowed the ride, the handlebar
hooked the board, hooked it
hard, the bike slammed down,
slammed down hard, I’m
thinking I’m seriously hurt,
I see the blood on my leg,
broken mirror, I stand up
on the little wooden bridge
and walk for a time, then
climb back on the bike
to finish the final 15 miles,
not much else I could do,
not bad for someone (as
it turned out) with four
broken ribs and a partially
collapsed lung. It did
hurt, though, once I got
off the bike.

Over at Tweetspeak Poetry, we’re discussing Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree by Claire Burge. One of the exercises asks the question, when have brake figuratively failed you with surprising consequences? In the true story recorded above, the brakes didn’t literally fail, but the resulting bike crash (2009) led eventually to an overnight stay in the hospital and reading Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places by L.L. Barkat straight through to 4 a.m. the next morning. And that led to being part of something called Tweetspeak Poetry, and that led to a book called Poetry at Work being published next month.

Who would have thought a bike crash on a little wooden bridge would lead to that result?

So check out the discussion on Claire’s book at Tweetspeak Poetry. However, I don’t advise bike crashes as the easiest way to creativity.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Persistence with a Purpose

The story is familiar. In the Gospel of St. Luke (17:20 – 18:8), Jesus has just finished talking to the disciples about the coming of the kingdom, “the day the Son of Man is revealed.” It’s an unsettling passage, and it finishes with an unsettling image – of vultures around a dead body.

Then he tells them the parable of the persistent widow – or the parable of the unjust judge. The purpose of the parable is made explicit from the beginning – “to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” That, too, is unusual – the meaning of most of the parables is made clear after they are told. But not this one.

The story is simple. A widow brings a complaint to a judge, to defend her against her adversary. The judge, “who neither feared God nor cared about men,” ignores her, refusing to deal with the issues. This apparently goes on for some time, until the judge finally gets tired of it all. The woman is clearly going to keep coming and bothering him. So he decides to deal with it and grant her plea.

The first time I read this passage years ago, I wondered if this parable was truly about prayer, why Jesus seemed to be comparing God to the unjust judge. Then I read further, and realized that wasn’t what Jesus was saying at all. In fact, he wasn’t comparing but contrasting, that God will answer the pleas of his “chosen ones” because, unlike the judge, he does care about men.

The story is simple, but the lesson seems more complex, wrapped as it is in what Jesus had been saying about the coming of the kingdom. But it’s clearly about persistence, and it’s clearly about persistence in prayer.

“Jesus is explicitly addressing the matter of delayed answers in this parable,” writes Bob Sorge in The Fire of Delayed Answers. “He is affirming there are times when God designs a delay in order to produce a specific work in us through the pain of unresolved suffering. His purpose is that we maintain our persistence and intensity of cry until His work is complete in us.”

What the context of the passage suggests is that Jesus is telling the disciples to be persistent in prayer – and the prayer for the coming of the Kingdom. What they will hope for, what they pray for, may be long in coming. But they are to be persistent, because the Kingdom will – one day – come. Interestingly enough, Jesus recognizes that unanswered prayer – that answer so desperately desired – can sap one’s faith. He says, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith?”

Persistence will eventually prevail. God will hear the pleas of his children, and the pleas will be answered.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Fire of Delayed Answers. To see more posts on this chapter, “Jesus’ Teaching on Delay,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.

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