Wednesday, December 31, 2008

100 Books

Here on the eve of New Year, I've been reflecting on my goal of reading 100 books in 2008. The idea was something of a whim twelve months ago, and I really didn't know if I'd be able to achieve those heights while doing so many other things. But looking back, it's been an amazing journey.

I note, for example, that somewhere mid summer I'd reached the forty book mark and knew I'd have to step up my game. I began carrying books with me everywhere I went (the license branch, pharmacy, bathroom, prostate exams) and I read more books in bed, into the wee hours of the morning, than I can recall. Also, I must confess that my 100 books also includes several books on tape, and several half-read books that I'm combining to count as a single book. For example, I've read half of Stephen King's newest book, Just After Sunset, and half of Mother Teresa's book, Come Be My Light, which have combined to give me nightmares about God sending me to hell for feeding the hungry and helping the outcast.

But I did read 100 books, and this in a year when I also wrote nearly 50 sermons, a fair share of studies, numerable blogs, three books and a plethora of articles (by my count some 300,000 words) all while working 50-70 hours a week in my pastoral gig and also transitioning one kid to college and another to high school. Naturally, I don't recommend you try this at home, unless you, like me, want to go without food, water and sleep for long periods of time. My wife and I are still trying to get to know each other on a first-name basis. Next year, I will have to remember her birthday and our anniversary. But what's-her-name has been swell through this whole thing.

How many books do I plan to read in 2009? Well, not 100. I'll probably drop back to my manageable 30-40 book pace, but I do plan to read the entire Bible in 2009 (see come January 1 . . . but I'll still be writing this demented piece, too. See you on the other side!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

King Couplings

Rounding out my 2008 reading list is Sex with Kings: Five Hundred Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry and Revenge, by Eleanor Herman. Not as risque as my mother would have me believe, but a fairly good and amazingly fun history of all of the ways that sex has been used inside the European corridors of power to gain lands, armies, and influence. Some of the stories here are well-known (King Henry VIII leaps to mind) but there are more sordid tales, too.
Of course, reading this type of book as my 100th title of 2008 is much more enjoyable than reading, for example, a book written by some theologian or, perhaps, a commentary on the book of Leviticus. Of course, I can read about David and Bathsheba in the Bible, but I want to read about the kings who had four mistresses and got kicked out of the castle.
Naturally, as I was reading this book, I proudly displayed it on the coffee table so my wife would take the hint. She did. But her response was, of course, "Believe me, sweetheart, you're no king!"
And so ends the wild reading experiment of 2008.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Stroke of Genius

As I was reading My Stroke of Insight (by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D) my wife asked, "Are you enjoying that book?" My answer was slow in coming. "Enjoy isn't the word I would use," I said. "It's a fascinating personal memoir of a brain scientist's own stroke, what she felt during the stroke, how she had out of body experiences, her thoughts about death, about the health industry, and her long, eight year recovery process. I'm not enjoying reading about a bloody brain, but it is certainly fascinating."

I read the book in a few hours, and found several fascinating points of interest with the author, particularly as she is an Indiana State University grad, and following her stroke taught at Rose Hulman in Terre Haute and eventually made her way to IU, where she now teaches out of the Med Center in Indianapolis.

But that's where the commonalities end.

Jill Taylor, after all, is a genius who graduated from Harvard, Magna Cum Laude.
I graduated from Duke University, Lawdy How Cum.

Jill Taylor was voted one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine this year.
I was voted "Most Likely to be a Disappointment to his Mother" my senior year in high school.

Jill Taylor is a wonderfully witty and snappy fifty-year-old woman who apparently has never married.
I am a neary fifty-year-old man who has been married for twenty five years to a witty woman who snaps my head off.

Jill Taylor is a great success who has now written a best-selling book her first time out.
I am a dismal failure of a writer who continues to produce large quantities of landfill fodder.

Jill Taylor's mother nursed her baby back to health over a span of eight years following the stroke.
My mother didn't buy me any underwear this Christmas.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Poor Me

As 2008 is rapidly nearing an end, I am frantically reading books. I am still determined to read 100 books this year, and by my count, I'm going to do it.

One of the books I did complete was Poor Richard's Almanac (just selected portions, of course, written by Ben Franklin). I enjoyed the book, especially such pithy sayings as:

Both fish and visitors stink after three days.

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

Well, old Ben had a nice way of turning a phrase. But I've learned a few things over the years, too. Here are some of my musings.

Fifteen-year-old boys won't eat lima beans, not even if they're covered in chocolate sauce.

Never buy your wife a practical Christmas gift.

Don't crack walnuts on the sofa cushions.

Don't try to drive on ice.

If you are feeling depressed, eat a donut.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Twas the Night Before . . .

Twas the night before Christmas when Calvary Church
Sang "Joy to the World", with Mark on his perch.
The banners were hung by the altar guild ladies
(Some new ones, as well as some made in the eighties).
And all the poinsettias were arranged on the altar,
While Andrew had hopes that his wicks wouldn't falter.
And Jennifer greeted and shared a nice rhyme,
While David and Alison kept watching the time.
Michelle was there, too, for a long night of prayin'
But working with Todd, we're amazed that she's stayin'.
The building was scrubbed by Gary and Brian,
And Lori took care of the kids who were cryin'.
Fay made the fliers, and Tonya made cookies,
And Shellody counted, along with some rookies.

When all of a sudden, but what should appear,
But a choir singing praises . . . walking in from the rear.
Their cheeks were like roses, their dimples did glisten,
And they sang around midnight hoping someone would listen.
But my, how the people sang praises to Jesus,
The children, the youth, and even us geezers.
The people were dressed in their best of the season,
Though a few people coughed and a couple were sneezin'.

Then up to the rooftop our voices, they carried,
Though a few who can't sing lost the count, or they tarried,
And the people of God looked like jolly old elves
And we weren't that bad-looking in spite of ourselves,
Our faces still glowing by the car where we parked it
(We're still picking candle wax out of the carpet!)
But that's Christmas Eve in this Calvary steeple,
Where God still shows up, and people love people.

No, the meaning of Christmas is still filled with mirth,
If we but pause to ponder the Blessed Child's birth.
And we can't glean God's laughter in one single night
When we're learning to walk more by faith than by sight.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Messed Up

I have also gained much from reading Mike Yaconelli's book, Messy Spirituality. Mostly, I enjoyed Mike's stories about his messed up faith. He points out that our journey with God is always messy business, and our faith is, at best, an imperfect blend of failures, insecurities, dead ends, and do-overs. That's faith as I know it, too.

As we near Christmas, I'm even more reminded of how messed up we truly are. Somehow, we muddle through with God's help.

And sometimes God gives us comfort in unexpected places: donuts, coffee seem to work for me. I'll be doing my messed up thing in 2009, too. Can't wait.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Simple Church

As 2008 draws to a close, I am frantically reading books in order to attain my goal of reading 100 titles in a year. I'm going to make it (I have a plan).

I've also been overjoyed to discover that some of the books I've been reading in December have been some of the most thought-provoking, especially in the area of theology, ecclesiology, or eschatology (I love using big fancy seminary words). Hence, I enjoyed reading, and actually gained much from, Thom Rainer's and Eric Geiger's book, Simple Church.

Essentially, they point out that congregations grow when there is a simplicity of focus, expectation and programs. The more complex a congregation is (most congregations) the more difficult it is for the congregation to grow (in size, giving, mission, or ministry). They also discovered that the larger the congregation is, the more likely it is to be a simple church, and churches that are growing, are very likely simple in their design and makeup.

I think I serve a simple church (at least I hope we are). We aren't trying to do everything (simple), don't layer people with hundreds of meetings (simple), don't have hundreds of programs (simple) and we don't make hundreds of announcements in worship about the hundreds of programs we expect people to get involved in (simple). We are using the KISS principle: KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID.

We do FPU, a few Bible studies, women's groups, teens and children...all small groups, and that's about it. Our worship is simple and concise. And we don't have more than 20 missions that we support, so people can easily understand what we are trying to do locally or in the world with a single glance. People can also easily enter into Calvary, take a new member class and make a profession of faith. Then they can get involved in a group (that's important) and they can learn to find a place of service (that's important). SIMPLE.

And I think that's why Calvary is still dynamic. People are not overwhelmed. And people have enough complications in their work, their families and their pace, they simply don't want complexity in their walk with God. SIMPLE.

I liked this book very much and I plan to reread it every year!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Writing Christmas Emails

Why does it seem that Christmas (at least the "family together" part) gets more complex with each passing year? Over the past two weeks, I've been exchanging emails with many in the family, trying to work out an answer to the simple question: When are we getting together?

So far, here's all that I know.

If the weather holds up nicely on Christmas eve, we have the firm committment of a strong maybe with overtures of possibility that my inlaws may arrive to spend the night and celebrate Christmas with us on Christmas day. However, in the event of snow or prevailing winds, we will likely get together earlier in the week (before Christmas Eve) unless someone gets the sniffles or either of my children have other plans . . . and in that case all bets are off and we may get together at some time between Christmas and New Year's day at a time and location to be named later. Now . . . as for my parents, they would like to see us the day after Christmas, but there has already been strong disappointment expressed that it couldn't be arranged earlier, and if we do get together the day after Christmas it is an unwritten and unspoken expectation that we will spend the night and drink Folgers coffee the following morning while watching the squirrels eat out of the bird feeders and everyone gathered around the fireplace will bathe in the glow of utter civility and tranquility and all that Merry Christmas jazz. And if this doesn't work out, they will drive over and see us whenever the roads are clear . . . Ho, Ho, Ho.

Happy planning!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Big Day # 2

When I have a big day I always want to celebrate. So when Becky and Logan were finally at home I told them, "Drop everything, we are going out to dinner."

"What's the occasion?" Becky wanted to know.
"I've had a big day," I said.
"What . . . that wart finally fall off?" she asked.
"I'll tell you about it in the car."
"Are you kidding me?" Logan blurted out. "I've got a bunch of homework. I'm not going out to dinner!"

[Note: Picture here cartoon father picking up fifteen year old kid and spinning him around on the tip of his finger like a basketball then tossing him like a sack of potatoes out the picture window into the creek. It never happened, but I was imagining same in my mind.]

"You can order anything on the menu," I finally said. "Even that fifteen pound hamburger you've had your eye on."

[Note: Kid and wife load in old piece of crap car against their better judgment and I relate story of multiple editors who can't keep their hands off me, the books, the emails and the voice mail offer that is still saved on the message board at home.]

"You drug me away from the house for that?" wife asks. "I've got papers to grade. I've got lesson plans to create."

"Humor me," I plead.

"Dad," fifteen year old chimes in (he's not heard anything . . . listening to iPod with ear buds), "I'm ordering a steak."

[Note: Dad here considers driving old piece of crap car into nearest telephone pole and ending it all. But he knows his insurance rates will go up. He does buy his family a nice dinner; they keep asking why. He tells them again how much he loves them, that he would do anything for them, that they can have his liver, pancreas, or left lung in a pinch, and that he has, once again, spared their lives in the old piece of crap car. The son orders a steak and two large desserts. When dad gets back home from church meeting around nine p.m., he begins writing on old Sparky.]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Big Day #1

I made a note in my calendar so I would always remember the day. It was last month, November 20, a Thursday afternoon. I arrived at the house, gathered up my mail from the box, and parked. Sitting in the car, as I gleaned through the mail, I noted that I'd received a letter from an editor who was informing me that she was accepting one of my essays for an upcoming anthology.

Not a bad day so far. But when I stepped onto the front porch, I noticed a box. Inside the box were two copies of a book I'd contributed to more than a year prior. I'd forgotten all about that little project, but it was a nice feeling seeing the final product. I unpacked the books, stuffed them on the top of my bookcase (where I will likely discover them again in five years and say: "Oh, so that's where those are!") and strode into my office to check emails. Still not a bad day.

Lo and behold, when I pulled up my long list of emails, I discovered that two other editors had written to me. One was informing me that she was approving my book manuscript for publication (after two rewrites) and she was sending me forth to conquer with help from the marketing department. And the other email was from an editor at the United Methodist Publishing House requesting that I help write a new curriculum for confirmation (so I'll probably be traveling to Nashville some time this summer). Still not a bad day, and getting better.

Finally, when I checked my voice mail, ten minutes later, I noted an odd phone number on the caller ID. Never seen that phone number before in my life. But when I checked the message, I encountered the voice of a very excited editor who was informing me that she loved the book proposal I'd sent her last week and she couldn't wait to get her grimy hands on my manuscript and, in fact, the publisher wanted to know how quickly I could write the darn thing, since they want to publish it ASAP! I listened to the message three times just to make sure it wasn't a prank (like my brother, talking in a falsetto voice, trying to yank my chain). But no, this woman really wanted me!!!

Oddly enough, I have yet to talk voice to voice with the two editors who are determined to get my next book out in six months, and I have until the end of the year to write the whole shebang and get it polished up. I just keep sending them emails saying, "I'm writing like a man possessed every night until the wee hours of the morning and, look, this better not be a prank," and they keep sending me emails back saying, "Keep writing you sick little puppy you!" and others that inform me that, "yes, we will get you a contract in the mail very soon as soon as we figure out how to deal with a nut like you."

My Merry Christmas is going to be merry after all, and I'm carrying pencils, paper, laptop and my thesaurus with me everywhere I go. I'm not going to let these folks down and I'll write all night if I have to in order to get my 50,000 word manuscript completed (which should actually be a piece of cake, seeing that I have two weeks to get 'er done).

Everyone should have a big day from time to time . . . I just hope this doesn't turn out to be one of my old high school teachers trying to get payback for all of those anonymous papers I slipped underneath the teacher lounge door.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shoot Out

One of the big books I completed last week was Duel, by James Fleming: the history behind the infamous duel between then Vice President Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, in 1804, in which Burr killed Hamilton with a single shot. Wow, politics was rough back then, and duels were a common way of settling the score (though few died) and figuring out who the "real men" were. One thing's for sure, the politics of the early 1800s was already almost irretrievably corrupt, and George Washington had even noted that political parties would be the destruction of the nation if leaders adhered to ideology and partisanship over the public good. Funny, the more things change, the more they've stayed the same in the domes of power.

Of course, there are many reasons why one politician might want to shoot another one, but Burr killed Hamilton because he had called him a name. (Namby Pamby Little Runt, or something like that.)

When I think of all the names I've been called over the years, I wonder why I haven't been given permisson to shoot someone.

In second grade, Billy Stephens gave me the evil eye and called me a "funny boy". I shot him with a rubber band and had to stay inside at recess and write "I will not shoot Billy" on the blackboard a hundred times. In cursive.

And when I was in eighth grade, Tammy Danner called me a "zit face". Yes, it was true, but believe me, she was no prize. I didn't bother firing a snappy comeback. I just goosed her. Principal's office that time.

Good thing I didn't carry a derringer in grade school. The thing could have gone off.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Am Happy to Inform You

Most every day, when I roll back into the house around 5 p.m. or so, I check my emails and my voice messages. And sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Yesterday, when I settled in for the evening, I checked my emails and felt my heart leap at those six wonderful words that writers always love to hear/or read:

I am happy to inform you . . .

This one was from an editor who, over the past six months, has accepted about 75% of what I've written . . . and she actually pays me, too! In this instance, she was accepting an essay that will be included in a book entitled, The Ultimate Teacher. I wrote my wife's story (going back to school, becoming a rookie teacher at the age of 45, etc.). Becky read it last night for the first time, and I pointed out that this essay was the only piece of mine that she's read all year.

"This is the first thing you've written all year that was worth reading," was her snappy comeback.


I just hope she demonstrates that kind of wit in the classroom!

Monday, December 15, 2008

I'm No Wimp

One of the books I purchased for Logan (Christmas gift...don't tell him!) is Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Keeney. Of course, I had to read it myself. It's a great book. Very halarious, and smacks of the best and worst memories ever dredged up from middle school years. The book did have one tidbit that brought back a flood of memories for me, and confirmed my self-assessment that I am no wimp. The author mentions paying another middle school student to eat chewing gum that had been pried off of the bottom of the desk.

Now, I wasn't in middle school at the time, but I made a fair amount of money in high school actually performing dares/stunts like this. Some of my un-wimpy records include:

$12.00 gleaned from the other members of the varsity basketball team when I ate a piece of chewing gum from the boy's shower floor (Dentine, as I recall).

$5.00 for finishing a lollipop I found in the rain-soaked school parking lot.

And I actually took Becky to the Junior year prom by eating a tangled mass of 6 Milk Duds that several friends found under the bleachers (and paid me to eat), for a total of $40.00. Heck, in 2008 dollars, that's something like $400. Man, I'd eat a lot of stuff off the bottom of desks for $400, even today. I'd still lick lead paint off the walls for $400.

Don't think I'd do it? Wanna bet?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tired But Energized

I'm in an odd writing situation currently (more on this later) . . . .
But in the past four days I've written a whopping fifty pages of material in an attempt to meet an internal deadline (and perhaps an actual deadline) that I've placed out there on the horizon. As I write this blog on Sunday afternoon around 6 p.m., I am preparing to go to the youth white elephant gift exchange . . . and I need a break.

My eyes are actually watering (no, I'm not crying because I am listening to my wife's Perry Como Christmas CD) because I've been staring at Old Sparky's screen for hours on end, trying to keep the old machine going through one more book before the whole shebang goes up in smoke.

I've been saying, "One more book" for many years now, and Old Sparky has yet to let me down. I'm tired, but energized. Another hundred pages and I've whipped out another tome!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Car Crap

In order to fulfill my goal of reading a hundred books in a year, I'm finding myself reading a fair amount of poetry collections. These poems also seem to be provoking some of the poet in me (though over the years I know I've written hundreds, if not thousands of verses). Driving home on Thanskgiving with our fourth car (a 1993 Chevy 4X4 pickup) it occured to me that all of our cars now have over 100,000 miles on them, and our driveway looks like a used car lot. And since I'm sending all my money to Ball State and Uncle Sam, there' s no new car in sight. Hence, I had to wax poetical about my car-driving reality.

When You're Driving An Old Piece of Crap

Yes, you know that you're cheap
When you're driveway's a heap
Of plastic and metal and scrap.
But you really don't care,
Cause you're ridin' on air,
When you're driving an old piece of crap.

Oh, you pray for your wife,
Every day of your life,
That her days won't end in mishap,
As she drives to her work,
In a car that's a jerk,
When you're driving an old piece of crap.

Yes, some people zoom by,
With their nose in the sky,
And they'll flip you the bird as they lap.
But you don't give a dip,
You just chug down a nip,
When you're driving an old piece of crap.

And some friends drop in
Who believe that they'll win
With a Hummer putting them on the map.
So you take them a spin,
And they don't come again,
When you're driving an old piece of crap.

Yes, you're always in pain,
In the snow and the rain,
As you tighten yourself in the strap.
But you don't really care,
You just send up a prayer,
When you're driving an old piece of crap.

The best friends you knew,
Say "Trade up for the new",
When your wiper blades no longer clap.
But you know it . . . you feel
You'll just die at the wheel,
When you're driving an old piece of crap.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Call of the Wife

For some reason, I felt like a wild man this week, so I read Jack London's classic novel, The Call of the Wild. London certainly writes eloquently about his own wild man, as embodied in the dog, Buck, but I'm not sure old Jack ever experienced the full brunt of domestic life (though he did nearly sail around the world at one point and seemed to have a successful marriage). Still, I enjoyed The Call of the Wild, but thought I'd write about the real call that most men experience.

The Call of the Wife

Oh, the call of the wife is a clear call,

It's wild and it's true and it's tried.

The call of the wife is a mating call

That cannot be denied.

Yes, the wife often calls in the morning:

"Get out of that bed, you louse!"

And she reminds her hubby and children

That she's the ruler of her house.

But the call of the wife ain't a burden,

Not even when feeding the cat,

Nor after an evening of passion when asked:

"Can't you do any better than that?"

Oh, a man may wander in pack or herd,

May endure harsh weather and strife,

But no matter how many sirens may call,

He responds to the call of the wife.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Late on a Tuesday Night

Surprisingly, I found myself at home Tuesday night with no meetings to attend, no attachments, and no appetite for snacks. And with everyone else busying themselves with homework or grading homework, I decided to settle in for a night of fast-paced writing.

I never set out to keep track of anything I do, but I couldn't help but notice that after two hours of furious typing, where the ideas were coming faster than my fingers could respond, I'd produced fifteen pages of decent material. Something like three thousand words, which I'll take any time at that rate.

Later than later that night, when Becky and I met in the middle of the house, she asked me what I'd been doing. "I wrote one-tenth of a new book," I said. "If I get nine more nights like this one, I'll have the entire thing done. And by the hour, I could write the whole thing in a day."

"That's nice," she said, yawning.

And it was. A great night indeed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Queen Preacher

I thought it would be a good idea if I read a book on preaching, written by a great preacher. So I finished Barbara Brown Taylor's tome, The Preaching Life. It's a great read, and I enjoyed Taylor's brief essays regarding the place of Bible, Imagination, and Worship in sermon preparation.

Her essay on imagination, especially, hit a chord with me. Especially since there are so few imaginative people in the church today.

But as for preaching the good news, I wonder:

How about creating a rotating pulpit, so the pastor can preach Lazy Susan style?

How about creating a vibrating pew (sort of like a Disney ride) so the congregation can not only hear the message, but feel it, too? Rumbling, gyrations, vibrations at key moments in the sermon!

How about a 24 hour sermon line (a hot line to the pastor(s)) where people can tune into their pastor at work, in their cars, at home with the flip of a switch? (Hello, all you church members out there . . . glad to be with you tonight as you're brushing your teeth and getting ready for bed!)

How about having church on the streets, in soup kitchens, or in the subway, so the sermon has to come from the sights, sounds, and smells of the world around us?

Good old, Barb . . . she's got so many ideas for an Episcopalian!

Monday, December 8, 2008


As I was reading my biography of Daniel Boone, I noted that, in 18th century America, the three most-read and influential books were (in order): The Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, and Robinson Crusoe. When I read a book, I have a tendency to be led to other titles so I can learn more about this first. In this case, I wanted to know why Daniel Boone would want to read Robinson Crusoe. So I decided to revisit that old novel myself.

Reading Crusoe, I was amazed at how much Steven Spielberg has swiped from the novel when he shot Castaway, starring Tom "Life is Like a Box of Chocolates" Hanks. But Crusoe is definitely an 18th century phenom. The literary devices and style that worked in the 1700s just don't work to capture a modern-day readers imaginations and interests. After thirty pages of plant description and observations about the geography and tides, I grew weary of the book. When does Crusoe meet Friday? I kept asking myself. Answer: Not until near the end of the novel. By then, I'd had enough interior dialogue and first-person observations about corn stalks to tide me over for a good long while.

And here's an interesting fact. Crusoe wasn't a castaway at all. Seems like he took up permanent residence on his island (sort of like Gilligan after his three hour tour and the five seasons he was on TV and all the reunion shows that came later!) and stayed for twenty-five years. Listen, you're not a castaway after that length of time, you're a native, and don't you forget it.

Well, one good thing though. I did complete "a classic". I've had two new copies of Crusoe on my shelf for twenty years (never opened, still in the wrapper) and I was glad to finally darken their pages with my filthy, donut and coffee stained fingertips.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

CD Delivery

The first of my five audio CDs that I recorded in studio some weeks back has finally arrived. But I'm not going to listen to it. (Have you ever listened to your own voice on a recording? My voice is sickening and I'd rather listen to yowling hyena.)

Funny thing about a CD. By the time I come around to using the latest technology, it's no longer the latest technology. My son has informed me that no one listens to CDs anymore. Everything is iPod, MP3, digital download, etc.

Oh, well. One of these days I'm going to get hip and buy a few of the latest gadgets . . . a color TV, a gas stove, a telephone . . .

I'm still yelling at my neighbors out the window.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Writing Solo

When I was a young, aspiring writer, I recall reading a quote that read something like: "Writing is, by definition, a solitary action." As time has gone by, I've come to realize how accurate those words truly are. After all, very few people actually read what any writer produces.

Take Thanksgiving, for instance. At one point, my mother asked me, "Are you writing anything new these days?"

"Yes," I said, "In fact, I'll bring you some copies of a few things I've had published this past year. And I'll have three new books published in 2009."

"That's nice," she said. "How does Becky read all of the stuff you write?"

"Becky? She reads very little of what I write. She's tired. Worn out. She reads textbooks. Student essays. She could care less about reading what I write."

"You don't say! Well, I guess she does have a life!"

She has a life. That's an understatement. Recently Becky asked the kids if they had read a humorous essay I had written about the family a few months ago. "Why would I want to read something dad wrote?" was Logan's response. "I started to read it, "Chelsey said. "But I got busy." "That's all right," Becky chimed in, "I haven't had time to read it either."

Years ago, I used to write stories (and even publish a few) for my children and their entertainment. Sort of daddy's special gift. They would even ask me to read some of my stories as dinner entertainment. Now, the mere suggestion of reading one of my works-in-progress sends my son into agonizing spasms: "Dad, just bring me another pork chop! You gonna eat your hamburger helper? Here, let me take that sweet roll off your plate!"

"I have to listen to two hundred thirteen-year-olds tell me their stories all day long," Becky adds, "why on God's-green-earth would I want to sit here and listen to one of yours?"

"It's just a little something I've been working on for five hours today," I'll say. "Thought you might want to learn about Jell-O, or maybe hear a story about my old dog, or read some of the silly poems I'm churning out on my blog."

They just keep chewing.

Writing is certainly a solo pursuit. It's no wonder so many writers end up sticking their heads into glowing ovens!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Glazed America

A few weeks back, I noted a new book that was published by an IUPUI anthropology professor. The title: Glazed America: The History of the Donut, by Paul Mullins. I knew I had to buy and read the book. The day the book arrived, I read it in a single sitting . . . sort of like I would eat a donut. One bite! Whole! Right down the hatch!

I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot. For example, the donut was probably a Dutch invention, but donuts became popular in America on the front lines of WWI. They have been an American staple since, and, in fact, are deemed an American food . . . so much so that other nations often look to the donut as the source of America's health problems and other woes and some nations have even passed laws barring Krispy Kreme from setting up shop on their shores. Professor Mullins also devotes an entire section to the significance of the donut in faith communities (how about our coffee and donut hour at Calvary?) and the deep significance we continue to place on eating a donut with a friend.

Of course, I knew all of this . . . that's why I eat donuts! But I must apologize for my donut craze. It's gotten a bit out of control. I realized this as I was reading the book. As I was finishing off the final chapter, I realized I had subconsciously eaten the cover off the book! Wow! Let me tell you, the Glazed America book jacket was absolutely the tastiest paper I've ever enjoyed!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My Canadian Groupie

It happens about this time every year . . . I get a phone call, an email, or a letter from a woman named Claudia in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She tells me how much she enjoys my books, tells me how many of my books she has purchased, or given away, and then wonders if she can buy more directly from me (with my autograph, of course). She especially loves Candles in the Dark, the one book, so far, that I have worked the longest and hardest on, but which went out of print the fastest of any of my titles. This book was translated into Chinese and Korean editions, and for all I know, I might be a best-selling author in Beijing or Seoul, but what good does that do me in Browntucky, Indiana?

Now, I'm not sure how people like Claudia find me, and I'm even more perplexed by my god-like status in Calgary, Alberta! (And why Calgary, of all places? Are there no bookstores there? Do Canadians read more out-of-print books by unknown and unsuccessful authors like me? Why form a Todd Outcalt book club and have my face tatooed on her forearms?)

Anyway, of course I wrote her back yesterday informing her that, yes, I would be most happy to send her a few of my books (as I do have the only remaining copies in existence) and I would even toss in free postage to Canada. Heck, that's the least I can do for my groupies. Gotta keep the fans happy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Disney and Daniel Boone

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I managed to finish a number of books, including the massive and comprehensive biography, Boone, by Robert Morgan. Though Morgan is best known as a poet, he certainly knows his stuff when it comes to Daniel Boone. I learned a great deal about this national figure, including the following:

Daniel Boone wasn't really a "big man", as the Disney theme song suggests (version with Fess Parker). Boone was a rather rail thin and scrawny five ten, one hundred-seventy-pound dude.

Boone didn't make much war on the Native Americans. Oh, sure he killed a few people when he had to, but by and large he tried to live peaceably with all of the Indian tribes, and this during a time (mid 1700s) when many of the tribes were being slaughtered.

Boone was a trapper, and spent whole months at a time by himself in the Kentucky wilderness. Brave dude, and smart--killed a lot of beaver!

It's also not true that Boone was "born on a mountain top in Tennessee" (again, the Disney theme song--shame on you Disney!) nor is it true that when Boone was born, the "land of the free" was already free. The colonies had not yet been liberated from England (Disney has no shame!). And here's the biggie: Daniel Boone absolutely, positively never wore a coon-skin cap! Wow! My entire childhood was a sham! My sense of history has been shattered. What Mrs. Gore taught me about America in the second grade was all a big fib!

Thank you, Mr. Morgan, for putting my life back in balance. I can sleep soundly now.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Out of Business

After Thanksgiving, I happened to be driving through Terre Haute when I noted that another independent bookstore had gone out of business. It was a little shop on the corner that used to enjoy a unique clientele. More and more, only the big chains are left standing.

Conducting a book signing in this little store was always a treat for me. The owners were nice, and they would go out of their way to make an author feel comfortable.

"Can I get you anything?" they might ask.
"No, I'm fine," I'd say.
"Anything at all? Water, maybe?"
"Okay, I'll have some water."
"No, really, the water will do."
"The chair is fine, thanks. Just the water."
"I'll bring you a brownie, too," the owners would say. "A writer needs a brownie!"
"And let us know if we can get you anything else."

Some customers would be nice! I never said it then, but I guess no book store can survive on just goodwill and brownies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Some time back I wrote a piece about Jell-O, which I sent away to an editor. Lo and behold, today I received word that they are accepting it for publication. Jell-O! Jell-O? Are you kidding me? Jell-O?*

This acceptance confirms my long-held suspicions that I can write about anything. Jell-O?

What's next for me? How about an article about dog poop? How about an article about Thanksgiving day leftovers? I could also write about how to clean out a garbage disposal. Maybe a short piece about leaf raking?

Jell-O? Jell-O?*

* For those of you unfamiliar with the Jim Mora rant (former Colts coach) I'm doing a spin off here! Jell-O? Are you kidding me? Jell-O?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Charming Billy

I rounded out my perusal of Billy Collins's poetry by reading his collected works. One thing is for sure: Billy has guts for placing an author photo inside the dust jacket. If I met Billy on the street, I'd never suspect he was a great poet . . . I'd probably try to buy a used car off of him. But I guess that's why he is respected as a poet of the people.

Reading Billy's poems is like having a conversation with a friend. He writes smoothly, speaks effortlessly, provides insights into the smallest of events.

As a college English major, I used to write a lot of poetry, primarily to girls--which also explains why English majors have more Saturday night dates per capita than any college major. Girls love poetry, and I often moved them with lines like this:

Billy writes poems, and so do I.

He's a laureate, though I am not.

Sometimes his poems make a girl cry.

Mine can't, but it's the best that I've got.

So dear, I'll write a few lines about your eyes,

About that small dot at the nape of your neck,

Where the birds gather in the lonely skies

And I might just kiss you, what the heck!

Now that we are old and gray together

And our influence on the kids past its prime,

I might even knit you a cardigan sweater

Before I run out of time.

On Thanksgiving day, let's eat some fudge,

Some turkey and taters and noodles.

And if I can't say it, I'll give you a nudge,

To let you know I love you oodles.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Howling Good Time

Over the weekend I read Allen Ginsberg's "classic" book of poetry: Howl. The Forword, written by William Carlos Williams (he of the red wheelbarrow glazed with rain) mentions that, when he knew Ginsberg, he was one disturbed human-being. I first read Howl in college, but the place and time were a bit before me (1955) and I'm not sure that "Howl" resonates with me as it would with older Baby Boomers.

Still, though Allen Ginsberg saw the "best minds of his generation destroyed . . . ." I've seen my share of destruction, too. But having emerged during the 1970s instead of the 1950s, my sense of destruction is a bit different:

Todd's Howl

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Dunkin' Donuts

Old men sitting in truck stops eating day old hash

Women with one tooth grinning over a plate of Sloppy Joes

Teenagers necking in the booth next to the pinball machine
Josey and the Pussycats on TV

And everyone grooving on Friday night football games.

Yes, and Sonny and Cher, too, and let's not forget

Flip Wilson, or Carol Burnett, or Jimmie on Goodtimes.

Shows like this that defined my generation

And warped our minds and made me what I am today

Just another guy who can hum the theme to Gilligan's Island.

America, I'm calling you up on charges of neglect,

Mothers who left their teenage sons, like me,

To rot in front of Sanford and Son, My Three Sons,

And that other show that featured Brian Keith

As a slovenly father who desperately needed a good woman to love.

America, I'm still looking for Mayberry,

For your huddled masses yearing to break free from Wal-Mart

(Which used to be K-Mart before the flashing blue light turned red).

America, I'm putting my middle-aged shoulder to the wheel

And turning on the coffee pot one last time.

Tonight, it's SpongeBob and Three and a Half Men.

Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy. And amen.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Christmas Letter

On Saturday I finished writing our annual Christmas letter to family and friends. We always struggle to get this out, but somehow we manage to send it out before Easter.

As I was pulling together information about our year, I initially thought that I hadn't accomplished much with my writing in 2008 . . . until I actually began to pull out files and make a list of everything I'd done. Then it hit me:

I'll have three new books published in 2009, the most in any single year since 1998 (when I had five books published in a single year). I will also have five audio CDs produced in 2009 (and most of this material is previously unpublished and ranges in subject matter from a collection of my Christmas memoirs, to a CD for cancer support partners, to a CD of commonly-themed sermons for tough times). I have also had a few stories published in various journals, works in an anthology, and one or two articles in magazines. And I'm not going to number sermons, newsletter articles, or other correspondence like emails and blogs in that count . . . I'd just lose track.

In short, I've been busier than a one-armed-paper-hanger (quote by Klinger in a 1983 M*A*S*H episode).

But I did finish the Christmas letter . . . and it's one of my best to date. Insane, irreverent, markedly pessimistic in my usual old fashioned Christmasy style. My mother may send it back.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Writing Break

It's Friday, I've been writing for three hours, and thought I'd break to write a blog about taking a break.

Breaks are, after all, important. That's why I've made more coffee. I haven't yet eaten breakfast or lunch, and don't plan to (Fridays are also diet days, so I can eat more donuts on the weekends). I'm waiting for Chelsey, too, and can't wait for her to walk through the door so we can talk for five minutes before she disappears for twelve hours.

And after this break is over, I'm going back to my office where "old sparky" (my electrically challenged computer) awaits. This could be the day I produce the great American novel . . . or it could be the day "old sparky" blows and singes my fingers off.

Only God knows.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Uncle Billy

Today I finished reading a book of poems by Billy Collins (former U.S. Poet Laureate): Picnic, Lightening. Collins is a great poet. He writes about the stuff of life . . . like having breakfast, listening to the children's song "Three Blind Mice", or gazing at a snowfall. His short poem, "Splitting Wood" inspired me to write my own verse about cutting beaver-chewed wood at my house.

O Billy, My Billy, you write your verse so well.

Your words are tight, your meter flows,

And your bald head's rather swell.

O Billy, My Billy, come split some wood with me.

The rats are back, they've got big teeth,

And they're chewing down my tree.

O some may say I'm weary, and others claim I'm mean,

But these beavers chew more of my wood

Than any rodents I have seen!

They chew a tree at midnight, and more wood as dawn nears,

But if I get my teeth on them

I'll kill the *^#@*&#! (no tears!)

O Billy, My Billy, let's see you write some verse

About a man who strangles rats

And turns their pelts to purse.

O Billy, My Billy, a beaver's blood is red,

And when I get my .22

Those *$#&^*! will be dead! (1)

(1) with apologies to Walt Whitman

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Read, My Son, Read

Last week I cleaned out my office library and shipped a couple of boxes of books off to Half-Priced Books. Naturally, once I had some extra money in my pocket from the sale, I purchased more books.

I was tooling around the bookstore when, suddenly, I turned down an aisle and saw the title big as life: The History of Farting, by Benjamin Bart. Wow, I thought to myself. Perfect reading material for my fifteen year old son. And, of course, I had to read it, too.

I picked up a copy and took it to the checkout aisle. The guy at the cash register cast a suspicious glance my way as if to ask: "You're not doing this now are you?"

I shot him a return look that said, "Even as we speak!"

When I showed my son the book that night, he actually gave me a hug. I was his hero! Now he is reading this book AND the Bible (yes, Logan does read his Bible . . . he's in the gospel of Matthew currently, I think). Holy, Moly . . . what a combination.

Now, on a final note about this title, I really think Bart's book has little to do with history. Much of it focuses upon tricks and techniques, and I know my son can't wait to try some of it out with his friends. He'll be the hit of the party. And who knows, he might even brag a bit on his old man. It's not every boy who has such a loving and thoughful father.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What's a Pastor to Do?

At the Friday night book club meeting (I was invited to discuss my book with this fine group) a question emerged near the end of the meeting: "As a pastor, how do you have time to write anything?" This is a very common question that people ask, and I don't usually give much time answering it. Many people may not consider that pastor's actually write and practice sermons every week (this alone can be very time consuming) or that pastors also write letters, newsletter items, postcards, and tons of emails . . . and some even write blogs!

Nevertheless, the fact that I can write is an amazing thing in itself. Last night I reread The Discipline description of what a pastor is supposed to do, and I was amazed that I have time to breathe, eat a meal, or sleep. I'm also amazed that Becky and I were together long enough (at least twice in the past twenty-five years) to start a family!

Basically--here's what a pastor in the UM church is supposed to do:

Oversee the total ministry of the church by supporting, guiding, training and administering lay leadership; preaching, teaching, and overseeing the worship each week; administering the sacraments, training children and teens in confirmation; encouraging the weak and lonely; seeking the lost; give oversight to the total educational programming of the church; find money to keep the church financially solvent; perform weddings and funerals (all with due counsel); provide counseling for broken marriages, parenting needs, those entering military service; seek out and train those who may want to enter ordained ministry; participate fully in the life of the district and conference ministries; order the church; develop mission, set goals, raise funds to support the broader mission of the church; serve in supervisory responsibilities within the conference; visit from house to house; keep all church records or see that they are accessible; oversee staff; work with staff parish, finance, and councils for the general oversight of the church . . . and anything else you can think of!!!!

Now, the interesting thing about this job description is that this is Boiled Down! The actual job description in The Discipline continues for three, single-spaced pages! Which provokes me to ask this question: Who the heck wrote this stuff??

The worst thing about The Discipline is that it has been written by committee. And I learned a long time ago that I didn't want to be involved in any writing project to be completed by a group. I mean, I've been there . . . and it doesn't work.

Reading The Discipline also reminds me of why I don't read The Discipline. Not even Jesus Christ himself could understand it, and as for me and my house, I'll keep on writing after everyone else in the church has gone to bed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Column

Last Saturday I received my copy of Together magazine . . . our Indiana area publication for the United Methodist Church. The issue contained a column I had written some weeks before.

Now, usually I don't hear much about the column, but for some reason I have already received numerous comments, emails, and phone calls about this one. Okay, so maybe it was a bit funnier than usual. I even had a box of donuts delivered to the office this week in honor of my prowess for pastries.

Well, I'll have to thank Dan Gangler for giving me the opportunity to write the column. Every month, I wonder if I have anything else to write about, and it's difficult for me to believe that I've actually been doing the column for nearly five years now.

And since this last column closed with a reference to new underwear, I'm wondering if I can do something with that. My mom would appreciate it. She bought me new undies for my birthday in October, and Christmas is approaching quickly. I know that, when it comes to the feel of cotton underneath, I'm still a man of the cloth.

And yes, I can make clergy jokes with the best of them!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Book Club

On Friday night Becky and I were invited to attend an in-home book study group. We didn't know these fine people, but for some reason they were studying my book, The Best Things in Life Are Free, and they wanted to meet the author. They served us a nice meal, some very delicious dessert, and afterwards discussed one of the chapters in the book.

Now, it's been ten years since I wrote that book, and I felt rather silly admiting I didn't remember why I wrote what I wrote or that I couldn't remember what was in each chapter. Too many words have flowed under the bridge since then. Still, it was fascinating listening to people talk about what the book means to them, and what they are taking away from it, and how it has helped them. I felt like an actual writer!

Later, they asked me to talk about what I'm currently working on. I told them about the two books that will be published in 2009, but didn't have the heart to tell them about my blog, or about the dog book that I'm working on (which is, without doubt, going to be the zaniest piece of work I've done in years and will be borderline insane), or the half dozen articles I've completed recently for various magazines.

They wondered how I had the time to write at all. And, again, I didn't have the heart to tell them that I write most of my stuff in long, sustained eight to sixteen hour outburts of Friday energy, or that I often have to stay up half the night with a pot of coffee to meet a deadline. In essence, I don't have time to write at all . . . but then, who has time to watch a Colts game, or play a round of golf, or sit in front of the tube three hours a night? Writing is simply a choice one makes over other pursuits.

I'm just glad they wanted to read one of my books before it goes out of print.

And my wife told me on the way home, "I think they liked you!"

I'm not sure about that . . . but I liked them. I'll talk to any book group who serves us a mean slice of sugar creame pie! Just ask me!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Author Bio

This past week I was invited to submit some of my work to a new web site that supposedly pairs work authors with editors. It's a new service that is designed to speed up the process of finding outlets for authors and helps editors find the work they need to fill magazine pages. (Novel concept, but something tells me this won't work.)

Anyway . . . I also had to submit an author bio. I never know what to say about myself. And if I told the truth about who I am (and who most people know me to be) I'm sure no editor would want to give my business a second look. Still, truth-telling is something I like to excell at, so I've tried to write a bio that is both truthful, balanced, fair, and well, maybe a touch boastful.

I haven't submitted this yet, but I'd like to know how many of you would want to read something written by an author like this:

Todd Outcalt is a native Hoosier who has never worn women's clothing. He is a pastor who also writes copious amounts of "stuff" that he enjoys sending along to unsuspecting editors like you. His hobbies include kayaking, yakking with friends, and feeding his pet yak. He's written something like seventeen books and a few hundred articles, which is astounding when you consider he operates on half a brain and creates his words on a 1998 Dell Computer that has more electrical shorts than J. Edgar Hoover. His wife is a dumplin' and he fathered two children during blackouts in the early 1990's. Give him a call, he would love to write for your magazine or speak at your next Bar Mitzvah party. References are available upon request, or you can call Todd's seventy-year-old mom, who will give you the full scoop.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Family Adventures

While in Galena, Illinois two weeks ago, I purchased the book, Through Europe at Four Knots: A Tale of Boating Mayhem and Family Adventure, by Les Horn. It's a memoir account of his family's sailboat adventure from England to the Black Sea, including sailing through many former "Iron Curtain" countries. There were, of course, mishaps along the way, as well as plenty of bribery and taxation, but somehow they managed to sail along to their final destination in Italy.

I read this book because Becky and I have always fancied that we would like to someday purchase a sailboat and make our own adventures on the high seas. But I'm not really a high seas kind of guy. I'm more like a sail-across-the-two-acre-pond kind of guy. Still, I admire anyone who has the chutzpah to travel through Europe without a visa.

Most of my life adventures don't involve boats. They involve cars that break down in the eastern slums of St. Louis (ala Clark Griswold in Family Vacation), or taxi rides from the airport that border on the suicidal, or hiking excursions through State Parks with people who like to smoke from water bongs.

No, my life isn't filled with much adventure. I just like to read about them . . . and dream the dream. Someday, though, I am going to buy myself a rubber duckie for the whirlpool bath.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Getting Well

Another book I finished reading recently was the medical tome, Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts About Alternative Medicine, by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst. This book, written by two very competent physicians and research fellows, tackles some of the biggest alternative medicine boondoggles and ideologies of our time, including chiropractic, acupunture, herbal medicines and cures, and dozens of other alternative therapies (many of which, I noted, are actually covered under my medical insurance plan).

Essentially, these guys offer up piles of evidence showing that most of these alternative medicines and cures are caught in the crosshairs with no supportive medical evidence detailing their effectiveness. Still, millions of people swear by these "cures" (such as acupuncture) when, in fact, there is not a single medical study anywhere that supports their effectiveness.

As a child and teen, I recall being taken to a chiropracter by my mother and grandmother. The chiropracter over the years claimed that he could "cure" not only a chronic back pain, but also (at various times) the inflammation in my knees, hemmeroids (not mine!), and my father's baldness. I can still remember my dad using (what looked like at the time) a Medieval instrument of torture that had been provided by the chiropracter who claimed that, by "scalding" his scalp with an electrical surge, the hair on his head would grow back. My brother and I used to make fun of him by the hour every time we watching him "shocking" his head with these bolts of lightening from the bathroom socket. Of course, Dad still went bald and my knees still hurt, even though we shelled out lots of bucks for these alternative "cures". Not all chiropracter's make such claims, I know, but the history of chiropractic is far less than stellar and is laden with some of the most corrupt practitioners in any line of work.

Reading this book made me think of the old Barnum & Bailey quote: "There's a sucker born every minute."

And when it comes to health and our well-being, people get very passionate about their own "cures". As for me, I just stick to the basics: eat right, excercise, stay clear of power lines. And when I need medical attention, I ask my doctor or get a call from my "health coach" in Dallas. She'll be calling me soon, I know, asking me if I've lost that five pounds I promised. And I'll just tell her I'm still following "The Outcalt Plan" . . . which is slow, methodical, and heavy on the pastries.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Secrets of the Vine

Last week I read Secrets of the Vine, by Bruce Wilkinson, a little book offering reflections on Jesus' teachings about the vine and branches in John. It's not a bad book, and it's a quick read, and Mr. Wilkinson seems to know his stuff as far as vineyards and grapes goes.

Vineyards are also somewhat romantic. Becky and I visited two vineyards on our trip to Galena, Illinois. I even wrote her a couple of poems to express my inexausible love.

Sure as the vine twines round the stump,
You are my darlin' sugar lump.

And this one:

Some grapes are red,
And none are blue,
And that is why,
I want to get you back to the hotel room and turn off the TV and light a candle and whisper in the darkness . . . you!

Well, I owe this last poem to e.e. cummings, I guess. I always loved his little initials.
thanks for reading this blog t.e. outcalt

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Journey to 100 (Books & Wieners)

I've lost count of the number of books I've read thus far in 2008, but believe I'm in the 75+ range. This means I may have to resort to reading poetry books if I'm going to reach my goal of 100 books in a year. Still, I'm on the verge of completing more books this weekend, and I also purchased a couple of humdingers at Barnes & Noble last Friday that I'm anxious to tackle.

Still, not that reading a book of poetry is easy . . . in actuality, poems are tough. Lots of pith there, and some poets are deep. I've got 3-5 books of poetry I plan to read before year end.

I also like to write poetry . . . especially haikus about hot dogs. Here's a triptych of hot dog poems that speak to the large bag of frozen wieners I'm storing in my freezer, and the fact that, this time of the year, at our house, we are still making outdoor fires for wiener roastin'.

Microwave, my son . . .
Set the timer on slow roast.
Who burned the weenie?

Hot dog on a plate,
Wow, that wiener really stinks!
See how it smolders.

Give it to the dog.
He eats food off the tile floor . . .
Just like your daddy!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday Fun Day

It's Friday morning . . . and I get to write! In fact, I can write all day if I want. I can write all night. I can write until the wee hours of Saturday morning, and I might just do it.

This past week I've received a plethora of emails from editors requesting various pages from me. My editor at Abingdon has asked me to rewrite one last page for School's Out. I can do that. My editor at Sourcebooks sent me a giant attachment with the entire 260 page pre-set manuscript of my wedding book (and a publication date, May 2009). Am I going to read this book again now that it's done? Heck no, I can hardly stand to look at it and I've got other fish to fry. And finally, I've got invitations to send along two other book proposals, and I've got to get those all slickity-lookin' and professional. So . . . I've got a lot to do in a day.

As a bit of inspiration, last night I was reading a biographical piece about Joyce Carol Oates, probably the most prolific writer in America (bar none). Seems she can write up to ten hours a day (every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year) and she regards eating as a necessary evil. Now, I'm no Joyce Carol Oates (and I ain't Dan Quayle, either) but I regard eating as a necessary good.

Which reminds me . . . what am I going to fix myself for lunch today? Perhaps a little caviar on a cracker, or, well, maybe some Campbell's Soup. Ol' Dad has a few cans of that around, I'm sure. Gotta go now . . . the flickering screen with the electrical short-circuit is calling.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Charge Conference Report

Each year every United Methodist congregation has an annual "charge conference", traditionally held to review the year past, set goals for the next year, and officially set the pastors' salaries and the budget. Our charge conference for Calvary is tonight, but in lieu of filling out the obligatory paperwork and answering the same questions I am always charged to answer, I'm going to be a Maverick (and get all Mavericky with it!) and give my pastor's report via this blog. After all, we are now living in the computer age, and if anyone actually wants to read my little report, they can visit this blog with the click of a button instead of opening up a file cabinet drawer.

As I consider important events and moments in the life of our little congregation here in Brownsburg, a few big ideas come to mind.

First, this is a congregation with great spirit, unity, and mission. In the past year, we gave nearly 12% of our total income to ministry and mission beyond our own needs. We also started two new worship services, including a Saturday night service at 5 p.m. which will obviously meet a need. We are a large church, and we continue to embrace new families and people from all walks of life. Our membership is now over 800, we are approaching an average of 500 in worship. In 2008, we have already had 45+ professions of faith, so we are making new disciples, and we have baptized 31 people. And the year is not over yet. By 2010, we will be a 1000 member congregation, and our consitituency is now well over 1200 people.

I'm also reminded that every vineyard needs workers for the harvest. And here at Calvary we have a great staff. I mean, these people work hard, and some of them even like me! Without a team, ministry is just individual effort, and the fullness of our gifts and service don't blossom and bear fruit. So it does take a great staff to make a great church, and we are blessed at Calvary.

Calvary is also a church that is getting younger, so we are an anomaly when compared to most congregations. We have children, teens, and young adults who are not only attending, but active, serving, and involved in the life and leadership of the congregation at many levels. Of course, these changes challenge Calvary, too, but that's part of the wonderful and spirited conversation and work we are about.

Finally, on a personal note . . . yes, I did fulfill my continuing education for 2008. Heck, I read a bunch of books and I might even read a hundred titles by the end of the year. I'm in a clergy reading group and some of these people seem to like me, too. As for my health and well being, I eat a lot of donuts, drink a lot of coffee, and try to "stay in shape". In fact, I'd say I'm in pretty good shape for the shape I'm in! My wife takes good care of me in every other way ('nuff said) and she seems to like me, too, especially when I bring her flowers. She returns the favor by buying me boxes of glazed donuts.

Having said all of this, I hope to be at Calvary for a long time. I mean, someone's got to write this blog!

At the last, I'd also like to say that this whole faith in Jesus thing is a blast. I really love the Lord (no, really, he's a swell egg) and I love the people of Calvary. Both God and this congregation seem to accept me as I am, with all of my faults, failures, deficiencies, sins, and through all of my nerdy, Andy-Griffithesque ways.

Whew! Another Charge Conference over! The bishop is relieved. The DS is relieved. I''m relieved. Heck, let's all get some donuts!

Monday, November 3, 2008

America's First Humorist

I completed reading The Singular Mark Twain, by Fred Kaplan. It was a giant book, probably the best biography of Twain I've read. In many respects, Twain was America's first humorist. But I have to say, his writing is tough to read today. So many of the jokes are simply lost over time and it's tough to catch his subtle barbs when the reader can't reenter the time.

I like writing humor, too, but I'm afraid I lose most people. And my faint attempts at using humor to diffuse a situation (say, with my wife) don't usually work. And my son won't laugh at my jokes unless they involve potty humor or if I use my finger, say, to pick at some part of my anatomy.

But my hair is becoming grayer with each passing, and it will only be a matter of time before I look like Twain. I'll get big laughs then, especially if I stumble a lot or have to walk with a red-tipped cane.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Posthumous Royalties

One of the places that Becky and I visited in Galena, Illinois was the home of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was a native of Galena, and after the Civil War, he returned home . . . penniless, destitute, not many prospects for work.

Fortunately for U.S. Grant, there were some old friends in Galena who purchased a home for him and furnished it. Later, after Grant was elected President and served his two terms, he settled in New York (and was later, of course, buried in Grant's Tomb). Near the end of his life, Grant was again destitute (it's amazing to know how many former Presidents, such as Washington, Jefferson and more, actually ended up their lives in utter financial ruin).

But fortunately for Grant, there was Mark Twain, who was then beginning to publish his own works (such as Huck Finn). Twain agreed to pay Grant a 10% royalty for his war memoirs, and Grant went to work on the writing. As Grant lay dying of throat cancer, he managed to finish his memoirs before expiring. Grant didn't see a dime from his work, but his family did receive more than $400,000 in royalties from his war memoirs, an enormous sum at the time (and not too shabby today!). Twain made more from Grant's work than he made from his own work to that point.

I can only hope this will happen to me. Someday, after I am gone, one of my books will catch a sudden wind and actually sell copies. My children and grandchildren will live in luxury. My wife will marry a sailor. I will be buried in a cardboard box behind the Krispy Kreme donut store. My heirs will be the ones driving the Mercedes. If you stop by to visit, drop a donut hole on my grave and say hello.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Reading Maps

Becky and I left for two days of R & R last Wednesday and drove six hours northwest to the little town of Galena, Illinois. What a time we had--beautiful weather, scenery galore, fine meals, and plenty of together-time. We had each stowed a few books away for the trip as well, and I had brought along the trusty atlas so that I could easily navigate our way.

Of course, reading maps can often be more difficult than reading a book, and, since I had left our GPS at home (I got one for Christmas last year but haven't opened it yet, and I'm still writing this blog on dial-up at home and figuring out how Google works) some aspects of our trip were dicey. In many ways I'm still old fashioned . . . as I enjoy pulling into a gas station and asking, "Hey, can you tell me how to get to Galena?"

This always results in twenty minutes of conversation near the gas pump, with some guy wearing bib overalls telling me, "You gotta go back ten miles and take a left at the fourth stop sign where the road veers slightly to the south and then you take that second road through the elm grove to the west, out past the Dollar General store (but don't go right) and then you go through two hollers and a flat space of about two miles and then hang a left at the bridge. You can't miss it!"

This results, or course, in my wife asking, "Why didn't you open up the GPS and learn how to use it?"

Answer, "Because I love you and want to have this incredible experience of getting lost and taking a long walk with you in the sunset so that we might neck for hours under that elm grove and walk the two mile flat space in our bare feet beneath an umbrella of stars . . . and I brought a blanket, too!"

"Just go back," she says. "You've lost more than your way. You've lost your mind."

All of this . . . just because of a map!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Columbus and Me

It's a sad fact of life that I was born on Columbus Day (which for many years in America was observed on October 12, but now floats around in the October calendar like a piece of dislocated cartilage). As a child, I recall that Columbus Day was often a school holiday, too. And so I was glad that Columbus had "discovered" the New World on my birthday so I could stay home and watch cartoons.

Last week I completed The Last Voyage of Columbus: Being the Epic Tale of the Great Captain's Fourth Expedition, Including Accounts of Swordfight, Mutiny, Shipwreck, Gold, War, Hurricane, and Discovery, by Martin Dugard. Great book. What I learned was that Columbus was everything I thought he might have been, including a religious nut who enjoyed enslaving the native populations, whose insatiable lust for "Gold" drove him back to the "New World" in search of more plunder (which, of course, he stole from the native peoples in copious amounts), and a guy who enjoyed his fame and fortune so much that, when he was no longer famous and fortunate, he decided to die in his early fifties.

But, hey, it was a crazy time back then, and it was a swashbuckling era. I wish I lived in a swashbuckling era now. I would love to swashbuckle, and I would love to be known as a swashbuckler. And I don't even know what swashbuckling is! I just love the word.

Columbus died broke, and in fact, his name faded into oblivion and he was completely forgotten and disregarded as the discoverer of anything, until more than two hundred years later, when he was recognized as the one who actually "found" the New World. But as the book points out, there were certainly others (like the Vikings--who are now in Minnesota and run a football team) who preceded him. But Columbus wasn't really recognized because he discovered and ran. Rather, Columbus stayed in the New World (and actually made four voyages. . . and that's his real claim to fame.

I'm just glad the guy was savvy enough to discover America on my birthday. Thanks, Chris!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Just Do It

Some time back I was talking with a group of other pastors when the subject turned to sex. (Still want to read this blog?) One of the pastors asked me, "Have you told your congregation to 'just do it'?" I asked him what he was talking about. As it turns out, there is evidently a growing movement in the church (among some pastors) who favor the idea that marriages can be saved and/or restored if couples just "did it" more often. Not long after this, I read a major article in TIME detailing this church movement and the plethora of books that are being published to advance this great cause. So I bought one of these books: Just Do It, written by Douglas Brown.

Now, let me pause here and add, I had to make my wife read this book, too. I favored her opinion. After all, the couple in this book decided they would "do it" for 101 consecutive days. And they did! The book details how all this "doing it" effected their marriage, what the sticking points were, how difficult it was "to do it", etc. Evidently, there are many pastors out there who are asking the married couples in their congregations to take a "30 day" pledge, or a "40 day" pledge, or even more, and to "do it" every day. (But hey, that ain't me!)

Essentially, after reading this book and after perusing many other blogs advancing this cause as a means of slowing down the divorce rate, or saving marriages, or spicing up lame marriages, I'm not convinced this is the answer. After all, a couple who is not communicating is still going to have communication problems no matter how much they "do it." A couple with financial worries is still going to have financial stresses even if they "do it" for forty days and forty nights. And a couple with a bad marriage or who might be on the brink of divorce isn't going to save the marriage simply from "doing it" more often.

Even so, my wife and I did sit down with our master calendars last week to make our own plans. We were pleased that we could "get together" (in spite of our two 60+ hour work weeks) on the following dates (which we have penciled in):

November 5 (after charge conference)

November 6

And July 14, 2009.

Yes, I realize that the 3rd date is quite a distance out there, but with our work demands, two teenagers, a mortgage, two pets, and no time for funny business, it's the best we could do. That, and the fact that, I actually need months to plan my advances. I'm like Tony Dungy that way. I have to come up with a good game plan, review it with my wife weeks before game time, and see if she likes the plays I'm going to call. Usually she calls a time out and asks me to resubmit another game plan. This, of course, can take weeks/months . . . but eventually we arrive at a plan we can live with.

I did like reading Douglas Brown's book (I'm not loaning it to anyone!!) and so did my wife. But I'm not convinced any of these "Do it" books are the answer to ailing marriages. Mine, after all, is full, robust, and chocked full of goodies, as you can see. Thank God Becky and I have a plan. All we have to do now, is stay awake.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Day of Proposals

Today (Friday) was a big day . . .

I completed a third revision for my editors at Sourcebooks in Chicago. The book is now slated for publication in May, 2009.

I received an email from my editor at Abingdon (our UM Publishing House) informing me that my book, School's Out, is near completion, too. I was also invited to submit yet another book idea and was informed that Cokesbury wants me to help write a new curriculum for youth (okay . . . but do they know how OLD I am? Have they seen my liver spots? Do they realize I have two teenagers of my own and often threaten to serve them up for adoption?)

I completed three article proposals for three magazines . . . but, hey, I can propose anything (just ask my wife!) A proposal is easy, but getting the wife . . . er, editor, to accept it is another matter entirely. The story of my life.

And finally . . . I also worked up another chapter on my "dog book" . . . which is absolutely some of the funniest stuff I have every written. If I complete this sucker and it sees the light of publication, no one in my family will every speak to me again. This memoir of my childhood dog is so funny, I sometimes blow snot out of my nose.

All in all, not a bad day's work for a rainy Friday (and my son was home all day with me, too, although he did sleep the better part of the afternoon after staying up half the night before). Rather quiet around here otherwise . . . just the way a writer likes it.

Tomorrow, off to Muncie to see the daughter. We'll see how many of us can fit into that tiny dorm room!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rev! It Up

Last week I sat down one evening and whipped out an article for a church magazine (REV!, a rather cute title for a pastor's magazine, don't you think?) Total time, about an hour. I sent the article via email attachment to the editor, who promptly sent me back an email last night saying, "We love it! We'll take it! Look for a contract in the mail next week!"

Getting news like this makes my day, and if they end up paying me $100 for the article, that's pretty good money by-the-hour as far as hourly rates go. It also makes me feel good to know that I can write an article like that every now and again at a very rapid pace, with no corrections, no rewrites, and still sell the sucker.

This Friday, I plan to write all day . . . I've got about four articles I plan to write, I'm still working on my "dog book", and I've also got to do one more round of rewrites on the wedding book that will be published in 2009. All in all, it should make for a very busy day and I know that, after twelve to fourteen hours of rapid-fire writing, my fingers are going to burn.

But bring it on!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pope Mobile

I also finished reading Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way, by Pope John Paul II. I've always thought that the former Pope was a great writer, and this little autobiographical summary of his priestly and episcopal call is fascinating. But it is tough to relate, personally, to the call to celibacy, marriage to the church, and the vows of poverty assumed by many priests of the past generation. I liked Pope John Paul II and wish him well on his way to beatification. Hope he makes it. I'd love to see him in stained glass.

Of course, since his autobiography is entitled, Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way, I couldn't help but consider my own autobiographical title. So far, I've come up with:
Rise, Let Us Go To Dunkin' Donuts
Rise, Logan, Get Your Sorry Butt Out of Bed
Rise! (Hey, Why Aren't These Biscuits Rising?!)
Rise, It's Monday Morning Again

Rise, Naw . . . I'll Hit the Snooze
Rise, Rising, Risen (The Pastoral Guide to Latin Cognates)
Rise, Let Us Be Off to Conference

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Christian Vote

I also read Electing Not to Vote, Edited by Ted Lewis. This book is a series of essays written by Mennonite, Catholic, and Lutheran theologians and pastors who offer their perspective on why Christians may elect not to vote in a national election. All of the essays are older, written long before the current Presidential campaign, but they do present some compelling Christian and Biblical arguments for not helping to elect "Caesar", or why the ultimate Christian concern goes far beyond the kingdoms of the world, as represented by governments and policies that may most always oppose the kingdom of God.

I haven't always voted in national elections, but do plan to vote this year, though as I've gotten older, I certainly have grown very cynical and jaded when it comes to partisan politics, national parties, greed, corruption, and the gigantic cogs that keep the money flowing and the votes coming. I like Jesus and his vision a lot better than any vision I've heard during my lifetime offered by a blue suit and a star-spangled tie.

But perhaps we could also start a new political party. How about:
The Billy Bob Party: You pull a lever, and everyone named "Billy Bob" takes office.
The "Cash Back" Party: Every time your congressman or senator votes to increase your taxes, you get "cash back".
The Frequent Flier Party: You pull a lever for a candidate in this party and you automatically get 1000 pts added to your frequent flier voucher.
Of course, there are other great ideas for political parties, too. Any others?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Inside of Me

I've finished three other books in the past two weeks, including this fine Biology book written by Neil Shurbin: Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion Year History of the Human Body. I try to read 2-3 biology books each year, and I really enjoyed learning more about what is inside of me. And I was convinced that Gatorade had a corner on my liver!

Speaking of what's inside of me: I did get my doctor's lab report and blood-work last week and learned that the bad cholestorol in my body is low (which is good) and that good cholesterol level is low (which is bad). Prescription for improvement: fish oil or OMEGA 3, and lots more nuts. The nuts won't be a problem, I am Mr. Nuts. But I also learned that my kidneys are putting out high levels of creatinine (a protein enzyme). Conversation:

Dr.: Can you explain these high levels of excess protein in your body?
Me: I eat a lot of protein. I drink 2-3 protein mixes a day.
Dr.: Anything else?
Me: I also take creatine. Should I stop taking this?
Dr.: I'll have to "Google it" and find out.

Wow, the Doc actually said he was going to Google with my health. He's going to rely on a Google search to learn if what's inside of me might be harming my body or creating a tumor the size of a softball . . . I'm going to Google, too, and see what I can find out about what's going on inside of ME! But it's probably just donuts.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Book Delivery

On Friday it came in the mail: a small box addressed to me. I knew what it was an opened it immediately. It was my author's copy of a book published by HCI (Health Communications, Inc.) entitled: The Ultimate Christmas.

Not much, really. But the book did contain two of my Christmas memoirs, both previously unpublished.

I'll consider this my first Christmas gift of the season (an early bird special). I did look at it briefly, I told my wife and daughter that the book had arrived, they feigned mock interest, and so I stashed it on the shelf . . . another book I've contributed to (I have roughly twenty of these contributors books on my shelves--in addition to my own titles--and some of these books actually have my name on the cover).

Oh, well . . . somebody, somewhere is going to read it, I guess. Or maybe it's too early to think about Christmas. But it will be there, staring blankly back and me, when it's ready to be opened.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Birthdays & Boss's Day

This past week I received a plethora of birthday cards, and the office staff at Calvary also pitched in Wed. with a boss's day celebration (who knew?). Of the various birthday cards I received this year, I particularly enjoyed this one from my mother-and-father in-law. It's one of those fill-in-the-blank cards that are becoming so popular these days.

When God made you he broke the mold
And never created another
That's half as witty as you are,
Or half the man (why bother?)

Some sons-in-law are shady,
And others filled with vice,
But you married Becky honorably,
Then got her knocked up (twice!).

You've filled our lives with laughter
And graced our days with mirth,
And as your salary has grown,
So has your considerable girth.

Didn't know you had it in you,
But we love you as you are
You're still firing on all pistons and
You've certainly passed our bar.

Oh, some like their sons with jelly,
And others with their jam,
But you saved our daughter, Sonny,
And you're sweeter than a ham.

To Becky you are everything,
Her warrior, lover, friend,
And you've showered her with kisses
And you're lovin' knows no end.

So have a happy birthday, Son!
(Oh, may we call you that?)
We've watched you grow from boy to man,
And you're really where it's at.

Of course, I did receive other cards, too. And I thank you for these! And thanks to the Calvary staff for recognizing my innumerable gifts on boss's day with their very special verse:

Some churches have their St. Terese,
And others have their Pope,
But we're the only church we know,
Who's leader is a dope.

Yes, some bosses may have intellect,
And others may have tact,
But thank God the rest of us are here,
To make up for what you've lacked.

Some day if God should call you home,
This office won't repair,
We'll just keep going day by day,
And never shed a tear.

We'll keep on makin' copies,
We'll keep on singin' songs,
And few will miss your sermons
Or the space your chair belongs.

We'll call the bishop, ask for "Joel",
He'll send us Mert or Billy,
And yes, we'd grieve a day or two,
But then feel rather silly.

So have a happy boss's day,
Put this card on the shelf!
And should you have a thought to share,
Please keep it to yourself.

One thing's for sure . . . birthdays and boss's day really builds a guy up. But, gee whiz, Wally, these cards do sure make a guy feel swell.