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The wonder of wondering

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

Many years ago I conjured up a meditative note that may well be the best thing I’ve ever written. It went:

“The wonder of wonders is that I can wonder.”

My blog has been silent for about two months–part of it is technical with my server–but let me try to jump start it again with some gathered wisdom largely from a desk calendar of meditations I purchased for myself at Christmas time of 2017.

“Whatever you do, Carpe the heck out of that Diem!.”

–attributed to the Roman poet Horace, slightly paraphrased by Gabriel Brangers, a writer/reviewer at Google, and popularized in the 1989 film “Dead Poets Society”

Be the ball.

.–a line from the 1980 golf comedy “Caddyshack.”

Forget about enlightenment, just become a nicer person; this is already a difficult practice.

–Tenzin Palmo, Tibetan Buddhist, born Diane Perry in Herefordshire, England.

When you have to make a choice and you don’t make it, that is itself a choice.”

–William James, psychologist and philosopher.

The first key to wisdom is assiduous and frequent questioning. For by doubting we come to inquiry and by inquiry we arrive at the truth.

–Peter Abelard, French theologian and philosopher of the 13th century.

Teach me, like you, to drink creation whole/And, casting out my self, become a soul.”

–Richard Wilbur, American poet.

Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever you already are.”

–The Dalai Lama

Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of the question.”

–Tennessee Williams, American playwright.

One bird sits still/ Watching the work of God:/ One turning leaf, /Two Falling blossoms, /Ten circles upon the pond.”

–Thomas Merton, Cistercian monk and writer.

Aboard my virtual cruiser called QWERTY

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

(This entry is copied for the most part from my journal entry of November 2015, in a notebook I called “Writing as Athletic Activity.”) 

This post probably should be called “My Life as a Vicarious Travel Writer.”

Armchair travel is an outdated term. (For one thing, how many 21st-century scribes write from an armchair?) Armchair travel has been supplanted by travel aboard a computer screen and a laptop keyboard.

A few years ago, I jumped aboard my QWERTY keypad and traveled to Greenland, to a tiny outpost on the western side of the icebound colony of Denmark called Ilulissat Icefjord. The city, formerly known as Jacobshaven, has more sledge dogs than people but is the third largest city in Greenland.

This place lies near the Arctic Circle, and its residents live in darkness for a good part of the year during winter. Its November temperatures hover around 5 degrees or 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tourists can cruise into Ilulissat, but I went aboard Microsoft’s Bing gallery on November 6, 2015, aboard an Edge web browser.

Going pictorially into Ilulissat and its Disko Bay environs had me extending my trip (via Google Maps) due south to Newfoundland where I scouted and probed several of the northern bays around the birthplace of my parents in Bonavista Bay.

I plan to make several more vicarious trips.

I was surprised to find in an issue of The Christian Science Monitor Weekly (November 8, 2015) a brief essay written by Robert Klose, a kind of flash non-fiction piece called, “I find warmth in Greenland.”

As a child, Klose dreamed of polar bears, ice, vastness, and Vikings after first hearing and understanding the word “Greenland.” As an adult, he decided to visit and planned a trip that required him to fly to Iceland first and then from Reykjavik on a prop plane to Greenland and by boat to a south coastal settlement beside a fjord called Qassiarsuk. In that remote location, he had arranged to stay in the family-run Illunnguujuk Hostel that welcomed visitors to the outpost with a population of 89.

Arriving at the hostel, he discovered that another lone traveler, mistaken by the hosts to be Klose, had been booked into his reserved spot.

Klose’s hostelers, embarrassed but undeterred, told him, “don’t worry,” and while he spent some time visiting local Viking ruins, a berth was prepared for him in a tiny house the family owned in the settlement. He was not only welcomed to a comfortable bed, but also invited to dine with the family, where three generations of Inuit natives speaking an Inuit dialect, Danish, and English, introduced him to their homeland and its way of life.

Klose had planned this to be his only trip to Greenland, but the hospitality of his newfound friends made him think again. He wrote, “I can now say that I have friends in Greenland and that even a cold, empty, and silent landscape is worth visiting, so long as one has a warm and welcoming place to go.”

Inspired by Klose’s discovery, I got aboard my Google Maps and Wikipedia vessels and went in search of Qassiarsuk, vicariously seeking the wisdom of his words.

E-nerds may call it browsing, but I was on a luxury cruise.

FLASH DIARY: (from a dream) Remember the Sabbath

Friday, August 10th, 2018

Jay advises his wife on the running of her event-planning business.

One of her employees plans to take the day of the event off as a family day. The group labors over last-minute plans for the event, and Martha, Jay’s wife, says “Oh! This is going to be so much harder with Evelyn taking the day off.”

“She should be there,” Jay chimes in. “Every employee should be required to work every day, especially the day of an event.”

Alice, Martha’s mother, a gentle woman who rarely speaks–especially to contradict another–says, “If you’re going to require that every employee has to be at work every day, then there ought to be a day when every employee doesn’t have to be at work.”

“Sort of like a Sabbath,” Martha says.

The conversation stalls for a long minute.

“I never thought of it that way, but, yes, there ought to be such a day,” Jay says.

Pondering a career–another memoir episode

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

The first week I was assigned to the local news desk as a reporter for The Boston Globe, my city editor asked me to make a list of a dozen stories I’d like to explore. I came up with about 15 projects and eventually wrote news or feature stories on four or five of them.

One of those stories began with an interview at Harvard with the semi-retired B. F. Skinner, the icon of behaviorist psychology (he preferred his field be called operant learning). My story on Skinner ran in a weekend edition and also ran later in The Los Angeles Times.

It was a memorable opportunity for me as a young reporter. On the phone when I called to try to set up the interview, Skinner asked about my background and was pleased and much more cordial and open upon learning that I’d been an undergraduate psychology major.

We met in Skinner’s office/lab on the Cambridge campus, and during my time with him, he was visited by a daughter and grandchild. It became an insightful human and relaxed time for me to be with him as his doting-grandfather personality leaped to life.

At the time, Skinner battled cancer of the saliva gland. He carried a roll of toilet paper with him wherever he moved about the room, frequently wiping his mouth and lips, and he spent several minutes expounding the practical benefit of his toilet paper over a box of tissues in dealing with his symptoms.

During our discussion, I learned he had graduated from Hamilton College in New York and dreamed of becoming a writer. As an undergraduate, he attended the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Middlebury, Vermont.

Of course, Skinner became a best-selling author, first with his fictional technological vision called Walden II, and later with Beyond Freedom and Dignity, a treatise on the application of deterministic behaviorism to social and political issues.

Did his career determination fulfill his collegiate writing dream?

Why didn’t I ask him that question?

—————————————

My published story is among several collected at: 
https://arainprint.blogspot.com/

Memoir: Journal Writing

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

I began keeping a journal, probably something I called a diary, in my late teens, mostly for recording my thoughts and feelings about life as a late adolescent grappling with self-identity. I cannot locate that collection now.

My first attempts at poetry were in an English class at Brooklyn’s P.S. 154 (also known as The Windsor School because of its location in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood). Mrs. Bjornson, I recall, taught us how to write cinquains.

I’ve never forgotten those poetic efforts; though; again, I can’t put my hands on my earliest manuscripts. The experience, however, probably implanted a preference for short forms like haiku, tanka, six-word stories, epigrams, and–yes–cinquains. Additionally, my cinquain awakening probably explains my delight at the recent popularity of so-called “flash” fiction.

Also, my lifelong journal-keeping has probably implanted in me a hoarding of short, meaningful quotations, sayings, and inspirations, the kind that fill Page-A-Day calendars.

The first poem I remember spending painful days constructing produced my teenaged lament concerning the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team relocating to Los Angeles. Into that poem, now lost, I poured my love of baseball and favorite players along with a teenager’s anguish and anger with the ownership that absconded, taking my heroes to the Western Ocean.

A couplet lingers in my brain:

“I still see you, Carl Furillo,
Ajax-armed defending Bedford’s wall.”

Incidentally, I remain a faithful and avid fan of the Dodgers. I never liked or respected the blowhard cheerleading of Tommy Lasorda who managed the Los Angeles team to a few championships. Nevertheless, I understand his sentiment that he “bleeds Dodger blue.”

More importantly, the Brooklyn Dodgers and their early owner Branch Rickey taught me powerful lessons about courage and brotherhood. Against the customs and prejudices of organized baseball, the team signed the most talented player of the decade, an African-American, UCLA All-Star named Jackie Robinson, who made baseball and social justice history before he was forty.

And, the Dodgers provided me with new heroes such as Harold “Pee Wee” Reese, their Kentucky-born shortstop who openly embraced and defended Robinson against the racist sins of other players.

——————————————-

Baseball–a cinquain

Baseball:
a game for men
who remain boys throwing,
batting, catching, sliding, without
a clock.

Additions to my anthology of favorite poems: Mary Oliver’s Praying–plus one other

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

Praying

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones;  just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Praying” by Mary Oliver,
From Thirst: Poems. © Beacon Press, 2007.

++++++++++

We are in the season of remembrances associated with Memorial Day. So, I share a slightly revised poem I wrote decades ago that has The Korean War in its background. This poem is an imaginary confrontation of a son with his father, but the imagery draws on the Army experience of my late oldest brother, an excellent baseball player. During the Korean War, he was kept back from being shipped to Korea and instead assigned to Special Services to play baseball against teams of GI units stationed overseas as well as national teams in Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Spain, and Russia. He was called Mason, after my deaf uncle in Newfoundland. My wife and I named our youngest son after them. (Incidentally, my mother never lost a tooth playing baseball. That image is drawn from my time as a college women’s softball coach and happened to one of our catchers.)

++++++++++

Singing from a Crouch

I am of a line of catchers whose knees creak at the bend
and whose cheeks protrude from their embrace of ’baccy.
Even my mother’s smile shows the legacy: a chipped tooth
smashed by a bat that swung, missed, and slid through
the cross-bars of her mask. And she recalls in her telling,
“I held the third strike.”

My father beat death in Korea with baseball, plucked from
a platoon of gunners who died on an Osan hill and shipped
with Special Services to catch the professional offerings
of Curt Simmons, ex-Cardinal, ex-Phillie, and to tour
the spas of Switzerland and the baths of Russia
between ballgames.

His father before him made it to Double-A
and dirtied his Raleigh-Durham uniform and the spikes
of opposing batters with wads of Red Man expectoration
just before each pitch, or so my father tells it
in boyish admiration that I cannot mimic, as I cannot
hold his pitches.

Dad speaks from a crouch, lowering himself to
Little League level and acting out memories
of the diamond, skipping the dead boot-camp buddies,
lily-white locker rooms, brawls with German teams,
and Curt Simmons cutting several toes off his foot
with a lawnmower.

I pitch him hints that a singer roars in my breast
not a catcher and no chest protector can keep my words
from getting out and hurting in their hatred of
a boys’ game for men. He sees me sitting behind my guitar,
and he tells me I look like a catcher with an oversized
mitt for knuckleballs.

“From behind the plate”—his favorite entree to a story
—“you look into the faces of all your teammates.”
And, yes, one thousand times he reminds anyone
that a catcher squats legally and of the nine waits alone
in foul ground. I fouled his ground as this poem swelled
in my hands and mouth.

“My Daddy—your Granddad—was a singer,” he told me,
and I was captive to surprise. “He loved to sing old hymns.”
(My father’s faith died with a letter from Korea:
“God,” he insists, “throws nothing but curveballs.”)
“And your Grandmother played the organ,” he added.
“She loved to play Largo.”

When I hungered for more, he sang me ingrained lines
from “Abide With Me,” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
When I was vulnerable, bent in the heart’s probe for details,
he told me Granddad stopped singing when Grandmom died
young. “I guess,” my father concluded, “he discovered
you can’t sing from a crouch.”

*Published in Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature, Vol. XIX, No. 2, Spring, 2002, p. 111.

The Royal Wedding and Spiritual Songs

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

An estimated 29.2 million viewers tuned-in to the May 19th televised wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry and his American bride, Meghan Markle.

I’ll guess that number diminished during the 13 minutes the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, preached about the power of love.

In my view, those who tuned-out the bishop, for whatever distraction, missed the most compelling 13 minutes of the gorgeous ceremony.

With that in mind, I encourage you to watch or re-watch Bishop Curry’s wedding homily.

[Click underscored links to watch videos.]

I was particularly impressed with the bishop’s noting the language of the spiritual There is a Balm in Gilead, one of many songs I learned in the Baptist Church that nurtured me.

Bishop Curry grew up in Western New York and learned countless gospel songs from his devout Episcopal parents and grandmother.

The bishop has immortalized his hymn-singing legacy in a 2015 book, Songs My Grandma Sang,(1) and he is known to break into song frequently while preaching.

In that book, Bishop Curry demonstrates the power of song and poetry to reach beyond our minds to our spirits and touch what the writer Maggie Ross (2) discusses as our “deep mind” that often learns when we experience true silence.

I have often thought and suggested to others that I learned more theology from hymn books with their poetic renderings than from the many scholarly tomes I was encouraged to read.

Bishop Curry’s scriptural texts for the royal wedding came from The Song of Solomon and the Epistles of John, both focussing on love.

Prince Harry and his bride, the new Duchess of Sussex, chose as their wedding song, the top-hit song “Stand By Me,” recorded in 1961 by Ben E. King. They’ll probably listen to it often.

I’d encourage them to listen also to the spiritual that Bishop Curry suggested, “There is a Balm In Gilead.”

 

(1) Curry, Michael. Songs My Grandma Sang. NY: Morehouse Publishing, (Church Publishing Inc.) 2015.
(2) Ross, Maggie. Silence: A User’s Guide: Vol. I: Process. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books (Wipf & Stock), 2014.

Introducing my fake haiku, or “faiku”

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

After a two-month hiatus in my postings, I’m ready to return to keeping a fortnightly (or perhaps even weekly) schedule.

To my chagrin, National Poetry Month has come and gone during my quietude, so among my promises will be some favorite poems for your reading and reflection.

My fascination with six-word stories, essays, poems, prayers, and paraphrases continues; although, many undoubtedly find my six-word offerings a kind of “fake” haiku.

So, I’ve employed a new name for these six-word offerings: “faiku,” (best used without capitalization to avoid confusion with persons having the surname Faiku).

With that caveat, here’s three I wrote in the past two months:

  1. Biography of President Trump:
    “Lie, lie, lie; deny, deny, deny.”
  2. A rule from the Sermon on the Mount:
    “But,” Jesus said, “Love Your Enemies.”
  3. A Prayer for Donald Trump:
    “Lord, have mercy on Donald Trump.”

Memoir 4: The Magic of Musical Memory

Monday, February 26th, 2018

I never hear the Kenny Rogers’ recording of “The Gambler” without recalling an editor colleague in Boston who spontaneously broke into singing Rogers’ song while we line-checked stories and wrote headlines on the copy-desk.

During our tenures on the Boston copy desk, I sang in a neighborhood choral group, and I discovered during a summer choral festival that Billy also sang in his neighborhood concert choir.

But even that discovery of the shared love of choral singing didn’t match Billy’s workplace confession that he loved to sing “The Gambler.”

Billy also frequently complimented an investigative writer at the newspaper, noting that particular writer was “Just one of three journalists in the world who understands the proper use of a semicolon.”

That comment drove me to strengthen my grasp of semicolon usage.

I only worked with Billy for a few years, but two things I sadly recall: he once severely cut his hand as he pressed down the contents of a trash can at home that was hiding broken glass. Also, I learned several years after I left Boston that Billy had died young–in his mid-40s–from what his obituary described as “a massive heart attack.”

However, my most vivid image of him comes from those times during a lull on the copy desk when Billy broke into song with the lines “you’ve got to know when to hold ’em; know when to fold ’em.”

Come to think of it; those words could be an adage for copy editors! And, yes, Billy had a performer’s baritone singing voice.

Then there’s my boyhood remembrance of George, who taught me the word bandolier, and the name of a place called The Vale of Tralee.

George was a late-comer to our conglomerate of friends growing as teenagers in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood.

He had dropped out of school and became a member of a street gang. About the time he turned seventeen, George, through the influence of parents, friends, and probably a couple of priests, was re-enrolled in St. Michael’s High School in Bay Ridge.

There he befriended several of my neighborhood friends, and he began hanging out with us, a tiny group of mostly Irish, Roman Catholic choirboys and altar boys, and me, the lone Protestant in the entourage.

George and I discovered a mutual enjoyment of singing, and he began teaching me the Irish songs he knew and loved.

“The Irish Soldier Boy,” one of George’s favorites, taught me the word bandolier, and I can still hear George’s melodious tenor singing the line, “and with loving arms around his waist, she tied his bandolier.” In a way, this song expressed George’s thinking about maternal love and courage. I like to believe these ideas he absorbed from singing had rescued him from juvenile delinquency.

George also taught me the opening verse of “The Rose of Tralee,” a sad Irish love song. Ingrained in my brain because of George are the lines, “Yet, ’twas not her beauty alone that won me; Oh, no, ’twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning, that made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.”

This song had been popular during my young years through earlier recordings of the Irish tenor Dennis Day and crooner Bing Crosby, but even those stars didn’t sing “The Rose of Tralee” like George.

I later discovered Tralee is a bay on the southwestern coast of County Kerry in Ireland, and today the Vale of Tralee is the name given the stadium of the Tralee Rugby Football Club.

Memory tells me George, who wasn’t a skilled player in our games of stickball, softball, or baseball in our Brooklyn neighborhood, probably would have been a superior rugby player.

Incidentally, we all learned from boyhood matches at the PAL (Police Athletic League) gym that George was an excellent boxer.

I mostly remember that George and Billy sure loved to sing, and they taught me lifelong lessons about semicolons, Ireland, and the power of singing.

It’s a shame there isn’t a Hall of Fame for singing copy editors and boyhood boxers.

 

Winter installment: My Anthology of Favorite Poems

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

Having fallen slightly behind in steering readers during each season to four poems that I have added to my personal favorites anthology, I’m changing my approach a bit. I am following Robert Pinsky’s suggestion that building such an anthology must come from writing out each poem (not just reading, memorizing, or cataloging it) line by line, word by word, placing each letter, word, and punctuation mark on one’s copy paper with one’s own hand-held writing instrument (3).

I’ve decided that instead of just referencing these poems for readers of this blog to track down, I am going to write a favorite poem out for you to consider. (I’ve done this for myself with each poem I’ve previously selected, but I have only shared my copying once before.)

My poem for the winter of 2018 is “Praise Song” by Lucille Clifton (1).

I discovered Clifton’s poetry as a young professor teaching at a community college. I rediscovered this particular poem of hers last week while perusing Billy Collins’ 2003 anthology Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry. (2)

Praise Song
By Lucille Clifton

to my aunt blanche
who rolled from grass to driveway
into the street one sunday morning.
I was ten.              I had never seen
a human woman hurl her basketball
body into the traffic of the world.
Praise to the drivers who stopped in time.
Praise to the faith with which she rose
after some moments then slowly walked
sighing back to her family.
Praise to the arms which understood
little or nothing of what it meant
but welcoming her in without judgment,
accepting it all like children might,
like God.

References:

(1) Clifton, Lucille. Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poetry (1988-2000), Rochester: BOA Editions. 2000.

(2) Collins, Billy. Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry. New York: Random House. 2003.

–Collins compiled this anthology as a project during his years as America’s Congressional Poet Laureate. It is aimed primarily at high school students encouraging them to read a poem every one of the 180 days they are required to be in school.
The Library of Congress maintains an annually updated version of Collins’ anthology at https://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/p180-list.html. Sadly, the poem of Clifton, who died in 2010, has been replaced in the latest online iteration.

(3) Pinsky, Robert. Singing School: Learning to Read (and Write) Poetry by Studying With the Masters. New York: W. W. Norton. 2003.

To be known by God (Psalm 139:1-6)

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

“Even before a word is on my tongue (or in my pen), O Lord, you know it completely.” (Ps. 139:4, NRSV, emphasis mine).

Anyone seeking a confident statement about belief in an omnipotent and immanent God need only reflect on this Psalm.

The spiritual writer Laura Mariko Cheifetz, writing in These Days, the Presbyterian devotional she edits in Decatur, Georgia, notes that being known is both disconcerting and comforting.

Cheifetz includes a prayer with her meditation:

Holy One, you know me better than I know myself. Thank you for loving me. Amen.

Agreed.

And, Holy One, thank you also for knowing me better than I know myself.

Many Christians learned as children in Sunday School the poem turned song called “Jesus Loves Me,” written in 1860 by the New York poet Anna Bartlett Warner. (A musical update was published in 1865 adding verses and the familiar “Yes, Jesus Loves Me” chorus.)

A few years ago during a Christian Formation discussion in my parish, I mentioned my memory of the song of my Sunday School days: “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.”

A woman in the group jotted down the verse the way it had been modified in her experience: “Jesus Knows Me, This I Love.” Her shared note revolutionized my reflection.

The writer of Psalm 139 seems as concerned and grateful for being known by God as for being loved by God.

Of course, knowing and loving are intimately linked.

Being known by God: Don’t you just love it?

Re-discovering a contemplative aid

Saturday, December 30th, 2017

I tried to keep a devotional reading schedule for the Advent season of 2017. Well ahead of the first Sunday of Advent I began surveying various aids and booklets produced from a variety of sources.

Keeping this schedule proved more difficult than I anticipated. I almost settled on a booklet produced by The Living Compass Ministry associated with the Episcopal Church entitled Living Well Through Advent 2017, and subtitled Practicing Wonder With All Your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind.

Being a big fan of the human ability to wonder, I began a daily reading of this little booklet.

Alongside that, I planned to read N.T. Wright’s newest book in his “For Everyone” collection called Advent for Everyone: A Journey With the Apostles, published by the Westminster/John Knox Press.

I struggled to continue through Christmas with these small books, but on the evening of the Second Sunday in Advent, I fell across a 140-minute filmed concert of Handel’s “Messiah” by the Collegium 1704 of Czechoslovakia, conducted by its director, Vaclav Luks.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28ywAdw5slY).

The concert reminded me of an exposition I’d read about this classic oratorio nearly ten years ago: Messiah: The Gospel According to Handel’s Oratorio, by Roger A. Bullard. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996).

I began re-reading Bullard’s book and discovered it to be as much the devotional guide I’d been seeking as any of the others I examined.

Let me note that Handel’s Messiah is an oratorio especially for Easter and thus provides a devotional for the church’s Lenten Season. However, the text–or libretti–is an anthology of scripture compiled by Handel’s friend, Charles Jennens. Relying on the King James Bible and the Psalms as rendered in The Book of Common Prayer, Jennen’s text is dominated by the prophets, the Psalms, and the gospels.

Bullard’s excellent commentary proves itself a devotional for the entire Advent-Christmas-Epiphany-Lenten seasons. Reading it while listening to the aforementioned concert is providing me with a wonder-filled time of contemplation and joy.

Anne Lamott on Jonah and God’s Mercy

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

In analyzing the Biblical story of Jonah, Anne Lamott skips to the chase, reminding us that children love the story of Jonah and a whale swallowing a man even though the “big fish” (for textual purists) plays a surprisingly minor role.

The meat of the story unfolds after Jonah, en route to Tarshish, is swallowed and “burped onto dry land and, despite his best efforts, ends up in Nineveh, where God had told him to go all along.”

Lamott, in her latest book (Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. Riverhead Books: New York, 2017), is describing how Jonah comes face-to-face with a lesson about God’s mercy, and it has very little to do with this minor prophet surviving a storm after being swallowed by a sea beast.

Simply put, Jonah hates the Ninevites, which in part is why he tried to escape his mission by going in the opposite direction. He anticipates they are a despiteful and despicable lot who won’t pay any heed to a prophet’s message from God. As Lamott notes, these are the Evil Empire of Jonah’s day. Jonah thinks God should simply destroy them and be done with it. So, after his regurgitation to Nineveh, the prophet grudgingly spends one day bringing the Word of the Lord to these ingrates, and, would you believe, they listen and repent! (To borrow Lamott’s vision: Imagine Captain Kirk preaching repentance to the Klingons).

Their conversion doesn’t impress Jonah, however, and he sullenly goes off moaning, and groaning, and lost in his meanness because God has not destroyed the Ninevites.

Here, the story seems to get anticlimactic and boring as Jonah, still feeling sorry for himself, asks God to take his life. He sits under a bush to sulk about the unlikely genuineness of the Ninevites repentance. And God causes the bush to grow and shade Jonah in his discomfort, and–another barely noticed mercy–to make Jonah “very happy about the bush” (Jonah 4:6b).

Then a worm attacks the bush, leaving Jonah hot and unhappy again, and God asks the crucial question: “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?”

With a touch of contemporary crudeness, Lamott rephrases God’s question and argument: “Jonah, WTF? Mercy for a tree but not a people?”

Even before revising God’s query, Lamott beautifully expresses the lesson of Jonah’s experience: “Even when the worst people on earth undergo a change of heart, God in God’s infinite love and goodness changes his mind.”

Jesus expresses God’s mercy similarly: “Love your enemies.”

Read Lamott’s book. She tells how she came to write about mercy: “I’m not sure I even recognize the ever-presence of mercy anymore, the divine and the human; the messy, crippled, transforming, heartbreaking, lovely, devastating presence of mercy. But I have come to believe that I am starving to death for it, and my world is, too.”

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.