Monday, November 28, 2011


The guy I’m growing old with signs up for a Medicare drug coverage plan and then he leaves the house to go fly his airplane. The phone starts to ring:

Hello my name is (didn’t catch that, no matter), how are you today? I’m calling from (good grief, his drug plan has a name a paragraph long) to verify (yada yada yada, no breath) this call will take five minutes (still no breath) is now a good time for you to take this call? (Let’s get it over with, yes, YES!) You must answer yes or no to each question, can we get started? (By all means, I mean, YES!)
What follows is painful.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Stage vs. Street Performance

Public displays of strong feelings make me nervous, especially when people take to the streets.  I prefer rage delivered in short bursts from a stage. I suppose the street is a stage of sorts, but watching trained actors reveal studied emotions touches my heart. Seeing people chant on cue and shout into a camera lens, not so much.

Actors are people who understand the motives of the characters they portray. They play out their drama for calculated effect. If I am devastated, it is the contract I made when I bought my ticket. When the performance is nuanced, I will learn something new about the world and about myself. My heart will be changed.
 To effect real transformation, hearts must change. To my mind, that is more likely to happen in a theater or a house of worship than in the street.

Not that some protestors don’t have a legitimate grievance. They want a piece of an overpriced pie that some (1%) enjoy and most (99%) can no longer find on the store shelf. However, when the goons in activist’s clothing peel off to go loot and deface stores, I lose the thread of the drama and begin to worry about welfare of the people who work in those stores. When people shout into a video camera, “You have to give me money!” they don’t move me, they just scare me. When students who borrowed huge amounts of money to attend pricey four-year colleges don’t believe they should have to pay it back that just motivates me to ask: “Didn’t you do the math on that?” Even in the best economy that’s not smart.
I care deeply about people who can’t get a decent start at a job or career they prepared for, doing work that society needs. But I can’t sort them out in the street. Give me two hours in a theater to chew on a well crafted drama that helps me make sense of a situation.

 Throwing a brick through a window may be cathartic but while the bricks fly, scores of millionaires in China are making plans to emigrate, and half of them are heading our way. I seriously wonder how that will affect the pie.
The tents are starting to come down, the cameras have moved on to Black Friday, and we are left with a mandate as old as time.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Morning Rush

A CBS Sunday Morning interviewer caught actress Michelle Williams in a revealing moment of self-awareness when he essentially asked her if she was addicted to adulation. Pain and frustration clouded her blue eyes as she acknowledged her dependence on the affirmation of others. The more that people told her she was doing a good job, the more she needed to hear it. She said it was a constant struggle for her.

 As a writer, I struggle with this same issue. An Editor’s Choice placement in the bi-weekly Faithwriters’ Challenge sends my confidence soaring, but never for long. Two weeks later, when I fail to place in the top ten, the ground pulls away from under my feet. Oh let’s be honest, two hours later I’m surfing the net looking for a contest I can win so I can feel the rush all over again!

A reminder in my morning Bible study pricked my conscience. God expects me to bring the desires of my heart to Him and seek His purpose. It is difficult to ask Christ to fulfill the desire of my heart without confronting this issue: how pure are my motives?

I want to publish my book. My motives are not fortune or fame. Breaking even is desirable, but being acknowledged as a writer worthy of publication is probably closer to my true motivation.  If I am forced to state this in terms that God might approve I would say that I want to produce a work of quality that touches hearts.

Taking our eyes off our approval ratings and placing them on the One who can align our work to His purpose is probably a bigger rush, and one that lasts longer.    

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Remembering Betty Tetzlaff

When Betty was born into the Kingdom the angels congratulated her Father.

“She has your compassion. Look how the tears glisten in her eyes when she tells her friends about the babies in your orphanage in Ethiopia.”
The Father smiled.
“She has your smile too.” The angels gathered around Betty and delighted to watch her read scripture in Sunday morning service, lead the choir in a worship song, bustle in the kitchen before service making coffee for the fellowship time or freshen her flower arrangement on the altar with a new blossom.
 “Yes,” the Father acknowledged, “She has continual praise on her lips.”
“Well she certainly has your energy!”  It was a sweet sound in Heaven as one angel after another chimed in with a story:
Every month she fills her car with bags of groceries from the Food Closet and delivers them to her neighbors who don’t have transportation.
She packs boxes full of diapers and formula and mails them to that orphanage.
She rides the mountain roads with the county sheriff, responding to calls for help.
“And talent, don’t forget that.”  The angels sang softly as one of the saints joined them: I don’t believe there is a person in Betty’s town that doesn’t have a framed card with the spiritual meaning of their name written in her beautiful calligraphy.
“Or their children,’’ added an angel.
“Or their grandchildren!” another one said.
The group began to gather at the gate, joining a party of Betty’s friends, relatives and her beloved Ted. A buzz went through the crowd: The Father has called His daughter Betty home. Look, here she comes!
As Betty entered Heaven, an angel whispered, “Today there is a hole in the heart of her community.” Rising from Earth, the angel heard a sweet Amen.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Birds of Prey

Late morning, a hawk’s shrill victorious shriek slices through the quiet Sierra sky.  Fair warning furry creatures that forage in the field or run on the road. This day your life will be taken from you. From the sky above a quick pounce will stun you. You will be lifted up and split open, your vital organs pecked from the glistening cavity where they nest.

Late evening, an owl’s incessant call strums the moonlit sky like a rhythm guitar. Flurries of bug-inhaling bats escort her down an unmarked aisle. Earthcrawlers cringe under the shadow of her wings.

I love birds of prey! While it is proper for man to control his bloodlust, raptors get a free ticket to indulge their bloody appetites. It’s the balance of nature.

photo by Steve Ryan
Our political landscape changes. The furry animal that is fair game for the carnivore once kept people warm. Sensibilities changed, perhaps around the time that options for keeping warm expanded. Still, no one is likely to suggest a synthetic diet to an owl or an eagle.

These birds command airspace without regulation. They don’t go rogue, they do exactly what’s expected of them -- provide shelter, feed and raise their young. They revel in the updrafts that lift their wings. They take their posts and focus merciless eyes on territory they claim as their own. They are fearless. They are magnificent.

In these confusing times, it lifts my heart to know that there is a creature who knows what its mission is and executes it flawlessly.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Intimate Details

Corruption, depravity, desperation, sex, medical emergency – is this not the stuff of great stories? Intimacy is the common element that creates a heartwarming or chilling tale.

Today I am pondering the connections between two writers’ explanations of what inspires readers.

Roger Rosenblatt concludes in Unless it Moves the Human Heart: “The heart that you must move is corrupt, depraved and desperate for your love.”

In The Daily Writer Fred White maintains:  “Human intimacy lies at the heart of human nature.” He gives as examples of intimacy medical, sexual and spiritual experiences.

This tells me why so many of the stories that move us involve crime, life threatening medical conditions and romance.

My 1970s edition of The American Heritage Dictionary omits spiritual experiences in its list of intimacies, but in the 1930s edition of the Dictionary of the English Language(Oxford University) editor Henry Cecil Wyld defines intimacy as something that is knit together in close physical or spiritual relationship.

Intimacy is expressed in details that are private and personal.  Our favorite detective stories, murder mysteries and medical dramas are loaded with intimate details. Examples: The murderer who strong arms a victim and plunges a knife into a vital organ; the doctor who dives his hand into a patient’s chest cavity. We get involved with the intimate details of the crime or the surgery.

Stories about love, sex and revenge penetrate the essence of our human nature. They reveal intimate knowledge. Example: The shamed child who grew up with malice in her heart and enough familiarity with her antagonist to know exactly how to hurt him.

Some of the most inspiring stories are found in the Bible, the best selling, least-read book of all time. Stories like Sampson and Delilah and Abraham and Isaac knit together the physical and the spiritual and draw connections between desperation and love.  We are moved by these stories.

Perhaps God is the greatest storyteller of all time and we are His story.