Category Archives: Books

“Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers” by Anne Lamott, chapter 2: Thanks

“Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers” by Anne Lamott, chapter 2: Thanks

ThanksThe second chapter in Anne Lamott’s book is about saying, “Thanks”.  She talks about being thankful as a rush of relief that I dodged a bullet… my child didn’t drown… said with a heaving exhalation of breath, the expulsion of bellows- THANK you, whoooooosh (44).  “Thanks” can be the recognition that you have been blessed mildly, or with a feeling as intense as despair at the miracle of having been spared.  You say thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou: My wife is going to live.  We get to stay in this house.  They found my son: he’s in jail, but he’s alive; we know where he is and he’s safe for the night.  Things could have gone either way, but they came down on our side.  It could have been much, much worse, and it wasn’t (47).

On Sunday, December 23rd, we were driving from my parents’ house to a friends’ house while listening to the Cleveland Browns play the Denver Broncos on the radio.  With the Broncos leading 14-3 at the end of the second quarter and a Cleveland defensive stop, the radio announcer said what a lot of Cleveland radio announcers have said over the years, “That could have been worse.”  As a life-long Cleveland sports fan, I know these words too well.  To be a Cleveland sports fan, you are mostly thankful that it wasn’t worse than it actually was.

We can be thankful for anything.  “Through the most ordinary things, books, for instance, or a postcard, or eyes or hands, life is transformed (47).  For us to acknowledge that we have been set free from toxic dependency, from crippling obsession or guilt, that we have been graced with the ability finally to forgive someone, is just plain astonishing… To have been so lost that you felt abducted, to feeling found, returned, and set back onto your feet: Oh my God, thankyouthankyouthankyou.  Thank you.  Thanks (48). Thank you for lifting this corner of the curtain so I can see the truth, maybe for just a moment, but in a way that might change my life forever.  And that moment is astonishing, because everything is taking place all at once, the micro and the macro (49).

Two poems come to mind which remind me of thankfulness for ordinary life:

The Life of a Day by Tom Hennen

Red-MapleLike people or dogs, each day is unique and has its own personality quirks which can easily be seen if you look closely. But there are so few days as compared to people, not to mention dogs, that it would be surprising if a day were not a hundred times more interesting than most people. But usually they just pass, mostly unnoticed, unless they are wildly nice, like autumn ones full of red maple trees and hazy sunlight, or if they are grimly awful ones in a winter blizzard that kills a lost traveler and bunches of cattle. For some reason we like to see days pass, even though most of us claim we don’t want to reach our last one for a long time. We examine each day before us with barely a glance and say, no, this isn’t one I’ve been looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for the next, when, we are convinced, our lives will start for real. Meanwhile, this day is going by perfectly well adjusted, as some days are, with the right amounts of sunlight and shade, and a light breeze scented with a perfume made from the mixture of fallen apples, corn stubble, dry oak leaves, and the faint odor of last night’s meandering skunk.

Welcome Morning by Anne Sexton

Christmas break, 2012.13, great outside pics 012There is joy / in all: / in the hair I brush each morning, / in the Cannon towel, newly washed, / that I rub my body with each morning, / in the chapel of eggs I cook / each morning, / in the outcry from the kettle / that heats my coffee / each morning, / in the spoon and the chair / that cry “hello there, Anne” / each morning, / in the godhead of the table / that I set my silver, plate, cup upon / each morning. / All this is God, / right here in my pea-green house / each morning / and I mean, / though often forget, / to give thanks, / to faint down by the kitchen table / in a prayer of rejoicing / as the holy birds at the kitchen window / peck into their marriage of seeds. / So while I think of it, / let me paint a thank-you on my palm / for this God, this laughter of the morning, / lest it go unspoken. / The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard, / dies young.

Lamott also instructs on how to live a life filled with more gratitude.  It’s important because if we are lucky, gratitude becomes a habit (49).  Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior.  It almost makes you willing to be of service, which is where joy resides.  It means you are willing to stop being such a jerk.  When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and in the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back (57).  “Thanks” is a huge mind-shift, from thinking that God wants our happy chatter and a public demonstration and is deeply interested in our opinions of the people we hate, to feeling quiet gratitude, humbly and amazingly, without shame at having been so blessed.  You breathe in gratitude, and you breathe it out, too.  Once you learn how to do that, then you can bear someone who is unbearable (60).  The movement towards gratitude brings us from the package of self-obsessed madness to a spiritual awakening.  Gratitude is peace (65).

Looking around, I am grateful for quiet mornings, poetry, the calls of birds, curious people, Blue Herons, calm waters, honey bees, coffee that isn’t bitter, wild flowers, peace-making people, busy insects, dishwashers, harmony in music, sunflower seeds, fresh salsa, NPR, The Weepies, laughter, Frederick Buechner, Ernest Gaines, John Berryman’s “Eleven Addresses to the Lord”, Emily Dickinson, the $140 that we made in a yard sale for school clothes, clean notebooks, well-working pens, the bald eagles that I saw for the first time on New Year’s Eve, a clean house, hot water, a shoveled sidewalk, snowplow trucks, used book stores, coffeeshops, baseball, Panera Bread, frosting, chicken and rice, baseball card collecting (before it got too expensive), old cars, architecture, wood furniture, heated swimming pools, water stations during races, good running shoes, the Liberal Arts, a good story, a redemptive ending, hitting the sweet spot, being in the zone, inspiring leaders, Pandora, Spring Training, Instagram, a completed project, a wild flower garden, MapMyRun, cool race tee-shirts, electric blankets, Coke from a bottle, the Phila Art Museum, the academic calendar, photo albums, Spring Break, and manual labor.

Christmas break, 2012.13, great outside pics 278I am  grateful for my family and the people that he has put into my life over the years: Hope, Grace, Isaac, Eden and Cana; my parents and sister; my extended family; Norrie, Ron, Kevin, Jack and my great staffs at HU; Bobby, Keith, Evan, Liesl and Troy at my church; the people who invested in me growing up like Jerry, P. Ford, Mr. T, Tim Wolf, Comenzo, Bettie Ann, and Dennis; friends like Josh, James, Tom, Richard, Joey, John, Bruce, Chris, Andy, Nathan, Tim, Gimpy and Gary; and VFCC and Eastern.  And, Huntington University, with all of the opportunities that it has given to my family and I.  All of these have served in my pit crew and without them my life would be barren and pathetic.

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Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott, part 1: Help

For some time, I wanted to write about books that are worth suggesting to others to enjoy and be inspired by.  As an evangelist for the written word (as opposed to films, television and most music with the exception of The Weepies), I hope to share readable, thought-provoking books with others so that you might enjoy them as much as I have.  So, here is my first blog attempt at rabbit trails (notes in the margins), reflection and reviews of pages that I’ve read recently.

“Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers” by Anne Lamott.  Part 1 of 3: Help

help thanks wow book coverForgive me but this is the first Anne Lamott book that I’ve read.  There is a copy on my shelf of “Traveling Mercies” that someone at the college lost but it remains unread.  Honestly, I was skeptical to read it because so many people were reading it.  Since I am such a non-conformist, I couldn’t possibly read anything popular (sarcasm).  Furthermore, I (unfairly) assumed it would be a cynical, aggravated-at-the-Church biography similar to “Blue Like Jazz,” but with a female protagonist.  While I resonate with some squinty-eyed faithful folks like Flannery O’Connor or Frederick Buechner, I am skeptical of cynics.  My only experience with Lamott was an essay read in an episode of This American Lifewhen she described an airline flight and music (see below).  I should have moved sooner to read her work.

However (in my best Steven A. Smith voice), few books have more underlining and notes in the margins as, “Help, Thanks, Wow” which means that “Traveling Mercies” just moved up on the To Read list and more of Lamott’s works have been added to the Half.com wish list.  In fact, I resonated with Lamott’s writing so much that rarely did two pages pass through my fingers without an underline or a margin-unwritten-in.

From the beginning, Lamott’s style is probably grittier than some folks prefer: She swears a few times but it is used as an honest description and not simply a fill-in word.  Also, she is open-minded to the identity of God.   Many times, she refers to God as “She” or “Not Me” or “The Grandmothers” or “Mother” but it is simply an attempt to reach her readers who may or may not be that interested in the God of the Bible.  She is a faithful Christian, no doubt, but is open-minded about describing God and likes a well-placed swear word, which I appreciate.  Sometimes, swearing is necessary, although in some contexts, you’ll risk losing your audience.

“Help, Thanks, Wow” encourages honest communication with The Father.  My experience is more hesitant, more calculated when speaking to God.  I want to put on a good face.  God is awful big and impressive and  I don’t want to embarrass myself by saying something silly.  Moreover, it is hard to be honest in prayer because honesty requires transparency.  Being transparent with the King of the Universe is risky because He can Blast me if He discovered what a weak-willed, sin-finding,  jerk-face I really was.

Lamott writes, God can handle honesty, and prayer begins an honest conversation (6).  Furthermore, My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you are close to God.  If you say to God, “I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,” that might be the most honest thing that you’ve ever said.  If you told me you had said to God, “It’s all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,” it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real- really real.  It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table (7).  Perhaps the strongest encouragement for honesty comes even earlier, when she writes that it is OK to pray “God, I hate you.” because it is real and it is truth and perhaps the first sincere thought that you’ve had in months (4).  It doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to hide those details about myself in good conscience.

God-If-You-re-Not-Up-There-I-m-F-ed-LP-Hammond-Darrell-9780062088758This kind of honesty reminds me of another recent book purchase by Darrell Hammond of Saturday Night Live fame: God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked: Tales of Stand-Up, Saturday Night Live, and Other Mind-Altering Mayhem.  Hope just started reading this book today.  I was so intrigued by Hammond’s honesty of in an interview about his life (see below).  That title was the first prayer that he ever remembered praying.  And, The Father probably thought to himself, “That sounds about right,” and invited Hammond for more conversation.

After encouraging honesty, Lamott echoes the opening line of The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck (rabbit-trailed review coming soon), Life is difficult.  The Psalmist and the Prophets were good at admitting the difficulty of life.  Habakkuk writes, How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.  Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.  The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted (1:2-4).  The songwriter, Chris Rice has a great song titled, “Naïve.”  He writes: How long until You defend Your name and set the record right? How far will You allow the human race to run and hide? Yeah And how much can You tolerate our weaknesses Before You step into our sky blue and say, “That’s quite enough.” Am I naive to want a remedy for every bitter heart? Can I believe You hold an exclamation point for every question mark?  And can I leave the timing of this universe to bigger hands? And may I be so bold to ask You to please hurry?

Lamott writes, This is a hard planet, and we’re a vulnerable species.  And all I can do is pray: Help (13).  I appreciate the brevity of praying, “Help” because we are so vulnerable.  In this prayer, we echo the Prophets and many other Giants of the Faith.  Many times, we are like sinking Peter reaching out for the Lord on the water.  No fancy words are needed.  No King James is necessary.  Just, Help“God help me” is a great prayer, as we are at our absolutely most degraded and isolated, which means we are nice and juicy with the consequences of our best thinking and are thus possibly teachable (4).

china dishesLamott also refers to pre-assembled prayers found in the Bible like the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23.  She compares them to the good china that we use on holidays and special occasions.  They are beneficial in reminding us that God is worthy of trust.  But more often than not, her good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge, that I cannot fix anything, and that I open myself to being helped by something, some force, some friends, some something.  These prayers say, “Dear Some Something, I don’t know what I am doing.  I can’t see where I’m going.  I’m getting more lost, more afraid, more clenched.  Help (35).

Lastly, she gives a suggestion of using a God Box.  Such a box is filled with notes written to God the Father.  Fold it up, stick it in the box and close it.  Tell Him, Here!  You deal with this!  But you must agree to keep your hands off of the concern until God lets you be concerned about it.  On nights that I remember to do so, I often pray to the Father before falling asleep, God, if you need me, I’ll be right here.  Unless I have missed it, He has never woken me once with a concern that needed my attention.

In closing, I heard Reinhold Niebuhr’s entire Serenity Prayer this summer.  Usually, it stops halfway through.  It seems like a fitting wrap-up to Lamott’s first chapter about “Help”:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him, forever in the next.

Amen.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/104/music-lessons?act=3

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/45150291/ns/today-books/t/snls-darrell-hammond-confesses-his-dark-side/#.UODMyqzwDvg.

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Of Mice & Men- a few comments

I thought that there were other endings that could have been.  After reading “Of Mice & Men” in an afternoon, I had to pause when I turned the final page and ask, “What?  He did what?”  The ending left me short-sheeted.  Some of my short-sheetedness can probably be chalked up to wanting happy endings, resolutions that end predictably.  Neither Steinbeck book that I have read have ended with a period, or at least a period where I thought a period should be.

Lennie’s character seemed familiar.  I remember a Warner Bros’ cartoon character, The Abominable Snow Rabbit, usually with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck that reminded me of Lennie. His famous line was, “I will hug him and squeeze him and name him George.”  I believe that he also said, “Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?”

In the end, the book is worth reading but there are many other books that should be read first.  There were a few images that were telling, however:

P. 2- On the sand banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray, sculptured stones.

P. 19- At about ten o’clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars.

P. 37- He (Slim) was a jerkline skinner, the prince of the ranch, capable of driving ten, sixteen, even twenty mules with a single line to the leaders.  He was capable of killing a fly on the wheeler’s butt with a bull whip without touching the mule.  There was gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk stopped when he spoke… His ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought.  His hands, large and lean, we as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer.

P. 88-89- An exchange between a black worker, Crooks, and the wife of the head rancher’s son: “Listen, n—–,” she said.  “You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?”  Crooks stared hopelessly at her, and then he sat down on his bunk and drew into himself.  She closed on him.  “You know what i could do?”  Crooks seemed to grow smaller, and he pressed himself against the wall.  “Yes, ma’am.”  “Well, you keep your place then, n—–.  I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.  Crooks had reduced himself to nothing.  There was no personality, no ego- nothing to arouse either like or dislike.  He said, “Yes, ma’am, ” and his voice was toneless.

P. 101- As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment.  And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.  Then gradually time awakened again and moved sluggishly on.  The horses stamped on the other side of the feeding racks and the halter chains clinked.  Outside, the men’s voices became louder and clearer.

 

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Six Word Stories #2

Below are a second installment of six word stories compiled by Dave Eggers in his 2007 book, The Best American Non-Required Reading.   The most famous six word story was written by Ernest Hemingway: For sale: baby shoes, never used.

Young, skinny, ridiculed.  Old, skinny, envied.

Lucky in love, unlucky in metabolism.

Hiding in apartment knitting against depression.

Near-death experiences are my forte.

Never really finished anything, except cake.

My ancestors were accented cow herders.

I managed not to destroy anything.

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Six Word Stories #1- Read this because it won’t take a lot of time!

Below are a collection of six word stories compiled by Dave Eggers in his 2007 book, The Best American Non-Required Reading.   The most famous six word story was written by Ernest Hemingway: For sale: baby shoes, never used.

Wanted world, got world plus lupus.

Mistakenly kills kitten.  Fears anything delicate.

Bad brakes discovered at high speeds.

Scarred by 911; helped by penguins.

Ex-wife and contractor have new house.

Wasn’t born a redhead; fixed that.

Hugged some trees, then burned them.

Fears commitment, debt.  Attracts spouse, house.

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Best Names of Horses Expected to Have Undistinguished Careers

The following comes from 2007’s version of The Best American Non-Required Reading edited by Dave Eggers.  These were collected from yankeepotroast.com

Average at Best

Buyer’s Remorse

Cloud of Suspicion

Colic the Wonder Horse

Daddy Drinks Because I’m Slow

Exit Strategy

Fond of Long Naps

For the Love of God Run Faster

Glued Lightening

I Have No Son

Limp to Victory

Low Expectations

Pride of Two Guys with No Business Owning a Horse

Shoulda Bought a Monkey

Slim to None

This is Your Horse on Drugs

Tripsy McStumble

Undisguised Contempt for All Things French

War Criminal

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The Grapes of Wrath #2- A vacant house falls quickly apart

When the folks first left, and the evening of the first day came, the hunting cats slouched in from the fields and mewed on the porch. And when no one came out, the cats crept through the open doors and walked mewing through the empty rooms. And then they went back to the fields and were wild cats from then on, hunting gophers and field mice, and sleeping in ditches in the daytime. When the night came, the bats, which had stopped at the doors for fear of light, swooped into the houses and sailed about through the empty rooms, and in a little while they stayed in dark room corners during the day, folded their wings high, and hung head-down among the rafters, and the smell of their dropping was in the empty houses.

And the mice moved in and stored weed seeds in corners, in boxes, in the backs of drawers in the kitchens. And weasels came in to hunt the mice, and the brown owls flew shrieking in and out again.

Now there came a little shower. The weeds sprang up in front of the doorstep, where they had not been allowed, and grass grew up through the porch boards. The houses were vacant, and a vacant house falls quickly apart. Splits started up the sheathing from the rusted nails. A dust settled on the floors, and only mouse and weasel and cat tracks disturbed it.

On a night the wind loosened a shingle and flipped it to the ground. The next wind pried into the hole where the shingle had been, lifted off three, and the next, a dozen. The midday sun burned through the hole and threw a glaring spot on the floor. The wild cats crept in from the fields at night, but they did not mew at the doorstep any more. They moved like shadows of a cloud across the moon, into the rooms to hunt the mice. And on windy nights the doors banged, and the ragged curtains fluttered in the broken windows.

“The Grapes of Wrath” (2002) by John Steinbeck, pp. 116-117

_______________________________________________

What struck me about the passage above was, “a vacant house falls quickly apart.” Steinbeck seems to be speaking about more than just an empty house in the 1930’s. He seems to be talking about the condition of a human soul which, if left untended, becomes wild.

A few doors down from my house is a vacant house. Under the cover of darkness two summers ago, our neighbors packed and left. It was complicated. The other neighbors and I look after the house- Jack has mowed the yard faithfully and locked the entrance to their backyard and I have worked in their front flower beds. But the heartbeat of the house is gone- no lights, no noise, no groceries, no tending, no shoveling and no movement except the wild that has crept in through the cracks.

The most wild part of the house was their expansive backyard filled with two small ponds, several vines, a stone pathway and every form of Midwestern flower that you can imagine. My flower beds are weeded each weekend or, at worst, every other weekend. Weeding flower beds is therapeutic for me and I have debated breaking into their backyard to conduct some sessions but their empty house feels haunted now.

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