Monday, October 31, 2011

Edith's Glass


I was born and raised in New Orleans. The first 10 years of my life coincided with the last days of segregation. Half a century later, certain scenes from childhood remain as vivid as if they just happened: shopping with my mother at the A&P grocery store, and being cautioned to use the “white” water fountain; restroom facilities marked “white” and “colored;” whites sitting in the front half of the bus and blacks in the back half; separate seating areas at the movie theaters. Restaurants, hotels, schools and recreational facilities didn’t have such designations because the entire facilities themselves were segregated and separate.

Segregation could be personal, too. My mother had a maid who ironed and cleaned; my mother kept a separate drinking glass just for her. It was called “Edith’s Glass.”

In the 1960s, under the force of federal court decisions and laws, integration of the schools began. Our television screens were filled with images of protests, shouting and screaming outside the public high schools in the city. About three years later, desegregation arrived the high schools in the suburbs, including the one my older brother had graduated from – the same one I was due to attend beginning the following year. The upheaval at our high school was so bad that federal marshals were stationed there every day for the entire school year to prevent racial attacks, fights and violence.

My distraught parents were nearly beside themselves with worry. They faced either sending me to a private high school, which the family couldn’t afford, or a parochial high school, which meant I could be brainwashed by Catholic priests, brothers or lay teachers. They decided brainwashing was preferable to poverty. My father made the contacts to enroll me in a Catholic high school not far from our home.

My parent’s anguished discussion swirled about me and above me. It was odd being the object of so much talk but not actually being part of it. One night at the dinner table, as the discussion turned inexorably to high school, I unexpectedly joined the conversation. I told my parents I was going to the public high school – the one with the federal marshals, fights, protests and violence. A stunned silence followed my announcement. When my father asked why, I shrugged. “I don’t know, but that’s where I’m going.”

My first day at the high school, I can remember being far more worried about upperclassmen hazing me than I was about a racial confrontation. There were no fights, no protests, no violence. After a few days, the federal marshals left. Some 60 black students attended a high school of 2,000; our suburb was about 95 percent white. But the troubles of the year before had given way to understanding and acceptance by the students and teachers. Over time, it wasn’t unusual to see blacks and whites becoming friends, and then no one noticed at all.

No problems occurred the entire time I was in high school. And it was toward the end of my junior year that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and racial tensions ran high all over. But nothing happened at my school. Some previously unbridgeable chasm had been bridged.

As Ellen Langer might say in her book Mindfulness, the global “characteristic” of race disappeared into the individual characteristic of people and who they were.

We’ve been discussing Mindfulness at The High Calling. This chapter, “Decreasing Prejudice by Increasing Discrimination,” is one only an academic could love – rather dense language, a narrative difficult to follow, and citing lots of studies involving college students. (I’m always suspicious of studies of college students by college professors; I don’t know how applicable these studies are to the general population.)

Yet Langer raises an intriguing question – can you reduce prejudice by increasing discrimination? She says this: “A mindful outlook recognizes that we are all deviant from the majority with respect to some of our attributes, and also that each attribute or skill lies on a continuum. Such an awareness leads to more categorizing and consequently fewer global stereotypes, or …increasing discrimination can reduce prejudice.”

Of course, she doesn’t explain what she means by “the majority” or if it is even possible for a “majority” to exist if we are all “deviant” in some regard.

If she means reduce the “global” label by increasing the “individual” understanding, then – her studies of college students aside – there is something that rings true.

And Edith doesn’t need a separate glass; Edith simply needs a glass.


To see more posts in our discussion led by Laura Boggess, please visit The High Calling.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Brennan Manning's "All is Grace"


Brennan Manning—former Catholic priest, speaker, writer, icon for many evangelicals—is saying goodbye. He’s 79, in failing health, under the care of a caretaker, but still telling his stories, still telling the rest of us that God loves you where you are.

All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, written with writer and author John Blase, is Manning’s farewell and, in a sense, final confession. He devotes a considerable portion of his farewell to his failures – a point Christian writer Philip Yancey takes issue with in the foreword to the book. But that’s the point of a confession, and especially a final confession. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”

And what is on Manning’s mind is his never-ending struggle with alcoholism, the strained relationship he had with his mother, and how he failed his wife Roslyn. He provides information about his childhood and growing up, and how he became a priest, but it is those three things that are on his mind as he moves closer to the end of life.

From the time he was 16, he says, he’s embraced, fought, lost, recovered and lost again his battle with alcohol. He drank so much as a teenager that he was nicknamed the “Funnel.” He drank so much that he experienced blackouts, including the one in the New Jersey hotel room in 1993 when he missed his mother’s funeral. He readily admits his lies and deceits, his denials and the hurts he caused to families and friends alike.

His felt something sorely missing in his relationship with his mother, and that something was acceptance. One feels the pain of the little boy who believes he can never do enough to be accepted by his mother, and Manning describes that pain here. He eventually finds and offers forgiveness a decade after her death.

And he describes the eventual failure of his marriage to Roslyn. He left the priesthood after falling in love with her, and that was the beginning of his fame outside the Catholic Church as a speaker and writer. He describes their life together in New Orleans. But he didn’t know how to be a husband, he says, and his alcoholism eventually doomed the marriage.

And yet he knows that despite all of his failures, he knows God loves him as he is, and he is forgiven. In All is Grace, Manning offers his testimony of failure so that we, too, no matter what we are and what we have done, can know that we, too, are God’s children, forgiven and loved as we are.

Related: Co-author John Blase writes about Manning and the book for the Huffington Post.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Words, no conversation



RAGE against the man
bail out Main Street
not Wall Street help
the 99% not the 1%

                                                Communists Alinsky-trained
                                                or Bill Ayres inspired 1960s
                                                wannabes where’s the RAGE
                                                against Dodd and Frank

destroy capitalism, aka
corporate welfare
control by economic
elites – leeches

                                                politics of envy, spite
                                                it’s the election isn’t it
                                                divide and isolate
                                                shameful – vermin

gilded moguls

                                                spoiled children
                                                indoctrinated by the NEA

criminals in suits
crapping on society
destroying the
middle class
pay my college loans

                                                rapists, thieves, hoodlums
                                                defecating on sidewalks
                                                destroying parks
                                                defacing monuments
                                                co-opted by the unions

Occupy!
Take over!
                                                Remove!
                                                Eradicate!

dangerous plot
to control
all wealth
conspiracy!

                                                dangerous ploy
                                                to win reelection
                                                cabal!

                        screams forcing
                        to extremes
                        the curtain tearing
                        the fabric unraveling
                       
it will all end
                        like it always ends
                        badly

This poem is submitted to the Saturday Poetics prompt at dVerse Poets. Today’s prompt is to poetically write a conversation with at least two sources talking. Or perhaps not talking, as int his case. To see more poems, please visit dVerse Poets.

Saturday Good Reads



Richard Beck asks, “Is our God too big?” Charity Singleton provides an update on her radiation treatments (what I would call a profile in courage). A myth about a “kelpie,” told poetically. The prairie in autumn. And Vera Lynn (now 92) sings one of what I think is the most romantic songs ever (OK, so I’m a schmuck, but I’m a romantic schmuck).

Prose

Your God is Too Big” by Richard Beck at Experimental Theology.

Basements” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

Radiation: Day 17” by Charity Singleton at Wide Open Spaces.

18 Inches North” by Jennifer Dukes-Lee at Getting Down with Jesus.

Stopping and Seeing” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Christian Inspiration” by Jake Lee at Very Much Later.

Teresa of Avila would be proud” by Kathy Robbins at robbinswrites.

For when we wonder if we’re gonna be okay,” by Duane Scott at Scribing the Journey.

Can I forgive sharp teeth?” by Karin Fendick at Flickers of a Faitful Firefly.

Poetry

It is not Vertigo” by Michael Dodaro at Lyric Arts Forum.

Hope” by Rob Kistner at Image & Verse.

Vladimir Solovyov” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

The Bad Cook” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Under New Management” by Lorenzo at Crowned with Laurels.

The Kelpie of Corryvreckan” by Brendan MacOdrum at Oran’s Well.

When the Poet is Sane” by Heather Truitt at Madame Rubies.

It’s All Grace” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

Answer” by Duane Carter at Songs from the River.

The fall, of kings” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne.

Paintings and Photographs

Rays Over the Atlantic” by Steve Gravano at Take a Look Around.

Water’s Art” and “Fall on Sugar Creek” by Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago. Also see his set of seven photos entitled “The Autumn Prairie.”

New Growth from Ancient Roots” by J of India at neither Use Nor Ornament.

Across the fields” by Randall David Tipton at Painter’s Process.

Smilin” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

The Sunrise Shadow of Mt. Rainer” by American Digest.

Four hobbits have a 10-year reunion,” via Andrew Piper at 22 Words.

Short Stories

Videos and Podcasts

I’ll be seeing you” by Vera Lynn.

By Invitation Only” by Jay Cookingham at Soulfari.

Compilations” by Failarmy.


Painting: Autumn Woods by David Wagner via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, October 28, 2011

She asks



The words slip
from her ruby lips
like small, perfect
pearls: prove your
love; bring me
cashmere.

I have armies march,
wars waged,
diplomats barter,
thieves steal,
thousands, tens
of thousands die.

I bring her
proof of my love.
And she stares.
I asked, she said,
for cashmere;
not Kashmir.

L.L. Barkat heard Thursday from an advertising agency in Berlin, who ran across one of our TweetSpeak poetry jam poems on cashmere – and wants to use it in an advertisement or catalog. And they’re interested in poems about cashmere. So I got inspired. I’m not sure if this is exactly what they’re looking for, however. Check the T.S. Poetry Press Facebook page to see if anyone else got lured into writing a cashmere poem.

Painting: Cashmere by John Singer Sargent (1908); in the collection of Bill Gates. The painting is of Singer’s niece, wearing a cashmere shawl in nine different poses. 

Two by C.S. Lakin

Until recently, the only books by C.S. Lakin that I had read were a contemporary novel, Someone to Blame, and two of her fantasy novels – The Map Across Time and The Wolf of Tebron. She’s also written in a number of other genres. I just read two of her e-books this past week that would likely fall into the category of psychological suspense. The books are different – different stories, different themes and different plots. But they do have a number of things in common, including – interestingly enough – characters who struggle to become sympathetic.

Conundrum

In Conundrum, Lisa Sitteroff is watching her marriage fall apart, one brother increasingly bent on suicide, another brother who floats from job to job and relationship to relationship with a seeming dedication to making nothing last. And then there’s Ruth Sitteroff, their mother, who seems a character right out of Mommie Dearest.

Lisa’s father is dead, dying when she was a young child of what her mother describes as self-induced leukemia. It is Lisa’s father who sits at the heart of the story, as Lisa decides she wants to know the man who as her father. Her marriage falls apart and her husband leaves home; she and her mother have a major quarrel and falling out. And Lisa embarks on a journey, both physical and allegorical, to learn what she can about her father. And what she learns strips away both pretence and what has covered over lies and deceit.

Liss grows over the course of the book, She becomes more recognizable, more human and, gradually, more sympathetic and she unfolds the truth about her father, her mother and her brothers. The story ends well, but the reader stays tense getting there.

Innocent Little Crimes

Lila Carmichael has made it big (think Oprah-big) in television comedy. Her particular brand of comedy is rough, edgy, and often obscene. At the pinnacle of commercial success, she sends invitations for a weekend to her island getaway in the San Juan Islands near Seatlle to a group of old college friends, the group she worked with in the university’s theater.

It will be a weekend of reminiscences and revenge. And that’s the heart of Innocent Little Crimes.

For different reasons, all of the main characters are desperate enough to believe that Lila will be their lifeline and salvation. They, and Lila, are painted in extremely negative terms – it almost reaches the point where the reader wants revenge to wreaked upon the all, throw them over the cliff, and let’s go home. Two of the minor characters – the fiancĂ© of Lila’s leading man in college and Lila’s gay assistant – provide the only relief from a cast of really rotten people.

As the story progresses, the reader learns what is motivating Lila, and what happened on the night that the university acting group staged William Inge’s “Picnic” that led years later to Lila’s revenge. (I need to note that the novel contains a few graphic scenes and strong language.)

The story is believable, but it is heavy. The reader knows from the beginning that one person is going to die, and Lakin keeps the guessing lively as to which one deserves it the most.
It is a dark tale.

Related:

My review of The Wolf of Tebron.

My review of The Map Across Time.

My review of Someone to Blame.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Three Things, and Grace


My wife pointed something out to be the other day. Lately, on this blog, I’ve been writing a lot about my childhood, or at least that period of my life up until I graduated from college. I went back and looked at my blog posts for the past month, and there’s some truth to that, but not as much as she thought.

Talking with a friend yesterday, I mentioned that three things had been dominating my thinking and writing lately. (Confession to wife: one of the three has not been the current remodeling of the kitchen; when it comes to that project, I do what I’m told. My wife is the strategist.)

The first thing has been this fiction manuscript I’ve been working on. It has been in the works for almost a decade. For three years it existed entirely inside my head; I literally wrote the first draft of the novel in my head. Then it came pouring out, in a flood of words that threatened not to stop. That flood includes a second completed manuscript and six additional manuscripts ranging from 5,000-word summaries to 45,000 word narratives (that’s half a novel in length). And then there’s an additional 70,000-word manuscript for a completely different story. And even a story idea that keeps trying to bob up from below the surface and I have to keep pushing back down until there’s time to deal with it (but I am making notes).

A small, new publisher expressed interest in that first manuscript. I hired an editor to edit it, and he did exactly what I needed to have done. I’ve now signed a contract. I’m working with a designer on the cover. And developing a marketing plan. The publisher came back yesterday with initial comments and suggestions. I have about four or five hours of editing work left, and then I’m going to reread the whole thing. The e-book versions will likely make their appearance in December. I’m still amazed at what’s happened.

The second thing dominating my thinking lately has been my childhood.

I’m not exactly sure why, but I have been thinking and writing a lot about my childhood. The friend I was talking with asked, “Why do you think that is?” The honest answer is I don’t know. Part of it is my age. I want my children and grandchildren to know some of what shaped me and, by extension, shaped them. I have precious little information about my father’s childhood, and nothing about my grandfather’s. My mother was far more forthcoming about her childhood. And yet I know that what shaped my parents and grandparents indirectly shaped me as well.

The third thing has been poetry. I’ve been writing and reading a lot of it lately. When I told my friend about this, he said something that startled me. “You’re caring for your heart,” he said. “I think it’s how you care for your heart.” Poetry is how I care for my heart.

And it hit me. That’s what all of this has been about lately – heart. Not so much my own heart as God’s heart.

All of these things – manuscript, childhood memories, poetry – and others – family, grandson, grandchild on the way – have felt like a showering of grace. I don’t deserve a bit of it, but I have been blessed with so much, so very much. God’s heart has overflowed on top of me. But it’s not only the good things; it’s also been the trials and the difficulties. God’s grace has always been there. Everything has been about grace.

It’s all grace. It’s just taken me 60 years to figure that out.


Over at Faith Barista, Bonnie Gray is hosting a blog carnival on faith (and giving away a copy of Brennan Manning's All is Grace. The prompt for today is “all is grace.” To see more posts, please visit Faith Barista.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Hippie in the Choir Robe


I was reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis this week, and I was reminded of the hippie in the choir robe.

I was raised in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. When I was in high school, however, I attended a Baptist church for a fairly considerable amount of time. The youth group at my Lutheran church had essentially disappeared, and several of my friends attended the Baptist church. I started going to the Baptist youth group on Sunday evenings, and was actually convinced to show up early for youth choir practice. And that led to singing with the choir on occasional Sundays, and, well, you can see what happened. Those Baptists were smart marketers.

For the Sunday morning worship service, the teenagers did what most teenagers usually do at worship services. We sat together in the balcony, unless we were singing that morning; then we sat in the choir loft in our robes. That was another thing my Lutheran church didn’t have – a choir. Not to mention the robes.

The balcony afforded a few of the entire worship space. We could see the pastor, the choir and most of the congregation. And the balcony was my introduction to something I had never before experienced – people would occasionally speak aloud during the sermon (which would never happen in my Lutheran church).

Sometimes they would shout, which didn’t seem to faze any of my peers in the balcony but rather blew my mind the first few times I heard it.

The pastor would make a point in the sermon. Someone would invariably say “Amen!” in response. Sometimes several people would say “Amen!” and sound something like a chorus. If the point was really, well, pointed, someone might even shout “AMEN!” and partially rise from their seat.

Invariably, we could count on Fred to shout the loudest “AMEN!”

Fred was on the short side, and sported a moustache, which wasn’t something you saw much of in the 40+ age bracket at the time. Fred was likely around 50. His wife had left him some years before. His son had moved out of their house in his late teens and then left the city. His daughter, Betty, was a year younger than I was. And she was something you might find down around Jackson Square in the French Quarter but you did not find in a Southern Baptist church in the suburbs – a hippie.

Betty was also one of my closest friends at the church. I loved her fearless flouting of convention and her sweet, winsome personality. She liked my acceptance of convention, my rather shy demeanor, and the fact that I was comfortable enough in my own skin to be good friends with the Baptist rebel hippie. We never dated; we talked a lot on the telephone and ate together at the meal before choir practice; we usually sat next to each other in the worship service.

One Sunday, her father shouted his “AMEN!” during the sermon – not once but three times. And I saw Betty do something I hadn’t seen before. She clenched her fists. “Are you OK?” I whispered. She shook her head and silently mouthed “Later.”

After choir practice that night, she asked if I could drive her home. This wasn’t unusual; I would often pick her up for choir practice or bring her home because her father would be out. We parked in front of her house, and it all came pouring out of her.

Her father, the shouter of the loud “AMEN!” during the sermons, was an alcoholic. Whenever he drank too much, which was often, he would begin telling her she was the devil’s child for how she dressed. And then he would begin hitting her, to “beat the devil out of her.”

And then I understood why she occasionally sported a bruise on her face. She’d claim she ran into a door or wall, and she was just spacey enough to convince me. But it had been only an excuse.

I asked her why she didn’t tell someone, some adult, and she shook her head. “I’m afraid. I don’t know what would happen to me.” The devil she knew was better than the devil she didn’t know.

She didn’t want me to tell anyone. She thought he could straighten himself out. But she agreed to call me if it happened again.

A few days later, she called. It had been bad enough this time that she couldn’t go to school.

I went to the pastor at the church.

As it turned out, the pastor knew about Fred’s drinking problem. He didn’t know about the beatings. He promised to do something. And he did. For quite a while, the beatings stopped. At church, Betty seemed almost lighthearted.

And then she called. It had started again. I was back in the pastor’s office. He said he’d look into it. He may have, for all I know.

Betty called me one last time. She said she was leaving, running away. She wanted to say goodbye. And just like that, she was gone, likely disappearing into the hippie culture that had become a national phenomenon. I never saw or heard from her again.

Her father still attended church, but he no longer shouted “AMEN.” I stopped going to the church not long after.

C.S. Lewis addresses the question, how do you explain why there seem to be so many nasty Christians and so many nice non-Christians? Aren’t Christians supposed to be different? He does a good job with his answer – essentially saying we are works in progress, and that some of us need a lot more progress than others.

And I remember the hippie in the choir robe, and her father, and I think Lewis is right. But the answer still can hurt.


Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter have been leading us in a discussion of Mere Christianity. To see more posts on this chapter, “Nice People or New Men,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I am not qualified for this


I am unqualified for this
even with
     knowledge
     money
     position

no matter
I am unqualified for this

hope painted on a face
hope riding on an old bike
with a bad tire
for seven hours to listen

teach us
can you teach us
come and teach us

I an unqualified for this

I am not OK to pay for breakfast
I am not OK to find a place to sleep
hunger greater than food
poverty greater than coins
exhaustion greater than sleep

the least of these
I am unqualified for this

fill that hunger
cover that ‘not OK’

I am not qualified for this

but I am here


for Dan King

If you’d like to read the story of what it means to be unqualified, read The Unlikely Missionary by Dan King. You can read my review of The Unlikely Missionary here.

This poem was written after viewing this video.


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

Monday, October 24, 2011

Even for the little things

How do you determine what to pray for or not? Some things are obvious – major decisions, serious illnesses, family problems. Other things are less obvious.

Take a look at how I answered that question – my post over at Bibledude.net.

Beneath a surface


A placid surface
an expressionless face
a perfunctory smile (Sunday smile)
a drawn curtain
an ebb tide
a portrait, idealized
a shallow conversation

to disguise, to hide

hurt, pain, destruction
anguish, panic, fear
the difficulties that are
this world we know
this life we live
each day

alone

This poem is submitted to the Warrior Poet Circle hosted by Jason Stasyszen. Today’s prompt is “difficulties.” To see more poems submitted, please visit Connecting to Impact.

Photograph: Sunrise by the lake by Bora Bora via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Mindfulness on the Job


Most of my career has been in corporate staff positions. Right out of college, I was a newspaper copy editor for nine months. From 2000 to 2003 I was a freelance consultant. And from 2003 to 2004 I worked as the communications director for an urban school district. The rest of my career – a total approaching 35 years – has been in corporate environments.

Corporate staff jobs have been essentially control positions, expressions by an organization to control its environment. (This goes back to the mass production model of business mostly associated with Henry Ford and the automobile, but that’s another story). Corporate lawyers, IT staffs, HR people, PR people and similar functions have been about control – controlling or mitigating external events and regulating and standardizing internal processes. The idea is an organization does all these activities to help its businesses be efficient as successful.

Whether any organization could ever control its environment is open to debate. Even if it’s possible, control is usually of short duration. No organization can control its environment permanently – but it can act and function like it has the ability to do that. And that leads to what Ellen Langer in Mindfulness would call mindlessness on the job.

Organizational mindsets are, collectively, the organization’s culture. They are often self-sustaining as behaviors are rewarded or penalized and as people of like minds are identified and prepared for leadership.

When it works, such a culture can be rewarding for all concerned – executives, employees, customers, investors, vendors and all the other various constituencies. When it doesn’t work, a culture of control can still function like it does work, but requiring changes in how different social, economic and political realities are understood and acted upon.

I’ve told a version of this story before, but aspects of it apply to the discussion here. In the mid-1990s, I asked the IT department for help in creating the company’s first web site. I didn’t get laughed at, but I was politely refused. “The web is a flash in the pan,” I was told. “It’s like 8-track tapes. You’ll be wasting your money.” This was the clincher: “The future is not the web; the future is Lotus Notes.”

The person who told me that sincerely believed what he was saying. Behind the statement were very large investments the IT organization had made in Lotus Notes, including a lot of money and a lot of people (mostly programmers). It was, in other words, a “vested interest.” Because of the resources committed, no alternative would be, or could be, considered.

Within months, the folly of that commitment had become clear. The web turned out not to be a flash in the pan; in fact, Lotus Notes was beginning to look a lot like 8-track tapes. A new CIO arrived from outside the company, asked who was in charge of web development, and was told “well, there is this guy in PR.”

Yet the commitment to Lotus Notes remained stubbornly in place. After a few years of growing dissatisfaction, a “web front-end” was added to make the system work more like the web. It didn’t work very well. In the meantime, ignoring the web as a corporate activity allowed people all over the company to pursue whatever they wanted to pursue with web sites – and eventually more than 500 were created.

It took more than a decade (and a lot of money), but eventually the company abandoned Lotus Notes. There was a brief revival when it was renamed Domino, but the only result was a new name.

Mindlessness can exist in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of work. Langer describes quite a few examples, although she misses the “vested interest” cause of mindlessness.

My own area of focus – corporate communications – is not immune. When change comes to any control function, it can be resisted, and often bitterly resisted. When the change prevails, it invariably comes from outside the function.

And that leads to another potentially destructive mindset – that good ideas only come from the outside. A lot of bad ideas can come from the outside, too.

We need a better way to do these things.


We’ve been discussing Ellen Langer’s Mindlessness over at The High Calling. To see more posts on this week’s chapter, “Mindfulness on the Job,” please visit The High Calling.