Monday, September 21, 2015

Turned on. Tuned out. (#PoetryMonday *)

People don’t like poetry anymore.
It doesn't make sense, they say.
It tends to bore.
The "device" is a much better source
for entertainment and news
and reality and views about life.

Wisdom and insight?
Facebook friends, of course.
Or possibly Twitter for the latest trends
about anything at all that’s important.
What color is that dress?

And thinking deeply is so, you know,
old fashioned.
Don’t think, just do! Be free! Run fast!
Move on to the next big thing!
A crowd-sourced life is your best life now!

There’s just no point
to sitting still, quietly, alone reading
stupid poetry. Let alone
thinking your own thoughts.
We've all got better things to do
and better places to be.
Books and writing and periodic rhyming
Are for the fogies
who are all already slowly dying.
We don’t want to be like them,

          Let's go!


Don't ask.
Just fly before you die.
Who cares where you land?
You can Instagram it when you do!


* It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

Technology is a good thing except when it isn
’t. Poetry is great except when it’s boring. And Timothy Leary was a little, well, off. But is all our rushing about a little akin to being high? Drugged. Addled? Is that boring poem really boring or are we just to focused on Instagramming our sandwich too really notice? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Friday, September 18, 2015

And God said , Let there be light: and there was light. (#FlashFictionFriday*)

For Sam, the scariest words in the Bible were in the beginning. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

Darkness. He was not fond of darkness. The mention of a “deep” didn’t help.

Even now at 12,nearly 13, he was intensely scared of the dark, an ailment others, including his family, took advantage of, turning off the lights when he was in the basement, and similar pranks. They howled with laughter while he fought back tears as his heart beat manically.

But the worst times were when he was in his bed in his dark room at night and he had to pee. This required getting out of bed alone and putting his feet over the edge into the living inkiness seething invisibly all over the floor.

A kind of black fog of terror.

Despite endless counter-arguments, he was certain that when the lights went out, “they” who had been there in an alternate dimension, hiding in the light, took on corporeal existence. This form clearly included teeth. Sharp, pointed, flesh-seeking teeth. He read a lot of science fiction and he knew.

He shivered thinking about it. Or was it from the need to pee? Either way, chills spilled down his not-quite-a-child’s spine.

Filled with dread but more filled with the pressure of need, he always managed to get to the bathroom and back in one piece. He was certain there were numerous close calls having felt the brush of claws and heard the horrid breathing of “them” as he scrambled back to bed.

He tried hard not to think about those.

What he thought about a lot was the upcoming campout. His first.

He was excited. He loved tents and was always building them out of the random tarps his dad kept in the basement “for emergencies.” No situation beyond tent-building ever arose so he couldn’t imagine what his dad had in mind.

There were few things better than being inside a tent. A crafted shape of protection defying the formless void with imagination and creation.

On the day of the campout, as the sun set, Sam’s anxieties grew. What he hadn’t counted on was the darkness.

The camp site was well outside of the comfortable town with its streetlights and the warm glow oozing from friendly houses.  In town, a definite non-void, ambient light kept the dark eternally at bay. Except during storms. Then it got iffy battling the darkness with weak-batteried flashlights and shivering candles.

The trees that thickly edged the open areas where the tents were pitched blocked the distant, dim starlight. He realized on his first moonless night of camping under the stars that the darkness would be near total.

The tent to which he was assigned, an old floorless military style mini-house, was furthest from the latrine. While there was the advantage of being away from the odor, it was a small trek to reach it. And there were spiders in every corner.

The latrine was a small room of hobbled-together rough-sawn, weathered planks, propped over a deep hole in the ground. Inside was a built-in wood bench with two butt holes cut out and old toilet seats attached.  It faced away from the campsite toward the black woods where who knew what was watching, unseen.

He emptied his bladder at dusk while there was just enough grey light to maneuver without a flashlight.

Everyone hit the sack after the campfires went cold. It was late.

He shared the tent with five other boys, each burrowed into various styles of sleeping bags plopped on mushy air mattresses or nothing but a plastic ground cover.

He was in the corner that pointed toward the heart of the camp site.

He lay there as the others fell asleep, one by one, their breathing becoming steady and shallow. Outside the blackness of the tent, the insects sang furiously.

He was used to their songs since he lived near a small woods. From a safe distance, their lullabies oozed through his screened windows and lulled him to sleep on warm nights.

This was different. The distance was near, there were no screened windows, and the sound of the chirping and clicks and whistles and other noises he had no words for were nearly deafening. At least at first.

Soon his ears adjusted as he was able to sort through the din and identify the individual songs with which he was familiar.

He relaxed, breathing in the fresh sweet green-tasting night air, but could not sleep. He was excited with veins full of adrenaline.

His first camp out!!!

And then he felt it. The need from below beginning to press into his awareness. His bladder was reaching capacity. And the latrine was way over on the other side of the site.

He prayed desperately for the fluids of his body to just evaporate. He clenched his mind tight trying to will away the pressing sensation. All to no avail. It grew. He really needed to go.

Sam felt around for his small flashlight and his shoes, burrowed deeper into his sleeping bag, turned on the light and put on his shoes. All the while drubbing up his courage. The moving around only served to increase the urgency of needing to go.

He turned off the flashlight, crawled on top of his bag, screwed up his nerve, with flashlight at the ready, closed his eyes in one last prayer, and then lifted the flap of the tent.

He gasped. His heart beat more quickly.

It wasn’t dark!

Stunned, filled with a degree of awe he’d never before experienced, Sam stepped out of the tent, moved to the middle of the clearing, and, standing open-mouthed, slowly turned and stared in wonder at the amazing sight.

What had been dark and menacing trees were now densely covered with lightning bugs. It was as if the stars of the universe had gathered in their camp site.

There was no place, no gap of darkness, where the bugs did not glow and blink.

The wonder of his heart supplanted the fear of his imagination and without thinking of the darkness, he walked confidently to the latrine, was relieved, and then again stood watch outside his tent, grinning, singing in his head along with the insect chorus, until he was too tired to do anything else but cocoon himself in his warm flannel-lined sleeping bag and dream through to the dawn.


* It’s flash fiction Friday! (To learn more about FFF, click here and scroll down.) 
Flash fiction is nothing more or less than a very, very short short story. This one is over 1000 words and a bit rough; I banged it out this morning, although some elements have been hanging around in my head for awhile. What do you think? What was your experience like the first time you went camping with friends? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hate comes far more naturally than we want to believe

Memes are fun and cute and sometimes inspirational or humorous. However, they seldom present sound theological concepts. Although many are taken as such by unsuspecting believers who glibly share them.

For example, I’ve seen this one in various forms, all with essentially the same message:

Awwww. Isn’t that just so sweet? Yes it is.

But is it really true? No, not exactly.

I think this meme possibly came about as a corruption of a quote attributed to Nelson Mandela about racism: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

With the added context that is clearly too much for a simple pithy meme, Mandela’s quote comes closer to being accurate, but is still off. Love does not come more “naturally” than hate.

Or maybe the meme developed from over-stretching the truth that children are born innocent, meaning sinless in the sense of not having committed an act of sin (which is different than being impacted by original sin).

It’s a nice sounding “truism that’s really more of “truthiness-ism” that children love “naturally” and have to be taught to hate.

We like this idea because it means we – all of us – are therefore “naturally” loving. In other words, we come into this world basically “good.” Innocent is not the same as good.

This is the popular myth we attribute to ourselves; that we’re all born good.

But we’re not! Well, not precisely.

This wrong idea even shows up in the courtroom as reported in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article: “’The grand jury report is riddled with emotionally charged language and pejoratives which demonstrate the hostility of the jurors toward Mr. McCauley,"’[Bristol Township's manager William] McCauley's filing said. ‘Hostility does not spring from the air; like hate, it needs to be taught.’” (Emphasis added.]

Well, unfortunately, yes, hostility does, in a manner of speaking, “spring from the air” without being taught.

The reality is that we are born with both the innate ability for hate and love.

Because we are created in the image of God, we are capable of love.  But the full potential of that love remains mostly dormant within us until kindled by a redemptive relationship with God through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because all creation – which includes us – is tainted by sin because of the Fall (original sin), we are “naturally” capable of hate.

In fact, our inherent original sin nature is more active in us than potential goodness until we have an encounter with Jesus and our relationship with God is restored.

Until that happens, our natural badness tends to get the best of any mostly dormant goodness in us.

All we need to do is read the biblical story of Cain and Abel to see the truth in this. Or, just look at toddlers warring over a toy. Or endure election cycles.

Actually, if we are truly honest, all we have to do is search our own motives, examine our own thoughts, and review our own behaviors to see the evil that lurks in our deceitful hearts and too often trips us up.

Even the best of people can be really, really bad in a New York minute. In fact, many “good” behaviors are actually driven by “bad” motives.

When we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit that bad and hate come easy. Loving is more challenging.

What is learned, and the skill that needs to be nurtured, is how to be loving rather than to be hateful.

We need to be taught as children and we need to actively train ourselves as adults to choose moment-by-moment to be loving.

Kids can be corrected and taught to love instead of falling back on hate. We, as mature adults, can choose to be more loving than hateful.

Sadly, because of the dire and pervasive effects of original sin, it tends to be easier for us to hate, to be selfish, to lie, to cheat, to steal, to insult, to demean, to be angry, to do and be all manner of unloving things, than it is to love. Especially when it comes to others.

There are countless examples – just pay attention to the news – of kids and adults who were taught to be loving who chose hate which resulted in the most heinous of actions. They chose what came “natural” to them.

Really, without the empowering of the Holy Spirit, true loving is practically impossible. Especially to sustain over the long haul.

The bottom line is this: Left untaught one way or the other, kids will be hateful all on their own. That’s their and our naturally born state.

But through Christ, this can all be changed. It all comes down to making a choice.

Do you believe you were born good? Why or why not? Do you agree or disagree with the point of the post? Why? Do you want to know more about choosing Christ? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Managing our emotions with godly truth: Event, Thought, Emotion, Behavior (ETEB) - with a musical interlude at the end...

I often hear people, in an effort to excuse an outburst, claim they can’t control their emotions. Or if they’ve gotten themselves into a questionable relationship, they throw their hands up and exclaim, “I can’t help who I fall in love with!”
  1. First, while it’s true you can’t control emotions, you can manage how you respond while you are experiencing them. Responding thoughtfully while emotional can lead your emotions in a different, rational direction.
  2. Second, it’s also true that an emotional attraction to another can strike on a whim, we have full control over whether or not we choose to act on that attraction and “fall” in love. In fact, we can choose to be in love with someone even when we don’t feel loving toward them.
Some years ago I ghostwrote a book titled Preparing for Battle: A Spiritual Warfare Workbook (1999, Moody Publishers), authored by Mark Bubeck. It’s still in print and if you’re interested in the topic, you should get a copy. The book is excellent for small group study or for use in Sunday school classes. It’s also now available in an eBook format. Click here to preview more from the book online.

The book incorporates excerpts from Bubeck’s books around which I wrote extensive commentary, tying the concepts together and creating questions and tables, etc. for a nifty little study guide.
TRIVIA: I also created graphics for the book which I thought would be redone “professionally” by their designers. Much to my surprise, they used exactly what I sent them! I didn’t discover this until the book was in print, otherwise I would have put more effort into them.
There’s one section I created for the book and have since pulled together into a Word document to share with several people over the years. It discusses a concept – ETEB – that, when I first discovered it a couple of decades ago, really helped understand how to effectively manage my emotions.

The ETEB model is simple yet profound. I first encountered it in a course developed by Karol Hess while I was living in New Jersey. She captured it in her book (referenced below).  I took the idea and expanded it, grounding it in scripture.

Below is the excerpted section from the book, complete with graphics. With the tools provided in this excerpt, managing difficult emotions will become much easier.




In their book, Maturity is a Choice (1994, College Press) by Karol Hess and Doug McCulley, Hess, Director of Beacon Light Christian Ministries in Watchung, New Jersey, describes a useful model for recognizing and defeating irrational thinking and behaving. The model is based on Rational Emotive Therapy as developed by psychologist Albert Ellis. The model is also known by the initials ETEB representing the steps: Event, Thought, Emotion, Behavior.

As Hess states, “This diagram provides a practical means of mapping our thinking processes and seeing how they affect our feelings and behavioral patterns. It helps identify thought patterns and compare them to the truth, including the truth about God and the facts of any given situation.”

We’ve expanded and adapted the model here:

Stuff happens. Often we encounter situations that are unexpected and over which we have no control. Our only choice is to respond to them in Christian integrity. In the midst of these events, our emotions will be engaged and flare up automatically. These emotions can be positive or negative. In the midst of an event with our emotions on full flare up, we have two choices:
  • either we can react based on our perceptions and emotions, which means to react irrationally;
  • or we can choose to respond thoughtfully to the reality of the situation, with our minds and spirits fully engaged and under the control of the Holy Spirit and Truth.
Reacting irrationally will put us in an escalating “Loop of Irrationality,” where emotions, such as fear, guilt, arrogance, lust, or anger drive our behavior into irresponsible and damaging actions. These further feed our fear, guilt, arrogance, lust, anger, or other emotions which drives more improper behavior, and so on.

Responding thoughtfully will establish us firmly on the “Path of Peace,” where our minds, filled with God’s truth, seek a biblical and Christ-like, self-dying response where our actions are directed by the Holy Spirit. We focus on truth and not on emotions. As we walk out this truth, our emotions settle down and come in line as well.

For example, imagine that you’re at work and you’re working on completing a report that has an imminent deadline. The report is related to a project that’s very important to you involving material that you are fascinated by. You’re totally focused on your work and your back is turned away from the entrance to your cubicle. You’ve purposely blocked out all the ambient office noise, concentrating intently on your work. You’re in your own little world unaware of anything else around you.

Suddenly, without warning, someone has slipped into your cubicle behind you, dropping a binder down on your desk and saying loudly, “Here’s the report you were asking me about last week. Sorry it took me so long to find it!”

You have no control over this event, and your emotions--in the form of your heart in your throat--are fully engaged. Acting out of your emotions you likely would be enraged by the insensitivity of this co-worker who seems to be totally rude and bent on causing you to miss your deadline. If you were to follow through and react, you might yell at them for being a jerk, ordering them to get out of your cubicle immediately. They might then react by shouting back at you calling you a jerk, and so on, as you both huff and puff your way around the Loop of Irrationality.

The result would be a disrupted relationship, a disrupted workplace, and foothold made for Satan to create increasing hostility, hurt, and resentment.

However, taking a moment to think, you realize they are doing what you asked them to do (bringing you the report) and didn’t realize you were so focused. You know this person and you know them to be courteous and pleasant. They would never do anything intentionally to disrupt another’s success. You turn, put your hand over your heart, and say thanks. They realize what they’ve done and are profusely apologetic for startling you. You both have a small chuckle over the incident and everything is fine.

The reality is that they didn’t mean to startle you. However, your emotions are still engaged and your heart is still beating rapidly! Yet, you know there is nothing to be fearful of or angry about, and you turn back to your work. In a few minutes, your emotions and your thoughts are once again totally engaged in your project. All is well as you quietly travel the Path of Peace.

Using the table below, think of types of situations and events that you encounter at home, at work, at church, or somewhere else. Break down the elements of each event, and describe the emotions that you would feel, and the irrational and rational thoughts and behaviors that you might experience and respond with. Also list additional Scriptures that illustrate the truth of each step.

Satan loves to put situations before us that will enflame our emotions. He knows that the power of emotions--both good and bad--can overwhelm our reason and our faith and lead us into sinful and destructive behaviors. Whether we’re caught up by the seductive lie that it just feels so good it can’t be bad, or we’re lashing out in self-righteous anger to get even, acting out of emotions can be spiritual deadly.

Satan knows that our (E)motions can easily subvert the good intentions of our (M)ind and (W)ills. He will attempt to puff up our emotions and thus lead us into conflict, anger, hurt, disappointment, lust, addictions, and more. Only as we submit to the cross of Christ, crucifying the flesh, and bringing our (M)ind, (W)ill, and (E)motions into subjection to Him will be find the healthy balance we need to walk out our faith successfully.

Do you believe you control your emotions or do your emotions control you? How do you experience this? What frustrates you the most about managing your emotions? How important is your faith in helping you deal with your emotions? Do the ideas in this post make sense to you? Are they helpful? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

 Two useful books referenced above: 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Marriage has not been redefined by goats or cows or people & two more points to consider

Stuff has been happening in Morehead, Kentucky and now they have a new billboard to deal with.

As headlines about the new billboard tout, the point is to mock Kim Davis, the county clerk who has refused to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples. She went to jail for standing on her beliefs.

I’m not going to comment on whether or not I agree or disagree with her actions. Here are some stories that take a look at the issue from different angles you can read if you’re interested and make up your own mind:
What I want to do is, briefly, address the fallacies contained in the billboard.

The billboard message reads: “Dear Kim Davis, the fact that you can’t sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we’ve already redefined marriage.” It was put up by an organization called Planting Peace (

At least one news article about the billboard states the message is “an apparent reference to biblical verses that permit the selling of women.”

There are at least three major issues with this billboard.

First, true marriage has not been redefined

The Bible is clear that a marriage is a marriage only when it is a uniting of one man (male) and one woman (female).

This reality was established from the beginning as stated in Genesis 1:27, NIV: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This truth has been affirmed by millions of orthodox biblical Christians for centuries and still is.

While the definition of true marriage has not changed – and can never be changed – the cultural expression of marriage has shifted. This has almost always been true and is especially true now in the United States.

When man (meaning humankind which includes males and females) exercises his God-given freewill as a fallen, sinful creation, things tend to go awry. This, too, started in the beginning, in the Garden.

Even in Old Testament times – as reported in God’s Word but not endorsed by God – to the dismay of God, men took on several wives. Some would additionally maintain concubines – women that were available to them but not considered wives.

The idea of polygamy is found in a variety of cultures even today. The idea of same-sex marriage is relatively new. And now it is a legally defined option for the expression of marriage within the U.S.

But just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right, beneficial, ethical, or moral. Particularly for rationally-minded, biblically-grounded, true Christian believers.

That this is a true concept should not be a foreign idea to anyone who’s ever raised a conscious objection to something the law was endorsing.

Second, this is not a biblical reference

There is nothing in the Bible, as far as I can determine, defining marriage as selling one’s daughter for three goats and a cow to a husband. (If you think there is, please point out a specific reference in the comments.)

Perhaps this idea sprang from the practice of some cultures that offer a dowry to the bridegroom at the time of marriage. This is a cultural practice, not a biblical mandate.

In fact, the slogan – and it is only a trite slogan – has nothing to do with the Bible. You can read about how it came to be here: “From the Man Who Brought You Three Goats and a Cow”.

That the slogan is assumed to be taken from Scripture starkly reveals the widespread biblical illiteracy that impacts both Christians and non-Christians alike.

When reading the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, it’s important to, at a minimum, understand that just because something is in the Bible does not mean that it is a law or a mandate or an expectation related to living a Christian life.

The Bible contains stories, poetry, prophecy, revelation, history, and more, including reporting on the cultures of the day. There are many cultural practices that the Bible references that God was not happy with and condemned. He hates but tolerates a lot of wrong-headedness from his beloved creation.

What is revealed through the arc of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is God’s incredible love for and patience with His hard-headed and rebellious freewill-obsessed creation as He reveals Himself and His grace.

Third, peace is not being planted

The name of the organization that put up the billboard – Planting Peace – implies a desire to be peacemakers with those who hold differing positions.

Their website declares: “Our mission is simple: Peace. Planting Peace is a global nonprofit organization founded for the purpose of spreading peace in a hurting world.”

I fail to see how mocking someone plants peace. Frankly, the billboard does nothing but stir up more dissension, inflict hurt, and encourage hate. It is a form of subtle and pointed persecution.

To get a better idea of what a peacemaker is, consider the context surrounding the term in Matthew 5. Or just take a very close look at the life of Jesus.

One thing I noticed about the confrontations of those demanding marriage licenses from Kim Davis in her office is that, while she seemed to always remain calm and respectful, those on the other side of the counter were loud, hostile, insulting, and belligerent toward her. Their anger and disdain for her was palpable, not peaceful.

In fact, articles began to pop up that disparaged her past, attacked her character, and essentially sought to defame her. The attacks were personal and vicious. Again, this is a form of persecution.

Even as she has gone back to work without blocking the marriage licenses her deputies are giving out to same-sex couples, she is still being heckled and insulted. She has entered into a compromise to do the very thing others demanded she do – her job – and yet those annoyed with her faith-based stand are still not satisfied. They don’t want compromise, they want her out. They want blood, not peace.

Kim Davis engaged in peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience (a practice that has been respected and cherished in this country since its founding) and was willing to bear the consequences of her actions (jail) while those disagreeing with her are engaged in non-peaceful, borderline violent, rabble-rousing character assassination.

In other words, while demanding to be treated with dignity and respect, they are denying dignity and respect to Kim, or anyone who supports her. The billboard adds further insult to her injury while adding nothing of value or substance to the debate.

This is all to be expected

For Christians, while what is happening around us is dismaying, it is not surprising. Jesus warned that life for His followers would be tough, saying that, eventually, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death” (Matthew 1:21, NIV). Then he reminds us, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18, NIV).

Paul cautioned, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Timothy 4:1, NIV).

True believers are in for some rough times.

In the meantime, unlike those who oppose God and our faith in Him, following the example of Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we must love our enemies, extend them mercy, show them respect, treat them with dignity, provide for their needs, and cover them with prayer (see Luke 6:27-38, NIV).

We must do this even if they put up an insulting, inaccurate, in-our-face billboard right outside our front door.

After all, love wins.

Is it possible to peacefully coexist with those with whom we disagree? Why or why not? If so, how can this be accomplished? Do you believe that faith is a “private thing” and should not influence one’s behavior in society? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts (respectfully) in the comments!!

 Two useful books on the biblical view of homosexuality: 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Three Cat Poems (#PoetryMonday *)

Like an old Jew at the Wall

the cat sits
slightly swaying
to the back of the couch
head bowed,
                  eyes closed
thankful for the cushions
upon which
she is about
to rest.


What the Cat Knows

          The cat
comes up on the bed while I read
          and write a little,
sniffs at the inked lines
          in the notebook beside me,
smells the thoughts,
flicks her tongue tasting them,
places her front paws on the page,
          as if she
feels the vibration of the thoughts,
looks at me,
closes her eyes
          in acknowledgement,


Sun Knocks

As the sun moves around the curve
of the southerly fall sky
it's reaching rays move from my
window to the front door
that pops as the heat warms
the core and metal skin
as if he is knocking to come in
before leaving the sky to
make room for the chasing moon.

The cats would like that;
his coming in to curl up with
them in whatever corner they
decided to sleep, warming
their unshed fur.

* It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

Yes, I have two cats, Peanut and Shadow. They are sisters although you wouldn
t know it from looking at them or watching them. They’re 11 years old. Peanut was the smaller one as a kitten, but not now. Shadow tends to follow me around. While they once would snuggle up with each other, now, for unknown reasons, they hiss at each other when they pass too near. The first poem is about Peanut, the second about Shadow, and the third about both. Do you have cats? Prefer cats over dogs? Have a favorite poem about pets? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Brief Review: The Colson Way: His life, his heroes, his impact

It’s hot outside. The Philly area, where we landed just over three weeks ago, is experiencing its fourth heat wave of the summer. The third occurred just as we were unloading our rental truck, making the back end like a sauna. Not that it’s any consolation, but Cleveland, where we moved from, is hot today as well.

All that to say simply that this is my first post-Cleveland blog post. Which is really neither here nor there, as they say. Still, it seems worthwhile to point out.

But the purpose of this post is not to share about our move. Rather, it’s to offer a brief review of the new book from Thomas Nelson, The Colson Way: Loving Your Neighbor and Living with Faith in a Hostile World by Owen Strachan.

The Colson referred to in the title is of course Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship and former Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon of Watergate fame. 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of Colson’s release from prison and the start of his prodigious ministry endeavors.

The book comes with high praise in the form of endorsements from a variety of notables, including Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. Eric Metataxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, penned the foreword.

The book is generally well-written and a pretty smooth read. The primary target audience, as mentioned several times in the book, is Christian millennials. Still, anyone interested in the life of Chuck Colson will probably be comfortable reading the book as it’s primarily a biography.

Oddly though, not once in any description of the book, on the cover or online, is there any reference to the fact that this book is a biography of Colson. The books is classified as “Christian life / General.” The closest mention I could find that hints that this is indeed a biography is in the endorsement blurb by Sean McDowell who calls it an “eye-opening look at one of the most significant Christian leaders of the twentieth century.”

Actually, the book isn’t simply a biography. It’s sort of three books in one:
  • Colson Biography: The heftiest bulk of the book focuses on the life of Colson. For those unfamiliar or only vaguely familiar with the amazing life of Chuck Colson, this is an excellent resource to learn about this very important evangelical leader.
  • Influencer Profiles: Included at key points are profiles or mini-biographies of key influencers in Colson’s life. Several, such as William Wilberforce, R.C. Sproul, Carl F.H. Henry, and Francis Schaeffer, are people who have had a big impact on all of evangelical Christianity, not just on Colson. A couple, such as Rocky Scruton, either had a more direct influence on Colson or are mentioned to illustrate a character trait of Colson.
  • Expository commentary: The second largest chunk of the book is the author’s commentary, offering insights into the challenges facing modern millennial and other Christians. These bits are cast as “lessons learned” from Colson’s experiences. Throughout most of the book, they run only a few paragraphs and, at times, seem as if they were tacked in as after-thoughts. The last couple of chapters are almost entirely commentary with snippets of biography or profile interlaced. The commentary comes the closest to actually delivering on the promise of the book’s title.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad book. Just a tad confusing and a little frustrating. As I’ve said, it’s well-written and an interesting read. But if you’re coming to the book with your expectations set by the title and the marketing descriptions of the book, like me, you may also experience a bit of confusion as you’re reading.

Nowhere is there a clear, definitive declaration or descriptive lists of what “The Colson Way” is. It’s subtly implied through his story.

Likewise, there is no clear, definitive declaration or descriptive lists telling us how to love our neighbor and live in hostile world. Rather, again, this is subtly implied through the commentaries and profiles.

At little less subtlety would have been a positive thing.

While others may be fine with this blending throughout the book, I found it slightly annoying. Fortunately the good writing and fascinating subject kept me going. Hopefully, being forewarned will allow you to enjoy the book even more than I did. Reading it will not be a waste of your time.

The points I believe Strachan is trying to make can be found in two brief quotes from the final chapter:
  • “We are one body working to fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples through the plain and simple preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ.”
  • “Not all of us will stand before kings, but our faith, too, must be exercised not only in the privacy of our homes, but in public, in our workplace, schools, governments, playgrounds, and everywhere God would have us go.”
Chuck Colson, in his own way, exemplified these truths brilliantly, no matter what the cost.

BTW: As I wrote this review, it went from 91 and swelteringly sunny to 84 and overcast with rain. I think the fourth heat wave may be broken.


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Do you know much about Chuck Colson? Watergate? Prison Fellowship? Have your read any of Chuck Colson’s books? If so, which were favorites? Why? Would you be put off if a book did not deliver what its title promises, even if the book is well-written and seemed worthwhile to read? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Random thoughts on “Go Set A Watchman”

Harper Lee’s “new” novel, Go Set A Watchman, was released a couple of days ago. Early reviews indicate the book is problematic at best, a mess at worst.

It’s been claimed this is an early draft of To Kill A Mockingbird or possibly a sequel. Some claim it’s a great literary gem, others are not so sure insisting it’s little more than a lightly edited rough manuscript.

Whatever your view -- and if you’re a fan of Mockingbird you probably have a view and most likely a very strong one -- Watchman is going to have an impact.

At least one journalist even raises concern for all those who have been named Atticus after the lead character. But no word on those named Finch.

Whether the overall impact of Watchman is good or bad on the literary world remains to be seen. But a few pros and cons come to mind now.

The good

Publishers Weekly reported today that for some book retailers, the one-day sales of Watchman are “historic.” Even Canadian bookstores are doing a boffo business with the book.

These brisk sales have yielded a few immediate positives:
  • E.L. James’ “Grey” has been knocked off the top of bestseller lists. This is definitely a plus! Now if we could just make the whole series go away.
  •  Bookstores in general are drawing customers in to buy copies of the book. Anything (well, almost anything) that can get people into bookstores is a good thing.
  • People who read Mockingbird in school and liked it, but haven’t picked up a book in years, are buying copies of Watchman. Bringing readers back to reading is never a waste of effort!
But once the buzz fades like cicadas dying at the end of summer, what then?

Frankly, I’m a little concerned.

The bad

It seems that the primary driving force behind the release of Watchman is simply economics (aka profit).

The estate of the still living Harper Lee as well as the publisher look to make a bundle off the book, at least initially. And now there are rumors that there is a third or even a fourth manuscript floating around out there somewhere just waiting to break into the light of day.

Of course, without the reputation of Mockingbird, the success of publishing Watchman would be nil. It would most likely be a bomb of a book. In fact, I’m anticipating dozens of copies ending up in thrift shops for pennies before Christmas. I'll not be looking to buy a copy before then.

There’s been endless controversy surrounding the discovery and subsequent publication of Watchman. It’s not even clear if Lee even wanted it published. And, given the reports of it being a “draft” manuscript, one wonders if it really should have been. Most successful authors would be loathe to have a rough, imperfect draft of one of their bestselling books published, especially if it had been substantially changed through the various rewrites.

So, here are the concerns that grow from these observations:
  • When money overshadows all literary concerns, what gets published will inevitably be less and less readable.
  • Unpublished raw, flawed drafts of manuscripts by well-known authors may now become fair game for publishing, even though they really should not see print, harming the reputations of good writers.
  • Under force of pressure from publishers, successful authors may lose control over their unpublished manuscripts that are languishing in the files of their agents or publishers who just want to make money. Or, authors themselves looking to turn a fast buck could release their slush piles of less than good manuscripts, ultimately diluting their reputation and hurting future sales of their better books.
  • Those buying Watchman expecting something akin to Mockingbird may be so put off that they never take a chance on another “sequel” from a beloved author. In other words, old and new readers drawn in by the hype may be lost to the reality.
  • Bookstores gaining a surge of business now may see sales wane more once sales for Watchman have died down and the reviews become less and less flattering. This could discourage new business by disappointing readers.
But I could be wrong.

The unknown

Added to these concerns teachers of literature are hand-wringing over how now to teach Mockingbird since Watchman apparently characterizes Atticus as a racist.

Ultimately, only time will tell how all this fretting shakes out. My hope is that when the fog of hype clears away the positives will outweigh the negatives.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, since I haven’t yet, I guess I should finally take the time to read Mockingbird. (Let the shaming begin!)

Have you read
“Go Set A Watchman”? What did you think of it? Other than To Kill A Mockingbird”, do you have a favorite book? Would you want to read an unedited early draft of it? If the storyline was significantly different in an early draft of your favorite book, would it make you mad? Share your thoughts in the comments!


NOTE: I apologize for not posting more frequently lately! The reason is that we have been preparing to move to the Philadelphia area at the end of this month and have been busy packing, etc. Hopefully we’ll be settled enough by mid-August or so and I’ll be able to carve out the time needed to get back to posting more frequently.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The word workmanship implies such things as quality, excellence, craftsmanship: Remembering Dad

Walter Ray Clark January 2, 1922 - July 29, 1992

There are two verses that have come to mind as I've thought about my Dad. The first is Ephesians 2:10: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

The word workmanship implies such things as quality, excellence, craftsmanship -- work that's done with love and care, and that endures. These are qualities that God has lavished on us all. And, since we are called to imitate our heavenly Father, these are qualities we need to exhibit in our own lives, in all we do.

There are few men I've known who exhibited these qualities as well as my Dad did. Not only was he an excellent example of God's workmanship, but my Dad's workmanship will stand forever as a memorial to his devotion to his family, his friends, his God.

The second verse is John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." There are many ways to lay down one's life for others. By this I mean putting aside your own concerns to focus on the needs of others. Every day of his life my Dad would do just that. He was always willing to help anyone in any kind of need any way he could.

My father was a man of immense character. And, he was also a bit of a character. The impact he has had on others--many others--is evidenced by your presence here today. We have all, in different ways, been touched profoundly by the workmanship he exhibited in all he did, and by his willingness to lay aside his life to focus on our need. He was never stingy about sharing joy and love with all he met.

As I've said several times in the past few days, while I'm saddened by my father's death, I rejoice even more. I rejoice because my Dad really isn't dead. He's home with the Lord. Of that I'm absolutely certain. And I rejoice, too, because he lives on in all of us. He's in our hearts and memories.

I rejoice most, though, because he's my Dad. I loved him very much, and I know he loved me. I've always been proud of him, and I know he was proud of me. He taught me by what he said and how he lived what being a Christian man means. Because Walter Clark is my Dad, I will be forever grateful.

(Originally written July, 1992,

I miss my Dad. But I am glad for the wonderful memories. What about you? Please share about your dad in the comments!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Reading books for fun and profit!

(Originally posted January 30, 2014;
reposted here with minor edits)

It’s [six months into] a new year and you’re already falling behind on that resolution you made to read more books.

You started strong. You pulled up one of several “best books” lists, picked what seemed a good choice from the many “literary classics,” got a copy, and dove in. Then, in the first few pages, things started going sour and your bookmark’s not moved in days.

You are not alone.

First, kudos to you for at least wanting to read a book or a few. That is a noble and good desire.

Second, don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling to accomplish your goal. The problem isn’t necessarily you; it could be the book you’ve chosen, or perhaps some toxic residue from “required reading” demands from school.

I’m here to help you get back on track.

Don’t read what bores you!

Life's too short not to read books. And it's too short to read books that you find boring.

A lot of people don't read because they had to read stuff in school that was, well, awful. I feel you! Even though I am an admitted bookaholic, that doesn’t mean I fall in love with every one I pick up.

If you picked a title from the “greatest literary classics” lists your old -- uh, I mean former -- high school English teacher gave you, that may be where you went wrong.

While there are many great books that are great reads, not all are for everyone. And since you’re reading because you want to, feel free to select and stick with books that you want to read!

What a concept, right?

I’m an English major. I’ve always loved books and words. From the very first moment I realized I could read I’ve had a book by my side. As a teenager, I actually carried a “pocket” sized book (aka “mass market paperback”) in the hip pocket of my jeans. Whenever I had a spare moment, I would read.

Today, I’ve got the Amazon Kindle app on my phone, so always have a book available to read while I’m stuck waiting in a doctor’s office or anywhere else.

The point is that I am a reader. There are few books I don’t like at least a little. And I’ll read just about anything.

Still, in the past few months I've tried to read a couple of those “literary classics” that I’ve always felt like, as an English major, I should have read. I made it about half way through each before I just couldn’t go on. The books were just not my cup of tea.

I left my bookmark where I stopped and put them both back on my bookshelf. And then I got another book.

If a particular book is just not doing it for you, then stop reading it!

Don’t torture yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t assume you’re not smart enough or whatever. Just as you don’t become BFFs with every single person you meet, and just as some people are just darn annoying, you’ll have the same experiences with certain books.

At the same time, just as you don’t give up on people, a bad experience with a couple of books is no justification for giving up on reading altogether. That’s simply not good logic.

Read because it’s good for you!

Reading has a plethora of benefits. Here are six to consider:
  • Reading can make you more informed and smarter. Is there a topic you’re clueless about? It’s been said that anyone who takes the time to read at least three books on a topic can be considered a subject matter expert. Why? Because you’ll know more than the vast majority of people who’ve read only one or no books on the same topic. But not only does reading provide information, studies have shown that good stories can actually change your brain in positive ways. So, if you want to get smart, read books!
  • Reading will take you places you would never get to go otherwise. In the delightful movie, “Miracle on 34th Street,” there’s a scene where Edmund Gwenn (Santa) is teaching Natalie Wood (Susan) to be creative and playful. He explains how to tap into her imagination, saying, “ me the imagination is a place all by itself; a separate country. You've heard of the French or the British nation. Well, this is the imagi-nation. It’s a wonderful place. How would you like to make snowballs in the summertime? Or drive a big bus right down 5th Avenue? How would you like to have a ship all to yourself that makes daily trips to China and Australia? How would you like to be the Statue of Liberty in the morning, and in the afternoon fly south with a flock of geese? It's very simple. Of course, it takes practice.” Getting lost in a good book will fuel your imagination and take you on wonderful flights of fancy!
  • Reading can help you understand others better. A recent study determined that reading literary fiction “better equips people to sense and understand others' mental states.” The challenge is to find a work of literary fiction that will hold your interest enough to draw you in. Such books do exist and are worth the effort to read them.
  • Reading widely will expand your vocabulary. The more you read in different genres, the wider variety of words you will be exposed to. While you may not know the specific meanings of some words, you’ll likely get their sense from the context in which they are used. And, with online dictionaries, it’s a simple matter to look up meanings instantly. Even if you don’t end up using all the new words you learn, you’ll at least understand them when they’re used in discussions around you.
  • Reading can improve your own writing and communication. One of the great “best kept secrets” of people who read a lot is how well they can write and speak. Whether what you write are work memos, church newsletters, or professional articles, the more you read the better you will write. In fact, those who want to become professional writers are often encouraged to transcribe passages from their favorite authors and books. Why? Because it allows them to gain a better feel for the writer’s style and rhythm. This, in turn, helps them discover their own voice in their writing.
  • Reading can happen anywhere. There are few places you can’t read. Now with e-readers, you can even read in the dark! People read books on planes, trains, buses, wherever they find themselves with time on their hands. Reading is a boredom killing skill!
I’m sure you can come up with even more reasons to read. In fact, make a list of your positive reasons for reading to use as motivation!

Choose the right book to read!

Just as everyone has different styles of clothing and kinds of foods they like, the same goes for tastes in books. Not sure what you like? Then feel free to sample everything!

Okay, if that seems too intimidating, here are some suggestions on discovering your favorite books and authors.
  • What TV shows and/or movies do you like? Looking at stories or topics that already interest you is a good way to zero in on books that may be good reads. In fact, many people enjoy the books some movies are based on better than the movies.
  • Do you have a friend, acquaintance, relative with similar tastes? Maybe they like the same TV shows you do. The same movies. The same fashion styles. And they're a reader? Then, there's a chance you will like the books they like. Ask them what they're reading and if you can borrow some of their books to try.
  • What subjects in school did you enjoy the most? If your favorite subjects were shop and sports, then perhaps check out some books on engineering and, well, sports! Did you like history? Then consider biographies of great past leaders, historical fiction, and the like.
  • What's happening at work? Regardless of what kind of work you do, there are many excellent business books that are fun to read and will make you sharp on the job. Check with your colleagues for suggestions.
  • Review book reviews. A great way to preview a book is to read a review. You’ll find professional reviews in newspapers such as the New York Times. And there are also reader reviews posted on and similar websites.
  • Check out the bestsellers listings. While not always a perfect indicator, a book that hangs around in bestselling lists for weeks, months, or years may be worth considering.
These are only a few of the many resources available to help you discover books just right for you. Don’t forget to ask your friends what they’re reading, too!

Sample free or cheap books!

Once you have an idea of what you’d like to try, there are several low-cost and even free options for trying out a few titles before committing fully to a book, an author, or a series.
  • Thrift stores. Many Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other thrift stores have book sections. Some are nothing more than bins full of random books. Some will have semi-organized shelves that make it easier to browse. But all are cheap sources of great books. If you pick up a title for a few cents and don’t like it, it’s not that big of a loss and you can always re-donate it.
  • Used book stores. Sadly, we’ve lost Borders, Waldenbooks, and a lot of independent bookstores where you could find new books. But, in their place we’ve got Half-Price Books and other used book stores cropping up. While you’ll pay more than at a thrift store, the advantage is being able to browse organized and neat shelves, and having knowledgeable salespeople on hand to answer your questions. These are also good places to unload those books that you didn’t like and make a little money.
  • Church book shelf. Many churches, even small ones, will have a bookshelf or even a small room dedicated to books that are available to attendees. Some books may be free to take or borrow. Those that are for sale are often heavily discounted.
  • See what's free on If you have a PC or tablet or smart phone, you have access to dozens of free e-books, both new and classic. Amazon offers a free Kindle reader application that you can use on virtually any platform. On Amazon, there are always free, public domain classics available. And every day, publishers of new books offer a variety of titles for free. Plus, there are hundreds of titles available for as little as 99 cents. Not everything available is particularly worth reading, but when a title is free it’s easy to just delete it.
  • Visit your local public library. While the number of bookstores are dwindling, the number of libraries tends to hold steady. Odds are there’s a branch near you. Once you get a library card, there’s virtually no book you can’t try out. And, like a good bookstore, libraries are manned with knowledgeable staff people who can help you in your search for that perfect book.

Given the number of free and affordable sources for books, whether brick-and-mortar or online, there’s little excuse for you not to be able to find a good book that you’ll enjoy.

Give each book and author a fair chance!

Once you’ve selected one or several books to try, give each a fair chance to grow on you.

While writers are told we need to grab readers from the very first sentence of a book, that’s a pretty high hurdle to get over. While writing a truly grabby first sentence is something to strive for, even the best of writers, when they're sharing a complex, nuanced story that spans days, weeks, years, can’t do it. It may take several pages to truly hook the reader.

Give the author a break and give their book a chance.

Commit to read at least 10% of a book before giving up on it. If it's 100 pages long, then read at least 10 pages. If it’s 300 pages long, read at least 30 pages.

If you’ve done your best to give a book a go but it just isn't drawing you in, let it go without guilt.

Also consider that your own mood and circumstance can impact your appreciation of a book. What doesn’t appeal to you today may months or years from now. Don’t hesitate to give a book a second chance.

There are thousands of writers, each with unique styles. There are many genres and sub-genres and sub-sub genres. There are millions of potential plot twists for fiction. There are millions of ideas to fill the pages of non-fiction books. Keep at it and eventually you'll find something that appeals to you and satisfies you.

And you’ll be a better person for it!

Do you hate reading books? Why? Do you love reading books? What are some of your favorite memories of reading? Do you have other tips for encouraging reading? Share them in the comments!