Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Writer's Relief: the Laughable Complexity of Legalism

Year of Living Biblically

Steve Martin. A good Bill Bryson book. Craver or Dave. The words of my younger daughter on any given day.

These are the places I generally expect amusement. Morality, on the other hand, particularly legalistic morality, well... that wouldn't be the first place I'd go for a laugh. That is, until I opened up Alan J. Jacobs. Wow, that guy can really rollick with Leviticus.

If you don't know who Jacobs is, then you probably haven't read The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I highly recommend it to anyone needing laughter therapy. In fact, I purposely read it on a regular basis, for comic relief in my writing life (which tends to get far too serious).

My favorite part of Jacobs' book isn't the pictures... he morphs from clean cut collegiate-looking secular Jewish guy to hairy hippie-looking bible-following guy. (Though this in itself is worth taking the book from the library.) Nor is my favorite part the obvious dedication and research he undertook (any writer could totally admire the incredible work involved in such a project). Nope. My favorite part of Jacobs' book is what I'm affectionately calling his encounter with the laughable complexity of legalism.

For instance, writer that Jacobs is, he logs onto his computer but then thinks,

But wait— am I even allowed to use the computer? The Bible, as you might have guessed, doesn't address the issue specifically, so I give it a tentative yes. Maybe sometime down the road I could try stone tablets.

And then I stumble. Within a half hour of waking, I check the sales ranking of my last book. How many sins does that comprise? Pride? Envy? Greed? I can't even count.

Then Jacobs really heats up, and I must take the liberty to type this long excerpt. He writes...

I don't do much better on my errand to Mail Boxes Etc. I want to xerox a half dozen copies of the Ten Commandments so I can Scotch tape them up all over the apartment, figuring it'd be a good memory aid.

The Bible says, those with good sense are 'slow to anger' (Proverbs 19:11). So when I get there at the same time as this wiry fortyish woman and she practically sprints to the counter to beat me in line, I try not to be annoyed.

And when she tells the Mail Boxes Etc. employee to copy something on the one and only functioning Xerox machine, I try to shrug it off. And when she pulls out a stack of pages that looks like the collected works of J.K. Rowling and plunks it on the counter, I say to myself, 'Slow to anger, slow to anger.'

After which she asks come complicated question involving paper stock...

I remind myself: Remember what happened when the Israelites were waiting for Moses while he was up on the mountaintop for forty days? They got impatient, lost faith, and were struck with the plague.

Oh, and she pays by check. And asks for a receipt. And asks to get the receipt initialed. The Proverbs— a collection of wisdom in the Old Testament— say that smiling makes you happy. Which is actually backed up by psychological studies. So I stand there with a flight attendant-like grin frozen on my face. But inside, I am full of wrath.

I don't have time for this. I have a seventy-two-page-list of other biblical tasks to do.

I finally make it to the counter and give the cashier a dollar. She scoops my thirty-eight cents of change from the register and holds it out for me to take.

'Could you, uh, put the change on the counter?' I ask.

She glares at me. I'm not supposed to touch women— more on that later— so I am simply trying to avoid unnecessary finger-to-finger contact.

'I have a cold,' I say. 'I don't want to give it to you.'

A complete lie. In trying to avoid one sin, I committed another.

And that is why I recommend Alan J Jacobs for Writer's Relief. Just typing this, I've been laughing once again about the laughable complexity of legalism— dished up A. J. Jacobs style.

Year of Living Biblically photo, by L.L. Barkat.


Erica's Poetry Friday

Scot McKnight's Poetry and Kathleen Norris

On a more serious note, this helpful article on Network Search Helps Readers Find Your Blog, from High Calling Blogs


LL's Poetry as Stress Relief

Megan's Rules and Exceptions

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Writers Have to Choose

Nabbed by Fish

Make some choices.

That's what one of my Manuscript Readers commented, when I was in the late stages of reworking Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places.

What she didn't know (at least I think she didn't) was that I was facing a crisis of identity. I can be lightly humorous at times, but all my Readers seemed more attracted to the poetic aspects of the text. I didn't want to be poetic. I wanted to be liked. People often like funny people. Ergo, I wanted to be funny.

But here was this Reader telling me in no uncertain terms... make some choices.

I think this is one of the hardest parts of writing. From top to bottom. From the big picture down to the individual words. What to leave in, what to leave out. Which face to show and which to hide. Or, if you prefer, which voice to sound or which to silence. (It's one of the reasons I blog and write poetry. In such small spaces, one has GOT to make choices. Good ones at that, to keep a community of readers coming back.)

Someone asked me recently when I first knew I wanted to be a writer. Huh?

I told him I never really wanted to be a writer. Maybe because I knew in my deepest self that, among other things, writing is an exercise in making choices. And for someone as spirited as I am, that was a difficult act of submission. In the end, writing seemed to choose me. Which means I've got to conform to this golden writing rule: make some choices, 'cause good writers have to choose.

Chosen by the Fish painting (don't know the real title!) by Salvador Dali, photographed in Paris by L.L. Barkat.


I loved these thoughts from Erica on her history with poetry

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Random Acts of Poetry

Wrought Iron Fence at Sacre Coeur

I don't know about you, but I love words. Strung like pearls. Wrought like iron. They move me. To tears or laughter, to awe or comfort. I spend many hours gathering, stringing, smelting, shaping, hoping to place lovely words in rhythms that can arrest a person.

And I seek out such words from others. I poke around promising places like Holy Experience. I quietly run my fingers through Weaving the Hours. I peek in at 23 Degrees.

Always looking for beautiful words. That's why I'm so pleased, incredibly pleased, that my favorite blog network High Calling Blogs has decided to feature Random Acts of Poetry. A new kind of Friday celebration of poetic words, in the form of both prose excerpts and poems. (Thanks, High Calling, for kicking this off with a poem of mine from Love Notes to Yahweh.)

Poetry is classically extremely difficult to get published. But here's a network that's looking for it on a weekly basis. Or just looking for poetic prose. You know, random acts of poetry. To delight you and me.

Wrought Iron Fence at Sacre Coeur photo, by J Barkat. Used with permission.

There's a winner in Heidi's Stone Crossings Giveaway. Congratulations!


Erica's moving and thoughtful Random Acts of Poetry

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Beyond Helplessness: Steps Against Poverty

LLin Montmartre

On Sunday, our church did an interesting exercise in discernment. We each received a card, then wrote what we thought God might be saying to our church, how we should be spending our time and resources. Then we shared these cards with the people sitting next to us. And the ushers collected all the cards, for the elders and deacons to look at.

My card said that we should care for the voiceless through structural and organizational approaches— living simply, taking care of creation, influencing policy. The woman next to me shared her card. It said we should care for the imprisoned and the ill.

We discussed that a comprehensive solution is needed, when it comes to the issue of the voiceless, the needy: prevention, intervention, and care. In essence, we agreed that we both have similar goals, though we each have interest and expertise in a different aspect of the solution. Clearly, I'm more the organizational type, not the nurse and the nurturer.

That's why, if I had it to do over again, I might choose to be an economist. They influence policy. Then I could say things like this, from Joseph Stiglitz...

In my years at the World Bank, I came to understand why there was such discontent with the way globalization was proceeding. Though development was possible, it was clear that it was not inevitable. I had seen countries where poverty was increasing rather than decreasing, and I had seen what that meant— not just in statistics but in the lives of the people. (Making Globalization Work)

Or I could write (and people might even pay attention) a book like The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, and open it by saying, as he did...

This book is about ending poverty in our time. It is not a forecast. I am not predicting what will happen, only explaining what can happen.

I might argue with myself by also hanging out with the impressive group that put together Alternatives to Economic Globalization. This group advocates for anti-globalization, strongly urging a local economy approach as the more compassionate and effective way to eradicate poverty.

But I am just me. I'm probably never going to be an economist. The odds predict that. Still, I can read and I can think about the implications of these various approaches to issues of poverty.

And I can live my life simply, care for my environment, consider whether genetic engineering of something as critical as wheat is wise and ultimately helpful or harmful to the poor (and put my little grocery dollars towards or away from genetically-engineered foods... oh the power of the grocery shopper!)

I can write. That I can certainly do. I can promote a book like Harvest of Hope: Stories of Life-Changing Gifts, that shows we needn't be helpless in the face of poverty (There are things I can do. There are things you can do. Even small things that make a big difference.)

As Bono has said, in the introduction to Sachs' book, We can be the generation that no longer accepts that an accident of latitude determines whether a child lives or dies— but will we be that generation?

I like the way he puts that. We are in this together. Some of us are prevention people, some intervention people, some care givers. I've found my place, begun to accept who I am. It took time. It is still in progress even. What kind of place is yours?

LL and Little-One Walking in MontMarte photo, by L.L. Barkat.


The High Calling's Blog Action Day is Coming

LL's We're in This Together

Laure's simple yet profound poem

Ann's moving I Repent

Ruth's practical Blog Action Day


LL's Homecoming, for my baby niece

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Book Giveaway

Moms, Ministry & More

Last week, I got a very nice note from Heidi, who is a missionary in Asia. Her mom had sent her a care package which included Christian magazines. And it just so happened that two of the magazines were a January Discipleship Journal and a July Today's Christian Woman. It also just so happened that I had articles in both these magazines, and that Heidi read them sequentially. Somehow she noticed that the two articles were both written by L.L.

Well. She looked me up in the blogworld, wrote me her sweet note of encouragement and asked me about Stone Crossings. Then she shyly asked if I might be willing to let her interview me for her blog. I was happy to oblige.

Heidi asked too if I'd be willing to do a book giveaway. She said she'd never done that before and I said, Sure I can do that. I've never done it before either, so we'll be in this together.

Which is all to say that Heidi will be sharing the interview and starting the giveaway on Monday. I'd be so pleased if you dropped by to see what she asked and maybe win a signed copy of Stone Crossings. If you already own one, I suppose you could use it as a Christmas gift. Or a paperweight. I bet you could use one of those, no?


I just wanted to share this very touching comment to Heidi's post, from someone named Patty...

What an amazing post. Thanks for sharing this with us. At times in the interview, I found myself crying. I think I need to read this book! Great post.

Also, you can read Heidi's Interview and Giveaway post here.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

World-Wide Study: Blogging Good for Heart, Brain and Bank Account

Blue Eiffel Night

Recently I decided to share how blogging has changed my life (perhaps most profoundly by meeting many marvelous people like Scot McKnight, Marcus Goodyear, Christine Scheller, Ann Voskamp... the list goes on!) Along with that, I launched an informal survey. Call it a meme if you must; that's how it passed 'round the blogosphere.

Now, I've done studies before— the kind that hire $100-an-hour statisticians to tell what the final scoop is. Or the kind that require hours upon hours of literature research in fusty journals. But the real fun has been doing this kind of study: ask people from around the world to self-report on how blogging has changed their lives. Then sit back and enjoy the view. Oh, and get some free philosophy too.

By now, I've read a lot of 5-ways-blogging-has-changed-my-life blog posts (not to mention one that declared Blogging Hasn't Changed My Life.) And I've linked to the responses I found through Technorati, Google Alerts or comments here on Seedlings (that's only fair, since I asked participants to link back to me).

Sure it was work. But it was fun work. At this point, the responses are finally slowing down, so I'm ready to to give the report (not to worry, new participants: I'll keep giving links as last responses keep coming). I hope you like the grandiose but semi-accurate title, World-Wide Study: Blogging Good for Heart, Brain and Bank Account.

In the spirit of the original meme,, let me report the top five ways blogging has changed our lives. Some of these are top because they came up over and over again. Others are top 'cause I just want them here. Also, I'll include a little philosophy at the end. I like philosophy.

1. Blogging is good for the heart. I'm no statistician and I didn't bother counting, but almost every post I read involved the issue of real, valid, happiness-inducing social connection. People meet each other through blogging. They end up having coffee together. Or parking their RV's in each other's driveways. They cross the nation to take walks arm in arm. All this social connection is cheaper than therapy. (And blogging may just BE good therapy too, as Scientific American reports.) Yes, blogging is good for the heart.

2. Blogging is good for the brain. I remember reading Alan Jacobs' scathing estimation of blogging in Books and Culture. Said he, in marvelously academic style, blogging is the enemy of thought. I've also heard various pundits complain that computers are stealing our love of reading right out from under our feet (our fingers? our eyes?). Maybe these things are true for some, but over all, it appears that blogging encourages us to write and write and read more, watch less TV, think more, be creative, communicate better, even try out new personas. (By the way, two physician/learning specialists concur that blogging is good for the brain.)

3. Blogging is good for the backside. In other words, some of us have put on a few pleasing pounds for the sake of happiness-inducing social connection.

4. Blogging produces insomnia, sleep deprivation and messy houses things which are potentially bad for the brain (here's where we need our statistician to help balance things out with some kind of numerical acrobatics that compare blogging's brain influence pluses and minues... but I'll leave that to the good women and men who decide to conduct a similar study for their phd's)

5. Blogging is good for the bank account, even if only in a small way or through the opportunity to get free stuff. (Also, check out this post for a podcast about making money through blogging)

Of course blogging has changed us in other ways too. But I only promised the top 5. And I kept my promise. I did not break the rules. Which brings us to our philosophical moment...

When I first posted the meme, I thought about how I'm always breaking meme rules. Why is that? (You can email me privately if you've got deep spiritual answers or L.L.-psychological-evaluation answers to that question.) Accordingly, when faced with crafting my own rules, I decided to make them simple, flexible and possibly fun.

Anyway, it came to my attention through a private email and this post that rules may just be followed more if they appear to ask less. Said one blogger, Indeed, the permission to break the rules is the main reason I responded, as I generally dislike memes and getting tagged, and all that goes with it. It reminds me a little of the Garden of Eden, the Fall, Jesus, and how all this constitutes a move from 'thou shalt not' to 'grace'.

So that's it. Blogging changes lives... and invites us to inhabit philosophical space.

Eiffel Tower in Blue photo, by Sara B. Used with permission.


LL's Stress Causes Brain Damage

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