Monday, November 30, 2009

Top Christmas Book Picks

Stone Crossings Christmas 2

There are books I return to, because they give me new gifts every time I open them. Sometimes these books give me old gifts too, and that is good, because I delight to relive the wonder or joy, the philosophy or challenge.

When I consider these again-and-again books, I realize that although I've taken certain things from them, they also promise to give general gifts to their readers. Perhaps some of these gifts are the kind you might want to put on your wish list or share with someone else this Christmas...

The gift of writing-freedom

The Soul Tells A Story: Engaging Creativity With Spirituality In The Writing Life and The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. Does writing call you? Are you answering that call? What gets in the way? What might move you forward? Here are my two favorite books that offer writing-freedom, not just anecdote or advice.

The gift of spiritual rejuvenation

Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. Are you tired, maybe disillusioned, or in search of deeper direction in your spiritual life? This gentle book is worth reading once a year.

The gift of reassurance for mothers

Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God: Encouragement to Refresh Your Soul. This is my standard baby-shower gift, or anytime gift for mothers who could use wisdom, solace and a dose of light humor.

The gift of reconciliation (denominational and ethnic respectively)

The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus and Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity. Both of these books give a new twist on subjects we think we already know about. And they pave the way for reconciliation. The latter might even bring you to tears, it's so honest and beautifully written.

The gift of forgiveness

Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places. I used to think this was a book about grace. And it is, in its way. But somewhere along the line, I realized that many people were finding a particular kind of grace in its pages: forgiveness. One woman wrote to tell me that she'd been told to forgive for a long, long time... through friends, sermons, religious books, and nothing had ever made it possible. Until she read Stone Crossings. This sentiment has been echoed elsewhere, including in Glynn Young's precious revelation of how the book helped him forgive his father.

The gift of a poignant story

The Summer Book is a gorgeous telling of the relationship between a young girl and her grandmother, both coming to life and facing endings in their own ways. Kristin Lavransdatter changed the way I write. Undset's choice of details is often simple, yet conveys powerful emotions of love and loss. The Things They Carried was one of those books that took me by surprise. I don't ordinarily prefer war stories, but this one gets to the heart of humanity in amazing ways. It also makes you think about the nature of truth and story.

The gift of poetry

How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry and Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words. As children, we are naturally drawn to poetry. Yet many of us lose our love of it along the way. Both of these books will help you find the joy and necessity of poetry again, the first lyrically so and the second creatively so.

The gift of better blogging

Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers. This is one of my all-time favorite books on how to navigate the blogsophere and grow an audience. Every blogger should read it at least once.

The gift of thoughtful morning devotions

Celtic Devotions: A Guide to Morning and Evening Prayer. Simple yet deep, this is a beautiful book. The prayers are like poetry (which makes sense, because many are taken from Celtic song).

The gift of smart humor

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. This one is hilarious and gives a fun perspective on our Old Testament roots. It's worth buying the book just for the description of how he tries to live the Proverb "slow to anger" while at Mail Boxes, Etc. (Do remember that this is a book written by an agnostic. I probably don't need to say that, but I didn't want anyone to be surprised when the author admits to believing or not believing in things that various kinds of Christians might hold dear.)

The gift of simplicity

Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families. This good-humored book will make you smile while giving you practical ways to simplify your life and dig deep into family relationships.

The gift of art

A Profound Weakness: Christians & Kitsch is a bit expensive, but if you can afford the price tag it's full of excellent art philosophy. And the pictures are gorgeous (all the more amazing because she has photographed kitsch in unusual, beautiful ways.)

Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture will give you new ways to think about art and faith. The essays have a great balance of both the personal and philosophical.

What gift do you want to give someone this year? Maybe you can find it in this little Christmas list.

Stone Crossings Christmas photo, by L.L. Barkat.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful for... More Blog Traffic?


The other day someone asked me how to significantly increase blog traffic. I sent a long email in response, then decided I really needed to do a whole post.

Thus, Increase Your Blog Traffic: Top 5 Book Rec's.

At first blush, it could seem rather selfish to focus on a goal like increasing one's blog traffic. As if such a goal would be all-about-you.

I like to think about that differently. And so do the writers of Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. In this book, Brogan and Smith ask (and answer) something remarkably refreshing, something I've been waiting to hear because I know it to be true...

"...aren't the people who spend a lot of time on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks being ANTI-social? In a word, the answer is no." They continue, "we're not sure the community is disappearing. Instead, we think it is slowly, quietly making its way online." And their relationship is one proof. Two authors, one from Boston and the other from Montreal, wrote the book together.

Today I'm not at a Thanksgiving gathering, because our local one is going to be on Saturday. So here I am, able to be social in a different arena that spans geography and connects me with others who are also free today.

So, yes, I'm thankful that over the past few years my blog traffic has grown, because it means I know, or am getting to know, you.

Corn at Harvest Time photo, by L.L. Barkat.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An InsideOut Gift

InsideOut Cover

InsideOut should be here very soon (IAM, December 2009). I feel like an anxious parent, waiting. In the meantime, here are some poems you can have if you like (just copy the html in the white box beneath the poem, and it's ready to go in your sidebar or post). I'll probably release about six more over the coming weeks (some will simply be excerpts). Poems are fun to have, to keep, to give. So here I am, sharing with you...

insideout badge

InsideOut "prayer"

For more poem possibilities, scroll down the sidebar at InsideOut poems. And a Happy Thanksgiving to you.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanks, Unsolicited

Sara's Fall Abstract

The pile was getting too high. Messy.

It was time to sort.

So I sat in silence and began. This-goes-here, that-goes-there.

In the middle of the pile, I found it. Simple brushstrokes. Raw line and color. Her painting asked nothing of me. I simply held it in my hands and looked. And looked.

This is my Thanksgiving, I thought. And in that moment, I did not feel the need to explain why. So I shall not, now, try.

Fall Abstract, by Sara, 12. Used with permission.


Come share your Thanksgiving reflection or tradition at HighCallingBlogs. Just drop your link in our comment box...

thanksgiving celebration

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sure, the Chanterelle

colorful umbrella

Sometimes words escape me. Like tonight.

Then I reach back and find something written at another time... this simple poem, which you will find in the upcoming collection, along with much longer poems of course. My dad (I know you're reading this! :) doubts that two or three lines qualify as poetry. I tease him, saying he hasn't read much haiku. He laughs back and says, "True."

To me, poetry is the capturing of something essential, emotional, full— regardless of how many words it takes to accomplish it. You don't have to agree with me; you can agree with him. My dad will be happy either way.

Here's the poem, which was written at the Fruits, Herbs & Spices (and the occasional snap pea and golden beet Twitter party...

Frilly skirted
chanterelle, how you
beckon, fling.

Holding the Umbrella photo, by L.L. Barkat.

Monica’s knowing
A Simple Country Girl’s She may be stumbling
Glynn’s Apple Pie, Late Harvest
Cindy’s An Extra… Ordinary… Life
Jennifer’s Bread…
nAncY’s fragrance
Maureen’s Love Uses Spices and Herbs
Kelly’s When I Grow Old
Eric’s Form of a Poem
HighCallingBlogs Fear of Seconds
Marcus's Serendipity
Jim's I can feel it, honest

Here are some answers about the poetry collection and cover... InsideOut

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Which Cover Speaks to You?


Take a stroll with me, and I will listen. The woods are quiet and we can take our time.


When you come to a clearing, look up and think. Is this the place? Is this how you feel when you are in my poems?


Maybe a darker scene will do? How does it feel? Right for the words you are used to from me?


Or perhaps this is a better place? Does it evoke the voice, as you remember it in my poems?

You might think about it this way too: which would you prefer to set on your bedside table, or hold in your hands? Tell me your thoughts, and I will listen. The International Arts Movement, as publisher, will listen too. Come stroll with me...

Tweetspeak's The Walled Garden of Spices & Herbs

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wordless Prayer

blush roses

It's part of our world, this violence, says Laura Boggess in response to the next chapter in Gerald May's Wisdom of Wilderness.

I sit at my keyboard, wish for something profound to say, to add to a hard but good conversation. Nothing comes.

Instead I remember a morning practice, born in desperation, when ordinary word-prayer seemed powerless to help me meet the days in an urban classroom that had no crayons, no paper, no math books, one tiny shelf of picture books, no teaching assistant, 30 kids (many with serious behavior issues).

I don't recall what started it exactly, the wordless prayer. Was it the day after Calvin, my psychotic student, dangled himself out the window, 200 feet above the empty blacktop playground? Or maybe it was the week the principal punched Maurice and Maurice's mother screamed and overturned a huge conference table against my pregnant belly. Perhaps it was when Ivan punched Billy (again), leaving blood on the floor. Could it have been after I shouted at the class (again) and emptied the garbage can onto linoleum and told them to pick it up, pick it all up?

I don't remember. What comes back is the desperation of those moments. I wasn't the only teacher shocked at the violence and deprivation in the school, shocked at how far I could be pushed emotionally. Any given day you could hear shouting up and down the halls. Violence begetting violence.

And then came the peach blush roses. One morning I walked out of my apartment, and a light sweet raspberry scent met my senses. I leaned down for as much time as I could spare from my impending commute and smelled those roses again and again. Their sweetness melted some kind of sorrow and hardness that had begun to be a constant companion. In my mind, I took them with me, a prayer for the day, a solace.

It would be nice to say I became Teacher of the Year after that. Or always compassionate. I still struggled. But the struggle changed. When violence would rise in the classroom, or even in my own heart, I would remember the roses, their soft blush, their raspberry scent. Each time I was faithful to remember them, the moments went better. God was in the roses, I think, giving me a wordless prayer, a way.

Blush Roses photo, by L.L. Barkat.


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Friday, November 06, 2009

How Do You Write?

Granada Teahouse

I write in the dark...


I write despite...

Teahouse in Granada Spain, photo by L.L. Barkat.

Glynn’s David, Hillside
Kelly’s eve’s regret
Linda’s Redeemer/Lover
Monica’s Han and Leia On a Date
Bina’s Mrs. DeWinter’s Nighttime Honesty
nAncY’s meeley
Kelly’s tension
Laura’s Fruit
Maureen’s Woman in His Life
A Simple Country Girl’s Autumn Dance
Sojourner’s Adoration
Maureen’s Last Words with Her Executioner
Travelmom's Love
e.l.k.'s surface
Lorrie's Nite Nite at Cricket Creek

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Want a Chance to Write at Beliefnet?

Joan Ball on Beliefnet

Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places is going to be featured on Beliefnet in early December, thanks to the creative mind (and gracious heart) of Joan P. Ball, author of the upcoming book Flirting with Faith: My Spiritual Journey from Atheism to a Faith-Filled Life.

If you post about Stone Crossings between now and then and drop your post link here (or there) so we don't miss you, you'll get a chance to be featured on Beliefnet. Five posts will be chosen for feature over five days. But all posts will be given links, so either way... you're there!

We look forward to hearing your grace thoughts...

[UPDATE: Due to some unavoidable issues, Joan has postponed the feature until January. I'll let you know when the project goes live. Thanks for your patience. :) ]

(Little side note: If you'd like to share in this writing celebration, but you prefer not to be considered for feature at Beliefnet, just indicate your wish. Thanks! Also, if you're wondering what kind of thoughts to share, check out a few of these posts. Each shares a unique voice and experience, and that's what's important... your voice, your experience. Broken Ribs and Stone Crossings, Finding Grace in Hard Places, dribbled with coffee...)

Glynn's Crossing Some Stones: A Reflection
Bradley's Your Life is Perfect
Mary DeMuth's When Boulder Became Pebble
Monica's Reflections

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Unpredictable Paths of Grace


When you grow up like I did, you try to know-it-all. Everything depends on it. Supposedly.

It has been a long time since "growing up", but still some strange place in your head never quite forgives you for not holding together what was never in your power to hold together anyhow— your parent's marriage, hoped-for joys of holidays and ordinary days quashed by volatility, or some other such thing.

Trying to be right, to know it all, brings the need for control; after all, it's so much easier to be right when you understand the playing field, have set the boundary lines yourself, inasmuch as that is possible.

Then along comes Life with a suggestion: let go, drift. In May's The Wisdom of Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature, he takes this suggestion and experiences Creation as it is. There's a sense of encounter, immediacy, Presence that May cannot control.

For one year, I too felt such an invitation. Let go. Drift with golden grasses, morning dew, the stars. Then it came to an end, partly because my commitment was finished, but perhaps too because God knew it was time to set me in a new place of encounter, where I could not easily be in control.

Thus, my art pilgrimage, which I cannot explain in an authoritative way. On this pilgrimage, I work in media I never used before (soft pastel) in a form (abstract art) that I have virtually no experience producing.

At some point I must have wanted to relinquish the burden of being right, knowing-it-all (it is tiring, often perplexing). And this desire sent me on unlikely journeys— first into Creation, now into Art. As a Christian I would not have predicted such paths. Aren't there more "Christiany" travel plans God should have suggested?

No, I could not have predicted the importance of Creation and Art in my grace journey. But maybe this surprise is part of relinquishing the burden too.

"Falling" in soft pastels, by L.L. Barkat.

Glynn's In White Tanks
Monica's Stars and Sunrise

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