Monday, March 31, 2014

Vast Body Of Water (#PoetryMonday*)

(A concrete poem)
(Click here to view the poem larger. Or click here for a PDF version.) 
 



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 It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo, click here and then scroll down. 

Some years ago I came across an intriguing little book titled "anthology of concretism." The book is out of print but a few copies are available on the Internet. It's a fun little book. I think it appealed to me because of my own visual bent when it comes to writing and layout. 

Concrete, or visual, poetry is a mashup of graphic design, typography, and poetry. While most poetry is meant to be read out loud or in one's head, concrete poetry is meant to mess with one's head as it is viewed like a painting or sculpture. Eugene Wildman posits in the book, "Is concretism not indeed a kind of folk art? It is all around us; it expresses what is truly fundamental in our lives."

More traditional examples of concretism can be seen in "shape" poems such as George Herbert's "Angel Wings," Dylan Thomas' "Vision and Prayer," and several of those by e .e. cummings.

The poem above was inspired by a phrase that's been repeated for weeks related to the search for missing flight MH370. Every expert and reporter points out the obvious, stating the the search encompasses a "vast body of water." If you look carefully at the poem, there's more there than initially meets the eye. You can get a better view by clicking here for a PDF version; one of the challenges of concrete poetry is presenting it on a virtual page.

While many may not care for concretism, the key is not to take it too seriously, and just enjoy the different way of seeing visual poems present. 

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Do you like it? Hate it? Not sure? Sound off in the comments! 

This poem is included in this collection:

Friday, March 28, 2014

Timely Tips for our Trek Toward the Stars

Canadian Tom Cochrane wrote and Rascal Flatts famously sang that, Life's like a road that you travel on” (Life Is a Highway).

Beloved American poet Robert Frost stated that, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.

John Bunyan dedicated an entire classic book to the life-journey of a man named Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress.

In Matthew 7, Jesus clearly alluded that faith is a walk by teaching that, at the beginning of our sojourn, we should, “Enter by the narrow gate....For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Through song, poem, allegorical novel, and scripture, we learn that life is a journey, a progress toward a desired destination, an adventure. Or, as Eugene Peterson might call it, “a long obedience in the same direction.”

Now, in The Road We Must Travel: A Personal Guide for Your Journey (Worthy Publishing), Peterson and 11 other writers in 18 pithy chapters offer useful tips for successfully navigating the path God lays out for us, His followers.

The articles have appeared previously in various print and online publications of the media ministry, Christianity Today, such as Leadership Journal and PreachingToday.com.

The book is mapped into five sections, each opening with unifying introductions imbued with travel imagery.

Topics covered include the importance of self-assessment, being properly equipped, avoiding potholes of contamination, recovering from wrecks, working through conflicts with fellow travelers, getting proper rest and tune-ups, mentoring those new to the journey, and how to properly read our map (aka the Bible) spiritually.

Knowing our path can be muddy, full of rocks, pockmarked with potholes, making the trek feel like an exhausting slog, a favorite, thought-provoking quote (“If you do not go to your grave in confusion, you will not go to your grave trusting. Explanations are a substitute for trust.”) comes from Tullian Tchividjian’s rumination on Job and suffering.

Tchividjian reminds us that, while the inevitable rust of grief will try to grind us to a standstill, grace is the grease and hope the fuel that ultimately propels us forward.

The book feels primarily geared toward senior pastors and others in professional ministry positions. However, lay ministers and other servers of Christ should not be deterred from discovering real value in the guidance and sound wisdom offered. After all, as fellow believers, we are all wending the same path.

This is an excellent and accessible “travel” guide for any Christian that can be read cover-to-cover or consulted as needed.I recommend it for your spiritual glove compartment or backpack to enjoy and reference when taking a break from your travels. There’s good, encouraging stuff here.

One nitpicky point is that a collection such as this usually includes brief bios of the contributors and this one, oddly, does not. While many of the writers are well-known, not all are. So, below, for your convenience, I’ve assembled brief bios for each (the number in parentheses indicates how many chapters the writer has contributed).
  • Gordon MacDonald (4) - Author, speaker, and teacher.
  • Mark Buchanan (3) - Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta.
  • Bill Hybels (2) - Founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church.
  • Nathan Conrad (as told to Matt Woodley) (1) – Nathan is a pastor at Naperville (Illinois) Presbyterian Church. Matt is the Managing Editor for PreachingToday.com and pastor of Compassion Ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.
  • Francis Chan (1) - Author, pastor, and Founder and Chancellor of Eternity Bible College.
  • Eugene Peterson (1) - Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College and writer of The Message.
  • Steve May (1) - Speaker, author, and missionary living in Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • Tullian Tchividjian (1) - Senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.
  • Ruth Haley Brown (1) - Adjunct Professor of Spiritual Formation at Northern Seminary and founder of the Transforming Center.
  • Skye Jethani (1) - Managing editor of Leadership Journal.
  • Mark Labberton (1) - President and Lloyd John Ogilvie Professor of Preaching School of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.
  • Donald Sunukjian (1) - Professor of Christian Ministry and Leadership, Homiletics at the Talbot School of Theology of Biola University.

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.


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What books have you read that have been particularly helpful to your Christian walk?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Gossip Rocks! : A parable

"Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me."
                                  - Children's rhyme


Jonah emerged from the coffee shop to a bright early spring day.

He was happy for a change.

It had been a rough year following a divorce he hadn’t wanted. But he had landed in a good place with a new job. He’d worked hard to come to terms with his own failings and had done his best to make amends. He’d also worked through forgiving what had been a hard betrayal on the part of others. But he was okay and his life was moving forward.

Crack!

Without warning something hard hit Jonah at the back of his neck with enough force that it knocked him forward onto the sidewalk, his cup of coffee went flying into the street.

Stunned and jumbled, Jonah slowly lifted himself up as a couple of customers came running out of the coffee shop to help him.

“Just sit up,” said one. “Don't stand just yet.”

“What happened?” Jonah asked as he rubbed his sore neck.

“This hit you,” said the other person holding out a good sized rock.

“Wha...? Where did it come from?”

Jonah and the others looked up and around. There was no one who could have thrown the rock.

“Actually,” said a man who had been walking down the sidewalk toward the coffee shop, “I know this sounds incredible, but I was looking directly at you and, well, the rock came straight at your head. It seemed to appear out of nowhere.”

No one said anything but their expressions indicated their thoughts were brimming with questions.

Jonah got to his feet with a little help from the two customers.

“Maybe you should go to the ER and let them look at that,” said the man. “You got hit pretty hard. I'd be happy to drive you.”

Jonah rubbed the back of his neck, thinking, wondering. “No, I think I’ll be okay. I need to get to work.”

Jonah looked at his watch and figured he had just enough time to get to his office a few blocks away. He'd moved into town a few months ago, just for this job, and really didn’t want to be late.

The barista who had served him brought him a fresh cup of coffee, no charge, for which he was grateful. He headed toward his office, sipping thoughtfully, the pain in his neck ebbing ever so slightly.

He had gone barely a block when Crack! another stone just missed his head and smacked the brick wall of the building next to him.

“What the…?” Jonah and a couple of women walking near him exclaimed simultaneously as they all semi-ducked and scanned up and down the street.

“Where did that come from?” asked one woman as she shaded her eyes and looked intently across the street.

“I have no idea,” said the other woman, “but it just missed this guy’s head!”

Jonah picked up his pace and became hyper-vigilant as he continued on to work. He strengthened his grip on the handle of his briefcase, prepared to use it as a shield if anymore stones were to appear.

Only moments later, out of the corner of his eye, Jonah caught a glimpse of a brief smoky flash. He instinctively raised his briefcase just in time to deflect another stone coming straight at him.

He was in a panic now as he moved at a trot down the street, looking nervously side to side and up.

Across town, Alice was having breakfast with a few other women in her small group. They got together at least once a week to read the Bible together, pray, and chat. At this moment, Alice was just beginning to share the scoop on Jonah who had recently started coming to their church. One of the other women had mentioned he seemed like a really nice guy.

Alice had known of Jonah for a few years, but had never been a close friend. In fact, she was merely an acquaintance of his now ex-wife. As far as Alice was concerned, Jonah was anything but nice, even though all she knew about him was hearsay and old, forgiven, news.

In truth, while Jonah was no saint and had made mistakes in his marriage, it was his wife who had insisted on a divorce and, oddly, remarried mere months later. Jonah had done all he could to hold the marriage together to no avail. His wife’s friends had taken her side, exaggerating Jonah’s faults and his wife’s virtues in the process. It was through these friends that Alice had picked up most of what she “knew” about Jonah.

Alice really had no clear insight into what had happened between Jonah and his wife; she had merely collected juicy bits and pieces of rumor from the fringes of random, biased, malicious misinformation. Now, this “knowledge” was just the ammunition she needed to bolster her ego.

“Oh,” Alice exclaimed, “Jonah may seem nice on the surface, but I do believe he’s much less so in reality.”

The other women were shocked and the one who had mentioned Jonah insisted Alice must be mistaken.

After taking a few bites of her breakfast, Alice threw in, “Oh no, his ex-wife told me that he often yelled at her, among other things. You know, verbally abusive.”

The other women continued to be incredulous. One told Alice that perhaps Jonah had his faults, but surely he probably had changed. Others agreed that must be the case as Jonah seemed like an okay guy. And besides, others pointed out, everyone makes mistakes.

Alice sipped her coffee, wiped her moth, and with gusto pooh-poohed their objections, letting fly a litany of Jonah’s presumed faults. “As I have it based on firsthand information, he lied about everything, had at least one affair and probably many, stole office supplies from his employer, always drove over the speed limit, and regularly cheated on their taxes. In fact, I’m sure that I saw him going into many of the bars downtown. Not to mention his proclivity for, shall we say, racy movies and such. In fact, while I don’t have any specific proof per se, I’ve heard others comment how they suspected him of far worse behavior than I care to detail here. But, if you press me, I will.”

For nearly five minutes she continued, unpressed, piling on the accusations, none true, but all stated with smug certainty. Alice loved being the center of attention.

Meanwhile, Jonah raced into his office building as more stones pelted him. He was able to dodge or deflect them with his briefcase. He sped through the lobby and got into the first available elevator. Once the doors closed he felt safer and caught his breath as the elevator ascended.

Several minutes later a co-worker noticed Jonah was not at his desk and began asking if anyone had seen Jonah. No one had.

Suddenly, from the direction of the elevator bank, a woman screamed. Everyone rushed to see what was going on. The woman who had screamed stood stricken in front of an open elevator, one hand pointing, the other muffling her sobs.

Inside the elevator was a huge pile of stones. At the base, a bruised and broken hand was exposed and blood was spreading onto the carpet.

It took workers several minutes to clear the stones under which was found the crushed body of Jonah.

Oddly, even while the stones were being cleared, from time to time, new stones popped into the elevator from out of nowhere.

Across town, as the breakfast group was winding down, Alice continued to toss out random bits of gossip about Jonah, none of it true, but all of it deadly.

She felt very satisfied with herself as she walked out of the restaurant. It was a triumphant day, she thought.

In the parking lot, just as she was unlocking her car, Crack!

Alice went down hard.

* * *

 “...he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone...” (John 8:2-12, ESV).

 “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of...murder...They are gossips, slanderers...ruthless” (Romans 1:29-31, ESV).

 “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them....” (Luke 6:31-36, ESV).


"...with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:37-42, ESV)

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Have you ever been the victim of gossip? Do you believe it’s appropriate to gossip about the past failures of others? Is gossip ever a good thing? Are there things in your past or present that would ruin you if others gossiped about them in public? What are good responses to gossip? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Bible of the Apostles

The Old Testament often gets a bad rap. The stories are said to be unbelievable, excessively harsh, or gruesome.

And some consider much of the Old Testament as being nearly unreadable, Leviticus often being cited as an example, especially in the King James Version.

Besides, many believe, the Old Testament is the old covenant that is supposed to have passed away with all things becoming new in the New Testament.

Having been brain-addled by relentless consumer marketing our entire lives, we are convinced that new is always better than old.

So, if we accept the Bible as worthwhile at all, we revel in the writings of Paul, John, Matthew, Mark, James, Peter, and all the other new, fresher faces behind the New Testament.

If we dabble at all in the Old, it’s merely to sing the poetry of the Psalms and mine wisdom nuggets from Proverbs. Oh, and the Song of Solomon has some good bits that are useful at weddings and such.

In the introduction of his book Christian Faith in the Old Testament: The Bible of the Apostles (Thomas Nelson) Gareth Lee Cockerill points out that when we diss the Old Testament, “Our God shrinks because we no longer see the majesty of his creation, the grandeur of his work in history, or the glory of his salvation in Christ.”

Cockerill then offers up a sweeping foundational overview of the 39 books of the Old Testament in only nine chapters, the final being a brief overview of the New Testament.

He points out that the Old Testament was the Bible for Jesus and his followers, explaining that if it was important to them it should be important to us.

While not a gripping read, the book does help make the Old Testament more accessible and relevant to the non-scholar. Feel free to read it straight through or jump to the chapters covering books and themes you want to know more about.

If you’ve never read the Old Testament in its entirety or are rusty in your appreciation of the Old Testament themes and stories, you may find this book useful and refreshing.

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.




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How much of the Old Testament have you read? What are your favorite Old Testament stories or passages? How often does your pastor preach from the Old Testament?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

We’re all addicts. Time to just say no.

Drugs are in the news every day. Heroin use is on the rise. Addiction is a serious issue. It kills.

And yet there is one addiction problem that’s virtually ignored. One that we’re all impacted by, at least a little bit.

The “drug” involved is free, easy to access, and legally available to anyone who wants it.
 
What is it?

Schadenfreude, the addictive pure essence of “the pleasure one derives from the misfortune of others.”

It’s that sweet secret thrill we get when the guy we view as a jerk doesn’t get that coveted promotion.
 
Or when the woman we view as a stuck-up twit trips and breaks her pointy little nose.
 
Or when the politician we smugly view as an idiot clumsily reaches for a bottle of water.
 
Or when that famous person who believes they are “all that” falls flat on their face and flubs a singer’s name during the Oscars.

Or, basically, when something embarrassing is revealed about someone – anyone – who’s not you, or me.

The drug of schadenfreude can be manufactured even if what’s happened to the other is good.
 
How?
 
By minimizing, discrediting, falsely accusing, misdirecting, lying, bringing up old indiscretions, rumor mongering – by doing or saying anything that will cast another’s reputation or good fortune in a bad light.

You know what I’m talking about. It’s oh so smug-alicisous!

At times like these, it’s time to light up Twitter and all the dark corners of social media, letting the snark fly fast and furious.

After all, all’s fair in love and, well, a hate-fest.

I’m okay but you’re a real BLEEP (you-know-what)

The sad reality of this truth was brutally visible a couple of weeks ago when Kelly Blazek (a recognized senior professional communicator) was exposed by Diana Mekota for dissing Mekota and others (all Millennials) in private emails. (I blogged about the mess here.)

The outrage that resulted was deep and wide and vicious.

As well as a little puzzling.

Thousands of people, from around the world, who were not recipients of any communication from Blazek, not Millennials, not connected to the professional communications practice, not located in northeast Ohio, not in need of a job, not familiar with Blazek or her job bank, joined in to blast, bash, and berate Blazek.

Why?

Simple. While they had no legitimate “skin in the game” as it were, all were happily mainlining pure schadenfreude.

As I stated in my prior post, “anonymity in online forums breeds contemptible behavior.” Even when not being anonymous, social media users can be vile.
 
The irony of their bad behavior was totally lost on those piling it on.

Rather, the recurrent themes used to justifiy burning Blazek at the social media stake included, “It’s karma”, “She’s reaping what she sowed”, “What goes around comes around”, and the like.

When I was a kid and someone pointed at another to embarrass them, a common comeback was, “When you point at others, three fingers are pointing back at you!”

In other words, for every fault we are pointing out or bashing in others, we’ve got a heap of our own that could spill out at any moment making us the bashee. Gah!

Those dishing out crap fail to understand they are also sowing crap they will eventually reap. In spades.

Karma (or whatever you want to call it) is a double-edged sword, with no handle; it cuts both ways.

Hmmm. Maybe it’s more like a circular saw on a pendulum. Anyway…

Imagine there's no place to hide; It's easy if you try

Think of it like this.

Imagine, as John Lennon might say, waking up one day having a speech-balloon, like those used in comics to show conversation, sprouting above your head. And all day, every day, for a week, every single thought that passed through your mind was revealed in the balloon. Every dirty detail. Every mean word. Everything.

“Oh,” but you object, “thinking something is not really bad like saying it or writing it in an email.”

Okay.

Imagine that at the end of a random week, everyone you know and interact with, receives a verbatim transcript of everything you said and wrote during the week prior. Every dirty detail. Every mean word. Everything.

Still not squirming?

Okay.

Imagine that for a week, without your permission or immediate knowledge, everything you thought, said, and wrote was instantly broadcast globally via the Internet. Every dirty detail. Every mean word. Everything.

Ooo. I see that bead of sweat!

Now, in any of the above scenarios, imagine that people reacted to what you thought, said, and wrote, as you have reacted and talked about others.

Would you be met with vehemence, vengeance, and obscenity? Or understanding, kindness, and grace?

In other words, would you get as good (or bad) as you gave? Be karma-lized? Reap fully what you had sown? Get what you deserved?

The Golden Rule is looking pretty good about now, isn’t it?

Sowing good seed

There’s a much better way than shooting the wounded with vile Tweets, posts, and comments.

Since more than one commenter on the Blazek/Mekota affair brought up the “reap what you sow” scenario, it’s only fair to turn to the source of the analogy. In his letter to those pesky Galatians, the Apostle Paul explains the concept:
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:7-10, NIV).
How might this apply in a, say, “secular” situation?

Simple.

If your response to another’s misfortune or good fortune, embarrassment or pride, failure or success, stupidity or wisdom, is fueled by schadenfreude, then that’s what you are sowing and can expect to get back when it’s your turn.

On the other hand if your response is to defend, uplift, applaud, forgive, and repair then you too can expect good things. Or, another way to put it is found in Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (NIV).

The incredibly wise Apostle Paul offers even more good advice in his Galatians communiqué:
  1. Be responsible. While we are entitled to our opinions and have a right to call others out, we have a higher responsibility to serve and protect: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal. 5:13-14, NIV).
     
  2. Be selfless. Maliciously attacking others is ultimately self-defeating: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other…. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (gal. 5:15, 26, NIV).
     
  3. Be forgiving. When someone slips up, the better response is to pick them up and help them rebuild what’s been lost: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1, NIV).
John Lennon summed it up like this:
Instant Karma's gonna get you
Gonna knock you off your feet
Better recognize your brothers
Ev'ryone you meet
Hello, my name is Stephen, and I’m a snarkaholic

When it comes to schadenfreude, we could all use a good strong dose of sobriety.

Instead of lashing out through social media let’s all just say no, using social media as a tool without being a tool when using it.

Whenever we’re on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, or any other social media application, perhaps we can make this our motto and guideline:

Share truth. Be kind. Lift up. Do good.

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A few somewhat related links:
 
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Have you ever been on the receiving end of a social media storm? If so, how did you deal with it? What advice would you offer to those using social media? How do you feel about anonymous commenting online? Share in the comments!