Archive for June, 2007

People who Influenced my life: Roshanna

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Matthew 2:1-13
“Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him . . .”–2:

She did it again.

Roshanna was never subtle. During morning worship in my inner-city Pittsburgh church Roshanna had an uncanny ability to find, sit next to, and irritate the most irascible congregants. She had this seventh sense.

And, my 75-plus interracial, intergenerational, rich and poor urban congregation had more than its share of characters.

People who Influenced my life: Mammy Lee Part 2

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Beautiful crystal chandeliers teasingly reflected the early morning light as we consumed our underdone fried eggs, salty Tennessee ham, and mounds of grits swimming in red-eye gravy. A cholesterol nightmare! My family, Mom, Dad, Bill, John, and I would gently touch our mouths with blanched, starched napkins as if to subtly wave our approval to a world that was so very kind to us. This country seduced us all with its homespun gentility. Every lunch time we would stand when Daddy Bobby (our grandfather) joined us for lunch. He was the patriarch of a great family. We knew we were part of that family. We felt its weighty influence on all parts of our lives.

Before I was to enjoy this land for even a decade, however, I was to discover a darker side. That is what this book is about.

People who Influenced my life: Mammy Lee

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Southern Arkansas is a generous land. Cotton grows to bountiful heights. Southwest winds permanently bend rice plants pregnant with pounds and pounds of offspring. Pecan trees cradle whole acres of land with their gigantic arms. Every spring, bayous and rivers deposit a rich delta gift along the banks of grateful farm land. A gift from Minnesota and Ohio–freely given by the ubiquitous Mississippi River. But this is really an unselfish land, a land that seems to give more than it takes.

The house in which Jimbo was born was a natural addition to this magnificent land. Built during the depression years of cheap labor, his parent’s house reflected Jimbo’s grandparents’ unbounded prosperity, for they had built it in the early Depression while there business was booming and labor was cheap.

People Who Influenced my Life: Forreste, the name of love in a wounded world . . .

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

“It is finished!”
John 19:30

I was too late.

Forrest Lewis had died twenty minutes earlier. Like wrinkled drapes on a huge bay window, hospital bed sheets lay in an obscene fashion on the shiny tile floor next to an empty hospital bed. Obviously my congregant, Lewis, was not there. But I looked anyway.

Forrest was gone, But his sheets were still warm with his body heat and I could smell his aftershave. But where was Forrest?

People Who Influenced my Life: Virgil Bears

Monday, June 25th, 2007

He was a broken, tired, old man. Strapped to a wheelchair, with his hands cupped in his lap, his left foot slowly moved his chair back and forth. Virgil silently smiled into empty space.

For over forty years Virgil had worshiped in my small, inner city church in Pittsburgh, PA. Besides being married at our altar and raising his children in our church schol, Virgil had been an elder, trustee, and superintendent of Sunday schools. He served his God well; he served us well too. But, now, senility had stolen him from us and placed him in Allison Park Nursing Home.

A Pine Tree

Monday, June 18th, 2007

Today, in the backyard of my childhood home is a forty foot pine tree. Thirty five years ago this fall, next to an in ground concrete pond of mongrel fish bred from dime store gold fish and leftover fishing minnows, beside a generous apple tree and a pink dogwood tree, Dad, my older brother Bill, and I planted three pine trees. One died during our neighborhood football game — heartlessly crushed under an eight year old Dallas Cowboys’ sneaker. Our yard man accidently mowed down another the next summer. But one — the one now standing — grows and grows and grows. the interloper overshadows the apple tree (out of protest I’ve heard that the old tree gives sour green fruit), poisons the beautiful dogwood tree and gold-minnow hybrid fish with its deciduous toxin saps. And the darn thing continues to grow about a foot a year!

At Shaky Frank’s Corner – Part 2

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

East Liberty is a mean, ungenerous place to most. You have to be strong to survive and spirit filled to be victorious. We were both. And East Liberty felt good to me. Not because I want to move back–I do not. But I once prayed for this place, cried for this place. For a while, it was my Promised Land. A place where I put down my roots to eternity. It was my Shiloh. God waited for me in the coolness of the evening and I came.

Likewise this city, my city, Johnstown, PA, feels like home. I have prayed over its buildings, walked through its streets, cried for its children. It has been my Promised Land for five years. And I thank God for the time here.

I thank God for all that He has taught me since I entered the pastoral ministry over twenty-five years ago. He has always done what He has said that He will do. He is good. Really good. And so, so very faithful. He has always loved me and He continues to show me His love in so many ways.

At Shaky Frank’s Corner

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Seven years of my life were spent in the East Liberty area of Pittsburgh because my old church is right around the corner. Other conference participants spoke of East Liberty with hushed scared voices. And it is foreboding. If anything, it is a more dangerous place than ever. Drug dealing is probably the most prosperous business in the area. Prostitution is openly practiced and gangs flaunt their colors on street corners.


Friday, June 15th, 2007

In summary, the following are indicators of format writing:

  1. Since most trained educators reject format writing, most authors of format writing are self-educated, self-credentialed, or have degrees in other disciplines besides the language arts, writing, and rhetoric. Along this line, most format writing is self-published?no serious educational publisher would publiish format writing.
  2. Inevitably format writing emphasizes form over content. A format writer is virtually unable to participate in meaningful literary analysis (i.e., profound analysis of a literary piece).
  3. Format writing is full of broad, predictable generalizations where the writer purports to be a specialist in everything. But in fact the format writers is unable substantially to develop, and much less to defend, any substantial rhetorical point. One rarely finds a credible thesis (i.e., purpose statement) in a format writing piece.
  4. All essays begin and end exactly the same way. Predictability is a sign of inferior writing.
  5. While form essays are marginally acceptable in the late grammar and early dialectic stage, inevitably rhetoric level students are unable to cope with the content-heavy stresses of the rhetoric level.
  6. Format writers are virtually never published. They are doomed to languish in the throes of predictability and mediocrity.


Thursday, June 14th, 2007

The Argument: Aristotle, in his Rhetoric argues that communication, or writing and rhetoric, concerns the character (ethos) of the speaker, the emotional state (pathos) of the listener, and the argument (logos) itself. In fact, the success of the writing enterprise depends on the emotional disposition of the audience. To Aristotle this is the topoi or topic written for an audience. To ignore the audience, removes the very heart of the writing piece. Format writing invites the writer to sacrifice ethos, pathos, and logos on the altar of convenience.

Another casualty of format writing is creativity. Creativity is discouraged?afterall, the writer only has to implement certain neutraal skills that are completely voic of context, purpose, and audience. There is no encouragement to build on past strategies; no need to consider new audiences. One merely implements a form for each new literary challenge. One size fits all!

I have been a part of the home school movement for 22 years and I must tell you that creative thinking and problem solving is at the heart of our movement. We neglect its development, practice, and implementation at our own, and our world’s peril. I will explain this more later.

Secular educators avoid format writing for one very good reason: it does not work. In the short run young writers produce all sorts of stock outcomes. But to what end? The purpose of great writing is to influence an audience, to communicate content, to persuade an audience to embrace truth. If the writer knows no or very little content this will be reflected in his writing. This is the reason great writers are great readers?classical reading iss at the heart of great writing. One reads the masters, discovers writing strategies, and pushes further.

As a result SAT graders (including myself) are warned to score format writing SAT I essays lower. Why? Because format writing is facile and predictable. It devoid of audience, content, and tone. In other words, it is inferior writing.

While orthodox educators would tolerate some format instruction at the grammar stage, to advance format writing into the dialectic and especially rhetoric stages is disasterous. At the heart of classical education is the notion that there are legitimate classics. Classics have timeless application, survive multiple readings, and concern world view issues. It is impossible to teach people how to write about classical literature unless the teacher himself has read and studied the classics! Format writing pragmatism purports to do exactly that.

To pretend to do so is the height of hypocrisy. It is what Plato called sophism. Sophism emphasizes form and function before content, purpose, and audience. Sophists teach anything for a price. Their teaching was practical instead of ethical and they emphasized rhetoric rather than virtue. Equally reprehensible, sophists were unwilling to pay the dues that serious rhetoric demanded?the disciipline of study and of education. They were in a sense the marketing agents of their age. Their product was an inch thin and a mile long but it was appealing to the consumer. It was readily available at an exorbitant price, true, but the most ordinary of politicians could hire a sophist to write a speech, or to write an essay on any subject to any audience. Neither really mattered. Since sophists believed one could communicate regardless of audience, or purpose, or content, it really did not matter. Sophists were mercenary pragmatists who wrote and spoke well but produced no lasting culture.