Monday, February 29, 2016

American Life in Poetry (#Poetry Monday*)

Instead of sharing one of my poems, I want to share a great resource for discovering others’ poetry.

If you enjoy poetry as I do, you’re going to want to sign up to receive the weekly emails from American Life in Poetry from Ted Kooser.

Of all the poetry-sent-via-email services I’ve encountered, this is by far my favorite. Kooser carefully selects each poem and offers a brief intro. And the poems are all brilliant and -- this is the best part -- accessible.

By that I mean they are down-to-earth, evocative, real, vibrant; poems you can understand and relate to. I like these qualities in a poem.

So, here are a couple of recent examples I really liked, as well as all the information you need to go sign-up (click here) for yourself.


American Life in Poetry: Column 570 (2/22/16)

Here's a poem of loss by Jo McDougall, from her collected poems, In the Home of the Famous Dead, from The University of Arkansas Press. Like many deeply moving poems, it doesn't tell us everything; it tells us just enough. Ms. McDougall lives and writes in Little Rock.

This Morning

As I drove into town
the driver in front of me
runs a stop sign.
A pedestrian pulls down his cap.
A man comes out of his house
to sweep the steps.
bright as raspberries.

I turn on the radio.
Somebody tells me
the day is sunny and warm.
A woman laughs

and my daughter steps out of the radio.
Grief spreads in my throat like strep.
I had forgotten, I was happy, I maybe
was humming "You Are My Lucky Star,"
a song I may have invented.
Sometimes a red geranium, a dog,
a stone
will carry me away.
But not for long.
Some memory or another of her
catches up with me and stands
like an old nun behind a desk,
ruler in hand.

Poem copyright ©2015 by Jo McDougall,“This Morning,” from In the Home of the Famous Dead: Collected Poems, (The University of Arkansas Press, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Jo McDougall and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2016 by The Poetry Foundation.

American Life in Poetry: Column 562 (12/8/15)
I love to have people come up to me and say, "You'll never believe what I saw this morning," and then go on to tell me. It's their delight that I like so much. Here's a poem in that vein by Kevin Cole, from the literary journal Third Wednesday. Cole lives in South Dakota.

Deer Fording the Missouri in Early Afternoon

Perhaps to those familiar with their ways
The sight would not have been so startling:
A deer fording the Missouri in the early afternoon.
Perhaps they would not have worried as much
As I about the fragility of it all:
Her agonizingly slow pace, the tender ears
And beatific face just above the water.
At one point she hit upon a shoal
And appeared to walk upon a mantle,
The light glancing off her thin legs and black hooves.
I thought she might pause for a while to rest,
To gain some bearings, but instead she bound
Back in, mindful I suppose
Of the vulnerability of open water.
When she finally reached the island
And leapt into dark stands
Of cottonwoods and Russian olives,
I swear I almost fell down in prayer.
And now I long to bear witness of such things,
To tell someone in need the story
Of a deer fording the Missouri in the early afternoon.

Poem copyright ©2015 by Kevin L. Cole, “Deer Fording the Missouri in Early Afternoon,” (Third Wednesday, Vol. VIII, No. 4, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Kevin L. Cole and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2015 by The Poetry Foundation.

* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. 

Are there poems-by-email services you use and like? What are they? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments! For more information about ALP, go to

Friday, February 26, 2016

Brief review: Thou shouldst enjoyeth this fresh version of ye old classic, Imitation of Christ

I grew up reading the King James Version of the Bible. Sermons, Sunday school classes, small group Bible studies were all KJV-centric.

Until around the 70s. That’s when Ken Taylor’s Living Bible came on the scene.

Before then there were translations available other than the KJV, but, at least in the tiny circle I traveled, they were frowned upon. With the Living Bible, attitudes shifted.

On my own, I discovered and started reading in the New English Bible (NEB) and The Modern Language Bible; The New Berkeley Version (MLV).

Suddenly, old familiar passages took on new, clearer meanings.

Since then I’ve read the Bible in and own several versions. The most recent are the New International Version (NIV), English Standard Version (ESV), and Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

Along with the Bible, there are a few classic texts that have been devotional favorites for decades, even centuries.

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis is a standout. This devotional from the 15th century has been translated into more languages than any other book, except for the Bible.

Written originally in Latin, many of the available English versions are rendered into near-KJV style. Meaning, there are a lot of thees, thous, and -eth endings.

I have a version on my Kindle that claims to be copyrighted in 2015 by à Kempis, which is odd since he died 1471. It cost only 99 cents; don’t judge me.

It’s clearly not a “modern” version and the publisher (Skyros) doesn’t indicate the translator. Such are the vagaries of reprinting public domain books.

I have another “real” copy in my library, which is currently in storage, so I can’t tell you who the publisher or translator is. But I do know it, too, is full of thees, thous, and -eth endings.

And that’s why, I must confess, I’ve never read it, other than a few pages.

But now there’s a fresh alternative!

Christian author James N. Watkins has compiled and edited a new edition of The Imitation of Christ (Worthy Inspired). It is based on William Benham’s 1874 translation.

Not only is the language modern, the book is organized topically into 90 readings under such headings as Loving, Self-Controlled, Forgiving, and Humble.

The structure allows one to use the book for daily meditations, reading straight through or dipping into topics as needed.

At the end of each reading, references to the original locations of the text are offered.

For example, reading 72, “On the Reading of the Holy Scriptures,” is from Book I, Chapter V. In my Skyros edition, the opening paragraph reads:
“It is in truth which we must look for in Holy Writ, not cunning of words. All Scripture ought to be read in the spirit in which it was written. We must rather seek for what is profitable in Scripture, than for what ministereth to subtlety in discourse. Therefore we ought to read books which are devotional and simple, as well as those which are deep and difficult. ”

Okay then.

Watkins more clearly renders this same section:
“We must look for truth in the Holy Bible, not curious concepts. All Scripture should be read in the spirit in which it was written. We must first search for what is profitable for our own spiritual lives rather than mining Scripture for a sermon, talk, or Bible study. We ought to read simple devotional books as well as those that are deep and difficult.”

Frankly, I prefer Watkins’ version. While the content may be deep, the reading of it is not difficult. I like that in a book.

The original is written from the alternating perspectives of “The Christ” and “The Disciple.” Watkins has added these headings to make it clear who is speaking in each passage.

Purists may miss an index correlating the readings in Watkins book to a chronological listing of the original sections. But this is a minor issue.

For those who already love The Imitation of Christ, reading this version will be like moving from the KJV Bible to one of the newer translations. Fresh insights will emerge!

For those, like me, who have been put off by the old-fashioned and archaic language of earlier translations, Watkins’ version offers an opportunity to finally experience a great classic of Christian devotional literature.

Thanks, Jim!

P.S. Not only does it read well, but it's beautifully designed inside and out and would make an excellent gift for any occasion.


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.

you already a fan of The Imitation of Christ? What version are you most familiar with? What other devotional books have you found useful? What other Christian classics are you a fan of? Is there a favorite classic you would like to see in a newer, fresh version? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

By the way, in the spirit of full disclosure, Jim is a long time acquaintance, excellent writer,  and a great guy. You can learn more about him by visiting

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Random thoughts: Enough is really enough. Or should be. (A pretty short post)

“Enough is enough!” is usually a declaration of exasperation.

It tends to hang out with “I’ve had it up to here!”, “I can only take so much!”, and “I’m totally fed up!”

The idea is that whatever is occurring needs to stop.

Most often what needs to stop is something viewed as abusive, excessive, inappropriate, aggravating, annoying, wrong.

Every once-in-awhile on the popular show, Shark Tank, people will come on who have a good product and are earning a decent profit.

They’re doing well. They’re not in debt, sales are good, and, from all appearances, they have enough.

But they’ve decided it’s not enough.

After all, this is America and only bigger is better. If some is good, more is best. Right?

And so they appear before the investors and ask for help to get more.

But not all really have a product or service that is viewed as spreadable, as it were. Some of these business are addressing tiny niche markets or are more local or regional in flavor.

In other words, they are enough for what they are. They are successful and profitable.

And yet, those behind these businesses want more. To be bigger. To be a larger brand. To be little moguls of industry.

Greed drives businesses to expand, to grow market share, add (expendable) people, and ultimately create a non-sustainable situation.

So, later, human “resources” are shed, the company shrinks, executives keep their yachts, and those let go struggle to take care of their families.

More isn’t always better for everyone.

If, instead, CEOs and other company leaders took a true “enough is enough” approach, then, perhaps, they would hire only enough people to maintain a reasonably profitable company. A company where everyone had an opportunity to work with dignity and earn enough to meet their needs and keep the company comfortably afloat for decades.

Of course, there are always those greedy shareholders who demand more. But that’s a different discussion.

C. S. Lewis wrote, “Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more a result of Pride.”

Wow. That’s a different spin.

Lewis further states, “If I am a proud man, then, as long as there is one man in the whole world more powerful, or richer, or cleverer than I, he is my rival and enemy.”

Now it comes closer to home. Closer to my heart and yours.

We want more money. Nicer clothes. A bigger house. A newer car. More influential friends. A better spouse. A huge church that makes us feel good about ourselves.

And so we compete with those around us. Often when they are completely unaware there is any competition.

We seek to outwit, outplay, outlast others as we grasp for more and more. Always worrying that others have more and we don’t have enough.

Those who are not for us in this endeavor are expendable. Stuff becomes a means to an ever shifting end game.

Jesus cautioned us to not worry about our lives, our needs (Matthew 6:25-34). He explained that worry adds nothing to our lives. Nada. Zip.

The Greek word used for “worry” in the passage includes in its meaning “to be anxious, to be troubled with cares, to seek to promote one’s interests.”

To these, Jesus says, “Don’t!”

In Philippians, Paul reminds us clearly, “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:18-19, HCSB).

This echoes what Christ stated in Matthew, where He concludes, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

In other words, enough is enough. Or should be.

Is it in your life?

I could go on, but I think that’s enough for now.

Are you satisfied with who you are, what you have in life? Why or why not? How much time and energy do you expend to get more? Whenever you’ve gotten the “more” you were after, was it enough? How did it make you feel? Good? Or did you just keep going after more? Is there any situation when you believe going after more is good? Explain. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Looking beyond the red letters to hear the Trinity talking. (A very short post)

A lot of people own “red letter” Bibles. These are editions where the words Jesus spoke as reported in the New Testament are printed in red.

That’s nice but misses an essential point about the Bible.

It’s often easy to determine who does and does not understand the Bible and the story it’s truly conveying.

Quoting verses out of context, misunderstanding the original intent of a passage, focusing only on the red letters, ignoring historically accepted interpretations, and so on.

For example, a common claim among those supporting same-sex marriage is to claim that Jesus never addressed it. There’s nothing on the topic in red letters.

Therefore, because they believe Jesus was silent on the topic, they wrongly assume either He didn’t care or it was no big deal.

Often,  in countering this false assessment, some put forth the idea that the issue of same-sex relationships had already been settled within the Jewish religious culture at the time, and therefore Jesus didn’t need to address it.

This is a sound argument and may be true, but it’s not the clincher.

We need to look beyond the red letters.

What many miss is this: Yes, indeed, Jesus did address the issue of same-sex relationships. And it’s recorded in the Bible, in the Old and the New Testaments.

Just not in red.

The whole Bible is God’s Word. It’s His revelation of Himself to us as well as guidance for how we are to live in His presence.

The Bible also affirms the reality of the Trinity, which is, to put it very simply, one God, three co-equal expressions: God, the Father; God, the Son; God, the Holy Spirit.

Or, to put it another way, when one speaks, they all are speaking, because they are one.

Within Christian orthodoxy it is acknowledged that the Old Testament clearly reveals the work of Christ as part of the Trinity before He was born as a person on earth. This is further affirmed in the New Testament.

Paul puts it like this:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For everything was created by Him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17, HCSB).

From the beginning, the Three-in-One God was, is, and will be. Father. Son. Holy Spirit.

So, simply put, anywhere in God’s Word -- the Bible -- where there are clear mandates against same-sex relationships, it is as much Jesus speaking as it is God and the Holy Spirit speaking (see Genesis 1:27-31; 2:24; 19:1-13; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9).

When reading your Bible, don’t just see red. See it all.

When you read the Bible, do you think in terms of hearing from Jesus and the Holy Spirit, or primarily just God? Why or why not? Are there other topics you are aware of where it’s claimed Jesus was silent about, yet are addressed elsewhere in Scripture? Give some examples. Do you agree or disagree that the Bible is the voice of the Trinity? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Word. Image. Voice. (A very short post)

Word. Image. Voice. For me, these three words have long been associated with writing. How? Let’s consider them in reverse order.

Voice ... 

Often referred to as style or tone or slant. It relates directly to the human voice in communication. Every author has a distinct “voice” that we “hear” when we read their writings. And they will also evoke different tones of voice from one piece to another, depending upon the genre, subject, context, audience, and medium. Yet, even as the tone and slant differ, a writer’s distinct voice can still be discerned.

Image ... 

We often think in images before we enunciate meaning into words. Imagery, metaphor, similes, personification, hyperbole, and all figures of speech create the image behind every message. Good writing, regardless of  purpose, makes good use of strong images. Understanding is enhanced by the evocation of a clear image or set of images that engage both the mind and emotions.

Word ... 

Words are the essence of intelligent communication. The words chosen and how they are arranged will determine and give life to the voice of the writer. In writing, images are created and animated through the careful use of just the right words. 

Anyone can put words on paper, but not everyone can truly write! (But they can learn. Sometimes.)

A piece that needs “fine tuning” often has a murky voice (or tone or slant). An item that isn’t “clear” may lack well-drawn images, or mix conflicting images. Fixing these elements calls for the rearrangement (rewriting, reorganizing) and reselection (editing) of the words used.

When the right words deliver strong images in a convincing and credible voice -- that’s powerful and effective writing at work!

How’s yours?

Do you struggle to write clearly? Why do you think that is? Do you believe these tips can help you? Do you write well? How can you tell? Are there other tips you have found helpful? Please share in the comments!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Team!: The good, bad & ugly of common sense (A very short post)

Common sense is defined, in part, as “native good judgment.”

So what sense is it when the native’s are restless?

Just because something becomes culturally mainstream does not make it good or right, just ubiquitous.

(Starbucks is an exception. It is good.)

Teamwork is a perennial popular buzzword, and, we’re reminded, there is no “I” in teamwork.

The individual subsumes to the group. It’s a cultural virtue; practically a mandate.

Read 1 Kings 18:16-39, the story about Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal.

Elijah’s actions were culturally out of step and devoid of “common” sense.

Instead of acceding to the team, he took a stand as an individual.

Rather than hoping for more common sense, maybe our prayer should be,

“God grant me the determination to dwell in your Word;
the courage to confront what is counter to it;
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

When common sense isn’t informed by a biblical worldview, it’s probably not a good thing. Although mainstream common sense seems to eschew all things holy, avoiding even the appearance of religion. How do you define common sense? When have you seen it in action in a good way? In a bad way? Please share your common sense thoughts in the comments!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Survey says! "Most people" will [__] like*, [__] agree with*, [__] share* this post! (Please check all that apply. * = required field.)

I was watching Bernie Sanders talking with Stephen Colbert the other night, and it struck me how often Sanders started sentences with, “Most people....”

As I listened, I realized we’re hearing this a lot these days.

Politicians, pundits, candidates, and others are making claims that “Most people” think a certain way, like certain things, feel a certain way, believe certain things, want the country to go a certain direction.

I listen and think, “I had no idea that’s what I was feeling!”

They’re saying stuff like, “Most people are angry with the establishment.”

Or, “Most people don’t trust Muslims.”

Or, “Most people want to see a wall go up.”

Or, “Most people want to see Obamacare repealed.”

Or, “Most people love Obamacare.”

Or, “Most people support women’s right to choose.”

Or, “Most people are misogynists.”

As you can tell, “Most people” seem to be very conflicted and double-minded, like waves tossed to and fro!

Of course, the point of view as to what “Most people” think and believe varies among those making the observation.

Which should make us all wonder, how do any of these people really know what “Most people” think?

I mean, who are they really talking about? Or to?

Is it “Most people” who were in the same room with them at a certain point in time?

“Most people” who happened to answer their phones while eating dinner and agreed to take a poll?

“Most people” they sat near on their recent flight out of Iowa?

“Most people” who are still friends with them on Facebook?

And how many people make up these “Most people” groups?

Is it “Most people” out of the 3 or 4 that bought coffee while they were standing in line at Starbucks?

Or, “Most people” out of 100 they shook hands with yesterday?

Or, “Most people” of the dozen in their family who showed up for Christmas dinner last year and stayed sober enough to have a rational conversation with after?

Usually, when someone is making a “Most people” claim, there is the assumption that some sort of poll took place. That there was an organized, intentional effort to contact a certain number of people, ask them the same questions, and tally their responses.

Polls are a big deal during election seasons.They are supposed to be sure-fire proof as to how the “Most people” winds are blowing from one minute to the next.

But again, it’s often not clear who these “Most people” are who have taken these polls.

Think about it.

No pollster in America can ask every single other person in America what they think about a given topic.

Basically, only a few people from a set sampling who are called actually answer the phone and then agree to answer every one of the poll questions.

From this necessarily tiny sampling result, pollsters then make claims about how everyone -- including all of us who did not participate in the poll -- think, believe, feel.

Three hundred nineteen million (319,000,000) people live in the United States of America.

That would mean that 51% of the population would need to agree to make a “Most people” group.

In other words, to be able to legitimately say “Most people in America like Doritos,” at least 159,900,001 would have to confirm that they indeed did like Doritos.

(And, yes I do like Doritos. Very much. Sorry NARAL.)

Otherwise, we’re merely speculating. Projecting. Extrapolating. Assuming. Guessing.

Which is pretty much the case with any poll about anything ever.

After all, to sample just one percent (1%) of the population would mean talking to three million one hundred ninety thousand (3,190,000) people. Who’s got the time? Or the money?

No pollster will go to the expense or trouble to attempt such a feat. It’s just not practical.

So, a small sampling are called, of those a smaller number are chosen, and then the results are parsed, sorted, algorithmatized, fudged, stretched, spun, and spat out. It's all so, Calvinistic.

“Most people” should agree that most polls are generally very suspect.

Still, as long as the poll-quoters present their claims in an authoritative manner, using a soothing mellifluous voice, and a keeping a reasonably straight face, most people will say, “Yep, that’s what I thought, too!” and fall in line.

Sadly, it’s what “Most people” too often do.

Even those of us who are included in the poll slop-trough of “Most people” do the same thing on our own.

At coffee with our friend, we blithely state, “Well, you know, ‘Most people’ think Starbucks coffee tastes burnt.” Then we nod our head like a bobble-sage and primly sip our Starbucks vanilla two-pump extra shot latte.

If pressed as to who these “Most people” are we’re referring to, after some feigned threats of bottled-water-boarding, we’d finally confess that of the 5 people at last night’s Bible study, the 2 we talked to while we were in the host’s kitchen getting coffee seemed to believe that Starbucks coffee tasted burnt.
At least, as best as we can at this time recollect.

When further pressed, we aren’t clear as to how the topic came up in the previous night’s conversation. Or even what the topic of the Bible study was. We think it had something to do with Jonah. Perhaps. Who knows? Weren’t we talking about coffee?

The Bible says if we lack wisdom, we can just ask for it from God and He’ll give it to us (James 1:5).

Seems like “Most people” aren’t asking.

I guess “Most people” don’t know they need it. Wisdom, that is.

After all, that’s what we have polls for.

If you are currently steadfastly throwing your support behind a specific candidate, why? What exactly are they saying that you are putting your faith and trust in? Do you readily believe poll results? Why or why not? Do you regularly ask God for wisdom? If so, about what kinds of things? Please share your thoughts in the comments! 

And please vote for my book by offering a small contribution to help me get it published. “Most people” would think this is a great idea!

Just for fun: Listen to this Randy Newman song and think “Most people instead of Short People and it still works. Now, every time you hear someone say Most people” this tune will come to mind. You’re welcome: 


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda, badda-bing badda-boom: Politics, religion, business, jargon & buzzwords (Or, speak clearly and put down the shtick.)

It’s election season and the air is filled with the headiness of empty promises and even emptier buzzwords and jargon.

Obfuscation rules.

In other words, the straightest line to a not-exactly-the-truth is through the spin and fog of jargon and buzzwords.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (AHD) defines buzzword as “A word or phrase connected with a specialized field or group that usually sounds important or technical and is used primarily to impress laypersons. A stylish or trendy word or phrase.”

When I was immersed in the corporate world -- and for some reason a line from an old hymn, “years I spent in vanity and pride,” suddenly came to mind -- my days were often awash in jargon and buzzwords.

Every industry, every group, every social milieu has their unique “insider” technical terms.

In fairness, most of these are legitimate terms that can be useful for communication within these groups.

I’m not that kind of switch

For example, when I first started working at AT&T many years ago it was essentially as a writer and editor. More specifically, a technical writer and editor. Even more specifically, a PI.

No, that doesn’t stand for private investigator, although that was a function of our job. It means “proposal integrator.” Basically, we collected all the various bits and pieces (inputs) from the SMEs (subject matter experts) that went into a proposal, edited them, and “integrated” them into a cohesive document.

My first day on the job I was shown to a bare cubicle wrapped awkwardly around a pillar and given a stack of paper to copy-edit. The paper was for a huge proposal to Telmex for a complex telecommunications system.

One of the first unique terms I came across was something about a 5ESS Switch. My idea of a switch was a light switch on the wall. A 5ESS is not that.

From there, it only got worse. I literally went home that night, and in tears, cried out to God, “How in the world can I edit something when I have no iota of a clue what it means!”

True story. Slightly edited.

Added to the challenge of legitimate technical terms was the superabundance of acronyms. Every piece of equipment, every process, every group, every role and more was expressed as an acronym. Worse, many acronyms could have multiple meanings.

Don’t even get me started on the multiple meanings of ATM!

Since many of the SMEs who were providing text for the proposals only referenced the acronym, my challenge as the PI was to sniff out the specific meaning based on the context. Given that much of the context consisted of technical jargon and more acronyms...well, you get the idea.

This is not an uncommon subject matter enigma. (See what I did there?)

The arcanity of the long-distance theologian

I love to read books of or about theology. Usually. But even theology has its cryptic challenges.

Not too long ago I Tweeted this: “If the book you’re reading is full of weird terms & Latin phrases, it must be theology.”
Take these popular theology-centric words, for example: dispensationalism, modalism, Urim and Thummim, doxological, exegesis, sacerdotalism, eisegesis, soteriology, monergism, hermeneutics, sola gratia, eschatology, socinianism, dittography, ex nihilo, monophysitism.

How many do you know? Even spell-check gets all squiggly and red when it encounters many of these!

I thank God for the Internet and online resources such as the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry / Dictionary of Theology. Whenever I’m reading theology, nearly every page yields at least one word I need to look up. Even if I “know” what the term means, I often still look it up just to be sure.

But that’s okay.

There’s no problem as long as these specialized terms are being used to communicate within the group where they have meaning.

The problem comes when they creep outside where they are confused, misused, and seldom well-defined.

Meaning and intent can get slippery.

The dizzy merry-go-round of the zone of spin

Buzzwords are often born when legitimate technical terms are taken outside of where they belong.

I have a PhD in gobbledygook

The least harmless offense is when someone is trying to impress someone else and does it by over-using the unique language of their supposed area of expertise.

Those inside the camp recognize it as showing off,  those outside the camp are too often impressed yet unenlightened.

In an article lamenting, in part, obfuscatory writing in the humanities, Bruce Cole offers this prime example of academic-ese:
“Writing this book, I came to see the new scholar subject as a performative of passionate singularity, hybrid materiality and networked relationality. This is one sense in which the humanities scholar that is becoming is possibly posthuman, and a posthumanist scholar. The locus of thinking, for the prosthetically extendable scholar joined along the currents of networked relationality, is an ensemble affair.”

Of course! Right? Ugh.

No real people were harmed (as far as I know) by this unfortunate turn of wording. But it is pointless effort to write like this.

Let’s iron out a few things

A recent example of an insider term that’s slipped out is the use of “presser” for “press conference.” Presser is cropping up more and more, especially on cable TV news.

While presser is a perfectly fine term for reporters to use among themselves, it is not a word that should be used when they are talking to you and me. For us, it’s a press conference.

Using presser is essentially lazy and a little arrogant.

Frankly, the term sounds like a combination ironing board and dresser. Think about it.

It can also be confused with a meet and greet where people press the flesh!

My advice to all journalists everywhere is to keep presser to yourselves, and in your viewer- or reader-directed reporting, use press conference.

Moving forward toward the heuristic reciprocal time-phase

A little less-than-harmless is when those inside the camp truly believe and think and therefore always write in their insider language, thus rendering everything in buzzword-ese.

This happens a lot in business management. Scott Adams, the man behind Dilbert, has done a lot to expose this nonsense. Sadly, being exposed hasn’t put an end to it.

What prompted this post is my coming across an old file from my AT&T days. It perfectly characterizes the foolishness of business buzzwords. I share it below for your amusement. I’m sure you could add several “new and improved” buzzwords to the list.
Hey! Want to sound knowledgeable and business-savvy in that next memo?
Here's just the thing you need.
Now your memos can make as much sense as those that come down from top! Impress you co-workers and make your Senior Management wonder how you got so smart so fast!
To create that perfect buzzworded phrase, take one word from each of the columns below and link them together. It's easy and fun. For example, 3-6-7 produces "systemized logistical scenarios."
Wow! Doesn't that just send "heuristic reciprocal time-phase" chills up and down your spine?
No one will have the vaguest idea of what you're talking about -- and that will make them really nervous.
They'll have to promote you just to keep an eye on you! Start churning out those memos today!
1. Integrated
2. Heuristic
3. Systematized
4. Parallel
5. Functional
6. Responsive
7. Optional
8. Synchronized
9. Compatible
10. Futuristic
1. Management
2. Organizational
3. Monitored
4. Reciprocal
5. Digital
6. Logistical
7. Transitional
8. Incremental
9. Next Generation
10. Policy
1. Options
2. Flexibility
3. Change
4. Capability
5. Solutions
6. Mobility
7. Scenarios
8. Time-Phase
9. Projection
10. Contingency 

The seemingly loopy lingo of faith

Beyond theology, the Christian church is also plagued with its own obscure everyday language. I’m not referring to “tongues” either!

I tackled this topic in a 2011 post, “It’s all Glossolalia to me!: Speaking in tongues in plain English.” In the post I explained:
“I grew up speaking ‘Christianese.’ It’s the language we used when talking about the Bible, church, Jesus, God, and all things religious. In fact, anyone who has been a Christian for a few years tends to speak Christianese. It comes natural.”

“Much of Christianese is an adaptation of snippets from Scripture [often KJV] strung together as needed. If you don’t know the Bible or have never been to church, you most likely won’t understand Christianese.”

There’s even an online dictionary for this language: Dictionary of Christianese!

The insider language of our faith, especially taken out of context, provides a lot of fodder for comedians and others.

It also doesn’t do a lot for clear communication. And when sharing our faith, being clear is essential. If we employ insider faith-terms, we should be able to clearly define them to those with whom we are sharing.

In fact, even when speaking with other Christians, it’s important to clarify your terms because meanings shift from one part of the body to another. If you catch my meaning.

An obfuscated faith is a useless faith.

And now, my point!

Language is fun and malleable. When we talk with each other, we should strive to be clear and coherent.

When listening to others -- especially right now, to politicians -- we should be willing to dig into their words to get at their real meanings. We should press them to explain what they mean, why they’re saying what they are saying, and how they are going to accomplish what they’re promising.

We should also be astute to recognize spin. To see past the surface of a message. To be willing to look behind the curtain of endless words. What’s behind them? More shallow messaging or a real person with solid ideas?

And when we encounter someone who, even when pressed for more, only speaks in buzzwords, flippant phrases, high-sounding tautologies, and sweet-sounding scripted stump-speech snippets, we should be immediately skeptical.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, but is filled with hot air, it’s not a duck. It’s very likely a wolf disguised as a duck.

In other words, this election season, caveat suffragator!

I mean, let the voter beware.

Additional resources:

What kinds of jargon have you encountered in your line of work? Have you ever been stumped by jargon or buzzwords? Have you ever misused a buzzword thinking it meant one thing when it meant another? Do you think jargon and buzzwords are a problem in communication, or do they actually help keep things clear? By all means expound upon your mental formulations in the area allowed for obiter dictum. I mean, please share your thoughts in the comments!

Just for fun:

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Sisyphus dilemma. So close & yet so far...

Remember Sisyphus?

He was the guy in Greek mythology who was condemned to eternally push a rock up a hill only to have it roll back down.

The rock never stayed. Never went over the other side. Never moved on.

Just up....almost....almost....almost......then back down.

Think about it. Feel the strain. Feel the mounting hope. Feel the sense of, “Maybe, just maybe, this time....”

Then, Boom!, back down the boulder rolls. Back down Sisyphus goes. And it all starts again.

Up. Down. Up. Down. Just to the cusp. But never over.

Can you relate?

Have you ever set a goal and started pushing through? Made progress? Had your hopes rise? And then, Boom!, back to square one. Or so it feels.

Something. Some circumstance outside of your control impedes your progress.


Of course, there’s the old saw that if you can’t go ahead, just go through or over or around or under, etc., etc.

I doubt Sisyphus was encouraged by such verbal memes.

Sometimes, stuck is stuck.

And right now, I’m stuck.

Initially I was really encouraged and grateful (and still am). The response was tremendous and humbling, especially since it was really hard for me to ask. For help. Which I do not like to do. Ask for help.

But which I’m doing again. Now. Because it seems the stone rolled back down the hill.

Yes, I’m talking about the help I need to get my book, The Hungering Dark: A Story into print.

As I’ve mentioned before*, there are two critical pieces I need help with: editing and marketing expenses.

Editing is especially important and is the first priority, the first hill to get the boulder over.

A good edit is going to cost at least $2,000. So far, we’ve raised $835 (for which I’m truly very grateful!).

To move ahead with just the editing, we need to raise at least another $1,200.*

But together we can!

Right now, if only 30 people extend a helping hand at just $40 each, we’d push this boulder over the top of this first hill in no time!

Won’t you help me? When you join the team at $40, you’ll get a signed paperback copy of the book when it’s published.

Of course, you’re welcome to come on board for any amount, and there are several suggested levels, each including a book or two.

Go to to help get me unstuck and to learn more about the book.

Help me bring The Hungering Dark: A Story to light!

Please give and join the team today! Or please share this post with others and invite them to join us today!

(And keep the lights on!)

Thank you.

*Additional resources:

Please feel free to ask any questions, share ideas, offer your suggestions, and pass along any thoughts you may have in the comment section. And, of course, please visit to offer your support of my book project!

* UPDATE: I've lowered my goal from $5000 to $3500. The person who will be editing the book has given me a *very* generous break on the cost, so my needs are less. Yay! And I know she'll do a great job; I've worked with her before. So, we're moving forward. Thanks again for your support!

Just for fun:

Friday, February 5, 2016

To paraphrase Edwin Starr, “Pain! Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely somethin’”

This is a devotional I wrote in 2005
for an email newsletter.

reposted here with minor edits.

We are a culture bent on pain relief. At the first twinge of discomfort we look for a quick and easy way to dull it.

Medicating physical pain is not a bad thing; there’s nothing wrong with taking an aspirin to relieve a headache.

Even anti-depressants have their place. But mindlessly numbing spiritual or emotional pain too quickly can be counterproductive. Pain can have a purpose.

Years ago, searching for a reliable Christian therapist to help me work through an unexpected divorce and related issues, there was one I went to only briefly.

He was obviously biased against people of faith (and yet a “Christian” therapist!), as well as afflicted with a Gordian knot of his own unresolved issues (yes, even therapists have issues!).

But he did offer one piece of true and valuable advice: Don’t avoid your pain; sit in it and feel it fully.

I’m not aware of anywhere in the Bible where we are admonished to run from, avoid, deny, or otherwise neutralize pain at all costs. Yet so much of what we chase after in the name of faith, peace, and blessing has to do with exactly that.

Without any thought, whatever we suspect as causing us pain or discomfort is tossed away, avoided, or walked away from, whether it’s a person, a truth, or an event.

The irony here is that, desperate to avoid pain in ourselves, we often inflict unjust pain on others.

Is this Christ-like? Does this jibe with the wisdom and teachings of Paul? Is it the experience of the primary characters in the Bible?

Most important, is this how Father God deals with us -- His biggest pains in His you know what?

No! He is patient, loving, forgiving, comforting. He walks with us through our pain.

To comfort is to cheer and encourage. It involves the dispelling of grief through the impartation of strength, not the removal of pain.

Others can’t relieve my personal pain, but in standing with me I can draw on their strength to endure; I can lean on them for support.

As the saying goes, sometimes God calms the storm and other times He calms us in the storm. Either way, there is still pain to be dealt with.

Comfort acknowledges the legitimacy of pain and the wisdom and insight it imparts.

So what is God’s purpose in pain? Responded to in a healthy manner, pain can sensitize us to the troubles of others, allowing us to become better ministers of God’s grace and comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (HSCB) explains it like this:
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is experienced in your endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will share in the comfort.”

Note: The tense is present not past when referring to troubles, distresses, and sufferings, which are just different words for pain.

Pain can also point us to imperfections we need to purge from our lives or areas of weakness that need to be strengthened.

James puts it like this: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4, HSCB).

By sitting in our pain and letting it fully wash over us, we can more clearly see how our own actions and reactions have fueled our own hurt or other’s.

And when it comes as a consequence of our own sin, after being refreshed by God’s grace and forgiveness, we can better carry out the command in Colossians 3:13-14 (HCSB) to “[Bear with] one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity..”

The reality is that pain avoided is actually only pain delayed. It is pain that, while temporarily numbed, will still cripple us in persistent and subtle ways. As one person put it, avoiding pain is sort of like trying to hold a bunch of basketballs underwater.

Pain patiently endured and fully experienced teaches us how to be merciful without sacrificing people, relationships, or experiences that God has provided to us (Hosea 6:6).

It leads us not just to true and total healing, but to the awareness of our own desperate need for God’s grace in our lives moment by moment. It keeps us humble, fills us with gratitude, and enables us to be more caring toward others.

We can let go of the basketballs and watch them float away, allowing us to focus our energies on better things.

Being in pain can open us more fully to the presence and voice of God:
“God rescues the afflicted by their affliction; He instructs them by their torment” (Job 36:15, HCSB).

Pain refines and purifies: “[Pain has come] so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in[a] praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7, HCSB).

Pain yields multiple benefits: “And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.  This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, HCSB).

If you’re in pain, don’t run from it. Sit, and let it run its course in you. Allow the Holy Spirit to comfort you and teach you in your pain.

Take what you learn and use it to comfort others. Over time, you will experience genuine healing, real blessing, and true peace with God no matter what affliction surfaces next.

Better things come from being broken than being hard.
“But [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak [in pain], then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, HCSB).

Do you embrace, avoid, or run from pain? Why? Has the pain that did not kill you truly make you stronger? How or why not? When going through a painful period, what is the best and worst advice you received? What is the most memorable comfort you have received when in pain? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Just for fun:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Undone, unmoored, taken apart, scattered, broken & okay

Have you ever been undone?

Hearing the word “undone” probably evokes an image of an unbuttoned button or an undercooked cake.

But neither of these even gets close to the meaning of the word. At least not how I think of it.
The prophet Isaiah used it when he was confronted with a vision of God in glory:
“Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (KJV).
Other translations use the word “ruined” instead of “undone.”

The original Hebrew can be rendered “to be dumb or silent, to fail or perish, to be destroyed, cease, be cut down (off), destroy, be brought to silence, be undone, utterly” (

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “undone” as “to reverse or erase, annul, to untie, disassemble, to cause the ruin or downfall of, to throw into confusion; unsettle, to unravel.”

Now we’re getting to it.

Ground control, we’ve got a problem

Another word akin to “undone” is “unmoored.”

Imagine an astronaut doing a spacewalk and his lifeline comes disconnected. He goes off into the blackness of space -- unmoored -- as the spacecraft he had been attached to goes off in a different direction.

Or, imagine, being adrift, alone, in the middle of the ocean, nothing but you and water for miles.

I’ve gone through experiences where I felt disassembled, unraveled, utterly undone. As if my life, my beliefs, my sense of self was taken apart and tossed on the floor in complete disarray.

They weren’t fun times. But such times reveal new meaning to the idea of picking up the pieces of one’s life.

These were times when someone I cared deeply about turned their backs and walked away.

Or when that person not only walked away but took someone especially dear to me with them, keeping them away from me as well.

Or when a job I loved and thought I’d retire from ended abruptly through no fault of my own.

Or when a parent, a very close friend, or other special relative died unexpectedly.

Or when someone I trusted, suddenly and for no clear reason, turned on me and disparaged me to others.

In these moments I felt unmoored and undone utterly.

A million little pieces & counting

A couple of times, the impact was so intense and thoroughgoing I felt as if everything I thought I knew and believed to be true was being relentlessly dissembled, like a building being taken apart brick by brick, piece by piece.

In every situation, recovery came.

Little by little the pieces came back together. And the result has been a stronger more firm foundation.


Because God.

“Hang in there” isn’t advice just for kittens

I don’t mean to be trivial. But in every one of the toughest, most despairing and seemingly hopeless times I’ve endured, I weakly, stubbornly, and helplessly leaned on God.

There was no neat formula. No clear steps. In fact, each time was a little different and probably pretty ugly and messy to watch.

Painfully and clumsily, each time, I learned and relearned the meaning of “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, HCSB).

I guess it’s easy to lay down one’s life when someone else lays it down for you!

I’m not sure why I’m writing this other than the word “undone” came up recently and it stuck in my head and heart. I’m assuming the Holy Spirit is behind this and that someone reading this needs it.

Whoever you are, whatever you’re enduring, know this: Hard times end, eventually. God’s grace is sufficient, endlessly.

Of the hard situations I’ve endured, the effects of some continue. And because of this, there is ongoing hurt. Hurt that I take to the Lord every day and say, “Please hold this for me.”

And He does. He’s faithful and loving like that.

Because God cares I can go on. I “have a life.” And in this life, despite the pain that lingers, there is love, joy, hope, and a future.

During one really bad time, someone said a seemingly trite and stupid thing to me. They shared that lame adage about when you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot it in and hang on.

But they went further saying, “Today, you feel as if you can’t go on. Remember this moment six months from now.”

It was more than six months later that their words suddenly came back to me. I had gone on! I was going on! My life, as crappy as it felt then, was much better now!

Looking back makes going forward easier

Now, recalling those impossibly hard times, knowing that I survived, gives me strength when new hard times show up.

I know that because God was faithful then, He’ll be faithful today, and tomorrow, too.

Paul reminds us, “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; you were called by Him into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:1-9, HSCB).

And also, “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, HSCB).

Being a Christian does not mean life will be without challenges. God gave you and me and everyone around us free will. Sometimes the way we use that free will is stupid, selfish, and hurtful. Which sucks for all involved.

But through it all, God is there. He’s got my back and He’s got yours.

Lean in, hang on, press through

A former pastor who walked with me through one hard episode, every time he saw me would encourage me with two simple words: “Lean in.”

While some run away from God or push Him away when they’re hurting, the better response is to get closer to Him. Lean in. Get tight. And hang onto Him for dear life.

In each instance where I felt undone and unmoored, the reality above the emotional turmoil was that God had me in His hand.

That’s true for you, too. Feelings lie. God is always true.

If you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. No matter how painful and messy life gets, lean in.

And six months from now, let me know how you’re doing.

Have you ever felt “undone” or “unmoored”? How did you get through it? What was helpful? What was unhelpful? When did you realize you’d survived and were moving on? What did you learn? Have you been able to help others as a result of your struggles? Did you faith get stronger? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Just for fun, this old song came to mind as I was working on this post:

Monday, February 1, 2016

Litter (#Poetry Monday*)
Evening in the backyard,
in the half dark,
an empty white bag jerks
like a small animal
along the fence on
the neighbor’s side, a ghost
of someone’s past shopping spree.

With each gust of warm air
it strains nearer to the spot
where the groundhog
comes through.

The bag is stymied and stuck
as it expands and contracts
with the breathing of the wind,
ebbing and flowing.

Until in the morning,
there it is,
on the other side of the fence,
on the opposite side of our yard!


Perhaps the groundhog came along
and gave it a boost?
Perhaps the neighbor tossed it rudely
across the fence?
Perhaps the wind shifted
to lift instead of merely inflate?

Perhaps the bag
       for one moment
              did come alive!


But there it goes again!

Gone. With the wind,
sailing white and full
against the now bright blue
morning sky.


* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. 

When you see a bag flying around in a yard or on the street, does it seem like it is alive? Yes? No? If not, does it seem like anything other than an empty bag? What does this poem say to you? Anything? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

This poem is included in this collection: