Archive for November, 2017

How to become a writer–just do it.

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

When Bill DuBois, the managing editor of The Muncie (Indiana) Star during the ’60s and ’70s, asked what moved me to give up graduate school and apply for a job as a reporter, my response was: “I’ve always wanted to be a writer.”

I had this interview in the late 1960s when I was in my 20s. DuBois gave me an editing test, told me he’d get back to me, and a week later called to offer me a job as a county reporter.

I spent a year in Muncie covering the Delaware County government. Mostly, I wrote about the county commissioners, the courts, the school board, and several other county officials.

I got to cover state officials when they visited Indiana to campaign for some project they were pushing or showed up to support a colleague seeking reelection.

When DuBois learned that I’d spent a year in graduate school mostly trying to master statistical analysis (the psychologists I worked with called it multivariate analysis), he assigned me to do a pre-election survey of the county and try to predict the winners. (We predicted every winner but one!)

DuBois turned out to be one of the best editors I’ve had in my twenty years in newsrooms (and he is among the best of colleagues I’ve known in another two decades in classrooms). He not only was an excellent hands-on editor, but he was an intelligent and caring teacher.

However, DuBois did not (nor did any other editor I’ve worked under) divulge journalism’s dirty little secret; which is: Journalism does nothing to make one a writer, except perhaps introduce you to an army of generally competent line editors, few of whom are committed writers.

Incidentally, I’ve discovered that colleagues at the places where I’ve served as a teacher also lack a drive to write unless they are in writing departments where they would, for the most part, rather write than teach.

Journalism does provide an exciting playground for someone who likes words; one gets to play with them all day.

The author W.H. Auden once was asked how one could learn to be a poet. He responded that it appeared to him that people who become poets “like to hang around words.”

Journalism will provide a chance to hang around words, but if one wants to be a writer, the best advice comes in one word: WRITE! Or as the Nike ad puts it: “Just Do It!”

That sounds like something Bill DuBois might have said decades before Nike.

Memoir 3: More than 100 great books, mostly on faith and personality

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Many of these I was required to read or encouraged to read while a collegian, grad student, and seminarian. Now I’m glad I did.

I’ve augmented the list with some books I discovered myself (marked with a caret (^) and now highly recommend.

Books marked with an asterisk (*) are those written by teachers of classes I was enrolled in.

These are listed in no particular order, but are chiefly chronological, beginning with college.

  • Augustine. The Confessions. [thanks to David Franz, my freshman history teacher.]
  • ^J. D. Salinger. A Catcher in the Rye.
  • Thomas Merton. The Seven-Storey Mountain. [thanks to John Guret, my junior year literature teacher.]
  • Roland Bainton. Here I Stand–the Biography of Martin Luther. [thanks to David Franz.]
  • Viktor Frankl. From Death Camp to Existentialism (later published as Man’s Search for Meaning.) [thanks to Donald F. (Duck) Tweedie Jr., psychology professor, advisor, mentor, and friend at college and beyond.]
  • J.B. Phillips. Your God is Too Small. [thanks to Reid Carpenter of Young Life in Pittsburgh.]
  • ———-. Letters to Young Churches, later expanded to become The New Testament in Modern English. [thanks to Reid Carpenter for encouraging this one as well.]
  • Abraham Maslow. Toward a Psychology of Being.
  • Gordon W. Allport. Becoming.
  • C. S. Lewis. Mere Christianity. [thanks to Ann Ferguson, my sophomore literature professor; although, she would have preferred I read T. S. Eliot.]
  • ——–. The Screwtape Letters.
  • ———. Out of the Silent Planet. [my favorite Lewis work after Screwtape.]
  • Carl R. Rogers. On Becoming a Person.
  • John A. T. Robinson. Honest to God. [no thanks to Roger Nicole, my systematic theology professor, who decried most non-Reformed theologians, even those among his colleagues, but thanks to seminary librarians who set Robinson out as a challenge to students.]
  • J. I. Packer. Fundamentalism and The Word of God. [thanks to T. Grady Spires, my sophomore philosophy professor, and baseball coach.]
  • Carl F. H. Henry. The Uneasy Conscience of Fundamentalism.
  • Emil Brunner. The Divine Imperative. [thanks to Lloyd Kalland, theology professor, advisor, mentor, and friend during my seminary years and beyond.]
  • Eugene H. Peterson. Eat This Book.
  • ^John Irving. A Prayer for Owen Meany.
  • Paul Tournier. The Meaning of Persons. [Tournier was a featured guest lecturer while I was at college. He lectured in French and was admirably translated by John Guret.]
  • Gunther Bornkamm. Jesus of Nazareth. [Thanks to Glenn W. Barker, William L. Lane, and J. Ramsey Michaels, my three New Testament professors at seminary; Barker especially became a friend as well as a teacher. They led me to an appreciation of Barth, Brunner, and Bultmann.]
  • ^Reinhold Niebuhr. Leaves from the Notebooks of a Tamed Cynic.
  • Paul Tillich. The Courage to Be.
  • ———-. Systematic Theology. [thanks to Roger Nicole, who wouldn’t approve my reading it as a required alternative to our assigned Reformed text, which provided just the motivation I needed to examine it on my own.]
  • Harvey Cox. The Secular City.
  • O. Hobart Mowrer. The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion. [Mowrer lectured in my Proseminar class at Illinois. He refused to discuss Calvinism with me after he derided the theologian when I hinted at an alternative interpretation. A behaviorist and learning theorist, Mowrer was a troubled thinker who took his own life after retiring from academia. His critical book had a stimulating effect on my intellectual development.]
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti. A Coney Island of the Mind. [thanks to Stu Boehmig, a close friend during our association with Young Life in Pittsburgh.]
  • ^Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughter-House Five
  • ^Ray Bradbury. The Martian Chronicles
  • Rollo May. Man’s Search for Himself.
  • ———-. Paulus: Tillich as Spiritual Teacher.
  • ^Malcolm Boyd. Are You Running with Me, Jesus?
  • Rudolf Otto. The Idea of the Holy.
  • *Amedeo P. Giorgi. Psychology as a Human Science. [thesis advisor, mentor, and friend during my years at Duquesne.]
  • Gontran de Poncins. Kabloona. [thanks to Dorothy Lee, a visiting anthropology professor during grad school at Duquesne U.]
  • Josef Pieper. Leisure, the Basis of Culture. [thanks to Bernard Boelen, a philosophy professor at Duquesne.]
  • Williston Walker. A History of the Christian Church. [thanks to William Nigel Kerr, a scholar of church history at seminary.]
  • ^Joan Didion. Slouching Toward Bethlehem.
  • ^Albert Camus. The Plague.
  • ^Theodore Roethke. The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke.
  • ^Phyllis McGinley. Saint-Watching.
  • Clarence Jordan. The Cotton Patch Gospel. [thanks to singer Harry Chapin, a summer neighbor in Bomoseen, Vermont, whom I never met but whose singing I admire, especially his lyrics to the musical version of this book.]
  • ^Marc Zvi Brettler. How to Read the Jewish Bible.
  • ^Corinne Ware. Saint Benedict on the Freeway.
  • Sebastian Brock. The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of St. Ephrem the Syrian. [Thanks to Maggie Ross, an online instructor at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.]
  • ^Michael Casey. Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina.
  • ^Gordon W. Allport. Waiting for the Lord: 33 Meditations on God & Man. [a letter from Allport in response to my questions steered me to Duquesne.]
  • Frederick Buechner. Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale.
  • Brennan Manning. The Ragamuffin Gospel.
  • ^Kathleen Norris. The Cloister Walk. [thanks to CDSP online.]
  • Dewey M. Beegle. The Inspiration of Scripture. [thanks to David Kerr and Burton Goddard, who set up a library challenge to students at seminary.]
  • *Paul King Jewett. God, Creation, & Revelation: A Neo-Evangelical Theology. [Jewett was a professor at a summer institute I attended in Colorado.]
  • Donald K. McKim, ed. The Authoritative Word: Essays on the Nature of Scripture.
  • Thomas V. Morris. Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life. [thanks to Paul Reasoner, a friend and philosopher-professor during my years in Tokyo.]
  • Blaise Pascal. Pensees.
  • ^Dag Hammarskjold. Markings.
  • Edward J. Carnell. The Case for Biblical Christianity. [thanks to Donald Tweedie, psychologist and lay theologian.]
  • G. C. Berkouwer. Man: The Image of God. [thanks to T. Grady Spires, and to Robert (R.C.) Sproul, whom I knew from Pittsburgh and seminary and who had studied with Berkouwer in the Netherlands.]
  • J.H. van den Berg. The Changing Nature of Man: Introduction to a(n) Historical Psychology. [thanks to Robert Romanyshyn, a friend and grad student at Duquesne who later became a Jungian analyst and a poet.]
  • *Adrian van Kaam. Religion and Personality. [van Kaam was a Dutch Spiritan priest and the driving force behind Duquesne’s program in existential-phenomenological psychology.]
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The Structure of Behavior. [thanks to Amedeo Giorgi, my mentor, advisor, and fellow New Yorker while at Duquesne.]
  • Bette Bao Lord. In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. [based on the recommendation of Bruce Handy, whose book Wild Things is listed below.]
  • John Wiley Nelson. Your God is Alive and Appearing in Popular Culture. [thanks to Orlo Strunk, my mentor, and advisor at Boston University.]
  • Anne Lamott. Bird By Bird.
  • ^Kenneth Koch. Rose, Where Did You Get that Red? Teaching Great Poetry to Children.
  • ^Bill Moyers. The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets.
  • ^Ted Kooser. The Poetry Home Repair Manual.
  • John Ciardi. How Does a Poem Mean?
  • William Zinsser. On Writing Well.
  • ^Stephen King. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Letters and Papers from Prison. [thanks to Lloyd Kalland.]
  • Eberhard Bethge. Bonhoeffer. [thanks to Lloyd Kalland.]
  • ^Pierre Bayard. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.
  • Karl Barth. A Shorter Commentary on Romans.
  • Thomas Cahill. How the Irish Saved Civilization.
  • *Harry Allard. Miss Nelson is Missing. [I took a grad course in Writing for Children with Allard.]
  • Stuart Barton Babbage. Man in Nature and Grace. [thanks to T. Grady Spires.]
  • *Theodore Thass-Thienemann. The Subconscious Language. [my German and psychology professor at college who became a wise advisor and insisted all his students memorize the Lord’s Prayer auf Deutsch.]
  • *Donald F. Tweedie Jr. Logotherapy and the Christian Faith. [Tweedie’s book probably shaped my worldview more than any other purely theological book I’ve read.]
  • Ben Quash. Abiding: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book for 2013.
  • ^John Sexton. Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game.
  • ^Harold Ivan Smith. Eleanor A Spiritual Biography: The Faith of the 20th-Century’s Most Influential Woman.
  • ^Frank Deford. Five Strides on the Banked Track: The Life and Times of The Roller Derby.
  • Darrell Huff. How to Lie with Statistics. [first introduced to me by William Kappauf, my Proseminar professor at the University of Illinois.]
  • James L. Kugel. How to Read the Bible.
  • Bryan Stevenson. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.
  • A. W. Tozer. The Knowledge of the Holy.
  • Philip Yancey. The Jesus I Never Knew.
  • ^David Hill. My Brother’s War.
  • ^Lewis B. Smedes. My God and I.
  • ^———-. Mere Morality.
  • ^Bruce Handy. Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult.
  • ^Robert Pinsky. Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry with the Masters.
  • Howard L. Rice. Reformed Spirituality: An Introduction for Believers. [thanks to Howard C. Blair, scholar, pastor, and father-in-law.]
  • Aron Gurwitsch. The Field of Consciousness. [Thanks to Amedeo P. Giorgi and Rolf von Eckartsberg.]
  • Robert Alter. The Art of Biblical Poetry.
  • ———-. The Book of Psalms. A Translation with Commentary.
  • ^Michael B. Curry (Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church). Songs My Grandma Sang.
  • Bernard Ramm. The Christian View of Science and Scripture [thanks to T. Harry Leith, my geology, and philosophy of science professor, who taught me to be unafraid of any conflicts that seem to exist between science and faith in Jesus Christ. Incidentally, I judge this book to be the most relevant volume I read as a collegian. Leith later became an honored professor of Natural Sciences at York University in Ontario, Canada.]
  • Thomas Cranmer, et al. The Book of Common Prayer. [Thanks to Les Smith and Russell Ayers, fellow students who visited me in the hospital during my freshman year at Gordon; and to Tom Fesmire, a year behind me, who after disparaging the book gave me his copy of the BCP. Thus was I introduced to the prayer book’s spirituality.
    Thanks also to ordained friends and lovers of this book, including the Rev. James E. Hampson Jr., the Rev. Titus Pressler, The Right Rev. Mark Dyer, the Right Rev. Barry Howe, the Rev. Gunnar Urang, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Riddick M.D., the Rev. Marcus Hall, the Rev. John DeBeer, the Rev. Tricia deBeer, the Rev. Dr. Kristina Grusell, the Rev. Alistair So, the Rev. George Ward, the Rev. Dr. Phebe McPherson, the Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales, the Rev. Dr. Doris Buchanan Johnson, the Rev. Robert Fain, and the Rev. Dr. Lisa Barrowclough.]
  • Marion J. Hatchett. Commentary on the American Prayer Book.
  • Charles W. F. Smith. A Prayer Book Manual. [the Rev. Smith led summer vesper services in the chapel at Bridgewater Hill in New Hampshire and unwittingly shepherded me with the prayer book’s liturgy during a difficult time in my life. I discovered his manual years later.]
  • J. Robert Wright. Prayer Book Spirituality. [thanks to Ann Orlov, a friend and fellow parishioner in Vermont.]
  • Robert Benson. A Good Life: Benedict’s Guide to Everyday Joy.

 

 

 

 

 

Hitting a baseball and St. Benedict–(a note while awaiting the final game of the 2017 season)

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Succeeding only 30 percent of the time as a batter in major-league baseball is considered to be a superior performance; in fact, if a hitter succeeds only once in every four opportunities, that batter is considered a decent major league hitter.

As I write this reflection on the last day of the season, there have been 32 major league batters recorded as succeeding at the 30 percent level and another 23 at the 29 percent level. (Only six players from the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the teams battling for the World Series championship, are in this group).

Each of the 30 major league teams has a roster of 25 players during the heat of a season, and about 10 of those 25 are pitchers who are not expected to be good hitters.

Thus, during a season, about 450 batters are playing; or, accounting for pitchers and substitutions, about 350 players come to bat each day.

(In mid-season, a minimum of nine players per team come to bat. With 30 teams playing, that means at least 270 batters come to bat per game–300-360 if we allow for pinch-hitters.)

Of those who hit, only about 7.5 percent of them are hitting at a superior level, and fewer than half of all batters are successful once in every four attempts to hit.

One could say well over half of major league hitters in any given season are unsuccessful. Or, put another way, one might say professional baseball batters are a legion of failures.

(Note: my speculation is based on batting averages, not on the more forgiving on-base percentage. OBP*).

But baseball is a game of hope and a game of constant striving that demands putting failures behind–much as life itself demands.

St. Benedict of Nursia would have understood this crazy game, and, as do most baseball coaches, the saint who wrote the well-known Rule of Life would have urged players to set their failures aside and face the next moment with confidence and hope and faith.

In other words, learn from mistakes and improve. (Of course, the saint, who was primarily addressing monks, would have accounted for God in any talk of success and failure).

But, given his hopeful approach, I propose that St. Benedict of Nursia should be known as the patron saint of baseball. (There are many who give this honor to St. Rita, but that’s a bit of Hollywood fantasy.)

In fact, I think St. Benedict should be the patron saint of athletic performance. Every performer in baseball, basketball, golf, football, etc., succeeds best by remembering Benedict’s Rule, especially his encouragement to those who fail: they must “always begin again.”

*Calculation note: Baseball statisticians use the calculation of on-base percentage (OBP) to measure a player’s success on offense. The formula for calculating a batter’s OBP is as follows:*
OBP = (Hits+Walks+Hit by Pitch)/(At Bats+Walks+Hit by Pitch+Sacrifice Flies).
Batters are not credited with reaching base on an error or fielder’s choice, and they are not charged with an opportunity if they make a sacrifice bunt.*