A Conversational Door

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I’ve had a lot of fun at book store signings asking people as they walk by, “What are you reading these days?”  As you can imagine, I get a lot of different answers.

Some will stop with an expression that lights up their face. They’ll mention a book title or an author.  Usually that’s enough to strike up a conversation that is mutually satisfying.

When I asked one man what he was reading, he looked at me as though with x-ray eyes, searching for my thoughts behind my words.  He countered my question without looking at the books or display.

“What are you writing?”

“Christian fiction.”

His brow clouded.  “What does that mean?”

“It means my faith is central to how I understand life, people, things that happen.  I build a story around that, offering it to folks for entertainment, and maybe more.  Maybe someone will find encouragement or hope through my faith perspective.”

“Ah, that’s not for me.  I’m an agnostic.”  He waved his hand as he started turning away.

I shrugged.  “That’s your faith perspective.”

He turned back toward me.  “No, I don’t have a faith.  I don’t believe in a god or any of that.  I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t work for me.”

“Then your faith perspective is that life is hopelessly confusing and without purpose.  It’s all pure chance, or maybe unknowable.  I don’t believe that, so I write from a different perspective.”

He picked up a copy of A Change of Heart and thumbed through it.  “Nah, that’s not for me.”  He put it back on the table.

I reached to shake his hand.  “Maybe not.  Maybe it will be later.  Have a blessed day.”

As he walked away he said over his shoulder, “You, too.”

That was a surprise, perhaps to both of us.  It’s one of the fascinating conversations when I asked “What are you reading these days?”  There have been responses quite the opposite.  Some people have answered very quickly, without even pausing, “The Bible!  That’s all I need!”

Bang!

Gone!

If given a chance I might mention that each of my books is built around a Bible passage.  Sometimes in conversation I reveal that I’m a retired pastor and an artist.  I write from the worlds I know from my own experience.

I believe a book is always a form of conversation.  I write fiction because it gives me the freedom to structure interaction with people around situations, personalities, circumstances, and often decisions that are deeply personal.  All my life I have found in fiction a pathway for validation of my own experiences and reflections in life.  I hope I can help that happen for others.

“What are you reading these days?”  I think I’ll keep asking the question.  There’s nothing like sharing a good read to open a conversational door.  Oh, and often the conversation sells a book or two!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Unstained Spirit

dinkelislandsmalltalk

DSCF6857Years ago my mother gave us a spray bottle containing a formula that has proven stronger than many a stubborn carpet stain.  At the time we had light grey carpeting throughout our house.  No commercial stain remover (short of steam cleaning) came close to hers in maintaining that carpet.

I have thought about that during this holiday season.  Christmas is a stain remover!  It’s a time when we can dare to lift our spirits toward the highest and best, rather than being submerged in fear and despair.

There are so many things happening every day–big things that affect communities and nations–and small things that are private, seemingly invisible.  It’s easy to become stained by fear. Faith frees; fear stifles!  The problem is, you can’t have both at the same time.

Christmas tells us that what really matters is being connected to God’s love, because it overpowers fear.  It defines us…

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Starting on the Right Note!

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For over thirty years Sharon and I have started every year tuned to the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Years Concert.  This year it was fantastic, as always.  We see it as starting the year on the right note.

Music has always been an exciting part of my life.  Two years ago I joined the Chancel Choir at Providence United Methodist Church.  Our crowning achievement came last month when we sang Vivaldi’s “Gloria.” That meant ending the year on the right note.

I often exercise to classical music in the morning.  Frequently I tune it in while driving.  My appreciation goes back to my boyhood years in Cincinnati.  I had a friend, Butch, who lived on the next street over from mine.  His parents were both professional musicians.  They had twin grand pianos in their living room.  I was enthralled hearing them play duets on occasion.

It…

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Starting on the Right Note!

1-IMG_3243

For over thirty years Sharon and I have started every year tuned to the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Years Concert.  This year it was fantastic, as always.  We see it as starting the year on the right note.

Music has always been an exciting part of my life.  Two years ago I joined the Chancel Choir at Providence United Methodist Church.  Our crowning achievement came last month when we sang Vivaldi’s “Gloria.” That meant ending the year on the right note.

I often exercise to classical music in the morning.  Frequently I tune it in while driving.  My appreciation goes back to my boyhood years in Cincinnati.  I had a friend, Butch, who lived on the next street over from mine.  His parents were both professional musicians.  They had twin grand pianos in their living room.  I was enthralled hearing them play duets on occasion.

It isn’t just classical music that moves my spirit.  As a kid I went to sleep every night listening to the WCKY Jamboree, which was western music.  I’ve always loved popular music.

I had an uncle who could play just about any instrument by ear, but he couldn’t read a note.  He inspired me, so I took violin lessons.  The trouble was, practice was boring–and I really wanted to be out playing baseball with the other guys.  I was pretty bad with the violin, so that didn’t last.

Next I tried the piano.  My biggest problem was reading music.  I have good hand-eye coordination for artistic work, but somehow it didn’t cross over to music.  I had trouble coordinating the notes on the page with the keys on the piano.  That didn’t last either.

Then came singing.  After our family moved to a small town in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Nelson Miller, the organist in our small church, felt I had talent.  She taught me all she could about singing.  I sang at church, sang in the high school glee club, sang in the chapel choir overseas in the army, and sang with the Wesley Seminary Singers.

During my years of pastoral ministry I often sang solos, or duets, but seldom actually sang with the choir.  That’s why singing in the choir now is so refreshing in my life.  At Providence Church I’ve gained some skills in reading music and singing expressively.  I’m especially grateful to our director, Margaret Taylor, for her skill and professionalism.  Only she could have gotten me through the “Gloria!”

One song Mrs. Miller taught me to sing was titled, “Without a Song.”  I learned it and loved it.  “Without a song the day would never end, without a song the road would never bend….”  

There’s no better way to start a year, or a day, than with a song and a prayer.  Music tunes my spirit, and God touches me through it.  It always gets me started on the right note!

 

 

An Unstained Spirit

DSCF6857Years ago my mother gave us a spray bottle containing a formula that has proven stronger than many a stubborn carpet stain.  At the time we had light grey carpeting throughout our house.  No commercial stain remover (short of steam cleaning) came close to hers in maintaining that carpet.

I have thought about that during this holiday season.  Christmas is a stain remover!  It’s a time when we can dare to lift our spirits toward the highest and best, rather than being submerged in fear and despair.

There are so many things happening every day–big things that affect communities and nations–and small things that are private, seemingly invisible.  It’s easy to become stained by fear. Faith frees; fear stifles!  The problem is, you can’t have both at the same time.

Christmas tells us that what really matters is being connected to God’s love, because it overpowers fear.  It defines us as unique and special–each one of us.  Much of life revolves around either finding this uniqueness and being empowered by it, or being stained by fear that thrives in the darkness of a stained spirit.

Recently I came across some of my old grade school records. Among them was a report card that triggered emotions I had long ago laid to rest.  I picked up my pen and began to recall the occasion–and how it felt.

A STAINED SPIRIT

Forebodingly my spirit spirit sank with each step as

I plodded ten long blocks home from school.

Duty-bound, I carried a note containing a

future-stifling proclamation:  I had failed!

Failed to measure up.

Failed to earn my way to grade three.

Feet dragging.

Spirit sagging.

It wasn’t fair, I told myself.  It wasn’t right.

All because we’d moved to Clifton’s gas-light

heights.  If only I could have stayed with

the simplicity of the Blue Ash country school.

Now that was gone.

What kind of place was this?

What kind of people these?

What would become of me?

In a world too big for me to comprehend,

a war had just ended.

In my inner world, one had just begun.

What could the future hold for one

so tainted?  My fears were stoked by the

teacher’s note.  “I do wonder,” she wrote,

“whatever will become of Hugh?”

It took years for me to live past that soul-staining sense of failure and unworthiness.  Only God could remove that, and he did!

We all go through soul-staining experiences.  It goes with the territory of human life.  Yet like my mother’s stain remover applied to carpets, God’s love applied to life can lift us out from the most stubborn stains.  It can set us free to try it again, and just maybe, we’ll succeed this time.

God love you, and if you let him, he will give you an unstained spirit.  Trust him!

 

 

 

 

 

The Spelunker’s Gift

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WVA Mountain

He was a middle-aged man of medium build with dark-rimmed glasses and a bald head who literally looked like an egghead.   That was the name my dad unceremoniously assigned to professors and other people he considered to be ‘out of touch’ with average human beings.  To make matters worse, Brad–short for Bradford–was from New England.  His pronunciation of certain words cast an intellectual flavor into his conversations.  Beyond that, he wore an identity that was new to me.  He was a spelunker.

I was seventeen at the time.  Brad was the new owner of the Massanutten Caverns at Keezletown, Virginia.  This cave boasted smallter, more compact features that were similar to those of larger, better-known caves.  Brad and my parents became good friends, which is how I came to learn a little about caves and spelunking.

One spring afternoon I walked in the door after school and there…

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